Monday, December 29, 2008

Intellectual Properties

Masterpieces of the Imagination, brought to you by the Benefits of Liberty and the Property Rights of the Mind.

Aaand...I'm back! Sorry for my slackerly ways; I've been christmasin' around, and now I'm in NJ with my wife. Anyway, here are this week's viewing / listening / reading recommendations.

For viewing: Brick
Directed by Rian Johnson, and starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this award-winning 2005 film is a hard-boiled, noir, crime drama in the best tradition of The Maltese Falcon. After the mysterious disappearance of his ex-girlfriend, a teenage loner doggedly descends into a world of high school crime. Though battered by forces beyond his comprehension and control, he pursues the truth relentlessly. Incredible cinematography; eery, inventive soundtrack; ends with a thrilling twist.

For listening: In Loving Memory by Alter Bridge
This song is a heartfelt, lilting Rock anthem about a lost loved one. One of the more moving expressions of these sentiments I've ever heard. Alter Bridge, comprised of several former members of the band "Creed," was formed in 2004 after the break-up of Creed (due to conflicts caused by lead singer Scott Stapp). Alter Bridge's singer is Myles Kennedy. Kennedy has a powerful voice and an easy break into his falsetto (and is considerably less annoying than Stapp).

For reading: the poetry of Richard Wilbur
Wilbur (b. 1921) is former Poet Laureate of the United States and two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize. He has been compared to both Robert Frost and Wallace Stevens, in that his poetry is usually accessible and seeks positive truth in everyday experiences. Any of his anthologies will do, but check out these charming, thoughtful poems: The Writer and Matthew VIII, 28 ff, and Epistemology.

Open Topic Week...

Since most of us are still taking vacation or otherwise downtime during the week between Christmas & News Years, I figured I'd try to fill in the time with another open topic.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I don't imagine things will be to busy on here over the holidays, since most will be traveling, entertaining, etc.

But from all of us @ C4tR, Have a Merry Christmas

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Thomas Sowell - always a must read

I know this is a short post, but Sowell is a true genius when it comes to plain talk on just about anything - but especially in his subject area of economics.

He does an excellent job of showing the parallels between Bush-Obama & Hoover-FDR. Unfortunately, the parallels don't bode well for conservatives OR for the nation as a whole.

He points out that the unemployment levels stayed relatively low after the crash of 1929, but that in the immediate aftermath of the Smoot-Hawley Tariffs - passed by congress & signed into law by President Hoover - unemployment skyrocketd. FDR further continued to intervene and the recession became the Great Depression.

As bad as the economy was for the nation, the fact that FDR was "doing something" was great for him politically.

Based on history, it appears that we are in for a rough 8 years - not just 4. The only hope for our nation is for conservatives to stay on message - and be vocal about it - at the local, state and national level. If anything, liberals are good at being vocal. We have the right message, we just need to make sure it is heard.

Open Topic Tuesday

Hey, hey waddya say.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Gridlock and Gas

OTT once again proved to be fertile ground for discussion - this time, discussion touched on various energy and environmental issues - particularly those surrounding driving.

Since I live and work in semi-rural area of South Jersey and don't personally encounter much in the way of traffic in my daily commute, but our favorite anonymous poster made a valid point - drivers in many metro areas experience major traffic delays to and from their jobs on a daily basis.

While we both agreed that this was an issue, we had some differences on the best way to address the problem - although we both agreed that tolls would be an effective way to address high traffic areas.

Historically, gas taxes have been used for the purposes of road maintenance, traffic reduction and subsidization of alternative means of transportation. There are a few problems with this approach:

1) Gas taxes target the wrong resource - traffic jams are the result of excess demand (and shortage of supply) of road space - not gasoline.
2) Gas taxes treat all driving the same - sitting in a traffic jam and taking a scenic trip on skyline drive have vastly different effects on the traffic levels on the Capital Beltway from 6-9AM, but place the same costs on the driver
3) As vehicles become more efficient, gas taxes will have less impact on traffic snarls- Hybrid electrics already use very little (if any) gasoline when sitting in traffic. In fact, hybrids see their biggest gains in fuel economy over gas only cars in stop & go driving. If our theoretical drivers above had hybrids, the driver using the more available of the two routes (scenic driver) is paying a greater share then the driver using the heavily demanded road. If (or when) plugin vehicles begin to take any significant share of the car market, the effect of gas taxes on traffic will be even less.

As mentioned earlier, tolls would be the most effective way to address high volume traffic - especially if the prices varied based on time of day. Tolls have the benefit of placing a price on the resource being used - and with the increased popularity of EZ-Pass and other automated methods of payment, the bottleneck effect of tolls is lessened. The other advantage for tolls over gas taxes is that it places a price on a resource that the government owns rather than charging individuals for an otherwise private transaction.

If the prices were set correctly, many drivers would choose to travel at different times of day, some who would otherwise drive on their own would carpool, and many would choose public transportation (removing the need to subsidize fares to keep mass transit solvent).

Some of the proceeds from tolls would continue to be used for road maintenance and other transportation infrastructure, beyond that, I would propose using the rest to reduce gasoline taxes. While the total elimination of gas taxes is likely not feasible (after all, placing tolls on the vast majority of county & municipal roads is just not workable), if roads (and parking spaces) were priced with profit in mind, we would gain the dual benefit of efficient management of the resource that is the road, and a tax reduction to boot!!

Friday, December 19, 2008

C4tR Week in Review

Intellectual Properties
Health Care in America
Open Topic Tuesday
Is Federalism Dead?
Well-Meaning Leftist of the Week
Mutually Beneficial Arrangement
Founder's Friday

Founders Friday

Do not separate text from historical background. If you do, you will have perverted and subverted the Constitution, which can only end in a distorted, bastardized form of illegitimate government.
- James Madison

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Mutually Beneficial Arrangement

I realize this is hardly the usual C4tR fare, but I figured this would generate some discussion about marriage (even though the couple is not married), families & relationships. I came across this while browsing the Corner.

College student Melissa Beech details her current relationship in an articled titled "My Sugar Daddy".

After catching a great deal of flak, her boyfriend responded in "The Sugar Daddy Replies"

Would your opinion of the relationship change if the couple were married?

Well-Meaning Leftist of the Week

This Week: George Bush

A persistent misunderstanding that has characterized American foreign policy throughout the twentieth century is the belief that every nation in the world deserves "self-determination," and a democratically-elected government. This misunderstanding has, historically, been responsible for some very serious tragedies.

Woodrow Wilson's great battle for self-determination in Europe resulted in the disintegration of one of the more stable, civil liberty-loving empires in the world, the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Few historians debate that the power vacuum created by this break-up is what allowed Hitler to come to power and dominate Central European politics throughout the Thirties.

Franklin D. Roosevelt suffered under a similar Wilsonian myopia. His refusal to recognize Charles de Gaulle as a legal representative of the French resistance (because he was not democratically elected) deeply offended those French who were stalwartly resisting in metropolitan France, and caused a number of costly misunderstandings in the occupation of North Africa. Even when evidence came pouring in that de Gaulle was wildly popular in France, Roosevelt didn't acknowledge his political status, driving a deep rift between de Gaulle and the Americans that would continue in de Gaulle's postwar policies.

I make no judgment on the Iraq war here, except to say that President Bush's simplistic, Wilsonian belief that Americans need to "make the world safe for democracy" ignores the failures of Wilson and FDR and denies that democracy is itself a dangerous idea, and can only govern those who, to a certain extent, already govern themselves. People who think that throwing your shoe at a political leader is an acceptable, even laudable, way for a professional reporter to express disapproval are not ready to govern themselves. People who think that blowing up innocents is another acceptable way to express disapproval are similarly unready for democracy. As I've said before, democracy cannot work without its "liberal" (original etymology) underpinnings: when we lose an election in America, we gather up our armies, and we "generously" go on home. In this sense, democracy is only for tolerant, self-controlled, good losers.

For his near-sighted optimism in the ability of American democracy to be exported all willy-nilly, George Bush earns his place as the "Well-Meaning Leftist of the Week" (runners-up: Woodrow Wilson and FDR).

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Is Federalism Dead?

As I was working on my "Health Care in America" piece, it occurred to me that just about every discussion looks for action on the part of the President (who in reality has no power to enact any legislation) or Congress. I began to wonder why one rarely finds people pushing their Governors or state legislatures for resolution to the health care "crisis"?

While I probably should keep quiet on that front since it wouldn't take much prodding for New Jersey to enact a single-payer boon-doggle, I'll poke this bear anyway.

It seems like every problem (or perceived problem) we encounter becomes an issue for the US Government to solve - weather it be carbon emissions, health care, unemployment, etc.

Hoards of people flock to the polls every 4 years to vote for president - while relatively few show up in the "off" years - which is odd because your Senators & Congressmen actually have the job of representing your state's issues in DC. Even fewer still could actually name their state representatives/senators or assemblymen - who enact legislation that has more direct impact where you live.

Unless you live in a major city like New York or LA, the likelihood that you know who your mayor or town council members are.

Local politics and ordinances are more likely to impact an individuals daily living, and yet our entire focus is on Washington.

I'm interested to discover when this tendency began. Bob or Joe would know more on this front than I do, but early in our nation - probably until at least World War I, people cared far more about local politics than Washington. Our nation was founded in a manner that enabled the Colonies to band together for defense - and keep their own matters to themselves. The 10th Ammendment specifically protected the ability for states to govern themselves.

My question here is this: What triggered this shift in focus from local politics to national? Do you forsee a point in time when state governments have little or no power? What benefits (if any) does centering power in DC have? What are the detriments?

For myself, I view the centralization of power as harmful - not the least because it prevents individual states experimenting with policies. If a plan fails, we harm the entire nation. At the state level, we can copy succesful policies from one another and pass on those that fail. Without individuality among the states, this is not possible.

What do you think?

Open Topic Tuesday

Ready, Set, Go!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Health Care in America

Last weeks OTT triggered a discussion on the issue of Health Care (or more specifically Health Insurance). With that in mind, I would like to take this opportunity to lay out my ideas in regards to this issue.

Our current state with regard to health care is an untenable position - a significant portion of our society has health care coverage - either through the state (Medicare and its various flavors), their employers - even some on an individual basis, while another large swath of the population are not able to afford health insurance. The former group sees little to no cost to health care - which in turn artificially increases demand - which (especially when coupled with the issue of unrestrained litigation against the medical profession) drives the cost up for those in the latter group.

The major stumbling block in regards to workable health care reform is the intense focus on insurance. The reason this approach is flawed, is that lack of insurance is not the problem, but rather the fact that a specific commodity (in this case health care) is not reaching a large segment of the population. The health care issue is at its root a economic dilemma. Failure to recognize this critical piece of the puzzle automatically shuts out a multitude of potential solutions. Rather than considering the full scope of the problem, we immediately limit ourselves to the subset of possible solutions that focus on getting everyone insured.

With all this in mind - and keeping in mind the economic principles presented here and here - we can begin to look at potential solutions.

Here are a few of my favorites in no particular order:

1) Disband Health Insurance as we know it - As of now, the majority of consumers "purchasing" health care have no exposure to it's cost. Obviously the providers of health care (as with any good or service) do not have an interest in keeping the price down. In this situation, the only entity interested at all in keeping the price down receives no benefit from the transaction.

In order for this idea to remain at all palatable, this would have to occur gradually- with various elements of health care being phased out over time. This exposure to costs (whether for prescription drugs or routine procedures) would cause individuals to opt out of procedures they did not deem necessary. This would provide incentives for patients to discuss cheaper alternatives with their doctors.

In my view the end result would have health insurance look more like life insurance. Catastrophic policies that pay out a set amount should an individual get cancer or develop some major illness, etc. This would allow individuals to protect themselves in the event of disaster while at the same time providing the exposure to cost that is necessary to induce patients to seek savings on their own.

2) Tort Reform - Death and injury are risks in just about every occupation, however, the very nature of health care increases the likelihood that some customers will suffer injury or death while in the care of the provider.

There are many instances where such occurrences are the result of gross negligence and individuals must have access to civil courts to settle such matters. However, our society has a general tendency for litigation whenever any is hurt - regardless of fault. This tendency has exceptional impact on an industry that deals with death and injury on a daily basis.

To lessen the impact of litigation on the medical profession, hard caps should be imposed on awards for Pain and Suffering or Punitive damages. This would allow providers of malpractice insurance to accurately assess the risk they are taking on when insuring doctors.

Individuals (medical community or not) must also have a means of redress for dealing with frivolous claims. As it stands now, there is no risk to an individual filing a claim - attorneys don't charge them anything unless they win - and should the suit fail, the defendant still has his attorney fees to deal with. I would propose that individuals filing suit be responsible for the defendents legal fees should the case be dismissed.

3) Promote alternative care - I'm not talking accupuncture or holistic medicine, I'm talking about places like the Minute Clinic at CVS. $60 every couple of months for their Health Screening Package sounds like a reasonably affordable way to take preventive care into your own hands.

4) Provide incentives for Health Savings Plans - Think 401k for your health - or something along the lines of a College Savings Plan. All contributions to the plan would be tax deductible - and withdrawals for health care would be free from any capital gains or income tax.

This would encourage individuals to take responsibility for their own health care - which is where the responsibility actually belongs. It would also be prudent to permit individuals (once they reach a certain age) to begin withdrawing form the account without any penalties in excess of ordinary income taxes. This would again provide incentive to be selective when making health care choices.

The bottom line, is that we need to place health care back in the hands of providers and patients. In order for health care (or any commodity) to become readily available, the individuals making the transaction need to be the ones making the decisions - otherwise we will be stuck with shortages and high prices.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Intellectual Properties

Masterpieces of the Imagination, brought to you by the Benefits of Liberty and the Property Rights of the Mind.

Time again for my weekly viewing / listening / reading recommendations. (For those of you that have been waiting with bated breath, sorry for the delay. It's been a crazy week.) Enjoy.

For viewing: The Apostle
This 1997 film stars Robert Duvall as a severely flawed Pentecostal preacher searching for redemption. Duvall's genuine and sensitive portrayal of "Sonny's" character challenges the viewer to confront his own soul's gray areas and blind spots. Also written by Duvall.

For listening: If I Could Fly by Joe Satriani
Speaking of "intellectual property," electric guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani is suing Coldplay for copying this song's chorus in their Grammy-nominated "Viva la Vida" (you know, the one from the itunes commercial). Same chords, nearly identical melody--what do you think? At any rate, Satriani is one of the most talented guitarists working today, and this piece is by no means one of his best. After you're finished evaluating the whole plagiarism thing, check out these other numbers simply for their incredible musical prowess: Always with Me, Always with You (yea, I know the video is uber-cheesy); and The Extremist.

For reading: East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Steinbeck can spin a story like no other, his characters are real, and his observations perceptive. This sprawling epic (part biography, part retelling of the Book of Genesis) is also a moving critique of determinism and a defense of the possibility of voluntary moral action.

Friday, December 12, 2008

C4tR Week in Review

Intellectual Properties
American Family Values
The Secular-Progressive Ten Commandments
Founder's Friday
How to Build an Efficient Economy - Part II

How to build an efficient economy - Part II

Part I in this series laid out 5 basic premises that a given economic policy must take into account if it hopes to succesfully generate a healthy economy (ie - an economy that efficiently distributes resources). These premises (just like the laws of physics) will come into play whether or not policy makers acknowledge them or not. However, failure to do so will invite disaster just as readily as failure to take gravity into account will bring harm to someone jumping from a building.

One of the issues policy makers need to address is that of "Private Property" - which ultimately boils down to the question of who controls a nations resources. Those resources can be in the form of raw materials or an individuals labor and ideas - most often they are a combination of the two.

In some economies (notably in many African states), there are no safeguards to private property. Individuals have control over their property until someone stronger comes along and takes it by force.

In communist and socialist states, resources (in varying degrees) belong to the state. Even if the state does not officially own the resources, they exert significant control over how individuals (or corporations - really just a large group of individuals) may use the resources they own - even to the point of dictating the use of one's own career choices.

In a free society, private property is protected - individuals have the final say over the use of the resources within their possession. The owner of a piece of real-estate decides whether he is to farm the piece, build a home on it or sell it to someone else. An individual decides what career is best for them. Owners of a resource - whether it be their own labor, ideas or physical goods - determine what they are willing to accept in exchange for giving up that resource.

Respect for private property is critical for a number of reasons:

1) From a conservative standpoint, it is important to always err on the side of liberty. Absent knowledge of the impacts of any given decision, it is best to defer to an individuals rights to their own possesions.
2) Even the Bible acknowledges property rights - the 8th commandment prohibits stealing and the 10th commandment prohibits lusting after the possesions of others. From a secular standpoint, you would be hard pressed to find even the irreligious to favor stealing.
3) Finally, property rights are critical to economic growth. Many resources are difficult to acquire. Medications to combat disease come after years of expensive research. Fuels for energy require difficult (and often dangerous) digging, drilling and exploration - as do metals used in construction of (among many other things) batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles. Even clean energy is built upon research and discovery that is most certainly not free.

Without protection of ones intellectual or physical property, there would be little or no incentive to explore or recover resources and there would be no incentive to spend money and time in research.

Likewise, from a consumer standpoint, without property protection, the incentive to purchase is lessened. If an individual is not permitted to use his property as he sees fit, the value of that property is lessened.

Founders Friday

If a sparrow cannot fall without God's notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?
-Benjamin Franklin

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Secular Progressive Ten Commandments

The following is a list of Bill O'reilly's secular progressive ten commandments. Despite what you may think of O'reilly himself, is this an accurate summary of the far left agenda?
What do you think?

  • Thou Shalt Not Make Any Judgment Regarding Most Private Personal Behavior. Man/Woman Is the Master/Mistress of the Universe and His/Her Gratification Is Paramount.

  • Thou Shalt Not Worship or Acknowledge God in the Public Square, for Such an Exposition Could Be Offensive to Humankind.

  • Thou Shalt Take from the Rich and Give to the Poor. No Private Property Is Sacrosanct.

  • Thou Shalt Circumvent Mother and Father in Personal Issues Such as Abortion and Sex Education in Public Schools.

  • Thou Shalt Kill if Necessary to Promote Individual Rights in Cases of Abortion and Euthanasia.

  • Thou Shalt Be Allowed to Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor if That Person Stands Against Secular Humanism.

  • Thou Shalt Not Wage Preemptive War in Any Circumstance.

  • Thou Shalt Not Impede the Free Movement of Any Human Being on Earth. All Countries Should Be Welcoming Places Without Borders.

  • Thou Shalt Not Prohibit Narcotics or Impede Personal Gratification in This Area.

  • Thou Shalt Not Limit the Power of Government in Order to Provide "Prosperity" to All.
Since "Open Topic Tuesday" didn't spark a whole lot of discussion, maybe this will.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Open Topic Tuesday

Sorry guys - I forgot.

Anyway, here's your weekly chance to comment on whatever you want.

American Family Values

Family Values. You hear a lot about them, but what are these values? Many people (including the authors of this blog) will complain that America has lost the family values of the past. Other Americans are trying very hard to radically redefine the concept of what a family is and what its function is in society. To most Americans, I think, the family unit is still viewed as the foundational basis for society. TV shows like John and Kate Plus Eight, Little People Big World, and Super Nanny display the fascination that America still has with a loving, caring, family (or what happens when parents don’t raise their progeny right). Family Sitcoms, even reruns, are still primetime hits. Family memories, good or bad, dominate the psyche of every man and woman. Clearly, issues that face the American family in general are issues that concern most, if not all Americans, no matter what their ideal family looks like.

It is my strongly held opinion that almost all of the ills that plague our society today can be traced back to problems within the individual family units of America. Nations and cultures throughout history have always relied on the family unit as the base for their society. In studying history, one has only to look at the status of the average family as a thermometer for the status of the rest of the nation, empire, tribe, kingdom, or what have you. History shows us that when families crumble, nations are not far behind.

For an example, let us take what is probably the most famous civilization in the whole of Western history; the Roman Empire. The Romans had many problems in their society. During the age of the republic, the main crisis was class discrimination. Later on the Romans had to deal with an apathetic populace, sadistic rulers, a total disregard for the sanctity of human life, and barbarian hordes (to only name a few problems). But there is no denying that the ancient Romans had something going, after all, they established a civilization that ruled the Western world for hundreds of years and contributed countless cultural achievements to civilization.

What was it that made the Romans so great? I believe that it was the respect that their society initially placed on the family unit. The Roman family unit was given a large degree of autonomy in the early republic. The Father or “Pater” was given complete authority over what went on in his home and in most cases, the state could not interfere. Children were taught to be loyal, respectful and obedient members of the family who were not expected to be served by their parents, but to be contributors to the family and eventually society. Children learned to better themselves by contributing to something that was larger than they were. This tradition of loyalty, respect and obedience carried generations of Romans into cultural and political dominance for hundreds of years, but what about the later years of the empire? As the Roman Empire fell into decline, the symptoms of a decaying society were everywhere. The Roman political scene was rife with corruption, all standards of sexual decency were done away with, thousands were unemployed and relying on the state to provide bread, and innocent people were being thrown to the wild beasts in the coliseum. At this time in Roman history, the Romans were not too keen on the traditional family values. Every “respectable” Roman man was expected to have a mistress or two, “Religious” festivals were celebrated with wild sexual abandon, and many other deviations from the traditional family format were common.

And so, Rome fell. Not because its armies could not stand up against the barbarian hordes that it had been crushing under foot throughout its history, but because it had been weakened by internal corruption to the point where society’s institutions could no longer stand. This corruption began with the destruction of family values.

Now that this little historical allusion is over, let me just say that the Roman family, even in the early days, was not ideal. There were problems even from the beginning. For instance, the father held the power of life and death over his children, in no way is this in keeping with my own Biblical ideal. But, the Romans did realize the natural truth that’s says: Strong families = strong countries (or empires, in this case). They certainly did not believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, they left family business up to the family and kept the culture intact. Unfortunately for the Romans, they did not have a Biblical worldview that told them that truth does not change over time, and family values should not change either.

So what in the heck does this have to do with us today? Hopefully you’ve been able to draw some application by now, but allow me to explain this concept as it parallels our own culture. Today, our families are being torn apart by a variety of things. Divorce comes readily to mind as perhaps the number one culprit. The American culture of divorce is steadily hammering the proverbial nails into the coffin that belongs to the American family. Divorce tears kids up inside. It takes the foundation right out from under them. It removes authority from the parents and places it into the hands of either the child, or the state. I’ve seen this phenomenon firsthand in today’s school system, and I’ve studied it in my psychology classes. Divorce isolates many members of the next generation – in boys, being raised in a broken home will often lead to anger, resentment, and insecurity. With girls, it often causes a feeling of distrust around men; this continues into adulthood and affects the marriages of the next generation. Yet divorce is still seen as a way out of a problem when in reality it creates more problems. Instead of sticking around and learning to cooperate with a fellow human being whom you’ve made a commitment to, it’s a lot easier to run from the initial marital problems through the escape route called divorce.

There are a great many other things that are attacking our families today. I have only scratched the surface with the divorce topic. When Parents don’t take responsibility for their children, thousands of kids are left to state control. Is this what we really want for America’s children? Let us learn from history and open our eyes to the moral decay of our civilization. Moral traditionalists may be looked down upon by many of the elites in our society, but I firmly believe that we are trying to save our families, our culture, and our nation.

Monday, December 8, 2008

The Utility of Shame

Janet's post last Friday got me thinking about the connection between social and fiscal conservatism - something I touched on a bit here.

While we normally view economics as dealing with money, there are all sorts of costs and incentives that come into play when people make decisions. Shame is a very real cost that has been part of society since the origin of the human race. Most of our personal inhibitions come from a fear of shame or embarrasment.

For most of our nation's history, pre-marital sex carried a heavy social stigma. Becoming pregnant or fathering a child out of wedlock was something to be ashamed of. Families would quietly address the matter, but it was certainly not something to celebrate.

As time has passed, the the only unacceptable behavior today is to pass judgment on the behavior of others. We are told that the utmost harm we can do is to cause any bit of shame to come to others.

Please understand, I am not suggesting that pointing and laughing in derision at a pregnant unwed mother is correct - or even remotely helpful. What I am suggesting that without the fear of shame from society, there is little cost to a teenager considering sex. Teenagers place far more value on the here and now than the notion of losing their future. The fear of embarrassment is a cost that is especially weighed by young and old alike.

Just about everyone (including athiests) believe in some moral code. Much of that code is placed into our nations (and state) laws - despite the notion that you can't legislate morality. Most of the laws are directed at improprieties that harm others such as theft, assault, murder, etc.

However, we can't reasonably legislate against private behavior, so society is left to other means to deter self-destructive activities. Oddly enough, smoking seems to carry a greater social stigma these days than premarital sex. Smoking carries a stigma because most of us are now aware of its harmful effects - while nobody notices the plight of children raised to single mothers who have little income or the fathers who have skipped out on them. Children in single-parent homes are 4 times more likely to live in poverty than children of married parents.

I assume this is because the examples we DO see are actors, athletes and other well off folks whose wealth makes them relatively immune to the negative consequences both to themselves and their children. We see mothers doting on their children and since they seem fine - who are we to judge their behavior.

Once we remove the taboo from the behavior, we should not be surprised when more people partake - many of whom cannot afford the consequences.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Intellectual Properties

Masterpieces of the Imagination, brought to you by the Benefits of Liberty and the Property Rights of the Mind.

Time for my weekly viewing / listening / reading recommendations! Oh boy, right? As always, the "masterpieces" may or may not be directly related to the Right--but you can help me keep this column relevant to the Blog's theme by remembering that freedom (freedom to do what you want with your dollar; freedom to do what you want with your conscience; freedom to do what you want with your typewriter, etc.) is what makes innovation and creativity possible.

For Viewing: The Sting
Last week I recommended a more recent film, so now I offer this classic. If you've never seen this greatest of all heist movies (makes the "Ocean" movies look like a bad joke), then there's no time like the present. Starring the late, great Paul Newman, and Robert Redford. Remember: Stealing? not cool. Stealing from gangsters? very cool.

For Listening: Morton Lauridsen's "O Magnum Mysterium"
Maybe I'll do more Christmas-themed recommendations as the holiday draws nearer, but let's kick off the season with this incredibly rich choral setting of an old Matin text. The words basically just say--what a great mystery it is that animals should be the ones to welcome the newly born King. I apologize if you're not really into a capella choral music, but give this one a shot. Here's a decent version by the Robert Shaw Chamber Singers. Listen for the creative harmonies, and especially for the subtle climax at 3:36.

For Reading: "Aeropagitica," by John Milton
Milton's time-honored pamphlet defending the freedom of the press and attacking censorship. Obviously, this selection does pertain to the overall theme of the blog. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest documents in the canon of "freedom literature." Read the entire text here. Please fight through the Puritan-Pamphleteer style; I'd particularly like to know what you think of this one.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Dear New Jersey Resident: Let the Wealth Sharing Begin!!!

In May, our beloved governor Corzine signed into law Family Leave Insurance. It seems as if the Family Medical Leave Act is not enough because it only allows for unpaid time off without the threat of losing one's job. Many lower income individuals are unable to take family leave because they cannot afford to. It is especially difficult in instances of child birth when the mother has to return to work shortly after giving birth.

As a result of this insurance law, starting January 1, 2009, employers that do not have an eligible paid leave program must deduct .09% from employees paychecks. This will increase to .12% in 2010. The supposed beauty of this insurance plan is that it is 100% employee funded. Sounds good in theory, but this is where the concept of sharing the wealth comes into play. Those who contribute to this mandatory plan (employees who do not work for companies that offer paid family leave as a benefit) are able to receive 2/3 of their income up to a maximum of $524 a week for up to six weeks. Chances are that individuals who make more than $40k a year will not utilize this plan. For example, someone that makes $100K or roughly $2000 a week would probably not be able to afford to stop working for 6 weeks and receive a lowly $524 a week, especially in a single income family. So the net is, those with higher incomes are being forced to contribute a percentage of their income to an insurance plan that they most likely will never utilize. Someone making $100K will contribute $90 a year, while someone making $20K will contribute a whopping $18. If every employee that contributed to this insurance plan took advantage of it, the available funds for the plan would be depleted rather quickly and there most definitely would not be enough money to go around.

So how is this exactly helping all New Jersians? This law is specifically targeted to low income individuals and families. While I do feel compassion for those who find themselves in situations where this benefit would be helpful, it is hard to wrap my mind around giving my hard earned money to those who continue to perpetuate their situations. People do not have to take responsibility for their actions anymore, especially young men and women who are sexually active at young ages, have children, and are stuck working minimum wage jobs for the rest of their lives.

I know of a girl who is my age (34), who started having children in her teens and now has 5 children with 4 different fathers. She is currently single, and is a waitress who does not make enough money to support her family. She lives off the kindness of her mother who houses, feeds, and clothes her and her children. Yet, she has never tried to better her situation and the plight of her children. She continues to live off the largesse of the state and her mother. Where is the incentive to dig ones self out of the mire of their mistakes? I have made plenty of them in my lifetime, and I am far from free of them, but (thankfully) I have learned from them and I am better because of them. Our society of self-esteem, and no fault has yielded an entire generation of young people who believe that they are entitled to everything and anything they want. And this new law will continue to perpetuate the entitlements and not allow for young people to learn from their mistakes or to become more responsible adults. If the government bails individuals out every time they screw up, where is the lesson? The only thing that is taught is that there are no consequences for poor choices, which leads to a lifetime of irresponsibility.

How to build an efficient economy - Part I

Whether or not you believe a free market is the best means of benefitting the most people, a proper understanding of a free market is critical to economic understanding. Last month, I laid out where I'm coming from in my approach to economic theory. Below is a list of the basic assumptions we need to start with before we can determine effective policy:

1) The resources we have at our disposal are scarce - nothing that we have (as individuals or worldwide) is in infinite supply.
2) Humans are flawed (both individually and as a race). They want (and occasionally need) more of a given resource than is available to them.
3) Individuals (and individual states) place different values on a given resource. People (and states) are unique. They have different goals, desires and needs. It follows that they will value things differently.
4) An economy simply provides a means of allocating resources. The health of an economy is simply a measure of its efficiency in directing resources to those who most value them.
5) No economy is going to operate with perfect efficiency. There is no humanly possible way to allocate resources to those who need them most with 100% precision.

The above list states the reality of our condition on earth. We cannot change these rules by legislation any more than we can change legislate away gravity. Most often, the attempt is to change (or ignore) rule #2, but we cannot change human nature. Number 5 seems to be cast aside frequently - especially when it comes to necessities like energy or medicine.

It is my hope to put some flesh on these bones, to at least create an understanding of free market principles. Economics may seem cold and uncaring - that's because it is. Physics doesn't care about anyone, but we can use it to our benfit - provided we understand its laws. Biology doesn't care about anything, but when we understand it, we can use it for healing.

Likewise, Economics doesn't care who needs what, but by understanding the rules, we can build an economy that provides health and wealth for as many people as possible.

Founders Friday

"Be Thou present, O God of Wisdom, and direct the counsel of this Honorable Assembly; enable them to settle all things on the best and surest foundation; that the scene of blood may be speedily closed; that Order, Harmony, and Peace may be effectually restored, and that Truth and Justice, Religion and Piety, prevail and flourish among the people. preserve the health of their bodies and the vigor of their minds, shower down on them, and the millions they represent, such temporal blessings as Thou seest expedient for them in this world, and crown them with everlasting glory in the world to come. All this we ask in the name and through the merits of Jesus Christ Thy son and our Saviour. Amen"

The prayer of Reverend Jacob Duche's at the outset of the 1st continental Congress, 1774.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Well-Meaning Leftist of the Week

This Week: Heather Smith, Executive Director, Rock the Vote

Rock the Vote, like a number of other "get out the vote" non-profits, is a grassroots political action group whose existence is premised on the assumption that higher voter turnout in an election is always better than lower voter turnout. For a catalogue of their "efforts," this last go-around, see here. Adherents of all political ideologies in America have somehow got the cool idea that "every vote counts," or that it's just really important to "participate in democracy."

Now, I'm not saying People of the Right should advocate disenfranchising anyone (not sure that would go so well); but I am saying that the shallow, easily-marketable idea that every single person should vote, and should even be morally compelled to vote is one of the near-sighted leftist misunderstandings that this column is all about. As Aristotle said all those years ago, one of the problems with a democracy is that the votes are counted, not weighed as they should be. Experience, knowledge, character, and wisdom play no role. To cast a vote, the only requirement is a certain biological age. In democracies, as Alfred Focke says, "defenseless illiterates are dragged to the voting urns."

All people's judgments are not equal. When we look for a doctor, we understand this fact of inequality, for some reason. Why would we think it's an unqualified better thing when just a whole bunch of uninformed people have their say in what our government looks like? Yay for the bandwagon!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Why is he on the one dollar bill again?

Yesterday, in response to my own post, I made it clear that we here at case4theright do not in any way believe that the founding fathers were infallible or inspired by God or anything like that. These were men that made mistakes and had inconsistencies in their lives just like every other human being on this earth. We do believe, however, that both the lives of these men, and the ideas that they came up with, were great. By “great” I don’t mean a casual, everyday expression “great”, I mean that in a monumental and historical sense, these men lived lives that should be studied by all Americans and developed ideas that should be memorized by all Americans.

Unfortunately, many Americans today have very little knowledge of people like John Adams, James Madison, Jon Jay, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton (I thought they’d like being next to each other in the list), Henry Knox, and yes, even George Washington. As a high school history teacher in a school where kids are supposed to be a little more learned than most, (It is a college prep school after all) I have witnessed this ignorance firsthand. To most, people like George Washington are mere symbols of their country. Like the bald eagle or the Statue of Liberty. But who was George Washington really? And why is he considered a great man? Is it merely because he was first?

George Washington demonstrated many qualities of greatness throughout his life, but he was certainly not a man without a mistake on his record. Early on in his military career, Washington learned some lessons the hard way. As a twenty-two year old Lieutenant Colonel in the British army, he was ordered by Virginia Governor Dinwiddie (What a name!) to clear The French from the Ohio River valley in the spring of 1754. He led his men into a fiasco that ended with him surrendering to the French at the hastily assembled “Fort Necessity”, and signing a document that basically put all the blame for the occasion on the British. The British government quickly repudiated Washington’s note and the French and Indian War began. Later in the war, Washington tried to influence the pompous general Braddock with what he had learned while fighting the French in the woods, but Braddock refused to listen and was killed in an ambush. I believe this experience contributed to Washington’s resolute nature by allowing to him to learn from his mistakes as well as the mistakes of others. When Washington went to war nearly twenty years later against several equally prideful British generals, he knew the mentality that he was up against, and the type of attitude he should avoid as a leader.

Washington continued to exemplify excellent leadership qualities and character throughout the rest of his life. Whether it was fixing the latrine situation in the continental army camps, putting down the whiskey rebellion, neutralizing the troublesome Citizen Genet, overseeing the constitutional convention, or even learning to control his temper, Washington became a figurehead in American society for a variety of reasons. But Washington did not let his eventual success go to his head. The greatest thing about our first citizen was not his accomplishments, (though they were great) but the fact that performed those accomplishments with a great sense of duty and humility. Unlike many other revolutionary leaders throughout history, Washington did not sink his claws into the power that was all too willingly given to him by his people. Washington did something that stands out as a shocker throughout the annals of political history. He stepped down after one term. Washington was not interested in creating a cult to himself, he was interested in continuing the dream that he had helped to start. In doing this, Washington demonstrated the attitude that has been hallmark of American heroism throughout the ages. Men returning from World War I, World War II, The War on Terror, and many other wars throughout our history, have been called heroes, But so many of these true heroes have exhibited the same attitude that our founding father did – an attitude of humility, duty, responsibility and servanthood. Not a sense of entitlement or a thirst for personal gain. Most of these public servants have denied the fact that they are heroes and insisted (and continue to insist) that they were simply doing their job for God and country. It is this spirit of humility, duty, and honor that has made America everything good that has been throughout its short history and everything good that it is today.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

2.5 Million new jobs

One of President-Elect Obama's promises is to "create or save 2.5 million new jobs." He plans to create jobs for purposes of repairing bridges and roads and various "green" energy programs.

While the US government certainly could legislate jobs - most notably New Deal Era programs such as the CWA, WPA, and CCC - the problem is they do nothing for growing the economy or increasing the production of wealth.

From an economic perspective, a "job" is simply a transaction in which an individual exchanges his time and labor for compensation. Currently, the demand for labor is dropping while the supply has more or less remained constant. There are various causes for the drop in labor demand (or decrease in employment supply from the other perspective). Some employers are out of business, tight budgets cause individuals to hold off on home improvement projects (or go DIY), and a miriad of other externalities cause individuals to value cash on hand more than time right now.

All of this presents a few problems to government "make work" programs:

1) Who pays for the jobs? After all, aside from being fired for incompetence or misconduct, people lose jobs because the cost of employing the individual is greater than the return. PE Obama is suggesting that we now pay for a service which we would not normally pay for. After all, those 2.5 million individuals aren't going to work for free. In "creating" these jobs, the government is merely moving money from one group of individuals to another - with next to nothing produced for it.
2) Administrative overhead. On top of wages, the federal dollars will be filtered down through various burocracies. If the goal (as it must be from item 1) is to "spread wealth", it would be more efficient to simply cut checks to a random 2.5 million unemployed.
3) In coercing individuals and businesses to pay for workers for nothing in return, money must necessarily be removed from the private sector. This is money that would be used in purchasing goods and services that individuals actually place value on. This is money that could be used to expand business (or keep it alive as the case may be). The tax burden necessary to "create" these jobs would result in at least as many losses on the private side of the ledger. There is no free lunch.
4) This takes the process of deciding what activities are productive out of the hands of the millions of US citizens and placing it in the hands of the government, we simply set ourselves up for failure. What Obama is asking, is for a handful of government officials to decide what activities are the most beneficial to the economy at large. Central planning has a remarkable history of failure to make good on its promises.

While certainly the individuals being fitted for these brand new jobs will find it beneficial to them in the short term, the long term affects on the economy will be a drastic slowdown in productivity. Based on Obama's statements, we will have a surpluss off newly paved roads (whether they need it or not), but at a time when the economy is struggling, we will end up with a shortage of goods and services that individuals need. Shortages that in turn result in higher prices.

What good is a policy that promises "living wage" jobs, but at the same time drives up the cost of living?

Open Topic Tuesday

What's on your mind?

Monday, December 1, 2008

Separation of Church and State?

The separation of church and state is a concept that has seen growing popularization as of late. Many of the proposition 8 protesters have cited separation of church and state as legal justification for their cause. The ACLU continually harps on the legal wedge between the sacred and the secular and seeks to widen the gap at every opportunity (When it deals with the Christian religion anyway). The Supreme Court has made many moves toward secularism in the latter part of the twentieth century. Secularization seems to be a growing fad just about everywhere these days, and many secularists have gone as far as to try and limit religious freedoms in a country that was founded on the basis of religious freedom.

This concept of separation between church and state is severely misunderstood by most Americans today. The truth is that neither the constitution, nor any other founding document mentions anything about the separation of church and state. The Bill of rights does say: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” But does this constitute separation of church and state? In a way it does. The early Americans had fled oppression from governments that were politically intertwined with a state church that dominated all religious activity. These state churches had become more interested in political power and vain tradition than the practice of true religion. It was for this reason that many sincere believers left their state-sponsored churches and established a new life in a new world. The makers of the constitution wanted to preserve this heritage in writing by striking out any possibility of a state sponsored church that would violate the freedom of citizens to act according to their own religious convictions.

This form of separation of church and state is nothing like the modern concept that is being propagated by secular and moral progressives. According to some, any time a person acts out their religious convictions in a voting booth they are violating the separation principle. Nothing could be further from the truth; our nation is steeped in the tradition of citizens and leaders acting out their religious beliefs in office, or with a ballot. Any true scholar of American history can see that this country been shaped by the Judeo-Christian ethic. This Christian foundation would have been impossible if the majority of Americans had a problem with church principles interacting with the government. Here are some examples that display the mindset that shaped our country:

“On my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention” - Alexis de Tocqueville

“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other” - Jon Adams

“Of all the disposition and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports" - George Washington

"This is a religious nation… We are a Christian people.” - United States Supreme Court(The Church of The Holy Trinity Vs. The United States)

If there are people that are discontent to live in a country that has been largely shaped by Christian principles, and in which religious principles have often dominated the public square, then they are free to move to a society that has been founded solely on secularism. Russia comes to mind readily. Send me a postcard from the Kremlin, Comrade!

P.S. This only scratches the surface of the information available on Religion in American History. More to come on Founder's Friday!