A Superfluous Man column aggregation
With my column for The Post ending soon with the quarter, I wanted to aggregate all of them for future reference.
General Electric, the largest corporation in America, paid no taxes for 2010. According to a recent New York Times article, General Electric claimed a tax benefit of $3.2 billion.
Conservatives might understand the problem as one of high taxation causing capital flight, while liberals might understand the problem as one of wealthy politicians benefiting wealthy friends. However, both miss the greater issue: the more power the government exerts within the economy, the more involved economic interests will be in the political system.
If economic interests can make a profit buying and selling political favors as opposed to buying and selling goods and services, it is only natural that the largest economic interests will focus on the political system, gaining some at the detriment to all.
Instead of demanding a greater tax burden or more regulation over corporations, eliminating the use of the political system for economic gain might be the most effective measure for the country, as well as the market.
Rather than burdensome and complicated regulations that corporations skirt — or write themselves — corporate influence might be lessened when the political system is separate from the economy.
As the General Electric example unfortunately illustrates, government intervention in the economy provides a foundation for corporate favoritism that insulates them against competitive pressures. A politically unconnected business must satisfy the demand of fickle market forces or fail; a politically connected corporation avoids the market for the certainty of government benefits.
The greatest protection and benefit for the individual does not derive from well-intentioned bureaucrats but market competition with the rule of law. When political protection — in the form of subsidies, tax exemptions and restricting competition — perpetuates politically connected economic interests, it eliminates market competition.
Decentralized actions and voluntary exchanges produce a spontaneous order that efficiently allocates resources to fulfill the supply and demand of an impersonal market order.
Our economic system is an institution that, in the words of Adam Ferguson, “is the result of human action, but not the execution of any human design.” In other words, the market order is a continually evolving institution that, when left free to develop, provides a coordinating structure to create wealth and satisfy desires.
Of course, such an analysis runs counter to the typical narrative; the narrative usually consists of greedy and selfish businessmen pitted against selfless and compassionate public servants — that is, an idealistic portrayal of government intervention against caricatures of market forces. To be sure, greedy and selfish businessmen exist.
However, three points are often overlooked: Government intervention does not perfectly translate from its theoretical effects, public servants can be just as greedy and selfish as businessmen, and the greedy and selfish businessmen must produce wealth for consumers if they want to stay in business.
The only way to avoid satisfying consumer demands is harnessing political power. If the political system remained relegated to its proper realm in the economy, economic interests could not exploit the system at the expense of society at large.
Demonizing the market while idealizing the government and extolling the virtues of non-markets may provide material for lofty and self-gratifying speeches, but it fails to mitigate the problem and presents only a red herring for the cure.
The only difference between a conservative and a liberal is how they spell their label.
The supposed disconnect between liberalism and conservatism evaporates when one point is recognized: Both take for granted the use of the political means to achieve their ends.
Sure, conservatism focuses on tradition as a guide for society to achieve virtue, while liberalism relies on rationality, reason and expert control to promote equality. However, rather than persuade and illustrate the merits of their respective philosophies, they presume their opinions superior enough to implement their ideas through the law.
The left/right spectrum presents a deceiving dichotomy that ignores philosophies that reject the idea that societal improvement comes through the political system.
By limiting popular and recognized choices to only those which advocate a stronger government, discussion has a tendency to gloss over any prospect of change through individual or communal action that is not encompassed within the law.
The libertarian idea that personal and economic liberties are indivisible or the socialist ideal that rejects private property cannot neatly fit in the traditional spectrum.
A concerning dependency inculcates itself when accepted and expected social change results only through the political system: Individuals are less likely to address a social problem themselves or within a local group when the government is expected to ameliorate the issue.
Localized groups that tighten communal bonds and aggregate intimate knowledge about an issue hardly spring up as much as they did in the 20th and 19th centuries. An increasingly globalized economy partly explains the shift to a centralized, national response rather than decentralized, local responses.
But the larger culprit remains the ever-expanding role of government in society.
When Ohio’s government acquires the responsibility of welfare, individual responsibility for the welfare of others disappears.
In addition, the role of government as problem-solver obscures the inherent nature of social change. Social change causes legislation; legislation does not cause social change.
Legislation and government action is inherently retroactive as public attitude spurs political action. When this reverse causation stands, it overlooks the importance of spontaneous human action to improve societal constructions.
The Civil Rights Act of 1964 didn’t improve the lives of black Americans and end racism; the spontaneous and concerted efforts of millions of Americans shifted a societal understanding of race and equality, symbolized in the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In fact, because the political system intervened, it might have retarded racial advancement throughout society by crowding-out the effort and effectiveness of grassroots organization and effort. The government took action, what else must be done?
But I don’t want to be misunderstood. Government does not cause all problems, just as the market and society do not solve all problems. Simply, the government is not a terribly effective social construction to address social problems.
Its centralized, bureaucratic nature fails to address social problems in an experimental, constantly changing and decentralized way.
Using the political system to address social problems is akin to using a fork for tomato soup: It might look innovative at the first glance, but on closer inspection it’s incredibly silly.
The Libyan war — er, “kinetic military action”— has been a failed attempt at what George Will called humanitarian imperialism.
Of course the situation in Libya is terrible, however, this necessitates examining what the role the United States should be and how effective it can be.
Contradicting the claims of the Obama administration, humanitarian wars are neither beneficial nor effective.
The past half-century of foreign intervention proves to be a queer mix of amplifying harm and entrenching anti-American attitudes the world over.
Strangely, foreigners prefer private investment from the U.S. rather than rockets and regime change.
Experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and others over the past decade develop resentment and cause blowback. Those citizens do not see good will and a desire for spreading democracy from the U.S., they see destroyed buildings and dead relatives.
The only way for Libya to progress and oust Mommar Gadhafi will come from Libyan society; no foreign intervention could possibly help.
Indeed, Gadhafi has received foreign aid from the U.S. and France in the past that perpetuated his brutal and totalitarian regime, just as tyrants the world over continue to receive U.S. aid.
Foreign aid is an inconsequential policy relative to the overall budget, but ending it would harm tyrants that ally with “the land of the free” while oppressing their citizens.
Ignoring the harm American intervention has wrought, the process of Libyan intervention has been appalling. Even George W. Bush, with his boondoggles in Afghanistan and Iraq, received Congressional authorization for military action.
President Obama intervened without any formal declaration from Congress.
Effectively, one individual decided whether or not the U.S. would employ military force in a foreign country that was not threatening the sovereignty or security of the nation. Such an action is a direct contradiction of the American political tradition in the name of humanitarianism.
The end goal of protecting citizens from their own government overrides any concern for the means utilized to achieve it. Tradition does not benefit us consistently. Upsetting the decentralization of power for expediency or decisive action which is unlikely to prove beneficial in the long-run, is foolish.
Libya also represents a hypocrisy in American action. Surely, if Libya requires humanitarian imperialism, North Korea much more so. And Syria. And Ivory Coast. And Yemen. Humanitarian aid does not attach itself to bombs, regardless of a Republican or Democrat ordering the bombs.
If the U.S. earnestly desires to advocate freedom throughout the globe, foreign policy must be revised.
End foreign aid to despotic regimes. End the bi-partisan policy of nation-building.
Encourage private investment in the third world to alleviate poverty by assisting in the development of a market economy and a stable political system that preserves individual rights.
Reduce the military budget to end our role as world police, which creates and antagonizes enemies and instead focus on national defense.
For all the hoopla about President Obama and Senator Paul Ryan’s budget proposals, the debate ignores two essential facts: Tax increases cannot save us, and spending reform is crucial.
Tax revenues correlate strongly with the size of the economy, not tax rates. Tax rates are subject to diminishing marginal returns; increase them too much, and the government receives less tax revenue than with a lower rate.
The idea that tax increases can balance the budget also relies on a weak foundation. It assumes the government sector is starving in favor of the economic sector. A review of tax receipts from only a decade ago renders such a claim laughable. The problem isn’t a lack of funding; it’s a problem of inefficiency and activity.
It also misses the elephant in the room: If the government spent only how much tax revenue it received, no budget problem would exist. The government budget is determined by the prevailing concept of what government should do rather than any budgetary restraint.
Since President Bush, budget deficits have been in excess of $1 trillion. Any increase in tax revenues will increase government activity, not decrease the budget deficit or national debt.
If the government desires more tax revenue to fiddle away, it should encourage economic growth because productivity gains increase tax revenue more than any arbitrary tax increases.
Taxation, however, proves irrelevant in the long run. Government spending is unsustainable at current levels. The United States cannot continue its military policy and entitlement programs with any semblance of reason.
Military spending must be drastically curbed and the interventionist foreign policy needs to be altered. Encourage private investment in Afghanistan and Iraq instead of bombing them, providing daily a reason to hate the United States.
Policy should be reformed to focus on national defense and strongly reject nation-building; at that point, we might notice success for once.
More than military policy, social security and Medicare reforms need to be implemented. A promising step would be to allow individuals to opt out of social security. The government cannot be a caretaker; it is an institution of force and law, not welfare and effectiveness.
When government is wielded as a paternalistic protector, liberty is curtailed and the paternalism is counter-productive. Any government failure, rather than being recognized as a limit of what government can accomplish, is heralded as evidence of the necessity of increased funding.
Obviously, dependents on social security and Medicare should not be cut off and left to fend for themselves. But the development of dependency on the political system should be extirpated. Healthy society inculcates self-reliance and charity, not dependence on a welfare system.
An atmosphere encouraging personal saving and investment that cares for the poor and indigent functions more smoothly and supports stronger communities than collective action implanted in politics.
Perhaps a stronger argument for entitlement reform: Not only is it inefficient and unstable, but it appears more likely that, when our generation retires, we won’t have any government program to rely upon.
Every week it seems I hear about some event demanding a greater investment toward green energy, be it government subsidization of green technology or demanding the university adopt more green technology.
The proliferation of green technology would be great; I’m behind that one hundred percent. However, government investment in green technology produces nothing but waste and stifles innovation in the green industry.
Advocates for green energy investment gloss over a few important points: Job creation is not synonymous with wealth creation, government investment is another form of corporate welfare and government investment is usually, if not always, inefficient.
When the government subsidizes green energy projects, it’s rarely to the benefit of a small start-up with an innovative technique for the industry. More likely, the subsidies deposit in the bank accounts of billionaires and corporations such as T. Boone Pickens, General Motors and British Petroleum, to name a few.
These subsidies, to an extent, insulate companies from market conditions, giving them an advantage over competitors who must respond to market conditions.
As a result, green companies cannot stay competitive and innovate to create cheap and efficient alternative energy sources against large, subsidized companies.
The companies who respond quicker and better to market demand suffer while subsidized companies prosper at the expense of society.
As Tim P. Carney recently wrote, “Environmental policy is not driven by tree-hugging activists, earnest liberal bloggers or ecologically minded citizens.
Instead, it flows from the lobbyists and executives of well-connected multinational corporations and built-for-subsidy startups that see profit in the loan guarantees, handouts, mandates and tax credits Congress creates in the name of saving the planet.”
For every dollar the government spends in green investment, it removes a dollar from private consumption and investment.
When individuals unwisely spend or invest a dollar, they have a strong incentive to correct their behaviors so as to get an efficient return; in other words, they have economic incentives to wisely allocate their resources.
However, when the government spends and invests, any economic incentive is secondary to a political incentive that encourages spending for the greatest political return.
For example, Jim F. Couch and William F. Shughart, in their book The Political Economy of the New Deal, analyze New Deal spending and found that a state’s support for FDR and its importance in his Electoral College strategy were consistently significant factors in its level of aid.
Some might say this is a benefit of political action: It isn’t chained to economic reality. Indeed. What such an opinion ignores is that malinvestment wastes resources — resources that could have been used to pay bills, invest in a new business or repair deteriorating infrastructure.
When the Pentagon wastes $70 billion, as a late March audit demonstrated, $70 billion isn’t financing a school system or invested in a child’s college education.
A government isn’t a social construction utilized to respond to strictly economic pressures. If it were, it would be a market. But, the desirability of something (sustainable, green energy) doesn’t obscure the fact that a political system isn’t efficient and might impede desirable economic growth.
More than anything, the abolition of subsidies to coal and oil companies, coupled with lower entry costs into the green energy market by removing bureaucratic requirements and taxes, will spur innovation and a greener future.
Last Tuesday, Ron Paul announced he has formed an exploratory committee to decide whether or not to run for president. Now I have a reason to sit through the painfully laborious Republican debates. The only event that rivals the levels of irrelevance and philosophical vacuity is, of course, the Democratic debates.
With Paul effectively in the mix, we will be treated to a night of neo- and
Christian conservatives rejecting the Old Right, Goldwater wing of the Republican Party — the only wing, incidentally, that will hold any relevance in the foreseeable future.
This might produce the revelation that conservatives have long ago rejected individual liberty and limited government in favor of an overwhelming demand for power — not that they will ever stop using classical liberal rhetoric, of course.
Instead of the liberal vision of an expansive state, they will champion the conservative vision of an expansive state.
Paul (in his third presidential campaign, counting his 1988 Libertarian Party attempt) will provide a palpable contrast to the duopoly that is the two-party system. However, do not interpret this as an endorsement for Ron Paul.
I couldn’t care less if you vote for him. Any fantasy of Paul becoming president will be crushed by reality, though the education he provides throughout his campaigning is incredibly valuable.
In fact, not only do I urge everyone to abstain from voting for Paul, but also I urge — nay, implore — everyone to abstain from voting in toto. As for anyone who desires to instigate social change through voting, I encourage you to entirely re-examine how societal change occurs at all.
Voting is useless. Actually, that is misleading: Voting is not only useless but also absolutely harmful.
By marking a box (or however it is done, I have never been in a voting booth, nor do I desire to be. It could only damage my morality), the vote allows an individual to ignore and neglect any responsibility and duty to their community.
Approving a school levy does not improve intelligence. Only engaging students outside the classroom and providing a robust and diverse environment to acquire intelligence educates.
Schooling and educating are not synonyms. But I digress.
Responsibility and societal duty requires active engagement in improving a community; a ritual electing an individual to power every four years is not civic engagement, no matter what your high school teacher repeated.
If societal improvement is the goal, examining the accepted means to this end (voting) is necessitated. Part of the reason why a dearth of change exists among presidential administrations is that many individuals return to personal engagements, presuming their job is done. We have a Democrat in office after eight years of a Republican: Problem solved.
The president is not a superhero, nor is it desirable to forfeit superhero powers to the position.
A lone individual, taking a Saturday to clean up a local park, improves society more than a president ever has or ever will.
Elected officials are only figureheads — and shabby ones at that. They represent prevailing societal opinion on how a country should act or think.
Presidents do not create reformers; reformers create presidents.
As election season looms like a boulder over a peaceful town, try to avoid the pull of politics. Do not buy a bumper sticker, no matter how much the color complements your (already crowded) car.
Be productive and increase your wealth.
Hug a tree.
Most importantly, develop your talents as an individual and benefit your community in that way.
If Ron Paul’s campaign will teach us anything, it is this: Education, not political office, is the only useful result of running a campaign, whether anyone votes or not.
Peter Thiel is encouraging college students to drop out and actually do something societally productive.
Thiel, a venture capitalist and hedge fund manager, launched a fellowship program through his philanthropic organization The Thiel Foundation, which provides 20 individuals under 20 years old a $100,000 grant.
The only catch: Leave higher education to pursue innovative projects in scientific and technical ideas.
Criticism leveled at Thiel usually characterizes his effort as reckless and hypocritical because Thiel attended Stanford.
However, similar remarks fail to comprehend Thiel’s argument: We are experiencing a bubble in higher education, and college might not be the best option for everyone.
The importance of college is over-inflated. College isn’t necessarily a prerequisite (much less a guarantee) of success; in some instances, the debt incurred from higher education lowers the success rate. Graduating $80,000 in debt is rarely a prudent idea.
Instead of proclaiming every student has the right to a free college education, maybe the problem is a society that looks with derision or elitism at any career path missing a college education.
Of course, college isn’t a waste of time (well, maybe sociology classes). If students know what they want to study and have a way to keep expenses relatively low, college is great. Or, if a course of study justifies large debt with a high-paying career, debt isn’t too threatening.
Not every individual, though, learns or understands the world with a perspective that is conducive in a collegiate atmosphere.
The importance of the Thiel fellowship is that it recognizes college can harm learning and creativity. Instead of constantly encouraging college attendance, the Thiel fellowship wants to cultivate a different way of improving society and education. Whether his initiative fails or not is irrelevant.
I’d much rather watch a crazy billionaire challenge accepted wisdom than read another press release from a university about how fantastic their education programs are. Sparking a conversation about what education actually is, is more valuable than discovering the next Mark Zuckerberg.
Education is treated as a commodity obtained after graduation — it isn’t.
Education and schooling should never be synonymous; education is developed, not inculcated.
A college program has become more of a training program than an educational tool to develop critical thinking and personal growth.
To a certain extent, it’s understandable: Students want marketable skills to secure a job, and universities have been anything but loathe to fulfill that demand. More than that, however, is that the desire for education cannot be taught.
It is subjective to the individual; the assumption that everyone is educable is a democratic myth.
As Albert Jay Nock said, “There are practicable ranges of intellectual and spiritual experience which nature has opened to some and closed to others.”
This isn’t to say that only an elite circle should go to college, but that the democratic dream for every individual to be strongly educated is an inevitable impossibility, no matter how much wealth is concentrated on achieving the goal.
Editor’s Note: The following column contains a racial slur that might offend some readers.
Last week, the superintendent for Morgan Local School District in McConnelsville, Ohio, canceled a performance of To Kill a Mockingbird because of parental concerns over racial slurs contained in the play.
In an effort to avoid controversy and perform the play for students, the secretary for the Zane Trace Players, the theater troupe scheduled to perform, contacted the publishing company to receive permission to alter the offending passages, but the company denied the request.
Why? Chris Sergel, vice president of Dramatic Publishing, said, “Being uncomfortable with history is not means to change it. We’ve always denied these requests. People need to figure out how to confront issues.”
Sergel’s denial is admirable, but his need to issue it is deplorable. Canceling the performance is inimical to the fundamental basis of education. By avoiding the issue of racism and injustice in American history because of concerns about political correctness or mature themes, students are prevented from developing a critical understanding of history and comprehending the roots of hateful ideology.
The cancellation of To Kill a Mockingbird is an insult to the Morgan High School students involved. It is a presumption that not only can these students not understand the terribly obvious faults inherent in a racist ideology, but also their lack of intelligence prompts the prevention of a performance with racist ideas, even when said performance illustrates the inferiority of those ideas. Such paternalism inhibits the abilities and development of students while ignoring reality.
Racism still exists in American society, along with many other individual and social ills. To Kill a Mockingbird remains relevant; unbridled hatred remains much more offensive than hearing “nigger” in a play aimed at confronting that hatred.
If communities continue to avoid the issue because parents feel uncomfortable, any progress is stifled before it begins. Individuals should be offended by To Kill a Mockingbird, and they should feel terribly uncomfortable.
What should make us more offended and more uncomfortable, though, is that such idiotic and unthinking ideas were at one time so prominent in America as to be institutionalized and sanctioned by the ruling democracy.
The same individuals, who endlessly chanted Shibboleths and platitudes about freedom and equality, ignored — and in some cases engaged in — atrocities because the victim was in a despised minority.
To surpass hateful ideology and prevent future and present tragedy, we’re forced to learn about lynchings. We must study the Holocaust and comprehend how the Nazis accumulated power.
It is not simply a pedantic interest. It is an individual responsibility to confront evil in the world and prevent it from escaping punishment or to implicitly acquiesce because anything else may garner social scorn.
If the administration at Morgan Local School District considers themselves educators devoted to challenging students in an effort to develop critical thinkers, they’ll ignore cowardly phone calls from those offended at the content of a literary classic. Instead, they’ll try to circumvent parental influence that shies away from ugly realities.