Are Free Market Economics and Political Freedom Interrelated? Part I

An author with the Telegraph, Janet Daley, makes some interesting points today in an article titled, “Lose Capitalism and We’ll Lose Political Freedom.” Her main point is that capitalism—wrongly associated with other “isms” as a political ideology—is nothing more than a “conglomeration of all the transactions made between individual and corporate players in an open market.” She goes on to say that capitalism, or as she prefers, “free market economics, is “an anti-system: the aggregation of human behavior as it goes about fulfilling particular wants and needs. It can be described in anthropomorphic terms, such as ‘ruthless’ or ‘benign’ but of itself has no motives and no objectives.”

Critiquing those on the Left who gleefully portend the demise of capitalism, she argues, “There are lots of things that can be done to ‘capitalism’—it can be undermined, suppressed, sabotaged, even outlawed—but it cannot be ‘overthrown’ because in itself, it has no power.” Daley goes on to say, [Capitalism] is the very opposite, in fact, of a tyranny.”

Indeed, free market economics isn’t a political ideology. It is the absence of ideology (mostly in absence: one could argued that belief in the individual over government control is an ideology, but not in the same sense as the other “isms), allowing individual actors to make choices according to their values systems. Free market economics takes what is a base human condition—the desire to improve one’s position—and channels it into the greatest benefit for the greatest number of people.

Most importantly, the author recognizes, “When we make the case for capitalism, we are defending the political principle of freedom, not arguing for one kind of rigid economic organisation [sic] over another.” This final point is the most critical, and is supported by the Index of Economic Freedom produced by the Heritage Foundation and the Wall Street Journal: across the globe, as a general rule, countries with the most- free economies also possess the most-free political systems. I’d like to do an in-depth analysis of the most recent report soon, but the basic point is that countries with significant economic freedom (the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, etc.) are also the most politically-free, while the countries that have oppressive, centralized economic systems are the least-free (North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Burma).

At any rate, it’s an interesting article and one worth reading.

Skewering the Prime Minister

Not that I would trade our system for theirs, but one of the endearing characteristics of the British parliamentary system is the direct confrontation regular members of parliament have with the Prime Minister. Each Wednesday, the PM travels to Westminster for his weekly inquisition and insult. Apparently, the tradition carries over to PM Gordon Brown’s visits to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.

In this clip, British Member of European Parliament (MEP) Dan Hannan skewers British PM Gordon Brown for the sorry state of Britain’s fiscal affairs. Given the opportunity, I’m confident that we have plenty of people in the US House and Senate that could give Mr. Hannan a run for his oratorical money. Unfortunately, President Obama is able to hide behind his teleprompter and a still-largely-compliant press.

School Choice: Game-Changers

*This post is pretty serious inside baseball, but it’s representative of a debate that is taking place in state capitals across the country.

Many of South Carolina’s rural and poor schools are failing miserably at their mission: educating our children. Despite increasing funding exponentially over the last 30 years and trying every fad that can be dreamed up at education colleges, our education system overall does a poor job of keeping kids in school and a poor job at educating the ones who stay.

Implementing school choice programs, especially at failing schools, has been a goal of conservatives for several years. In 2005, moderate/liberal Republicans in South Carolina allied with the Democrats to defeat a Governor Sanford-supported comprehensive school choice bill by one vote. Since then, school choice supporters have engaged the status-quo Republicans in bloody primary fights in each cycle. Winning primary fights (as well as open seat campaigns) has put enough school choice supporters into office to give school choice a real chance of passage this year.

In a game changing move, Senator Robert Ford, a black Democrat and civil rights activist, came out in support of the most recent version of school choice. It’s difficult to underestimate the impact that his support could have on this debate–by breaking the perception that school choice is the goal of wealthy white parents who just want taxpayer-subsidized private school tuition.

The current bill is similar to a program operating in Arizona for several years, which allows corporations and individuals to make tax-deductible contributions to fund scholarships to needy students in failing schools.

School choice may not solve all of America’s education woes. But these programs have largely met success where they have been tried–and the status quo clearly is not working.

A Catholic Obamination: Notre Dame’s Commencement Address

Bishop John D’Arcy should be commended for his recent decision to forgo attendance at the Notre Dame graduation ceremony. It is heartening to know that there are still individuals that are willing to stand up and make a statement for basic human rights; arguably the right to life being the most basic of them all.

So what prompted bishop D’Arcy not to attend the ceremony? After all, his diocese encompasses Fort Wayne and South Bend Indiana, home of the Fighting Irish. After all, Notre Dame is a Catholic institution. And after all, some of his parishioners will probably be in attendance.

But bishop D’Arcy, after prayerful consideration, has opted to refrain from attending the graduation on account of President Obama giving the commencement address.

I applaud the bishop.

I find it irreconcilably hypocritical that Obama is giving the commencement address at Notre Dame. It’s disgraceful that a purportedly Catholic university is giving open forum to a president that is among the most anti-life in the United States. And to top it off, he is expected to receive an honorary degree.

Even worse are the justifications by Christians defending his appearance, especially university president, John I. Jenkins. Let’s not make bones about it – there is a serious, fundamental disconnect when a purportedly private religious institution leader believes it’s acceptable to cater to an individual that advances policies diametrically opposed to the institution’s core religious values. An elected president Obama is, a respecter of life Obama isn’t.

There would be a serious issue if a notorious figure such as defrocked televangelist Jim Bakker were requested deliver a sermon on fiscal accountability – or Ted Haggard were to preach on chastity.

Yet somehow, we are able to manipulate ourselves into believing that it’s okay for a speaker to disagree with foundational principles of an institution but be in accord with less essential tenets. Said Jenkins, “[Obama is] an inspiring leader who faces many challenges. . . and [he] is addressing them with intelligence, courage and honesty.” Jim Bakker was a charismatic businessman that could market the Gospel and preach prosperity. Ted Haggard headed the National Association of Evangelicals. Should those speakers address the congregation as well? By Jenkins’ logic, they should even be given a special award.

It never ceases to amaze me how such educated individuals have intellectualized themselves out of the simplicity of the gospel. As is evident here, degrees in divinity do not confer godly judgment. I don’t know what frightens me more – that men like Jenkins can be ordained priests, or that such ordained priests can serve as spiritual leaders. Both are reprehensible.

That being said, I commend bishop D’Arcy for choosing not to be in tacit accord with the pro-choice President. Obama should not speak at Notre Dame, even despite the credentials lauded by Jenkins, “the economy, two wars, and health care, immigration and education reform.” Notably absent: any mention of the most basic credential – life. Shameful.

Update: For those interested, I am linking to the petition protesting the decision to honor Obama at the commencement ceremony.

America’s Pastime

We invented the game, for goodness sake!

Nothing against the Japanese, but it’s inexcusable that the United States failed to win the World Baseball Classic for the 2nd time (out of 2 tournaments). The tournament was instead won by the Japanese, comprised of a grand total of 5 Major League Baseball players, over the Koreans, who only had 1 MLB player.

While the US team wasn’t fear-inducing with its collection of talent (many clubs are reluctant to allow their players to participate for fear of injury), with the likes of Jake Peavy, Roy Oswalt, Derek Jeter, Chipper Jones, Evan Longoria, David Wright, and Jimmy Rollins, the US should have put on a better show. Perhaps the 2nd straight failure will send a wake-up call to the American players, much like the failures of USA Basketball earlier this decade spurred gold in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Justice Scalia a Homophobe?

Barney Frank takes political discourse to a new low in the video below. Frank, an openly gay member of Congress, spoke to a gay news site about pending legislation and Obama’s first term.

The comment strikes me as odd, but not unexpected. Any conservative who opposes same-sex marriage is suddenly a “homophobe” or “bigot” for defending the most foundational relationship in our society. The rancor from the LGBT community seeks to undermine any attempt to have a reasoned political discourse on the subject. That hatred for conservative values has now infected many liberal politicians as well. They’d rather skewer sitting Supreme Court justices who have not decided the issue instead of doing their job engaging their colleagues in Congress to enact some legislative alternative.

Introductions: Tim Silvester

As noted a few weeks ago, Ex Deserto is in the midst of bringing on some new authors to add fresh perspective, innovative ideas, and challenging discussion. Our newest addition is Tim Silvester, a 2L at George Mason University School of Law in Arlington, VA.

Ex Deserto is honored–and proud–to have Tim on the team. We eagerly look forward to his participation. Tim’s bio is below and will be permanently posted along with the other authors’ at the bottom of this page.

Welcome, Tim!

Tim Silvester is a member of the Class of 2010 at George Mason University School of Law. He is the Executive Editor of the George Mason Civil Rights Law Journal, a member of the National Moot Court Team, the Vice President of the Trial Advocacy Association, and the President of the Federalist Society. Tim graduated first in his class from Bob Jones University, where he earned a degree in English. During college, he co-founded the Greenville College Republicans, served as Governor of the South Carolina Student Legislature, and interned for Senator Jim DeMint. He currently lives in Falls Church, Virginia, and regularly attends McLean Bible Church.

Obama, King of the Gaffes

Recently, it’s as if the president has been looking for ways to slip up when speaking to large, public crowds. In fact, his many gaffes have made it seem that these statements aren’t mistakes at all: they are just politically incorrect verbalizations of what Obama really thinks.

“‘We had to step in, it was the right thing to do, even though it is infuriating,’ Obama said, explaining why the government needed to bail out the troubled banks. ‘The same is true with AIG,’ he said. ‘It was the right thing to do to step in. Here’s the problem. It’s almost like they’ve got–they’ve got a bomb strapped to them and they’ve got their hand on the trigger. You don’t want them to blow up. But you’ve got to kind of talk to them, ease that finger off the trigger.'”
During an appearance on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Obama likened his sad bowling performance to the Special Olympics. Of course, the White House offered some terse explanation assuring people of Obama’s love for the disabled and how much the Special Olympics help people.
I can’t help but feel that Obama is not president yet (wishful thinking, I know). I mean, I know that he was sworn in–twice, just for good measure–and that he sits in the Oval Office, but I get a feeling that he is still in “campaign mode.” Rather than developing policies and working hard to implement them in these critical first 100 days, he is pandering to the crowd, going to basketball games, filling out his NCAA bracket, appearing (badly) on Jay Leno, and for what? How does this help America?
With regard to AIG, let’s go through a bit of logic: (1) the Obama administration agreed to give AIG the bailout money in order that AIG may continue on with its business. (2) Part of AIG’s business is giving bonuses in order to retain top executives [these are presumably the ones doing things right that will make the company profitable.] So, therefore (3) the administration is now angry with AIG for using bailout money to carry on their business. Something there just does not follow.
As far as Obama’s verbal faux pas, I think it is less of a misstep and more of his true character shining through his words when he strays from the teleprompter. I frankly do not find him as eloquent as so many others, mainly because eloquence requires not only good style, but substance. Obama lacks the second, and unscripted, he often lacks the first as well.
A stark contrast to Obama’s lack of respect for the disabled:

Is Conservatism Today Too Extreme? My experience from the once-Red State of Indiana.

As referenced in my post below, David Frum cites as one of the reasons that the GOP lost a lot of members last election – members who had been on the wagon 20+ years – was that the party has become too extreme (in a sampling from the state of PA; excuse me, Commonwealth of PA). Not only were these longtime GOP voters; they were affluent and educated. So what gives? 

I don’t know what the study actually said, and Frum doesn’t dive any deeper on the point, but I do have a clue, and it comes from my own state – Indiana. Indiana has voted Republican every election since WWII (with the exception of the 64′ landslide for Johnson), even when the rest of the Midwest went blue – as my picture attests; and we even voted against FDR in 40′ and 44′. But this year we voted Democrat – the first time in 44 years, and the second in 72 years. And further, our 5-term Senator, Richard Lugar, came out in support of Obama. Why this divergence? I’d venture to say that the people here are “conservatives,” that is, they want to keep their safe way of life, their rights, and especially their earnings. While they surely didn’t feel safe about Obama’s plans (which we can bash all we want, the writing is on the wall), they felt even less safe about the GOP running this country. 
My dad and my grandpa are surely both in the category of GOP voters of 20+ years, and are educated and affluent (more like middle class with stable professional jobs) – as are most of the people that I grew up with. I don’t know who any of them voted for (there’s an unwritten gag-rule in Indiana about who you voted for…), but I know that they don’t care too much about ideological issues. And I should note that Ft. Wayne is no small town that simply fears the real world (we have 300,000 people within the city limits and more in the greater metro). I think it’s safe to at least hypothetically use it as a gage of the opinions of the group of  people Frum was talking about. Here’s how they see a few of the “extreme” issues, as far as I can tell:
When they hear about the war in Iraq, they don’t think about protecting America from foreign terrorists, and they don’t care about spreading democracy. They think about their sons dying and the government deficit going through the roof. And for what? For benefits that are hypothetical to them, and they think in the back of their minds that it’s all about Bush finishing his dad’s folly, or looking out for oil interests. I’m not saying that these opinions are right, but this is how they see it, and they vote. 
And when they hear about gun rights, they don’t think freedom to hunt, or freedom to protect ourselves from trespassers or assailants; and they certainly don’t think of the real Constitutional reason for the 2nd Amendment – to protect ourselves from government gone totalitarian (you should have seen the looks I got when I was defending the Heller decision to them this summer). They think of guns being brought into our peaceful Midwest cities, and guns do one thing: kill people. Once again, I’m not saying that this opinion is right – you can debate it til your blue in the face. What I’m saying is that this is how these people see it. And these people aren’t going to listen to rhetoric or ideas. You have to bring it home to them. So when they see the GOP touting semi-automatic assault rifle rights, and laughing and making jokes at NRA meetings, saying in not so many words, “guns are cool, kids!” the conversation is over. They think: “#$%&, anyone can have one of those? That is crazy.” But then again, gun rights are a staple of the GOP…
And lastly, most of them are just deflated and desperate because they lost half their 401k and they aren’t going to be able to retire for another 5 years. So much for trust in the market without regulation… Emotions just kick in at this point. Principles of economic freedom and freedom of contract just don’t mean a thing to a 50-something man who just lost $100,000 of his 401K. That means losing everything he’s put toward retirement in the last 10 years. Imagine how that feels: “I wasted 10 years of my life.” Again, it’s not absolutely logical (especially when these men are small business owners). But people are not just thinking beings, they are thinking, feeling, moving, desiring, talking, loving, hating, working beings. And it’s people that vote. 
So is conservatism too extreme? It depends on your measuring stick. But if your measuring stick is votes and the congruence of the party with the opinions of long time GOP members, then the answer is, in lawyer language “probably yes.” 

Why General Motors Will Fail

Question: What should American car manufacturers do to increase the sale of hybrid vehicles?
Answer: Drastically raise the federal gasoline tax.

That was essentially the answer given by General Motor’s CEO, Rick Wagner, when he proposed that a gas tax hike was “worthy of consideration.”

Let’s consider the logic behind this. When gas reached (and exceeded) four dollars a gallon last summer, drivers were redlining. Toward new automobile purchases, however, they responded by buying hybrid vehicles. Thus, the GM’s logic is that by forcing Americans to pay a higher gas tax and maintaining gas prices at a minimum four dollars a gallon, car buyers will once again flock to the beloved hybrid.
Not coincidentally, increasing hybrid sales fits perfectly into GM’s roadmap, “around 2015” predicts GM Vice Chairman Bob Lutz, “we’re going to have to sell a ton of hybrids whether people want them or not.” (emphasis mine). GM, whose stock has dropped 94% since June 2007, has already begun implementing its program. During the height of the gas extravaganza, Wagner promised, “If you want to talk hybrids; we are introducing four more hybrids in the US this year. In fact, counting the new Saturn Green Line, we are introducing sixteen hybrids in the next four years. That’s one about every three months.”

But that gas has dropped to below two dollars a gallon, hybrid sales have fallen just as hard as GM’s stock.

Meanwhile, GM is on life support. And, of course, the government is generously providing enough capital to weather the financial storm. One string attached to the bailout though is the requirement that GM submit a viability plan to prove that GM will not be an utter failure. One can only wonder if Rick Wagner’s statement proposing a gas hike is an effort to please Uncle Sam. But if GM’s best response to demonstrate its future profitability is by suggesting a raise to the gas tax so Americans buy hybrids (“whether people want them or not”), then I fear to the car company has lost touch with basic economics and thus deserves what probably inevitable: failure.