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Monday, November 23, 2009

People Vote for Freedom with Their Feet and Effort

The following article originally was published November 23 by Grand Junction's Free Press.

People vote for freedom with their feet and effort

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

"Why are they all running to Colorado? What have they got down there that we haven't got?" So asks a villain in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. He complains about Colorado's primitive, lazy government that "does nothing outside of keeping law courts and a police department."

A young worker answers, "Maybe it's something you've got that they haven't got."

High taxes, economic controls, and intrusive politicians and bureaucrats kill production. Unfortunately, fearing Colorado's economic stagnation, the politically connected call not for more economic freedom but for more taxes. They act like doctors who prescribe bloodletting for anemia.

A recent Qwest-funded report from the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation bears the title, "Toward a More Competitive Colorado." But some of the report's recommendations would lead to higher taxes, less competitiveness, and a weaker economy.

The report notes that Colorado ranks well in areas of health, education, and investments. Yet, rather than promote more of the Western liberty that made Colorado prosperous, the report worries that politicians aren't spending enough of other people's money on college, preschool, infrastructure (however that's defined), and welfare.

"A Gordian Knot exists in Colorado's Constitution that makes governing a challenge," the report complains. That seems to be code for "gut the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights."

Though especially concerned about education, the report declines to discuss freeing colleges from state controls, expanding competition for K-12, and cutting taxes so families can better afford college and philanthropists can donate more.

The only constitutional change we need is to repeal Amendment 23, which sets education spending on auto-pilot regardless of economic conditions.

Meanwhile, as the Daily Sentinel reported Nov. 17, the Pew Center declared Colorado in "fiscal peril" because, darn it all, people get to vote on tax hikes.

Either people restrain the politicians or the opposite becomes true. The more the political class oppresses the people, the more people move away or reduce their production.

Rand's novel is about the nation's top producers going on strike against oppressive politics, some moving to Galt's Gulch where they can live in freedom. In Free to Choose, Milton Friedman warns that people vote with their feet, moving where they can enjoy the fruits of their labor.

This is true between states. Regarding last year's U.S. Economic Freedom Index, lead author Lawrence McQuillan summarizes, "People are moving to the freest states and fleeing the least free states."

Earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal declared New York the "tax capital of the world." The paper noted, "According to Census Bureau data, over the past decade 1.97 million New Yorkers left the state for greener pastures -- the biggest exodus of any state."

The same is true around the world: people tend to leave more repressive countries and move to freer ones. Recently we celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall, built by tyrants to keep an oppressed people from moving away.

Britain suffered a "brain drain" as their doctors sought to escape socialized medicine. When introducing the National Health Service, Aneurin Bevan bought off doctors for their political support, reportedly saying, "I stuffed their mouths with gold." Upon implementing the new system, he declared, "We now have the moral leadership of the world."

Yet many doctors suffered indigestion. Some found that this gold tasted a lot more like thirty pieces of silver. Others rebelled against the new political controls. They wanted no part of the "moral leadership" that put bureaucrats in charge of health. Some of these doctors moved to the United States.

If we go further down England's path, some doctors will move out of our country and cater to medical tourists. Others will retire early.

We've seen examples large and small of people giving up. Higher car fees have convinced some to sell the extra car or put off purchasing a new one. Some work less for taxable income and trade more goods and services (though such exchanges are supposed to be taxed, too).

Chris Edwards recently published disturbing figures at Cato. He writes, "While consumption, exports, and the government sector were up, private investment has fallen through the floor." Fearing more federal political controls, Edwards calls this "the death of private investment in America."

Meanwhile, unemployment nationally has crept over the double-digit marker, despite (or partly because of) President Obama's "shovel ready" stimulus projects. No need to look very far to figure out what it is that Obama is shoveling. An ABC headline illustrates part of the problem: "Jobs 'Saved or Created' in Congressional Districts That Don't Exist."

As one of our friends wondered, "You mean taking money out of the private sector, creating money out of thin air, and indebting future generations actually doesn't make us more prosperous?"

If we want to return to prosperity in Colorado and in our nation, we need less political interference and more economic liberty.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits from the Denver area.

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Monday, September 28, 2009

Fifty Ways to Leave Obama

The following article originally was published in the September 28, 2009, edition of Grand Junction's Free Press.

Fifty Ways to Leave Obama

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

"I'd like to help you in your struggle to be free / There must be fifty ways to leave your lover." -- Paul Simon

If you're a leftist Democrat, you may have started to question your love affair with Barack Obama.

Secularists of the left probably noticed that Obama has ramped up George W. Bush's program of faith-based welfare, trampling the wall between church and state. Civil libertarians may scratch their heads at Obama's fervor to extend the PATRIOT Act, and he has hardly been a friend to gay rights.

Pacifists can't be happy that the military remains in Iraq while the war in Afghanistan flares. Anti-corporate Democrats may wonder why Obama advocates so many billions of dollars for corporate welfare and proposes that the federal government force citizens to buy (politically controlled) products from the insurance industry.

If you're an honest leftie, Obama's administration has got to seem in many ways like George W. Bush's third term.

Obviously conservatives dislike Obama's anti-energy policies and his plans to increase controls of medicine.

Thankfully, as Obama's inaugural honeymoon comes to an end, there's a new book out that offers fifty ways to leave Obama.

The book's authors, however, are so codependent on the Chosen One that they write as though Obama walks on water -- when he's not changing it to wine. Thus, they titled their book, "50 Ways You Can Help Obama Change America."

But if you get past the title, you will find that the book is mostly about civic participation. Thus, it might be moderately useful regardless of your political goals. Ironically, the book may prove most useful for those fighting Obama's policies.

The book is written by Michael Huttner and Jason Salzman. Readers may recall that your younger author Ari and Huttner have had a couple of run-ins in the past. Last year, Huttner tried to go after the Independence Institute's Jon Caldara for saying "bitch slap" on the radio. Caldara was "demeaning women," Huttner proclaimed. Unfortunately for Huttner, left-wing comments on his own web page used the same phrase, Ari pointed out.

Earlier this year, Huttner went after Michelle Malkin when some random yokel with a sign posed for a photo with Malkin at a rally. The sign inappropriately compared Obama with Nazis. Huttner also blasted gubernatorial hopeful Josh Penry for speaking at the rally, even though neither he nor Malkin had anything to do with the sign.

Again Ari pointed out that many leftists inappropriately compared Bush to Nazis, including posters to Huttner's own web page.

The lesson in all of this is to adapt Huttner's political advice with some common sense, lest, like Huttner, you end up looking like a mean-spirited hypocrite.

Though we often disagree with Salzman, we find him to be a more measured and thoughtful activist, and he graciously sent Ari a review copy of the book.

In its policy advice, the book is utterly worthless. For example, on medical policy, the book with apparently straight text cites union statistics on the uninsured and bankruptcy -- figures that have been blown out of the water by serious analysts. So just skip the entire first part of the book.

We were initially fearful that you can "help Obama" if you "plant your own garden" or "quit smoking." Neither of us smokes, and Ari and his wife planted 48 tomato plants this year.

But then we realized that Huttner and Salzman must be growing something special in their gardens if they take their own advice here seriously. "Eating food that's grown nearby eliminates pollution," these authors tell us. That's nonsense: growing a garden requires production of soil, seeds, tools, etc.

Notably, production and distribution of the book also generates pollution, but strangely we found no advice for publishing only ebooks, not paper ones.

Huttner and Salzman also claim to endorse "supporting small farmers." But doesn't growing your own food mean you're not supporting small farmers?

The key point the book misses is that, if you grow your own food, you don't have to pay taxes on your labor or the produce, and that is surely not helping Obama's (or Governor Ritter's) tax-and-spend agenda.

So let's move on to the serious advice. "Attend a leadership training." We agree! Some of our friends attend Liberty Toastmasters, People's Press Collective technology training, and the Leadership Program of the Rockies. Contact legislators and testify at hearings.

"Get news that's truly fair and balanced." For instance, read and, along with this column

"Stage or attend a rally, media event, or protest." while the left obviously hates it when free-market advocates take to the streets, we fully endorse peaceful, civil protest.

We've followed a lot of the book's advice in fighting Obama's agenda of political controls. We urge you to do the same.

"Slip out the back, Jack / Make a new plan, Stan... Just drop off the key, Lee / And get yourself free."

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari, edits from the Denver area.

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Mandate, Not Public Option, Defines Obamacare

Rather than "hope and change," Barack Obama offers a warmed-over Republican policy -- Romneycare -- that has already failed in Massachusetts. The core of Obama's fake reform (described most recently in his address to Congress) is not, as many conservatives suggest, the "public option." It is instead the proposal to force people to buy politically-controlled insurance. (For details on the Massachusetts fiasco, which Obama hopes to replicate on a national scale, see the articles by Paul Hsieh and Michael Cannon.)

It is the mandate that ties together the various tenets of Obamacare, particularly insurance controls (regarding coverage and pre-existing conditions) and expanded subsidies.

Regarding pre-existing conditions, I've pointed out, "Forcing insurers to ignore pre-existing conditions means allowing consumers to wait until they get sick to buy insurance... The logical consequence of forcing insurers to ignore pre-existing conditions is to force everyone to purchase insurance..."

Obama made the same point in his speech: "Unless everybody does their part [and purchases insurance under compulsion], many of the insurance reforms we seek -- especially requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions -- just can't be achieved." Just so.

Nevermind the fact that federal policies largely created the problems of uncovered pre-existing conditions.

Obama admits, "More and more Americans worry that if you move, lose your job, or change your job, you'll lose your health insurance too." But why is health insurance (and not any other sort of insurance) tied to employment for most Americans? It is because of federal tax distortions that drive expensive, non-portable, employer-paid insurance.

As I've noted (and again), the vast net of continuously changing insurance controls also helps to effectively outlaw stable, long-term policies that would remedy the problem of pre-existing conditions.

For more on this issue, please see Paul Hsieh's outstanding article, "How the Freedom to Contract Protects Insurability."

Obama wants to force insurers to ignore pre-existing conditions and also force insurers to cover preventative care (which would, incidentally, outlaw my high-deductible plan and force my wife and me to buy dramatically more costly insurance). The inevitable result of such controls is to jack up insurance premiums (leaving aside Obama's fantasy that giving people more "free" health care will somehow curb costs).

Mandated insurance requires expanded subsidies. After all, you can't force somebody to purchase a product that they literally cannot afford. If Obama follows the lead of Republicans, his "tax credits" will in many cases be direct subsidies.

Obama hopes to cheat a little on his mandate, claiming "there will be a hardship waiver for those individuals who still cannot afford coverage." (Whether you can "afford" this politically-manipulated "coverage" will be determined by the federal government.) Apparently Obama would subsidize these "hardship" cases through some combination of tax-funded welfare and tax-funded insurance.

With or without the "public option," the core of Obamacare remains the same: force everyone (or nearly everyone) to buy insurance, federally control what insurance people can buy (making it more expensive), and forcibly transfer more wealth to pay for health.

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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Obama Wrong About Mandatory Auto Insurance

I watched Barack Obama's address on health policy tonight on television at Liberty On the Rocks at the Denver Tech Center. Both NPR and Fox 31 sent reporters to cover the speech and the free-market response to it. I'll have more to say about the speech in coming days. For now, I want to correct but one of Obama's remarks:

"That's why under my plan, individuals will be required to carry basic health insurance -- just as most states require you to carry auto insurance."

It is simply not true that states "require you to carry auto insurance." Rather, you must buy auto insurance (or face fines) only if you drive an automobile on politically operated roads.

For example, Colorado's statute 10-4-619 states that "compulsory coverage" applies to "every owner of a motor vehicle who operates the motor vehicle on the public highways of this state or who knowingly permits the operation of the motor vehicle on the public highways of this state."

In other words, if you don't own a motor vehicle, or you don't drive your vehicle on "public highways," you aren't required to buy auto insurance.

It is indeed interesting that Obama sees a politically controlled industry as the model for health care.

Obama's proposal to force everybody to buy politically controlled insurance is not like the requirement to buy auto insurance for public highways. Under Obama's proposal, there is no escape and no exception. If you don't buy insurance that politicians and their appointed bureaucrats approve for you, you face hefty fines. If you want to self-insure, or if you don't like the politically-approved insurance, that's tough. You will be forced to buy it. Because Obama is all about choice, competition, and freedom. And two plus two equals five.

September 10 Update: Wesword's Michael Roberts picked up on the NPR coverage of Liberty On the Rocks and also quoted this blog post. As I pointed out in the comments, this post made a delimited point quickly. I've written much more about mandated insurance elsewhere.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Rationing inherent in Obamacare: Sources for Gazette Article

The Colorado Springs Gazette published my article, "Rationing inherent in Obamacare," on Sunday (despite its August 14 posting date). Please read the entire article there. Here my purpose is to provide related links and context.

Barack Obama's line about "not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller," may be seen on YouTube. Unfortunately, the clip omits some of the context. Thankfully, ABC has published the complete transcript of the June 24 broadcast.

Turning to the second page, we find the following lines:

But what we can do is make sure that at least some of the waste that exists in the system that's not making anybody's mom better, that is loading up on additional tests or additional drugs that the evidence shows is not necessarily going to improve care, that at least we can let doctors know and your mom know that, you know what? Maybe this isn't going to help. Maybe you're better off not having the surgery, but taking the painkiller.

And those kinds of decisions between doctors and patients, and making sure that our incentives are not preventing those good decision, and that -- that doctors and hospitals all are aligned for patient care, that's something we can achieve.

My short answer is, "Who is this 'we,' compadre?"

John Lewis's evaluation of HR 3200 is available online. You can also read the entire text of the bill for yourself.

The sign from the July 29 Colorado Springs rally is shown in the second photo from a review by Americans for Prosperity. I covered the August 6 Longmont rally on my web page. The information about Mike Sola is available via YouTube and the Detroit Free Press.

As a couple of examples of British headlines, here's one about a heart surgery that was initially denied; here's another about painkilling injections" (via Patient Power). John Stossel's report, which includes information about England and Canada, is at ABC.

Watch the Independence Institute video on Oregon rationing:

I got the transcript of Obama's appearance in New Hampshire from the LA Times.

But, again, for my core arguments as to why rationing is inevitable under Obamacare, read the Gazette article!

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Thursday, August 6, 2009

Report Yourself to Obama's Thought Police

Diana Hsieh points out that opponents of Obamacare need to report themselves to the Obama administration for their "fishy" views.

From the White House: "Since we can't keep track of all of them here at the White House, we're asking for your help. If you get an email or see something on the web about health insurance reform that seems fishy, send it to"

Here is Diana's self-report:

Dear Minister of Propaganda,

I'd like to report myself. I think that the Obama administration is attempting a government takeover of health care. Mandates are bad enough in themselves, and they're just one step on the road to total government control of medicine. That's appalling. I support individual rights and free markets in health care -- not more government welfare and controls.

I've told that to tons of people. Please tell me when and where I should report to my re-education camp.

I like hers so much I wrote a similar one:

Dear Minister of Propaganda,

As per your request, I'd like to report an American citizen to you for daring to exercise his First Amendment rights and speak out against Barack Obama's attempted political takeover of medicine.

I am reporting myself.

Not only do I believe that political interference in medicine is wrong and impractical, but I've told many other people about my views, and I intend to repeat this grave offense again today.

I fear I am an incorrigible practitioner of the First Amendment and an intransigent defender of individual rights. Please notify me when you have established your re-education camps, so that I may report in person.


Ari Armstrong
Westminster, CO

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Monday, August 3, 2009

In Health Debate, Left and Right Need to Check Premises

The following article originally was published on August 3, 2009, by Grand Junction's Free Press.

In health debate, left and right need to check premises

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Hundreds gathered at the state capitol last Tuesday to protest the further political takeover of medicine. On Wednesday more than a thousand gathered in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.

The left has also been vocal. Around the time of the rallies, Rep. Diana DeGette released a speech praising Democratic "reform," and assorted columnists joined in.

Obviously, our sympathies tend toward those who protest Obamacare. (Your junior author gave a speech at the Denver rally that you can view at However, while we criticize the left, we also disagree with various sentiments expressed by the right.

We'll begin with the left, where snappy but bogus statistical arguments continue to defy reasoned analysis. DeGette claimed that the United States has "one of the worst results in infant mortality." Ed Quillen of the Denver Post wrote that the French pay less for health care for better results. "We pay considerably more to get shorter lifespans and more dead babies," he wrote.

But obviously health care is only one of many influences on life expectancy (which continues to rise here). Diet plays a large role; Americans tend to carry around more extra pounds. Economists Robert Ohsfeldt and John Schneider point out that relatively high rates of car crashes and homicides depress U.S. life expectancy. By Quillen's logic, politicized medicine can also cure risky driving.

The U.S. beats France hands down when it comes to cancer survival or access to health technology.

As Sally Pipes and others point out, infant mortality is recorded differently in France than it is in the U.S. Here an infant with "any sign of life" that then dies counts as an infant mortality. France adds a viability standard, so the same infant that counts as an "infant mortality" in the U.S. may count as a stillbirth in France. Ronald Baily adds that more infants tend to be born underweight in the U.S. because more teens have children here.

DeGette and Quillen damn American doctors precisely because they heroically try to save infants that in France would be discarded.

The left suffers worse ideological problems. Mike Littwin, also of the Post, argued last week that equality-driven, politically-run health care is a moral issue.

We quite agree it is a moral issue. It is immoral to seize people's resources by force. It is immoral to forcibly override the independent judgment of doctors, patients, insurers, and consumers and to nullify their agreements. We oppose politically-run medicine because it violates morality. Moral health care respects people's rights of liberty, property, and voluntary association.

Unfortunately, the right also veers off track. Previously we wrote about the failings of Republicans like Mitt Romney, who pushed through mandatory, subsidized insurance in Massachusetts, and Jim DeMint, who advocates different health welfare.

Many at the Denver rally urged members of Congress to "read the bill first." We agree, but politicized health care threatens our health and liberty even if they read the bill.

Some opposed Obamacare because it may include tax financing of abortions. Yet this is a side-line issue. We get the eerie feeling that some on the right would accept bureaucratic medicine if it came packaged with an abortion ban (a possibility that should give the left pause).

We join the many calls for tort reform, but again that's not a fundamental issue. Reining in law suits won't fix the problems caused by political interference in health funding, delivery, and insurance. Still, we do want to weed out frivolous suits while compensating damage resulting from negligence.

One of the speakers at the Denver rally, Preston Gibson of the Jefferson Economic Council, eloquently argued that the "public option" would drive out private insurance.

Unfortunately, Gibson also claimed that "employer-sponsored health insurance has been the foundation of the highest quality health care on earth." Wrong. Employer-paid insurance is the product of federal tax manipulation. It is non-portable. It is expensive because it encourages people to use insurance for routine care rather than unexpected, high-cost emergencies.

American medicine is great despite the IRS-promoted employer-paid system. We should move away from employer-paid insurance to individual policies. We support the expansion of Health Savings Accounts to allow the purchase of insurance with pre-tax dollars.

Jeff Crank, organizer of the Denver rally, likewise made many admirable points. However, he also claimed that the "right kind of health care reform" includes "eliminating the pre-existing conditions exclusion." We take this to mean imposing more political controls on insurance companies.

When insurers are forced to take people with pre-existing conditions, many people wait to buy insurance until they get sick, undermining the very purpose of insurance (and leading to Romney-style mandates). The real answer is to remove all the political controls of insurance that have mostly destroyed the market for long-term policies.

Too often neither the left nor the right gets it. The name of our favorite health policy group summarizes the essential values we must protect: Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine.

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pro-Liberty Health Rally Draws Hundreds

Hundreds of people came to the state capitol in Denver today to protest the political takeover of medicine endorsed by Barack Obama. Slapstick has posted numerous photos and commentary. [Update: See also Slapstick's coverage of the Wednesday rallies in Fort Collins and Colorado Springs.] The Denver Post also published a decent story with photographs.

Face the State has added its collection of photos along with summaries of the talks.

The Denver Business Journal nicely summarizes Jon Caldara's remarks. It also quotes a press release from Regress Now's Michael Huttner, who, because he can't sustain any arguments for his side, resorts to projecting his astroturf green onto a large and obviously grass-roots movement.

The Colorado Springs Gazette summarizes the messages of the daytime rally as well as a smaller, leftist rally the same evening.

On Tuesday evening I joined Bob Glass's radio show to discuss the rally (during the second half of the first hour).


Speaker highlights:

My speech:

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hope and Change in Harry Potter

The following article originally was published by the July 22, 2009, Denver Daily News. It is also available through the Independence Institute website.

Hope and change in Harry Potter

by Ari Armstrong

With Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince breaking movie records, now is a great time to review the political themes of the series.

In the fifth book, Order of the Phoenix, the students of Hogwarts rebel against the Ministry of Magic's unjust exertion of power over the school.

In the final book, Deathly Hallows, the Ministry falls under the control of the evil Lord Voldemort. The fallen government censors the press, brutalizes wizards and Muggles (non-magical people) alike, and persecutes wizards born to the "wrong" parents through the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, echoing the vicious evils of the Nazi era. The Potter series thus features strong anti-totalitarian themes.

Between those two books rests Half-Blood Prince, which tones down the politics in favor of romance and backstory. Yet politics flows in the undercurrents.

In one important scene in the book (that unfortunately didn't make it into the film), the Minister of Magic visits Harry and tries to get him to feign support for the Ministry in order to comfort people.

The Minister says, "It's all perception, isn't it? It's what people believe that's important." He continues, "You are a symbol of hope for many, Harry. The idea that there is somebody out there who might be able... to destroy [Voldemort]... gives people a lift." The Minister urges Harry to "stand alongside the Ministry, and give everyone a boost."

The Minister asks Harry to pop "in and out of the Ministry" to "give the right impression." He offers Harry a payoff in the form of help getting a job. The Minister says, "It's all about giving people hope, the feeling that exciting things are happening."

Harry realizes that misguided "hope" isn't worth much. He retorts, "I don't like some of the things the Ministry's doing. Locking up Stan Shunpike [who is known to be innocent], for instance... You're making Stan a scapegoat, just like you want to make me a mascot."

The Minister condescends, "These are dangerous times, and certain measures need to be taken. You are sixteen years old..." In other words, shut up and do what you're told.

Half-Blood Prince was published in 2005. Four years later, I certainly have the feeling that exciting things are happening here in America. In the name of hope we are offered astronomically expensive new programs that forcibly transfer more wealth from some citizens to others and expand political control over our lives.

These are dangerous times, at least for economic prosperity, and "certain measures need to be taken." What measures? Not even those voting on the bills quite know. It's about perception, giving people a lift, not long-term consequences. At least the rivers of political payola are flowing.

I don't want to pretend that J. K. Rowling, author of the novels, would agree with any of my particular political views. Still, the Minister's words remind me of a lot of what I'm hearing from American politicians these days.

When Rahm Emanuel, President Obama's Chief of Staff, said politicians should "never let a serious crisis go to waste," what is that besides putting the politics of perception above the truth?

Vice President Joe Biden said, "We're going to go bankrupt as a nation. Now when I say that people look at me and say, 'What are you talking about, Joe? You're telling me we got to go spend money to keep from going bankrupt?' The answer is yes, I'm telling you."

The claim that the way to avoid bankruptcy is to rack up insane deficits insults the intelligence of every American family that has ever made a budget. Ah, but "certain measures need to be taken." And we are as children, awaiting the guidance of our political guardians.

I don't like some of the things our government is doing. All the hope in the world cannot compensate for misguided and unjust policies.

Ari Armstrong, a guest writer for the Independence Institute, is the author of Values of Harry Potter and the publisher of

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Stimulus and Partisanship

Partisans to the left of me, partisans to the right. It was a sea of party politics. The partisans of good ideas, the searching thinkers, those who criticize the errors of their friends with the same enthusiasm that they criticize the errors of their enemies, were hard to find.

This is my third article about yesterday's "Pork Roast Rally" in protest of the so-called "stimulus" package. I've also published photos of the event and extensive commentary about it (along with an audio recording). As I mentioned, the event was overly partisan, in the party sense, to fulfill its potential as a pro-liberty rally. But the few left-wing activists in attendance were no less devoted to party politics.

The Swastika Sign

Take, for example, the sign with the swastika. Mark Wolf writes about this and displays a photograph. Michael Huttner and Jason Salzman, the two left-wingers who attended, noticed this sign, took multiple photographs of it, and made a big deal out of it.

The sign was a dumb idea. Okay, the technical economic definition of fascism is political control of nominally private property, so in that sense Obama is moving in the direction of fascism (as was Republican George W. Bush before him). But the Nazis were particular sorts of fascists with a genocidal racist bent. Does that in any way describe Obama? No. So why go there? Besides that, using Nazi imagery tends toward shrillness in the course of normal American politics, and it is imagery that is easily misinterpreted (either innocently or willfully). So, again, dumb idea.

But the left's treatment of the sign is ridiculously hypocritical. Let's think back... did anyone on the left ever, at any point, call Bush a fascist or equate him with Hitler? Obviously. Many, many times. So why is it okay for the left to do it but not the right? (I think both sides ought to calm down a bit and stick to the substantive issues.) Did Huttner and Salzman condemn their fellow leftists with equal vigor? Hardly.

Huttner's organization has also made a big deal out of the fact that Michelle Malkin had her photograph taken with the guy and his sign. But the guy approached Malkin, as did many others. If a guy with a "Bush = Hitler" sign had his picture taken with a prominent left-wing pundit, what would Huttner and Salzman have to say about that? I imagine they would say something like, "Look, you can't condemn a whole crowd, or a popular pundit, for one random rallier's stupid choice in imagery." And that would be the sensible view. Whatever happened to the goose-gander rule?

Bailout Madness: Bush Versus Obama

My view is consistent: the Obama "stimulus" package is bad, and so was Bush's. This is a view rooted in the ideas of liberty, not party politics. I am perfectly happy to condemn Republicans and Democrats alike for violating economic liberty and individual rights.

My Democratic and Republican friends were less eager to do so. Huttner actively promoted the Obama "stimulus" while condemning Bush's. Jon Caldara and State Senator Shawn Mitchell opposed Obama's "stimulus" and expressed opposition to Bush's stimulus -- just before explaining why it was more justified than Obama's. I found their respective attempts to defend their parties humorous.

To their credit, both Caldara and Mitchell came out strongly against the federal expansions of the Republican Bush. Meanwhile, I have yet to meet a Democrat who does not treat Obama as something approaching Messianic.

Here is an audio recording of Huttner's comments. Huttner's position of opposing the Bush "bailout" while endorsing Obama's "bailout" makes no sense whatsoever.

Listeners will also notice that a couple of misguided ralliers started shouting down Huttner in the middle of my interview. Salzman is saying, "Let him speak!" in the background. I'm saying, "hey, hey," trying to shut up the rallier as he was telling Huttner to "get the hell out of here." Look, I understand that passions tend to run high during rallies, but Salzman and Huttner had every right to be there. The entire purpose of the rally was to capture some of Obama's media on the "stimulus" signing. Salzman and Huttner, likewise, were trying to capture some of the ralliers' media, and they succeeded. That's the way the game works, so keep those tempers in check.

I've compiled the comments of Caldara and Mitchell on the respective "stimulus" packages (sorry about the wind, which was incredibly strong in Denver yesterday, prompting me to joke that the "winds of change" aren't so pleasant).

Caldara argued that, while he opposed the Bush bailout, at least the money is supposed to be paid back. That struck me as a weak defense; clearly taxpayers won't get back a good chunk of that money. Plus, Caldara included tax breaks as part of Obama's "stimulus" package; shouldn't those be treated differently than straight spending, if we're going to treat "loans" differently?

Mitchell made a more sophisticated argument about liquidity (while again opposing the Bush bailout). But the argument is bogus. What the Bush bailout accomplished was to reward failing banks and prevent the financial restructuring that would have put the economy on sounder footing. Bush also oversaw a massive assertion of more federal control over the banking industry, re-writing private contracts as he went. The long-term result of this will be to further socialize banks, leading to less economic stability and more political manipulation. As for the general liquidity argument, clearly the Federal Reserve -- itself a political intrusion in the market -- ought not artificially reduce the money supply, as it did during parts of the Great Depression. But that's far different than just handing out "free" money to banks, which in some cases were essentially blackmailed into taking the funds whether they wanted them or not.

In general, a recession is not a primary economic problem: it is a symptom of previous malinvestment promoted by the federal government. As George Reisman exlpains, a recession is the period of readjustment, in which businesses tend to slash (nominal) prices and wages in the process of getting the economy going again. Not only is federal "stimulus" unnecessary for recovery, it damages real economic recovery.

I realize both Caldara and Mitchell were playing devil's advocate while opposing the Bush bailout. Nevertheless, it is interesting to note that their first reaction was not to blast Bush's bailout and explain why it was a bad idea, but to defend it relative to Obama's bailout. That is a party instinct that I do not share.

Notes on Partisanship

Salzman and Huttner carried around a ridiculous sign blaming the recession solely on George W. Bush and Colorado State Senator Josh Penry, neglecting the obvious fact that the federal congress as well as the entire state government have been in the hands of Democrats for some time. Their logic -- that rising unemployment in the last year of Bush's presidency proves that Bush and his fellow Republicans alone caused the recession -- is laughably simplistic. In fact both Democrats and Republicans had a hand in forming the federal policies over many years that ultimately culminated in the recession. To blame Bush alone is silly enough; to add Penry to the mix is just partisan stupidity. (As Salzman acknowledged, they expect Penry to run for higher office next year.)

I've also spliced together comments of Huttner, Caldara, and Mitchell on partisanship.

Huttner's idea of moving beyond partisanship is for everybody to follow Obama. Well, no thanks. Certainly I advocate partisanship for good ideas, if not for parties.

Caldara defended his speaking list without adding much new.

Mitchell came out strongly against Bush, saying, "George Bush was a terrible domestic president in many ways. Actually I think he was pretty good on supporting growth-oriented tax policies, and on at least raising the issue of Social Security. Beyond that, he was a big-spending, over-regulating mistake."

Now that was a good answer that went beyond party politics.

The GOP's Faith-Based Problem

Unfortunately, when I asked Mitchell about the GOP's problems with social issues, his answer was less convincing. I have argued that the GOP's faith-based politics, in addition to being wrong, is a huge political obstacle.

Mitchell tried to downplay the social issues:

It's a real conflict, but the juxtaposition is grossly exaggerated. When you talk about social policy, we're talking basically about abortion and marriage policies. ... Even if you hold socially conservative views on those two issues, it doesn't thrust the state nearly as heavily into everyone's doings as liberal economic control does.

Anyone who has read the paper I coauthored against Amendment 48 knows why I disagree with Mitchell on that point. The tendency toward theocracy is at least as dangerous as the tendency toward left-wing socialism.

To me, Mitchell is the prime example of the Republican tragedy. He's very smart, and he truly gets the economic case for liberty. At the same time, he promotes rights-violating government in personal areas. Republicans who could combine Mitchell's economic sense, public grace, and brains with the corresponding social views of liberty would be unstoppable in Colorado. Such candidates could make clean, thoughtful, partisan politics something to again savor.

Unless that happens, I say a pox on both parties' houses.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Pork Roast Mixes Liberty, Populism, and Partisanship

It was a hugely successful rally today at Denver's state capitol to protest the so-called "stimulus" package that President Obama signed while in town. Hundreds of people showed up. Jon Caldara ripped up dollars as an act of civil disobedience to protest the "stimulus." The hugely popular Michelle Malkin arrived with roasted pork. A live pig trotted about. Speakers denounced the federal spending, guiding the crowd alternately in cheering, booing, and chanting. The media attended, and some even covered the event.

Despite the overwhelming media cheerleading for Obama's "stimulus" package, a lot of regular people remain angry about it, very angry, and the success of today's rally shows only a little of that bubbling to the surface.

At the same time, the rally sent a few mixed messages, a few of the participants stepped out of line, and Republican partisanship carried the day. Former congressman Tom Tancredo spent several minutes of the rally ranting against immigration, both legal and illegal. Several others wore anti-immigration shirts or carried anti-immigration signs. These folks don't want economic liberty: they merely want the federal government to control the economy in different ways. A couple of guys shouted down Michael Huttner, a left-wing activist, as I was trying to interview him. The fact that Dick Wadhams, chair of the state GOP, took the stage indicates the partisan flavor of the event.

A personal anecdote suggests why I felt a bit out of place. I had printed a few signs with two messages: "Stimulus? Try Liberty," and "What Would Mises Do?" Yes, I know that, in the general culture, Mises is an obscure figure recognized by few. Yet I still like the quote, as it might provoke some to look him up. I figured that Mises would be widely recognized by those at the rally and that the signs would elicit knowing glances of solidarity. Yet when I offered somebody a sign, I heard, "Who's Mises?" I explained with understatement, "He's a free-market economist."

Perhaps I shouldn't make too much of it; after all, somebody else had a sign referring to Hayek's Road to Serfdom, while another sign referred to Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Still. "Who's Mises?" At a rally supposedly about economic liberty? That's a bit like asking "who's Jesus" at Catholic mass or "who's Lars" at a Metallica concert.

But on with the rally. My photos of the event are available, and Slapstick provides video of the event. For those who prefer lower-bandwidth mp3 audio, I've provided a recording of the entire formal event.

Jim Pfaff from Americans for Prosperity kicked off the event:

Is everybody stimulated? [Crowd chants "no!"] Why not? Because it's not stimulus. We're here today today to say, Barack Obama, you don't know stimulus.

Stimulus is when individuals and businesses are able to take their own decisions and go out and make a life for themselves. To pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now do you pursue happiness through big-government programs? You make your decisions for happiness.

You should be able to make those decisions, and this stimulus package takes decision-making away from individuals like yourselves. And we want to say no more pork. ...

We want real stimulus, and that's what we're here to talk about today. When you consider Barack Obama's program, he takes money from current and future taxpayers, promising to "invest" -- so-called -- in the economy. Except that it's not going to work. He's going to have to come back and ask for more money, and we're here today to say, no more money.

That, to me, guys, looks like a Ponzi scheme. And in my opinion, Obama, Pelosi, and Reed are the Burnie Madoff Democrats who want to take our money and use it for their purposes, and we're here to say, no more!

Next, Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute took the microphone:

So, are we feeling stimulated yet? Let's make this clear: this is not what we usually do. Usually at this time of day, we're at work. All we want to do is get back to work -- and keep what we earn. According to the CBO, the long-term impacts of this is going to be about $30,000 per family. ...

Caldara introduced Michelle Malkin, who ripped also the Republicans who supported the stimulus:

Thank you, my fellow un-Patriots. You know, Barack Obama gave special phone calls to the members of what I call the turn-coat caucus, Specter, Snow, and Collins, who were behind the engineering of this trillion-dollar sell-out. And he praised them for their patriotism. And my response is, if selling out our children and our grandchildren's future is patriotism, I am very proud to be an un-Patriot in the age of Obama.

When President Obama signs the bill here in Denver, it will represent an unprecedented act of generational theft in this country.

Chuck Schumer said that there wasn't anybody in this country who cared about the pork in this bill. And I think that the most important reason that we're here today is to say, yes, we do care. ...

Caldara next introduced Tancredo. He said, "If President Obama wanted to do one thing for American workers... he would stop the illegal immigration into this country. He would reduce the number of people coming here every day legally." Wow. Not a single word about restoring economic liberty, because that is not a goal that the Tancredo wing of the GOP shares. Why Caldara invited Tancredo is beyond me.

Shawn Mitchell thankfully and predictably stuck to theme:

Today is unfortunately historic. It marks one of the biggest, most expensive mistakes in the history of American domestic policy. Obama-Reed-Palosi couldn't decide if they wanted a bill that was an economic boost, a big-spending welfare wish-list, or a politician free-for-all pork fest. So they did all three. I don't get it. If the problem is that people are borrowing too much on credit cards and on home equity, how does it help things for the federal government to shove us aside and show us what a world-class credit binge looks like?

We today, sadly, are betting our grandchildren's future on the falsehood that you can spend your way to prosperity. You cannot. The Obama-Reed-Palosi lurch to the left is not the change that Americans voted for. We need to remember, we need to get involved, and tell the federal government, live within your means. Thank you.

State Senator Nancy Spence, having to compete with the introduction of the live pig, made some noncommittal remarks about how politicians have to do something, just not what this bill states.

State Senator David Schultheis complained that the "stimulus" package does not sufficiently crack down on illegal immigration. It is a shame that Mitchell had to compete with such off-topic nonsense.

State Senator Kevin Lumberg again got back on track but offered no new substance.

State Representative Cindy Acree said, "Thank you Coloradans for joining together to say that we don't expanded government intervention in our lives. We can manage our lives, our businesses, our health care better than the government can."

Josh Penry, showing good stage presence, said, "I believe that history will remember this vote, this moment, this bill as the moment when Republicans reclaim the mantle of fiscal discipline that is rightfully ours." That would certainly be a nice change of pace.

Wadhams pointed out that many Republicans opposed the so-called bailout. Caldara followed the state GOP chair's brief remarks with the unconvincing note that "this is not a Republican or Democrat event." He then introduced yet another Republican politician, State Representative B. J. Nikkel, who delivered a nice if generic speech. Then Pfaff predicted that Colorado would again be a "red state."

State Senator Kent Lambert said:

We're going to start the road back this afternoon; I'm introducing a bill, we're going to have it here in committee this afternoon, to do something that many of you will find very interesting and will support. That's to put the state checkbook back on the gold standard. Starting this afternoon we're joining with other states to do this. We're going to bring fiscal responsibility back to the United States of America.

I have absolutely no idea what he's talking about. States cannot possibly reinstate the gold standard; that is a federal matter.

Peggy Littleton from the state board of education tried unsuccessfully to tie the "stimulus" to her position. (By this time I was wondering just how many speakers Caldara had invited. I guess it's good to get them on record.)

State Representative Frank McNulty repeated the same stuff. He did let slip, "How can a president who campaigned on change give us so much more of the same?" Do you mean, more of the same of what George W. Bush gave us?

Finally -- thank God it was nearly over -- Pfaff regained the microphone, which he passed off to Caldara to close out. Caldara said, "We believe we can spend our money better than government can. In order to support this package, you must believe one simple truth: that somehow Washington can spend your money better than you can."

Again, it was overall a great rally. Still, while it is totally legitimate to criticize pork-barrel, special-interest spending, the fundamental issue is not pork. The fundamental issue is that people have the right to control their own income and associate voluntarily, and therefore forced wealth transfers and political controls of the economy are wrong. The issue, then, individual rights, as manifest in a free market, the system of economic liberty. Yet, by my count, all the speakers combined mentioned the word "liberty" exactly once, and they did not mention free markets or individual rights. Caldara and Pfaff did say that people should be able to control their own resources, and several other speakers at least hinted that economic liberty is a good thing. Yet two of the speakers concentrated their remarks on further violating economic liberty through protectionist immigration restrictions. Thus, as successful as the rally was, it was also a missed opportunity in many ways.

I'll continue the discussion in a subsequent post, "Stimulus and Partisanship."

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Pork Roast Rally in Photos

Here are my photographs of today's "Pork Roast" Rally in opposition to the so-called "stimulus" package that President Obama signed today. Both events took place in Denver. My photos may be reproduced if credited to See Slapstick and Michelle Malkin for additional photos and notes. In a future post, I'll include audio of the event and extensive commentary.

The $30,000 estimate of the total per-household cost for the "stimulus" comes from Representative Paul Ryan.

Jim Pfaff of Americans for Prosperity prepares to address the crowd congregated at the State Capitol.

Left-wingers Jason Salzman and Michael Huttner come out for the show.

Jon Caldara of the Independence Institute fires up the crowd.

Michelle Malkin delivers a short but feisty talk.

"One Trick" Tom Tancredo does what he does best: lament immigration.

State Senator Shawn Mitchell, on the other hand, addresses the matter of the day with his cold logic and passionate ideals.

State Senator Josh Penry, the man on the radar of Salzman and Huttner, may run for higher office next year.

Brad Jones of Face the State (with the still camera) and Michael Sandoval of Slapstick Politics (with the video camera) cover the event.

This was the lucky pig at the rally, who seemed to be enjoying himself. (Or herself.)

This was the unlucky pig, served with a smile by Michelle Malkin to protest the pork-laden "stimulus" package.

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Obama Then and Now

I ran across this hilarious line at Barack Obama's web page: "Obama and Biden believe that a critical step in restoring fiscal discipline is enforcing pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) budgeting rules which require new spending commitments or tax changes to be paid for by cuts to other programs or new revenue."

I guess I didn't realize that the new trillion-dollar "stimulus" package will be covered by cuts in other programs. Or, Obama is a damned liar, one of the two.

We're now operating on the spend-as-you-go (SAYGO) paradigm, otherwise known as the seat-of-your-pants approach (SOYP), or the special-interest-welfare-expansion program (SIWEX).


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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Barack Obama and the Politics of Cynicism

Barack Obama said many wonderful things in his inauguration address, and he said them very well. Ultimately, however, Obama offers the message that economic liberty must be forcibly restrained because free-market principles no longer apply.

Obama calls his opponents cynics. What is cynicism, and which side exhibits it? Obama uses the term basically to mean a nay-sayer. The modern term but loosely connects to its Greek roots; Oxford's dictionary defines a cynic by today's usage: "A person disposed to rail or find fault; now usually: One who shows a disposition to disbelieve in the sincerity or goodness of human motives and actions, and is wont to express this by sneers and sarcasm; a sneering fault finder."

Obviously merely finding fault is not cynicism; anyone who takes any position whatsoever necessarily finds fault with the other side. Instead, cynicism is faulting others' positions or motives without good reason, or faulting mankind as such though no such conclusion is warranted; it is substituting the sneer for the argument. So what does Obama have to say about cynicism?

Obama complains about "worn-out dogmas that for far too long have strangled our politics"; he says "the time has come to set aside childish things." He leaves his meaning obscure, but clearly he's setting up somebody for a fall.

Obama then offers due praise to the American spirit:

[I]t has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things -- some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor -- who have carried us up the long, rugged path towards prosperity and freedom. ... We remain the most prosperous, powerful nation on Earth. Our workers are no less productive than when this crisis began. Our minds are no less inventive, our goods and services no less needed than they were last week or last month or last year. Our capacity remains undiminished.

He then summarizes his ambitious goals:

The state of our economy calls for action: bold and swift. And we will act not only to create new jobs but to lay a new foundation for growth.

We will build the roads and bridges, the electric grids and digital lines that feed our commerce and bind us together.

We will restore science to its rightful place and wield technology's wonders to raise health care's quality... and lower its costs.

We will harness the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories. And we will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.

Obama's vision for the federal government is ambitious. He wants the federal government to aggressively fund not only transportation infrastructure, but communications, scientific investigation, health care, energy production, and education. Later he says the federal government should also help people find jobs and prepare for retirement. The scope of this federal control of the economy is breathtaking. Though he invokes the spirit of the Founders, the sort of federal government that Obama promotes bears little resemblance to the government instituted by the Founders, the purpose of which is to defend our "unalienable Rights" to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Far from endorsing a free market, Obama instead lauds the "watchful eye" of the federal government. This is not merely the eye of a "night watchman" who guards against force and fraud and helps resolve disputes peaceably. That sort of watch protects a free market. Instead, Obama proposes a "watchful eye" that observes -- and controls -- how people spend large fractions of their money, which corporations receive federal funding, how individuals and companies conduct business, and how individuals receive health care and other basic services. It is a Watchful Eye with a far and penetrating gaze.

Here is the segment in which Obama discusses his Watchful Eye and the alleged cynicism of those who do not care to be so watched:

Now, there are some who question the scale of our ambitions, who suggest that our system cannot tolerate too many big plans. Their memories are short, for they have forgotten what this country has already done, what free men and women can achieve when imagination is joined to common purpose and necessity to courage.

What the cynics fail to understand is that the ground has shifted beneath them, that the stale political arguments that have consumed us for so long, no longer apply.

The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works, whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified.

Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end.

And those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account, to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day, because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government.

Nor is the question before us whether the market is a force for good or ill. Its power to generate wealth and expand freedom is unmatched.

But this crisis has reminded us that without a watchful eye, the market can spin out of control. The nation cannot prosper long when it favors only the prosperous.

Notably, Obama completely ignores the fundamental cause of our economic troubles: a network of federal controls that promoted risky loans. In other words, the cause of the problem was the federal government's "watchful eye," yet Obama considers it the only solution.

Obama's passage echoes the writings of Jim Wallis, who preaches "progressive" religion:

One could say that people of faith should endorse a "limited" view of government. This is not the old conservative proposal for small government, sometimes cynically argued in order to reduce the public sector's ability to counter the power of the wealthy and ensure more fairness and balance in a society. But neither is it an argument for big government that usurps more and more control in a society and puts in jeopardy both individual rights and countervailing powers to the state. Clearly, the answer to the endless left-right debate is neither small government nor big government, but rather effective, smart, and good government.

Obama (following Wallis) is right about one thing: the central issue is not about small versus big government. The central issue is about whether government protects or violates individual rights. If a large number of citizens roam the countryside victimizing innocents, government must exert considerable force stopping them. If a foreign aggressor threatens to destroy us or take us over, government must grow to a size necessary to stop the threat. In all cases, it is the proper job of government to protect us from force and fraud and oversee the peaceable resolution of disputes. That is, it is the proper job of government to protect our rights, whatever size of government that requires.

Central to liberty is the right to use one's own wealth and resources as one deems best. We have the right to interact with each other on a voluntary basis, rather than by force. We have the right to exchange and cooperate to mutual advantage. We have the right to volunteer our services or donate our wealth as we see fit. We have a basic, fundamental human right to live in economic liberty. The term for such a socio-economic system, in which the rights of each person are consistently upheld, is capitalism, characterized by the free market.

Notice that Obama does not praise a "free market," but a market under the federal government's Watchful Eye. Obama does not endorse economic liberty, free markets, or individual rights in the economic sphere. He endorses the massive, forced redistribution of wealth by politicians and bureaucrats. He endorses far-reaching economic controls by the same. His vision of the federal government is not one that protects individual rights in the economic sphere, but one that aggressively violates them.

Yet Obama, like Wallis, holds that no principles are necessary in the economic sphere. True, Obama praises the "old" virtues of "honesty and hard work, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism." But these can remain sufficiently vague so as not to challenge the propriety of the Watchful Eye.

To Obama, anyone who upholds government as the defender of economic liberty must be dogmatic, childish, cynical, detached from reality, and "stale" in their arguments. Obama's alternative is a pragmatic appeal to government that "works" to oversee the economy. But this raises several questions. If economic liberty is a dogma, then what is it that Obama advocates? Who is to determine whether the government is "working?" For whom is it "working?" How can a government "work" to violate individual rights without straying from justice and prosperity? How can a government that violates economic rights protect rights generally?

Theory and fact, ideology and history demonstrate that economic liberty promotes justice and prosperity, while political controls promote the opposite. Obama's memory seems to have shut out practically all of the 20th Century. Those who argue that federally-controlled medicine wouldn't work (to take but one example) do not embrace cynicism: they embrace reality.

So who here is the true cynic?

Advocates of economic liberty hold that each individual properly lives his own life and pursues his own ends, consonant with the rights of others. Such advocates hold that, when people are free from force and fraud, they will join together on a voluntary basis to create a just, prosperous, and peaceful society. This view is the opposite of cynicism: it is a view rooted in the belief that people tend to do a good job leading their own lives and cooperating with others, and that the best society is a free one.

Obama, on the other hand, unleashes a string of personal attacks against the defenders of economic liberty. He implies that a government that protects individual rights is inadequate for preserving the "greatness of our nation." He holds that people, if left to their own choices in a system of economic liberty, will tend to do the wrong thing. What people need is not liberty, by Obama's view, but the guidance of a Watchful Eye. He holds that people must be watched -- and controlled -- by federal politicians and bureaucrats.

I can imagine no more cynical view than that.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Obamanomics Threatens Economic Recovery

The following article originally was published January 20 in Grand Junction's Free Press.

Obamanomics threatens economic recovery

by Linn and Ari Armstrong

Barack Obama wants to "stimulate" the economy with barrels of other people's money. Crack cocaine and crystal meth provide a "stimulus" too, and Obama's proposal is about as healthy. Obama would have us believe that the answer to bad debt is more bad debt. Like a drug addict, Obama is looking for a short-term fix that endangers long-term health.

In his January 8 speech on the economy, Obama warned, "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years." But if Obama proceeds with his plan, he could make the recession worse and undermine long-term economic prosperity.

A recession occurs when an economic shock compels people to readjust their plans. In this case, the shock was largely caused by federal policies that encouraged and even mandated risky home loans. A recession is the period of changing strategies and rethinking behavior that sets the stage for renewed economic prosperity. A sick economy, like a sick person, needs recovery, not artificial stimulation.

The basis for long-term economic prosperity is the enforcement of just and stable laws. The government plays a legitimate role in preserving a free market by protecting property rights and freedom of contract, stopping violence, rooting out fraud, and providing the legal framework for resolving disputes.

Such stability is precisely what Obama threatens to undermine. It is ironic that Obama delivered his address at George Mason University. Russ Roberts, an economist at George Mason, recently wrote, "By acting without rhyme or reason, politicians have destroyed the rules of the game. There is no reason to invest, no reason to take risk, no reason to be prudent, no reason to look for buyers if your firm is failing. Everything is up in the air... The frenetic efforts of FDR had the same impact: Net investment was negative through much of the 1930s."

In his Virginia Declaration of Rights, Mason himself wrote "That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue..." Obama's plan is the opposite of temperance and frugality.

Obama said he wants to spend tax and deficit dollars to "invest in priorities like energy and education; health care and a new infrastructure." Isn't it interesting that this is the same corporate and personal welfare Obama also supported before the recession?

Obama wants more federal control over the economy, and he is using the recession as a pretext to achieve it. Does anyone doubt that these "investments" will be politicized? Obama has long supported government-funded health care. He has long demonized traditional energy producers and called for politically-correct -- and frighteningly expensive -- "green" energy.

The result of Obama's "investments" will be to put medicine, energy, and other industries more under the capricious control of federal politicians and bureaucrats, thereby contributing to the insecurity that Roberts warns about.

Obama would also siphon resources away from free-market investment. The government can "invest" only by taking wealth out of the free economy through taxation, deficit spending, or inflation. Politicians now talk of adding a trillion dollars to the deficit. This too threatens long-term prosperity.

Yaron Brook of the Ayn Rand Institute argues that the federal government should reduce spending -- not increase it -- so that "as much real capital as possible will remain in private hands, and be put to productive use by entrepreneurs to create valuable goods and services to sell at home and abroad."

In his speech, Obama invoked the spirit of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal. Is Obama the next FDR? Those who read our December 8 column may hope not. Through his first two terms in office, unemployment never dipped below 9 percent (or 14 percent depending on the estimate), and it climbed again by 1938, due largely to FDR's stiffer wage controls.

Amity Shlaes reviews the transition from Coolidge to Hoover to Roosevelt in her book The Forgotten Man. As Vice President under Harding, "Cool Cal" witnessed a recession in the early 1920s, but thanks to a hands-off policy, by 1923 "it was hard to find an unemployed man."

But in the early 20th Century central planning became the rage in parts of Europe and, to a lesser degree, in the United States. Shlaes reviews that two economists popularized the term "beneficent hand" to substitute the hand of politicians for the Invisible Hand of Adam Smith's market. In their book The Road to Plenty, they promoted spending as primary.

But one astute observer of the time wrote about this book, "Too good to be true -- You can't get something for nothing." This observer was FDR himself, just a few years before his own "beneficent hand" stimulated the economy into the ground.

FDR forgot the lesson that Obama seems never to have learned. A stimulated orgy of federal spending is no substitute for a sound economy.

Linn is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son Ari edits from the Denver area.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Obama's Fear Mongering

Barack Obama wants to frighten us into giving the federal government dramatically more power over the economy. However, not even his own advisers agree with his economic predictions. Obama said, "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits."

Of course it's easy to claim that something "could" happen. But Obama wrongly suggests a causal relationship. It is also true that "if something is done, this recession could linger for years" with double-digit unemployment. And everything about Obama's economic plans promises to undermine the economy, from trade restrictions to welfare expansion to new controls on energy and medicine.

But here let us look only at the job picture. Interestingly, Obama's advisers released a paper the day after Obama's speech in which they claim unemployment will reach 9 percent "Without Recovery Plan" and only 8 percent with it. Well, they can claim whatever they want. The fact is that increased central planning threatens the economy. At least they admit:

It should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error. There is the obvious uncertainty that comes from modeling a hypothetical package rather than the final legislation passed by the Congress. But, there is the more fundamental uncertainty that comes with any estimate of the effects of a program. Our estimates of economic relationships and rules of thumb are derived from historical experience and so will not apply exactly in any given episode. Furthermore, the uncertainty is surely higher than normal now because the current recession is unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity.

In other words, it's hard to predict the future. A lot of things "could" happen. The economy could recover relatively well despite Obama's grand schemes. But Obama's advisors fail to look at one source of error: the flaws generated by their own pragmatist/Keynesian pretensions.

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Obama Signals Massive Federal Spending

Well, here it comes. We can't claim he didn't warn us. Obama will try to socialize medicine and massively increase federal spending.

The Denver Post reports:

President-elect Barack Obama is formally launching his ambitious health-care reform effort with a call for ordinary Americans to spend the last two weeks of December talking about health care, then sending their ideas to Washington.

Former Sen. Tom Daschle, the man who will lead the reform effort and Obama's likely nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, reached out to citizens during a health-care summit in Denver on Friday morning. He cast it as the first step in an ambitious effort that will end in a much improved health-care system for the country -- and one that won't be derailed by economic crisis.

Especially now that the Rocky Mountain News appears to be on its way out, we can look forward to more such journalistic cheerleading for Obama's grand spending sprees.

Obama, the Post declares (citing Tom Daschle), will "increase access to health care for the poor and uninsured."

Of course the system is rigged to solicit the opinions of those special interests who desire the concentrated benefits of wealth transfers. But Americans who favor liberty may also send in comments. (I include my comments below.)

Paul Hsieh explains why Obama's plan would lead inexorably to a government take-over of medicine. See also a piece by Grace-Marie Turner (via Brian Schwartz).

Obama also wants to redirect resources on a massive scale to politically-approved enterprises. The New York Times reports:

President-elect Barack Obama promised Saturday to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half century ago...

Mr. Obama's remarks showcased his ambition to expand the definition of traditional work programs for the middle class, like infrastructure projects to repair roads and bridges, to include new-era jobs in technology and so-called green jobs that reduce energy use and global warming emissions.

Given the government ownership of roads, the government will fund such projects. Yet, given that system, the dedicated gas tax is the best way to link use to funding. The only goal should be to improve the roads, not to "stimulate" the economy, a recipe for wasteful special-interest spending. (The proper policy of turning the transportation infrastructure over to a free market lies beyond the scope of this post.)

Spending in other industries will only further bring them under the direct control of the federal government. We'll see more spectacles like the one of car manufacturers prostrating themselves before their political masters, promising to be good boys and girls and make things the way Big Mommy thinks best.

Obama's policy, to the degree that it is implemented, will stifle entrepreneurial creativity, turn business leaders into servants of the political class, and transfer funds away from the productive to the profligate.

Following are my comments to Obama:

Dear President-Elect Barack Obama,

I am writing express my support for individual rights, which you appear ready to undermine. People have the right to decide for themselves how to spend what they earn and on what terms to cooperate with others. The government's sole legitimate function is to protect our rights to life, liberty, property, and pursuit of happiness.

You propose to expand the forcible redistribution of wealth, not only to advance the government take-over of medicine, but to "create" numerous politically-approved jobs.

Yet the failures of modern health care are a direct result of previous political controls of medicine, including tax policies that have tied insurance to employment and mandates that have increased the cost of insurance.

Your make-work schemes will not add net jobs to the U.S. economy; they will only divert resources away from some jobs to ones that you and your political supporters favor. The funds inevitably will be influenced by special-interest politicking. The modern mortgage crisis, like modern problems in medicine, were caused by misguided political controls, including manipulation of interest rates, government-sponsored lending institutions, and unjust lending mandates. The proper response to the mortgage crisis is a renewal of economic liberty, not a continuation of failed political controls.

I am not persuaded that your administration will listen to the voices of Americans who favor liberty. As you surely know, special interests will dominate your solicitation process, as they stand to gain from your wealth redistribution plans. Meanwhile, the many Americans who stand to pay the price in terms of higher eventual taxes, inflation, and lost economic opportunities may be mostly ignored. I urge your administration to rethink your unjust policies of "spreading the wealth around" by political force. I urge you to instead help restore the nation to its heritage of liberty.

Ari Armstrong

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Kopel Talks Guns, Taiwan

Dave Kopel discussed guns, Taiwan, and at the Independence Institute banquet November 13. Listen to the mp3 recording of the interview. A partial transcript follows.

Ari: We're with Dave Kopel. First of all, congratulations on the Supreme Court gun case.

Dave: Thank you very much.

Ari: I know you did a lot of work on that and a lot of work over many years doing research. Where's this headed? Do you think the federal Dems will take the lead of Colorado Dems and kind of play hands off on the gun issue, or are you worried about what the federal Dems are going to do on that? I know you've written about Obama's anti-gun stances, but are they really going to do anything or are they going to play hands-off?

Dave: I think even while we fear the worst, we can hope for the best. It's very unlikely that anti-Second Amendment stuff is going to be the top of the Obama and Democratic Congressional agenda early in 2009, because the economic issues are so much larger right now. But Obama is in his heart probably the most extreme anti-gun president we've ever had. So my guess would be, he'll do like John Howard did in Australia, and various administrations did in the United Kingdom, which is have a very fierce anti-gun agenda ready to go as soon as there's a terrorist attack or some other infamous crime, and they sense a brief window of public panic when they can try to push something through without the time for reflection.

Ari: Are there already or do you know of upcoming legal challenges based on the Supreme Court's decision and ruling, which was fairly limited in its application?

Dave: There are a variety of cases going forward. The most important issue is going to be whether the Second Amendment is a limit only on the federal government, or like most of the rest of the Bill of Rights it also limits state and local governments. There have been challenges to the handgun ban in Chicago, challenges to the ban on gun possession in San Francisco's public housing authority, and a challenge to a local ban on gun shows in Southern California. And any of those cases could be the one which I hope will go the Supreme Court. And while we have a good Supreme Court -- before Obama ruins it -- I'd like to see a case get up there and have the incorporation issue decided. That is, whether the Second Amendment is incorporated in the Fourteenth Amendment and thereby made applicable to the state and local governments.

Ari: Are you going to continue to play an advisory role in those cases, or is that uncertain at this point?

Dave: I will play every possible role I can to help out...

Ari: Well, again, congratulations on that, and thanks a lot for your tireless efforts.

Dave: It's another sign of how ideas really do matter. And this has been a long struggle over thirty years to bring the Second Amendment back from its moribund state in law. It was always very strong in the hearts and minds of the American people, but there was a lot of scholarship written over the last thirty years, and I was happy to have played a part in helping with some of that, that has really made the Second Amendment regain its proper role in American life, and as an important part of the Bill of Rights, just like any other.

Ari: Do you have any other projects going right now? I know you're always writing about something.

Dave: I've been doing more and more work on Taiwan issues is recent years, and trying to support the rights of democratic self-determination of the people of the independent nation of Taiwan, which is a target of Chinese imperialist neocolonialism... I want to do what I can to help Taiwan maintain its freedom and independence...

Ari: There's this strange tension in China, where they still have many totalitarian aspects, but they also have some more market robustness. Do you see one side as gaining force over another, or is it just a hopelessly chaotic mix and the moment? How do you see that as developing over the next decade, say?

Dave: It's very hard to predict, and it could go either way. But clearly the model that the Chinese dictatorship wants is the one they see in Singapore, which is where you maintain an authoritarian government, at the same time having enough economic freedom to keep the people happy...

Ari: Do you have anything else that I should be reporting on my web page?

Dave. Yeah. Thanks to you and to the Colorado Freedom Report for the great work you've been doing for ten years. You have accomplished a great deal single-handed. You're an important voice in Colorado's political dialog. And I agree with you about 97 percent of the time, and even on those other three percent, I think you provide an important perspective, and it's a great blessing for Colorado to have you here. Even though you don't realize it in your own atheistic way, God's put you here for a purpose.

Ari: Well, I appreciate that, seriously, Dave. Well, thanks a lot for your time, and we'll see you next year.

See the collected posts about the Independence Institute's 2008 banquet.

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