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 […]
Last Saturday’s column distinguished between two strategies for achieving personal freedom from an invasive state: “Gulching” and “Going Galt.” Gulching, named after Galt’s Gulch in Atlas Shrugged, means withdrawing from society into an isolated community. Going Galt, named after the early strategy of John Galt in the same novel, means removing your support from the state without leaving society.
For example, a businessman might retire rather than deal with ruinous taxes, a maze of regulations and bureaucratic paperwork.
Two words are key to either strategy; they are “state” and “society.” Definitions may seem to be dusty things but they offer the incalculable benefit of clarifying your thoughts so that you better understand the ideas that deeply impact your life. Defining “the state” and “society” allows you to know where the line is drawn that separates one from the other.
One of the clearest presentations you can find of these two terms comes from the classical liberal Franz Oppenheimer in his brilliant and very readable book, The State (1914).
He defined the state as “that summation of privileges and dominating positions which are brought into being by extra-economic power.” By “extra-economic” he meant the institutions and people with power that did not come from the act of creation or from free exchange. In short, they were not productive.
Oppenheimer defined society as “the totality of concepts of all purely natural relations and institutions between man and man.” These institutions included the free market, churches, the family, charities, and the arts. In short, society is what is often called “the private sphere.”
Springboarding from these definitions, Oppenheimer contrasted what he called “the political means” with “the economic means” of acquiring wealth or power.
The state uses the political means — in other words, it uses force — to acquire wealth and power. It neither produces wealth nor trades for it on the marketplace. Instead, it takes wealth from the productive people who constitute society. It takes riches directly through such means as taxation and indirectly through such means as regulation. The ultimate source of the state’s power is the use or threatened use of force.
By contrast, society uses the economic means — in other words, it creates and cooperates — to produce wealth and social dynamics. Any power acquired by those within society is the result of earned wealth or reputation.
Because the state drained society for its own enrichment, Oppenheimer considered the two to be in basic conflict.
The American individualist Albert Jay Nock was one of the main conduits of Oppenheimer’s thought into the United States. Nock captured his mentor’s political philosophy in a book entitled Our Enemy, The State (1935). He wrote, “Taking the State wherever found, striking into its history at any point, one sees no way to differentiate the activities of its founders, administrators, and beneficiaries from those of a professional criminal class.” Both stole wealth from productive people and both were willing to use force to do so.
At this point in his argument, Nock introduced a third concept: government. To Nock, government, unlike the state, provided a valuable service. It protected the individual rights of society, presumably in exchange for a fee, such as that embodied in a reasonable tax rate.
Nock was not alone in distinguishing between government and the state, and in giving a nod to the former while frowning upon the latter. Ayn Rand also embraced a limited government that would function as a night watchman who unobtrusively protected the person and property of those within his territory.
We now live under a state, not a government. And true to the title of Nock’s book, the state is the enemy of our rights and property. Unlike the government envisioned by Rand, it is not a night watchman but a prison guard both day and night.
An effective path to personal freedom is to withdraw from the state as much as possible while continuing to live in and embrace society. A problem immediately arises. The line between the state and society keeps blurring. What should be a private business, like the post office, becomes a state agency instead. What should be a family matter, like the education of children, becomes the public school system.
Highly personal decisions, like medical choices, are turned over to a bureaucratic process and lodged in an official database. As the state expands, society contracts; the public sphere thrives while the private sphere withers.
Why not just leave and “gulch” instead of “going galt”? After all, a cabin deep in the woods offers unbridled individual freedom whereas in society there is always the threat of violence. Why run such a risk? I believe the answer lies in the reason people form societies in the first place.
Society offers tremendous benefits, including friendship, expanded knowledge, culture, a division of labor, the free market of exchange, family and romantic love. Society can maximize your range of choice because many of your decisions require the presence of other people; for example, the decision to have a child. The maximization of choice is itself a form of freedom.
And, yet it is possible to imagine a society from which some people would gladly flee into solitude; for example, in antebellum South, slaves fled from plantations. The point at which reasonable people flee is when the state is so totalitarian that being within society no longer maximizes their choices but minimizes them. They can no longer benefit by trading with others because the trade is taxed too highly or choked by regulations. Their life savings is stolen by currency inflation, bailouts for miscreants, senseless bureaucracy and projects, or by wars and policies that affront their morality.
If they exercise basic rights as such freedom of association, which includes non-association with anyone for any reason, then all of their rights can be stripped away through imprisonment. Or their wealth can be dissipated through lawsuits.
It takes a great deal of theft and corruption by the state to outweigh the extraordinary benefits of society. Whether or not we are at that point is a judgment call. My judgment is that we are not there yet. The tipping point may be perilously close but the state has not yet succeeded in reversing the advantages of being in society.
In pursuing those advantages and avoiding the state – in “Going Galt” – the first step is to ask yourself where and how you co-operate with and, so, support the State. Try to support society instead. Rather than making phone calls for a candidate, donate those hours to a private charity. Maintain whatever privacy you can. Never invite the state into your home even when it offers you advantages to do so.
The foregoing are vague suggestions that I will be unpacking to provide specifics in future articles. Meanwhile, as the Amish sometimes say, “Be safe out there among the English (non-Amish).”