TotD 4: A Day Without A Leftist

Feminism is about Marxism and left wing politics, not actual women.

When Donald Trump was elected, feminists around the country were livid that such a man could win the presidency. The day after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, several major cities in the US were flooded with women in pink hats toting signs about “pussy grabbing.” Yet, only 23% of American women identify as feminists. Further, Trump won close to 40% of the female vote, overall. What gives? Isn’t 20% a low figure for feminism in today’s America?

The fact is that feminism is not what it used to be. The original feminists in the 19th and 20th centuries were motivated by a particular political goal: the ability for women to exercise their individual rights on a par with men. In contrast, today’s feminism embraces the so-called “intersectional” approach. In the words of stand-up comedian Ava Vidal, intersectionality is the view that “certain groups of women have multi-layered facets in life that they have to deal with” and “there is no one-size-fits-all type of feminism.” In other words,  all women are oppressed but some women are more oppressed than others.

Intersectionality is the political left’s makeshift solution to what Dave Rubin aptly calls the “oppression olympics,” wherein various minority groups come forward with a narrative as to why each is the more victimized. These “class interests” do not always coincide, because some groups lobby the government more effectively than others. To prevent these pressure groups from eating one another, their leaders have unite their ire against common enemies, such as capitalism, white males, and Christians. Hence the situation we live in today.

The intersectional feminist movement has its philosophic roots in both Marxism and egalitarianism. Feminism is Marxist insofar as it divides society into classes (men vs women) and then argues that progress can only obtain by struggle between the classes. Feminism is egalitarian insofar as denies that inherent differences between men and women exist. Then, when those differences manifest, the feminists claim misogyny as the cause. In other words, justice consists in treating unequal things as though they were equal.

Marxism promises a utopia in the future where everyone is equal. Egalitarianism raises equality as the standard for what is just. The two fit together like a rusty old furnace and the inferno that roars within.

The latest intersectional feminist powwow occurred today and was advertised as “A Day Without A Woman.” The event was a planned general strike, akin to an earlier strike aimed at immigrants. That strike was a flop, but the feminists are not discouraged. They believe the “Era of Trump” is their time to shine.

The event was scheduled to coincide with International Women’s Day, itself a holiday first created by the American Socialist Party in 1909. The strike organizers encouraged women to take the day off of work, wear red in public and boycott businesses not owned by either women or minorities. A recent article in Vox illustrates the organizers’ goals and ideology clearly.

“Many women,” the piece explains, “have little use for the ‘lean-in’ style of feminism that focuses on corporate achievement or personal empowerment.” For the strikers, the feminist message is not so much about individual women doing well as it is about gaining ground for the sisterhood, a collective that has been oppressed for decades by a sinister patriarchy ruled by men.

The author continues:

“When we think of combating ‘violence’ against women, strike organizers argue that we shouldn’t limit our imagination to things like domestic violence or sexual violence. We should also think about ‘the violence of the market, of debt, of capitalist property relations, and of the state; the violence of discriminatory policies against lesbian, trans and queer women; the violence of state criminalization of migratory movements; the violence of mass incarceration; and the institutional violence against women’s bodies through abortion bans and lack of access to free healthcare and free abortion.”

For intersectional feminists, “the market” and “capitalist property relations” are forms of violence equivalent to “domestic violence or sexual violence” and “mass incarceration.” These Alinskyite she-bears conflate economic power with political power and think that the power to produce is on a par with the power to kill or threaten.

Capitalism is based on voluntary, peaceful exchange of value for value. As Ayn Rand explained, a businessmen in a free market can only exercise power of production; that is, the power to offer goods and services to whomever chooses to purchase them. Government bureaucrats, on the other hand, exercise the political power to arrest and kill others. A proper government uses its power to remove force from society and place it under objective control. Political power is coercion; economic power is creation.

The problem in America today is not that intersectional feminism has too few adherents; the problem is that it has any at all.

TotD 3: Have Republicans Really Changed?

In their essentials, I say no.

It has been widely reported that the party of Reagan has become the party of Trump, and that this represents a major political shift. Some say a momentous quake in the zeitgeist, or a major political realignment. Is it, really?

Recently, Teflon-Don called upon “both parties to pass an education bill that funds school choice for disadvantaged youth.” Earlier this year, he promised that “…we’re going to have insurance for everybody…” and that “…there was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it… that’s not going to happen with us.”

Trump is not an advocate for the free market, or limited government, or individual rights. He promotes economic nationalism. He wants to clamp down on immigration. He refuses to cut social security and medicare. Reagan fans remember when he asked the Soviets to tear down the Berlin Wall. Trump groupies swoon when the Donald tells them he will a build a wall. On the surface, Trump appears to be a divergence from the traditional Republican, a misshapen defect that somehow made it through the Reaganite, GOP assembly line.

Many Reaganites think this is true. Consider David Brooks at the New York Times, a typical conservative specimen. In a recent column, he argues that “the old Reagan conservatism was economic individualism restrained by social and religious traditionalism,” and that “Trumpism is all about protection, security and order.” For Brooks, “healthy American political philosophies balance individualism and collectivism, personal freedom and communal cohesion…”

In other words, it is “healthy” to compromise your principles and pragmatically endorse individual rights only when it is convenient to do so. The individual is self-made, except when he must serve his community. The individual is free to produce and trade, except when tradition demands he sacrifice. The individual has reason, except on Sundays when he defers to religious dogma.

Brooks rationalizes his pragmatism, but leftist commentator Bryce Covert is more forthright. In her column on the subject she points out that even Paul Ryan, supposedly a principled advocate for limited government, defines freedom as “..the ability to buy what you want to fit what you need.”

She explains that “Conservatives are typically proponents of negative liberty: the freedom from constraints and impediments” and that “…Mr. Ryan inadvertently revived an idea that desperately needs to be resuscitated — the idea that freedom requires not just a lack of barriers, but also the conditions that allow people to live their lives fully.” “Deprivation,” she concludes, “is a constraint on Americans’ freedom.”

Covert is partially correct in her assessment: Ryan’s approach to freedom leads ultimately to statism. Where she goes wrong is in expecting Ryan to properly defend freedom in the first place.

In any war of ideas, the most consistent side will emerge victorious. As Ayn Rand once remarked, “there are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.”

The proper defense for political and economic freedom rests ultimately in ethics, an area that pragmatists like Brooks and Ryan are unable to broach honestly or consistently. One cannot defend capitalism and limited government without acknowledging their moral base: individual rights. Instead, Republicans implicitly endorse the altruism celebrated openly by the left and attempt to rationalize the contradictions that follow. In doing this they undercut the moral defense of capitalism and ultimately help their enemies expand state power.

So have Republicans changed? Sure, they have become more consistent. Too bad it is in the wrong direction.

TotD 2: No, Voter ID Laws Are Not Racist

But they do help prevent vote fraud, and that is the point.

The perennial debate over stricter voter ID laws is in the news again. In a controversial decision, the Justice Department has recently reversed the Obama administration’s decision to a Texas voter ID law.
Critics on the left assert that voter ID laws are inherently discriminatory against minorities and the poor. They claim that the poor are unable to afford voter IDs and that asking them to get one is an undue burden that they cannot cope with. Furthermore, since racial minorities are disproportionately poor compared to whites, voter ID laws qualify as racial discrimination. Leftists also argue that voter ID laws unfairly skew election results in favor of Republicans.
This raises several obvious questions. First, are voter IDs that expensive or difficult to obtain?  Last I checked, a valid photo ID in NYC will run you anywhere between $8 and $15 depending on how old you are and where your birthday falls. Meanwhile, surveys show that 80% of Americans below the poverty line have cell phones, 96% have televisions and 97% have refrigerators. If you can afford a television or a phone, you can certainly afford a wallet-sized hunk of government-issued plastic.
What of the charge that ID laws are racist, because more minorities are poor? To see how absurd this is, note that our society is replete with activities that require a valid ID. You need a valid ID when you use a credit card, fly on an airplane, rent a car, buy liquor, pick up concert tickets, enter a bar, join the military, donate blood, open a bank account, buy cigarettes, get married, or pick up a prescription. Even high end grocery stores such as Sam’s Club and Costco will occasionally ask for an ID in order to verify that you have a valid membership. Are minorities discriminated against in these areas, too? Funny, I never hear about that.
It is probably true that requiring photo IDs reduces voter turnout, but this is not nearly as problematic as it might seem. Voter fraud is a rampant problem in the US, particularly in so-called “sanctuary cities” that do not enforce federal immigration law. In a recent Ohio investigation, it was found that over 380 non-citizens were registered to vote and approximately 80 of them cast at least 1 illegal ballot within the last year. If that sounds like a low number, keep in mind that there were 112 elections in Ohio that were either tied or decided by 1 vote in the last 3 years. In swing states, every vote matters!
Finally, what about the charge that Republicans benefit from voter ID laws? One poll conducted by Pew Research found that illegal immigrants who voted favor Democrats over Republicans by an 8 to 1 margin. If this is true in general, it would seem that support for Democrats is higher in the illegal immigrant community than it is in the population as a whole. So sure, the results may favor Republicans but that is because a higher proportion of legal voters want to vote Republican!
The truth is that this is all a smoke screen. Voter ID laws are meant to ensure that those who vote are legally able to do so. Those that oppose voter ID laws seek to win elections by enabling voter fraud. Voting is important; this is why we need stricter voter ID laws.

TotD 1: Trump is Right…Health Care is Complicated!

Unfortunately, this does not prevent people from trying to use government for it.

In a recent speech with state governors, President Trump admitted that implementing government health care is a tricky business and that Republicans are having a hard time pulling the plug. One would think that the wayward health care law, which is responsible for skyrocketing insurance premiums and deductibles, would be easy to ax. Even the standard issue, rose-colored glasses worn by Democrats cannot hide the fact that the bill has been a complete failure. Whence the trouble?

I remember when Obamacare was first rolled out to the public as a 20,000 page bill that nobody in our government seemed to have read. Nancy Pelosi clumsily explained that we would need to pass the bill in order to know what was in it. Healthcare.gov ended up costing three times what was expected and was launched months after the intended date due to mismanagement. I even remember when Obama said that Americans could keep their doctors, if they wanted. We know how that ended up.

Conservative and libertarian Americans flocked to Tea Party protests to oppose Obama’s attempts to expand socialized medicine, and today Americans cite “health care” and “dissatisfaction with government” as two of the largest issues facing the country. This was a healthy reaction but there were warnings that the law would be difficult to dislodge, if it was successfully passed. Wary observers may recall one Tea Party participant’s eloquent sign: “Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” The promise for free goods can corrupt even those Americans that are most suspicious of government.

During the campaign in 2016, Trump went so far as to say he was a “fan of the [individual] mandate” and that the more popular aspects of the law would remain. Today, Republican voters that oppose “socialized medicine” clamor to keep the parts of the bill that would help them personally. As Trump aptly put it: “People hate it…but now they see that the end is coming and they’re saying, ‘Oh, maybe we love it.’” “Repeal and Replace” has become “Rebrand and Re-neg.”

Programs like Obamacare are how government expansion occurs and persists in general. Government-sponsored goodies are as potent and addictive as heroin or cocaine, particularly when people are convinced that it is a right that they are owed. To fund the largess, the government raises taxes and imposes restrictions on businesses. Hard-done-by Americans organize into pressure groups to lobby for new handouts to mitigate the ruinous effects of the old handouts. By the end, a single entitlement thread has morphed into a regulatory spider-web.

This was done by design. Leftists for decades have known that Americans would reject explicit socialism, but would handily vote it in piecemeal if couched in the proper language.

Advocates for the free market were always aware that government health care would be a train wreck. What is one to expect when a gang of government bureaucrats, armed with their pens and the entitled screeching of their constituents, takes it upon itself to try to serve a complex, modern service to a population as large and diverse as the United States?

“You know, health care is a very complex subject,” Trump said. “If you do this, it affects nine different things. If you do that, it affects 15 different things.” Couldn’t agree more, Mr. President.

Is It The Duty Of The Government To Educate Its Citizens?

Government has no business in education and should get out of it.

This is an essay based on a motion debate that I performed in recently. My friend Chuck Braman and I defended the con side of the debate and argued that it is NOT proper for the government to get involved in education. We won the debate by swaying more audience members to our side, based on votes taken before and after our speeches.

The division of labor was such that Chuck addressed the ethical issues concerned with government involvement in education while I was tasked with providing the economic arguments. His powerful opening statement can be found here; I encourage anyone interested in this topic to give it a read! Below is an essay based on my speech.


Larry Elder makes the point that government education is similar to an item on a restaurant menu that not even the waitress would order. Roughly 11% of Americans send their kids to private school, but nearly 30% of parents who work in public schools do so. In urban areas such as Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and Cincinnati it hovers closer to 40%. To reiterate, these are government education providers choosing to send their kids to the competing private schools.

What about the government officials themselves? 37% of Representatives send their kids to private school. For US senators, that number is a staggering 45%. President Obama, himself a product of private education, made a big show of vetting DC public schools when he was elected. After all of the hullabaloo, he sent his daughters to the most elite private school in the capital. If government education is so great, why do its biggest advocates avoid it like tap water in Mexico?

The reason is that empirically, government education has been a total failure.

Consider the money, first. Over a 30 year time frame from 1970 to 2010, spending on education increased by 375% while test scores have stagnated. We spent a total of $934 billion on public education in 2013 alone. Overall, the US government spends about 7% of its GDP on education. That works out to a little over $15,000 per head, all in.

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You would think that such figures would mean that we had a fairly educated populace, right? Think again.

The US administers the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exams every 4 years. The test scores out of 500, and is meant to determine how proficient US students are in a variety of subjects. What does the performance look like on these tests for high school seniors, who have been through the rigmarole of twelve years of government schooling?

In history, 50% of seniors place below “basic” and a mere 12% are deemed either “proficient” or “advanced.” In science, 79% of seniors failed to show “proficiency.” In reading, 26% of seniors scored below the minimum. You read that correctly: nearly a quarter of the students that graduate from government education are, for all intents and purposes, illiterate! These stats are all well-documented here and here and here.

Further evidence of the ignorance borne by government schools can be observed in various polls and surveys. For instance, 42% of Americans think that the slogan “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need” appears in one of America’s founding documents. That is, they do not know the difference between the Constitution and the Communist Manifesto. Another poll demonstrated that 18% of millennials were not familiar with Soviet mass-murderer Joseph Stalin. The same poll showed that 32% did not know who Marx was. A frightening 42% were probably under the impression that Mao Zedong was an item you might order from a Chinese restaurant, since they were not familiar with the communist dictator and his oppressive regime.

In 2003, the National Assessment of Adult Literacy conducted by the US Department of Education found that 14% of adults scored below basic on the exam and qualified as “either illiterate or barely literate.” That’s nearly 30 million people, 45% of which graduated from high school!

Far from being “the bedrock of our democracy”, the US Department of Education came into existence in 1979, during the Carter years. Before that, in 1940, the US had a literacy rate exceeding 97% despite the fact that the population had no more than an 8th grade education. Now, nearly 60% of graduating seniors in the US that enter community colleges require remedial education.

Why is the education system producing such abysmal ignorance, in spite of such high spending? The answer is that government is not suited to educating anyone, let alone impressionable children.

Education is another aspect of raising children. Americans expect that parents will shelter, clothe and feed their children without complete government control; why not allow for the same thing in education? In principle, there is no difference between a child with an empty mind and a child with an empty stomach: both needs ought to be served by the parents, not the state.

On most days, liberals and conservatives alike oppose monopolies and will ask the government to interfere in order to prevent their formation. However, the government education system is a monopoly that exercises absolute control over the quality of teachers and the material that is presented. There are no truly “private” schools since each one exists with government permission. Instead of viewing the parent as a client with needs to fulfill in a market setting, the school bureaucrats see parents as obstacles in their way.

The alternative to coercive, government education is voluntary education on the free market. Advocates for free market education do not trivialize its importance by asking to get government out; we hold that education is too important to let the government in. Free markets allow individuals to patronize those establishments that provide the best value for the cheapest price. This is the way to establish rational, objective standards in education. Government standards, on the other hand, are based on the arbitrary whims of bureaucrats rather than what is actually demanded in the market. According to the prevailing view, an Ivy League scholar with multiple degrees has less ability to teach than someone with a bachelor’s in education “bulletin board” design.

Compare education to another, relatively freer industry: technology. Today we carry within our pockets micro-machines that are more powerful than mainframes that took up entire rooms just 30 years ago! 81% of households below the poverty level have access to these miraculous devices. This technology was created not by government bureaucrats, but by entrepreneurs who sought to make a profit by providing value to paying customers.

What would a free market education look like, you may ask? Coercive government education dominates the industry today and renders this question difficult to answer. As in many industries, it is nearly impossible to know exactly what innovative solutions would be implemented, but there are glimpses that occasionally break through here and there.

The internet allows for low cost teleconferencing, recording and podcasting. People can get lessons on the go, or retake courses that they have trouble understanding. Students can view worked examples on YouTube as effortlessly as their parents can view movies on Netflix or Amazon. Indeed, there is a burgeoning industry for private tutoring which features companies such as Hooked on Phonics, Varsity Tutors, Coursera, Rosetta Stone, Khan Academy, Lynda.com, and many others. The trend is that technology is rendering government education largely obsolete and unable to compete.

Meanwhile, companies like Boeing, Apple, IBM and Google already teach summer workshops and seminars for students free of charge. If government were out of the picture, many tech companies would be able to invest in computer science academies that specialize in teaching the students how to use their best-selling products of today and program the  revolutionary products of tomorrow. It would be a win-win for the companies and the students, just as one would expect in a situation with no coercion. Tech would not only be the only industry that would benefit from such an occurrence, though it would certainly be among the first.

All of this, despite the fact that government continues to tax away our earnings in order to subsidize the compulsive government schools. One can only imagine what things would look like if the sacred cow were put to pasture and people were left free to innovate.

Many concerned people may ask: what about the poor? Would they not be able to receive an education if there were no government schools? The critics that take this line seem to forget the fact that most parents, even the poor, love their children and want to see them succeed. In fact, one could argue that the reason some parents may not be as involved in their kids’ education in the first place is because they have been taught by “education theorists” and government policy-wonks that they should stay out of the way and let the state handle it. But I digress.

We can derive solace that education in a free market would be cheaper, since government involvement creates artificial scarcity both by limiting the number of schools that come into existence as well as the limiting the number of educators via certification. Parents would also have less of their income taxed away and would therefore be able to direct more funds into education if they have kids, and this would include the poor. James Tooley and Pauline Dixon have found that even in third world countries, private educators are finding effective means of educating children at a lower cost than the government schools, and with better results.

If there remains a need for education among the poorest, there is always charity. Even with huge amounts of taxation, charities have given millions of dollars to families of low income. For instance, in NYC alone one charity (the Children’s Scholarship Fund) donated $525 million over the past 13 years alone. One can only imagine what that figure would look like if the government were not sapping over $900 billion a year from American taxpayers!

To the extent that a market is free is the extent to which individuals are free to offer value for value, without coercion or physical force. When man has the ability to invest and build without confiscatory taxation or hyper-regulation, he is free to unleash the power of his mind. Imagine what the education industry would like if we allowed the genius of a Steve Jobs, a Henry Ford, or a Thomas Edison to tackle the problem at hand: how to deliver high quality education at the lowest cost.

Education is not a privilege nor is it a right; it is a service, made possible by the effort of those with the ability and the will to provide it.

 

The Obama Economy: A Study in Keynesian Stagnation

The first in a series of posts about Obama’s legacy.

This is the first in a series of essays on the Obama presidency and its long-term consequences on the United States.


President Obama entered mainstream politics by reviving the rhetoric of class warfare. The community organizer-turned-President promised everyone that the key to prosperity was for “the rich to pay their fair share.” His initial policy was to raise taxes on everyone who made at least $250,000 a year or more in order to fund more entitlement spending. He equated “millionaires and billionaires” with “lottery winners” further cementing the well-known sentiments in his “you didn’t build that” speech. Rather memorably, Obama opined that wealth is largely a matter of happenstance that we as individuals have little control over. In his 2008 victory speech, I sat in a Cornell dining hall and listened to Obama tell throngs of cheering Democrats that the United States has “never been a mere collection of individuals” and that we prosper to the extent that each person “resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves, but each other.” Now I look forward as an adult in New York City to his departure from the White House.

It is not difficult to make the case that Obama is a believer in collectivism, but the exact nature of his economic philosophy is not total socialism. Recall that socialism occurs when the government is the sole owner of the means of production and is responsible for allocating goods and services to the general public. Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Maoist China, Castro’s Cuba, and numerous other Soviet satellite states are historical examples of socialism in practice.

President Obama, like his predecessor George W. Bush, believes in the mixed economy. A mixed economy is capitalist in its basic structure but with significant government intervention on behalf of various pressure-groups within society. Another term for a mixed economy is a “hampered free market” economy, because people are free to own property and engage in trade but on a far more limited basis than that of a laissez-faire capitalist society. Even in a pure capitalist society it is proper for the government to limit the free actions of its citizens in order to protect individual rights; capitalism is not anarchy. In a mixed economy, the state will exceed this legitimate function and act with expediency to do “good” according to some non-objective standard, often at the behest of the ruling class or some politically powerful democratic majority.

The narrative favored by mixed economy advocates to justify such intrusion is that government is needed to restrain the excesses of the free market. The economist most responsible for formulating the principles of the mixed economy in the 20th century is John Maynard Keynes, whose work was the inspiration for Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” policies in the 1930’s.

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Keynes argued that the private sector, left to its own devices, was bound to fail without occasional intervention by the public sector. In particular, the government is obligated to “invest” in infrastructure to stimulate growth.. There should be a central bank, said Keynes, to control interest rates and strictly regulate the money supply. Keynes even advocated deficit spending in the short term to fund large projects if the money was not forthcoming in the present, remarking that “in the long run, we’re all dead.” This is the economic theory that the Obama administration adopted and sought to implement during its tenure. What are the results?

The United States has experienced economic stagnation under Obama, with growth rates less then 3% per year. The percentage of American households with at least one person receiving government benefits has reached an unprecedented 52%, up from 44% in 2008. There is at present a shocking 97,000 pages of federal regulations after Obama’s rule, up from the 79,000 pages that we had under George W Bush. Though these regulations no doubt vary widely in their objectives, the result is a complicated hodgepodge that makes it difficult for upstart firms to compete with more established players. In order to survive in the business world companies cannot afford to ignore lobbyists.

Now some might ask: shouldn’t Obama get a pass on the bad economy since he inherited Bush’s mess? It is true that the economy was in a tight spot at the end of the Bush years thanks to the subprime mortgage crisis of 2008 (which, by the way, was caused by the government and not the free market). All this proves, though, is that George Bush was not a champion of the free market. It does not exonerate Obama, who pursued policies in line with what Bush started and took them much further.

It is no secret that the United States experienced a recession in 2007 that Obama inherited. Before he left office, President Bush signed into law the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) in order to bailout the large banks that were deemed “too big to fail.” Congress then passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in an effort to “stimulate” the economy with a cash injection of $831 billion into the arteries of American business. The subsequent Dodd-Frank legislation in 2010 was also passed to further tighten regulations on the financial industry, which was held responsible for the whole affair. Obama, following traditional Keynesian doctrine, signed these bills into law and initiated a largely phony “recovery.”

Despite the lack of results, there is a cost. The stimulus and the later attempt to nationalize the health care industry have resulted in a dramatic increase in the national debt. Under Obama, the debt increased from $10.6 trillion to nearly $19 trillion. Even more alarming is that in 2008 the debt was approximately 65% of the GDP of the US, meaning that it was approximately 2/3 of what the United States produces as a country in a given year. Today, the national debt is 104.5% of GDP if you include external debt! The conclusion that we can draw from this figure is that the US economy is heavily over-leveraged, a fact that is ironic considering Obama and his followers criticized the banks for the same sort of risky behavior when the financial crisis of 2008 hit.

Supporters of the president will sometimes make the claim that Ronald Reagan had a higher percentage change than Obama in the national debt, but this is dishonest rhetoric. When Reagan took office, the total debt was about $1 trillion and by the time he left the debt stood at $2.1 trillion. Overall Reagan added a total of $1.1 trillion to the debt, compared to Obama’s nearly $9 trillion. Even if we adjust the Reagan number to 2016 dollars with the CPI, this leaves you with close to $3 trillion, which is still 1/3 of what Obama inflicted. Economists have also pointed out that aside from the existing national debt, the US suffers from over $127 trillion in unfunded liabilities.

Americans also experienced the so-called Debt Ceiling Crisis of 2011 under Barack Obama. Congressional Republicans, keen to slow down the administration as much as possible in its expansive spending, refused to raise the amount of money that the government could borrow. The result was a political standoff that did little stop the Obama administration’s spending. The “compromise” that ensued promised future tax cuts in exchange for an increase in the national debt by the largest amount in a single day in US history. S&P even went so far as to downgrade the United States credit rating from AAA to AA+.

The truth is that stimulus spending by the government is nothing more than a short term palliative and is not a viable long term solution. Government is funded by tax money that is collected by citizens who participate in the market economy to produce goods and services; it has no money of its own. The fiat money that we use in trade today has only nominal value so long as it can be traded for real goods and services that have actual value to consumers on the market. If the government increases the amount of fiat money in society without a corresponding increase in the number of goods, the result is inflation. Inflation occurs when the purchasing power of money decreases, often due to an increase in the money supply. Inflation functions as an indirect means of taxation, since it devalues the existing savings that existed prior to the money creation. If printing money fails to fix the issue, the government can kick the can down the road with Keynes’ preferred deficit spending alternative.

What about employment, that old Keynesian bellwether?  Supporters of the president claim that he “created” 11.3 million jobs throughout his entire administration and continue to evoke favorable comparisons with Ronald Reagan. There are several things to keep in mind with regards to these misleading statements.

To begin, the comparison to Reagan is specious since the overall labor participation soared under Reagan while the opposite has occurred under Obama. Indeed, there has been an 18% uptick in the number of people who have stopped looking for jobs since Obama took office in 2009. As it turns out, the unemployment statistics only account for people who are actively looking for work; those who choose to remain unemployed are not counted in these statistics. Further, statistics on job creation do not focus at all on job quality and treat full-time jobs with paid benefits as the equivalent of part-time jobs. One could arrive at 100% employment by having half the population dig ditches and the other half fill them; in the meantime, little to no economic value is created.

These quibbles notwithstanding, there is a more fundamental reason to reject the positive picture painted by the Obama administration with regards to jobs. The fact is that the president, like any government organization, simply cannot create jobs. The reason for this is that government does not produce wealth, it merely redistributes existing wealth that is generated by the private sector by force in the form of taxation. Capitalists create jobs when they defer their consumption to invest in a business and serve a market need. Customers patronize the business and the proceeds are used to pay individuals that wish to sell their services without having to take on the risk of the investment. Job creation is one of the many improper functions taken up by government in a mixed economy.

Obama, like many leftists, does not understand that it is private savings and investment on the part of capitalists that expands the economy. When entrepreneurs invest in capital goods, the result is lower good prices and a subsequent increase in the purchasing power of money. The tragic but instructive Obama legacy on economics is a case study in outright Keynesian stagnation.

Make Debating Great Again!

Advice on how to make debating with others more fun and constructive.

As we approach the holiday season after a contentious election year, many will feel themselves embroiled in dinnertime discussion with friends and family. There will no doubt be many fights that break out over champagne, apple pie and Christmas presents: brother against brother, father against child, daughter-in-law against wacky aunt. Those who seek to preserve a harmonious atmosphere will try to observe the conventional wisdom that it is rude to discuss religion and politics over supper but when the booze flows, the tension grows. Thus, the dreaded “holiday political debate.”

Debate can oftentimes generate more heat than light; rather than illuminate a particular issue, people get burned when others disagree with them. Debate serves a vital purpose, though: it allows a person to present their case before a skeptical audience and to thereby confront the premises that they may take for granted. Anyone interested in their own intellectual honesty should not be afraid to participate in a debate with honest opponents. Instead of avoiding debate, I propose people learn to engage in it constructively and get better at it.

I am interested in addressing three distinct questions when it comes to debates:

  1. What are the essential characteristics of a debate?
  2. How should one conduct oneself in a debate?
  3. What is an objective measure of success for participants in a debate?

Let’s answer the first question. A debate centers around a single issue and involves at least three distinct parties: two presenters and an audience. The presenters represent two opposing views on the issue in question and the audience represents those that are not fully committed to one of the two views. It is crucial that we have these three ingredients and if any one of them is missing, then the nature of the conversation changes and it is not longer a debate. If there is no audience and each person is giving their own take, then you have a discussion among equal participants and the necessary persuasion element is gone from the situation. If there is only one presenter, then you have a lecture where one person is educating or explaining a topic that they are knowledgeable about to an audience that is mostly listening and absorbing material.

Note that the size of the audience is irrelevant to the classification of something as a debate: so long as there is a third party to listen and be convinced, it does not matter whether the audience fills a stadium or a kitchen table. Note further that there may be more than two individuals serving as presenters per side, and there may in fact be hidden presenters lurking in the audience. What I mean here is that the moment a person advances an argument in favor of one side or another, they have moved from the audience to one of the presenters’ camps. This is typical of informal debates, when two people start the debate and bystanders start “ganging up” on one of the two presenters. In this instance, the presenters must honestly acknowledge that any person buttressing the arguments of one side at the expense of the other are no longer members of the impartial audience. In extreme examples, the “debate” may actually not be a true debate since there is no audience and everyone is already more or less dedicated to a particular position.

Shouldn’t we expect the audience to shrink as the debate progresses and people are convinced one way or another? I believe the answer to this question is no, because opinions on weighty issues are not formed overnight and people have varying degrees of certainty in their beliefs. When we take a particular issue, each audience member will likely be inclined to one side or another; this is to be expected. Audience members can have an opinion at the start of a debate and sympathize with one of the two sides. However, it takes a certain amount of conviction to be able to enunciate one’s position and advance arguments to support it in the face of a challenge.

There is a clear distinction to be drawn, in other words, between a person that simply agrees with a particular position and a person that agrees with a particular position and can rationally defend it in a debate. It is likely that the person who presents arguments to support a position has been in the dialogue and has at least a cursory understanding of the opposing position, whereas a person that merely agrees may be open to persuasion when they hear the other side. This is what distinguishes an audience member from a presenter: a presenter is confident enough in their belief to put forward an argument while an audience member is not.

Now, onto the second question: How should one proceed as a debate participant? As an audience member, it is important to raise questions and challenge those arguments that are unclear or seem incomplete. As a presenter, there are several guidelines that I think merit observation. Not only will these rules make a person a more respectable presenter, but it will also lead to fewer emotional outbursts and fights.

The first rule to observe when engaging in debate is the so-called “principle of charity” which states that one ought to interpret ambiguous arguments from opponents in as rational a manner as possible. That is, when a presenter in a debate makes an argument that could potentially have multiple meanings, we are to take the meaning that is most rational, consistent and free of falsehoods and fallacies. In this way, we avoid caricatures of the opponent and ensure that we are arguing against their actual position and not a straw man.

To consider an example of this principle, suppose Alice and Bob are arguing whether it is proper to use corporal punishment on children that misbehave. Alice may argue that it is immoral to hit children as a form of punishment and Bob may argue that spanking a child when they have done wrong on occasion is crucial to getting the child to respect authority. The principle of charity dictates that both Alice and Bob should assume that the other person has the best interests of the child in mind when they discuss whether corporal punishment is useful or not to raising children, unless there is clear evidence that this is not the case. The point in disciplining a child in the first place is to aid in his development, so the rational presenter would argue their case with this goal in mind.

The second guideline in debating properly is to recognize and respect the free will and intellect of your opposing presenters, and to let this shape your expectations. Individual presenters have a choice to participate in a debate or remain silent as members of the audience. Nobody can force a mind to operate; arguments can only be marshaled by a thinking consciousness, and people need some amount of courage to effectively present a position in front of an audience, no matter how small or familiar it is. When a person is willing to participate as a presenter, it is incumbent on their opponents to assume that they have at least some familiarity with the issue outside of their own position and that it is likely arguments will not convince them overnight.

This point is so crucial it merits repeating: do not expect to convert opposing presenters with your arguments in the heat of a debate. For each argument that you offer, your opponents have either heard it or they have not heard it. If a given argument was known to your opponent before you advanced it, then it was not sufficient to convince them before and so there is little chance it will convince them now. If a given argument was not known to your opponent, then it will take some time for them to digest the argument and come to accept the full implications of it. Thoughtful people who care about ideas need to integrate new arguments and data with their previous understanding of the world, and this takes time and reflection. People are not often willing to engage in reflection in the presence of an audience that is judging their performance as a presenter.

This leads naturally to the third rule to follow as a presenter: aim for the undecided audience with your arguments. Treat the audience as though it were a group of students, hungry for your instruction on the subject at hand. Provide the clearest case for your position, and point out the holes in your opponents’ arguments. Furnish the audience with resources they can google if they wish to learn more, such as books or articles. One encouraging indication that you have performed well as a presenter is if you get questions from the audience, because asking questions is a sign of an active mind. You should answer audience questions to the best of your ability and admit when you are not sure what the answer may be, because people who are eager for the truth appreciate genuine effort that is free of pretense and arbitrary assertions.

Finally, when a debate is over how do you gauge your success or lack thereof? Objectively, we have established that it is unrealistic to convince opposing presenters during a debate. The audience should be your target, not the opposing presenters. To this end, compare the audience after the debate with the audience before the debate. How many people changed their minds? How many people started in agreement with your opponent, only to have one of your arguments plant a seed of doubt? How many people asked questions and were genuinely interested in the implications for accepting your position? These are all important questions to ask and are the proper way to objectively assess your performance in a debate as a presenter. If one considers a situation where you are the only advocate for your position and there is no audience, it makes sense to set your expectations for immediate converts low.

To summarize, one should not view debate as something unpleasant and aggravating. Instead, one should view it as an opportunity to learn something new or to further test your own understanding. Do not evaluate your performance in a debate by whether you persuaded your opponent to surrender, but rather on whether you were able to effectively articulate your case to those undecided people. Not only is this an objective way to assess your debate performance, but it is also takes the edge off of “winning” and respects the intellect and free will of your opponents.