Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Houston Term Limits Redux

A special commission appointed by former Mayor Bill White is examining the city's term limit policies and is scheduled to issue a report by July. The minutes for the February meeting of commission are online and present an interesting look at how members of the public view the purpose of government.

While far from unanimous, comments from the public were in general agreement that term limits--at least as currently used--are a bad thing. The reason is two-fold: 1. City officials cannot support and follow through on long-range projects, and 2. Community leaders must regularly "re-educate" new city officials regarding the needs of their community. In other words, term limits makes it difficult for the city to engage in projects such as light rail, flood control, and other infrastructure development.

This is undoubtedly true, but it is based on the false premise that government should even be involved in such projects. Those speaking to the commission refused to question this premise, instead focusing on the impact that term limits has on their particular organization. However, if we question this assumption, the issue is cast in an entirely different light.

The purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, including property rights. Government's purpose is to establish and protect a social setting in which individuals are free to act according to their own judgment, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. This precludes government from using force for any purpose (except in retaliation against those who initiate its use), including those deemed to be in the "public interest". Limited to its proper purpose, government would not be engaged in projects such as light rail, flood control, and infrastructure development. Such projects--if they are desired--would be left to the voluntary and consensual discretion of private individuals.

With such projects removed from city government, term limits becomes a moot issue. With city government limited to the protection of individual rights, the primary function of city officials would be defining the application of property rights to projects such as light rail, flood control, and infrastructure development. With political considerations removed from the table, community leaders would have no need for developing political influence.

So long as government is involved in activities outside its proper domain, citizens will have an incentive to curry favor with politicians and bureaucrats. And elected officials will have incentive to award political supporters with projects and policies that they support. Term limits does not change this fact, it merely changes the faces involved.

The real solution is not limiting the time that elected officials can serve. The real solution is limiting their power.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The City Budget and Crime Prevention

In a Sunday Op Ed city councilman C. O. "Brad" Bradford illustrates how easily it can be to "justify" expand government into areas it doesn't belong. Addressing the city's $100 million budget deficit, Bradford writes:
What can and should the city be doing right now? It should tighten its belt, reduce spending and provide relief for businesses and citizens. Businesses tend to flourish, and citizens fare better, when they have as much free rein as possible to operate legally and ethically. Reducing some burdens on businesses, particularly while our local economy is sagging, creates an incentive to reinvest, expand and grow businesses.
This is certainly a good starting point. But the article quickly goes downhill from there:
How do we reduce spending? Acknowledge and operate under the model that the city of Houston's business is the delivery of core services.... Any activity deemed not to be a part of core services must be subjected to reduction, privatization and/or elimination. We must get back to a commitment to basic sanitation (garbage and water), infrastructure issues, police and fire. After all, the delivery of core services is why we exist as a local government. 
Actually, the purpose of the city government is the protection of our rights, including our property rights. This involves the police and the courts, and nothing else. Services such as sanitation, infrastructure, and fire protection can and should be privatized. Of course, this is unlikely to occur any time soon, particularly given prevailing views regarding government and the dominance of Pragmatism. Unable to identify the principles underlying his statements, Bradford goes on to advocate that conflict with his previous claims.

Stating that the city's primary purpose is public safety, Bradford goes on to argue that we need more crime prevention "strategies", such as summer and after-school programs. Such programs, he claims, are more effective than putting more officers on the street. I don't doubt that Bradford could cite studies that show that such programs are less expensive than apprehending and incarcerating criminals. But so what? There are a multitude of actions the government can take--such as curfews or martial law--that might be cost effective, but violating the rights of citizens under any pretense is immoral.

Indeed, virtually anything could be justified under the guise of a crime prevention strategy. Random searches of homes, arrests based on "gut feelings", and road blocks would all undoubtedly prevent some crimes. Crime prevention however, is not a proper use of government force. Apprehending and punishing actual criminals--those who initiate force--is.

The city government engages in such activity far more often and in more ways than any common criminal could ever dream of. Whether it is trying to shut down sexually-oriented businesses and sign companies, or bullying Spec's Liquor, or harassing CES Environmental Services, or pandering to opponents of the Ashby High Rise, or countless other examples, city officials have not and do not hesitate to use force against the citizenry.

I have previously addressed how to solve the budget deficit, return city government to its proper purpose, and solve the crime issue. If Bradford, or any city official for that matter, truly wishes to address the budget deficit or crime, he would be well advised to begin by identifying the proper purpose of government.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Falkenberg's Child Care Dilemma

The decision to have a child is not one that should be undertaken lightly. The time and expense involved can be substantial. A parent will be faced with many difficult choices and may often have to forgo their own short-term desires in order to meet their parental responsibilities.

Sadly, many parents seem to give little thought to the responsibilities of raising a child before choosing to do so. As an example, consider Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg. Having recently returned from maternity leave, Falkenberg has embarked on a crusade for tougher state regulation of child care facilities. In a column last week, she bemoans the difficulty in choosing a child care provider:
[I]n Texas, the tools to help parents shop for quality, affordable child care are few. We just might have more sophisticated ways of choosing movies and restaurants. 
Falkenberg goes on to whine that other states have more accredited child care facilities and provide parents with more information regarding those facilities.The "tools" she wants at her disposal are more government involvement. Ignoring the best and most important tool already at her disposal--her own mind--she inadvertently reveals her own thought processes (or lack thereof)
For many Texans, the crucial decision of where a child will spend dozens of hours per week can be based on such arbitrary factors as word-of-mouth recommendations, Internet reviews or even how full the parking lot at the day care down the street seems to be at any given time. 
Interestingly, she finds word-of-mouth recommendations arbitrary, but mandates issued by the state are not. She finds the recommendations of her friends, relatives, and neighbors--people she knows--questionable, but the dictates of unknown bureaucrats are above reproach.

Apparently Falkenberg finds the process of interviewing child care providers, visiting their facilities, and talking to other parents overwhelming. Apparently she doesn't trust her own judgment, and rather than be faced with such choices, she wants the state to impose standards upon the industry. The judgment of child care providers and other parents is irrelevant.

Falkenberg's desire is nothing new. In 1989 I wrote:
But a growing number of parents refuse to accept the responsibility of choosing. They want the government to mandate standards, to provide licensing, and to pay for child care. They want the government to assume their responsibilities as parents. Sadly, this is the real crisis in child care.
When an individual regards his own mind as impotent, he projects his fear and confusion onto others, believing that all individuals share his mental turmoil. When an individual finds the responsibility of choosing overwhelming, he finds "serenity" in having choices eliminated--not only for himself, but for others as well. As Ayn Rand noted, the refusal to think is the source of all evil:
Thinking is man’s only basic virtue, from which all the others proceed. And his basic vice, the source of all his evils, is that nameless act which all of you practice, but struggle never to admit: the act of blanking out, the willful suspension of one’s consciousness, the refusal to think—not blindness, but the refusal to see; not ignorance, but the refusal to know. 
When an individual refuses to think, his only recourse is to blindly follow the dictates of others. He will voluntarily place his head in a noose and demand that others do likewise.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Sean Hannity's False Alternative

I generally try to avoid listening to Sean Hannity, but I happened to catch a portion of his program the other day. A caller was frustrated over the attitude of those who have argued that we cannot claim that a government takeover of the health care system will be a disaster. Hannity offered no explanation for this position, and simply repeated that the free market works.

Hannity is correct of course, if individual freedom and well-being is one's standard for "works". There is ample evidence--nineteenth century America, East Germany versus West Germany, communist China versus Hong Kong, etc.--that demonstrates the practical benefits of freedom. But these practical arguments have been, and always will be, ineffectual. The reason lies in morality.

Faced with a choice between what is considered moral and what is practical, individuals choose what they regard as moral. Having embraced altruism--the belief that morality consists of self-sacrificial service to others--the "conflict" between the moral and the practical is inevitable.

The free market is founded on the premise that each individual has a moral right to act according to his own judgment in the pursuit of his own values. It is a system based on rational self-interest, in which each individual is free to take the actions he deems appropriate to achieve his own interests and happiness (so long as he respects the mutual rights of others). This is of course, the antithesis of altruism.

Hannity, like virtually all conservatives, is blinded to the false alternative between the moral and the practical. He refuses to question altruism, and has no explanation as to why Americans are increasingly rejecting the practicality of the free market. Indeed, his own position adds to that rejection.

If morality consists of self-sacrificial service to others, if we must place the welfare and interests of others before our own, if the needs of one man supersede the rights of another, then morality demands that practical consequences be cast aside. To mystics like Hannity the issues of life on Earth are ultimately of little concern when the fate of one's eternal soul is at stake.

The truth is, a proper moral code is eminently practical. The purpose of morality is to provide man with a code of values for living his life on this Earth, to provide guidance for achieving his values.

So long as Hannity and other conservatives embrace altruism their arguments regarding the practicality of the free market will fall on deaf ears. Until they recognize and accept The Virtue of Selfishness they will continue to endorse the false alternative of the moral versus the practical.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The "Radical Center"

Thomas Friedman bemoans the political divisiveness that arose during the debate over health care "reform". He fears that Democrats will lose seats in November, resulting in more gridlock in Washington. His solution:
That is why I want my own Tea Party. I want a Tea Party of the radical center.
Unsurprisingly, the "radical center" is an alleged hybrid of ideas from Leftists and conservatives. Friedman gives us a few examples:
It advocates: raising taxes to close our budgetary shortfalls, but doing so with a spirit of equity and social justice; guaranteeing that every American is covered by health insurance, but with market reforms to really bring down costs; legally expanding immigration to attract more job-creators to America's shores; increasing corporate tax credits for research and lowering corporate taxes if companies will move more manufacturing jobs back onshore...
On the surface, this might appear to be the mix of ideas that Friedman claims. But if we look a little deeper, we see that these proposals--along with other examples--involve government intervention in one form or another. Each takes as an unquestioned premise the belief that government can and should be controlling, regulating, manipulating, and dictating how individuals live and work. Each is founded on the belief that government should compel individuals to put aside their own judgment and values for some alleged "common good".

There is nothing "centrist" about this. It is a complete capitulation to the Left.

Of course, Friedman cannot see this. He thinks that he is taking the "best" ideas from both sides and finding a workable compromise, a "compromise" that mixes government controls with individual freedom. But any freedom that Friedman allows to sneak into his proposals is tenuous at best, for if the government doesn't like the results, that freedom will quickly disappear. If, for example, the "free market" (which ignores the fact that the market hasn't been free for decades) doesn't bring down health care costs the government will step in.

As Ayn Rand noted:
There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.
The centrist wants us to believe otherwise--that there is no right or wrong, that both sides have valid points, and we all just need to find some happy meeting point. So, if a robber has broken into your home and wants to steal your possessions, the two of your should "compromise". Rather than take everything, the thief should agree to just take your computer and jewelry, and rather than insist on retaining what is rightfully yours, you should agree to let him. Most would find such a "compromise" absurd, but this is what Friedman and all "moderates" urge.

It is often said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The truth is, the road to hell is paved with compromise.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Selling Health Care Repeal

In response to the unanimous opposition of Republicans to enslave doctors and subject the health care of every American to the whim of bureaucrats, the Chronicle predicts that GOP may suffer in future elections:

After the vote its [Republican] leaders vowed to make repeal of the legislation a theme of the fall congressional campaigns.

It will be interesting to see how receptive voters will be to a pitch to reinstate higher drug prices for the elderly, permit insurance companies to resume denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and cancel tax breaks for individuals and small businesses to pay for policies.

Talk about a hard sell.

To the Chronicle, Americans face the choice of being raped by private companies or subjecting ourselves to complete government control of health care. The paper ignores the real alternative: freedom for everyone.

The Chronicle, along with virtually everyone else, conveniently evades the fact that patients, drug companies, insurance companies, and doctors have long been subjected to an ever-growing mountain of government edicts, mandates, and controls. The paper's response to the failures of government intervention is more government intervention.

If Republicans truly want to make good on their promise to repeal the health care bill, they must reject the Chronicle's false alternative. If they make a case for individual freedom, and do so on moral grounds, they will actually have a relatively easy "sell". Unfortunately, it is unlikely that Republicans will do so, given the fact that they overwhelmingly embrace the same self-sacrificial ethics as Leftists.

Convincing the GOP and its supporters to abandon altruism and proudly promote egoism will be the true hard sell.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Tyranny of Nullification

I have previously written that nullification--a state declaring a particular federal law unconstitutional and thereby inapplicable within that state--would ultimately lead to tyranny. But we do not need to rely solely on theoretic arguments to see the truth of my claim. We can look to history to see the results of nullification.

In 1833 the U.S. Supreme Court decided the case of Barron v. Baltimore. According to Wikipedia:
John Barron co-owned a profitable wharf in the Baltimore harbor. He sued the mayor of Baltimore for damages, claiming that when the city had diverted the flow of streams while engaging in street construction, it had created mounds of sand and earth near his wharf making the water too shallow for most vessels. The trial court awarded Barron damages of $4,500, but the appellate court reversed the ruling.
In a unanimous decision, the court held that the first ten "amendments contain no expression indicating an intention to apply them to the State governments. This court cannot so apply them." In short, unless the Constitution specifically stated an application to the states, the states were free to act contrary to its provisions.

In practical terms, this is precisely what advocates of nullification desire. They call for the states to unilaterally choose which federal laws they will honor and which they will not. And if this applies to statutes, why should it not also apply to the supreme law of the land--the Constitution? Indeed, this was the result in Barron v. Baltimore.

For John Barron, the actions of the city destroyed his business and he received no compensation for it. The court ruled: "We are of opinion that the provision in the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution declaring that private property shall not be taken for public use without just compensation is intended solely as a limitation on the exercise of power by the Government of the United States, and is not applicable to the legislation of the states." In other words, the states can do whatever they choose, with no restrictions or constraints.

In theory and in practice this is the end result of nullification. For example, if the majority of Ohioans wish to nullify the First Amendment and institute censorship, the advocates of nullification have no basis for complaint. If the majority of Floridians wish to confiscate all guns within the state, the advocates of nullification must approve. If Texans want to outlaw trial by jury, or Utahans want to mandate the Mormon Church as the official state religion, or Alabamans want to prohibit blacks from voting, according to the advocates of nullification, such is the "right" of the citizens of those states.

Nullification is not about protecting individual rights; it is about unleashing the "will of the people". It is about a tyranny of the masses, in which the majority may do anything it pleases simply because it is the majority. (Interestingly, while nullification is endorsed primarily by conservatives, Leftists also argue that the "will of the people" should reign supreme, unrestricted by such things as the Constitution, principles, or individual rights.)

If the advocates of nullification truly wish to control the ever expanding powers of the federal government, then they must recognize and defend individual rights. They must declare that the rights of the individual may not be violated by any government--federal, state, or local. Anything less is an endorsement of tyranny.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The "Living" Constitution

A few weeks ago a commenter argued that the Constitution is a "living" document. According to Wikipedia:
The Living Constitution is a concept in American constitutional interpretation which claims that the Constitution has a dynamic meaning. The idea is associated with views that contemporaneous society should be taken into account when interpreting key constitutional phrases. [links removed]
In other words, the Constitution does not have a specific meaning that is applicable across time. It simply provides some general guidelines that we should interpret according to the latest opinion poll. Which means, there are no principles within the Constitution. Which means, the Constitution is nothing more than a piece of paper. "Living" Constitution is in fact, an anti-concept:
An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate . . . .
The idea of a "living" Constitution is intended to destroy the Constitution. It is intended to remove the constraints on government, constraints that are enumerated in that document. According to the "living" Constitution doctrine, limitations on government's powers--such as prohibitions on restricting speech--are subject to the opinions of the day. If the people want health care, or income redistribution, or censorship, the Constitution should not get in their way.

The Founders were well aware of the dangers of democracy--unlimited majority rule. They understood that the passions of the majority are as dangerous as the whims of a king. They sought to protect individual rights from a tyranny of the masses as well as a tyranny of one. They designed a government whose powers are limited, no matter who is in charge, no matter the fleeting desires of the citizenry.

The advocates of a "living" Constitution seek to unleash any such limitations on government. They seek to give "the people" the power to dictate how individuals may act.

The Constitution is a document of life. The "living" Constitution theory is not.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Politics and Education

Last Friday the Texas State Board of Education approved new standards for social studies that immediately drew criticism. The 11-4 vote was largely along party lines, with only one Democrat supporting the standards. Board member Mavis Knight complained:
We have been about conservative versus liberal. We have manipulated the standards to insist on what we want to be in the document regardless whether it's appropriate. We are perpetrating a fraud on the students of this state.
Something tells me that if Knight had been on the winning side she'd be singing a much different tune. Indeed, another board member, Mary Helen Berlanga said that
the standards ignore the Ku Klux Klan in Texas, Texas Rangers “killing Mexican-Americans without justification” and the U.S. Army's role in the attempted extermination of American Indians.
The Democrats' position illustrates two important points--one political and one epistemological.

The battle over educational standards illustrates an inevitable result of public education--disparate groups battle to impose their views upon all students within a jurisdiction. The losing side invariably decries the results. Curriculums are to be determined, not by sound educational principles and the choices of parents, but by political agendas.

More significant and revealing is what the Democrats consider important. It would be impossible and pointless to cover every concrete event that has occurred in the history of Texas, let alone America. So they choose those events that they believe concretize the essential nature of America and Texas. To the Left, America and Texas are defined by the KKK, murder, and genocide. To the Left, the failure to teach this in public schools is a fraud.

The politicalization of education would be a non-issue if education were handled entirely by the private sector. Those who wanted to teach Leftist propaganda would be free to do so, and if they could attract enough students they would stay in business. And those who wanted to teach that America was founded on Christian principles would be equally free to offer that service.

I agree with Belanga that a fraud is being perpetrated, and both Leftists and conservatives are guilty parties. Neither group is opposed to forcing their political and social agendas upon the children of Texas, regardless of the views of the parents of those children. If either group really cared about education--as well as the rights of parents and taxpayers--they would advocate for abolishing public education.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Protect the Children by Shackling the Adults

Chronicle columnist Lisa Falkenberg demonstrates what happens when an individual chooses to rely on government rather than exercising his own judgment. She decries the state's licensing requirements for day care operators:
Hours required to give a manicure: 600. Hours required to care for a baby: eight. (Oh, and a high school diploma or a GED.)
Not surprisingly, she doesn't question the injustice of such draconian requirements for a manicurist. She simply wants to extend them to day care operators. She goes on to cite studies that "prove" that
high-quality early intervention programs for poor kids improve cognitive test scores and college attendance rates. The research by Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman points to early education as a sound investment, each dollar spent reducing society's burden in areas like remedial and special education, teen pregnancy, welfare programs and prisons.
If you wonder why you should be concerned about college attendance rates, or test scores, or teen pregnancy, Falkenberg provides the answer: young children are "one [of] our most precious resources." One of the definitions for "resource" is "[a]n available supply that can be drawn on when needed." And this is precisely what Falkenberg means when referring to children. In this era of increasing collectivism and statism, individuals are resources to be used by the State as it deems fit.

Despite knowing the standards that experts recommends, Falkenberg apparently is incapable of applying those standards in her search for day care. Rather than interview prospective operators, determine their qualifications, and assess their character, Falkenberg wants the state to take over this responsibility. Rather than exercise her own judgment and allow others to do the same, she wants to cede such decisions to bureaucrats. Not only that, she wants those bureaucrats to impose their decisions on all Texans.

In typical Leftist fashion, Falkenberg "justifies" her position on the grounds that it will protect children. After all, other than pedophiles and ogres, who wouldn't want to protect children? For starters, me, and I am neither a pedophile nor an ogre.

What Falkenberg evades is that in her alleged effort to "protect" children, she places shackles on adults. She evades the fact that some day these children will grow up and live in a world where the Falkenbergs of the world are urging more controls and regulations on their activities. She evades the fact that the restrictions she wants placed on others can just as easily be placed on her and her child. She evades the fact that in violating the rights of adults, children will not and cannot be protected.

She may be fine with this, and based on her willingness to surrender her own judgment, I suspect that she is. She does not want to use her own mind, nor does she want others to use theirs. And she is willing to use the coercive power of government to see that they can't.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Brief Hiatus

Due to an office move and an interruption in Internet service, posting may be sporadic this week.

Solving Houston's Budget Deficit, Part 2

The city of Houston is facing a $110 million budget deficit over the next two years. Ma Parker has raised the possibility of furloughs and layoffs for city employees if they aren't willing to make salary concessions. According to the Chronicle Ma said that "some job losses are possible if City Council determines certain services to be unnecessary."

Why does it take a budget deficit to consider whether "certain services" are unnecessary? Shouldn't this be an ongoing process, regardless of the city's financial position? And more importantly, what standard will be used to determine what is necessary and unnecessary?

Since the proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, including property rights, most of the items on the city's budget are unnecessary--they are contrary to the city's proper functions. For example, putting light bulbs in citizen's homes, helping them with the down payment on their homes, patrolling sexually-oriented businesses, monitoring the actions of taco trucks, keeping an eye on "attention-getting devices", and generally butting into our lives. Of course, the city also spends millions trying to stop development, cracking down on renegade taxis, regulating valet companies, harassing veterinarians, and generally making life more difficult for businesses. Eliminating these immoral programs and policies would be a good place for Ma to start trimming the budget.

But I seriously doubt that she will consider such steps. Doing so would be contrary to her view that individual rights should be sacrificed to the politically popular idea du jour. Having ruled out tax increases (for now), Ma is considering raising rates for water, sewer, and other city fees. Considering the fact that the city holds a monopoly on water and sewer services, such rate increases bear a striking resemblance to a tax increase. Further, given the fact that many city fees are related to securing permission to operate a business, remodel your home, or engage in other activities, individuals will have have the choice of paying the bribe fee or foregoing the activity. That really isn't a choice, just like paying taxes isn't really a choice.

Of course, Ma sees things much differently:
For years now, we have spent more money than we have taken in. You can't spend more than you earn. It is a very unbusinesslike approach to running things.
This is either gross evasion, or extreme naivety, neither of which is a particularly characteristic for a mayor. Governments do not earn their revenue (or at least most of it)--they extract revenue by force. To earn money one must exchange value for value. The city offers no value when it forces developers to secure a building permit, or compels businesses to pay a fee to erect a sign, or demands payment in exchange for permission to engage in activities of one's choosing. The only "value" offered in such situations is the granting of permission, a permission which the city has no moral right to grant or withhold.

If Ma truly wishes to solve the budget deficit, she would do well to begin by recognizing the nature and proper purpose of government. Government is an agency of force, and that force is properly used only in retaliation against those first use force against others, such as robbers, kidnappers, and murderers. Recognizing this fact is the first step in meaningfully solving the budget deficit.

The city's problem isn't a lack of money. The problem is from spending too much money, and spending it on improper purposes. Ultimately, the problem stems from the wrong ideas about government, its purpose, and its function. At its root, the financial deficit arises from an intellectual deficit.

Friday, March 12, 2010

"Suicide" on the Left

Mark Steyn offers some interesting comments on why Obama and the Democrats seem intent on committing political suicide by ramming health care "reform" down our throats (HT: HBL):
I've been saying in this space for two years that the governmentalization of health care is the fastest way to a permanent left-of-center political culture. It redefines the relationship between the citizen and the state in fundamental ways that make limited government all but impossible.
Steyn points to numerous examples, including the Departments of Energy and Education domestically. Once some program or department comes into being, it becomes almost impossible to eliminate. And so the country moves closer to
statism. Even when conservatives get control, they are operating within the context established by Leftists. Steyn concludes that the Left is willing to take a short-term hit in November in order to take a massive step towards their long-term goal.

While Steyn correctly notes that conservatives have done little to stop the Left, he fails to identify the fundamental reason. He accurately identifies the effect, but comes up short regarding the cause. Fundamentally, conservatives agree with the Left. Both sides accept altruism as the moral ideal, and they just disagree on its political manifestation.

Conservatives cannot challenge, let alone rollback, Leftist programs because they agree with the premise that we have a moral duty to self-sacrificially serve others. Conservatives cannot stop the Leftist political agenda because they are in agreement regarding the moral base of politics.

The Left is winning politically because it is the more consistent advocate of altruism. As Ayn Rand identified the issue:
  1. In any conflict between two men (or two groups) who hold the same basic principles, it is the more consistent one who wins.

  2. In any collaboration between two men (or two groups) who hold different basic principles, it is the more evil or irrational one who wins.

  3. When opposite basic principles are clearly and openly defined, it works to the advantage of the rational side; when they are not clearly defined, but are hidden or evaded, it works to the advantage of the irrational side.

While conservatives put forth a pretense of disagreement with the Left, they hold the same basic principles. Their meek complaints that a particular proposal goes "too far" is not a principled challenge, but an open admission that they are morally bankrupt.

More than a century ago the Left started the train rolling towards statism (ironically by regulating the rail roads). With each generation that train has picked up speed, aided and abetted by conservatives who have, with few exceptions, simply gone along for the ride. Altruism set the course, and until it is rejected, it matters little who sits in the locomotive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Solution for HISD

Houston Independent School District (HISD) Superintendent David Grier wants to cut ties with Community Education Partners, the company that has been running two alternative schools for the school district. The Chronicle reports that Grier wants others to compete for a new school:
The new alternative school, estimated to cost $14 million, would serve only those students who commit serious offenses such as selling drugs or bringing weapons on campus that require expulsion under state law or district policy. HISD currently gives principals the option of sending students to CEP for discretionary reasons such as smoking, using profanity or chronically misbehaving.

Grier is proposing that students who commit less serious offenses get sent to another HISD campus in a swapping program. Problem students at one middle or high school would be sent to another in hopes that their behavior would improve in a different environment — away from friends but without the metal detectors and strict rules of an alternative school.
Forced to "educate" children who have no interest in school, HISD has little choice but to keep trying new programs. And taxpayers have no choice but to continue paying for these futile attempts to accomplish what is nearly impossible--reforming disinterested students.

The purpose of the schools is to educate, not transform delinquents. If these kids don't want to learn, nothing the district does will change that fact. Instead of subjecting teachers and other students to the antics of these punks, HISD should simply expel them.

Of course, this is easier said than done, given the public nature of HISD. Unlike private schools, HISD must accept virtually everyone who shows up at its doors, including those who want to do nothing but cause problems.

The long-term solution is to get government out of the education business entirely. Problem students would no longer be a political issue, but a private matter between the school and the student. While many, if not most, would consider this impractical, the truth is that prior to the Civil War virtually all education was provided by the private sector.

Educator Robert Peterson has written:
Historical records, which are by no means complete, reveal that over one hundred and twenty-five private schoolmasters advertised their services in Philadelphia newspapers between 1740 and 1776. Instruction was offered in Latin, Greek, mathematics, surveying, navigation, accounting, bookkeeping, science, English, and contemporary foreign languages. Incompetent and inefficient teachers were soon eliminated, since they were not subsidized by the State or protected by a guild or union. Teachers who satisfied their customers by providing good services prospered.
In short, those who wanted an education, including the poor, had abundant opportunities to attain it. Schools were not forced to deal with disruptive students, nor were taxpayers forced to pay for the education of others. If HISD--or anyone for that matter--really wants to solve our education woes, it would do well to study history. In the case of education, it is a history well worth repeating.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let the Guilt Trip Begin

With the census getting started, pundits and government officials have begun their campaign to "educate" the public regarding the importance of participating. As one example, we have an OpEd in Sunday's Chronicle:
The city of Houston loses approximately $1,700 for each person who doesn't fill out the census form. When you don't fill out your census form, you're shortchanging your neighborhood.
In fact, you end up sending your tax dollars to other states like Oklahoma, Colorado or, God forbid, California or New York. Your tax dollars are collected annually from your income and the sales of products you've purchased, but determining where those tax dollars get spent will be done using data collected from the 2010 census. Wouldn't you rather our tax dollars return home to our communities?
On a superficial level, this might appear as an appeal to our self-interest. Wouldn't you rather have your money spent on roads that you can use on a daily basis? Wouldn't you rather that your money be used for schools that your children attend? Most people would say "yes" while ignoring or evading the premise that underlies such questions.

The money taken through taxation is not our money--it belongs to individuals. My money belongs to me, just as your money belongs to you. We do not share ownership. Further, I have a moral right to spend my money as I choose, just as you have a moral right to spend your money as you choose. Nobody, including the government, has a moral right to dictate how anyone uses his money.

Of course, most people see it differently. They believe that each of us must pay our "fair share" and the use of coercion to achieve this end is proper. They believe that there are certain things--such as building roads and funding schools--that must be done collectively. Left to our own devices individuals would refuse to pay for such things, to the detriment of all. If we are free to pursue our own self-interest, each of us would neglect these "common goods".

An honest look at the world would reveal the absurdity of such a claim. Grocery stores, cell phone companies, auto dealers, and indeed every private business produces and provides values desired and needed by individuals. Coercion is not required to motivate farmers to grow food; force is not needed for that food to be processed and delivered to our stores. The self-interest of farmers and food processors is the only motivation required. Indeed, it is the self-interest of each individual that motivates him to seek more education, or work an extra job, or take other actions to improve his life.

That individuals can pursue their self-interest and society still functions in a civilized and mutually beneficial manner escapes most people, despite the overwhelming evidence. Fundamentally, the reason is not the impracticality of rational self-interest, but the view that it is immoral. Morally, we are taught, we have an obligation to place the welfare and interests of others before our own. The standard of morality, we are taught, is self-sacrificial service to others, whether the nation, the state (in the case of the advocates of nullification), or our community. And this unchosen obligation is not a mere suggestion, but one that you must honor, or else:
Some treat the census the way they treat voting. If they don't vote, they're making a statement about their disapproval of all candidates. Or they choose not to be bothered. But filling out your census form isn't a right. It's your obligation. You're required to fill out your form by law or face federally mandated fines.
In other words, if you choose to remain silent in regard to the census, you are subject to criminal penalties. As a friend pointed out in 2000, when they come to arrest you for your "crime" you will be informed that you have a right to remain silent, which is exactly what they are arresting you for doing.

This contradiction is not an accident, nor is it an isolated example of government incompetence. It is the very nature of the initiation of force. Force negates the mind; it compels individuals to act, not in accordance with their own judgment (which might be aimed at improving their own life, i.e., their self-interest), but for the purpose of serving others. In the case of the census, we must do "our part" for our "community", or else.

Any appeals to self-interest are merely cowardly attempts to hide what lies behind the census. Such appeals are an attempt to inculcate guilt, hoping that we will do "voluntarily" what they will ultimately force us to do. What thugs of every persuasion do not realize is that the mind cannot be forced. They count on their victim's moral sanction and cooperation. When they get neither, they must expose themselves for the brutes that they are. And that is something that the census takers do not count on.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Line in the Stone

On Friday the Chronicle joined the chorus echoing Obama in calling for a vote on health care reform:
President Barack Obama has drawn a line in the sand on health care reform. It's an utterly necessary one, we would contend. Obama has said the American people deserve a vote in Congress, up or down, on health care reform.
While the Chronicle makes it clear that it wants an up vote, the editorial also makes it clear that its position isn't a matter of principle. Up or down doesn't really matter, just give us a vote. In other words, whether doctors are enslaved and the rest of us loose the little freedom we have in the realm of health care is irrelevant--just end this debate. Equally irrelevant is the opinion of the American public, which is opposed to the proposals now on the table.

In drawing his line in the sand, Obama said that he didn't know how health care reform would play out politically, but it was the right thing to do. Is he really this divorced from reality, or is he just posturing? Or, is he so hungry for power that easily perceivable facts escape him? The public's response to the Democrat's proposals was unequivocally clear in last summer's town hall meetings; the election of Scott Brown reinforced that message. If Obama doesn't know how this is going to play out politically--when he has already seen how it will play out--then we can only conclude that he sees no connection between the past and the future.

If one rejects principles, as both Obama and the Chronicle have done as a matter of principle, what happened yesterday has no bearing on what will happen tomorrow. If one rejects principles, the election of Scott Brown provides no clue what will happen in November, let alone next week.

While the election of Brown is certainly no guarantee that the Democrats will take a beating in November, it takes a serious separation from reality to feign ignorance of the political implications of drawing a line in the sand.

Unfortunately, sand is easily shifted, and so is the line drawn in it. Obama has already made "concessions" to win Republican support, and given the spinelessness of most Republicans--who generally accept the same unprincipled Pragmatism as Obama--America could be sold down the river for a few cheap trinkets. Or, political favors for some holdout Congressman.

Further, Leftists drew the line decades ago when they first called for universal health care. They have continued to move the line in that direction ever since, and Republicans have largely acquiesced. Republicans have accepted the premise of government control of health care and weakly complained that a particular proposal goes "too far". And so the line keeps shifting.

If Republicans held firm principles they would declare that individual freedom is not negotiable or subject to the fleeting passions of the moment. If Republicans had a backbone a new line would be drawn--a line carved in stone.

Friday, March 5, 2010

A Very Bad Lesson

On Thursday, college students across the nation protested funding cuts to state colleges. The students are upset because they are taking on more debt and in some cases, having to choose between eating or buying books. Not surprisingly, the students believe that they should not face such choices:
I want people to question where the priorities are. To see people getting together to accomplish a goal by creating awareness for something as simple and as basic as the right to be educated.
I agree with the first sentence. People--including students--should question their priorities. If they deem a college education worthwhile (and for the life of me, I sometimes wonder why) then they should be willing to undertake the actions necessary to attain that value. To her credit, the student quoted above is working three jobs, but she is obviously unhappy about her situation.

And she is unhappy because she believes that education is a right. She believes that the mere fact that she exists gives her a claim to an education. And who is to pay for this education? That, apparently, is not her concern. She wants something, and it is the responsibility of others to provide it.

I can certainly empathize with a student who struggles to work his way through school--I did it. But the fact that something is difficult or uncomfortable is not a claim on the property or life of others. Nobody has a responsibility to make the life of college students easy. More importantly, there is no right to an education.

A right is a sanction to act without interference from others in a social setting. It is not a claim to a value, but the freedom to take the actions necessary to achieve that value. To claim otherwise is to claim that someone must provide that value. In this instance, that "someone" is taxpayers. The students believe that taxpayers should be forced to give up their money to pay for the education of others, that taxpayers should be deprived of their rights. This is worse than a contradiction.

That these students regard education as a right is not surprising. It is what they have been taught. And that is a very bad lesson indeed.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff 43

Porno Nihilists
A group of atheist students at the University of Texas at San Antonio is offering to give pornography to anyone who turns in religious literature. According to the Chronicle:
The "Smut for Smut" campaign is an annual campaign of the group Atheist Agenda at the UTSA campus. Group members contend that religious texts are, themselves, pornographic because of the violence and torture they contain and the sectarian violence they spark.
This is the type of activity that gives atheism a bad name. Rather than promote their own ideas, these students simply seek to attack and destroy the values of others. There is certainly nothing wrong with attacking the irrational--I do my share of that here--but being against something is considerably different than being for something. If the punk students are typical of their ilk, they aren't for anything, except the destruction of values.

Incompetent Thieves
The Houston Housing Authority, which provides financial assistance to help low-income Houstonians purchase a home, is broke-- $9.2 million broke according to the Chronicle. The deficit it seems, has resulted because the city hasn't applied for reimbursement from the state. (HT: blogHouston)

I am not sure which is worse: The city robbing taxpayers to play Robin Hood, or its incompetence.

Postal Service is Broke
In an announcement that seemed to surprise nobody outside of the Postal Service, Postmaster General John Potter let the world know that the government-backed monopoly is broke. To address the situation, he wants to raise prices and reduce services. Rather than continuing to rape taxpayers and postal customers, the government should repeal the Private Express Statutes that prohibit private businesses from delivering the mail. UPS, FedEx and other private companies have clearly demonstrated that they can do a better job delivering packages and parcels. The statutes are nothing more than a tool for political patronage.

No Cuss Week
A California teenager is upset because the state legislature stalled a resolution promoting "No Cuss Week". "I think the politicians are just trying to get attention from the media and get themselves interviewed," the teenager told the media while being interviewed.

While many are applauding Hatch McKay's initiative in promoting "No Cuss Clubs", moving the issue to the political level is sending a very bad message. While the measure is only a resolution at this time, teenagers are learning that if you lobby long enough and loud enough, politicians will respond to your pleas. Frankly, McKay should mind his own #@&$ing business.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

David Crossley is Smarter than You

David Crossley, of Houston Tomorrow (HT), demonstrates what happens when one drops context in an attempt to promote a political agenda:
Standard of living is basically about stuff and working hard to get it, while quality of life is about human thriving with vitality and contentedness. It just seems totally rational that an individual’s top priority should be the quality of his or her life followed by the quality of life of family and friends. In fact, it’s rational to want everybody to have a high quality of life.

For me the biggest leap forward toward sustainable societies would be if entities in the Houston region, the US, and the world set improving the quality of life as their top priority. Job creation and economic development will follow, but it would be much more about ‘better’ than about ‘more.’
Taken out of context, this might seem plausible. It is certainly possible to have a high standard of living and live a miserable life. The endless parade of celebrities making a mess of their lives provides ample evidence of this. However, taken out of context, just about anything might seem plausible.

For example, Crossley states that "it’s rational to want everybody to have a high quality of life." Since I am not a misanthrope, I have no problem with others enjoying a high quality of life. Nor do I view the quality of life enjoyed by others as a threat to the quality of my life. But why should I care about his quality of life, or vice versa? Why should I, or anyone, care about the quality of life of strangers? And perhaps more importantly, what would this mean in terms of our own individual lives--how should we manifest this "care"?

We don't have to look very far to find the answers. HT advocates, among other things, "smart growth" and "public transit". On both of these issues--and many others--HT advocates the use of government coercion to achieve what it regards as "rational" ends. To HT, compelling you to act contrary to your own judgment is ultimately for your own good. As an example, see an article on their web site titled "Transit tax saves you money". In other words, you aren't smart enough to make such decisions on your own, nor is HT able to present an argument strong enough to convince you to act voluntarily. Instead, government must force you to act.

This is how Crossley believes that a high quality of life can be achieved. This, he believes, is rational.

But force is the antithesis of reason and the use of one's rational faculty. Force negates reason, rendering one's own judgment irrelevant. If you conclude that your money is best spent on a private automobile, Crossley doesn't care--he knows best and he intends to take your money to prove it. If you conclude that a particular use for your property is best, Crossley doesn't care--he knows better and he will force you to include green space, set backs, and whatever else he deems necessary to create a "livable" development. That is "smart growth", and if you don't believe it, you can ponder your "indiscretions" while sitting in jail for violating his edicts.

There is nothing smart about using force to impose one's values upon others. There is nothing rational about replacing the syllogism with compulsion. If Crossley truly wants to promote the rational, I suggest that he try beating us with logic instead of a club.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Failure of Practical Arguments

Demographia's latest report on housing affordability again places Houston among the most affordable large cities in the world. (HT: Joe Reed) The report states:
Prescriptive land use regulation policies (principally compact development and urban
consolidation) have virtually destroyed housing affordability in many markets. (page 6)
Not surprisingly, prescriptive land use policies, such as zoning and "smart growth", are present where housing is less affordable. Cities with fewer land use policies, such as Houston, are more affordable. This is true across the globe.

While the connection between housing affordability and land use policies has been clear for decades, it hasn't stopped politicians, urban planners, and assorted activists from pushing for more controls and dictates. The practical benefits of freedom in land use, clearly evident in Houston, fails to convince statists. Despite all of their rhetoric about "quality of life", they are unmoved by evidence that freedom allows individual human beings to enjoy a higher quality of life.

In one sense, the reason is quite simple: They don't care about the individual. If one examines any argument for land use controls, it seldom takes long to find appeals to the welfare of the neighborhood, or the community, or some other collective. Underlying these appeals is the unquestioned assumption that the individual must sacrifice his own well-being to the collective. Thus, evidence that housing is more affordable to individuals is dismissed--the alleged "common good" or "public welfare" supersedes that of the individual.

While there is certainly value in reports such as those put out by Demographia, the practical benefits of freedom have long been clear. Until the morality underlying land use regulations is challenged, government intervention will continue to be seen as the solution. Until the practical is also regarded as the moral, government will continue to grow and control our lives.

Monday, March 1, 2010

When Tiger was Truly Selfish

During his public apology for marital infidelity, Tiger Woods blamed his actions on "selfishness". I thought of nobody but myself, he declared. As I pointed out last week, his actions were anything but selfish. Interestingly, Tiger has been truly selfish at times, and the consequences stand in stark contrast to his current woes and disgrace.

As a teenager Tiger set an audacious goal for himself: He was going to win more major golf championships than any golfer in history. This is not a goal that one accomplishes in the course of a year or even a decade, but over a career. It is a goal that requires a lifetime of dedication, effort, and passion.

The pursuit of that goal has involved much more than simply playing well at the majors. He has one of the most rigorous training schedules of any professional golfer. His tournament schedule is carefully selected to provide both rest and the highest level of competition. And at least twice during his professional career, he has significantly changed his golf swing. Both times he suffered short-term setbacks in the pursuit of his goal, but benefited enormously in the long-term.

Tiger's relentless focus on his long-term goals has been truly selfish. At least on the golf course, nothing could distract him from the pursuit of his values. The results speak for themselves.

Tiger is well on his way to accomplishing his goal. He was--until last November--almost universally admired, and rightfully so. In being truly selfish--placing nothing above his values--he achieved wealth, fame, and enormous success.

Contrast this with the results when he acted against his stated values, when he did not think about the long-term consequences of his actions. He placed the momentary "pleasure" of sexual conquest above his values--his marriage. The result has been disgrace, the potential destruction of his marriage, and a sidetracked career. Nothing that has resulted from his infidelity has been in his self-interest.

The past few months have witnessed a tale of two Tigers. The truly selfish Tiger achieved his values; the selfless Tiger destroyed those values. If Tiger wishes to get his career, his marriage, and his life back on track, he needs to re-dedicate himself to his values. He needs to place nothing above those values. He needs to be truly selfish once again.