Socialism really is a bad idea

As I noted last week, whenever a critic of Democrat policies uses the term "socialism," Democrats bristle. But if a policy or measure gives ownership of some business or industry to the government, (e.g., General Motors), socialism being defined as government ownership of the means of production, then it is entirely fair to call it socialistic. Not that this offends or renders defensive everyone on the left. Despite the fact that Democrats last year defended "spread the wealth" schemes - - without acknowledging their socialist pedigree - - last spring liberal columnist Evan Thomas of Newsweek devoted a cover article to proving that socialism is not such a bad thing even as he conceded that that is what the Obama Administration stands for.

Liberals know that Americans are not supportive of socialism in spite of their interventionist policy changes over the last 76 years, beginning with the New Deal, which brought massive government controls, intervention and regulation with the National Recovery Act, the Agricultural Adjustment Act and the Social Security Act; supplemented by the Great Society’s War on Poverty, Medicare and Medicaid.

The liberal strategy largely has been to advance in increments, their big innovations depending upon massive electoral victories in 1932 and 1964. They have been quite successful in getting the camel’s nose under the tent for years, without acknowledging the ultimate goal of their legislation.

One wishes that the American people as a whole could discern more readily that socialism by degrees is still socialism, even if we must be grateful to the American Constitution for making it difficult for American liberals to go as far as European social democrats.

The question must be posed: what’s wrong with socialism? Isn’t it right that the people have protection against wealthy corporations that have unlimited power to hire and fire thousands of people and earn unconscionable profits at the expense of the public? If the foregoing were an accurate description of the American marketplace, I might support socialism too. But it is not.

In the past I have written about the uncoerced trading relationship that exists between businessmen and their customers, and indeed their employees. Unlike the peasants of old in Europe, or millions of unfortunate people in unfree countries around the world today, no one in America  is forced to work for anyone in business or to fork over money to them. Despite government intervention that has distorted the marketplace, there is more "upward mobility" among Americans than any other people in the world.

Much of what rightly offends Americans is actually a product of government intervention. Why did three companies dominate the automobile business for so many years? The oligopoly of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford was necessary to pay the inflated wages and benefits of their employees who had the advantage of being represented by a powerful union that could negotiate contracts for the entire industry, thanks to the National Labor Relations Act of 1937. The Obama Administration is attempting to perpetuate that advantage through its majority control of GM.

Why do utility companies enjoy local or regional monopolies and have their rates set by a government agency? Where’s the competition in that? Why were there so few broadcasting networks which were (and are) practically mirror images of each other? Government regulation of these industries has restricted competition.

The real driving force of socialism is hatred of the marketplace which, governed by the profit motive, is alleged to be nothing more than greed. Members of Congress who enabled the reckless lending of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, thereby causing an unprecedented credit crisis, believe that such government-sponsored entities (GSEs) are morally superior to private corporations. That is why they are trying to take advantage of the recession, ignoring GSEs’ miserable performance.

The truth is, major government programs, such as social security, medicare, medicaid, stimulus packages and so on either do not pay for themselves or are facing bankruptcy. Meanwhile, Democrats think it is better for their cronies in GSEs to pull down huge salaries than for corporate executives to do so.

Socialism assumes that the amount of goods and services available is always limited, overlooking America’s incredible increase in individual wealth. The object of socialism is to establish "equity," but actually punishes people for being successful and rewards the unsuccessful. Every government program depends on taxing those who have earned their wealth in the marketplace and redistributing it to others, especially the well connected in politics and government. The key element is coercion, which betrays the lack of charity by that very fact.

Constitution will survive Dems’ assaults

Last fall I shared in the disappointment of 47 percent of the voters who did not cast their ballots for Barack Obama and feared his stated intention of "transforming" America into a socialist regime. With Democrats in firm control of both houses of Congress, this seemed a likely as well as a fearful prospect. But things are looking up. This week Obama Administration officials indicated that they may abandon the so-called "public option" feature of their health care insurance proposal because of widespread and intense public opposition. This demonstrates that public opinion still counts for a great deal in our republican form of government and, indeed, is capable of doing some "transforming" of its own - - in this case, thwarting socialized health care.

Without forgetting for a moment that Obama and his fellow Democrats still control all three elective branches of the federal government, we know now that, although they can fool some of the people all of the time and even all the people some of the time, they evidently cannot fool all the people all of the time.

It is critical that we understand the explanation for this serious blow to the Obama Administration’s plans for the nation. Many Americans of both parties, and independents, and even some who have had no previous involvement in politics, were outraged that the terms and conditions of nationalized health care were so severe.

This reaction was not because of alleged "lies" by Republicans and "special interests" (doctors, hospitals, drug and insurance companies) that the government would in due course come to dominate the field and that the unprecedented costs would be covered with higher taxes and rationing, doubtless at the expense of those deemed unworthy of "extraordinary" care. That’s all true.

Way back when, we were admonished to be concerned about approximately 40 million people who lacked health insurance, but that was soon overwhelmed by the hard Democrat push for universal coverage to replace the allegedly capricious decision making of the "evil" health insurance firms.

Unfortunately for Obama and the Democrats, millions of Americans have health plans they are satisfied with. Whatever complaints they may have, they look far less favorably upon a one-size-fits-all system which, if Canada and the United Kingdom are instructive, will force people to wait for months for appointments while unsocialized dogs and cats can get theirs with veterinarians far sooner!

This is a time to be grateful for our free commerce which enables health care providers and consumers to agree to plans and payments which are mutually beneficial. Those plans are valuable properties - - private properties - - which belong to individuals and are not subject to confiscation by the government for the sake of "spreading the wealth around."

Thus, private property, the foundation of our free and profitable trade and commerce, has both taken care of the health of millions and enabled them to "speak truth to power." Americans are not mere ciphers in a soulless administrative state but self governing persons.

This is precisely what the founders of modern republican government intended with equal rights under law and immense opportunities for energetic and capable citizens to rise above mediocrity and follow their dreams.

Those same people are free to vote for representatives of their own choosing, knowing that they have the power to vote out of office any miscreants who would take away their right to govern themselves.

It is not surprising that so many people taking part in politics for possibly the first time in their lives should exhibit less polished arts of speaking and writing than those who have practiced them for many years. I remember vividly my own entry during my college years, impatient for change and wanting to be heard. Since then I have seen others go through the same sort of initiation. Experience is a great teacher and the latest entrants will learn the lessons of moderation that others have before them.

Part of that political education consists in taking the long view of things. All victories are temporary, until the next challenge comes along. However appealing the idea of term limits is, our nation needs a continual supply of citizens not only participating actively in politics but seeking public office if they have virtues to contribute to the public good.

One hopes that current as well as future political leaders will appreciate the advantages of the present fortuitous circumstances and bring more and more public-spirited people into legislative and executive campaigns and governing so that we can continue to keep the socialist wolf at bay.

The Constitution is still the supreme law

"We must never forget it is a Constitution we are expounding"- Chief Justice John Marshall Last week I discussed the controversy over the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor as Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, focusing on the standard for evaluating nominees. This week I will examine our Constitution, the basis for that standard.

Ours is a limited constitution, one that delegates powers to a federal government and denies certain powers to state governments which they had exercised to the detriment of our prosperity. It is necessary to recall these circumstances which originally gave rise to the Constitution in order to appreciate its authority and legitimacy today.

The Constitution did not come into being in a vacuum. What we now call the founding generation could not be sure that their nation would survive. Partly because of a suspicion of distant centralized authority and partly because of an attachment to their states, many Americans were far from assenting to a national government.

The Continental Congress (1774-81) and the Articles of Confederation (1781-89) were based on the good faith of the colonies until Independence (1776), and then the states which formed in that fragile union. Nothing of consequence could be accomplished without the approval of nine of the 13 states, and no independent and powerful national legislative, executive or judicial branches existed.

The major domestic threat to our nation was faction. The comparatively small size of the states which rendered them responsive to the wishes of their constituents also made them vulnerable to domination by majority factions determined to assert their rights but loathe to accept their responsibilities.

In the midst of a depression caused by the end of wartime production and the lack of access to continental and foreign markets, many Americans were broke and in debt. The war had been financed by an almost worthless Continental currency, made worse by the states' issuance of paper money as well. As debtors and their allies soon outnumbered their creditors, state after state passed laws which, in one way or another, repudiated debts.

Such legislative acts constituted more than an attack on the property rights of one class of people by another, as wrong as that was. They also sent a signal to nations from whom we borrowed money to finance the War that those debts were susceptible to repudiation too. After all, the same factions that controlled state governments dominated the weak Confederation Congress.

Reverence for the Constitution and the laws was not necessarily in the hearts of many of our ancestors at their moment of great crisis. How to counter this? As vital to the defense of our rights as a strong legislative and executive branch are, the courts have more immediate impact than either on the lives of our people. It is there that contracts are upheld and private property protected.

Thus, the Constitution, in Article III, provides for a supreme court, and "inferior courts" established by Congress, the judges of which hold their offices "during good behavior." When combined with Article VI, which declares the Constitution, federal laws and treaties to be "the supreme law of the land," binding every state judge, we gained a truly national judicial branch. This was soon to be the chief restraint on the states which, at that time, were coining or printing money, and passing bills of attainder, ex post facto laws, and "laws impairing the obligation of contracts."

It would be strange for the Constitution to permit at the federal level what had been curbed at the state level. Thus, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution forbids the federal government from taking private property for public use without just compensation.

But since New Deal days, Congress has passed laws which have encroached on rather than merely regulated our trade and commerce. In other words, it has been doing what the states long ago had been restrained from doing by our Constitution. And just as it once took state judges of uncommon fortitude to resist what James Madison denounced as the states’ "rage for paper money, for an abolition of debts, for an equal division of property, or for any other improper or wicked project," so now it requires federal judges of equal fortitude to resist that same impulse in Congress.

For as Alexander Hamilton put it so forcefully, we must turn for the defense of our property and other rights to "courts of justice, whose duty it must be to declare all acts contrary to the manifest tenor of the Constitution void."

Insanity of higher CAFE standards

Here we are again, faced with another cramdown policy by the misguided but ever hard-charging President Obama . This time it’s raising fuel-economy standards. Instead of waiting until 2020 to increase the standards, now the President is saying 2016. I think he really wants all the car companies to go out of business. Now before you criticize me by saying I’m not a friend of the environment, let me say that I am a conservationist but at the same time I’m not in the business of making decisions rooted in untruth. Let’s take a look at what previous fuel standards have accomplished. Since 1975 we have had fuel efficiency standards, but they have done little to help reduce carbon emissions. In his book Spin Free Economics, Narmin Behravesh demonstrates the inefficiency of these standards. Here is an excerpt from his book:

    “To begin with, they (fuel efficiency standards) don’t necessarily reduce total fuel consumption. In fact, more fuel efficient cars can, perversely, encourage more driving. Similarly, while the mpg per ton of cars has improved about 20 percent in the United States in the last two decades, average car weight has risen ( heavier vans and SUBs now account for half of all light-vehicle sales, compared with 20 percent in the 1980’s), so the mpg per vehicle has actually fallen about 10 percent.”

Wait a minute here; is Behravesh saying that fuel efficiency has decreased? That is exactly what he is saying. Is not the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results? So if the goal is to decrease carbon emissions would it not make sense to do something different instead of the same thing over and over?

I’m not writing to propose an alternative to the fuel standards, but to show the ineptness of the government’s policy. But perhaps a solution to not only this problem but many others would be that of a consumption tax. Talk about fairness, this eliminates the IRS and you only pay for what you use. But I digress. The point is, insanity is not good policy.

Manual shows up the bureaucrats

There is lots of demand these days for government to “create” results. But policies pandering to that are misguided. Whether it's jobs, health care, or even successful schools, the idea that people in government, no matter how talented, well-meaning, and well-funded can create sound, sustainable, scalable improvement in the lives of Americans has been proven wrong time and time again. Our government’s attempt to “create” financial security for seniors instead created a Social Security system racing towards bankruptcy. A sustained attempt to “create” widespread homeownership – a bipartisan folly to be sure – instead destroyed the world’s greatest financial institutions. And, public school systems – an attempt to “create” a well-educated public – is a national catastrophe and disgrace, depriving particularly our most disadvantaged children of the opportunities everyone deserves.

That government policies and programs cannot create these things on their own should not be discouraging. Americans can have them, but they must be created through the initiative, motivation, and ingenuity of Americans themselves. What government policy can and should do is remove barriers to success created by government itself – establishing an environment where progress, rather than frustration, is a natural result.

This morning I visited Manual High School in Denver. Manual is an inner-city high school serving a challenged community – more than 80% of the students qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Nearly the entire student body is composed of minority children. In 2006, the school was closed for chronic failure – only 15% of students were proficient in reading. The school reopened in 2007 under an “autonomy” arrangement that provided new principal Rob Stein with relief from a handful of union and district rules including those regarding school schedules, hiring processes, and teacher compensation. Also, the school board reached an agreement with Stein to permit him to make key budgeting decisions at the school level rather than at the district level.

Stein describes himself as a “culture guy,” and he took advantage of the unusual autonomy to assemble a highly motivated staff and create a school culture of accountability and professionalism. At a twice-weekly school-wide meeting, the school-polo-shirt clad kids hear colleagues who’ve excelled or contributed in the past week receive ”shout-out” recognition (in one case accompanied by a $5 Burger King gift card); and at the same meeting noting that all seventy-one students who had been tardy during the week were required to attend detention that Friday evening. During “advisory,” small group classes meeting three times per week, the students follow a curriculum of social and life skills (e.g., constructive ways to deal with confrontation) – many of which kids from more privileged backgrounds may learn from their parents.

Today, Manual is tied for fourth-best-performing non-charter high school in the Denver Public Schools. It’s easy to imagine a well-intentioned “reformer” drawing the wrong conclusions from the Manual experience. “Let’s require shout-outs and logo polo shirts in all of the schools,” they might say, “and we can improve like Manual.” That would, of course, be missing the point. The terrific progress at Manual was not born of the particular tactics Stein employs, but of the autonomy that has permitted Stein and his dedicated team to implement their own innovative approach to serving the unique needs of children in Manual’s community.

By freeing the Manual team of district and union red tape, the autonomy agreements did not create success – that’s not possible to do from headquarters – but created the circumstances where success could flourish on its own. Freedom to succeed – that’s what American’s need in this challenging time.