Monday, March 30, 2009

Daniel Hannan and our reality

I wonder who would have the courage to say this to George W. Bush or Barack H. Obama?

I look forward to your comments.

Jack Chambless

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Rights vs. Wishes - some thoughts from Professor Walter Williams

We hear so much about "rights" -- a right to this and a right to that. People say they have a right to decent housing, a right to adequate health care, food and a decent job, and more recently, senior citizens have a right to prescription drugs. In a free society, do people have these rights? Let's look at it.

At least in the standard historical usage of the term, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people. A right confers no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech is something we all possess. My right to free speech imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference. Similarly, I have a right to travel freely. That right imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference.

Contrast those rights to the supposed right to decent housing or medical care. Those supposed rights do confer obligations upon others. There is no Santa Claus or Tooth Fairy. If you don't have money to pay for decent housing or medical services, and the government gives you a right to those services, where do you think the money comes from?

If you said "From some other American," go to the head of the class. Your right to decent housing and medical care requires that some other American have less of something else, namely diminished rights to his earnings.

Let's apply this bogus concept of rights to free speech and the right to travel freely. If we were to apply it to my right to free speech, my free speech rights would confer financial obligations on others to supply me with an auditorium, microphone and audience. My right to travel freely would require that others provide me with airplane tickets and hotel accommodations. Most Americans, I would imagine, would tell me, "Williams, yes you have rights to free speech and travel rights, but I'm not obligated to pay for them!"

As human beings, we all have certain unalienable rights. Of the rights we possess, we have a right to delegate to government. For example, we all have a right to defend ourselves against predators. Since we possess that right, we can delegate it to government. In other words, we can say to government, "We have the right to defend ourselves, but for a more orderly society, we give you the authority to defend us."

By contrast, I don't possess the right to take your earnings for any reason. Since I have no such right, I cannot delegate it to government. If I did take your earnings for housing and medical services, it would rightfully be described as an act of theft. When government does it, it's still theft -- the only difference is that it's legalized theft sanctioned by a majority vote.

Decent housing, good medical care and decent jobs are not rights at all, at least not in a free society -- they're wishes. As such, I'd agree with most Americans because I also wish that everyone had decent housing, a high paying job and good medical care.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Adam Smith, Chris Gardner and the Rest of Us...

Monday, March 9, 2009

On March 9, 1776 the first of two earth-shaking documents on liberty were published. Of course we all know (with the exception of some of you who spent your youth in government schools) which document was published on July 4th of that year. Not as well known was the book by a Scottish professor of moral philosophy entitled, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". This book by Adam Smith laid the groundwork for economic liberty all over the world. If you have ever eaten food, enjoyed shelter from inclimate weather or been able to avoid being naked in public you are the direct beneficiary of the infrastructure that was put in place by Mr. Smith when he argued that self-interested behavior, when pursued within the context of our "natural liberties" leads to society gaining goods and services far more quickly and effectively than when government planners set out to do the same thing.

Which brings me to my favorite economics movie - and a modern day hero in the world Adam Smith envisioned.A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to watch The Pursuit of Happyness with my teenage daughter. If you have not yet seen this film it is ostensibly about a man who attempts – over and over again – to overcome economic obstacles as he pursues his version of happiness. The lead character in the movie (played brilliantly by Will Smith), even mentions Thomas Jefferson and our constitutional right to pursue happiness.About half way through the film my daughter leaned over and whispered, “So daddy, do you still think the government shouldn’t help people like him?”

This was an extremely profound question inasmuch as my daughter has heard me in and out of the classroom discussing the economics, morality and Constitutionality of using tax dollars in the name of benevolence.John F. Kennedy once said, “I do not believe that Washington should do for the people what they can do for themselves through local and private effort.” As it turns out, JFK’s opinion is actually an important Constitutional fact, as well. If one takes a look at Article One, Section Eight, Clause One of our nations’ rulebook we can see that the Founders allow Congress to spend tax dollars on national defense, debts incurred in the protection of our rights and on expenditures for the ‘general welfare’ of our nation. Clauses 2-18 then enunciate what general welfare means. Any reading of the works of Messrs. Madison, Jefferson, etc. clearly indicates that the use of tax dollars to financially prop up any individual member of our society is prohibited.

The Founders felt that private initiative, family and charity – both secular and religious – were better tools to drive people out of poverty and into more productive, and ultimately more profitable pursuits.But what about people who are really trying to follow Adam Smith's lead but continue to bump up against the random walk of life that often knocks them down over and over again? Would it hurt anything if the arm of government, financed with the tax dollars of others, reached out just to those people with temporary aid?

This question came to my mind over and over again during this movie and I found myself slightly bending towards the more socialistic conclusion that a proper function of government is to help those who are really trying to help themselves. After all, even JFK yielded to the movement to create a social welfare state.Yet, by the time the movie had ended and I was walking in the parking lot with my daughter I was able to tell her that not only were the Founders still correct, but that the man depicted in that film had proven that without any government assistance people can triumph over enumerable odds. In fact, the astute observer cannot miss the fact that government turned out to be his largest enemy. The big issue to consider is this:If government could identify those who are trying (a monumental task), would those people keep trying once taxpayer aid arrived? Franklin Roosevelt once called welfare the “subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

Not only has he been proven to be correct (and he was the first to sign off on welfare), but we are now faced with a growing perception by the elderly, the baby boomers, people facing foreclosure, GM, the banks and virtually every supporter of our new president that government should always assist us first before we dig down and find the fortitude to assist ourselves.As it turns out, Adam Smith, Thomas Jefferson and Chris Gardner had the right idea. If we can just get our fellow Americans to realize that the more government assumes our responsibilities the more power government gains to take away our liberty and private property, then we will be one day closer to turning the corner on this current walk towards socialism.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What "Trickle-Up" Economics will look like

When President Obama released the summary of his first budget for fiscal year 2010 he stated that the past eight years had "once and for all" refuted the notion that the economy can grow by letting wealthier Americans keep more of their earnings, or as Thomas Jefferson called it, "the fruits of their labor."
Of course while Mr. Obama was running for president he repeatedly claimed that we need to grow the economy "from the bottom up" rather than from the top down.

His budget is a fulfillment of his campaign promise to go after those who run our businesses and supply us with the things we want and need by raising the top two income tax brackets while expanding income tax credits to millions of Americans who - hang on to your seats - currently pay no income taxes.
How, you might ask, can you cut taxes for people who pay zero taxes? It is simple. If you are a poorer American who has a job you qualify for what the government calls the Earned Income Tax Credit. After taking your legal tax deductions to bring your income tax obligation to zero you then get a check - from the earnings of other taxpayers - on top of that. In effect you receive a welfare payment for getting up and going off to serve your fellow man.

Under the Obama budget he will give even more people a tax credit which will, according to estimates, lead to almost 48% of all Americans owing no federal income taxes at all. 52% of us would shoulder the burden for the more than $3.5 trillion budget he has envisioned for our nation.

Under his "trickle up" economics theory, by creating even fewer taxpayers at the bottom rung of the income scale we will get more people buying the things businesses offer for sale. More buying means more demand. More demand means more jobs, in theory, for those who will be needed to supply low-wage earners with goods and services.

The next several years will be a lot of fun for economists who study the relationship between income tax rates and economic performance. The "theory" of trickle-down economics has been studied for decades. The data from the U.S. in the 1920s, 1960s, 1980s and 1990s, along with data from China, Eastern Europe, Chile, Sweden, Ireland and other parts of the world is quite clear. When tax rates fall - especially rates paid by the most productive members of the economy - the jobs and wealth created from the top all the way down to the bottom is significant. In effect, poor people become relatively wealthy poor people in places that reward risk takers.

We have not yet seen what happens under the "trickle-up" theory. However, if hammering richer people during a horrible recession while cutting taxes for people who work at McDonald's leads us to the prosperity Mr. Obama claims we will see, I will be the first to argue that Mr. Obama should win the Nobel Prize in Economics.

Stay tuned....