Monthly Archives: October 2008

My Political Dream

At the invitation of Times and Seasons, I published my political dream as a comment to a recent post.  Here is my comment:

My political dream is simple: a body that acknowledges the existence of the welfare-warfare state, understands its origins, its impracticality, and immorality, and exists for one purpose: to ensure its dismantling so that individual liberty might once again be the principle upon which this republic is based.

There is, in fact, such a body: Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty.

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Filed under Libertarian, politics, Ron Paul

The Flipside of Government Economic Flourishing

I recently came across this article in the Deseret News on how wonderfully well the state and local governments are flourishing, economically speaking.  While this is generally not the news throughout the country (many state and local governments are, in fact, struggling financially), this certainly has a bad flipside that’s not really covered in the article.  This is one that Henry Hazlitt brought up continually in his masterful and recommended book, Economics in One Lesson.

It is this: there are things seen and things unseen.  We see the visible benefits that our invested taxdollars have created: we see the jobs, the military equipment, the schools, the public works projects, etc.  We do not see what could have (and would have) been made had these taxes not been levied in the first place.  In other words, we do not see the alternate uses for the money which the government has appropriated.  Those items do not exist, and may not have even been conceived. 

While yes, it’s true, that government spending can create jobs, it’s also true that prisons do a good job of providing full employment (occupying all bodies), and it’s also true that the market, if let to itself, will use capital much more efficiently and humanely (meaning voluntarily).

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government

Optimum Home Ownership Rates

While listening to the radio this morning, I came across a story about how foreclosures are increasing, meaning that the percentage of Americans who are homeowners is decreasing.  To my delight, I heard the radio host mention that several previous presidential administrations had emphasized increasing home ownership.

Some egghead was brought in and questioned about this, and he observed that 70% was historically too high.  Home ownership rates were traditionally closer to 60 or 65%.  The radio host asked some question along the lines of, “How do we know 60% is an optimal home ownership rate?”  The egghead went off on how home ownership has been increasingly seen as an investment, rather than simply a place to live.  Basically, he blamed real estate investors for this mess, though perhaps he was more implicit in that accusation.

In fact, “Is 60% a good or optimal home ownership rate?” is an excellent question to ask.  The answer is that we don’t know.  Nobody knows what the optimum for this or any other privately determined rate is.  That’s the whole point about the market economy vs. a centrally-planned economy.  One person or even a small group of people, or even a person-controlled machine, cannot determine this optimum rate.  Many have tried: Soviet Russia, Communist China, Cuba, Vietnam, etc.  All have had catastrophic failures.  Why?

From a perspective of Austrian economics, the reason is that each decision as to an individual affording a home, or buying a home, is an individual, subjective decision.  It is often irrational, and therefore unpredictable.  If one decision is unpredictable, then several are still unpredictable (the total is more unpredictable than any individual).  Increasing the number of unpredictable scenarios does not bring any further enlightenment as to whether one or multiple individuals are able to purchase a house, or are interested in doing so.  Yes, we can redistribute money via the welfare state and pressure financial institutions to adopt loose lending practices to encourage a higher percentage of home ownership, but who is to say that such a percentage is good or optimum?  Who is to say that such practices are moral?  Who is to say that such individuals are able to afford the costs and burdens associated with home ownership?

The truth is that the unpredictable nature of any economic decision, including significant ones like home ownership are best left to the market, to individuals acting freely.  Government economic intervention almost always results in an improper distribution of resources, like home ownership, for instance.  Why does Washington want to control what it does not (and cannot) understand?

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Filed under Austrian Economics, Libertarian, politics, role of government

Read Gregory Davis on the Bailout

I strongly recommend reading Gregory Davis’ article on the bailout specifically, and accountability in general.  It is a close mirror of many of my own thoughts and feelings with regards to the bailout.  One of my favorite parts is this question, which Congress should have asked to Sec. Paulson and Mr. Bernanke:

Chair: Mr Paulson, Mr Bernanke, you say we are in a grave crisis in which only immediate and sweeping action will stave off disaster.  OK, fine.  Question: How on earth did you let it get this bad? Why on earth do we have a Treasury, a Fed, an SEC, etc. if not precisely to bring impending crises to light and forestall this sort of disaster?  Either we are dealing with some sort of truly sinister conspiracy, or we are dealing with criminal incompetence.  Gentlemen, which is it?

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Filed under Austrian Economics, fiscal policy, Libertarian, politics, role of government

Proposition 8 and The Danger of Positive Rights

Proposition 8, a hot-button issue on the upcoming California ballot, is one the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is actively engaged in.  Letters have been sent out to Mormon congregations, encouraging members to actively do all they can to urge the passing of this piece of legislation, which, as I understand, amends the California constitution to recognize only marriage between a man and woman.

Personally, I would like the government out of marriage.  I know this for some is fairyland, as government, for at least tax reasons, is inextricably entwined with marriage partners (and has been for decades) in what I consider to be invasive ways.

From this perspective, supporting Proposition 8 is surely an act of faith.  But there are rational reasons for me to support this expansion of government which I find consistent with my principles.  The problem with inaction?  Positive Rights.

Traditionally, Lockean government existed to protect individual negative property rights: my neighbor has no right to assault me, for instance, or steal my stuff, to use technical terms.  My rights are protected by government.

Positive rights are a different matter entirely.  Instead of the right to be protected from something, positive rights are the right to receive something, like health care, a “living wage”, home ownership, and the like.  This necessitates something being confiscated from someone else and given to you.  It is this mindset of entitlement which concerns me most about this proposition.

Implications of positive rights as applied to proposition 8 to me include messy litigation cases.  All it takes is one or two high profile lawsuits and the consequences could become very difficult.  These could tie up precious tithing money as the Church defends itself from accusations of discrimination.  They could result in LDS Bishops being unable to perform marriages to heterosexual couples only.  I see even parts of temple worship, like the sealing ordinance, could be at risk, perhaps not in the immediate future, but down the road.  I could see where, in the not-too-distant future, excluding practicing homosexuals from ordinances could be considered discriminatory.  These scenarios seem uncomfortably plausible and it would pain me to see the Church fight these type of unnecessary and destructive battles.

And so I urge anyone residing in California to support a Constitutional amendment to define marriage as between one man and one woman, not to enlarge the powers of the state, but to prevent unwanted encroachments on private religious organizations.

By the way, for those interested, the Church posted an official commentary called “The Divine Institution of Marriage” on its website, which is quite interesting.

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Filed under Libertarian, Mormonism, Personal, politics, role of government

Family-Friendly Television?

Most of my posts are more libertarian and political in nature, but this has a decidedly cultural and religious bent.

Last night, I was watching part of a program about Rick Steves’ touring Europe on PBS.  This episode included parts of southern France, like Carcassone, for instance.  Beautiful scenery and an interesting glimpse into daily European life drew me in.  I’m the type of nerd that likes watching travel shows.  Part of my problem with the travel channel is that they have moved away from those into shows on beaches, cuisine, and poker tournaments.  But I digress.

Rick Steves is friendly, upbeat, and interesting.  His show would strike most as bland and family-friendly.  But parts of this episode got me wondering.

After talking about religious persecution of the Cathars, the program showed a Catholic cathedral.  Inside, there is a large fresco about the final judgment, where the righteous are blessed and the wicked punished.  Then he said something like, “The Church used this painting to intimidate parishoners to stay with the Church.”  The question of intentions and motivations is to me suspect: how do we really know intentions?  And the whole perspective was, to me, more anti-religious than anti-Catholic.

But the mood changed when he examined a museum dedicated to Henri de Toulouse-Latrec.  He touted him as a fascinating individual, explaining that because he was born different, he had a unique perspective.  Fine so far.  But then he went into detail about Latrec’s obsession with brothels and prostitutes.

The dichotomy was interesting: skepticism, pessimism, and near hostility towards organized Christian religion (all under the pleasantly-smiling face of Rick Steves), but a warm embrace of immoral explorations.  I know this is not nearly the apex or acme of 21st Century hedonism, but I do find it to be indicative of the times, how we reservedly deal with religion (especially organized, established Christian religion) and yet feel comfortable and positive about public explorations of sexuality and immorality.  That, to me, is backwards, yet sadly representative of the popular mindset nowadays.

Elder Maxwell, among many other prophets, was right about the Seventh Commandment in this classic and highly-recommended talk given October 2001.

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Filed under Mormonism, Personal, Social Commentary

Why I am not an Egalitarian

I used to be an egalitarian for a short period of time.  This means that I used to think that huge amounts of wealth concentrated in the hands of a few was immoral and improper.  “No one needs that much money,” I would reason.  “Far better to spread it around to those who do.”  I could think of blue collar workers in the food service industry, or manufacturing, or car maintenance, to name just three.

I have sympathy for those who feel they are at the bottom of the food chain.

But economic egalitarianism is not the answer.

One reason that convinced me is the following: if each individual is different in terms of skills and abilities, then each individual, treated equally, would perform differently, both athletically, socially, academically, and economically.

To make sure each individual receives the same (or very similar) economic benefits, the law, or society, must of necessity treat some individuals far differently than others.  In other words, some form of discrimination, in opposition to individual liberty, would be required.

As I see it, it is far better to have each treated equally in the eyes of the law and see individual differences (including preferences) reflected in economic situations.

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Filed under Libertarian, Personal, politics, role of government