My Own Pie

Libertarian Thoughts from Renaissance Guy

Archive for July 2010

The Distribution of Wealth

with 2 comments

     I will be the first one to admit that the world’s resources are unevenly distributed.  A more accurate way to say it is that people are unevenly distributed.  On one end of the spectrum is a person born into a wealthy family in an area where it is easy to make a living.  On the other end is a person born into a poor family where there is hardly any opportunity at all.  That situation stinks.

     However, there is no point in blaming anyone for that situation.  If one believes in God, I suppose you could lay the blame for the disparity at God’s feet.  Otherwise, you have nobody to blame.  There’s no evil king of the world who dictates where people live or who is going to be born where.  There is no cabal that decided that certain people would be born on Fifth Avenue while other people are born in Harlem.

     All sorts of historical events put people where they are in the world today.  Nobody has control over where they are born or over the socio-economic status of their parents and their extended family.  If a person is born to a farming family in Mexico, that’s the hand that he has been dealt–just as much by fate as a poker player’s hand is dealt to him.

     People do have choice later in their life.  I know a man from El Salvador.  He came to America for what he considers a better life.  He became a physical therapist and works at the center where my son is having therapy for his knee.  It wasn’t easy for him to immigrate or to work his way through school.  I admire him very much.  At the optical center where my daughters got their new glasses, I met a man from Ghana with virtually the same story.  I was pleased to congratulate him when his soccer team beat the United States team in the World Cup tournament.

     When people talk about uneven distribution of resources or uneven distribution of wealth, I am dumbfounded.  They seem to be under the impression that there is somebody who sits over a big store of resources or money, as though it is a giant apple pie, and decides how much to give each person.  This imaginary pie server gave Donald Trump a great big piece of the pie and gave my acquaintances from El Salvador and Ghana just a tiny little crumb.  Then they say that things are “unfair.”  If somebody is giving out money, then it is unfair for that person to give it out in unequal amounts, all other things being equal.

     Wealth is not a giant pie in some magical pantry.  Wealth must be created by people.  Oprah Winfrey created wealth from her talent as a talk show host.  Bill Gates created wealth from his technological skill.  They did not sit around waiting for somebody to dish them up a piece of the mythical pie.  They made their own pies, and by lots of ingenuity and lots of hard work, they made some very big pies.  Both of them have cheerfully shared their pies with people who did not have as much.  I admire them for that.  However, I do not admire anyone who believes that they somehow owed it to others to share their wealth.  If it was owed, then the value of their donations goes down.  What makes their philanthropy so admirable is that they voluntarily chose to share even when nobody was compelling them to do so.

      One could argue that Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates, among others,  should “give back.”  Perhaps they feel that way themselves.  For my part, I would have preferred that they charge people a whole lot less for their products in the first place.  I would have been happy to pay less for my Microsoft programs.  I don’t watch Oprah Winfrey, but I suspect that her sponsors would have been happy to pay less, and their customers might have enjoyed the cost savings on those products.  (I did enjoy Oprah’s acting in the The Color Purple.)  After all, did either one of them need billions of dollars?

     Some folks believe that it would be a good thing to even things up.  President Obama, when he was running for president, told Joe the Plumber that he wanted to spread the wealth around.  There is so much wrong with that goal, and it is so obviously wrong that I cannot understand how anyone could support it.

     I understand the desire to help those in need.  I have felt the desire and have acted on it–at a greater percentage than many of our politicians who espouse “helping the poor.”  As I wrote above, I think it stinks that such huge disparities exist in the world between the haves and the have-nots.

     There are only two ways to make things even, or closer to even.  One is by people voluntarily sharing what they have.  The other is by people being forced to give away what they have. 

     The problem with forcing people to share, is that somebody has to do the forcing.  There can be no forced redistribution of wealth without somebody doing the forcing, and who has the right to do that?  The state has the right to tax people to pay the President and his cabinet, to pay for interstate roads, to build office buildings for members of Congress, and to meet a whole host of legitimate expenses.  In essence it is “the people” contributing toward their own government.  However, the state has no right to take people’s money for the purpose of handing it out to other people.

     If a man in a mask demands money from a bank, we call it a crime.  If a man in a suit votes to confiscate your money to give away, we call it a tax.  Essentially there is no difference.  One of them looks more respectable, but it amounts to the same thing, morally speaking.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 29, 2010 at 2:52 am

Watch your Mouth

with 2 comments

     This post is an entry in the blog contest responding to the new book, New Threats to Freedom edited by Adam Bellow. The contest is open to all and further information can be found here.

————————————————————–

     Speech codes on college campuses are one of the biggest threats to freedom in the United States today.  They are, on their face, contrary to the right to free speech.

     The University of Wisconsin has a speech code, but it is not alone.  The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education discovered 270 institutions of higher learning that have speech codes in 2010. 

     Isn’t it sad that there even has to be a foundation tracking these First Amendment violations?

      Before you tell me that free speech is not absolute, let me grant that point.  I agree with court rulings that some kinds of speech should not be permitted.  These things have been hashed out already–no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater, no slander, no libel, no harassment, and no fighting words. 

     Speech codes do not prohibit only those excepted categories of speech.  Bryn Mawr’s speech code, for instance, prohibits “offensive or degrading remarks.”  In direct contradiction, the same policy document states that “[t]he College is firmly committed to academic and professional excellence and to freedom of inquiry and expression for all members of the College community.”

     Don’t get me wrong.  I am not defending or excusing offensive or degrading remarks.  I am defending the right to make such remarks without fear of official reprisal.  I am sure that the Founding Fathers of the United States had some choice names for King George III that were offensive and degrading, and that is exactly the right that they codified in the First Amendment–the right to say things that somebody else, especially somebody in power, finds offensive.

     Since speech codes offend me, shouldn’t somebody be punished for instituting them?

     One problem with speech codes is that they give power to the “offended” party.  If somebody were to say that musicians are stupid, I would find it offensive, as I am an amateur musician.  A speech code would allow me to use the power of the college administrators to get back at the person who offended me.  Honestly, it’s a lot like childhood tattling.  Honestly, it does not harm me in the least to hear somebody say that musicians are stupid.  I learned long ago that comments like that say more about the speaker than about their target.  College students are certainly old enough to learn that lesson.

     In my example, the remark was clearly derogatory; however, speech codes, by their vagueness, could result in worse violations of rights.  I could be offended because somebody says that they admire Che Guevara.   Shouldn’t that person have the right to admire him and to express that admiration?  Then what right do I have to use the power of the university leaders to punish that person because I am offended?  The Constitution does not guarantee that people will never be offended.

     Many people believe that professors, who are employees of universities, should have intellectual  and academic freedom.  How much more so should the students, who are essentially the customers? 

     For the sake of freedom, speech codes should be abolished.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 23, 2010 at 4:06 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

To Be Fair

with 4 comments

     I’m sure that all parents have been through it.  My parents certainly have.  I have been through it as a parent.  I assume that either you put your own parents through it or your children put you through it or both.

     It usually comes in a nasally, high-pitched voice and is accompanied by folded arms and pouty lips.  “It’s not fair!” the “wounded” child exclaims.

     Taking my cue from a couple of parents whom I greatly admire, I decided to deal with the claim of unfairness by teaching my children the true meaning of the word fair.  I made a poster with the word and its definition to put on the wall and referred to it whenever the whiny accusation was thrown at their mother or me.

     FAIR:  when each person gets exactly what he or she deserves by his or her own merit or as a result of his or her own effort.

     We had numerous discussions about the implications and applications of that definition.  Because we recognize that children are self-centered, we usually couched it in terms of themselves:

     What should happen if somebody hits you?  (Answer:  They should apologize and be punished.)  In that case, you shoud accept that if you lose your temper and hit somebody, you must apologize and take your punishment.

     What should happen if somebody was willing to help you clean up your room?  (Answer:  I should give them something as a reward for helping me.)  Then do not get upset if one of your siblings gets paid for a chore that they did.  If you do extra chores, you will also get paid. 

     We told them that if Mom of Dad really do something unfair, we are willing to hear them out, and if they are right, to apologize and make amends.  However, Mom and I were not willing to hear them whine or see them pout.  We would evaluate each case as it arose, according to the definition of fairness that we posted.

     If G said, “It’s not fair that V got to watch that video and I didn’t,” then we said, “Wait a minute.  We promised the video as a reward for cleaning your room.  V cleaned her room, but you did not.  Therefore, you are each getting what you deserve.  Therefore, it is fair.”

     If E said, “It’s not fair that you promised me some ice cream but didn’t give me any.”  We said, “Oops!  You’re right.  If you were promised ice cream, then it’s fair for us to give it to you.  We messed up.  We’ll go and get you some right now.”

     I’m afraid that a lot of adults still have an inaccurate view of fairness.  They think it means having things turn out to their advantage, rather than having each person what he or she deserves by his or her own merits or effort.  I have been told that it is unfair for some people to be poor while other people are rich.  Well, yes and no.

     It is unfair for a person to be poor because somebody else tricked them out of their money or failed to compensate them for labor that they performed.  It is not unfair for a person to be poor because that person has chosen not to work or has chosen to waste his or her money on drugs or gambling.  It is unfair, in a vast, cosmic sense, for a person to be poor because that person was born with a disability or because that person tried really hard but outside forces caused them to fail.  In that case, such a person should receive our compassion and help.  It is not unfair for a person to be poor if that person tries one harebrained scheme after another or loses one job after another due to a bad attitude.  (I know people like that; in fact, I am related to some people like that.)

     It is unfair for a person to become rich by scamming other people or by simple stealing.  It is not unfair for a person to become rich by inventing something useful and charging people money to purchase it.  It is unfair for a person to become rich by exploiting or oppressing other people or by taking bribes or by extortion or by embezzlement.  It is not unfair for a person to become rich by impressing his employers so much that they give him or her promotions and bonuses.  It is unfair, in a cosmic sense, for a person to become rich simply by inheriting wealth from his or her ancestors.  Then again, it is perfectly fair for wealthy people to pass on their wealth to their children, if they wish to do so.  It is not unfair for a person to open a business and impress his or her customers so much that the business makes huge profits.

     Before we throw around loaded words like fair and unfair, we should think really carefully about what they mean.  Actually, we should think about the concepts behind the words, and what they actually are.  We should not just act childishly and whine, if things don’t go our way, “It’s not fair.”

Written by ambrosianideas

July 21, 2010 at 12:35 am

Posted in Miscellaneous

A Big Shift

with 4 comments

     Something very important has happened, and as near as I can tell it has happened gradually over the last ten years.  I think you could trace its roots much farther back, but the culmination has been very recent.

     The something I am referring to is a shift in the way right-leaning and left-leaning individuals discuss the role of government, particularly the role of the executive branch of government.  Have you noticed the same thing?

     During the 1980’s and 1990’s it was common for conservatives in politics and in the media to argue that government should be limited.  The less government, the better was the approach.  Because liberals, naturally, argued that government was needed to solve all societal and even individual problems. 

     Now, however, it is very common to hear so-called conservatives arguing with liberals about what the government should do, instead of arguing about whether the government should do anything at all. 

     Take the debate about health care.  Many prominent politicians and pundits on the right admitted that the American health care “system” had problems.  They suggested ways that the government could fix those problems–ways that differed from the ways proposed by those on the left.  They simply assumed that the government had some role to play in the matter.

     The assuming is what bothers me the most.  It seems that most people in America assume that the government should do something about societal problems.  Many people now even assume that the government should do something about individual problems, as well.  It seems not to occur to most people that there is another option, which is for the government to do nothing.

     That is why, I believe, we need a third way more than ever.  Members of the general public need to be exposed to another option besides the government’s either doing what the rightists propose or doing what the leftists propose.  People need to hear that it’s possible for the government to simply butt out and to allow people to be free.

     Some of the details of this shift are that people. . .

  1. . . .mistakenly regard the  presidency as a sort of monarchy.  They expect the president to unilaterally solve problems.  They do not see him as the head of a branch of government that is limited by checks and balances imposed by the other two branches.
  2. . . .mistakenly believe that rights are granted by “the government.”  The founders of the United States believed that people naturally had rights and that government leaders must recognize and respect those rights.  In fact, they saw individual rights as imposing limits on the government, not the other way around.
  3. . . .mistakenly ascribe almost total power to the national level of government.  The Tenth Amendment indicates that all powers not already granted to the national government still belong to the states or to the people themselves.  After decades of having the national government dictate state and local policy, because they hold the purse strings, people seem to have accepted this arrangement as normal and even necessary.

     I see this shift most alarmingly in the knee-jerk reaction of people on the street and on television whenever a problem arises.  A natural disaster strikes?  They ask, “What is the government going to do about it?”  Unemployment rises?  They say, “The president had better create more jobs.” 

     I have seen it, sad to say, in individuals I know who used to be suspicious of big government.  It’s a shame and a pity.

Written by ambrosianideas

July 11, 2010 at 5:43 am