Saturday, April 21, 2012

Obama on Civil Liberties

This is a continuation from my post "Obama and Bush Hold Hands". Recently Salon, a liberal leaning media site by no means libertarian or conservative, criticized Obama for his failure in fulfilling his promises to be a President who protected peoples liberties.

The Salon article can be found here.The article is much better than mine, and I suggest you read it.

The article's overall summary is that "despite vows to increase transparency, the president has made the government ever more authoritarian and intrusive." How has Obama done this?

  • Obama ordered the killing of an American citizen living abroad.
  • Like Bush, Obama has the Justice Department create memos authorizing his actions without disclosing them or presenting it before Federal Court
  • Has continued indefinite detentions at Guantanamo Bay
  • Has authorized military to indefinitely detain a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world without due process
  • Obama has expanded the telecommunication industry's spying on U.S. citizens including warrantless wiretapping.
  • Granted legal immunity to telecom companies which supported Bush wiretapping. Obama voted for this bill to immunize the telecom companies.
  • The NSA scours the internet for information on citizens
  • Waging a war on whistleblowers, as can be seen by Bradley Manning's treatment.
  • The Administration is blocking Freedom of Information Act requests.
  • Failed as promised to make bills available to be viewed by the public for 48 hours before being signed into law. 
(all citations in the original article)

The list goes on, but these are some of the important points. What makes it so much more egregious though is that it was expected from Bush/the Cheney administration. yet President Obama was supposed to be the "choice" for "change," he was supposed to embody the democratic principle of the people choosing what they want. The people wanted their civil liberties back. Barack Obama was supposed to deliver that to us, as the opposite voice in the two party system we have. he did not. The political capital was there for him to grab and ride but instead he sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan as he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize. The Nobel Peace Prize was awarded because of his promises, it was a preemptive gift based on the expectation Obama would follow through. What is truly terrible about this development by Obama regarding civil liberties is represented beautifully by the quote below:

"We are witnessing the bipartisan normalization and legitimization of a national security state." 
Liberal Yale University law School Professor Jack Balkin.

However, this normalization and acceptance of the erosion of our liberties and the sanctity of the Bill of Rights has only been possible due to Obama having "successfully counted on the acquiescent silence of the liberals." I hope the trend will buckle, if not from the Democratic party, then perhaps from the soon to be co-opted republican party once libertarianism finally and fully plants its roots.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

crony capitalism vs. voluntary trade

The Case Against The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012

The Case Against The Student Loan Forgiveness Act of 2012

When the Occupy Movement began, student loan forgiveness was a common theme. You would see a lot of people holding signs demanding their loans be forgiven. I did not take it seriously. I did not think people would take it seriously. Sure, it would be nice if loans were forgiven, but that is not going to actually happen, and it is selfish and ironically absurd for people protesting bailouts to ask for a bailout at the same time. To my chagrin, I was proved wrong. The movement for student loan forgiveness has gained a lot of traction, it is now a bill in congress, and has hundreds of thousands of signatures in support. Therefore, I will address the issue. A one-sentence summary of my opinion of student loan forgiveness is this: It is disgusting, grossly immoral, and economically disadvantageous.

What the Bill does:

The SLFA would forgive student debt if they have paid 10% of their discretionary income for 10 years towards their student debt. Furthermore, the bill would cap interest rates on federal student loans at 3.4%. People who go into certain areas of public service would be eligible to have their debt forgiven in 5 years. The bill was introduced by Rep. Hansen Clarke, a Michigan Democrat. He was spurred to action after seeing so many young people suffering from huge school debt and with little job opportunity. An online bill has received over 650,000 signatures in support of the bill as of April 18, 2012.

Sponsors of the SLFA note that since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased by 827%.

Moral argument against the Student Loan Forgiveness Act:

The Student Loan Forgiveness Act (SLFA) is immoral. The first reason it is immoral is because it proposes to forgive a debt paid for by the taxpayers that a person knowingly entered into. Students were not duped or forced to go to college. They chose to go to college; they had a wide choice of colleges or higher education institutions to attend, and made a choice based on what they wanted.

Student debt is not akin to slavery. Slaves did not have a choice, real or fake, in their dealings with their master. They were a non-consenting party to a relationship forced upon them. A student chooses to enter into the college and pay the tuition back. The college chooses to accept the student to attend their institution. It is a contract entered into by both parties.

It is immoral to allow these people who have chosen to accept debt to make themselves more valuable as an employee, or maybe simply to have a good time in college, to be released of their debt at the taxpayers’ expense.

In case you do not understand how forgiving a student’s federal loans is a cost to the taxpayers, here is the explanation. When the government forgives your debt, it assumes more liability. This liability must be paid for. It can be paid for by borrowing money, i.e. debt. Debt is often bought by the US treasury or foreign governments like Japan and China. It can be paid for by raising revenue, i.e. increasing taxes to pay for the cost. Lastly, the increased liability can be paid for by printing more money, i.e. inflation. Inflation reduces the value of every dollar of every individual, and is an unconstitutional tax which is impact those with the least the most.

Furthermore, the SLFA is immoral because people with student debt are not the most deserving of debt forgiveness. I am sure you have heard the common saying that a person with a college degree will earn over a million more than a person without a degree over their lifetime (this is a deceitful statistic by the way and I feel ashamed using it but the point is still there, people with a college degree earn more than those without one). Should students with a degree, sometimes students with a graduate degree or even a law degree, be receiving a bailout? When there are people who can barely afford to get by with no high school diploma because their family was too poor to live in a zip code with a half decent school system, should college degree holders be receiving loan forgiveness. Does the person who chose their degree at a college also of their choosing deserve their choice be paid for others when there are people barely making it on food stamps.

I know a kid. He did not have his family supporting him. He worked his ass off in school, got good grades, and chose a degree in computer information systems, something he did not love, but something he knew he knew was a marketable degree. I know another person who chose to go to community college, studied hard until he got scholarship to go to a 4-year college, where he will soon be graduating with a business degree. People make choices in life. If you chose to major in philosophy because it called to you and you’re now a barista at Starbucks, I do not think you have a moral argument to demand your neighbor to pay for that education. If you wanted to be a teacher, and chose to go to Boston University because of the prestige and beautiful campus, or to Salve Regina, so you could live in a mansion on the sea your senior year, do you have a moral argument to demand someone else pay for that experience. Should the person who worked throughout school and went to a state school to save money pay for their experience? No. No they should not. No, there is not a moral argument for that.

People make choices in life. Some people painted houses, studied hard, chose a cheaper school, and chose a marketable degree; others lived the life, partied, got a degree in what interested them, and went to the expensive school with the prestige and pretty campus. It is immoral to ask to have the tab for that experience picked up by those who missed that experience.

Economic argument against the Student Loan Forgiveness Act:

“There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Milton Friedman

Higher education is expensive. The cost of higher education has exploded upwards as of late. It was much easier for your parent to have gone to college and paid for it than it is for you or me. This higher education bubble is akin to the bubble in medical care or the housing market (which recently popped). In all these bubbles, the free market is not left alone. Healthcare is a regulatory mess devoid of free market pricing mechanisms; the housing market was fueled by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac providing money to banks to basically give a house to any person who expressed interest. Education is similarly subsidized by low interest rate federal loans and other programs and grants. College has further become an artificial minimum education level to obtain many jobs which in all honesty do not require a degree. For these reasons, there has been a rise in investment in college, and because the government subsidizes it, there is a rise in cost.

The unintended consequence of the SLFA will be that the price of higher education increases even more. If the schools know the government will pay the price for the school after 10 years of minimum payments, then it is going to raise the price! Whenever the government gets involved, the prices go up. Whether it is healthcare, housing market, or higher education after the introduction of federally subsidized loans. This Act will INCREASE the cost of school.

By further subsidizing college education, by lowering the interest rate on federal loans and forgiving debt after 10 years of minimum payments, the malinvestment, the distortive demand for higher education, will exacerbate and the price will increase. This will render scholarships based on need less effective because the cost will have increased. This will make it more expensive for people to get a college degree.

Counter to argument that higher education should be accessible to all, not just the rich:

Argument: College has become so prohibitively expensive that young people not from rich families are not able to afford to go whereas the children of the rich are able to attend the most prestigious schools in the country. This will further separate the haves from the have nots. This goes against the very tenets this country was built upon, that “all men are created equal” as Jefferson proposed in the Declaration of Independence and as the Constitution protects through the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment (note: honestly attempted to not make straw man argument here).

Counter: This is a legitimate concern. We do want all people, if they so choose, to have access to higher education. We do not want higher education the sole province of those of privilege. But the goal enunciated in this proposition is not forwarded by the SLFA. Loan forgiveness will most benefit those who are well off or are soon to be well off, i.e. those with a higher education degree. It will make school more expensive for everyone. To ensure higher education remains available to people coming from a little or a lot requires the government to stop raising the cost by providing assistance to all. A possible alternative would be to provide assistance only to those from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. That would answer this argument. But, in my opinion, the best solution is to ensure that government subsidies do not increase the cost of higher education so much that state schools and community colleges become inaccessible.


I am a student. I plan on one day being wealthy. I work towards that goal. I will graduate from law school with over $150,000 in loans. The majority of those loans will be federal loans. I would benefit tremendously from this Act. Perhaps a part of me secretly wants this act to be passed. If it were passed I would take advantage of it, just as I am now taking advantage of federal loans. However, sometimes you must do what is right, not what is in your personal benefit. Asking others to pay for my school loans is immoral and wrong. I willingly chose to get a degree in politics (and I loved philosophy and may have got a degree in that if it were offered at my undergraduate), I willingly chose to go to law school, knowing the risks and rewards. I made the choice and I will live with it no matter the outcome. To support the SLFA is to socialize my debt yet keep my gains as a future attorney private. In other words, it is to ask of others to pay for my degree yet keep the rewards of that degree for myself. I will not do that, and so I do not support this the SLFA.

Wall Street executives made unimaginable money leading up to the stock market crash and financial crisis of 2008. They were swimming in money. When the shit hit the fan, those who were under water in housing mortgages, those who were duped by the system, did not get bailed out; the wall street executives were the ones who benefitted by being bailed out. Now we have the hypothetical situation of a student with a degree from a college standing next to a poor fellow working a minimum wage job, working on his G.E.D., and with credit card debt. The poor fellow watches the student hold a sign asking for their college degree to be forgiven. The Wall Street executive is a looter, a person who takes from the people through the force of the government, and as students protest them through the Occupy Movement they simultaneously ask for the same.

Student Loan Forgiveness, and the further subsidization of higher education is immoral, economically disadvantageous, and against the American grain of person responsibility. Oppose it because it is the right thing to do.

Let’s have people pay for their own decisions. Let’s stop asking others to pay for our years in college. Let’s keep higher education affordable. Let’s not support the Student Loan Forgiveness Act.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Capitalism Eliminates Poverty, Not The State

The war on poverty has been fought foremost by the relentless working of capitalism, not by aid, not by government benefits and subsidies, not by minimum wage laws, not by collectivism, and not by the state. The invisible hand has improved the lives of the people of the world more than welfare or government hand-outs ever has or ever will.

What I am saying is shocking at first. It may even seem devoid of empathy, to insinuate capitalism eliminates poverty and welfare does not. Let me first clarify what I am saying. Society built on the foundations of the individual, on competition, and on the freedom of enterprise will have less poverty than society built on welfare, socialism, and equality of outcome.

What I am not arguing is that those less fortunate or disadvantaged should not be assisted; it is the moral duty of society to provide for an equality of opportunity. However, when the state chooses winners and losers through select subsidies (think green energy, think big oil, think farm subsidies), when the state props up those failed companies which are too big to fail, and when the government is built on a premise of paternalism and equality of outcome, poverty will increase.
To begin to understand how capitalism eliminates poverty, you must look at it as an impressionist painting. Allow me to explain.

What do you see when you closely examine impressionist art; random, uncoordinated swaths of oil and ink is all that is apparent, arranged in a chaotic concoction of unseemly blotches lacking any rhyme or reason. It is ugly and meaningless, much as capitalism when viewed closely.

Yet, step back, and watch, as you continue to separate yourself from the seemingly random collection of blotches, as it begins to take on reason, what was once blotches of blue are now the ripples of the ocean, what was once scrambled shades of yellow turning to orange become the beginnings of dusk. What was once meaningless is now a necessary and discernible element of the larger picture.

Allowing capitalism to flourish, such as by not subsidizing green energy, the "energy of the future" is at first random and obscene. Eliminating government jobs or government programs hurts society. It prolongs suffering immediately and is harmful. Looked at closely, it is ugly and meaningless. Yet, step back from the situation and peer in with greater breadth, examine the problem in its entirety. Is the benefit free; is it free money, a free job, with no cost? The late Nobel Laureate Milton Friedman once stated, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” What appears a free lunch to the publicly employed or the officer of the subsidized industry becomes the burden of the next generation by way of debt, or if paid for through printing money, simply creates inflation, meaning we all pay (this is one form of taxation without representation). Now, take another step back, and let’s view the canvas in its entirety.

In order to understand how capitalism combats poverty, you must understand that wealth is not zero-sum. One person making millions does not involve another losing millions. One person’s creation is not another’s loss. When Benjamin Franklin created the light bulb, no one was poorer.. When Henry Ford divided labor and built an assembly line, he made the car accessible to everyone. These innovations allowed people to live better lives and, more importantly, reduced poverty. People want less, have more, and live more comfortably, due to capitalism.

For evidence, let us examine life before and after the proliferation of capitalism through the industrial revolution. If we lived in the world of 1820, the world average income would be about $650, we would be lucky to live to the age of 30, and the very word leisure would not be in existence. Today, the average income is over $7,500, and all other measurements of prosperity are higher. More people live in the world, and more people live better thanks to industrialism. The incredibly small population of nobles and kings of two centuries ago were the only ones who lived well, with leisure time, entertainment, and luxuries of any sort. Not today.

I am not arguing poverty is not a problem today, it is and will remain a serious global problem, but poverty today is not the norm, it is the exception. Extreme destitution was accepted as life in the 1700’s, extreme poverty is no longer accepted today, that alone is a testament to the power of capitalism. 90% of the world’s population were farmers 250 years ago, living solely of their own land, starving during bad crop seasons. Today, less than 5% of the world are farmers. That is because the world is not zero-sum; innovations of capitalism have created new jobs, and have created opportunity out of misery for those in poverty to prosper.

History is amazing in what it blatantly proves, which is that capitalism is the best means by which to reduce poverty. Time and time again this is proven. Recent history alone is overabundant with examples. Did the USSR or the USA fall by revolution from its own people, did North Korea or South Korea recently have mass graves erected for the millions dying of malnourishment, did the East Germans or West Germans tear down the Berlin Wall to escape poverty, and did Africa or China experience over 200 million people rise out of extreme poverty over only two decades. The answer, in every example, the state with capitalism prospered, and the state which controlled failed, regardless of how great the intention. The state built on welfare and hand-outs fails, the state founded on the individual prospers.

The road to ruin will be paved with good intentions. Coercive state power, forced collectivism, and oppression will not eliminate poverty. People, allowed to compete freely, to innovate, will. It is true, that those who succeed may become grossly rich, Bill Gates is worth over 40 billion, but if the sole unwanted byproduct of modernity and progress is the so-called over-remuneration of those pioneers, then I ask, does that damn it, and more importantly, what works better.

In the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko famously states that “greed- for lack of a better word- is good.” The “better word” Gecko was searching for was capitalism, and his speech should have followed as such, “capitalism is good, capitalism works, capitalism clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit, capitalism, in all its forms, has marked the upward surge of humankind, and capitalism, you mark my words, will save this world from poverty.”

Angus Maddison "Statistics on World Population, GDP and Per Capita GDP, 1-2008 AD."

Michael Mandelbaum "Democracy's Good Name: the Rise and Risks of the World's Most Popular Form of Government."

Milton Friedman "Capitalism and Freedom"

Gary M. Walton "A Long-term Economic Perspective on Recent Human Progress."