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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Post's Push Poll

The Denver Post's online polls often are silly, but one from April 28 is especially ridiculous:

Did you observe Earth Day?
Absolutely - Every day is Earth Day
Yes - Took part, vowed to live greener
Sort of - Accidentally got involved this year
No - Meant to, but didn't
Never - Don't believe in climate change

Of the five responses, the first four imply support for the motives and political goals of Earth Day, while the last response describes a position that no actual person holds.

The Post would be hard pressed to find a single person who does not "believe in climate change." Anyone with at least an elementary education understands that, in the past, the earth's average temperature has alternated between ice ages and warming periods.

The three main issues in contention are these: does global warming pose a significant problem within the coming decades, is modern global warming significantly impacted by human behavior, and what, if anything, should be done about it?

For what it's worth, here's my reply to the Post's poll: "No, because I disagree with the environmentalist movement's bias against human industry and its advocacy of socialistic reforms."


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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Insecure Property Rights Brings Conflict

We allow local politicians to arbitrarily redefine property use, and then we wonder why this causes problems. Daniel J. Chacon writes for the Rocky Mountain News:

After a nearly 10-hour meeting that ended just after 3 a.m. today, the City Council approved a rezoning that will prevent the construction of duplexes and other multifamily dwellings in two northwest Denver neighborhoods.

The council voted 10-2 to rezone 53 acres in West Highland and 62 acres in Sloan’s Lake from R-2 to R-1, putting an end to so-called scrape-off redevelopments to make room for higher density multiple-unit properties.

Council members Charlie Brown and Jeanne Faatz voted in opposition. Though they raised several concerns with the proposal, both said the issue boiled down to property rights.

The dissenting council members are correct that arbitrarily changing property rules violates rights, but the fundamental problem is not the change in zoning but the zoning controls themselves. Arbitrarily zoning to allow higher density use is just as incompatible with property rights.

It is a sad state when, in America, people think they own their neighbors' property as well as their own. Yet that is the mentality manifest and propagated by zoning controls. Land ownership is to a significant degree a socialistic endeavor.

What is the alternative? The proper default position is that the first-in-time user acquires rights in the used property, but not in any adjacent property, except insofar as use of adjacent property interferes with the original use. For example, if you build a ranch in an open frontier, you have the right to own and operate the ranch, but you don't own the entire frontier or the open land not directly associated with the ranch. If somebody moves in next door, you have no right to control that property unless the new neighbor directly interferes with your operation of your ranch -- for instance, if your neighbor opens a plant that poisons your land.

First-in-time property allows for voluntary communal rights. For example, if you want to set up a commune on an open (or purchased) piece of property, compete with common ownership within the commune, you have that right. Though the language of a "private commune" is odd, it is apt in the sense that the commune is privately held by a particular group of people.

I live in a Homeowner's Association (HOA) in which all of the outdoor property is owned in common and use of indoor property is restricted by covenant. The sort of complex in which I live simply could not operate without such an arrangement (though it does fall into problems typical of collective ownership. I have speculated that federal housing policy drives such property away from an apartment model to a condominium model, but regardless HOAs are permissible in a free market).

If you want to maintain partial ownership rights over your neighbors' property, then you should buy into an HOA. Alternately, a group of neighbors could, by unanimous consent, create an HOA.

Aside from HOAs and conflicts of prior rights, you do not own your neighbor's property and should not have the ability to control it. Real property rights are not subject to majority rule or the whims of petty politicians.

Insecure property rights necessarily breeds conflict.

Chacon continues:

About 130 people testified at the two hearings, and at least twice that many showed up to listen. The huge turnout -- and the divisiveness of the issue -- prompted council members to call on sheriff’s deputies to keep a close eye on the hearings.

The zoning changes, which go into effect in January 2009, created ill feelings among divided neighbors. ...

Supporters said the increased density from the multiple-unit structures was ruining the character of the two neighborhoods, which are comprised of predominately single-family detached homes.

The outcropping of multifamily structures has cast shadows on gardens, increased traffic and created parking wars, among other quality of life issues, they said. ...

But opponents said the rezoning infringes on their property rights and would hobble the redevelopment they say has revitalized the neighborhoods.

Todd Silverman said he bought in the area 10 years ago for several reasons, including the "potential the zoning would afford."

It's unfair that now "certain people want to take away those property rights," he said.

Realtor Susan Pearce agreed. She also said the rezoning could lead to higher housing costs.

You do not own the roads (though someone should), and thus you do not own traffic rights. You have the right to park your car on any property that you own or rent, but not on property that does not belong to you.

The matter of sunlight access (similar to the matter of scenic views) is a trickier one. While it is conceivable that a new user could block another's sunlight in such a way as to significantly impede the original use, I have never heard of such a case. If you buy property in an urban setting, you're hardly counting on unimpeded sunlight for your livelihood. The notion that a partial "shadow" on one's garden may constitute a violation of property rights seems pretty silly. An HOA can properly control such things, but otherwise the owner should be able to determine use. Of course, you are welcome to purchase your neighbor's land -- or an easement on that land -- in order to preserve your views or prevent shadowing.

Defining property rights is no trivial matter, particularly when it involves such things as moving water and air. Yet property rights can be securely defined through objective laws and the courts. A mark of secure property rights is that they cannot be overturned by vote.

To a large degree, property rights have been subverted by zoning controls. The inevitable result is the sort of conflict and injustice seen in these Denver neighborhoods.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Tax-Subsidized Recreation Brings Conflict

The following article originally appeared in Grand Junction's Free Press.

April 28, 2008

Fruita rec center another zero-sum game

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

In our last article, we discussed Barack Obama's confusion about zero-sum games, situations in which one person's gain comes at another's loss. Michelle Obama perfectly summarizes the zero-sum mentality (as reported by Neal Boortz[via Myrhaf):

"The truth is, in order to get things like universal health care and a revamped education system, then someone is going to have to give up a piece of their pie so that someone else can have more."

We don't think that people's pies, or their pay checks, belong to national politicians. Or to local politicians, for that matter.

A defining characteristic of a free market is that people are able to make mutually-beneficial transactions. One person's gain is the other person's gain.

A fun place to view the workings of the free market is Down Town Grand Junction during Farmers Market. But even here the invisible hand that Adam Smith talked about can go unnoticed. We do not see the thousands of exchanges of goods and services that came before a single apple could be sold at the Farmers Market. Breeding, planting, irrigation, fertilizer, tractors, haulers -- the list goes on and on -- made possible the apples we buy at market.

The free market system is beautiful to see, so why would anyone want to upset the apple cart?

Farmer John's apple cart competes with other apple carts and also, to an extent, with many other businesses. If we buy apples, we have less money to spend elsewhere. Yet if Farmer John offers quality apples at a good price, he'll make sales.

Now imagine that, one day, Farmer John notices a new apple cart across the street, one run by the government. The latest freeze was less frightening. These apples are subsidized by taxpayers, whether they eat the apples or not. Because the government forces people to subsidize its apples, Farmer John suddenly faces lost sales and, perhaps, bankruptcy.

Moreover, because people lose more money to taxation, they have less to spend with the lemonade stand, the dance teacher, and so on, who in turn have less money to spend for goods and services that they want.

The government's apples are seen, as Henry Hazlitt would say, whereas all the goods that are not produced, and all the services that are not offered, are unseen.

Subsidized apples are an example of a zero-sum game. Some people's gain -- the employees and customers of the government's subsidized apple cart -- imposes a loss on others -- Farmer John and everyone else who loses business.

True, there are winners and losers in a free market, but the difference is that, in a free market, exchanges are voluntary, so the losers are those who fail to satisfy their customers; the system remains one of positive gains. In zero-sum politics, the resources of some are forcibly transfered to others, creating a net loss.

Substitute a recreation center for an apple cart and we arrive in Fruita, notably a town that did not get its name from government-run fruit production.

Recently the people of Fruita voted on a measure to use tax dollars to build a city-owned recreation center. The measure failed on a tie vote.

This issue has divided the community of Fruita, and this is not surprising. Half of the community is willing to use governmental force, ultimately at the point of a gun, on their neighbors to build the center. (If our claim strikes you as overly dramatic, try writing a letter explaining that you choose not to pay your taxes, and see what happens to you.)

Is a recreation center a good idea for Fruita? We don't know. If it is, then it will be profitable on a free market. Those who want the center can raise the capital, build the facility, offer the services, and pay for it all by charging their customers (or collecting voluntary donations). Just like any other business.

But if the recreation center cannot be built without government force, it shouldn't be built at all. The government has no more business offering recreational services than it does selling fruit. The government should not subsidize some people's pet recreational activities at the expense of movie theaters, dance instructors, ski slopes, Boy and Girl Scouts, restaurants, 4H, tour guides, outdoors stores, rafting companies, and so on.

Even a small tax can have large effects when spread out over a city's population. Moreover, a government that can forcibly transfer a little wealth can forcibly transfer a lot of wealth. A few dollars here, a few dollars there, and suddenly the total tax burden approaches half our income. Families that would rather spend their money on an ice cream cone or put it toward the college fund, rather than toward a recreation center, have that right.

Zero-sum politics diminishes neighborly trust because it harms some to benefit others. The alternative is the positive-sum, voluntary free market.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

Apocalyptic Environmentalism

Ronald Bailey recently made some interesting comparisons between environmentalism and evangelical Christianity:

Environmentalism arose as a movement just a few years before the Moral Majority, with an end-of-the-world undercurrent that harked back to the millenarian sects of the Second Great Awakening. Green millenarians do not expect a wrathful God to end the corrupt world in a rain of fire; instead, humanity will die by its own gluttonous, polluting hand.

Such apocalyptic visions were limned in Rachel Carson's 1962 book Silent Spring, which predicted massive cancer epidemics as a result of chemical contamination of the environment. Paul Ehrlich asserted in his 1968 book The Population Bomb that in the 1970s "hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now." And the Club of Rome's 1972 report The Limits to Growth announced the imminent, catastrophic depletion of nonrenewable resources. ... The Harvard biologist George Wald estimated that "civilization will end within 15 or 30 years unless immediate action is taken against problems facing mankind." Even the staid New York Times editorial page warned of the human species' "possible extinction." It wasn’t so far from the evangelists' fears of a literal Armageddon, embodied in books like Hal Lindsey's best-selling The Late Great Planet Earth (1970).

Although all those predictions failed, environmentalism still exhibits millenarian tendencies. Former Vice President Al Gore has warned that man-made global warming is producing a climate crisis that might "make it impossible for us to avoid irretrievable damage to the planet's habitability for human civilization."

Is it any wonder that evangelicals are turning increasingly green?

Despite environmentalist scare mongering, the Industrial Revolution has been the greatest boon to human beings.

It turns out that humans almost did go extinct once, about 70,000 years ago. Fox reports:

The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.

The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age. ...

The report was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics. ...

Paleontologist Meave Leakey, a Genographic adviser, commented: "Who would have thought that as recently as 70,000 years ago, extremes of climate had reduced our population to such small numbers that we were on the very edge of extinction?"

What? You mean the whether used to change even when people had a miniscule "carbon footprint?" The difference was that, back then, people had no ability to deal with climate changes.

Anyone who doubts the amazing pro-human consequences of the Industrial Revolution need merely glance at a historical population chart.

It is ironic, but no coincidence, that the same environmentalist movement that warns of human apocalypse laments the causes of the population explosion.


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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Schwartz Starts Patient Power Blog

Hooray! Brian Schwartz has started a blog called Patient Power, "brought to you by the Independence Institute."

Within a minute of viewing Schwartz's blog, I learned something new about State Senator Bob Hagedorn's Bill 217, which raises the possibility of new controls and a mandate to force people to buy politician-approved insurance. Schwartz writes:

The Bill Summary for Colorado Senate Bill 08-217 (which I’ve written about here), which would make it a crime for Coloradans not to buy politician-approved medical insurance, includes a link to a report by a group that calls itself “Families USA”* titled Dying For Coverage, which claims that lacking health insurance causes thousands of Coloradans to die each year. ...

* You gotta love the name “Families USA.” If you disagree with their policy recommendations, you must be against families, and worse yet, the USA!

Sure enough, the very first pdf file included in the summary is the Families USA study, which, as I pointed out yesterday, is seriously flawed.

In other words, Hagedorn's bill is motivated by a fabrication.

In his opening post, Schwartz writes:

Why “Patient Power”?

Because this is what government controls have taken away from us. It's what we need to continue to benefit from life-saving medical advances and care, and be satisfied with our experience with physicians, hospitals, and insurance companies.

State and federal policies have wedged insurance companies between between you and your physician, which erodes the doctor-patient relationship. Doctors have more incentive to please insurance companies than they do to please you, the patient. Government controls have also placed your employer between you and medical insurance companies, so insurers seek to please employers, and not you. ...

Patients and doctors alike owe Schwartz thanks for defending their liberties.


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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Tanner: Families USA Health Study Flawed

Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute wrote an article for today's Rocky Mountain News that criticizes a recent study by Families USA. That study, Tanner summarizes, claims " that 360 Colorado residents die each year because they lack health insurance." Tanner notes that, "all things being equal, it is better to be insured than uninsured," but Families USA misstates the actual problem.

Tanner writes:

The Families USA study was not a traditional "double blind" experiment with a control group and a treatment group. Rather, it is a retrospective analysis, which compared the rates of people who died with insurance to those who died without insurance. Since the proportion of people without insurance seemed to be higher than those with insurance, they extrapolated likelihood to project excess deaths due to lack of insurance. But there are just too many outside variables to make such interpretations valid.

Even the Urban Institute's Jack Hadley, who co-authored a similar Institute of Medicine study cited by Families USA has said that "observational studies . . . cannot answer the question of whether health insurance directly affects health outcomes." And a detailed review of the academic literature by Helen Levy and David Meltzer of the University of Chicago Harris Graduate School of Public Policy Studies found little proof of a "causal relationship" between health insurance and better health.

Moreover, the reason that many people cannot afford insurance is that political controls have priced them out of the market. Yet Families USA is dedicated to promoting even more political control of medicine.

Tanner continues:

One thing we know for certain is that government-run health-care systems frequently deny critical procedures to patients who need them. For example, at any given time, 750,000 Britons are waiting for admission to National Health Service hospitals, and shortages force the NHS to cancel as many as 50,000 operations each year. And in Canada, more than 800,000 patients are currently on waiting lists for medical procedures. ... A study by Christopher J. Conover with the Center for Health Policy, Law and Management in the Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy at Duke University found that as many as 22,000 Americans die each year from the costs associated with excess regulation.

Tanner notes that various mandated benefits in Colorado significantly increase the cost of health insurance.

It's quite a coincidence that the flawed Families USA study popped just before State Senator Bob Hagedorn starting pushing bill 217, which, originally, advocated forcing individuals to buy health insurance.

Hagedorn recently said that 217 is "the antithesis of what Massachusetts has done." Yet 217 still creates the possibility of an individual mandate, the core of the Massachusetts plan.

The Daily Sentinel reports, "Senate Bill 217 would have carriers submit plans to the state rather than have the state dictate the kinds of plans it would require carriers to offer, Hagedorn said."

What a joke. Bill 217 would in fact dictate what sort of plans carriers must submit. Moreover, once the plans are submitted, the legislature can continue to impose more controls on them.

It is interesting, though, that Hagedorn is now running away from Massachusetts, even though the Massachusetts plan is in fact the primary model for proposed plans in Colorado. Paul Hsieh has collected numerous stories describing the problems with the Massachusetts plan.

If reformers such as Hagedorn get their way, perhaps politicians in other states can pretend that their statist proposals are the "the antithesis of what Colorado has done."


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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Doug, Doug, Doug

As a long-time advocate of open immigration, I'm as annoyed as anyone by Douglas Bruce's comments about the "5,000 more illiterate peasants in the state of Colorado" should Marsha Looper's guest-worker bill pass. While I have not read the details of the bill in question, I support the general idea. I first met Looper before she joined the legislature when she was working for property rights, and I respect her all the more for sponsoring such a bill.

However, The Denver Post is having a bit more fun with this than is necessary. Jessica Fender's article, which also includes a link to the video recording of Bruce's comments, carries the headline, "Bruce barred from speaking after 'illiterate' remark." Fine. But, for a time on Monday night, the Post's web page blared, "Bruce calls Mexicans 'illiterate'." That claim is not accurate.

It's obviously not true that workers from Mexico are illiterate as a group, though I suppose a fraction of them are. I suspect that migrant workers are less-well educated than average citizens of both Mexico and the U.S. I've also met Mexicans -- both in Mexico and in the U.S. -- who are a lot smarter and better educated than either Bruce or me. Moreover, I suspect that a greater fraction of immigrants from Mexico are literate in two languages relative to the native U.S. population. However, while, according to the CIA's World Factbook, 99 percent of the U.S. population is literate, only 91 percent of the Mexican population is so.

But Bruce's main problem is not that he's wrong in claiming that mostly-literate people are illiterate, but that suggesting that literacy is relevant to the issue. Even if it were the case that all 5,000 new immigrants would be illiterate, that would not justify a vote against the bill. U.S. employers have a right to hire willing workers, and people have a right to seek work, whether or not the employees are literate.

I knew as soon as Bruce kicked the photographer on his first day on the job that he had set himself up as a story. He now has a reputation that he'll never be able to shake. And the Post is more than happy to report all of Bruce's zaniness, because the Post has a long-standing antipathy to the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights, which Bruce was instrumental in promoting. The Post loves the idea of making Bruce the poster-boy for TABOR. Which means that Bruce has done more than tarnish his own reputation; he has made it harder for advocates of restrained taxation to make their case over the noise.

The fact that various conservatives simultaneously claim to back TABOR and oppose immigration shows only that they don't understand what economic liberty is all about. Not only do I welcome peaceable, productive Mexicans to the U.S., but I want them to bear the lowest tax burden possible.

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Monday, April 21, 2008

Gore Not Green Enough

As the environmentalist frenzy heightens, even Al Gore finds himself targeted for his un-green ways. A story from Fox reports:

Look out, Al Gore... People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says you are refusing to face one very "inconvenient truth."

On Monday, the animal rights organization launched the campaign (conveniently timed for Earth Day) in an attempt to counter the effects that they say the former vice president's meat-laden diet has on Mother Nature.

While reps for Gore had no comment, Pop Tarts confirmed with people who have worked with the ex-veep that he loves his steak and sausage, plus he was notorious for chowing down on the almost all-meat Atkins diet during his run for president.

A recent report published by the United Nations determined that raising animals for food generates about 40 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars, trucks, ships and planes in the world combined.

Of course, PETA is using green paint to coat its animal-rights agenda. PETA wouldn't approve of eating meat even if it reduced greenhouse gas emissions. But vegetarianism is also very much an environmentalist issue. It is telling that Gore, who has done more than perhaps anyone else to publicize global warming, is now the target of environmentalists.

Ultimately, environmentalism holds that it is a moral crime to be alive as a human being, for living as a human being requires the use of natural resources. If environmentalists succeeded at banning meat, then they would go after modern farming, which has vastly expanded the world's population while lifting much of the world out of poverty, for farming too has an environmental impact. It is no coincidence that some environmentalists yearn for the era when the earth's population of humans was a tiny fraction of what it is today, and humans lived barely above the level of the animals around them.

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Sunday, April 20, 2008

Let Them Drink Gas

Environmentalism continues to harm and kill people, especially the world's poor. The corn-gas laws have become a significant contributor to higher food prices and a widespread food shortage. Steven Milloy writes:

"When millions of people are going hungry, it’s a crime against humanity that food should be diverted to biofuels," an Indian government official told the Wall Street Journal. Turkey’s finance minister labeled the use of biofuels as "appalling," according to the paper.

Biofuels have turned out to be a lose-lose-lose proposition. Once touted by the greens and the biofuel industry as being able to reduce the demand for oil and lower greenhouse gas emissions, biofuels have accomplished neither goal and have no prospect for accomplishing either in the foreseeable future.

The latest research shows that biofuels actually increase greenhouse gas emissions on a total lifecycle basis. Add in that taxpayer-subsidized diversion of food crops and food crop acreage to fuel production has contributed to higher food prices and reduced food supply, and biofuels turn out to be nothing less than a public policy disaster.

Did you get that? The environmentalist corn-gas laws not only hurt the world's poor, but they worsen the environment, at least according to the environmentalists' own standards.

This is not merely an accident; this is the way that socialistic policies work. There are two broad problems inherent in the environmentalists' socialist agenda. First, political controls, by forcibly transferring resources and either banning or mandating certain actions, negate people's ability to apply their personal knowledge to the problems that interest them. Second, political wealth transfers and controls necessarily become mired in special-interest warfare, as various groups vie for the transferred resources and for protectionist legislation. Thus, socialistic measures to "protect" the environment are unlikely to do much regarding the environment, but they are very likely to waste resources and reward the corrupt.

Milloy notes that many environmentalists are doing everything within their power to halt energy production:

As the Sierra Club campaigns to shut down our coal-fired electricity capabilities, the Natural Resources Defense Council campaigns to prevent nuclear power from taking its place. ...

Millions in the developing world have died and continue to do so from the greens' campaign against pesticides such as DDT. Nothing less should be expected from their new campaign that threatens global food and energy production.

So long as environmentalism holds that untouched nature is the moral ideal, the necessary consequence is the sacrifice of people to nature. (Preserving tracts of nature for human enjoyment is a different story.) To the extend that environmentalism puts people first, it becomes something other than environmentalism. I don't much mind "environmentalists for nukes," as Mother Jones calls them, except that such environmentalists tend to fall into old-school, left-wing politics. Those with a sincere interest in environmental issues and free-market capitalism are an unfortunately rare breed.


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Saturday, April 19, 2008

CCW for School Safety

Recently I mentioned an "empty holster" protest planned for the University of Colorado, Boulder.

Diana Hsieh argues in The Gazette that faculty should be allowed to harry concealed handguns:

I'm a graduate student instructor at CU Boulder. Since 2001 I've been licensed to carry a concealed firearm in Colorado. Every time I hear of a new school shooting, I worry that some psychopath might unleash his rage on my campus. University policy forbids any firearms on campus. I obey that policy but it won't stop a killer from waltzing onto campus armed to the teeth. So if my students and I were in his path, we could only cower in fear in a corner of the classroom, helplessly waiting for him to kill us.

If the university respected my concealed carry permit, my good aim could protect my students from such an unthinkable end. Since I'm a law-abiding citizen trained in the proper use of firearms, my gun poses no danger whatsoever to other peaceful people.

To forbid a trained staff member from carrying a concealed handgun is dangerous and insanely stupid.


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Friday, April 18, 2008

People Day

As some prepare to celebrate Earth Day on April 22, I look forward to celebrating People Day. Yes, the earth is valuable -- for people. I love the earth -- because I get to live here.

Two great writers recently have taken on environmentalist hysteria.

The first is Vincent Carroll, a major reason why the Rocky Mountain News is the best newspaper in the region. Carroll writes:

In the global trajectory of greenhouse emissions, my conservation is meaningless. Yours is, too. What's more, even yours and mine together -- even combined with the conservation of every American who takes similar action - is not significant, either. ...

[M]ost of the world's inhabitants are still poor. They want electricity; they want mobility. And fulfilling their aspirations is going to boost greenhouse gases to a degree that utterly dwarfs any possible tempering of our own energy appetites.

Environmentalism is largely a religion because it encourages pointless acts to lighten one's guilt for the moral crime of living on earth. Much recycling is a waste of resources (particularly if we take time, the most important human resource, into account). Corn gas has done nothing to fix global warming, though it has contributed to a global food crisis. People spend thousands of extra dollars to drive hybrid cars -- some of which get worse gas mileage than my standard car, and which require more resources to produce. There might as well be an environmentalist Rosary.

Carroll concludes:

If there are environmental heroes among us, they are the scientists and technicians who someday figure out how the world can produce much, much more affordable energy -- which it is going to need -- without adding to greenhouse emissions. In that drama, most of us are fated to be spectators.

Craig Biddle has gone to the next step:

Because Earth Day is intended to further the cause of environmentalism—and because environmentalism is an anti-human ideology -- on April 22, those who care about human life should not celebrate Earth Day; they should celebrate Exploit-the-Earth Day. ...

Exploiting the Earth -- using the raw materials of nature for one’s life-serving purposes -- is a basic requirement of human life. According to environmentalism, however, man should not use nature for his needs; he should keep his hands off “the goods”; he should leave nature alone, come what may.

[I]f the good is nature untouched by man, how is man to live? What is he to eat? What is he to wear? Where is he to reside? How can man do anything his life requires without altering, harming, or destroying some aspect of nature? In order to nourish himself, man must consume meats, vegetables, fruits, and the like. In order to make clothing, he must skin animals, pick cotton, manufacture polyester, and the like. In order to build a house—or even a hut—he must cut down trees, dig up clay, make fires, bake bricks, and so forth. Each and every action man takes to support or sustain his life entails the exploitation of nature. Thus, on the premise of environmentalism, man has no right to exist.

Biddle is criticizing the essence of environmentalism: the view that the earth is intrinsically valuable, apart from the interests of people. Of course, there are self-proclaimed environmentalists who say they want to improve the human condition through better technology. For some environmentalists, this is just a cover, a way to package their statist, anti-human agenda in populist terms. But others seriously think humans should exploit the earth for their own well-being. But the fact that such environmentalists cannot admit to this shows that they are still operating from an essentially religious viewpoint.


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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Brook: End Tax Social-Engineering

Tax season is now behind us. But it's not. Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute points out in an article for Forbes that, with 66,000 pages of tax code controlling our lives, tax day is every day.

After offering numerous examples of the way that the tax code skews incentives, Brook summarizes:

Tax policy works by attaching financial incentives to a long list of values deemed morally worthy. If you want to maximize your wealth come tax time--and who doesn't?--you must look at the world through tax-colored glasses, "voluntarily" adjusting your behavior to suit social norms and thereby qualifying for tax breaks. In this way, the social engineers of tax policy preserve the impression that you're exercising free choice, while they're actually dispensing with your reason and your judgment.

Brook then briefly describes the proper alternative:

Government's job is not to dictate your values but to protect them. In a free country, you choose values and then use your own money as a tool to achieve them. But a value-rigged tax policy reverses this cause and effect--it uses your money against you, bribing you with tax breaks that let you keep some of your earnings in exchange for abandoning your preferred values.

Brook's entire article is worth perusal. Brook's topic is delimited, so he does not touch upon all of the misincentives of the tax code. A huge problem is that high taxes reduce the incentive to produce. Taxes also reduce the division of labor. Work you do for money is taxed, while work you do for yourself is not taxed. Thus, rather than spend their time working in their field of speciality, many people divert some of their time to doing things they don't especially enjoy and aren't particularly good at, such as fixing the car or painting the house. But these are just two more examples of the way that taxes distort incentives. The combined effects are massive.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Presidential Candidates Play Zero-Sum Games

The following article originally was published by Grand Junction's Free Press on April 14, 2008.

Presidential candidates play zero-sum games

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

When you walk into any store and trade your money for a product, often both you and the clerk will say, "Thank you." The reason for this is that, in a voluntary exchange, both parties benefit. The same is true at your job. Employers value the labor of employees and pay for it, while employees value the paycheck and other benefits enough to do the work.

In a free-market system that bars fraud, stops the initiation of force, and protects people's property rights, one person's gain is another person's gain. And when people can count on the legal protection of their property, they invest in new skills, machines, factories, technologies, and other capital. Over time, this raises people's productivity and real wages, leading to a growing economy.

A thief rejects mutually-beneficial exchange. If a hold-up man takes $100 from you by force, then the thief is better off financially for the moment, but you are worse off by the same amount. Such a situation is sometimes called a "zero-sum game." Some people gain at the expense of others.

When a society becomes plagued by zero-sum interactions, the result is economic destruction. To the extent that people fear that the fruits of their labor will be taken from them by force, they stop producing, trading, and investing. For example, look at much of Africa.

Unfortunately, while the United States was founded on the ideals of liberty, government limited to the protection of rights, and secure property, today's presidential candidates actively promote the zero-sum games of political controls.

In his famous speech on race, Barack Obama worried that, for many working people, "opportunity comes to be seen as a zero sum game, in which your dreams come at my expense." He added, "the path to a more perfect union... requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper."

But by "investing" Obama does not mean that individuals should be free to invest in their children's education or a company, or even to donate voluntarily to charity. Americans don't need Obama to tell them that getting an education, contracting for quality health care, and saving for the future are good ideas.

No, what Obama means by "investing" is that he wants to take more of your money by force and give it to others, of course with a huge chunk taken out to pay the salaries of bureaucrats.

For example, Obama wants to socialize medicine. That means that you will have to pay through the nose in taxes in order to wait in line to get "free" health care that sucks. (For some of the problems that other countries are experiencing with health care, see Michael Tanner's recent Cato paper, "The Grass is Not Always Greener.")

Forced welfare, as opposed to voluntary charity, tends to promote dependency and irresponsible behaviors. And tax-funded "investment" in jobs means siphoning money out of the productive economy to reward special interests.

In other words, most of Obama's policies promote zero-sum games, in which some gain at the expense of others.

But it's not like John McCain is much better. Last November, Matt Welch wrote for the Los Angeles Times, "McCain... wants to restore your faith in the U.S. government by any means necessary, even if that requires thousands of more military deaths, national service for civilians and federal micromanaging of innumerable private transactions. He'll kick down the doors of boardroom and bedroom, mixing Democrats' nanny-state regulations with the GOP's red-meat paternalism in a dangerous brew of government activism."

To pick out one of those examples, forcing people to "serve" others (a practice we thought was outlawed in the United States) fails to recognize the benefits of liberty and mutually-beneficial exchanges. In a free society, people are free to give of their time and money to others. But the choice is left to them, and people are not free to forcibly give away the time or money that belongs to somebody else.

McCain asks you to "sacrifice your life" to "a cause greater than yourself." In general, we're opposed to human sacrifices, but especially when a political leader defines how and for what you are to sacrifice yourself. Didn't we already do the century in which political leaders asked their countrymen to sacrifice their lives to the state?

Given McCain's guiding principle of sacrifice, we expect him to be a fair-weather friend -- at best -- to voluntary, mutually-beneficial, free-market exchanges, despite his occasionally market-friendly rhetoric.

We don't know who will become the next president. But we fear that whoever wins will do his or her damnedest to make sure that the rest of us lose.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Affirmative Action: Complaining Signer Wasn't Registered

Earlier in the month, I wrote about claims that petition circulators for an initiative to end racial discrimination (including affirmative action) at the state level used deceit to collect signatures.

I quoted from the complaint sent by Chloe Johnson to the Secretary of State: "... I was approached by a petition circulator who asked me to sign a petition that would end discrimination in Colorado... I questioned this petitioner knowing that we already had laws to prevent this but he told me that they would no longer be effective in the following months."

I noted that, from three formal complaints and various news reports, Johnson offered the "single example of somebody who claims to have signed a petition after hearing deceitful claims from a petition circulator."

Now, it turns out, Johnson was not eligible to sign the petition, because she was not registered to vote.

FaceTheState reports:

A Democrat state legislative aide who had claimed to be a victim of voter fraud saw her complaint dismissed after state officials learned that she was not a registered voter.

On February 26, Chloe Johnson filed a complaint with Secretary of State Mike Coffman's office alleging that she was tricked into supporting Amendment 46, also known as the Colorado Civil Rights Initiative, a ballot effort designed to end race and gender preferences in government hiring, education, and contracting. The complaint was formally dismissed by the state's Office of Administrative Courts because Johnson never registered to vote.

“I wasn’t a registered elector at the time, so they dismissed my case,” said Johnson. “I thought I was registered and that I registered last year when I turned 18.” ...

Johnson claims that she signed the petition because she believes in “preventing discrimination anywhere," but that after signing it and during the course of her legislative internship with Rep. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, she became outraged when she learned that the initiative would not "end discrimination," but was "in fact a petition for anti-affirmative action." ...

Upset by this revelation, Johnson says she called the office of Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and requested that her name be removed from the petition. She was instructed to contact Coffman's office about the matter, which she did, leading her to subsequently file a complaint.

So, given that Johnson's claim is bunk, and given that affirmative action is a type of discrimination, I have yet to hear a single, credible, first-hand account of someone who claims to have signed the petition after being deceived.

And this was a story worthy of the attention of the mighty New York Times?

If there is a real problem here, then surely someone can point me to actual evidence showing a problem. I will be happy to post an update just as soon as somebody does that.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Ritter Signs Blue-Law Repeal

Starting July 1, Coloradans will be able to purchase liquor in stores on Sundays. The Rocky Mountain News reports:

With the stroke of a pen, Gov. Bill Ritter today signed into law a bill that makes Colorado the 35th state to permit liquor stores to open Sunday.

“This is a law whose time has finally come,” Ritter said in a statement. “The ban on Sunday sales was an antiquated law that long ago outlived its usefulness or relevance.” ...

The new law came about after liquor store owners dropped their long-standing opposition to Sunday sales.

They made the switch to head off legislation that would have allowed grocery and convenience stores to sell full-strength beer and wine. Lawmakers killed that bill in the face of strong opposition from liquor store owners.

So Colorado continues to suffer from a host of political controls on the liquor industry. Liquor stores can't sell food, and grocery stores can't sell anything but 3.2 beer (except in one location per chain). Nor can liquor stores start chains. Also, Sunday car sales continue to be illegal.

But we can buy bottled booze on Sundays. It's not much, but it's something. So, thank you Democrats. While many political issues are arcane and confusing, this one is simple and obvious to the common person. During all of its years in the majority, the Republicans did nothing but fight for the Blue Laws against the interests and liberty of consumers. On this issue, the Republicans left it to the Democrats to score one for economic liberty.

April 18 Update: Penn Pfiffner writes:

In your recent blog dealing with a step toward rolling back the Blue Laws, you said:

"During all of its years in the majority, the Republicans did nothing but fight for the Blue Laws against the interests and liberty of consumers. On this issue, the Republicans left it to the Democrats to score one for economic liberty."

True, in that the legislature never acted successfully through those years. I wanted to bring to your attention, however, that I offered legislation to end the Sunday prohibition on both liquor sales and car sales. The Republican-majority Business Affairs Committee killed the bill. If memory serves, this was sometime during the 59th General Assembly (1993 or 1994).

I appreciate Pfiffner's clarification and his work in the legislature and out.

I was referring to Republicans as a party, not to individual Republicans who sided with economic liberty.

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Students Plan Empty-Holster Protest

The Denver Post reports:

John Davis, a 30-year-old University of Colorado at Colorado Springs senior and a member of Students for Concealed Carry on Campus, said students at CU-Colorado Springs and CU-Boulder will join a national demonstration April 22-25 in which students will wear empty gun holsters. Davis said the display symbolizes that students are "basically defenseless" at school.

The Colorado Springs Gazette editoralizes on the matter (via Paul Hsieh):

[S]tudents at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs want... university officials to lift a dangerous ban on guns that makes the campus vulnerable to suicidal mass murderers and other brands of psychotics that are known to prey on college students. ...

A group of local students have formed the UCCS chapter of "Students for Concealed Carry on Campus." ... This is a matter of public safety and human lives. To a suicidal psycho, a classroom full of unarmed students is opportunity. It's that simple. To forbid trained students from wearing their guns is to set a stage for murder. CU regents should change the policy, immediately, before the blood is on their hands.

Of course, I argue, first, that all educational facilities should be privately owned and funded, and second, that all private establishments have the right to independently set such policies as gun carrying. What would I do if I were running a private college? I would pay for any faculty member who wanted to participate to receive firearms training and acquire a concealed-carry permit and quality handgun. I would also allow qualified, trained students to carry concealed handguns on campus, but I would subject the practice to fairly rigorous rules.


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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Nuts and Bolts of 217 Anti-Health Bill

I've been writing about Senate Bill 217, which seeks to impose Massachusetts-style health controls in Colorado, so I thought it was a good time to pull a few quotes from the bill itself. Colorado's legislative bills can be downloaded at the state legislature's web page. Click on "All Versions," and download the confusingly labeled "Preamended" version. This version of the bill states, "This Unofficial Version Includes Committee Amendments Not Yet Adopted on Second Reading." Additional versions of the bill may appear as it moves through the legislature.

Section 1(e) states that the bill would create "a balanced partnership between private and public sectors." Translation: politicians are going to control the health-insurance market to an even greater extent than they do already.

Section 2(a)(I) creates a new commission, a "panel of expert advisors appointed by the govern," composed of actuaries and insurance insiders, which "shall prepare a request for proposals to be issued to health insurance companies." The companies will be asked to describe "Value Benefit Plans," or VBPs. Section 2(b) describes how the VBPs are supposed to work. They must include "benefits for primary and preventive care participation in wellness programs, and incentives for plan participants to engage in healthier behavior."

In other words, the VBPs will be high-cost, all-encompassing plans, not real insurance with high deductibles, like my wife and I currently purchase.

Here's a big one: subsection VIII specifies that VBPs must take all comers, regardless of health, and charge everybody of the same age and region the same rate. In other words, the plans would force some people to subsidize the health expenses of others.

And here's the penultimate requirement: XII states that the plans must "assume that all Colorado residents would be required to purchase health insurance."

But Section 3 pushes the real work onto the 2010 legislature. "[T]he governor may reject proposals..." "If the governor recommends legislation and the general assembly chooses to pursue legislation..."

To quote the infamous Jayne Cobb, I'm smelling a lot of "if" coming off of this plan.

But, "if" the 2010 legislature chooses to screw Coloradans with more political controls of medicine, then it will impose mandates and a "mechanism to enforce" mandates "through the state tax laws." The insurance plans would, of course, be subject to political approval. What the bill does not mention is that the plans would be subject to continual special-interest pressure to keep forcing up premiums.

Nor does the bill mention that the reason health insurance is too expensive for many people to afford is that politicians have for decades been undermining the insurance market with tax distortions, forced wealth transfers, and reams of mandates. SB 217 would impose more of the same.


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Hillman Defends Liberty in Medicine

Mark Hillman, a former Republican state senator, has come out with an excellent critique of a new legislative proposal to impose Massachusetts-style health controls in Colorado. The measure, Senate Bill 217, would force everyone to buy politically-approved health insurance and expand health welfare. I lambasted the proposal yesterday.

In a Speakout for the Rocky Mountain News, Hillman explains:

In calling for health insurance companies to design "value benefit plans" to provide a low-cost insurance alternative, the bill says that the state "shall not specify benefits or other details" of those plans. Just two paragraphs later, however, the bill stipulates a dozen mandated benefits or other details that value benefit plans must include.

Essentially, insurers are prohibited from proposing anything that's remotely innovative. They are commanded not to "interfere with the existing small-group market" but are locked into the same rating criteria that has devastated that market for most of the last decade. ...

SB 217 does change the existing health-care market in one dramatic respect, by signaling to insurance companies that state government is ready to force its incorrigible citizens to buy health insurance, even if it's unaffordable.

The bill calls for "a requirement that all Coloradans obtain health insurance either individually or through their employer" and provides for enforcement "though the state tax laws."

Rather than allow insurers to offer new choices or allow consumers to obtain coverage across state lines where Colorado's draconian regulations aren't strangling the market, legislators prefer to penalize taxpayers for the audacity of refusing to buy insurance that costs too much.

Hillman's analysis is right on. I can only hope his former colleagues are paying attention. It's nice to see that a leader of Hillman's stature -- and a party man to boot -- takes seriously liberty in Colorado.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

CO to Adopt MA Health Disaster?

Welcome to Colorful... Massachusetts?

The Massachusetts health mandates have been a disaster. As Paul Hsieh, MD, summarizes:

The state of Massachusetts has already imposed a similar plan of mandatory health insurance on its residents for over a year now, and it is failing badly. Like Senator Hagedorn's proposal, the Massachusetts plan requires all residents to purchase health insurance, with state subsidies for lower income residents.

But rather than creating a utopia of high-quality affordable health care, the result has been the exact opposite -- skyrocketing costs, worsened access, and lower quality health care.

Hsieh has compiled additional news and comments about Massachusetts.

Ah, but this time, socialized medicine will work, even though it has failed in every other state and nation that has tried it.

Naturally, Colorado's big newspapers are falling all over themselves to praise our political masters. I already mentioned the Rocky Mountain News's support for Hagedorn's scheme. And The Denver Post editorializes:

The bill by Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora, and Reps. Ann McGihon, D-Denver and Tom Massey, R-Poncha Springs... [is] aimed at providing the foundation for universal health care coverage in 2010. It's patterned after the path blazed by Massachusetts under Gov. Mitt Romney by mandating health insurance for citizens who now lack it, just as motorists are required to have automobile liability insurance.

Failure to purchase such insurance could subject residents to a penalty on their state income tax. The state would subsidize poor people.

Even though the Rocky pretends that Hagedorn is offering an alternative to the "208" Healthcare Commission, Hagedorn's plan is essentially the same plan my dad and I criticized a year ago. (In the same article, we pointed out why mandated health insurance is not comparable to mandated auto insurance.)

But do not think that this socialistic scheme is the work of Democrats alone; as the Post points out, Hagedorn's bill includes a Republican sponsor. And, as the following voting tally indicates, Republican Shawn Mitchell helped pass the bill out of committee:

Mitchell is the same Republican who claimed just last month:

A bad market vote doesn't make it a lie for many Republicans, including this one, to claim the mantle of market supporter. We may be imperfect. It would be a lie to claim otherwise. But for willingness to embrace, defend, and advocate the functioning of free markets, Republicans are the only team in town.

But if a Republican will vote for a bill to force every Coloradan to purchase politically-approved health insurance, then no political control is out of bounds. Such Republicans support free markets in roughly the same way that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad supports Israel or cancer supports human health.

[June 23, 2008 Update: I understand that Mitchell passed the bill out of committee on condition that it was amended to remove some of the more objectionable parts, and then he voted against the bill on the floor. Mitchell has not responded to my further inquiries on the matter.]

Here's the upshot to Hagedorn's scheme. It's payola time for politically-connected insurance companies. What better than for politicians to force every person in the state to buy your product? This means that young, healthy workers will get screwed twice: once with higher taxes and again through higher insurance premiums.

The entire reason that health insurance is too expensive for many to afford is that politicians have systematically undermined the insurance market through tax distortions and a host of direct controls. But, rather than repeal the controls that created the problems, these politicians are intent on imposing yet more controls.

The only good news about the proposal is that it would not take effect until 2010, giving young people who don't think it's their duty to fund everybody else's health care, and doctors who don't want to work under the thumb of idiot bureaucrats, a chance to look for work in other states.


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Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bailey Squishes on Health Mandates

Recently I had the opportunity to meet the charming and well-read Ron Bailey of Reason magazine. We briefly discussed his 2004 article that advocates an individual mandate for health insurance. While Bailey does some great work for Reason, he is completely wrong on the matter of health mandates. While his article is dated by magazine standards, the issue is very much alive; for example, the somewhat market-friendly Rocky Mountain News just endorsed mandates this past weekend. So, in refuting Bailey's case for mandates, I mean to discredit mandates generally (though of course my comments here are limited in scope).

Bailey makes three broad mistakes.

First, Bailey commits what I'll call the "Wonk's Fallacy." That is, he concocts the best possible policy to implement a mandate, but he ignores or peers past the real-world political process, which is dominated by ideological politicians (usually with redistributionist sentiments), high-priced lobbyists, special-interest groups, and accidents common to sausage-grinding.

The Rocky does the same thing. It editorializes:

Two aspects of SB 217 give us pause. First, it includes an individual mandate, requiring every uninsured Coloradan who is not enrolled in a government program to purchase coverage. But we can live with this so long as value benefit plans are indeed viable and available at modest costs.

That's a bit like saying one can live with socialism, so long as it is a "viable" sort of socialism.

In the real world, policies are subject to political manipulation and unintended consequences. For example, Paul Hsieh, a Colorado doctor, has compiled various stories about the problems with the Massachusetts plan, which, as a combination of mandates and expanded welfare, is in some ways similar to the plan proposed for Colorado. Moreover, as Michael Tanner pointed out during his recent trip to Colorado, mandates are in fact continually subject to special-interest group pressure to expand the scope of what's mandated.

Bailey's second major error is more fundamental. His case for mandates explicitly rests on the forcible redistribution of wealth as an allegedly unalterable political "fact." And his case implicitly grants that it is the state's responsibility to ensure that people obtain health care. Once that case is granted, the free-market position is lost. Completely socialized medicine is inevitable, until and unless somebody effectively makes a principled case for liberty in medicine. (Thankfully, Hsieh, writing with Lin Zinser, has made just such a case, but it remains to be seen whether their efforts can overcome the widespread capitulation by the sunshine friends of liberty.)

In order to keep us off the fast road to socialized medicine, Bailey has placed us on the slow road to socialized medicine.

Bailey's third main problem is that, by pushing mandates, he de-emphasizes the true cause of existing problems in modern medicine: decades of political interventions. The reason that health care is a problem today is that it has already been largely socialized. For details, see the article by Zinser and Hsieh. To make insurance more available, what politicians can and should do is remove the political controls that have made health insurance too expensive for many people to afford.

Now that I've summarized the major issues, I'll go through some of Bailey's specific points.

Bailey begins his article by quoting a poll showing that "62 percent of the respondents favored a universal, government-run medical insurance program." I don't know what the polling would show today. But such polls are irrelevant for deciding which policies are, in fact, based on individual rights and which would therefore achieve good medicine in practice. It is the job of friends of the market to move public opinion, not sell out their principles to it. Moreover, very often people's opinions are "soft," in that people can be swayed by solid arguments. Unfortunately, Bailey's approach is more likely to move public opinion even further in the direction of socialized medicine.

Bailey writes, "[T]he increasingly successful campaigns to privatize Social Security and expand school vouchers suggest a way out: mandatory private health insurance."

I have no wish to reiterate my case against so-called "privatized" Social Security here. But I will point out that, when the government forces you to buy something and therefore tightly controls what it is you can buy, the product is in a fundamental sense not "private." Similarly, if the government forced parents to pay for schools of the government's choice, those schools would not be "private." When the government forces you to buy investments, insurance, education, or whatever, those items are not "private" in the sense of existing in a free market. They are merely socialized by another means. In common libertarian parlance, such government controls are counted as fascistic rather than as communistic, with socialism remaining the broader category.

Bailey then conducts a very interesting discussion of the problems in medicine and part of the history of political controls. Bailey also notes that one reason that health care has become more expensive is that doctors can do so much more to help people:

As William B. Schwartz, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, notes in his 1998 book Life Without Disease: The Pursuit of Medical Utopia, "In 1950 costs of health care were remarkably low, because, for a large percentage of patients, doctors really couldn't do much. People spent relatively little on health care (only 4.4 percent of gross domestic product) and got what they paid for -- very few useful diagnostic tests or effective treatments." In 1950 there were no polio, measles, or hepatitis vaccines; no open heart surgeries or pacemakers; no organ transplants; few cancer chemotherapy agents; no MRI or CAT scans; and no drugs for ulcers, high blood pressure, or arthritis.

Bailey also explains the fundamental problem with employer-paid insurance, which is the direct result of tax distortions: "'Everybody thinks they're spending somebody's else's money,' explains Robert Helms, a health care scholar at the American Enterprise Institute."

Bailey laments, "Unfortunately, there is no prominent political or intellectual figure on the national scene offering a comprehensive free-market alternative to socialized medicine."

Well, no, political figures tend not to advocate free-market alternatives when the self-proclaimed advocates of free markets themselves endorse socialism. Yet, in Colorado, a very small coalition has been successful at making real free-market reforms a noticeable part of the public debate. Had Bailey fought for liberty rather than for socialism in 2004, today free markets would have had a better chance. Instead, today we have to waste our time fighting our "allies."

Bailey offers his main case for mandates:

Why not just tell Americans they are responsible for buying their own health insurance from now on? If people couldn't pay for medical care, either through insurance or out of pocket, they wouldn't get it. "After people begin to notice the growing pile of bodies by emergency room entrances," Tom Miller wryly suggests, "they will quickly get the message and go get medical coverage."

But that's not going to happen, says Mark Pauly, a health care economist at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton business school. "Americans don't want to see their neighbor dying bleeding in the street," he says. ...

Since it's unlikely that Americans will allow their improvident neighbors to expire without medical care in the streets, is there a politically palatable alternative that can preserve and expand private medicine in the United States? Yes: mandatory private health insurance.

There are two main problems with Bailey's analysis. First, the options are not binary: either pay or don't pay at the time of service. A third option is to require people who get care to pay for it over time. Second, Bailey here completely ignores the legitimate role of voluntary charity, which can come from health-care providers as well as from individual donors and organizations. Notably, voluntary charity is much more likely to discriminate between the moochers and the truly needy and thus to encourage independence rather than dependence.

Bailey discusses health-savings accounts, shifting away from the employer-pay system, and "privatizing" Medicaid and Medicare, but those reforms are not and should not be tied to mandates.

Bailey closes, "The proposal for mandatory health insurance offers a way to maintain our private system, expand consumer choice, lower costs, and allow medical progress to continue." Bailey's claim is exactly wrong: the proposal for mandatory health insurance undermines liberty in medicine and paves the road to socialized medicine.

If we value our health and our freedom, what we need is liberty in medicine -- and allies wiling to advocate liberty rather than statism masquerading as privatization.


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Monday, April 7, 2008

Can't Republicans Just Get Along?

Reviewing a March 27 forum in Denver, I sounded a pessimistic note regarding the alliance between fiscal conservatives and the religious right. Now various other writers have weighed in on the matter. (Jon Caldara, one of the speakers at the forum, noted all of the following sources in a recent e-mail, except an article by Reason.)

Ryan Sager, a New Yorker who also spoke in Denver, reviewed the politics of the Interior West in his book, The Elephant in the Room. In a March 28 column for the New York Post, Sager explained why Democrats are likely to continue to find success in the Interior West. Sager writes:

The GOP is already well on its way to losing the West. ...

It's been clear for years the interior West, once reliably Republican, was becoming a swing region. ... In 2000, none of these eight states [Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming] had a Democratic governor. Now five do, including Colorado. ...

In fact, Colorado now looks bluer than a half-drowned Smurf. It's got a Democratic governor, House, Senate and high court. The GOP lost both houses of the Legislature in 2004 after spending a session on such issues as gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance and the liberal biases of college professors -- while the state faced a massive fiscal crisis. ...

As Caldara put it: "Colorado is, in fact, the test tube of how to export liberal expansion to the Western states." A moderately conservative state has been turned Blue, Caldara says, because of "the absolute demolishing of what the Right stood for, how the Republican Party turned into something it was never meant to be and went away from Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan ideas."

Of course, Democrats have worked hard to capitalize on the Republicans' carelessness. Liberal groups funded by folks like billionaire Quark founder Tim Gill have turned discontent into votes. And now they have a model to use in the rest of the region.

It's no coincidence that Democrats chose Denver for their convention. When they converge on the Mile High City in five months, they'll be staking their claim to what was once a solidly Red region.

Sager gets one point wrong: the state was not facing a "massive fiscal crisis." We were facing a crisis of political leadership. As I have reviewed, various Republicans, including Governor Bill Owens, were in fact leading the charge to declare a "crisis" and increase net taxes. While the Democrats were more than happy to support the plan, it gained its momentum precisely because much of the Republican leadership pushed it. Indeed, Bill Owens could be considered the most successful Democratic governor in recent Colorado history.

The Republicans' problem in Colorado is two-fold. One large faction of the GOP is an extension of the religion right. The top two priorities for this faction are to ban abortions and disparage homosexuals. While Coloradans on the whole have not expressed sympathy for gay marriage, neither are they particularly intolerant toward homosexuals, as is the religious right. Having received numerous mailers beating up Republicans over abortion, it's clear to me that the religious right has alienated a great many independent voters.

The other faction of the GOP consists of the pragmatists, the "me-tooers" who approve of the Democratic agenda with "moderate" restraint. What Sager and others fail to see is the connection between the religious right and the pragmatists. By Sager's analysis, the two groups are distinct factions within the GOP competing for dominance and struggling to "fuse." But, in reality, the big-government pragmatists gain intellectual and practical support from the religious right. As I noted in my last article on this matter, the religious right is increasingly supportive of the welfare state, and it is also picking up environmentalist themes. The religious right is slowly merging with -- and morphing into -- the religious left. That is because the redistribution of wealth is a Christian theme. It is but a short hop to the political redistribution of wealth. The pragmatist wing of the GOP, though it distances itself from the religious right rhetorically, in fact builds upon a partially secularized version of the Christian ethos. In this sense, the religious right establishes the foundation for the big-government right. It is no coincidence that Bush massively expanded the federal government in the name of Christian "compassion."

Matt Welch, the new editor of Reason, indirectly lends support to this thesis in his recent article, "When Coalitions Dissolve." Welch is even more pessimistic than Sager:

In Comeback, one of several new whither-the-party books by traumatized Republicans, former George W. Bush speechwriter David Frum points out that the very Bush policies that fiscal conservatives like him despise -- the prescription drug entitlement, the No Child Left Behind Act, campaign finance reform -- were overwhelmingly popular among the American people. "On issues from Social Security to healthcare to environmental protection, conservatives find themselves on the less popular side of the great issues of the day," Frum writes.

The solution? Surrender: "There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of the government, we must prove that we care about government enough to manage it well." Republicans should cave on new spending and regulations, says Frum, in exchange for tax cuts. "This is not 1964," he writes. "The ideal under threat today is not the nation's liberty, but the nation's security, its unity, its effectiveness, and... its equality and beauty.”

As Sasha Issenberg wrote in a perceptive Boston Globe story last November, "With Republicans no longer preaching suspicion of Washington, a new consensus has emerged, as both parties have come in their ways to stand today for a more robust, aggressive federal government. As a result, Goldwaterism is without a natural home in the two-party system."

As far as these Republicans are concerned, we're all welfare-statists now.

The Republican party, then, has actively alienated those who advocate free markets, voluntarism and individual rights, restrained political spending, and personal freedom within the context of rights.

Yet some continue to hope for a renewal of "fusionism" between the fiscal conservatives and the religious right.

Jessica Peck Corry writes:

A leading conservative sat down with a libertarian Republican to begin building a bridge toward a united future.

The duo, Jim Pfaff and Sean Duffy, represented opposite ends of the debate on one of 2006's most contentious ballot issues -- the ill-fated Referendum I that sought to strengthen legal rights and protections for same-sex partners. Duffy was the public relations guru behind the campaign... Pfaff, president and CEO of the Colorado Family Institute, served as the effort's lead opponent. ...

And Pfaff, while frequently identified by his ties to Focus On The Family's Dr. James Dobson and his commitment to "life" issues, says he wants to work with Duffy and other libertarian Republicans to begin rebuilding the Republican Party in the West after years of Democratic gains. ...

Over pints of Guinness, the two tell the story of the mutual admiration for each other. If this was your snapshot of the Republican Party's two leading ideological factions, you'd have to wonder: What's the problem?

The problem is huge. Republicans are facing an identity crisis of immense proportions. And social issues like gay rights and abortion are only the beginning. With George W. Bush at the helm, the federal government has maxed out our collective credit cards to continue funding the expansion of entitlement programs and an unpopular -- but difficult to end -- war. ...

Bob Schaffer, a former Republican Congressman from Fort Collins, is taking on sitting U.S. Rep. Mark Udall, D-Eldorado Springs. ... [Schaffer] fought consistently for a balanced budget, introducing a constitutional amendment to require such. Also a strong supporter of innovative education reform, Schaffer had the courage to vote against the unfunded mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act...

Conservatives and libertarians should follow the lead of Pfaff and Duffy, putting aside their differences on social issues to elect viable candidates dedicated to protecting the working families and small business owners who suffer most when government spending expands.

Yet, as much as I appreciate Duffy's commitment to personal freedoms, the religious right is not simply going to "put aside" its political support for banning abortion, restricting homosexuals, imposing censorship, and controlling personal behaviors. Indeed, much of the religious right is currently trying to define a fertilized egg as a a person.

And as much as I appreciate Schaffer's commitment to restrained federal power in some areas, the fact remains that even in these areas he's fighting against the Republican current. Moreover, while Udall has clearly endorsed the separation of church and state, Schaffer has failed to do so.

Indeed, as the Rocky Mountain News summarizes, "Schaffer regularly voted to restrict abortion rights and gay rights, and promote religious themes..." lists a number of Schaffer's congressional votes, including the following:

* Voted YES on banning partial-birth abortions. (Apr 2000)
* Voted YES on barring transporting minors to get an abortion. (Jun 1999)
* Voted YES on banning gay adoptions in DC. (Jul 1999)
* Supports anti-flag desecration amendment. (Mar 2001)
* Voted NO on... medical marijuana in DC. (Oct 1999)
* Supports requiring schools to allow prayer. (Jan 2001)
* Supports a Constitutional Amendment for school prayer. (May 1997)

I do not see how these issues can simply be set aside.

Writing for Backbone America, John Andrews's conservative forum, Krista Kafer writes:

[Caldara observed] that big-government Republicans... are the real enemy of conservatism, not social conservatives. I hope other libertarians were listening. ...

[O]n our differences (gay marriage and drug legalization just to pick two), I actually have some logical reasons for my beliefs. We could discuss them and possibly find common ground or at least an appreciation for each other's reasons. Calling me a bigot who wants to deprive people of civil rights isn't exactly a thoughtful response to my concerns about the impact of gay marriage. My primary objection to same-sex marriage is a libertarian one -– it suppresses dissenting views. The state of Massachusetts shut down a Catholic adoption agency because it did not adopt to same-sex couples (the agency does not even receive government money). The same thing has happened in England. In Colorado, gay couples are free to call themselves "married," live together, have children, etc. Their status is recognized by those who agree with their lifestyle. State intervention in favor of these unions would force anyone who does not agree to shut down their business or organization. That doesn't sound like freedom to me.

On drug legalization, I sympathize with cancer victims and believe strongly that if marijuana helps them they should have as much of it as they need. ... The average pot smoker is... the guy who is unemployed or underemployed who uses me, the taxpayer, as his health insurance provider. ... How much of my taxpayer money goes to health care, food, housing, treatment programs, and other services for potheads, meth addicts, junkies and crackheads?

... We need each other. If we only want to work with people with whom we agree 100% of the time, it's going to be a small crowd, powerless against the proponents of big government control.

The Cato Institute speaker that night predicted a mass of libertarians going over to Obama. Great idea if you want to work with people who are diametrically opposed to everything you've worked for all your life. National health care, high taxes, adding a gazillion more government programs to an already behemoth federal government –- yep, that's compatible with libertarian thought.

If you want to jump ship out of spite, you might end up in the water with the sharks. Or, we can work together. Your call.

Yet Kafer offers no solid grounds for fusionism.

While some on the religious right sincerely advocate limited federal power, most do not. The overlap between "big-government Republicans" and the religious right is huge.

On the issue of gay marriage, I am not familiar with the details of the role of the Catholic church in adoption. If we're talking about parents who entrust the care of their children to the Catholic church, then the church should indeed have the ability to set adoption policy for those children, as agents of the parents. That issue is entirely separable from the matter of gay marriage (and domestic partnership). However, Sager was not merely referring to the religious right's opposition to gay marriage when he applied the term bigotry to the religious right; he was referring to the unceasing condemnations of homosexuality by the religious right.

It is telling that Kafer endorses the drug war on welfare-statist grounds. Her claims about the drug war are the opposite of the truth -- it is the drug war itself that exacerbates social harms -- but even if she were correct in her factual claims she would, if committed to liberty, advocate the repeal of welfare, not the expansion of political controls because of the collectivized costs of welfare.

Finally, Kafer's comments about "national health care" and "high taxes" hardly justify support for the GOP. It is true that many Republicans are marginally better than many Democrats regarding health policy. However, various Republicans, including Mitt Romney and Bob Beauprez, endorse mandated insurance. Republican George Bush massively expanded medical entitlements. And Republican Bill Owens instituted the Colorado Healthcare Commission, which rejected a free-market proposal in favor of plans to massively expand the state's role in medicine. The Republicans merely offer a slower road to socialized medicine. So far as taxes go, the Republicans are the ones who handed us Referendum C, and "President Bush has presided over the largest overall increase in inflation-adjusted federal spending since Lyndon B. Johnson."

The problem is not jumping ship to face the sharks. The problem is that the sharks are already in the boat. At least Democratic socialist sharks don't bait the waters with the rhetoric of liberty. And, in a few key areas, some Democrats are actually serious about liberty. The GOP increasingly offers the worst of both worlds: economic controls combined with restrictions of individual liberty. For the time being, I'll take my chances in the open waters, unaffiliated, until the U.S. Liberty sails again.

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Thursday, April 3, 2008

Affirmative Action: Vandenberg Challenges Connerly

Ward Connerly of California is involved in a petition effort in Colorado to end affirmative action at the level of state government. Bill Vandenberg is the "Co-Executive Director" (though there seems to be only one director) of the Colorado Progressive Coalition. Vandenberg is also the co-chair of the Colorado Unity Coalition, an organization that supports affirmative action. The upshot of the story is that Vandenberg's coalition has challenged the initiative with the Secretary of State, claiming that petitioners deceived some people who signed it.*

Let us first turn to the specific complaints lodged by Vandenberg's organization.

The story has been covered by The New York Times, the Associated Press, and The Denver Post. The Post also made available a document described as "the formal complaints that have been filed with the secretary of state."

Following are the specific allegations of deceit reported by those stories and the "formal complaints."

* From the Post: a petition circulator "implied it was a pro-affirmative-action amendment." Implied? Those are weak grounds for a legal challenge.

* From the AP and the "formal complaints:" Candace Frie claims in the complaint, "[T]he petitioner... explained that it was an initiative to help end discrimination against all people." According to the AP, "She said she signed a petition outside a grocery store in Arvada when a man approached her saying the initiative would promote civil rights." But the petitioner described the initiative exactly correctly in this case. The initiative states, "The State shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity or national origin." Affirmative action is a form of discrimination. Its supporters claim that it is a good form of discrimination, but it is discrimination nonetheless.

* From the Times: "Freddie Whitney was walking out of a King Soopers supermarket here this winter when she was approached by three young men. They politely asked if she was against discrimination and, if so, if she would sign a petition that would legally end the practice in the state." Again, the petitioners explained the initiative correctly in this case.

* From the Times: "People were told that this would end discrimination, in some cases that it would actually support affirmative action," Mr. Vandenberg said. If people were told that the measure would "support affirmative action," then that was indeed deceitful.

* From the "formal complaints:" Tracy Seat writes, "The first petition collector... [was] explaining that the petition was for a ballot issue that would restore 'equality in the workplace.' ... I asked the petitioner if this petition was to eliminate affirmative action, because that was what the language of the petition sounded like. He replied that it 'could' eliminate some of the provisions. I had to ask very specifically a couple of times and press him for an answer before he would admit that the measure would in fact eliminate affirmative action." A second petitioner "stated that she believed we don't need affirmative action any more." In other words, while the petitioners might have been coy, there were basically honest about the initiative.

Notably, Seat never claims to have signed the petition, so how exactly is this an example of a problem?

(Also, Seat complains that the petition circulators were not showing identification per statute 1-40-112(2)(B). However, if Vandenberg's group wishes to check the statute, they will find in the Annotations the fact that the identification requirements were found to be unconstitutional.)

* From the "formal complaints:" Chloe Johnson writes, "... I was approached by a petition circulator who asked me to sign a petition that would end discrimination in Colorado... I questioned this petitioner knowing that we already had laws to prevent this but he told me that they would no longer be effective in the following months." The first part of the petitioner circulator's (alleged) statements is true, the second part is deceitful.

So, from the documents listed, we get a sum total of three alleged instances of deceit on the part of a petition circulator. One of the instances is a mere "implication," and another is second-hand from Vandenberg. This leaves a single example of somebody who claims to have signed a petition after hearing deceitful claims from a petition circulator. While I suppose that others have legitimate complaints, I have to wonder why the documents listed are so short on good examples. Even one example of deceit is cause for concern, yet there is not a single initiative that would be exempt from a few complaints.

* * *

At this point I want to make some more general comments about the story.

I've met Vandenberg and I respect him, even though we disagree on most issues. He and I have been on the same page several times; we both supported the effort to reform Colorado's asset forfeiture laws, and I cheered on his effort to require police officers to hand out business cards to people they stop but don't arrest. We agree on various other polices. But in the realm of economics, we disagree about practically everything.

I support the initiative to end state-sponsored affirmative action. First, I believe that state-sponsored affirmative action (as opposed to affirmative action by organizations not part of or funded by the state) violates or at least strains the "equal protection" clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Second, I believe that the proper way to advance the interests of minorities is to achieve a quality education system for minority youth. (I further hold that market education is the only way to achieve such quality, but that topic is too far afield for this post.) College is simply too late. Third, I believe that, where state funds are concerned, employees should be hired because they are the most qualified applicants, not because of their race or gender.

But the present story is about the proper way to put initiatives on the ballot, not about the fact that Vandenberg obviously opposes the measure, while I support it.

I would like to suggest that Vandenberg show restraint. Nearly every initiative uses paid petition circulators. Indeed, the same circulator might, at different times, collect signatures for two opposing measures.

The fact is that politics is complicated. Legislators, lawyers, judges, and juries regularly disagree about the meaning of statutes. It is inevitable that petition circulators will present a petition in a way that others can call into question. If Vandenberg is successful at challenging Connerly's initiative, does he imagine that the tactic will stop there? It will not. If Vandenberg can imagine any future initiative that he himself might support, I encourage him not to create a hyper-litigious atmosphere in which activists are trailing petition circulators in the hopes of catching some misstatement on tape.

Of course, while petition circulators can make honest mistakes and can honestly disagree about various elements of various petitions, outright deceit is clearly out of bounds. It should be most strongly discouraged by the sponsors of the initiative. There are three main reasons for this. First, dishonesty is morally wrong, and it fosters a generally less-honest society. Second, petition circulators should truthfully represent the nature of the initiative in order to advertise its existence. Third, as the present story demonstrates, dishonest circulators can create extremely negative publicity for the initiative in question.

What, then, is the proper remedy? First and foremost, it is the responsibility of people who sign petitions to read the language. If you trust the lingo of the circulator over the actual language of the initiative, then frankly you are the person most at fault. If you can't take an initiative seriously enough to read its language, then why are you signing the petition in the first place? Do you sign contracts without reading them, too?

Indeed, the petitions themselves urge signers to read the language. Following is the relevant statute:

1-40-110. Warning - ballot title.

(1) At the top of each page of every initiative or referendum petition section shall be printed, in a form as prescribed by the secretary of state, the following:

For anyone to sign any initiative or referendum petition with any name other than his or her own or to knowingly sign his or her name more than once for the same measure or to knowingly sign a petition when not a registered elector who is eligible to vote on the measure.


Before signing this petition, you are encouraged to read the text or the title of the proposed initiative or referred measure."

Iif you do sign a petition without bothering to read and evaluate it, then don't blame somebody else for your own civic failure.

That said, if petition circulators are genuinely found to use deceit in favor of some initiative, then organizations are right to go after them in the public arena. But I maintain that lodging legal challenges is usually not the proper way to go, unless the level of deceit is egregious or somebody is actually physically altering the petitions or some such.

According to The Denver Post, "Penalties for fraud could include disqualifying the batches of signatures collected by canvassers found to have misled voters. Errant petitioners could also face $500 fines and up to a year in county jail, [Rich] Coolidge [spokesman for the secretary of state] said." I believe that Coolidge is referring to 1-40-130, which is rather vague.

My read is that Vandenberg's group has a legitimate complaint, but not a legitimate legal challenge. Vandenberg earned publicity for his cause, but if he successfully presses the legal challenge he may make it more difficult -- and more expensive -- for any group to gather signatures. It would indeed be ironic if the result of Vandenberg's "progressive" challenge was to further advantage those with more money.

* April 6 update: While I originally claimed that Vandenberg's group challenged the measure "in court," that's not quite right. The Post reports that the challenge sets "the stage for a potential lawsuit," and that the "three formal complaints... have been sent [by the Secretary of State] to administrative law judges for evaluation, Coolidge said."


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Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Two New Ayn Rand Resources

The Ayn Rand Institute recently has launched two new web pages devoted to Ayn Rand and her work. includes various essays about the novel and its history, several hours of video by Onkar Ghate featuring a "chapter-by-chapter discussion," and audio recordings by Ayn Rand and others. reproduces in full the book by Marry Ann and Charles Sures. For me, the highlight of the web page is a collection of audio recordings by Mary Ann Sures, Leonard Peikoff, and others. So far I've listened to only a couple of the recordings, but they are delightful and fascinating.

These two new resources join the Ayn Rand Lexicon, which makes available extensive quotes from Rand's many works, organized topically.

Finally, makes available media releases and essays and, on the registered users' page (registration is free), an extensive library of audio and video recordings of Ayn Rand and others. For example, so far in 2008 the page has made available the lectures "Darwin and the Discovery of Evolution," by Keith Lockitch, and "The 'Market Failure' Fallacy," by Brian Simpson.

Though this material is available for free to the user, it is extremely valuable, and those of all backgrounds and levels can find many hours of illuminating discussions here. I applaud the Ayn Rand Institute for making these outstanding resources available to the general public.

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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Foolish Price Controls

It's almost as if Colorado Democrats are trying to actively destroy what's left of the private health-insurance market so that they can later impose socialized medicine. Yet, even though a Democratic plan to impose price controls should be an April Fools' joke, these legislators seem to be deadly serious, with an emphasis on the term "deadly."

The AP reports: "Democrats plan to introduce a package of bills to require health insurance firms [in part] to get prior approval for rate hikes..."

This is the same legislature that has imposed various mandates on insurance benefits, thereby driving up the cost of insurance.

It's just hard for me to believe that Democrats are this ignorant of basic economics. What is driving the artificial inflation of health-insurance costs is precisely the large collection of political controls over insurance. If it weren't for those controls, health insurance would cost far less, and many more people could afford it. But the Democrats have, so far as I have heard, expressed zero interest in repealing those controls. So what will happen if politicians add price controls to the mix? The result will be a shortage: fewer people will be able to obtain health insurance.

These Democrats seem to forget that a market price is determined by both consumers and producers. And both parties have the right to participate in arrangements by voluntary choice, without political meddling.

Note to Democrats: if you'd get a clue about economics and figure out that politicians do a horrible job of running the economy, you would pick up voters like me in a heart-beat. As I've recently discussed, I've already started voting for Democrats just because I'm so disgusted with Republicans. But this crazy talk about price controls and the like reminds me that Democrats want to control my every economic decision just as Republicans want to control my every personal decision. Is there anyone in Colorado government who actually understands and cares about liberty? It would sure be nice to have the option of voting for a candidate who didn't try to to run other people's lives for them.


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