Tag Archives: equality

Libertarians Choose “Marriage Equality” over Individualism

In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on same-sex marriage, Rebecca Traister at New York Magazine offers some important considerations on the ruling’s lesser-known implications, specifically with regard to single people. She paints a rosy picture of how legal same-sex marriage will relieve the stigma on those who choose not to marry in the first place:

“Gay marriage has presented a challenge to straight marriage in part because it resists the mandate that everyone be straight married. It also, ideally, takes the great things about partnership—love, companionship, commitment—and makes them the basis of the institution.

[…]

The freedom to marry someone of the same sex is the freedom to not have to marry someone of the opposite sex, which in an ideal universe should be tied to the freedom not to have to marry, period.”

The author raises some good points, but while I agree that the Supreme Court ruling underscores a new social order that more readily accepts abstention from marriage, the legal inequalities will persist into the foreseeable future. Further, libertarians, who are best positioned to spearhead this issue, are conspicuously absent from the debate.

The goal of marriage equality, as most understand it, is inherently a farce. Equality is a property enjoyed by individuals, not by socially-constructed associations between those individuals. Even if we achieve total marriage equality, extending the government-conferred benefits of marriage to those partaking in any conceivable union (polygamy, bigamy, human-animal marriages, etc.), single people will always be denied those benefits. Singles will remain, as Bella DePaulo laments, “second-class citizens.”

The social conservatives, despite their faults, are the only ones to voice a consistent answer—albeit an unsatisfactory one, for several reasons—to this inequity. They maintain that promoting marriage serves a public interest through its role in sanctioning and facilitating procreation. They would oppose extending government benefits to single people for the same reason, purportedly, that they oppose extending them to gays and lesbians.

The proponents of same-sex marriage, however, cannot consistently oppose equality for singles. If they truly believe that love, companionship, and commitment should form the basis of the institution, they should want to end government privileges for married individuals altogether. While modern liberals could claim that government privileges for marriage are consistent with democracy in that majorities can grant privileges for whomever, whenever, this too would be inconsistent with their calls for equality.

The truly perplexing case here, however, is the plight of libertarian same-sex marriage proponents. Libertarians generally do not see (or care about) a public interest in the government promoting marriage, nor are they pure majoritarians. Rather, they often assert that government has no business sanctioning marriage at all; but this makes their vacuous celebration of the Supreme Court’s ruling perplexing, since the ruling does not bring about libertarians’ ideal—it in fact reinforces the current government-marriage paradigm.

If libertarians truly wanted to achieve equality for all individuals, regardless of marriage status, why are they so fixated on the courts? A quick search of the libertarian Cato Institute’s website shows that it has filed amicus briefs in numerous high-profile cases like Hollingsworth v. Perry, Kitchen v. Herbert, Bishop v. Smith, and United States v. Windsor. But where was Cato in January of 2014, when Oklahoma legislators pushed to repeal government licensing of marriage altogether? Where were they when Oklahoma legislators tried this again in March of 2015? Where were they in April of 2015 when Alabama legislators made similar efforts? And where are they now that legislators in both Utah and Michigan have drafted bills to remove the government from marriage in those states?

Libertarians have called for “privatizing marriage” before, but their focus and tenacity in that regard has dulled, and these days the idea warrants only an afterthought. Some liberty-oriented groups, as well as several individual libertarians, grasp this challenge, but anyone who highlights these mistaken priorities, even merely implying that the courts are a counterproductive course, risks accusations of bigotry or homophobia, even from other libertarians. Why is there such hostility here?

My guess is that libertarians have for so long been relegated to the sidelines of American politics—nobody really cares about libertarians’ positions on boring ol’ fiscal policy, foreign policy, regulation, etc.—that when a popular social movement arises that (somewhat) comports with libertarian philosophy, they cannot resist latching on to it. Libertarians are so hungry for acceptance from mainstream voters, activists, and ideologues that they will follow this fad to the end of its rabbit hole, even if it takes them through the court system, and further ossifies the butchered notions of Due Process and Equal Protection that have so supplanted the original meaning of the Constitution, a document many libertarians claim is important.

Actions speak louder than words. Libertarians who yearn for true individual equality before the law should not celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision—at best, the decision is morally neutral. If they support true equality, they cannot ignore the plight of single people while remaining logically consistent. The only way to achieve true equality, for straights, gays, lesbians, singles, and everyone else, is to remove the government from marriage entirely. Any effort that does not do that is at best a waste of time.

The Perils of Addressing Privilege

Gavin McInnes at Taki’s Magazine has received quite a bit of flak for his article, “Tackling Asian Privilege.” Unsurprisingly, many of the article’s detractors pegged McInnes as a racist, lambasting him for mentioning a non-white racial group using politically-incorrect terms—concerns that could be assuaged simply by, oh… reading the article, perhaps? Other critics simply failed to sense the satire of piece, with which, in writing an almost-painful (but prudent) follow-up article, McInnes proceeded to beat over their heads.

Most of us are familiar with privilege, not because we have seen or experienced it firsthand, but because the Left endlessly assures us of its existence. The term “white privilege,” per its use in the modern leftist’s lexicon, has been rendered redundant: It is generally assumed by the Left that only white people can impose or benefit from institutional racial privileges.

Of course, using the term “privilege” in this way precludes any sort of intellectually sound discussion. McInnes’ article chips away at this assumption, but more importantly, it ponders the very notion of privilege itself. As the article explains, there are a number of fronts on which the Asian-American demographic has better social standing than other American racial minority groups:

Nobody clutches their purse to their side when an Asian walks into the elevator. If an Asian applies for a job at a bank or on the police force, he or she is welcomed with open arms. When an Asian commits a crime, people are shocked. When an Asian is appointed to the head of the Department of Energy, everyone knowingly nods their head. Asian privilege pervades every part of our day-to-day life and it’s time they joined the conversation about race.

Though they comprise less than 4.8% of the American population, they make up 8.3% of all doctors. Only 2.3% of doctors are African American, yet they’re 13% of the population. Thirty percent of African American men will go to jail, but only 1.6% of prisoners are Asian. Nobody sees the problem with that?

McGill University is one of the most elite schools in North America, and to walk through their campus is to be transported into a pastoral Chinatown. This is true of all Ivy League schools. Asian Americans have the highest education level of any racial demographic and they’re also the wealthiest. While African American households earned an average of $30,939 in 2005, Asian Americans walked away with twice that.

The narrative which the left has been perpetuating for the last fifty years—that whites are invariably the beneficiaries of institutional privilege, and that racial minorities are incapable of the same—fit well enough to a society where white people really were the dominant socioeconomic group. As certain racial minorities begin to prosper, however, and even prosper at faster rates than whites, that narrative begins to break down. Asian-American households now make, on average, $10,000 more than white households. Relative to their percentage of the total population, Asian-Americans are over-represented among doctors, while whites are under-represented. A greater proportion of whites are in prison than Asian-Americans. Incidentally, Asian-Americans have done quite well for themselves.

Incidental success has traditionally been the sole piece of evidence to support the existence of racial privileges, and when only whites were successful, this thinking fit the leftist paradigm well. However, the success of a racial minority presents the Left with a dilemma: Either they must concede that other factors besides privilege contribute to the success of certain groups, or they must admit to having employed a double standard in whom they designate as privileged.

This is not to say that privilege does not exist—on the contrary, society is rife with it. However, McInnes is right to question the common notions of privilege which permeate our political discourse, and which frame the discussion as one solely based on racial antipathy.

Another Reason to Like Rich People

They don’t just create jobs…

One of the most common complaints of a free market system comes from consumers who, while desiring a nascent product, are too in-affluent to buy it. I frequently see this sentiment emerge while reading the various technology and automotive blogs across the internet, where new products are introduced several times each day. Experienced bloggers and commentators are adept at shrugging off their disappointment in these situations; they know that consumers need only wait, and the product will eventually become affordable. Many people, however, don’t seem to understand how this occurs, and their bewilderment too often turns to impatience. To alleviate this problem, let me attempt an explanation of how a good or service becomes affordable.

First, an entrepreneur/producer has an idea for a product, either to create a new one or to improve upon an existing one. Because the product is relatively new and strange, the cost of building it is high. It requires lots of investment, research, time, and labor to create. The high cost of production necessarily translates into a high sale price.

Because the initial sale price of the new product is so high, relatively few people will be able to buy it outright—this small group of people consists of the most affluent among us. However, if the rich buy enough of the product, potential producers will interpret this as evidence of growing demand, and they will enter the market to capitalize on it. The subsequent combination of increased product supply from numerous competing firms, and streamlined production lines, causes prices to fall until profit margins can no longer support a growing number of producers. At this point, the market has reached the equilibrium of supply and demand, and the product is now affordable for the greatest number people.

Rich people are incessantly demonized by the envious and the despotic, but consider how our economy would be different if they were suddenly absent. Without rich people, new and expensive products would never be purchased. This would send a signal to potential entrepreneurs and producers that there is little likelihood for a return on their investments, which would seriously hamper the research and development of new products. It is difficult to imagine a world in which the shelves of our stores aren’t constantly being stocked with new products—a world where a better life is just out of reach—but such a world is possible when affluence is erased.

New products are risky. There’s a substantial chance that a new product will fail upon reaching the market. It is thanks to entrepreneurs and producers, who risk their time and resources on ideas, that we have an abundance of ever-improving tools and technology. However, we also owe thanks to the most affluent consumers who help determine if a product is viable. Because they’re willing to take a risk in buying a new product, the rest of us are eventually able to afford a higher standard of living.

Understanding ’80s Economics

With the resurgence of American conservatism and the advent of the Tea Parties, politics in the United States has become increasingly polarized. Often cited as evidence of superior fiscal/economic policies is the economic record of Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan has become a quasi-religious icon of the American conservative movement and on some practical levels he appeals to politicians of all ideologies. Even Barack Obama, considering himself to be like Reagan in manner and appeal, has invoked Reagan in order to garner support for his leftist policies. Nevertheless, Reagan’s popularity makes him a common target for criticism by the left. Unfortunately, too much of that criticism seems to go unanswered, and pundits on the right seem to take the soundness of Reagan’s policies for granted. I hope to give some support to conservative economic policies by providing some simple answers to questions and comments I’ve heard about our 40th president.

Question: Ronald Reagan is often lauded as a staunch fiscal conservative, but is he not responsible for an increase in U.S. debt by two trillion dollars?

It is true that the debt rose by $1.86 trillion under the Reagan administration, and it is also true that the debt ceiling was raised more often under the Reagan administration than under any administration in U.S. history.[1][2]

How was all this debt accrued? Wouldn’t a lack of budgetary restraint of this magnitude suggest fiscal liberalism, not conservatism?

It might suggest that, if we only look at total spending; but not all spending is created equal, and it is necessary to examine the components of federal spending as well. Federal outlays increased by $466 billion during the Reagan years—from $678 billion in 1981 to $1.1 trillion in 1989.[3] “Human Resources” spending (which includes spending for Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and other entitlement programs) accounted for 44 percent of the increase; defense spending accounted for another 31 percent; and every other form of spending (infrastructure, government payroll, general operations, etc.) took up the remaining 21 percent.[4] As we can see, entitlement spending was the primary driver of all federal outlays (a trend consistent with previous presidencies). Spending on the largest entitlement programs is not discretionary, meaning such spending is not affected by the government’s annual budgets, and fundamentally reforming these programs is extremely difficult without a unified government, something America did not have during any years of the Reagan presidency.[5][6] Ultimately, Reagan’s credentials as a conservative will be determined by your view on the effectiveness and necessity of the military buildup which he advanced. We should not lose our sense of perspective, however: Even if defense spending had remained at 1980 levels throughout Reagan’s presidency, the country would still have been running a $6.6 billion deficit in 1989 due to the increase in entitlement spending, something over which Reagan had minuscule control.[7]

Question: Setting aside the country’s fiscal status, what were the economic outcomes of the 1980s?

Under the Reagan administration, the United States began the longest sustained peacetime economic expansion in its history, and the second-longest during either peace or war. Real GDP grew by 33 percent from 1981 to 1989, averaging 4.13 percent annual growth.[8] Real per capita income grew by 22 percent over the same period.[9] There was a net gain of 16.2 million jobs, slashing the unemployment rate from 7.5 percent in January of 1981, to 5.4 percent in January of 1989.[10] The rate of inflation was cut from 11.82 percent in 1981 to 4.67 percent in 1989.[11] Private sector savings increased by $85 billion, and domestic private investment surged by a magnitude of $369 billion.[12] In short, Americans were working more, producing more, earning more, and benefiting from monetary appreciation, all at a faster rate than any other peaceful time in U.S. history.

How was all of this brought about?

From 1981 to 1989, Ronald Reagan signed a series of bills that lowered taxes overall and simplified the tax code. These bills, known collectively as the “Reagan Tax Cuts”, lowered the marginal rate on all income tax brackets—including a drop in the top marginal rate from 70 percent to 28 percent—reduced the capital gains tax from 28 percent to 20 percent, and indexed for inflation marginal tax rates at every income level.[14] They also reduced the Alternative Minimum Tax rate from 25 percent to 21 percent, and they repealed the Add-On Minimum Income Tax altogether.[15] Lastly, they cut the number of income tax brackets from fifteen to four, expanded personal exemptions, and limited deductions to make the tax code flatter and more fair.[16][17] In addition to the significant changes in the tax code, Ronald Reagan also heavily curbed the regulatory reach of the federal bureaucracy. Since its creation in 1936, the Federal Register—which annually chronicles the publication of all new federal regulations—has grown by thousands of pages. These executive edicts, which carry the force of law, saddle Uncle Sam with tens of billions of dollars per year in administrative costs alone, and they produce manifestly detrimental effects for the economy.[18] Up until 1980 this growth was exponential, but under Ronald Reagan the Federal Registry actually shrank from almost 90,000 pages to about 50,000 pages.[19] Although the steep upward trend resumed after Reagan left office, the vast combination of tax cuts and regulatory relief produced an economic climate of unprecedented strength throughout the decade.

Question: It seems that tax cuts of this magnitude would bankrupt the U.S. Treasury. Are these the policies that contributed to the huge amount of added U.S. debt accrued during the Reagan years?

No, in fact, the opposite is true: total federal tax receipts grew drastically, from $599 billion in 1981 to $991 billion in 1989.[20] If the economic growth of the 1980s hadn’t occurred as rapidly or persistently as it did, it’s safe to say that the debt would have been much greater than it was.

Question: How do we know that the economic growth is not attributable to well-timed monetary policy along the Keynesian vein of economics, rather than broad-based tax cuts?

Some have argued that Paul Volcker, Chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1979-1987, is chiefly responsible for the economic boom of the 1980s because of his monetary policies: Specifically, they claim that Volcker’s raising of the Federal Funds rate in the late 1970s reduced inflation, and although this policy caused a recession in 1981 and 1982, the eventual lowering of interest rates in 1982 allowed the economy to take off in 1983. While it is true that Volcker’s actions, which were actually endorsed by Reagan in 1979, greatly helped to curb inflation and the cycle of stagflation characteristic of the 1970s, it is incredible to say that these monetary policies caused the post-1982 boom. Interest rates actually fell twice between the summer of 1979 and the implementation of any of Reagan’s fiscal policies, but contrary to what Keynesian monetary theory would suggest, employment and gross private investment never rebounded to above-1979 levels until 1983 when the Economic Recovery Tax Act had almost been fully implemented (inflation never rebounded to 1979 levels during Reagan’s presidency, which also contradicts Keynesian economic theory because the increased demand should have caused inflation).[21][22][23][24] While it’s safe to say that Volcker’s monetary policies facilitated the economic growth of the 1980s, it’s erroneous to conclude that those policies spurred the growth.

Question: One of the most significant of the Reagan Tax Cuts was the Tax Reform Act of 1986, which decreased the marginal income tax rate for the highest income bracket and increased the rate for the lowest income bracket. Did the subsequent tax relief and economic growth only benefit the rich?

No. If anything, the poor benefited more than the rich. Between 1981 and 1989, the second-lowest and lowest income quintiles saw a drop in effective tax rates by 39.6 percent and 420 percent respectively.[25] This is only possible due to a doubling of personal exemptions and a tripling of the earned-income tax credit, which would have been impossible without the vast new revenue generated by economic growth. These changes effectively abrogated the tax liability of over 4 million low-income taxpayers. Conversely, the middle, second-highest, and top income quintiles saw more modest drops in their effective tax rates of 27.7 percent, 25.2 percent, and 6.3 percent respectively.[26]

We see similar trends when we look at the distribution of the federal income tax burden over the period. In 1981, the bottom 50 percent of income earners paid 7.45 percent of all federal income taxes, but in 1989, they paid only 5.83 percent.[27] By contrast, the top 1 percent of income earners paid 17.58 percent of federal income taxes in 1981, but by 1989 they paid 25.24 percent.[28] Clearly, the poor benefited demonstrably more than the rich in terms of tax liability.

Question: The change in the distribution of the federal income tax burden seems to outright contradict the change in nominal and effective income tax rates. How is this possible?

There are only two ways such a change in tax liabilities could occur after the aforementioned tax acts of 1981 and 1986: one way is if there were more people within the highest group of income earners in 1989 than 1981; the other is if the people in that group were making more money in 1989 than in 1981. The fact is that both occurred: from 1979 to 1986, the real average family income of the bottom income quintile rose 77 percent, 37 percent for the second-lowest quintile, 20 percent for the middle, 10 percent for the second-highest, and 5 percent for the highest.[29] In addition to the benefits of rising real incomes, individuals also benefited from huge amounts of economic mobility: according to a 1992 U.S. Treasury study, 86 percent of individual income tax filers in the lowest income quintile in 1979 had moved to a higher quintile by 1988, and 15 percent of them had moved to the top quintile. For the second-lowest quintile in 1979, 61 percent moved up, and 11 percent moved to the top. For the middle quintile, 47 percent moved up, and a little less than one-third of them moved to the top. For the second-highest quintile, 35 percent moved to the top, and in the top quintile, 65 percent of earners remained there after the 10-year stretch.[30]

Conclusion

The data would seem to confirm what we’d theoretically expect: Reducing the growth of government, cutting taxes, reducing regulation, and limiting inflation with sound monetary policy does in fact lead to economic growth. In a time today when the country is torn about how to get the economy moving again, we may want to look on the 1980s and the accomplishments of Ronald Reagan with a favorable light.

References
1. U.S. Department of the Treasury. Bureau of the Public Debt. Historical Debt Outstanding – Annual 1950 – 1999. Treasury Direct. Accessed 3 Aug. 2011. http://www.treasurydirect.gov/govt/reports/pd/histdebt/histdebt_histo4.htm

2. U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Statutory Limits on Federal Debt: 1940-Current. Table 7.3. Accessed 2 Aug. 2011. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2012/assets/hist07z3.xls

3. U.S. Office of Management and Budget. Fiscal Year 2014 Historical Tables: Budget of the U.S. Government. Table 1.1, p. 23, Apr. 2013. Accessed 7 Feb. 2014. http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/omb/budget/fy2014/assets/hist.pdf

4. Ibid. Table 3.1, p. 55-56

5. U.S. House of Representatives. Office of the Clerk. House History. Accessed 12 Aug. 2011. http://artandhistory.house.gov/house_history/

6. U.S. Senate. Senate Historical Office. Party Division in the Senate, 1789-Present. Accessed 12 Aug. 2011. http://www.senate.gov/pagelayout/history/one_item_and_teasers/partydiv.htm 

7. OMB. Historical Tables. op cit. Table 1.1, p 23. Table 3.1, p. 55-56. 

8. U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Economic Analysis. National Income and Product Account Tables. Table 1.1.6, 29 Jul. 2011. Accessed 13 Aug. 2011. http://www.bea.gov/iTable/iTable.cfm?ReqID=9&step=1

9. U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of the Census. Current Population Survey: Income: Total CPS Population and Per Capita Income. Table P-1. Accessed 13 Aug. 2011. http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/people/

10. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Accessed 14 Aug. 2011. http://www.bls.gov/data/

11. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index. Accessed 14 Aug. 2011. http://www.bls.gov/cpi/

12. Bureau of Economic Analysis. Account Tables. op cit. Table 1.1.6.

13. Freddie Mac. Monthly Average Commitment Rate and Points on 30-Year Fixed-Rate Mortgages Since 1971. Accessed 15 Aug. 2011. http://www.freddiemac.com/pmms/pmms30.htm

14. Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System. Selected Interest Rates (Daily) – H.15: Historical Data. Accessed 15 Aug 2011. http://www.federalreserve.gov/releases/h15/data.htm

15. The Library of Congress, Thomas. Bill Summaries and Status. 97th Congress (1981-1982). H.R. 4242. Accessed 4 Aug. 2011. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d097:HR04242:|TOM:/bss/d097query.html

16. The Library of Congress, Thomas. Bill Summaries and Status. 97th Congress (1981-1982). H.R. 4961. Accessed 4 Aug. 2011. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d097:H.R.4961:

17. The Library of Congress, Thomas. Bill Summaries and Status. 99th Congress (1985-1986) H.R. 3838. Accessed 20 Aug. 2011. http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d099:H.R.3838:

18. Tax Foundation. Federal Individual Income Tax Rates History: Income Years 1913-2009. Accessed 4 Aug. 2011. http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/fed_individual_rate_history_nominal%26adjusted-20110909.pdf

19. Dudley, Susan, and Melinda Warren. 2006. “Moderating Regulatory Growth: An Analysis of the U.S. Budget for Fiscal Years 2006 and 2007.” Weidenbaum Center on the Economy, Government, and Public Policy 28. Figure 1, p. 7. Accessed 16 Aug. 2011. http://wc.wustl.edu/files/wc/2007RegReport.pdf

20. Ibid. Figure 3, p. 9.

21. OMB. Historical Tables.  op. cit. Table 1.1, p. 22.

22.  Board of Governors. op cit.

23. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey. Accessed 14 Aug. 2001. http://www.bls.gov/data/

24. U.S. Department of Commerce. Bureau of Economic Analysis. op cit.

25. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Consumer Price Index. Accessed 14 Aug. 2011. http://www.bls.gov/cpi/

26. U.S. Congress. Congressional Budget Office. Historical Effective Tax Rates, 1979 to 2005: Supplement with Additional Data on Sources of Income and High-Income Households. Table 1, p. 7. Accessed 24 Aug. 2011.

27. Ibid.

28. Heritage Foundation. 2011 Budget Chart Book. Percentage of Federal Income Taxes (2008). Accessed 3 Aug. 2011. http://www.heritage.org/BudgetChartBook/top10-percent-income-earners

29. Ibid.

30. Hubbard, R.G., J. Nunns, and W. Randolph. Household Income Changes over Time: Some Basic Questions and Facts. 1992. U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Tax Analysis. Table 6. Accessed 10 Jul. 2010. http://www0.gsb.columbia.edu/faculty/ghubbard/Articles%20for%20Web%20Site/Household%20Income%20Changes%20Over%20Time_Some%20Basic%20Questions%20and%20Facts.pdf

31. Ibid. Table 1.

Herman Cain: Brave or Bigoted?

Herman Cain has been taking a lot of heat for his comments on FOX News Sunday about communities banning mosques (the entire interview can be found here):

Cain: “Our Constitution guarantees the separation of church and state. Islam combines church and state. They’re using the church part of our First Amendment to infuse their morals in that community, and the people of that community do not like it. They disagree with it.”

and later…

Wallace: “So you’re saying, any community, if they wanted to ban a mosque…”

Cain: “Yes, they have a right to do that.”

Predictably, these comments sparked outrage among Muslims and leftists generally. U.S. Representative Keith Ellison called Cain a “religious bigot” and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) demanded that Cain “apologize.” But are these reactions warranted? What exactly about Cain’s comments is controversial?

According to the dictionary, a bigot is “a person who strongly and unfairly dislikes other people, ideas, etc.” Cain’s description of Islam, that it is a blend of church and state, is accurate: In addition to its creeds and personal moral codes, Islam includes a system of government and law, called Sharia, which is binding upon all people. Because Sharia emanates from the Quran (the holy word of God), it can be the only legitimate law in the world, and it is incumbent upon Muslims to spread Sharia globally. Islam and Sharia are inextricably linked, which is one of the reasons people are averse to the presence of a mosque in their community.

Cain’s characterization of the situation in Tennessee is no less accurate. The people of Murfreesboro, like the people in communities across the country, are fearful of the implementation of Sharia in American courts. This fear is not baseless, as such a phenomenon has occurred many times already in the United States.

Finally, because Sharia is an integral component of Islam, Cain is justified in his assertion that the mosque is similarly integral in the promulgation of Sharia Law, even its more violent aspects, within a non-Muslim community.

For the purposes of labeling someone as a bigot, it is possible to disagree over what constitutes an “unfair” dislike of “other people, ideas, etc.,” but given Cain’s impeccable knowledge of Islam, I can only assume that the left’s smearing of him as a bigot has less to do with the veracity of his comments than it does with a sheer disapproval of his opinions, and the unabashed nature with which he expresses them.

Cain’s comments shed light on a larger issue as well: The First Amendment has, with increasing frequency, become an excuse for people to affront the laws of their community, state, or country. “Freedom of religion” has hijacked the hiring, firing, and general operations of private businesses, and it has even been used as a vessel to silence so called “hate speech” (though ironically, always in the name of tolerance). A line must be drawn between spirituality, which is merely a contemplation of the supernatural world, and actions which infringe upon the rights of others. Religion offers no more prerogative for unbridled action in the public square than the nonexistent “right to privacy” offers in one’s own home. That is the price of self-government and life in a civil society.

These days, one need only uphold the values and achievements of western civilization to earn the title of “bigot” from the Left. However, if it is bigotry to oppose a religion which demands the subversion of communities which do not comport with it; if it is bigotry to oppose a religion which treats women, Jews, Christians, homosexuals, and many others as (at best) second-class citizens; if it is bigotry to oppose a religion which has neither a concept of equality under the laws, nor freedom from a theocratic state, then consider me a bigot. Is this an unfair characterization of Islam? Or has the Left simply bastardized the English language, using it as a weapon against those bold enough to espouse opposing views? If Herman Cain has shown us anything, it’s not that he’s a bigot, but that bigotry is the new bravery.

Immigration, and the Multiculturalist’s Paradox

One of the perks of working as a writing tutor is getting to help students with a variety of assignments from an array of academic disciplines. During one particular appointment, I met with a student who was writing an argumentative essay on American immigration and multiculturalism for her English class. She employed many familiar arguments, and though it would have been improper for me to impress my own political beliefs upon a student during a tutoring session, I nonetheless felt compelled to offer some counterarguments here, on my own time.

One of the student’s arguments was one that I’ve heard many times before: “America is a nation of immigrants, and immigrants are responsible for the huge economic and cultural progress of our country, particularly during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Therefore, limiting immigration would gravely harm our society.”

The first premise of this argument is true on its face. America is indeed a nation of immigrants. However, immigrants are not all the same, and today’s immigration is different from that which helped fuel America’s rapid industrialization. The immigrants of yesterday were confronted with social pressures which facilitated their rapid assimilation into the greater society. For example, our public education establishment stressed the learning of English and American history. In addition, immigrant groups were widely dispersed across the country, and ethnic enclaves never grew so large as to challenge the dominant culture. These, coupled with the absence of numerous welfare programs, meant that immigrants needed to adopt the practices and attitudes of their new nation in order to avoid destitution.

Today, immigrants do not face those same pressures. A massive welfare state insulates a large number of immigrants from the annoying language barriers which inhibit the hunt for employment; bilingual education programs have shifted from emphasizing English to preserving immigrants’ home languages; and increasing numbers of immigrants arrive from a relative handful of regions around the globe, creating large ethnic communities and stunting assimilation. Historian Stephen Tierney observed this phenomenon and its possible implications in his book Multiculturalism and the Canadian Constitution:

In a situation in which immigrants are divided into many different groups originating in distant countries, there is no feasible prospect of any particular immigrant group’s challenging the hegemony of the national language and institutions. These groups may form an alliance among themselves to fight for better treatment and accommodations, but such an alliance can only be developed within the language and institutions of the host society and, hence, is integrative. In situations in which a single dominant immigrant group originates in a neighbouring country, the dynamics may be very different. The Arabs in Spain, and Mexicans in the United States, do not need allies among other immigrant groups. One could imagine claims for Arabic or Spanish to be declared a second official language, at least in regions where they are concentrated, and these immigrants could seek support from their neighbouring home country for such claims—in effect, establishing a kind of transnational extension of their original homeland in their new neighbouring country of residence.

Also, unlike the immigrants of the past, today’s immigrants do not share the same cultural heritage as America’s dominant socioeconomic groups (mostly European and protestant). The spread of collectivism throughout Latin America and East Asia has fostered a political culture in which government is seen as a provider and caretaker, rather than a protector of individual rights. This attitude manifests in immigrants’ overwhelming support for leftist/Democrat politicians. This is understandable because the American Left is familiar to them. Its promises are similar to the ones they heard made by the demagogues and despots back home, the only difference being that American politicians are slightly better equipped to deliver on their promises, having a bit more of “other people’s” money with which to buy votes.

To put all these facts in perspective, we need to consider the concept of culture: A term used to describe the shared characteristics of human beings within a group (e.g. shared thoughts, behaviors, values, etc.), “culture” characterizes a society and serves as the root of all its institutions—from government and politics, to economics. Since culture varies widely from nation to nation, it is integral in answering questions pertaining to immigration. Specifically, what effects will immigration have on the cultural makeup our nation, and, in light of those effects, what policies should we implement to control it?

The policies my student put forth in her paper to answer this question were based on the theory of multiculturalism. This theory holds that all cultures are equally deserving of respect, and that no one culture is inherently better than another. Immigration policies based on this theory would entail that no priority be given to different people(s) in the immigration admittance process. This would purportedly result in a “salad-bowl”-type society which has no dominant culture to which immigrants could assimilate, and in which individuals of many different cultural backgrounds can harmoniously coexist while still retaining fundamental characteristics of their old culture.

Is such a theory actually viable? If there is any nation on Earth where it could potentially work, it’s America—or so it might seem at first glance. America was unique at its founding: In the late 18th Century, almost all nations of the world were ethnic nations (i.e., their shared cultural characteristics were based on race, religion, or bloodline), and the few political nations (i.e., nations in which people are connected primarily or exclusively by the status of citizenship) were all ruled by (near-)totalitarian governments. America was the first political nation in which the defining cultural characteristic of its people was not subservience to the state, as had been the case in all political nations previously, but instead adherence to the ideals of republicanism (that all people are equal under the law, and that individuals should be free to live their lives unimpeded by government). For most of American history, these ideals constituted a dominant culture, and all other aspects of culture were subordinate to them. As a result, America became a place where people could act in accordance with their own values, as long those values did not undermine republicanism.

Such a setup is not impervious or immutable, though. If the culture of a nation becomes fragmented or divided, it is only a matter of time before the nation itself fragments and divides. America in the 1850s and 60s was a prime example of this: Interpretive disputes over the country’s founding republican principles led to a great political schism, effectively creating two competing, irreconcilable cultures—one which sanctioned slavery, and one which did not. The resulting American Civil War jeopardized the fabric of the whole nation because, for the entirety of that period, a dominant culture did not exist to instill political order.

This would seem to raise an issue with multiculturalism. Is the salad-bowl society, with its notorious lack of a dominant culture, not also prone to that kind of instability? Proponents of multiculturalism may try to assert that conflicts of this sort are the result of only large groups competing for power; that a more pluralistic society with many tiny cultural groups—none of them large enough to assert dominance—could be peaceful. That is all very well and good, but the main tenet of multiculturalism does not allow for an immigration policy (or any kind of policy, for that matter), to be used in such a way as to bring about this outcome, since giving priority to immigrants of one culture, even for the purposes of balance and pluralism, would violate the principle that all cultures are equal.

America has survived since its Civil War largely because a dominant culture, the republican ideal, reasserted itself. Though the growing preeminence of leftism has eroded that ideal, we are still largely a nation in which minor cultural characteristics such as language, work ethic, spiritual faith, cuisine, music, art, dance, and etiquette, may coexist peacefully. This may be possible under a scheme of multiculturalism too, but even if it was, the coexistence of these minor traditions would be a hollow victory. The true merit of multiculturalism can be measured by the ability of major cultural traditions to coexist, and by this standard, multiculturalism falls short. There are some cultures in the world which include violent traditions. For example, a literal interpretation of the Koran informs us that all must submit to Islam, that God’s law is supreme, and that those who refuse to follow him may be killed. It is (more than) conceivable that immigrants who follow such a religion could create conflict in nations where the natives do not conform to that way of thinking.

Some multiculturalists may dismiss these occurrences as a mere technical issue: They might concede that multiculturalism cannot grant true equal status to all cultures, because some cultures include violent behavior, and it would be a completely untenable position to assert that violence and non-violence can enjoy the same moral status. However, they would insist that these violent acts, if not representative of a larger, concerted movement, may be dealt with through the criminal justice system, and that the republican government which spawns that system can still be trusted to allow coexistence of non-violent behaviors. Unfortunately, this creates somewhat of a paradox: Not only are the multiculturalists effectively conceding their core principle, but the remnants of their position depend upon the existence of a “live-and-let-live,” republican form of government. Now, what happens when the institutions of a republic are themselves attacked and/or supplanted by opposing cultures?

Multiculturalism has no answer for this. A republic, through limited government and its grant of equality under the law, is alone capable of supporting the coexistence of non-violent cultures within a country; but the insistence upon such a form of government presupposes the propriety/superiority of the culture which underlies it. This is multiculturalism’s paradox. It calls for equal respect to all cultures, but is silent when a culture arises which is decidedly not multicultural.

Because of multiculturalism’s paradoxical nature, it is patently unsuitable as a basis for our immigration policy. If we wish to have a non-violent, republican society, we cannot be completely indiscriminate in our immigrant admittance process: We must assign first priority to those immigrants who already support and adhere to the republican ideal. If there are no prospective immigrants with that cultural background, we must then prioritize immigrants who are apt and willing to assimilate to it. Unfortunately, merely suggesting that someone assimilate to the dominant culture is likely to get you labeled “old-fashioned,” “racist” or “xenophobic,” as if the task of assimilating was somehow insurmountable or even immoral.

The fact of the matter is, however, that immigrants come here for a several different reasons (freedom, opportunity, prosperity, etc.), and whether or not they realize it, those reasons are born out of our culture. Unfortunately, our current policy of admitting immigrants who enjoy the fruits of our republican cultural heritage, but who either do not understand it, or do not respect it, amounts to a robbery of sorts. A robber has no regard for the culture of his victim (his work ethic, his resourcefulness, or his ingenuity—in other words, that which renders him an attractive target in the first place). He only has regard for the spoils of his trespass. But reaping America’s fruits without supplying her ample water and sunlight in return is not a practice which can go on for long. The sustained importation of immigrants who subscribe to the politics of leftism will cause the republican ideal to wither and die, destroying that which appealed to immigrants in the first place.

A more prudent immigration policy is needed. Immigrants should be prepared and willing to relinquish the culture of their home, and to ally themselves with the republican ideal. There is no other way that the nation can survive. If multiculturalism is allowed to persist, America will fracture and cease to be the great beacon for freedom and opportunity which has for so long attracted immigrants to our shores.

Taxation: The Unsung Civil Rights Issue

I recently had a discussion with one of my “moderate” friends about the nature of the federal income tax system. He expressed the commonly held sentiment that those who make more money should pay a higher percentage of their income to the government simply because they can afford to, and that they somehow have a moral obligation to do so. Setting aside the fact that such a policy creates a society of freeloaders who feed off the productive, I pointed out to him that a progressive income tax relies on income discrimination, and arbitrarily grouping people into income classes.

It is odd that almost sixty years after the onset of the Civil Rights Movement, after a plethora of court cases and statutes outlawing discrimination based on attributes like race, color, ethnicity, religion, and gender, we still have widespread discrimination in this country, practiced by the federal government itself, with regard to a policy that affects all working men and women. If those other forms of discrimination are so lamentable, and I believe they are, why should we continue to allow equally insidious discrimination in our tax policy? My friend pointed out that those other attributes are not matters of choice because, for example, one cannot change their race or ethnicity, while level of income is a matter of choice. I think he’s one-hundred percent correct, but it creates a couple of problems for his overarching argument.

If it is the case that there is significant income mobility in the economy (i.e., income is a matter of choice), then people have the power to either increase or decrease their income at will. But one of the main points in favor of a progressive income tax is that there is a lack of income mobility in the economy to the extent that income must be redistributed in order to compensate for what people are unable to earn by working. Therefore, if level of income is a choice, then there is no need for a progressive income tax in the first place. However, if it is not a choice–a concept I reject–then according to my moderate friend, that is even more reason why it should not be subject to discrimination. Either way, a progressive income tax is unjustifiable.

The concept of income as a choice also leads to a more traditional argument against the progressive income tax. If you arbitrarily tax the “rich” at a higher rate than the “poor,” then the rich will choose to work less than they normally would because their work would no longer be worth the amount of money they got to keep after taxes. As a result, they will not aspire to high-earning jobs, and their new work will be less meaningful and useful. In effect, you will see a decrease in productivity within the economy. And when that happens, where does that leave the poor who benefit from the progressive income tax’ redistribution of income?

No matter who you are or how you look at it–whether you work or don’t work, or whether you consider yourself rich or poor–taxation is a civil rights issue. It’s time we as a country started to treat it like one. Now is the time to end discrimination in our income tax policy, oust the progressive income tax, and replace it with a system that treats all earners and producers equally.