Friday, November 30, 2007

Questions Regarding Health Care

The United States seems to have the best health care in the world for people at the top of the chain, in the same way that Harvard and Yale are the best in the world in education. But this does not mean that the U.S. has better health care or education, necessarily.

We do know that the United States lags many European and British Commonwealth countries in average life expectancy and average high school scholastic achievement, so it is difficult to be dogmatic about these issues.

Regardless of what one's feeling about national healthcare are, one thing that it does not necessarily have to entail is the destruction of a competing private sector. Hillary Clinton did a huge disservice to her own general idea because many people now believe that any national system now has to be "socialized" and obligatiory as opposed to merely guaranteeing payment.

No matter how much libertarians and Republicans how that this issue is going away, it will not because they have failed to address three facets that the free market cannot adequately remedy:

1. Uninsured children
2. Unavailability of coverage for pre-existing conditions
3. Payment for potentially enormous outlays for coverage of questionable treatment.

The Republican Dream is Over for Libertarians

The title above is derived partly from a song by John Lennon on his first solo album after the Beatles broke up and for many of us who grew up as Republicans and worked for its success for years, hoping to return the nation to its small government foundations, admitting the dream is over comes concomitantly with the turning of one's back on a party that once embodied great hope for many of us freedom-oriented Republicans.

This is not my father's GOP. The days of Goldwater, Ayn Rand, YAF and Ronald Reagan are over and in the words of the immortal Jerry Mathers, they're "not never coming back." Instead, the McCarthyites and Nixonians have won and have completely eradicated libertarian influence in the Republican Party.

Getting over being a Republican can be a bit like leaving the religion one grew up in as a child.

It is not easy to do, but at some point, freedom-oriented people who believe in free markets and not interventionism have to realize that not only is there not much left for them in terms of policy in the GOP, that in actual fact, the party goes out of its way to insult and even antagonize libertarians.

While the Democrats through Daily Kos are saying "come on over, there are things that we can work together on," the GOP essentially thumbs its nose and says, "where else ya gonna go?"

Perhaps the saddest thing is that devoted Republicans worked 60 years to once again be in a position like they had in 2002, where they had a popular president and both houses of Congress. The GOP had the chance at that point to truly change the country. They could have passed a flat tax or abolished the income tax. They could have passed agricultural reform. They could have abolished agencies, starting with the Department of Education. They could have reformed Senior Citizens programs.

What did they do instead? First, they blew their political capital on an unnecessary war.

Then, instead of abolishing the Department of Education, the GOP instead decided to strengthen it, with No Child Left Behind.

Instead of reforming the tax code, they decided to make it even more unwieldy, and thus, all the easier to extract campaign contributions from lobbyists.

Instead of cutting farm aid, they decided to increase it.

Instead of reforming Medicare, they decide to create a new prescription drug program costing trillions of dollars, all the while deriding Democrats who sought to insure poor children as "socialists in favor of socialized medicine."

It is difficult to express just how abhorrently everyone in the GOP behaved during the period between 2002 and 2006. Corruption ran rampant, while the party violated virtually every one of its stated core values, shouting "freedom, freedom," every time they passed another bloated bill. Because they have nothing to stand on, their current presidential primaries have become focused on essentially two items: 1) being pro-war and 2)being anti-immigration. It is quite a come-down from the 1980's, when the GOP was the party of ideas and measured debate. It is now the party of yelling and screaming and know-nothingness and so now it is to the Democrats as the GOP will only continue to slip into oblivion.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Federalist Society

The Federalist Society is something known generally to lawyers and law students but perhaps not to libertarians at large. The group claims to "believe in limited government."

At one time, when economic issues were the paramount libertarian issues in the U.S., the Federalist Society seemed almost libertarian. They promoted debate on issues, books on free markets and their web site declares their purpose as the following:

Our Purpose

* Law schools and the legal profession are currently strongly dominated by a form of orthodox liberal ideology which advocates a centralized and uniform society. While some members of the academic community have dissented from these views, by and large they are taught simultaneously with (and indeed as if they were) the law.

* The Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order. It is founded on the principles that the state exists to preserve freedom, that the separation of governmental powers is central to our Constitution, and that it is emphatically the province and duty of the judiciary to say what the law is, not what it should be. The Society seeks both to promote an awareness of these principles and to further their application through its activities.

* This entails reordering priorities within the legal system to place a premium on individual liberty, traditional values, and the rule of law. It also requires restoring the recognition of the importance of these norms among lawyers, judges, law students and professors. In working to achieve these goals, the Society has created a conservative and libertarian intellectual network that extends to all levels of the legal community.

Nevertheless, during the Bush years, lawyers associated with this group have espoused a whole host of anti-libertarian positions. This is important because according to some, membership in the organization is a sine qua non for being hired by the Bush administration.

To this day, some libertarians still seem to believe that the Federalist Society is a friend of freedom in general, as opposed to mostly being composed of ultra-conservative advocates of capitalism, akin to the Heritage Foundation.

In my experience, I find that the members of this organization are hostile to the libertarian perspective on the 4th Amendment and a whole host of other issues. They are not even particularly sympathetic to federalism, anymore. I find no more kinship with this group than with the GOP in general, for which it is nothing more than a front group.

It basically serves to promote the cramped constitutional thinking of Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia, hardly champions of individual liberty, together with economic liberalism, as opposed to freedom in general. A true advocates of freedom in all its forms, such as William O. Douglas, is scorned because his writings were subtly based on the 9th Amendment and might be used to justify, gasp, abortion.

Yes, the Federalist Society has some freedom oriented publications recommended on their web site, but I see nothing about privacy rights or the fact that the hallowed United States Constitution has resulted in the largest prison system, both per capita and in sum, in the history of the world. Nor does this list appear to have been updated in a long time.

While the Federalists may have at one time been open to libertarian imput, this largely ended in the mid-90s.

I challenge anyone to point out one single Federalist appointee during the Bush administration who has embodied libertarian values in any way shape or form, or to point to any libertarian reforms that resulted from forums the group has advocated. This would be difficult because with a few exceptions for speakers from the Cato Institute, most of the fora involve only conservative speakers. A look at Special Projects, which have been done by the Society shows that virtually every single paper and conclusion therein promotes conservative ideals.

For instance, in the section on International and the War on Terror, libertarian or limited government viewpoints were almost entirely unrepresented, with the vast number of articles and papers offering support for virtually all of the Bush Administration's actions.

The only area where the Society's scholars seem to think the Administration has overstepped, is not surprisingly, with respect to the increasing federal criminalization of corporate crimes. Truly, that must be why the United States has more people in prison per capita than the Soviets ever did; it is because we imprison so many thousands and thousands of CEO's and bank presidents.

It may not be 1984, but there is certainly something truly "doublespeak" about a group that claims to believe in limited government but which seems unable to find anyone willing to write or speak in favor of positions held by vast numbers of libertarians.

Here is someone who is a card-carrying member of this group that I believe embodies its current anti-classical liberal membership:

Private versus Public Education

Are private schools actually better than public schools? While doctrinal purity requires that libertarians argue for them, is there actually authority for the position that they are better by virtue of being private, and not for some other reason?

I believe that this issue is less clear than in virtually all other areas of the economy, for two main reasons. First, education has often been seen as a duty to be undertaken, either by religious authorities or governments, but not as a profit center. Does the Catholic church make money on its parochial schools? I think not. They are subsidized by the church and are often recognized as excellent around the world.

Second, education is something that can often be provided at an extremely low marginal cost. The cost of adding one more student to a class of 500 may be close to zero. Indeed, much of what college students end up paying for has little or nothing to do with the accumulation of scholastic knowledge, which could arguably be acquired for close to free for someone with an inquiring mind dedicated to reading volumes in the library.(Oops, are we allowed to have state-provided libraries?)

Certainly, in the realm of universities, the question of public versus private quality is a dubious proposition. Is Stanford actually better than Berkeley? Is Southern Cal better than UCLA? Many would argue that UVA is superior to its private in-state counterpart, Washington and Lee, but the differences in all these cases seem to be minimal.

As someone who has attended both private and public high schools and universities, it has been difficult for me to perceive many substantive differences not due to either the make-up of the students or the social status of the students' parents.

One of my favorite anomolies of all in this realm of argumentation is that the law department and the economic department of George Mason University have become well known and have been among the foremost in making the argument for private provision and the superiority of the free market: did the students who went to GMU Law make either a poor decision or arguably a statist one in not opting to attend George Washington?

If such students had avoided GMU because it was a state (statist?) school, then the school would have been unlikely to achieve its current reputation as a free market evangelist.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Libertarians versus Conservatives

A friend emailed me the interesting post below by Doug Bandow, stalwart champion of small government values.

Doug, as a recovering Republican for life, I definitely agree with your analysis.

Where I might disagree with the Reagan quote, is that I do not honestly believe that there was ever any earnest desire on the part of most "conservatives" to cut government. Federalism was a tool they used to try to legitimize state-sanctioned racism in the South. Now that those battles are largely over, we have seen essentially zero support for federalism. In fact, prominent conservatives like Bush and Scalia have recently been in the forefront of opposing federalism, although Scalia has hidden behind hyper-technical distinctions.

"Conservatives" were also against welfare, which was perceived as largely going to minorities, but they love virtually ever other type of government hand out, except for health care for children.

Maybe someone can explain to me why it is a "conservative" value to give children federal vouchers for local schools, and to provide federal medicare prescription drug benefits for seniors but it is a "socialist" idea to give children federally-provided or assisted health care?

Of course, we all know what the answer is: Doctors and drug companies and HMO's are good, while teacher unions are bad.

I am definitely bitter, because I believe that these cretins used libertarians for years and delivered essentially zero to us in terms of policy. No, I do not consider captial gain tax cuts that do not apply to savings accounts to be libertarian, but rather just another type of government meddling, and there is not a single other accomplishment from the last 7 years that could remotely be described as libertarian.

The GOP is currently a coalition of big business (some, like Larry Kudlow, claim to be libertarians, but their fetish for war, targeted tax cuts and easy money puts paid to that notion), together with pro-war types who are too busy and important to serve in the military themselves, and moral crusaders who know what is right and wrong and are all too ready to shove it down the rest of our throats but there is no longer any type of intellectual cohesion to the Party's core beliefs.

As the moral element gains more and more influence in the party, the Big Business types are beginning to feel uncomfortable and are beginning to flee--after all, the anti-intellectualism and carping moralism of the busybody social conservatives are not a whole lot of fun at a cocktail party. Rush Limbaugh has become a real bore since he quit the good stuff and he was about the only life in the Party, although ahem, quite a step down from the erudite William Buckley, who inspired many with his cutting and clever remarks.

Today's GOP replaces "cutting and clever" erudition with screaming and shouting and personal attacks. There is very little in the current GOP coalition which is anything but vile and corrupt to its very core and I don't buy the fatuous argument that the Republicans are better than the alternative, which is generally made without much authority to support it.

If someone actually believes in and cares about freedom, 4 questions suffice to show that the Democrats are a far better alternative to the GOP.

Which party supports some forms of torture?

Which party supports a crabbed notion of privacy and freedom under the 4th Amendment?

Which party supports increasing the War on Drugs?

Which party supports rampant military interventionism around the world to a far greater degree?

Thus, I am now a Democrat. Maybe they will at least be willing to throw us libertarians a bone or two. The GOP sure never did.

Getting a Reasonable Picture on an HDTV Set

Most cable and satellite programming looks lackluster on an HDTV set and it will still be a while before most shows are available at a reasonable cost in HDTV. HBO and Showtime, for example are way behind in even providing properly formatted movies in 16:9, much less in High Definition.

One way to get some of the extra value out of that set whose abilities are being under-utilized is to use it more often for DVD viewing.

While DVD's are not up to HDTV quality, they can match what is known as EDTV quality, if but only if they are viewed on an HD- or EDTV with a DVD player using progressive scan technology (i.e., DVD players made in the last couple of years)and if hooked up via three component video cables or one HDMI cable.

Some of the newer and better HDTV's may actually be able to implement the progressive scan themselves, although results vary. Some of the cheaper sets may improve by using a progressive scan-equipped DVD player. This is a bit like Dolby technology, where you need to have it at least in one place in the chain, but some components implement Dolby better perhaps than others.

Nevertheless, this visual improvement of DVD's to EDTV quality is possible only provided that one's DVD players are hooked up properly.

Check your cables--almost no one uses the 3 component RCA cables necessary to pass the signal--in total, it is necessary to use at least five RCA cables, including two for at least two channels of audio depending upon your audio set-up, to pass the EDTV signal to a HDTV set. Using S-video or three component cables will not suffice.