Tag Archives: socialism

Capitalism, Environmentalism, and Waste

One of the most common criticisms of capitalism is that it promotes not only mere apathy, but hostility toward the environment. Specifically, it drive a materialistic consumerism which requires an accelerating depletion of Earth’s natural resources. We burn fossil fuels, deplete our soil, and clear-cut vast swaths of forest, all causing glacial melt, rising oceans, and desert expansion. Ultimately, it goes, Earth will be transformed into a desolate wasteland.

These dramatic images beget dramatic reactions, such as the rise of the environmentalist movement. Originally a personal lifestyle focused on preserving natural resources, environmentalism has morphed into a powerful political movement concerned with shaping the behavior of others. However, the often drastic lifestyle changes required by environmentalism seldom resonate with its skeptics, which has led to numerous controversies and conflicts. We therefore cannot prudently abstain from questioning environmentalism’s central cause: Is it noble to preserve natural resources at the expense of enjoying certain lifestyles, and is the state necessary or even helpful to achieve this goal?

One of the most common responses is that we have in our interest the perpetuation of our own species, and that certain methods of utilizing natural resources are better or worse for doing so. To state that differently, environmentalism’s purpose is to prevent the wasting of resources so that their use may be prolonged.

This assertion requires that we first agree on a definition of waste. Unfortunately, too many use their personal preferences to determine whether or not waste has occurred. Let us consider a hypothetical example: I have some unwanted leftovers in the fridge, and I am trying to decide what to do with them. They are no longer exceedingly appetizing, and upon reflection, I probably should have bought less food to start. Nevertheless, I have no intention of eating them, and I decide to throw them away.

If you were to ask the average bystander, he would probably say that I was wasteful in this scenario. “There were a hundred other uses you could have chosen for the leftovers,” he might say, “You could have given them away, composted them, or even burned them as fuel. The mere fact that you did not simply eat them increases your future demand for food, spurring producers to further deplete our natural resources.” This sentiment is orthodoxy in environmentalist circles, but it indicates a narrow, lopsided perspective.

It is true that I have given up the leftovers, but the average bystander mistakenly assumes that the leftover food is the only resource involved in the equation. However, instead of unappetizing leftovers, I now have refrigerator space—also a resource—in which I can place newer, more appetizing food. I value the space in the fridge more than the leftovers, and from my point of view, keeping the leftovers would have been a waste of that space. Does it make me a wasteful person that, upon choosing between those two resources, some people disagree with my particular preference? If so, it would mean that waste is itself a purely subjective concept, and utterly useless for developing sustainable lifestyles.

Fortunately, a different concept of waste can still be useful—one which prioritizes not human preferences, but the methods we have for achieving those preferences. Values are subjective, but the methods we have for achieving our values can be objectively compared as more or less efficient. For example, crude oil can be easily extracted on Earth, but it is also possible that oil may be extracted from other planets. Per the amount of crude oil we need to extract, it is obvious that the expense of time, exploration and research, capital equipment, and labor to extract it from another planet is an enormous waste, given that one could extract oil much more cheaply on Earth.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to know which methods of resource utilization are most efficient, so we must first have an economic system that best facilitates their discovery and development.

Capitalism, with its built-in profit motive, fulfills that very purpose. In a free market, firms earn profits when the revenue they receive for selling a good or service outweighs the inputs—land, labor, and capital—required to provide that good or service. There are only two ways for a firm to maximize its profits: It can either raise prices or cut costs. Because competition usually bars firms from the former option, it becomes within their financial interest to opt for the latter, which means using fewer inputs. This is how capitalism provides a financial incentive for using the fewest raw materials while still satisfying customers.

When the profit motive is dampened or removed, as is the case in subsidized or nationalized industries, the incentive for a firm to cut costs is also removed. If the success of a firm is no longer dependent on profit and consumer demand, a firm may continue to produce a good which is not needed, unnecessarily depleting natural resources.

While environmentalists may concede these arguments, they may still point out that Earth’s natural resources are finite, and that their depletion is inevitable, even if our efficient use of them causes it to occur more slowly. Therefore, renewable resources must be developed.

But even this is only partially true: While resources are finite, it is unlikely that any will ever be truly depleted. As a resource becomes scarcer, the cost of extracting it increases to the point where further extraction becomes prohibitively expensive and/or to the point where the cost of extracting an alternative resource becomes competitive. Also, by this very same principle, space exploration/colonization is inevitable, presenting us with a potentially limitless supply of resources.

Could socialism do any better in striking a balance between decadence and sustainability? In socialist economies, the preferences of individuals, and the methods by which they go about satisfying those preferences (the means of production), are all controlled by the state. Political incentives, rather than economic incentives, drive the different methods of resource utilization. There is neither an automatic mechanism to promote efficiency in the use of raw materials, nor one to spur the exploration of alternative resources in the event that extracting one grows costly. Even if political and economic incentives become coincidentally aligned—a rare occurrence—history has shown the state to be slow and clumsy in performing the same allocative functions as a market.

While environmentalists’ intentions may be good, their methods are not. Choosing between lifestyles of abundance and deprivation is a false choice. The best way to preserve resources is not to impose subjective behavioral changes upon individuals, but to promote freedom so that individuals will be incentivized to avoid waste in pursuing their happiness.

Advertisements

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.

A Piece on Health Care “Reform”

Here we have the champion issue of the Democrat Party, the Holy Grail of leftism, President Obama’s “Waterloo;” it is the quintessential form of federal government control over the lives of Americans in a modern world. This issue has recently been the centerpiece of mainstream, left-wing reporting, and every day we hear the latest propaganda supporting the so-called “healthcare reform” proposals circulating within congress. This is a large topic, so I will break the left’s arguments down in to its components of philosophy, and statistical rationale.

The ideological foundation for this debate is the question “Is health care a right?” The Democrat Party’s proposals rely on an affirmative answer, but in taking a closer look beyond its emotional appeal, we find that the question must first be broken down into two more basic questions: (1) What is health care? (2) What is a right?

Most people seem to have a good concept of what health care is. When patients are administered medicine, they are receiving a tangible good. When a patient visits a doctor or nurse, they are receiving the tangible services of those professionals. Regardless of what the particular good or service is, health care is something that professionals in the field own and provide at a cost to themselves.

Defining a right is a little bit trickier. The conservative perspective holds that a right is a product of natural law; natural law is based on morality, and morality is based on human nature. Still, the concept of rights seem nebulous and intangible, so it’s best to start with its most basic characteristics. Most people would agree that in order for something to be a right, it must be inalienable from an individual, undeniable to them by both other individuals and by government. If rights are inalienable from individuals, then the rights of one individual necessarily cannot contradict the rights of another. Given these stipulations, let us consider the example of health care.

If health care is declared a right, then the rights of those without health care must necessarily contradict the rights of those with health care. If I walk into a hospital and demand treatment, claiming it as my right, I am actually claiming as my right the service of whoever provides the treatment–if they are unable to refuse, it would render the health care provider a slave. Because this would contradict the rights of the health care provider, health care cannot be a right. The same is true for all other goods and services, such as food, clothing, and housing. These things are produced by individuals at a cost to themselves.

Rights are not something that can be granted or confiscated by government, but goods and services are. In its endeavor to provide health care for all, government has fostered a sense of entitlement in people that causes them to view goods and services as a right. The irony is that the government’s reforms aren’t even focused on health care, but rather health insurance coverage. Health insurance coverage is a promise, and nothing more. Promises are something the government has an abundance of.

I also want to address the left’s use of the word “reform.” Its adoption for this context is no accident, though the way they use it is dishonest. There are two types of large scale change: Reform and Revolution. Edmund Burke, known as the founder of modern conservatism, knew from his observations on the French Revolution and the surrounding time periods what the characteristics and effects are of each. Change through reform is a healthy practice to amend and refine current systems which are believed to be effective, but inefficient. Change through revolution (also referred to sometimes as change through innovation) radically alters a system to the point of being unrecognizable (or does away with a system altogether), based either on the assumption that the current system is horribly inadequate, or that the new system will be so wonderful that continuation of the current system in any way is unacceptable. The two types of change are mutually exclusive, with reformation producing results opposite to those of revolution, which often have unintended consequences, and as Burke put, “A spirit of reformation is never more consistent with itself than when it refuses to be rendered the means of destruction.” The healthcare proposals originating in the U.S. House and Senate are not reform. They are a complete short circuit and doing-away-with of the current healthcare system of America, including its positive aspects. It is revolution, and if implemented, will be disastrous.

The Problem According to the Left

Dearth of Insurance Coverage

By now, there’s no doubt you’ve heard the figure thrown around by Nancy Pelosi, Barack Obama, and several media pundits that there are at least 47 million uninsured Americans in this country. According to them, there is a crisis in the United States of such magnitude that you wouldn’t be able to walk down the street without seeing uninsured Americans sprawled out on the sidewalk, or spilling out of emergency rooms. They would have you believe that unless a great, new, federal government insurance agency is created, there will be a profusion of sickness, injury, and death in America for which we would all share blame.

The first problem with this is that I don’t see uninsured Americans sprawled out on the street. I assume this is because I live a very sheltered life, but still, one must be at least a little bit skeptical. 47 million Americans is over 15 percent of the current United States population, so one would think that this crisis would have been all over the news for years up to this point. 47 million uninsured Americans don’t just appear over night, but I seem to recall only hearing about this figure during the 2008 election as one of the Democrat Party’s talking points, so where did this figure come from? It turns out, the figure originates from the 2006 U.S. Census Report. As with most statistics, these require more than a face-value appraisal. In his book, Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto, Mark Levin digs deep into the report and points out a few problems with the Democrats’ conclusions:

“In 2006, the Census Bureau reported that there were 46.6 million people without health insurance. About 9.5 million were not United States citizens. Another 17 million lived in households with incomes exceeding $50,000 a year and could, presumably, purchase their own health care coverage. Eighteen million of the 46.6 million uninsured were between the ages of eighteen and thirty-four, most of whom were in good health and not necessarily in need of health-care coverage or chose not to purchase it. Moreover, only 30 percent of the nonelderly population who became uninsured in a given year remained uninsured for more than twelve months. Almost 50 percent regained their health coverage within four months. The 47 million “uninsured” figure used by Pelosi and others is widely inaccurate.”

The existence of 10-15 million truly uninsured people is no small problem, but when we honestly consider all the facets of the data, we must seriously question the exigency of overhauling our entire health care system. The coverage of non-citizens and people who, for whatever reason, abstain from purchasing health insurance, all in hopes of helping a small percentage of truly disadvantaged Americans, is not wise, and we must give fair examination to less drastic policy alternatives.

The Insurance Companies

How did this problem start? If and when one accepts the “47-million-uninsured-Americans” figure as accurate (ignoring the facts mentioned earlier), one must wonder where all these uninsured Americans came from and how they got to be in their current situation. The talking heads on the left, including politicians such as Barack Obama, Nancy Pelosi, and Harry Reid, seem to have decided upon private insurance companies as the culprit. They constantly re-iterate the horror stories of how people cannot acquire health insurance through their employer, or how skyrocketing health insurance premiums are preventing individuals and employers from purchasing a policy or prescription drugs, or how they are denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, etc. The fact is that some of these stories have some elements of truth to them, and there are a few cases in which people more or less fall “victim” to these situations. The health insurance system in this country is far from perfect, and it could stand to be reformed in many ways.

However, this leaves out an important aspect of the debate, and fails to explain the behavior of the insurance companies other than through words like, greed, malevolence, and selfishness. The purpose of health insurance is not to act as a buffer zone for the entirety of a population. As much as it pains some people to hear, it was never designed to provide for all people and cover all medical conditions. The way all insurance works is that the participants pool against risk–in this case, the risk of sickness or injury. When an individual requires treatment for some affliction, the insurance company is required by contract to pay out the premiums it collects according to a payment schedule. We are most familiar with such schedules through car and home insurance. When accidents occur, certain damages are covered, whereas others are not. Even compensation for similar damages may vary depending on other circumstances, such as who was at fault.

There is a big difference with health insurance, however, in that participants are not always pooling against risk. Since the advent of health insurance, the coverage of most insurance plans has grown to grotesque proportions to the point that insurance companies are no longer insuring only against risk–regular check-ups and procedures, weight-loss surgeries, and prescription drugs are but a few of the litany of covered treatments today (this is the main reason health care costs are so high). Given this overabundance of coverage, it would not make sense for a healthy person to participate, because instead of paying only for the unlikely, occasional, catastrophic illness or injury–which health insurance was originally designed to cover–their premiums would instead be going to pay for the near constant claims of people looking to fund their own lifestyle. The system would basically become a transfer payment. As a result, we have 18 million young people who wisely choose not to buy health insurance.

Given the lack of premiums from healthy people to subsidize perpetually sick people, insurance companies have to be discriminatory in deciding whom to cover. An insurance company would go broke if it had to provide for every single sick person or every pre-existing condition because there simply are not enough healthy people to pay for them all, and this would ultimately defeat the purpose of having health insurance in the first place. This is the sad, ultimate truth about the current health insurance system, and although it is sometimes a painful truth, it is the only way the insurance system can function to provide for the truly needy.

The Solution As They See It

Nationwide Private Insurance Mandates

Here’s what the Democrat politicians plan to do about the problem: Because they believe the insurance companies to be acting out of greed, selfishness, and discrimination, denying coverage purposefully because it would diminish their profits, they intend to solve this problem by punishing the insurance companies in a variety of ways. First and foremost, they intend to use the law to prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions in individual insurance markets. The problem with this proposal is not hard to understand. I just explained why insurance companies do not cover all people and conditions, and to force them to do so would be to force them out of business. Besides, the federal legislation HIPAA which was passed in 1996 already mandates insurance companies to sell coverage for groups such as businesses regardless of the health of its employees. They also wish to prevent insurance companies from dropping coverage of those who become sick, but this problem is pretty much imaginary, as HIPAA already prevents this for groups as well as individuals, and no business in their right mind would charge for a product and not deliver the goods. They would go out of business in an instant. They also plan to prevent insurance companies from “watering down” plans and paying only for a limited supply of drugs and medical procedures. Although I actually believe this to be a noble endeavor, I also believe an insurance company that did this would not last long in a free market, and it is because of current federal law that these companies are able to perform such practices and still retain consumers, but I’ll address this subject later. They also intend to disallow “arbitrary cap[s]” on coverage after certain time periods. Again, in a free market, this would not occur, and it is because of federal law that this problem occurs, though it even sounds preposterous in itself. They also want to limit how much a person can be charged for “out-of-pocket expenses,” which I’ll assume to mean co-pays for medicine, check-ups, and non-covered expenses. This has less to do with insurance coverage (although it does revisit the problem of forcing coverage for everyone) than it does with simple economics. You cannot limit the price of those health services and medical supplies through law without causing vast, negative repercussions for the companies and clinics that provide those commodities.

Public Health Insurance Entity

Here is the tricky part of the Democrat plans in congress: The “public option,” as the politicians evasively describe it. It has had many names over the months and been talked about by many people. It has been called names like “government co-op,” “public option,” “health insurance exchange,” “universal healthcare,” oh, and don’t forget “Hillary-Care.” As much as the left wants to deny it, they are all means to the same end: socialized medicine. Every name, every government plan described, takes the power of health insurance away from the private sector, and gives it to a government entity. Here’s what will happen: The government plan, if it doesn’t immediately become the only insurance provider by law, will gradually become this. It may start out as a “government co-op,” or a “health insurance exchange,” both of which are designed to compete with the private companies in the free market. Eventually, the private companies will go out of business, as they will not be limitlessly funded by the federal or state governments, and they will not be able to compete with something that is. This is simple economics. Anyone who says that people may retain their private coverage in this newly created, government monopolized environment with no negative consequences are simply lying. If the government does not immediately force people to sign on to the government plan, then those people who retain their private coverage will see dramatically increasing premiums, and soon their plan and their company will cease to exist.

But what will this new government insurance entity look like, and how will life change with it? Most likely the newly created entity will be a bureaucratic agency, far away in the distant realm of Washington D.C. It will be large, of course, and inefficient as most bureaucratic agencies are, and it will be expensive to run. Many people have listened to the president’s rhetoric, and come away thinking such a system would be benevolent, down to earth, and even cost effective. The biggest misconception today, however, is that the government can actually provide healthcare for us at all. The government does not produce anything; it only rearranges things. The politicians will say they have achieved “healthcare for all,” but what does that really mean? When you go to the doctor for a checkup, you’re not getting the insurance you bought. You’re getting the tangible services of another human being. When you buy and use a pharmaceutical drug, it’s not the health insurance that makes you healthier, it’s the tangible effect of medicine. Of course the government will provide free health insurance coverage to all people in America (including illegal immigrants), but what will we really be getting? The only thing the government can deal with is money–your taxpayer money: You will be using it to buy health insurance once again, only this time there won’t be any private insurance companies to blame for lack of care. There will only be the government. You won’t be paying for your own health insurance, nor will you be paying for the insurance of a group of people associated with a private business. No, this time, you will be paying for the insurance of everyone, whether they be sick or well, whether they pay taxes or not. The government will not discriminate in providing coverage. Everyone will get it, but only a few will pay for it. If you are healthy and don’t feel the need to buy insurance, that’s too bad. You have to pay taxes, and taxes are not a selective matter.

Now, it’s bad enough having to pay for the care of others in a totally cost-ineffective system, but what if you’re sick? The proponents of government run healthcare tout the excellent quality of socialized medicine. But what happens when the only window you have to obtaining state of the art healthcare is a cost-ineffective system? As the number of people who would require healthcare treatment by law would increase exponentially, and as healthcare costs continue to rise due to inflation, the government will inevitably be forced to ration care. This is where the “death panels” you hear about come in to play. The left-wing media uses that term to mock the opponents of socialized medicine, but when there is only so much healthcare to go around, and too many people to be treated, someone is going to be neglected. The bureaucracy, in its unending quest to be cost effective will have to start cutting healthcare options from the plan until costs can be met. This means the people with the most expensive ailments will be neglected first: People with heart conditions, trauma disorders, cancer patients, mental disorders, asthma patients, etc. These are the people that the far off bureaucratic agency in Washington D.C.—with no regard for the thoughts of the patient, the doctor, or the spirit of life that each patient holds—will cut first. These are what the “death panels” are for. They are to decide who is the most inefficient; who has the least bang for the buck. It doesn’t stop there, though. Coverage will continue to deteriorate until there truly are millions of people (most of them being senior citizens and the disabled) without healthcare in America. When there is no one else to blame but the government, it will be too late. Private insurance will be long gone, the deficit will have ballooned, and millions will have suffered.

Then there are always those proponents of socialized medicine that refer to the success of government plans in Britain, Canada, and other countries. I don’t understand exactly how they would define success, but if they mean substandard care, long waiting lines, and higher mortality rates than the U.S., then yes, I would say they’re successful as well. Here are a few examples of the many “success” stories coming out of those countries:

http://www.liberty-page.com/issues/healthcare/socialized.html

Even though we actually have the best healthcare system on the face of the Earth, and many people from other countries flock here because they are prevented from even purchasing privately state-of-the-art medical care, herds of drones on the left still rant about revolutionizing the healthcare system here. There are plenty of countries around the world with socialized medicine. If those countries are the wonderful utopias that they are purported to be, why don’t huge quantities of Americans flock to nations like Great Britain and Canada? Just leave here, and stop trying to ruin our system for generations to come. Here’s something for those who say that the healthcare system in terms of quality here in America is miserable:

http://www.ncpa.org/pub/ba649

The Problem As We See It

Misguided Federal Regulation

As for the proponents of new federal laws and increased federal regulation to solve the problems with America’s healthcare system (mostly Democrats and soft Republicans), it seems that the 1996 law HIPAA would be at least mostly satisfying. It provides for nationwide guaranteed issuing of coverage in group/business cases, and guaranteed renewability of coverage for groups/businesses and individuals. But apparently this doesn’t go far enough, hence the need for government run healthcare, and the inevitable destruction of the private insurance market. What most people fail to realize is that the laws of HIPAA already existed in many of the states to varying degrees. For example, by the mid 1990’s, 36 states had laws requiring guaranteed issue, and 46 states had laws requiring guaranteed renewability. I would see this as another strength of federalism, as it should promote national competition and give insurance shoppers more choices when it comes purchasing affordable plans that work for them, no matter their geographical location. Unfortunately, many states also have laws and regulations restricting which policies can be bought where.

The Solution As We See It

Tax Credits

Offering federal tax credits to individuals and families would significantly reduce the number of uninsured United States citizens, with a decreased risk of illegal immigrants or anyone else less inclined to pay taxes getting a free ride. It would also increase insurance participant pools overall, offsetting the spikes in premiums due to expensive, pre-existing, or other specifically designated conditions.

National Insurance Market

As of now, the tangle of state and federal regulations prevent individuals from shopping for insurance across state lines. Some policies and packages are only available in certain geographical areas. Reconciling state regulation through federal law could open up a national insurance market, increasing competition, driving down prices, and increasing levels of customization among plans.

Block Grants

If federal subsidies for insurance are absolutely necessary, they should be issued through block grants that allow states to control how much money goes to individuals and companies, and not waste money when it’s not needed.

Tort Reform

One of the biggest factors in the rise of healthcare costs in the United States is a plethora of malpractice lawsuits against doctors, hospitals, clinics, and HMO’s. Most of these cases are frivolous. Some experts say that 10-15% of the increases in healthcare costs are due to frivolous lawsuits, and federal law needs to be changed to limit them.

Where are the Republicans?

Although the left-wing media would have you believe that all the Republicans in Congress are a bunch of stubborn naysayers who only oppose real healthcare reform because they hate the president and want him to fail, the Republicans between June and the present day actually have had three pieces of legislation introduced in Congress (all three of them combined are smaller than any of the Democrat bills, and add to the deficit much less as well). None of them are really going anywhere, and they likely won’t because the Democrats have the majority in Congress. At least the rapid push to ram the government run healthcare bills down the throats of the American People is being slowed by the Republicans (besides Olympia Snowe and a few others), right?

I guess what the debate boils down to is this: If you support a destroyed private health insurance market, a government run health leviathan, rationed care, “death panels,” a ballooned federal deficit, substandard quality of care, long waiting lines, coverage for illegal immigrants, and higher mortality rates all for the sake of 10-15 million long term uninsured who will end up worse off than now anyway, then the Democrat proposals fit your bill. But if you believe that the system we have here, albeit imperfect, is the greatest healthcare system on the face of the Earth, and can be made better in a low cost and efficient way, without endangering the lives and prosperity of Americans for generations to come, while preserving and streamlining federalism, and while preserving coverage and quality of care for the most people possible, then not only do the Democrat proposals need to be opposed, but the Republican proposals need to be championed.

We do not elect our representatives or our president to authorize a cost-benefit analysis on the lives of their constituents, the American People. We elect them to preserve our freedom to choose the best path for our own lives.

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.

Sub-Priming It Up

This may seem like old news by now, but I am constantly suprised by how many people are unaware of many factors in this discussion of the “sub-prime loan banking crisis.”

Either you are of the mindset that the government created the sub-prime mortgage crisis, that excessive regulation of the banks starting with the Community Reinvestment Act signed by Jimmy Carter and perpetuating with the folly of the Clinton Administration and Congress through Fanny Mae and Freddie Mac in the early nineties led to the collapse of the banking industry through a massive wave of defaulted mortgages (here is a piece on IBD that summarizes this view very well), or you are of the mindset that greedy bank executives created it, or perhaps even some combination of the two. Whatever the cause, the practice of issuing risky loans to unqualified home buyers has proven to be unproductive and foolhardy. Given this knowledge, the debate over whether or not to use federal tax dollars to bail these banks out is mute, as you will only be funding the current business practices.

To solve this problem, we again see two diverging mindsets: One, that government regulation, having caused the problem in the first place, should be drastically reduced, giving the free market room to correct itself. A second, that new, heavy government regulation of the banks should be employed to protect unqualified home buyers, and by setting business conditions for receiving federal bailout money, defeat the schemes of evil bank executives, seems to have been commonly vocalized in Washington for the past few months.

This second mindset should be a warning sign to all. It is the chant of a leftist demagogue, and holds no basis in our society, nor any place in public policy. First of all, why on Earth should the money of federal taxpayers be used to buy up all the “toxic assets” the banks currently hold? They’re toxic for a reason, and to shift the burden created by the unwise actions of unqualified home buyers to the entire responsible and productive sector of the economy is idiotic. To the holder of this mindset, I must ask “Where in the Constitution is the power to run private entities delegated to any branch of the United States Government?” It is obvious that because the powers of Congress are even enumerated in Article 1 Section 8 that Congress was not meant to have unlimited power. This is again exemplified by Amendment 10 in the Bill of Rights, reserving unenumerated powers to the States and the people. If you dismiss the boundaries specified by the Constitution, where then do you draw the line of governmental prerogative? Without the Constitution, there is no rule of law. There is only the free acquisition of power by governing bodies, and no remaining safeguards against tyranny.

Federal Bailout Money for State Governments

Federal government bailouts for states are an absolute contradiction to the principles of Federalism. Now instead of state governments fending for themselves, the citizens of all states–whether they be fiscally responsible states or not–are forced to pay for the citizens of other states through the federal government. Unfortunately, the people of Wyoming have no say in the election of politicians in California. Irresponsible states have spent themselves into the ground, and we are supposed to pick up the slack? I say no. Not only is this irresponsible fiscal policy, but it is a complete smearing of states’ rights. This is a very dangerous path we have taken. Long gone are the days when states had any perceivable sovereignty at all. Now, the states are no more than appendages to the federal government; extensions of the bureaucracy.

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.