Saturday, December 26, 2009


I originally wrote this on August 14, 2004, just after the Democrat Party National Convention just before the 2004 Presidential election. I was prompted to post it by this similar essay on the Campaign for Liberty website: -Publius.

Last weekend I read a syndicated column in the Baltimore Sun written by a chap named James Bovard (“Protests Pre-Empted”, August 6, 2004). He is author of a book entitled, The Bush Betrayal, and at first glance, perhaps not someone with whom I would have much common political ground (until I learned reading the blurb of his book in Barnes and Nobles today that his book is a criticism of G.W. Bush from the right, and from that direction there is plenty of room to criticize…). But his column got me thinking. He was talking about the designated protest areas at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. I must admit when I first saw the news reports of these fenced off areas for protesters, I was a little concerned. But it was the Democrats, and the party itself was not complaining about the security or calling the Dept. of Homeland Security heavy-handed. The news reporters were nonplussed in their coverage of it and I let it go by as an unfortunate but necessary measure in a post-9/11 world…

It wasn’t until I read Mr. Bovard’s column that I began to re-think the issue. I learned from Mr. Bovard that the areas were called “free speech zones.” More than the existence of these extra security measures for the first post-9/11 political conventions (I think everyone acknowledges that finding the right balance between liberty and security after 9/11 is going to be a process of trial and error), I was upset by the name. How can they call a fenced in area, the sole purpose of which is to restrict protest a “free speech zone?” This reeks of Orwellian Newspeak. Orwell understood well the importance of language control in thought control and in 1984, introduced us to the principle of Newspeak. In Orwell’s totalitarian regime, WAR IS PEACE, IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH, and FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. Many words mean their opposite: The War Department is the Ministry of Peace. The secret police that enforce, through suppression and torture, the political orthodoxy work for the Ministry of Love. In Boston last month, zones restricting protest were called, “free speech zones,” and instead of having an anti-terrorism bill after 9/11, we have a PATRIOT Act, implying that criticism is unpatriotic (On the surface, I think the bill is a responsible one. Some of the provisions make good common sense, like issuing wiretap warrants for individuals, not specific land-lines. Most of the provisions are identical to ones proposed by President Clinton in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing. Further, taking the UK example, the provisions expire, so that provisions that are ineffective, or oppressive will be up for review by Congress. It is a responsible bill, but irresponsibly named).

At the end of Orwell’s novel there is an appendix explaining Newspeak:

The purpose of Newspeak was not only to provide a medium
of expression for the world-view and mental habits proper to
devotees of IngSoc [English Socialism], but to make all other
modes of thought impossible.

Orwell further explains that, “This was done partly by the invention of new words, but chiefly by eliminating undesirable words…” In other words the goal of Newspeak is to indirectly control thought by controlling the medium through which thoughts are expressed. This is done insidiously, not by restricting access to airwaves or publishing (although in the novel Big Brother did that too), but by restricting the actual language that is used for expression. In the end, “the expression of unorthodox opinions…was…impossible…” Such opinions, “…could not have been sustained by a reasoned argument, because the necessary words were not available.” Orwell further describes how all words, other than those devoid of political meaning, developed orthodox political connotations.

In our society, for the last two decades, Newspeak has been the tool of the political left to win debate by shaping its expression. It is called political correctness. Of course this expression itself conveys the oppressive nature of the movement. If something is politically correct (orthodox), something else is by definition politically incorrect (unorthodox) and therefore wrong. Political correctness seeks to promote use of language aimed at promoting this acceptable point (goodthinkful in Orwell’s language) of view and limiting the conventional use of language that would express a contrasting point of view which is by implication politically wrong (crimethink). Fortunately for the left, since the term political correctness carries with it the implication of thought control, it has it’s own politically correct word – cultural sensitivity.

Political correctness is the spearhead of an atrocious assault on our language and an alarming assault on our liberty. In this world-view, policies favouring the expansion of government authority to address domestic problems is, “progressive.” Domestic problems become “crises” so large that only federal government can solve them (i.e. health-care crisis) and to oppose granting that authority is to be selfish or to be against some group that the proposal is supposed to benefit (the children, the elderly, the poor, etc…). It is all eerily reminiscent of James Madison’s warning that, “Crisis is the rallying cry of the tyrant." Believing that the U.S. Constitution grants women the right to terminate a pregnancy is called being, “pro-choice.” But being for educational choice is being “against public education.” Diversity is defined as a group of men and women of different outward appearance and sexual orientation (but not different religious traditions) who share the same political view. Expressing a divergent political view is being against diversity, bigoted, or narrow-minded. Being black and expressing a divergent view is to be, “an Uncle Tom.” How close does that come to Orwell’s FREEDOM IS SLAVERY? At its most comical, the assault on language is reflected in Bill Clinton’s attempt to re-define “is” so he can explain how he didn’t perjure himself. At its most insidious, it designates hate as a crime. Hate crimes legislation imposes an extra penalty on a convict for his unorthodox world-view that motivated one to commit a crime. Homicide itself is a crime, but homicide with hatred is two crimes. How close is this to “crimethink?” How long before the hating becomes a crime without the associated act of violence?

But now, the right, through the vehicle of the Republican party, with George W. Bush as the standard-bearer, is in on the act. Expanding the role of federal government is “leaving no child behind,” and by implication opposing the bill is supporting leaving children behind. Opposing expanding the surveillance capacity of the federal government is unPATRIOTic. And speech is restricted in “free speech zones.” Of course the Democrats don’t oppose it, they have been doing it for two decades. Both parties now participate in the assault on liberty and language, and both see things through the same politically correct prism. Perhaps Ralph Nader is correct for the wrong reasons when he argues there isn’t any significant difference between the two parties.

Further, we finally have the final piece of the puzzle in Orwell’s recipe for tyranny. Orwell recognized that citizens will accept an expansion of governmental authority, even if it curtails some of their liberty, during time of war. Even our founding fathers, the gurus of limited government, acknowledged this and granted the Executive extra authority in wartime. Therefore, Orwell's novel, Oceania is perpetually at war. It is a war that continues day after day and year after year, a war with no end in sight, a war with an enemy that can never be completely defeated. We now have such a war, it is the “War on Terror.” Although (despite my opposition to invading Iraq), I fully acknowledge the necessity of taking measures to prevent future terrorist attacks on our soil and of taking the fight to the terrorists in the countries that harbor them (like Taliban-controlled Afghanistan), what I find frightening is the knowledge that we will be perpetually at war. As such, we most certainly will accept encroachment on our liberty as “necessary.” My fear is, that we will accept too much encroachment. That we will, like I initially did, not notice such infringement on our liberty like the, “free speech zones."

Have I finally taken that step and become a full-fledged libertarian? Or am I just paranoid?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Climates Change

This week, international leaders are meeting in Copenhagen to discuss what can be done to combat climate change. Since the Kyoto agreement of the mid 1990's, international cooperation on the issue has stalled. The United States Senate voted 95-0 not to ratify the Kyoto Accords and two of the largest producers of greenhouse gases, India and China, refused to sign on. Nearly fifteen years later, the political landscape has changed. Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore has won both an Academy Award and a Nobel Peace Prize for calling attention to the issue. Current U.S. President Barack Obama is more committed than his predecessor to address the issue, and his party controls Congress. Both the Chinese Premier and the Indian Prime Minister are attending the conference in Copenhagen. Despite this optimism amongst those anxious to do something about the problem, the conference occurs amidst controversy. A recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) study ( suggests that global warming is essentially irreversible (the report suggests it would take 1,000 years for warming to begin to reverse after carbon dioxide levels are reduced to zero), raising questions about whether the actions proposed can even accomplish anything. And, on the eve of the conference, hacked e-mails between climate scientists were released suggesting that some of the scientists promoting the consensus view of climate science massaged their data to make it more compelling and worked to suppress the publication of contrary data ( In the United States the, "cap and trade," legislation to limit greenhouse gas emissions has stalled in Congress over concerns that it will raise fuel prices and increase economic hardship in this time of recession. Subsequently, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) made an endangerment finding regarding green house gases, including carbon dioxide, stating that these gases, "threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations." (emphasis added, please see:

Most of us are familiar with the basics of the consensus view of global warming. A well-known phenomenon called the greenhouse effect is responsible for trapping the heat of the Sun inside the Earth's atmosphere and heating the planet. To some extent, this is good because it makes life on Earth possible, but concerns have been raised that the planet is warming too much. Certain gases in the atmosphere increase this effect and are therefore called greenhouse gases. Many of these gases are produced as by product of the industrial activity of humans and carbon dioxide which is produced by, among other things, burning carbon containing fuels such as oil, gasoline, and coal, is one of the principle of the greenhouse gases. In the consensus view of climate science the warming of the planet may have catastrophic consequences. Most notably, it will cause rising sea levels as the polar ice cap melts, which may then produce coastal flooding and turn many into refugees. It must be halted or slowed to prevent this dire consequence and since it is caused mostly by human beings burning fossil fuels, we must curtail this activity to protect the planet.

The summary statement of consensus scientists is the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC ( A few salient points should be noted about the consensus science. In the policymaker's summary of the most recent IPCC report (please see: for the following data), warming since 1850 has only amounted to 1.5 degrees F (or 1/1ooth of a degree per year) and the rise in sea level, presumed secondary to the warming and melting of the arctic ice cap, over this time period has only been 200 millimetres. Furthermore, the IPCC states that the sea level rise is only likely due to global warming and in their classification scheme, likely associations have a significant (33%) chance of not being related. Figure SPM-3 in the policymaker's summary shows a disconnect between warming and sea level rise (sea levels continued to rise even during decades when there was observed cooling) and the report concedes that the contribution of warming, glacier and ice cap melting, and Antarctic melting does not account for all of the observed rise in sea level. The IPCC summary also estimates only about half a metre (a little over eighteen inches) of sea level rise in the next century and that it will take a millenium to achieve the twenty-foot sea level rise predicted by alarmists. Although the IPCC predicts the possibility of as much as nine-degree F rise in temperature over the next century, their models suggest that with specific intervention but with simply a trend towards more balanced use of fossil and renewable fuels (the A1B scenario in the report) this can reduced considerably to 6 degrees F (please see table 10.4 in chapter 10 of the full report (temperatures in Celsius in the table: In summary, the consensus science view, as expressed by the IPCC, is that global warming is real, it is cause by man (very likely in the IPCC report, a category they view as having a 90% chance of being correct), has already cause problems and will cause future difficulties; but it should be noted that the current negative effects of climate change are rather minimal and the future projections of the IPCC fairly modest.

Contrast that with the alarmist view. Climate alarmists, such as former Vice President Al Gore, argue a view that is widely divergent from the consensus science. Even many of the scientists involved in the IPCC report make claims outside of the report that are far more alarmist than the consensus statement (Chris Landsea left the IPCC when the lead author of the Observations chapter, to which he [Landsea] was to contribute made statement attributing increases in frequency and severity of hurricanes to global warming, a conclusion that the data does not support. Please see: . They argue that global warming is not merely a problem to addressed (and balanced against other problems are also pressing), but rather that it is a crisis that requires the adoption of any and all measures to stop it. In his film, An Inconvenient Truth (Paramount Pictures, 2006), Mr. Gore asserts that we have already seen horrific consequences of global warming. He states that the devastating hurricane season of 2005 was due to global warming and that both the number and severity of storms, like Katrina, that year were attributable to climate change. He also asserts and increasing number of droughts as a result of climate change. But, according to the consensus report of the IPCC, global warming is not expected to increase the frequency of hurricanes and, although they predict an increase in storm severity the report clearly states the severity of no one storm in 2005 can be clearly attributed to global warming. Furthermore, the IPCC report states that increasing droughts are only likely related to climate change, indicating a significant chance (33%) that they are not (please see policymaker's summary: Climate change alarmists also argue that the arctic ice cap will soon disappear and that a catastrophic 20-foot rise is sea level is imminent. In his film, Mr. Gore states we should devote as many resources to protecting ourselves from this rise in sea level as we do in protecting ourselves from terrorist attacks. Also in the film, Mr. Gore asserts that the arctic ice cap will be gone in the summer within 50-70 years. In his book, An Assault on Reason, he revised this estimate to 34 years (New York: Penguin, 2007). In his public remarks upon learning he was to share the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC, Al Gore asserted that summer arctic sea ice will be gone in 23 years ( and in a recent interview with NBC's Andrea Mitchell he estimated the life expectancy of summer arctic ice at no more than 10 years ( However, the IPCC consensus report estimates that late summer arctic sea ice will disappear toward the end of the next century [emphasis added] and a 20-foot rise in sea level would happen, incrementally, over the course of a millenium [emphasis added], not imminently causing widespread dislocation (please see both and

Another view that diverges from the consensus view is the skeptical view. While some skeptics question weather warming is even occurring, most acknowledge the warming but question weather the observed warming is due man-made carbon emissions or other greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere by industrial activity and the burning of fossil fuels and weather the consequences of the warming are necessarily catastrophic. These are important questions because if global warming is a natural phenomenon and not man-made, no action we could take will slow, stop, or reverse; and if the consequences of global warming will not be catastrophic then making large sacrifices and diverting resources from other priorities to combat it is inappropriate. A number of scientists are skeptical of the consensus view of global warming (Henrik Svensmark of Denmark, Russian Habibullo Abdussamatov, and Australian Ian Plimer, to name a few, can be added to four American skeptics interviewed by John Stossel here: The skeptical view focuses on other, natural, drivers of warming, rather than man-made greenhouse gas emissions. Even the IPCC report discusses natural drivers of climate change such as changes in the Earth's orbit (historically the driver of ice ages and interglacial periods) and solar irradiation. Skeptical scientists believe these natural drivers of climate change are underestimated by the IPCC. There are several facts not accounted for by the consensus view of climate change. The IPCC admits in its report that their theory does not account for the lack of warming in the Antarctic ( As noted above, the correlation between warming and rising sea levels is also questionable. The IPCC discusses atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations as one of the prime drivers of global warming. In fact, they upgraded their certainty (from likely to very likely)that global warming was man-made based on the last ten years of data (prior to their 2007 report) showing the warmest decade on record and a sharp upswing in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations to 379 parts-per-million (ppm), when pre-industrial highs are estimated at no more than 280-300 ppm. However, there is a clear disconnect between atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. As the data in this figure from the NOAA show (see, in recent decades there has been a linear rise in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. However, in the 1950's, 1960's, and 1970's, global temperatures were decreasing despite increasing carbon dioxide levels, which lead some to be concerned at the time about global cooling (see this article in Newsweek from April 1975 for the temperature trend over those decades: Buried on page 13 of the most recent IPCC summary for policy makers ( is the following statement, "Warming tends to reduce land and ocean uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide, increasing the fraction of anthropogenic [man-made] emissions that remains in the atmosphere." In other words, the oceans release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when they are warmer (gases are less soluble in warm water). In the IPCC report chapter on paleoclimate, this release of carbon dioxide from the oceans is described as the driver of rising carbon dioxide levels associated with pre-industrial periods of warming ( Paleological data suggest that some of these pre-industrial warming periods were quite significant and the IPCC policymaker's summary points out that polar regions were significantly warmer than present 125,000 years ago and at that time the arctic ice had completely melted, resulting in 4-6 metre rise in sea level. This data calls into question whether atmospheric carbon dioxide is a driver of global warming, or a result of global warming, or some combination of both; and whether the current warming trend might be a natural phenomenon as the one 125,000 years ago was. Finally, the consensus view that global warming is a man-made phenomenon offers no explanation for the parallel global warming occurring on Mars ( and also Nature 446: 646-649).

Skeptics argue that this data supports the notion that the primary driver of climate change is natural, and presumably solar. Although the authors are clear that solar activity does not explain all of the observed warming, Figure 4 in this 1998 paper by Lean and Rind ( shows a striking correlation correlation between global temperature and sunspot number (including the aforementioned cooling period in the 195o's, 196o's, and 1970's). Figure 1 in this paper by Soon ( also demonstrates a correlation between solar irradiance and temperature, including a decrease in solar irradiance during the cooling between 1940 and 1980. Henrik Svensmark has argued that solar activity governs low cloud cover and this low cloud cover has a profound effect on temperature. When there is more low cloud cover, heat is reflected away from the Earth and the Earth cools. When there is less low cloud cover, the Earth warms. Low cloud cover is generated by cosmic rays and the effect of cosmic rays on the Earth is dampened by an increase in solar activity. Therefore, increases solar activity, decreased cosmic rays, decreased low cloud cover, and warming and vice versa with decreased solar activity. This influence on cosmic rays may amplify the solar effect and explain why other researchers have concluded that the magnitude of solar irradiance is insufficient to account for the warming. Although Svensmark theory is not widely endorsed in the scientific community, there is data to support it, he has been able to experimentally show in a laboratory how cosmic rays influence cloud cover, and his theory has the added bonus of predicting the lack of warming in the Antarctic (please see link to review article here: Svensmark's plot of cosmic ray activity in Figure 5 is remarkable similar to the NASA-Goddard recorded temperatures plotted here:

The above brief review of actual climate science demonstrates that while data supporting the consensus view that global warming is a man-made phenomenon, related to greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, this data is by no means conclusive. Several observations are not explained by the consensus model and there is at least some data to support the notion that some, or even most, of climate change is a natural phenomenon. Even if the consensus view is correct regarding the cause of global warming, estimating its severity or impact remains difficult. As noted above, the IPCC projections are relatively modest, but still serious. Yet, such predictions are made from mathematical models at it is unclear from the discussion above whether the mechanism of climate change and relative importance of variables involved are understood well enough to create a valid model.

Scientific consensus is not a substitute for data. In fact, the mere fact that global warming is generally discussed in terms of scientific consensus is proof positive that the data, while compelling, is not conclusive. When data is conclusive, consensus is irrelevant. Although consensus opinion usually turns out to be correct, the history of science is full of examples of minority opinions (Copernican model of the solar system, Big-Bang Theory, infectious cause of stomach ulcers to name a few) were ultimately proven correct and overthrew the reigning consensus opinion. Therefore, the fact that there are still skeptical scientists and research data suggesting the possibility of an alternate view means that the science is not, "in," and the consensus view has not been proven.

Therefore, debate about what to do regarding global warming, if anything, is legitimate. The risk of global warming needs to be balanced against both the cost and likely effectiveness of the proposed remedy. Policy decisions need to incorporate this debate, not gloss over it. Demagogues like Al Gore and other climate alarmist seek to stifle debate through fear. They do not discuss the data and its limitations (as noted above, Mr. Gore has a penchant for ignoring or exaggerating the data), but rather state summarily that the issue has been settled (when we have seen above that it has not been) and that anything other than following their proposed remedy is evil. In An Inconvenient Truth, Mr. Gore asserts, "This is not a political issue so much as a moral issue. If we allow this [climate change] to happen, it is deeply unethical." Mr. Gore's rhetoric leaves no room for debate and is, in my opinion, deeply irresponsible.

Brushing aside such nonsense, what is the proper course? In his Sunday show on CNN on December 13, 2009, Fareed Zakaria presented a responsible consensus view. He argued that even if the chance of the catastrophic scenario is relatively small, it is real and perhaps some expense is justifiable as sort of an insurance policy against such a possibility. This is a very reasonable position, but this position then requires legitimate debate about what the appropriate cost for such an insurance policy should be. What climate change insurance premium would be reasonable? In his book, Physics for Future Presidents (W.W. Norton, New York, 2008), UCB Professor Richard Muller makes a similar argument and makes a compelling case that significant reductions in carbon emissions can be achieved with relatively modest interventions that he terms, "comfortable conservation."

Alternatively, the late Michael Crichton ( and Swedish environmentalist Bjorn Lomborg ( have argued that the science is too unsettled, the predictions too uncertain, and the utility of proposed interventions too unknown, to justify diversion of resources away from more pressing and immediate problems, such as global poverty. Standard of living in North America and Europe rose as a function of economic development. What developing nations need to escape poverty are cheap sources of energy. No renewable energy source even approaches the energy efficiency of gasoline (only butanolol, a potential biofuel, approaches gasoline in efficiency) and it is cheap, only about ten cents (U.S.) per kilowatt-hour. Coal is less efficient, but much cheaper at only a half-cent per kilowatt-hour. Contrast that with solar energy. The best solar cells are only 41% efficient, but these cost $100,000 USD per square yard. A reasonable commercially available solar cell is only 15% efficient and could power the electrical needs of a single family home for about $14,000 USD per cell. This means, the solar cell would have to last at least 22 years before requiring replacement for the buyer just to break even, assuming 2008 California power costs (Muller, Physics for Future Presidents, W.W. Norton, New York, 2008). With those costs in mind, it is clear that without the expansion of the use of fossil fuels in the developing world, billions will remain impoverished and millions will die as a result of that poverty. International cap and trade protocols that allow developed nations to pay underdeveloped countries to use less carbon fuels so that the developed nation can continue to use more will do nothing but ensure that impoverished nations remain impoverished.

This, then, is the debate. Are the consequences of doing nothing too dire to risk? Are the proposed solutions futile because climates change regardless of man's actions? Or, are the proposed solutions potentially effective, but not worth their costs? There are plenty of good arguments and all sides of this debate and in a free society policy is subsequently determined by vigorous debate of the issues amongst elected representatives expressing the will of the people. In a free society, demagoguery that glosses over controversy and labels one side as evil or immoral is unacceptable. By debating the actual data in support of and questioning man-made global warming, ultimately a political consensus may be reached that determines policy. Like it or not, in a free society the process of crafting policy is often slow as advocates attempt to persuade undecideds, through reason, that their position is correct.

However, the Environmental Protection Agency has hijacked this issue. The Constitution intends that regulation of economic or social behaviour should be decided by elected representatives. Congress makes laws that regulate economic behaviour and the President signs them. The President negotiates treaties with other nations and the Senate must ratify them. But now it matters little whether cap and trade legislation is stalled in Congress or whether there are votes in the Senate to ratify an agreement reached in Copenhagen. Now an independent regulatory agency has declared power to regulate carbon dioxide (and therefore carbon-fuels, and therefore the economic activity of every citizen) because it is a pollutant. The idea that carbon dioxide, a harmless gas that is exhaled by every man, woman, and child on the planet threatens the health and welfare of current Americans is laughable to say the least and yet the EPA has seen fit to declare it so and assume broad powers to control it without the least bit of responsibility to voters. Regardless of where we might stand on the climate debate, we should all be able to agree that this is appalling. The principle of the ends justifying the means is not an appropriate governing principle for a free and democratic society. It is the governing principle of totalitarianism.

Currency Competition

I wrote the following to my Congressman yesterday, urging him to support H.R. 4248, The Free Competition in Currency Act:

I am writing to ask you to support H.R. 4248, The Free Competition in Currency Act, introduced by Representative Ron Paul on December 9, 2009.

The act would do three things: 1) abolish federal legal tender laws, 2) end prohibition of privately operated mints, and 3) eliminate capital gains taxes on gold and silver.

Although this may seem like an obscure issue, I can assure that none is more important. The role of money in modern society is critical. Without it, an individual would be forced to produce his or her own food, clothing, and shelter, or barter for it, hoping that the person that has what one needs, needs what one has to trade. Money introduces a common medium of exchange to facilitate economic transaction.

Sound money is critical to the long-term health and well being of a society. Although consumer prices have remained relatively stable in recent years, there has been considerable inflation in the money supply. Regardless of your view on the necessity of the two economic stimulus packages (one passed at the end of President Bush’s term and one passed at the beginning of the President Obama’s term), the money for this largess in federal spending comes largely from newly borrowed and newly printed money. In other words, this spending further inflates the money supply and will ultimately devalue the U.S. dollar. In addition to economic stimulus and other government programs you may deem valuable, this readily inflatable money supply also provides a means to finance wars. It is hard to believe that President Bush could have prosecuted an unpopular war in Iraq for so long if he actually had to confiscate wealth from citizens to pay for it.

A year ago, we saw how dangerous dollar devaluation could be when rising fuel prices, related to a weakening dollar, put a real pinch on working Americans. Not only did fuel prices rise, but this caused a subsequent rise in food prices and played no small role in precipitating the collapse of the housing bubble as more and more Americans could no longer afford to put gas in their cars, food on their tables, and make their mortgage payments all at the same time.

Congressman Paul’s bill would not eliminate Federal Reserve notes as currency, nor would it change the authority of Congress in the coinage of money, nor would it return the United States to a “gold standard.” What it would do is allow individuals choice in what to use and accept for payment. It would allow contracts to be written in other media of exchange besides Federal Reserve notes (i.e. precious metals or other commodities) and, more importantly, it would allow more Americans worried about the loss of their accumulated wealth and the diminishing of their buying power, due to inflation and devaluation of the dollar, to choose to use gold or other commodities as a medium of exchange or to protect their savings.

The first provision of H.R. 4248 would end the federal government’s monopoly on currency and give the consumer choice in his or her medium of exchange. The second provision would allow private companies to manufacture gold and silver coins, making the use of commodity-based money practical by introducing easily portable and transferable commodity money. The third provision is, in my opinion, the most important. Currently investors in gold and silver pay capital gains tax when the price of their gold and silver goes up. However, the rise in price of gold and silver is usually caused by devaluation of the dollar. We simply have to stop penalizing Americans for trying to save their wealth in a more stable asset. Furthermore, without this repeal, individuals using commodity money would pay a tax just to use it every time the Federal Reserve dollar lost value.

In the course of this letter, I have pointed out some of the problems with the Federal Reserve fiat currency. However, if the current U.S. dollar is truly superior to commodity money, if people continue to have confidence in it, and if the federal government pursues policies that strengthen it, then the U.S. dollar has nothing to fear from competition. On the other hand, having choice in currency will allow working Americans to protect their savings, protect their buying power, and use currency that everyone can have confidence in. As debate rages about whether to allow government to compete with private health insurance companies, I urge you to support competition in currency as well. Americans should no longer be forced to use devalued Federal Reserve notes and should have the choice to use sound money that retains its value.

Thank you for your attention to this very important issue.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Trying Time

Attorney General Eric Holder has made news this week announcing that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the alleged planner (I refuse to use the word, "mastermind," to describe a thug who allegedly planned the murder of thousands) of the September 11 attacks will be tried in a U.S. civilian court in New York City, rather than by a military tribunal. Predictably on the Sunday morning talk shows this morning, Republicans lined up to label this as a bad idea that threatens our national security and Democrats lined up to praise the move. Opponents argue that KSM does not deserve the protections of the accused afforded a U.S. citizen in a criminal trial, that such a trial may publicly expose sensitive information about U.S. intelligence gathering that will hamper our efforts to defeat international terrorism, and that the criminal justice paradigm is not appropriate for foreign terrorists who have committed an act of war.

Whether a criminal or a war time paradigm is appropriate in dealing with terrorists is somewhat of a false choice. An attack by international terrorists is BOTH an act of war and a crime. Surely a wartime footing is appropriate in going after attackers overseas and gathering intelligence that may help thwart future attacks. It may often be appropriate to gather information in ways that would be inadmissible in a criminal court if it will prevent an attack. This does not preclude formal charges and criminal trials for those apprehended after an attack.

Deciding if, when, and to what degree civil liberties can be suspended in time of war in a free society is difficult enough. However, in conventional war between nation states (or even in the U.S. Civil War), it is understood that such measures are meant to be temporary and last only for the duration of the war. Jihadist terrorism is something that the United States is likely to remain at war with for the foreseeable future. Shouldn't we then be more selective in what, if any, civil liberties we suspend in the interest of national security when the perceived need for such measures is indefinite? What good is victory, after all, if we have to sacrifice the liberty we are fighting for in order to achieve it?

But, the case of KSM presents its own challenges. Unlike Timothy McVeigh, KSM is not a U.S. citizen and not, automatically, guaranteed the protections of our Constitution. Unlike Zacarias Moussaoui (the "20th hijacker"), he was not even arrested on U.S. soil as the result of a criminal investigation. Rather, KSM was taken on the field of battle in Afghanistan by U.S. soldiers as a prisoner of war. Why then should constitutional protections apply to him? Surely it is appropriate that he be tried, as a prisoner of war, by a military tribunal. Surely, his trial by a tribunal would in no way set any kind of precedent that erodes the rights if U.S. citizens. Some of the Republicans opposed to the move argued on the Sunday morning talk shows this morning that the public trials of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers made public information about American security measures that allowed Al Qaeda to plan a more successful attack. Whether this is true or not, certainly the possibility that KSM's public trial could make public sensitive information is an important consideration.

I don't know whether the criminal court or the military tribunal is the proper venue for the trial of KSM. What I do know, is that to be credible and just, the integrity of the process must be maintained. If there are valid reasons of national security why KSM should not be tried in a civilian criminal court, there is certainly appropriate legal grounds for not offering him that venue (he is not a U.S. citizen and therefore not protected by the Constitution and he was taken as a prisoner of war on the field of battle) then try him with a military tribunal. On the other hand, the United States should never be afraid to offer constitutional protections to non-citizens (as we would with any alien apprehended for a crime within our borders, like Zacarias Moussaoui). If we truly believe, as I do, that our principles of liberty are, "self-evident," and appropriate for all people world-wide then we should not shirk from proclaiming that to the world by offering such basic civil liberties even to our enemies.

But, the integrity of the process can only be maintained if the same procedure is followed for all terror detainees apprehended overseas. KSM is being offered a criminal trial, but other terror suspects are being tried by military tribunals. This approach smells of rigged outcomes. Attorney General Holder is certain he has met criminal burdens of evidence for KSM, so he gets a show trial in New York, but others in Guantanamo for whom evidence is not as solid will be railroaded through a military tribunal. The message this sends is that the process is irrelevant so long as we get the "right result." If we can't get you one way, we'll get you another (A supporter of the administration's plan to try KSM, Rep. Jack Reed (D-RI) went as far on Fox News Sunday today to suggest that even if KSM were acquitted he could and would still be held indefinitely because of the threat he represents!). If KSM deserves a criminal trial, then doesn't every non-citizen terror suspect apprehended overseas? If there are reasons why a prisoner of war paradigm for terror detainees is more appropriate than an indicted criminal paradigm, then shouldn't KSM also be tried by a military tribunal?

I have no problem offering KSM constitutional protections in a criminal trial, so long as these protections are offered to all apprehended terror suspects. I can live with the idea that terror suspects that are not U.S. citizens and were apprehended overseas can be tried by military tribunals, including KSM. What I find inappropriate and unacceptable is selective choice of venue. Justice can only truly exist when applied equally to everyone.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

D.C. Tea Party

Yesterday, I joined tens of thousands of people (perhaps as many as 1.5 million according to some estimates) at the Washington D.C. Tea Party rally to protest the rampant growth of government and runaway federal spending that we have seen over the last nine years.

There were certainly many demonstrators with signs bearing hate, vitriol, and personal attacks against the President (the "liar" epithet being the most common). I have little use for such least common denominator politics. As readers of this blog know (, I consider the fact that someone like Barack Obama - a member of an ethnic minority, the son of an immigrant, and a child raised by a single parent, can rise to become President a testament to the greatness of this nation. I do not impugn the President's motives nor find him deliberately deceitful (in fact, he is often rather candid about the collectivist agenda he has for this country). Rather, I think he is simply wrong on a number of issues. The President views all issues through a philosophical mind set that it is best to, "spread the wealth around." Through this collectivist lens that insists justice is measured, not by equality of opportunity, but rather by equality of result, it is difficult to comprehend (and perhaps irrelevant), that his plans may come at great cost, both economically and in terms of individual liberty. In fact, it is impossible to have both equality of opportunity AND equality of result. Given equal opportunity, different people will achieve different things based on their different interests, different levels of motivation, and different skills and talents. Therefore, guaranteeing equality of result requires stifling one individual's freedom to achieve for himself (or herself) to benefit of someone else. It is the simple fact that this redistribution of accrued wealth is incompatible with the notion of a free society that the President cannot, or will not understand.

However vitriolic sign-carriers by no means represented the majority of protesters. Most were respectful and carried either Gadsden flags or more substantive, issue-oriented signs. Health Care reform, the skyrocketing deficit, and Cap and Trade were the most common issues and many of the signs were quite clever, pithy, and succinct - distilling an important philosophical point onto a placard. The best of these, in my opinion, was a sign that said, "Save Trees - Stop Printing Money." The demonstrators I spoke with were quite informed and knowledgeable (I had a very detailed and intelligent conversation with a gentleman from Indiana on health care). They were of all ages and all walks of life, including many veterans. One woman was visiting D.C. and didn't know of the event, but joined it when she heard about. I spoke with a few demonstrators, that like me were fed up with both parties for the nine year spending spree our nation has been on. Several had signs or buttons that suggested all incumbents, of both parties, should be tossed out in 2010. Several of the speakers also echoed this theme, that Republicans were equally to blame. The notion that these events are organized by Republican leadership for political purposes to discredit the President is utter nonsense. In fact, there was only one sitting Republican congressmen present (Tom Price, R-GA).

Which brings me to the real explanation behind the tea party phenomenon. This is not strictly partisan (I even talked with a libertarian group promoting and end to the war on drugs) as many of the protesters were fed up with both parties. Although for some the motivation may have been personal, for most it has noting to do with hate for the President. Furthermore, most of the protesters came of their own accord and at their own expense. Rather, this is the culmination of nine years of watching our nation head down the wrong track. For many of the protesters, this begins with the health care entitlement of the Bush administration (Medicare D), No Child Left Behind, the doubling of the national debt under President Bush, and the nearly trillion dollar bailout President Bush signed into law. The breaking point comes when President Obama, who campaigned on change, picks up right where President Bush left off - with an even bigger health care entitlement, another big bailout, government takeover of GM and Chrysler, and projections to double the national debt yet again. As individuals start saving again and as companies seek to cut losses in these difficult economic times, many wonder why our government in Washington shouldn't be doing the same. Aside from the threat to liberty that any expansion of government power poses, the fact that such runaway spending cannot possibly be sustainable is intuitively obvious.

Finally, as a I stood amongst the multitude and added my voice to theirs, I couldn't help but feel very grateful for a country that allowed such a large assembly, at the Capitol, to protest the policies of government and that such a large group could do so peacefully and respectfully. It was a reminder that ours is the greatest nation on Earth.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Health Scare

With great trepidation I shall attempt to organize thoughts on health care reform while Congress is in recess, having not yet passed a bill. I have certainly had considerable evolution in my view of this issue over the last several years. In my college days, I advocated a single-payer national health insurance plan, similar to the Canadian model; a position antithetical to the stated purpose of this blog (the promotion of limited government). I was persuaded by the theoretical cost savings of covering everyone and preventing chronic disease from becoming more expensive to treat when not prevented or treated early. I also, at the time, agreed with the moral imperative to make sure every American had access to health care - nearly acknowledging that health care is a right. Observing the Canadian health care system by observing care my Canadian relatives have received, I do think it is a good system. However, there are serious limitations to it that should not be overlooked. What is missing from debate in Washington these days is any sort of serious discussions of pros and cons; rather each side would rather engage in hyperbolic rhetoric. The left pretends that reform will cost nothing, either in terms of financial cost or a loss of things that are good about the current U.S. system. The right pretends that this is, "socialized medicine," and that health care in Canada is similar to a third world country. Neither side is being honest with the American people. Honesty requires the left to make a case that there is a moral imperative to extend health insurance coverage to more (or all) Americans and not to allow one-sixth of the population to remain uncovered; but that that will come at certain costs. Honesty requires the right to admit that health care will be pretty good for all of us under a government plan, but to question whether covering the extra people is worth the losses in terms of innovation in health care and the proliferation of health care resources that prevents shortages and queues; and to ask whether there aren't better ways to expand coverage (if not quite providing universal coverage) without asking the 85% of Americans with coverage to give up some of what they have. Most importantly, honesty requires acknowledging that this debate is more about how to cover Americans than it is about controlling health care costs (something the administration claims is the reason a bill must be passed) and to recognize that this is a health insurance problem, not a health care crisis. If we persist in discussing this issue on the terms that it is not about a commodity called health insurance, but rather that it is about a right to health care, then there will be no room for honest debate.


As I have reflected about the nature of rights, I have changed my view since those college days. Rights are innate; they are things everyone possesses naturally. They can be taken away, forcibly, but without extrinsic force, an individual possesses them. life, liberty, free speech, freedom of conscience/religion are all clear examples of rights. Commodities are things one acquires and has a right to in as much as one has legitimately acquired them Hence the concept of property rights and ownership. It seems to me that health care, a service provided by practitioners in return for payment, therefore is a commodity. It is a very basic one, a very necessary one, and one in which it still might be reasonable to provide for all as a matter of public policy, but that does not make it a right. Calling it a right ends all debate. If it is a right, then there can be no argument over whether or not society needs to provide it to everyone. Not only that, if it is a right, everyone is entitled to an equal amount of it; just as everyone is has the same ability to speak freely, assemble freely, or worship freely. If health care is a right, physicians and nurses are obligated to provide it, with or without payment for services. We treat no other good or service this way. Even food and housing, more basic needs than health care, are commodities for which payment is expected and for which there is accepted disparity between what one person can afford compared to another. The wealthy person lives in a mansion and eats fillet mignon, the less well off person rents and apartment and brings home KFC. I think we can have a discussion about what role government can or should play in providing coverage for people or expanding access for people, but we have to understand that we are talking about the commodity of health insurance coverage, not a God-given right.


Before proceeding, it is important to come to terms with what we are actually talking about. For the sake of simplicity I'd like to limit discussion to three different models that I have some familiarity with: 1) the United States, the country in which I live and practice medicine; 2) Canada, the country in which most of my extended family lives; and 3) the United Kingdom, the country where most of my wife's extended family lives. The models of health care delivery are quite different in these three countries. Since World War II, the United States has moved from a system of fee-for-service (doctors and hospitals charge patient's directly for the service they render) to a system of third party payers. For most, the third party payer is a private insurance company, for some (the very poor that get Medicaid, the elderly that receive Medicare, or congressmen) it is the government, and some are uninsured. Rationing of resources in this system is first by income (those who can afford coverage or have coverage as an employment benefit) and secondly by insurance companies, who are, for many Americans, the final arbiters of what is covered and what is not. Like the United States, Canada has a third party payer system. The difference is only a single third party payer, the government. Hospitals and doctors are still owned privately and collect fees for service, but reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals are set by the single payer, the government. The Canadian system is what the U.S. would be like if everyone had Medicare. The United Kingdom, on the other hand, has a true system of socialized medicine. The government owns hospitals and health care resources and most physicians work for the government. Not only does the government regulate the payment of health care professionals, it also regulates how health care resources are distributed. The UK system, therefore, is analogous to the VA medical system in the U.S.


With that in mind, let's move on to what is actually being discussed in Washington. First of all, no one, and I mean no one, is promoting actual socialized medicine in the UK model in which the government would take complete, or near complete ownership, of the industry (as it has with the financial and automotive industries); employ the doctors and dictate to them how to practice; and directly ration the allocation of resources. You would never know it based on the rhetoric of some on the right, but such charges are deliberate scare tactics. Furthermore, many private insurance companies ration care to a far greater degree than government programs, such as Medicare.

Most on the left advocate a Canadian-style single payer system. This system has the advantage of providing a high level of health care to everyone (universal coverage). There are still legitimate reasons to be wary, however. First, it would represent a large expansion of federal government and a very expensive new entitlement. Secondly, it would amount to a government takeover of the health insurance industry which is of dubious constitutionality. Finally, the Canadian experience is a classic example of how government price setting creates shortages. Doctor's fees in Canada are set by the federal government and as a consequence, many doctors have left Canada. Canada ranks 24th out of 28 industrialized nations in doctors per 1,000 population (source: Canada has 2.1 doctors per 1,000 population compared to 2.4 in the U.S. (source: At one point in the mid-90's, Canada was losing 400,000 doctors per year, about one in nine Canadian medical graduates leave the country and 80% of doctors that leave go to the United States (source:

In the United States, by contrast, medicine is very profitable. This profitability has driven innovation and created cutting edge, high quality treatments, that while expensive, save lives ( Furthermore, U.S. hospitals can reinvest the money they earn into buying new equipment and offering more services. The small (250-bed), non-profit hospital in downtown Baltimore at which I work, in the seven years I have been, on the medical staff; has expanded the Emergency Department; built a new outpatient cancer/women's health center, with its own operating rooms; bought a second MRI scanner and then replaced the first one with a newer scanner; added a third CT scanner; and is in the process of building a new, larger, hospital! The single payer system in Canada is responsible for the relative scarcity of health care resources (compared to the U.S.) that can create queues and long waits for treatments.

However, the single-payer system is not even what is on the table in now in Washington. Since the President has been deliberately vague and there is no actual bill yet from Congress, it is hard to discuss specifics, but we can discuss the general proposal that the President has talked about. The general plan is to require employers with payrolls over $500,000 to provide employees with health insurance or pay and 8% tax payroll tax. Those not covered by employer provided insurance can opt into a public, government funded plan, that would function like the single payer system in Canada. In addition health insurance would become portable so a person can keep their insurance if they lose their job and there would be restrictions on denying coverage due to pre-existing conditions. The selling points of the plan are that everyone would have access to coverage and that people who like their current insurance coverage would, ostensibly, get to keep it.

But, the public option is a Trojan horse. Many employers may find an 8% payroll tax cheaper than what they pay in health insurance premiums for their employees and subsequently drop their coverage, forcing their employees into the public plan. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and former Vermont Governor Howard Dean debated this issue on the August 9, 2009 broadcast of ABC's This Week (In my opinion, both Speaker Gingrich and Governor Dean are men of substance and worth listening to, whether one agrees with them or not). Speaker Gingrich cited a study that suggested as many as 130 million Americans would lose their current coverage under the plan (as currently crafted in the bill that passed in the House). Dr. Dean dismissed that study as one funded by the health insurance industry, but acknowledged that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated 5-10 million Americans would lose their current coverage. This is actually an astounding admission. The administration argues that if you like your current coverage, nothing has to change; but under the bill that passed in the House, by any estimate, millions of Americans will actually be forced to change their coverage (and probably rely on the public plan). The left maintains that the public plan only provides, "more competition," for the private insurance market, which will be to the benefit of consumers. However, when one competitor can insure people at a loss (deficit spend) and also sets the rules of the competition (health care legislation and regulation), it is hardly accurate to call this competition. The public plan is a tentative first step to the gradual establishment of a single payer system, with all the advantages and drawbacks of such a system as previously described.


The President has insisted that Congress find funding for health care reform (the buzz word is, "deficit neutral") and that it control health care costs, which have been growing faster than inflation. Such a plan can hardly be deficit neutral. The creation of a public health insurance plan would create a new entitlement that would commit our government to ever escalating spending. Covering more people, for longer if the universal (or near universal) coverage increases life expectancy can only cost the tax payers a lot of money. Currently, Medicare spending is one of the largest pieces of the federal budget. In short, it will be expensive and in the absence of tax increases on everyone, it is hard to see how it would be deficit neutral. In fact, the CBO declared that the current plan that passed in the House was not (source: But, would it control costs?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the United States spends about 15% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on health care. By contrast, Canada spends about 10% of GDP on health care. Canada also spends less per capita on health care. Proponents of government reform, particularly single payer reform, point to these statistics and argue that Canadians get just as much service (or nearly so) for less. However, these statistics ignore the fact that health care costs have been spiraling out of control in Canada as well. Health care spending in Canada has also been increasing faster than inflation and hit a record high last year, causing some in Canada to question whether the Canadian system is sustainable (source:

In his book, Free to Choose, Nobel prize-winning economist Milton Friedman discusses government spending and this discussion, indirectly, explains why no third-party payer system, whether public or private, can control costs. According to Friedman, there are four types of spending: 1) you can spend your own money on your self, in which case you have incentives to both spend as little as possible and to get the most value for your money, 2)you can spend your money on someone else, in which case you have still have an incentive to spend as little as possible, but not necessarily to get the best value for your money, 3) you can spend someone else's money on you, in which case you still have an incentive to get the best value, but not necessarily to spend as little as possible, and 4) you can spend someone else's money on yet someone else, in which case you don't have an incentive to either get the best value or spend the smallest amount possible. Third party health payments, particularly government ones, are category 4. Private payments may be category 2, but even this is not much of check on costs because the consumer of health services is not paying directly and as treatments become more advanced, they will become more expensive. A government insurance plan will do little to limit the escalation of health care cost, it will merely shift the cost from the private sector to our heavily indebted federal government.

In the final analysis, there are only two ways to control costs. The first is to ration care (as private insurance companies do to varying degrees) as in the British model. In Britain, the government is not only the third-party payer, it is the allocator of health care resources. For example, in the United States, having end stage renal disease makes one automatically eligible for medical disability and Medicare and Medicare covers the cost of dialysis treatments. In other words, the United States has made a policy decision that no American should die because of a lack of access to kidney dialysis. In Britain, your eligibility for dialysis is determined based on your age and other medical comorbidities. This type of government rationing does control costs, but most Americans would find this unacceptable. The second way to control costs is not to have third party payers at all, but rather have the actual consumers of health care foot the bill (a true fee-for-service system). Then health care spending would by Type 1 and patient's would have greater incentive to take better care of themselves and get the best value for their money. Furthermore, in a true market system (which the private health insurance is not, for a variety of reasons), costs cannot rise higher than the market will bear or higher than than capacity of consumers to pay. If they do and no one can afford the service, those that provide the service will go out of business. A market system would give an incentive to doctors to charge a little as possible, to keep patients, rather than to charge as much as possible to a third party payer. However a true free market, fee-for-service, system does nothing to expand coverage and rations care solely based on one's ability to pay, an outcome many also find unacceptable.


Getting beyond the scare tactics, then, the real debate is not between socialized medicine and free market medicine, neither of which are actually on the table; it is not between rationing, which will happen with either private insurances or a government plan and unlimited coverage; and it is not, despite all the President's disingenuous rhetoric, about controlling health care costs (although perhaps it should be). The debate is about how to expand health insurance coverage for the 47 million Americans who do not have it, whether it is a proper role for federal government to expand coverage, how to pay for such coverage, and how much is reasonable to ask the vast majority of Americans with coverage to sacrifice to provide such coverage.

Universal coverage would have the advantages of, potentially, a healthier population; less utilization of Emergency Services; and, in the case of government health insurance, shifting a cost burden off corporations and potentially making them more competitive with their overseas competitors. Universal coverage sounds like a noble goal, but it will come at a price. The price, as discussed above, is a loss of innovation in medicine and the potential to create a shortage of health care resources. If the American public is persuaded that what is lost in transition to a Canadian-style system is worth the moral imperative of expanding coverage, then reform with a public option will pass; if not, then it will not. But, that is the case the President should be making if he is honest with the American people, not trying to scare them into thinking their health care will become unaffordable if his plan is not passed. Likewise, the right needs to argue that the costs are not worth the gains and propose other ways to expand coverage without sacrificing the things we would all like to preserve about health care in the United States.


On thing that has not changed as I have reflected on this issue over the last two decades is that I continue to believe Canadians enjoy great health care. Health care in Canada is, arguably, second only to the United States and everyone has coverage. Such a system is nothing to be afraid of, but neither is it a panacea. It simply substitutes one set of problems for another. The single-payer system stifles innovation, contributes to shortages of resources, and shifts costs to tax payers without doing much to control them. Furthermore, I am not convinced that our federal government truly has the Constitutional authority to become such a large player in the market place (although the precedent has certainly been set with it's take over of AIG and GM). I am also not convinced of our government's ability to manage anything competently or cost-effectively. Finally, I think in the midst of recession and with federal deficits reaching unprecedented levels, and both entitlement spending and interest on the national debt accounting for an ever growing percentage of the federal budget, I do not think now is the time to contemplating any new entitlement programs. Having framed the debate, I think it is a better debate to have another day.

Despite my free market principles (and the growing phenomenon of concierge care), I am also not naive enough to believe that the genie of third party payers can be put back in the bottle. I do think there are ways to harness market forces to both reduce costs and expand coverage (although this would fall well short of universal coverage). For example, Safeway has reduced the cost of health care for its employees by 40% by providing incentives for healthy living in the form of lower premiums in return for lifestyle modification such as smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise, or meeting goal cholesterol levels (source: Senator McCain's campaign proposal to allow purchase of health insurance coverage across state lines would expand coverage by letting individuals purchase less expensive plans from other states and would provide increased competition in the health insurance industry to help drive down costs. Currently health insurance companies operate in carved out niches, protected by competition from other states and in many states a handful of insurers account for the vast majority of the insured. This lack of competition can only benefit insurance companies at the expense of health insurance consumers. In medical school I, and others, wrote a paper discussing likely changes to the health care system by 2010. We discussed a proposal in the news at that time that would allow individuals to deduct their health insurance premiums from their income taxes, the way businesses who provide health insurance do, which would help individuals who did not receive health insurance from their employer purchase individual plans. I would also favour true health savings accounts that would allow the young and the healthy, who aren't likely to require much coverage at that point in their lives, to put money away, tax free, that can be withdrawn at any time later in life for health expenses. Perhaps, for now, such modest measures will have to suffice.

Many thanks to all that I have been discussing this issue with over the last several months: lay persons, physicians, and other health professionals; residents of the U.S., Canada, and New Zealand; liberals, conservatives, and moderates; all of whom have helped me finally organize some, I hope, coherent thoughts on a topic I have wrestled with for a long time.

Saturday, June 20, 2009


Protests of the recent election results in Iran continue and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the leader of the clerical wing of Iran's government (and probably the true source of political power in Iran) has promised that they will be forcibly suppressed. Because Iran is a essentially a totalitarian police state, we will never know whether or not President Ahmadinejad was indeed popularly re-elected. However, as discussed last week on Meet the Press by Vice President Biden, there are reasons to be skeptical of the result. Ahmadinejad was apparently declared the winner before voting was completed. The voting was reported as percentages of blocks of millions of votes, rather than a province-by-province tally as has been the case in previous elections in Iran. Furthermore, the percentages garnered by Ahmadinejad did not change regardless whether the bloc was rural, where Ahmadinejad enjoys broad popular support, or urban, where opposition candidate Mousavi is popular (and including, apparently, Mousavi's home town). The Iranian government's response to the protests - sharp police crackdown and blackouts of cell phone service and internet access - also raises suspicions about the veracity of the election results. It is unlikely that the issue will be resolved to satisfaction as the person ultimately responsible for investigating allegations of fraud is the same person who certified the results initially and who has backed Ahmadinejad from the beginning - Ayatollah Khamenei.

In January 2005, I wrote an essay discussing similar, peaceful, protests of election results in Ukraine (posted on this blog on April 26, 2008: The comparisons and contrasts between the current protests in Iran and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine illustrate key points about the origins of liberty.

First, democracy is no guarantor of liberty. Not only are elections corruptible, as the current situation in Iran attests, but they can also serve as vehicle for consolidation of government power at the expense of liberty. It should not be forgotten that, although the National Socialist party never achieved a majority in the Reichstag, it did achieve a plurality, through democratic means, that allowed it to form a coalition government with Adolph Hitler as Chancellor. This ended the Wiemar Republic and established the most brutal police state the world has ever known. In Putin's Russia and Chavez' Venezuela, popularly elected Presidents have governed as virtual autocrats. Furthermore, although majority rule is an important principle in liberal democracy, for a society to be truly free, the rights of the minority must be respected and protected. In other words, the will of the majority has limits. Even if the official results of the recent elections in Iran are accurate, the crackdown on protest and dissent demonstrates that Iran has a long way to go to become a free society. The right of a political minority to peaceably assemble and dissent is a critical component of liberal democracy. Ukraine took an important step toward liberal democracy when it allowed Victor Yushchenko's supporters to protest the election results. Unfortunately, Iran seems committed to not taking this step.

Secondly, as important as free, fair, and transparent elections are to liberal democracies, civil institutions that protect minority and individual rights are more important. In the United States, this is accomplished by a written Constitution that limits the power of government and the checks and balances between the three branches of federal government, the federal government and state governments, and the public and private sectors. A key component of this that we in the U.S. take for granted is an independent and impartial judiciary. In Ukraine's Orange Revolution, the court, appointed by the ruling party that had ostensibly beaten Yushchenko's opposition in the election, asserted its independence and established a principle of judicial review when it discarded the fraudulent election results and ordered a re-vote. In Iran, no such independent review of the election results exists.

Finally, a free society must respect the individual property rights of its citizens and private ownership. In his thought-provoking book, The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria examines the relationship between capital and liberty. Governments that rely on their citizens to produce wealth, in the end are fertile ground for liberal democracy because a legal framework protecting private ownership and individual rights will emerge to promote the economic growth on which the government depends. Although an oil rich state, Iran has a dynamic, non-oil, economy and a per capita income (in 2003-4) of somewhere between $5,000-$6,000 USD; the level of wealth production Zakaria suggests could provide fertile ground for liberal democracy. Iran, once a cradle of civilization, still has the potential to join the 21st century as a vibrant liberal democracy, but only if those other conditions are met. Only then will elections be fair and transparent and only then will the Iranian government rule with the consent of the governed. Elections are not the starting point of liberty, but rather the endpoint. The reward of a free society ready to govern itself.

It seems this is not the moment for the birth of Iranian liberty. But the response to the suspicious election results shows that Iranians are ready and the seeds of their ultimate liberty are being planted today. Iran's nuclear program has been a concern to the U.S. because Iran has been, essentially, a rogue-terrorist state. Iran's transformation into a liberal democracy that is a valued member of the community of nations will neutralize such a threat. The United States needs to be prepared to extend an open hand not to Ahmadinejad, but to the Iranian people who have demonstrated the same yearning for freedom that we have as Americans. Our policies must show us to be friends of the Iranian people, even when we are opposed to the Iranian government. The time may not be now, but the time is coming when the Iranian people will seize control of their own destiny.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Where's the Beef?

Four months ago, Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States. In an historic inauguration, he became the first African-American, or indeed any ethnic minority, to become President. After eight years of the unpopular Bush administration, the changing of the guard was welcome to most Americans. The fresh face elected to the highest office in the land not only looked different, but promised something different. Barack Obama was coming to the White House to bring, "Change We Can Believe In." The disastrous policies of the Bush administration will be undone as a new day dawns in America....

But those of us who observe politics closely can only note that in almost every election, the "out party" complains about the excesses of the "in party," rides the abuses of the "in party" to victory and then becomes the new "in party," and proceeds to continue to exercise the power it previously complained about, but for which the previous government set precedent. Such behaviour is as old as the republic itself (consider Jefferson's Second Revolution in 1800, in which he rode the issue of the Alien and Sedition Acts to power, abolished them, and then proceeded to use state sedition laws to prosecute those that disagreed with his government) and perhaps as old as democracy itself. President Obama is no exception. For all his talk about change, the President has remained committed to continuing and fulfilling the policies of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

To the careful observer, it is not surprising that the policies of the Obama administration are similar to the Bush 43 administration. After all, Barack Obama campaigned as a liberal and the Bush administration was the most leftist administration in four decades. My recent open letter to President Bush describes the left-wing policies of his administration in detail (, but the highlights included a new federal health care entitlement, an increased role of federal government in education, massive domestic spending, socialization of financial industry, and a proposal for a federal "car czar" to give government control of the auto industry. While I know of no specific education proposal from the Obama administration, his White House has made an even larger and more unaffordable health care entitlement a priority. His administration has continued to socialize the financial industry by bailing out and buying large shares in more and more banks, and his car "politburo" now essentially runs GM and Chrysler and the President himself canned the GM CEO. Massive government spending continues. Candidate Obama took issue with one major Bush administration domestic policy - the tax cuts. President Obama, however, is quite content to let them continue and has no plans to repeal them (they will, however, expire if not renewed by Congress, in 2011).

In foreign policy and national security, President Obama has pursued a similar course to President Bush as well. Although rhetoric has changed, policy has not. President Obama announced the closing of Gitmo, but has no real plan to do so. Furthermore, he has promised not to release any enemy combatants that cannot be tried but are still a danger (presumably he decides whether they are dangerous or not). Therefore, open ended detentions will continue whether at Gitmo or not. After promising due process and a right to a trial to those detained, President Obama has decided to return to the military tribunals established by his predecessor. The surprising insurgent candidacy of Senator Obama owed its success, in part, to his opposition to the war in Iraq, his opposition to the surge strategy in Iraq, and his promise to end that war. President Obama views the Bush exit strategy for Iraq as adequate and has made no effort to modify the status of forces agreement President Bush negotiated with the Iraqi government in order to hasten our withdrawal. Besides, those troops aren't coming home, signaling and end to our foreign adventurism, when they leave Iraq they will be deployed in Afghanistan. But, the most chilling Bush administration security policy was its illegal eavesdropping on mobile phone calls made overseas. Yet, in the late stages of the campaign, Senator Obama voted for the bill that essentially retroactively endorsed that policy, gutted the authority of the FISA court and gave the federal government a longer time limit to eavesdrop on someone without a warrant. Now his administration happily uses this authority to "keep us safe." Senator Obama said he would not support the bill if it granted immunity for telecom companies that assisted the Bush administration in their illegal eavesdropping. The bill did grant such immunity and Senator Obama still voted for it (see the following article for a nice discussion of the new FISA law: ).

The Bush 43 administration was a serious threat to the liberty of American citizens. It grew the size and scope of government at an alarming rate, it usurped the authority of state governments, it amassed debt that our descendants will never be able to repay, it made a mockery of private ownership when it bought large portions of the financial sector, it went to war without a declaration from congress and defined the war in open-ended way to seize war powers indefinitely, it detained people without charges, and it illegally eavesdropped. In November 2006 and November 2008, the American people said, "enough," and ousted Republicans from both the legislative and executive branches of government. Presumably these voters wanted, "change." Presumably these voters wanted Bush policies to end. Presumably these voters did not want a President who would essentially represent a "Bush third term." The irony is, a Bush third term is exactly what the voters got. Under President Obama, questionable detentions and increased government eavesdropping will continue, foreign adventurism will continue, new health care entitlements will be created, runaway spending will continue, socialization of the financial industry will continue. In no substantial way are the policies of the Obama administration different from those of the Bush administration (oh, except for a few federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research, hurray change!). I am reminded of Walter Mondale's reference to a popular TV commercial of the mid 1980's when he challenged the lack of substance to Gary Hart's, "new ideas." For all the President Obama's talk about change we can believe in, "where's the beef?"

On Libertarianism, Part 2

Pragmaticus argues for more federal regulation of the economy because, he concludes, people are too irresponsible to self-regulate. He gives Barry Madoff, predatory lenders, people who borrowed beyond their means, and CEOs with golden parachutes as examples. Publius responds:

As far as regulation goes, I have never argued that there shouldn't be any. In fact, I have been quite clear that government has an important regulatory role to play and I was quite specific about what I thought it should be ( Madoff violated EXISTING laws and regulations, did he not? In the housing crisis, federal regulators BLOCKED state efforts to curtail subprime lending ( The Fed was irresponsibly slashing interest rates to below the inflation rate. So you can put faith in regulators, but quis custodiet ipsos custodes? (who will guard the guards? or in this case, who will regulate the regulators?). I agree that people will act irrationally, but the way markets work is that people who make irrational or unwise decisions pay a price and learn and the markets correct. Most of the time, just the individuals involved pay the price - but when government acts irresponsibly, as Fannie, Freddie, and the Fed did; we all pay the price. What you can't do, if markets are going to work, is remove what is called moral hazard (or as Newt Gingrich said, you can't have capitalism on the way up and socialism on way down). Yet, what are we doing? All these people did act irresponsibly - some at the prodding of the feds, many others not - and we are bailing them out! How can a market self-regulate if no one pays the price for their bad decisions? It can't, it's the loss that corrects the market. What will these bailouts accomplish? Not much other than delay a market correction that still has to happen eventually.

Finally, I can't believe any rational person would look at the behaviour of Wall Street, and the bankers, and the house poor borrowers and conclude that the solution to irresponsible financial behaviour is regulation by a government that acts even MORE irresponsibly. It is laughable to call Madoff the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time. The United States Federal Government is the biggest Ponzi scheme of all time. Since World War II, with a a few anomalous years under Nixon and Clinton (interestingly both times when control of government was divided between the two parties), our government has done nothing but spend, and spend, and spend, and amass debt that it never intends to repay (and probably never can). Yet, investors, particularly foreign ones, continue to finance it by buying our bonds - why? Because the government has a continually renewing source of revenue - the annual income tax - which brings in the new money each year to pay the interest on those bonds, making them still a good investment even though the principle cannot be repaid. That is exactly how Ponzi schemes work - the revenue collected from new investors is used to pay the profits of the old ones and it can continue ad infinitum as long as their is a stream of new investors. Madoff got caught because no one wanted to invest anymore when the economy went south. Well, when you have taxpayers instead of investors it can and will go on and on until it finally reaches the day of reckoning - when interest on the debt commands such large share of the federal budget that the tax revenue can no longer pay it and all the entitlement spending we have committed ourselves to (Medicare, Social Security, Medicare Rx, and soon national health care). You think the solution to Madoffs in the marketplace is these Ubermadoffs in Washington? This new irresponsibility knows no partisanship - both parties do it - and the current administration seems poised to do it bigger and grander than anyone. It simply has to stop. Our long term survival as the most prosperous country on the planet depends on it. I am not sure government can get smaller, but it at the very least NEEDS to stop growing. The irresponsible in the private sector are a fraction of the population (albeit probably a majority). The irresponsible in Washington are everyone - except Ron Paul, and sometimes John McCain.

What about the federal government gives you such confidence? The stellar way it manages Amtrak (which is far more expensive than flying, which the feds don't manage)? The stellar way it delivers the mail (which Fed Ex, DHL, and UPS do better but are prevented by law from delivering letters and may only deliver packages)? The stellar success of the ethanol industry - a government created, subsidized, and protected industry that continues to lose money? The fantastic job the government has done managing the war in Iraq or the aftermath of Katrina? The way the Fed devalued the dollar with low interest rates? In what way has the federal government inspired your confidence that increasing it's control over business and industry would be successful, or even better? Its success rate when it has tried is abysmal.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Why I Hate Presidents Day

This coming Monday (February 16, 2009) is Presidents Day. This is the federal holiday that honours George Washington (born February 22) and Abraham Lincoln (born February 12).

Certainly these two men are worthy of remembrance. Washington was instrumental in the founding of this nation. The independence declared by Adams and Jefferson meant little if not defended in the field by Washington. Washington's prowess as a general may be debatable, but he indisputably accompolished an amazing feat. Largely through force of will; he was able to keep a small rag-tag army in the field against what could only be described as the super power of the 18th century; maintain morale; and prevail despite shortages of food, clothing, weapons, and other equipment. Under our current Constitution, Washington was the first President of the United States. But more than being first, Washington set an example for the others to follow. Washington's example is his great gift to our nation. In the history of mankind, generals who lead revolutions usually seize power (Caesar, Napoleon). After victory at Yorktown, Washington resigned his commission, disbanded his army, acknowledged the political supremacy of the Continental Congress and went home to Mount Vernon. For this, King George III called him, "the greatest man in the world." The American Revolution was fought for the principle that no one man should rule with absolute power. Washington could have destroyed that principle and ruled as a popular, perhaps even just, king, but he did not. After the Constitution was ratified, Washington was concerned about the powers invested in the Presidency and therefore limited himself to two terms. Again, he voluntarily relinquished power that no one would have begrudged him. In so doing, he set a precendent that every future President followed until FDR. Regardless of whether or not you believe FDR's legacy is a positive one, certainly a number of his supporters must have taken pause at his virtual lock on the Presidency because after FDR the Constitution was ammended to enshrine Washington's wisdom into law and limit Presidents to two terms.

Lincoln was arguably the most able President in the history of this country. No President has been handled a greater challenge than civil war. Lincoln's courage and fortitude held this nation together. His actions are not without controversy. His means may have been, at times, questionable. But, his legacy is a United States that remained united and whole and cleansed of the stain of slavery. Emancipation set the ground work for people of colour ultimately to share in the Jeffersonian ideal that all are created equal.

Why then do I hate Presidents Day? When I was a child, the holidays were separate: Washington's birthday and Lincoln's birthday. I can understand the desire to consolidate the two rather than have two holidays so close together, but the problem I have with President's Day is that in renaming it, the great legacy bestowed on our country by these two men gets lost. It should be a day for remembering the great gifts of Washington and Lincoln to our nation, not a day for buying cheap mattresses. Invariably, use of the term Presidents Day conjures up images of Mount Rushmore and other Presidents. We as a nation should be grateful for the contributions of Washington and Lincoln, not reminded of the irrelevance of Millard Fillmore, the corruption of Richard Nixon, the lechery of Bill Clinton, or the incompetence of George W. Bush. If it has to be one holiday, why not Washington-Lincoln Day, instead of Presidents Day?

Monday, February 9, 2009


We are in difficult economic times. The collapse of the housing bubble has had repercussions in other aspects of the economy. Banks, faced with default mortgages, are now unwilling to lend. With capital frozen, business cannot expand or grow. Hiring freezes, and employees are let go to cut costs. In this climate, everyone looks to government to create jobs and protect jobs. Populism and protectionism become popular.

This is evident in the creation of the current economic stimulus package that is being debated on Capitol Hill. The House and the Senate have passed two different bills, which must be resolved in conference committee. The House version contains, “Buy American,” clauses to insure that the government money spent will go to American businesses, buy only American products and, “protect,” American jobs.

It is easy to understand why such measures might be popular in these economic times, but they are extremely short sighted. No one makes an effective argument for truly free trade. Trade proponents argue that it creates jobs, opponents point to the jobs lost. The truth is, in any free and competitive market there will be winners and losers. This gives each side examples to point to, but confuses the public at large that is trying to decide, on balance, whether open trade or protectionism would be better.

However, these, “practical,” arguments about whether free trade costs or creates jobs miss the larger moral issue at stake. What defines a free society is freedom of choice. Our Constitution enshrines some freedom of choice in the First Amendment – our government is not allowed to dictate what you can say (or think), cannot prevent you from assembling peacefully, and cannot tell you what to believe or what god to worship. True liberty, however, requires that this freedom of choice extend to economic activity as well. What empowers consumers is having multiple businesses providing goods and services competing for the consumers' business. The consumer then can choose amongst various options the product he or she judges is of reasonable quality and/or a reasonable price. Monopolies or trusts exploit the consumer by denying choice and either force the consumer to accept inferior quality or charge the consumer exorbitant prices. The competition of a free market prevents this economic exploitation.

Protectionism similarly exploits consumers. Freedom and both political and economic power are maximized when the consumer has more choice. Limiting access to foreign goods, or subsidizing domestic ones, or inflating the prices of imports through tariffs, limits choice and forces the consumer to accept higher prices than the market would otherwise bear. What helps a narrow segment of the population (those that work in the industry being protected) exploits everyone who consumes goods and services and hurts us all. Economic freedom of choice is so crucial to liberty that, in the same sentence of the Declaration of Independence that charges King George III with the tyranny of taxing the colonies without representation, Jefferson also labelled George III a tyrant, “for cutting off our trade with all parts of the world.” It is no less exploitive to restrict consumer’s access to the fullest selection of goods and services today through trade barriers as it was in Mr. Jefferson’s day or when the lord of the manor would insist that all his serfs use the lord's mill exclusively.

Furthermore, economic protectionism is no longer practical in the 21st century. The world and the U.S. economy have changed over the last century. The airplane, the telephone, the cellular phone, the computer, the internet, and broad-band internet access have made the world smaller. The world is now, to borrow Tom Friedman’s phrase, flat. It is now much easier to market goods and services to all parts of the globe, buy from and sell to all parts of the globe, and collaborate with others in every corner of the world. These technological innovations make it impossible to build a wall around fortress America and remain internally self-sufficient. As developing countries can manufacture simpler things less expensively, our economic growth depends on being a center of innovation for the new goods and services of tomorrow. We cannot continue to do that unless we take advantage of the same tools – a worldwide talent pool and the ability to maximize profit by outsourcing tasks that others do better or less expensively – as our competitors will. The truth is, we have no business manufacturing something if we can’t make it better or cheaper and we will need to have open access the world’s resources if we are to continue to innovate. This means our workforce will have to have more flexible skill sets and gone are the days where working on the same assembly line provides a lifetime of job security. This is neither bad nor good, it simply is. Our policies must reflect this reality and trying to protect the industries of the 20th century, burying our heads in the sand, will lead to a long-term lack of competitiveness that stunts our economic growth and allows competitors to pass us by. Buy American provisions will simply encourage others to close their markets to our goods and services and lead to escalating trade wars that will deprive us of the competitive advantages and opportunities of full participation in the global marketplace.

The Buy American provisions in the economic stimulus package are a poison pill that threatens our liberty and long-term economic prosperity. President Obama has voiced his disapproval of these provisions, but if they remain in the final bill, they will prove and interesting test of the new President’s leadership. If such provisions are in the final bill, President Obama should veto it. President Clinton took on elements in his own party when he promoted NAFTA, can President Obama do the same? If these provisions are in the final bill, will President Obama have the political courage to veto a stimulus package that most of the country believes we need in the face of the economic crisis and ask Congress for a new bill without these provisions? I, for one, certainly hope so.