Editorial Letters and Some Darn Good responses:
I'm as disgruntled with our governance as any of your readership (although I suspect it's from the opposite ideology,) but with all due respect, your essayists are getting perilously close to tinfoil hat-ville of late. Folks have been bemoaning government interference in our social systems since our country's inception. I've grown up and old amidst warnings of imminent fascism, national collapse, and a nascent police state, all while the nitwits at John Birch Society, then Young Americans for Freedom, then Moral Majority, then AEI, then Tea Party, ad nauseum, decry the "communists" living under all our beds and threatening our "American way of life."
Yet somehow, the country survives, evolves, and for some, even prospers.
Those "confiscatory" taxes we pay go to support a whole infrastructure that allows us to make that money in the first place. Money we never could have amassed in an "every man for himself" free market-- like Zimbabwe, for example. "Your" money was made within the framework of a society that supports and enforces title rights, maintains a rule of law, and functions more or less as a democracy. Try fighting off illegal encroachment on your property without the implicit rule of law....
LIke it or not, we DO live in an interdependent society. Even I, out here in the middle of east nowhere, still rely on some functions of the government. Still rely on our implicit set of social laws to keep the highways open and the currency accepted as a medium of exchange. Still look to public education to keep our people literate. Still am grateful that the USPS delivers mail so I don't have to drive 68 miles to the nearest town to pick it up.
Yes, there are encroachments-- a lot of them-- but they're nothing like they were in the 1950's, when tax collectors came to your home to see if you'd bought a new refrigerator. Or the 1960's when unmarried people couldn't purchase birth control.
Our lives are far more vivid and comfortable that they were even twenty years ago. True, we've given up some "freedoms," but we've also gained many others we didn't have back then. Would you honestly argue that a gay man has a worse time of it now than he did in the 1980's? Would you trade places with a black man in 1950's Mississippi? As recently as the 1990's, I can recall spending $143 for a 30 minute phone call to New Zealand-- now it's essentially free, and I get a video with it. The transparency of the internet has brought about a whole new era of public protest and intolerance for public and private corruption.
Doom and gloom sells, there's no doubt about it, but your posts are getting a bit heavy on the armed insurrection rhetoric for my tastes. 99% of Americans who jabber on about "tyranny" don't have the slightest clue what they are talking about; and quite frankly do the rest of us -- who've spent our whole lives calling our government and markets to account-- a grave disservice in doing so.
When you have an audience, there's always going to be some idiot out there who takes you literally when you tell them to shoot for the head, or take up arms against oppression-- and you're going to have to weigh the consequences against goosing your ratings....
white whine on the barstool.
BTW: [In reference to Andrew Wordes] If you've ever lived "across the way" from a "chicken farmer" you'll understand EXACTLY why rural zoning laws are so stringent. Roosters are a huge nuisance-- especially when one of the aforementioned idiots refuses to comply with neighbors' requests, then demands, for consideration. Also, paying your property taxes and building to code are helpful when you only own 2.5 acres in community environs! Yep, an idiot.
And away we go! We'll take the last part first. Joel in Lander, WY writes:
"Zoning is often cited as needed to stop nuisances. The problem with zoning it it's selectively applied. If rooster crowing is a nuisance that requires a police action, why is it ok in some neighborhoods and not others? Laws should be applied equally to all. Any good that can be done with a zoning law can be done better with a universally applied law. Really, roosters can be kept inside at night and let out sometime in the morning after everyone wakes up."
Space is too limited here for us to delve into our ideas about lawlessness, swinging fists stopping at the ends of noses, social pressure and contracting and cooperation between concerned parties.
For now we'll just note that to our knowledge Andrew Wordes was loved by his neighbors, but targeted by the city. Because bureaucracies don't care about how people are getting along. Bureaucracies care about enforcing the rules, no matter how byzantine, inappropriate or unjust.
Another bar patron directs his comments directly at A.H....
"Yet somehow, the country survives, evolves, and for some, even prospers."
You have a point, things have improved over the last 50 years but most of the improvement has come in spite of the Government not because of it.
That "essentially free" phone call is the indirect result of Bill Gates' loose interpretation of copyright laws and his willingness to fight Clinton's Department of Justice efforts to clamp down on Microsoft. Some commentators proposed that the whole DOJ trial would have been avoided had Microsoft contributed to Democrat fund raisers and in essence it was simply a thinly veiled shake-down. In spite of all that, Clinton got the credit for the low inflation rates of his presidency even though he was much less responsible than cheap Chinese labor, Bill Gates, Michael Dell and the other PC pioneers.
Another reason for our relative prosperity is that, tax rates really aren't as high as they appear and I'd like to keep it that way. See World-Wide Marginal Tax Rates. The marginal tax rate in the U.S. is 35% compared to 56.7% in Sweden, 50% in the U.K., Japan, and Cuba, 46% in Ireland, 45% in Australia, China and Germany. And it looks even better if you look at the average tax rate (rather than Marginal Tax rate) for a typical family of four. On that list you will see the U.S. at the low end of the scale. But if we institute things like Universal Health Care are you willing to see our tax rates to join the U.K. ? After all, it has to be paid for somehow. And once our rates reach parity where will our competitive advantage be? And then who will left to prosper?
And will Healthcare quality increase? According to Dr. William Campbell Douglas, in England currently 14,000 seniors with cancer DIE every year because they're refused life-saving treatments that patients routinely get in other nations. That's what happens when the government gets to choose your healthcare and decides it needs to cut costs. Personally, I'd rather choose how my money is spent and which treatments I will or won't get.
This next letter directly addresses A.H., too....
1) Taxes pay for infrastructure which enables our economy to function? Even setting aside the question of whether private sector could provide better infrastructure at a lower price, only a small portion of our taxes go to better infrastructure, if government would cut back to that level of spending, count me in. It's the tax money that is used to kill brown skinned women and children that really gets my goat.
2) Zimbabwe as a free market mecca???? I believe Somalia is the standard leftist example. Which is misleading for a number of reasons, but essentially confusing an overabundance of power hungry, big government types with a society of men acting freely.
3) Who doubts we live in an interdependent society? Free market economists emphasize the importance of division of labor in the world's economic progress. It is a question how people interact within the society. is it on a voluntary or through the use of force (government)? Bastiat's great work"Economic Harmonies" would be helpful to your writer.
4) Public schools teach literacy????????? And I believe he meant to thank we city dwellers for subsidizing his mail delivery. Here he touches on the true purpose of government: To get others to pay for my services which are of course essential and could not be provided any other way than you providing them for me.
5) As far as race relations go, it is ironic having just celebrated Jackie Robinson entry into MLB, he seems to imply it was government regulations which lead the way. Force can not change values and morals, only persuasion change. If the mores of our country had not changed since 1950, all government force would have done would have been to exacerbate race problems. It was free people motivated by mutual interest and the profit motive which eventually ended the Jim Crow laws.
And now comes a related letter to your mouthy Whiskey editor...
While I have always been in the less government camp I have never been able to wrap my mind around having no government at all, as has been advocated or hinted at by several of your correspondents.
My unease stems from the assumption that there is no activity, including breathing the air around us, that does not affect others in some way. If you accept this premise then your frequent statements that we should be left to do whatever we wish as long as it does not interfere with others is open to serious question.
If you agree that everything we do has an effect on someone or something else then the question becomes what degree of interference with others is acceptable. Even more pertinent is who makes the decision of what is acceptable and what is not.
You might wish to adopt the attitude that every individual is responsible for deciding this on his/her own. This leaves them free to combine with others, to set the limits, which brings us back to government or a collaboration of some sort to impose its will on others.
Of course, if you do not accept the statement that everything we do affects others then you can ignore my comments.
Of course we accept that everything we do affects others! We just don't see how that truth amounts to justifying coercion of any sorts, particularly by a bunch of busybody politicians...
In our teen years we were denied access to a friend's home because our friend's parents forbade black people on their property. It affected us. Deeply. It was mean. Hurtful. But ultimately it was their property and our hurt feelings mean nothing against their right to determine who has access to their property.
What affected us even more than that racist (but morally justified) exclusion, however, was when a stunningly smart, funny and beautiful Ron Paul supporter who'd been considering us as a new suitor last year suddenly spurned us and went back to her old boyfriend. We were so hurt and angry that we ended up doing a string of very stupid things in order to numb the pain. You could say that that woman's actions very nearly ruined our life!
It still doesn't mean someone with a monopoly on violence should step in to arbitrate our dealings with each other or force her to date me.
Do I gather some official studies on how her rejection was the "root cause" of my increased drinking, lower income and unemployability? Do I get to have her actions regulated because of their ability to affect me?
Do you see where we're going with this? Even though what we do affects each other, we must still be free to determine all of our own relationships, contracts, how our properties and our bodies interact. We have to negotiate. We have to accept rejection, personally, professionally and commercially. That is the essence of the market and of freedom. It may sometimes require mutually agreed upon arbitrators in case of dispute, sure. But it doesn't require a political class with a monopoly on violence.
The only over-arching "social contract" needed is the one where we agree not to impose our will on others' bodies and property (and property is in a very real sense an extension of the body). The state by its very nature is a monopoly on violence that breaks that particular and sensible social contract and supplants it with a new one...one that says the greatest good is when the state -- whether by decree of a monarch, or majority-elected officials -- truly owns all of us and our stuff. And can tell us what to do with both.
But wouldn't this "free" world just be a violent one in which ugliness like racism had free reign?
Nope. Sure, there would always be racism. But in a free market, good ideas tend supplant bad ones. Useless and harmful beliefs and practices tend to go away in the marketplace and replaced by better ones.
Racial prejudice would exist to some degree, but racial hatred and violence would likely disappear. As we've pointed out before a lot of domestic "racial" discord in the U.S. is actually disguised welfare tension caused by the state's redistribution schemes and the resulting mental and economic crippling of blacks Americans.
Get rid of the state's interference (and the state itself) and people will be likely to deal in terms of merit and in terms of profit. Those who discriminate for irrational reasons in that sort of world will simply lose out against those who will take money from anyone and buy the services of the most talented people regardless of race.
Let us repeat for clarity: the free market would drive out the racism that the state helps to foster.
And would private clubs still exist to cater to those who want to associate with certain kinds of people (based on sex, race, ethnicity, religious belief, economic standing, or unusual practices)? Of course! And that's as it should be. If you have a problem with free association of this sort, then you shouldn't have any problem with writing your local Senator and get a law passed to force that beautiful Ron Paul supporter to leave her boyfriend and date your Whiskey editor.
Of course, you're probably wondering about all sorts of other details concerning property rights outside of government interference. What about a private investigation company getting access to a suspect's home to search for clues? What about pollution? How does the free market handle these things?
For that we have to turn to theory and some entertaining science fiction. Earlier in the week we recommended The Probability Broach for a look into the day to day of a true free market world. Allow us to recommend it again.
Theory is great (and you can get a dose of it here)but occasionally it's nice to imagine daily life in a world where all the theories would be put into practice. Mind you, in The Probability Broach, there may be some aspects of liberty you find discomforting. Violence, for example, is rare but necessarily privatized.
But it's loads of fun to see how some of America's most famous presidential scoundrels and warmongers might end up if they had been forced to make an honest living.