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Monday, November 28, 2011

Libertarian Charity - The Best Form

Last month, our fellow libertarian blog "Libertarianly Speaking" ran an interesting article. A few days earlier, the Huffington Post had run an article claiming Ron Paul's views of charity were "unrealistic". However, let us take the time to consider what true charity really is.

Would Maimonides (top right)
agree with Dr. Paul? I think
I am Jewish and so cannot speak for Christian values, but I do know what the great Jewish sage Maimonides said. He listed the eight levels of Tzedakah (righteous giving - essentially charity) from highest (#1) to lowest (number 8). The lowest was simply "giving unwillingly". This is what we are very often doing now, even if we don't realize it. Through social security to support the poor, through taxes to support other government programs, etc. This is not real charity, or at least not very good charity. Meanwhile, the highest form of tzedakah was "Giving ... to a person in need ... to result in that person no longer living by relying upon others". As examples, Maimonides included, giving an interest-free loan, a business partnership, or a grant, and finding a job for said person in need. This is exactly the form of charity Dr. Paul and other libertarians have been advocating for years. Of course, Maimonides was many centuries ahead of them, to his credit.

However, government programs that are supposed to help the poor are not only forcing us to perform level 8, but they are doing the exact opposite of Level 1. Let's take a look at a few examples.

What would Joe the Plumber be like
in a libertarian society?
  • Social security essentially enables the poor to get by for years, so long as they continue to rely on social security. We've heard stories about welfare queens getting free housing without ever having to work. This is good for them, except that they have to continuously rely on others for support. Some would say "well, they couldn't all get jobs". I will address that now.
  • It is precisely because of government policies that they can't get jobs. Consider a hypothetical Joe the Plumber. Joe is, needless to say, a plumber, but he doesn't have much experience. As such, he is only capable of generating $7.50 of profit an hour for an employer. Now, minimum wage is $8.00, so no employer is going to hire him to generate $7.50 of money and lose the company $0.50 an hour. However, they would hire him for $7.00 if they legally could. And $7.00/hour is a lot better for Joe than $0.00/hour. Furthermore, after beginning to plumb, Joe would get better at it, and eventually would generate more money for his employer and earn a higher wage. If Joe's employer wouldn't pay up, he would go to another plumbing company that would. It's the Invisible Hand. It's worth noting that 90% of hourly employees make more than minimum wage, even though employers don't have to pay them any more. So it stands to reason that without a minimum wage, employers would still pay competitive salaries.
  • Now, let's suppose Joe is a good plumber, but nevertheless, nobody will hire him. He could be an independent plumber who works for himself. He would probably charge less than some large plumbing company, which would certainly appeal to certain people. (If you just want your toilet fixed and don't care who does it, you'd go with Joe, perhaps). Right now, Joe isn't even legally allowed to charge less than minimum wage for his own services. This obviously hurts his chances of getting employed. But what hurts him even more is another government restriction. To do all this work, he would need to take several courses, obtain a license, plus obtain another license for his business, and spend a lot of money doing so. But Joe doesn't have a lot of money. That's why he needs the job, remember? So clearly this hurts him. Without all these red tape restrictions, Joe could easily find work,.
    Of course, we can now clearly see that without all the government programs that are supposed to benefit people like Joe, he could easily find work for himself and not have to depend on others for support. Then, we would have achieved the eighth level of tzedakah simply by repealing government programs which are supposed to "help" Joe.
     One final note. These programs are funded by tax dollars from people like you and me. This leaves open interesting opportunities. If there is a charitable cause that you are passionate about supporting, which is not covered by the government, you can now give some or all of the tax that would have gone to the government to a private charity. And studies have shown that private charities are twice as cost-effective as the government. 
     So, if you give $50 to your local soup kitchen, it's really like giving $100 to a government program. Now if you give all $100 (hypothetical amount) that you're no longer paying to the government, you're no worse off and those who do have legitimate excuses for not getting jobs are far better off. Even if you only give $75, both sides are better off. And it doesn't just have to be a general soup kitchen. Presumably, due to that all-important Invisible Hand, charities would sprout up urging people to help individuals who truly can't help themselves. This would include injured veterans, people who can't work due to a disability, etc. It would, of course, also include other charitable causes such as protecting the environment, or feeding starving children in Africa. 
    Regardless of which charities arise, I do have faith in humanity to take care of their own. And I have faith in individual groups to take care of their own too. Many religions are known for this, as are many ethnic groups. I don't view this as a problem, rather I think it's a good thing. Begin by helping those who are closest to you. Then move out into the local area, your state, your country, and the world. Perhaps this is a form of libertarian socialism. But as I have said, I am a "libertarian without labels". I incorporate any form of libertarianism I want into my philosophy, and choose not to label it otherwise. So I don't have a problem with that claim.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Those Big Government 'Turkeys'

The ESPN talk show Pardon the Interruption always announces its "Turkeys of the Year" on the episode before Thanksgiving. These awards are given out to individuals or teams who have done stupid or boneheaded things over the past year. In a similar vein, since this is probably going to be my last post before Turkey Day, here are my "turkeys" of big government (in no particular order)

Look at those turkeys in the
field. Happy Thanksgiving!
  • The Schenectady County Court, for summoning Derrick Smith for jury duty in his own murder trial. Smith promised he would be "fair and partial", but was nevertheless excused from the jury pool.
  • For the welfare enablers who created a system where a North Carolina man robbed a bank of one dollar so he could get free healthcare in prison.
  • To Congress, for their spending "cuts". Saying they saved money is the equivalent of me saying that in 2013, I'm going to buy a $50,000 Porsche instead of a $60,000 Ferrari. Now, you might say "In 2013, you'll still be in college. How can you afford a $50,000 car?" And that's precisely my point.
  • Broward County, Florida, for issuing the sister of County Commissioner Ilene Lieberman a red-light camera ticket, three months after she died. Bonus points for subsequently declaring that the deceased woman was legally required to either pay the ticket or contest it in court. 
  • To the Ontario County, New York Police Department, for their plan to combat distracted driving. In May, they implemented a program where motorists could report drivers who were in violation of cell phone laws. Here's the kicker - the motorists had to call a police hotline to do this! So Motorist B sees motorist A on his cell phone and calls the police. Motorist C sees Motorist B on his cell phone (reporting motorist A, but C doesn't know that) and calls the police. Motorist D sees motorist C.... And now they're all distracted, instead of just Motorist A, and at some point some of them are probably going to have an accident. This is what happens when you don't think... Unless, of course, they're just trying to increase the number of tickets so they get revenue. I wouldn't doubt it.
  • And finally, one from Down Under. Twelve years and $600 million AUD ($582 million USD) later, the anti-submarine torpedoes the Aussie Defense Department ordered from Europe have finally arrived. But the manuals to use them only are available in French and Italian. So now they have to hire technical translators with security clearance, which will cost another 110K or so, and another delay. And by the time this is all done, newer and better missiles will have been developed, so they'll do it again...
To all you readers out there, have a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Whether you're celebrating at home or with your family, you have a lot to be thankful for. So for one day, stop worrying about what is wrong with this country, and appreciate what is right. Then go back to criticizing the government for the rest of the year.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Second Letter Today: The Paperback Trader Will be Missed (Daily Campus)

A shot of The Paperback Trader from outside.
It is in the center of the frame, to the righht of the Florist.
Too bad it will soon be closing.
In addition to my last post, I had another Letter to the Editor published today, in the Daily Campus. Note that for the original article which I reference, please see here. You can also view my letter online here or see a PDF of the print version here though you can't print it from there.

Like Jesse Rifkin, I am deeply saddened by the closing of The Paperback Trader. Although I have only had a chance to go there once, I found it to be a perfect atmosphere, quiet and friendly. It is the oldest store in the complex, and I feel sad that it is going to be demolished in the name of "progress." As the song goes "pave paradise, put up a parking lot." Of course, we will still have the Co-op to buy books, but that just isn't the same. The Campus Bookstore is noisy and busy, while Paperback Trader was very relaxed and easy-going. It's too bad it's being forced to close. I encourage everybody to visit it at least once before it does so, just to get a feel of what an independent bookstore really feels like. The charm, atmosphere, and friendliness The Paperback Trader has can never be matched by any chain outlet.
– Gregory Koch

Poughkeepsie Journal Letter: Races Should Have More than One Hopeful

Today, I had a letter to the editor published in the Poughkeepsie Journal. You can view it online here or read below:

In the Town of Poughkeepsie Ward 5 last Tuesday, seven of the 13 races on the ballot featured a single candidate running unopposed. This goes against the nature of a true democracy, and there is no excuse for it. Voting for candidates is supposed to be a free and open choice. However, with just one candidate, it becomes what is called a “Hobson’s choice.” This term refers to the illusion of a “free” choice where there is really only one option. In other words, “take it or leave it.” Yet still, candidates run unopposed and get re-elected continuously. Nothing ever changes, because voters aren’t willing to create change. While unopposed candidates do create a Hobson’s choice, you always have the option to “leave it.” I regret that more voters did not choose this option by either writing in a candidate or not voting at all for those offices. If they had, perhaps we could have made a dent in the system.

Gregory Koch

Monday, November 14, 2011

Me asking Gary Johnson a Question at Online Town Hall

Gary Johsnon
On November 2nd, Republican presidential candidate Gary Johnson held an "Online Town Hall" where he answered questions from supporters in an unmoderated discussion. I was fortunate enough to be one of those supporters. You can view the video here or read a transcript below (some editing was done for clarity):

Gary Johnson: Gregory, you're up.
Me: My question is, I know many of my friends who are college age kids don't care about politics because they don't feel that any politician really represents them. So as the leader of America now, what will you do for my generation, who is supposed to be the future leaders.
Gary: Well Gregory I think, and this was also as Governor of New Mexico, I'll tell you I saw political favors, I'm talking Payolla here, it was Republicans and Democrats both. Make a contribution to my campaign and I'm going to give you special favors. [They say] "I'm going to grant loopholes, whether you're an individual a group, or a corporation - look, I'm kind of for sale." Well as Governor of New Mexico, nothing was for sale, the whole notion was to create a level playing field where all of us had access to the American Dream. And the American Dream is, if you're willing to work hard and be honest, there isn't anything you can't achieve. I think what's really important for young people right now to understand, not that they don't and not that you don't, is that we are going to be left with nothing if we don't fix the fact that we're borrowing money at a rate of 43 cents per dollar we're spending. Money is going to be worth nothing and that is not a good scene. If you look at Russia after the monetary collapse, they are never going to recover in our lifetimes from that. That's what we're looking at unless we fix it. Your generation is not responsible for this but mine is and the irony behind all this is that this is imminintley fixable but it's got to be fixed and it's got to be fixed now.
Me: Thank you [microphone doesn't pick this up for some reason, but eventually GJ moves on to the next question].

I am pleased with Gary's response. The fiscal issues need to be addressed, and as much as I'd like to see him connect with my generation, special interests are just as bad when they involve me as when they don't. And most of his supporters seem to be young anyway, judging by who came out for the town hall. (Ron Paul has this phenomenon too). There will be several more of these meetings due to their success, and I am looking forward to them. Until then...

Gary Johnson  2012

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Most Important Issue of the 2012 Election

                With the 2011 election now over, we must now focus on the forthcoming 2012 Presidential Election.  While there are many important issues facing this country right now, the most important one is the national debt. The US national debt is currently approaching $15 trillion and is rapidly rising. In September of 2008 the debt clock in New York City had to be rebuilt because it had run out of digits. Now, the country continues to spiral towards a financial disaster. A few years ago, Citizens Against Government Waste released the “Chinese Professor” advertisement. This frightening commercial featured a history professor at Beijing University in the year 2030. He discusses the fall of empires:  the Ancient Greeks, the British, and lastly, the United States of America. Those last words should be enough to send shivers down the spines of all Americans. The professor continues, talking about how all of these empires “turned their backs on the principles that once made them great”. He alludes to the Americans’ overspending, before concluding “so now, they work for us”. This line draws some laughter from his students, but it should be no joke to Americans today.
                America used to be a fiscally responsible nation. Prior to World War II, we never spent beyond our means. However, during the War we needed to have large deficit spending. The economy appeared to skyrocket, so Congress assumed this fiscal irresponsibility actually helped the economy. However, as French economist Frederic Bastait pointed out, what is seen does not always mean the same as what is unseen. What would have been called a stimulus in our time eventually led to a recession, then another, starting a pattern which continues to this day. As the Austrian School of economics teaches, what is good for the economy in the short-term is usually bad in the long-term and vice versa. Looking back, we can see how the war spending boosted the economy temporarily, but only until it crashed. The Financial Stimulus Package has done this as well. We need to reign in the government spending now.
                For every problem, there ought to be a solution. Indeed, we can solve this issue simply by electing fiscally responsible leaders who know not to spend beyond the government’s means.  Citizens may be dissatisfied with the cuts that have to be made, but if we don’t make them, our country may have collapsed in the next 15 years. As a 19-year old living in America, this really worries me. I shouldn’t have to be concerned about whether government policy will destroy the country by the time I turn 40. Our next president must be fiscally responsible. A Balanced Budget Amendment would be the first step in ensuring that we do not have a fiscal disaster. Since the president cannot pass amendments on his own, he should veto any unbalanced budget. A line-item veto would also allow the president to block certain parts of the budget that contain the most ridiculous waste.  In any case, the next President needs to rein in spending and balance the budget. We cannot afford not to.

This is an official blog entry for the YourLocalSecurity.com Blogging Scholarship. If selected, I'll receive $1000 towards my college expenses in 2012. This scholarship is sponsored by YourLocalSecurity.com

Monday, November 7, 2011

No Free Democracy in Town of Poughkeepsie Elections

Thomas Hobson, for
whom the "Hobson's
choice" is named.
In this post, I am going to take a break from talking about issues of national prominence, and focus on something a bit closer to home - tomorrow's local elections. If you don't live in my town, feel free to apply this to your own local election. 

In the Town of Poughkeepsie, a whopping seven of the 13 races that we will be voting on tomorrow feature a candidate running unopposed. In stark contrast to the free democracy we are supposed to be, these elections are a Hobson’s Choice. That is, we may in theory have a free choice as to who to vote for, but there is only one option. Either vote for “that guy” or don’t vote at all. But there is one way to fight the system. An election with two or more candidates, neither of whom you particularly care for wouldn't exactly be a Hobson's choice, but this option would still be available to you, so don't fear. So here's what to do.

Under New York State law, there is no restriction on who is eligible as a write-in candidate. So this Tuesday, instead of bubbling in the circles next to candidates like William Grady, Tom Tancredi, and Stephen Krakower, fill in the circle in the line that says “Write-in”. Then, just write in whoever YOU think is right for the job. Yourself, your neighbor, your friend, or that six-year old from down the block who always helps you out.  The choice is up to you. The candidates on the ballot are basically telling us to “take it or leave it”. Let us vote to leave it. 

Note: The Board of Elections will tally the number of write-ins total, but will not count the number of write-ins for an individual unless the number of write-ins is greater than the number of votes for the next-leading candidate. So, in all likelihood, your neighbor will never know you voted for him unless you let him know.