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Friday, August 13, 2010

A Q&A Session with Progressives

Jordan and I have finally had the opportunity to address the list of questions we received from people from our Facebook Group “Liberty Café” and elsewhere who have identified themselves as progressives. Many thanks to all who participated! There are two questions that require answers that are too lengthy to incorporate into this post. One is regarding the libertarian view on civil rights and the other on the environmental effectiveness of “green” products. Watch this space, as we will address them in two separate posts.

Why do government entitlements discourage job growth and innovation? It would seem like the more job growth and innovation, the bigger the pool of money, thus meaning that entitlement programs could be run more efficiently and perhaps, in turn, end up serving their purpose and no longer be needed.

The conclusion here ignores fundamental human behavior. If one is paid not to work, then there is little motivation to innovate and produce. Similarly, if innovation and production are discouraged through regulatory barriers to entry and taxation, the motivation does not exist. It sounds cruel, but if the poor are made too comfortable, they will not have the desire to better themselves. Conversely, if job providers are taxed to the point where it is not worth it for them to stay in business, they will liquidate their business resulting in massive job losses. This is why countries that employ more collectivism generally have higher rates of unemployment and a lower standard of living, as most people do not own and will never own property.

What is the Libertarian position on sweatshops? Despite their obvious flaws of too much work, too little pay and atrocious conditions; are they an example of a free market economy that provides jobs to all with little regulation, or are they at a level where the government should step in?

It depends on what is defined as a “sweatshop.” Some people feel that if people are not paid a minimum of $15 per hour and cannot get overtime pay, they consider the factory a sweatshop. The Libertarian position on “sweatshops,” is no different than any other type of work – the market should determine the wage. Employment is a voluntary contract between the employer and employee. Each has a right to terminate it for better opportunity. Now let’s address the rest of what you defined as “obvious flaws.”

Too little pay is certainly not the case. On the surface, one might say that it is outrageous that someone in a poor Asian country is only paid $15 per day. How can one defend such a position? However, when the alternatives are considered, a very different picture is revealed. Is $15 per day outrageous when the average salary in the same city is less than $5 day? If one makes three times the average wage, it’s safe to say they can improve their standard of living. It is also safe to assume that wage rates would increase for everyone with the added competition. The firm paying $5 per day might have a problem getting help if enough “sweatshops” surface.

Let’s talk about atrocious conditions. Working in a hot, humid factory for 12 hours a day making gym shoes is indeed awful, but again when looking at the alternatives, it may be the most desirable conditions. The alternative may be farming where people are out in the very hot sun or torrential rains for 15 hours a day working for less than half of what they would make in a “sweatshop.” In addition, some people turn to crime or prostitution to make ends meet, and others will starve.

In cases where the government has intervened and sweatshops have been shut down, starvation and crime increased. Those who advocate against child labor should consider how many young girls turn to prostitution in the absence of sweatshops.

Is there ever going to be a post devoted to a list of "green" products that actually hurt more than they help?

The answers would be too long to address in this Q&A session, but Jordan and I will work on a piece that would address this important topic. I touched on this a little bit when I wrote my column on the BP oil spill, but this deserves a separate, detailed post.

In an "ideal republican" society, how are workers' rights protected? Are they protected at all and if so, what do those protections look like?

Not sure of the context of “republican.” If you mean a society with a republic as its form of government and not under the rule of the American Republican Party, I’ll answer as follows:

Apart from some basic ground rules, there would not be many rights to protect. Employment is a voluntary contract between the employer and employee, and if one feels their rights are violated, they are free to terminate the contract. Basic ground rules would be along the lines of a safe working environment (i.e. safety glasses and the elimination of other factory hazards) and basic pollution laws. Apart from that, other rights and privileges are for the employer and employee to decide.

In addition, the removal of government puppetry from unions will allow homegrown unions to surface. Homegrown unions would be based at the place of business and not be forced or persuaded by outfits such as the AFL-CIO, UAW and SEIU who place political agendas higher than the needs of workers. In fact, because the UAW owns parts of several auto companies (no thanks to the tinkerers in Washington), I wouldn't be surprised if anti-trust suits could be brought against them allowing for the unions attached to these companies to go off on their own. Unions can and should exist in a free market society, as employees can exercise their freedom to associate if they feel it would be beneficial to obtaining better compensation. The difference is that employees won't have the weight of the American government and the Democratic Party behind them. Workplace negotiations will be left up to employees and the private sector to sort out. If the federal government doesn't employ people itself, it would have no legitimate reason to interfere except in cases where one’s constitutional rights are violated.

So, as a follow up to my first question, why is economic policy more important than social policy? What value does sound economic policy provide that sound social policy could not provide, and, lastly, is there even a principled distinction between social policy (broadly construed) and economic policy (broadly construed), and if so, what is it, in the eyes of libertarians, and/or conservatives in general?

I have always considered economic freedom to be more important because it essential for other freedoms to exist. Without economic freedom and the opportunities that stem from it, it’s not possible to have social freedom. Social freedom, in my opinion, extends to the freedom to choose a home and where it is located; freedom to have a choice in a career/job path; and the freedom to choose a lifestyle/ standard of living. Those are the key freedoms in which we need to be focused given the fact that the United States is a country in DEEP economic trouble.

My positions on social freedom and economic freedom have always been parallel, meaning there should be very few restrictions. However, we cannot begin to address social injustices without first addressing economic injustices. For example, I vehemently oppose the government defining marriage; however, a larger problem is having economic injustice restricting people’s upward mobility. I’d like to see same-sex marriage become a reality, but more importantly, I’d like to see people have the freedom to choose their destiny that extends beyond marriage.

I can only answer for the generally accepted libertarian principles, as conservatives, generally speaking, have an entirely different outlook from the social spectrum as well as the economic spectrum in some cases.

Over the last couple years, we've seen three epic failures of big business in the US: The economic meltdown (comprised of many failures), the Massey coal mine tragedy, and most recently the BP oil rig explosion and spill. For all three cases, to say that prior regulatory conditions were lax would be an immense understatement. Hundreds of safety violations were ignored by agencies that were working for the wrong people, rolled-back regulations allowed banks to make side-bets against products that they otherwise advocated, and these same giant institutions all have armies of lobbyists who always seem to have more of an influence on lawmakers than those who can only write or petition their congressmen. How do you reconcile this atmosphere with the ever-present notion that government still needs to step back from meddling with how businesses operate?

Let’s begin at the end your set of questions and work backwards. The government steps in business via regulatory policy and tax policy. That gives the government tremendous power to decide policy that can make or break a business – to ultimately decide winners, losers and the level of competition. As a result, this leads to a substantial amount of lobbying, which leads to regulations being ignored and disasters being the end result. There are thousands upon thousands of regulations that currently exist, which leads one to ask, are thousands of new regulations and more intervention going to solve the problem? If we are going to attack this problem, we must go to the root. Thousands of existing regulations did not stop the crises you mentioned from happening, and it is safe to conclude that the government already has a huge “step” in business, which is why lobbying exists to the extent it does. Now that we have tried the government meddling approach, what would happen if the government actually did step back from business? If we want business out of the government, we must first get the government out of business.

Secondly, what about bad regulation – oftentimes written by lobbyists? I touched on this in the columns I wrote on the housing debacle and the BP oil spill. For instance, why are there bans on offshore drilling, where spills can be quickly contained and is far less risky? Why did the government via the MMR actually subsidize risky deep water drilling? BP not only drilled where the government told them to drill, but additionally where the government gave the most INCENTIVE to drill. I recommend researching “Deep Water Royalty Relief Act (DWRRA) of 2005.”

You alluded to the U.S. economic meltdown. This is a not only a result of horrid economic policy (something I’ve been going on about for the past decade and a half), but bad regulation as well. What happens when the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates artificially low in the attempt to minimize the effects of a recession? What happens when quasi-public institutions such as Fannie Mae and Freddie incentivize risk by putting a guarantee stamp on reckless behavior? Who is to blame, and who is the mastermind behind this disaster? It certainly wasn’t the banks or Wall Street. As a matter of fact, the banks that took advantage of the Graham-Leach-Biliey Act weathered the storm the best. The housing debacle is nothing more than centralized planning gone bad.

All economic disasters are caused by the government’s attempts to avoid a very necessary part of the economic cycle – a recession. The stock market crash of 1929 was caused by the exact same policies that caused the 2008 crash – cheap credit brought to you by your friends at the Federal Reserve. The reaction to the crash was massive government intervention and protectionism which led us into the Great Depression. I suggest looking into how the 1920 recession was handled, and yes, there was a severe recession in 1920 – arguably worse than the 1929 crash.

These symptoms you mentioned that frustrate people are the result of statism or corporatism, which is often confused with capitalism.

Why do libertarians align themselves with the religious right, given the differences in the philosophy and ideas about the role of the state?

Let me reverse it for a moment: why do liberals align themselves with socialists and communists given the differences in the philosophy and ideas about the role of the state?

The quick answer for both questions is political pragmatism and political necessity.

Libertarians (or libertarian conservatives, classical liberals, etc.) like Michelle and I are not exactly the majority. I would say maybe a quarter of the GOP believes as we do, probably less. Independents most likely have more libertarian conservatives percentage wise. For GOP libertarians like me, compromising is the name of the game. To get what you want in the political game, you have to work with people you may not necessarily like. This isn't like our President, as he compromises with his ideology, not with people, and then shoves it through Congress.

Ron Paul's “Audit the Fed” bill is an example of this strategy. A common view between the far-left, libertarians, libertarian conservatives and some center-right people is that the Fed requires a lot of auditing and pruning. The left sees it as a capitalist tool of oppression, and that's their right to believe such nonsense. We, on the other hand, see the Fed as, at a minimum, an overenthusiastic engineer playing “god” with the economy. At most, it’s an unconstitutional and immoral monopoly on currency that has brought on some of the worst economic collapses since the birth of the Republic. Guess who was the bill's co-sponsor? It happened to be leftist nut Representative Alan Grayson of Florida. This man has thrown out bombs as if it was a G20 protest. He's even gone so far to barge in on local GOP meetings at restaurants, accusing them of following him and harassing him. He's crazy, but he's also a darling of the far-left and has some clout. Rep. Paul needed Rep. Grayson to get the bill moving, even if they have totally opposite views on society and the state.

As for the religious right, don't be so quick to assume the religious right is an enemy of libertarianism. Not all libertarians are socially liberal, as much as being one is a popular notion of libertarianism. While video game bans, gay marriage bans and other socially conservative causes push the buttons of most libertarians, the religious right is also a champion of real religious freedom and not the anti-liberty associationism that we have now. Of course, one must watch out for the religious right's laxity on small government issues. More than once has it tossed out federalism or free markets in favor of pork for churches.

What would be done for the orphans, mentally deficient, single mothers and others unable to make a living in a libertarian society? Surely we can't just allow them to starve and die. And even though I would think that their families would be there to help them, sometimes that doesn't happen.

What happened before the Progressive movement created the welfare state? Private charity. The Catholic Church has run orphanages and shelters for hundreds of years, as well as other Christian sects. Social justice outfits already have working networks helping kids in this country and others. Women's shelters are private, for the most part, though given funds by the government. In a libertarian society, the central government will have much less involvement in the social safety net, if any. States, counties and cities will be there and will be much more involved than the giant, nameless, faceless government that sends social security checks to dead grandmas or accidentally gives away the name of a battered wife or has to rely on Wal-Mart and Blackwater to help the needy. The closer the community is to the victim/tragic person, the better service they'll get. Of course, governments, charities and churches all have their hiccups and corruption, but the federal government has shown very well that it cannot handle controlling the entire social safety net system, even if it says it can.

I do like the assumption that these people couldn't make it in a libertarian society, especially single mothers. It’s a dirty secret that those on government assistance are the richest “poverty stricken” people on the planet. Many have more than one color TV and more than one car. While living in California and for my first year in Utah, I was actually “poorer” than the average person on government handouts. For most of my year in Los Angles, I borrowed a roommate's car. I didn’t have a TV or air-conditioning. I lived in a one bedroom apartment with two other people. I did have access to the internet, however. When I moved to Utah, it got better. I had air-conditioning, one less roommate, a new wife; and I wasn't living in the center of Hollywood. I still didn't have a TV for six months, no cable and a single car. For those who have been to the seedier parts of some cities, compare it to the poverty stricken pictures and videos you've seen from Honduras, Haiti, India and other places. Does it look the same? It's a dirty little secret that people can survive on their own, even if they are living in horrific poverty. It's a myth that people cannot survive without the government. They may not live well, but they can most certainly survive. The key is to allow an economic system that gives people the CHOICE to better themselves if they are willing to endure the hard work and sacrifice.

How can libertarians have varying levels of safety nets when the general principle is that the government has no right to taxation?

This is the part of the political business I love: ideology!

Anarchists, both left and right, believe that the government is immoral and illegitimate. These include anarcho-communists, mutualists, miniarchists, left-libertarians, anarcho-capitalists and many other hyphenated names. These groups are ideologically opposed to taxation by government. Their systems do not include any traditional form of hierarchal governance. Anarcho-communism is entirely horizontal in its power structure. Everything from food distribution to land allotment to most likely bathroom privileges is equalized within the collective and by everyone's consent. Anarcho-capitalism, on the other hand, has no government; but everything is a business, including the judiciary, which has been described as a healthy industry of arbitrators. There are anarchist ideologies in between these two extremes: mutualism embraces the free market between collectives while syndicalism unites all under one decentralized trade union. But whatever the differences, all of these ideologies do not believe that any hierarchical form of government, or any form of governance whatsoever, can coerce money from people. There's always a way, in theory, to opt out.

Most libertarians do recognize and believe in taxation, but not the progressive tax system we have today. They also do not believe in certain types of taxes, especially income tax. The Founders gave Congress the power to tax in order to fund the military and various other machines of the new federal government. Soon after the creation of our modern union, a rebellion was started over taxes in distilleries which President George Washington had to put down. During that time, he made it clear that in America, people have many freedoms that were not granted to them as British citizens, but they elected their government, and the government voted to tax distilleries. As a result, they have the right to put people in office who think differently next election. This is not a very populist view, but a very true one. In short, “suck it up, you can't always win.”

Now, does this mean libertarians and their branches support any form or level of taxation? Absolutely not. Things like the income tax, as said above, are considered immoral and anti-liberty. Other taxes like payroll taxes (Social security, Medicare, etc.), capital gains tax, windfall profits tax and the downright black evil inheritance (death) tax, all run in the face of the core beliefs of libertarianism, conservatism and American “small-r” republicanism. Personally, I think the income tax is the most immoral of all taxes outside of the poll tax. People live off of their labor - their inherent abilities. We've done this since the dawn of time in every conceivable economic situation. In a free modern society, people should be able to sell their labor as they see fit, at any price, without the fear that if they go over an arbitrary line of income, then an increased amount of their labor will be taxed away from them. The income tax began as a wartime tax, which was later repealed; but once the Progressive Era demagogues saw the amount of money that it generated for the state and their projects, it became a cause that got them a constitutional amendment. If you want to blame anyone for the income tax, blame great-grandpa and the Progressive euphoria that swept the nation back then. Then blame today's modern bottom feeders for taking it to the “nth” degree in funding the most corrupt programs imaginable like the recent $28 billion public union bailout that sends the money not to teachers or schools, but to the unions which support the Democratic Party.

As for safety nets, this is where libertarians split hard. Many, like Ron Paul's supporters and the anarchist-wing, have no love, use or want for any sort of safety net system. People like Michelle and I grudgingly recognize that in today's giant, modern society with millions of people, there has to be some inkling of a net. It doesn't have to be the massive, soul sucking system that's in place today where even middle class families have the chance to sign up for government health care, housing help and so on. Laws like the FDIC, in my view, are all right. I can see having a reformed social security system where all that happens is that your money is taken out of your check and put in to an account that only you can access after retirement age, and even that's stretching it. But aside from that, the most important thing about libertarians and safety nets is that we think (in support of or against) is that it is all up to the individual states to have or not have the nanny-government behemoth that our federal government strives to be. If California wants universal health care, its residents can have it. California just can't expect the federal government to back it up since that would effectively become the financial burden of other states. The same goes for a Utahan monument project or a Florida child care service. No state should pay for another state's internal program. That goes against the Founders, federalism, freedom and just plain ol' common decency between folks.

In the political landscape of 2010 is it wise to start a college campus libertarian group, and what do you think such a group could add to the campus atmosphere?

Yes and yes.

It’s very wise to start any type of libertarian group anywhere. With over one hundred years of statism in America, few people have a real vision of a classically liberal world. To introduce them to that vision through creative presentations and other things would hopefully recruit more people to the ideology. An ideal location would be across from the pro-Castro campus cookout, the Affirmative Action bake sale, beside the pro-terrorist Palestinian rally or an information seminar on the treatment of gays in the PA’s West Bank and Hamas' Gaza. When a teacher attacks a libertarian student, a crash rally should be the result in the offending professor’s class. The creation of a living, breathing, right-wing alternative to the hard left that has infected higher learning would go a long, long way to turning the ideological tide against the Progressives.

1 comment:

Lee said...

Thanks for the answer to my question. I'd like to first address this statement:

"Now that we have tried the government meddling approach, what would happen if the government actually did step back from business? If we want business out of the government, we must first get the government out of business."

I'll agree that in theory this approach would lead to less lobbying, but to suggest that the diminished presence of a referee of some kind would lead to better behaviour by big business, in regards to the problems I mentioned, is just absurd. Having less regulation or more lobbying are just different means to the same end, which is disaster caused by the profit-driven recklessness of big business. Massey and BP were indeed poorly regulated, but saying that less regulation might have prevented those tragedies is like saying that leaving a child alone in a room with a plate of cookies, without any instructions or warnings not to eat them, would leave you with some cookies to enjoy upon returning to that room. If, as a libertarian, you're happy with the idea of less regulations on those industries even if it means frequent disasters and death, so long as those businesses can still be successful, then I don't really know what to say in response to that.

As for DWRRA, I have heard of it before. It might have been on this blog that I read about it, actually. But to say that deepwater drilling is more or less risky than shallower offshore drilling seems erroneous to me. The day-to-day operation of those rigs is safe enough by comparison. Lots of oil companies make it work on thousands of rigs. The BP explosion was caused by a series of irresponsible safety violations, and a cozy relationship with the agencies that were supposed to be tough on addressing those violations. it wasn't caused because drilling that deep is more risky. The risky part is the cleanup and plugging of the hole in the oil wells at that depth. BP's lack of preparedness revealed an overall lack of preparedness across the board, as it was discovered that all the major oil companies had the same useless cookie-cutter spill response plan. Would a lack of regulations have made that response plan any better?

And as for the recession, trust that I am no fan of the Fed. In fact I look forward to seeing this audit that's supposed to happen sometime next year. While the Fed is definitely part of the problem, some decent rules to prevent the entire world economy from being shaken by the actions of a handful of banks would have been nice. Unfortunately the financial reform plan, after being severely watered down from a strong bill to a useless document in the house and the senate, will not help in addressing the route of these problems in Wall Street. And after being the instruments of that watering-down by bowing to their big bank lobbyists under the lie that they're protecting the interests of small banks, the Republican party will turn around and lay the blame on Obama and the Dems when the bill fails to protect us from the next big dive. In the name of free enterprise, we're all screwed.