Tag Archives: human

The Politics of Need

Out of all the comforts and joys we reap in life, none are more crucial to the attainment of our wellbeing than the satisfaction of our basic physical human needs. Human health is so important that without maintaining it, all other desired states—whether social, economic, spiritual, and mental—become unreachable. It is impossible to ponder the nebulous teachings of science and philosophy, for example, when the growls of your empty stomach incessantly drown out the voice of your own mind.

Our preoccupation with satisfying basic human needs, albeit a noble one, has spurred the implementation of markedly ignoble redistributionist public policies. We used to hold capitalism in high regard as a system for alleviating human need, but the massive economic growth it caused, ironically, seems only to have ballooned our intellectual bankruptcy. Alas, the extra time and comfort with which capitalism endowed us has yielded few intellectual rewards besides the various rationales for undermining it (e.g., Marxism, progressivism, social democracy, etc.). As Walter Williams once noted,

“Free enterprise is threatened today in our country not because of its failure—it’s threatened because of its success. That is, capitalism has been so successful in eliminating the traditional problems of mankind, such as disease, pestilence, hunger, and gross poverty, that all other human problems appear to us, to be at once, inexcusable and unbearable. The desire by many Americans to eliminate these so called ‘unbearable and inexcusable’ problems has led us away from the basic ideals and principles upon which our prosperous nation was built.”

The desire to eliminate “unbearable and inexcusable” problems underlies almost every American redistributionist policy, from free/reduced school lunches for children to Medicare and Medicaid. It is exceedingly difficult to fight against this rationale, as the advocates of these policies invariably label any contenders as uncompassionate brutes vying to deny their fellow man of food and medicine. A libertarian would generally respond that supporting or opposing the government provision of a good or service is unrelated to whether or not that good or service is provided at all. But then the question becomes not whether a particular good or service is needed, but whether one thinks human need justifies the use of force to obtain it. Before we can answer that question, however, we must first explore the concept of need itself.

The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) gives an illustrative exposé of how Americans view “need.” Enacted in 1986, EMTALA forces hospital workers to provide emergency screening for anyone who requests it—regardless of that person’s ability to pay—and then either treat that person or transfer him to a proper treatment facility. The rationale for this law is the familiar argument from human necessity, that it is the responsibility of a compassionate people to provide for the basic needs of other humans, despite any and all costs incurred in meeting that obligation.

Setting aside momentarily any arguments from morality or efficiency, we can already see one obvious problem with the politics of need: Before you can claim that humans require a thing to live, you must first define what that thing is. For the purposes of political expediency, it has in this case been defined as emergency care provided by anyone working within a hospital, but there have been many kinds of health care other than purely the services of professionals within hospitals. Comprehensive freshwater and sewer systems, healthy diets, good hygiene, abstaining from alcohol and tobacco, regular exercise, animal therapy, and even feng shui can all be considered forms of health care—and those are just examples of physical health care! There are also many forms of mental health care, such as study, meditation, and reading, which the law doesn’t deal with. If health care is such an amorphous concept that it could encompass just about every aspect of life, then is there anything that we as a society cannot demand from individuals with such “health”-related resources and expertise? There can be no logical limit to the sense of entitlement on which the law is based.

Claiming that health care is required to live also requires defining what it means to live. This is not some mere esoteric quibble. The treatments for some incurable diseases do nothing more than marginally improve the quality of life for the afflicted, blurring the boundary between life-saving health care and quality-of-life health care. Equally obscure is the boundary separating quality-of-life health care and other quality-of-life items that we would not normally consider tools of health care, such as therapy furniture or pets. If the former can be demanded on the basis of improving quality of life, cannot the latter also be demanded on the same basis?

The inconsistencies in these concepts are not only frustrating, but also ultimately exploitative and immoral. Forcing private individuals or hospitals to provide for someone’s health care without compensation destroys any and every notion of individual property rights we have. I imagine that the proponents of EMTALA would balk at this assertion; they would emphatically reject, for example, the forced redistribution of jewelry or leaf-blowers—“individuals still have the right not to provide those to the poor” they would say—but then they are just being inconsistent. As health and nutrition gradually improve in this country (despite our government social safety net; not because of it), and as our “unbearable and inexcusable” problems fade into the distance, we will see the emergence of new problems to take their place. The “[X] is a necessity” rationale can theoretically, with enough logical finagling and patience, be applied to any good and service, such as education, housing, clothing, or even automobiles, and we can expect to see the politics of need envelop these as well, until there is ultimately no good or service to which anyone can justifiably deny provision to another. We used to call those without any rights to their property “slaves.” Now we call them “well-off.”

EMTALA needs to be repealed because of its immorality and its inconsistency. Moreover, we should abandon any sense of entitlement based on notions of necessity, and re-employ the concepts of property rights that gave us the societal wealth we have, and that will propel us into the next age of prosperity.

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.

Sotomayor and Race

I would now like to comment on something which should be completely trivial and unnecessary in rational discussion: Judge Sotomayor, and the question of race in the context of her confirmation. I am not the first to examine this topic, but I believe it is part of a larger whole that is the use of identity politics in America today at all levels of government. To start out, let us remember a point she made from one of her speeches in 1994, which she recycled and used again in 2001:

“A wise woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a man.”

…and here is the 2001 quote:

“I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”

As these statements halfheartedly trickled down through the catacombs of mainstream left-wing reporting entities, the “wise Latina woman” herself has had ample opportunity to justify her words, and ample opportunity to be attacked. That aside, you know as well as I do, if a white male had made similarly bigoted comments about the superior judgment of his own race, and the value of his own experiences in judicial rulings, the mainstream left-wing media would never let it go; we would never hear the end of it! Here is my message to any senator—Democrat or otherwise—any judge, or any other supporter of Sotomayor because of her race: If you find yourself incapable of judging her (or anyone else) as a nominee using an immutable standard such as constitutional interpretation or originalism as opposed to variables, and characteristics respective of different national or ethnic groups, you only show a deep and malignant blemish on your character. The fact that she can get away with this (in hearings by rephrasing her words like any good politician, and on the floor of the Senate, where she will most likely be confirmed by vote) is bad enough. It is yet another example of the incompetency of our representatives and parts of their constituency who do not understand the role of a justice. But the fact that this has even developed in to a valid discussion in the first place, and successfully distracted us from the nominee’s positions on constitutional issues is even more disgusting. It was apparent from the start that the President nominated her because of her race and background. The mainstream left-wing media doesn’t even need to make the case for judicial activism on her part or anyone else’ because the debate is framed around whether or not the opposition to her confirmation represents racism in America. This is to be entirely expected when the debate concerns a liberal politician, and I must give her credit for dodging every question possible regarding constitutional interpretation, but I digress. Americans need to understand that the role of the justice, whatever gender, nationality or race they may be is not to vote or rule based on empathy, nor is it to institutionalize identity politics in any branch of government, nor is it to create policy. We must not let nomination based on racism become the precedent for the high courts of the United States.

Good Ol’ Master Nolan

I was on Facebook today, and I noticed one of my friends had used the Nolan Political Chart in the context of identifying political orientation. I’ve seen it loads of times before, but I never really thought about it much until now.

I find it very disturbing that David Nolan chose to gauge political standing using a diagram that separates economic and personal freedom. This is evidence of a society that does not fully understand the role of government and how personal and economic freedoms are all inalienable rights. A person and their family’s very well being is determined by their economic freedom. To say that a society is personally free when the government controls the means of achieving a desired standard of living is absurd, and a government that does not respect one facet of freedom cannot respect another. Abridging either facet only expands the power of government, and creates dependency in its constituency.

That being said, I also find it disturbing that Nolan associates the “right-wing” with having a lack of personal freedom. Not only are terms like these ambiguous, but they also show a lack of understanding of conservatism, the political philosophy most commonly associated with “right-wing”, and the United States Constitution. I outline conservatism in a previous blog entry of mine, show how conservatives have been labeled by common arguments and misconceptions, and how conservatism has been and always will be the philosophy of individual rights in an ordered civil society.

Lastly, getting back to rights: The only finite human aspect in the universe is time. By nature, humans base how to spend their time living on economic rationalizations. The time a person spends (or doesn’t spend) on economic productivity is directly related to the personal well being of them self and their family. Be abridging or delegitimizing the value a person’s economic productivity (labor or lack thereof) through government activity (taxes, welfare, etc.), you are delegitimizing the time they spend living, affecting all aspects of life, including non-economic, personal ones. Likewise, the abridgment of certain personal freedoms also decreases opportunity for economic endeavors.

Normally, I can somewhat sympathize with the libertarian viewpoint for many issues on a case-by-case basis. However, I am consistently annoyed with the general libertarian mindset that disregards the importance of constitutional government and ordered liberty in the civil society. When limited and controlled, government does provide protection for the citizens as well as other minimal, efficient services.

Reflections on Free Markets

In contemporary debates on economics, the main contentions usually involve how much government intervention is necessary in the economy. On one side of the debate are the socialists, advocating complete government intervention in the economy, and on the other side are the proponents of free markets, advocating the opposite. Where we find ourselves on that spectrum should depend on an honest discussion about the basic nature of markets.

First, what is a market? Basically, it is a collection of exchanges between people. Markets are most commonly associated with exchanges of goods and services, but they can also exist within other frameworks (e.g., immigration as an exchange of cultures, and universities as exchanges of ideas). In particular, a free market is characterized by voluntary transactions between people. Conversely, when transactions between people are forced or hindered by outside actors, be they governments or other individuals, the market is not free.

In my experience, most criticisms levied against free markets are based on faulty premises. Now that we have some idea of what a free market is, let us take time to address a few examples of what it isn’t:

Free markets and capitalism are not exactly synonymous.

While “capitalism” does traditionally denote a system in which the means of production are owned privately by individuals, that definition does not necessarily provide real insight into the nature of common market transactions. To capitalize merely means acting advantageously upon a situation or opportunity; it is an expression of the innate human desire to maximize personal success. This occurs as much within socialism as it does a free-market, but the differences lie in the particular mode of capitalization used: Maximizing personal success will look different in a socialist economy than in a free market. Nevertheless, it is false to assume that the differences between economic systems will cause differences in human nature.

A free market is also not the same as pure capitalism because pure capitalism involves individuals using any means necessary to advance themselves, including coercive acts, usually referred to as crimes, which abridge other peoples’ natural rights. A free market is, by definition, devoid of coercion (transactions must be voluntary), and is therefore incompatible with pure capitalism. Socialism, on the other hand, has no appreciation for individual rights, so pure capitalism actually comports more nicely with socialism than with a free market!

The free market is not fascism.

I’m not exactly sure where this association comes from, so it’s really hard for me to understand its rational. Fascism is a political philosophy on the left of the political spectrum. Proponents of fascism are hyper-nationalistic and seek to use a powerful government to promote their desires. Much like the other leftist philosophies, such as communism, feudalism, totalitarianism, or monarchism, fascism rejects individual natural rights, and therefore cannot allow the operation of a free market–of goods and services, cultures, or ideas.

The failure of a firm does not denote the failure of a market.

This is another common misconception about free markets. Contrary to popular belief, the failure of a firm is an example of when free markets works best. If a firm is unfit to compete in a market, it goes out of business and its assets are liquidated. This way, markets work out inefficiencies in the system, and the surviving, successful firms are those better equipped to serve the needs of society. Think of markets as an ecosystem, inherent to which is the natural selection for and against competing firms. By removing the weak from the market, the economy evolves and progresses. When government steps in to regulate or hinder this process is when the free market truly fails. The most prominent modern example of this is the recent Wall St. bank bailout. The massive economic bailout for these banks prevented their failure, allowing non-competitive banks to stay in business, insinuating major economic collapse down the road, and all at the taxpayers’ expense.

Now that we’ve defined our terms, the issue resolves to whether or not free markets are beneficial. The propriety of an economic system in which people are able to voluntarily trade with others would seem self-evident, but there are a couple of pertinent criticisms of true free markets which should be addressed.

Externalities

Externalities are a real problem for markets. Externalities are the costs which buyers and sellers within a private transaction unintentionally pass on to the rest of society (e.g, pollution, or traffic congestion). Most economists would concede that externalities are mitigated by institutionalizing these social costs—that is, reintroducing these costs into the immediate transaction and forcing the transaction’s assenting parties to incur it themselves–not society.

Unfortunately, leftists then naïvely assume that government is the best agent, or is the only agent capable of performing this task. They believe that government should tax or regulate businesses and consumers. This will transform the social cost of producing or using a particular product into a direct economic cost incurred by the buyer or the seller, which will decrease either the supply or the demand for the product, and will in turn decrease the product’s social cost.

There are other mechanisms, however, for institutionalizing social costs that don’t require government intervention in the form of confiscatory taxes or regulations. The first mechanism that comes to mind is market self-regulation: If consumers become knowledgeable about the social costs imposed by their demand for a product, they may decide that the benefit derived from a low price is not worth the cost they impose upon the outside world. Firms which self-institutionalize social costs, such as coal power companies investing in scrubbers, or car companies investing in better crash safety technology, may have an easier time marketing their products to the public, as the public may enjoy moral gratification from supporting these companies. As Milton Friedman explains in the video below, tort law and social customs also counteract and guard against market failures.

Monopolies

This is probably the most common honest criticism of markets. The argument goes like this: Every once in a while a firm becomes so large and its operations become so efficient, that it is able to out-compete virtually every other firm in the market. Take Walmart as an example. Walmart is often cited as undercutting the prices of its competitors, taking a short term loss merely to drive its competitors out of business. As the evolutionary processes of the market remove the weak and inefficient firms from the economy, one could expect, in the long run, that only one firm would remain. Logically, it would follow that, in the absence of competition, it would be in the best interest of the one remaining firm to jack up its prices as much as possible, bleeding the consumers dry.

But looking empirically at the issue, this logic simply hasn’t panned out. There is, again, a mechanism built into free markets that protects against this type of occurrence. If Walmart became a monopoly and decided to raise its prices over night, it would make the profitability of potential new firms wanting to enter the market near infinite. As a result, very few monopolies have ever arisen as a result of pure, market-driven forces, and endured for long periods of time. As Milton Friedman explains, most monopolies have endured only because government has intervened on their behalf.

The only two notable examples Friedman mentions of monopolies which have endured without government intervention–the New York Stock Exchange from Reconstruction to the Great Depression, and the De Beers diamond company from the early twentieth century until 2000–both lost their monopolistic status due to the introduction of international competitors. If we are to prevent the emergence and endurance of private monopolies, we must ensure that government policies do not make prohibitive the cost of market entry for competitors, which is exactly what did not happen in the television, steel, labor, railroad, and trucking markets.

Conclusion

Free markets are a fact of life–they are not implemented, but rather exist by default. Free markets are imperfect, though, because people are imperfect, and no private or public system comprised of people will ever be without flaw. However, a free market is the most efficient economic system ever known to mankind. Even with the presence of externalities and occasional monopolies, free markets succeed in producing the greatest amount of wealth for the greatest number of people. Most importantly, free markets reflect human nature, and the cause to better oneself. They are an expression of individual natural rights, and they yield a net benefit for society as a whole.