Monthly Archives: February 2008

What’s the Beef?

A major obstacle to the message of freedom and using the Constitution as the Founding Fathers intended is the preconceived notion that problems in society or in the market won’t be solved unless the Federal Government is involved. The thinking is that only until a law is passed in Washington about (fill in the blank) can we breathe easier and worry less as citizens. Real solutions and results seem to take a back seat to the false security in thinking that the government will take care of the problem. Extending this false asumption many feel that it would be less than moral if the government didn’t step in and save the day.

Some examples dripping with this preconceived notion are illustrated in two articles found in the New York Times AP News Index. One deals with the push for laws against slaughterhouses to avoid the recent meat recalls that happened after employees were caught abusing cattle in a California slaughterhouse, the other article focusing on congress pushing once again for legislation to enfore drug testing in U.S. sports leagues such as the NBA, MLB, and NFL.

Government and its role in our lives will continue to inflate and expand as long as it is assumed that in cases such as these the only sucessful solution centers around instituting laws that will hopefully ensure correct behavior in the future. More laws and more government intervention is not the answer. Paleoconservatism and Austrian economics shatter this preconceived notion replacing it with much more inspiring and liberating thought; ideas centered around “we the people” instead of the government.

Finding viable solutions to problems such as these and reversing the inflated role government plays today requires a complete re-thinking of the role of government in the marketplace. Is it really the government’s role to legislate how sports leagues and slaughterhouses conduct their businesses? A solution, no matter how cleverly crafted or well thought, will never sucessfully address the problem it is designed to solve if based upon false assumptions.

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John Lennon’s Imagine

While watching American Idol last night, I was struck by the last song, and especially by the judge’s reactions.  David Archuleta, who I believe is Mormon, sang John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  Paula Abdul mentioned how touching not only the song was, but touted his performance as one of the most touching she’d ever heard.  Randy Jackson asked why he didn’t sing the first verse, to which the teenage crooner replied that he really liked the third verse because it had a great message.

What is that message?  Let’s review the lyrics:

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world 

And then of course the chorus:

You may say that I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Now I’m chalking up David Archuleta’s feelings to teenage ignorance.  Yes, the third verse means what it says it means: John Lennon is singing for the abolition of private property (no possessions).  This is one of the bedrock principles of socialism, and the anti-thesis of a capitalist free market, the source of our wealth.

The song indicates that with the abolition of private property, replaced by some sort of communal ownership (or perhaps the abolition of ownership), that there will be “no need for greed or hunger,” and “a brotherhood of man” will result.  (Of course, with no private property, there’d be no market economy, hence no market for superstardom in America, and therefore no American Idol; but that is another story.)  Let’s examine these claims historically.

Central economic planning under Soviet Russia and the associated poor resource management led to a pattern of famines and droughts.  Similar problems resulted in China under the Great Leap Forward.  These famines resulted in what is estimated as the losses of tens of millions of lives.  Communist North Korea has had similar problems.  No need for hunger, eh?  I suppose the dead no longer hunger.

What about “a brotherhood of man?”  Let us examine the 20th Century Communist examples.  Under Stalin, when one considers the deaths from the prison camps and forced relocations, the USSR lost between 4 and 40 million individuals (I am not including the tens of millions dead from World War II).  Under Mao, 20 million deaths (that’s the official statistic) were attributed to famines from the Great Leap Forward; other estimates range as high as 72 million.  The Cultural Revolution, started in 1966, was responsible for hundreds of thousands if not millions of deaths.  The Khmer Rouge regime was responsible for 1.5 million deaths in Cambodia, or roughly 20% of the population.  Scanning history, it is hard to find genocide on this large of a scale.  Perhaps this brotherhood is one of the dead.

Apparently, neither David Archuleta nor Paula Abdul were considering any of this.  (Honestly, I’m not sure what John Lennon was thinking, either.)  Aside from the apparently gross misconception of the song’s meaning, the display last night showed something else: emotion.  Perhaps even a touch of spirituality.  It is very odd that a song about the glorious blessings of communism would evoke such strong feelings.  Such high praise and powerful emotion associated with a song about the destruction of Western Society, the elimination of religion, and a whole-hearted hedonistic embrace (“Living for today” as the unsung first verse says) without mention of family or consequences is indeed a sad commentary on us as a people.  It is almost as if this ignorant hedonism coupled with a self-destructively dangerous ideology is displacing that which should be of greatest value: our family, our freedoms, and our religion.  The mere presence of this song I find troubling.  But its whole-hearted embrace by the masses (that’s the “proles” to you Trotskyites) is far more troubling.

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What is a Constitutionalist?

What is a Constitutionalist?  Simply put, a Constitutionalist believes in the Constitution of the United States as the supreme law of the land.

There are primarily two ways to interpret the Constitution: one method uses the original intent to literally interpret the Constitution, and the other considers the Constitution a living, breathing document, essentially meaning that it is subject to interpretation, and that such interpretation changes with time.  I have a problem with this second perspective.  When the Constitution is interpreted anew according to the method of legal and judicial Constitutional review which has become quite a pattern in our day, in my view, this essentially rewrites portions of the Constitution upon each new interpretation.  If the document was meant to be interpreted that way, it would be very clear, either in the document itself or in the Federalist Papers.  Instead, the Founders created an amendment system whereby the Constitution could be changed or modified.

A strict Constitutionalist like myself (or Ron Paul) subscribes to the views of Thomas Woods, a historical scholar for the Mises Institute.  We find there are three clauses largely misinterpreted today:

One is the so-called “Commerce Clause.” The Woodsian perspective is that this clause was brought up to smooth trade between states.  Under the Articles of Confederation, trade was stiff and unwieldy.  New Jersey and Connecticut would pay stiff tarriffs from New York and Massachusetts to get imported goods from those large ports.  The purpose of this clause was to support free trade and exchange by reducing or eliminating such tarriffs.

Another is the Necessary-and-Proper Clause.  From the Woodsian perspective, this is to ensure that the government would have whatever was necessary to carry out duties explicity specified in the Constitution itself (i.e. revenue, personnel).  It does not grant powers to the government that otherwise would not exist.

The third is the General Welfare Clause.  Many view this as a “catch-all.”  That is, if the government’s activities tend to support the general welfare of the people in some way, then it is Constitutional.  Hence, the Departments of Education and Energy, which have at least benevolent motives, would be justified by this clause.  Many New Deal programs in the 1930’s were justified in this manner.  Of course, a rational person would notice that any type of government program which may have some possible tendency to promote the general welfare could be supported by this ideology.  And so we see all manner of expansions in government power, many with the aim of promoting the “General Welfare.”  Much to my dismay, this trend continues.

I do not view the Constitution as a failure for these shortcomings.  Quite the opposite.  Consistent with LDS theology, I view the Constitution as inspired by God, and even necessary for the Restoration of the Gospel.  But when we as a people disregard this inspired document and especially its inspired denotations and connotations, we move in dark paths towards an uncertain future.  The Constitution becomes anachronistic, outdated, outmoded, and even trivial, which is, sadly, what is has largely become.  The Founders would be ashamed.

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America: Land of Exceptions?

And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. -Matthew 7:3-5

Do ye suppose that God will look upon you as guiltless while ye sit still and behold these things? Behold I say unto you, Nay. Now I would that ye should remember that God has said that the inward vessel shall be cleansed first, and then shall the outer vessel be cleansed also. -Alma 60:23

There are many aspects and perceptions of U.S. foreign policy I do not understand. Largely, the perceptions are related to America as an exception to historical standards. For instance, history would indicate a military presence of hundreds of thousands of troops scattered throughout the globe, on 700 bases in 130 countries, to be an imperial one. And yet, the mainstream Republican (or Democrat) may admit, “Yes, we have hundreds of thousands of troops in 700 bases in 130 countries around the world.” And yet they would insist, “We are not an empire.” I cannot understand how this type of military presence and force throughout the world is anything less than imperial. The establishment individual will point out we have not taken any land to ourselves, for our own use, like previous empires, be they British, French, German, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, or Babylonian. The astute observer will note that such an observation is not accurate. The United States has acquired quite a bit of land over its history. Not all of that has been from military conquest, but some has. For instance, the southwest is largely the spoils of the Mexican War. The American Civil War was fought to oppose the southern secession and maintain the Union. The Spanish-American War was fought 110 years ago, and we owe to that our continued military presence in the Philipines and Cuba, as well as our connection with Puerto Rico. And of course, our fighting two world wars and being one of the large players in the Cold War further expanded our global military presence. Most consider our presence throughout these decades justified. Perhaps it was. But why not call it for what is? How is it anything less than imperial in its global reach and dominant scope?

Another concept I cannot fathom: in 1990, when the iron curtain came down, why didn’t our troops come home? After all, the Soviet threat was near extinction. The Warsaw Pact was dissolved. Why not NATO? Why did we still keep bases and troops in Europe? What possible purpose does this solve?

The answer is usually that if we don’t take care of the world will our military might, who will? This implies that the world will fall apart unless the United States takes a leading “superpower” role, or that it will turn more hostile than it already is without our military there. I have a hard time with this idea.

I cannot fathom how the United States government supports democratic forms of government as the ideal to aim for, and at the same time, gives foreign aid to countries like Saudi Arabia. (Few acknowledge that we don’t really have a democracy, under the system the Founders set up. It was a democratic republic, not a democracy.) Nor do I understand the American intrusion into what type of democracy is created. Consider Lebanon, Palestine, or Iraq. Each has significant U.S. involvement. When the governments do as we like, we give them money. When they do not, we impose sanctions or authorize military force against them.

And yet, many view these actions as perfectly justified.  I do not.  I do not understand how they can be, when we would be so adamantly opposed to foreign troops on our soil, or economic sanctions imposed on us,  or (heaven forbid) state sanctioned military action!

It we want to solve the many international problems which according to the Founders are none of our business, I say “Physician, heal thyself.”  We need to examine the harm , including the potential harm, as well as the benefit of our government policies if we want to improve international relations.  An unwillingness to even acknowledge the possibility that our foreign policy, or even some aspect thereof, may have some negative, detrimental aspects is fantastical and ultimately destructive.

Yet, there is certainly reason for hope.  Ron Paul is running for President (yes, he’s still running as of today).  Murray Sabrin is running for a Senate seat in New Jersey.  A huge grassroots movement has started.  People have started re-thinking the status quo.  Even Glenn Beck recently had Michael Scheuer on his show.  Who knows what the end will be?  For me, one thing is certain: there is reason to hope for change.

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Government: The Great Polluter

And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. -Genesis 1:28

So ye shall not pollute the land wherein ye are: for blood it defileth the land: and the land cannot be cleansed of the blood that is shed therein, but by the blood of him that shed it. -Numbers 35:33

The earth is the LORD’s, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.
-Psalms 24:1

…Every man shall be made accountable unto me, a steward over his own property. -D&C 42:32

As inhabitants of Earth, we have been given a divine mandate to subdue the Earth. We are stewards over it, for the Earth is the Lord’s. We understand that we are to take good care of our own property. We should also respect the property of others, for we are commanded to not steal, and to not even covet that which does not belong to us.

But what of property not owned by an individual? Let’s discuss this idea in context of the Tragedy of the Commons. The idea goes something like this: a commonly owned plot of land, say a grazing pasture, will be solicited by many different visitors. Each has an individual use for the land, wherein they derive benefit. For instance, a shepherd has the incentive to feed his flock on the land. Same would go with a goatherd. There is certainly a potential drain on the land. With public ownership, who has the incentive to make sure there is not overgrazing, and that the land is well maintained? We can see the potential problems that ensue. Such is the case with commonly owned property today. This would include land, air, waterways, and many other publicly owned resources. Consider now if the grazing pasture was sold in an auction. The landowner would need to maintain the land for his own livelihood. He has every incentive to do so. Perhaps he wants to grow corn or wheat. Perhaps he wants to use it as a grazing pasture. If a neighboring shepherd wanted access, some arrangement would be made, likely with the landowner charging the shepherd some sort of user fee in exchange for land maintenance.  A system of private property strongly encourages landowners to take good care of their property.  A system of communally-owned property usually results in something akin to this tragedy.

How is this relevant today? Haven’t we moved passed an agrarian society? The point of this essay is to show how these principles are relevant today, examining past and present government action.

We can think of air pollution and water pollution Who owns air and water rights? Well, these are largely publicly owned. Governments set air and water quality standards. Individual companies or facilities are not held directly responsible for polluting a neighbor’s air or water.  Case in point: Exxon-Valdez.

Let me just say a brief word on government land ownership.   According to this link, drawn from government data, the federal government owns over 30% of all U.S. land!  That’s 30% of land subjected to the tragedy of the commons!

Another area of government environmental intervention is the military. With hundreds of thousands of troops in 700 bases in 130 countries around the world, there is definitely a global pollution factor. We see the tanks, helicopters, and humvees, not to mention the submarines, battleships, and aircraft carriers. They’re the military, so they largely get a free pass. It’s the cost of defending us, right? Actually, there are many that would disagree. For instance, see this USA Today article or this environmental essay by a feminist highlight those willing to question. Of course, many disagree on the best solution. But acknowledging the problem is the first step. Discussing it, the second.

One of the reasons for the government owning so much land is to conduct nuclear testing.  Individuals would likely be unwilling and/or unable to conduct nuclear testing on their own property.  So the government appropriated or used its own.  Without government-owned land, nuclear weapons would likely not be in existence today.

A very overt environmental effect of federal government activity was the testing of nuclear weapons, started in the 1940s.  Environmental effects continue to this day.  Many test sites, from New Mexico to French Polynesia to Soviet Russia to the Columbia River exhibit terrible, detrimental environmental effects from nuclear weapons testing mixed with the tragedy of the commons.  This is yet another unmitigated failure of central government planning, another testament of government’s ineptitude in good environmental stewardship.

It’s high time we rethink why we trust governments to solve our environmental problems.

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An Open Letter to Mormons in Favor of Ron Paul: An LDS View of War

Certainly he who taught that to inherit eternal life we must “love thy neighbor as thyself” would be deeply concerned with the destruction of life so rampant in the world today. Since we live in a time of “wars and rumors of wars,” it is of supreme importance that we gain gospel insight into the just causes for supporting war.

Much of the Book of Mormon is devoted to war, which was a continual plague in ancient America. When were the followers of Christ justified in taking part in this destruction of life? Alma 43:47 states “And again, the Lord has said that: Ye shall defend your families even unto bloodshed. Therefore for this cause were the Nephites (i.e. the followers of Christ) contending with the Lamanites (i.e. those who were attacking the Nephites), to defend themselves, and their families, and their lands, their country, and their rights, and their religion.” In Alma 48:14 we read “Now the Nephites were taught to defend themselves against their enemies, even to the shedding of blood if it were necessary; yea, and they were also taught never to give an offense, yea, and never to raise the sword except it were against an enemy, except it were to preserve their lives.” Thus, defense of rights was the only moral justification for war and the aggressive use of force was against the will of God. As followers of the “Prince of Peace,” we are still bound by these principles today.

This being said, should America continue the war in Iraq, attack Iran before they supposedly develop a nuclear weapon, and continue the ill-defined war on Terrorism? I submit to you that the answer is emphatically “NO.”

First of all, the war against Iraq is not defensive. For those who believe that the September 11th atrocities were an unprovoked attack by Muslim extremists, there is no proof that the prior Iraqi regime had anything to do with these attacks. Furthermore, the Iraqi government never directly attacked the United States of America. This is a preemptive war, which is the shedding of blood of those who have not given an offense, and is not justifiable before the Lord.

However, even if we suppose that the war in Iraq was defensive, the Iraqi government which “attacked” us no longer rules the country. Since the so-called offender has been eliminated, it follows that we are no longer defending ourselves against an enemy who gave the initial offense. The most benign reason for our continued waging of war in Iraq is to build a democratic government and bring stability to this region. This is not a moral basis for our continued bloodshed of the people in this region. If the French government had kept a military presence in the American states after the Revolutionary War, the patriots would have attacked them too.

The Book of Mormon provides us with the example of Captain Moroni, who was the great military leader of the Nephites during much of their warfare. After he had defeated a Lamanite army and the attacking king had been killed (effectively destroying the Lamanite government and bringing “instability” to the Lamanite people), Moroni did not lead an army down to the Lamanite lands to ensure the establishment of a democratic government which would be friendly to the Nephites. We are specifically told that immediately afterward he put his efforts toward preparing the Nephite lands against any future attacks (Alma 62:42). Allowing the defeated aggressors to sort out their own governmental affairs was clearly his policy. After Captain Moroni had repelled a prior attack, we read “And the armies of the Nephites, or of Moroni, returned and came to their houses and their lands” (Alma 44:22). We have no moral basis for remaining in Iraq to assist in the creation and stabilization of the new Iraqi government. We need to immediately cease the American slaughter of Iraqis and all others who have not attacked our own families, lands, rights, and religion.

The Book of Mormon also provides us with another clear admonition not to be the aggressors of war in 3 Nephi chapter 3. Just prior to this time, the Nephites very own government leaders had conspired together to violate the God-given rights of the individuals in the land (sounds familiar). The people eventually rose up and threw the oppressors, or Gadianton robbers as they were called, out of their land. The Gadianton robbers then proceeded to attack them from the outside “and did slay so many people, and did lay waste so many cities, and did spread so much death and carnage throughout the land” that the people decided to join together “to take up arms against them” (3 Nephi 2:11).

Initially the Nephites were able to ward off the attacks of the Gadianton robbers. However, after the Gadiantons had gained more strength, they sent a letter to the leader of the Nephites demanding surrender or the robbers would “let fall the sword upon you even until ye shall become extinct” (3 Nephi 3:8). At this point, the Nephites demanded of their leader, who we are told had the spirit of revelation, “Pray unto the Lord, and let us go up upon the mountains and into the wilderness, that we may fall upon the robbers and destroy them in their own lands” (3 Nephi 3:20). In today’s language, they wanted “to fight the terrorists over there so they would not come over here.” What was his answer? “The Lord forbid; for if we should go up against them the Lord would deliver us into their hands; therefore we will prepare ourselves in the center of our lands, and we will gather all our armies together, and we will not go against them, but we will wait till they shall come against us; therefore as the Lord liveth, if we do this he will deliver them into our hands” (3 Nephi 3:21).

The Nephites, who were repeatedly attacked by the Gadiantons in the past and were directly and credibly threatened with aggression once again, were not justified by the Lord in going into the terrorists’ lands to attack. With this being understood, on what principled basis are we justified in preemptively attacking Iran or any other country that has not attacked us in the past nor threatened to make us extinct if we did not completely submit to them?

We have been warned, in the Book of Mormon as well as by modern-day church leaders, that the destruction of our society will be due to the corruption of our own government from within and not from a foreign enemy. James Madison gave us this same warning – “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”

Fortunately during this election we have a good and honest man who would strictly follow the Constitution as President. As a congressman, Ron Paul has used the Constitution as his iron rod for 10 terms. As a presidential candidate, he has repeatedly stood by the Constitution in its entirety, even when those in the “great and spacious building” have continually mocked him for doing so. He is also the only candidate from both major parties who “renounce(s) war and proclaim(s) peace” (D&C 98:16). It is my hope that the LDS people will put their full support behind Ron Paul and valiantly defend their agency.

Jeremy Ashton [send him mail] is homeschooling father of two in Richmond, Virginia and a dedicated Ron Paulian.

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The Destruction of Taxation

Taxation is destructive.  No, I’m not referring to the physical destruction that results from wars and military actions, though that is certainly related to taxation, and certainly destructive.  Nor am I referring to farmers that literally burn or destroy their crops to keep receiving a farm subsidy, though that exists as well.  The topic of this essay is more subtle.  So subtle that it is nearly invisible to most.  Perhaps you think that to consider taxation as destructive is an exaageration.  I and many others feel it to be accurate.  Let me explain.

The process of taxation may be stated thusly: some group or entity uses coercive means to take funds from an individual, company, or other organization, and distributes it to someone else.  Almost always, the new revenue stream is used to fund a program or agency with the best of intentions: to protect the environment, to protect individuals from a foreign enemy, to provide health care, etc.  We can often see what the money is used for.  In some instances (i.e. CIA or foreign policy in general) that usage is more opaque.

In any case, most people trust this newfound usage for money to be a good thing.  How else could we take care of the environment, or protect our workplaces from dangerous safety risks, or ensure our toys weren’t made with lead paint?

When we get our refund checks, we are happy (or perhaps relieved) to have some of our tax money back.  Most have plans of what to do with the money: buy a new wardrobe, go on a vacation, pay for home repairs, put a down payment on a car, etc.  Rarely have I heard someone say upon receipt of their refund check: “Now I can better fund my favorite government program!” or “I think I’m going to invest this in reducing the federal debt.”  Why is that?  For us as individuals, we have better things we would choose to invest in.  Besides, that’s what taxes are for, right?

Consider if you received more of your paycheck each and every month.  What would you do with the extra cash?  Perhaps you’d patronize an organic grocery store more frequently.  Perhaps you could pay for more home repairs.  Perhaps there’s some book you’ve been wanting to buy.  Maybe you want to put a little more away for that rainy day.  Maybe you’d want to put a little towards your favorite charity.  Again, few, if any, would say, “I’m going to donate my money to the government.  They need it more than I do.”

What’s my point?  Taxation is coercively taken from us.  We’d rather not pay it.  Many people choose not to, actually, which is one of the reasons we have a burgeoning accountant industry, and many tax lawyers scattered about, as well as a well-armed IRS.  What if we didn’t?  Where else would the money get spent?  Each one of us could come up with a list of things we would like if we had more of our money back.  (This is a wonderful daydream, though there are many who wished it was a reality, and not just a daydream.) 

It’s hard to tell taxation coercively taken from us is really “destructive.”  So what is destructive about taxation?

Go back to imagining all of the things you would get or places you might invest in should you have all of your tax money back.  Now imagine smashing them up with a sledgehammer, burning them to the ground, and nuking them out of existence.  Consider that taxes do this: not only are these alternate uses for our money not realized, the very thought of them is annihilated; for most of us, it doesn’t even exist.  Few even consider what they would do with more of their money, should the tax burden be lower.  Fewer still imagine what the world would truly be like if more people had more of their money to spend.

Let’s go back to our thought experiment.  Suppose the income tax was abolished today.  How many people would consider purchasing a new car?  Suppose the number was 25,000.  (Perhaps this is a conservative estimate.)  Suppose the average price of a new car is $20,000.  That may be a little light, but let’s assume that it is.  Add that up, and that is $500 million!  Think of the people that would be employed by this money!  Think of the job creation that could take place!  You can think not only of the manufacturing, design, engineering, and assembly work, but also the marketing, sales, accounting, and financing work as well.  We could imagine the effect of similar “stimuli” to the economy in the housing sector, investing, or in air travel.

With taxation in place, none of these jobs are created.  None of these ends are met.  None of these buildings are built.  Taxation obliterates not just the existence of these alternate uses for our money (they would really be the primary use were it not for taxation), but it destroys even the idea in our minds.  The prosperity we would choose with our own money is denied us.  Worse yet, we do not even consider it.

Instead, we take up our political discussions on how best to spend money taken from us: unwinnable, unconstitutional wars, massive entitlement programs, bureaucratic growth, price controls, secretive defense projects, etc.  We barely even stop to think that our money may have a better alternate use, one that we as individuals dictate, and not one dictated to us by someone else.  This is a very American idea.  It is strongly related to the Revolution.  It kept us free and prosperous for over a century.  And now, we have grown so distant from our roots we hardly understand, much less recognize them.

Taxation is destructive: the existence of, as well as potential for some real quantity of future economic growth and development, along with the jobs, buildings, vehicles, etc., that would accompany such growth is completely annihilated and replaced with a centrally-planned bureaucracy.

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