Thomas Frank ended his list of questions regarding the oil spill by stating that, absent answers from the right, “for now, we are all liberals” (“Laissez-Faire Meets the Oil Spill,” The Tilting Yard, June 2). This conception defines “liberal” as the presumption that government is separate from citizenry, and citizenry separate from leadership.
Frank is correct in noting that when disaster strikes sheep tend to look towards their shepherd. It is tempting to solicit government apologies and centrally-organized hair donations to sop up the spill. It was not so long ago that we sheep voted for change. This disastrous spill presents an opportunity for a new kind of shepherd.
Just this week the Obama Administration presented conflicting messages as slippery as oil itself, a contradiction that permits BP the chance to exploit government dollars rather than bear the responsibility for its actions. It makes no sense for a shepherd to “assume full responsibility” for the incentives that caused a disaster even while the shepherd’s administration serves oil execs with subpoenas.
Indeed, Frank characterizes “liberalism” as the urge to find somebody to blame. Finger-pointing does not lead to solutions. The urge to panic will not absorb thousands of tons of spilled oil. Blame has not catapulted Detroit to economic rebound. No shepherd can protect children from being left behind.
Perhaps in moments of uncertainty we all are indeed temporarily “liberals.” These are the moments that separate the sheep from the shepherds. It is in these moments that those shepherds among us must stand up and focus on the solution. No amount of blame can substitute for true responsibility and leadership, as “illiberal” as those concepts may be.
Brilliant letter from Prof. Boudreaux to the Saturday NYT:
Reacting to Rand Paul’s remarks about the 1964 Civil Rights Act, you say that his libertarian philosophy “is a theory of liberty with roots in America’s creation, but the succeeding centuries have shown how ineffective it was in promoting a civil society…. It was only government power that … abolished Jim Crow” (“Limits of Libertarianism,” May 22).
You’ve got it backwards. Jim Crow itself was government power. Jim Crow was legislation that forced the segregation of blacks from whites. Research shows that people acting in the free market that you apparently believe is prone to racial discrimination were remarkably reluctant to discriminate along racial lines. It was this very reluctance – this capacity of free markets to make people colorblind – that obliged racists in the late 19th century to use government to achieve their loathsome goals.*
Had Mr. Paul’s libertarian philosophy been followed more consistently throughout American history, there would have been no need for one government statute (the Civil Rights Act) to upend earlier government statutes (Jim Crow) and the business practices that they facilitated.
Donald J. Boudreaux
* See especially Robert Higgs, Competition and Coercion: Blacks in the American Economy, 1865-1914 (University of Chicago Press, 1976); Jennifer Roback, “Southern Labor Law in the Jim Crow Era: Exploitative or Competitive?” University of Chicago Law Review, Vol. 51 (1984); and Jennifer Roback, “The Political Economy of Segregation: The Case of Segregated Streetcars,” Journal of Economic History, Vol. 46 (1986).
From today’s WSJ:
It is amusing to me that five (count them!) former Treasury secretaries of the U.S. think that further government control of the financial community will somehow prevent or repair this or any other boom-bust credit cycle (Letters, Feb. 22). The primary entity that needs to be restrained is the federal government in all its various forms. Its agencies have worked together to orchestrate the most massive credit expansion in our history, the real cause of our current difficulties, all the while telling the American people that they were doing them a favor.
In the process, they manipulated the financial community, among many others, to achieve their questionable goal of increasing home ownership at any cost. I am no particular advocate of banks or hedge funds, but the notion that all of these former Treasury officials are encouraging closer control of one of their key instruments in the wholesale manipulation of the American economy is laughable. We are in far more trouble than I thought.
How ironic that on the same day the WSJ published Charlotte Allen’s call for Catholic activism (Opinion, Jan. 14), Massachusetts Attorney General – and Senate hopeful — Martha Coakley declared that “You can have religious freedom, but you probably shouldn’t work in an emergency room.”
Allen and Coakley both support the separation of church and state. Both likely value the freedom of conscience. But while Allen’s edict celebrates religious freedom, Coakley’s controversial statement suggests an important application: Religious freedom is a latent right that will fall to the wayside without staunch, active protection.
America’s Constitution rests on the principle that people are born imbued with innumerate natural rights. We cede some rights to government in exchange for protection, community, and organized trade. Rights like free speech and worship do not come from government; they belong naturally to individuals, latent and subject to our decision to protect them.
Ms. Allen asks Catholics to engage with their religion. Only through active, deliberate practice can Catholics protect the tenets of their faith from unraveling – or, indeed, from falling victim to government bent on encroaching further into that critical natural right to worship.
Even while AG Coakley agrees that “the law says that people are allowed to have [religious freedom],” her statements reflect just the kind of encroachment that should light a fire under every religious American.
When it comes to faith, use it or lose it. If religious individuals do not actively protect their beliefs, government will actively infringe on their religious freedom in the future.
If we do not take Ms. Allen’s advice to engage our latent freedoms, we will all become victims to politicians’ determination to usurp them.
Reuel Marc Gerecht astutely points out that President Obama has missed a critical opportunity to militate against Holy Warriors in our midst (Opinion, Nov. 22). But Mr. Gerecht fails to connect the dots on a larger trend: American reluctance to admit that we are at war.
Major Hasan was not merely one of many soldiers suffering from PTSD, any more than Khalid Sheik Mohammed was a common criminal. Both should be treated as terrorists not, as Mr. Gerecht suggests, because they are “Muslim radicals,” but because they have committed terrorist acts.
We are living in a September 12th world, and language has evolved. “War” no longer means uniformed soldiers lined up for battle; it should now include extremists wielding airplanes as weapons. Similarly “terrorism” should have evolved to include making jihadist threats against soldiers and attempting to contact Al Qaeda, as Hasan did.
As long as the government refuses to classify terrorist acts as acts of war, terrorist activity will continue and it will get worse. Only by removing his head from the sand now can the President reverse this trend.
Try KSM as a war criminal. Label Hasan as the jihadist he is. Admit we are at war now, or keep bowing until the terrorists remove any doubt.
I love George Mason.
From Prof Boudreaux:
Bono writes that America is “a great idea about opportunity for all and responsibility to your fellow man.” He confuses consequences with causes.
The American Idea is one of individual freedom — as Jefferson put it in the summer of 1776, the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” From this freedom comes widespread economic opportunity, a cosmopolitan respect for the rights of strangers, and both the willingness and the material means to be generous toward others.
What distinguishes the American Idea from the superstitions, stifling traditions and the various forms of collectivism that have historically cursed humanity is its confidence in individual freedom. Without that freedom, opportunity is a mirage and “responsibility to your fellow man” is simply a slogan used to justify harnessing the populace to serve those in power.
Donald J. Boudreaux
Fairfax, Va., Oct. 18, 2009
NYT link to letters.
Would that DB’s exams were as well-written as his letters!
The Government, Abortion and Your Tax Dollars
Charmaine Yoest’s op-ed, “Tax Dollars Shouldn’t Fund Abortion” (op-ed, Oct. 14) blatantly misrepresents the amendment I offered to health reform legislation now before Congress.
My amendment would maintain the status quo on federal funding of abortions by extending current law forbidding federal dollars from being used to pay for abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest or to protect the life of the woman.
My amendment allows plans in the Health Exchange to offer abortion coverage, but requires that those services to be paid for only out of premiums paid by consumers. No federal dollars may be used. This is the same principle currently used with Medicaid, which must follow the Hyde Amendment: No federal dollars may be used to pay for abortion services in Medicaid, but the 17 states that opt to cover the procedure can do so by paying for it with state dollars.
This is hardly a “radical departure from the status quo.” In fact, it is an extension of the status quo.
Rep. Lois Capps (D., Calif.)
Santa Barbara, Calif.
Charmaine Yoest states that the Capps Amendment “would make abortion coverage a part of the public option, funnel tax dollars to private health plans that cover abortion, and ensure that every area of the country will have at least one health insurance plan that covers elective abortion.” Ms. Yoest worries that the federal government is poised to enter “the business of funding the destruction of unborn human life.”
We’re already there. Planned Parenthood performs 62 abortions (305,310 abortions in 2008) for each adoption it facilitates. Planned Parenthood survives partly on tax dollars and government contracts that pay directly into this abortion giant’s operating fund. In the 2007-08 fiscal year, $350 million in “government grants and contracts”—those are our tax dollars—padded these controversial coffers.
Controversial choices deserve a hearty debate. Government’s intrusive fingers do not merely threaten to dictate the terms of that debate, as Ms. Yoest suggests. We are already there.