Mandatory Accounts Are Not Private: Freedom Updates: August 24, 2006

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Freedom Updates: August 24, 2006

by Ari Armstrong

Mandatory Accounts Are Not Private:
O'Donnell Essay Search: Day 15

I first requested a copy of Rick O'Donnell's 1995 essay, "For Freedom's Sake, Eliminate Social Security," on August 9. O'Donnell's campaign still hasn't sent me a copy, and I haven't been able to track one down elsewhere. I reviewed O'Donnell's positions on Social Security on August 9. A week later I described my fruitless hunt for the essay.

If any reader has a copy of the essay or knows where it might be found, I would appreciate the information.

One reader and I got into an e-mail debate about whether O'Donnell's old position may accurately be described merely as eliminating Social Security. I argued that, despite the title of the essay, it is crucial to mention the change that O'Donnell advocated. Specifically, he called for a "mandatory, private savings scheme," according to the Rocky Mountain News, which obtained a copy of the essay from O'Donnell.

I argued via e-mail: "If the only two positions on the table are Social Security (with or without minor 'fixes') and mandatory, regulated accounts, then either way we're stuck with a retirement scheme run by the national government. The option then NOT on the table is to leave individuals free to spend or invest their income as they see fit, on a free market, 'regulated' only by the legal protection of individual rights... I reject BOTH O'Donnell's old position AND his new position."

Similarly, I argued, if someone claimed, "We should eliminate minimum wage laws," we'd have to evaluate what the speaker wanted instead. "If the speaker wants to replace minimum wage laws with full-blown Communism in which there is no money and everybody receives goods according to need, that means something considerably different than if the speaker wants a free market in labor contracting."

I concluded, "[W]hat is relevant is not simply that somebody calls for the elimination of this or that; what's of crucial importance is what the person wants to replace it with. Replacing Social Security with mandatory accounts (O'Donnell's old position) is fundamentally different than phasing out Social Security and replacing it with liberty (my position). Yet the left purposely obscures the distinction and totally ignores even the possibility of economic liberty (as does the right)."

Okay, granted the reader, O'Donnell used to want to "privatize" Social Security. Ugh. As I wrote in 2004, "[M]andatory, regulated accounts are not part of the free market. They are not 'privatization,' if that term means letting workers control their own money. Mandatory, regulated accounts are the opposite of free markets and real privatization."

Quite simply, if national politicians and bureaucrats force us to invest a certain amount of our money and control (to a greater or lesser extent) how we invest that money, then the money is not under our "private" control. Yet left and right alike pretend that control of our money by the national government is somehow "privatization."

Yes, and war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.


Ellis Challenges Benefield

I happen to live in House District 29, currently held by Democrat Debbie Benefield. Her challenger this year is Affie Ellis. I thought I'd briefly compare flyers I've received for them.

Incredibly, a flyer supportive of Benefield distributed by Main Street Colorado (a group funded by I know not whom) claims that the politician "is keeping special interests away from the public trough."

Oh, really? Benefield scored a whopping 8 percent on the Colorado Union of Taxpayers' 2005 legislative ratings. Out of 25 bills tracked by CUT, Benefield voted against taxpayers 23 times. (Ratings for this year are not yet available online.)

Fighting "special interests," according to the flyer, includes further socializing medicine and interfering with labor contracting. Benefield, the flyer claims, "Shifted money away from corporate welfare so we could strengthen early childhood education. (HB06-1375)." Because, apparently, businesses that want welfare are "special interests," but parents who want welfare are not. (In fact, both sorts of welfare increased.)

Benefield also "Stood up to Big Oil by voting for tougher penalties against price gouging at the pump. (HB06-1251)." Because apparently oil companies (usually, actually, independently owned small businesses) are "special interests," but populists and leftists ignorant of economics are not.

If a "special interest" includes anyone interested in politics, then there's nothing inherently bad about it. I am especially interested in establishing individual rights, for instance. Businesses that spend money to protect themselves from political exploitation are acting morally.

But the flyer that supports Benefield blows up any coherent meaning of the term. In the limited sense, a "special interest" is a group that seeks political favoritism (or engages in "rent seeking," to use the peculiar term from Public Choice economics). Under that standard meaning, Benefield is the representative of, by, and for special interests.

Would Ellis be any better? It's difficult to tell from her flyer. "I will work hard to improve access to healthcare [by what means?], keep our communities safe [how?] and guarantee that every child receives an education [under what institutions?] that prepares them for their future [how?]." (Call me old fashioned, but I believe one goal of schools should be to convince children not to mix singular nouns with plural pronouns.) [September 13 update: Ralph Shnelvar suggested to me that Shakespeare used "they" as a singular pronoun. I performed a Google search, and, sure enough, the usage is more common than I'd thought.]

Ellis "worked as a policy advisor in the U.S. Senate where she was a strong advocate for limiting government [to what functions?], lowering taxes [what about spending?] and creating a positive climate for business growth [which consists of what?]."

Ellis would defend "small businesses [what about big ones?] to help preserve and create more jobs [by what means?]."

It's always fun to see the Republicans play the multicultural game. Ellis is "a full-blooded Navajo." Her web page reports that she "was the first in her family to graduate from college where she studied Political Science and American Indian issues." While this doesn't seem bothersome, it did occur to me that no candidate would dare put something on a flyer along the lines of, "full-blooded German."

So, after reading Ellis's flyer, I know her genetic background, which is totally irrelevant. What I do not know is where she stands on individual rights. Apparently that is a concept as foreign to Republicans as it is to Democrats.


Peikoff's Opus

I read Leonard Peikoff's Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, many years ago. Having just completed it again, I am shocked by how little I understood of it the first time through. It's a magnificent book. Though Peikoff is often maligned -- and I too sometimes jumped on the bandwagon blaring against him -- I realize now that his work is solid and the criticism against him often takes the form of groundless smear.

I got two main things out of my recent reading. First, I realized just how deeply (and scarily) I had allowed myself to fall into pragmatism in my younger years. I increasingly understand the meaning and importance of thinking in principles, especially moral principles. Second, I finally started to get a handle on what it means for human life to be the standard of moral value, though I'm still confused about some of the technical details.

Part of the process of understanding the philosophy is understanding its structure. The more I understand of that structure, the more that libertarian claims of a morally-groundless "liberty" strike me as absurd.

Obviously I cannot attempt a complete review of Peikoff's book in this space. I will, however, quote a passage that illustrates how the book, which came out in 1991, reads as though it were just published. Keep in mind Bush's expansion of welfare and economic controls, along with state-level tax increases, smoking bans, and corporate welfare, all led by Republicans:

[T]he conservatives... pretend to be defenders of "free enterprise" or "the American way of life" while spreading the opposite ideas and laws...

Precisely because of their pretense, the conservatives are morally lower than the liberals; they are farther removed from reality -- and, therefore, they are more harmful in practice. Since they purport to be fighting "big government," they are the main source of political confusion in the public mind; they give people the illusion of an electoral alternative without the fact. Thus the statist drift proceeds unchecked and unchallenged.

Historically, from the Sherman Act to Herbert Hoover to the [first] Bush Administration, it is the conservatives, not the leftists, who have always been the major destroyers of the United States.

Congratulations, Devotchka, on Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine is the sort of movie that I never would have seen, based only on a verbal description. But, given the outstanding cast, the intriguing trailer, some positive reviews from friends, and -- significantly -- the music of the local band Devotchka, my wife and I gave it a try.

If you've never heard of Devotchka, you owe it to yourself to give the group's music a try. Currently the group's web page features a couple of of the group's slower, soulful tunes; I suggest you also try some of the more rockin' tracks. Offhand, my favorite song is "The Enemy Guns," from the album How It Ends. You might also try "Death by Blonde" from Una Volta. (Those are the group's two most important albums, which happen to be available through iTunes.)

While I appreciate the composition of the music, I'm taken by the musicianship. It's a very talented group. Having once tried my hand at the violin, I'm especially impressed by Tom Hagerman, who not only plays violin beautifully but sports a mean accordion.

I would have guessed that I would dislike Devotchka, with its "gypsy" and Eastern-European influences, as I would dislike Little Miss Sunshine, with its dysfunctional family. Yet I like both of them, and it's fitting that they intertwined. (I hope that the soundtrack contributes to Devotchka's future success.) Both the film and the band manage to turn their troublesome starting matter into something fun and even joyous.

Little Miss Sunshine starts with a grandfather who swears profusely and snorts heroin, a father who fails as a motivational speaker, a son who reads Nietzsche and refuses to speak, and an uncle who tried to kill himself. The mother persuades the family to drive from New Mexico to California so that the daughter can participate in the "Little Miss Sunshine" beauty pageant. (Watching the segments of the pageant was surreal, with the Ramsey murder back in the news.)

I don't want to give too much away, but part of the time I was laughing hysterically, with tears in my eyes, because the film was at once so funny and painful. Despite everything you might expect to go wrong with the film (and there's a lot to criticize), it manages to end on a bright note.

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