inequality

Inequality Is A Non-Issue

A large number of people are convinced that rising inequality between the rich and poor is the primary driver of the ills that plague our society.  The #Occupy movement that arose after the housing bubble popped, and the fervent support for the self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders are both proof of this.

This opinion is backed by supposed logic and apparent economic law that can be articulated in ways that are quite convincing.  I recently came across an article that attempts to prove the thesis that capitalism generates inequality, and which offers a policy proposal that will alleviate it.  The author does so in a way that will be perceived as fair, reasoned, and possibly even correct to the lay reader.  Such an article must be refuted.

The author begins,

“At least nominally, capitalism embodies and sustains an Enlightenment agenda of freedom and equality. Typically there is freedom to trade and equality under the law, meaning that most adults – rich or poor – are formally subject to the same legal rules. But with its inequalities of power and wealth, capitalism nurtures economic inequality alongside equality under the law.”

He begins well enough, continuing,

“Using data from twenty-three developed countries and from the separate states of the United States, they observed negative correlations between inequality, on the one hand, and physical health, mental health, education, child well-being, social mobility, trust and community life, on the other hand. They also found positive correlations between inequality and drug abuse, imprisonment, obesity, violence, and teenage pregnancies.”

It is possible that there is a correlation to be observed which indicates that increasing wealth inequality leads to a rise in negative effects that are allegedly associated with that inequality.  But correlation does not imply causation.  It is equally possible that there is a correlation between increasing artificial economic intervention and a rise in the same negative effects.

Therefore, causal mechanisms must be presented to prove the allegations brought forth by these observed correlations.  The author describes one such mechanism as such:

“Much of the inequality of wealth found within capitalist societies results from inequalities of inheritance. The process is cumulative: inequalities of wealth often lead to differences in education, economic power, and further inequalities in income.”

Accepting (for now) the causal argument associated with inheritance, let’s instead look at the next statement where he describes the consequences of the resulting inequality.  That “inequalities of wealth often lead to differences in education, economic power, and further inequalities in income.”

Looking at the condition of access to education, it is clear that any differences in education are negligible at best.  A person at the bottom of the economic inequality spectrum has, through the internet, access to virtually ALL information – free of charge.  That person, therefore; has equal access to education as a person at the top.

If this point is rebutted by saying, “Yes, all people have equal access to education, but there is unequal access to university degrees and accreditations,” it will need to be pointed out that this is a VERY different argument.  That while there may be some truth to the rebuttal, there are numerous state economic interventions that could be pointed to for having caused this particular inequality.

Then comes the argument that differences in economic power is a negative consequence of inequalities of inheritance.  Only a fool would argue that the latter will not tend to produce the former.  It is also indisputable that those individuals who are the beneficiaries of substantial inheritances are better off than those who do not.  But neither of these facts prove that differences in economic power are bad, nor that they are insurmountable.

The author correctly admits,

Some inequality results from individual differences in talent or skill.”  

Then states as fact that,

this cannot explain the huge gaps between rich and poor in many capitalist countries.”  

But why should this be so?  If huge gaps of talent and skill exist between individuals, then why shouldn’t huge gaps in wealth follow?  Certainly, it cannot be argued that talents and skills should be appropriated and redistributed.

If this premise is accepted, the rebuttal may be that receivers of inheritance have not justly earned their economic advantage.  That the resulting “unjust” economic power must be appropriated and redistributed.  But what is so unjust about receiving an inheritance?

Being born to a rich family is the same things as being born to a poor family – blind luck.  Being born rich is the same as being born with above average intelligence or ability. Certainly there is no reason to punish a person born with above average ability, so what reason is there to punish a person who begins their life with an existing sum of wealth?  Aren’t both equally a product of happenstance?

The author then proceeds to attempt to further identify exactly what aspect of capitalism leads to inequality.  He first examines markets, offers a satisfactory portrayal of their function, and concludes that markets are not the aspect which should be blamed.

Having found markets not guilty, he proceeds to identify the difference between capital and labor as where blame should lie for economic inequality.  He says,

“Capital is money, or the realizable money-value of collateralizable property. Unlike labour, capital can be used as collateral and the loan obtained can help generate further wealth.”

Here, he is making the claim that capital owners have access to credit (loans) that is unavailable to workers.  That with this access to credit, the inequality between capital owners and workers will tend to grow exponentially.

The problem is that this assumes the people who are capital owners, and the people who are workers comprise an unchanging static environment.  But there is no reason for this to be so.  Capital owners often make bad decisions, go bankrupt, and join the realm of workers.  Similarly, workers can save, invest in collateralizable property, and then have similar access to credit.

“Because workers are free to change jobs, employers have diminished incentives to invest in the skills of their workforce.”

This is another fallacious argument put forward in the author’s attempt to prove his thesis.  His point is that if a worker cannot improve his skillset, then he will be unable to bridge the inequality gap.  On the surface, the author’s claim appears plausible.  The counterintuitive truth, though; is that despite the risks of losing employees to competing firms, employers routinely invest in training, certification, and educational programs.  Further, even if a firm was to make no investment in workforce skills, doesn’t the worker have an incentive to improve his own skills?

Continuing in his attempt to prove the thesis, the author states,

“Another source of inequality results from the inseparability of the worker from the work itself. By contrast, the owners of other factors of production are free to trade and seek other opportunities while their property makes money or yields other rewards. This puts workers at a disadvantage.”

While superficially plausible, this point misses some important facts.  Capital investment in technological improvements have caused vast increases in worker productivity over the last several centuries.  As workers are able to produce more with their labor, the results will be to put downward pressure on prices of goods and services.  The worker (who is also a consumer) sees his standard of living rise as his wages increase vis-a-vis consumer prices.  The worker is increasingly presented with the opportunity to work less and have more time to invest in growing his skills, and/or to save more and to invest those savings in collateralizable property.

As shown, the author has unsatisfactorily defended his thesis that capitalism generates inequality.  Nevertheless, he continues undeterred in proposing specific economic policies for the state to adopt and enforce.  This proposal includes:

“…a large cash grant to all citizens when they reach the age of majority, around the benchmark cost of taking a bachelor’s degree at private university in the United States. This grant would be repaid into the national treasury at death.”

And:

“…an annual wealth tax of two percent on a person’s net worth above a threshold of $80,000.”

The first part of his proposal needs some unpacking.  He essentially says that every person, on their 18th birthday, should be given a grant of $48,000.  Upon death, every individual would pay back that grant.

Besides the complete arbitrariness of the proposal, there is no effort to look for possible negatives that would come from its implementation.  First, there is no way of knowing what an 18 year old would do if handed a free $48,000.  While some will surely use it wisely and invest in their futures, others are just as likely to blow it while binging on cocaine and hookers.

And what’s to guarantee that every individual pays back the grant?  Certainly there will be at least some people who die with something less than $48,000 worth of accumulated wealth.  The author doesn’t address this objection, but perhaps his answer will be that any accumulated wealth up to $48,000 will be “repaid to the national treasury” (a.k.a. appropriated by the state).  But this creates negative incentives which would lead to ever more numbers of people “repaying” $0.  As the number of people who “repay” nothing grows, this program would quickly move toward fiscal insolvency.  Imagine a person nearing the end of their life.  Every incentive would exist to liquidate whatever wealth they have and distribute it to their family and loved ones before they die.

And what of the wealth tax?

Imagine a middle class family that owns a $300,000 house, and two cars valued at $20,000 each.  Technically, this family has a “wealth” of $340,000.  This means that every year, they will owe a $6,800 wealth tax (on top of the numerous income, property, sales, and other taxes that the author would no doubt see continued).  What happens when the annual wealth tax comes around and this family does not have $6,800 available with which to pay?  They will be forced to sell a car, at least – and let’s assume that the car was necessary to travel to and from work.  Now the job is lost, as well, and this family is suddenly on a downward spiral caused solely by artificial economic intervention, as proposed by this author.

Let’s go one step more and look at an individual further down the economic ladder.  Imagine a man who has only earned meager wages over the course of his life.  Despite his economic disadvantage, he has been frugal and saved his earnings for years.  Eventually, he has saved enough to purchase a modest house.  The house is worth $85,000.  All of a sudden, this man – who is still only earning meager wages – owes an annual $1,700 because he has been thrifty in his own personal finances.  He is no longer able to save any where near what he had been saving before, and his upward mobility stagnates. The result of this type of policy is to grease the economic ladder and make it more difficult to climb.

Just the arbitrariness of the proposals is enough to give concern.  A person worth $79,000 is nearly the economic equal of a person worth $81,000.  But, for some reason, the latter person is forced to hand over some of his wealth in the name of alleviating inequality while the former is free from such force.

And what is the logic behind punishing wealth accumulation?

In the market, exchanges occur voluntarily when the parties involved benefit.  Business owners and entrepreneurs find success only through effectively serving their fellow man and meeting their consumer demands.  When a business owner or entrepreneur becomes very wealthy, this is not because he has taken advantage of others.  Rather, success and wealth – in the market – come from having found a way to best satisfy the needs of others.  Success and wealth are the rewards to be reaped either when one has found a way to provide a good or a service better and/or cheaper than it was provided in the past, or when one has developed a new product that meets needs of consumers which had not before been met.

There is only one common link between all individuals with regards to economics: everyone is a consumer.  Therefore, when an entrepreneurial individual achieves success, improving the lives of the consumers they serve, that person should be lauded, not envied.  The author shows at least a partial understanding of this point when he says:

“Markets involve voluntary exchange, where both parties to an exchange expect benefits.”

One would not enter into an exchange if they did not feel they were going to benefit.  Voluntary exchange, therefore, is virtually always a net benefit to all individuals involved, and yields an improved standard of living.  People who achieve success have rightfully earned it because they have improved the lives of the people they’ve served.

Granted, in some exchanges, the expected benefits may be unrealized by a particular party.  The beauty of voluntary market exchange is the key word voluntary.  In the instance where a party to an exchange is afterwards unsatisfied, they never again have to engage in it.  Knowledge accumulates over time, and the benefits of exchange increase accordingly.

There is only one case in which wealth accumulation by an individual should be considered unjust.  These individuals can best be differentiated from market entrepreneurs by labeling them political entrepreneurs.  Herein lies the only example of true, unjust inequality.

The rigors of market competition can be too much for some ambitious people.  The state provides these people with an opportunity to purchase political power and use that power to protect their profits.  Today, this practice is known as lobbying and campaign funding.  In the past, the same practice was known as bribery.  Political entrepreneurs guarantee themselves a certain level of income by gaining state contracts.  They free themselves from the dangers of competition by ensuring that the state creates artificial barriers to enter within their sector of the market.  They do not have to satisfy the demands of consumers in the same way that their market-based counterparts do, because their revenue comes from an institution that has an unlimited supply of money through their power to tax and inflate the money supply.

While the author would argue that the state is necessary in order to curb the power of successful and wealthy market entrepreneurs, the proper argument would be that the necessary course of action would be to scale back and eliminate the power of the state.

For intervention, appropriation, and redistribution to be claimed as the proper course of action, one must prove that the results are preferable to the alternative of free markets and free will.  The author fails at this.  As interventionists are wont to do, the objections I have raised will be dismissed, and the legitimate concerns will be addressed through more laws and more regulations.  The result is a cycle which leads only in the direction of tyranny.

Congress

The Misuse of “We” “Us” and “Our”

One of the biggest mistakes in the application of the English language is when the terms “we” “us” and “our” are used in reference to the government.  The fact that many individuals conflate themselves with a completely separate entity that they are not a part of and have no real control over is problematic.  It is this conflation that leads to perpetual conflict between groups of individuals and to ignorance of the actual nature of government.

The government is not us.  The government is a group of individuals who claim the right to control and manipulate the lives of other individuals.  We do not set the tax rate, create laws, enact regulations, or determine foreign policy.  A group of individuals do, and those individuals possess powers that all other individuals do not.

These people are not our leaders.  It is simply a mathematical impossibility for them to effectively and in actuality lead or represent the multitude of individuals under their rule.  They do not act with our interests in mind.  They act with their eye on raising campaign funds for their next election.  They act in order to pay back the individuals who were the big money donors of previous campaigns.  Those donors know full well that their campaign funding is an investment, not a public service.

We do not pay taxes.  They take taxes.  If an individual were to refuse them, he would find himself locked in a cage or worse.  The individual would not voluntarily enter that cage, instead he’d be forced into it by the government, a group of individuals that he is supposedly a part of.  What logical sense does it make to be locked in a cage against your will by a group of people that you are a member of?  It makes no sense, and that sentence alone proves that we are not the government.

Laws are not created at our behest.  Rather, at the behest of the individuals who comprise the government.  All other individuals must obey them.  Regardless of whether an individual agrees with the law or not (with drug laws being a perfect example), the individuals under the thumb of government power must obey or be imprisoned.  When the individuals who call themselves government are found to be breaking these same laws, it is commonplace for them to not be held to the same level of consequence.

The decisions to fight wars are not made by us.  They are made by people sitting in ivory towers, funded by defense contractors, and who virtually never feel any of the negative effects of their decisions.  They tell lies, spread propaganda, and manipulate the media to garner support among a large contingent of the individuals under their control.  In recent times, they have even started making these decisions without any form consent from those individuals.

We do not control the education of the children.  Those individuals who control and comprise the government have claimed that power for themselves.  No longer do Boards of Education, comprised of individuals at the community level, hold any sway over the curriculum taught in the local public schools.  Curriculums are determined in a top-down, one-size-fits-all fashion that individuals at the local level cannot change.  This is by design.  The powerful individuals at the top have an incentive to teach children to love and respect them; for children to be taught to believe that their authority is legitimate, and that their power is necessary and good.  Those children grow into adults who are rarely able to see beyond the 15,000+ hours of indoctrination they were subjected to in their formative years.  It is this indoctrination that leads to adults believing that it is proper to use terms like we, us, and our when referring to an entity that they are no real part of.

It must be repeated; we are not the government.  There is no such thing as the collective us.  There are only individuals.  As has been the case throughout history, some individuals make their living through serving others while others make their living through taking from others.  Those who take are definitively parasitic to those they take from.

Today, the parasites are those individuals who call themselves government.  They produce nothing on their own.  Everything they provide is first taken from the individuals they claim to provide for.  The vast majority, if not all of what comes from them is harmful to the individuals who were taken from in the first place.  The individuals – the host of these parasites – will never receive back all of what was taken from them.  The parasites, like fleas on a dog, must sustain themselves at the expense of their hosts.  It’s well past time for the the real us, the individuals who live through the service of others, to rid ourselves of and exterminate the fleas.

divide&rule

Don’t Be Manipulated By The “Divide & Rule” Strategy

It’s a tactic that goes back to the dawn of civilization.  The ruling class of a particular area effectively gains control over the dissemination of information.  They then use this control to instigate and perpetuate conflict between various groups under their rule.  The general population (the ruled), having been educated in schools controlled by their ruling class, largely fails to recognize this propaganda.  They fall under the spell of believing that the source of their oppression stems from other groups rather than from the ruling class itself.

This tactic is as strong today as ever.  The ruling class benefits immensely by keeping those under their rule (“us”) fighting against each other instead of joining together to fight against them.  Everyday, the state controlled media fills their radio, television, and internet outlets with story after story of apparent wrongdoing being done by one group against another.

Perpetuation of conflict between groups is so prevalent that it’s impossible to keep track of them all:

Racial conflict today is perpetuated by the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter debate.  Rarely does either side of this debate acknowledge that it is the ruling class which is the primary threat to lives.  That it is they who are able to get away with mass murder simply by manipulating language and calling it “war”.  That it is their police forces whom have become excessively militarized, and whom far too many of act as judge, jury, and executioner when dealing with the ruled population.  If both groups would simply come to the mutual agreement that every single life does indeed matter, then perhaps they could see that no group of people takes more innocent lives than the rulers and the ruling class – the state.  But the major media, controlled by the ruling class, refuses to point out this fact.  While both groups bicker and quarrel amongst themselves, the ruling class sits back and smiles.

Xenophobia is rampant as the ruled are led to believe that it’s the fault of the Mexicans or the Chinese for “stealing our jobs”, or why crime is so prevalent.  Conflict comes when those who believe this narrative are called racists and bigots by others.  Despite the fact that both sides will likely agree that the economy and the crime rate both leave a lot to be desired, they are blinded by their quarrels to see that both issues stem from, and are advanced by policies created by the ruling class.

Religious conflict keeps everyone either hating or defending those who practice Islam.  Alongside the “divide and rule” tactic, another favorite ploy of the ruling class is to conjure up fear of some “other” that poses a danger and a threat to the ruled populace.  So-called Islamic terrorism has provided the perfect scapegoat for the rulers to perpetuate both tactics.  The resulting conflict comes between those who want to blame Islam and its believers for every occurrence of violence in the world, and those who blindly defend those same people without caveat.  The truth is that much of the terrorism that does occur is from the hands of people who claim Islam.  This, however; cannot be blamed on the religion, but rather on the hatred and desire for revenge that develops as a result of the rulers’ constant militant intervention in regions heavily populated by believers of Islam.

Sexual conflict stems from senseless debates about whether homosexuals should be allowed to marry, whether or not bakers should be forced to bake cakes, and where transvestites can or can’t go to the bathroom.  Even though both sides have legitimate beliefs, they despise the other and want their ruling class to force those they disagree with to alter their behaviors.  This plays straight into the desires of the rulers.  Using force is all they know, and when those under their rule come to them begging for them to use force, they will gladly oblige.

Political conflict keeps the ruled pointing the finger at the “conservatives” or the “liberals” instead of seeing the obvious truth for themselves that both parties are simply different sides of the same coin.  Every election season, the ruled get in line to cheer for their choice of new ruler.  Because there is often so little substantive difference between the choices, people latch onto nonsensical reasons to support their chosen one.  Reasons as vague as “it’d be cool to have the first woman president”, “I feel like I could have a beer with him”, “he’s a businessman”, or “she’s got experience.”  The most common reason given for why someone supports any particular ruler is that they are not as bad as the alternative.  Clearly, this is all nonsense, and instead of clamoring for a new ruler, a far better use of time would be for everyone to ask themselves – “do I really need a ruler to manage and control my life?”

Constantly, the perception of the great struggle between “us” and “them” is that of divisions between ordinary individuals along the lines detailed above.  In reality, the only real “us” and “them” is “us” the ordinary individuals, and “them” the ruling class who hold all the power.  It is “them” who perpetuate conflict, violence, and resentment among “us” while at the same time managing to keep fingers pointed between factions of “us” instead of at “them”.  It is “them” who have special rights that the rest of “us” do not have, and it is “them” who claim power to take rights away from “us”.  “We” certainly do not need “them”.

NBA

The NBA Flexes Rights That Are Denied To Others

In response to North Carolina’s new law regarding bathroom usage, the NBA announced that they will be removing their 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte.  Fine, good for them.  If they feel that the law is bigoted in nature, or unfair to certain groups of people, the NBA is perfectly within their rights to protest and take action to dissociate themselves with the state and their law.

There has been a lot of commentary on sports media pertaining to this decision.  One particularly insightful take on the situation went something like this:

The commentator was lauding the NBA’s decision, and went on to say that this is the power that exists when a non-violent injustice is perceived.  Obviously, the NBA doesn’t have all that much power to actually change the law in the short term, but what they do have the power to do is hurt the state financially.  Taking the All-Star Game out of North Carolina will undoubtedly eliminate a potential economic windfall for the state.  Perhaps this, along with the temptation of being able to hold the game again in 2019 “provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter,” will persuade the state to change its laws.

The commentator is exactly right, and this analysis could be applied in the same way to bigoted business owners.  Rights, by definition, must apply equally to all people.  Freedom of association and the right to choose with whom you interact and do business belongs to business owners just as much as it does anyone else.

This freedom of association is a fundamental human right.  People must have the right to choose freely with whom they will or will not do business, enter into relationships, or simply interact with.  If this freedom is not upheld, and people are forced to associate with others against their will, it is not too large of a stretch for this use of force to be likened to slavery.  In most cases, this freedom exists.  The problem is that it does not exist equally across the board.

In the recent past, when bakers have made the choice to not associate and engage in transactions with homosexual couples, they have been threatened with jail time, and forced to bake cakes against their will.  Often, they’ve also been fined and therefore forced to pay for the privilege of doing business with people that they otherwise would have chosen not to.

Regardless of a person’s reasoning for not wanting to associate with another, freedom of association mandates that this choice must remain with the individual.  Of course, bigoted reasoning for not wanting to associate with someone is deplorable, but that doesn’t eliminate a person’s right to make that choice.

All relationships, economic relationships included, in order to be morally just, must be entered into voluntarily by all parties involved.  Bigots are assholes, but they are not criminals.  Using force to make a bigot associate with people he does not want to gives him the moral high ground.  Though he has refused to engage in exchange with someone, he has not aggressed against that person.  Aggressing against him in retaliation for what is nothing more than a personal choice turns an otherwise contemptible person into a victim.

In the case of the baker, he has simply indicated that he does not wish to make a cake for the homosexual couple.  Sure, this makes the baker an asshole, but it is his right to be an asshole.  It is also the right of those who are slighted by the baker to protest, picket, write damning reviews / letters to local media outlets, boycott, and urge others to boycott.  Doing this, the baker is hit where damage can be done – his wallet and his reputation.

Unfortunately, in today’s world of immediate gratification, this route is often viewed as not producing quick enough change.  Too many people would rather run to the government, have them threaten violence against the baker, and force him to make the cake.  The clear problem with this is the use of force.  Those who are angry with the bigoted baker are so because they perceive his discrimination against homosexual couples as immoral.  But what’s so moral about forcing him to act against his will?

The use of force may result in quicker results, but it does nothing to change hearts and minds.  If anything, the baker will become more steadfast in his bigoted beliefs.  A far better approach is that which is described above.  Making an issue out of the problem, starting a conversation, and causing him financial pain are the proper modes of reproach.  If people aren’t willing to wait for this method to yield fruit, and instead choose to resort to the immoral use of force, then how are they any different than the immoral discriminator?

Though the actions of North Carolina and of the homophobic baker can be rightly viewed as discrimination, the way to change both cannot morally involve the use of force.  The NBA did exactly what they are capable of – hit the state in their pocketbook and bring attention to a perceived injustice.  The correct lesson to be learned from this incident is that the power to affect change lies in the consumer’s ability to vote with their dollars.  Using physical power, force, and violence is not the way of a moral and peaceful person.

Zuck2

Zuckerberg Embraces the Establishment

There are two obvious branches of the economy.  There is the market economy, entirely benevolent in nature and identified by its voluntary and mutually beneficial transactions, its natural coordination of scarce resources, and its ability to increase prosperity.  And the political economy which is entirely malevolent in nature, and is identified by its reliance on coercion and force, its bureaucratic inefficiencies, and its manipulation of fear, greed, and envy to serve the ends of a select few.

Actors in both spheres of the economy are driven by a desire to better their own lives, the lives of their loved ones, and their community around them.

In the market economy, individuals compete to sell goods and services to other individuals.  These voluntary transactions are mutually beneficial to all parties involved the vast majority of the time precisely due to their voluntary nature (no party would voluntarily enter into the transaction unless they felt they were being served through it).  Rising to the top in the market economy is immensely difficult, and staying there is precarious.  The market moves quickly, and one tiny innovation or improvement in production efficiency can topple even the largest of giants.

This explains why wealthy people who have succeeded in the market economy often find themselves attracted to the political economy.  There are no guarantees in the market economy.  In the political economy, though; the future for those who are able to enter into it or become partners with those in control is much more certain.

Mark Zuckerberg is steadily embracing the political economy.  He built an amazing company, fundamentally transformed communication, created thousands of jobs and opportunities for entrepreneurial marketing, and made a vast fortune for himself.  He recently became the 6th richest man in the world – so he’s got nothing to worry about financially for himself and his family for at least the next generation or two.  Still, despite being in a better financial position than all but 5 people in the world, it appears that Mr. Zuckerberg’s confidence in the long-term may not be as high as it should be.  To boost his confidence, evidence continues to pile up showing that he is indeed embracing the political economy, the establishment, and the powers possessed by the elite.

When a person reaches the level that Zuckerberg has, the world becomes much smaller.  Doors open up that the average person doesn’t even know how to find.  Meetings with political elites at the highest level become routine.  There is a level of access to the levers of power in the world that the rest of us will never even come close to.  Getting to that level allows the richest and most powerful people in the world to influence and even control decision making of national and world governments.  When sitting at these “decision making” tables, the individuals involved do what individuals do – make deals to better their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones.

What do such people have to offer each other?  The better question would be what DON’T they have to offer.  Multi-billionaires like Zuckerberg can fund campaigns, donate huge sums to national committees, and offer the services of whatever their company specializes in.  Politicians and powerful government officials can pass laws, write regulations, alter tax codes, and directly and indirectly manipulate the market economy.Meme

In Zuckerberg’s case, his Facebook is one of the largest platforms for dissemination of information.  Governments and the people who run them desire control over information in order to effectively push their agendas.  There is no question that Zuckerberg is doing the bidding of those in power with regards to censoring information on his site.  From working for Angel Merkel and the German government to suppress knowledge of problems stemming from middle eastern immigration, to censoring “conservative” news and viewpoints, to banning and threatening individuals and pages that violate “community standards”, to removing harmless anti-Hillary Clinton memes.

Focusing on the last item from the paragraph above, it is readily apparent that Zuckerberg is overtly censoring views that deviate from those favored by the establishment.  Liberty Memes, a Facebook group that recently broached 100k likes, produced a hilarious, simple, accurate, and devastating meme in the wake of the FBI’s announcement that Hillary wouldn’t face indictment.  The meme was blowing up, and had garnered 10k likes, 50k shares, and 4 million views before it was removed by Facebook.

Regarding what can be said about public figures, Facebook’s community standards says:

Attacks on Public Figures: What protection public figures receive on Facebook.

We permit open and critical discussion of people who are featured in the news or have a large public audience based on their profession or chosen activities. We remove credible threats to public figures, as well as hate speech directed at them – just as we do for private individuals.”

Anyone who is willing to buy the line that this meme was a “credible threat” or “hate speech” is probably also in line to purchase a bridge in Brooklyn.  Clearly, a partnership has been formed between Zuckerberg and the establishment.  He gets to protect his billions, and they get to protect the flow of ideas & information.

So what should be done about this?  The short answer: nothing.  Facebook is a private company, and they should have the right to limit content however they see fit.  They don’t force anyone to use their service, their service is provided for free, and it has for the most part been a positive addition to society.

The long answer is more nuanced.  Zuckerberg first of all should be applauded for attempting to avoid paying as much taxes as he can.  It’s his money.  He earned it.  It certainly will be put to better use in his hands than in the hands of some government bureaucracy.  The problem is not entirely with Zuckerberg.  It is with government.  Only an institution that is funded by violence and coercion, that has the power to pull levers and twist knobs to manipulate the economy to their desire, and that can choose winners and losers within the economy is able to attract and ultimately control the richest people in the world.

If this power structure did not exist, market manipulation and favor trading between elites would become a relic “in the dustbin of history.”  Without the risk of losing big chunks of his fortune to taxation, Zuckerberg would not have the incentive to allow elite figures to control content and information on his site.  Without a central authority that has the power to regulate and tax, there would be no government elites for Zuckerberg to lobby and make deals with to protect his business.

Even though nothing should be done to force Facebook to change is its ways, there is plenty that can be done to persuade it to do so.  The market economy is powerful.  Competition is high in the social media market, and there have been signs that Facebook’s market share is shrinking.  This is the power that we have.  We can complain and protest.  And if The Zuck causes us enough angst, we can leave.  What we can’t do is use force.  Force and violence is the way of evil people.  Force and violence is the way of the government.

In order to eliminate the favors for favors relationship between the rich and the powerful, their levers of power must be taken away.  This is not likely to happen in the short run.  It may not happen until a complete collapse of the US empire.  Regardless, the most important work that we can do today is to spread the ideals of freedom, liberty, responsibility, and the power of the market economy.

Guns

The Gun Debate

As could be expected, the gun debate reappeared in full force after the tragedy that took place in Orlando.  All of the typical arguments from both sides are again being repeated ad nauseum.  From “we need to prevent this from ever happening again” on the left, to “from my cold, dead hands” on the right, and everything in between.

In the post-9/11 world, both major political parties are increasingly coming out in support of restrictions on gun ownership.  The idea that anyone who is on a government watchlist (such as the no-fly list) should not be able to own a gun is now supported by both Republicans and Democrats.  Libertarians beg to differ.

The problem is the way that these watchlists are assembled.  One simply must be accused of “potentially” being a terrorist for their individual rights and civil liberties to be severely restricted.  There is no presentation of evidence, no opportunity for refutation, little to no recourse for clearing one’s name, and no assumption of innocence until proven guilty.

Watchlists take a significant step toward elimination of the fundamental human freedom of habeas corpus which goes back over 800 years to the Magna Carta.  Movement in this direction has accelerated in recent years with Bush’s Patriot Act, and sections 1021 and 1022 of Obama’s 2012 NDAA.  It is the acceptance of this type of thinking by too many that is driving freedom in the wrong direction.

Of course, the arguments for restrictions on gun ownership don’t end there.  Gun advocates, and libertarians especially, make many worthy arguments for why the right to own firearms must be jealously protected.

Everyone possesses the right to self-defense – the right to protect themselves, their family, and their property from aggression.  Gun controllers argue that there is no reason to own guns, that possession of a gun increases the likelihood of violence, and that if one needs protection they should call the police and “let the professionals handle it.”

When looked at honestly, the statistics associated with the “likelihood of violence” argument leads to the exact opposite conclusion, and all responsible gun owners know how to teach proper handling and gun safety to their family and their children.  If one is afraid of having guns in their own home, fine, don’t own one; but to restrict the rights of others based on one’s own fears is unjust.  To the latter point of calling the police, it has been said that, “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.”  For many, this has proven true.  Further, the people who push for gun control are often the same ones who complain about police brutality.  This is a puzzling contradiction.

Another argument made by defenders of gun rights is heard in the common refrain, “a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun.”  The other side responds with the completely unfounded argument that this rarely, if ever happens.  That’s blatantly untrue.  It’s happened countless times, and just because such events are not blown up by the media does mean they don’t happen.

Gun rights defenders will also often invoke that private gun ownership is the last defense against a tyrannical government.  The response to this is usually audible laughter.  That’s impossible, only lunatic conspiracy theorists could believe that tyranny is actually a possibility, they’ll say.

The movement towards tyranny in the US is indisputable.  From warrantless wiretapping and massive collection of electronic records, to indefinite detention without charge, to making it a felony to protest wherever Secret Service is present, to executive branch ‘kill lists’, the US government is unquestionably on a tyrannical trajectory.

Aside from the current state of the US government, one simply needs to look around the world and at recent history to see the risk of disarming a people.  Every single tyrannical government – past and present – preceded their atrocities with disarmament.  Today, the Palestinians’ only form of defense against the IDF are knives and rocks.  It’s not too hard to see that their situation would be vastly improved if they were able to effectively defend themselves and their property from the tyrannical atrocities committed against them everyday.

In all fairness, most gun controllers don’t claim to advocate for complete disarmament, but rather for “sensible” regulations that could might maybe prevent “mass shootings” in the future.  This is a red herring for two main reasons.

First, “sensible” regulations such as gun registration, background checks, and permit requirements in no way prevent the possibility of violent crimes being committed.  Instead, they only serve to make it more difficult for poor people to be able to acquire tools for self defense.  All of these regulations directly or indirectly add cost to the purchase of a firearm.  Obviously, increased cost doesn’t affect an upper or middle income person to the same extent that it does a low income person.

The second reason is that governmental collection of data on gun purchasers makes it that much easier for them to come for those guns in the future.  While it is a stretch to believe that full on gun confiscation will happen any time soon, it’s easy to imagine the government targeting a particular group of people for such an effort.  In the age of the “war on terror,” would it be a shock to see a future administration come to power and choose to target America’s Muslim community for disarmament?  Precedents exist of this type of action by the US government as is seen by FDR’s internment of hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans during WWII.

Regardless of fear and emotion, liberty must be guarded for all people.  The right to self defense is a fundamental liberty, and is the benchmark upon which all other liberties are safeguarded.  While it may make some people feel good for the government to “do something” in response to acts of atrocity, the only just way to deal with a murderer is to levy harsh consequences.  Preemptively punishing law abiding gun owners by restricting their rights to purchase and possess firearms doesn’t make any sense.  Preemptive aggressive intervention against a peaceful person is and always will be unjust.

Corruption

The Corruption of a Local GOP

In the 2013 mayoral election for the city of Syracuse, there was no Republican candidate to run against incumbent Democrat, Stephanie Miner.  To give the people of Syracuse a choice, Ian Hunter, a local conservative, and a small group of activists wore out their walking shoes going door to door to collect enough signatures to get his name on the ballot.  The requirement was 569 signatures.  The group was able to collect 680 thereby securing his nomination.  

After their customary review, the Board of Elections ruled that they’d only collected 572 “valid” signatures.  According to people knowledgeable of the process, the BOE will often deem a signature invalid for the tiniest mistake – if the person’s street address is misspelled, a T isn’t crossed, or the name they write doesn’t match exactly to the name on record (i.e. the signator leaves off the ‘Jr.’).  For an institution that is charged with ensuring a fair electoral process, it sure has a lot of power to suppress a voter’s voice.  Still, Hunter was on the ballot with three more signatures than needed.

The Onondaga County GOP leadership, led by Tom Dadey, however; was for some reason afraid of Hunter’s candidacy.  Maybe they were afraid that if elected, he’d actually stand on the limited government conservative principles that his campaign was based on.  Some speculated whether the local GOP leaders are actually double agents for the Democratic Party.  That seems ludicrous, but their actions during the election certainly invite that kind of accusation.

To start, the local GOP never made a serious effort to find a Republican candidate to challenge Miner in 2013.  Tom Dadey, Onondaga GOP “Boss”  (as he pompously calls himself) put his own name in as a candidate, but was knowingly unqualified because he wasn’t a resident of the city.  Next, he put in Kevin Kuehner, who never intended to run, and against whom the Democrats filed a lawsuit to challenge his candidacy.  In response to that lawsuit, Dadey said, the “Democrats are pulling out all of the stops to ensure that this is a coronation and not an election.”  That statement could just as easily be applied to Dadey himself.

When the petitions were filed to put Hunter’s name on the ballot, there were expectations that Dadey would comb through every last signature in order to disqualify Hunter.  When the Board of Elections didn’t succeed in getting the number of signatures below the required amount, Dadey took matters into his own hands.  Dadey took Hunter to court to remove him from the ballot.

The pettiness of Tom Dadey and the local GOP establishment can be detailed by one particular signature they fought to invalidate.  During petitioning, an elderly gentleman answered the door of his house, listened to the spiel, liked what he heard, and was glad to sign the petition.  The problem was that he had a severe case of Parkinson’s Disease and was too shaky to sign his name.  He instead had his wife sign for him.  Dadey and his team of lawyers argued that this was an invalid signature because it did not come from the person in question.

The judge ruled in favor of Dadey on this and in several similar circumstances.  His rulings brought Hunter to below the required threshold and disqualified him from being able to appear on the ballot.  For a so-called democracy, this should give people pause.

Dadey and his cronies won, and Miner ran for mayor unopposed.  For the first time in over 100 years, Syracuse’s mayoral election consisted of a solitary candidate.  Local grassroots activists were able to do what the local GOP establishment could (would) not – field not just a Republican candidate, but a genuine conservative at that.  In response, the GOP establishment went to the extreme in order to prevent that from happening.

The actions of Tom Dadey and his GOP machine should say all that needs to be said about the state of our “representative” government.  If this is the kind of thing that happens at the local level, one can only imagine what kind of shenanigans goes on in D.C.