Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Am I Really a Libertarian?

I have been questioned several times by other libertarians on Twitter as to whether I'm really a libertarian or not. My answer to this is a resounding, "I don't know. I think so." Without a doubt, my default position on a new subject starts with individual rights - freedom and liberty for the individual. After this initial position, issues can become more nuanced to me. This can lead me down a wishy-washy path of exceptions and sometimes hypocrisy.

I discuss politics with a libertarian co-worker of mine with some regularity. He finds that the libertarian fundamentals allows a neat bucketing of issues through a sieve of individual rights. If it passes this test, it's right. Otherwise, it's wrong. Outcome is not particularly relevant; right and wrong is. In discussions, I find it hard to disagree with the logic, even though the "right thing" may feel like it is somewhere else. What that means is that I end up trying to reconcile logic and feelings because they can be mutually exclusive. What feels right isn't necessarily what is correct. What's good in the short term may not be good in the long term. Conversely, what seems to make sense with respecting individual rights might end up infringing on the individual rights of millions of others.

For example, the 1964 Civil Rights Act seems like a slam dunk to most Americans. It was with the exception of one area: forcing desegregation on private businesses. Doing this did not respect the individual's right to run their business as they see fit. That's the theoretical answer though. The reality is that what was going on in the South was despicable. It was an affront to the individual rights of millions to have access to common things like restaurants, hotels, hospitals, etc. So, even though most of these were privately owned, and the government overstepped its legal bounds under our Constitution, I don't care. If someone says that makes me not a libertarian, maybe I'm not.

Gun restrictions are another example. I support the 2nd Amendment, but I don't think that it's untouchable. We've accepted limitations to other freedoms contained in the Constitution, but there should be absolutely no limitations on what kind of weaponry can be owned and who can own it? I have no problem with some common sense limitations - criminal background checks, waiting periods, no howitzers. Should the average citizen be able to have a weapon comparable to an individual soldier? I don't see why this should be limited, but I'm not going to make a mountain out of a mole hill for a reasonable argument.

At the end of the day, we don't live in theoretical world. Outcomes matter to me. Doing the right thing matters to me. Individual rights matter to me. Society matters to me. The conflict of these is where I end up off track to the purists, but I'm not sure I care. Like anything, placing a label on yourself gives the appearance that you've accepted all of that label's dogma. I don't accept the dogma if it doesn't work for me. The world is complicated. Government is complicated. Individual rights crossed with 300 million US citizens and 7 billion world citizens is complicated. Respect for individual rights is a key component on which to build a republic. It isn't the only factor. If that makes me unfit to wear the libertarian moniker, I can live with that.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Gay Marriage and the Chick-Fil-A Boycott

It's been about six months since the big Chick-Fil-A brouhaha regarding Dan Cathy's comments about gay marriage. I have boycotted businesses before, but only because they gave me bad service in some way. I'm a libertarian and a capitalist. I vote with my dollars.

After reading this article, however, I started my first boycott for something that doesn't directly affect me. The article's author is an acquaintance of mine from years ago, so I suppose that holds some sway. I have had a slew of friends over the years that are LGBT. That also has had an influence. I have four minor children. Who knows what life has in store for them? Clearly that would hit home directly.

At the end of the day though, none of the matters. I support gay marriage because it's right. If two consenting adults want to have their union recognized by the state and given equal protection under the law, who are we to say no? This is plain and simply a civil rights issue. History will not look back kindly on the bigotry being displayed in this country.

I am a straight, happily married, 40+, white male that lives in the South. I support gay marriage. I denounce groups like the FRC (Family Research Council) and people that support them. While I also denounce that politicians that tried to deny Dan Cathy his 1st Amendment rights, I, as a citizen, denounce Cathy and the company he represents, Chick-Fil-A for his stance on limiting the rights of fellow citizens. I will not spend my money there until they stop supporting such groups.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Work globally, unemployed locally

So now that I just made a hardline, right-wing, anti-worker, greedy, capitalistic point about where jobs come from in my last post, I'm going to change directions and potentially contradict myself. Politics and economics are complicated. Sue me. :)

I've been employed in the American economy permanently since I finished college in 1993, mainly as a software engineer. I've been through the tail end of the early 90's recession, the tech boom, the tech outsourcing/offshoring, the early 00's recession, and our most recent one.

One of the main things that complicates our economy now is that it is part of a truly global one. Jobs that were once good paying ones for the working class have been sent to parts of the world that do it much more cheaply. This has been going on for several decades now. The American lower and middle classes depended on this employment for their prosperity. Even many white collar jobs can be done cheaper elsewhere in the world.

Corporations, once the bedrock for American middle class prosperity, have systematically been shifting as much cost as possible to places on the globe that will allow it to be done. Many Americans have benefited from this - less expensive products, greater corporate profits, improved stock prices, better pay.  Many Americans have suffered from this as well. People that are less skilled and/or educated were hit first and hardest.

One of the things I've predicted is that this is ultimately a losing proposition for the United States, at least in the more immediate future. The decision makers at the top of the economic food chain have benefited greatly from the trend. What they seem to fail to understand is that as foreign countries become more and more capitalistic - similar to the environment that was the catalyst to American success - the less they will need American corporations and capital to do what is already being done in their country and in the global economy.

If an American corporation now exists primarily to leverage global resources to maximize shareholder value, eventually entrepreneurs and capitalists outside of the United States will figure out how to successfully and efficiently run local and global businesses as well as (or better) than their American counterparts. This tipping point could be devastating to the American economy.

So what can the U.S. do? Take an isolationist position? The U.S. is still the leading industrial power. Becoming an isolationist country would probably be more devastating than the current situation. Should we force U.S. corporations to manufacture in the U.S. and hire Americans? I'm not sure how many corporations can afford to do this and still compete with foreign firms. Is it possible to put some equivalent regulations on foreign and domestic firms doing business in the U.S.? This has had some success in the auto industry over the years, but can only work to a certain degree. Tax the heck out of people doing business in the U.S. and spreading the wealth? Who would want to start and/or maintain a business here in that sort of environment?

None of these appeal to my libertarian sensibilities, but it is clear that there is a problem that is only getting worse. I've met a few people in the last several years that were at the conceptual stage of starting companies. When the idea involves manufacturing anything, they immediately look to China. If they're trying to build software, it's an American "architect" and then hiring others in India. Driving this kind of business will do little to nothing for the average American worker.

Unfortunately, I have no conclusion to this ramble. Comments are always welcome and might help better direct the thoughts on this.

Where Jobs Come From, Part Deux

So, according to my more liberal friends, jobs apparently come from the people. The people generate demand, which causes businesses to need to expand, which creates jobs. Thus, it is not the business owners that create jobs. It is the consumers that create jobs.

I get what they're trying to say. There's a symbiotic relationship between the business and the public. Without consumers purchasing businesses' products and services, there are no businesses. This is true.

What they fail to understand is that without the risk takers and the driven, who's going to start these businesses even with massive demand? Without venture capital, who's going to fund the entrepreneurs who usually don't have the capital on their own? Without a friendly political/economic system, who's going to risk everything if the rewards are to be dispersed, but the risk isn't?

I've mostly done the "right" things in my life. I did well in school, have two college degrees, and have a good paying, white collar job. However, without the above scenario driving entrepreneurs and business, I have little to nothing. I have gotten to ride the coattails of some excellent capitalists. Don't get me wrong, I have provided them with more money than they pay me. However, I would not have near the amount of pay I do without their vision and drive.

If I'm making 50% of a solid revenue number driven by my labor, I'm much better off than making 95% of a tiny one. Free market capitalism provides incentive to the dynamic visionaries in business. It provides growth to an economy. It provides jobs for those that are the worker bees.

My liberal friends confuse free market capitalism with much of the crony capitalism that goes on in this country today. Buying influence with the government to fatten your wallet at the expense of others is not free market capitalism. However, free market capitalism probably breeds crony capitalism when the government becomes large, powerful, and pervasive within the economy. People chasing money will often do what it takes to make more. If "legally" influencing government in their favor is possible, the incentives are too strong to avoid.

If the left wants to hit those of the "1%" that are abusing the system, they need to look at Washington D.C. and not Wall Street.

If you want growth and jobs, empowering the entrepreneurial spirit is what's needed ... or at least just get out of their way.

(I will follow this with a bit of a devil's advocate argument with regard to outsourcing)

Friday, March 2, 2012

GOP and contraceptives

The last time I considered myself a Republican (1988), I'd barely turned 18 years old. I have generally considered myself a libertarian (lower case 'l') since the mid-90's. There are certain parts of my view of government that could align me with Republicans and others that don't. However, the current incarnation of the GOP seems to have severely gone off track. The far right wing has completely taken the reigns and turned it all into "politics through the lens of the Bible."

Take the current topic of contraceptive coverage. The President's plan requires it to be provided free of charge by all medical insurers. Yes, the government is forcing private businesses to give things away. If they don't, it's a violation of the law. That, in itself, is a reasonable thing on which to argue and I've heard a few make this exact argument.

However, the right has turned this into a holy war on reproductive freedom for women. Contraception and abortions apparently only exist due to the women that are sluts and whores in this society. If everybody lived by the Bible, we would have no need for such things. Men can chase their careers and women can keep the home, getting pregnant whenever God decides. Doesn't that sound just wonderful if you're a woman?

The foundation for equality for women depends on reproductive freedom. It doesn't necessarily mean that all of the tools for it should be free by government decree, but it is crucial that they be accessible.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Yo, bartender! Jobu needs a refill!

Movies like Major League - not winning any awards, but good entertainment!

Carl Sagan - so eloquent and succinct

From a posting on The Atlantic

Why do I prefer talking to liberals?

I'm a libertarian. I'm a fiscal conservative. In spite of this, why do I seem to gravitate towards more liberal-minded folks?  Is it an attraction to the typical liberal or more of an aversion to the typical conservative?


Without a doubt, the religiosity of so many conservatives is a huge turn-off.  Most liberals are Christians too, but almost always the more moderate type.  This type of Christian would rarely make me even think about religion as a political issue.

So what's my problem with conservatives and their religion? It's not inherent.  It's that they want to leverage the government to promote and enforce it.  They drape the American flag over themselves while holding the Bible and the Constitution, believing that they're pious, just, and patriotic. It's one of the most un-American things I see in this country.

What else? Well, they deny evolution and try to replace it with creationism or "intelligent design."  They vehemently oppose things like stem-cell research. Global warming? It's just a environmental lobby hoax!

This could go on and on!  Suffice to say, the right pushes me away on this issue where I probably wouldn't otherwise care.

Fiscal issues

As I said, I'm a fiscal conservative.  This usually makes my liberal friends cringe.  I believe in capitalism as an economic system.  The incentives in a market-based system tend to get the most out of people and provide feedback on what they truly deem important.

It creates perceived inequities, but that can be a matter of perspective.  The economic growth of the last 250 years is astounding.  The quality of life has increased exponentially.  This growth and prosperity is on the back of capitalism.  Yes, there are haves and have-nots at any given point in time under capitalism.  That's because the system rewards those who navigate it best.  Yes, there are people that have inherited their wealth.  Yes, there are people who got lucky.  However, most people have earned their wealth. The assumption on the left is that things would be better if we redistributed the wealth to be more fair.  The problem is that it would suppress the incentives for the successful ones and ultimately lower the quality of life across the board.  We don't all get yachts in a "fair" distribution.  Nobody gets a yacht and the yacht industry goes under.

Still, when I talk to most reasonable liberals, they don't expect even close to this sort of redistribution.  They expect minimal services for all citizens that are paid for by the citizens that can most afford to do so.  My problem is what are these minimal services and when does the "minimum" bar stop rising? Is it even moral to take from one person and give it to another without consent?  Regardless, I at least have respect for their altruistic intentions.  I may debate them on the merits, but I don't fault their motivation.

That being said, I am averse to the raw class warfare/jealousy that emanates from many on the left.  I believe that if somebody becomes wealthy honestly, they don't inherently owe anybody anything.  They can choose to be altruistic, but it is not a legal requirement.  People can pressure/guilt them into altruism, but they still shouldn't be compelled by law.  If somebody becomes wealthy fraudulently, then that is a criminal exercise not an economic one.

Without needing to go further, the verdict on this is that I respectfully disagree with liberals on many fiscal issues.  At the same time I have a loose coupling with conservatives, but am often leery of allying with them because of their views on religion and...

Personal liberties

Oh, how the right seems to fail on this one while simultaneously wearing a laminate of freedom and liberty.  It really goes back to religion, so it's almost not right to make this a separate issue.  It is one that I feel myself tightly aligned with many liberals.

How can one claim to love the freedom of America, while wishing to deny rights to so many?  It's what happens when you put God above country.  In a secular government (which we're supposed to have!), country trumps God.  Our Puritanical ways interfere with personal liberties in so many ways that it would be hard to enumerate them.  We, as a country, have to rise above these inclinations to allow citizens real freedom and liberty.

The left seems to be much more secular in its treatment of civil rights, regardless of individual religious view, and is therefore much easier to maintain a conversation.  Not so fast though ... I consider property, labor, and earnings in this realm as well.  This comes in conflict with fiscal issues often, making the conversation more contested.

What's the verdict?

It's a mixed bag, isn't it? I agree with liberals on most issues of personal liberties and overall secularism.  In this area, I can have easy, robust conversations with them.  On economic issues, I respectfully disagree.  I see many of their points (and as long as it doesn't devolve into rhetoric), I can have a reasonable discussion.

With conservatives, religion is a huge problem.  It's not that they're religious.  It's that I'm not and there's so little room for accepting that.  Religion corrupts so much of their view of government that it corrupts my view of them.

So, the final verdict is that I either like or tolerate most liberals and am averse to too many conservatives. Since there are a limited number of libertarians, that's how I keep finding myself surrounded by liberals ... not that there's anything wrong with that.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Balancing the US budget

Those of you that have listened to me ramble here, on Twitter, or know me personally know that I am a fiscal conservative. I'm a small government guy and a capitalist. I think those two have been the path to growth, prosperity, freedom, and liberty. I think they will continue to be the path.

While this is true, I also fashion myself as a realist and pragmatic. It's the biggest check and balance there is to my more theoretical political views. It also muddles my stances on various issues. I'm a libertarian that believes in non-coercion, but I support public schools, infrastructure, and many social safety nets that many others do not. Those require taxes. I prefer something like the Fair Tax, but I accept our current progressive tax system as something that is unlikely to change.

With that background as a filter, I listened to this speech today by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont):

I hear what he's saying. I completely agree that it's insane to take taxes and defense off the table when you're trying to balance the budget. I also agree that you can't gut programs cold turkey for the lower classes that they currently depend on. I'd even venture to say it would be immoral to do so.

What's the reality though? The Republicans will not allow the budget to be balanced by raising taxes on the upper classes and/or cutting spending on defense. It's dogmatic for them. The Democrats want to not only protect current social programs, but to increase them. This is not a good formula. Without a drastic change, the country will just need to keep borrowing until others won't loan money to it (us) any more.

My recommendation is:

1) The Democrats need to call the Republican bluff on the debt ceiling. Everybody knows that it has to be raised. The fight by the Republicans isn't whether to do it, but to see how much can be won before agreeing to it in the final hour. Tell them that unless taxes and defense are in a deficit reduction/balanced budget plan that you're not going to play.
2) Put everything on the table. All of our woes can't be solved by simply taxing the rich and cutting defense, while government programs continue to spend, spend, spend. It might seem that way, but there are real consequences to tapping the rich until the budget is balanced. Like it or not, the upper classes provide the jobs and the capital that drive the economy. The more you tap them, the more they'll just pass it on down the chain.
3) If we're going to drastically reform social programs, it needs to be in a graduated way over a good number of years so as to ween people off them.
4) Get out of our current wars and stop waging new ones unless there's a compelling national interest. We can't afford it!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Virgin Mary - a simple question from a young heathen

I have never been a religious person. My family, while from a Christian background, never practiced. We never prayed, went to church, read the Bible, etc. Even though I'm now fairly educated about Christianity, when I was a kid I was exposed to the stories of Christianity to a limited degree.

Rewind to Christmas, 1984. I attended a normal, public high school here in the United States. My 9th grade (14 years old) English class was having a Christmas party. We were sitting around, casually talking about Christmas. My teacher, we find out, is also a Sunday School teacher. The class begins an informal discussion about Christmas from a Christian, religious standpoint. The Virgin Mary comes up.

Now, before I tell the next part, it needs to be known that I was an excellent student. This was a gifted class. I was not a troublemaker in any way. I asked what seemed an extremely logical question:

"If Mary was a virgin, how did she have a baby?"

I might as well have said, "Jesus is a whore." The reaction by my teacher was shocking. He said something like, "How dare you ask such a foul question?" The class piled on with comments like, "That's not funny!" I felt completely dumb and didn't know why... and I still didn't know how a virgin could have a baby.

Later that day, I told my best friend what had happened. He replied, "You're lucky you didn't get sent to the principal's office." He saw the look on my face and said, "You really don't know do you?" He explained a little, not really understanding my level of ignorance.

I said, "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. It sounds like she got knocked up and made the greatest cover-up story ever told. What kind of God goes around knocking up women? Zeus used to do it all the time and nobody believes those stories."

He replied, "God didn't sleep with her. That's why she was still a virgin and it's called the Immaculate Conception."

I couldn't believe it. "People actually believe this?"

The story ends there, but it sticks with me today. I still can't believe that so many people believe it. How do these stories not seem like complete and utter hogwash? In what sort of bubble do people live to not realize that others might not believe it? How can an adult, with otherwise excellent logic, still believe these things?

I will probably never know. Nobody has ever been able to explain the suspension of logic and evidence to allow a leap of faith - a leap to something that makes little to no sense.