Sunday, November 17, 2013

This Just May Be the Libertarian Era

Old voters collecting Social Security may never change their minds, but libertarianism is growing fast among young Americans

John Stossel

I didn't know what a libertarian was when I started reporting. I was just another liberal. I knew the Republicans were icky, and Democrats were more like me—except they didn't care about debt.

I had no idea there was an actual movement of thinking people who want to honor the principles of the Founders—liberty and limited government. It took me a long time to wake up.

Now more Americans have woken up, say Matt Welch and Nick Gillespie, editors of Reason magazine.

"Poll after poll show you that Americans are much more fiscally conservative than their elected representatives," says Welch. "A majority of Americans thinks that we should balance the budget. Seventy-five percent think that we should not raise the debt ceiling ... Growing majorities—especially young people—are more socially tolerant. They think that we should legalize marijuana ... they're in favor of gay marriage."

Gillespie argues that some of the change comes from people seeing how the private sector offers us more options that we like, while government fails.

"The 21st century has been a demonstration project of how Republicans and conservatives screw things up, under the Bush years, and now we have the Obama version—the liberal Democrat version of screwing everything up ... you go to, you have a good experience and you get all sorts of interesting stuff. When you go to a government website, not so much."

It changes minds, they argue, when people see this is a strong pattern, not just the result of isolated mistakes unique to Obamacare or another specific government project.

But do people realize that it's a strong pattern? I don't think so. I wrote No, They Can't: Why Government Fails—But Individuals Succeed because I worry most Americans instinctively trust central planning. The spontaneous order of the invisible hand is harder to grasp. The invisible hand is ... invisible.

Maybe that's why leftists fear liberty. A sarcastic online video scares people by calling Somalia a "libertarian paradise." (It isn't. Libertarianism assumes private property and rule of law.) One of my Fox colleagues, Bill O'Reilly, calls my libertarian views "desperately wrong" and says "you're living in a world of theory!"

But Gillespie says even people who don't understand the theory at least see what the invisible hand produces. "Where people do things voluntarily and in free markets, everything is getting better, (but] when you go to this old model of command and control, things are terrible." True. But while Gillespie, Welch and I —and maybe you readers—pay attention to that, I suspect that the promises of the central planners will fool most people most of the time.

Politicians fool us with offers of free goodies like cheaper health care and "cures" for social problems, like the War on Drugs. They fool us with their promises to "contain" China, Iran, al-Qaida, etc. and "build democracy" in the Middle East.

If libertarian-leaning politicians express doubt, they may be condemned by others in their own party.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., filibustered until President Obama responded to their questions about drone strikes. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called them "wacko birds."

After some politicians criticized NSA spying, Gov. Chris Christie said, "This strain of libertarianism is a very dangerous thought."

Mainstream conservative pundit Fred Barnes tells me Ron Paul is "deluded" because he wants to shrink the military. Barnes says we're not seeing a new libertarian era, just a libertarian "blip." He points out that even government programs Ronald Reagan railed against are still with us 30 years later—and suggests that they probably aren't going away.

I'm not optimistic about most people recognizing liberty's benefits. Old politicians—and old voters collecting Social Security—may never change their minds. But libertarianism is growing fastest among the young, and groups like Students for Liberty give me hope. These young people certainly know more about liberty than I did at their age.

Maybe they will avoid prior generations' big-government mistakes. Maybe



The Intolerant State

Sometimes, government is the things that OTHERS choose for us

"Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together."

That quote, usually attributed to former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, is one of those rare political statements of equal use to opposite sides of America's bitter ideological divide.

Bay State governor Deval Patrick deployed Frank's aphorism at the 2008 Democratic National Convention to make the case for Barack Obama's quest "to rebuild our national community." My first hit in a Google search for the quote reveals a San Francisco Foundation essay celebrating Tax Day, "that day that calls on all of us to think about what it means to be a citizen of the United States and what our obligations are to each other."

The right tends to deploy the quote sardonically. "'Government' is just a name for things we all do together, like shove elderly war heroes back from the memorials built in their honor," Human Events staff writer John Haywood tweeted at the beginning of the government shutdown in October. As Jonah Goldberg observed in The Tyranny of Cliches, "We do many things together, some of them involve the government, most don't. An estimated 111 million people watched the 2011 Super Bowl. Weren't we as 'together' for that as we are for, say, an OSHA hearing on the efficacy of toilet flush regulations?"

On those rare occasions when the national political conversation focuses on the proper role of government in our lives, the sentiment behind Barney Frank's quip fills the airwaves and op-ed pages. On the third day of the federal government shutdown, for example, President Barack Obama trotted out this parade of horribles: "The impacts of a shutdown go way beyond those things that you're seeing on television. Those hundreds of thousands of Americans don't know when they're going to get their next paycheck, and that means stores and restaurants around here don't know if they'll have as many customers. Across the country you've got farmers in rural areas and small business owners who deserve a loan, but they're being left in the lurch right now. Veterans who deserve our support are getting less help. Little kids who deserve a Head Start have been sent home from the safe places where they learn and grow every single day."

So the federal government is apparently the name we give to the magical apparatus responsible for maintaining the status of public-sector workers, private sector retail managers, farmers, small entrepreneurs, and preschoolers, in addition to the one group (veterans) whose care is incontrovertibly the responsibility of the national government that sent them into war.

No wonder the 2012 Obama campaign didn't understand why critics were creeped out by its "Life of Julia" slideshow demonstrating how Democratic policies are crucial at every stage of a woman's life from age 3 to 67. When people depend on government for everything of value, it's hard to tell the difference between objecting to a smothering state and complaining about the very existence of other human beings.

Given the stakes, it's no surprise that Democrats and liberal columnists reacted to the government shutdown by portraying Republicans as anti-human. New York Times columnist Charles Blow warned that the GOP's tactics were "how the money-rich are able to prey on the knowledge-poor," opening up "the possibility that a government by the people may swiftly give way to a government dominated by dark money and dark motives." Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. singled out the "cranks and outliers within the party so addled by hatred of the president, so crippled by the mental disorder known as Obama Dementia, that they are incapable of rationality and reason."

I prefer to assume that people with whom I disagree about politics come to their opinions genuinely, rather than through sinister, anti-democratic motives and/or advanced mental illness. And while I believe that shutting down the federal government was mostly the result of a series of tactical and political blunders by the GOP majority in the House of Representatives, it's worth pausing to examine the broader argument about the role of government occasioned by the dispute.

Yes, in a universe where the overwhelming majority of federal government expenditure comes in the form of transfer payments, yanking the plug out is going to hurt some people and disrupt business as usual for many others. (Though most of those payments are actually unaffected by D.C. closing down, ensuring that more than four out of every five federal dollars gets spent regardless of whether the Grand Canyon is open to the public.) Those first days of October were filled with horror stories of children and widowed families not getting their planned clinical trials or day care or even funeral ceremonies. Many of the highlighted cases drew enough outrage to loosen either federal monies or private philanthropy.

But in our sea of federal spending and debt, these direct tales of woe are mere drops. A Congressional Research Service report released just before the shutdown about the effects of the 1995-96 Newt Gingrich/Bill Clinton federal work stoppages included in its top-line highlights such mundane hiccups as: "National Institute of Standards and Technology was unable to issue a new standard for lights and lamps that was scheduled to be effective January 1, 1996, possibly resulting in delayed product delivery and lost sales."

Meanwhile, Obama's magic machine is still capable of literally dumping hundreds of millions of dollars directly into the trash: The Dayton Daily News reported in October that a dozen brand new $50 million C-27J cargo planes were delivered straight to the Air Force's "boneyard" of abandoned aircraft in Tucson, Arizona, because no one actually needs the things. Amazingly, the production orders continue apace.

The shutdown should make us question these oozing pits of government waste and the folly of nationalizing so much of American life, from beaches in New York City to crab fisheries in Alaska. When you stuff so many disparate responsibilities into a single entity in Washington, the on/off switch becomes terrifyingly potent.

But D.C.'s latest dysfunction should also be an occasion to rethink the "things we choose to do together," reflecting on whether we are in fact making those choices consciously. And it's time to confront the neglected truth that government is also the things that centralizers inflict upon those of us just trying to exercise our freedom.

This issue of reason is all about the messy, heavily contested intersection between do-it-yourself technological liberation and the intolerant forces of state control. From the 3D-printed firearm on the cover ("The Unstoppable Plastic Gun," page 24) to the mind-bendingly decentralized currency and digital protocol Bitcoin ("Bitcoin: More than Money," page 34) to the sadly shuttered doors of once-thriving marketplaces ("The Death of Intrade," page 44, "How Poker Became a Crime," page 62), these cautionary tales reveal an unpredictable leviathan capable of suddenly throwing its massive weight onto whatever new innovation or subculture it considers suspicious.

As the George Mason University economist Robin Hanson points out regarding Intrade, "The history of financial regulation is that everything was illegal gambling to start with. Insurance, stocks, commodities futures, options—all of these things were illegal."

With the world's highest incarceration rate, the United States government spends far too much of its time using its monopoly on force cracking down on peaceable individual transactions. We need to reorient the default arrangement between federal government and American citizen, so that freedom is assumed to be desirable, instead of a national security threat. Or as George Will explains in a wide-ranging interview on page 50, "Before the government interferes with freedom or privacy, it ought to have a compelling reason. That's all, tell me your reason."



The Fix? Another BIG Lie

Barack Obama added another chapter to his politically motivated unconstitutional rewrites of the so-called “Affordable Care Act” Thursday. After more than 5 million insurance cancellations mandated by his ACA regulations, and the political consequences for Democrats, he declared that you can keep your plan (at least until after next year's elections). This was his latest political lie to cover his previous round of lies to cover his oft-repeated original lie that “you will be able to keep your health care plan. Period.”

His latest “pledge to the American people” is: “[W]e're gonna solve the problems that are there, we're gonna get it right, and the Affordable Care Act is going to work for the American people.” (He forgot to add, “Trust me!”) Obama plans to “fix it” through “enforcement discretion,” a patently unconstitutional maneuver typical of autocratic ineptocracies, but he has never allowed Rule of Law to be an impediment to this administration's political agenda.

Obama is crafting his latest blame-shifting cover story on the theme that insurance companies are the bad guys. But, the 2010 HHS regulations his administration wrote, and he signed into law, mandated that any policy adjustment in a plan after that enactment would require cancellation of that plan if it did not fully comply with ObamaCare's “comprehensive coverage” requirements. Now, with a wave of his magic wand, Obama says none of that applies, and that, as long as state insurance commissioners permit it, insurance companies can continue to offer the plans that they previously had to cancel due to regulations. In other words, he put this 600 lb. gorilla on the back of state commissioners and insurance companies.

As noted, Obama has no authority to enforce this proposed retrofit – or, as he put it, to “improve” the law. But he has a history of “selective law enforcement” according to his political agenda, and in the case of ObamaCare, he already unilaterally declined to enforce the employer mandate – now he's unilaterally declining to enforce the coverage mandate, at least until after the 2014 elections. He admits “we did fumble the ball” on the rollout, which directly affects a person's ability to replace a plan that was forcibly cancelled. He claims he only wants to fix what he broke. Apparently, Bill Clinton, who declared that Obama ought to let the American people “keep what they got,” is now calling the shots.

In reality, Obama's executive action is an effort to preempt a lawful Republican legislative correction to ObamaCare, aptly titled the “Keep Your Health Plan Act” – scheduled for a vote Friday. Many panicking Democrats were hinting at voting for the bill, mainly to save their own skin in 2014, but that would be too embarrassing for the president. He even threatened to veto the bill, likely because it would bolster private competition for his exchanges, and he simply can't tolerate that.

Responding to Obama's latest alteration, America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP) warned that his fix will “destabilize the market” and drive prices higher. Insurance industry analyst Robert Laszewksi explained, “This means that the insurance companies have [six weeks] to reprogram their computer systems for policies, rates, and eligibility, send notices to the policyholders via US Mail, send a very complex letter that describes just what the differences are between specific policies and Obamacare compliant plans, ask the consumer for their decision – and give them a reasonable time to make that decision – and then enter those decisions back into their systems without creating massive billing, claim payment, and provider eligibility list mistakes. All by January 1.” And Obama could not get the website operational in three years with $600 million.



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC,  AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated) and Coral reef compendium. (Updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten.

List of backup or "mirror" sites here or  here -- for when blogspot is "down" or failing to  update.  Email me  here (Hotmail address). My Home Pages are here (Academic) or  here (Pictorial) or  here  (Personal)


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