Friday, December 31, 2010


Anyone who recalls anything about Greek history for their school days remembers the name of Plato. Most know that he was a philosopher who studied under Socrates and mentored Aristotle. If pressed, these people could name one or two of his books, usually the Republic and Plato's Apology. Beyond that, your average person knows nothing about the man or why he is important. Not was, is.

I, being the great nerd I am, love reading the ancient Greeks. Just to upgrade my nerd credentials, I wish I could read ancient Greek just to avoid any bias in the translators, but alas I am not that talented. Usually during the winter, I make a point of reading something by Aristotle or Plato, though I also enjoy the playwrights and historians. Plato tends to be more interesting to me for various reasons. He combines story telling with philosophy, he alone knew the three most influential people on Western political thought (himself, Socrates, and Aristotle), and it is safe to say that Plato is the father of philosophy.

And for those who think, he is also very frightening to read. Plato is frightening precisely because his vision is so alluring. Imagine, a perfect society guided by truth and justice under the tutelage of a wise and impartial philosopher king! Man is perfectible; the philosopher can illustrate the traits of perfection, giving us a goal for all to strive for. Alas, it is a pipe dream.

Unfortunately, not everyone realizes that. The totalitarian regimes that have plagued the last century have all been based on the philosophy that man is perfectible through the state and collectivization. It is hard to tell what Plato himself thinks of the actuality of the perfectibility of men. Many thinkers who witnessed the rise of totalitarian regimes during the 20th Century saw Plato as either a dangerous man who created the blueprints for modern tyranny or as a philosopher who wrote books like The Republic to warn us of the inhumanity of such schemes. I haven't studied their works in depth (though Karl Popper and Leo Strauss are high on my reading list and currently in the mail). Reading Plato, however, it becomes almost unavoidable to view his thoughts through a modern historical lens.

That is half the reason why I enjoy reading a philosopher who has been gone for nearly 2,300 years. I cannot help but imagine what Plato's reaction would have been to the tyrannies of the 20th Century. Given that he did consider tyranny to be the worst form of government, both for those who live under the tyrant and the tyrant himself, I doubt he would be surprised that such governments did exist and that they were as horrible as they were. Perhaps it would be more interesting to see his reaction to the liberal revolution that occurred during the early 18th Century, a belief in the danger of government and its inability to improve people.

I have read the Republic numerous times, but today I finished Statesman. The goals are similar in both: the government, under a true statesman or philosopher king, exists to weave men together into a perfect society. Again, his analogies and goals are beautiful, but they are wrong and misleading. Plato himself doubts whether a true statesman will ever exist, but even if he did, I would not have him rule. Plato errs in believing men can be made subservient to the needs of society. In Statesman, Plato says the true rulers may rule and that "it makes no difference whether their subjects be willing or unwilling." That is the seed of fascism and communism. We are human beings, not bees or ants, and I cannot consider a government or society just if it fails to recognize the individual value of mankind.

Despite this, I absolutely love reading Plato's works. Reading the Republic for the first time in college will probably always be among my fondest memories. Between the class that focused almost exclusively on that book (led by the most brilliant woman I ever met) and everything else that happened that semester, I felt like I was reading the mind of God. Even though I disagree with many of his ideas now and disagreed even when I first encountered his thought, he touched on a remarkable number of subjects and his genius is hard to deny. If given the chance to be anywhere in all of history for a day and understand the language, I would almost have to pick the best conversation between Plato and Aristotle. The two titans of thought debating the theory of the forms, the existence of reality and our perception thereof; I can only imagine.

Monday, December 27, 2010


Fred Hiatt at the Washington Post has an interesting article on obesity and the government. The answer to his question and title to his article is fairly simple. It became a partisan issue once people began insinuating the government should interfere.

Yes, obesity is on the rise. I don't know if anyone actually questions that (disagreeing with this policy position does not mean one denies the factual rise of obesity). The questions we should really be asking is 1) what is causing this rise, 2) what should we do about it, and 3) who is this "we?" That last question will determine how question 2 is answered and is really the linchpin to the whole argument.

Question 1 is fairly complex and Mr. Hiatt completely fails to answer it. Bad eating habits are hardly new in America. Something that is fairly new over the last thirty years is the sedentary lifestyle. Computers and video games within the home have largely replaced outdoor activity. This sedentary style itself encourages bad eating habits (it is easier to down a coke and Cheetos while watching the screen than it is while running around outside). I'm not going to claim to know exactly why obesity is on the rise, but I do want to point out that the businesses that make sugar products and hamburgers are not solely responsible.

Question 2 depends on the answer to Question 3. This is where the issue becomes partisan. If "we" means the government, than the answer is taxing sugar goods and banning fast food restaurants from operating in certain areas. Mr. Hiatt implies that Mrs. Obama was not pushing such solutions but rather a voluntary reduction; problem is, the government has already begun adopting these nanny state solutions. NY was considering a soda tax and San Francisco has banned toys from happy meals.

Conservatives and libertarians answer question 2 differently. The government has no authority or responsibility to fight obesity; it is largely a personal choice to be made by individuals. There is an important philosophical difference here. For statists, the government knows best what is good for us. The responsibility for decisions, then, passes from the individual to the government. People who support the policies tend to believe their value judgements are best, to the point where everyone else should have to follow them at the point of the gun, if necessary. That is, after all, what laws are.

On the other hand, those pushing for less government believe people know best. They hold the pluralist view that there are different forms of good that are not always compatible with each other. It may very well be that for person A, obesity is acceptable so long as they can enjoy their sedentary lifestyle and sugary goods. If the government passes laws to change person A's habits, they are actually making person A less happy overall. With 300,000,000 citizens having different preference structures, it is impossible for the government to know what will make them all happy. Any attempt to force those people into any one policy for their own good will inevitably force many people into less happiness.

Would forcing people to exercise and eat better lead to better health? Probably. But will that lead people to be happier than they otherwise would have been? No, in many cases. Those who believe health is more important are free to do so, but they need to stop and realize others may (rightly) disagree based on their personal preferences. If you are passionate about healthy living, make your best case and convince as many others as you can to change their ways, but leave the taxes and the force of law out of it.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Surplus Value and Exploitation

Modern day "liberals" or social democrats tend to want to regulate businesses based on principles found in the works of Karl Marx. I'm not going to say most of these people are Marxists, if for no other reason than because they do not know Marx's thought well enough to identify with his theory. They do, however, pick up a number of the basic ideas. These ideas are wrong and are therefore dangerous.

One of the more common complaints against capitalism and the free market is that workers are not paid the full worth of the products being produced by the company. It is assumed that the money made by the owner is exploited from the work of the wage earner. The capitalist does nothing but steals surplus value from the worker. This is seen as a form of theft and immoral; if a revolution to overthrow the capitalists is extreme, than at least the government should regulate pay to ensure a more fair distribution of wealth away from capitalists (who do not work for their money) and to the workers (who do).

I am not an expert on Marx; while I've read a few of his works, by large and away they were too dry for even me to really read and comprehend. As far as I know, however, Marx never worked a day in his life. He was an academic. This is unfortunate for Marx, as he would have learned a great deal spending time with actual workers. I have spent time with such people. I will use this experience to show why Marx (and those using the surplus value theory today) are wrong.

For the better part of a year, I worked in a factory that produced printed circuit boards for computers and servers and such. For multiple reasons, I'm going to describe only the fairly obvious aspects of the production method (I signed a waiver preventing me from describing the process in any real detail beyond the obvious, and I doubt I could do so even if I wanted to, not to mention my reader would be confused to no end). The point is this, however: the worker is benefited by the capitalist rather than exploited.

The average worker, not having much more than a high school education, would bring home about $300 a week, more if they worked overtime.

The price of one of the most common boards we sold was roughly $300.

If the capitalists are truly exploiting the worker, than the worker's labor needs to be worth more than $300 a week. Their labor needs to be worth about one finished circuit board.

Here's the rub: if the capitalist is exploiting the worker, why does the worker continue going to work? Why not work on their own? That's fairly obvious: the worker with the high school education could not produce $300 worth of circuit boards in a million years, much less in a week. The worker would have to collect the copper needed, the machinery to make that copper acceptable, would have to design the plans for the board, would have to make connections with potential buyers, would have to build the machines that would etch the proper patterns the within a nanometer (along with buying and processing the material needed to do that), would have to have the machinery and skill to put on proper finishes, would need to have all of the proper chemicals, and would need the packaging and transporting equipment to move the finished product. This, mind you, is the simplified version.

As I said, the worker will never make a single board. The worker's labor, by himself, is worth a fraction of a penny per week, if he is lucky.

All of the necessary tools come from the capitalists. They invest their money rather than enjoying it in the short run; this is a sacrifice of time and a gamble in that the investment may not pay off. Once they have assembled the proper workforce and machines, they can produce enough goods to give the worker $300 a week and still make money for themselves. The value of the worker's labor has been multiplied by an astronomical figure by the investments of the capitalists.

How, exactly, is that exploitation? The worker is better off and the capitalist is better off; this is win-win.

Marx bemoaned the fact that the capitalists own all of these "means of production." Well, they created them! It was an engineer who put in the long hours of graduate school and nights and weekends at his desk to produce the proper etching machine, not the worker. It was the capitalist who put off enjoying the fruit of their labor in the immediate time frame in hopes of having more wealth down the line. If the workers want to make their own means of production, they are free to do so. It would require the sacrifices made by the capitalists and the most talented elements, sacrifices most workers are not willing to make.

The worker is not being exploited; instead, his ability to produce is magnified exponentially. This magnification is occurring because the capitalists have put off their own enjoyment by investing wealth and because the most talented have worked hard to create the tools needed. I fail to see how this is an "evil" that needs to be remedied. If anything, workers should be more thankful for the capitalists rather than screaming about how they are exploited.

There is no surplus value being milked off by lazy capitalists. All plans to redistribute wealth supposedly gained by surplus value is therefore wrong, morally and factually. While not the only justification used to redistribute wealth, it is a common one and persuasive to unthinking minds (equating capitalists, who are not currently working with their hands, to thieves). Other arguments will be dealt with at another time.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

237th Anniversary of the Boston Tea Party

Three cheers for the Tea Party! It appears that the $1,200,000,000,000.00 omnibus bill proposed by the Democrats (who were recently beaten severely in a national election) has been pulled. The reason for this appears to be Republicans who earlier considered passing this monstrosity having a change of heart once their own earmark requests were made public.

The Tea Party is far from over. These Republicans changed their minds because they know full well that a Tea Party challenge in the primary spells death for RINOs. Senators Lee, Paul, and Rubio prove Tea Partiers can win and that people need not support establishment Republicans if those establishment officials do not pursue a limited form of government.

This is the true impact of the Tea Party movement. Liberals in moderate districts have much to fear by the mobilizing impact of the Tea Party, but the main influence will be in keeping Republicans tied to sound fiscal principles.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sins of the Systems

Here's something you probably didn't expect. I want you to go here and watch the two minute section of Senator Sanders' filibuster from the other day. Go on, I'll wait.

To the Senator's credit, he's openly a socialist. Were that more socialists in this nation were honest about it!

This two minute section is important, because it concisely sums up the attitude of those on the Left concerning wealth and justice. The rich are crybabies; there is a limit to how much people should own; conservatives and libertarians are guilty of the sin of greed, which is like a drug addiction. Fortunately, there are those statists like Senator Sanders that will try their utmost to impose morality (as the Left sees it) on the people, with force if necessary.

I see things differently, both from the Judea-Christian notion of morality and that of socialists. Greed is no sin; rather, it is the source of all wealth and goods in the world. Should a person be driven to make more money and do so in a way that does not violate the life, liberty, or property of others, then that person has done no wrong to anyone. Indeed, that person has increased the quantity of goods in this world, a praiseworthy act.

The Senator mocks the wealthy as crybabies for wishing to preserve the fruit of their labor. Has Senator Sanders produced the wealth he wishes to redistribute? No. Perhaps if he (and those who support his position) had to work to create the wealth in the first place, they would understand why anyone, rich, poor, or in between, would be angered about being robbed. People work hard for their own good, not for Senator Sanders and his socialist supporters to redistribute that wealth.

When is enough, enough? That is a question each individual must ask themselves and impose upon themselves. It is not a decision for people to make for each other and impose at the point of a gun. That is an open door for abuse. So long as a man wishes to be honestly productive, he should be allowed to be so. If people are voluntarily giving that individual millions of dollars, then clearly that person is creating a good of immense value. Senator Sanders and his followers may believe a magical number exists as to when enough is enough, but they cannot prove where that line lies. Their argument is predicated on the idea that men should only be so productive but no more; after that point, any work should be in the form of slavery, so that any wealth created will go to anyone but the worker who created it. That is injustice. Let men be free to achieve their potential, for God's sake!

Greed created the iPod and the iPhone; heroin did not. Greed created the cars on the road; meth did not. Greed created the computer you are reading on; drugs did not. Greed causes you to go to work in the morning; cocaine has the opposite effect. Greed drives men to produce. Greed, coupled to the rule of law and the respect of property rights, is the engine that moves the human species forward.

I wish I could say that I am so valuable to the human species that people voluntarily gave me millions of dollars for the goods and services I produce. I'm honest enough with myself and with you, the reader, to admit I am not that valuable. I'm also humble enough to realize other people are. I would describe myself as a millionaire with a sense of pride for the amount of happiness I had created for other people.

Greed is not the only deadly sin that can be ascribed to economic systems, Senator. Your socialism is infected by a far worse sin: envy.

Envy is different from greed. Greed is the desire for more. That sin is largely seen as taking one's eye away from the Kingdom of God in favor of the physical world; if you do not believe in the world beyond, this is no sin at all. Envy is different. Envy is when people want the goods of another and believe they deserve it. Envy drives people to the point where they will destroy the good just so that others cannot have it.

Socialism is squarely based on envy. Socialists believe that the rich do not deserve their money, even if it was voluntarily given to them. They demand the power to take from the rich so that the socialists may redistribute wealth they did not create. Why do the rich not deserve their wealth? Why do those who receive the money without working for it deserve it? And who are socialists to know who deserves what? What criteria do they use? What impact does it have on the incentive to create and improve the stock of goods on this planet?

Socialism requires the use of force to redistribute wealth away from producers. The free market does not use force. On that ground alone, the socialist must justify introducing the use of force before doing so. Claiming outrage that another human being could possibly be more valuable than you is not a sufficient reason.

Far too often, those on the Left feel like heroes for taking away from honest producers to give to other people. They are not heroes; they are thieves. Far too often, they toss around the term "deserve" to justify redistributing wealth, though they know nothing about the origins of the wealth, the effort required to create it, or the actual morality of the recipients. They toss around the term "rights" to force obligations on people who never voluntarily accepted them. And they need to stop.

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Bush Tax Cut Fight

This current flap over the Bush tax cuts, scheduled to expire at the end of the year, perfectly illustrates some of my concerns about government and democracy. CBS has just released the following poll on this issue:

A majority believe the tax rates should be kept lower for all people save those making $250,000 a year (or their businesses if they report those receipts). Leftist commenter Eugene Robinson argues in the Washington Post that Republican insistence on extending all of the tax cuts and making them permanent is some sort of unforgivable crime. Please, stop and read that article.

There are a lot of things wrong here, mostly due to faulty assumptions. For starters, the tax rate is not responsible for the debt. These tax cuts will not, and never will, increase the deficit. Tax cuts cannot do that, period. Surprised? Consider this example:

The government charges X tax rate and pulls in $1,000,000. It spends nothing. Total balance at the end of the year is $1,000,000. Now, assume that government gives the biggest possible tax break, 100% reduction. Revenue is now $0. No money was spent, just like the previous year. Final balance is $0.

Note, that is not debt. Tax cuts cannot cause debt. Only spending can cause debt. So, no, extending the tax cuts will not increase the debt; the spending that will occur over the next ten years will be responsible for that increase in our debt by $700 billion (roughly an Iraq War's worth).

Those unemployment benefits? That's spending. That increases the debt. Also, Republicans have said they would extend those benefits if the Democrats would reduce other spending (in particular, what remains of the failed stimulus package). But note how Robinson characterizes the tax cut: " Step right up, and we'll write you a check." No! That is not what is happening! Allowing people to keep the money they honorably make is not "writing them a check!" If I refrain from robbing you at gun point, I have not "written you a check."

Robinson's article should be a must read for everyone. The paucity of thought on the Left is on full display here. Unemployment benefits, which have already been extended to 99 weeks (nearly two years worth of money without a day of work to earn it), have a "big stimulative punch." Really? Our economy is anemic with unemployment at 9.8%. There is no stimulative punch; there never was. Rich people might put their money in a bank, but if our government was friendly towards businesses the rich might invest in them instead. That investment, in turn, can be used to fund new job growth, getting people off of that unemployment list in the first place and reducing the numbers who need handouts.

There are a host of moral and practical issues supporters of taxing the rich tend to ignore. Few people will actually articulate the reasons why the rich should be taxed more, but I will deal with the one's most commonly stated:

The rich don't deserve to be that rich: Prove it. Yeah, you heard me, prove it. Time for you to stop and think about what you are saying. These people do not deserve their money? How do you know what "they" "deserve?" Those are two big terms you have not defined. Do you actually know what "they" did to get that money in the first place? Do you even know who "they" are? If not, you are in no position to say "they" do not deserve their money; you have absolutely no information to go on other than the fact that those people do indeed pull in more money than you.

Of course, even if you had that information, you still need to tell me what criteria to use in judging what people "deserve" and what they do not. If you are going to use force to take away wealth from other people (that is exactly what taxation does), you have to create a pretty damn strong case to do so. I'm not even going to attempt to tackle this because I have never heard this argument made. Without it, the whole idea that rich people do not deserve to keep their honestly made money completely falls apart. I will await one of those 56% of Americans who support only increasing taxes on the rich to explain this to me rather than create a straw man. Who wants to man up and defend what is right?

Fun fact: it is conceivable that there are people in this world more productive and important than you. They are smarter, they work harder, they produce more happiness in this world, and that is why they are valued more than you are. Keep that in mind as you try to figure out what the hell "deserve" actually means in your mind.

The rich can afford to pay more: Point being? Not enough of a reason to take away from other people with the threat or use of force. You have to prove that what you are spending money on is good in and of itself. You also need to show why everyone shouldn't chip in equally on this spending project.

Inequality is a threat to our economy: Without inequality, there is no incentive to work hard. No incentive to work hard means no hard work. No hard work means no economy.

And I will end this rant wit this question: why do these people, who already shoulder the highest portion of the taxes paid in this country, deserve to be burdened with more of the cost of running government? The top 50% of Americans pay 97.3% of the taxes. Those downtrodden poorer 50% supposedly carrying this country pay only 2.7%.

It angers me that so many people in this country would turn on the most productive elements in society. Those who produce the goods and services that make this lifestyle of ours possible should be seen as heroes, not enemies. Their rights (including that of property) should be respected rather than treating these people as resources to milk for our own gain without any compensation.

The theme of this blog, of my political philosophy, is simple. Leave other people alone. Taking more from the top producers in this nation with the threat of force is not leaving other people alone. If you are not the omniscient Philosopher King (which you are not) and these people are not actively hurting you (again, they are not), you have no right in law or in morality to use force against them. The true needs of the state should be born with a sense of equity, so that all citizens have some skin in the game. If we all pay equally (at least as a percentage of income) for the spending, we'll be much less willing to have that government spending in the first place. But when there are people who stand to gain by increased government spending, who do not have to pay a dime for it, then they will eagerly support spending every last dime other people own. Since this wealth comes from the work of others, it is, in effective, an attempt to legalize robbery.

That can hardly be considered the hallmark of a just society.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Everything in Moderation?

"All that's missing from a centrist movement that could be formidable is a leader.


Kathleen Parker argued in yesterday's Washington Post that there is a need and a desire for a moderate or centrist political movement to counter the more vocal Left and Right. This is a fairly common complaint today, that extremists have hijacked both parties and those in the middle have nowhere to go. If only these people had more influence in Washington or the state capital, partisan bickering would be put on the back burner and we could get down to fixing the problems we see today.

I'm not the kind of person who hates bursting bubbles. This is a big bubble and I'm armed with the pointy pin of reason.

The short of it is, the middle has nothing to coalesce around. The American Voter, published in 1960, is a remarkable work describing the factors that influence voting patterns in our nation. Despite being fifty years old, I am certain the same factors are still dominant and I would wager the percentage of people who are ideologically consistent (or who possess an ideology at all) compared to those with little to no political thought has not changed significantly. The people who pay close attention to what is going on and have principles to judge those facts by are primarily located on the wings of the political spectrum; those who know roughly nothing of what is going on gravitate towards the center.

"Moderates" or centrists in this nation believe so many contradictory things that it is impossible in theory or in practice to create a viable political movement out of this material. By moderate, we generally mean someone who is not aligned with either political party. Let me give you an example with four voters and two issues: abortion and the death penalty.

Voter A supports abortion, not the death penalty.
Voter B opposes abortion, supports the death penalty.
Voter C supports both abortion and the death penalty.
Voter D opposes both abortion and the death penalty.

This is very simplified, but it shows the problem. If you wish to create a movement based on these people, you have to get a large chunk of them to want to belong to the movement, i.e. they agree with the position of the movement on whatever issue they care about. With the above four voters, you can't build any support around any position without alienating half of the moderates.

Moderates will never form a political movement because they have no idea where they (and the country) should move to. These centrists take pride in the fact that they are not "ideologically blind;" ironically, they have the least clear political philosophy and tend to think least about politics in general. For the most part, people know where Republicans and Democrats stand on particular issues; nobody knows where the moderates stand, not even the moderates.

When your group is defined by a lack of political philosophy, it should come as no surprise that people are not rallying around your cause. You don't have one. Ms. Parker wants a leader, but where will this leader take them? Moderates are notorious for, and indeed defined by, not being predictable in their political positions. People will only follow a leader if they think they know where that leader plans to take them.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia

Homage to Catalonia
George Orwell
Harcourt, Inc., 1969
232 pages

I do not have to tell you that Orwell was an amazing writer; 1984 is such a powerful and entertaining work that millions of people who rarely read at all can discuss that work in detail. Sadly, few individuals take the opportunity to read his other works. This book is a must read for those who wonder where Orwell's inspiration came from for his magnum opus and for those who still seriously contend that the Marxist view of history is correct.

Because 1984 was written after the fall of Nazi Germany, it is too easy to assume the horrid conditions described are in fact references to the Third Reich and such totalitarian regimes. Orwell was able to write such captivating descriptions because he had lived through many of the miseries he described, but as far as I know Orwell never stepped foot inside Nazi Germany or Stalin's U.S.S.R. His experience came fighting for the Spanish Republican forces in the region of Catalonia during the Spanish Civil War (1936-9). Originally planning to merely report on the war, Orwell decided to volunteer with the P.O.U.M (Workers Party of Marxist Unification), which recruited militias to fight against the Nationalist forces (composed of religious conservatives, Fascists, monarchists, and other Right leaning forces) lead by Francisco Franco.

Despite being a Leftist himself, no one in the world has given harder hitting reviews to socialism and communism in practice than Orwell. The Republican forces were a hodge-podge of socialist, communist, and anarchist groups with their constituent labor unions that were usually supported by different left leaning foreign organizations and nations. Because the Soviet Union was the main supplier of arms for the Republicans, the P.S.U.C (leading communist group tied to Stalin) became the major power for the Left in Spain and promptly removed more revolutionary elements that opposed Stalin, such as Orwell's P.O.U.M. Many of the elements of internecine fighting and suspension of civil liberties that are familiar elements of 1984 are recorded first as history in Homage to Catalonia:

Ministry of Propaganda: Check
Official stories being changed: Check
Official enemies/friends being changed: Check
Leftist government putting their own desires ahead of the people: Check
People arrested in the middle of the night with no trial or even indictment: Check
Stagnant wars with better armed troops in the rear to prevent insurrection among fictional enemies: Check
Blue overalls for the workers: Check
Ill defined counter revolutionary philosophy lead by some shadowy figure (Trotskyism, Goldstein): Check
Police raiding homes and stealing every conceivable item: Check
Food and supply shortages: Check

This is a remarkable work, greater than his more famous fictional pieces. The Spanish Civil War is a complicated historical topic due to the fragmented nature of the parties involved and the difficulty of sorting out propaganda from realistic accounts. Orwell pulls no punches. While he served in the P.O.U.M., he acknowledges that this tints his view of the war, but largely resorts to only covering events he witnessed himself rather than positing guesses based on hearsay (when hearsay is used, it is clearly marked as such). A wonderful first hand account of this conflict. The descriptions of the "fighting" on the front is similar to that of most static conflicts, though I was surprised by the egalitarian nature of the P.O.U.M. and how well it seemed to hold together. Whether such a system could work in a more dynamic situation is more debatable.

The last sentence of this book was particularly prophetic, not just of England but of the entire Western World not already ensnared in Fascism.

The exit question I have after reading this book is: how will a classless society ever emerge from a proletarian revolution? Orwell wisely does not touch on this subject at all as his work is not a treatise on political or economic theory, but as someone who does study those subjects it is the question that dominates my mind once I finally put this book down. Marx never goes into any detail on how that unprecedented shift in power would occur; history shows leftist groups fighting and purging one another (along with millions of innocents) and establishing perpetual dictatorships of the politburos rather than of the people. The defense of communism in light of the last 100 years of butchery and misery in Marxist nations has been that true Marxism has never been attempted yet; this book furthers my believe that "true" Marxism cannot happen and that every attempt to create it will only create a dictatorship of whichever leftist group wins out.

What Others Have Said

The Brothers Judd
gave this book an A

Monday, November 8, 2010

Ramblings Tangentially Related to Federalist 62

In an earlier post on voting rights in this nation, I pointed out that every citizen should read John Locke's Second Treatise of Government, Publius' Federalist, or de Tocqueville's Democracy in America at some point in time. I reread these books (something I otherwise rarely do) because they contain essential nuggets of truth concerning effective politics and justice. A great (and certainly under read) example is Federalist 62, written by James Madison.

The entire essay should be read, but I want to make sure you read the last four paragraphs:

The internal effects of a mutable policy are still more calamitous. It poisons the blessing of liberty itself. It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood; if they be repealed or revised before they are promulgated, or undergo such incessant changes that no man, who knows what the law is to-day, can guess what it will be to-morrow. Law is defined to be a rule of action; but how can that be a rule, which is little known, and less fixed?

Another effect of public instability is the unreasonable advantage it gives to the sagacious, the enterprising, and the moneyed few over the industrious and uniformed mass of the people. Every new regulation concerning commerce or revenue, or in any way affecting the value of the different species of property, presents a new harvest to those who watch the change, and can trace its consequences; a harvest, reared not by themselves, but by the toils and cares of the great body of their fellow-citizens. This is a state of things in which it may be said with some truth that laws are made for the few, not for the many.

In another point of view, great injury results from an unstable government. The want of confidence in the public councils damps every useful undertaking, the success and profit of which may depend on a continuance of existing arrangements. What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed? What farmer or manufacturer will lay himself out for the encouragement given to any particular cultivation or establishment, when he can have no assurance that his preparatory labors and advances will not render him a victim to an inconstant government? In a word, no great improvement or laudable enterprise can go forward which requires the auspices of a steady system of national policy.

But the most deplorable effect of all is that diminution of attachment and reverence which steals into the hearts of the people, towards a political system which betrays so many marks of infirmity, and disappoints so many of their flattering hopes. No government, any more than an individual, will long be respected without being truly respectable; nor be truly respectable, without possessing a certain portion of order and stability.

Wise words, indeed. The government that governs least, governs best. Another notable idea earlier in that essay is that the Senate had a check on the expansion of the Federal government when Senators were beholden to the state governments rather than the populace. I think that argument is accurate and that the 17th Amendment may have been a terrible mistake. The people are easily bribed, but the state governments would be loathe to give up their own power to the central government. That argument has been made by others and I believe they are right.

At the very least, something needs to be done to check this ever growing Federal government. ObamaCare and the Stimulus definitely fall into the "laws so voluminous that they cannot be read" category. I am yet to find the person who has read and understood this. Considering how many taxes and fines and requirements are in that law, it should be no wonder businesses are hesitant to hire anyone. After all, as Madison said, "What prudent merchant will hazard his fortunes in any new branch of commerce when he knows not but that his plans may be rendered unlawful before they can be executed?"

The self confident ignorant, those that demand the right to decide how others should live but never study up on the complexity of politics, economics, and philosophy, that never put their own ideas out to be examined for weaknesses; these individuals will always anger me far more than those who stay home on Election Day.

Plato was disgusted by democracy for many of the same reasons. Considering Plato's influence on all of Western thought, you should know that. Never forget that it was a democracy that put Socrates to death.

Ignorance in rulers infuriates me. Democracy is the rule of the (voting) people; ergo, ignorant voters infuriate me in a democracy. If you wish to be ignorant and never make a decision for others, by all means do so, and I wish you much happiness. But if you are going to make decisions concerning my liberties, my natural rights, you need to be busting your ass making sure you are making the right decisions.

History, political theory, economics, philosophy...dig in. And don't stop. Or don't vote. I don't really care which, just so long as it is one or the other.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Define Success

Ezra Klein, liberal commenter at Newsweek, has an important article up that I recommend everyone read. As most people who either read this blog or know me can imagine, I do not agree with Klein's views of the various policies passed by the 111th Congress, but that is not why I am urging you to read his post.

The first two paragraphs sum up why this post (and the argument it makes in general) needs to be considered. They read:

The votes are (mostly) counted. The Republicans have clearly and decisively won. But did the Democrats actually lose?

They lost the election, certainly. And many of them lost their jobs. But the point of legislating isn’t job security. It’s legislation. And on that count the members of the 111th Congress succeeded wildly, even historically.

Nobody of any political persuasion should deny the historical nature of this last Congress and that it passed a great deal of important, sweeping legislation.

This legislation is also despised by the American people.

The Democrats won, yes. Hardcore liberals won, true. But the nation did not. The legislature does not exist to impose "progressive" policies on unwilling people; it exists to govern the people with their consent and according to set rules that respect the life, liberty, and property of individual Americans.

The Democrats were not supposed to win. That role is supposed to be reserved for the American people and the latest election proves that was not the case. Imposing legislation without the consent of the people (indeed, against their vocal and passionate opposition) is not an achievement we should condone.

Klein inadvertently proves this point in his last paragraph:

Polls have found that the public doesn’t realize how extraordinary this was. Most voters—and that holds for Democrats, too—don’t think the 111th got more accomplished than most Congresses. But they’re wrong. The 111th came to Washington promising to get things done on behalf of the American people. More than any other Congress in decades, it did.

A lot was done, certainly, but the American people noticed that it didn't help them a lick. Imposing a massive, unconstitutional, destructive health care bill is not an "accomplishment" in the book of public opinion. Spending untold hundreds of billions of "stimulus" dollars we have to pay with debt on unnecessary and corrupt spending programs is not an accomplishment according to the people.

An actual accomplishment of a national legislature is to create legislation that improves the situation. The 111th Congress failed miserably in this regard.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Thoughts on Election 2010

Many non-politicos will not understand the results of last night’s elections. Yes, most will know the Republicans took the House of Representatives, the Democrats hung on to the Senate, and the results of some local races, but the true historical weight of this election will be beyond most people’s comprehension. The Republican wave was of epic proportions; the last time a party gained that many seats in one fell swoop was 1948; the Republicans will have more Representatives than any time since the Truman Administration. Republicans have not won this many seats since 1938, not quite halfway through FDR’s presidency. This was a once in a lifetime election. Any explanation you hear that attempts to explain this result that relies on common factors to every election is obviously weak and incomplete.

There have been recessions. There have been wars and corruption and broken promises. Presidents have always had to deal with midterm losses. None of these explain the Democrats massive loss. The absolute arrogance of this Administration and the 111th Congress has finally pushed the patience of the American people past the breaking point. Independents abandoned the Left yesterday.

Let me put it to you this way: we are all of two years past the age of George W. Bush and the Republicans are more electable than ever. What does that say about the last two years?

The policy of “government knows best” is insulting to most people. The Democrats mistakenly took anger at George W. Bush for approval of massive government intervention; they could not have been more wrong. A responsible government would have listened to the will of the people during the ObamaCare debate. Rather, the government forced an unread bill down the throats of a population fiercely opposed. This is why the Republicans slaughtered the Democrats. The Stimulus, the bailouts, and ObamaCare proved to everyone but the most die hard progressives that the government cannot save us but is far more likely to exacerbate the problems we face.

So where do we go from here? The Republicans must keep in mind that they were strongly rejected over the last four years due to their irresponsibility, in particular in terms of public spending. The only reason they have power again is because the Democrats were even worse. If the Republicans hope to keep their power and win the Presidency two years from now, they absolutely must provide responsible, constitutional answers to the abuses of the Obama Administration. ObamaCare must go; even though the Republicans cannot get rid of it until Obama is gone and the Senate switches, conservatives must keep pushing for repeal. Compromises can be made, but never at the expense of the People or the Constitution. Where Obama crosses those lines, he must be opposed to the fullest.

The American people have lost their confidence in our government, mostly because our government officials have exceeded their constitutional bounds to benefit their own electoral chances or to impose social change upon the people. The volatility of the last few elections should be a concern for everyone, regardless of what you think of the latest electoral result. If our government continues to act in illegitimate ways, the legitimacy of the government will be annihilated; god only knows what dangers would follow.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

A Quick Thought On Gerrymandering

This is a quick reply to Dan's post.

Gerrymandering is one of the ugly aspects to having a representative house at the national or state level. If we are going to have 435 members of the House, we have to carve up the country into 435 different districts of roughly the same number of people.

I'm not going to tell anyone that the lines are drawn up based on anything other than politics, because we know that's exactly what decides those lines. But is there a better criteria? If so, what? It can't really be proximity; wherever you draw the line, somebody is going to be closer to another district than they are to most of their own. Can't really have nice squares or other clear geometric shapes because the population doesn't follow such contours. So what criteria should we use?

You propose an "independent election commission" to fix this problem, similar to your call for independents monitoring polling stations. What is an "independent?" Plenty of people are extremely partisan without registering for a party; they tend to like the facade of being an independent thinker or some such nonsense. Who will choose this commission? Four "independents" chosen by Albany would be a joke; of course those commissioners will do Albany's will. A statewide election would be both costly and lead to the same result as Democrats will support the most liberal "independent" candidates while the Republicans would support he most conservative ones.

As a conservative in New York, I would like to see this power taken out of Albany's hands as much as anyone. I would love for a meaningful reform to be put in place. The short of it is, though, that it is a pipe dream and potentially a dangerous one. We know that the party in control of the state will act out of self interest, ugly as that may be. A commission of non-registered citizens could carve out the state based on god only knows what whims, though the most dominate will likely be political.

We have to come up with the districts and the states have been pretty good about doing that over the last 220 years. If a clear set of rules that could gain wide acceptance with the people could be devised and a system to implement it fairly created, I would support it, but I don't see that happening. To the winner go the spoils...or, in more democratic language, the majority needs to have the greater voice.

QUICK UPDATE: I don't know why I said "four commissioners." No idea at all where that number came from.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Election Predictions 2010

If you do not own a television, you may be surprised to learn there is a national election coming up Tuesday. As for the rest of us, we eagerly await this election so that the mud (and in one case, poo) slinging will come to an end. Some of us might even be interested in the actual result of this contest. For those few, mentally deranged individuals like myself, I present my predictions as to what will happen on Election Day. I'll cover my local race for national positions and the big ones in the news (sorry, people of South Carolina's fourth congressional district).

New York Races

Governor: Democrat

New York lacks anything resembling a Republican Party. Our current Democratic Governor is deeply unpopular; his predecessor was elected by a wide margin and promptly was caught with a $5,000 hooker. In this election, where incumbents and anyone seen as an insider is deeply unpopular, the blue blood son of former governor Mario Cuomo will easily be reelected. Carl Paladino is far from a good (or perhaps even sane) candidate, but even if Andrew Cuomo faced Rick Lazio the result would still be a Democratic landslide. This state is blue beyond blue; decades of job loss, corruption, and the highest property taxes in the nation have not convinced the people of this state that the current leadership could possibly be the cause of those problems.

Senate Seats: Both Democrat

The Senate races were be even less close than the governor election. I follow politics more closely than most people I know, I loathe the current hard core liberals I have for senators, but I still could not name the people running against Gillibrand and Schumer. The name recognition for the Republican candidates is running around 50% in their own families; no chance for them winning.

24th Congressional District: Toss Up (saying Hanna will win out of hope)

I vote in the 24th New York Congressional District, currently represented by Michael Arcuri. His challenger is Richard Hanna, who also challenged Arcuri in 2008. The last election occurred during a Democratic wave, yet Arcuri won in a close election. Arcuri squeked by with a 10,000 vote lead out of over 250,000 cast. Given the mood of the country right now, it would seem like Hanna should be coasting to a victory, but polling seems to indicate otherwise. RealClearPolitics only lists two polling firms who have covered the race (not bad for a House race, admittedly). The Sienna poll has a smaller margin of error and released their internal data. The data is kind of screwy; Richard Hanna is only going to get 65% of Republicans to vote for him? Arcuri really has no other place to draw support from. His Democratic support is about on part for the nation and his support among "Independents" is much higher than the national average going to the left. That said, many independents around here are liberal, so those numbers are probably not far off.

My gut instinct tells me this close will be much closer than the polls show so far. I find it incredibly hard to believe 35% of Republicans will not vote for Hanna. Independents at this point in an election tend to break for the challenger. The big kicker will be voter turnout. Nationally, Republicans are fired up to oppose Obama and the liberal government in Washington. Democrats are much less excited.

As for the other races: Gary Finch is running unopposed in the 123rd Assembly district; Tom Libous will easily win the 24th State Senate seat again; the Assembly will not change hands again until Jesus returns (though whether that will change anything remains to be seen); State Senate is very close but I don't follow the sparse polling of all 62 seats, so who the hell knows what happens there.

House of Representatives

Republicans win the House back. A "bad" night consists of a 40 seat pick up; my guess is 65 seats swing Republican.


Anything that isn't a toss up at RealClearPolitics should be considered a done deal. As for the rest, I predict Republicans pick up everything but Washington, creating a fun 50-50 tie and forcing Joe Biden to become a more public figure and tie the President to key votes that will be issues come 2012 (much to the Administration's chagrin). Pennyslvania isn't really close and shouldn't be considered a toss up. As for the rest:


Bennet is one of those unelected Senators who imposed ObamaCare on the people. Incumbents who have issues staying around 45% approval don't last long. No help for the Repubican Buck from the extremely goofy Governor's race. The local House races show good news for the Republicans; that, plus the string of small wins in polling plus a wave election spells victory for the Republicans.


Barack's former Senate seat. Lesson for the Democrats: don't nominate people with obvious mob connections. If Illinois of all places is turning purplish red, I feel safe in my House of Representatives prediction. Kirk again has a string of small leads; while they are all in the margin of error, the fact that he consistently comes out ahead in them leads me to believe Kirk will pull off the win.


Republicans are salivating at the chance to oust the most powerful member of the Democratic Party up for election in a full state this year. Sharron Angle is not your run of the mill, moderate Republican; she is a Tea Partier and her victory over the face of liberalism this election would be a clear rebuke of the President and the Democratic Party in general. Nevada is a purple state and they stand to lose a lot of perks by losing the Majority Leader of the Senate, but even that is not enough compared to the double digit unemployment and the fact that Nevada has been smacked around by the housing crisis worse than most states. Democrats went all out to defend this state, emptying Reid's huge war chest that was supposed to assure his victory. This is the big one, the face of the Left vs. the unapologetic, small government Tea Partier. My money is on the Tea Party. Reid doesn't have any bullets left and Angle is winning polls outside of the margin of error now. She has money left to spend (thank you, Joy Behar). Reid doesn't.


Patty Murray has a few advantages over those other Democrats. She's a Senator who is fairly low on the radar screen; nobody is directly blaming her for ObamaCare or the Stimulus. She's also running in a blue state. Even with that, the last three polls have shown ties, a 1 point lead for Rossi and a one point lead for Murray. Polling says it will be insanely close; this is the best Democrats have in the toss up category and it is distinctly possible they could lose, but I predict Murray wins.

West Virginia

This is a special election to replace Robert Byrd, who won this seat roughly a billion years ago. It is both a goofy race and an incredibly important one. As this is a special election, the winner will be seated to fill out the current term rather than wait until January. Considering rumors of Democrats pushing major liberal laws in a lame duck session, this seat could mean the difference between a boring two months or two of the most contentious months of politics we have witnessed in decades. Polling is all over the place. The Democrat is the popular governor; that doesn't help, since the people of West Virginia can keep him as their popular governor by electing the Republican. I predict that is exactly what they will do, especially since West Virginia has proven itself to be no lover of Democratic policies.


Republicans spank the Democrats at nearly all levels across the nation. The next two years are full of gridlock and little improvement in the country; a nasty fight occurs because of ObamaCare. The anti incumbent mood that has dominated the nation over the last three election cycles continues and the Democrats will rightly be viewed as the incumbents.

I'm confident in what I predict for Tuesday and the gridlock; as for 2012, that's a shot in the dark as it looks right now, two years is forever in politics.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Great Expectations

I want my reader to imagine they are a teacher or a parent. Let us assume the kid is around 14-16, not yet on the verge of graduating but past junior high. You want this kid to do well in school. The child seems unmotivated. When you ask if they care about how they do in school, the answer is no. Imagine they ask why they should care.

How do you answer?

I'm a member of the high school class of 2002. My generation believed that working hard would lead to college, which was seen by our parents as a gateway to success. We were pushed to go to college, largely because a college degree for the generation before us had weight behind it and truly opened doors. In the world we live in today, that's clearly not the case. College is a risk and a large one at that. It is hardly a guarantee of success, though it usually does guarantee a huge debt that cannot be rid of through bankruptcy. Many jobs that do not require college are not going to be particularly picky about high school grades.

So why should these students care?

Many students are self motivated and wish to go to college; many are motivated by their home environment, but a huge segment are missing these elements. They have no real reason to go to college; they will not obtain a professional job in a market like this and those jobs tend to disappear very quickly come recessions. Their skills and interests tend to be more blue collar, jobs that do pay reasonably well. Many do have a vague idea as to how they will get by and it does not involve the French Revolution, trigonometry, or Shakespeare.

Should we be trying to get these kids to care about school?

Considering how much money we spend on education and how badly people could use that money for other things, anything less than an immediate, resounding yes to that question is proof that something is terribly wrong. I can only speak for myself here, but I did not come away with a "yes" to that question.

I don't have the answer here. As a social studies pre service teacher, I would love for students to care more on their own, but I cannot say school is really the answer for all kids under the age of 18. Indeed, most could find a better use for their time and we could find a better use of our tax dollars rather than paying many mediocre teachers and insane pensions. I can come up with a strong argument as to why all citizens should have a strong background in civics and history, but even I cannot argue that having a higher grade will help most students in the long run.

Our expectations have changed. Our educational system needs to change, too.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Holding Teachers Hostage to Demogaphics

The field of education has become a political hot button topic again, notably over failing schools, charter schools, and how best to hold teachers accountable for the job they do. I'm not going to go into this topic too much right now (I have teachery things of my own to do) but I did want to point this little tid bit out.

I'm not all that familiar with Rochester, NY, but I do know it is a urban/suburban area with multiple high schools. Here are the results of two such schools, Brighton and Thomas Jefferson. (information found at


New York State Regents Exams
Scale: % passing

Mathematics A
98% (2009)
97% (2008)
99% (2007)
The state average for Mathematics A was 61% in 2009.

Mathematics B
81% (2009)
75% (2008)
82% (2007)
The state average for Mathematics B was 68% in 2009.

96% (2009)
93% (2008)
95% (2007)
The state average for English was 82% in 2009.

Living Environment
99% (2009)
95% (2008)
96% (2007)
The state average for Living Environment was 80% in 2009.

86% (2009)
82% (2008)
78% (2007)
The state average for Physics was 77% in 2009.

94% (2009)
94% (2008)
96% (2007)
The state average for Chemistry was 74% in 2009.

Earth Science
91% (2009)
89% (2008)
94% (2007)
The state average for Earth Science was 72% in 2009.

Integrated Algebra
95% (2009)
Data not available for this school (2008)
The state average for Integrated Algebra was 72% in 2009.

Global History and Geography
93% (2009)
91% (2008)
The state average for Global History and Geography was 71% in 2009.

U.S. History and Government
95% (2009)
97% (2008)
The state average for U.S. History and Government was 80% in 2009.

Student Ethnicity
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008
EthnicityThis SchoolState Average
Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander14%7%
Black or African American9%19%
Hispanic or Latino3%21%
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008

This SchoolState Average
Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch program8%44%
Limited English proficient2%7%
Source: NYSED, 2006-2007

This SchoolState Average
Attendance rate96%93%
Graduation Rate
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008

This SchoolState Average
All Students93%76%
Black or African American75%61%
Hispanic or Latino60%59%
Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander89%81%
Economically disadvantaged74%65%
Not economically disadvantaged96%80%
Students with disabilities80%56%
General-Education students95%79%

Thomas Jefferson:

Mathematics A
35% (2009)
56% (2008)
63% (2007)
The state average for Mathematics A was 61% in 2009.

Mathematics B
16% (2009)
58% (2008)
58% (2007)
The state average for Mathematics B was 68% in 2009.

56% (2009)
45% (2008)
38% (2007)
The state average for English was 82% in 2009.

Living Environment
64% (2009)
54% (2008)
58% (2007)
The state average for Living Environment was 80% in 2009.

Data not available for this school (2009)
18% (2008)
22% (2007)
The state average for Physics was 77% in 2009.

48% (2009)
10% (2008)
Data not available for this school (2007)
The state average for Chemistry was 74% in 2009.

Earth Science
39% (2009)
32% (2008)
43% (2007)
The state average for Earth Science was 72% in 2009.

Integrated Algebra
34% (2009)
Data not available for this school (2008)
The state average for Integrated Algebra was 72% in 2009.

Global History and Geography
43% (2009)
25% (2008)
The state average for Global History and Geography was 71% in 2009.

U.S. History and Government
46% (2009)
51% (2008)
The state average for U.S. History and Government was 80% in 2009.

Student Ethnicity
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008
EthnicityThis SchoolState Average
Black or African American63%19%
Hispanic or Latino18%21%
Asian or Native Hawaiian/other Pacific Islander7%7%
Native American or Native Alaskan1%<1%
Student Subgroups
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008

This SchoolState Average
Students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch program78%44%
Limited English proficient18%7%
Source: NYSED, 2006-2007

This SchoolState Average
Attendance rate90%93%

Graduation Rate
Source: NYSED, 2007-2008

This SchoolState Average
All Students51%76%
Black or African American54%61%
Hispanic or Latino48%59%
Economically disadvantaged64%65%
Not economically disadvantaged32%80%
Students with disabilities24%56%
General-Education students56%79%

The real kicker?
Total per pupil expenditures $14,834

That's roughly $1,500 under the state average.

Thomas Jefferson:
Total per pupil expenditures $15,732

(I said I wasn't going to go into this much, not that you wouldn't).

There are some differences between teacher quality and classroom size in these schools but not enough to cause the results to be this drastically different. I think the biggest influence on kids concerning their education is always going to be at home. Brighton can spend less per student and achieve far greater results because the home environment is that much better off for those Thomas Jefferson students (as noted by the students eligible for reduced or free lunch). The short of it is, the teacher in the classroom can do almost nothing about this. Holding teachers accountable for the final grades of their students is wrong in epistemological terms and further reduces a teacher's willingness to work in poorer school districts.

I don't have time to come up with a better system right now (topic for another day, perhaps). Teachers certainly need to be held accountable, as any public employee does, but the method of using students' scores as a true measure of the teacher's quality is inaccurate because different teachers will begin the year with students with different abilities. The answer will almost certainly have to come from within the community as only they will know the students well enough to know if they show improvement, which may be a better goal than an arbitrary passing number.