Tag: socialism

Bernie to the Left of Sweden

Reason ran a great article this week, pointing out again that Bernie Sanders idea that we should be more like Sweden ignores the reality of Sweden is like these days:

Bernie Sanders thinks the U.S. should look to Sweden and other Scandinavian countries to “learn what they have accomplished for their working people.” The Vermont senator has said so repeatedly throughout his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, prompting GOP rival Marco Rubio to say, “I think Bernie Sanders is a good candidate for president—of Sweden.”

This reality will not endear my home country to American socialists, but it’s better to be hated for the right reasons than to be loved for the wrong ones, as the saying goes. Being more like modern Sweden actually means deregulation, free trade, a national school voucher system, partially privatized pensions, no property tax, no inheritance tax, and much lower corporate taxes. Sorry to burst your bubble, Bernie.

Sanders ideas of … really, everything … seem not to have moved much from the 1960’s ground in which they were sewed. Nowhere is this more pronounced than on economic policy. He still thinks of the Scandinavian countries as bastions of socialism when all of them have moved in a decidedly laissez faire direction over the last twenty years: smaller government, free trade and economic deregulation. They are still way more socialist than the United States. But all rank as “mostly free” in the Heritage Foundation’s economic freedom, with Denmark having occasionally ranked as more free than the United States. All of them rank ahead of us on Cato’s Human Freedom Index by dint of having more personal freedom and comparable economic freedom.

I think a large part of Bernie’s success so far has been that he’s not Clinton. The party elite and the Clintons themselves went to great efforts to preclude an alternative to Clinton this year (even, some conspiracy theorists think, to the point of encouraging Trump to run). Sanders, however, is not a Democrat and is not controlled by them. So he ran a real campaign and not a token one. The result has been a surge of support because his earnestness is so refreshing by comparison to Clinton’s deviousness.

I also think a large part, however, was the novelty. It’s been a while since an avowed socialist was on the political scene and I think that appealed to a lot of Democrats. However, Bernie’s ideas are as outdated now as they were when Bill Clinton reformed the Democratic Party back in ’92. And polls have shown that support for Bernie’s ideas evaporate when people become aware of how much they will cost (as the Sweden article notes, you can’t fund a welfare state entirely on the backs of the rich).

That’s why I think Clinton will still win this thing. As the hope of spring turns into the realities of summer/fall, people will remember why we don’t elect honest-to-God socialists in this country. And they will turn away from the junk food that is Sanders to the broccoli that is Clinton.

The Bernie Pill

The amazing thing about the Bernie Sanders campaign is that his ideas are so … tired. Nothing he has proposed — “free” healthcare, “free” college, “free” daycare — is particularly original or innovative. Sanders admits as much, saying that he wants is to imitate the model of the social democracies of Scandinavia. Of course, that itself is an indication of how outdated his ideas are. Many of those social democracies have moved beyond Sander’s 1970’s ideal of what they really are, privatizing and shrinking government and now enjoying comparable or even superior economic freedom compared to the United States.

Matt Welch has a thorough rundown of just how bad many of his ideas area. A lot of them are things I’ve hit on these pages: how expensive socialized medicine would be, how ineffective “universal pre-K” is, how bad a federal minimum wage of $15 would be. But it also hits a few topics I haven’t gotten around to such as Sanders’ opposition to reforming the VA:

Sanders was lucky the question wasn’t about his actual track record as chairman of the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs. As The New York Times reported in February, “a review of his record in the job…shows that in a moment of crisis, his deep-seated faith in the fundamental goodness of government blinded him, at least at first, to a dangerous breakdown in the one corner of it he was supposed to police.” Ouch.

What was Sanders doing in May 2014 instead of holding oversight hearings and sounding the alarm bell over a national disgrace? Complaining to The Nation magazine about “a concerted effort to undermine the V.A.,” led by “the Koch brothers and others,” who “want to radically change the nature of society, and either make major cuts in all of these institutions, or maybe do away with them entirely.”

(The VA, incidentally, was long upheld as the shining model of what single payer healthcare would be like in this country. Well … they weren’t entirely wrong about that. Much of Sanders’ blind support for the VA was precisely because he wanted it to be the example for single payer.)

You should read the whole thing.

So why is Sanders so popular? Is it because America loves his crackpot ideas? No.

First, like Trump, he really isn’t that popular. He’s drawing about half the votes in a Democratic primary, which means about 10% of the vote. If he were the nominee, he’d have to get a lot more independent and conservative votes, which I don’t see materializing unless Trump is the Republican nominee.

Also, like Trump, he’s appealing to economic populism. Sanders supporters hate it when you compare Trump to Sanders (which is one of the reasons I like doing it). But they both harp on a similar message — trade is bad, Washington doesn’t work, you’re being rooked, vote for me. That sort of populism traces through a long and diverse array of politicians from Roosevelt I to George Wallace to Trump/Sanders. It never has worked out.

(Both also prefer a more isolationist foreign policy; another key element of populism).

But I think the main reason, as I’ve said before, is that Sanders isn’t Clinton. Sanders is honest about what he thinks, has stayed positive and his earnestness is almost refreshing contrasted against the calculated fumbling of Clinton. Last week, the Clinton camp said she wouldn’t debate Sanders any more unless he changed his “tone”. Even for Clinton supporters, like the ever-reliable Vox, this was laughable. Sanders’ tone has been very respectful toward Clinton. The only thing she could complain about is that he’s called her out — accurately, as it happens — on such things as her Wall Street ties, her support for the Iraq War and her role in runaway criminalization.

In any case, I don’t expect Sanders to be the nominee. But I do expect that his success will lead to an insistence that his ideas are awesome and that this country is ready for socialism. Don’t be fooled. Single payer healthcare failed to gain support in Sanders own state once it became obvious how much it was going to cost. Even Clinton’s plans are going to require big tax increases that I don’t see the public swallowing.

So let the socialists enjoy their moment. Once the extent and cost of their ideal system becomes clear, support for it will evaporate. Because it’s one thing to promise the moon; anyone can do that. It’s another to actually deliver it.

(PS – Speaking of Vox, Yglesias has another article arguing that the Democrats shouldn’t be too concerned with how to pay for their pipe dreams. Since interest rates are low, he argues, we should be borrowing to pay for “investments”.

Yglesias is usually a reasonable voice but this is one area where he, and many liberals, have lost their minds. Interest rates will not remain low forever. And when they come up, we’ll not only have $19 trillion in debt to roll over, but massive structural deficits for all this new spending. Any increase in spending increase the baseline for future spending. Deficit spending now because interest rates are low is a long walk off a short plank.

Besides, it’s not like the deficit isn’t about to explode anyway.)

The Tax Man Cometh

I’ve been remiss in posting this week. I have several draft and should post them soon.

In the meantime, Vox put together a calculator that shows you how much each candidate’s tax plan would cost or save you based on your income and status. We don’t make a huge amount of money, but we’d be paying $13,000 more a year if Bernie Sanders got his way. Keep in mind; many experts don’t think Sanders raises taxes enough to pay for socialized medicine. And we’re not in “the rich”, who would see marginal rates of 75%.

Now liberals will counter that we’re getting “free” healthcare and “free” college tuition. But the latter will only happen if the states cooperate, which they won’t. And the former is nice, I guess, but I’m dubious that my employer will roll those savings directly into my salary. So under Sanders, we’d be paying way more in taxes, getting crappy socialized medicine and “free” college at the two institutions that go along with his plan.

And, you know … there’s still a part of me that prefers him to Clinton.

(Trump and Cruz show a few thousand in tax cuts. I’m going to ignore those for the time being since I’m assuming the GOP won’t cut spending that much or blow that big a hole in the budget. But I’ve been wrong before on their willingness to pile up debt in pursuit of tax cuts.)

The Free College Fraud

One of the big promises the Democratic party is making these days is that they are going to make college “more affordable” or even “free” for Americans at public colleges and universities. Clinton is proposing $350 billion in new spending to basically replace student loans. Bernie Sanders wanted to make tuition free at public universities, which is a big reason for his support among young people. Matt Yglesias, one of the few liberals who was previously skeptical of this idea, has now come along for the free ride.

Now, never mind that we are already spending a lot of public money on higher education. States are spending more money than ever, over $80 billion, supporting their universities (per student spending is down because enrollments have swelled). Pell Grants alone have tripled over the last 15 years. And we have made a series of moves to try to make college loans more available.

The result? Higher costs, more spending, more debt. Tens of billions pumped in without college becoming one cent more affordable. Is there any reason to believe that another $35 billion a year or $50 billion a year or $100 billion a year will suddenly achieve that the previous trillions of have not?

No. Because economics exists.

Let’s imagine that you run an industry making sprockets. Let’s say that the American people are willing and able to pay about $100 billion for your sprockets. What would happen if the federal government came in and said, “Sprockets are too expensive! We will give the sprocket industry $50 billion to lower prices!” Unless they actually force you to lower prices, you’re going to now charge $150 billion for those sprockets — the $100 billion that Americans are willing to pay out of their own pockets plus the $50 billion you’re now getting from the government.

Indeed, this is what almost every economist has concluded about the cost of higher education. Massive government subsidies — through grants, state spending, scholarships and undischargeable loans — has massively increased the cost of higher education. It has resulted in universities hiring armies of administrators to do everything under the sun. It has resulted in a bloated overweight industry in which faculty hires are flat and much of the actual teaching is done by poorly-paid adjuncts.

So what’s going to happen when Clinton pours another $350 billion into that pool? Colleges will just raise the cost of higher education by about $350 billion, mainly by increasing enrollment.

And what will happen if Bernie Sanders guarantees “free” college? What’s to stop Michigan State from charging $100,000 a year for tuition? What’s to stop Georgia from enrolling 200,000 students? Even if half of those students fail, there are plenty more who will jump at a “free” education. And do you think North Carolina or Tennesee or any other university will care if they’re admitting semi-literate idiots as long as they get their money? (answer: no).

Bill James:

Anyone who believes that this program is actually going to reduce the cost of college, pardon my pointing this out, is an imbecile. Why? Because the price of anything depends on a) how much of it is purchased, and b) how much money is available to purchase it … When you make more money available to purchase anything, it simply drives up the cost of whatever is being purchased. Certain portions of our voting population, for reasons that baffle me, seem unable to learn this. Anything and everything that the government “helps to make more affordable” automatically becomes dramatically more expensive. The government makes money available to purchase health care; the cost of health care skyrockets. The government makes money available to purchase education; the cost of education skyrockets. These are, in fact, the two main things that the governments wants to pour money into, and the cost of both of them has been skyrocketing since the moment the government decided to make them “affordable” … There was a study about 15-20 years ago about the costs of various surgical proceedings; it studied about 20 different common surgeries. The study found that the normal price of every surgery that the government paid for — such as coronary bypass surgery — had gone up tremendously during the period of the study, while the price of every surgery that the government would NOT pay for, such as liposuction, laser eye surgery, and cosmetic dental repairs, had DROPPED dramatically in the same period. My memory is that every surgery that the government refused to pay for had dropped in price by at least 70% over the course of the study, while other health care costs were increasingly rapidly. Well, OF COURSE it would. Anyone who has ever taken Economics 101 should KNOW that that is what would happen, and would expect it to happen … And yet, cynical politicians like Hilary Clinton keep INSISTING, generation after generation, millions after millions, billions after billions, trillions after trillions, that they are “making health care affordable” when they pour more money into its purchase! It is unbelievable to me that anyone actually believes that this is true … Look, if you want the cost of college to drop, STOP POURING MONEY INTO ITS PURCHASE. Of course we have to help poor people get access to education; of course we have to help minorities get a fair shake. But the rest of us are NOT being helped by this insane policy.

As James noted in later discussions, the only way government have stayed out of this trap is by rationing and price-controlling. In the case of healthcare, limiting the number of procedures performed or capping doctor’s fees; in the case of higher education, limiting the number of students who go to college or limiting what universities can charge. No sane government would create a system where colleges could admit as many students as they wanted and charge whatever they wanted with a federal guarantee of payment.

Indeed, countries that guarantee “free education” send way fewer students to college than we do and limit what their colleges can spend. The problem is that this would never happen in the United States. It would never happen because academics are one of the most reliable sources of Democratic votes in the universe (95%, a level of party loyalty only seen among evangelical Christians, which make sense given that some academic sounds like they’re speaking in tongues). And it would never happen because public universities and colleges are state-controlled institutions.

Again … this is not rocket surgery. This is basic economics. No one would with an IQ larger than Donald Trump’s jock size thinks that just handing over money to an industry is a good idea. Clinton is not an idiot (Sanders might be). She certainly has people around her who understand this. The Democrats have repeatedly called for price controls or rationing in federal healthcare (they don’t call it that; they call it “negotiation”; but that’s what it is).

But when it comes to the cost controls necessary for “free” education, both candidates are oddly silent. Sanders’ “plan” is just a vague promise of free education with no sense of cost control. Clinton’s is more detailed but, if I understand it, would subsidize the states on the promise that they would control college costs. Even if the states controlled costs, they would do so by cutting their own subsidies to higher education so that they could spend it on something else (the same way that they used the lottery to fund K-12 education).

So why are Democrats pushing this nonsense? Why won’t they admit that the only this would make education more affordable is by forcing universities to cap costs or enroll fewer students? Part of this is to avoid pissing off their base of support among young people and academics. But there’s something else going on here. James again:

I refuse to believe that Hilary is actually stupid enough that she doesn’t realize what she is doing. She (and her cohorts) are deliberately driving up the cost of education in order to make the middle class dependent on the government

Give that man a cigar!

Remember a few years ago when the Obama Administration put out “the Life of Julia”? It depicts a woman going from cradle to grave with government subsidy after government subsidy directing her life. It created such a backlash that I can’t even find the original to link it. All the top links are mockeries, debunkings and parodies.

What creates more dependence? People paying $10,000 out of their own pockets for a $10,000 higher education? Or people paying $10,000 out of their pockets and getting $30,000 in government grants for a $40,000 education?

This is the Democratic vision for America — total dependence upon the state from cradle to grave with every election being an auction between two big parties promising ever greater baubles.

The bad news is that, at this point, it seems that Clinton is very likely to be the next President. And if she isn’t, Sanders might be. And if he isn’t, Trump might be and God know what Trump will do. The good news, however, is that none of this can get done without Congress.

This will be a recurring them with me for the next eight months. It would be nice if the Republicans won the White House. But is absolutely vital that they retain the House, if not the Senate as well. It’s the only way to keep a cap on this madness.

The Daycare Dilemma

Once again, folks, we see the Law of Unintended Consequences in effect:

Programs for young children — whether you call them day care or preschool or even third grade — serve two purposes. On the one hand, they are educational settings that are supposed to help foster the kids’ long-term development. On the other hand, they are safe places where parents can put their children so they can go do other things during the day — things like work for a living. In an ideal world, of course, they do both. The best preschool programs have been shown to have significant lifelong benefits for their students, and they’re doubtless a huge help to parents too. But a sobering new analysis by Michael Baker, Jonathan Gruber (yes, that Jonathan Gruber), and Kevin Milligan of Quebec’s effort to expand access to child care on the cheap is a painful reminder that the two issues can come apart.

The program was designed to increase mothers’ labor force participation rate, and it worked. Lots of people used the system, lots of moms went to work, incomes and GDP rose, and the program was quite affordable to the taxpayer. Kids’ test scores stayed flat.

But contrasting trends in Quebec kids with kids from other Canadian provinces, the authors find “a significant worsening in self-reported health and in life satisfaction among teens” who grew up exposed to the program* along with a “sharp and contemporaneous increase in criminal behavior among the cohorts exposed to the Quebec program, relative to their peers in other provinces.”

What happened was that the government of Quebec decided that everyone deserved cheap daycare — as a little as $5 a day. And a lot cheap daycare is what they got. With such a huge influx of children, poor quality daycare providers proliferated. And many of these providers were much worse than, you know, parents. Worse, many of them were focused on academics, at the government’s urgency. But most research (and almost all parents) will tell you that learning social skills is way more important to preschoolers than learning their ABC’s.

I’ve written about the idiocy of the push for universal pre-K numerous times. You can also check out Megan McArdle, who goes into detail about why the push for universal pre-K is ill-advised. Note, importantly, that the federal push is for more academics and “accelerated learning” — precisely the emphasis that has produced such a disaster in Quebec.

But this about more than the expected Democratic push for universal pre-K. This about the expected Democratic push for federally mandated everything. There is nothing more dangerous than good intentions. The Democrats have given us a series of financial reforms to “protect Americans” that have created a series of financial crises (with Dodd-Frank likely to precipitate the next one. They’ve poured money into making sure everyone can get a college education … which has made college obscenely expensive. They’ve given us “universal healthcare” that has caused insurance rates to skyrocket. And they’ve created a free public education system which is one of the worst-performing in the developed world.

The push for universal pre-K is on. Let’s use Quebec as an example of what not to do. Because it would really be a tragedy if one of the more functional parts of our education system — the dynamic and mostly private pre-K system — was wrecked the slime engine of big government.

Labour Moves to the Fringe

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom had a stunning electoral result. The conservatives won a clear majority in the parliament, defying electoral expectations. Labour expected to do well with the collapse of the Liberal Democrats but what they gained in England, they more than lost in Scotland as the Scottish National Party swept up almost all of the seats. In the aftermath, Labour leader Ed Milibrand stepped down.

Today, the Labour Party appointed new leadership: certified nutter Jeremy Corbyn:

Veteran far-left lawmaker Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party on Saturday, a runaway victory that threatens to further divide the party as it struggles to recover from a heavy defeat in elections earlier this year.

Corbyn’s win is one of the biggest political shake-ups in British politics in decades, marking a sharp left turn for his party and a rejection of the more centrist policies of his predecessors.

The silver-haired and bearded Corbyn, 66, has drawn vitriol and admiration in equal measure with his old-school socialist views: He wants more taxation for the rich, strongly opposes Britain’s austerity measures, and argues for nationalizing industry. Considered an eccentric outsider just three months ago, he has surged in popularity to become the favorite over his three more mainstream rivals.

Corbyn’s beliefs are a radical left smorgasbord of bullshit: nationalizing industries, inflation, wage caps, trade restrictions, nationalizing schools, nationalizing childcare, rent control, raising taxes through the roof, withdrawing from NATO, abandoning the campaign against ISIS, scrapping Britain’s nuclear weapons, wealth redistribution and massive increases in spending (because Britons are apparently not taxed enough). He even wants to re-open Britain’s coal mines because what Britain really needs right now is to send another generation of men deep into the ground to have their bodies destroyed digging out a mineral that is an economic sinkhole and is the worst fuel in terms of global warming. Oh, and he also has ties to anti-Israel organizations.

Back in the 1990’s, when the Tories lost the government, they went into the wilderness, becoming more radical and stupid before finding their way back under Cameron. Since 2008, the Republicans have done something similar, albeit in a less decisive fashion. In both cases, the result of purifying themselves was to elect the opposition. We’ll have to hope Britain’s economy stays afloat under Cameron. Because if Labour wins while Corbyn is in charge of Labour, the British ship of state could sink very far and very fast. Imagine the UK, only with Syriza in charge.

Update: The current generation has never seen real socialism. Oh, they’ve seen Socialism Lite: big wealth transfer programs, big spending programs, high taxes. But they haven’t seen it like it was in the 70’s when labor unions could dictate industrial policy, when entire unprofitable industries were propped up with billions in taxpayer money, when you had to fight with store clerks to keep them from raising the prices on things while you were trying to buy them, when the West almost abandoned Israel to the wolves.

With Venezuela, Bolivia, Greece and now possibly the UK, they’re about to get a quick refresher course. Let’s hope it’s a quick lesson. We can’t afford to learn as slowly as we did forty years ago.

Declaration of Dependence

I hope you guys had a good Fourth yesterday. Knowing the readership of this blog, I’m sure you were well aware of the significance of the date and what it really means. What struck me last night, as I thought about it, is how little independence actually remains to us and how great an ongoing effort there is — cheered by various pundits — to squash what independence remains to us. In the world of the progressives (and some neocons) we would:

No longer have the independence to choose what we eat and drink. Our sugar and fat intake would be restricted or taxed heavily.

No longer have what little independence we have to choose our schools. Home schooling and private schools would be regulated like the public schools.

No longer have the independence to choose our healthcare or our retirement. Social Security would be expanded and single payer healthcare implemented, funded with taxes on wealth.

No longer have the independence to speak, thanks to speech codes and anti-hate-speech laws.

No longer have the independence of religion or conscience. For example, we could be fined $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding, even thought we are not a public accommodation.

No longer have the independence of free press. Campaigns would be publicly financed; films like “Hillary: the Movie” would be illegal to show before an election and laws like SOPA would tightly control what we put on the internet. Not to mention “the right to be forgotten” and a crackdown on anonymous posting and commenting (see the federal investigation into Reason’s commenters). Hell, you might even find reporters happily submitting to being roped off like sheep and asking only milquetoast questions of a major Presidential candidate.

No longer have freedom of association. For example, we would be forced to do “volunteer” work to finish publish schooling.

Trial by jury, innocent until proven guilty, right to council … these would be outdated concepts. Our college campuses would be but testbeds for the legal regime they would like to impose on us. And entire communities, including poor ones, would be turned upside down and vigorously shaken to pry revenue from them.

We would live in a police state where the government has unlimited authority to spy on us, arrest us, detain us and harass us.

And that’s just the beginning.

Robert Heinlein famously said: “Political tags – such as royalist, communist, democrat, populist, fascist, liberal, conservative, and so forth – are never basic criteria. The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire.” We are overrun with the former. And the latter had better get their shit together.

The Diseased Opposition

I’m currently reading Anne Applebaum’s excellent Iron Curtain, a follow-on to her masterful Gulag. In this book, she details how the oppressive tyrannies of Eastern Europe were created by the Soviet Union and how they were run for forty years. I’ll likely post a full review when I’m finished.

I did want to single out one point, however.

One of the recurring themes in the early days of communism was the communists’ confusion as to why the couldn’t win the hearts and minds of the people. In the early days of the Cold War, they actually held elections, figuring that with control of the secret police, the media and social groups, they would win easily. They were crushed and those became the last free elections in Eastern Europe for two generations. This pattern would repeat itself later in the late 80’s when communist regimes had open elections and were stunned when they lost again. They kept returning to the theme of why the “masses” were voting against “their interests”.

That should sound familiar. There’s a whole book about it called “What’s the matter with Kansas”. We continually hear liberals lamenting that Americans vote against “their interests” by refusing to embrace wealth redistribution and other socialist schemes. Like their Communist forbears, it simply never occurs to them that most people don’t want to succeed in life by taking things away from someone else; that people regard “redistributed” wealth as stolen wealth.

But there’s another thing the modern Left shares with the Communists. When people opposed Communism, the Communists believed this was because of the evil influence of shadowy bourgeois interests or even because of mental illness. Entire societies were reshaped so that citizens only heard “correct” view from the day they were born and were continually re-educated into proper thinking.

But what does the modern Left do but say that people vote Republican because they are “full of hate” or “don’t care about people who aren’t like them” or “are influenced by special interests”? No one can oppose abortion because of a concern for the unborn; they have to hate women and want to control them. No one can oppose gay marriage because they are leery of changing a fundamental pillar of society; they have to be filled with hate. No one can oppose the welfare state because they think it’s a long walk off a short plank; they have to be incapable of caring for people. No on can think global warming is overblown because they don’t trust the science; they have to be under the influence of Big Oil (this post was stimulated by the creation of a website designed to smear climate “dirty denier$” by linking them to fossil fuel interests).

That’s not to say that there are aren’t Right-Wingers who think their opponents are mentally defective or that there aren’t Leftists who understand that there are genuine differences in philosophy. But the need to see the opposition as defective or under baleful influence is much stronger on the Left and particularly among the hard Lefties who think Obama is a centrist wuss. It informs things like campaign finance reform and political correctness. It manifests in the enthusiasm for public school systems and public pre-K, in particular, so that children can be influenced to “correct” views at earlier and earlier ages.

But reading Applebaum’s account of the machinations of the Communists reveals that this attitude is not new or terribly original or particularly insightful. The belief that government can transform human beings — make them work harder, be less racist or get along better — is an offshoot of behaviorism: the belief that human beings are empty vessels waiting to be shaped by outside influences. And if they don’t take the desired shape, it is either because the vessel was defective or there are other forces at work.

The idea of self-determination simply never occurs to them.

A Trio of Weekend Headdesks

Three stories that aren’t big enough for blog posts of their own … well, they are actually, but I don’t have time to tear into them.

First, you may have heard that the FDA is taking the unprecedented step of banning trans-fats. Actually, they’ve removed them from the list of foods that are GRAS (generally regarded as safe), a first step toward a ban. This despite the fact that trans fats are not dangerous per se. They raise LDL levels and lower HDL levels which may contribute to heart disease. I have no problem with encouraging people not to use them (always keeping in mind that it was the food snatchers who put it there in the first place). But banning?

The trans-fat ban is not the worst thing about the trans-fat ban, though. The worst is the precedent it is setting for banning a substance that does not make people sick and the inspiration this is giving to various Nanny State dunderheads, who are now hoping the FDA will heavily regulate (or ban) genetically modified food — technically speaking, all food is genetically modified. THey also want to regulate sugar. Yes, sugar:

The most outspoken enemies of sugar, like Robert Lustig, are trying to take it off the GRAS list–something that CSPI petitioned the FDA to do last February, asking it to study and determine safe levels of high-fructose corn syrup. The chance of an FDA announcement of that in six years seems pretty unlikely now. But soda makers already have more than dozens of low-sugar and sugar-free drinks: they have scores and scores of them. They’ve quietly been working to solve the problem, while spending (often literally) untold sums not to risk their core products. The advocates against trans fats who seemed so crazy even six years ago, when the New York trans fat ban went into effect, are seeming a lot less crazy today.

No, the advocates against trans fats still seem crazy. They’ve just found an Administration that listens to crazies. Needless to say, the idea of the FDA removing sugar from the GRAS list is insanely stupid. Sugar is natural substance that occurs in many foods and refining it has been around for millennia. Sugar is not dangerous. I repeat, sugar is not dangerous. Eating too much of it can make you fat but that is true of every food in existence. In fact, there is some evidence that the artificial sweeteners he touts are actually worse because they fool the palate and thus interfere with the body’s ability to regulate its sugar intake.

This is a perfect illustration of why you can never given the Nanny Staters an inch; they will demand ten miles and demand that you jog all of them. And without any bottled water.

Our second story comes from my home state of Georgia where Circle K has thrown their lot in for dumbest business of the year:

Johnny Jarriel Jr. has a state permit to carry a concealed weapon. He said that he often carried his pistol in his three years of working at the Circle K on West Stewart’s Mill Road in Douglasville.

Jarriel said he was in the office at the Circle K on West Stewart’s Mill Road on Saturday morning when armed suspect attempted to rob him. He said the man used pepper spray, demanded money and threatened to kill everyone in the store.

“Pointed it directly at my head and said, ‘Give me the money or I’m going to kill you,'” Jarriel said.

Instead of panicking, Jarriel convinced the attempted robber to follow him to the front for the money. When the gunman turned away, Jarriel reached for his pistol.

“He was turning around towards me, but before he got fully…I aimed at him this way and fired three shots,” Jarriel said.

The gunman fled, apparently wounded by one of the shots.

Authorities cleared Jarriel of wrongdoing and gave him back his .45, but the assistant manager was given the pink slip from his employer.

Circle K says this is corporate policy. Circle K is also an idiot. Forbidding employees for carrying guns is corporate policy, not holy writ. They’re acting like waving the rule violation is setting a Supreme Court precedent. In fact, a clerk was killed at that store four years ago. If I ran a store and one of my clerks was murdered, I’d be asking my employees to carry weapons, preferably in open holsters so everyone knows that the store is protected.

The final entry in our Trilogy of Error is that Seattle has elected a socialist to its City Council. Granted, the difference between an admitted socialist and everyone else on the city council is probably minor. But she hilariously calls for rent control, which even liberals admit destroys the supply of housing. She also supports a $15 minimum wage. That may sound swell to you, but if you look at Europe, you’ll find that countries without minimum wages have lower unemployment rates than those with them. Germany, for example, abolished its minimum wage and has 5.2% unemployment.

(Germany and other non-minimum wage countries like Sweden (!!) balance this with stronger unions and social safety nets. There’s a debate to be had whether a no-minimum-wage+safety net system is preferable to a minimum-wage system (although a system with neither might be best). Personally, I think we need people working. The strength of any economy is the total productivity of its citizens. If we’re going to give money away, we might as well give it away to people working for a living. Say what you want about Germany’s system, but if we had 5.2% unemployment in this country, we’d be dancing in the streets.)

So there you have it. Three stories that show our society at its dumbest. Work hard this week, my friends. Someone has to support these cretins.

Why Don’t You Move to … Nowhere! Hahahahaha!

Yesterday, Salon published what must be the dumbest critique of libertarianism I’ve read that doesn’t use the word “Somalia”.

Why are there no libertarian countries? If libertarians are correct in claiming that they understand how best to organize a modern society, how is it that not a single country in the world in the early twenty-first century is organized along libertarian lines?

First of all, libertarians don’t claim we know best how to organize a modern society. We claim that modern societies are better at organizing themselves. The entire basis of libertarianism is one of restraining power, not acquiring it. Because politics is filled with people who desire power, this tends to crowd us out. It’s hard to get elected on a platform of “I will leave you the hell alone”.

Libertarians are at a particular disadvantage because we hate politics for politics’ sake. We have little interest in the petty political games that make up much of politics (and about 90% of Salon’s coverage of it) but empower greedy grasping power-hungry individuals.

Let’s just take a look at a few stories that are percolating right now. In the IRS scandal, we are seeing a large effort to target organizations based on their political views. To the libertarian, this would be simple: identify the people who abused power and fire them; overhaul the tax code to give the IRS less power; get the government out of the business of deciding which organization are and are not tax-exempt. But to the media, including Salon, this is about whether the Republicans can “get” Obama or whether they are “overplaying their hand”. Are they pushing too far? How will this affect the 2014 election?

Another purely political shitstorm is brewing over the appointment of judges. Obama, frustrated with the Senate not doing their job and bringing the courts to a standstill, has nominated three new judges for the DC circuit. For the libertarian, this is pretty simple. We have the same attitude we did when the Democrats refused to consider Bush appointees: the President has the duty to nominate judges and the Senate has the responsibility to vet them.

But to the political parties, this is yet another way to play political bullshit games. When Bush was President, the Democrats screamed about extreme appointees and the Republicans fulminated about judgeships going unfilled. Now the parties have completely reversed. And the media are happily playing along, speculating about whether Obama is “packing” the courts or not.

This is what politics is about, not creating a unifying vision for how to guide society or how to create an ideal state. And libertarians, because we don’t care for power or its adherents, tend to avoid this crap. It does mean we don’t tend to walk in the halls of power and hold high positions.

But it doesn’t mean we don’t have influence, as we will soon see. Let’s not mistake “not being in power” for “not having an influence”.

When you ask libertarians if they can point to a libertarian country, you are likely to get a baffled look, followed, in a few moments, by something like this reply: While there is no purely libertarian country, there are countries which have pursued policies of which libertarians would approve: Chile, with its experiment in privatized Social Security, for example, and Sweden, a big-government nation which, however, gives a role to vouchers in schooling.

Oh, it’s a lot more than that. Libertarian ideas helped Hong Kong get rich while the rest of China wallowed in poverty. Libertarian ideas made the West strong while the Communist Bloc fell into ruin. Lind will get into the Heritage Foundation’s Economic Freedom Index in a moment in a very selective and idiotic way. I will pre-empt him by looking at it in a more objective and thorough way. Look at countries with the greatest economic freedom. You will find it is dominated by wealthy countries: Canada, Scandinavia, USA, Australia, Germany, the UK. And, in fact, most of those countries have moved dramatically toward more economic freedom, with the worldwide index increasing 2 points since 1996. And that was after the fall of communism. The simple fact is that the countries that have pursue libertarian ideals are wealthier, happier, healthier places than those that have pursued collectivist numbskullery.

Let’s just take one example almost at random. Lind uncorks this stupid statement:

Libertarian theorists have the luxury of mixing and matching policies to create an imaginary utopia. A real country must function simultaneously in different realms—defense and the economy, law enforcement and some kind of system of support for the poor. Being able to point to one truly libertarian country would provide at least some evidence that libertarianism can work in the real world.

Some political philosophies pass this test. For much of the global center-left, the ideal for several generations has been Nordic social democracy—what the late liberal economist Robert Heilbroner described as “a slightly idealized Sweden.”

Sweden, you say? Do you know that Sweden, over the last 17 years, has massively improved its economic freedom index from 61 to 72? That it may soon be more economically free than the United States? And that Sweden incorporates many of the socially liberal ideas that form the other pillar of libertarianism (one Lind completely ignores)? How about Canada? Canada has increased its economic freedom index from 69 to 79 over last 17 years. Canada is, in fact, the sixth most economically free country in the world right now.

I cite these two examples specifically because they get to another problem with his critique. “Libertarianism” covers a very broad range of ideas. I know libertarians who oppose abortion. I know libertarians who think we shouldn’t legalize drugs. I know libertarians who believe in universal healthcare and social safety nets. Most libertarians believe in sensible environmental regulation and making sure kids get an education.

What marks libertarianism out is not a platform, but a way of thinking. It is a philosophy of being suspicious of government and favoring liberty if it is practical. But it is, by no means, purist. Very few libertarians believe in anarchy. But this is apparently beyond the ken of perennially political bullshit obsessed Salon.

Lind claims that there is no country that is truly “libertarian”. But show me a country that is pure “Nordic social democracy”. There are various flavors that approach some Platonic Ideal of that, I guess. But I would posit that most of the Nordic countries would fail to be true “Nordic social democracies” the way Lind defines it. Sweden is the source of the “Swedish model” approach to prostitution that has been a fiasco. It is also currently enjoying rioting and disruption from unassimilated immigrants. Finland has restrictions on abortion but also practices a very different (and highly successful) education model than liberals prefer. And all five of the traditional Nordic countries have very high Economic Freedom Indices and all five have seen them increase over the last twenty years. That they have universal healthcare does not mean they are not embracing many libertarian ideas.

Oh, but the article gets even worse. I’ve been talking about the Economic Freedom Index to show how you use it properly in a political debate. I did that because Lind is about to cover himself in excrement using it incorrectly. He looks at some of the highest ranked countries, notes they are successful but then dismisses their success for completely arbitrary reasons. Just for fun, I will play this game with his “Nordic social democracy” ideal.

Even worse, the economic-freedom country rankings are biased toward city-states and small countries.

Because it’s not like liberals never compare us to Monaco.

For example, in the latest ranking of economic liberty by the Heritage Foundation, the top five nations are Hong Kong (a city, not a country), Singapore (a city-state), Australia, New Zealand and Switzerland (small-population countries).

With the exception of Switzerland, four out of the top five were small British overseas colonies which played interstitial roles in the larger British empire. Even though they are formally sovereign today, these places remain fragments of larger defense systems and larger markets. They are able to engage in free riding on the provision of public goods, like security and huge consumer populations, by other, bigger states.

Australia and New Zealand depended for protection first on the British empire and now on the United States. Its fabled militias to the contrary, Switzerland might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II.

Of the five Nordic social democracies, three are part of NATO and heavily dependent on NATO resources for the defense. Its fabled neutrality to the contrary, Sweden might not have maintained its independence for long if Nazi Germany had won World War II (during which Sweden also the most economically free power in Europe, incidentally). There was a powerful pro-Nazi movement in Sweden during the war.

In fact, almost all of the massive social welfare states have been enabled by massive military spending by the United States. Very few of them maintain anything resembling a modern military and none maintain the kind of presence that would have staved off the Soviet Union, the kind of presence that currently keeps pirates at bay and that neutralizes any expansionary ambitions from China and Russia. It’s easy to have a Nordic Social Democracy when your defense duties are being paid for by someone else.

These countries play specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets, rather as cities or regions do in a large nation-state like the U.S. Hong Kong and Singapore remain essentially entrepots for international trade. Switzerland is an international banking and tax haven. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the U.S. (number 10 on the Heritage list of economic freedom) or even medium-sized countries like Germany (number 19) or Japan (number 24).

None of the Nordic Social Democracies have a population of more than 10 million. They are all playing specialized roles in much larger regional and global markets. Norway has massive fossil fuel reserves; Iceland almost destroyed itself with banking and is no backing to fishing; Sweden’s economy seems dependent on exporting crappy IKEA furniture. What works for them would not work for a giant nation-state like the US.

And then there is Mauritius.

And then there’s Cuba.

According to the Heritage Foundation, the U.S. has less economic freedom than Mauritius, another small island country, this one off the southeast coast of Africa. At number 8, Mauritius is two rungs above the U.S., at number 10 in the global index of economic liberty.

Cuba has guaranteed universal healthcare and first-rate gun control.

According to the CIA World Fact book, the U.S. spends more than Mauritius—5.4 percent of GDP in 2009 compared to only 3.7 percent in Mauritius in 2010. For the price of that extra expenditure, which is chiefly public, the U.S. has a literacy rate of 99 percent, compared to only 88.5 percent in economically-freer Mauritius.

Infant mortality? In economically-more-free Mauritius there are about 11 deaths per 1,000 live births—compared to 5.9 in the economically-less-free U.S. Maternal mortality in Mauritius is at 60 deaths per 1,000 live births, compared to 21 in the U.S. Economic liberty comes at a price in human survival, it would seem. Oh, well—at least Mauritius is economically free!

Cuba has an (official) infant mortality rate of 4.8 compared to the 2.7 for Singapore and Hong Kong. Cuba suffers from massive civil liberties repression. Oh, well-at least Cuba has universal healthcare!

Look, I can play this game all day. The simple point is that there isn’t any country out there that practices idealized “Nordic Social Democracy” either. And those that are close have been moving away from that model toward greater economic and personal liberty. Or they’ve been moving toward bankruptcy.

Look, every libertarian knows there is no such thing as a perfect libertarian state. The very phrase is an oxymoron because libertarianism is a responsive political philosophy, not an active one. We don’t have grand plans for remaking the universe. What we do is identify things the government is screwing up and try to make it stop. We are not a bunch of silly self-important men sitting behind desks and telling people what to do. We are an unceasing crowd of people surrounding the capitals of the world with pitchforks and torches on standby.

Politics is a tug-of-war not between liberals and conservatives or Republicans and Democrats, but between Those Who Want to Tell You What to Do and Those Who Don’t. The vast majority of politicians and the vast majority of the boot-licking media at such as Salon are in the the former camp. Everyone else is in the latter to some degree or other. Sometimes they are in it only for an issue like abortion. Sometimes they are in it only for an issues like free trade. But just about everyone who is politically aware spends some time in the libertarian camp. Everyone is a least lib-curious. The one thing I have found, in eight years of blogging as libertarian, is that, with almost everyone, I can find something in the libertarian philosophy that they agree. Lind supports some libertarian ideas, even if he doesn’t realize it. Does he oppose crony capitalism? Does he believe in personal freedom? Does he think we’re jailing too many people? Well, my friend, welcome to Libertarian Land! Mind the barbed wire.

Libertarians don’t want power. We want to keep it in check. This is apparently a novel concept.

Even with those caveats however, libertarian ideas are and have been very influential in the real world. They are wound into the very fabric of this nation. Our Constitution is the only one that recognizes such idealized and universal personal liberty. No other country has as deep and thorough a belief in Freedom of Speech as ours. Combine that with the high economic liberty ranking we have — even after 12 years of Bush-Obama — and you’re doing pretty well. Certainly better than the NSD models that are quickly bankrupting the entirety of Europe.

The entire world has moving more libertarian in fits and starts. Wars and violence are at historic lows (libertarians generally oppose war). Personal freedom is at historic highs. Over the last decade, the expansion of economic freedom has lifted hundreds of millions of people — most of them of a different race than your typical libertarian — out of poverty. Countries like Australia and Canada have found ways to combine economic freedom with a more extensive social safety net — a flavor of libertarianism even if it isn’t the pure University of Chicago stuff.

In the end, Lind’s screed crosses me as yet another one of the “Aaah! Libertarians!” screeds I’ve gotten used to reading from ignorant lazy writers devoted to sad outdated political philosophies. The only lasting value it has is that maybe Mauritius will become the “libertarian ideal” instead of Somalia.