Jack Blair: Hi Steve, thanks for the query.
Steve Almond: You’re welcome. Thanks for the interest. Just to get started, what’s your political evolution been?
JB: In sixth grade, I thought Democrats were the best because Jimmy Carter said something about legalizing pot. I was two years away from actually trying the stuff, but that settled it – I was a confirmed “Liberal.” Republicans were boring, stuffy killjoys.
During the intervening years, I became clear on a number of principles. Each of my current convictions will likely find its genesis in one or more of the following:
1) Any product, whether a good or service, is ultimately only worth what someone is willing to pay [for] it – no more, no less.
2) Our rights are not given to us by the government, nor by any human institution, individual, or document. This was a signature achievement of the Enlightenment, and without it, there is no America.
3) The recognition and protection of private property rights are essential to a free society.
4) The Rule of Law is the great principle that distinguishes truly free societies from authoritarian ones. Any appeals to “social justice” are a perversion of this principle, and are therefore antithetical to true justice.
SA: I appreciate the bigger answers. How do they apply to your party affiliation?
JB: The Republicans understand my philosophical point of view. In theory they embrace it – of course, in practice they are often wanting. The Democrats, on the other hand, are with me neither on paper nor in application.
SA: And who are you going to vote for? And why?
JB: Mitt Romney. Sure, he isn’t the Reagan that at least half the country would like. But I argue that we don’t need another Reagan – that example was given to us already. All we need to do is imitate it.
In 2008, candidate Barack Obama said he envisioned a “fundamental transformation” of America. This begged the question of whether or not America needs or wants transforming, especially Mr. Obama’s version of the same. No, America’s fundamental transformation began on September 17, 1787 when the last required signatory fixed his name to the Constitution of the United States. We need a president who respects and appreciates the sacred trust handed to him, not one who fancies himself a visionary sent to reorder the political cosmos. From that perspective, Romney is to be preferred over Obama.
To be more specific, the economy is the most important issue. By the usual and accepted measures of economic health, Obama’s strategy of more government intervention, regulation, and top-down economic control has been a failure. The growth rate has limped along at about 2.2%. No recovery period in recent history has seen growth this weak. The unemployment rate has persisted at or above 8% for about three-and-a-half years running, which is also extraordinary for a recovery period.
This is also enough to consider someone else for the Highest Office.
On an even more immediate, “flavor-of-the-moment” front, we saw the assassination of a U.S. ambassador last week, and the current President acted like he couldn’t be bothered. Nothing was going to stop him from keeping his appointments with Jay-Z, Beyonce, and David Letterman. The breach of our embassy and the ambassador’s assassination were acts of war. The President’s reaction was far too casual. But I guess I’m just piling on the poor guy now.
Meanwhile, the press nearly stroked out over Mr. Romney’s supposed premature statements about the crisis. Whether or not one likes what Romney said, he took the incidents seriously, acted like a president, and showed us what kind of president he will be.
SA: Given that our economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month when he took office, what measures should Obama have been taken?
JB: I don’t believe he could have done anything about that particular problem at the time. But his angle was completely wrong. He talked about “creating jobs” and “putting people back to work.” Philosophical objections aside for a moment, all attempts at job creation wouldn’t mean a thing in the economic and regulatory environment that existed, and that still exists.
I don’t want to believe that the President is an economic illiterate, but he plays one admirably on TV. During an interview with NBC’s Ann Curry (whose idiocy is well on its way to proverbial status) he blamed ATMs and airport kiosks for destroying jobs. (That’s the detrimental effect of “robotics,” as the fossilized Bernie Sanders helpfully informed us.) Just a few nights ago with David Letterman, Mr. Obama claimed he wasn’t sure about the exact amount of the national debt. We all know that it hit 16 trillion bucks right in the middle of the DNC convention. Alas, his supporters remain blindly credulous.
As for my philosophical objection, the government cannot “create jobs,” nor can it “put people back to work.” These are not functions of the government as outlined in its charter, and the idea makes no sense in the first place. I want all politicians to stop claiming otherwise.
There are a few things that the President should not have done. One was running headlong into the Affordable Care Act. Considering Mr. and Mrs. Clinton’s experience with a similar effort, the President likely knew that his party would suffer damage in the 2010 elections if they went through with it. Another is the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, with its establishment of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. These moves will make nothing affordable, reform nothing, and protect no one. They will only serve to distort market signals and gum up the economy further.
But these were moral imperatives for the Left, especially the health care bill. It was sheer millennialism in its scope, surely prophesied from of old. It was fully in keeping with Mr. Obama’s near-messianic pretensions, and fulfilled the long-deferred hopes of certain dinosaurs in Congress who came of age circa 1968, as well as those of the chattering class who infest the Upper West Side.
In the President’s words his party experienced a “shellacking” in 2010. With all of his political capital burned up, he lost his hold on Congress – amusingly, he then had the nerve to complain about the subsequent obstructionism of the Republicans. Here’s a news flash for Mr. Obama, his party, and the primetime host lineup of MSNBC: In 2010, we sent the Republicans to Washington to do just that – obstruct. This is how the thing works.
Having said all that, I predict President Obama will win re-election. So what the hell do I know?
SA: How has Obama disrespected the trust handed to him, and attempted to “reorder the political cosmos”?
JB: Again, he told us what his vision was – the fundamental transformation of America. He lamented that the Constitution gets in the way of the change he would like to implement. His doctrine is managed national decline, and he is certainly no great cheerleader for American Exceptionalism.
It isn’t just Barack Obama, it’s his entire cadre. Profanely, they would replace The Second Treatise of Civil Government with Barney and Friends: Sharing is Caring! as the intellectual foundation of our Republic.
SA: It’s clear you admire Reagan. He increased the national debt by 186 percent during his years in office. Is this an aspect of his presidency that troubles you?
JB: Of course the national debt became something of an albatross for Reagan. But I’ll see your Reagan national debt and raise you a Nixon wage-and-price-controls, and a Carter stagflation and loss of American prestige.
In any case, I’m more troubled by our current situation. We’re looking at a national debt that has surpassed 100% of GDP.
SA: Are you suggesting Obama should have declared war on Libya and Egypt?
JB: Not necessarily, but the incidents at Benghazi and Cairo were acts of war. Let us not be so afraid of saying it, and making the world understand that nothing is off the table as far as we are concerned.
One of President Obama’s mistakes was falling for the media fiction of the “Arab Spring.” There was never any such thing. Did you know that Muslims call it the “Arab Awakening”? That carries a different, more ominous connotation.
Do you consider Romney’s decision to criticize the President in the midst of attacks overseas “presidential”?
Considering that Mr. Obama didn’t seem to be as alarmed as you’d think the Leader of the Free World should be, yes. The liberati and certain members of the Republican establishment complained that Romney’s statements were a departure from the measured tones of Reagan in 1980. This is not completely true – candidate Reagan blasted Carter at this same juncture in the 1980 campaign season. In fact, poor Jimmy is still nursing that bootprint-shaped bruise that Ron left on his left buttcheek.
I am also bothered by how long it took for the President to say something. Remember the 2008 riff about the “Three A.M. Phone Call”? The phone rang, and Mr. Obama was asleep. Mrs. Clinton valiantly took the call, but when she answered, she babbled incoherently. In fact, she is still out there projecting a bold and forceful image – and she is still making absolutely no sense, blathering on about that ridiculous YouTube video. This, in fact, may be worse than not saying anything at all.
SA: Can you talk about your stances on social issues? Women’s rights? Gay rights? Gun control?
JB: After the freakshow that was the DNC convention, I am quite honestly worn out by all the angry estrogen. But I will talk briefly about abortion.
I was informed by a grad-school colleague of mine that until I have a uterus, I don’t have a right to an opinion about abortion (never mind the fact that I am thoroughly pro-choice). The stridency of these broads cannot possibly be making them many friends.
Here is my position: I am pro-choice; have all the abortions you want. But please don’t ask for taxpayer money to fund them. It’s too contentious an issue, and too many people have moral objections to it.
But as my uterus-less self has no right to an opinion, forget I said anything about it.
On gay rights, my irreparable break with the gay Left came in 2004 when I received the Human Rights Campaign press release about gay marriage in Massachusetts, which repeated the glowing headline: “Massachusetts Grants Gays Right to Marry.” Now, I was as thrilled as the next guy about this victory, but my problem lies with the notion of “granting rights.” Our rights are not something bestowed by other human beings. As our Founders asserted, our rights are natural, unalienable, and Creator-endowed. Their source is the “Laws of Nature and Nature’s God.”
The right to marry? Of course. However, only authoritarian governments presume to “grant” rights. Examples: the former USSR and Nazi Germany, today’s China, Cuba, Venezuela, and North Korea. This is a Faustian bargain I will not consider.
As for gun control, I am as staunch a supporter of the Second Amendment as I am of the First. The Left would have us remain as sitting ducks, relying on “Hate Crimes Legislation” to protect us from homophobes (or any other type of thug). I can’t imagine anything more “self-loathing” than that.
While I am not actively against such legislation, I claim the right to arm and defend myself. I am convinced that if Matthew Shepard had carried a gun, he’d be walking among us today. As my friends at Pink Pistols say, “Armed gays don’t get bashed.”
SA: Also, what do you do for a living, if you don’t mind my asking.
JB: I am senior editor for the creative team at a small public relations company in northern New Jersey.
SA: You write: “I don’t believe he could have done anything about that particular problem at the time.” What is it that a President should do when the economy he inherits is slumping? It sounds to me like you feel government should do as little as possible, and allow the free market to call the shots. Is that accurate?
JB: In a perfect world, yes, that would be accurate. But we didn’t have a free market in the first place. There is no way a free-market solution was going to work in a decidedly unfree market environment.
The Republicans unwittingly made this clear at the beginning of the meltdown. They jumped right in with the Democrats in placing a moratorium on short-selling, as if those greedy short-sellers caused the crisis. Short-selling is only an indicator, and is a mechanism which provides crucial information about the health of the markets. It’s like taking your temperature and finding out you have a fever. No problem – just smash the thermometer!
Please, that’s the shutting-of-the-barn door strategy (and don’t worry about the horses, I’m sure they’ll be fine). It was only after the fact that they started arguing for a free market solution.
You asked me what I thought “a president should do.” That is nearly impossible to answer, because it depends on the person we elect as president. In President Obama’s case, his worldview remains as rigid now as it was decades ago, and it is utterly at odds with the American project. I’d call it a case of cognitive dissonance, but that would presuppose a type of cognition appropriate for the task. I do not think he is fundamentally suited for the job of president. Community organizing is his thing – I’d like to see him get back into that business, and soon.
SA: Do you give Obama credit for anything? His decision to bailout the auto industry? To end the war in Iraq? To help those with pre-existing conditions get insurance?
JB: Was it really Obama’s “decision” to bail out the auto industry? George W. Bush had already set the bailout in motion, so credit (I prefer “blame”) must also lie with him. President Obama’s decision was to continue and expand it.
The auto bailouts were just bankruptcy proceedings by other means. On the GM side, the Treasury has evidently resigned itself to taking a multi-billion dollar bath on the deal. It’s now just a question of whether that will be a $13 billion or $25 billion loss. Treasury has also announced that if GM’s stock hits the acceptably anemic level of 30%, it will sell off and we may come out “ahead” – that is, a little less than $10 billion in the hole.
I am honestly offended when I see a GM commercial. This is a company that is 26% owned by the government, and 12% owned by United Auto Workers interests. These commercials amount to soft-money ads for the Obama Campaign, funded not with private money, but by the taxpayer. If the Citizens United decision pissed people off, this ought to send them through the roof.
The end of the Iraq War, such as it is, was negotiated by then President Bush. So yes, I’ll give credit to President Obama for adhering to that deadline.
I give President Obama “credit” for embracing a warm and fuzzy sentiment about people with pre-existing conditions. But did we really need a 2,000-page monstrosity of a bill to accomplish that?
Big ups to the President for calling Kanye West a “jackass.” Hell, that alone may warrant the man a second term. Thanks for the reminder, I’ll have some thinking to do in the voting booth.
SA: In your view, how and why did the economic meltdown of 2007 occur?
JB: Contra the narrative that was pushed on us, “deregulation” was hardly the culprit. We can trace the problems back to FHA and HUD regulations, and the even more pernicious Community Reinvestment Act. The deregulation which followed was only at the margins. Every move was designed to fix a problem which was created by over-regulation and social engineering in the first place. The CRA is a prime example of “social justice” in action, and the damage it can cause.
We could have abolished every regulation, and as long as the CRA remained intact, it represented a terminal path in the system which nullified any supposed deregulatory effect.
My Liberal friends often point to the repeal of Glass-Steagall as evidence of deregulatory excess. Not many of them realize that Glass-Steagall was only partially repealed. If this is what someone thinks of as deregulation, it is based on the very thinnest of definitions.
The CRA, as we know, was an effort to increase home ownership, which is of course not a bad thing in itself. But it became a vote-buying scheme by Republicans as well as Democrats. During the 1990s, the program was strengthened, and politicians patted one another on the back for doing so much to help people “get into their own homes.” Pop the champagne, pass the lobster ravioli, and put your hands together for Hootie and the Blowfish. The President will sit in on sax.
Meanwhile, all was not well. The Clinton Administration had to use a carrot-and-stick approach with lenders. The lending institutions were threatened with prosecution if they continued the practice of redlining; they were also assured that the government would come to the rescue if things went all to hell. Accordingly, the government tacitly underwrote all kinds of innovative financial products. (For more information on those, Matt Taibbi is the go-to guy – just thinking about derivatives and credit-default swaps gives me a headache right now.)
And things were indeed going all to hell. We all remember the 2004 congressional hearings on Fannie and Freddie. Representative Barney Frank was dumbfounded by the suggestion that there could be trouble at those institutions. His Democratic colleagues assented, assuring all that there was no crisis. A few went so far as to paint the entire effort as a “political lynching of [Fannie Mae CEO] Franklin Raines” and an attempt to abolish all government-sponsored enterprises. (Evidently, the inquiry was established because Republicans really hate black people.)
Congressman Frank later admitted to CNBC that he “had been too sanguine about Fannie and Freddie.” He conceded that Fannie and Freddie had become “public utilities” of a sort, and argued that they should be dismantled. He even suggested that the government should get out of the mortgage business (at least for middle-income borrowers), and let it transition back to a private-sector model.
That refreshing blast of candor and good sense was short-lived; as of July 2010 Mr. Frank’s sanguinity had returned just long enough for his name to be attached to another doorstop of a bill, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (some 6,500 pages and counting). A blizzard of paper, ink, and red tape, the Dodd-Frank Act imposes even more regulations, and mandates the establishment of all manner of ad-hoc inquiries, panels, and commissions to determine what rules will be in force.
Maddeningly, the bill also provides for more bailouts of larger institutions. Smaller companies wishing to enter the market will have little chance of success without benefit of this government imprimatur. Capital is thus being diverted to places that it wouldn’t otherwise naturally flow. Under these conditions, it’s a wonder that anyone even remotely connected to the housing or banking industries would dare step out of his own house.
By the way, the latest craze sweeping the nation is the “strategic default.” Just when I thought the fun had reached its limit.
SA: What do you mean by “angry estrogen”?
JB: I prefer to let your readers chew on that one.
SA: You mention a “break with the Gay left.” Does this mean you are gay? If so, how does that inform your interaction with other conservatives?
JB: Yes – you reached out to me at The Advocate, so I thought that was clear. My apologies.
My interaction with “conservatives” is positively delightful, especially considering the shower of shit I get from the Left for my traitorous political affiliations.
SA: What do you mean by “positively delightful”? Do conservatives respect your sexual orientation? How do they express this respect? Is it in their policies toward homosexuals? Can you be specific?
JB: Most conservatives I interact with respect and agree with my political point of view. As for sexual orientation, my mission on the Right is not to alert them to the virtues of hot man-on-man action. Of course many of them raise an eyebrow at my sexual orientation and romantic proclivities. But once we have a discussion about John Locke, the Rule of Law, the Founding fathers, the Constitution of the United States, and F.A. Hayek, I have made a friend for life. (A hearty laugh at Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s expense never hurts, either.)
This is a discussion that is impossible to have with a Liberal. It begins and ends with the same not-very-original charge that I am like a Jewish guard at Auschwitz and do I realize that the Republican party hates me?
I have never received hate mail nor have I ever been the recipient of personal invective from a conservative. The totality of vitriol comes from the Left. A recent example of gay Leftist hatred came courtesy of the ever-repulsive Dan Savage. He called GoProud “house faggots for the GOP.”
We point out to Savage that it’s better to be a house faggot for the Right than a field faggot for the Left. Who has a better shot at cutting the master’s throat while he slumbers? My money is on the house faggot.
His provocative analogy is defective anyway. We ran off the white Liberal plantation entirely, just beyond their reach of control, and that is what really ticks off the Left. Gays are expected to concern themselves only with “gay issues.” Liberals are similarly disturbed by blacks who refuse to define themselves entirely in terms of race and poverty. They do it to women – birth control and access to abortion are the acceptable female issues. None of us will stay put, in the political and social ghettoes where we belong. How inconsiderate of us.
On conservative policies toward homosexuals, we (that is, those of us aligned with Log Cabin Republicans and GoProud) have made it clear that we disagree with the GOP’s plank on gay rights. We have a formidable number of straight allies on our side. None of them intend to rejoin the Left anytime soon, so why should we?
We respond to the GOP’s platform – but we respond to every single plank, not just the ones which we are expected to. We refuse to participate in the political balkanization that is the specialty of the Liberal Left.
For all the caterwauling about our supposed Uncle Tom-ness, no Liberal wants to acknowledge that it was R. Clarke Cooper and the Log Cabin Republicans who were instrumental in the demise of DADT. The gay Left has been ecstatic over President Obama and how he fought for gay Americans by repealing DADT. Even the President is eminently pleased with himself for this achievement, reminding everyone about it during his campaign events (“We did it!”). I wonder if he is even aware of the key court victory Log Cabin Republicans v. United States Government; certainly the Left in general has been mum.
I recommend David Lampo’s latest book, A Fundamental Freedom: Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights. The subtitle is a bit incomplete: I’d add And Why the Liberal Left Should Get Its Panties Out of a Wad and Shut the Fuck Up About It. I floated the idea to Mr. Lampo, and he said his publisher was not keen on cramming that many words onto the dust jacket. (OK, maybe I didn’t.)
SA: Honestly, Jack, I’m unclear on what “angry estrogen” means. You clearly pride yourself on being intelligent and precise, so what are you saying here? And why was the DNC a “freakshow”?
JB: Sandra Fluke exemplified both the angry as well as freakish aspects of the DNC convention. She delivered her speech with a very large and secure safety net cast by her (extremely angry) handlers, as is always the case when she speaks publicly.
Counselor Fluke’s in-your-face reality: The decision we make in November will determine the Fate of the Republic. Choose:
1) A horrific and dystopian world created by Mitt Romney in which the majority of insurance plans cover birth control; or
2) The Obama Promise of an enlightened tomorrow in which the vast majority of insurance plans cover birth control.
Ms. Fluke was described by President Obama as “one tough and poised young lady.” He wisely left out the adjective “smart.”
Insultingly, Ms. Fluke was foisted on us as some kind of intellectual powerhouse, an eloquent voice against the forces of white male patriarchy. Yet when Rush Limbaugh called her a rude name, suddenly she became this delicate little creature who was being bullied, and all rallied to her and cradled her precious little head and told her that Rush is, well he’s just a big meanie. There, there now, child – it’s OK, Uncle Barack is on the phone, sweetpea.
Speaking of someone dumber than her own hair, Jennifer Granholm really cranked up the freak factor. Her speech was just bizarre from the beginning: “Let me tell you a story about the dark days in my home state. So, toward the end of my time as governor, Ford closed one of its biggest plants…”
Referencing what a rotten governor she had been for Michigan probably wasn’t the best way to start. But it got worse, because she then treated us to a list which touted the job creating-genius of President Obama, telling us about the thousands of new jobs at the new and improved GM. Those in the press who were paying attention quickly made short work of her numbers and then blew the point of her speech to hell, which was that Mitt Romney is the Grand Kalamazoo of outsourcing. A key aspect of GM’s restructuring was in fact the relocation of jobs overseas.
Jenny also said nothing more about Ford Motors, which didn’t take a bailout, as we all know. I was personally disappointed that she didn’t tell us how her Chevy Volt is running these days.
An even more troubling angry freak is that Granholm-with-a-Brain, Elizabeth Warren. During her DNC speech she barked, “No, Governor Romney, corporations are not people. People have hearts… They dance. They live. They love. And they die. And that matters. That matters. That matters…”
It is troubling because as a bankruptcy and corporate attorney, Warren actually represented corporations. She knows what corporate personhood is all about. She knows it is a valid and time-tested civil and legal principle. Rights of incorporation are essential to a well-ordered and economically healthy society. They are available to everyone, from Exxon down to a one-man operation with no more assets than a fax machine. They are essential, because if I happen to run that one-man operation and one of my clients gets a paper cut from one of my faxes and wants a multi-million dollar judgment for mental anguish, I can’t be sued for my shirt, car, house, or any other personal asset. The risk falls on my separately-incorporated organization. Without this protection, no one would risk entering into any substantial business. Again, this is something that Warren knows all too well.
She’s right – corporations don’t dance, live, or love. They also don’t burp, fart, or masturbate, and thank goodness for that.
When she says (thrice, for angry effect), “That matters,” she also knows perfectly well that it doesn’t matter when it comes to entering into contracts or participating in legal proceedings. This is true for individuals as well as corporations. Neither a civil nor criminal court, nor any authority responsible for the execution of contracts cares whether someone dances, or lives, or loves. These are irrelevant to the matters at hand.
Her venomous speech about corporate personhood is therefore so much cynical balloon juice aimed at her ignorant hearers, and she knows it.
On the female anger side, Warren referenced the gender-wage gap: “President Obama believes in…- I can’t believe I have to say this in 2012 – a country where women get equal pay for equal work.” No, she believes she had to say it, because she also knows about the intersection of human biology and economics.
The reality is, women will always lag behind men in the workforce. As long as women have babies or reserve that option for the future, this will not change. Due to this scientific fact, women are in the position of having to make career decisions which will accommodate this reality. They will more often enter fields which allow them the flexibility to take time off to have and raise children, and this will of necessity mean that their marketable skills will atrophy at greater rates than those of men. Men are normally under no such constraint, and therefore can accumulate more skills and more income over time.
Now, of course discrimination exists. But the wage gap is not solely an effect of sexism. We can adjust for any discrimination by using the coercive power of government to increase pay for women, but that will only mask the reality and distort essential market signals.
If this is what we want to do as a society, then so be it. We can establish a female-specific minimum wage. But let us bear in mind the words of F.A. Hayek: “There is all the difference in the world between treating people equally and attempting to make them equal. While the first is the condition of a free society, the second means as DeTocqueville describes it, a new form of servitude.”
Again, Liz knows all of this. She is too intelligent not to. But the anger of her audience will brook no appeal to economic realities. The party that ostensibly “respects science” is alarmingly irrational. Freaky anger all around.
SA: Would it trouble you if someone called a gathering of gay men a “freakshow”?
JB: Hell, no. I take it you have never seen Asbury Park during Pride Week. Come on down next summer. Leave the wife and kids at home.
SA: Your explanation of the 2007 crash makes no mention of Wall Street, and the way traders packaged and sold bad debts. Why not?
I thought I was clear by my reference to the innovative financial products that were created in response to the economic and regulatory environment, the ones that Matt Taibbi knows all about. Of course, the emotionally satisfying explanation is that the whole mess was caused by Wall Street greed.
I don’t believe that the folks on Wall Street suddenly got greedy because of some gift that the market handed them. The fact is, they were only responding to that particular environment. The bad debts being shuffled around were sanctioned by the government, and again, this was a result of an attempt to mask the true nature of the problems, which I maintain had their origin in the CRA.
If we want to assume that what the “banksters” were doing was illegal, then that begs the (quite fashionable) question of why virtually no one to date has been prosecuted. I submit to you that if there were such high-profile prosecutions, the resulting discovery process and cacophony of whistle-blowing would reach deep inside the Beltway, and we’d see Messrs. Frank and Dodd (along with many of their colleagues) as color guards in that perp-walk parade.
SA: If government can’t create jobs or grant rights, what is its purpose?
JB: The government’s purpose and powers are outlined broadly in the Constitution, and more specifically in Article 1, Section 8. By enumerating the powers of government, the Constitution actually stresses those powers the government does not have. This is the essence of limited government.
The government cannot create jobs or anything else, for that matter. It cannot “make investments,” either. The government has not one single cent of its own money. Any wealth the government has at its disposal has been appropriated from private interests.
I don’t know how many more ways I can say this, but I will reiterate nevertheless. If you concede to the government the authority to grant your rights, you also acknowledge the government’s power to abrogate those rights without notice, and without cause.
It is a bedrock Enlightenment principle: Our rights are Creator-endowed, and they originate in the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God. They do not emanate from any human institution or person. They are not given by government, for they are not government’s to give in the first place.
This remains a revolutionary idea. Any objection to it is to discount some 3,500 years of intellectual, theological, and philosophical ferment, all of which culminated in the Enlightenment of Western Civilization and the full expression of that project, the establishment of the United States of America.
SA: Why are hate crime laws are “self-loathing”?
JB: Expecting me to roll over and depend on hate crime laws for protection, relinquish my right to arm myself and remain an open target for a criminal would be asking me to participate in a blatant form of self-hatred, wouldn’t it? I won’t allow my blood to be spilled all for the sake of some vague, contradictory, and bossy opinions that others hold about “the common good.”
SA: You believe that if Matthew Shepard had carried a gun he’d still be alive. So was he a victim because he allowed himself to be? Given that we all might be victims of violent crime, should everyone carry a gun? Would this decrease, in your view, gun violence?
JB: No, I don’t blame Shepard for his own death. But the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act is of little benefit to either of those gentlemen now.
I don’t argue that people should or shouldn’t arm themselves. It’s a decision that each individual will make for himself. Concerns about “gun violence” are wholly separate when it comes to my personal safety, and my right to make my own decisions about how to secure that safety.
SA: [Another] question, which occurred to me as I was walking home.
You’ve talked about the fact that government doesn’t create jobs. But me and my kids walked right past the school they’ll go to, which is being rebuilt. There were about 25 guys working on the re-build, which was funded by taxpayers like myself. How is this not government creating jobs?
JB: You answered your own question. Those jobs are funded by you, not the government. The government is merely the means by which your money is diverted to that project. Now building a school is of course a good and useful thing. But such a project does not represent an expansion of the economy – the resources used to build the school were diverted from another part of the economy.
In fact, there are instances where rebuilding a school may not be the best use of resources. Believe it or not, there are times when it is more useful to renovate a chain of go-go bars, or build a new Wal-Mart.
You are only looking at a visible effect. You see those men working on that school. But what you don’t see are the other uses that money could have been put to had it not been taken out of the economy in the first place. This is what Frederic Bastiat described as the difference between “What is Seen and What is Not Seen.”
Don’t be seduced into thinking that when you see that school being rebuilt, the economic pie must be getting larger. In reality, the slices are just being rearranged.
SA: What practical role, if any, should government play in the lives of citizens? I’m going to guess you’ll start quoting the Constitution, but I’d like you to be specific. Would you like to see all its functions privatized? (Education, infrastructure, environmental regulation, defense, etc.) I ask because you seem skeptical, and even offended, at the idea that government can play any positive role in the lives of our citizens. But you (and the rest of us) are, at the same time, utterly dependent on government. Unless you live off the grid, and never attended a public school, and purify your own water, etc. The theory of limited government sounds great on a bumper sticker, but my sense is that the reality would mean a lot of suffering, mostly for people who don’t have the income, education, and opportunities that you do.
JB: It’s nearly impossible to have this discussion without at least referencing the Constitution, that bumper sticker, that “goddamned piece of paper” of George W. Bush, that pesky impediment to Barack Obama and his idea of change, and that parsimonious document that Justice Bader-Ginsburg thinks is far inferior to one of the biggest loads of technocratic and authoritarian horseshit to emerge from the Post-War years, the European Convention on Human Rights.
But I’ll do my best to refrain from making any direct quotation of our founding text.
On defense, of course I will direct you to the Constitution. It’s pretty clear about that function. As we know, there has been colossal waste in that area for quite a while. This fact does not abrogate government’s obligation to (forgive me) “provide for the common defense.”
I think a better question is “What are the proper limits of government in the lives of its citizens?” The fact that we are asking “What is the proper role of government [in our lives]” reveals that government has indeed exceeded its limits. John Stuart Mill held that the coercive power of government against a citizen should only be exercised in the effort to prevent harm to another citizen.
Perhaps I can’t tell you in absolute terms what the proper role of government is, but it isn’t difficult to see what the government’s role is not. The Rule of Law provides for institutions, guarantees, and a legal structure that are consistent for everyone. This way, we all know what the rules are beforehand and are assured that the rules will not change arbitrarily.
Hayek likened the role of government to highway regulations and the rules of the road. When we drive somewhere for whatever purpose, we observe certain rules and limitations which are designed to facilitate the flow of traffic and safety for all motorists. There are speed limits, guard rails, as well as helpful things like street signs and distance markers. When we all observe these agreed-upon rules, our separate aims are facilitated and we usually arrive at our destinations as planned.
It would be a different matter altogether if government not only provided this structure, but also decided upon our destinations for us. Not only does government facilitate our means, it also then determines our ends. This would be a government which has exceeded its proper limits.
I’m glad you mentioned “purifying my own water.” Some years ago, my parents and our neighbors were fed up with the town’s mismanagement of our water system. We all used a well which serviced some thirty homes. If a storm came through and the electricity was knocked out, the water pump would naturally break down. The town was all too happy to fix the thing or at least hook up a generator – but only Monday through Friday, during regular business hours. That’s not helpful when the water cuts out on Friday at 5 pm at the beginning of Christmas week in a year where that holiday falls on a Tuesday.
Our neighborhood decided to form their own water company (let’s call it H2O-Co.) and contract for services on their own. That they did, and for the past couple of decades, if the water went out, it would be promptly fixed by a private contractor who was available anytime of day, night, holiday or not.
The town was happy to let our neighborhood go, since it was one less thing for the town manager to deal with. The guys on our streets department were also happy, because fixing our water pump cut into their beer-drinking time. Nothing like a half a dozen cold ones while plowing snow or operating heavy machinery at the municipal park.
But that story isn’t over. The EPA, via the state DEP, with their renowned concern for the well-being of citizens like my folks, sent notice a few years ago that H2O-Co. must install a retaining tank (and I’m not kidding about this) “in case the water goes out.” Because, you know, hurricane Gloria recently blew through and knocked out the power, and the pump went down, and God forbid people should all die of thirst and starvation and looting – I guess the authorities were surprised we hadn’t all resorted to cannibalism.
It was heartening to see the government’s prompt action, clocking in at just under a quarter-century. To raise this episode to an even higher level of farce, the regional watershed council then notified H2O-Co. that they are in fact prohibited from building that retaining tank, because it might disrupt the delicate ecosystem or something. Thus began the paper shuffle, which is still going on to this day. H2O-Co. duly forwards copies of each notice it gets to all concerned parties, which quiets everyone down for a year or so, after which time the entire ridiculous process begins anew.
There’s a Gilbert & Sullivan libretto or lost Evelyn Waugh vignette in there somewhere.
I realize that my little story is anecdotal, and has certain illustrative limitations. But if I were in fact “utterly dependent on government,” I wouldn’t have made it out of early adolescence.
[Note: This interview was given shortly before Hurricane Sandy made her appearance in New Jersey. Still alive - not boiling my shoes for dinner, in case the reader was worried. -JB]
SA: The notion that building a Wal-Mart would, in any instance, serve the public good better than an elementary school assumes that the highest good in our culture is economic. Is this your measure? Can a culture that values buying cheap products (mostly made overseas) over educating its children compete in the long run?
JB: I have no measure of the “highest good in our culture,” since I don’t believe that exists as an absolute concept. We are a nation of 300 million individuals, each with their own goals, ambitions, and concerns. Liberals are under the mistaken belief that it is possible to direct and order such a mass of diverse (and often conflicting) goals according to some broad outline or blueprint of a “rational society.” Herding cats, writ large. The Left has not learned from history – whenever and wherever such rational organization has been attempted, it has failed tragically and miserably, and its results have been profoundly irrational.
First, what you are assuming is that a function such as education is somehow morally superior to economic activity. I note the superstitious, even medieval attitude that Liberals have toward trade and money. Most of them don’t understand money, don’t know how wealth is generated, and have little idea about how it moves throughout the economy. Even when some of them do manage to learn the truth about these phenomena, they don’t like it very much and disdain the implications.
In fact, this was exactly the attitude people had toward trade during the medieval period. The merchants were despised and feared as dangerous alchemists – they generated wealth seemingly out of nothing. The products of the builder and the baker were tangible, and could be seen. Not so with the banker. He produced nothing that people could actually see, yet he often enjoyed fabulous wealth. Surely the work of the Evil One.
As Eric Hoffer is purported to have said, “The hostility, in particular of the scribe, towards the merchant is as old as recorded history.” Indeed, it persists today. Who among us has not enjoyed (or endured, as the case may be) a Chris Hedges lecture or Noam Chomsky interview on C-SPAN, as each peppers his discourse with opprobrium for the market and employs Jacobin-approved terms like “corporate oligarchy” or “the power structure”?
But even the scribe knew that the merchant could not simply be exterminated. For all his fear and superstition, he knew that the merchant was somehow essential to the functioning of society. The next best thing was to banish the merchant to the outskirts of town, which is in fact what was done. His toxic influence could not be eliminated, but at least people didn’t have to see him as much.
Our appetite for products (cheap or otherwise) and our desire to educate the citizenry are not mutually exclusive propositions. The needs and desires of a given community vary depending on conditions in time and space. “Building schools” makes everyone swoon, but not all communities need new schools all the time. Considering demographic shift, some communities do not need new schools. Families move in and out all the time. Birthrates rise and fall.
It makes no good social or economic sense to build or renovate a school if the school-age population falls below a certain point, or is anticipated to do so in the near future. Of course, no two communities are exactly alike. These shifts may occur in either direction simultaneously among different communities. Saying that “we need more schools” may be true as far as it goes, but there are just as many instances where these schools don’t need to be built, and the resources of the community directed elsewhere.
As a campaign pitch, “We will build more schools” is a winner. A less attractive proposal is “We will build more schools as needed in those places where appropriate, but owing to demographic shifts, vicissitudes of the marketplace, and variations in the size of the tax base, we may just as often not build new schools.” Each can be a valid and sensible position, but which proposal is more likely to warm the hearts of the public?
Similarly, Sam Walton did not become richer than God by building a Wal-Mart on every inch of Earth’s inhabitable surface. His success came as much from the stores he built as much as the from the ones he didn’t build. He utilized economic and demographic information in order to determine the most effective business strategy.
Sometimes it is better to build a school than a Wal-Mart, or vice versa. At other times it is wise to build neither. At still other times, it is beneficial to build both. In any case, I am simplifying it for illustrative purposes, because the choice is never merely as clear as deciding on one type of project over another. The needs and desires within a given community are virtually endless, and decisions are constantly made about how to allocate resources among those possibilities.
Earlier you also asked about “infrastructure,” and the illustrations I just provided apply to that sphere just as well.
As for all the cheap stuff that we buy from China, I will note that Mitt Romney and Barack Obama are now arguing over which of them can be the more aggressive trade protectionist.
That argument is becoming moot, anyway. The Chinese economy is now in fact slowing, and wages in China have been rising. If energy prices fall and the dollar rebounds, we will see that tide roll back to our shores. In fact we are seeing the beginnings of it now.
But let’s not be too hasty. I’m pretty sure that those Artie Lange-looking fellows hanging around the union halls are not exactly clamoring for the chance to score a career position prepping Hello Kitty gear or inflatable frisbees for shipment. If a nation is to be known for turning out cheap-ass junk, I say let it be China and not the USA.