January 17, 2019

Democracy Goes Out the Window During “Government Shutdowns”

Important_government_shutdown_notice_for_the_Stature_of_LibertyEveryone loves democracy, until the vote doesn’t go their way. Then, there are protests, marches, recounts, and other forms of whining from everyone who doesn’t like the results. We saw that after Donald Trump’s election and after the 2018 midterms, when Democrats tried to keep recounting the votes in some races until they got the result they wanted.

Now, we’re seeing it with the impending “government shutdown.” I use quotation marks because two things are true. First, this time around, about 75% of the government is already funded through September 2019. Second, even when none of the government is funded, it doesn’t really shut down.

But it should.

Somehow, the strange notion has taken hold that when Congress votes not to pass a new bill, it “isn’t getting anything done.” Not true. If Congress takes a vote and the bill is voted down, Congress has done its job every bit as much as if the bill had passed. In most cases, it does us all more good voting bills down than passing them. Regardless, Congress is representing the people no less by voting “no .” There is no immutable law of nature that says new bills must be constantly passed. The system is actually set up to make new legislation difficult, not easy.

If you’re going to insist on the superstition that Congress does “the will of the people,” then at least be consistent. If Congress votes a bill down, that is as much the will of the people as passing one.

This Friday, Congress may very well fail to pass a bill to fund the remaining 25% of the government. If they don’t vote to appropriate those funds, then no money should be spent on any part of the government for which funds aren’t appropriated. Those aren’t my rules. It’s right there in the government’s own rule book, in black and white: “No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law.”

By the way, spare me the “republic-not-a-democracy” comment blizzard. I know it better than you do. The form of government is a republic, but there is a lot of democracy baked in – more all the time, unfortunately, thanks to the Supreme Court’s rampage over what’s actually written into the Constitution. But even without their tyrannical creativity, the republic is built on a series of majority votes. That’s “democracy,” even if the government is not “a democracy.”

Regardless, the rules say majorities in both houses of Congress and the president have to approve any spending. When that doesn’t happen, those of us who want the government to shut down are supposed to get our way. After all, Congress represents us, too, whether we like it or not. That’s one of the key rationalizations for taxing us (“no taxation without representation”).

I won’t hold my breath waiting for the evangelists of democracy to follow the tenets of their own religion. Those seeking your money in the name of their deities rarely do.

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Jefferson and Madison: Regulating Immigration a Power “No Where Delegated to the Federal Government”

immigration_constitutionPresident Trump announced his second nomination to the Supreme Court on Monday. Perhaps as forward in the minds of conservatives as preserving the right to keep and bear arms, expressly protected from federal infringement by the Second Amendment, is how the new justice might rule on the Trump administration’s various immigration policies, decried by the left as “fascist!” and supported by the right as the federal government’s “constitutional duty.”

Yet, federal regulation of immigration is a power both Thomas Jefferson and James Madison maintained was “no where delegated to the federal government.” And since no amendment has granted that power since they made that argument in 1798, it is exercised by the federal government without the consent of the governed, legitimized only by the same kind of “activist Court” conservatives condemn when it sanctions federal power they don’t like.

First, to the document itself. Conservatives make two arguments for the Constitution somehow delegating this power. One is completely spurious; the other more plausible, but ultimately without merit. The first argument is the power is granted with the words, “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” in Article I, Section 8. But “naturalization” concerns only who can become a citizen of the United States, not who can visit, work or live as a permanent alien. When pressed, even most reasonable immigration hawks will concede this.

The second argument concerns the first paragraph of Section 9, which reads, “The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.” The reasoning here is that since the federal government is prohibited from banning migration (immigration) or importation (the slave trade) only until 1808, it must be granted the power to do so after 1808.

This is the same backwards reading of the Constitution – that anything not prohibited to the federal government must be within its powers – that conservatives scream bloody murder about on almost any other issue. It is true that for individuals possessing an inalienable right to liberty, a law which prohibits, for example, certain activity on Wednesdays and Fridays does not restrict individuals from that activity on any other days of the week. That is a correct legal interpretation for laws pertaining to individuals.

However, the Constitution is not a set of laws pertaining to individuals and the federal government does not have an inalienable right to liberty. On the contrary, the Constitution is written with the assumption the federal government has no power not delegated to it. The Tenth Amendment was ratified to ensure that point wasn’t lost. Therefore, just because certain powers are prohibited to the federal government by one or another clause of the Constitution, one cannot assume that any power not prohibited is granted. Only powers explicitly delegated are within the federal government’s purview. Strict constructionists go so far as to point out the words “expressly delegated” were used in many of the ratifying conventions, “expressly” left out by Madison in drafting the Tenth Amendment because he thought it unnecessary.

Read the rest at Foundation for Economic Education…

Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

Why Progressives Should Let Republicans Repeal Obamacare and Close the Borders

obamacareLast week, Senate Republicans were given bad news by Senate Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough. She doesn’t believe Republicans can bypass cloture and repeal Obamacare with a simple majority by attaching its repeal to a spending bill.

As a libertarian, I’m glad to hear it. No, I do not like Obamacare any more than I like most other government programs, especially those that further enrich multi-billion dollar corporations on my dime. But I’m glad it’s still difficult to get things through the Senate. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

But progressives should feel differently. The should want to see at least two bills pass both houses, one repealing Obamacare and one blocking the president’s immigration policies. Progressives profess a belief in democracy and the Republicans have been democratically elected to both houses. Whether you agree with them or not, there’s no question repealing Obamacare and reversing the president’s immigration agenda were two of their strongest mandates.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post…

 

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.

 

Elysium: One freedom thumbs up, one down

TAMPA, August 25, 2013 – It is 2154. A small, wealthy elite live on Elysium, a floating paradise orbiting the earth with stately mansions, majestic landscapes, clean air and perpetual sunshine. The rest of humanity lives on overpopulated, diseased and polluted earth.

The wealthy enjoy 22nd century medicine that can instantly cure any disease or injury, no matter how severe. The earth dwellers have overcrowded hospitals where care is backwards and rationed.

The film doubles as allegory on the illegal immigration issue, with the earth dwellers representing Mexicans and Elysium the United States. Most people on earth appear to be bilingual in English and Spanish, while the elitists in Elysium speak English and French.

It sounds like a typical, leftist Hollywood narrative and in some ways it is. However, it also contains some of what used to be good about the left. Elysium is generally good on criticizing the police state and bad on economic freedom.

The plot revolves around Max, a former petty criminal who has gone straight. Early in the film, Max is harassed and assaulted on his way to work by robot police officers who ask him what is in his bag. Max must then discuss the encounter with his robot parole officer, who extends Max’s parole based upon the incident.

The central conflict is created when Max is ordered by his boss to enter a compartment where a mechanical door has jammed. When Max frees the door, it slams shut on him and the compartment floods with radiation, delivering a lethal dose to Max. His only hope to save his life is to get to Elysium.

When Max learns that his childhood friend has a daughter with terminal leukemia, his quest becomes one to save not only himself but the sick girl. In order to do so, he must make a deal with an outlaw revolutionary to obtain access codes that will open the door to Elysium to whomever possesses them.

The film succeeds in painting a dreary picture of a society that has allowed unchecked government police power to combine with technology. Max’s entire criminal history along with data gleaned from ubiquitous surveillance is instantly available to robot cops and parole officers, who use that data against him despite his being innocent of the current charge. The film also succeeds in conveying the hopelessness that accompanies a society where upward mobility is actively suppressed by an entrenched elite.

The film fails from both an artistic and freedom perspective for several reasons. First, it leaves too many questions unanswered. How did those who build Elysium acquire their wealth? Was it through production and trade or some form of plunder? How do they maintain it? If the earth dwellers are uniformly poor, who does Elysium trade with? Why are the earth dwellers unable to build their own wealth? Why are they unable to develop the same miraculous healthcare technology? The viewer is left to speculate.

Based on the film’s conclusion, one can interpret the film as an indictment of private property itself. The earth dwellers cannot improve their condition because the elite own all of the natural resources and means of production. Their property rights are enforced by the brutal police state, which also suppresses any attempt by “undocumented” earth dwellers to enter Elysium. This leaves them no alternative but to toil away as “wage slaves” for the corporations.

Typical of Hollywood, the film makes no distinction between those who have acquired their wealth in exchange for enormous benefits bestowed on others and those who have acquired it through tax-funded government contracts or privileges. The only private company we are told anything about is Max’s employer, which ironically manufactures the robot policeman who assault Max at the beginning of the film.

That’s a government contract, funded by taxes, which are collected by force. But all government contracts ultimately rely on someone, somewhere creating real wealth, i.e. goods and services that actually improve the lives of consumers enough that they will voluntarily exchange their money for them. Where are these private companies? Where is the justice for them at the conclusion? The film is silent on these questions.

The healthcare issue is treated in an overly simplistic manner that even critics of private, for-profit medicine would be disappointed in. In short, the film removes all economics whatsoever from healthcare. The treatment machines used in Elysium are so miraculous that there is no discernible cost to curing people, outside of manufacturing the machines themselves. It cheapens the healthcare question by characterizing it as cartoonish elitists who simply refuse to allow the rest of society to access care out of contempt for their inferiority.

This allows the film to avoid confronting the real barriers to healthcare access. It doesn’t ask why the price of healthcare constantly rises while the prices of computers and cell phones fall. Perhaps the answers wouldn’t conform with the film’s narrative.

The idea of scarcity in general seems to be lost on the producers. They do not acknowledge that either healthcare or the other riches of Elysium are scarce or confront the way in which wealth is created and exchanged. The conclusion of the film suggests that if all of humanity were simply allowed to divide up society’s products equally among themselves, everyone would live happily ever after.

The immigration motif is equally unrealistic. Depicting Elysium as the United States and the earth as Mexico doesn’t work, because the Elysium and earth of the film together represent the real United States. That seems to be the whole point of the rest of the film. Simply opening the borders wouldn’t change anything. The immigrants would simply find themselves joining the lower class or forming a new, even lower one.

Ultimately, the film fails to face several realities. One is that all property is eventually private property. An apple cannot be owned “collectively” unless no one ever eats it. Once someone does, he has excluded every other human being from eating it. This is true of all goods and services. Even in Soviet Russia property was privately owned. What was different was how it was acquired. How would property be acquired more justly in Elysium? The film is again silent.

The film assumes that private property ownership is a purely artificial concept invented by “exploiters,” which persists only through violent oppression of the exploited. The police state is mischaracterized as an enforcer of property rights instead of a violator of them.

No consideration is given to whether producers have any right to keep the wealth they have produced or whether those who wish to acquire it from them have any obligation to obtain their consent. There is no explanation of why the “have nots” have any more legitimate claim to Elysium’s wealth than the “haves.”

On a more practical level, the film also ignores the question begged by resolution. After the wealth of society is divided up equally among everyone, who will produce what is needed tomorrow to sustain even bare subsistence? What will motivate them to produce it?

The Soviet Union and 20th century China couldn’t answer those questions. Elysium doesn’t even try.

Elysium gets one freedom thumbs up for its ominous depiction of the police state. It gets one freedom thumbs down for its attack on private property and an additional freedom thumbs down for its oversimplification of complex economic problems, even by leftist standards.

Tom Mullen is the author of A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.