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!

Amit Ghate OpEd on Principled Government

 Posted by on 16 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Activism, Government
Sep 162009

PajamasMedia has published Amit Ghate’s latest OpEd, “We Need a Return to Principled Government“.

Here is the introduction:

It’s widely recognized that our government is in dire shape. Our annual deficits are in the trillions of dollars. Unfunded entitlement programs run many times that. Lobbyists and earmarking rule Washington. Special interests, including public-sector unions, environmental groups, the AARP, and countless others, vie against one another for exorbitant privileges — all meted out at taxpayers’ expense.

Our most responsible mainstream news venues, like Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, often carry stories exposing the sobering facts. The analyses are penetrating, succinct, and eloquent. But the recommendations? Timid and trite. The best they can offer is to advise moderation: slow the growth of government here, cut back a program there, oppose a few details of the most onerous regulations, but basically resign oneself to the status quo.

It wasn’t always so. When faced with more difficult problems, our Founding Fathers imagined, created, and then fought for a radically new idea of government. Why were they able to do so, when our modern leaders and pundits can’t?…

(Read the full text of “We Need a Return to Principled Government“.)

Please feel free to link to it, leave supportive comments, and e-mail it to friends, family, elected officials, etc.

Congratulations, Amit!

Amit Ghate On Government Waste

 Posted by on 26 August 2009 at 3:01 pm  Activism, Government
Aug 262009

PajamasMedia has published Amit Ghate’s latest OpEd on the real cause of goverment waste.

This is Amit’s third essay for PJM. His example again proves that a citizen-activist can gain nation-wide exposure, if he is willing to publicly advocate his ideas and to clearly articulate them in a fashion that others can relate to.

Congratulations, Amit!

Simpson on Licensing

 Posted by on 22 May 2009 at 12:01 am  Government, Health Care
May 222009

During an earlier NoodleFood discussion on whether physicians should be forced to work during pandemics as a condition of retaining their medical license, the discussion turned towards the appropriateness of medical licensing in general.

Steve Simpson of the Institute of Justice had the following excellent comments to make in response to some questions. With his permission, I’m reposting his remarks here.

With respect to the question that doctors know up front that they agree to certain terms before they accept a license, hence they’ve voluntarily contracted to any associated obligations:

First, doctors do not consent to medical licensing in the sense in which that consent could legitimately be said to impose further obligations on them, the way one consents to the obligations in a contract.

Doctors do not get to decide to practice with a license or without a license. They are compelled to practice with a license whether they want to or not. So it is wrong to claim that they somehow consent to whatever obligations come with licensing. The state offers them the “choice” of practicing with a license or not practicing at all. That is not a choice the state has to authority to impose upon doctors, any more than it has the moral authority to offer citizens the “choice” of being enslaved citizens or not being citizens at all. I could say much more about this, but I’ll leave it at that.

With respect to the concern that private medical licensing groups would have a conflict of interest between setting high standards vs. retaining their members (and hence government would be better at protecting the public from shady practitioners):

Second, your view that private medical licensing would constitute an inherent conflict of interest because it would be doctors essentially engaging in self-regulation is wrong on many fronts. The fallacy at the root of your view is that individuals are capable of objectively governing the lives of others but not capable of governing their own lives because of their own self interest in the latter situation but not the former. There is much to say to this, and reading Atlas Shrugged would be a good place to start in learning why that view is the exact opposite of the truth, but let me say just a couple things.

You say that there is no guarantee that private medical boards will set high standards or improve them as necessary. But there is, and it’s the best guarantee that has ever existed–rational self interest. Doctors are neither insane, nor irrational (indeed, if they were, I submit they would not be doctors now would they). Nor are their patients. Doctors have no desire to harm or injure their patients, for, among other reasons, if they do they will not remain doctors for very long, they will have no patients, they will get sued, etc.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that state regulatory boards will set high standards either. Indeed, state regulatory boards have no incentive whatsoever to keep current with the latest developments in medicine and to ensure that their standards are high. What is the cost to them if they do not do so? They are committees, and thus each individual can always shuffle off the responsiblity for their failures to someone else, and even if they are found to have failed to set high enough standards, they suffer no consequences whatsoever. Their income and careers are not on the line, they will never be fined or sanctioned for their failures, and rarely, if ever, are any regulatory boards ever held accountable for their failures.

But there’s another mistake in your thinking about this that many people make, which is to consider any regulatory boards to be separate from the professions they regulate. This is flawed as a matter of both history and common sense. Historically, occupational licensing has typically been championed by the very professionals who are to be licensed. They do this both to “professionalize” their industries–because it is much better to be “state licensed” than simply to be qualified–and to make it much harder for others to compete with them.

As a result, all occupational licensing agencies or boards that exist today are composed of the very professionals that they regulate. This makes perfectly good sense when you consider that no one else is qualified to regulate them. Who is going to decide what the proper standards for doctors are but doctors? Likewise lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, engineers, architects, stenographers, morticians and funeral directors, barbers and cosmetologists, florists, etc. Do you know what standards even a licensed florist or interior decorator must meet to be qualified? I don’t. So who, but other florists and interior designers are going to regulate the florists and interior designers?

The term for what I am talking about is “regulatory capture,” which simply means that the idea that regulatory boards and agencies of any type are somehow “separate” from the industries they regulate and thus “objective” is utter, unbridled nonsense. It is a pipe dream. It is the sort of thing that we all believed in fourth grade when we thought that committees should run the whole wide world because that would be “fair.” My point is not simply that regulatory capture is likely to happen.

My point is that occupational and industrial or economic regulation is virtually impossible without regulatory capture, and, indeed, the regulators actively want the participation of the industries they regulate because otherwise they would not know what the hell they were doing. So your view that regulatory boards are somehow more “objective” and less “conflicted” than private boards is just not true factually and by the very logic of what such regulation aims to do.

And with respect to occupational licensing in general:

I could go on about occupational licensing all day. At IJ, we’ve done quite a lot of work on the subject, so if anyone is interested in more concrete examples of how licensing evolves in a given profession, check out our website, particularly the economic liberty cases and some of our research publications ( Or just shoot me an email (or ask a question here) and I’ll do my best to answer it or direct you to more information.

The idea that licensed workers voluntarily consent to the obligations imposed on them by states is really unjust in more ways than I mentioned. As a lawyer, I see this all the time.

The states in which I’m licensed are constantly imposing new requirements, like mandatory pro bono, additional “continuing legal education” and the like to which I never consented and that are burdensome, costly, almost always a complete waste of time, and useless from the standpoint of improving my qualifications. In fact, what does motivate me to do a good job is precisely the opposite of all of these (and more) unchosen obligations.

I am motivated by the chosen obligations I freely decided to accept when I became a lawyer. My own desire to produce excellent work, to give my client the best work I can, to win my cases or at least to outlitigate the other side at every step, and to constantly produce a better brief or better argument or better analysis than I did the last time out.

But even if those things didn’t motivate me, I and every other regulated professional would be motivated by the desire not to be embarrassed or to develop a bad reputation (and I have both colleagues, clients, and judges to worry about) or the other things I mentioned in my last post. In fact, I have never in my 15 year career met anyone who was ever motivated to produce good work by the states in which they were licensed. I could produce consistently incompetent and crappy work for years before any of the three states in which I’m licensed would take notice. My colleagues, my employer, my clients, and all the judges I appear before would take notice long before the state bars.

So my point is that the notion that we voluntarily assume the obligations of our state licenses is both a classic moral inversion–because it is in fact the voluntary obligations that motivate professionals and regulated occupations to produce high quality work–and it is illogical in that it contradicts the supposed purpose of licensing, which is to impose obligations on regulated occupations that they did not choose, because, allegedly, they can’t voluntarily regulate themselves. See the contradiction? On the one hand, the obligations of licensing are “voluntary.” On the other, licensed occupations can’t be self-regulated because “voluntary” regulation would not work. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Thank you, Steve, for this great impromptu analysis!

Here’s the full discussion thread, which includes links to additional articles on licensing by Alex Epstein (“End Government Licensing“) and Shirley Svorny (“Medical Licensing: An Obstacle to Affordable, Quality Care“).

(Crossposted from FIRM blog.)

Police Misconduct

 Posted by on 10 May 2009 at 11:01 pm  Government
May 102009

Wow: A police officer refuses to handle the repeated 911 calls of a panicked young woman as her father has a seizure on the kitchen floor. Why? She used the f-word to express her frustration — before the officer even answered the call. He scolds her, refuses to hear about her emergency, hangs up on her repeatedly, delays calling for rescue, lies about the calls, and then arrests the poor girl.

Based on this report, the officer ought to be fired, not merely suspended and trained. He behaved infamously — in a way thoroughly inexcusable to a police officer in a free society — not merely once but repeatedly. (Via The Agitator.)

May 042009

Professor Carl Coleman of Seton Hall Law School has written an interesting paper entitled, “Beyond the Call of Duty: Compelling Health Care Professionals to Work During an Influenza Pandemic”.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m in substantial agreement with the abstract:

In anticipation of pandemics and other mass disasters, several states have enacted little-known laws that authorize government officials to order health care professionals to work during declared public health emergencies, even when doing so would pose life-threatening risks. Health care professionals who violate these orders could face substantial penalties, ranging from license revocations to fines and imprisonment. The penalties would apply even to individuals whose jobs do not normally involve clinical responsibilities, as well as to health care professionals who are retired or taking time off from work to care for their families. This Article argues that these laws impose burdens that exceed the ethical commitments individuals make when they accept a professional license. In so doing, they compel health care professionals to engage in what is normally considered supererogatory behavior — i.e., acts that are commendable if done voluntarily, but that go beyond what is expected.

In making this argument, the Article rejects commonly-made assertions about health care professionals’ ethical obligations, including the claim that health care professionals assumed the risk of infection; that a social contract requires health care professionals to work despite potential health risks; and that individuals who have urgently-needed skills have an obligation to use them. It concludes that, while health care professionals can legitimately be sanctioned for violating voluntarily-assumed employment or contractual agreements, they should not be compelled to assume life-threatening risks based solely on their status as licensed professionals. In place of singling out health care professionals for punitive measures, the Article argues that policy-makers should institute mechanisms to promote volunteerism.

(The full paper can be downloaded here.)

A few comments:

1) I’m encouraged that there’s a recognition that there is no such thing as a duty to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice.

2) This shows what happens when the government is granted the power to license practitioners in any field, whether it be medicine, nursing, cosmetology, etc. The government can then claim, “We’ve granted you this privilege, now you have to pay for it by performing additional duty on our terms rather than your own”.

3) This is yet another reason to oppose government-mandated medical licensing, in addition to the arguments made by Alex Epstein (“End Government Licensing“) and Shirley Svorny (“Medical Licensing: An Obstacle to Affordable, Quality Care“).

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha