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.

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Apple vs. The FBI

Recently, Syracuse’s Post-Standard published this article railing against Apple for their opposition to an order from the US government to build a “backdoor” into the iPhone. The article lists 5 reasons why Apple’s concerns are misplaced “in this case.”

The Post-Standard is wrong. Apple is doing right by the American people, their customers, and their own company. Technological expertise is not this author’s forte, but this article from Slate does a great job of diving into the associated technical weeds. This article will instead focus on the economics and civil rights that comprise this issue.

The Post-Standard’s article ignores entirely the fact that Apple has already been complying with all of the government’s requests which they are able. It also ignores very real constitutional issues. For years, Congress has been pressured to revise the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act to deal with the increased use of encryption in internet-based devices. Thus far Congress has refused to do so. It would be wrong for the FBI to use the courts to go around Congress. Congress is the constitutional body charged with writing law, the courts are charged with interpreting law. This is the way the founders designed the federal government, and this is the way it should remain.

Further, with the rise of cyber-security issues such as those listed here, consumers are demanding greater protection from those who would want to steal valuable information. Apple’s latest operating system (iOS 8) has taken a significant step forward in meeting this demand. To create a “backdoor” into this system, Apple would effectively be creating security vulnerabilities that do not currently exist. Their customers would again demand that these vulnerabilities be remedied, and Apple would be compelled to oblige or risk losing customers. A main attraction of Apple products is continual increase in quality along with continual decrease in cost. If the government were to force Apple to create a backdoor, the need to remedy the subsequent vulnerabilities would undoubtedly add cost to their production process. This cost would necessarily be passed along to the customer. Apple doesn’t want this, and their customers certainly don’t want this.

Another problem that the Post-Standard overlooks is the setting of a very bad precedent. If Apple were to be compelled to unlock this particular phone, where do the requests end? Recently, the Manhattan DA stated that his office had collected (74) iPhones over a 6-month period that it had been unable to unlock. Extrapolate those numbers across the entire US, and Apple would have to open a whole new division just to keep up with the prosecutorial demands. Again, this would vastly increase Apple’s internal costs which would have to be passed along to their customers.

Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” Mr. Franklin certainly was a wise man. Fear should not compel people to give up Liberty so quickly, for as has been seen throughout history, once Liberties are given up, they are immensely difficult to get back. Complete security is an illusion. We will never be 100% safe. If people desire complete security, they should allow the government to lock them in a concrete and steel-barred cell where no one could ever get to them. Of course, no one wants this because they would be giving up precious freedom.

The best way to reduce the threat of terrorism is not through giving government all-seeing, all-knowing powers. It is for the US government and the US military to cease its constant militaristic interventions overseas. These interventions create more terrorists than they kill and inspire blowback like we saw at San Bernardino. While that attack was tragic and sorrowful, the only way to truly honor the victims would be to attempt to understand what led to it in the first place. It would be wrong to double down on hate and fear-inspired militarism that results in scores of completely innocent people being killed at the hands of the US government. It would be right to imagine the shoe on the other foot, and to live by the Golden Rule.

Freedom is Everything

Although there is very little on which we agree, Marxists and socialists have provided me with some excellent philosophical discussions.  One such person recently wrote this article in which he attempted to take to task the libertarian concept of freedom.  The piece starts out well enough as he does a decent job describing how libertarians view the concept:

“What the libertarians mean by freedom is that the government does not interfere in the lives of private citizens.  If we were freed from government coercion, people would have a good life, because the free market would regulate our lives, and we would need no bureaucrat to tell us how to live wisely.”

Nothing there that I take issue with.  The rest of the piece, though; is littered with logical fallacies and false conclusions.  His primary thesis is that if an individual must work in order to survive, then he is not free; true freedom is to choose leisure over labor.  Throughout, he draws on his personal experiences in education and in retail work to show why leisure is preferable to labor.  The way to achieve such freedom of leisure, he says, is through a guaranteed UBI (Universal Basic Income).  In a separate article, he examines the UBI proposal extensively.

A driving belief of Marxists, socialists, and supporters of a UBI is a class analysis which claims that in society, there is an exploiting class and an exploited class.  Libertarians regard this analysis as correct.  The difference is that the former conclude that the exploiting class are capitalists (business owners), and the exploited class are workers; the latter conclude that the exploiting class is the state and those connected to the state, which takes money by force, and the exploited class is everyone else.  The difference between the two analyses couldn’t be clearer.  No business owner forces anyone to work for him or purchase his product.  The state, on the other hand, can only exist through the use of force.

Free market economists liken labor to material resources in that both are scarce. Because of this scarcity, business owners must offer competitive wages in order to attract an adequate labor force.  The profit and loss system is the market’s way of signaling whether resources are being efficiently used.  If a business can only be profitable by offering sub-satisfactory wages, he will be unable to lure workers, and his venture will fail.  If, in order to make a go at it, he offers wages that attract the labor he requires, and then his business makes losses, again his venture will fail as the market has signaled to him that he is making inefficient use of labor resources, material resources, or both.

Socialists will argue that labor is losing its status of scarcity.  That as technology increases, and production becomes more automated, the job market decreases.  While it is obviously true that certain technological innovations will cause certain jobs to become obsolete, it is wrong to assume that this process will result in increasing unemployment.  The labor that is freed by increasing technology becomes available to be put to use in another, perhaps new, sector.  Because human desires are limitless (wouldn’t everyone like a personal masseuse, a yacht, a helicopter, a yacht upon which to land their helicopter, etc.?) the demand for labor is also limitless.  In his UBI article, he adequately analyzes past shifts in employment by stating:

“Fast forward to 200 years ago, the production of the steam engine implied that factories could produce manufacturing goods in vast quantities and shorter periods of time, allowing a new and more complex form of division of labor to be created.  Farmers were moving out of the farms, from which they were either forced out or lured out because of the greater economic opportunities connected with city wage work.”

It is a lack of imagination that prevents this same analysis from being applied to today’s labor conditions.

Socialists will point to employment statistics which show falling labor force participation rates as proof that technology and automation are eliminating the demand for labor.  Many will also point to the even higher lack of labor force participation among young people, especially young minorities.  They will say that young people, coming into an automated world, are finding that not enough jobs exist through which they can earn a living.  This analysis ignores the enormous interventions into the markets that states have undertaken and continue to undertake at increasing rates.  Ever-increasing taxes, minimum wage laws, constant creation of artificial regulations, and bureaucratic red-tape all place huge hindrances on the market and is the true cause of a shrinking labor force.  Inflationary monetary policies and artificial credit expansion create the unpredictable boom-bust cycle that makes the market largely unpredictable.  When markets are unpredictable, business owners will postpone or cancel plans for expansion.  Entrepreneurs will be less willing to take the risks necessary to create new ventures.  The boom-bust cycle is not a natural phenomenon of a free market economy.  It is caused by the aforementioned monetary and credit expansion policies that are only possible through state-created central banking (see here).

In addition to his argument about diminishing demand for labor, he also presents an argument that implies the current labor force is poorly structured.  He lists what he calls “bullshit” jobs including accountants, managers, lawyers, consultants, bankers, and financiers who earn an unjustly high income but whose labor provides a “lack of intrinsic value for the society.”  His conclusion to this is that if only the bullshit jobs were eliminated, then the capital that goes into those jobs could instead be put toward paying a UBI.

There are several ways to refute this argument.  First, any person who is providing a service through voluntary transaction is necessarily providing value.  If he wasn’t providing value, the person purchasing the service would keep his money and spend it elsewhere.  The decision to partake of the given service is made because the service is valued more highly than the money cost.

Second, it is true that some of the professions he lists earn incomes that exceed the intrinsic value their job provides to society.  Bankers and financiers especially, and lawyers and accountants to a lesser extent.  These jobs are artificially protected and their salaries artificially inflated as a result of the workings of the state.  He correctly states that bankers and financiers “get government bailouts, which is not available to working class people,” but later states that these jobs should stop being produced altogether.  Perhaps, but ultimately it is the special state-granted privileges these jobs receive that should be eliminated.  Once that happens, the market can determine whether these jobs should exist, and at what salary.

Finally, he is correct that bullshit jobs do exist in today’s economy.  However, he is looking in the wrong place.  The true bullshit jobs are bureaucrats, politicians, policy makers, lobbyists, generals, dignitaries, and anyone who works for the state.  None of these people provide any good or service through voluntary transaction.  Each of their salaries is paid entirely through coercive taxation.  One only needs to take the word of a former “public servant” to see just how bullshit these jobs truly are.

Let’s return to the definition of freedom.  Again, he throws libertarians a bone by saying, “freedom means to own one’s own source of labor.”  This is a correct summary of the libertarian principal of self-ownership, but somehow from this he deduces that “right-wing libertarians think that the current oligarchs are the rightful owners of the labor, while socialists believe that workers themselves are the rightful owner.”  This is so far from the truth as to be laughable.    Workers voluntarily trade their labor for wages so that they can afford to purchase the necessities and amenities that life has to offer.  Libertarians believe that workers should keep every penny of their wages, while socialists believe workers should be subject to heavy taxation by an oligarchic government, so this commentary is exactly wrong.

The retort will likely be that business owners earn more than their “fair share” of the income of the business.  This constitutes little more than envy and greed.  It was the business owner who invested the initial capital to create the business, and who risked all of that capital solely on his belief that the venture would be successful; he had no guarantee that it would be.  The business owner offers a wage to a potential worker in return for his labor.  No business owner puts a gun to the potential worker’s head to accept the wage, and workers are always free to seek better and more lucrative employment.  Likewise, he doesn’t put a gun to the heads of his potential customers; he is only successful by providing a product that serves his fellow man.  Additionally, it is always possible for the worker himself to be entrepreneurial; he can attempt to start his own business, and if successful he now becomes the business owner.

Another idea at play here is the economic concept of time preference.  The business owner takes a long term return on his labor, while the worker takes a short term return.  If a business owner has to invest $100,000 to begin his business, and it takes several years for the business to become profitable, it makes sense that he should earn a return that incentivizes him to take the risk of that initial investment.  Workers put up no initial capital and demand to be paid weekly in return for their labor.  Workers have a shorter time preference than the business owner.  This concept can be likened to a loan where the bank takes a long time preference, and lends money to a borrower who has a short time preference.  The bank is willing to forgo the money in the present because it expects to make back more than was lent through the borrower’s payment of interest, while the borrower is willing to pay back more over time than what was borrowed because he wants the money now.

The real person who takes more than their “fair share” are those who work in the state.  They are simply busy-bodies who do nothing but interrupt the natural workings of the free market system.  In the author’s UBI article, he historically states:

“As societies gradually became more complex thanks to technology and the production of grain surpluses that could also be stored, a whole layer of government bureaucrats, kings, tribal leaders, military officers, and priests were created to run this more complex society.  For the first time in human history, it was possible to have a small group of people, who were not primarily responsible for doing the most basic tasks of survival for humans.”

The second sentence of the quote illustrates exactly the libertarian point.  The small group of people he describes don’t contribute toward the survival of society.  They are merely parasites who live off of the work of those unfortunate enough to not have made it into power.  The first sentence begs the question of, if a more complex society with increased productions occurred naturally, then how come after it has come to be does it all of a sudden require a ruling class to “run this more complex society”?  It doesn’t, and this phenomenon is what led to the institution of slavery.  Once a group of people gains the power to wield control over other people’s lives, where does this power end, and how is it morally justified?  Libertarians are morally correct to state that it is never permissible to own another person or their labor.  It is the socialists who defend ownership of others.

As he delves into his own personal experiences as related to his concept of freedom, it can be argued that what he is truly seeking is not freedom but the ability to live without working, being productive, and serving his fellow man.  Granted, he is seeking this for all, but it can’t be denied that this is the ends he seeks.  It’s impossible to deny that the majority of people would prefer to choose leisure over work.  That is what mankind has been working toward since he came into existence.  Unfortunately, it is not possible to legislate this desire into existence, and to advocate for such legislation is wrong.  As much as we may wish it to be true, we do not yet live in a fully automated world.  Machines and robots are ever making life easier and more prone to leisure, but still there are needs that must be met.  As he has demonstrated, it is through the natural progression of human labor, ingenuity, and capital accumulation that increases in production have been possible.  Impeding this progression through the interventions of central planners can never be as efficient as what occurs naturally and is a large reason why mankind is still so far away from being able to provide a life of leisure to all.

When he draws on his educational experiences, he correctly points out that the tendency for real learning comes through self-directed learning.  When people pursue that which is important and of interest to them, retention of information is greater than that which is mandated.  He even rails against the “government-mandated school system,” but fails to conclude that the solution to this problem is abolition of that system.  He is also correct when he says that this system is “backed up by powerful forces.”  John Rockefeller once said, “I don’t want a nation of thinkers, I want a nation of workers.”  He backed up those words by giving over $180 million in 1902 to the government’s General Education Board which was responsible for huge increases in the power and scope of “government-mandated” schools.  The reasoning behind his words, and his purpose for such giving was simple.  He wanted his businesses to be protected from competition.  If he had workers who were also thinkers, the likelihood that one of his workers would start a competing firm and be able to produce the same goods more efficiently and cheaper was high.  Libertarians will be quick to point out that if there were no state, there would have been no mechanism through which he could have carried out these desires.

All people should be free to study exactly what they want to study.  If a person wants to study in an area where they will make a lot of money such as software development, that is their right.  If a person wants to study art history, where the potential to make money is far less, that is also their right.  Because everyone owns themselves and their labor, it would be wrong for the art history scholar to steal from the software developer, even in the name of fairness and equality.  In the same way, it would be wrong for the art history scholar to use government coercion to steal from the software developer on his behalf.  Each individual made his choice as to where to dedicate his studies.  Each must be willing to take personal responsibility and accept the consequences of their decisions and actions.

The descriptions of his experience in retail are similarly reasoned.  He “hated selling shoes,” especially when the store got busy and his leisurely job became less so.  Freedom came when he wasn’t having to focus on selling shoes, but could instead focus on personal interactions and conversations with his co-workers and the occasional customer.  Why did he take such a job?  Presumably it was for the money.  If those busy times never came, would it have remained profitable for the store to keep him employed?

The thesis that true freedom is to be free from the need to work is all well and good.  The problem is that humans have needs.  The fact that people must eat, drink, clothe themselves, and have shelter means that one has to find a way to satisfy those needs.  The only moral way to satisfy those needs is to work.  It is immoral to take from someone else to achieve those ends.  Using government to take for you is equally wrong.  Government legislation cannot eliminate needs.

Economist Walter Williams wrote, “Let me offer you my definition of social justice: I keep what I earn and you keep what you earn.  Do you disagree?  Well then tell me how much of what I earn belongs to you – and why?”