We're Still Here

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I’m writing this in June, about a month after the world was supposed to end, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping.

Though I read Stephen Cox’s excellent articles on this topic, I did not listen to Family Radio on May 21. I was already experiencing an irritating weekend. The last thing I needed to hear about was the apocalypse.

I am a libertarian and a Christian. I am quite familiar with the passages in Revelation and the gospels, dealing with the end of the world. The only definite message to derive from these passages is that no one knows when the end will come. In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only"; “watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 36:42).

In March of last year, I talked with my Dad (himself a Christian) about this. (As Stephen wrote in his December 2010 article, Camping had pushed his prophecy about May 21, 2011 for well over a year. And it was not his first prediction of the end.) We were watching television together one evening before walking the dogs. I started changing channels. My Dad said, “I don’t want to watch any more of that end of the world shit.” At the time, quite a few cable channels were airing an unusually large number of shows about Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, and the Apocalypse. I said, “Dad, Harold Camping says the world is going to end in May 2011.” He said, “Harold Camping is full of shit.” After a few moments he added, “Every day the world ends for somebody.”

Indeed.

But today, we are still here. The popular attention paid to this incident, or non-incident, has begun to fade, as new natural disasters occur and celebrity and political scandals continue to break. Most of us go on as we did before, simply trying to get through the day. And, like Stephen, I believe that Family Radio will also go on, airing hymns, Bible readings, and inspirational segments. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the whole episode can serve a greater purpose than simply mocking an old fellow who, despite making this mistake before, still succumbed to hubris.

As my father said, every day the world ends for somebody. It could end for you or me. The gist of the New Testament, in that regard, is to live according to God’s word as if each day were going to be your last. But what does that mean for libertarians, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or anything else?

Well, let’s each ask ourselves, "What have I done for liberty lately? If I were to die today, would I be able to say that I did all I could do to champion liberty in these dark times? Or that every day, even in a little way, I took a stand for economic or social freedom?” Most of us can probably do more than we have done so far.

What can we do? Attend a local zoning board meeting, a township committee meeting, a local school board meeting, a “town hall,” a legislative hearing, a Tea Party rally, a Libertarian Party meeting. Not happy with any of those? Start your own gathering of citizens concerned for liberty. Protest inane local laws, regulations, taxes, and fees. Talk to your families, friends, coworkers, someone sitting next to you on a plane — I'll bet that he or she will be particularly open to discussing liberty after dealing with the TSA. Run for office as a Libertarian or independent.

And we can still do more. If we look at the body of Reflections amassed by Liberty over its publishing history, it chronicles a relentless creep of the state into every aspect of our lives. Some Reflections concern local infringements on liberty, some concern giant bureaucracies brazenly seizing formerly ungoverned or unregulated spaces, some concern misguided progressive do-gooding, some concern surreptitious theft, such as legislative pay raises passed in the middle of the night. But the process has gone on for too long, and we have watched for too long. We need to draw a line in the sand and start pushing back.

Stephen recently wrote that Harold Camping has backtracked, adjusting his timeline to October 21, 2011. We can’t afford to backtrack. Liberty is at stake. When it comes to defending liberty and economic and social freedom, we must act as if each day is known to be our last.

Do not let this year be the end of the world for liberty.




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On Our Way Down

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While our nation remains mired in economic uncertainty, sluggish growth, high unemployment, and even higher underemployment — in short, Obamalaise — other nations continue to move ahead. A recent report brings this point home.

Citigroup projects that the pattern of world trade is going to shift dramatically over the next 40years, and not in our favor. Citi’s research indicates that Developing Asia’s share of total world trade, which in 2010 was 24%, will grow to 42% in 2030 and 46% by 2050. Conversely, Western Europe, which had the largest share of total world trade in1990 (48%) dropped to 34% in 2010. That's still the largest share. But by 2030, that will dwindle to only 19%, and by 2050 it will be a meager 15%. North America will see similar declines.

Citi projects that China will become the biggest-trading country by 2015, surpassing the U.S. — the current leader — within only four years, and will stay on top for the foreseeable future. But even more remarkable is the forecast that the US will also be overtaken by — India. Even though India was not even in the top 10 largest trading countries in 2010, by 2050 it will become the second largest.

Now, research projections can be wrong — for one thing, they cannot for see exogenous events (e.g., what if China and India get into a major war?). But the trends are pretty clear.

And the causes of these trends are also clear. One cause of trade growth (among others) is the willingness to trade freely with other nations. Asia has embraced free trade with a vengeance, while Obama has done his best to block all progress on the issue, even going so far as to reverse the free trade agreements we have, simply to please his union bosses. For Obama, it is as if Adam Smith never existed. This is taking its toll.

p




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Two Big Surprises

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Well, now, you can knock me over with a feather! Two stories just out are amazing in their a priori improbability. They tell us a lot about the growing awareness of our looming national financial crisis.

The first is the news that the U.S. Senate has voted to end federal subsidies for ethanol, which this year hit a high of $6 billion from taxpayer dollars.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. The ethanol lobby (i.e., the group of rentseekers who derive much of their income from this screwy subsidy) is powerful, consisting of many players in key political states. Moreover, it has been around for more than 30 years — an unhappy product of the Carter presidency. Also, it has been a darling of the environmentalist movement, which has consistently opposed fossil fuel and nuclear power, favoring instead so-called “renewable” sources of power (biofuels, wind power, and solar power).

Even more surprising is that the vote was bipartisan and wasn’t even close: 73 for, and only 27 against, with Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining Tom Coburn (R-OK) in sponsoring the bill. In the end, 33 Republicans and 40 Democrats joined to kill the subsidy program.

I suspect that a number of facts helped the Senate reach this epiphany. One is that despite over 30 years (and untold billions of taxpayer dollars) invested in research and development, the energy output that you get for the required input still keeps the fuel from being economically attractive — a point that even Mr. Green himself, Al Gore, mentioned when he came out against corn-based ethanol earlier this year. In part, the problem is that we are making ethanol out of corn, which is far less efficient than making it out of sugarcane — and this is why, besides giving the domestic producers of the stuff a hefty tax credit of 45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline, the feds have had to impose a whopping 54 cents per gallon tax on ethanol imported from abroad (mainly Brazil).

Another senatorial eye-opener may have been the recent, massive discoveries in domestic sources for oil and natural gas that can be produced by new technology such as fracking. These discoveries make the case for subsidizing domestic ethanol even more dubious.

Besides, politicians are finally beginning to see the obvious, deleterious impact that diverting 40% of our corn crop to make ethanol (which, again, we could buy more cheaply from Brazil) has on food prices both here and abroad. The rapid inflation of food prices has caused riots abroad and is beginning to cause real discomfort here.

Finally, there is the sense that this subsidy program has just gone on too long. As Senator McCain put it, “Enough is enough. The industry has been collecting corporate welfare for far, far too long.” Exactly so. There is demand for ethanol, but the industry needs to supply it in the free market.

The ethanol industry has been angling to replace tariffs and subsidies with federal spending for special pumps and tanks to hold higher concentrations of ethanol. But the House just voted against that by a margin of 283-128.

So it may be that the governmental subsidies for ethanol will end soon.

Now, the second surprising story is that the AARP, the liberal advocacy group that purports to represent the elderly, and was so crucial in helping President Obama ram through Obamacare, has changed its position on reducing benefits for Social Security. John Rother, the AARP’s policy head, has said that the AARP now views change in Social Security’s benefits structure as inevitable, and wants to have an influence on the process. This is a big change from AARP’s earlier stance, which was that all we needed to do was increase payroll taxes to cover the deficits. As Rother put it, “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens.” Of course, the question is, why would we want this toad and his leftist organization — who did all they could to block reform and increase the depth of the problem — to be “at the wheel” of reform?

It is all so richly ironic. The AARP was viciously instrumental in killing President Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security. It claimed that Bush was going to shortchange the elderly. Now the AARP itself will face the same charges.

Indeed, the AARP immediately aroused the antipathy of a coalition of leftist groups calling itself (in pure Alinsky style) “Strengthen Social Security.” It has already accused AARP of becoming elitists disconnected from their base.

The AARP is approaching this cautiously. It lost about 300,000 members by helping push through Obamacare. To cover its tail, it wants to make sure that the Social Security revision process is bipartisan. Its own polls match public polls that show the elderly deeply oppose changes to the program. One recent poll shows that 84% of all Americans 65 and older oppose any and all cuts in benefits.

But the AARP and members of Congress are finally coming to see the iceberg of fiscal insolvency toward which the economy is headed. Visions of Greece, currently in the throes of riots by dependents of the state and facing the prospect of defaulting on its debts, are concentrating minds wonderfully.

In fact, it is all rather like watching a Greek tragedy. The blind AARP finally has to face its fatal flaw — the mess it helped create and maintain.




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Free Phones!

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Every so often, I entertain myself during my lunch break by listening to conservative talk radio. The other day I tuned in just as the news at the top of the hour was finishing. It was followed by the usual commercials — Lifelock, Goldline. Then a commercial aired that I was shocked to hear.

I can’t remember it word for word, but the main part went like this:

Attention, state residents on welfare or other public assistance! You may be eligible for free cellphone service. You can even keep your existing number. Call Safelink.

A couple of questions entered my mind. Since when do welfare recipients make up any part of the conservative talk radio audience? More important, if this is an actual offer, who is paying for it?

I did some cursory research.

This free cellphone program has its origins in the “lifeline” program created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was intended to ensure that quality telecommunications services were available to low-income customers at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. Basically, it was a discount on a low-income person’s landline bill. The act requires telecommunications service providers to contribute to federal universal service in some equitable and nondiscriminatory manner. In other words, they pay. In 1997, the Federal Communications Commission created the Universal Service Fund to collect, manage, and distribute these funds.

The Universal Service Fund is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. Its webpage provides a little information about where the money comes from: “Generally, companies that provide interstate telecommunications contribute to the fund. These providers are required to submit revenue data to USAC using the Telecommunications Reporting Worksheet (Form 499).”

The site states that the USAC invoices providers for the required contributions, and that the FCC extended universal service obligations to providers of interconnected Voice-Over-Internet Protocol services in 2006. Finally, it says, “Consumers may notice a ‘Universal Service’ line item on their telephone bills. This occurs when a provider chooses to recover its contributions directly from its customers through a line-item charge on its bills. The FCC does not require this. Each company makes a business decision about whether to directly assess its customers to recover its Universal Service Fund costs.”

So, who pays? We do. Through an underhanded tax on consumers.

No justification, to the effect that telecom companies simply make a business decision to pass these costs on, changes the fact that this is an additional tax on consumers. Personally, I am not a fan of big business and I believe that all business endeavors entail costs and risks, not all of which can or should be passed on to consumers. But the faux ignorance of the explanation is obnoxious. We in the government are just trying to get these companies to do good. So don’t blame us — we’re just trying to do the right thing. Blame the telecom companies that weasel out of paying their fair share under the guise of a business decision.

The result is that you and I are again stuck with a surreptitious tax. You and I are paying for someone else (and not a family member or friend, or even a designee of our choosing) to have a cellphone.  I am all for low-income people having access to phone services, but I’d like to see that access come through greater competition among telecommunications companies to reduce costs and increase service quality and convenience. Or through the work of private charitable institutions. There are ways to address low-income people’s needs for phone service other than a federal government program funded by an underhanded tax.

I looked at my phone bill and found a Universal Service Fee of $4.20. I’m calling and disputing it. I am taxed enough already. I’ll let you know AT&T’s response.




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Share and Share Alike

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My mother never taught me to share…that is, until she first taught me about private property. It’s a wise insight, which few adults share.

How many times have we seen an adult offer a toy or treat, and place it in the no-man’s-land between two absorbed four-year-olds, admonishing them to “share”? Their eyes light up with wonder; then, the wonder seamlessly metamorphoses into greed. Hands dart, each kid grasping to arrogate the goody to himself. But only one succeeds.

The loser, suddenly realizing he’s missed out, looks around perplexed, weighing his chances of liberating the goody from the other kid. Depending on relative size and age, he either makes a bold grab for the goody or starts bawling loudly in the direction of an adult, hoping for vindication. It’s only natural — the tragedy of the commons in miniature.

Sometimes, the adult has an inkling that one essential step might be missing from the lesson of sharing when it is taught this way; that is, one must own something before one can share it. So the adult adds a necessary but insufficient bit to the lesson: she’ll hand the goody to one child in a pretended ritual of conveyance, while at the same time insisting that he must share it. In other words, the treat isn’t really his — its . . . who knows?

Such mixed signals can only create conflict. The kid, believing the treat is his, refuses to give it up. So the adult intervenes, forcibly taking it from the now-bereft child and handing it over to the other kid, meanwhile lecturing both on the virtues of sharing.

There’s a perverse lesson here. The kid who didn’t originally get the goody learns the benefits of having an authority figure forcibly redistributing largesse from one person to another. The other kid learns — as Jimmy Carter once so eloquently put it — that “life isn’t fair” (not a bad lesson in some other context).

But a necessary prerequisite to sharing is still ownership, i.e., private property. We can see from the above examples that ownership is instinctual; it must not be undermined by taking the gift away after it’s been given.

When a child is given something, the adult should emphasize that the gift is the child’s to do with as he pleases, that no one can take the gift from him. This teaches the child the sanctity of private property; like his own, other children’s things are off limits. This is a lesson much more important than sharing, for it teaches integrity.

Sharing, by definition, is a voluntary act; if it’s not voluntary, it’s simply extortion. The only way to teach a child to share is by example — being careful not to cross the line into guilt — a huge temptation.

It can take a while to achieve the desired results. After all, ownership, as a new experience, must first be savored — for an indefinite period of time — in order to be properly imprinted. Only then can the concept of sharing be introduced. Even then, there is no guarantee that sharing will take place, because sharing is, by definition, a voluntary act.




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The Palin Perplex

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During the recent brouhaha about Sarah Palin's description of Paul Revere's ride, economist Walter Williams commented:

"There are a lot of things, large and small, that irk me. One of them is our tendency to evaluate a presidential candidate based on his intelligence or academic credentials. When Obama threw his hat in the ring, people thought he was articulate and smart and hailed his intellectual credentials. Just recently, when Newt Gingrich announced his candidacy, people hailed his intellectual credentials and smartness as well.

"By contrast, the intellectual elite and mainstream media people see Sarah Palin as stupid, a loose cannon and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal. There was another presidential candidate who was also held to be stupid and not to be trusted with our nuclear arsenal who ultimately became president — Ronald Reagan. I don't put much stock into whether a political leader is smart or not because, as George Orwell explained, 'Some ideas are so stupid that only intellectuals believe them.'"

First, let me say this: Dan Quayle was no John F. Kennedy, and Sarah Palin is no Ronald Reagan. Reagan had a philosophy that guided all his decisions. He did not have to ponder the short-term ramifications of specific small decisions, because he knew and trusted the long-term effects of adhering to laissez-faire principles. He could sleep well at night, knowing he was being true to his philosophy. We need leaders who are willing to suffer short-term pain in exchange for long-term success.

Now, as to Williams' specific point: Sarah Palin may indeed be very intelligent. Yale and Harvard are not the only academic choices of intelligent people, and I would be criticizing myself if I criticized her for starting and stopping and restarting her college career at institutions that aren't considered "the best." Lots of us make unconventional choices. So I won't criticize her choice of Boise State as her alma mater.

I worry, however, about the fact that she considers "What did you learn from your visit?" and "What newspapers do you read?" to be "Gotcha questions," as she calls them. Those are pretty simple "getting to know you" questions, to which she gave surprising answers.

I worry more about the fact that she often spins her stories — such as the ones about the executive plane and the bridge to nowhere, which she had to "adjust" after she became John McCain's running mate.

I also cringe at her delivery — the way she says so many things with a knowing wink, expecting us to "get" her by what she doesn't say, more than by what she does say. Lots of people like her style and consider it folksy. It just puts me off. Simply put: she may be perfectly intelligent, but I, personally, have no confidence in her. Maybe that feeling will change at some point. I'm not burning any bridges. Or building them to nowhere. So maybe I'll make a U-turn at some point and join her big bright bus.

But not while she's still winking at me with that knowing, gotcha smile.




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Weiner — For What He's Worth

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A few days ago, the modern-liberal media were full of people calling Anthony Weiner “one of the brightest members of Congress.” Yes, really. Google it, and you’ll see.

It’s sobering to think that these people might have been right. Maybe the other congressmen aren’t even as bright as he is. The difference is that he proved his stupidity by his absurd mismanagement of his own life, while his colleagues have proven it by their absurd mismanagement of the country.

Of course, you can be smart; you can be slick; you can be highly verbal, and you still may not be very bright.

But let’s not think about brightness. Let’s think about niceness.

Niceness doesn’t inspire me. Yet it’s worth noticing. A person who has decent manners, cultivates some empathy with other people’s feelings, is ashamed to tell gross lies to other people . . . that’s a nice enough person. That’s a person who is worthy of some respect. Niceness of this kind doesn’t require much effort. And it’s a logical prerequisite for high public office.

Now here is Anthony Weiner, who has no niceness whatever. In fact, he is one of the most obnoxious beings on the face of the earth. Having pushed the wrong button and sent a compromising picture of himself to thousands of people, what did he do? He lied. Not only did he lie, he accused political opponents of victimizing him with dirty tricks. He attacked people who asked him whether he had sent the picture, associating them with pie-throwing clowns.

That was his instinct. That was what he did immediately, without any compunction, self-righteously, aggressively, and determinedly, until he realized that more evidence of his absurdity had been found. Then he told what he regarded as the truth, and cried in public about his “panic” and his bad decisions.

The die-hard supporters of this leftist demagogue now attempt to dismiss his troubles as merely sexual and private in nature. But his strategy — immediately chosen and ardently pursued — was to lie about and accuse other people. Not only did he refuse to answer the commonsensical questions of news people (while holding press conferences supposedly designed to entertain their questions); he ridiculed and insulted them. Meanwhile, he sent messages to one of the women who had the goods on him, carefully instructing her how to lie to the media, and making little jokes about it. At the time, the biggest personal regret that Weiner divulged to the media was his fear that people were paying attention to his own moral problems instead of his attacks on the moral corruption of Republicans.

Weiner rose in the esteem of his fellow “liberals” by acting as the crazed pit bull for the Democratic former majority in the House. He made a career out of charging at the camera, barking and snarling about the scandalous conduct of the Democrats’ political opponents. Ron Paul and a few other members of Congress know how to argue for radical positions without demonizing people who commit the sin of disagreeing with them. Weiner, however, had no argument except demonization. Typically, he appeared in public with his mouth shrieking and his arms scissoring up and down, the image of a 21st-century Jacobin, scourging the Enemies of the People.

He was unsparing in his attribution of foul motives to all who disagreed with him. Here’s a report from Feb. 24, 2010. It’s typical. I quote from newser.com:

"‘You gotta love these Republicans,’ Weiner said. ’I mean, you guys have chutzpah. The Republican Party is a wholly owned subsidiary of insurance companies.’"

Challenged by a GOP congressman, Weiner reconsidered his statements.

“‘Make no mistake about it,’ he said, enunciating clearly, ’every single Republican I have ever met in my entire life is a wholly owned subsidiary of the insurance industry.’ Weiner was unapologetic about the remarks in aDaily Kospost afterward, which, CQ Politicsnotes, also contained a plea for donations and a link to a fundraising page.”

And of course, Weiner specialized in accusations that his opponents were not only wrong, but lying. Speaking of people who questioned the wisdom of Obamacare, he said, “First, they start by making stuff up.”

Then, on June 6, Weiner held a press conference in which he finally admitted, because he was forced to admit, that he had (in his suddenly demure phrase) “not told the truth.” He said of his lies, “It was a dumb thing to do . . . . Almost immediately, I didn’t want to continue doing it.” Yeah? Did you see the famous news conference in which he not only gleefully lied, but gleefully called a news person a “jackass” because his outfit was asking some obvious questions?

No, I do not care what happens, has happened, or may ever happen with now-Congressman Weiner’s formerly private parts. For all it matters to me, he can show them to whomever he wishes, at any hour of the day or night. He can romance anyone he wants to romance, in any way he wants to do it. God bless him as he pursues in peace his goal of pleasure.

But that doesn’t obscure the fact that Congressman Weiner is a total, complete, absolute fool. And that shouldn’t obscure the fact that the modern-liberal media respected him, interviewed him, assiduously quoted him, apologized for him, cultivated questions about the ease with which he might have been covertly attacked by wicked political forces, and so forth and so on, and are still purveying approaches and perspectives and points of view according to which he should not be blamed for the nasty piece of work that he is and always, obviously, was. Alas! that such a warrior for righteousness should fall victim to his private flaw. That’s the chant we hear today. But the real flaw wasn’t private.

What this affair has revealed, besides the congressman’s supposed assets, is how easy it is for people who have more words than brains to advance the careers of others like themselves, representing them as the brightest our country has to offer, for no other reason than that they pander to the political prejudices and hatreds of the allegedly educated class.




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Who’s on the Inside Track?

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It seems amazing that the mainstream media ignored a recent IMF report that now estimates that China’s economy will surpass that of America in five years. That’s right — China’s real GDP will exceed ours by 2016. This adds to the cloud already hanging over the U.S dollar — because of our twin habits of printing dollars like mad (pardon me, “quantitative easing”) and running massive deficits (pardon me, “investment spending”).

What is really stunning is that only a decade ago our economy was triple the size of China’s.

As the Chinese become dominant, questions arise. How will this authoritarian regime conduct itself vis a vis the other nations in the region? Will it look to expand its imperial reach? Will it look to exact revenge against Japan for past injustices? We can only guess, but given the treatment the Chinese have meted out to the hapless Tibetans, the explosive growth of China’s military, the cynical way China helped Pakistan (the archenemy of China’s perceived rival India) develop nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to deliver them, and the way China uses North Korea as a thorn in the side of its perceived Pacific rivals Japan and the US — the future looks challenging.

I said that it “seems amazing” that the media hasn’t mentioned the surprising closeness of our economic eclipse by the Chinese. In truth, however, it is not amazing. The mainstream media is the cheerleading squad for the Obama regime, and the fact that China has made such strides is in great measure due to the extended recession and feeble recovery caused by Obama’s policies. Compare America’s persistently high unemployment and anemic growth in this economic recovery to the features of past recoveries, and you will be depressed by the difference.

America has retreated from classically liberal economic policies, even as China has used them to grow rapidly, even in the context of a corrupt political regime. For the results, we have only ourselves to blame.




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Duh . . . Winning!

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I became a Republican so I could vote, in the 2012 primary, for the most libertarian-congenial candidate. Already I am wondering whether this will do any good.

Do I want to be lectured on morality by serial adulterer Newt Gingrich? Can I trust America will be safeguarded from creeping Sharia law by some moralist like Rick Santorum? May I hope the federal takeover of our healthcare system will be rolled back by Mitt Romney, whose plan in Massachusetts so inspired Obamacare? And behind the wild rhetoric and Bride-of-Chucky eyes of Michele Bachmann, can I be certain rationality reigns?

Both the Republican and the Democratic “teams” are in the same league. The overriding concern of both parties is the league’s survival. Each will win a few, each lose a few. But they are both deeply invested in the league — and in the big show it gives the fans.

When Team Red is in ascendancy, libertarians should probably reach as many as possible of those fans in blue jerseys with the bags over their heads. When Team Blue is back on top, we should peel off as many as possible of their disgruntled opponents.

It’s tempting to think there must be a shortcut — that one entire franchise can be purchased by reason and principle. Some will follow reason and principle, but many will not. In every era, many in the citizenry are simply fanboys and fangirls in red or blue jerseys, rah-rahing for their side.

Libertarians tend to want to change the game. We don’t usually think of politics as a game, which may be why we fare so poorly in it. We view the public square as a place for debate, for the engagement of thinking minds. If we sign up to play on one team or another, perhaps we lose something greater than a game. We may lose the chance to make politics something more than the silly, childish bloodsport it has always been inclined to be.

To win maximum public support, libertarians need players on both teams. I’m becoming less optimistic about the prospect of simply capturing the Republican flag and giving up on the Democrats. When I speak with left-leaning friends and relatives, I find them more willing to listen than many libertarians realize. The term “libertarian” has been tainted for them, freighted with all sorts of nonsense that has nothing to do with who we are or what we believe. But they understand government force, because it has been used against them and they live under the constant cloud of its return.

We have been seduced into hoping the GOP has finally gotten it, because it’s become fashionable for people in that party to call themselves libertarians. Some really do understand what that means, but for a frightful number of others, this is only the latest ploy for winning back power. Once they can take the bags off their heads, they’ll return to calling us dope-smoking hippie peaceniks and accusing us of opposing all that’s holy. They’ve done it too many times for us not to suspect they might do it again.

If we want a clearer picture of where these newly-minted Republican “libertarians” want to take this country, we need to pay closer attention to their presidential popularity polls. If polls can be believed as to the general direction of the party, any one of the players currently enjoying big numbers in the GOP will end this exercise in vanity with a second Obama term. Yet polling also shows that no more than half the population wants that. What do they really want instead?

All the leading contenders peddle the notion that more power will win the game, that if they’re nominated, their team can be champ again. If most Republican voters were not still stuck in this fantasy, they would be supporting very different people. But those who will really decide the contest are in the swelling mass of independents who are disaffected with the very idea of league play.

These people give every indication of being more open to libertarian ideas than they have been in years — perhaps ever. They lean libertarian, but describe themselves — in increasing numbers — simply as independents. They are no longer content merely to root for a team. If we don’t want to lose them, perhaps we shouldn’t join one.




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Explaining the US Debt Crisis — To My Teenagers

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Hey kids, pause American Idol for a moment and let me "lay some wisdom on you," as your generation likes to say.

It's about the US debt and what it means to you. If you pretend convincingly that you're fascinated by what I have to say, we'll go out for pizza, OK? Great.

Now, it’s hard to wrap our heads around billions and trillions of dollars, so let’s bring these numbers down to a human level so we can get some perspective. Let's scale it down to the size of a family budget. We'll divide the actual numbers by one billion, and talk about months instead of years.

So let's pretend that we are a family of criminals [the US government] living in a pretty rough neighborhood [the world].

Our family takes in a lot of money [government revenues] by picking pockets, mugging, and running shakedowns and con games. Heck, we even do some counterfeiting. And we spend it all as soon as we get it [government expenditures]. But every month we need $1,500 more than we take in. So every month I borrow that shortfall [the deficit] from the neighborhood loan shark, and we spend it.

The funny thing is, I already owe him $14,000 so far [the debt]. But he’s been pretty patient, for a convicted homicidal maniac [the Chinese government]. I guess he’s been cleaning up his image.

What’s worse, I’ve been running a pyramid scheme that's gotten a little out of control, and people are beginning to catch on. I've already promised about $100,000 [total unfunded liabilities], spread out over the next few months, to pretty much everyone in our extended family [voters with entitlement programs]. Some are well-off and won't miss their share, but some are desperate and could really use the money I scammed. Either way, they’re all going to sue me when they find out — but too bad, I already blew the money long ago.

Anyhoo, I sat down with Mom to figure a way out of this mess. I [a Republican] bravely proposed spending $100 less this month, but she [a Democrat] screamed, “What about the children!” and said it would be an unacceptable cut in our standard of living. She said we should open more credit cards in your names [borrowing], mug more people [taxation], and try some more counterfeiting [“quantitative easing”].

Finally we agreed that things will work out somehow. We just need to spend $30 less this month [the 2011 budget deal].

So I called up the loan shark and explained that he’ll eventually get all his money back —  we crossed our hearts and promised on our kids' lives  —  if we can just borrow another $1,470 this month, while we figure things out.

I figure we can always just give him counterfeit money, so we're good!

By the way, he said to say "Hi" and that he's really, really, looking forward to meeting you kids soon.

So that's what the debt crisis is basically all about. Now, who's up for pizza?

What? Whaddya mean you're not hungry?




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