Tuesday, October 24, 2006

This government must be punished

For the past six years the Republican Party has had complete control over the Federal government, and has proceeded to undermine the foundations of our security, our liberty, and our prosperity. Much of this is due to their ignorance and arrogance, but they have even succumbed to pure greed and power-lust, corruptly lining their own pockets and the pockets of their supporters.

They must be punished. They must be punished as individual incumbants, and they must be punished as a party (which is the only way to hit their leadership). They have provided a perfect illustration of the old adage "Power corrupts".

There is way too much power concentrated in the hands of the Republican party. For the sake of liberty and democracy, we need to return one or both houses of Congress to the opposition party (the Democrats) in order to produce a divided government--which is the only way in our system to have government by consensus, and the only way to restrain government intervetion in society.

To aid in that goal, I am publishing the following information, which publicizes the misdeeds of Republicans running for election this year:

--AZ-Sen: Jon Kyl

--AZ-01: Rick Renzi

--AZ-05: J.D. Hayworth

--CA-04: John Doolittle

--CA-11: Richard Pombo

--CA-50: Brian Bilbray

--CO-04: Marilyn Musgrave

--CO-05: Doug Lamborn

--CO-07: Rick O'Donnell

--CT-04: Christopher Shays

--FL-13: Vernon Buchanan

--FL-16: Joe Negron

--FL-22: Clay Shaw

--ID-01: Bill Sali

--IL-06: Peter Roskam

--IL-10: Mark Kirk

--IL-14: Dennis Hastert

--IN-02: Chris Chocola

--IN-08: John Hostettler

--IA-01: Mike Whalen

--KS-02: Jim Ryun

--KY-03: Anne Northup

--KY-04: Geoff Davis

--MD-Sen: Michael Steele

--MN-01: Gil Gutknecht

--MN-06: Michele Bachmann

--MO-Sen: Jim Talent

--MT-Sen: Conrad Burns

--NV-03: Jon Porter

--NH-02: Charlie Bass

--NJ-07: Mike Ferguson

--NM-01: Heather Wilson

--NY-03: Peter King

--NY-20: John Sweeney

--NY-26: Tom Reynolds

--NY-29: Randy Kuhl

--NC-08: Robin Hayes

--NC-11: Charles Taylor

--OH-01: Steve Chabot

--OH-02: Jean Schmidt

--OH-15: Deborah Pryce

--OH-18: Joy Padgett

--PA-04: Melissa Hart

--PA-07: Curt Weldon

--PA-08: Mike Fitzpatrick

--PA-10: Don Sherwood

--RI-Sen: Lincoln Chafee

--TN-Sen: Bob Corker

--VA-Sen: George Allen

--VA-10: Frank Wolf

--WA-Sen: Mike McGavick

--WA-08: Dave Reichert

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Attitudes towards poverty

The following is a long comment I made at the Freedom Democrats website in response to a previous comment bemoaning the patronizing attitude of many Democrats towards the poor:

Interpretations of poverty seem to fall between two extremes--individualized and socialized. At one extreme, poverty is viewed as a trait of individuals, and the solution to poverty is for those individuals to get out of poverty. At the other extreme, poverty is viewed as a by-product of social factors, and the solution is to eliminate those social factors that impoverish individuals.

In America, the strict individualized interpretation is associated with Republicans. They believe that people are poor because they are lazy and/or stupid, and the solution to poverty is for impoverished people to adopt the values of prosperous individuals.

Democrats generally seem to hold a hybrid view (exemplified in the "micromanagement" approach above), wherein a person is poor because he lacks some sort of development, be it education, savings, or social networks. They may view this poverty as the consequence of historical wrongs (such as slavery), or arising from a disconnect between modern society and man's natural development (requiring formal education). In the end, the responsibility to end poverty rests with the society in general, but it ultimately depends on the development of the individuals.

Both of these individualized views take poverty as the "original state" of mankind, and so implicitly, a poor person is a backwards savage who needs to become civilized.

The socialized view is that poverty is an inevitable byproduct of social conditions. Society is structured in a hierarchy, and for every person who moves up the hierarchy, someone else must move down, and poverty cannot be eliminated without eliminating that hierarchy. I think that this is the view that we emphasize here -- we emphasize how poverty is created by "rankism"--the tendency of the powerful to exploit the less powerful.

There's value in both the individual and social approaches to poverty reduction, however, I believe that the individual approach will be ineffective as long as the major social causes of poverty remain--the underclass will tend to grow and its members will resist appeals to reform their own lives.

We could also make an argument that individual approaches complement the social approaches: for example, literate individuals are more effective at resisting exploitation.

The importance of popular support for war (i.e. Bush is a terrible leader)

I've been engaged in a discussion at Reason: Hit and Run regarding some polls showing increased public opposition to the Iraq war and the Republican regime.

There's a line of thought that is especially common among Bush supporters that claims that a policy is right or wrong independent of public support for the policy. I disagree with this opinion for a number of reasons, but in the case of wars, it is complete BS.

Basically, if a policy can only achieve its goals with sustained support from the public, then it can only be a good policy if there is reason to believe that the public will support it until those goals are achieved. Bush's Iraq policy was one of these policies, and he initiated the policy when it should have been clear that he did not have sufficient support to achieve the goals of the policy.

I laid out the argument in a comment on the Reason blog, and figured that I'd republish it here:

First, on the eve of the war, polls showed that support/opposition to the war was something like 60%/20%. Sure, it's a majority, but I don't think that it was enough to support a medium-size war. It probably would have been enough for an invasion of Grenada, but not an invasion of Iraq. For something like Iraq, I'd want to see a 5/1 ratio of support/opposition...especially considering that many of the supporters had weak reasons to support the war, and couldn't be counted on to sustain their support.

I say that support was weak because I don't think that many Americans would have said that they supported an invasion if the President hadn't already made it clear that he was planning to invade. Many Americans were simply giving the president the benefit of the doubt. Many Americans were also swayed by pro-war assertions that were blatently false to any informed person; as time goes on, we can expect the people to learn the truth and support for the war will erode to the extent that support was based on false beliefs. Two assertions in particular were problematic: Iraq supported Al Qaeda, and the transformation of Iraqi society would be easy.

Any reasonable person knew that Iraqi society would not be transformed overnight, and as time went on, the supporters of the war would realize that they'd been duped by the hawks, and support would evaporate. When support evaporates, it is impossible to complete the mission (whatever it was) and the whole thing falls apart.

That is the mark of a terrible leader, and that is what these new polls are reflecting.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Subsidies for centralization

I've been reading much of Kevin Carson's work on how government policies provide subsidies for economic centralization (highways, for example). Now that I've become aware of this tendency, I can see examples everywhere.

For example, I recently bought a used car in PA and now I have to pay sales tax. It's stupid enough that I have to pay sales tax on a used car (the original owner already paid the tax for the car), but the situation is made worse in that the seller faces several hundred dollars in extra taxes because he decided to sell the car to me rather than trade it in to the dealership where he bought his next car.

According to PA-DMV FactSheet on "BUYING OR SELLING YOUR

Pennsylvania sales tax is 6% (7% City of Philadelphia and Allegheny County residents) of the purchase price or the current
market value of the vehicle.

If a motor vehicle is taken by the seller as a trade in, the tax is imposed upon the difference between the purchase price of the
motor vehicle purchased and the value of the motor vehicle taken as a trade in by the seller.
To be explicit, let's use some numbers. Let's assume that the used car is worth $10,000 and there's a 6% tax on sales. The ultimate buyer of the used car has to pay $600 in tax regardless of whether he buys it from the previous owner, or buys it from a dealer after trade-in.

The difference (i.e. distortion) affects the previous owner, who has to pay an extra $600 in taxes on her new car if she sells the old car for cash to another individual rather than trading it in to the dealership. That's a considerable incentive to funnel business thru the dealers--i.e. whoever has gathered enough capital that they can keep cars in stock and trade them for each other, rather than using cash.

I'm not suggesting that this law was designed with the intent of aiding dealers. While that is plausible, it is also plausible that this unfairness arises from some technicality in how taxes are assessed (though I can't imagine why that would be--there are various ways to estimate the value of the trade-in). However, we can be sure that if the unfairness ran the other way (favoring the small guy over the big guy), then the car dealership trade-group would be applying a lot of pressure on government officials to "fix" the problem.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Just break down the fence

I like this parable that is attributed to Tolstoy:
I see mankind as a herd of cattle inside a fenced enclosure. Outside the fence are green pastures ans plenty for the cattle to eat, while inside the fence there is not quite grass enough for the cattle. Consequently, the cattle are tramping underfoot what little grass there is and goring each other to death in their struggle for existence.

I saw the owner of the herd come to them, and when he saw their pitiful condition he was filled with compassion for them and thought of all he could do to improve their condition.

So he called his friends together and asked them to assist him in cutting grass from outside the fence and throwing it over the fence to the cattle. And that they called Charity.

Then, because the the calves were dying off and not growing up into serviceable cattle, he arranged that they should each have a pint of milk every morning for breakfast.

Because they were dying off in the cold nights, he put up beautiful well-drained and well-ventilated cowsheds for the cattle.

Because they were goring each other in the struggle for existence, he put corks on the horns of the cattle, so that the wounds they gave each other might not be so serious. Then he reserved a part of the enclosure for the old bulls and the old cows over 70 years of age.

In fact, he did everything he could think of to improve the condition of the cattle, and when I asked him why he did not do the one obvious thing, break down the fence, and let the cattle out, he answered: "If I let the cattle out, I should no longer be able to milk them".
This dynamic was apparent during the days of the American slavery, and I think that it underlies much of the current American welfare state.