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.

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.

school

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 “below basic,” making them virtually illiterate. 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 Egalitarian In Chief

All about the philosophy that informs the Obama administration.

As the end of Barack Obama’s administration approaches, we ought to discuss the overall impact that it has had on the United States. While no president is perfect, I believe the overall legacy is a negative one; allow me to defend this position with a discussion of the philosophy of the Obama administration.

When discussing Obama, I am often reminded of the 1972 election when Richard Nixon won in a landslide against George McGovern. At the time, McGovern was the candidate of the far left, which had come to prominence in the wake of the Vietnam War. Nixon positioned himself as the experienced, establishment candidate against a pacifist who would have surrendered America to the Soviet Union. To many voters, Nixon was the man who would prevent the hippies from taking political control. Though we later learned that Nixon had serious ethical and political issues of his own, voters at the time awarded Nixon every state except for Massachusetts. The resulting landslide meant that the radical left was exiled from American politics for two full generations.

The only popular Democratic presidency after the ’72 election was the Clinton administration. Carter, the only other Democrat to be president during this era, was largely seen as weak and ineffectual, as well as economically destructive. The headlines of Carter’s reign spoke of “the misery index”. Economists were baffled when high unemployment appeared at the same time as high inflation, which was considered impossible under the standard Keynesian economic model. Despite the personal scandals, Clinton’s approach was animated by a moderate, “third way” philosophy that had earned respect from many of his political opponents, particularly in the economic realm with the passage of welfare reform. The  ideological left made a return to mainstream American politics with the election of Obama in 2008, who was the first “New Left” American president.

Conservatives took pains to portray Obama as a Marxist in the 2008 presidential campaign, but the truth is that he only appropriates the ideology and rhetoric of class warfare when it suits him in his true agenda, which is more aptly described as egalitarian and not Marxist. Egalitarianism is the view that equality is the most important standard by which we ought to evaluate justice and morality. For egalitarians, equality is a higher value than standard of living or individual achievement. As a self-styled “community organizer” Barack Obama is a philosophical poster boy for Harvard philosopher John Rawls’ theory of “justice as fairness”. Let’s examine some of the specific instances where Obama’s policies have supported his egalitarian philosophy.

To begin, Obama has ratcheted up the traditional Democratic rhetoric against Wall Street and the banks. Along with Senators Sanders and Warren, Obama has called for higher taxes on the wealthy so that everyone is paying their “fair share” though there is little explanation for what is truly “fair” in this context. The president has done his part to convince Americans that the financial sector is parasitical, taking care to ignore the crucial role that the financial sector plays in allocating capital throughout the economy where it is most profitable and therefore most valued. When asked by the New York Times whether he would raise taxes on “millionaires and billionaires” even if it would result in less overall revenue, Obama responded that he would do so, stating that its not a matter of revenue, but “fairness”. Obama truly seems to believe that if a person possesses considerable wealth, irrespective of how they achieved it, then the government is justified in taking the “excess” and redistributing it to those “in need”. If one could custom the presidential seal for each person who holds the office, Obama’s would likely read “you didn’t build that”.

Obama’s administration is also responsible for raising government spending on “clean energy” and seeks to further restrict America’s consumption of electricity and fossil fuels. The truth is that energy is the lifeblood of an industrial, capitalist society and without it, America cannot effectively produce the goods and services that make innovations in every other field possible. At this stage, so-called clean energy is not only “clean”, but overly expensive and ineffective in generating what our economy needs to grow and expand. Any cost-conscious entrepreneur would recognize the value of efficient, renewable energy and invest in it if they thought that there was a chance for profits. Some, like Elon Musk, do this now (albeit with government subsidies). On the other hand, the Obama administration is engaged in a sort of wishful thinking: even if clean energy can’t compete with fossil fuels in terms of efficiency or yield, we still ought to invest in it at the expense of established, proven energy sources because it is “the right thing”.

The question to ask is: right for whom? Eschewing cheap, abundant energy for clean, expensive and rationed energy is not “right” for humans that seek to travel the world, mass produce medicines, generate high crop yields, and expand the reach of telecommunications. The administration’s attitude seems to be that human welfare needs to take a back seat when compared with the environment, the climate, and the mating habits of any and all non-human species on the planet which have an intrinsic value simply because they exist and therefore belong on an equal footing with humans. In other words, energy is great and all, but if it comes down to humans or polar bears, we will just have to go without and sacrifice for the sake of the polar bears. Ayn Rand put it best when she described the American left as seeking “an anti-Industrial Revolution”. To this I would add that the Obamas of the world seek an egalitarian energy policy where the welfare of humans is considered on a par with the welfare of lakes, ferrets, and redwoods.

On the international scene, the Obama administration has consistently acted to diminish America’s stature by denying American exceptionalism. The president applies his egalitarianism consistently to nations of the world as well as individual humans only to conclude that each and every country should be treated the same as every other, irrespective of its actual values and customs. Rather than serve as an eloquent spokesman for the peculiar and unique American tradition of individual rights, separation of powers, free elections, and limited government, Obama has told young people in Argentina that “there is no essential difference between socialism and capitalism” and that they should choose “whatever works”. Rather than stick up for American interests, Obama is willing to subvert American interests to those of the United Nations, an egalitarian body that gives equal representation to all nations, whether they are authoritarian or free.

Mr. Obama has also enthusiastically breathed new life into the tyrannical Cuban regime by pushing the end of the US embargo. This act does a remarkable disservice to Cubans that fled the country and further damages the cause of Cubans that remain on their home island, trying to resist the communist dictatorship. For generations, Cuban refugees have orally transmitted the horrors of communism to their children and grandchildren; they explain that it was the United States that gave them hope and allowed them to prosper after painfully leaving their homeland. The message to young Americans is clear: if Mr. Obama thinks that the Castro family is kosher, perhaps Fidel and Raul are not all that bad after all.

Obama also lacks the moral courage to openly identify radical Islam as a threat to the United States. Like his predecessor, George W Bush, Obama refuses to recognize that what motivates ISIS is not anti-imperialism gone amok but ideas, specifically religious ideas. It is not true that all religions are equal in the effects of their dogma; to see this, note that we are not discussing the threat posed by radical Jainism. Many on the left will argue that Christianity is just as bad as Islam when it comes to fundamentalism, but this is an ahistorical claim. The fact is that Christianity and Judaism have been severely weakened politically in the West after the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution relegated them to superstition among the intellectual and business class. The Middle East, on the other hand, is rife with countries stuck in the Middle Ages culturally.

Obama saw the so-called “Arab Spring” through the rose-colored glasses of his egalitarianism and mistook the political machinations of committed Islamists as the rumblings of a native people rising up against their government for an equal voice in a democratic system. The two biggest exponents of Islamism are Saudi Arabia and Iran, a nation that has been in a de facto state of war against the United States since they took hostages from our embassy in 1979. Instead, the president has opted to appease Iranian posturing by kicking the can down the road with regards to their nuclear weapons program.

What about health care, which has been the flagship of Obama’s political legacy? President Obama led the charge to institute his health care scheme as a means of correcting supposed market deficiencies in allocating health care. From the beginning, the left has sought to use health care as a means of undermining confidence in the market by driving up costs and lowering quality. In reality, the health care “market” was heavily regulated and distorted by government intervention prior to the Affordable Care Act. It started with Social Security, a program borrowed from Bismarck’s Germany to placate the middle class at the behest of socialist agitators. It continued with more guarantees in the form of Medicare and Medicaid. Occupational licensing laws were put forth to regulate “legitimate” medical care and outlaw “illegitimate” medical care, making it difficult and expensive for new doctors to enter the market. Finally, it was under Ronald Reagan that federal law required all visitors to emergency rooms to be subsidized by the taxpayers if they could not pay their own bills. The “market deficiencies” that Obama sought to “fix” with his health care bill were a result of government action, not the free market.

Obama’s solution for health care was naturally derived by applying his egalitarianism to health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act put into effect an individual mandate that requires all citizens have health care coverage irrespective of their health and ability to pay. Furthermore, Obamacare decrees that the services rendered by all plans need to be identical, even if particular aspects of the plan are nonsensical or uneconomical. For instance, thanks to Obama, a young man in his 30’s can now have his pregnancy covered by his insurance plan, and anyone diagnosed with a preexisting condition will be covered even though there is a near certain chance that the health care firm will need to pay out heavily for treatment. If we compare auto insurance to health care insurance, the mandate states that one can demand an insurer cover them after they have totaled their vehicle. Rather than treat health care as a service provided by the market, with a variety of products and pricing commensurate with consumer needs, Obama has made it clear that it would be unfair that some go without health care coverage, and that this is prima facie unacceptable.

Finally, there is the deterioration of race relations and the proliferation of identity politics that have occurred under the Obama administration. Despite the fact that Americans voted in a black president, there is a widespread belief that the majority of white Americans are racists. Opponents of the Obama administration that have legitimate criticism are lumped together with white nationalists as racist by the mainstream media and various academics. It is often taken as axiomatic by educated Americans that Caucasians benefit from “white privilege” and there is need to address “institutional racism”. The police have been slandered by Black Lives Matter activists, who claim that there is a preference for jailing black Americans over all others. If someone points out that the incarceration rate of blacks is commensurate with the rate at which they actually commit crimes, they are also conveniently labeled as racists and apologists for oppression.

While Obama has not done much to stoke these flames, he has not done a thing to refute them, even though he can easily do so. Instead, he opts to take the approach that because all people are equal, it must be the case that all cultures are equal as well, and that it would be unfitting for anyone to point out differences, let alone claim that one is better than the other with regard to a given activity or problem.

Obama is the first president to take egalitarianism seriously. Apart from the 2016 election, the Democrats lost seats in Congress in 2010, 2012 and 2014 despite Obama getting two terms as president. Obama has stepped into the fray consistently with the message that even when he is personally not on the ballot, his policies are. Americans heard that message and voted accordingly to reject Obama and his egalitarianism. Though many Americans are not philosophical in their orientation, they are discerning enough to note that the effects of egalitarianism are destructive and harmful when they are implemented.