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Do my parents want to bankrupt their granddaughter?

Wed, 03/05/2014 - 13:00

Not to leave you in suspense, the answer is: definitely not. But when I share with you a statistic I recently came across, you might be excused for thinking so.

According to economists Giovanni Callegari and Laurence Kotlikoff, the Baby Boomers will on average receive $327,400 more in government benefits than they pay in taxes over the course of their lives, owing mostly to Social Security and Medicare. My 9-month old daughter’s generation? They will pay $420,600 more in taxes than they will receive in benefits. (My generation, meanwhile, can breathe easy: our lifetime tax bill will “only” amount to $10-20,000 more than our benefits.)

The whole goal of the welfare state is to commit an injustice: to take money from people because they’ve earned it and to give it to others because they didn’t earn it. But when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, that injustice is disguised because virtually everyone pays taxes to fund the programs and virtually everyone eventually receives benefits from the programs, and we cannot easily know whether we’re net payers or net receivers.

This is by design. The welfare statists who created the system understood that once a person realizes that he is being victimized by the welfare state, there is always the chance he will say: enough is enough.

Well, it’s becoming impossible to ignore that younger Americans are victims of the welfare state. They are going to be robbed of many of their hopes and dreams in order to support their grandparents in old-age.

Will they rebel? That depends. The first step is to realize they are being exploited. The second step will require a great deal more: they will have to have the courage and self-esteem to say “no” to being their grandfathers’ keepers.

Image:  xavier gallego morell/Shutterstock.com

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Why did the IRS pursue conservative nonprofits?

Mon, 03/03/2014 - 21:22

Former FEC commissioner and law professor Brad Smith has a terrific op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that provides a reluctant media with all the evidence it needs to understand why the IRS investigated conservative nonprofits for speaking out about politics. Starting with the Citizens United decision in 2010, Smith provides a timeline of demands by prominent politicians that the IRS clamp down on allegedly “shadowy” nonprofits for doing exactly what the Supreme held they had a right to do in Citizens United—spending money on political speech. As he sums up the point, “The political pressure on the IRS to delay or deny tax-exempt status for conservative groups has been obvious to anyone who cares to open his eyes. It did not come from a direct order from the White House, but it didn’t have to.”

I’ve made the same basic point that Smith does in his op-ed, but even I was surprised by the sheer weight of the evidence he provides. The conclusion is undeniable: The IRS targeted conservative nonprofits because politicians—and, I would add, the media and various groups that complained incessantly about Citizens United and “money in politics”—told it to. Now consider for a moment that the reaction to the IRS targeting scandal has varied from denial that there is anything to worry about to calls to expand that targeting beyond conservatives to include all nonprofits, and ask yourself this: How can all of this happen—not just the IRS’s targeting of groups for speaking out, but the support for it among politicians and in the media—in America?

There are a number of answers to that question, but I want to offer one that is entirely ignored in this debate, but obvious if you know where to look. The answer is that we have accepted the premise, in various ways, that the government should “equalize” everyone’s ability to influence politics and elections. Because people influence politics and elections primarily by speaking, equalizing influence means equalizing speech. In his 1996 book, The Irony of Free Speech, law professor Owen Fiss explained what this means in practice. The government, according to Fiss, may “have to silence the voices of some in order to hear the voices of others. Sometimes there is simply no other way.”

That premise is built into the campaign finance laws. It was the government’s primary argument in support of those laws when they came before the Supreme Court in the mid 1970s in a case called Buckley v. Valeo. The Court rejected the equality rationale as a legal basis for the laws, but it accepted other rationales and ended up leaving the laws largely intact. The equality rationale never died and has remained an animating force in people’s thinking about the campaign finance laws and efforts to influence politics ever since. That’s one reason politicians, the media, and other supporters of campaign finance laws don’t hesitate to sic the IRS on groups that they believe are speaking “too much.”

Here’s the takeaway: Equality of speech and freedom of speech are opposites. The question is, which are we going to choose?

Image: albund/Shutterstock.com

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The Disease Killing Canadian Health Care

Sat, 03/01/2014 - 01:56

Next Tuesday, March 4, I’ll be speaking at the University of Toronto. The event is titled “The Disease Killing Canadian Health Care.” Here’s the description:

Canada’s health care system is broken. Ever-increasing wait times for medical procedures, shortages of doctors and nurses, and wavering quality are just a few of the problems plaguing the system. Conventional solutions have been tried and have failed. Join Rituparna Basu, an analyst at the Ayn Rand Institute, for a discussion and Q&A on why Canada’s medical system is ailing and what’s really needed to fix it.

The event begins at 7 p.m. ET. If you plan to attend, please stop by to say hello. For more information, visit the event website.

Image: Matthew Benoit/Shutterstock.com

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Ayn Rand and the argument from depravity

Fri, 02/28/2014 - 13:00

In a recent column for Townhall.com, Mike Adams urges people to read Ayn Rand’s fiction. In the course of the column, which is well worth reading, Adams notes almost as an aside:

As a Christian, I reject a good bit of what Ayn Rand has to say. She defends capitalism eloquently but fails to understand exactly why it works better than socialism or communism. That reason, of course, is rooted in the Judeo-Christian idea of man as a fallen being. Man, by nature, is desirous of competition. He must try to best his neighbor and, therefore, cannot function in a system based on the idea of taking from each according to his ability and giving to each according to his need.

Obviously I agree with Adams that people should read Rand’s fiction. But I think his column illustrates why it’s so valuable to read her non-fiction as well. Because it turns out that Rand does not “fail to understand” that the success of capitalism “is rooted in the Judeo-Christian idea of man as a fallen being.” Rather she considers that notion and rejects it.

In the essay “Conservatism: An Obituary,” in her book Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal, Rand labels the “fallen man” argument “the argument from depravity.”

This argument runs as follows: since men are weak, fallible, non-omniscient and innately depraved, no man may be entrusted with the responsibility of being a dictator and of ruling everybody else; therefore, a free society is the proper way of life for imperfect creatures. Please grasp fully the implications of this argument: since men are depraved, they are not good enough for a dictatorship; freedom is all that they deserve; if they were perfect, they would be worthy of a totalitarian state.

Conservatives, she continues:

concede that socialism is the ideal, but human nature is unworthy of it; after which, they invite men to crusade for capitalism—a crusade one would have to start by spitting in one’s own face. Who will fight and die to defend his status as a miserable sinner? If, as a result of such theories, people become contemptuous of “conservatism,” do not wonder and do not ascribe it to the cleverness of the socialists.

That strikes me as a devastating analysis—particularly when you contrast the argument from depravity with Rand’s own argument for capitalism. From the same essay:

If you want to want to fight for capitalism, there is only one type of argument that you should adopt, the only one that can ever win in a moral issue: the argument from self-esteem. This means: the argument from man’s right to exist—from man’s inalienable individual right to his own life.

So, here’s my question for Adams and other conservatives: How would you respond to Rand’s analysis of the argument from depravity?

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Obama: Buy health insurance because this cute kitten says so

Thu, 02/27/2014 - 17:03

In Investor’s Business Daily, Sally Pipes writes about the government’s latest attempts to convince young people to buy health insurance:

President Obama hasn’t been able to convince young Americans to sign up for insurance coverage through his health reform law’s exchanges. So he’s enlisting the help of two new groups he hopes young adults won’t ignore — kittens and celebrities.

Enroll America, a nonprofit aligned with the Obama administration and led by many of its alumni, just launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign featuring cats, dogs and birds saying things like: “If you really love me like you say, get yourself health insurance today.”

The likes of Magic Johnson and Will Ferrell, meanwhile, have filmed videos for the White House touting ObamaCare.

As Yaron Brook and I wrote last month, the reason for this desperate attempt is that a central goal of Obamacare is to institute a scheme by which older, less healthy Americans are able to free ride on those younger and healthier for their medical expenses. Read more, here.

Image: Lev Savitskiy/Shutterstock.com

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Journo to speak on Iranian threat [event]

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 23:36

“The Iranian Time Bomb: The Threat to America and the West” will be the topic of ARI fellow Elan Journo’s talk this Thursday, February 27, kicking off the Redlands (California) Townhall speaker series for 2014.

From an online notice in the Redlands Daily Facts:

Journo is a fellow and director of policy research at the Ayn Rand Institute and author of “Winning the Unwinnable War: America’s Self-Crippled Response to Islamic Totalitarianism.” His work has appeared in Foreign Policy and the Journal of International Security Affairs and in newspapers.

He has briefed congressional staffers and has spoken at numerous campuses, including Stanford University, UC Berkeley, UCLA, USC, New York University and the U.S. Naval Academy.

Also speaking at the Thursday program will be Assemblyman Mike Morrell, a candidate for the California state Senate, and Paul Chabot, a recently announced candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Details concerning location, time, and cost are available here.

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John David Lewis: There is no right to health care

Tue, 02/25/2014 - 13:00

The late John David Lewis, a scholar and life-long champion of Ayn Rand’s ideas, has had an article posthumously published in a new medical ethics textbook. In the article, titled “There Is No ‘Right’ to Healthcare,” Dr. Lewis writes:

The greatest motivation behind calls for government control of medicine today may be found in the idea that medical care is an individual right, to be provided by the state. Such a claim is powerful precisely because it is moral in nature; it demands that doctors, other medical professionals, and taxpayers accept the moral duty to provide medical care to others because they need it. As Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi put it, on the night the vote was taken to pass the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, so-called “Obamacare”:

“Today we have the opportunity to complete the great unfinished business of our society and pass health insurance reform for all Americans that is a right and not a privilege.”

If medical care is a right, then every member of the medical profession is bound—and may be required by law—to provide such care, at terms set by the government, whether they agree or not. Further, every citizen of means will be bound to finance such care for others, through taxation. But is this moral claim correct? Those who oppose such government interventions generally see medical care not as a right, but as a personal responsibility for each individual, to be purchased voluntarily from wiling producers. If so, then no one may properly demand medical services as a right—or be coerced into providing such services.

These two positions are in deep conflict in America today. This essay will expand upon each, and show they are founded upon diametrically opposed views of individual rights, which are at moral and conceptual odds with each other.

The idea that medical care is a right has shaped views about what the government’s role should be in the health care industry. American health care today is mostly controlled by the government. A major reason is that people hold medical care not as a good to be earned by one’s own efforts but an entitlement to be provided to some at the expense of others. Dr. Lewis’s contribution to this debate is welcome.

The textbook in which Dr. Lewis’s essay appears can be purchased, here.

(Leonard Peikoff, Ayn Rand’s long-time associate, has also commented on this topic, here.)

Image: Matthew Benoit/Shutterstock.com

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Is the welfare state just?

Mon, 02/24/2014 - 22:58

 On April 1, I’m going to be debating University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Howard Schweber on the morality of the welfare state. You can find out more at the event’s Facebook page, including how to livestream the debate.

Until then, here’s a promo video that ARI and The Undercurrent put together for “Is the Welfare State Just?”

“Is the Welfare State Just?”: An Interview with Don Watkins. from The Undercurrent on Vimeo.

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Tom Perkins, the “One Percent,” and vilification of business

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 00:46

Recently, Tom Perkins, the legendary venture capitalist from Silicon Valley, was harshly criticized for his comments regarding the vilification of the so-called “one percent.” Perceiving “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” Mr. Perkins went on comparing it to the vilification of the Jews by the Nazis and insinuating the “one percent” might face their own “Kristallnacht” as a result of “‘progressive’ radicalism.” This remark was met with almost universal outrage.

The reference to “Kristallnacht” was unfortunate, and Perkins has expressed regret over the use of that term. But Perkins was on to an essential truth here about how businessmen are viewed: Aren’t businessmen disproportionally portrayed as criminals by Hollywood? Doesn’t Obama target “millionaires and billionaires” in his rhetoric—as if it’s a moral crime to make money? Doesn’t Obama accuse those “at the top” for making life increasingly miserable for the “99%” by “taking” a larger “share” of “the national income”?

About 50 years ago, Ayn Rand made this observation about the same basic issue:

Every ugly, brutal aspect of injustice toward racial or religious minorities is being practiced toward businessmen… Every movement that seeks to enslave a country, every dictatorship or potential dictatorship, needs some minority group as a scapegoat which it can blame for the nation’s troubles and use as a justification of its own demands for dictatorial powers. In Soviet Russia, the scapegoat was the bourgeoisie; in Nazi Germany, it was the Jewish people; in America, it is the businessmen. (“America’s Prosecuted Minority: Big Business,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.)

Image: minifilm/Shutterstock.com

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Money, speech, and freedom

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 21:52

One of the great myths of the 20th century is that the government can control our economic lives, but still somehow preserve our political and intellectual freedom.

Ayn Rand spent a good deal of time exploding this myth. As she pointed out, true freedom requires not only the freedom to think and communicate with others, but the freedom to act on our own judgment. Restricting freedom in either area will necessarily restrict freedom in the other. If government restricts our right to free speech it will end up restricting our ability to learn and think and thus to earn a living and make sensible choices in the marketplace. But the converse is also true. If government controls our economic choices it will end up restricting our intellectual freedom as well. If you doubt that, consider how freedom of speech or the press would fare if the government controlled all the paper, printing presses, computers, and broadcasting facilities. (Something like this is happening in Venezuela right now.)

As Rand famously put the point in her essay For the New Intellectual, “Intellectual freedom cannot exist without political freedom; political freedom cannot exist without economic freedom; a free mind and a free market are corollaries.”

I can’t think of a better illustration that Ayn Rand was right on this point than the campaign finance laws. The purpose of these laws is to limit people’s ability to influence candidates and elections by limiting their ability to fund political campaigns. But that’s not possible without also restricting what campaigns produce, which is speech. It’s also not possible to confine the impact of the laws to candidates. For example, until the Supreme Court struck them down in Citizens United, the laws prevented corporations from spending money on their own ads during campaigns. Since then, the IRS has tried to fill the void by pursuing nonprofits for spending too much money on political speech. If you accept the idea that we should restrict the money that helps campaigns or influences elections, you will necessarily have to restrict money spent by anyone that has the same effect.

That applies to the news media as well. In fact, the only reason the campaign finance laws don’t apply to the media is that Congress exempted them. But as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal shows, the media exemption isn’t always what it was cracked up to be. According to Lee Goodman, current chairman of the Federal Election Commission, the FEC recently investigated a television station for airing a debate that included only two candidates out of three who were running. The libertarian candidate, who was left out, complained that the station was playing favorites. The FEC’s staff recommended that the station not get the benefit of the media exemption because it wasn’t being neutral enough. Under this view, the station was just helping the candidates who participated get elected, so the program amounted to an illegal contribution to their campaigns. The FEC ended up rejecting the staff’s recommendation, so the station is safe—for now. But Goodman’s point is that bureaucrats should not be second-guessing media’s editorial judgments at all.

He’s right, of course. But the broader point is that government should not be interfering with or restricting anyone’s speech. If we want to stop that from happening—and prevent it from getting worse—we should heed Ayn Rand’s advice and start taking our freedom seriously.

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“Trader Joe’s shrugged”

Fri, 02/21/2014 - 21:16

That’s the headline of an editorial in the Orange County Register about Trader Joe’s decision not to build a store in a depressed neighborhood outside Portland, Ore. Apparently, an activist group opposed the popular food store’s presence because, in the group’s words, it would “increase the desirability of the neighborhood to nonoppressed populations.” The group demanded that Trader Joe’s allow the community a measure of control over its business decisions as a condition of being allowed to build its store. Trader Joe’s refused.

Here’s how the Orange County Register put the issue:

[The group] wanted to extract tribute from the developers and businesses in order to further advance its social and political agenda. It is almost like a scene from Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” where the unproductive members of society increasingly feed off of the productive members until the producers decide they have had enough. And, just as in the novel, Trader Joe’s shrugged.

You can read the editorial here.

Image:  fauxto_digit via Compfight

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In nuclear talks, Iran turns the tables

Wed, 02/19/2014 - 18:24

The nuclear talks with Iran, which resumed this week, are premised on the claim that supposedly “all options” remain on the table for halting Tehran’s nuclear program, if negotiations flop. That would imply that Washington and its partners have made that threat credible, that they shape the terms of these (in my view, misbegotten) negotiations, that they define certain red lines. And more: you might also suppose that Iran feels itself blessed to be invited to a seat at the table.

Tehran instead appears to be humoring us, while running down the clock.

Signaling its perspective, with the nuance of a wrecking ball, Tehran has come out with a video glamorizing its military capabilities. Missiles shoot up into the sky, then blow lots of stuff to bits, in sync with a soaring musical soundtrack. The video’s message is that Iran feels up to the job of fending off airborne attacks on its nuclear facilities. Naturally, like a trailer for a videogame, it ends with a chest-thumping tagline: “We shall trample on the U.S.”

Back at the negotiations in Vienna, observe who’s shaping the terms and tracing out  a red line. According to Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araghchi, the talks have started well, but “to us, what has been announced as dismantling Iran’s program and facilities is not on the agenda.” Ultimately, the negotiations “will lead nowhere,” said Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, but he said that he would not block them. How magnanimous.

The Iranian regime has arrogated to itself a position of strength. We’ve let it. For years.

* * *

An aside: I highly recommend Dancing with the Devil by Michael Rubin, published this month. Diplomacy with “rogue” regimes like Tehran, Rubin argues, can be enormously destructive. A highlight of the book is an excellent chapter on the history of negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran—and how they emboldened that regime.

Image: Filip Bjorkman/Shutterstock.com

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Freedom is slavery, up is down, right is wrong . . . and Obamacare is wonderful

Tue, 02/18/2014 - 23:07

There’s an old Doonesbury cartoon that features a college professor lecturing to a hall filled with students who seem ready to accept anything he says as gospel. As his statements become increasingly incendiary with no reaction from them, he finally blurts out, “Jefferson was the antichrist! Democracy is Fascism! Black is white! Night is Day!” The students continue scribbling away, with one turning to another and saying, “Boy this course is really getting interesting.”

I thought of this when I read the reaction from the left to the CBO report that claims Obamacare will lead to 2.5 million people working less or leaving the workforce by 2024. The claim is based on the fact that subsidies for health insurance decrease as income goes up, so many people will choose to work less or not at all in order to keep the subsidies. Casey Mulligan, the University of Chicago economist whose work influenced the CBO prediction, put the point in simple terms to the Wall Street Journal: “when you pay people for being low income you are going to have more low income people.”

As David Harsanyi wryly points out, there was a time when it would have been considered a bad thing for government to discourage work. Alas, times have changed.

Commentators on the left responded almost in unison, not to deny the report’s claim, but to celebrate it. It’s a good thing that this will happen, they argue, because now those people will have the freedom to stop working without worrying that they might lose their health insurance. That this “freedom” is being subsidized by taxpayers who are forced to pay for it doesn’t seem to faze any of these people.

Many conservatives find this attitude outrageous, and I agree. But I’m not surprised by it. For starters, it isn’t the first time supporters of Obamacare have reacted to a negative consequence of the law by claiming that it’s positive. When the President’s claim that we would be able to keep our insurance plans turned out to be false, supporters were undeterred. That was supposed to happen, they said. The policies you had before were subpar. You should be happy the President lied to you.

More fundamentally, restricting choice, forcing us to support others, and creating incentives for people not to work are inherent in Obamacare and all welfare programs. When people claim that a market isn’t working, they mean they don’t like the choices people are making and want to forcibly override them. When they claim government should support those in need, that necessarily means taxpayers should be forced to support people who aren’t supporting themselves. Some of the people who choose not to work because of Obamacare may be making rational choices given their alternatives. But the fact remains that Obamacare and all welfare programs create perverse incentives.

All of these consequences follow logically from the welfare state and its underlying premise, which is the idea that we are our brothers’ keepers. It shouldn’t surprise us that the most committed supporters of welfare are starting to look like the students in the Doonesbury cartoon—ready to accept any consequence no matter how absurd it seems. We’ve known for decades that welfare programs forcibly override private choices and create perverse incentives. Maybe the surprising thing is that anyone still thinks these consequences are unintended.

As Ayn Rand once said, “The uncontested absurdities of today are the accepted slogans of tomorrow. They come to be accepted by degrees, by dint of constant pressure on one side and constant retreat on the other—until one day when they are suddenly declared to be the country’s official ideology. That is the way welfare statism came to be accepted in this country.”

Image: faithie/Shutterstock.com

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Do GMOs have to save the world? (#GMOMonday)

Mon, 02/17/2014 - 13:00

A recent article by an opponent-turned-defender takes a common tack in embracing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). “The motivation behind GMOs is simple,” the author states. “We need a way to provide good nutrition for the world’s population.” This sentiment echoes ads from ten years ago that featured flourishing crops, smiling children, and a prediction that “biotech foods could help end world hunger.”

But from my own experience in speaking about GMOs (and Golden Rice in particular), I know to expect retorts along the lines of “it’s not going to solve world hunger” or it’s “not a silver bullet.” Writer Michael Pollen puts it this way: “I am willing to get behind a GM product that offers the world something great, but I’m not at all sure this is the killer app everyone thinks it is.”

But do GMOs have to be handsome superheroes that can end world hunger in order to be desirable crops?


GMOs should not be held to impossible standards or justified with lofty world-saving promises—their proven, real-world value is enough to judge them by. Millions of farmers have planted millions of acres of genetically modified crops over the past fifteen years. Varieties of corn, soybean and cotton engineered to resist common herbicides or the insects that plague them have resulted in more lush crops that are easier to grow and tend. These have been so popular with American farmers that 90% of all corn and 93% of all soybeans grown in the United States last year were genetically engineered. Since the first commercially grown GMO seeds were pushed into the dirt in 1997, an estimated 3 trillion meals containing biotech ingredients have been eaten.

Varieties of staple crops meant to withstand the myriad of stresses in the field are making a huge positive impact on farmer’s livelihoods across the world. In India, strains of cotton engineered to resist cotton borers single-handedly increased farmers’ bottom lines by $3.2 billion in 2011. Chinese farmers saw an increase of $2.2 billion that year, and together with Indian farmers, they planted a total area of GM cotton that could completely cover the state of Illinois.

When disease attacks, genetic engineering is a tool that plant scientists are reaching for more frequently. In Hawaii, a papaya cleverly borrowing a gene from a devastating virus rejuvenated that state’s papaya industry. A breed of disease-resistant squash has been in the ground in the United States since 2004, and plum-pox resistant plum trees stand ready in case the virus becomes an uncontrollable problem. Scientists are experimenting with GM technology to fortify bananas against a destructive wilt disease and oranges against citrus greening.

Plant geneticist Dr. Channapatna Prakash isn’t lying when he says that bioengineered crops “have become the most rapidly adopted agricultural technology in the history of mankind.” And they did all that in less than two decades.

It’s true that no insect-resistant corn cob, yellow rice grain or disease-free papaya will fly around the world stopping killer asteroids and fighting crime. But that’s okay, I’ll take GMOs without the cape and tights.

image: Danomyte/shutterstock.com

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Google yields to threats from EU antitrust czar

Fri, 02/14/2014 - 20:11

To better understand the European Union’s recent antitrust attack on Google, imagine this scenario:

You own a successful plumbing business—call it Paul the Plumber—in a medium-sized city. You maintain a fleet of twenty trucks, each emblazoned with Paul the Plumber’s logo, phone number, and website. Everywhere these trucks go, their signage generates new business. Then one day a bureaucrat from the local plumbing board comes calling. “Your competitors are complaining about your trucks,” he says. “It’s not fair to them—you’re a big successful business, but they only have one or two trucks each. They need more advertising to grow their businesses. So unless you want to lose your license, here’s what’s going to happen. Next week, sign painters are going to come in and repaint the right panel of all your trucks, so instead of advertising Paul the Plumber they’ll carry ads for your competitors.”

Welcome to the world of antitrust law, which punishes the world’s most successful companies for being successful. The EU’s competition czar recently announced that Google (under threat of a $6 billion fine) will be forced to yield space on its European search results pages for competitors’ ads.

So let’s say you’re a Londoner searching for a flatscreen TV. A search today might yield five choices prominently displayed near the top of the page, all offered through Google’s proprietary online shopping service. But once the tentative settlement is approved, that same search will show three competitors’ TVs, with photos, right next to Google’s offerings.

Will this surrender to irresistible government coercion put Google out of business overnight? Of course not. But what’s being destroyed is awareness that Google’s search results pages are its private property. Those pages are “web real estate” whose value stems from Google’s brilliantly engineered search engine. Only because users launch more than two trillion searches yearly can Google make big profits through selling ads targeted at those users.

Government has no right to dictate what appears on those pages. It’s not as if Google is guilty of some fraud, breach of contract, or theft for which reparations must be made. The company’s only “crime” is being so good at what it does that rivals can’t keep up.

Image: antb/Shutterstock.com

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Labor Secretary: “We can’t wait for every employer to see the light.”

Thu, 02/13/2014 - 19:07

In one of the latest ploys to gain sympathy for raising the minimum wage, Obama administration officials are pretending that this will be uniformly good for every business. “Higher wages means higher loyalty and morale, which means higher productivity, which means a more profitable business,” says Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez in a recent op-ed arguing for Congress to raise the minimum wage to $10.10. “But we can’t wait for every employer to see the light,” says Perez, pretending that he needs to force businesses to pay higher wages for their own good. So, in other words, when it comes to wages, most business owners are not thinking about their bottom lines enough according to the Obama Administration.

It is clearly not true that every business will be better off if it pays at least $10.10 per hour. Some businesses don’t have a need to reduce employee turnover and are better off spending the money elsewhere. Others may not be able to afford to pay higher wages. Dolores Riley is one such business owner. She owns and operates Gramma’s School House Childcare and Learning Center in Cinnaminson, New Jersey, employing 16 people. The State of New Jersey already forced her to spend an additional $10,000 to $15,000 in payroll expenses—which are now 80 percent of her operating income—by raising the state-wide minimum wage to $8.25 per hour. “This really scares me,” Riley tells the New York Times, adding, “I hope I don’t have to close.” What will happen to Riley if Congress raises the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?

Riley is just one example but there are countless restaurant owners, store owners, small manufacturing firm owners, and the like who will be squeezed if the government makes it illegal for them to continue to employ individuals for less than $10.10 per hour.

If officials such as Perez want to raise the minimum wage, they should not turn a blind eye to the many entrepreneurs and business owners who will be saddled with a costly new burden by their policies.

Image: Monkey Business Images/Shutterstock.com

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The joy of football, Super Bowl edition

Sat, 02/01/2014 - 17:45

It’s been a few years since I wrote this op-ed on the value of spectator sports, but the message is still timely, especially with the Super Bowl approaching. An excerpt:

Ultimately, sporting events like football’s Super Bowl offer a microcosmic vision of what “real life” could, and should, be like.

In a society that increasingly rewards weakness and failure, sports fans appreciate that each athlete has to earn his way onto the field by proving his superior ability, and that physical and mental handicaps will be recognized for what they are—obstacles to be overcome on the road to achievement, not values in their own right.

In a nation whose laws are increasingly arbitrary, sports fans look forward to spending time in a world where the rules are explicit, known in advance by all participants, and fair to everyone.

In a culture that preaches the deadening duty of self-sacrifice and service to others, sports fans love to turn on the TV and immerse themselves in an exciting, suspenseful contest for no purpose other than their own personal enjoyment.

In a world of life-and-death conflicts, spectator sports give us a “time-out”—an opportunity to relax and celebrate human skill, dedication, and success in a spirit of simple joy.

Read the whole thing here.

Image: Daniel Padavona/Shutterstock.com

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Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand

Fri, 01/31/2014 - 18:42

This Sunday is Ayn Rand’s birthday (she was born February 2, 1905).

In honor of Rand’s birthday, Americans for Tax Reform is giving away eight of her books — all the fiction, plus her two courses on writing fiction and non-fiction — to the winner of a drawing. Enter here. And Happy Birthday, Ayn Rand!

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Pick up those Ayn Rand books

Thu, 01/30/2014 - 20:12

Date: January 8, 2014. Place: Floor of the U.S. Senate. Speaker: Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty” speech: “I say to my conservative friends, put down those Ayn Rand books for a minute and take a look at the real world,” said the Democratic majority whip. “If we can’t stand behind those who are struggling in life, who are we; what are we?”

When I read Durbin’s remarks, my first reaction was frustration: “If only the Republicans were reading and understanding Ayn Rand’s ideas—but they’re not.” I mean, you only have to look back to the last election, when vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan was deemed an Ayn Rand clone just because he was honest enough to say she had inspired him with good arguments for free enterprise. In reality, however, as Ayn Rand Institute spokesmen pointed out, Ryan is definitely no Ayn Rand when it comes to Social Security, the federal budget, foreign policy (see here and here), or any other significant issue.

But if my first response to Durbin was frustration, my second was a certain sense of satisfaction. Our mission at the Ayn Rand Institute is to bring Rand’s powerful, original thinking into key debates over America’s future. That mission gets much easier when the main players recognize whose arguments stand in the way of their ever-expanding political power.

What buoys my spirits is not only that the proponents of big government recognize Rand as their enemy, but also that they realize it’s too late to exclude her ideas from the debate. Too many millions of people are aware, on some level, that Atlas Shrugged offers a real alternative to the stale pseudo-choices offered by the two major parties.

While Durbin postures as the friend of “those who are struggling in life,” and Republicans apologetically appease that sentiment with “social safety nets,” only Rand advances a moral defense of the self-responsible achiever who refuses to see himself as a helpless victim in need of government handouts.

Durbin asks “who are we; what are we?” I say we are Americans—sovereign individuals with the right to pursue personal happiness. If we’re ever going to understand what it takes to defend that right, we can’t afford to “put down those Ayn Rand books.”

Image: the-undercurrent.com

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New Paper: The Broken State of Health Insurance Before Obamacare [podcast episode #12]

Wed, 01/22/2014 - 18:51

The Pacific Research Institute has published a new paper by me, titled “The Broken State of American Health Insurance Prior to the Affordable Care Act: A Market Rife with Government Distortion.”

The article challenges the assumption that the pre-Obamacare health insurance market was mostly free of government intervention. I illustrate how, for decades, health insurance has been controlled by government in almost every aspect, and I explore the impact some of these regulations have had.

From the article’s intro:

[T]he health insurance industry is the shark that swims just below the water, and you don’t see that shark until you feel the teeth of that shark.
—Senator Jay Rockefeller, February 2010

It was sentiments like these that President Obama’s signature legislation addresses. One of the main goals of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, signed into law on March 23, 2010, is to control health insurance, an industry plagued with problems, all of which supposedly share a common diagnosis.

At the White House health summit, at which Rockefeller made the above comment, he continued (mixing metaphors), “Nobody has particular oversight of [health insurers]. . . . They can do what they want . . . . [Y]ou have to go at them to clip their wings in every way that you can.” He repeated, “This is a rapacious industry that does what it wants.

Read the whole paper here.

I was also interviewed on this topic by ARI’s Amanda Maxham for Eye to Eye. Among the issues we discuss:

  • how government caused the pre-existing condition problem
  • why almost 90 million Americans who think they have health insurance actually don’t
  • how government wrecked New York’s health insurance market in the early 1990s

Listen to the podcast below.

Photo Credit: StockMonkeys.com via Compfight cc

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