San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, May 4, 2012

What? Me? An Anarchist?

"What are you, some sort of anarchist?" the red-faced, bug-eyed, foaming at the mouth man asked.  My reply, "I don't know...what sorts of anarchists are there?" did not change the posture of my antagonist.  Fortunately, he took pity on me and walked away.  I bruise easily and any sort of physical confrontation would necessarily have resulted in my blood getting all over his fists.  As a general policy I try to avoid getting my blood all over other people's fists.  But he did raise an interesting question.  In fact, it is a question I have been asked several times in my life.  Readers of this blog, which includes my Mom and the parakeet when I line her cage with printed versions of my blog postings, have sometimes wondered if I am an anarchist.  I guess it would be a good idea to address this issue because I am as far away from anarchy as the Pope is from Protestantism.
Anarchy is the political philosophy which asserts that there is, or should be, no civil law.  Wikipedia (my source for almost must be true if it is on the Internet) defines anarchy as follows: "In the United States, the term 'anarchy' typically is meant to refer to a society without a publicly enforced government or violently enforced political authority."  If a society has no "enforced government", I believe it necessarily follows that it has no civil law.  I suspect it is possible that it could have a civil law "on the books",  but since it is, by definition, not enforced, it really does not matter one way or the other.  Under anarchy each person does what is right in his own eyes.  For various reasons known best to themselves, some people who read this blog have come to the conclusion that I advocate each person doing what is right in his own eyes.  Nothing could be less true.
My relationship to the law is simple.  I am a theonomist.  I believe in the law of God ("theo" equals God and "nomos" equals law).  I believe the Bible contains the law of God and I also believe that it is sufficient to resolve all disputes related to our various civil interactions.  In theological circles what I just wrote are fighting words.  What I just wrote will get me thrown out of most respectable theological discussions.  Most theologians are what are known as antinomians.  That means they believe that God's law no longer applies to our society because it only applied to the Israel of the Old Testament.  Of course, they still believe that it is wrong to murder and commit adultery.  They just believe that their moral sensibility comes either from the State or some sort of natural law that tells them what is right or wrong.  One thing that is not acceptable for most folks is the simple belief that the law contained in the Old Testament is normative for today.  Why that simple belief generates such antagonism and emotional heat is a mystery to me, but it does.
Now, as a theonomist and by today's legal standards, I can look amazingly like an anarchist.  The Federal Register in 2010 contained over 80,000 pages of new laws the citizens of the US were expected to know and obey.  Each year 80,000+ pages of new laws are written and foisted upon the general public.  The total number of laws a citizen of the United States is supposed to know and obey has to be well into the hundreds of thousands.  God's law contains a little over 600 specific laws.  I can get my mind around 600 laws.  80,000 new laws per year is a bit much for this feeble head.  When compared to 80,000 new laws per year, 600+ laws for all time looks pretty simple.  I can see why those who disagree with me consider me to be an anarchist.  I have very few laws.  Nevertheless, I am yet to find a forensic life situation where I could not find an answer to the problem in the Law of God.  That reality illustrates the truth of the ancient doctrine known today as "the sufficiency of Scripture". The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture says that everything we need to know for our lives can be found in the Bible.  According to this doctrine there is no life situation that can arise that the Bible, rightly understood, does not speak to.  It is something almost all theologians profess to believe, even if they rarely practice it.  Maybe someday somebody will come up with something that the Law of God does not address, but I don't think so.
Theonomists are very unpopular people not because they look like anarchists.  They are very unpopular people not because they have very few laws.  They are unpopular because the very few laws they do have are very unpopular with the people.  Why God's law should be so unpopular with the people is also a mystery to me.  According to the various surveys I have read, most Americans believe in the God of the Bible.  I would think that most folks who speak fondly of God would also be rather fond of His law.  I would expect that people who talk about love for God would also love His law.  But that is not the case.   Let me give you two examples and you can see why theonomists are truly hated in many circles of influence. 
First, theonomists believe that adultery is more than just a sin.  They believe it is a transgression against the moral law that should be associated with negative civil sanctions.  In fact, the ultimate negative sanction associated with adultery in the Bible is death.  The law of our land used to operate under this principle of moral culpability for divorce,  but the advent of "no-fault" divorce has changed everything.  Since approximately 50% of the people in the United States are guilty of adultery, or so the statistics tell me, you can see why theonomists are not often invited to cocktail parties.  Still,  I wonder how many people would commit adultery if they knew their neck was in the noose for doing so? 
Second, theonomists believe pornography is a sin.  Pornography is big business.  Pornography is protected as "free speech" according to the present interpretation of the Constitution of the United States.  Theonomists find it difficult to understand how making negative assertions about  homosexuality is considered to be "hate speech" and is punishable by the law of the land while, at the same time,  pornography is considered to be "free speech" and protected by the State.  This, of course, is a hot-button issue.  I have read that a man in Canada was arrested and fined for telling an officer of the law that he believed homosexuality to be a sin.  Turns out the cop was a homosexual and had baited him by asking his opinion on the issue.  At any rate, theonomists see huge contradictions in the type of speech the State will permit and the type it will condemn.  Pornography is not free speech.  It is sin and it should be against the law.
OK, although I only promised you two examples, I am on a roll and have a third example for you. Theonomists believe it is wrong to steal.  They further believe that anything that would be wrong for me to do individually is also wrong for me to do as a member of a group.  For example, it would be wrong for me to come over to your home and set it on fire.  It would also be wrong for me to join a mob and come over to your house and set it on fire.  The mere fact that I am a member of a mob does not justify an action that would be obviously wrong when done individually.  As a result, theonomists believe that most taxation constitutes theft and that most people who agitate for more and higher taxes are little more than thieves.  But, don't forget, theonomists are not anarchists.  They believe that the State does have a right to some tax revenue.  Somewhere around ten percent sounds good.  Any more than that rate of taxation and we are approaching the rate the children of Israel had to pay to the Egyptians, and we all know what God thought about that state of affairs.
So, no, I am not an anarchist.  I am something much worse.  I will understand if you do not invite me to any of your parties.  Just try and keep my blood off your fists, OK?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Colorado Legislature Suddenly Discovers The Constitution

The Denver Post reported yesterday that "The Colorado attorney general's office has raised questions about whether a bill to create a unique commission to compensate victims of the Lower North Fork fire violates the state constitution."  The Lower North Fork fire burned for several days last month.  It destroyed about 4,000 acres of land including two dozen homes.  It took three lives.  The fire was started by state employees.  Now, several members of the Colorado legislature with a conscience have decided to introduce a bill that would compensate the victims for their losses.  It was that bill that caught the attention of the Colorado attorney general.
According to the attorney general's office the bill "presents a significant risk of violating the constitution's prohibition against special legislation."  According to the article, that "prohibition prevents the legislature from passing bills that target only specific individuals and not a broader swath of the public."  What?  Huh?  Are they kidding? An inter-office memo obtained by the Post says, "the bill applies only to victims of the Lower North Fork wildfire and by its terms cannot be applied to any other class of individuals."  I can applaud the wisdom of the crafters of the Colorado constitution when they decided to prohibit the legislative process from being used to single out a minority group of people who are linked by only one shared characteristic and then crafting law exclusively for that group.  That is good government.  However, where has the application of this principle been in the past?  I do feel sorry for those who lost their property in the fire but the legislative process is not the place to seek redress of their grievances.  That should take place in the judicial branch of government.  Sadly, the Colorado government has already invoked its self-granted right of immunity from lawsuits so the victims of this fire will see little or no justice.  So now the state of Colorado suddenly discovers its constitution at the precise moment the State is liable for its behavior.  The attorney general has suddenly realized that state legislators are constitutionally prohibited from enacting legislation that singles out any particular group as targets of either positive or negative state sanctions precisely when the State would have to accept responsibility for its behavior.  
This statement from the attorney general is laughable.  Everybody knows that the great majority of the legislation that is passed by the Colorado legislature (as well as all legislative bodies in this country) is designed specifically to give and/or take away some special privileges for a particular interest group which is almost always linked by only one particular characteristic.  Now, however, it is the state, and not the taxpayers, that is slated to bear the cost of the legislation.  Not surprisingly, the moment it is the state that is being gored, the state finds the legislation unconstitutional.  When taxpayers and citizens were being gouged and abused there was no mention about this constitutional provision.  What about all those other laws the state has passed that were unconstitutional?  What about all those other laws that selected a small group and then either punished or rewarded them for their behavior?  What about all those other laws that selected a small group and gave them special privilege?  Let me recount just a few examples of state hypocrisy
1.  Anti-smoking laws that were passed in Colorado recently were specifically designed to prohibit a small minority of the population (less than 20% in Colorado), who were linked together only because they all smoke, from smoking in public locations.  Certainly the anti-smoking legislation also "cannot be applied to any other class of individuals", can it?  By definition the law singles out and applies only to the class of individuals known as smokers.   And smokers are a very small percentage of the Colorado population.  Yet, the attorney general was strangely silent about the constitutional prohibition of this bill when this bill was passed.
2.  Obama's millionaire tax is another fine example of a law designed to target a very small part of the populace.  In fact, those who would be subject to his special tax make up less than 0.2% of the total population.  How is it that the millionaire tax bill is not seen as a law that "targets only specific individuals" and is, therefore, unconstitutional? (I realized I have switched from the state of Colorado to the federal government....the principle remains the same.)  Obama's millionaire tax is unconstitutional as well.  Whether it be at the state or federal level, the law should never be used to attack or favor one group over another.
3.  Licensing laws are perfect examples of laws that target specific groups in order to grant specific privileges.  Hairdressers in Colorado have to be licensed.  If a person attempts to cut the hair of another person and charges a fee to do so, the long arm of the law will reach out and prohibit that action.  We are told that it is a "public health" issue.  Why should a law that creates a tiny group of privileged hairdressers not also be found to be unconstitutional?  Could it be any more obvious that a hairdresser license is nothing more than a state grant of special privilege to a very tiny group of individuals?  Why is it not unconstitutional?  Where was the attorney general when this law was passed?
4.  All tariff laws passed in the US are designed to grant special privileges to small groups of people.  There are tens of thousands of individual tariff laws in this country.  Steel workers make up a very small percentage of the population but they have their steel production protected by tariffs.  Sugar farmers make up a very small percentage of the population but they have their sugar protected by tariffs.  Tariff laws necessarily favor only to those the state has deemed to be "victims" of unfair competition.  If "victims of unfair competition" (who are not really victims at all) are worthy of cash payments from the government, why are real victims of state started fires not eligible?  These laws protecting special business interests are clearly unconstitutional and nobody in Congress or the office of the attorney general has ever so much as uttered a word against them.
5.  I was riding my bike in Red Rocks park this week.  Red Rocks park is owned by the City of Denver.  At the entrance to the park is a sign that says "Rock Climbing Prohibited.  Climbing on the rocks is punishable by a fine of up to $999 and 180 days in jail."  That sign always gives me such a warm feeling as I meditate on how the City of Denver cares about my welfare.  Could this law, created by the City and County of Denver, be any more obvious as an example of a law that specifically and negatively targets a tiny group of individuals (the select group of rock climbers who might want to climb in the park)?  It is clearly unconstitutional.  Yet, nobody says a word.
I could go on with example after example of government hypocrisy.  My point is simple.  The legislative process of government is used to grant favors to privileged and connected groups of people at the expense of those who are not privileged and connected.  Everybody knows this.  It is the game people play with the legislative process.  Yet, when some members of the Colorado legislature attempt to play the exact same game, by the exact same rules, and endeavor to craft a law allowing the state to compensate the real victims of a fire it started, the law is declared unconstitutional on the grounds that it "targets specific individuals".  A greater example of the self-serving, hypocritical nature of politics and politicians could not exist.  

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Profit Is Not Evil

Profit is getting a lot of bad press these days.  May Day celebrations all around the world yesterday harangued those individuals and corporations that make a profit.  President Obama recently signed an Executive Order making it more difficult for colleges that operate to make a profit to recruit students.  Socialists of all stripes decry the making of a profit and believe it is all derived off the backs of the oppressed workers.  Indeed, everybody seems to believe that making a profit is evil, unless it is his own. 
Envy, of course, is the source of most of this hatred of profits.  I do not really hate profits since, if I did, I would seek to never make one myself.  I only hate profits made by others.  When I make a profit it is because I did a good thing and I deserve it.  When you make a profit it is because you are greedy, immoral, and oppressing the masses for your own benefit.  This is what envy does.  Envy makes it impossible for those who are consumed by it to see reality for what it is.  Suddenly, everyone else is a greedy monster when, in reality, it is the envious person who is overwhelmed by greed. 
Expecting Americans to have even a rudimentary understanding of economics is a pipe dream.  Expecting people who are products of the government educational system to understand the nature of a profit is absurd.  It is, therefore, not surprising that most folks deem profits that are earned by others to be immoral.  What is a profit?
In a free market a profit is nothing more than evidence that an individual or business has produced a good or a service that someone else wanted and was able to sell that good or service for more than it cost to produce.  A profit is a clear sign to a business that it is doing the right thing.  Higher profits are earned when more people are served.  High profits are also a signal to other producers (businesses) that an opportunity exists to expand operations.  Time, talent and capital will flow into those enterprises where profit margins are the highest.  I can already hear the socialists complaint...."But, what about those activities where profit margins are low, or where there are no profits at all, shouldn't somebody be forced to produce goods and services for those people too?"  This complaint entirely misses the point.  Profits tell entrepreneurs what people want.  When there are no profits, people do not want it; at least, not at that price. Of course, everybody wants something when the price is subsidized by the taxpayers.  Provided, of course, that the "taxpayer" is somebody other than me.  That is known as theft.  Meanwhile, as more producers enter that line of business, profit margins will fall and consumers will have even more choices of goods and services available at lower prices. 
In a free market there will never be monopoly prices and monopoly profits.  This simple fact must be true when there are no barriers to entry into a particular enterprise.  All profits, whether large or small, will be earned because the business is producing things the public wants.  All transactions will be voluntary and the market itself will allocate resources to their most productive ends.  All of this changes the moment government gets involved.  Government believes (or at least pretends to believe)that profits are evil (even though in the absence of profit there is less tax revenue).  Politicians buy many votes by pandering to the envy of the populace.  Politicians get elected by promising to provide services in alleged cases of "market failure".  Market failure is the politician's term for enterprises they want to pay for with taxpayer dollars.  The free market never fails.  The free market provides those goods and services people are willing to pay for.  Politicians claim that the free market fails in order to get elected and create a legacy for themselves in which they can take credit for all sorts of public works programs.  The hegemonic market created by government produces goods and services that people want, but would never use their own money to pay for.  The hegemonic market of government creation provides a whole host of goods and services paid for by the 49% of taxpayers who are numerically incapable of defending their property from the depredations of the 51% who vote it away from them.  All of these profits are evil because they are based upon coercion and theft.  Indeed, theft and coercion are the basis for all government spending projects when the government has alleged market failure.
May Day celebrants have it all wrong.  While they could have taken the opportunity to protest the connection between government and government subsidized/controlled businesses, they instead decided to bite the hand that feeds them.  Picketing in front of the New York offices of Bank of America was just plain stupid.  B of A makes money because it provides goods and services the public wants.  The picket line should have been established in front of the New York office of the Federal Reserve.  The Federal Reserve provides goods and services that are all immediately harmful to the economy of the United States.  But that is another post.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Government Pensions Are Out Of Control

I was reading an article in the April 13th "Kiplinger Tax Letter" the other day.  It was about how disability pension income is partially taxable as regular income.  That did not interest me.  What interested me was the section which talked about the amount of income a retired California police officer was receiving.  It said, "He was eligible to receive a pension of $7,046 a month based on his disability, but under California law, his pension was hiked to $12,861 a month based on his 34 years of service with the force."  Does a monthly pension of over $12k sound a bit high to anybody beside me?
I decided to do a little checking on the pensions of police officers in particular, and government employees in general.  Here are some of the facts that I found:
1.  In many states police officers are able to retire with 50% of their salary after just 20 years on the job.  Those same states allow for a 75% pension after 30 years on the job.  The age of retirement does not matter.  So a police officer could retire on a 50% pension at the age of 42, assuming he started work at 22.  Many, if not most, of those "retired" officers then go on and get a second job, and later receive a second retirement pension. 
2.  In New York, after just 22 years on the job, a police officer will receive a pension of $58k/year.  If he retired as a sergeant, he receives $66k.  If he retired as a captain, he receives $96k. 
3.  Depending upon the city, 20 to 40 percent of all retired police officers are also drawing tax free disability pensions.  Is it really the case that roughly one third of all police officers are disabled during their relatively short careers?
4.  In California, 86% of government employees are in the pension system.  Only 21% of private employees have some sort of pension. 
5.  In California, after 32 years of service and after age 62 a government employee may retire with a pension.  Those who retire at 62 have an average total amount of retirement benefits paid to them of $1.12 million dollars (from date of retirement until death).  Under the same terms and conditions for a private pension plan, the average amount of total benefits paid out is $0.49 million.  In other words, government pensioners receive more than double the amount of benefits as private pensioners.
6.  In 2008 the median pension benefit for all private pensions in the United States was $7,584.  The median pension benefit for all government pensions was $18,000.
The argument used to be made that government employees need more generous pensions because they make less income than their commensurate private worker.  Numerous studies have shown that theory to be false.  In fact, it is now generally understood that government workers, in addition to having much higher pensions, also make more income than their commensurate private worker. 
Bloated government pensions are a huge problem.  These pensions are being paid for by the taxpayers.  These pensions are being granted to large blocs of people by politicians in search of a vote.  The entire system is corrupt to the core. 

Monday, April 30, 2012

Another Obama Executive Order Misses The Mark

An article in the Saturday Denver Post was entitled "Obama blasts for-profit college abuse of GI Bill education aid".  The article went on to say that, "The main target of the White House action is for-profit colleges and universities that market heavily to military families because of the easy availability of federal money under the GI Bill."  As President Obama signed yet another Executive Order, he declared that this presidential commandment from on high was being issued because "They (for-profit colleges) don't care about you, they care about your cash."  How ignorant can this man be?
There is so much economic ignorance on display by our President that it is hard to know where to start.  If there is a problem with for-profit colleges recruiting students, and there is not, it has to start with the fact that students who attend college under the GI Bill are doing so at taxpayer expense.  Businesses always go where the money is.  That is the only way to stay in business.  Colleges do not stay in business by giving away educational services for free.  Guess where the money is?  Surprise, the government is providing it!  The GI Bill is a colossal boondoggle and has been since it was first signed into law by FDR in 1944.  Veterans who go to college have all of their public, in state tuition and fees paid.  Those who go to private schools have up to $17k/year of their tuition and fees paid for by the taxpayers.  The GI Bill essentially guarantees a four year free ride for any veteran who wants it. 
A class of potential students who have a government guarantee ensuring that their tuition and fees will be paid for a four year period makes a very attractive group for college recruiters.  Apparently Obama would prefer that for-profit colleges ignore this group.  Would he be happier if for-profit colleges publicly announced that they were not going to admit any veterans to their schools because they might make a profit on their admission due to the money available through the GI Bill?  Can you imagine how long it would take before Obama would sign another Executive Order commanding these schools to admit his favorite students?  The entire affair stinks of hypocrisy and vote-buying. 
Obama specifically singles out schools that he deems to be "for-profit".  Here is a little bit of information for you, Mr. President, all schools are for-profit.  A school that does not make a profit goes out of business.  Prestigious private schools like Harvard and Yale stay in business because of enormous endowments that allow them to cover their expenses.  State colleges and universities stay in business because they are partially funded by the taxpayers in those states.  All colleges and universities in the US (except for Hillsdale College) are able to make a profit  because of easy access on the part of students to government guaranteed student loans.
There is no such thing as a not-for-profit college.  Those colleges that have the courage to market themselves as for-profit colleges are simply acknowledging that they will stay in business by providing educations services at a competitive price to people who want them.  Nobody forces somebody to enroll in a for-profit college.  Additionally, for-profit colleges at least have the integrity to operate in the market place without government subsidies (other than the government guaranteed student loans which have saturated the entire educational universe).  Obama should be applauding these schools for creating jobs and providing valuable educational services to returning veterans.  Instead he attacks them and describes them as being in the educational business "just for the money". 
Obama's latest Executive Order should be seen for what it is, a campaign stunt. He hopes to buy the votes of veterans and socialists with this Executive Order.  I believe it is fair to say that Obama does not care about the veterans, he just cares about their votes.