Friday, May 25, 2012

Our Mutant-In-Chief

Forced by the loquacious lips  of "Tail Gunner Joe" Biden, President Barack Obama announced the current stasis of his ever evolving position on same-sex marriage: to no one's surprise Obama is for it.

Evolution is one of those phrases used by liberals when someone has come around to their way of thinking. Other words include growth, maturity, nuance--well, you get the picture.

Evolution, of course, describes the changes experienced by biological organisms over time. Geneticists attribute many of these changes to mutations in the DNA. Most mutations are actually harmful. It remains to be seen whether or not the mutations in the President's core beliefs will prove harmful politically.

Our Mutant-In-Chief

The President's evolution has not been a consistent development from a more simple to a more complex arrangement of his thinking. It has even reversed itself.

In 1997, he ran for a position in the Illinois state legislature. He supported same-sex marriage.

In 2004, he ran for U.S. Senator from Illinois. He opposed same-sex marriage.

(Working backwards does not sound like evolution. It sounds more like the controversial theory of devolution, or DEVO

In 2008, he ran for POTUS. He opposed same-sex marriage.

In  2012, he is running again for POTUS. Now he supports same-sex marriage.

But maybe instead, his evolution is driven not by mutations in his thinking, but rather by environmental factors, i.e., the context of his election campaign.

Barack Obama adopts whatever position on same-sex marriage will enhance his changes of election.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Tail Gunner Joe Biden Strafes Flight 2012

A tail gunner's role on the old B-24 bomber was to defend the plane from enemy fighters while on en route to the bombing mission.

His job, if you will, is to "watch the back" of the rest of the fight crew.

The Vice-President has a similar job--to "watch the back" of the President.

Yet again, however, "Tail Gunner Joe" Biden  has strafed his own plane,  Democrat Fight 2012.

While the Obama reelection campaign  has been carefully managing the President's flip-flopping evolving position on same-sex marriage, Vice-President Biden forced the administration to "clarify" the President's position on the controversial question. Biden remarked that same-sex marriage is about the simple question of who do you love. He confessed that he is "perfectly comfortable with same-sex marriage:

Now the President has one more contentious issue that will no doubt turn off many independent voters who went with him in 2008. Early polls suggest that while the announcement will garner some support among advocates of same-sex marriage, it will result in a net loss in support of voters generally. Time will tell if it will jeopardize a safe landing for Democrat Flight 2012.

Friday, May 18, 2012

The Original Cato of Government Corruption

In  Cato's Letters no. 17 (8 February 1721), John Trenchard seeks to warn readers about how liberty has been subverted in other countries.  He hopes that his readers will recognize such schemes and show due diligence in resisting them.

"It may therefore be of service to the world, to shew what measures have been taken by corrupt ministers, in some of our neighbouring countries, to ruin and enslave the people over whom they presided; to shew by what steps and gradations of mischief nations have been undone, and consequently what methods may be hereafter taken to undo others: And this subject I rather choose, because my countrymen may be the more sensible of, and know how to value the inestimable blessing of living under the best prince, and the best established government in the universe, where we have none of these things to fear."

First,  corrupt government ministers will  dream up public projects to make themselves and their allies wealthy.

"They will be ever contriving and forming wicked and dangerous projects, to make the people poor, and themselves rich; well knowing that dominion follows property; that where there are wealth and power, there will be always crowds of servile dependents."

Second, they will seek to impoverish the people. Poverty will make the people compliant as the government officials usurp powers not granted to them by the Constitution. When people become subject to the arbitrary will of their rulers, Trenchard calls it slavery.

"and that, on the contrary, poverty dejects the mind, fashions it to slavery, and renders it unequal to any generous undertaking, and incapable of opposing any bold usurpation."

Third, corrupt government ministers will loot the public treasury for the benefit of their friends

"They will squander away the publick money in wanton presents to minions, and their creatures of pleasure or of burden, or in pensions to mercenary and worthless men and women, for vile ends and traitorous purposes."

While in the introduction to his letter, Trenchard alludes to corruption in other countries and expresses thanksgiving that Britain has been spared, the following month in letter 20 he laments corruption has come to Britain. Corruption in eighteenth century terms referred to the king or his ministers selling offices and awarding military offices and pensions of various kinds to Parliamentarians in return for their support of the King's program. Trenchard warns that

"Publick corruptions and abuses have grown upon us: Fees in most, if not in all, offices, are immensely increased: Places and employments, which ought not to be sold at all, are sold for treble values: The necessities of the publick have made greater impositions unavoidable, and yet the publick has run very much in debt; and as those debts have been increasing, and the people growing poor, salaries have been augmented, and pensions multiplied; I mean in the last reign, for I hope that there have been no such doings in this."

The evils of such actions by the government, he argues, far exceed the evils of singular actions by common criminals.

"There is no analogy between the crimes of private men and those of publick magistrates: The first terminate in the death or sufferings of single persons; the others ruin millions, subvert the policy and oeconomy of nations, and create general want, and its consequences, discontents, insurrections, and civil wars, at home; and often make them a prey to watchful enemies abroad."

While we fill our prisons with thousands of offenders, we fill our public offices with politicians who inflict far more damage to the body politic. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Original Cato on Government Healthcare

In Cato's Letter no 62 ( 20 January 1722), Thomas Gordon explores the nature and extent of liberty. In the course of his discussion, he touches upon a topic generating much contemporary controversy: government mandated health care.

He first defines a general principle of liberty and government:

"Government being intended to protect men from the injuries of one another, and not to direct them in their own affairs, in which no one is interested but themselves; it is plain, that their thoughts and domestick concerns are exempted entirely from its jurisdiction."

He then applies this principle of health and personal responsibility for one's own well-being.

"Idiots and lunaticks indeed, who cannot take care of themselves, must be taken care of by others: But whilst men have their five senses, I cannot see what the magistrate has to do with actions by which the society cannot be affected; and where he meddles with such, he meddles impertinently or tyrannically. Must the magistrate tie up every man's legs, because some men fall into ditches? Or, must he put out their eyes, because with them they see lying vanities? Or, would it become the wisdom and care of governors to establish a travelling society, to prevent people, by a proper confinement, from throwing themselves into wells, or over precipices; or to endow a fraternity of physicians and surgeons all over the nation, to take care of their subjects' health, without being consulted; and to vomit, bleed, purge, and scarify them at pleasure, whether they would or no, just as these established judges of health should think fit? If this were the case, what a stir and hubbub should we soon see kept about the established potions and lancets? Every man, woman, or child, though ever so healthy, must be a patient, or woe be to them! The best diet and medicines would soon grow pernicious from any other hand; and their pills alone, however ridiculous, insufficient, or distasteful, would be attended with a blessing."

According to Cato, people will generally seek their own self interest. If they fail to do so, they will justly suffer the consequences.

"Let people alone, and they will take care of themselves, and do it best; and if they do not, a sufficient punishment will follow their neglect, without the magistrate's interposition and penalties. It is plain, that such busy care and officious intrusion into the personal affairs, or private actions, thoughts, and imaginations of men, has in it more craft than kindness; and is only a device to mislead people, and pick their pockets, under the false pretence of the publick and their private good."

Government intervention, he concludes, if based more upon "craft than kindness."

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Original Cato on Taxation

Until the rise of our contemporary Social Democrats, low levels of taxation constituted something of an American tradition. Our founders, of course, started that tradition. Some  of the most significant influences on the political and economic thought of the founders were the various Cato's Letters, by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon.   Below , a brief excerpt of their common sense views on taxation.

"If, in taxing labour and manufactures, we exceed a certain proportion, we discourage industry, and destroy that labour and those manufactures. The like may be said of trade and navigation; they will bear but limited burdens: And we find by experience, that when higher duties are laid, the product is not increased; but the trade is lost, or the goods are run.

Nor can more be extorted from the gentleman and freeholder, than he can spare from the support of his family, in a way suitable to his former condition.

When impositions exceed these bounds, the history of all ages will convince us, that their produce is only bitterness, murmurings, universal discontents; and their end, generally, rebellion, and an overthrow of the then present establishment, or of public liberty."

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Original Cato on Public Credit

In early posts, I posted selections from Cato's Letters critical of the South Sea Company especially, and of government ministers who participated in the schemes that led to the South Sea Bubble. Lest readers conclude that Cato opposed capitalism, finance, and commerce, I plan to post several additional selections from Cato's Letters that influence the thought of America's founders.

Eighteenth-century economic analysis obviously is not as sophisticated as what can be accomplished today. In   letter no. 4, however, Cato offers some common sense observations about credit, the value of money, and consumer and investor confidence:

To set this matter in a due light, it is necessary to enquire what is meant by the publick credit of the nation.

First, credit may be said to run high, when the commodities of a nation find a ready vent, and are sold at a good price; and when dealers may be safely trusted with them, upon reasonable assurance of being paid.

Secondly, when lands and houses find ready purchasers; and when money is to be borrowed at low interest, in order to carry on trade and manufacture, at such rates, as may enable us to undersell our neighbours.

Thirdly, when people think it safe and advantageous to venture large stocks in trade and dealing, and do not lock up their money in chests, or hide it under-ground. And,

Fourthly, when notes, mortgages, and publick and private security will pass for money, or easily procure money, by selling for as much silver or gold as they are security for; which can never happen, but upon a presumption that the same money may be had for them again.

In all these cases, ’tis abundantly the interest of a nation, to promote credit and mutual confidence; and the only possible way effectually to do this, is to maintain publick honour and honesty; to provide ready remedies for private injustice.

And what subverts the public credit? In Cato's era-- and in our own-- it is often speculative bubbles.

"But national credit can never be supported by lending money without security, or drawing in other people to do so; by raising stocks and commodities by artifice and fraud, to unnatural and imaginary values; and consequently, delivering up helpless women and orphans, with the ignorant and unwary, but industrious subject, to be devoured by pick-pockets and stock-jobbers; a sort of vermin that are bred and nourished in the corruption of the state.

This is a method, which, instead of preserving publick credit, destroys all property; turns the stock and wealth of a nation out of its proper channels; and, instead of nourishing the body-politick, produces only ulcers, eruptions, and often epidemical plague-sores: It starves the poor, destroys manufactures, ruins our navigation, and raises insurrections, &c."

Just like the South Sea Bubble had a far reaching impact on the eighteenth-century British economy, so we witnesses how the bursting of the housing bubble created an economic tsunami that swept away economic activity throughout the economy.

I suspect, however, that our current leadership has learned as little from the experience as those leaders in Cato's generation.


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Other Life of Julia Episode Seven

Because Obama served as President, I found myself at the mercy of more nameless, faceless bureaucrats and could not get the medical care I needed in my final years.

The Other Life of Julia Episode Six

Because Obama served as President, when I tried to start my own business, I found that federal government regulations, when added to state and local regulations, put me at the mercy of nameless, faceless bureaucrats and made my dream impossible.

The Other Life of Julia Episode Five

Because Obama served as President, when I decided to go back to school and read about the Obama administration in history class, the government guaranteed my loans. When I decided not to pay back those loans, the government gave me an amnesty and  paid them off for me at taxpayer expense.

The Other Life of Julia Episode Four

Because Obama served as President , "card check" and the NLRB rulings that required employers to provide home addresses of employees to unions allowed us to intimidate non-union employees at work and in their neighborhoods.

The Other Life of Julia Episode Three

Because Obama served as President, Obama care and the federal justices he appointed confirmed that if my birth control failed, I could secure additional health care through abortion providers at taxpayer expense.

The Other Life of Julia Episode Two

Because Obama served as President, Julia acquired birth control at the expense of her employer and other work associates. And most people thought that healthcare was a private matter between a woman and her insurer.

The Other Life of Julia

The recent info-toon by the Obama reelection campaign called The Life of Julia has generated some media chatter. Most conservative criticisms of it point out that the piece is a slide show of cradle to grave government, during which time Julia receives benefit after benefit without any notice of the taxes she and other citizens must pay to support those benefits.

As a public service, Right Detour presents The Other Life of Julia, which includes episodes left out of the campaign version.

Episode One:

Because Obama served as President Julia and other school children got to sing hymns of praise to him.

*apologies to The Association

Friday, May 4, 2012

Vengeance is Mine, Saith the Public

The calls in Cato's Letters for vengeance against the directors of the South Sea Company were answered by the British Parliament. Although the company treasurer escaped to the continent, many other directors found their estates confiscated for the financial relief of the victims of the bubble. In addition, the primary government official involved, Chancellor of the Exchequer John Aislabie, was convicted and sent to the Tower of London.

The South Sea Company, however, continued to live on. Robert Walpole crafted a plan to have the company divided up. Part of the assets and obligations were taken over by the Bank of England ( Britain's equivalent of the Federal Reserve). Part were taken over by another monopoly trading company, the East India Tea Company. In Cato's eyes, this last act only demonstrated how people forget.

"Last year a South-Sea project was to be established to pay off the national debts; and now a project is said to be in embryo, to remit the greatest part of the debt due to the nation by the South-Sea: And if so, the whole nation is to suffer this general loss, out of mere pity to a small part of the nation. Twelve months ago forty millions was not too much to be trusted with one company, high in credit, and its reputation hoisted up by publick authority; but now, when they are bankrupt and undone, and when their directors and undertakers are universally hated and detested, it is to be feared, it seems, that they will become too formidable, if all the stock subscribed into them be continued with them.

There is, therefore, I am told, a project on foot, in Exchange Alley, to deliver up the nation to three companies; and to let them divide us, their cully, among them. In order to prevail upon these three great societies to accept us as a present, to be used as they think fit, I humbly presume that we must behave ourselves as follows: We can do no less than sacrifice the poor halfstarved manufacturers to one of them, and oblige ourselves to lay no restraint upon India callicoes, &c. We must also confirm the clause which makes that society perpetual. New trades, more monopolies, and fresh privileges, must be given to another great and virtuous company, which had made so good use of the old: And the Bank of England, which long preserved its integrity, must be brought into the conspiracy; and without doubt something more must be given them, perhaps the increase of their term."

Now, if this mighty project, this noble design, can be accomplished; I suppose that every one will see, or be prevailed upon to see, the absolute necessity why all past errors, and former management, should be forgot; because publick credit, which depends upon temper and moderation, must not be interrupted by ill-timed enquiries, nor disturbed by publick vengeance." 

And crony capitalism lives on . . .

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Cato on Humanity's Vast Fund of Stupidity

Two previous posts featured  selections from two essays from Cato's Letters, attacking eighteenth-century style crony capitalism as it unfolded in the South Sea Bubble.

Although the authors directed most of their animus in these early essays to the South Sea Company directors, they devoted the greatest portion of their letters to warnings about government.

In an essay entitled, The Art of Misleading the People by Sounds, John Trenchard reminds us how little has changed in two hundred years.

First, Trenchard ponders whether the the political follies which befall citizens originate from their own ignorance or from the politicians:

"SIR, In surveying the state of the world, one is often at a great loss, whether to ascribe the political misery of mankind to their own folly and credulity, or to the knavery and impudence of their pretended managers."
Trenchard's preliminary conclusion is that both causes seem to lead to the same evils. Regarding the specifics of the South Sea Company scandal, "if there were no bubbles, there would be no sharpers."
He also acknowledges the general ignorance the general public:
"There must certainly be a vast fund of stupidity in human nature, else men would not be caught as they are, a thousand times over, by the same snare; and while they yet remember their past misfortunes, go on to court and encourage the causes to which they were owing, and which will again produce them."

Going to court, in the above historical context, means lobbying the ministers serving the monarch to encourage policies which, in Cato's eyes, lead to the same political and economic miseries.

We do not seem any better off, despite two hundred years of additional history upon which we can reflect. Our generation has witnessed bailouts of Franklin National Bank (1974), New York City (1975), Chrysler (1980), S and L industry (1989), airline industry (2001), Freddie Mac/ Fannie Mae (2008), Wall Street (2008), and Chrysler . . .  again (2008).

Yet the malicious matrix of politicians and corporations still yields the same numerical result: an empty national treasury.