Census

 Posted by on 1 March 2010 at 7:00 pm  Government
Mar 012010
 

We got our census form today. It must be the short form, but I’m strongly disinclined to provide any information other than the number of people living at this address. I’m particularly disgusted with the questions on race, but I don’t see why I need to give name, date of birth, or sex either. Yes, I know that the government already knows everything about me, but still, I find it intrusive and offensive.

Two questions:

  1. What information is the government authorized to collect based on the Constitution?

  2. And what will happen if I don’t fill out the whole form?

PJTV Health Summit Summary

 Posted by on 1 March 2010 at 8:00 am  Government, Health Care
Mar 012010
 

The February 26, 2010 edition of PJTV includes a good discussion of the health care “summit” by Yaron Brook and Terry Jones:

Summit video

If you missed the full 7-hours of mind-numbing speechifying, Brook and Jones summarize the economic, philosophical and political highlights!

Permanent Political Football

 Posted by on 24 February 2010 at 8:00 am  Education, Government, Health Care
Feb 242010
 

While reading a story in the New York Times about the Texas State Board of Education, I was struck by the parallels between special-interest lobbying that occurs with a mandatory school curriculum and special-interest lobbying that occurs with mandatory health insurance.

The February 14, 2010 New York Times Magazine published a lengthy article entitled “How Christian Were the Founders?” This article described in detail the ferocious political lobbying in Texas resulting from the fact that Texas has established a statewide curriculum guideline for all its schools. Hence special interest groups have a powerful incentive to have their point of view promulgated in this mandatory curriculum.

The NYT article focused primarily on the Religious Right, and their often-successful attempts to promote the theme that “America is a Christian nation” — by which they mean that “the United States was founded by devout Christians and according to biblical precepts”. This in turn has powerful implications for what they believe children should be taught about American history, the proper relationship between government and religion, and what they considered the dangerously flawed notion of “separation of church and state”. And they have been successful in using the power of government to include their views within the textbooks in use throughout the state of Texas.

Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the various Religious Right theories of American history, the kind of lobbying they engage in is a completely predictable consequence of a government-mandated educational curriculum. In other jurisdictions, we might see hardcore environmentalists attempt to require school textbooks adopt a radical “green” perspective or leftists require teaching an anti-West, anti-capitalist curriculum.

Basically, the presence of a mandatory curriculum serves as a giant magnet for special interest groups seeking to have their particular viewpoint represented in the curriculum. It turns the educational curriculum into a permanent political football to fought over by the various interest groups.

Hence, there is a parallel with the lobbying that occurs under a system of mandatory health insurance. If everyone is required to purchase health insurance (as they are in Massachusetts), the government must necessarily determine what constitutes an “acceptable” package. This creates a giant magnet for special interests to have their particular pet benefit included in the mandatory package. In Massachusetts, residents must therefore purchase numerous benefits that they may neither need nor want, including in vitro fertilization, chiropractor services, alcoholism therapy, and hair prostheses — raising costs for everyone to benefit the few with sufficient political clout.

Nor does the lobbying ever stop. As Michael Cannon noted in the August 27, 2009 Detroit News:

In the three years since Massachusetts enacted its individual mandate, providers successfully lobbied to require 16 specific types of coverage under the mandate: prescription drugs, preventive care, diabetes self-management, drug-abuse treatment, early intervention for autism, hospice care, hormone replacement therapy, non-in-vitro fertility services, orthotics, prosthetics, telemedicine, testicular cancer, lay midwives, nurses, nurse practitioners and pediatric specialists.

The Massachusetts Legislature is considering more than 70 additional requirements.

As with mandatory educational curricula, mandatory health insurance thus becomes a permanent political football for special interests to fight over.

Of course, the solution in both arenas is to eliminate the government mandate. Just as parents should be allowed to decide what kind of education their children should receive, consumers should be allowed to decide what sorts of health insurance they wish to purchase. The government should respect and protect these individuals’ rights to make these decisions for themselves, rather than making that decision for them.

However, according to the February 18, 2010 New York Times story, “Obama to Offer Health Bill to Ease Impasse as Bipartisan Meeting Approaches“, President Obama is still insisting on his plan of mandatory insurance as the basis for his upcoming health care “summit” with the Republicans.

His plan would thus turn health insurance into an unfair game of permanent political football, where the politically strong perpetually pummel ordinary Americans who lack sufficient lobbying pull. Unless Americans want to become the permanent tackling dummies for the special interest groups, they should remain firm in their current opposition to the President’s plan and not let down their guard yet.

[Crossposted from the FIRM blog.]

Feb 232010
 

PajamasMedia has just published my latest OpEd, “Government Grab of Retirement Accounts a Matter of ‘Social Justice’“.

In this piece, I criticize the latest Obama Administration proposal to convert some of our private 401(k) retirement money into government annuities in order to help prop up the failing Social Security system. I also attempt to make the moral argument for the phasing out and eventual elimination of Social Security.

Here is the opening of “Government Grab of Retirement Accounts a Matter of ‘Social Justice’“:

Uncle Sam wants your retirement money.

The Obama administration has just solicited public comment on their proposal to take money from Americans’ private 401(k) retirement accounts and convert it into government-backed annuities. In other words, they want to take your money now to purchase U.S. Treasury bonds, then pay you a monthly sum later after you’ve retired.

Although this proposal is being initially portrayed as a voluntary choice, Americans already have the ability to purchase Treasury Bonds with their retirement money. Moreover, the Obama administration is considering making these annuities the default option. And as analyst Karl Denninger noted, “‘choices’ have a funny way of turning into mandates.” Nor is his concern unjustified.

In 2008, Professor Teresa Ghilarducci of the New School of Social Research testified before Congress proposing a similar scheme to convert private 401(k) accounts into government-run “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts” that would pay a 3% return. And in 2008, the Argentinian government attempted to nationalize private retirement funds to help cover its runaway deficit.

As the U.S. Social Security system moves ever closer to bankruptcy, the billions of dollars Americans have saved in their private retirement accounts will become an increasingly tempting target for our politicians…

(Read the full text.)

Sales in France

 Posted by on 19 January 2010 at 8:00 am  Economics, Government
Jan 192010
 

Although economic regulations in the US have become increasingly onerous, they’re still relatively mild compared to other Western countries.

For example, I just learned that stores in France must abide by a variety of insane laws in order to hold a sale.

On January 5, 2010, blogger “DirkBeauregard” in France wrote:

Hooray, the sales start tomorrow in France. A chance to pick up a few bargains, if you actually have any cash left after Christmas. There again, you can always spend the credit note you got when you took your Christmas presents back, or you can spend all the money you made selling your unwanted gifts on E-Bay.

So, sales in France. Like everything else in this country, there is specific legislation relating to sales – laws designed to stop unfair competition and protect small shopkeepers from those “all year” sales by large stores who can afford to sell some items at a loss.

In France out of the sales period, it is actually an offence to knowingly sell goods at a loss, again a measure designed to protect small shopkeepers from large retail groups

Trading laws stipulate that there are two periods for sales in France. Winter sales from January to February and summer sales from June to July. In each case, the sales last for five weeks. All goods on sale must have been in the shop for a minimum of thirty days prior to the sale date – no buying in cheap stock and selling it as a sale item. Reuctions must be visibly displayed in percentage terms. Labels must also show the old pre-sale price and the new sale price. Retailers are allowed to reduce their prices three times in the sales – after the first fortnight, and again in the final week.

Outside the official sale periods, retailers are allowed two weeks in the year, to use at their discretion, for extra sales such as pre-Christmas sales or spring sales.

Shops are allowed to run “special offers” on certain items of stock throughout the year i.e. – a rack of cheap “end of line” clothing.

Shops that are closing down, or refitting are allowed to hold sales – “everything must go” with written permission from local authorities.

(I corrected a few typos in the original post, but otherwise quoted it verbatim.)

How nice of the French government to protect consumers from the danger of being able to purchase goods from willing merchants at low prices year-round!

(Via Tyler Cowen.)

Brook on the Estate Tax

 Posted by on 12 January 2010 at 8:00 am  Economics, Government
Jan 122010
 

The January 9, 2010 edition of PJTV includes an interesting discussion by Yaron Brook and Terry Jones on the estate tax.

Apparently, due to a fluke in US tax laws, the estate tax for 2010 is zero percent. (It’s scheduled to go back up to 55% in 2011.)

Brook video

One of the points Yaron Brook discussed was this view expressed by Bill Gates, Sr. (father of the Microsoft founder Bill Gates, Jr) that, “Society has a just claim on our fortunes, and that claim goes by the name estate tax.”

Brook video

As Brook notes, this battle is not just over economics but over fundamental philosophy. Does wealth properly belong to “society” or to the person who created it? The way our country answers that question will determine our future.

The segment on the estate tax begins at 8:35 minutes, but I enjoyed watching the whole video. (You can click on either image above to go to the PJTV video.)

Dec 222009
 

Duke University professor John Lewis has a great essay up at PajamasMedia (12/22/2009) entitled, “Arbitrary Power, Dictatorship, and Health Care“.

Here is the opening:

The essence of a dictator’s method is not to write harsh laws and enforce them rigidly. The world’s most destructive thugs have wanted something different. They have wanted to impose their wills on a compliant populace using arbitrary power — power not limited by laws or constitution, but power that was open-ended, ill-defined, and could be expanded based on the whims of the moment.

Well-written laws are the enemy of the dictator. As philosopher Ayn Rand put it, “When men are united by ideas, i.e., by explicit principles, there is no room for favors, whims, or arbitrary power: the principles serve as an objective criterion for determining actions and for judging men, whether leaders or members.” Laws, properly formulated, are based on principles, and serve to translate those principles into firm criteria for judging particular cases. What a dictator wants is to be free of such principles and to use his power as he wishes.

Professor Lewis then proceeds to show how the current ObamaCare health bill gives an unprecedented degree of arbitrary power to bureaucrats to determine what sort of health insurance you may buy and what sort of health care you may receive.

Some examples:

If you are an employer, you will not escape punishment if a bureaucrat decides that your health plan is not “acceptable” and that you must be fined for your failure to meet his decision. If you are an individual who does not want to purchase full-coverage health insurance, but would rather buy catastrophic insurance that covers hospitalization only, your decision will not be “acceptable” and you may face a government audit and a new tax.

Do you have a serious disease? Does your doctor wish to readmit you to the hospital? A bureaucrat will decide whether or not you get treatment, based on a statistical analysis of the number of such readmissions by the bureaucrats: “excess readmissions shall not include readmissions for an applicable condition for which there are fewer than a minimum number (as determined by the secretary) of discharges for such applicable condition for the applicable period and such hospital” (Sec. 1151).

(Read the full text of “Arbitrary Power, Dictatorship, and Health Care“.)

As Dr. Lewis notes, the current health care debate is not just about health care. It’s about basic American freedoms.

(Crossposted from the FIRM blog.)

Hsieh LTE on Federal Debt

 Posted by on 21 December 2009 at 2:00 pm  Activism, Government
Dec 212009
 

The December 20, 2009 Denver Post has printed my LTE on the federal debt. It was written in response to their December 12, 2009 story, “Democrats plan nearly $2 trillion debt-limit hike“.

My LTE is 4th on this page:

Congress’ plan to cut the deficit by raising the debt limit now, then reducing spending later, is like trying to lose weight by eating a box of chocolate chip cookies now, then promising to exercise next week.

Paul Hsieh, Sedalia

(The Denver Post has a dedicated LTE section called “To The Point” for short LTEs. This one came in at 37 words.)

Sep 232009
 

The Fall 2009 issue of The Undercurrent includes two excellent articles.

It’s Not Stealing Because I Don’t Want It to Be” by Rituparna Basu
Summary: FileSharing – Rationalization = Theft

Putting a Price on Freedom” by Noah Stahl
Summary: U.S. – Freedom = Disaster

Sweden Lowers Income Taxes

 Posted by on 22 September 2009 at 11:00 am  Economics, Government
Sep 222009
 

Sweden’s government has just announced that it will lower income taxes in order to stimulate economic growth.

This is the same country that refused to bail out the Saab motor company.

You know that the US is in trouble when Sweden is acting more capitalist that the United States!

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