Sunday, July 06, 2014

Wordsmithing, part 10


1. a direct pecuniary aid furnished by a government to a private industrial undertaking, a charity organization, or the like.
2. a sum paid, often in accordance with a treaty, by one government to another to secure some service in return.
3. a grant or contribution of money.
4. money formerly granted by the English Parliament to the crown for special needs.

Recently I got into a bit of an online tussle with someone over a quote by TV jester John Stewart of the Daily Show.  The quote was as follows: 

Hypocrisy: bitching that paying for birth control “goes against your religious beliefs” while expecting non-Christian taxpayers to pay for your churches.

The caption by the poster of the meme read: It’s time to tax the churches

I don’t much care for being unfairly called a hypocrite, so I posed the following question on the comments section: 
Please explain to me how non-Christian taxpayers are paying for churches.

To which I was given a link to blog post that referenced this blog post by the Washington Post.  If you click on the link you can read the whole post, but here’s a table with the break-down that is the heart of the piece. 

Now notice that in every case but one (the faith-based initiatives) every line item describes a tax exemption which they then title a “subsidy”.  Here is my online response:

This entire piece relies on a deceptive misuse of a word: "subsidy". This is a rhetorical propaganda tactic that the left uses all the time, and it's based on the concept that all money belongs to the government, and to whatever degree they allow us to keep that money is from their benevolence. Proceeding from that premise, anyone or any group of people who are allowed to keep more of their money than anyone or any other group, is deemed as taking that money from the later. These funds are then viewed as a "subsidy" to the former. This whole premise is not an American idea, it comes from Marxism. The American idea is that our rights come from God, not from the government, and that government only gets its authority from the consent of the people. That authority wields terrible power, though, the power of a monopoly on violence. In other words the government has the power, by threat of violence to confiscate a portion of the money you make. We call these taxes. A subsidy is actually when the government takes money that they have confiscated from one group of people and gives that money to another group of people. These are sometimes called transfer payments. So, for instance, farmers who grow certain crops of which the government wish to see more, in an effort to manipulate commodities markets, are given subsidies from your tax dollars. They are actually given money to grow those crops. But a tax break, such as the mortgage interest deduction you are allowed to claim on your taxes, is not a subsidy, it is merely the government allowing you to keep more of the money you made. Even if I conceded that tax exemption were a "type" of subsidy (which I don't, but let's pretend that I do), it would still be a "type" in which no funds are transferred to the church, only in which funds are not transferred from the church to the government. So the question remains unanswered, and actually unanswerable. The only way to come to the conclusion that tax payers are "paying" for churches is to think that the money that churches would have paid to the government in taxes, if they were not tax exempt, actually belongs to the taxpayerswhich is absurd. There are no subsidiesno transfer paymentsto churches. There is a tax exempt status to them, just as to many other non-profit organizations in this country. That tax exempt status has existed from the very beginning of this nation. If you wish to tax churches, what other non-profit organizations do you wish to tax? Non-profit hospitals? Charities for the poor? Drug and alcohol rehabilitation facilities?

As I mentioned before, the one line item in the table above that actually is a subsidy is for faith-based initiatives.  Understand, these government funds do not go for buildings or any other assets for churches, but rather to fund programs that are faith-based, such as alcohol and drug treatment, support for young, unwed mothers, programs that work with prisoners to teach life skills and reduce criminal recidivism.

The misuse of the word “subsidy” by the left to create the misperception that any tax break is actually a theft of taxpayer money is another example of the leftist lexicon, the intentional manipulation and distortion of language, of redefining words to control the popular debate about the size and scope of government.  To the leftist and the statist, government is the means by which utopia can be created; therefore all that is not government—the free market, private business, private charities, non-governmental agencies that compete with what they believe are the provinces of government welfare entitlements— must be marginalized, discredited, or better yet, vilified. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

"Free" College and the Minimum Wage

I got into an online discussion with a friend of a friend about the minimum wage. The discussion started with my friend’s friend saying that we should offer free college education to everyone, to which I said,

Free college education. That's an interesting idea. How do you propose this? Should we enslave all higher education professionals...and compel them to work for nothing? But they must eat and wear clothing...who will pay for that? And what of their task know, the guys with whips...who will pay them? And will the quality of education suffer under these conditions? Or did you really mean to say that the government should take over all higher education schools, confiscate even more money from us, and provide college education at no cost (other than taxes) to the students? But then that's not really "free" is it?

Then he proposed raising the minimum wage, to which I said,

If there is anything that should be mine--mine to do with as I please, mine to take anywhere I wish in this country, mine to decide without any interference from bureaucracy--it should be my labor, i.e. selling the labor of my hands. I should be able to sell it at whatever price I deem. Minimum wage is government tyranny in its most pure and undiluted form, though, as illustrated on the cover of Jonah Goldberg's book Liberal Fascism, offered with a smiley face with the best of intentions, for "our own good", but tyranny nonetheless. It is leviathan government descending from on high to tell me, "no, you may not sell your labor for that price." And if there is no one willing to buy my labor at the price they deem fit, too bad for me. Here are some crumbs we will give you from our noble largesse from funds we have confiscated from your fellow citizens who are more "privileged" than you.

Then he said, So therefore, if all I can sell my labor for, (assuming that I can find a job), is lower than the cost of living, that's a good thing?

And I said,

Please enlighten me on the "cost of living". What is it? Usually when that term is used today it is in reference to an index arbitrarily set by the same set of bureaucratic tyrants that tell us what the "minimum wage" should be.

And he said, My personal definition of the cost of living is food, shelter, clothing, transportation and costs associated with employment.

And I ended with this,

Food, shelter, clothing, transportation--and how do you measure that? These days I eat quite well (too well, judging by my waistline) but when I was first married and making minimum wage, my wife fixed a whole lot of hamburger helper dishes. We also rented a furnished and utilities-paid one bedroom apartment. We had a second hand TV and a crappy little record player with tiny built in speakers, the kind you would see in children's bedrooms. We had one car. My wife would drop me off at work, then drive herself to work, or I would carpool with a friend at work. We agonized about any clothing purchase and found the best price we could before buying. We didn't have a dishwasher or cable TV or air-conditioning in our car or a smart phone with a data package (they didn't exist in 1975), but we got by and actually saved money. Not because the minimum wage was so much better then, but because we lived as frugally as we knew how.

In times before mine it was common for people with large houses to take in boarders to supplement their income, or to actually run boarding houses as a business. These were very common for single men or women, and quite reasonable since one was only renting a room and sharing a common bathroom. It was also common for men who never earned enough to support a family--for whatever reason--to remain single and live in such boarding houses their entire lives. Today both the boarding house scenario and the conditions in which my wife and lived when newly married seem unthinkable today. Things like personal computers, wifi, central air conditioning, dishwashers, cable TV (and multiple TV sets), smart phones with large data packages, multiple cars per family, $200 or $300 basketball shoes, are all considered necessities and indexed as "the cost of living".

As to the worth of the individual,  [he had indicated that paying someone a small wage meant that employer, or society or something, valued them less as human beings dm] you seem to be conflating a person's worth as a human being with their worth as a wage earner. One has virtually nothing to do with the other. As Jesus told us, we are all of great worth to God by virtue of the fact that we are created in God's image.

But a wage earner's worth is based on the value his or her labor brings to the employer. The entrepreneur creates a product or service which is only worth what people are willing to pay for it. When the entrepreneur needs additional labor other than his own to make that product or provide that service, a job is created, but only at a wage commensurate with what the customer is willing to pay. When wages are arbitrarily driven up--by government fiat, let's say--the entrepreneur often finds that the job is simply unnecessary, as in the case of theater ushers for instance, or can be replaced by mechanization, as in the case of berry pickers or the young bag boys at grocery markets who would take your deposit pop cans here in Oregon, both jobs of which have now been replaced forever by machines. Entrepreneurs don't create jobs so people can have jobs--only the government does that, which they do solely by confiscating money from producers.

Entrepreneurs create jobs because they need work done which they can sell as a product or service at a profitable level. If they cannot do that at a profitable level, they fail and go out of business, and all the jobs from that business end. This is the cold equation. It's not about how anybody "feels" about you, or whether they like you, or whether you "deserve" to earn more (whatever that's supposed to mean). It's just this: can you bring a profitable value to your employer with the work you do? And the other part of this cold equation is that minimum wage laws, apart from being tyrannical and immoral, don't make jobs, or sustain jobs, they end them. Some of them, some whole classifications of jobs, forever. And who is hurt most by this? The low skilled, young worker trying to get a start in the job market. And who among that cohort does this hurt the most? Without question teenage black males.

My economic hero (and hero of other intellectual sorts as well), Thomas Sowell, was a Marxist in his economic ideology, all the way through his academic studies, even as he studied under free market sage Milton Friedman. But what turned Sowell from a Marxists to one of our most eloquent defenders of free market enterprise was his experience working for the Federal Labor Commission as an economist and seeing for himself the raw data. The disastrous effects, especially on his fellow American blacks were clear and irrefutable. When he began to make noise at the Commission about this, they basically told him to shut up about it. So he quit, went back to teaching economics and began his writing career, no longer a Marxist but an ardent apologist for classical economics and free market enterprise. When I read his text, Basic Economics, the scales fell from my eyes. I have since read everything I can find by this giant of clear thinking, and I urge everyone else to do the same. Or at least read Basic Economics.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Why I Am a Republican

After some recent engagements online, I thought it would be useful to clarify my political affiliation. This seems urgently needed since the question of party identity in the United States seems completely obscured by slogans, myth, and perceptions of branding designed by the spin-doctors of professional campaign managers and public relation mercenaries.

 Before I get into why I am a Republican, let me give you the problem I have with the Republican party. It's perhaps best illustrated by an oft-stated axiom by my cultural hero, Dennis Prager: "There are two parties in the Untied States--the destructive party, and the stupid party. I belong to the stupid party." I'm not a Republican because I think they're brilliant. They're not, they are indeed, stupid--at least in one very import aspect: messaging. I am often appalled and discouraged by how incompetent the Republican party is at defining itself and the principles upon which it is based, to the electorate, and more importantly, to the popular culture at large. There are many sagacious thinkers expert at defining and explaining conservative ideals, but the Republican leadership and political class seem immune to their instruction. It's disheartening to watch Republican politicians bumble their way through press conferences, sound-bites, and talk-show interviews; to see the disjointed, contradictory statements, the back-biting, the self-inflicted wounds, the complete ignorance of utilizing popular media.

 Conversely, the Democrat party is a grand master of messaging and media, from a remarkable discipline in message (a phrase or slogan, repeated verbatim by every single Democrat legislator, party official, commentator and apparatchik day after day in every single media appearance), to its complete command of iconography and image. Just look at a website, for instance, of two campaigning legislators, one Democrat, one Republican. It's a safe bet that the website of the Republican will look dull and amateurish in comparison to that of the Democrat. The Republican party just doesn't seem to understand the importance and power of popular media, image, and the arts.

 So, why am I a Republican? The short answer is because of the ideas and principles that define the party and its platform, and most importantly because those ideas and principles coincide with my faith, my worldview, and my own political/philosophical beliefs. Space does not allow me to address all the details--I think that would be book length--but let me hit the high points.

 Of greatest importance is the core defining difference between the two parties; as I see it, this is their divergent views on the role and scope of government. My thinking about this is heavily influenced by Thomas Sowell's masterpiece, A Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles. In it Sowell describes two different visions of how the world works and of human nature itself--what in Christian philosophical terms is often called worldview (from the German philosophical term, weltanschauung)--which he names the constrained vision, and the unconstrained vision. The constrained vision --what he otherwise calls the classic or tragic view of human nature--he asserts is in essence the biblical view, that man is fallen and all his effort are therefore constrained by the limitations of his sinful nature; his condition may be ameliorated, but never perfected except by God in the next life. The unconstrained vision sees no limitations on the condition of man, believing that perfection and utopia are possible through human effort.

 The out-working of these contrary visions in the two parties are exemplified by their defining views on the role and scope of government: the Republican party believes in limited government, confined to those narrowly-defined tasks enumerated in the Constitution (establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty); the Democrat party believes in inexorably and infinitely expanding government, and with projects such as the New Deal, the Great Society, and most recently, the Affordable Care Act has massively magnified not only the size, but scope of government. Regarding this last point, this scope has not merely been enlarged in application, but in the very ideas that define government in much of popular culture. See, for instance, the Four Freedoms speech given by FDR on January 6, 1941 in which he enumerate two freedoms never mentioned in our founding documents--freedom from want, and freedom from fear. These philosophically departed from the Constitutional concept of government's role as being the securer of conditions under which its citizens might pursue their own happiness, to one in which the government should be the provider of that happiness. Or see the Politics of Meaning speech given by then First Lady Hillary Clinton at the University of Texas, in Austin on April 7, 1993 in which she said,
We need a new politics of meaning. We need a new ethos of individual responsibility and caring. We need a new definition of civil society which answers the unanswerable questions posed by both the market forces and the governmental ones, as to how we can have a society that fills us up again and makes us feel that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.
Here she defines politics (and by extension government) as an essential domain of realizing personal meaning and fulfillment, in effect advocating an encroachment of government into areas formerly inhabited only by religion, ethics, and philosophy. Or watch the online cartoon, The Life of Julia, produced by Barak Obama's campaign during the last election, in which the fictional Julia is cared for, from birth to death, by a Democrat party-controlled state (headed, of course, by President Barak Obama the compassionate), which serves at once as surrogate parent, spouse, and all around benefactor. 

Branching out from these core views are the individual policies informed by them. The Republican party, since the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, has stood for a strong and even interventionist national defense with robust funding of our military and intelligence gathering capabilities. That this is an essential role of government--perhaps even the central role of federal government--as enumerated in the Constitution is, I believe, unassailable as it is implied in three of the six purposes of government listed in the preamble: insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, and secure the Blessings of Liberty. Where once the Democrat party shared this goal--the doctrine of Cold War containment of Communism and maintaining a military capability of fighting two major wars simultaneously in different parts of the earth started under Truman--it began to advocate a reduction in military budget, force, capability, and deployment in favor of redirecting revenues and human assets to social welfare programs and transfer payments. This began in earnest under the Reagan years with their relentless resistance to his military build-up, his deployment of midrange nuclear missiles in Europe, and his plans for the ICBM Strategic Defense Initiative, then solidified as party dogma in the Clinton administration. It has now intensified in both scope and degree in the Obama administration with its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, its "leading from behind" in the action in Libya, its incomprehensible forfeiture of advantage in the recent negotiations with Iran, and the deep budget cuts weighted most heavily on the military in the sequester cuts.

 As the Democrat party has invested itself more deeply in the unconstrained vision it has made uniform its positions on social issues in which, in prior times, its members had held diverse views. This has had the effect of strictly polarizing these issues along party lines. None of these issues is more clearly polarized than that of abortion. One by one, Democrat legislators who had spent most of their political careers as "pro-life" (anti-abortion), some of whom had wielded great power within the party, "saw the light" and changed their position to "pro-choice" (pro-abortion on demand and in some cases funded by the state) such that this position now serves as a litmus test for any position in the party. I have an acquaintance who had for many years been an elected precinct committee person in a county Democrat party. Precinct committee person is the very bottom elected position one can hold. Yet he lost that seat because, as a serious practicing Catholic, he refused to capitulate on this issue. The newest polarized social issue is the definition of marriage. Apparently the unconstrained vision impels its adherents to advocate for the eradication of distinctions--such as male and female--that have guided human civilization from its beginnings. This overturning of social and moral conventions driven by the unconstrained vision has seemingly engendered an antipathy to the source of that morality: biblical ethical truth. In the last presidential election at the Democrat convention when the committees were convening to write the platform, one leader saw that no mention of God had yet been included, and proposed an inclusion of some such statement as had always been made in the platform. This suggestion was roundly booed by the delegates. The boos were ignored by the leadership and the statement included, but it's indicative of an attitude prevalent now in the Democrat party.

Economic policy is another area of party line polarization that I would assert proceeds from the differing worldviews with which most of their members align themselves. In grid form it would look like this:

Party              Worldview           Economic theory      Government policy
Republican    Constrained          Hayek                       Non-interventionist
Democrat       Unconstrained      Keynes                     Interventionist

Soon after the stock market crash of 1929 under moderate Republican president Herbert Hoover, federal governmental interventionist policy began. One of the first such policies was the Smoot/Hawley tariff, signed into law by Hoover (despite his objections) in 1930. The tariff, created in an effort to help American farmers, started a cascade of reciprocal tariffs all over the world that stifled world trade and possibly precipitated a global depression and most assuredly deepened it. FDR actually campaigned against the tariff while running against Hoover, but soon after taking office, began a massive project of federal economic interventionist policies that included a complete overhauling of the Federal Reserve, The Banking Act of 1933 that instituted the FDIC, the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 (which told farmers what and how much of a crop they could grow, as well as set price controls on commodities), a deep restriction of the money supply, The Gold Reserve Act of 1934, the formation of the National Recovery Administration that was so far reaching and draconian in its imposition of hundreds of "codes" on American business, that it was finally struck down as unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935. Throughout his 12 years as President of the United States, FDR relentlessly lived up to the call he had made in a college commencement speech in 1932 that,
This country needs, and unless I mistake its temper, the country demands bold persistent experimentation. It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.
So he kept experimenting with one government interventionist policy after another, sometimes abandoning them, but more often just adding a new one to the mix. This seemed to serve as a turning point in the Democrat party; since then such attitudes toward economic policy have become uniform and hardened in the party.

It's important to note, however, that the homogenization of Republican party attitudes to economic policy did not begin to occur until the Reagan administration. Both Senator Smoot and Representative Hawley, for instance, were Republicans, as were Senator Davis and Representative Bacon of the Davis/Bacon act. And in 1971 President Nixon imposed sweeping price and wage controls on virtually every industry and commodity in the country. Even since Reagan there have been departures from Hayekian non-interventionist theory by Republicans such as the steel tariff imposed by George W. Bush in 2002, or the 152 billion dollar economic stimulus package he pushed through in 2008.

The final issue I'd like to address is that of entitlements and social welfare programs. But first let me establish some historical grounding.

The origins of the modern welfare state begin with Otto von Bismarck in late 19th century Germany who introduced old age pensions, accident insurance, medical care and unemployment insurance. Its development was underpinned by a wholesale acceptance of the unconstrained vision which led to a definition and focus on equality in contradiction to that held by the American founders.

Under the American system the focus of equality is in process, equality under the law. In other words, the law and its processes shall treat all its citizens equally, ignoring their real-world differences (skin color, natural abilities, economic status, etc.). Thus our symbol of justice, the statue of Lady Justice, a sword in one hand, and a set of balance scales in the other, is blindfolded, acknowledging that differences do exists, but barring herself from seeing those differences so she cannot take them into account in her judgement. But beginning with the French Revolution and progressing through the development of the modern welfare state to its apex in the European socialist democracies, most of the countries of Europe defined and focused on a concept of equality of outcome. The ultimate good in this view is a leveling of economic class whereby the poor are brought up while the rich are brought down, and this is accomplished through the power of the state which redistributes income by confiscatory taxation of the rich and transferring that wealth to the poor via social welfare programs.

In her brilliant history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, Amity Shlaes begins by describing a tour of the Soviet Union taken by a group of FDR advisors, some of whom later became part of what was called FDR's "brain trust" who helped formulate the policies he called the "New Deal". Welfare entitlements in the US started in the New Deal, expanded in the Great Society under Lyndon Johnson, and now further enlarging in the Obama administration, have their origins in a combination of ideas borrowed from the European socialist democracies as well as the Soviet Union. They all proceed from the unconstrained vision, and have led to a gradual abandonment of the American view of equality (equality of process) and the adoption of the European view of equality (equality of outcome). To be sure, there has been substantial participation by the Republican party in this paradigm shift. The passage of Medicare, for instance, had massive bipartisan support. But with the polarizing of the two parties that has occurred over the last few decades--which has entailed many conservative Democrats changing parties, as well as a few liberal Republicans switching to Democrat--differing approaches to welfare and entitlements has clearly emerged.

On the Democrat side the sense seems to be that an ever-increasing progressive tax system coupled with an unending proliferation of transfer payments, social programs, subsidies, and entitlements are the only hope for the poor and the method by which a truly egalitarian utopia can be achieved, the "fundamental transformation of America" that Barak Obama spoke of five days before his election into office. And any suggestion of scaling back this project, reducing the progressive ratio of taxation, or tightening the requirements for access to the programs, is characterized at best as indifference, and more usually as outright heartless cruelty to the poor and vulnerable. So, under the Obama administration we have seen the eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as Food Stamps, greatly relaxed, first as part of the 2009 Stimulus Act, then further by administrative fiat when he changed elements within the Clinton Welfare Reform Law in 2010. This resulted in the number of recipients of Food Stamps soaring from 28 million in 2008 to 47 million five years later; perhaps an outworking of an axiom bandied by Democrat policy-makers: "a policy only for the poor is a poor policy"?

Conversely the Republican approach to entitlements and assistance programs is to view them as a safety net to help the poorest, the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable in our society, but always with an eye to avoid the moral hazard of engendering permanent dependance in all save those who are incapable of ever providing for themselves. As Paul Ryan said during the last presidential campaign, "we want these programs to be a safety net, not a hammock." Of course this is invariably characterized by Democrats as the desire to do away with these programs all together.

In conclusion, there are a great number of other issues in which the Republican party stands in agreement with my worldview, biblical moral truth, and political views, among them: private gun ownership, school choice, the death penalty, states rights, energy policy, environmental policy, voter ID, support for Israel, reform (with the possibility of privatizing portions) of the "big three" entitlements (Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid) to keep them solvent, and the appointment of federal and appellate judges who adhere to an originalist view of the Constitution rather than a "living document" malleable view. For further clarity I have included this link to a website that is a synopsis side by side comparison of the Democrat and Republican party platforms of 2012 using excerpts copied directly from their written platform documents. These are the Democrat and Republican statements on these issues written in their own words.

I have written this blog post in the effort to clarify my own thoughts as well as to cut through the fog of disparaging bromides and smears. As always, I welcome comments, questions, debate, even spirited argument. But if all you have to offer is unsupported accusations, ad hominem attack, or name calling, be warned that I will not respond.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Is Health Care A Right?

In a recent discussion on FaceBook I was having with a friend who works in health care, another of her friends posted the following:

From my perspective, the key question is whether healthcare is a right or a privilege.
If it is a right, then there must be a way to provide an appropriate level of basic health care for all and an opportunity for the market to offer extended benefits (think Medicare-for-all with Medicare Advantage-like extended benefits).

Here is my answer to this question:

With respect to health care being a right under the US system of law, I would say it most certainly the same sense that all the rights guaranteed under the Constitution are negative rights; in other words our bill of rights are all constraints on government action and conversely acknowledging the freedom of the individual citizen to act. We are thus told, not that we have a right to happiness, but the right to pursue happiness unimpeded by government. So health care is a right, by this American system of thought, in that the government can never deny a citizen health care. This may seem axiomatic, but it's actually an important distinction born out by the way in which interpreting rights from this negative approach (the US way) as opposed to interpreting them from the positive approach (to a great extent the European way) plays out in practical terms. Let me lay some ground work.

The US value of equality is an approach to the concept as process, i.e. all citizens shall be viewed under the law as equal. All shall be treated the same without regard to age, sex, economic class, religion, etc. This is what is known as a legal fiction, because in reality no one, not even identical twins are equal. We all have differences in height, weight, strength, natural abilities--but the legal fiction is that we are all viewed by the law as though we were the same; no one shall be given preference or be discriminated against because of his differences from another. Thus lady justice is depicted as blindfolded so that she may not see the differences between those who stand before her. As an aside, this idea of legal fiction is the principle at work in the recent SCOTUS decision that classified corporations as persons. This is nothing new; it goes all the way back to the Roman Empire. The word "corporation" is derived from the Latin corpus meaning "body". The Romans invented the idea of treating a "body" of people, (a club, a church congregation, an association of business partners), as a single person to make it easier for legal transactions such as taxation or law suits. So this already has a long established precedent in US law and indeed can be traced back to English common law. In much of the European social democracies, however, equality is rather interpreted in the positive sense of result, i.e. the government shall be responsible to achieve equality of outcome for its citizens.

The first thing to understand is that these two views of equality are mutually exclusive; they necessitate two completely different and indeed opposing actions from government. The US (negative) view of equality demands that the government in no way takes into account the advantages or disadvantages of its citizens in its behavior toward them. The European (positive) view of equality necessitates that citizens are categorized by their advantages and disadvantages, and then treated in vastly different ways so as to level out the results. It should be obvious by now that we in the US are, bit by bit, losing our historic understanding of equality and replacing it with the European ideal of equality of result.

If we look at the positive and negative views of health care as a right, the same sort of contradictions arise. In the negative view the single incumbency on the government is to leave the citizen alone to pursue her own health care from those whose livelihood it is to provide it. But from the positive view the incumbency on government is to either be the provider of health care, or to be the agency of the provision of health care; in both cases this leads to tyranny of government. At first blush this seems counterintuitive--how can so altruistic a goal as universal government-supplied health care lead to tyranny? Quite easily, it turns out.

First, let's consider: what is a "right"? I propose this as a working definition: a right is a moral and just claim on the part of an individual. In all US style negative rights, that claim can be stated something like this: "I have the right to say what I want, to worship the God I please, to associate with whom I wish, to not be searched or have my property seized without due process of law, to own and carry a gun with which to defend myself, to not be taxed or governed without my consent." Notice the defining principle is the action of the individual and the restriction of action on government. But the positive right claim might be expressed this way: "I have a right to be provided with health care (or a job, or a place to live)". The initiating action has switched from the individual to…? Well, some one other than the individual, someone else who will provide this thing or service being demanded. And of course that means the government. But what the government provides it must first take from at least some of its citizens. To illustrate this in its most stark terms, let's, in the words of Einstein, do a thought experiment. Let us suppose that one day all the doctors, and all the nurses, and all X-ray technicians, and all the other health care professionals in the United States got fed up with medicine as a career and quit. And let us further suppose that the United States had at this point fully adopted the European notion of health care as a positive right. What would the government do? It seems obvious that faced with the legal obligation to provide health care to its citizens--to satisfy their right to it--they would have to force those health care professionals back into service. Now this is an obviously absurd proposition, but it illustrates an idea already at work in the US health care system. Our legislature has made it illegal for a hospital to turn away a patient--any patient--from emergency care for failure to pay, and so, at least to a small degree, health care professionals are already being forced into service. The professionals are not forced to work without pay, so it is the hospitals which must bear the cost, which they in turn pass on to other, paying patients and mostly to their insurance providers.

So, the first level of tyranny is the imposition by government of the costs of mandated health care on those who provide it, and citizens who have not benefited from the care (patients who pay the hidden costs of care provided for others). The second level of tyranny is the realization of that which the negative view of health care as right guarantees against--the denial of care.

The question was posed as to whether health care should be viewed as a right or a privilege. I would say that viewed from the negative rights position, it never runs the risk of being a privilege (in the sense of being either granted or denied at the discretion of government), but under the positive view it by necessity becomes a matter of privilege in that it is subject to the discretion of government and the exigencies of its resources. That which the government grants it can deny. Let's look at two ways in which this happens; one is bad, the other is much, much worse.

Under the English public health system, those that have the resources can purchase private health care, but under the Canadian system even that possibility is closed from the citizen. The Canadian government has become the sole provider of health care, and they deny all other providers. This is why, when wealthy Canadians, or members of the Canadian Parliament, get serious heart trouble or cancer, they come to the United States for surgery or treatment. Even middle-class Canadians, as they become more and more desperate languishing on interminable waiting lists for care, will sell their homes or cash in their retirement funds to come to the United States for treatment. But even the more benign English public health system is fraught with enormous cost problems. Consider that the public health care system of tiny little England is the 4th largest employer in the world. And consider the irony of the fact that England, where the MRI machine was invented, performs MRI tests at a minuscule per capita rate in comparison to that which is done in the US.

And now for the worst form of government tyranny in health care. Do you remember the older pastor and his wife from Bulgaria who are supported by Meadow Springs Community Church? [This is the church I and my friend both attend] If you recall, she has heart trouble. Bulgaria, while no longer a Communist country, still has a public health system, but being an economically depressed nation, their resources are quite limited. When the couple visited a few years ago, the story they told us was that when a citizen of Bulgaria reaches the age of 65 they are cut off from all health care. All health care! By government mandate, no more resources will be "wasted" on them. That is truly a denial of health care.

Socialism is no longer an either/or proposition, but rather a spectrum. I subscribe to the redefinition of socialism put forth by Kevin Williamson that Socialism is government control of the means of production, supplanting the former definition that it's government ownership of the means of production. I would further assert that the United States has already progressed quite a way across that spectrum, with the trend directed further still. I believe this is a grave error and an abandonment of the values and principles upon which this country was founded: liberty, limited government, the personal morality and religiosity of its citizenry. As for health care in this country, I believe many of the solutions to the present "mess" and catastrophic costs are to be found in free market solutions, indeed by actually allowing a free market in medicine--something which, for all the lamentation by the press and social utopianists about the "greed" of the profit motive and the "immorality" of profit in medicine, does not really exist under our present tax and medical insurance structure. For further reading on this matter I would point you to a book by a Canadian doctor who has worked under both the Canadian and the American health care systems, Dr. David Gratzer, called "The Cure: How Capitalism Can Save American Health Care."

Friday, November 25, 2011

Why Civilizations Die

How Civilizations Die is perhaps the most important book I've read this year. It changed my mind about an important issue in American national security on which I thought I would never be moved. More about this later.

Mr. Goldman writes under the nom de plume "Spengler" after Oswald Spengler, the German author of the 1917 book The Decline of the West, an influential foundation for the social cycle theory. The book is structured around his italicized "Spengler's Universal Laws" sprinkled throughout the text which serve as something like thematic headings, as for instance:
Spengler's Universal Law #1--a man or a nation at the brink of death does not have a 'rational self-interest.'
It's also broken into three parts, one, The Decline of the East, two, Theopolitics, and three, Why it won't be a post-American World.

In part one, The Decline of the East, he makes the startling assertion (well documented by UN demographic data and other sources) that many predominantly Muslim countries, among them Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Turkey, and Iran, are experiencing a decline in birthrate with a rapidity never seen before in human history such that they are heading, perhaps within our lifetimes, for economic collapse and eventually their extinction as nations. Consider this astonishing and counter-intuitive claim: Iran has become one of the least religious countries in the world. His supporting data is that on any given Friday in Iran only a little over 1% of the Iranian population attend a Mosque for prayer, less than church attendance in the most secularized post-Christian nation in Europe. I had read about the death-spiral decline in birthrate in Europe and Japan in Mark Steyn's America Alone and the demographic time bomb in China with the massive imbalance between men and women created as a product of their "one child" policy, but everything I had read or seen about the Middle East seemed to indicate their birthrates were high and that Muslim births were such in European countries that they threatened to "take over" many of those countries in a few decades. So it was a shock to read Mr. Goldman's case for the "closing of the Muslim womb" as he put it.

In part two, Theopolitics, he makes the case that these birthrate declines are nothing new, but have in fact been repeated many times in history. Indeed in the second chapter of part two he chronicles 3 great extinctions in history: 1, the Mycenae (prehistoric Greek), the Hittite, and the Egyptian empires; 2, the Hellenistic empire (historical Greece); and 3, the Roman empire. But more importantly he gives reasons why such die-offs occur. Consider this short example, an account by Aristotle of the defeat of Sparta by a second-rate Greek power:
Sparta once had 10,000 citizens, but by the middle of the 4th century B.C., Aristotle reports, the number had shrunk to only 1,000. …It is the first report in history of depopulation due to a reluctance to raise children. They concentrated wealth in the hands of an ever-narrower oligarchy, which raised fewer children the better to concentrate wealth in family hands.

Earlier in the book he explains that when a society or culture realizes it is doomed it responds in one of 3 ways: 1, it commits suicide, 2, it quits having children (historically by abortion or infanticide) and whiles away the remaining time in hedonism, and 3, it fights to the death to take as many as it can to the grave with them. The suicide response can be seen contemporarily in pre-industrial tribal cultures who are exposed to Western culture, such as New Guinea and Amazonian tribes whose youth, after seeing the wealth and opulence of the West and realizing they will never obtain this, commit suicide at an appalling rate. The childless hedonism we see in the post-Christian European countries and in Japan. But the 3rd alternative is the threat of Muslim Jihadism.

The heart of the book for me is found in the final part where he explains Augustine's rejection of Cicero's definition of society as a community of interests--a definition with economics at its core--to a people bound together by a common agreement as the the objects of their love. So, in short, civilizations die because they love the wrong things. In Theopolitical terms, this means they love a god who fails:
Pagans worship their own image in the person of gods who are like them, only better. Pagan faith is everywhere and always fragile, according to Spengler's Universal Law #15: When we worship ourselves, eventually we become the god that failed. The function of pagan gods in not to redeem us from death, but to bring us success. Pagan gods do not love men and women, although they may occasionally lust after them. Absent success, pagan societies lose their faith; the religion of the ancient world is a carnival-parade of new gods introduced by winners to replace the failed gods of the losers, as defeated tribes were absorbed into their conquerors. …Athens could not be assimilated; it could only perish of disappointment and disgust. Loss of faith sooner or later sapped them of the will to live. As Sophocles wrote, under such conditions it is better to die, and better yet never to have been born.

In the last half of part 2 he makes the case that Europe actually abandoned Christianity in the 17th century:
Two rival versions of Christianity fought to the death in the Thirty Years' War: the Catholic concept of universal empire, and the obsession of the French that they, among all the nations of Christendom, were chosen by god as his proxy on earth. Both of these were religious passions, and thus the Thirty Years' Was was a religious war. But it was not the Catholic-Protestant war about which he have all been taught. It was a war between Christianity and neo-pagan national idolatry, and Christianity lost.
He credits Cardinal Richelieu as the master manipulator of the war, prolonging the horror, slaughter, and death by starvation for the express purpose of weakening all the European nations involved--including fellow Catholic Spain and Austria--so that France could rise to ascendancy over all of Europe and rein as God's proxy on earth. This is proven by the fact that he maneuvered to support the Protestant resisters after they had been defeated:
By 1635, Austria--at terrible cost--had crushed the Protestant resistance once again. But then Richelieu sent two hundred thousand troops into Germany to fight on the Protestant side. Spain responded with it own forces, and the second half of the Thirty Years' War turned into a war of attrition between Catholic Spain and France, fought mainly on German soil.

In the final section of the book Goldman makes the case that America will not go the way of Europe, Japan, and the Muslim Middle East because she loved the right right things, central among those is God. The first colonists were Christians who selected themselves from out of the paganized nationalism that had come to be called Christianity in the European nations in an effort to create a new society based on Biblical Christianity, the election of the individual through personal conversion, and adoption into God's spiritual commonwealth, Israel.
The Protestant radicals could flourish only by creating for themselves a new kind of country, on whose citizens would select themselves out of the world's nations. The European tribes, whom the Church had nurtured into nationhood, wanted to become the New Israel in their own tribal skin; the Protestant radicals sought rather to adopt individuals into a new chosen people in a new promised land. ...The Europeans were not content with adoption into Israel; they wanted to replace Israel. And they themselves became the god that failed. The Americans chose to build a City on the Hill that would select--in parallel to the Christian idea of conversion--individuals who wished to become part of it.
Europe, in loving their idolatry of nation descended into a kind of paganism, and that paganism, as all pagan gods do, failed. They have lost faith in their vision, and indeed in themselves, and they are dying--through indifference, concentration on frivolousness, and unwillingness to raise children.

This brings me to the crucial issue for which Goldman, through his brilliant arguments, has changed my mind: that of the nation-building efforts on the part of the United States and our battle against Islamic terrorism and its patronage states. Since the beginning, I've always rejected the argument that Iraq and Afghanistan were incapable of democracy. During the post World War II project in which the United States engaged in democratizing Germany and Japan, opponents had argued that they too were incapable of democracy, but men whose work and opinion I respected, such as Natan Sharansky and Fouad Ajami, pointed out that those projects had succeeded and there was no reason these would not succeed as well. Yet, the real question, from Goldman's perspective, is not whether they can become democracies, but whether they can adopt the American model of democracy, for as he says:
It seems pointless to argue whether the American political model is better or worse than any other. It's the world's only successful model.
Germany and Japan may have adopted a form of democracy and become peaceful allies, but they rejected the core of the American model:
America destroyed the German and Japanese delusions of racial superiority and their hopes of empire, and offered them instead a modest position in the world under the wing of American power. It appears that Germans and Japanese don't breed in captivity. Having lost their Christianity to nationalism, and lost their nationalism to losing, the Europeans do not appear to want to be much of anything…humiliated cultures turn sterile and pass out of memory.
The point is, they may have taken on democracy, but they are nevertheless doomed to self-extinction. And the same fate awaits the Islamic nations to which we have committed so much of American treasure.

Where Germany and Japan had worshiped a "god who failed" in the form nationalism and dreams of empire predicated on racial superiority, it is the character of the Islamic god which presents an insurmountable barrier to the American model:
In the American founding, the biblical concept of Covenant undergirds individual rights, for these are granted irrevocably to every member of society by a God who limits his own power as an act of grace…Muslim theology leads to a radically different concept, for an absolutely transcendent God leaves no room at all for the individual.

So what does Goldman advocate we do in dealing with these doomed states and the non-state jihadist entities, and our foreign policy overall? He starts off this way:
America should seek alliances with states that in some way approximate its own exceptional character--in other words, that love what we love--employing our good offices to help them succeed after our fashion. And we should isolate and contain the maleficent influences of states that, repudiating our principles, love other things.
He goes on to clarify this strategy in 6 ways: 1, cut our losses and remove the bulk of our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan with the exception of deterring Iran's encroachment on Iraqi oil fields and special forces to assist friendly local forces. 2, prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons--at all costs. 3, deploy our ground forces to neutralize threats to our security--destroy our enemies, not build the societies of other countries. 4, abandon balance-of-power politics in south Asia in favor of building strong alliances with our natural allies, such as India (not Pakistan). 5, engage China in rivalry without hostility. 6, Russia, he sees as a particularly difficult case with its move to once again obtain control over its former Soviet rein of influence. America's attempts at supporting freedom movements within Kyrgyzstan and the Ukraine have failed, but it's essential that we make clear to Russia that "Poland is a Western nation that must remain secure under the wing of American friendship, and that no form of intimidation will be tolerated."

What do I take away from this? I believe our military actions in Afghanistan and Iraq were absolutely necessary for the punishment and containment of these terrorist-supporting states in the wake of the 9-11 attack, but I now see the folly of our nation-building enterprise--in the long view it is doomed and a tragic waste of blood and treasure. So in this respect I have moved a long way toward the view held by John Derbyshire and, toward the end of his life, William Buckley Jr.

To those who are intrigued by these arguments, as well as those who remain skeptical, I urge you to read this important book and evaluate Mr. Goldman's full case as I'm sure my synopsis of them are sadly inadequate in doing them justice.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Wordsmithing, part 9

justice 1. Moral rightness; equity. 2. Honor; fairness. 3. Good reason. 4. Fair handling; due reward or treatment. 5. The administration and procedure of the law.

It has become fashionable, on the part of the political left and within elements of liberal Christianity over the last few decades to use the word justice with two different modifiers in front of it: social justice, and now with increasing frequency (especially in the statements of the "Occupy Wall Street" mob and their apologists in the press), economic justice. This is leading to a fundamental--and drastic--change in the meaning of the word. This is closely tied to the transition occurring in the meaning of the word equality in popular usage (more on this later).

The traditional sense of fairness or equity embedded in the word justice can be clearly illustrated in the symbol of justice that decorates courthouses across this country: lady justice, standing with a set of scales in one hand to measure the issue in question, and a sword in her other hand with which to dispense punishment; but most notably, and the key to its concept of fairness, she is blindfolded. She cannot see those who petition her. Are they old or young, male or female, beautiful or ugly, rich or poor? She cannot see, and therefore she cannot allow partiality due to those attributes and conditions to influence her decision. This was the central, and indeed indispensable characteristic of justice that has informed the system of law in the United States since its founding. It has a long pedigree; we can find its origins in the Torah:
You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. (Leviticus 19:15 ESV)
To understand how this is changing in much of the popular consciousness one only has to see that the two modifiers that are being used make the word justice effectively function as a euphemism for equality of result. Seen in this light the endless complaints by the left about the "gap" between the highest and lowest income quintiles in the US become clear: it's the fact of unequal result between the rich and poor that they are labeling "unjust".

To whatever degree that the left decries unequal processes in society or economics, I and--I believe most other conservatives--agree with them, for that is the traditional understanding of justice--equality of process. For instance, the one topic on which the Occupy Wall Street crowd and the TEA Partiers (and I as well) agree is on the subject of crony Capitalism. I believe passionately in free markets, but I would argue that crony Capitalism is not free markets and indeed not Capitalism at all, but rather an exercise of government control over markets, a condition of government deciding (rather than the buyer and seller) who shall win and who shall lose in the market place. As I told my best friend on the phone yesterday in discussing this, we have a word for this: it's called Fascism.

Unfortunately, I hear little more than lip service from the left on the subject of crony Capitalism as evidenced by to whom they complain and to whom they focus their vitriol. Crony Capitalism can only exist through the ascent and active participation of government, therefore all--that is 100%--of the demand for its end should be directed to government. And yet it's not. Typically all of the left's bile and criticism is directed toward business and the banking and investment industries. Capitalism itself becomes the villain in the story they tell. And rather than calling for less government interference and manipulation, they demand ever more, apparently viewing government as the agent by which they can achieve the equality of result for which they yearn.

And this brings me to the redefinition of the word equality occurring in tandem with justice. Equality, as an American value, always meant equality of process. Obviously when Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence that "...all men are created equal," he did not mean that all men are the same height and have the same physical strength, but that the law would regard them as though they did. This governing principle ruled in American thought, just as in the Torah, that the American government would not "be partial to the poor or defer to the great" but treat everyone, regardless of their gifts or deficiencies...equally. But now, through the efforts of the left, many are changing their understanding of both justice and equality to mean--in varying degrees--equality of result. The tragedy of this is that it undermines the heart of the American value system, which principle value, I would argue, is liberty. For the only way that government can achieve even a measure of equality of result is to violate both the traditional concepts of liberty and also the traditional concept of equality by treating different classes of people--young and old, male and female, racial minorities and majorities, rich and poor--differently. The two concepts of these words are mutually exclusive and require the polar opposite of government actions. Traditional justice and equality required an equal standard and an equal process regardless of race, class, or sex. Equality of result requires differing standards and processes by government in an effort to level the outcome.

If the left wins this battle of words, if they are successful in redefining these concepts at the core of the American way, we may find ourselves no longer "the land of the free and home of the brave" but may instead be known as the "land of the fair and home of the same."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Inevitable ad hominem

The picture above, posted on a friends Facebook wall, became the subject of a debate between a few of us middle-aged conservatives and a young woman who is participating in the "Occupy" Portland group. I thought it might be interesting to share the debate with everyone in this more permanent forum. Here's how it went:

Frances Smith Entitlement attitude is so engrained in so many in this country anymore it's bleeding the U.S. to death. Couple that with so many with minds unwilling/unable to THINK their way out of a paper bag, it's a deadly combination. Whatever happened to pride in oneself? My dad, his generation and those before them, were so fiercely independent the ideas of handouts was nearly foreign, completely unacceptable. Then LBJ and the Great Society...................​......we sure wound up with a great society.

Val Renata Occupy Wall Street isn't about handouts. It's about stopping the Elite from bribing politicians. It's about economic injustices that are committed against the people in a multitude of ways. IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT WELFARE! What's bleeding this country dry are the wars and a corrupt government. Our country doesn't need anymore opposition. We need to join together and fight for what's right. If helping poor people get medical and food is wrong then I wanna be wrong. If helping disabled people get an education then ditto, If helping Seniors with living expenses and medical, ditto.If helping kids get an education when that's all they got? Ditto. I will NEVER agree to ANYMORE CORPORATE WELFARE. This world is so backwards that they think that giving money to banks is going to help the poor!!??? WTF? How backwards is that?

Me I, as a conservative, agree completely that corporate welfare needs to stop. However, the TARP bailout was not a gift to the banks, it was a loan, almost all of which has been paid back in full, with interest. TARP was an emergency effort to keep the entire financial industry from collapsing, and it--arguably--succeeded in that regard. The 900 billion dollar stimulus, however, was pure giant government folly and political favoritism. The lion's share of the stimulus went to state and big city governments as political payoffs to help fill the massive budget shortfalls they were experiencing and forstall public employee layoffs. The role of American government, as conceived by its founders (and enumerated in the preamble of the Constitution), was limited to law, law enforcement, defense, and general welfare--which means only things that benefit ALL citizens (such as roads, libraries, parks, etc.), not classes or subsets of citizens (such as the elderly or racial minorities). Government perverts the market economy, the banking system, and the education system in almost every aspect that it intrudes in those systems. Higher education has become as expensive as it has *because* of government money flowing to it: tuition has raised dollar for government supplied dollar, for instance. The mortgage industry's collapse is due to government regulation, not the lack of it. Subprime loans were invented by the industry as a way of satisfying government requirements to give loans to borrowers who could not meet traditional lending criteria, and the tacit understanding that the quasi-government institutions of Fanny Mae and Freddy Mac would cover catastrophic losses encouraged the lenders (with very real approval of federal regulators and congressmen like Barney Frank and Chris Dodd) to take greater and great risks and leverage at higher and higher levels. So I find it fatuously absurd that the OCWS crowd, who purport themselves to be anarchists (in other words, those who should want little to no government) are demanding a completely government take-over of massively more of our lives: our education, our banking, our health care, our businesses, our very market economy--all to be completely and utterly controlled by...GOVERNMENT.

Val Renata It didn't work to bail out the banks because they did NOTHING to help the economy. I don't want to argue with you but please look beyond your conservative agenda and do the research in areas that are not controlled by the right wing media. Thank you. btw, the mortgage industry collapsed due to unregulated banking practices. do the research, please...

Timothy Ley Actually Dodd and Schumer (Dem Congressmen) put through a "fairness" act that made the banks loan to people that didn't meet the standard requirements. Not enough "people of color" and minorities could qualify for loans. Once the requirements were lifted, yes, LOTS of people and banks took advantage of the new laws. Look to where it started! I have the research. Prepare yourself to provide a valuable service. Get paid to do quality work. Save and save. Buy a house with money that you EARNED. No problems. It is not about "fairness", it is about equal opportunity and sound business principles.

Val Renata Actually it IS about fairness. We are fighting ECONOMIC INJUSTICE. Banks should never be allowed to commit fraud and illegally foreclose on people. They were bailed out primarily to help the Real Estate crash. You know the HAMP program? But they didn't help. They didn't do loan modifications as they said they would. Only 4% of the people underwater on their mortgages got help from HAMP. Now they are demolishing the homes that they foreclosed on. How did that help anyone? In fact the banks only hurt their bottom line by being so ruthless. They lied to and cheated all of us. There are millions of people that have lost their homes and millions more to come. They are not losers or bad people. Nor are they sucking off the government teat. They lost their jobs after the crash. The crash that was due to the banks and their illegal practices on Wall Street. I suggest that you go here and do a little research. http://livinglies.wordpres​ and herehttp://www.democracynow.or​g/ And kill your television which feeds you the Fox News propaganda cyanide, before it's too late.

Me ‎1. It most certainly helped the economy to make the TARP loans to the banks. The equation is as follows: without banks there is no money to loan to businesses=without money loaned to businesses there are no businesses=without businesses there are no jobs. ‎2. My *conservative agenda* is to renew and preserve the United States government conceived and created by its founders: a government that secures the rights given by God, that protects private property, that administrates equality of process--not equality of result (the two are mutually exclusive), that is limited in the spirit of Thomas Jefferson when he said, "government governs best which governs least." ...what is your agenda? 3. What fraud and illegal foreclosure are you talking about? When a borrower fails to pay back the money secured against a property, the lender has the legal right to foreclose. You say the banks lied and cheated: how? I'll grant you that they made a lot of stupid loans based on a business model doomed to fail. But they didn't think it was going to fail, and obviously the federal regulators didn't think it was going to fail either because they sanctioned their goofy leverage ratios, mortgage-backed securities, and default swaps that were supposed to dilute the risk. When loan officers told borrowers they could take these ridiculous 110%, no-down, sub-prime and interest only loans with no worries because in 2 or 3 years they could just refinance to a conventional loan on the appreciated value of the property, they weren't lying. That actually worked, over and over again, for several years...until one day it didn't work anymore. But it wasn't a lie, it was just stupid; and it was a stupidity that almost the entire world economy bought into. 4. I rarely if ever watch Fox news, or any TV news for that matter. And I certainly don't read flame-throwing blogs that make wild assertions unsupported by any hard data or attributions. I read. I read books. I read books on economics, monetary theory, history, philosophy, political science, etc., such as Basic Economics, Applied Economics, Knowledge and Decisions, Economic Fact and Fallacies, Cosmic Justice (by Thomas Sowell), Free To Choose (by Milton Friedman), The Forgotten Man (a history of the Great Depression by Amity Schlaes), Slouching Toward Gomorrah (by Robert Bork), Liberal Fascism (by Jonah Goldberg), and Wealth and Poverty (by George Gilder). Cheers.

Val Renata​m/2009/11/20/tarp-saved-ba​nking-system-but-failed-at​-everything-else-expert/

Me Val, the article you linked was written almost 2 years ago. Here's something a little more current:​/2011/03/16/treasury-99-of​-tarp-paid-back. The additional goals, such as forestalling house foreclosures, etc., were always--I would contend--rhetorical devices to help sell the thing to congress, never the original intent by its architects, Geitner & Paulson. TARP was a hideous desperate act of government to prevent the complete collapse of our economy. I hated it then, and I hate it now. It goes against everything I understand about economic and monetary policy--but it was probably necessary as a government fix to a problem created by government: not a lack of regulation as so many like to say, but rather the *wrong* regulation. (If it was a lack of regulation then why did so many countries in Europe, where there is much more banking regulation than in the US, fall into the same trap?) And there are economists whom I greatly respect--principle among them Thomas Sowell--who argue that TARP was completely unnecessary. I hope he's right and we never make such a government intervention again. But it's something of a moot point now. It's done. It's paid back. As for the housing market, there is only one solution. Prices must adjust to a real market value. Housing all over the country had vastly inflated due to a constellation of reasons: a frenzy of turnover, over building, rising land costs from policies such as urban growth boundaries, but most of all due to the perversion of the entire economy due to the Federal Reserve keeping interest rates ridiculously low--for *years*. No one could make money on money anymore. The only thing going up was property, so financial instruments like mortgaged-backed securities were created, and everybody bought into them--including countries (see Iceland, and the Eastern European states). As these prices adjust to reality, everybody hurts. But there's no hope for it. I ought to know. I lost a house I had lived in and sank my money and sweat into for 15 years. I lost, but the bank lost too. The only thing that saved me from bankruptcy was a last minute short-sale in which the second lender had to write-off a substantial amount of the loan. Government money can put it off for a while, but it's only prolonging the inevitable. Eventually the piper must be paid: prices must adjust to the real market. Treasury: 99% of TARP investments paid back « HousingWire

Randall Elliott (my friend who made the post that started the debate) THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for keeping this debate civil! It is good to see you folks bring your data to the table for evaluation. This is the way it is suppose to be done and I commend you, specifically Tim, Val and Don since you come from different angles. Keep it up! If nothing else, we can get better clarity on the issues, even if all we can do in the end is have a clearer direction to vote and better questions to ask our reps at the Town Hall meetings.

Timothy Ley ll parties participated in. It is a huge minority of homeowners that are loosing their house due to job loss. Many took iss advised adjustable (fully legal) loans and re-fis. It is actually moral if they are in trouble due to their own actions that they cannot perform. Tragic for many, but moral. I personally counselled many to NOT take those loans for these very reasons, yert nearly all did. And I am well aware of the modifications that haven't taken place. A huge part of that is not the banks fault- read the studies associated there....

Val Renata You are sadly misinformed sheep. READ THE LAW: Contract law and International Accounting law. What Wall Street and the Bankers did was illegal. If you know so much then you should've read about this and been outraged. So there is no sense in talking any further to you because you are not digging deep enough into what they've done and you are obviously a cold, selfish person who doesn't stand for the truth. End of conversation.

Me And...there we go. I suspected this would happen eventually. When someone can no longer argue an issue, he or she will often recourse to ad hominem: attacking and impuning the character or motives of his or her adversary. Notice the formulation: "I don't need to defend my position to you because you are a bad person." Also notice that Val fails to actually cite any statutes or law, but commands us to read contract law and (sic) *international accounting law*. Despite the fact that pundits of leftist orientation often use the term "international law", there is in reality, no such thing. Laws are created by law-making bodies--legislatures--and until the nations of the earth abdicate their national sovereignty to a world government, no such *international* law-making body exists. What gets dubbed as international law is in reality treaties between countries. I've never heard of an accounting treaty. Considering that so many on the left actually start their arguments against conservatives by condemning us as bad people, I suppose I should be grateful that it took Val this long...and yet I'm not.

Timothy Ley I see that only 1/2 of my last comment made it on-sorry! Bottom line, Both the banks and borrowers let greed get the best of them. Banks made ill advised loans (prompted by Dodd and Schumer). Profits were huge and overrode their business sense. Borrowers refinanced out of greed, getting more than their homes were worth- and they knew it! And then bought boats, 2nd homes, huge remodels... Val- the banks mostly lost their butts in this and many are now gone! Borrowers also lost because they took loans that there was no way they could repay. When you don't pay on your loan, you loose your collateral AND what you bought. You would do the same if you were the lender. Personal responsibility matters. Consequences to bad behavior matters. And this cold, selfish sheep has spent his lifetime helping people reclaim and restore after bad situations.

Val Renata I recognize your desire to be right. I've been there. I also recognize the plight of millions of people who are suffering not because they could afford their mortgages. The very people that are foreclosing on them are the ones who rigged the game they got caught up in. Until you stand up for what's right YOU ARE THE PROBLEM! You are obviously sittin; pretty. And sorry I don't believe you when you say you help people. It just doesn't ring true. If you cared you would have joined the Occupations. To quote a very GREAT MAN: "If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor " - Desmond Tutu.

Randall Elliott Well, it was fun while it lasted (dammit). Val, you do not know anything about Tim or Don, and you are dead wrong about them both sitting pretty. Therefore: "Liberal" resorts to an ad hominem attack and looses this round. Point goes to "Conservative". Sorry, cuz. Try again when you can present your data and not your prejudice.

Here are some further thoughts on this short debate:
1. Ms. Renata seldom actually addressed points made by myself or the other writers, but relied on blanket or categorical statements:"It's not just about welfare!", " is about fairness. We are fighting economic injustice.", "The crash that was due to the banks and their illegal practices on Wall Street.", etc.
2. Even at the beginning of the discussion, she verged on personal accusation: "Our country doesn't need anymore opposition. We need to join together and fight for what's right.", "...please look beyond your conservative agenda and do the research in areas that are not controlled by the right wing media."
3. She made references that were completely irrelevant to the discussion: "...kill your television which feeds you the Fox News propaganda cyanide, before it's too late.", "I recognize your desire to be right. I've been there."

I've written before about the lefts' propensity for vilification and straw-man argument instead of honest debate or even disagreement, but this was instructive to see it in action on a personal level. But I admit to being disheartened by the experience, and left wondering how we can ever hope to even clarify what our disagreements are if one side simply refuses to argue their case in lieu of sloganeering, condemnation, and self-righteous dismissal.