Semper Libertas - Liberty Everlasting
Free Markets - Capitalism - Trade - Expression - Freedom
Semper Libertas - Liberty Everlasting

Thursday Thoughts

Just a few of what Thomas Sowell might call "random thoughts on the passing scene":  I had intended to include a few more items, but decided to go ahead and post.  Perhaps more to follow.


While up in Washington DC last week, I had the great pleasure of meeting Congressman Tim Scott of South Carolina.  One of two African American Republicans in the House of Representatives, Scott's story is an amazing one.  With Tea Party backing, Scott challenged — and defeated — perhaps the highest levels of state "establishment":  the grandson of former Governor and Senator-for-Life Strom Thurmond, and the son of two-term former Governor Carroll Campbell.

Scott's message was one of optimism — he "guaranteed" a Republican sweep of President, House, and Senate — and his manner was engaging and dynamic.  There was definitely a buzz in the room as he spoke.  He should get a good speaking role at the Republican National Convention this summer.

*****

Also while in Washington, I attended receptions at two different embassies:  New Zealand and Georgia.  While the people were friendly at both, there was an interesting dichotomy.  The NZ Ambassador, himself a former Prime Minister and former head of the World Trade Organization, spoke at length of the shared interests of the Kiwis and the Americans:  in trade, security, democracy, and general world outlook.  He also had one of the firmest handshakes I've ever received.  The lamb and New Zealand wine were excellent.

The Georgian Ambassador was himself very dynamic, and from what I could gather quite pro-American (I couldn't understand but about one of every three words, because I was in a secondary room) with a warm, ebullient sense of humor.  The Georgian wine was quite good — thick, spicy, dry — and the food was very Greek-Lebanese-ish.  What was interesting, however, were the Cold War-era cartoons that decorated that walls of the embassy.  It was intriguing to see the caricatures of capitalists, NATO, European countries, etc.

All-in-all, good hosts, both.

*****

I heard that Junior Seau died Wednesday of an apparent suicide.   If you remember him as a player, particularly at his prime playing for the Chargers, you remember that he was a great — not just good, but great — defensive player.  With the Saints "bountygate" still percolating in the news, the other early deaths of players over the past few years, and players like Jim McMahon having injury-related problems, the NFL could be heading towards a huge payout for failing to adequately protect players from head injury.

*****

Wednesday night I saw Florence + the Machine in concert at the Bayou Music Center in Houston.  First of all, this is the absolute best venue for a concert I've ever seen — it is intimate yet there's plenty of room, the acoustics are amazing, and there literally isn't a bad seat (or, typically for me, place to stand) in the house.  It has recently taken a back seat often to the House of Blues on getting the most high-profile shows, but BMC (nee Verizon Wireless Theatre, nee Aerial Theatre) is by far the superior venue.

The show was absolutely stunning.  F+tM incorporates Celtic, rock, alternative, soul, and perhaps a few other genres into their sound, but it is the voice of lead singer Florence Welch that makes them more than just another eclectic band.  Like Adele, Florence's range is amazing — she can do soulful, but she can also sound operatic and angelic in an upbeat way that Adele hasn't yet shown.  From anthemic rockers like "What the Water Gave Me" to the straight ahead "Dog Days Are Over", Florence and her mates held the crowd almost in a trance for 90 minutes of amazing vocal artistry.  If you haven't seen them yet, you should.

*****
Another thing I noticed in DC was that everyone in the GOP is at least talking a good talk about lining up behind Romney.  There was a definite subtext:  get more limited government supporters in the House and Senate to pressure him to govern as he's campaigned.

The current GOP Chairman, Reince Priebus, is much different than his predecessor.  While I think Michael Steele is great and a very talented guy, I think he was miscast for the role of party head — it's a nuts-and-bolts job, and Steele is an ideas, charisma, and motivational guy.  Priebus seems to have a handle on the details, from individual districts that will need phone banks and bused-in "boots on the ground", to fund raising:  he's erased the debt left by Steele and the party is in good financial shape heading into November.

I do hope that if Romney is elected, there is a place for Steele in his Administration.  He's way too talented to be left behind.

Platform Fight Update

This past weekend, the Republican Party of Texas began its process of developing its 2012 Platform.  As the state party's official document, it outlines specific policy and legislative initiatives as well as general values and concepts for which the RPT, its members, and GOP elected officials are supposed to agree.  As I mentioned in this previous post, the 2010 platform was not only often contradictory of itself, but it was also very poorly written, abounding with grammatical errors and poor sentence structure.  The document is built from resolutions submitted at the local level and voted up through various levels of resolutions committees before a final debate, amendments, and vote at the state convention.

The first step in this process is typically at the precinct level, with precinct caucuses being held following the primary vote; however, due to redistricting battles, the Texas primary was set for May 29.  This is simply too late to get delegates to the state convention set for the early June date, so instead the Senate District conventions were held this past weekend across the state.  The purpose of these conventions was first and foremost to elect delegates to the state convention, as well as to develop on vote resolutions for that platform construction.

I submitted four resolutions for consideration.  The first dealt with the problem mentioned above regarding the grammatical errors that are so abundant in the RPT platform.  The Grammar Resolution, titled A Resolution for Correct Grammar in the Republican Party of Texas Platform, directed the State Chairman to name a committee following the adoption of the platform that would go through the text and correct the grammatical errors.  The committee would rbe directed not to change the substance of the various platform planks themselves, only to correct for sentence structure and the rules of grammar.  Their final report would face a final vote by the State Republican Executive Committee (SREC).

This resolution failed in committee and therefore was not considered by the entire Senate Distrct.

My second resolution dealt with the federally-enforced trade and travel ban with Cuba.  In it, I pointed out that not only has the policy been an abject failure — the Castro regime still oppresses Cuban citizens over a half century later, even outlasting the Soviet bloc Communist regimes — but that the policy goes against core principles espoused by the platform itself:  private enterprise, individual liberty, freedom of exchange.

After a spirited debate with the members of the resolutions committee, it failed the vote and therefore was not considered by the entire SD.

My third resolution dealt with state government-imposed bans on gambling and the current state government monopoly on "games of chance" via the Texas Lottery.  I again referenced the language from the 2010 platform that advocated on behalf of individual liberty and commerce based on free markets unencumbered of government intrusion.  I mentioned the nanny state, and how games of chance fit into the history of Texas, as evidenced by the popularity of Texas Hold'em poker.

The committee unanimously voted down the resolution, and it was therefore not considered by the entire SD.

My final resolution dealt with health care reform.  Based on this article that I wrote for the wesite US Daily Review, it advocates on behalf of free market reforms that would transform the health insurance market into a vibrant, competitive, open enterprise that would reduce costs and expand access — without mandates, prohibitions, tax increases, and bloated bureaucracies.

The committee unanimously passed the resolution, when then was passed unanimously by the vote of the entire Senate District (along with some applause).  We will see if this ends up making the final platform.

I'll be posting more on various other platform issues as we get closer to the June convention.  I was chosen as a delegate from my Senate District, so I'll be able to carry the fight forward.

The Coming Platform Fight

To develop its official platform, the Republican Party of Texas (RPT) follows a consistent process.  Every two years, the party holds caucuses on a precinct, state senate district (or county, depending on the size of the county), and then state level.  At the precinct level, participants can propose resolutions about a specific issue or policy point.  These are debated, edited, and then voted on.  If passed, they move to the next caucus and the process is repeated.  Then, at the state level, a platform committee puts together these resolutions into a platform that is then debated, amended, and voted on at the state level.

The current platform, enacted at the RPT Convention in 2010, is a hodge podge of contradictory ideas and grammatical errors that attempts to stick its nose into nearly every aspect of public and private life — while claiming that the party "defends" the "dream of freedom and opportunity".  While listing as a foundational principles "[l]imiting the expanse of Government Power" and support for "[a] free enterprise society unencumbered by government interference", it nevertheless calls for prohibitions of sodomy, pornography, and gambling.  In the section entitled "Educating Our Children — Encouraging Local Control", literally the 2nd paragraph seeks to micromanage bilingual teaching.  It castigates establishment of a national ID while advocating the expansion of a national employment database.  And so on.

In addition to contradicting itself repeatedly, the document is rife with grammatical errors; any competent high school English teacher would issue a failing grade to someone who turned the platform as a writing assignment.  Throughout, the document is beset with incorrect use of commas and apostrophes, run-on sentences, and other basic grammatical issues.  It's an embarrassment to any organization, but particularly one that advocates "adoption of American English as the official language of Texas and of the United States."

The ratification of the platform in 2010 was a contentious affair.  Many lined up to speak against particular provisions and in some cases were shouted down.  Due to the immense scope of mistakes and contradictions, a movement arose to simply substitute the 2008 platform completely in place of the 2010 effort.  This was voted down.  Finally, despite continued opposition — and dozens of people still waiting to address and debate various platform positions (this author included), a vote was railroaded through ending debate and passing the document.

I had personally spoken to the head of the Platform Committee, Texas Representative Wayne Christian, about the prevalence of grammatical errors in the document.  While I understand that I couldn't unilaterally change the content of the document, my hope was that at least I could perhaps affect how the document was written and remove the grammatical errors.  I was given assurances that they would be removed prior to publication, but this did not happen.  Future correspondence I conducted with the RPT resulted in the answer that the platform as voted by the convention was binding — as is.

I plan to be writing several resolutions for submission to this year's platform deliberations.  The first and most important directs the State Chairman to name a committee of people to clean up the document following its passage to remove grammatical errors.  I also plan to submit resolutions that seek to provide a bit more consistency with free market ideals as well:  one on gambling, one on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, one on the federal trade and travel ban with Cuba, and perhaps a couple others.

The platform fight will be contentious again this year.  This time I plan to be better prepared for the battle.

Some Links

Rick Santorum likes to use the rhetoric of private enterprise and economic self-determination, but at the US Daily Review, I reference his voting record to show that Rick Santorum is a Fair Market Friend of Free Markets.

Also at US Daily Review, my piece on  The Truth About American Manufacturing.

Washington's Farewell Address still has relevance today.

Here you can find an essay for a liberty project on an early bastion of religious freedom:  Penn's Forest, Fertile Soil for Liberty.

Here are my thoughts on a Replacing Obamacare with free market alternatives.

Did you know there's a New American Energy Renaissance?  There is.

And finally, an older piece about the rising anti-capitalist, Occupy-esque rhetoric being used against Mitt Romney.  It's still being used, and likely to get worse as the election stretches out.

Way to Blow It, Limbaugh

One of the hallmarks of the "Obamacare" health insurance reform law is the inclusion of individual mandates that individuals purchase health insurance or pay a fine, and that employers provide it for their employees.  Less commonly understood is the fact that it isn't just any health insurance policy that is mandated:  the government defines what "basic" health coverage is, and thus what is necessary to be purchased.  Don't purchase (or offer) what the government says qualifies for "basic" coverage, and the government, in the form of the IRS, comes to collect.  The whole concept of the individual mandate is currently under review by the Supreme Court, but lately it is the individual requirements themselves that are coming under heightened scrutiny.

The requirements under "basic coverage" so far include among them the following:  plans must offer "preventative care" and "wellness" coverage, such as mammograms for women, colonoscopies, anti-smoking programs, drug and alcohol counseling and rehabilitation, maternity coverage, and birth control.  In some of those cases, e.g., mammograms and birth control, the coverage is required to have no co-pay.

So the federal government, for the first time in history, is requiring private citizens to purchase specific products from private companies, regardless of need, regardless of desire, and, in the case of birth control, regardless of potential religious and moral objections (the Catholic Church has official stance against the use of birth control products).  Want to pay for medical expenses out-of-pocket and purchase no insurance?  Illegal under Obamacare.  Want a high-deductible policy that covers against a "catastrophic" medical cost, and pay day-to-day expenses with cash or out of a health savings account (HSA)?  Eventually illegal under Obamacare (there is some grandfathering in of certain plans for a short period of time).  Perhaps you are an 50-year old vasectomized man who is unlikely to need mammograms or contraception; too bad, you have to purchase that coverage.  Or perhaps you use birth control and get annual mammograms, but you'd rather pay less for insurance each month and purchase these services with cash, HSA, or maybe even with a co-pay.  Sorry, out of luck:  illegal under Obamacare.

In response to the birth control provisions, the Catholic Church began protesting:  because of those aforementioned objections to birth control, they did not want to be forced to provide that coverage in health insurance plans for employees at Catholic-run charities, hospitals, etc.  All 181 US Catholic bishops have publicly denounced the contraception mandate.  The GOP Presidential candidates, in particular Rick Santorum (who in the past has said he believes states should be able to outlaw birth control altogether), framing it as a religious freedom issue.

So we have the individual mandate, which, according to a Gallup poll, 72% of all Americans think is un-Constitutional including 56% of Democrats.  You have one aspect of this mandate which seems to infringe upon religious freedom, leading the entire hierarchy of the Catholic Church in America very publicly denounce, some going so far as to call it a "war against religion".  You have other religious figures joining the Catholic Church in principled opposition.

Sounds like a good campaign issue, right?  No way to screw this one up, right?

Wrong.  Enter Rush Limbaugh.  In one 10-minute monologue on his radio show, Rush managed to turn a sure-winner of an issue — one that brought together social conservatives, libertarians, and even many moderates and independents — into a so-called "War on Women" and, basically, a 60-year old man publicly castigating a 30-year old college student as a "slut" and a "prostitute" because she testified before Congress that she thought Georgetown College should be forced to provide her with health coverage that included "free" contraception.

The blowback was fierce.  Several high profile sponsors of the show, under pressure from consumers, dropped their advertising buys, with others under pressure to do so.  Calls for boycotts of remaining sponsors still continue as this is being written.  Limbaugh issued what most would consider a half-hearted apology, then subsequently proceeded to continue to impugn the young lady in question, Sandra Fluke.

Now, Ms. Fluke is, as has been detailed, an activist on various "womens' issues".  She alleged chose to attend Georgetown with full awareness of their contraception policy.  But these facts and the knee-jerk reaction of many Limbaugh fans to, um "rush", to his defense don't change a simple fact:  by choosing a boorish, crude, and decidedly ungentlemanly attack on a person of no real public significance, who was speaking about a side issue to the core of the debate, Rush Limbaugh took a sure winner of an issue on the merits and turned it into an old man bullying a young woman.  With his comments, Rush made Ms. Fluke the face of oppressed women, the victim of misogyny, a sympathetic figure.  A sudden media darling, Ms. Fluke has made the rounds of talk shows, getting a new platform for her message while getting the sympathetic attention of people who now have a young face to personalize the issue — and take it away from the facts.

I felt from the beginning it was wrong to focus so much on the contraception angle of the mandate — it was never a 1st Amendment or religious freedom issue, it was an issue of individual liberty.  Regardless of whether or not one has a moral objection to birth control, he or she shouldn't be told by the government what products and services they must purchase.  The mandate takes aim at the very heart of voluntary exchange and individual liberty.  But now the momentum has shifted, and the left has a new media darling.  My guess is she'll be a fixture on the Democratic fundraising set for at least the rest of the year, and will now have no trouble finding a job when she graduates Georgetown Law.  She's the girl who took on the 800-pound gorilla of the conservative media... and won.

Limbaugh showed himself not just to be crass, boorish, and ungentlemanly, but hurt the very cause he so vehemently supports.

Way to blow it, Limbaugh.

The Wrong Emphasis

Most of the criticism concerning the Obama Administration's proposed rules regarding health insurance coverage of contraceptives under "ObamaCare" has focused on Catholic groups, specifically Catholic bishops and their outspoken response.  The bishops and various Catholic-related charity and advocacy groups have been very vocal in their outcry, based on their theological opposition to contraception and the idea that Catholic hospitals and other charitable organizations would be forced to provide health coverage that included birth control coverage without a co-pay (commonly called "free", but of course that's a misnomer — no health coverage is "free").

While I applaud the stand of the Catholics against this mandate, they are missing a much bigger point.  Instead of fighting that single mandate based on religious grounds and the First Amendment —- apparently meaning that so long as mandates don't interfere with their religious beliefs, they are acceptable — the debate should be on a larger scale altogether:  on what Constitutional basis does the federal government have the authority to mandate that individuals and families purchase any coverage?

Assume for a second that we're talking about a woman seeking to purchase health insurance that does agree with — and and even uses — birth control.  Why should even that woman be forced to purchase a policy that provides 100% coverage of birth control?  Perhaps she would rather pay out-of-pocket, or use a health savings account, or find a better deal on a policy that sells it for a co-pay, choosing to increase coverage of other things.  What about people who prefer a high-deductible insurance policy to protect against a "catastrophic" health care issue, but would rather simply write a check for regular doctor visits and prescriptions?  There are plenty of reasons — infertility comes to mind as one of many — that a person who has no religious or moral objection to birth control would not want to purchase coverage that includes it.

The focus on this singular issue overshadows the fact that there are other such mandates rampant throughout ObamaCare.  There are mandates for various preventative care, mammograms, maternity care, drug and alcohol counseling, and more.  To some, those can be valuable coverage options, but to others they are worthless.  It should be the consumer, not the politicians and bureaucrats, who decide what coverages to purchase.  Certainly individuals and families know best what works best for them.

But there are other reasons why adding these individual, recurring, routine expenses into insurance programs can be a bad thing.  If provided "free", there is little (if any) incentive to shop around for better, more inexpensive alternatives.  And adding routine expenses creates additional inefficiencies based due to paperwork and general bureaucracy.  That's why, as many commentators have noted, auto insurance policies don't cover wiper blades and oil changes.

I support the bishops and their right not to provide or purchase coverage they don't want or need.  But I also support everyone else's right not to do so, regardless of the reason for these preferences.  While on the right side of the issue, the focus on religious freedom only is the wrong prescription for individual liberty.

Santorum vs. the Tea Party

An unlikely challenger to Mitt Romney's supposed "front runner" status, former Senator Rick Santorum has emerged as the main challenger for the GOP Presidential nomination.  It is an improbable journey, as Santorum was barely a footnote in early polling; his surprising finish in the Iowa Caucuses — announced as a 2nd place finish on the day of the caucuses, later undetermined due to lost and disqualified votes — catapulted him to the first tier of candidates. 

Before deciding to seek the Republican nomination, Santorum's last election bid was his re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania in 2006.  In a landslide loss — the worse of any incumbent — he lost to challenger Bob Casey, Jr., by over 700,000 votes, a margin of 59% to 41%.  It was a devastating loss in a year that saw Democrats retake both the House and Senate for the first time since the Republican sweep of 1994, the election that first sent Santorum to the Senate.

As he has risen to seemingly become Romney's chief challenger for the nomination, Santorum has been consistently hammering the themes of "family values", his Catholic faith, and his conservative views on the so-called "social issues" such as gay marriage and abortion.  He has been getting support from what would seem to be an unlikely source given his political philosophy and voting record:  Tea Party activists.

Starting with CNBC personality Rick Santelli's rant about government bailouts in the financial sector, the Tea Party protests became a phenomenon throughout 2009 and 2010, culminating with the re-taking by Republicans of the House of Representatives in the 2010 elections, marked by the election of forceful advocates of limited government.  Rather than focusing on those social issues, the Tea Parties largely focused on deficit spending and debt, bailouts, and overall expansion of government, especially with regard to entitlements.  These were policies that saw a notable increase under President Bush before President Obama took office and doubled down on them.

It is this focus that makes Santorum's support among Tea Party activists confusing:  in Congress, Santorum supported those three things against which the Tea Part was started.  In the Senate, Santorum voted consistently for the budget-busting Bush deficits that added trillions to the national debt.  While he had already been sent packing by Pennsylvania voters before the TARP bailouts of the financial sector were enacted, he was on record as supporting bailouts for steelmakers, dairy farmers, and airlines.  And Santorum voted in favor of the biggest entitlement expansion since the Great Society programs of Lyndon Johnson:  the Medicare expansion to include prescription drugs, adding trillions in unfunded liabilities to future generations.

Along the way, Santorum supported other major expansions of federal government authority.  Bush's signature education program, "No Child Left Behind", greatly increased funding for the federal Department of Education and usurped state and local authority over education policy — and Santorum supported it.  Santorum voted for numerous increases in the minimum wage, in favor of compulsory labor union membership, for the now-infamous "Bridge to Nowhere" (twice!) and numerous other pork barrel, pet project "earmarks".  He voted to raise the debt ceiling numerous times, a definite Tea Party concern.  And, tellingly, he has decried the limited government aspect of the Tea Parties themselves, saying his has "real concerns" about people who advocate on behalf of a more limited government — that is, more individual liberty — than he feels comfortable with.

On the campaign trail, Santorum talks about freedom and limited government.  Based on his support in the polls, his message is connected with many voters, including many who consider themselves Tea Partiers.  Unfortunately, his record does not match his rhetoric, nor the issues that defined the Tea Party events and the election of 2010.


Judging the Candidates for President

Amidst a seemingly endless stream of candidate debates and a frontrunner-of-the-week mentality among primary voters, the Republican nomination process is kicking into its final stretch before actual voting takes place, starting just after the new year in New Hampshire.  Regardless of what each individual poll shows as far as the horserace is concerned, it is interesting to see the attitudes expressed by the Republican supporters of the various candidates.

While it seems obvious, the selection process has one simple ultimate purpose:  selecting the person best suited to be the next President of the United States.  Unfortunately, that point seems lost on many of the people — Democrat and Republican alike — who end up making the choice.  And, it would seem that the skill set that makes for a good presidential candidate and successful campaign is no longer congruent with that conducive to a successful presidency.

The President is the Chief Executive of the United States, and he serves (fairly uniquely among democratic societies) as both the Head of State and the Head of Government.  He is thus both the manager of the parts of government that deal with executing the laws passed by Congress, as well as the "face of the country" when dealing with the world; he also, of course, serves as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.  This confluence of responsibility, coupled with the American economic and military might, makes the choosing of an effective, reliable leader so important.

So what qualities make a successful President?  I isolate three main areas in which a person must excel in order to be effective in this difficult position:  vision, organization, and temperament.

Vision.  Any leader needs to have a fairly clear idea of where he (or she) wants to take those whom he wishes to lead.  Politics, at its best, is a marketplace of ideas, and we want our President to have them, to lead the discussion.  Citizens like to be inspired by their leaders, and personal magnetism can only go so far.  Broad themes, even those as disparate as more individual liberty and limited government versus a more activist government that takes on the inequities of society; either can be embraced by voters if the candidate is selling what seems to be a bold vision.  Ronald Reagan successfully sold a vision of America as a "shining city on a hill", with ideas of ending — not just coexisting with — Communism and the Soviet threat, to expand freedom, and to unleash the private markets through less government intrusion on the marketplace and lower taxes.  He was elected twice by landslide margins.

Yet Franklin Roosevelt laid out a vision that was nearly the opposite — higher taxes, more government direction of the economy, more programs to take care of people.  When war time came, he showed similar clear vision:  America was going to war not just against the immediate threats posed by the Axis powers, but was further going to remove the long-term fascist threat to American democracy.  He was barely threatened in any of his four contests.

Organization.  As the Chief Executive, the President stands at the head of a massive federal bureaucracy.  He is ultimately responsible for such varied activities as disaster relief and the war in Afghanistan, and he must manage his relationship with Congress to ensure he has influence on legislation and that he gets his various appointments through legislative approval.  A successful President must be adept at organization and management.  Where to micromanage and where to delegate are important decisions, as is whom to place in important positions.  Even a seemingly minor nominee can cause major difficulties (as evidenced by the current Obama Administration problems with the ATF's "Fast and Furious" gun program and the Department of Energy's Solyndra fiasco).

Setting up the right organizational structure of the White House and then choosing the right people to fill the positions is crucial to the day-to-day operation of the White House apparatus and can filter down throughout the Executive Branch.  It is crucial to implementation of that vision mentioned above.  But that's only part of the story, since most Presidencies are most notable not for their original agenda, but how they respond to the unexpected.  If an Administration is poorly organized and managed, crises as varied as 9/11, the Wall Street Meltdown, or the current debt stalemate will not be handled smoothly.

Temperament.  It is famously said of FDR that he had a "third-class intellect but a first-class temperament".  When war came with Japan, Germany, and Italy, he was not shaken by the events around him, but rather mobilized an entire country for war.  Because he was unfazed and confident in the face of a new World War, it was easier for those around him — and the citizens at large — to face the threat similarly and be galvanized into action.  Similarly, George W. Bush drew praise from conservatives and liberals alike with his steady response to the 9/11 attacks; his bullhorn speech at the World Trade Center rubble was a poignant and inspiring point in his Presidency, and led to approval ratings of over 90%.

How will a President react to conflicts with Congress, natural disasters, or war?  How will he deal with frustration, anger, or sadness?  No President can be considered great who can't imbue those around him and the general public with confidence that he — and we — can face the crisis with resolve, character, and steadfastness.

Vision.  Organization.  Temperament.  These are the qualities we need in the next President.  Yet instead of probing these issues, it seems most people are concentrating on tactics and positions on individual issues with little regard to nuance or perspective.  I think this is the wrong approach to choosing our leaders.

Some Thoughts on Immigration

I recently had a Twitter exchange with a self-described Tea Party participant about the government's "E-Verify" program, whereby employers are forced to submit Social Security numbers to match against a federal database to confirm that a prospective worker is authorized to work in the US; we also discussed the broader issue of illegal immigration in general.  While the 140-character limit is beneficial in requiring one to drill down to the essence of one's salient points, it is very restricting in getting into the more complicated issues of the immigration debate.

Contrary to popular belief, there is more to the immigration issue than simply "secure the borders" versus "amnesty for everyone".  To really get at the heart of the issue requires a broader understanding of the economic issues that drive immigration — both legal and illegal — and the government's response to a real problem with illegal immigration to the United States and border security.

First of all, a simple concept: in a free marketplace, supply will typically rise to meet demand.  When there is a demand for pizza, in come Dominos, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut, and perhaps even smaller, locally-owned specialty restaurants.  Demand isn't static, it can be created:  nobody knew they wanted an iPad before Steve Jobs unveiled them, for example. Now, the demand for tablet computers is great, and Apple is seeing competition in the marketplace.  Supply is rising to meet demand.

Anytime government tries to insert itself between supply and demand, it incentivizes the creation of a black market.  The most obvious example of this is the alcohol bootlegging industry that arose upon the imposition of Prohibition, or the current market for illegal drugs.  A less obvious example is the implementation of a national speed limit of 55 MPH in the 1970s:  at the stroke of President Carter's pen, drivers went from law-abiding to scofflaw without changing a thing, simply at the arbitrary whim of the federal government.

What does this have to do with illegal immigration?  There is a demand for immigrant labor. One can argue about whether this demand is based on the desire for employers to exploit workers, or that unionization and wage regulation has increased the price of labor above the market price, or whatever other side issue, but the fact remains that the demand exists.  Current US immigration laws are very complex, and Congress has set immigration quotas far below the demand for people to immigrate to the US legally.  The result is that there is a huge backlog of people waiting for legal status to come to the United States, and for many low-wage, low-skill workers, there's no legal avenue available at all.

This government-devised intrusion between the supply and demand for immigrant laborers has created a black market for labor, and thus the influx of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 20 years, with the associated calls for border fences, more border guards, and the aforementioned E-Verify system.  More on that below.

It is thus the market intrusion by the government that has created the incentive for mass illegal immigration.  It does not compute to me that the solution to a problem caused by government interference in the marketplace is best solved by increasing the size, scope, and intrusiveness of the government; rather, the problem is solved by removing the government barriers to a free market based on voluntary association and exchange.  Or, in more clear language: streamline the process for becoming a legal worker in the United States and either increase the quotas to a number more in line with market demand or remove them altogether.

There are some that argue that we should secure the border first — successfully enforce the current law, then worry about how to change it.  But enforcement of a bad, anti-market law requires a high expenditure of resources that could be used in other areas more efficiently and effectively.  Why waste resources enforcing an inefficient and ineffective law that doesn't reflect the realities of the marketplace?  To suggest such is analogous to advocating that Prohibition should not have ended until all the bootleggers were arrested and the illegal alcohol trade broken up, or saying that we couldn't set more reasonable speed limits until compliance with 55 MPH was attained.  In addition to the waste of resources, enforcement of a bad law breeds contempt for law in general.  Better to change the law to something that makes sense, making enforcement of the law more easily attained and more popularly supported.

Once you have an immigration law that is consistent with market demands, it makes enforcement of the border on security ground much more effective.  If you have a means for people to come here legally that want to do so to work and prosper, there are fewer people sneaking across, and those that are can be reasonably assumed to have some nefarious purpose.  A spring is much easier to divert or dam than a raging river.  There are serious concerns about gangs, illegal drugs, and sex trafficking that are more easily addressed if resources aren't being diluted.

What about E-Verify?  There is a broad reason that I am not a fan, and a personal reason. Let's start with the personal, because it feeds into the bigger picture.  When my sister was signed up for her Social Security card, the Social Security Administration not only gave her a number, they also somehow took my number (which had been issued a couple of years before) and gave it to her too.  I had a Social Security card with my name on it and my SSN, but in the government records it now had her name on both.

This mistake didn't cause any problems until around 1997 or so, when the federal government upgraded their information systems and the IRS database began syncing with the SS database.  My income tax return was kicked back because my SSN and name didn't match.  It took nearly a year of back-and-forth with the Social Security Administration and the IRS to get my tax issue cleared up and my name and information associated with the SSN that I had possessed for over 10 years.

Imagine if E-Verify had been in place when I applied for jobs leading up to my college graduation.  I would have shown up as having confirmation problems.  As mentioned above, it took almost a year to resolve them.  Would companies have given me the benefit of the doubt?  Not if they wanted to comply with E-Verify.  I would have been severely delayed in my job hunting, through no fault of my own and based on a simple mistake by a pencil-pushing government bureaucrat.

It could have been even worse.  Suppose such laws had been in place when I was applying to colleges and scholarships.  My entry into college would have been delayed, and I likely would have lost my scholarships as well.  This would have had an immense impact on my financial well-being for years to come.

Anecdotes typically make for bad policy; however, my own experience with government bureaucracy is consistent with a broader philosophy: the more intrusive the government is, the more likely a bureaucrat is to make a mistake, perhaps a costly one.  Government in general is big, bloated, and inefficient.  I don't particularly trust the government to efficiently and effectively manage a national database of eligible workers any more than I trust them to manage my health care.  As the federal government has gotten more involved in education, our performance has gotten worse. Why would E-Verify be any different than other government programs?

If someone wants to come to this country to work, prosper, and create a better life for himself and his family, I have no problem with that.  The urge to do so is one of our strongest instincts and is the essence of the American Dream.  We need to provide a legal avenue for those who wish to experience that dream.  The best approach to the immigration issue is to create a system that reflects reality, not to throw money at an inadequate one.

Thinking About Taxes

For the website US Daily Review, I have written two articles on taxes and the Obama Administration's efforts to raise them.

The first article deals with capital gains taxes and the so-called "Buffett Rule".

The second article deals with taxes on businesses and the impacts on employees.

I hope you enjoy both.  Unfortunately, these are points that I don't hear often from people opposing these tax increases.  If I were one of the Republican presidential candidates or a member of Congress, every time someone asked me about the tax increases I would ask one question in return:  How are you as an employee better off if your employer has to spend more on taxes?  Or perhaps even this:  Do you think your employer is more or less likely to hire more people or give you a raise if he has to pay more in taxes?  Seems obvious to me...