Among the issues most commonly discussed are individuality, the rights of the individual, the limits of legitimate government, morality, history, economics, government policy, science, business, education, health care, energy, and man-made global warming evaluations. My posts are aimed at intelligent and rational individuals, whose comments are very welcome.

"No matter how vast your knowledge or how modest, it is your own mind that has to acquire it." Ayn Rand

"Observe that the 'haves' are those who have freedom, and that it is freedom that the 'have-nots' have not." Ayn Rand

"The virtue involved in helping those one loves is not 'selflessness' or 'sacrifice', but integrity." Ayn Rand

05 July 2016

Independence Day Thoughts on Freedom

When Americans declared their independence from Great Britain 240 years ago, they were a people who were largely self-employed and proud to manage their own lives.  They believed they had no need for a government to choose their values for them and to micromanage their lives.  Their principal need for a government was to prevent individuals from initiating the use of force against one another and to protect them from outlaw gangs, warring Indians, and attacks by other nations. Most of those needs they were quite willing to fulfill in large part at the very local level, including a local militia. They certainly did not need a government dominated by special interests and aristocrats a long distance away from them dictating numerous laws and taxing them.

But what is the American condition today?  Relatively few people are self-employed.  The result is that relatively few people believe that they are capable of controlling their own lives.  For the ease of being an employee, most people have given up the ability to earn their own living under their own management.  Most people have consequently lost a key ingredient to their independence and their self-confidence.  This is a loss partly brought on by political decisions in which a people more and more frequently employed by others came to be in greater and greater numbers in the electorate. Frustrated with their lack of control and holding a great political power in their numbers, but lacking self-direction, these Americans became susceptible to special interests who wanted to gain power and wealth at the expense of the less numerous employers who had made their wealth in a largely free market.  More and more legislation came to regulate employers and to transfer their wealth to groups politically favored by government.  This further weakened the spirit of self-sufficiency, independent mindedness, and encouraged the creation of huge barriers to starting and operating businesses. Americans became more and more dependent upon their government and the whims of the special interests that came to control that ever more powerful government.

Today, government and the education system it dominates insist that we are not really individuals at all.  No, we are simply members in some identity group.  White males are only capable of thinking like a stereotypical white male does.  Black males are only capable of thinking as a stereotypical black male does.  Those exceptions, such as Justice Clarence Thomas, Dr. Thomas Sowell, and Professor Walter E. Williams are simply abominations abhorrent to nature and traitors to their group identity.  In an interesting twist, it is fine however for a white male to think outside his abhorred group, provided he thinks like one of the approved identity groups.  Well, that is true to a fair degree, though there are increasing numbers who now resent such a person's theft of their identity.  Overall, our special interest serving government found it very convenient to lump Americans into a few groups so that we might be divided and controlled more readily.  This also serves the critically important function of obscuring the fact that the government cannot know us as individuals and cannot do anything but suppress our individuality with its ever-increasing legislation and regulations. People will be less aware of the suppression of their individuality if they have been taught that they only have a group identity.  This is a fundamentally collectivist idea.

Americans are a self-contradictory group these days.  They want less government, but they rarely want to give up any program that currently exists, except for ObamaCare, maybe.  They want the government to spend less, except on a few new programs that they want.  They are not infrequently willing to break a law they think the government will not notice, but they are eager to create new laws to prevent others from doing anything that might aggravate them.  Indeed, Congress is held in super-low regard because it is so often in gridlock, though the last time it was not in gridlock it passed the hated ObamaCare act.  Generally, the people believe that a legislature is not doing its job unless it is passing loads of new laws.

Now, because I view the only legitimate function of government, as did the Declaration of Independence, as being the protection of the rights of each and every individual to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of personal happiness, I see little need for new laws doing what most new laws have done in recent decades.  Most new laws further restrict the freedom of action of at least some Americans, though most laws are aimed at a minority subset of Americans if great harm is to be done to them.  Those laws restricting most Americans are usually designed to cause them only a small and largely unnoticed loss, but which in the aggregate allows a substantial transfer of wealth or power to a small, politically favored special interest group.  After many decades of following such a "practical" and unprincipled political course, we now have a government that does most Americans far more harm than it does us good.

We do presently have a need for much new legislation.  We need to repeal decades of laws that have interfered with our natural individual rights.  We have far too many laws providing for the theft of the value of the hours many put into productive work.  We have far too many restrictions on our freedom of association.  We have far too many prohibitions against our exercise of freedom of conscience, which includes, but is not limited to, our freedom of religion.  We have ever more constraints on freedom of speech and of the press.  Our property rights are in frequent jeopardy, whether it be to use our property for production or to keep it from being confiscated because some law enforcement arm of government imagines that it might have been used in a crime or even only that some action involving it fits a pattern of some organized crime or terrorist action, however implausibly that may apply to this particular property owner.

It is an interesting phenomena, though only one among many contradictions, that those who favor ever-larger government are constantly making claims that human activities cannot be sustained by the environment, yet ever-increasing spending based on the confiscation of the fruits of productive work can be sustained without limit.  So let us review a few charts on government growth provided by the Cato Institute:

Since 1900, Federal spending went from 2.8% of GDP to 21.4% of GDP in 2016, which is a 7.6-fold increase.  Total state and local government spending increased by only 2.2 times in comparison.  The more local government is, it would appear, the more solid the constraints on its spending.  Now that government spending is such a large part of the economy, it is critical that we stop using GDP as the measure since that government spending is actually counted as GDP.  Yet that money has to be produced outside government, while only a fraction of government spending is returned to the government for spending from taxes on money earned by doing the governments' bidding.  Total government spending here is 32.4% of GDP.  The Non-Government GDP (NG GDP) is then 67.6%. If government taxed the functions it spends money on at the same rate it taxes the general private sector economic activities then one could estimate that 32.4% of the money spent by governments is returned to government in taxes of the money spent by governments.  So, 0.324 times 32.4% is 10.5%.  The reality is that government actually taxes these activities at much lower rates.  It is probably generous to assume that taxes return 5% of the government money spent.  So let us subtract 5% from total government spending to find the drag that government spending itself puts on the private sector economy.  Net total government spending of (32.4 - 5.0)% /  67.6% = 40.5%, which is substantially more than the 32.4% the presentation of the data against the GDP provides us.  Let us bear this in mind as we look at some more charts of our unsustainable government growth.

The national defense is certainly a legitimate function of the government and it has a constitutional validation in the enumerated powers of the government.  This represents 15% of federal spending and it certainly includes some waste and abuse and suffers from the greatly diverted attention of our hired managers in Congress.  Interest payments are justified by the Constitution, but there is no legitimate reason for those payments to have grown to be 6% of the budget.  That is a percentage which would rise rapidly if we did not have an economy suppressed by government requirements that have greatly reduced the velocity of money in the economy.  The All Other Activities covers a few constitutionally valid functions, such as some of the foreign affairs activities, the post offices and post roads, the minting of money, immigration controls, the maintenance of weight and measure standards, the operation of the Patent Office, and the operation of the federal courts at a level appropriate for a nation of many fewer laws and regulations.  Had a proper philosophy of government prevailed, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and mandated by the Constitution, the spending of our present federal government would be closer to 20% of its present spending than to 25% of present spending.

Since 1970, it sure is a good thing that defense spending as a percentage of the GDP has trended down substantially and that non-defense discretionary spending has come down a bit, because entitlement spending has climbed prodigiously.  Entitlement spending has no constitutional basis and no basis in the legitimate function of government as defined in the Declaration of Independence.  It is generally funded by the theft of the fruits of the productive work of Americans so that it can be rerouted to those favored politically by those who lust for the power to distribute the money.  This huge expansion of entitlement spending makes the so-called beneficiaries dependent upon the government, which suits the government just fine.

An appreciation of the degree to which our government has become one dominated by special interests would not be realistic if we did not acknowledge the huge increase in federal subsidy programs shown above.

This final graph is the number of pages in the Federal Register from Wayne Crews' Ten Thousand Commandments 2016 report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute. In the 1940s and the 1950s the total number of pages of final regulations in the Federal Register for the decade were running at about 110,00 pages a decade.  In the decade from 2001 -2010 the number of pages had grown to 730,176.  Presumably, the government considers it our duty to have read all of these regulations so that we might abide by them.  Did you do your government mandated duty?  Remember, ignorance is no defense for violating the law or any regulation.  More and more of the binding regulations or the interpretation of the regulations can only be found in court proceedings or in website announcements of the thousands of government regulatory agencies, which the government itself cannot enumerate. Good luck you lost, ignorant soul if the government decides to come after you.  Do you trust the likes of Obama, Hillary, or The Donald not to do so?

Oh that we might be free!  It would be incredibly wonderful to celebrate the 4th of July as a free man.
It would be a joy to be among free men who had maintained the principles of freedom set forth in the Declaration of Independence and then largely implemented in the Constitution of 1787 and the Bill of Rights in 1791.  To live in a society based on the free trade of values in a rich and robust private sector rather than one dominated by the forceful taking of wealth and service by governments would be to live in a genuinely life-sustaining society.  It is not possible to imagine how much our standard of living would be improved with the flowering of productivity, creativity, justice, and benevolence one would find in such a society.

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