When Did Freedom Become an Orphan?

This election season, both the left and right promise big government

We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom.—Barry Goldwater, accepting the 1964 Republican presidential nomination

This year's Republican National Convention had a different theme for each day. Monday was "Serving a Cause Greater than Self." Tuesday was "Service," Wednesday was "Reform," and Thursday was "Peace."

So what was missing? Only what used to be held up as the central ideal of the party. The heirs of Goldwater couldn't spare a day for freedom.

Neither could the Democrats. Their daily topics this year were "One Nation," "Renewing America's Promise," and "Securing America's Future." The party proclaimed "an agenda that emphasizes the security of our nation, strong economic growth, affordable health care for all Americans, retirement security, honest government, and civil rights." Expanding and upholding individual liberty? Not so much.

Forty-four years after Goldwater's declaration, it's clear that collectivism, not individualism, is the reigning creed of Republicans as well as Democrats. Individuals are not valuable and precious in their own right but as a means for those in power to achieve their grand ambitions.

You will scour the presidential nominees' acceptance speeches in vain for any hint that your life is rightfully your own, to be lived in accordance with your beliefs and desires and no one else's. The Founding Fathers set out to protect "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," but Barack Obama has a different idea.

The "essence of America's promise," he declared in Denver, is "individual responsibility and mutual responsibility"—rather than, say, individual freedom and mutual respect for rights. The "promise of America," he said, is "the fundamental belief that I am my brother's keeper; I am my sister's keeper."

In reality, that fundamental belief is what you might call the promise of socialism. What has set this country apart since its inception is not the notion of obligations but the notion of rights.

"All previous systems had regarded man as a sacrificial means to the ends of others, and society as an end in itself," wrote the novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand. "The United States regarded man as an end in himself, and society as a means to the peaceful, orderly, voluntary co-existence of individuals."

That idea got lost somewhere between Thomas Jefferson and John McCain. What do Republicans believe in? McCain told us Thursday: "We believe in a strong defense, work, faith, service, a culture of life, personal responsibility, the rule of law.... We believe in the values of families, neighborhoods and communities."

Would it be too much to mention that what sustains the American vision of those things is freedom? That without it, personal responsibility becomes hollow and service is servitude?

Apparently it would. Republicans are big on promoting freedom abroad, but in this country, the term encompasses a lot of things they don't like—the right to a "homosexual lifestyle," the right to protest the Iraq war, the right to privacy, the right not to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, and more. Conservatives who once thought Americans had too little freedom now sometimes think they have too much.

Liberals, on the other hand, are wary of embracing freedom precisely because of its historic importance to the right. They fear it means curbing the power of a government whose reach they want to expand.

While they value many personal liberties, they have no great attachment to forms of freedom that involve buying, selling, trading, and accumulating. Those, after all, can involve selfishness, and Democrats, like Republicans, don't want to protect selfishness.

But freedom isn't freedom without the right to pursue what you value—money or knowledge, pleasure or sacrifice, God or atheism, community or misanthropic solitude—rather than what others think you should value. It includes the right to go to hell, and the right to tell others to do the same.

The latter is a valuable prerogative that we have not yet lost. After watching the conventions, if you have the urge to use it on either of the two major parties, feel free. If he were alive, Barry Goldwater might join you.

COPYRIGHT 2008 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.

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  • A Better Life for Me & You||

    Identity politics a-go-go. Everywhere you look. Both Left and Right, even in the middle. How to sort out this mess?

    Let's start with a cut & run from Iraq. But who will do it? Not the Republicans for sure. How about the Democrats? Will they? Do they dare?

  • jkp||

    Nice to see Steve "Prohibition" Chapman come out in favor of freedom.

  • Me Myself & I||

    Finally, Reason remembers the INDIVIDUAL- the essence of Libertarianism. Bravo! Congratulations!

  • Pox Vox||

    A Pox on McCain
    A Pox on Obama

    For pursuing goals that disdain the individual.

    Family, community, country only become important once individuals are assured their aims benefit them as well. Unlike the socially-connected Blue Jay calling outside my window right now, humans can assess the give & take.

    Individuals like McCain & Obama understand the giant gains their individual persons will gain by winning the Presidency. Similarly, it means much to them to feel the munificence of what they're doing.

    That's where they get lost and we all get lost. That place where we know we're doing good for our fellow man without consulting with him privately and persuasively.

  • ||

    Amen Steve Chapman!

    When I get down to deciding it always comes to me that Republicans are better than Democrats (or at least less worse). George Bush has been so poor and I feel remorse for voting for him.

    I like Palin and I could see myself voting for McCain. I could also see myself regretting it.

  • ||

    "I like Palin and I could see myself voting for McCain. I could also see myself regretting it."

    My circle has discussed this and we feel the same. We feel we are in a continual leftward drift politically. Any ideas on what can be done?

  • ||

    All I know is that if McBush wins, the Sheeple lose. Pretty sad indeed.

    Jen
    www.anon.cz.tc

  • Daniel||

    This is one of the best written articles I have seen from Reason in awhile. It is simple, utterly libertarin, and very true.

    "...it's clear that collectivism, not individualism, is the reigning creed of Republicans as well as Democrats. Individuals are not valuable and precious in their own right but as a means for those in power to achieve their grand ambitions."

    Steve, this is one of those quotes that should be tucked away under your pillow--not to be forgotten. Well said!

  • shrike||

    Self-described libertarians who continue to vote for the police-state GOP while naively thinking that they will be repaid by having their tax footprint slashed by more than a few basis points are more delusional than either major party voter.

    Your tax liability went UP during the Bush years - your liberty was curtailed.

    The Dems are not much better but at least they are romantic while ass-fucking you.

  • anon||

    Judging from the left "I want my freedom. Free healthcare, free peace, freedom from global warming, freedom from poverty."

    The word "freedom" isn't an orphan, just a kidnapped stepchild.

  • ||

    McCain and Obama can kiss my individual ass.

    -jcr

  • ||

    Steve gets a pass this week. But he's still running five to one FAIL

  • ||

    It is nice to see an article by Chapman that won't get ripped apart on these comment boards. Well written and absolutely true, even if the news is nothing new. The Ayn Rand quote was absolutely perfect, as it reiterates that this is a government formed by the people, willingly, to serve them as individuals. The society is not an end unto itself.

  • ||

    Syeve Chapman- noble, resolute defender of freedoms he approves of.

  • ||

    "Syeve" ?

    stupid keyboard

  • ugly truth guy||

    This is why the whole libertarian concept is doomed.

    It's like the famous story of the Canarsies selling Manhattan for 24 dollars, only it's actually true.

    'We will protect you from terrorists and health problems and the sense of insecurity that comes with making your own decisions. We, are, after all, smarter than you, are we not? So do you want someone in charge who is smarter than you but who looks friendly and familiar, or one who looks like those bad people who are all different and alienating?'

    I blame old people. Frightened stupid old people who vote for anything that makes them feel safe. Only what they are scared of is, well, life.

  • leave me alone||

    Well, both the Reps and the Dems are gunning for big gov now (if only in different forms), but only the Reps want to tell me what to do in my bedroom, what I can do with my uterus, and to order me to recite things declaring that there is a God. So, it would seem to me that the Dems are the better choice this time around for those of us who value personal freedom.

  • JMR||

    I think this is a move towards honesty. Libertarians are now so powerless that even our best rhetoric isn't worth stealing anymore, especially with Barr compromising on everything he can at every chance and Root ranting about race when we should be reaching out to government-screwed blacks. Sigh.

  • Pundit Joe||

    In my experience, the left values very few personal liberties beyond the realm of sexual matters. Think about the following… The left seeks to control what you eat, whether or not you can smoke, what kind of car you can drive, how fat you can be, how large a house you can own, how much energy you can use, whether or not you recycle, what topics can be discussed on talk radio, the doctors you see, how much money you can earn, how much money you can have, how much money you leave to your kids when you pass away, etc….

    Given all that - I don't see how some can say the Repubs are more imposing on our lives. The truth is all parties wish to impose their values, by law, on to others. The difference here is how much freedom those values allow. Libertarian and Republican values allow for far more freedom for the public than do the values of the left and the Democrats.

    I also share the concern over the lack of liberty as a value discussed in the conventions. There is a battle going on in the Republican Party over its direction. Sadly, big government forces have been winning in recent years, but the battle isn't over. I'm part of the smaller government group and I'm hoping Palin is as well. Time will tell, but I won't give up the fight. I won't just sit back and snipe from my couch about how lame Dems and Repubs are; I'm actually in the game, fighting for small government from within the Republican Party.

  • Robert||

    Freedom is almost always an orphan. Freedom comes about as a byproduct of other goals, and is nigh impossible to approach as an end in itself.

    However, I wouldn't worry about broad collectivist rhetoric. As often as not, broad authoritarian promises lead to gains in freedom when it comes down to specifics.

  • ||

    I don't get these people. Heinlein was able to call for service, to challenge people to help their neighbors, while at the same time firmly believing in their right not to. Why can't these politicians do the same?

    People say to love their neighbor, but apparently it's only the right kind of neighbor. Sure I want to help people who need help, if I can help them in a constructive manner. But I don't want to use threats of jail to force others to follow my morality, because that other person is also my neighbor.

  • ||

    Keep fighting Pundit Joe. You have been losing and you know it and admit it. I am glad that you are fighting. I don't like your chances though. Republicans had the House, the Senate, The Presidency and all the Govs.

    They turned that winning combination to the biggest government in the history of the Union.

    I am surprised that Obama is running on such a liberal platform. This was the year that Democrats could have easily run as fiscal conservatives.

    JMR,

    "Libertarians are now so powerless that even our best rhetoric isn't worth stealing anymore"

    Ouch!

  • ||

    I've often pointed out that the the right to free speech is, in its very nature, the right to offensive speech. The Cubans can still discuss the weather, after all.

    Generally speaking, this freedom that we have in the US - or, once had - is the freedom to do stupid things, even things that might be harmful to one's self.

    Even if all victimless crimes were legal, I wouldn't engage in any of them. I have no interest in visiting prostitutes (I think it's a dumb idea), using recreational drugs (ditto), gambling (ditto), or eating goose livers (ditto, yet again). When you step back and look at it, it's as if I don't have a horse in this race.

    The damage caused to our society by authoritarianism, nannyism, whatever it is, is far greater than the damage that such activities bring.

    I used to muse over the utter stupidity of the concept of "debtor's prison", where you go to jail until you can pay off your debt. Of course, the act of being in jail cuts off your means of income, so the situation becomes paradoxical.

    And yet, we take drug users and put them in jail (thereby ruining their lives) because they are ruining their lives with drugs. The logic make my head hurt.

    Historically, the pendulum has swung back and forth for 230 years now, and we'll get it back. It might have to get a little worse, first, but at some point people will get tired of it. I just hope it's within my lifetime.

  • Pundit Joe||

    Thanks Christopher, I will keep fighting! - Oh yes, I know the small government GOP crowd has been losing. However, the seat losses the party suffered in congress last election and the possible repeat of said losses are starting to put fear in some congressmen. Even ol' Trent Lott has finally admitted he was wrong on all that spending.

    Do I think he would return to wild spending if given a chance? You bet, but a new batch of conservatives in office and a vocal constituency just may keep him in line. Better yet, Lott himself gets unseated by more conservative members of the party when his term is up.

  • ||

    Thank you for articulating, so well, what I have been thinking. I don't want to be told what to do by the government whether it be by Democrats or Republicans.

  • leave me alone||

    Pundit Joe -

    Thanks for fighting the good fight, we need more people doing that in both major parties. As to your not understanding why anyone would feel that the Dems are a better choice for freedom, I think it's just a matter of each individual's priorities. Many of the issues that you mentioned are things that either don't currently affect me or are in areas where I feel that both parties are taking freedoms away more or less equally. The things I mentioned are what are more important to me, and all happen to being freedoms that currently are routinely attacked by Reps. I also agree very much with Chris, after the past 8 years of Republican rule, we have less freedom, not more to show for it. I do wish that the Dems would use this opportunity to be more fiscally conservative than they have been in the past.

  • Paul||

    As often as not, broad authoritarian promises lead to gains in freedom when it comes down to specifics.

    And those specifics are?

  • ||

    The problem is that, for a significant portion of the population, "fiscal conservative" is defined as "promoting the suffering of a significant portion of the population."

  • ||

    But freedom isn't freedom without the right to pursue what you value-money or knowledge, pleasure or sacrifice, God or atheism, community or misanthropic solitude-rather than what others think you should value. It includes the right to go to hell, and the right to tell others to do the same.

    Go to hell! [From hell]

  • Billy Beck||

    You people have been voting for the lesser of two evils for so long that evil is all that's left.

    I don't feel sorry for any of you.

    Onward, through the Endarkenment.

  • ||

    Here is a great Barry Goldwater quote that I lifted from someone else in H&R (thanks whoever it was).

    "I have little interest in streamlining government or making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones that do violence to the Constitution, or that have failed in their purpose, or that impose on the people an unwarranted financial burden. I will not attempt to discover whether legislation is 'needed' before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permitted. And if I should later be attacked for neglecting my constituent's 'interests,' I shall reply that I was informed their main interest is liberty and that in that cause I am doing the very best I can."

  • nonPaulogist||

    Well written, Steve. Unfortunately freedom HAS become an orphan and that the state is unfixable. The government will eventually collapse under its own weight and nothing can stop it now. The majority can vote themselves property stolen from the minority. Public schools have rendered the populace too ignorant to even know the plight we are in.

    The social contract is invalid. The state Illegitimate. The anarcho-capitalists were right all along.

  • LarryA||

    Well, both the Reps and the Dems are gunning for big gov now (if only in different forms), but only the Reps want to tell me what to do in my bedroom, what I can do with my uterus, and to order me to recite things declaring that there is a God. So, it would seem to me that the Dems are the better choice this time around for those of us who value personal freedom.

    Premise true, conclusion not so much. If you want to keep a gun in your bedroom to protect yourself and your family, the Democrats think the individual right to keep and bear arms can be legislated away with a city law banning firearms. And they want you to give homage to Gaia instead of God.

    According to the Texas DPS concealed handgun license applications are up 40% this year. I understand it's part of a national trend. The National Instant Check System is reporting big increases in gun-sales background checks.

  • ||

    Great quote NAL. That is a keeper.

    I forgot to add the most striking thing that I found absent in both the Dem and Repub conventions: the whole spiel of David Walker and the national debt. Walker talks about growing entitlements and the baby boom social security/medicare bubble that is about to burst the economy. He says it is the biggest issue of our time. He has me convinced.

    Watching both conventions you would have no idea that many consider this the biggest issue of our time. Our politicians are living in a dream world. They should have let Ron Paul speak at the convention. Ron Paul is like horrible tasting medicine. It may taste like crap, but you know you have to take it. Paul has pretty much been exiled and marginalized by the party.

  • leave me alone||

    LarryA -

    It's my opinion, therefore it can be neither true nor false. It just is what it is.

  • Chad||

    Economic freedom can be overdone. We have been giving ourselves tax cut after tax cut after tax cut for 25 years, and what do we have to show for it?

    1: A debt surging towards $10 trillion

    2: A crumbling infrastructure

    3: McMansions, SUV's, and a whole crap-load of cheap Chinese crap

    4: More billionaires than the rest of the world combined, and stagnant incomes for the rest of us

    Most people are dumb and buy the wrong things. Those of us that are not dumb can't even buy the things we should be buying. Walmart doesn't sell public transportation, water conservation, or scientific research.

    Leaving too much money in the hands of normal people results in lots of short-term consumption at the long term expense of not only those people but every future generation of Americans. We need to cut this crap out and start investing for the long-haul.

  • ||

    Chad...........well, just...OWWW!

    Troll alert

  • ||

    Economic freedom can never be overdone. We have been giving ourselves tax cut after tax cut after tax cut for 25 years taxed to the point of collapse, and what do we have to show for it?

    1: A (government debt surging towards $10 trillion

    2: A crumbling public-modeled infrastructure

    3: McMansions, SUV's, and a whole crap-load of cheap Chinese crap Nicer homes, cars, and cheaper, more plentiful commodities, luxuries, and time-saving devices available to the middle-class than our grand-parents could have ever dreamed of.

    4: More billionaires than the rest of the world combined, and stagnant incomes for the rest of us prosperity at such a high level that the "poor" (read totally non-productive, on-the-dole) commonly have two cars, a TV, DVD players, computers, X-boxes, multiple celll phones, microwaves, washers/dryers, etc.

    Most people are dumb and buy the wrong things. Those of us that are not dumb can't even buy the things we should be buying help it that the dumb, are well...dumb.

    Walmart doesn't sell public transportation, water conservation, or scientific research. Of course, you can bet your ass that if that's what people really wanted to spend their dime on, Walmart's shelves would be loaded with said product.

    Leaving too muchmore of their own money in the hands of normal people results in lots of short-term consumption at the long term expense of not only those people but every future generation of Americans personal happiness and prosperity.


    We need to cut this crap out and start investing for the long-haul? You mean that you, and people like you will decide for me how I should live?

  • Chad||

    Kant, you are quite amusing. But you get some things wrong...especially the biggest ones. Where do I start? Probably the most imporant one

    1: PEOPLE DO NOT BECOME HAPPIER AS THEY GET RICHER, BEYOND A CERTAIN THRESHOLD. I shouted, because you really need to understand that one. The threshold is around $8,000 per year, if I remember correctly. Beyond thereabouts, people only get happier by being richer than those they consider their peers, which is obviously zero-sum. You could take every person in tis country with more than $10 million in assets and tax them 90%, and after the initial shock, they would be just as happy as before. After all, they keep their ranking!

    2: If you think the goverment debt is bad, perhaps you have missed the whole private-debt-fueled market crash we are in now.

    3: I'd love to know your private model for building basic infrastructure. How is Walmart going to bottle a "dioxin free river" for my family to swim in? How about "species that won't go extinct because of habitat loss and climate change"? But anyway, the problem with the public model is that people like you refuse to put in the money it needs. I personally know the person who decides which bridges in my state get fixed. She is brilliant - yet sooner or later, some bridge is going to fall on someone's head, and everyone like you is going to blame the "state" for the problem. Of course, this is absurd. The reason that the bridge won't have been fixed in time is because she has a list a mile long of bridges that need fixing, and money for only half of it...thanks to YOU. Enjoy your crap!

    4: That being said, you do get to keep a few extra bucks because of your strong desire to tolerate falling bridges. Now you can buy more of the cheap Chinese crap and McMansions to fill your emptiness. Of course, the crap will break in two years, the house will be worthless in ten years because you won't be able to afford to heat it or drive 30 miles to your job, and you won't be able to buy new stuff because you are so far in debt just like everyone else. But hey, you had your crap for a while!

    5: Things aren't as rosey now as you make them out to be, relative to a generation ago. I make as much money now, in my early 30's, as my parents do combined NOW, in their prime-earning late 50's. Yet I could NOT afford the house they live in, which they purchased when I was just a baby. I may be able to by slightly fancier toys...if I wasn't saving like mad, because Social Security is going to pot, because I have LOST money "investing" so far in my life (10% average return my @$$), because I expect the economy to be poor indefinitely due to our burdensome debts, because college is now so un-affordable that any halfway responsible parent has to start saving BEFORE the kids are born just to have a chance, etc. Despite being wildly more "educated" than my parents and having spent years and years in college, I am WORSE OFF than they were at my age - and have no reason to expect things to improve.

    6: Yes, actually, the world would be a lot better off if a sufficiently large group of people "like me" were running it, precisely because people "like me" put long-term gain in front of short-term fixes...the exact opposite of what our government and the "free-market" tend to do.

  • ConTextant||

    Lily wrote:
    "My circle has discussed this and we feel the same. We feel we are in a continual leftward drift politically. Any ideas on what can be done?"

    Yes. Start asking policitians "How are you going to make me more free?"

    Bet it would stump both Obama and McCain. Can you see their faces as they stumble around for an answer?

    It's really simple. On the face of it, Yogi Berra simple, but Yoga Berra says simple things that makes people think. If it is asked a few times, it will start to be asked more, and that's all it takes.

    From little acorns grow…

  • ConTextant||

    You know, Chad, you have written some really insightful posts, but you also write some really absurd ones, too.

    "Economic freedom can be overdone. We have been giving ourselves tax cut after tax cut after tax cut for 25 years, and what do we have to show for it?"

    Bringing the marginal tax rate down from 70% to 35% is a bad thing? Cutting capital gains taxes down on the 2/3rds of people who own stocks, real estate, and other investments is bad? Tripling the economy since Jimmy Carter's brilliant policies took effect is bad?

    What do we have to show for it? Nothing, except better lives than any others on the planet in the history of the planet.

    1: A debt surging towards $10 trillion

    Isn't this due to uncontrolled federal, state, and local spending? It sure isn't due to lower tax revenues.

    2: A crumbling infrastructure

    Most of the infrastructure is in good shape. Some of it is in bad shape, but hardly "crumbling." Maybe some of the uncontrolled government spending could be spared for more than just political vote-buying.

    3: McMansions, SUV's, and a whole crap-load of cheap Chinese crap.

    All of which is voluntarily bought. Sorry you don't approve of people's tastes, or lack thereof. You're certainly free to be a snob, if you wish…

    4: More billionaires than the rest of the world combined, and stagnant incomes for the rest of us.

    Considering the continual raises in taxes put on employers, where do you think they're getting the money to pay those taxes? From YOU. And last I checked, they still average a 3% raise. Not great, but better than nothing.
    Also, since when can you expect more than stagnant income if you work for someone else?

    "Most people are dumb and buy the wrong things. Those of us that are not dumb can't even buy the things we should be buying. Walmart doesn't sell public transportation, water conservation, or scientific research."

    Most people ARE dumb, but they buy the dumb things that make dumb people happy. If you can't buy the things you should be buying, maybe you're dumb, too. Change your life.

    Since when does a retailer like Walmart ever do any of those things? Why should they stock those things, since only dummies like me go there to buy dumb things? Their genius is in efficiency, like selling prescriptions for $4 per month, not innovation.

    Leaving too much money in the hands of normal people results in lots of short-term consumption at the long term expense of not only those people but every future generation of Americans. We need to cut this crap out and start investing for the long-haul.

    Consumption is why you have a job. Do you propose to take their money away from them so they can't make bad choices? Maybe the government knows how to spend it better? Well, don't worry, because President Obama will take money away from the wealthy (you know, the people who invest for the long haul, like small business owners, scientists, professionals, and other people smart/motivated enough to make a reasonable income) and give it to the dumb masses who will spend it on lots of short term consumption. Wait…umm…you know what I mean.

  • ||

    This election pits a big government Democrat in John McCain versus a bigger government socialistic Democrat in Barack Obama. If anyone needs motivation to vote, just check Obama's health care reform plan. What a disaster waiting to happen.

  • ||

    All I want to say, is EXCELLENT article! We need more on this in this publication.

  • Chad||

    Contextant: Will you be happy next year when you, like many Americans, get a 2.5% "merit increase" to your salary or wage after a year of 4.5% inflation? You could work for my company (one of the 100 best to work for!) and join the sarcastic laughter we are all going to break out in next spring when our CFO announces "Good job folks! Record setting revenue and earnings! But not enough for a bonus (for the regular folk...muhahahaha). Sorry, try again next year!" Oh yeah, and pensions are being cut again, co-pays are going up, and we are going to try to further the time between promotions even more....

    This is all real stuff that has happened or will happen soon at my company, and we are doing very very well. I can't imagine what people are going through at a company which is struggling.

    "The rich are getting richer, and the poor are getting poorer" is a liberal lie. But "The richer are getting a LOT richer and everyone else is treading water" is essentially the truth. Sure, our economy has grown a lot since the 70s. But a big chunk of that was population growth, and the rest fell in incredible disproportion unto just a small fraction of the population. Something isn't right and everyone knows it.
    Hard work isn't being rewarded. Smart work isn't being rewarded. Being at the top and close to the money, and owning physical capital ARE being rewarded. We need to make dividend rates heavily progressive. Sure, it is a bad idea to tax poor JoeBob's dividends much, if at all. People like him don't have much to save and can easily be discouraged. But heck, we could tax Warren Buffet 75% and he'd just keep on investing. What else is he going to do with the money? Buy a castle?

    Also, being a scientist, I would love to live in a fairy-tale world where scientists made anywhere near enough to have to worry about Obama's $250,000 cutoff. A typical PhD scientist fresh out of grad-school or post-doc makes around $80,000. A typical mid-career number is $120,000. If a scientist is making over $250,000, they have either been successful in business or management.

    I find the myth of the government spending too much almost laughable. There are so many critical elements that are drastically under-funded it makes me sick. When teachers have to tip into their pathetic salaries to buy chalk, when bridges are falling and levees are breaking, when numerous news reporters tell us tales of the incredible new trains the Chinese have managed to build for themselves despite having a fifth our income, when our research and development lead on the world is falling to the wayside, when we are drowing in debt both public and private, while our water tables are falling and our wetlands are disappearing, our honeybees dying, when the ocean is rising along with the temperature, when we have all gotten so fat we can barely waddle to our SUV so we can cross the ten-lane street so we can get from McD's to Walmart...yep, there just ain't nothing important the government needs to spend money on.

    Let's get us some more french fries and Chinese crap, why don't we? I am sure the private market will save everything.

  • ||

    Excellent article. We've seemed to have lost sight of the most fundamental and relevant concept that gives purpose to the rest of the discussion. Thanks for writing this.

  • ConTextant||

    Response to:
    Chad | September 9, 2008, 5:36pm | #

    Contextant: Will you be happy next year when you, like many Americans, get a 2.5% "merit increase" to your salary or wage after a year of 4.5% inflation? You could work for my company (one of the 100 best to work for!) and join the sarcastic laughter we are all going to break out in next spring when our CFO announces "Good job folks! Record setting revenue and earnings! But not enough for a bonus (for the regular folk...muhahahaha). Sorry, try again next year!" Oh yeah, and pensions are being cut again, co-pays are going up, and we are going to try to further the time between promotions even more....

    I feel your pain. They're screwing you because they can (meaning they know you won't leave, or they'll be able to replace you if you do.) They're also screwing you because their taxes and regulatory burdens are always going up. Blame the government for that. I just don't understand what your private affairs have to do with a discussion of freedom, ie being left to get happy or get screwed in the private sector. Do you propose a government solution to your company's low morale problem? I'm serious; I'm not being flippant. Are you saying there isn't anything you can do?

    But "The richer are getting a LOT richer and everyone else is treading water" is essentially the truth.

    The rich are getting richer, and everyone else, in every quintile, is getting richer, too. Less in dollar terms, but more in percentage terms.

    We need to make dividend rates heavily progressive. Sure, it is a bad idea to tax poor JoeBob's dividends much, if at all. But heck, we could tax Warren Buffet 75% and he'd just keep on investing. What else is he going to do with the money?

    Making them more progressive means that there will "be less money invested for the long haul, and more spent on short term consumption." Yes, I'm using your own words against you. Progressive taxes make those at the bottom poorer, not the top, because companies will just raise prices (which the little guys pay) to make up for the extra paid out in taxes, plus instead of Buffett's money being invested in stocks, which helps job creation, company expansion, and wealth creation through higher share prices (for pension funds as well as for himself), he'll just put into tax free municipal bonds, which don't help most people, and most goes into political vote buying schemes. What else can he do with the money? He can go to the Bahamas, or the Isle of Man, or Costa Rica, where they will be happy to have his money working.
    Besides, the idea that the government can get more of your money than you do is just patently wrong.

    Also, being a scientist, I would love to live in a fairy-tale world where scientists made anywhere near enough to have to worry about Obama's $250,000 cutoff. A typical PhD scientist fresh out of grad-school or post-doc makes around $80,000.

    Wow. That's A LOT more than me.

    "I find the myth of the government spending too much almost laughable. "

    Chad, many people are paying over 50% of their incomes, on federal, state, local, property, sales, sin, and taxes on taxes. People in San Francisco, New York, and lots of other places pay a lot more than that, including "liberal, caring" Minneapolis, where that bridge collapsed. Jeez, if they can't get it right with such a high tax rate, forgive me for thinking that they never will, no matter what the tax rate.


    There are so many critical elements that are drastically under-funded it makes me sick. When teachers have to tip into their pathetic salaries to buy chalk,

    Which is a load of bull. Washington DC is paying $21k PER PUPIL for the worst schooling in the country. A lot of other school systems are paying $15k+. Private schools do a better job on $3-4k. Either the money is going for "make-work" jobs, being mismanaged, or stolen. $21k buys A LOT of chalk.

    when bridges are falling

    (in high tax, big-spending Minneapolis)

    and levees are breaking,

    (in thoroughly corrupt big-spending New Orleans, after the worst storm ever to hit there)


    when numerous news reporters tell us tales of the incredible new trains the Chinese have managed to build for themselves despite having a fifth our income,

    I don't want to ride a train, and hardly anyone else does, either. I sure don't want to pay the typical $3B for one, especially.

    when our research and development lead on the world is falling to the wayside,

    I've read in New Scientist, Scientific American, and Forbes Small Business magazines that we have the highest Private and Government R&D spending (in dollars and %) in the world (though the % is falling).

    when we are drowing in debt both public and private,

    Yes, there is a lot of debt, though do you know how debt is calculated? Off checkable deposits. Now, you tell me, who is stupid enough to keep more than a small fraction of their money in a checking account? Most people's money is in stocks, their homes (though a lot of people are now upside down on that), bonds, companies, 401k's, etc, where they get more than 3% interest. So debt levels aren't anywhere near as high as stated…it's a number used to scare us.

    yep, there just ain't nothing important the government needs to spend money on.

    Cummon, the government has its functions, but most of what the government currently does has nothing to do with those. Libertarians aren't anarchists, but most would say that the current govt is the best example of mission creep from hell in existence.

    Let's get us some more french fries and Chinese crap, why don't we? I am sure the private market will save everything.

    It does a lot better than Communism and Fascism ever did, without the 150 million deaths.

    I've got to say, I don't know what you are griping at libertarians for. You bring up problems (many of which I show are myths, or are actually caused by government) but just what do you want to be done about these things? Do you have any solutions, or simply laments? (Again, I'm not being flippant, I'm simply asking a question. You're a PhD scientist, you can't claim you don't have the mental firepower to think of a few solutions on your own.) Would you propose some big top down fix? Most of what you propose seems to suggest so. These often don't work, look at the public school system. Or would you propose that free individuals voluntarily create order out of chaos, like the internet? I've posted about how it can be done with roads. Just because it's chaotic doesn't mean it's unorganized, or ineffective…




  • Chad||

    As for my personal job, there is little one can do short of leaving the country or running one's own business in order to escape the downward wage spiral most of our corporations are undergoing. Since I have no interest in my own business, I am playing the international card. I have worked overseas before and likely will again. If we don't quit the idiocy here, I may not come back on a permanent basis. ~$80,000 isn't as much as you think, given that most scientists are around thirty by the time we finally get into the "real world" and make anything beyond the McDonald's wage that grad students receive. If you don't start making money until you are thirty, you have dug yourself a pretty deep hole financially and are way behind the game in terms of building home equity and retirement savings. So you have to save a lot in order to play catch up.

    I don't know where you get your income data form. I get mine from www.census.gov...the best data out there. Men's incomes are actually DOWN since the early '70s, in real dollars. Women's incomes are up due to more of them working more hours, and them having better opportunities and education. Except for the top quintiles, real income growth has been quite a bit under 1% per year. This is what I meant by "stagnant" - very small income growth mostly due to women working more. Something is clearly wrong with this situation. While it is true that "Every quintile is getting richer", only one is doing so at anything beyond a snail's pace. And even within that quintile, the top .5% is hoarding most of the gains.

    Again, with respect to education spending, your data is off. The Washington DC district spent $13500/student last year, not $21k. And private schools are not spending $3000 per student any more. Maybe 15 years ago they were. I completely support vouchers on the basis of freedom, but actual studies have found little cost or performance difference. Nor should you expect the costs to be much different. Fundamentally, school costs are almost entirely consumed by teacher salaries and facilities. Unless a private school is going to have fewer teachers, worse teachers, or crappier buildings than public schools, there is really nothing for them to cut in order to save money.

    You have to make a pretty nice salary to hit 50% tax rate, even in NYC. 3% property tax, 8% sales tax, 11% state and local income tax implies you need a 28% federal rate...and that's assuming no deductions and that you spend 100% of your money on taxable goods. I have no problem with a ~50% marginal rate for people making above $250,000...and would be willing to go up to 2/3 for people in the millions. The money does not make these people significantly happier. Beating everyone else does, and they win regardless of the tax rate.

    Wdo not spend the most on public R&D (as a % of GDP) by a longshot. Japan whips us easily, as do some European nations. You read popular science magazines like Scientific American? Well, you see, I read them too, but I also read things like Advanced Materials, Journal of the American Chemical Society, etc. And I see a pile of Chinese names, even what seems to be half the names in the "American" research groups.
    Great for the Chinese! Bad for us. Our current energy policy is only making it worse. Anyone should be able to see that renewables and green tech are going to be a big part of the future, and we are twiddling our thumbs while everyone else takes the lead. When it finally dawns on us that we can no longer choke on our coal and oil fumes, we are going to be stuck buying Chinese wind generators and German solar panels, because we gave up the lead in such things.

    There are plenty of things that the "market" cannot provide, and some of these things must be performed or managed by governments. The right-wing "starve the beast" idea has lead us to critically underfund many of the things the government SHOULD be doing, and this is costing us dearly.

  • ConTextant||

    Reply to:
    Chad | September 12, 2008, 6:42pm | #

    As for my personal job…

    Yes, that puts you in a bad position. When you and more other people go overseas, then supply and demand will force these companies to pay more. I'll partially defend this argument by saying that it is extremely expensive to hire high wage/highly skilled Americans because TAXES are so high. This is a government-created problem. And I'll partially contradict myself by saying that a lot of companies are playing dirty by lobbying Congress for more H-1B visas…the same ones who scream that they can't find "qualified people," which isn't true; it's REALLY that they can't find "cheap" qualified people. They ought to say that, instead of pretending otherwise or outright lying about it. (More H-1Bs artificially increases the supply of labor, which drops salaries…market manipulation, IMHO.) Good thing is that a lot of foreigners can't fit the bill because they can't speak english, or can't work according to US norms. (But many can.) I'd help this problem by reducing the taxes on you and other high earners (the opposite of the "tax the wealthy" mindset), and on the companies who hire you (a tax credit comes to mind.) Barack Obama and the Dems want to do the opposite. And the "limited government" Republicans (what a screaming laugh) go right along with it.

    I don't know where you get your income data form. I get mine from www.census.gov...the best data out there.

    From here:
    http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/histinc/h01AR.html
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Median_household_income

    These show that real incomes are up since 1967. It also shows that incomes have declined slightly in the last 10 years, so you are right over the short term.
    Why? I say it's largely because tax and regulatory burdens are always going up on companies (when was the last time a law was repealed?), leaving less for employees. A government created problem. (Not that companies won't pay less when they can, so it's not all government's fault…) Blame this on the free-spending Kleptocrats and the even-freer spending Republicans.

    Again, with respect to education spending, your data is off. The Washington DC district spent $13500/student last year, not $21k.

    That number is what is published. The Washington Times came up with a figure higher than that by dividing the budget by the number of pupils: $24,600. I misremembered.

    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2008/jun/25/per-pupil-spending-in-dc/

    Actual studies have found little cost or performance difference.

    Which studies?

    And why are the parents sending their kids there, then? Don't they check their kids' results? Don't private school kids have higher SATs on average?

    Nor should you expect the costs to be much different. Fundamentally, school costs are almost entirely consumed by teacher salaries and facilities.

    Actually, administration is the biggest proportion. Plus "special needs" (a way to get federal money).

    You have to make a pretty nice salary to hit 50% tax rate, even in NYC.

    I mean in total taxes. Federal is max 35% on income (avg person=25%, before deductions), NY state income tax is ~9%, and the city also charges taxes. Property taxes, sales taxes, tolls and other use taxes, and corporate income taxes (federal=35% and state (?) ) also add to this. My buddy, a NJ resident, paid taxes in NJ and NYC. His salary was ~$95k, and he took home around half that, all things considered. Other areas like San Francisco do the same.

    Wdo not spend the most on public R&D (as a % of GDP) by a longshot.

    "Public" being the operative word. I meant total R&D, not just government. Most of the money comes from companies spending their own money on R&D, such as pharmaceuticals and other hi-tech. Most inventions come out of the US, so we certainly spend a lot. (Of course, we would still produce a lot just due to the total $ amount, even with a smaller %.)

    Great for the Chinese! Bad for us. Our current energy policy is only making it worse. Anyone should be able to see that renewables and green tech are going to be a big part of the future, and we are twiddling our thumbs while everyone else takes the lead.

    Again, in govt spending. There are many green US companies spending their own money. There's a market for alternate energy, but not when it costs so much more. Should we we forced to pay more? The argument seems to be that we should pay more now because we MIGHT have to pay more in the future. Not very persuasive.

    When it finally dawns on us that we can no longer choke on our coal and oil fumes, we are going to be stuck buying Chinese wind generators and German solar panels,

    We don't produce our own wind generators? The Germans are ahead in solar panels, but so what? Them being ahead doesn't mean we are at a standtill, because we are still innovating, and what we don't produce, we can buy, like we buy BMWs and Benzes.

    There are plenty of things that the "market" cannot provide, and some of these things must be performed or managed by governments.

    Like…?

    You seem to be stuck on this idea…seems you have drawn your conclusions first, and are making the evidence fit. (Maybe I'm wrong…) I've been trying to hit you on the head and show that the market does provide most (not all) things (and I've provided examples), and also provided examples of how, in many of the areas where it doesn't, it is government's getting in the way. Yet you seem to thrash against this idea like a bull in a china shop. Why? Why so adamant? (You must have reasons.) Here's a brain exercise: WHAT IF the market could provide most of the solutions to these problems? (You probably reflexively thought: no it can't…) Just try it: WHAT IF? Humor me. Condescend to my benighted view. What if?

    The right-wing "starve the beast" idea has lead us to critically underfund many of the things the government SHOULD be doing, and this is costing us dearly.

    Sounds like a slogan. "Critically" Ooh "Underfund" Aaah "Costing us dearly" Yikes! No substantiation. What SHOULD the govt do?

    The government's job is to set the conditions that the private sector operates under. Laws. It's not supposed to meddle in what free individuals can do for themselves, is it?

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