Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Obama Transition

Now that the transition is over and we have sworn in our first black president I want to point out something that seemed kind of odd to me. One thing the media kept on repeating is how great it was that there was an orderly transition of power. Over and over again I heard this as if it were this spectacular and unexpected event. I admit that I have limited life experience in transitions of power due to my age but I still find all this talk quite odd.

I remember Barry Sanders playing football for the Detroit Lions. He was a great running back and when he scored a touchdown he would never celebrate. He would simply flick the ball to the referee and modestly walk off the field. Why didn't he celebrate like so many of our current athletes? If you expect to score then you should act like you belong in the end zone. One doesn't celebrate an expected event, one acts like he's been there and will do it again.

Our country should revel in the fact that we elected a black man. Personally I do not think this country has been significantly racist most of my life but I suppose this puts the stamp on it (at least I hope so). However we should not be in awe of the transition of power, this is something we as a people ought to expect and know that we will do it again.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More Perfect Union

Listening to C-Span I heard Barack Obama talk about hope and change and change and hope. Somewhere in the middle of that he mentioned how the founders had formed a document which although not perfect acted as a basis to achieve that perfection. What should be noted is the subtlety of that statement and what it means. How can you discredit something without discrediting it directly, claim it's a start. But remember he is discrediting the foundation of this country. The document that supposedly our laws are founded upon. This is a big deal! By now we all know that our constitution is not obeyed by the government but what is getting worse is the implicit notion that the constitution is irrelevant because it is flawed. This is the mainstreaming of arbitrary law.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bardford Delong ignorance

Mr. Delong states:

It starts with an observation that we are all somewhat more interdependent than classical liberalism allows. It is not completely true that it is from the self-interest and not the benevolence of the butcher that we expect our meat. Self-interest, yes, but benevolence too: a truly self-interested butcher would not trade you his meat for your money but instead slaughter you and sell you as long pig. So this opens up a gap between the libertarian view and the world.

Perhaps Mr. Delong would slaughter his neighbor but I and most people would not. You see if I slaughter my neighbor then my other neighbors see what I have done. They are not stupid and they see what kind of person I am. Their most likely course of action is to try to make sure that I am either unable to slaughter them or unwilling to do so. I suspect that they would either wait for an opportune time to kill me or form a gang so that I would be fearful of killing them and they could take retribution if I did. The butchers good behavior is not benevolence in any sense but enlightened self interest. He knows that one course of action leads to strife and ruin and the other leads to peace and prosperity.

Letter to Representative Melissa Bean

Dear Representative Bean,

I hope you are sincere in your desire to improve health care in this country. I also hope that your ideology doesn't prevent you from looking at the issue from multiple angles. I ask you for specific measures as to how to reduce costs and how to reduce the ranks of the uninsured. I was one of those who was uninsured and I happened to have an accident which required an emergency room visit and surgery. The total billed to me was approximately $28,000 of which I paid about $11,000 to settle with everyone. I believe that one of the reasons the bills were so high is due to lack of a competitive marketplace for health care. When I asked about the costs, no one was able to provide me with any information. This seemed to be a result of the mentality that costs don't matter and that insurance would pay for it. To me, this is one of the primary reasons that we have such outrageous health care costs. If there is no incentive to conserve on cost, then we all ask for the most health care possible. This explains why the doctors and hospitals that I dealt with weren't even able to quote costs for the service they delivered: They aren't set up to do so! I was fortunate in that I was able to receive quality and timely care. My hope is that you will consider freeing up the private market in order to unleash its power. Simply put, if we are aware of the price of care we receive, we would conserve the care we request. Additionally we need to create a distinction between "insurance" and pre-paid health care. Currently we lump both under the name of insurance but they are very separate things. Insurance is for unexpected events which would devastate an individual but are unlikely to occur. Hence the reason we pool our miniscule individual risks with others. An insurance company, who is risk neutral, charges us a small premium above the expected payout and we get peace of mind and they eke out a living. Pre-paid care is like paying for a doctors visit in advance. You are building up a cash reserve and drawing upon that with each visit to the doctor. This type of plan cannot be correctly termed insurance. These are costs that are known or are not large enough to justify the pooling of the risk. One thing you could do to help would be to help define this separation and enact legislation which dealt with the issues separately. This makes massive economic sense and would go a long way to actually solving the problem. One way to separate these distinct issues would be to allow people to purchase a myriad of insurance options, some of which allow for the individual to only choose catastrophic coverage. This in effect allows an individual to opt out of the current pre-paid plan system which discourages conservation and cost consciousness. There are many more issues and I would love to help with my insights but I will end with one last point. For those who do not possess insurance or for those where the cost of routine care would be very high (perhaps out of reach) then by all means give them taxpayer money to help. This assistance however does not require the elimination of proven market based principles. They are not antagonistic but complementary.

Thank you for your hard work and open-mindedness

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Why does everyone get social security

Social security is a wealth transfer program from young people to old people. There is no such thing as an account that anyone has which contains their "contributions". Those contributions were used up long ago and the monetary payments current recipients receive are taken from current tax receipts. If we can agree on this basic fact (and we should because it is true) then it begs the question why there isn't a wealth test for those who receive benefits. I am all for helping those who need help, but rich people, who inevitably grow old, should not magically be entitled to my or anyone else's hard earned money. They in no way "need" the money. If they wish to claim that they earned it, it just isn't true. They were earning nothing for themselves, they were only the first patsies in the ponzi scheme known as social security to pay for their parents and grand parents. I can't help the fact that they were taken advantage of, but that is no justification for taking advantage of their children and grand children. Let's help those who need it and not tax our children to enrich the lives of already very wealthy individuals.

How should government help people

I think that we are all agreed that it is appropriate for the government to help those who at times need it. That debate is over and those who advocate only private charity have lost. We must accept the role of government as a social safety net. This does not bother me; it only adds to the obligation that I have taken upon myself. The point is that there are good ways and not so good ways to help people and we should seriously consider the implications of the help we offer.

Let’s examine health care. This is a very complicated issue but I only wish to address the problem of health insurance for those that do not have it. Let me state the problem in the simplest terms I can think of:

There are some Americans who do not have health insurance because they cannot afford it.

How should the government help these people? The obvious answer is to give those who do not have money for health insurance the money to buy health insurance. It can’t be that simple you say. Why not? If one works hard and that just doesn’t cut it, then it should be our pleasure to help them out with the funds necessary to make sure they don’t fall through the cracks. The reality is that those who wish to shepherd you won’t simply give you the money because that takes away their control over you. They won’t come out and say it, but they think less of the people who can’t afford health insurance. They will spin some masterful rhetoric about how they are fighting for the less privileged, but don’t be fooled. They think you are irresponsible or stupid or both. Let’s think about how you treat a child when they get a gift of money. Does the parent allow the child to have the money outright? No! They know of the child’s immaturity and ignorance. YOU are the child and the shepherds cannot allow your ignorance or immaturity to get in the way of their “help”. This is demeaning, condescending and immoral. Normal American adults are not children and should not be treated as such. If a person needs money to buy health insurance I say we give it to them until they get back on their feet. Let’s leave their dignity and humanity intact.


I am not a religious person. I was raised Jewish but I cannot ever remember truly believing any of the Old Testament stories. I am not an atheist or an agnostic. What I would consider myself to be is spiritual. What is spirituality? Let me answer that with a very short story from my youth. I had a friend in high school who did believe and at the time I was probably less spiritual and more scientific. When I asked him why he believed the answer was, “Look about you. THIS is why I believe.” At the time I did not consider this profound but lately I have come to appreciate it more and more. There was a time when I was fascinated by physics. All really cool people love physics because at the heart of physics is an insatiable desire to explain how things work. The more I learned, the more it became clear I didn’t really know anything. I may not be Jewish or Christian or Muslim or any other religion but I am a friend to them all. I believe that it is a mistake to ascribe to any one religion for “answers” to life’s impossible questions. This is no better than the Greek worship of gods to explain nature. Religion, in the most fundamental sense is the realization of our limits and ability to understand. It is the question itself. I have not personally achieved faith, but what I view faith as is not that I can ever understand, but that THIS makes sense to something. That something is what we call G-d.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

How to measure value

Let’s talk about Harvard. Because Harvard graduates are successful it must be the case that Harvard is an outstanding institution. This ignores the fact that they accept only the best students in the first place. We should evaluate Harvard not on the intrinsic worth of their students but on the value added to those students.

This leads to a grave misconception about society and government. The misconception is that good government makes for a good society. This is fundamentally wrong. The reality is that society precedes government and no government, no matter how brilliantly executed, can transform a group of scoundrels into gentleman. Good governments, like good institutions, add value to the societies they represent.

Now the fundamental question is no longer, what type of government is necessary for a fair and just society but what government takes a fair and just society and adds the most value to it?

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

How to defeat liberalism

You cannot defeat liberalism through the political process. We libertarian minded individuals have always believed that less government means more happiness and well being for the individual and society. We believe this and the facts often support us but all our efforts to move the political process in this direction have and will fail. Government exists to limit liberty and the only thing we advocate to increase liberty is the elimination of government. We advocate self reliance and the unseen benefits of freedom and choice. They advocate the immediate and seen. We advocate what could be. They scare you with what could be and promote themselves as the savior. The vast majority of mankind is not capable of seeing the benefits of the unseen and therefore they will always favor the secure and immediate benefits of the here and now despite their long term harm. Politics is concerned with satisfying the wants of the people and those wants do not concern our future. This is a reality and we should not attempt to change it, we need to cope with it.

We are not trying to defeat government or the political process. This is and will continue to be the wrong enemy. What is Liberalism? What about it must be fought? Liberalism today, like Fascism, Communism, Theocracy and other very dangerous ideologies is about control. There are two types of liberals. Those that want to help and those who want to control you. We liberty minded individuals are fighting those that wish to control our lives under the guise of help. This is the danger we are fighting and it does not matter whether is comes from Republicans or Democrats. Those that preach control see themselves as gods and us as their inept children who need their guidance. This is what we are fighting.

Government takes from some and gives to others by definition. That’s its job, that’s why it exists and it does it through compulsion and force. Government is a necessary evil and what we have always wanted to do is limit that evil. It has always been acknowledged that the evil is the abuse of government. What is this abuse; it is the abuse of control. We give our government the power to control our lives. We legitimatize its use of force. We try to limit this to the purposes we advocate but that will not work when the purposes become larger and their directives more vague.

How do we defeat Governments abuse? How do we defeat excessive government control? We expose it for what it is. We expose the fraud perpetrated by those who want to “help” us and show that their true objective is to rule over us. People implicitly will reject this but it must be exposed.

We can expose it by supplanting their “help” with real help. They want to provide health care, we will provide health care. They want to provide education, we will provide education. They want to help the poor, we will help the poor.

Tyranny flourishes under the guise of help. Tyranny is control, Liberty is choice. We need to take away their cloak of morality and expose their true morality; the morality of a slave master who whips his slave for its own good.

I have a question that I think needs to be answered

What are the purpose of taxes? It seems as though this question is too simple, but I think it is the fundamental question. I think the purpose of taxes is simply to fund the needs of the government. It sounds too simple to be debatable and maybe that’s why it isn’t debated.

Taxes (in the theoretical sense) should only exist to pay for goods and services. This is no different than for the ordinary citizen when he goes to the store. Common sense says that you don’t go to the grocery store and pay an arbitrary sum for your groceries? You pay what they cost and no more. However with our current tax structure things are backwards. There is no bill provided by the federal government for the goods and services they provide. They give you what they want to give you and take what they want to take. If they take in too little they place a hidden tax on you called inflation, if it is too much they simply find ways to spend it. This makes no sense. I am fine paying the bill. But if it turns out that I overpaid, simply return my money. That’s not asking too much, is it?

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Teachers don't matter

In this weekends Wall Street Journal, James P. Testerman, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association states:

A recent study published in the Journal of Collective Negotiations found that Pennsylvania teacher strikes are not associated with negative academic outcomes, measured by student performance on state standardized tests, attendance and graduation rates.

I guess this begs the question of the value added when teachers are there. He then finishes it up with:

The Journal prides itself as an advocate for free-market capitalism, yet you would deny a relationship between teacher compensation and teacher quality. Compensation is a teacher quality issue.

As an advocate of the free market myself, I challenge Mr. Testerman to also be in favor of school vouchers where true competition could actually take place. Give people money to send their kids to the schools they want and we will see who is and is not compensated appropriately.


It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external not internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions. James Madison, Wednesday, February 6, 1788

Common sense teaches us two things: That the means employed for a task should be appropriate for that task and that the task undertaken is appropriate to do. The first duty of society is to decide what tasks are appropriate for government. The second duty of society is to structure the government so that its power is proportionate and limited for those tasks.

Limiting and defining the scope of federal government was the founder's intention when they established the Constitution. The Constitution was a document applicable to the federal government whose sole purpose was to describe government's structure and enumerate its duties. Anything not listed as a task for the federal government was prohibited and regarded as a state issue. The reason it was designed this way was because the authors were aware that the greatest danger to liberty was excessive power centralized in the federal government. Today the federal government has grown many times larger than what was ever envisioned and its duties extend far beyond the scope outlined within the Constitution. Why this has occurred is not relevant, what we must consider are the consequences of this change and what, if anything, should be done about it.

What is wrong with a benevolent king? A king that is just and fair would be great. Society would enjoy all the benefits of an efficient and competent administration without any of the burdens of bureaucracy. The problem as we all know is that the king is not accountable to anyone. If the king one day decides to no longer be so benevolent, then society has a big problem. The natural solution to this problem is to establish democracy where everyone has a voice in the administration. But this is not utopian either. What if the voice of the majority mutes the voice of the minority? What recourse does the minority have?

No government, whether administered by one man or all of them, is immune to the possibility of abuse. The problem lies in the fact that government is administered by men and men are imperfect. The danger you face with the king as well as the mob is not the structure of government, but that of unlimited arbitrary power in the hands of imperfect beings.

Limiting the scope of the government is implausible. The fact that the role of the government has expanded as much as it has should indicate that people want government to be active in trying to improve their lives. We take this as a given and it is not our policy to try to preverse the role of government. It is our policy to educate citizens about the danger of too much power in the hands of government (people like you and me) and to accomplish the tasks of government in a way that is the least dangerous to the liberty of all citizens.

The best way to limit power is to disperse it. An example of this are the three branches of the federal government. The idea behind splitting up the executive, legislative, and the judicial power of government is to provide checks and balances so no individual branch become too powerful and abusive. Unfortunately the current system is destined to fail. When government becomes involved in every aspect of our lives, partisanship ensues. It does not matter that there are three competing players when they are all on the same team. What we have today is a desperate power struggle between two factions fighting for control of all three branches of the federal government.

We advocate Federalism. Governmental power should be dispersed by asserting it at the proper level necessary for each task. We believe that issues like national defense, immigration, and foreign trade should be handled at the federal level. Issues like health care, social security, and the minimum wage should be handled at the state level. The advantage to doing this should be obvious, when the federal government advocates a policy, that policy affects the entire nation. If you disagree with that policy there is nowhere to run or hide other than leaving the country. The policy may be a bad one and instead of affecting a limited segment it affects everyone. When the scope of government increases, the mistakes increase as well. In addition, because we are a large country those who implement the policy will be far removed from those affected. Even if it was granted that there were some efficiency gains from eliminating redundancies in administration that is a small reward for such a huge risk.

By allowing the states to handle most issues what we are doing is creating a political market where each state competes with its own policies. States that are successful will force those that are unsuccessful to change or lose citizens. People have freedom to choose where to live. They are customers shopping for a political landscape that suits their needs. Just as we discourage monopolies in business we should discourage them in government.

The fallacy behind the idea of centralized government is that those in charge are above humanity. In order for it to work one has to believe that government is composed of angelic beings that are not swayed by pride, envy and insecurity. One has to believe in the all knowing benevolent shepherd.

We do not believe in this mythical "politician." While many good people serve this country, they are not above humanity. They can and will make mistakes and when power is unlimited the cost of these mistakes is dramatic. Therefore, despite the good intentions of well meaning people it is our belief to promote a system of government that accomplishes the goals for which it exists while mitigating the damage that can be done.

Who are the New Liberal Democrats?

We believe, as our founders believed, of the greatness within men, but also of the fallibility within men. We believe in the great potential of government, but also in the great danger of government. We believe that the essential purpose of government is to protect individuals from the tyranny of other men.

The greatness of society is not the form of government it employs, but the moral character embodied in the traditions of society. Government is a necessary instrument for the society of men to function. It can be a force for good or evil. Our belief is to use the power of government to give men the power to better themselves.

What is the best way to help men? This depends on how one views the nature of man. There are those who believe most people fit into one of three categories: the incapable, the weak, and the strong. They presume that if incapable people were allowed to attend to their own affairs, they would succumb to their irrational desires and irresponsible behaviors. They believe weak people are trapped in their present situation and unable to achieve due to forces beyond their control. They are convinced that the strong people exploit both the incapable and the weak.

These same people regard themselves as part of a distinct elite fourth category. One whose duty it is to shepherd the incapable and the weak from exploitation by the strong. They believe that their guidance and supervision is necessary for society to function, and that government is the instrument necessary to accomplish this.

We believe that men are free to choose their own actions that lead to success or failure. Men who cannot choose lack any control over their lives. The shepherds believe they are the ones that must make the choices. We believe that it is man’s duty and desire to direct his own life via the God-given liberty he possesses. This is the essential difference between us and them.

Based on this belief, the role of government is to provide the structure for man to function to the best of his ability.

Health care costs are ridiculous

I am learning just how bad our health care is first hand. I had to have surgery at the hospital. While there I was given a blood glucose test. I am a diabetic so I happen to know that a testing strip costs about $1 but at the hospital I was charged $6.50. Can anyone explain this price discrepancy? I can understand a mark up, but 600% is ridiculous. Amazingly (but not surprisingly) no one in the hospital knows how much anything costs and they can't/won't tell you. It is not until some huge bill comes that you have any idea how much they charge. I really think we need some transparency in our medical care and the way to do that is to introduce some free market competition. The fact that insurance pays for everything and no one has any incentive to shop around or conserve on costs is precisely what has led us (and unfortunately me) into this predicament. We would be better off giving everyone money directly and have them purchase health care directly. Heck, I would even be okay with the government offering catastrophic care as long as routine costs were charged directly to the patient. This would then create price awareness and sensitivity that we sorely lack.