The Affordable Care Act creates a new health insurance marketplace (the exchange). But because of the great uncertainty about what buyers will enter the market and who will buy what product, the law creates three vehicles to reduce insurance company risk.
Politicians and bureaucrats are notorious for manufacturing euphemisms -- clever but deceptive substitutes for what they really mean but don’t want to admit. That’s how the phrase “revenue enhancement” entered the vocabulary. Some of our courageous friends in government couldn’t bring themselves to say “tax hike.”
“It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future,” says a proverb often attributed to Yogi Berra. Imagine the world of freedom, or lack of it. Who could foresee the technologies that make our lives so rewarding and convenient? The same technologies have us all under the government’s giant microscope. Thankfully, the brave have turned the microscope around.
In the months since Edward Snowden revealed the nature and extent of the spying that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been perpetrating upon Americans and foreigners, some of the NSA's most troublesome behavior has not been a part of the public debate.
National Treasury Union President Colleen M. Kelly recently described the 2014 IRS budget allocation as “woefully inadequate.” But the agency has not proven itself to be an efficient steward of taxpayer dollars. Here are ten ways the IRS lost the trust of the American people.
It’s easy to be negative about the U.S. economy these days. Find a glint of silver, and folks come running to point out all of the dark clouds looming about. This, of course, is what we got last week when the monthly jobs report was released from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Folks pooh-poohed the number of jobs and whining that they’re not enough or that it’s less than a bunch of economists thought that it might be. But you know what? Stuff ’em.
Given how poorly states like California and Illinois have funded the pension funds for their own employees, one would think that this would stop dead in its tracks any plan to have the government assist in managing private sector funds too. The spate of recent activity, however, suggests otherwise.
Facts are easy. You can check facts. What supporters of the Affordable Care Act are doing, on the other hand, transcends factual bungling. It’s far more advanced: a warping of reality so debauched it looks like something out of a tale by H.P. Lovecraft.
The problem for NSA apologist is that when guys like Snowden disclose that the government conducts comprehensive surveillance in ways that would have made 1984’s O’Brien drool, it puts the entire progressive agenda in jeopardy.
The east coast and parts of the southern U.S. were to varying degrees paralyzed by blizzards a few weeks ago. The snow as expected rendered the roads treacherous, and in anticipation of slick streets, shoppers flocked to the grocery stores in advance.The rush into grocery stores, and its aftermath, offers worthwhile lessons in economics.First up, […]
The financial world is plodding along like a drunken sailor avoiding debt collectors by keeping no cash in his wallet. It’s not the kind of calm that’s going to last or end well. But the storm will have to wait until after the Olympics.What a game! We’ve never watched ice hockey closely before. But watching […]
“When they come for my gun, they will have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands,” is a common refrain I often hear from the Neo-Cons when there is a threat, credible or otherwise, that the U.S. government is going to take their firearms.And, when I hear this crazy talk, I agree with […]
The highest form of charity, argued the 12th-century Jewish philosopher Maimonides, is when the help given enables the receiver to become self-sufficient.But our systems of state charity — aka welfare — have too frequently had the opposite effect: They have actually created dependency. It is time to rethink the way we help people.I’m going to […]
In times of war and national emergency, it’s sometimes necessary to sacrifice civil liberties to secure vital gains in public safety. In those cases, we may have to accept a loss of privacy or freedom rather than invite mass slaughter of Americans.The National Security Agency’s domestic phone records collection is not one of those.Never have […]
President Obama crowed in his State of the Union speech about the economy, even mentioning “a rebounding housing market.” Maybe he was referring to friends in high places, like the seller of Penthouse One in New York, which just closed for $50.9 million, all cash. Millions of mere-mortal homeowners likely wanted to throw something at […]
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office is acting in a bipartisan way to cover up the biggest single threat to the bipartisan political alliance that is stripping America of its wealth: the United States Congress.There is no question that the following policy is bipartisan. Democrats and Republicans in Congress are completely agreed that the following information […]
Recent difficulties with implementing the Affordable Care Act have increased opposition to the program. A majority of Americans now oppose it. Problems with the HealthCare.gov website are in all likelihood temporary. However, there are serious long-term problems, particularly considering long-term finance and labor supply issues. Given the mounting difficulties with and growing concerns about the […]
Amidst all the revelations about how the American people, many of whom are absolutely convinced they live in a free society, have their telephone calls, emails, website visits, and who knows what else under surveillance by their own government, let’s not forget the massive infringements on financial privacy that have gone on for decades.Consider, for […]
Image: ShutterstockBitInstant CEO Charlie Shrem, along with alleged co-conspirator Robert Faiella, was arrested by federal authorities last week for allegedly laundering more than $1 million worth of Bitcoins. This is a tiny amount compared to the largest drug-and-terrorism money laundering case ever. Yet when British bank HSBC was found guilty in 2012 of laundering billions, […]
Do you trust your doctor? Most patients assume their doctor is working in their best medical interests whenever he or she orders a diagnostic test or recommends a particular treatment. Customers might wonder whether an unscrupulous auto mechanic is being truthful when he recommends a brake job or a new transmission. But most patients trust […]
The exercise had an awesome name, inspired by the movies: “Quantum Dawn 2.”On July 18, scads of U.S. banks, stock exchanges and government agencies took part in a digital fire drill — a practice run in the event all of Wall Street came under massive cyberattack.This isn’t the first time banks have come under an […]
The faces of the Detroit bankruptcy are the thousands of pensioners whose promised benefits are suddenly part of the restructure negotiation. When Motown filed for Chapter 9 last July, the city had $11.5 billion in unsecured liabilities. The vast majority of this was pension and health care benefits owed to retired city employees.The images of […]
So you’ve maneuvered the Obamacare website, plugged in your top-secret information and found out how much you are forced to pay to avoid a fine.And for some of you, it turns out you qualify for a government subsidy — making the premium sound like a bargain. But signing on that line to accept the government’s […]
“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”As the inequality gap grows, there is an ideological battle unfolding in the West.On the one hand, there are those who think government can fix things. It must do more, tax more, […]
On Feb. 7 the United States will once again reach its statutory debt limit, meaning it cannot legally borrow any more money. Since the obvious option of cutting spending to match the amount of revenue that the government collects is off the table for some inexplicable reason, Congress will have to pass a new, higher […]
The New York Times published an interminable article on health care recently. Plenty of facts — how scrupulous are these journalists! — but the article displayed absolutely no comprehension of the basics of cause and effect. I was left wondering about the whole point.The article details how the health care system rewards specialists to an […]
For critics of the surveillance state, it is tempting to see President Obama’s speech a few weeks ago as a partial victory: Prompted by Edward Snowden’s leaks and the public pressure for National Security Agency reforms, he announced significant changes to the program that collects and stores information about all telephone calls. And he promised […]
Ayn Rand would not like this book.
She wouldn’t like its subject matter. For Rand, libertarians were “hippies of the right,” who “subordinate reason to whims” and “substitute anarchism for capitalism” — a “monstrous, disgusting bunch” of “intellectual cranks” who “plagiarize my ideas.” Rand evidently regarded libertarians’ arguments as unworthy of engagement, since she never, in fact, engaged with them. A book celebrating this dreadful movement and tracing it to her would be far from welcome.
Nor would Rand like the book’s style. Rand’s tolerance for humor in general was limited; her tolerance for humor directed at herself and her own ideas was zero. In Rand’s view, humor was a “denial of metaphysical importance to that which you laugh at”; this made humor a “destructive element,” legitimate only when directed at objects despicable or worthless. But to “laugh at that which is good, at heroes, at values,” was “monstrous,” and to “laugh at yourself” was the “worst evil that you can do,” a form of “spitting in your own face.”
That Rand’s conception of humor might be bizarrely narrow — that there might be forms of affectionate humor, in which respect and admiration could be mixed with a keen appreciation of foibles and a heightened sense of the ridiculous — seems never to have crossed her mind. Thus, a book by a devoted libertarian making fun of the libertarian movement even while celebrating it would have baffled her; and a book making fun of Ayn Rand herself, even while acknowledging the value of her influence, would have enraged her.
But Jerome Tuccille didn’t write this book for Ayn Rand. He wrote it for, as he says in the dedication, “deviationists all over the world.” Welcome, deviationist!
We can argue about when the libertarian movement began. We could point to the Old Right of the 1930s and ’40s, to the classical liberals and individualist anarchists of the 19th century, or even to the 1640s with the Levellers in the English Civil War. But the libertarian movement as we know it today began with the publication of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged in 1957; and in the decades that followed, reading Atlas Shrugged was the most common entry point into that movement (as it was for me as a geeky high schooler in 1979).
That’s not to say that the libertarian movement was made in Atlas’s image. Influence takes many forms, and reacting against various aspects of Rand’s thought — her egoism, her atheism, her adulation of big business, her doctrinal rigidity — was as common a libertarian response as was emulation. But Rand had set the terms of discussion by asking the right questions and highlighting the crucial issues, and had laid out a radical and inspiring vision of individual human creativity and initiative set free from rulership, violence, and unreasoned dogma — a vision that no one could confuse with the conventional political nostrums of left and right.
Jerome Tuccille was present at the creation as the ripples from the massive pebble that Rand had dropped into world culture were beginning to spread out in various directions, sometimes merging with other ripples to form new shapes and trajectories as the terrible beauty of the libertarian movement was born.
Tuccille knew most of the major figures and organizations, and in It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand he offers us a lively and frequently hilarious memoir of the movement’s early days — before the Libertarian Party was founded, before today’s vast constellation of libertarian think tanks and periodicals existed, and before Friedrich Hayek’s and Milton Friedman’s Nobel Prizes and Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia would win libertarianism a tincture of respectability in mainstream circles (if “mainstream circles” isn’t too mixed a metaphor).
Tuccille’s portrait of the libertarian movement is drawn in broad impressionistic strokes; it’s not intended, and should not be regarded, as a literally accurate record of all the doctrines and personalities involved. In reality, for example, Ayn Rand did not endorse anarchism, condemn private charity, or deny the existence of degrees of evil; Andrew Galambos credited Thomas Paine with ghost-writing the Declaration of Independence, not with inventing the word “liberty”; not all libertarians were enthusiastic about the Barry Goldwater campaign (Murray Rothbard, for instance, denounced Goldwater as a dangerous nuclear warmonger); and Rocco Fantozi’s name was not Rocco Fantozi.
It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand is a jazz improvisation on the early history of the modern libertarian movement, not a transcript. But what a sax solo! (Of course, Rand didn’t like jazz either.)
In light of the widespread tendency to regard libertarians as right-wing apologists for the corporate elite, one of the many strengths of Tuccille’s book is its stress on libertarianism’s distance from conservatism. “The ‘capitalist’ system under so much attack from left-wing groups today,” Tuccille reminds us, “is actually state capitalism, an economic ideal as far removed from the ideal of free-market capitalism as an equal degree of state socialism would be”; and the “squabbling over property rights that always plagues attempts at dialogue between the Left and Right” stems from a failure on both sides to distinguish between “legitimate private property” and “monopolistic corporate property established with the help of the state.”
(Rand, who sometimes championed the corporate elite as “America’s persecuted minority” and at other times condemned them as an “aristocracy of pull” reaping the benefits of “a mixed economy with government controls slanted in favor of business,” would perhaps have agreed with Tuccille’s remark on even-numbered days.)
In the years after the first publication of It Usually Begins with Ayn Rand, the movement would continue to grow and change. Tuccille would go on in 1974 to run for governor of New York on the Free Libertarian Party ticket, famously courting publicity by reenacting, in Central Park, Lady Godiva’s famous anti-tax/anti-clothing ride (not himself taking the role of Godiva, I hasten to add); and the Internet would give a dramatic boost to libertarians’ numbers and influence.
Ayn Rand is no longer as dominant an entry point into libertarianism as she once was, though her books continue to sell well and her public visibility is higher than ever (indeed, part two of an Atlas Shrugged film trilogy is being released in the same month as this e-book). Perhaps nowadays it usually begins with Ron Paul — though it often ends someplace very different.
Tuccille describes the early libertarian movement as having an Ayn Rand right, a Karl Hess left, and a Murray Rothbard middle; and as having myself one foot in each of those camps (yes, I have three feet; you have a problem with that?), I can happily report that all three are still going strong, though the Randians have finally split into officially pro-tolerance and anti-tolerance factions (and some of the former could even admit to enjoying this book).
Some of Tuccille’s predictions from 1972 are a bit saddening, as in the case of his forlorn hope that in the near future we would all be “living in a less militarized and more decentralized atmosphere than exists today.” But he is sometimes more successful as a prognosticator, as when he notes in his 1997 afterword: “The computer has already replaced the Molotov cocktail as the preferred weapon of revolution, and the hacker may hold the key to subverting the system from within” — words that can be seen as prophetic 15 years later, in our age of WikiLeaks and Anonymous.
Tuccille characterizes today’s libertarian movement as “sober and cleanshaven” in comparison with its beginnings; but if you want to see the freewheeling, eccentric, occasionally feud-riven crazy quilt of “left-wing anarchists and acid-dropping love children; middle-class tax resisters and blue-collar hard hats; right-wing free traders and intransigent individualists” whose portrait Tuccille limned with mingled affection and frustration four decades ago, with its mix of neckties, tie-dyes, and dollar-sign pins, just browse the libertarian blogosphere — or stop by one of the annual libertarian festivals like Libertopia or PorcFest.
Even the floating ocean platform libertarians that Tuccille describes are still with us, with serious funding behind them this time around, though many of the captains have recently (as of this writing) jumped ship, or platform, to a charter city project on the terra firma of Honduras.
The party (not necessarily the Party) continues. Come on in, the water’s fine. Or possibly spiked with acid.