Saturday, December 27, 2008

O Come All Ye Faithful

Why evangelical Christians should rally to the libertarian cause.

As we wind down our celebration of the birth of Christ and prepare for the new year, I hope that “conservative” Christians, who are wondering where to go after the Republican train wreck of late, will give the Libertarian Party (L.P.) a second look.

If you’ve heard anything about us, you’ve probably heard that we want to legalize pot, gay marriage and all sorts of other things that no doubt turn your gut. Before you let that scare you off, let me explain our take on some of these issues. (Keep in mind that I hold no official position with the party, so if I muck it up, don‘t blame them.)

The L.P. is generally about freedom. The L.P.’s national platform states it fairly well: “We, the members of the Libertarian Party, challenge the cult of the omnipotent state and defend the rights of the individual. We hold that all individuals have the right to exercise sole dominion over their own lives, and have the right to live in whatever manner they choose, so long as they do not forcibly interfere with the equal right of others to live in whatever manner they choose.” How does this effect issues supposedly important to evangelicals?

Let’s get right to the most contentious issue first: Abortion. I’m not going to lie to you, most Libertarians are probably pro-choice. Wait, come back! Not all of us. There are enough of us pro-life Libertarians for the National Committee to recognize that good Libertarians fall on both sides of the issue. The L.P.’s National Platform says: “Recognizing that abortion is a sensitive issue and that people can hold good-faith views on all sides, we believe that government should be kept out of the matter, leaving the question to each person for their conscientious consideration.”

Yeah, I know that’s a cop-out, but there really is no middle ground here. Since Libertarians support individual rights (life, liberty, and property), there’s somewhat of a conundrum with this issue. Libertarians like me, who believe that life begins at conception, see abortion as the ultimate violation of an unborn person’s right to life. Libertarians who believe that life begins at birth see banning abortion as a violation of the mother’s liberty. To some degree, both sides are right. (Of course, I believe my side is MORE right!)

So where would a nation run by Libertarians leave us pro-lifers? We would be free to speak out against abortion in any manner that we chose (provided we didn’t harm or threaten to harm anyone else). With less money being taken from us in taxes we would be freer to contribute our money to pro-life groups, making them more effective. Since Libertarians support Constitutional restraints on the federal government and recognize that this is NOT a subject that the federal government has authority over, the people of each State would be allowed to decide whether or not abortion should be legal. That might be the best that pro-lifers can hope for, regardless of who’s in power.

Another benefit that a libertarian society would bring is that your church would be vastly more important in the community. Since Libertarians would get rid of government-run “welfare,” private charities and churches would become that much more vital. Religious charities have a long and proud history of helping people. They also generally do so much more efficiently and effectively than wasteful, values-neutral government programs. With lower taxes, more money would be flowing into church coffers and religious institutions could reclaim their historical role as society’s true safety net.

Another power that a libertarian society would give back to the people (and their collective representations, the churches) would be that of educating our children. Many evangelicals hate the fact that they have to send their kids to (or at least fund) government-run schools that teach their children that the basic tenants of their religion are a lot of bunk. Under a Libertarian government, parents would be free to send their kids to whatever school they chose, and they would be able to afford to so. Private and/or religious schools would become the norm, as would home-schooling.

The L.P. platform puts it thusly: “Education, like any other service, is best provided by the free market, achieving greater quality and efficiency with more diversity of choice. Schools should be managed locally to achieve greater accountability and parental involvement. Recognizing that the education of children is inextricably linked to moral values, we would return authority to parents to determine the education of their children, without interference from government. In particular, parents should have control of and responsibility for all funds expended for their children's education.” [Emphasis added.]

This is not just a pie in the sky idea. There are small, practical steps we can take in this direction already, such as education tax credits. Groups like Iowa Advocates for Choice in Education are already working on “expanding educational options to all Iowa families.”

All in all, Libertarian policies would reduce government coercion of everyone, including evangelical Christians. So while, yes, others would be freer to do things that you might find sinful, you would be freer to worship as you choose, choose how your money is spent and instruct your children on right and wrong. If the only way to get the government off your back is to get it off everyone’s back, that sounds like a good deal to me.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Man vs. Meat

One of the last official Republican functions that I attended, when I still had any hope for that party, was a county convention here in Iowa. To my surprise, the target of most of the ire from the assembled delegates was not Al Qaeda, illegal immigrants or even monogamous gays, it was Iowa’s deer herd. There was even a platform plank proposed to make a continuous open season for deer in Iowa. (I don’t think it made it onto the state platform though.)

The growing resentment for the horned pests is understandable. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) estimated a deer population of about 380,000 after the 2007 hunting season. That many deer cause massive damage to Iowa crops and massive headaches for Iowa drivers.

Statistics on show that there are usually 7,000 to over 8,000 deer-vehicle collisions in Iowa each year. The Iowa Department of Transportation reports that 12 people were killed in deer-related accidents in 2007, double the previous five-year average. According to data from State Farm Insurance, the number of deer-vehicle collisions in Iowa has risen 12.2 percent over the past five years. Iowans now have a one in 105 chance of hitting a deer every time they drive, the fourth highest likelihood in the nation behind West Virginia, Michigan and Pennsylvania.

Besides all this, these animals taste great and their heads make attractive wall furnishings. Although I’ve never been deer hunting, even I can recognize the fact that if ever God made an animal crying out to be killed, eaten and stuffed, it is the Iowa whitetail!

Luckily, the Iowa DNR allows ample opportunities to hunt them. For deer, Iowa now has a youth season, a disabled hunter season, two archery seasons, two muzzleloader seasons, two shotgun seasons, two antlerless seasons and a nonresident holiday season. My problem comes with some of the regulations that the DNR places on deer hunters.

The most glaring one is the ban on “two-way mobile radio transmitters,” (which includes cell phones) during deer hunting. According to the DNR regs: “You cannot use a two-way mobile radio transmitter to communicate the location or direction of game or furbearing animals, or to coordinate the movement of other hunters.” [Emphasis added.] To me, this would seem to be a safety issue.

My wife and I can’t walk around Wal-mart without coordinating our efforts over the cell phone. It would seem that diverging groups of armed men walking about in the woods should be afforded the same level of coordination. One team in a hunting party should be able to find out EXACTLY where their other team is before they start shooting.

Perhaps the Iowa DNR should revisit some of its regulations. Some of them probably made sense when Iowa’s relatively small deer herd needed a “sporting chance” against hunters. Now deer are everywhere and hunting basically amounts to pest control, so its time for some of these rules to go, especially rules that place the safety of some soon-to-be-sausage over hunters. Hunting accidents are statistically rare in Iowa. Let’s keep it that way.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Dr. Obama, First Do No Harm

Speaking about the failing economy, President-elect Obama coolly diagnosed, "We understand that we've got to provide a blood infusion to the patient right now to make sure that the patient is stabilized, and that means that we can't worry short-term about the deficit. We've got to make sure that the economic stimulus plan is large enough to get the economy moving." Since the “patient’s” infusion would come from the patient itself (through either taxes or debt), “Doctor” Obama’s treatment may be more like an old-fashioned bloodletting than a true cure.

Obama, like many in Washington (in both parties), is a devotee of Keynesian economics, the ideas of British economist John Maynard Keynes. His theories were first published in 1936 and were quickly adopted by America’s big government progressives, like President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of the key theories of Keynesian economics is that during economic downturns the government can “prime the pump” by increasing its spending. Since Keynes’ theories increase the size and power of government, it’s no wonder his ideas have always found so many acolytes in D.C.

Keynesian economics has many critics however. Notable detractors include economists Milton Friedman, Robert Lucas, Murray Rothbard, and Henry Hazlitt. Austrian economist Friedrich Hayek criticized the collectivist approach of Keynesian economics, which requires centralized planning, which Hayek argued leads to totalitarian abuses.

Besides its push for bigger, more authoritarian government, Keynesian economics just doesn’t seem to work. As the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, points out: “[T]he notion that bigger government leads to more growth is theoretically suspect: any money that the government ‘injects’ into the economy with new spending (or tax rebates) must first be borrowed and diverted from private use. The economic pie gets sliced differently, but it is not any bigger.”

Many argue that the Great Depression wouldn’t have been as long or severe if it wasn’t for the Keynesian “cures” employed by the Roosevelt Administration. Later examples of Keynesian policy in practice haven’t fared much better. “Huge increases in government spending under both Hoover and Roosevelt did not help the economy during the 1930s, and more recent Keynesian initiatives—Gerald Ford's rebates in the mid-1970s, Japan's stimulus efforts in the 1990s, and President Bush's rebates in 2001 and 2008—do not seem to have generated positive results,” states the Cato Institute.

Since our public debt currently stands at about $10.6 trillion, and the government is already racking up record deficits this year and no doubt next year, can we really afford to increase spending on anything, particularly for economic “cures” that don’t generally work? (To put that $10.6 trillion figure in some kind of perspective, remember that it took America the time period from George Washington to Ronald Reagan to accumulate ONE trillion in debt. We’re now on pace to add that amount of debt this year alone. With the looming crisis in Social Security and Medicare, that number is sure to go up.)

Dr. Obama, your “patient” is hemorrhaging. Before you apply your Big Government leeches, you might want to pay heed to the medical dictum, “First, do no harm.”

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Happy Hour Cancelled- Miserable Hour Starts at Five

No doubt many denizens of Iowa’s bastion of liberalism, Iowa City, are rooting in favor of gay marriage in the Varnum v. Brien case now before the Iowa Supreme Court. Unfortunately liberals, just like conservatives, seek to expand freedom for their chosen groups while seeking to restrict it for others. Iowa City officials are currently advancing their jihad against alcohol drinkers in general and bar owners in particular.

Facing a “crisis” of binge drinking because of all the young folks attending University of Iowa, city officials are pushing for an ordinance to end drink specials such as the age-old “happy hour” wherein drinks are cheaper. Iowa City Mayor Regenia Bailey said, “Our objective ... is to reduce price specials and pricing that encourage excessive drinking,” reported the Cedar Rapids Gazette on Wednesday. Iowa City already bans two drinks for the price of one and all-you-can-drink specials. Not happy with just throttling bar owners in their own town, city officials are also leaning on the state legislature for a similar state-wide ban.

Gazette columnist Todd Dorman, on his blog, predicts that at least the statewide ban faces bleak prospects in the Iowa legislature this time around. Since the legislature has spent the last couple of years doing everything except waterboarding bar owners, Dorman states that legislators may be reluctant to give the businesses “another kick in the shorts.” A similar ban failed in the Iowa Legislature in 1997.

No doubt the city ordinance will go through however. And when it comes to pushing for laws to make us Iowans healthier (and less free), the liberals are a tenacious bunch. Iowa City was one of the first to ban smoking and started the trend that is now a state-wide ban. We can expect to see similar bans on drink specials introduced every year until they get their way.

As I see it there are three primary reasons to oppose this ban.

Firstly, it impedes the right of business owners to run their businesses as they see fit and the rights of patrons as well. Bar owners already must navigate a labyrinthine set of government regulations, zoning laws and licensing procedures. They don’t need more red tape and more potential fines.

For bar patrons, the ban restricts their right to live their lives as they see fit, even if that involves getting plastered. Raising prices to control people’s choices is just paternalistic government overreach. As long as patrons are of legal drinking age, aren’t causing problems or getting behind the wheel of a car, it’s no one’s damned business if they drink too much. Legal drinkers might want to use one of the liberals’ own favorite catchphrases against them: “My body, my choice!”

Secondly, this is an unnecessary infringement on the private market. (This might just be another way of stating my first objection.) Many folks like myself belief that the government shouldn't interfere in the market unless there is some coercive or non-consensual activity involved, such as fraud or theft. If bar owners were holding guns to the heads of patrons, forcing them to drink excessively, the government should get involved.

Bureaucrats should not be controlling the prices for drinks or any other consumer product, the market can set prices just fine. Looking at their balance sheets, bar owners will set drink prices appropriately low to get people in the door, but high enough to turn a profit. Since politicians from Iowa City to Des Moines to D.C. don't seem to mind meddling in the free market, this argument is probably a lost cause.

Lastly, the ban probably won’t help much. If you chase binge drinkers out of the bars, they’ll just drink elsewhere, probably in less structured environments. That’s if it chases them out at all. I know that in my wild and woolly younger days, my buddies and I didn’t pay any mind to drink prices. The only thing that mattered was when our wallet was finally empty. Even if it did work, any slight reductions in binge drinking would not justify the first two intrusions in personal liberty.

I hope this ban doesn’t go state-wide. First the people controllers went after the smokers. Now it’s the drinkers. Next it will be sin taxes on junk food or God knows what else. That’s when I might have to put down my bag of pork rinds and fight!

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