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Let’s Not Confuse Equality and Fairness

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-06-13 19:56:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

With this opening statement in our nation’s Declaration of Independence, its 56 signers, represented by such great minds as Benjamin Franklin, John Hancock, and John Adams, established a core founding principle for what was to become a new nation; a nation different in its beliefs, values and government structure than any other at the time.

As is the case with many words in the English language, the word “equality” lacks certain precision and has historically been interpreted through different lenses. For example, mathematical equality assures sameness in quantity, but does not ascribe value to the equal results. An equal amount of rain having fallen over a rain forest and over a desert, although mathematically equivalent in volume, does not produce an equal effect. Nor is the magnificence of Niagara Falls’ cascade of water the same as that of a lazy river flowing through the plains, though again the volumes of water may be equal.

Equality as a doctrine in the 18th century was indeed a revolutionary concept. Not since the ancient Greek and Minoan cultures has equality been written into a societal code of beliefs. So therefore, the opportunity to build a new nation on such beliefs was in and of itself a revolutionary step forward.

In order to understand the intentions of our founding fathers, we have to understand the psychology of the times in which this concept of equality was being presented. Indeed, we need to use the prism of an 18th century intellectual to affix the proper meaning to the word. In particular we know that such prism would filter out any notions of equality in the context of modern day social systems such as welfare or affirmative action.

A reasonable and arguably most credible interpretation of the founding fathers intended meaning of equality is one where the goal of equality is defined as one of opportunity and not necessarily of results (or outcome). This is fundamental, in that it underscores the principle of giving each individual an equal opportunity to improve his own state but does not mandate that the results of such efforts be held to the same standard of equality as for others. In fact, an argument can be made that enforcing equality of results is fundamentally unfair in that it unjustly rewards low performance and is eerily akin to Marx’s “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs” formulation, which would not be written until 100 years later (1875, Critique of the Gotha Program). The distinction between opportunity and results equality was recently taken up and extensively discussed by British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson at the 2009 Fabian Conference at the Imperial College in London.

In our modern society we can observe countless examples of divergence from the principle of equality of results.

  1. Affirmative action, previously mentioned, is perhaps the most glaring example of the up-side-down interpretation of equality, where results trump all other objectives – a starkly Marxist construct indeed
  2. Progressive taxation, though widely accepted as fair and equitable, in fact is not ubiquitously fair as it creates disincentives to higher productivity and redistributes the output of the individual’s labor to those who have not contributed to its creation
  3. Compensation pay grade systems such as within the government and many older companies, where rewards are defined within pay scale boundaries, regardless of the value of an individual’s contribution

A society which does not respect equality of its citizens is frail and cannot sustain itself indefinitely without the degeneration of its social fabric, inevitably leading to massive resentment of government and eventually social unrest. By misinterpreting our founders’ meaning of equality, we are at risk of steering our social policies toward the statist objectives of government welfare and control over our means and our lives. Our Constitution is a finely tuned and time proven instrument of democratic government with ideals interwoven such that in concert they support and amplify each other’s meaning and value. A misinterpretation or misapplication of one of these fundamental ideals not only diminishes its individual value, but also jeopardizes the document’s role as a compilation of our guiding values.

Next time you’re engaged in a discussion with someone who is justifying their position with arguments of equality, make sure to ask them: “What do you mean?”

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We welcome your comments and suggestions, either directly inline, or via email to editor@nakedliberty.com. If you would like to have your article published in Naked Liberty, please contact the editor at the above email address.

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On the Health Care System We Aspire To

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-06-24 12:22:44. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Today I got a call from my Mom. She and my Dad both live in the city I was born in – Warsaw, Poland. They are both elderly and live off of a government pension akin to the US social security system. The reason she called was to let me know of an excruciating pain she has recently been suffering from, resulting from a progressively degenerative neurological condition in her wrist. As all Poles are, she is entitled to free medical care in government health care facilities under the country’s universal health care insurance program. Trying to get help for her condition, she has visited with several general practitioners covered under her free plan, all of whom admit she needs to see a specialist. The last one finally crafted a referral for her and she is now scheduled to see a neurologist … in three months. Ouch !

Her options now include continuing to suffer the intolerable pain for the next 3 months or pay out of pocket to see a private specialist. The fee for a consultation with a neurologist in private practice exceeds two months of her pension income, but under the circumstances she will have to do just that. The costs of any resulting treatments, if not covered under the government health care plan, may have a devastating financial effect on her and my dad’s retirement lifestyle.

My parents could have opted to purchase private health care insurance coverage which provides access to services in private hospitals and clinics with the most skilled specialists but, because the government program is so dominant and pervasive, the cost of the private alternative is beyond the reach of most middle-class Poles. As a result, it is accessible to only the most affluent (or motivated by dire circumstances and lacking other options) individuals.

Interestingly enough, in many European countries the Polish medical system as a whole is actually touted as one of the better and when compared with the British system in particular, it receives accolades for efficiency and quality of care. What is underscored is the diminishing role of the public plan option and the progressively increasing percentage of services being offered under private insurance. The availability and increasing popularity of the private health care option is viewed with envy. A good summary of these changes in the Polish medical system can be found in this article from CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal). With this shift, as more competition is introduced in the private sector and the dominance of the government program is lessened (or eliminated), my mom might yet one day be able to afford a private insurance plan and access to the highly skilled medical professionals in Poland, heretofore not accessible to her under her existing plan and her present means.

But in the US exactly the opposite direction is being proposed. There can be very little doubt, and certainly countless examples of dysfunctional government programs across Europe and other countries serve as an example, that a private health care system necessarily offers superior services at a competitive price. As I have written in a prior Naked Liberty article on the Dangers of Comparative Effectiveness, instead of experimenting with proven failed systems, the US should adopt targeted approaches to improving those parts of our current system which offer opportunities for improvement, such as for example the implementation of a national electronic medical records system and tax incentives to support wellness and health awareness.

What’s being proposed is like trading in your comfortable and dependable SUV for a Yugo just because you happened to have gotten a flat tire. Let’s fix the tire and get on with our lives without any more government intervening in it.

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Quotation of the Day:

“We should manage our fortunes as we do our health – enjoy it when good, be patient when it is bad, and never apply violent remedies except in an extreme necessity.“

Francois de La Rochefoucauld (1613 – 1680)

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We welcome your comments and suggestions, either directly inline, or via email to editor@nakedliberty.com. If you would like to have your article published in Naked Liberty, please contact the editor at the above email address.

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Know Your America – The 16th Amendment

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-08-09 22:28:43. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

norbertatwork2by Norbert Sluzewski
Editor
NakedLiberty.com
August 9, 2009

In the late 18th century a truly unprecedented series of events were occurring on the American continent. A juxtaposition of historical events never aligned as then, presented a unique opportunity for the young American colonies to embark on a new social experiment never heretofore tried on the scale of a nation. The circumstances were unique and the time was right to seed the experiment. And never was the chance of its success greater than at that time.

The young American colonies were determined to create a nation out of the principles which brought their citizens to this continent in the first place. These principles included fundamental rights in which the colonists believed so strongly that they left their ancestral homes, families and countries to support and ultimately defend. Foremost among these rights was the right that citizens should determine the makeup of their government and that no government should place its needs ahead of those of the citizens’.

Most of the colonists were adamantly opposed to a central form of government. Their experiences, after all, vividly recollected the injustice and excesses of the governments which they fled. So afraid were they of recreating another monarchy or oligarchy, that most would choose anarchy over any form of central government. As a result the colonist’s first attempt to create a form of governance was a weak alliance of states codified in the Articles of Confederation, the final draft of which became the de-facto constitution in 1777 (finally ratified in 1781). The Articles placed all governing power in the hands of the individual states, with only specific and very limited provisions delegated to the Confederation. These included, among others, the right to wage wars, negotiate treaties and resolve territorial disputes.

 

The shortcomings of the Articles (lack of central taxing authority, inequalities between the influence of large and small states, etc.) were soon exposed and an effort to create a federated type of central government was undertaken.

A remarkable group of statesmen (the Federalists) emerged to lay the foundation of this new government structure, one which would preserve the authority of the states, while giving enough power to the central core so that it could effectively act as a national government. These principles were assembled into a document which on June 21, 1788 was signed to become the US Constitution.

But what was most remarkable about the Constitution’s structure was that it created no single source of power. With the distribution of authority among the executive, legislative and judicial branches, this distributed structure of checks and balances recognized an inherent human flaw that:

If given the opportunity to avail himself of excesses,
man inevitably will.

Even the most benevolent monarchy or dictatorship eventually succumbs to this flaw. The Founders uniquely understood this and sought to establish a Republic in which no single man, group, state or other entity could dominate or unduly influence the direction of the nation.

The Constitution survived and remained largely unchanged into the first decade of the 20th century. During this time the American experiment had grown to become hugely successful and the United States of America became the most prosperous nation in the world, envied for the liberty and freedom that its citizens enjoyed. The Federation survived every test of its Founding Principles. Amendments to the Constitution throughout this period were carefully crafted to not upset these Principles. That is, until the 16th Amendment in 1913, which established the central government’s right to tax the income of citizens (previously this right was reserved to the states).

The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

While until then various taxes were levied in support of specific government initiatives (e.g. the Revenue Act of 1861 levied a 3% tax on high-wealth citizens to fund the Civil War), these would be repealed upon completion of the initiative. The 16th Amendment for the first time institutionalized the government’s right to collect income taxes. The rate was innocently set at 1% of incomes above $3,000 and 6% surcharge for incomes above $500K.

The federal income tax quickly became eye candy for politicians looking for funding to support their favorite programs. And the government as a whole saw it as a cash machine from which funding for social programs, wars, and other initiates could be secured. To no surprise, by 1918, five years after the 16th Amendment was ratified, the top income tax rate skyrocketed to 77%. During his presidency Franklin D. Roosevelt even tried (but failed) to impose a 100% rate on incomes above $25,000 to fund the war effort. Through the 1960’s the marginal tax bracket stayed at 90% and it wasn’t until the administration of Ronald Reagan which reduced the top rates to 28%.

To no surprise to any free market capitalist, history shows that the performance of the stock markets, the rate of employment, size of the GDP and other measures of national prosperity all positively and directly correlate to the rate of taxation. The wealth of America, its prestige around the world, our ability to extend the experiment in liberty which our Founders blessed us with, all has been affected, and in fact jeopardized by the enactment of the 16th Amendment. I will write about other reforms (e.g. immigration), which have also had significant detrimental impact, in an upcoming new article.

The enactment of the 16th Amendment significantly changed the character of the American experiment. It took a big bite out of the forbidden fruit that is influence over wealth distribution. One of our founding freedoms — that the fruits of our labor should be ours to enjoy and dispense with according to our own conscience and convictions — has been trampled on without recourse and consideration. This is perhaps one of the most fundamental liberties we as Americans have enjoyed and expect it to have been protected by the very Constitution which the 16th Amendment has trampled.

Some argue that the Constitution is an “ancient” document written by men of times long passed; that progress necessitates changes, and that we should no more look to our Constitution for answers as we would to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs for ways to build our skyscrapers. To those I say, give me something better to replace it with. Give me a different anchor to which we can moor our society. And let not that anchor float with the current, but let it stand firm and withstand the storms of progress and uncertainty that is by definition the future. While you ponder this, ponder also where do you get the audacity to think that you have the wisdom and motivation to frame this new society you think you want. While your motivation is political survival, each of our Founding Fathers risked his life and limb to give to us their wisdom and experience.

Until you show me this new anchor, I’ll stick to my Constitution – thank you very much.

And remember also that only a fool accepts change for its novelty.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Norbert Sluzewski is a columnist and editor of NakedLiberty.com
He lives in Connecticut

Article may be reprinted with attribution.


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It’s All About Common Sense

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-09-01 22:54:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Thomas Paine.
Image via Wikipedia

August 23, 2009

Each and every day a child is born into a world of truths and lies, rights and wrongs, haves and wants.  From its first breath, it is conditioned to understand the forces of action and reaction, the relationship between wanting and getting, and how to manipulate the circumstances to best serve its needs. Whether it’s crying to receive its milk or copping a smile to get a hug, the child quickly begins to understand how to acquire material and non-material things.

Our mind is conditioned to think in terms of acquisitions and possessions. It is human nature and, just like with any other emotion, there too is an emotion attached to one’s possessions. The value of one’s possessions (regardless of whether they are material, like a home or a car, or non-material, like professional respect or rich family traditions) is directly related to the effort exerted in obtaining them. The depth of the emotion attached to these possessions is similarly directly correlated to this effort, as well as their value.  The three form an inextricable triad which is deeply rooted in human nature and natural law. From this simple observation, a basic conclusion about the human condition can be summarized as follow:

Your happiness is directly related to the value of the wealth (material and non-material) you’ve created and the effort you’ve contributed in creating it.

When we are first taught to play in the sandbox, we are told not to take the other children’s toys. Why? Because first of all those toys don’t belong to us – we haven’t earned the right to have them. Secondly, it would make the other children sad, since that for which they likely had to do something to get (i.e. earn it), would be unjustly taken away from them. It’s just common sense, isn’t it?

value-effort-happiness

But some time very soon after the sandbox stage in a child’s development, these nascent links and deep-rooted relationships between ownership, effort and happiness begin to be eaten away. In the home this happens through parents who too easily accept the commercial media version of the world and who are not willing (or intellectually able) to espouse the basic principles of natural law and individual responsibility onto their offspring.   Outside the home the society takes over with incongruent representations of the real world, manifested in attitudes such as:

  • debt is good (and you don’t really have to pay it all back)
  • your mistakes are everyone else’s problem
  • less capable does not mean less deserving
  • every effort is just as good as any other, and should deserve the same outcome (i.e. it’s the effort that counts)
  • opportunity should not be equally apportioned, but instead should be skewed toward those who need it most, even (or particularly) if at the expense of those who can produce a better outcome from such opportunity

Does that make sense? Is a society which has these as its principles efficient, fair, equitable and sustainable?

Clearly, the answer must be “no,” since each violates one or more basic laws of human behavior and indeed common sense. Yet over the better part of the 20th century the American society has adopted and inculcated each of these values into its daily life and its government, media and cultural centers continue to promote even greater departures from the basic principles which make up the human behavioral DNA.

A modern society which is based on principles of liberty and freedom cannot at the same time be one which imposes unnatural laws and ordinances on its citizens. It is not, as most progressive liberals would like to see, a place and time where all are guaranteed an equal outcome, regardless of their individual contribution.  It certainly cannot be one which irresponsibly uses its financial and human resources and violates the most basic principles of supply/demand economics.

Like the sea farer that knows the immovable nature of the stars and how they provide him guidance to navigate the stormy waters, so too a modern society must have its anchor in tried and tested core founding principles. And this is particularly true in a world where change is occurring at increasing speed and where losing its national compass, a society risks eternal disorientation in the sea of conflict and divergence.

In his 1776 political pamphlet “Common SenseThomas Paine looks at the political systems of his time, the monarchy, the British parliament, commons and constitution and questions many of the prevailing ideas of the role of government and its relationship to the citizens. In so doing he applies a rigorous discipline of logic and of common sense, and exposes nonsensical laws and political traditions. Most constitutional historians agree that this scrutiny and deep analysis of the British system of government at the time made a significant impact on the writing of the United States Constitution.

We could say that much common sense was applied by the authors of the American Constitution in formulating the principles of our founding. We know that because of its common sense it has withstood the test of time.

Each time we step away from these guiding principles, we lose one more star in the sky to guide us by.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Article may be published with attribution to the author and the NakedLiberty.com web site

Article is Copyrighted (c) 2009, XCIOS, LLC

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The Lobbyist Does Not Speak the Peoples’ Voice

Posted on 10 April 2011 by Editor

Originally posted 2009-07-23 21:55:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

The Constitution lays the foundation for a relationship between the people and their government. This relationship is, to a significant degree, founded on the trust that each citizen places with their elected representatives. These representatives, whether local, regional or national, by being elected to their posts, accept the responsibility of supporting their constituents’ ideals, goals and principles. They become servants of the people, an extension of their individual voices in the collective government they comprise.

There is a game we used to play as kids called “echo,” where each player would whisper something in their neighbor’s ear, who in turn would whisper what they thought they heard to their neighbor, and so on. Inevitably, a humorous concoction of snippets of the original sentence would emerge at the end of the line. A completely innocent game of listening and interpretation, with each player having only one objective – to relay the message with as much accuracy as possible. Even with only three players – a source, middle and recipient – very rarely would the recipient receive the original message intact.

Now let’s inject an agenda into the game. How would the outcome be affected if the middle player was induced by the school bully to distort the message and to influence the recipient’s apprehension of the original message’s content? Surely meaning would be lost. In the innocence of the game, one might even ascribe humor to the outcome. But what if the stakes were higher, much higher?

In the dynamics of communications between the people and their government, a highly biased and results-motivated middle man agent is injected. He is called The Lobbyist and he enters directly into the path of the people’s voice. His intentions are indeed highly motivated. His agenda has nothing to do with accurately communicating the people’s voice. His intentions are in fact highly distortive to the communications process.

Most sources attribute the birth of the Lobbyist to the administration of Ulysses S. Grant. Grant would often walk to lobby of the Willard Hotel not far from the White House to enjoy his favorite cigars. His routine was quickly picked up by politicians who would find this time a perfect opportunity to solicit him with special requests for support of various matters. The term “lobbyist” emerged from these interactions.

Political lobbying has historically been regarded as an “unclean” activity, shunned away from by most politicians who otherwise prided themselves on the purity of their intentions and reputation. This attitude changed dramatically in the 1980’s as political lobbying became more and more lucrative (and thereby corrupted), and professional lobbying firms sprouted all across the political landscape, backed by large enterprises and their financial sponsorship of various causes. According to a Washington Post article, “The number of registered lobbyists in Washington has more than doubled since 2000 to more than 34,750 while the amount that lobbyists charge their new clients has increased by as much as 100 percent. Only a few other businesses have enjoyed greater prosperity in an otherwise fitful economy.”

In the first 2 weeks in office President Obama nominated 17 professional lobbyists to several key advisory positions in his administration. These included Eric Holder as attorney general, Tom Vilsack as secretary of agriculture, William Lynn as deputy defense secretary, and fourteen others. Notwithstanding his campaign promise to keep his administration clean of ex-lobbyists, he continues to follow, with perhaps even more vigor than his predecessors, the practice of surrounding himself with influence-peddling bureaucrats. As HotAir.com points out, the president has conspicuously offered himself “For Sale” to all interested (and willing to pay-to-play) interest groups, and his actions since then, including the scandalous deal with the UAW in connection with the GM bailout, are a testament to the fact that he is indeed a player.

Are all lobby activities necessarily bad? Don’t lobbyists sometimes also represent the people’s interest on important issues? Doesn’t the NRA, for example, do good work on behalf of citizens concerned about protecting the 2nd Amendment of our Constitution (our right to keep and bear arms)? What about the lobbies that work to protect the rights of the underprivileged, to protect our borders, to promote education?

Inasmuch as many such lobby organizations may be motivated by righteous ideals, the institution of the lobby system is by its own formulation corrupt. When influence is bought with currency, if not directly into a politician’s pocket, then through the barter of monetize-able influences, good intentions are quickly polluted by commercial transactions and ethical compromises. The lobbyist necessarily becomes the undesirable relay agent a political game of Echo, placing himself in line of the people’s communication path with their government.

In a government “of the People, by the People and for the People” (Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address) there is no place for a translator of the people’s voice in government. Our elected representatives are our channel of communication. With the rise in the influence of the lobbyist, it seems we’ve empowered a commercially incentivized third party to interpret our voice. And while our elected representatives have become too lazy to directly listen to our needs and calls for action, the lobbyist-translated messages do not reflect our original interests, meaning and intent.

There is increasing peril in allowing our representative form of government to continue to be warped by the influences that a financially motivated and ethically tainted system of lobby influences has on our relationship with our government. While attempts to reform the present system by imposing registration requirements, disclosing contributions and other transparency measures are a good first start (see Ethics and Lobbying Reform Act of 2006 and Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2007, they fall far short of tangibly reducing the influence the lobby industry has on the activities of our government and re-connecting the people back to their elected representatives.

If our elected officials want our respect, trust and vote, then engage with us in a real and direct dialog without the middle man. Playing “echo” was fun when we were kids. Now let’s grow up and take responsibility for having a serious, adult conversation.

Mr. Government Representative – please look me straight in the eyes, listen to me and tell me what you stand for. You might be surprised to find out that I might actually believe you.


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