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Summer Reading

Politics

Free Speech and Property Rights

Free speech is a fundamental right of man – and a critical one to a free society. The national debate over war in Iraq is just the latest example of this country's commitment to the freedom of speech. Of all the Amendments, the First is probably the most widely-recognized. Yet although every citizen knows the phrase "freedom of speech," the past year has shown that many do not understand its definition.

A year ago this month, President Bush signed into law the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002. Campaign finance reform rests on the faulty assumption that free speech is separate from and superior to property rights. It attempts to lend legal weight to this misinterpretation (a cynic might call it a perversion) of the First Amendment by regulating the use of private property for political purposes.

Freedom of speech and of the press derives from property rights (including self-ownership, from which all rights derive). Say I own a newspaper. I can print any political opinion I want. I can demand any amount for a political advertisement, and I can refuse to print speech I disagree with. I can print as many copies of my paper as I want (I'm only limited by the amount of money I can spend, and by the cost of printing). I'm exercising my right to free speech. If the government forces me to accept an advertisement I would have rejected, or regulates the number of copies I can print, it's infringing on my rights. Freedom of speech does not mean that another person is entitled to the use of my property for their speech, or that I may print only a certain amount of speech. It means that the government cannot regulate the use of my property for presenting my ideas.

Property rights protect free speech not only from government infringement but also from infringement by other citizens. Two years ago, David Horowitz published an ad against reparations for slavery in several campus newspapers. Some printed the ad, but many rejected it. Simply by deciding whether to print the ad, the newspapers were exercising their rights. Some opponents of the ad decided that the best way to express themselves was to steal copies of the papers. The same thing happened last October when Leonard Piekoff ran an ad suggesting that the U.S. fight terrorism by overthrowing the Iranian government. The thieves were, however crudely, expressing their opinion. Yet in doing so, they were infringing on the free speech and property rights of others.

Consider the recent destruction by anti-war protesters of the 9/11 memorial in Whittier, CA. Citizens had constructed the memorial along a fence, with the consent of the owner, shortly after the attacks. Anti-war protesters (showing their true colors as anti-American protesters) recently vandalized the memorial. The police noticed, but did nothing. Whittier Daily News quotes Capt. John Rees as saying that the protesters were "exercising the same freedom of speech that the people who put up the flags were."

No, it's not "the same freedom of speech." The people who put up the flags did so with the support of the owner of the property. They and the owner of the property were exercising their right to free speech. The vandals clearly did not have the permission of the property owner. By infringing on the property rights of the owner, they were not exercising their rights, but infringing on the rights of the property owner and of the people who put up the flags with his permission. The owner, Jeff Collison, explained it nicely: "Their free speech ends at destruction of private property. If they are allowed to come on my property and burn flags, does that mean I can go to City Hall or the police station and light their flags on fire because that is freedom of speech? To me, this is vandalism."

If the First Amendment absolutely protected every action that could express an opinion, then every criminal would plead the First. Clearly, the First Amendment gives no such protection. The First Amendment is an absolute limit on government ("Congress shall make no law..."), not an absolute right to express oneself without regard to the rights of others. Such a "right" would be absurd, and not a right at all. A "right" to violate another's rights is a contradiction in terms.

Campaign finance reformers either do not understand, or choose to ignore, this simple logic. They believe that by infringing on the property rights (which, in reality, are the source of free speech rights) of some citizens, they can allow other citizens to exercise their "right" to free speech, by which they mean, their right to speak without regard to the rights of others. They try to separate property rights from the freedom speech, as if property somehow corrupted the virtue of free speech. In fact, by separating the two, they are destroying both. Speech is free, in the proper political sense, only as long as the people, the papers, the radio and television stations, are free – in short, as long as the rights of every person are protected.

Free Speech and Property Rights Links

Pharmacies Strike Back Against Anti-Business Legislation in Massachusetts

Pharmacies are finally striking back against government attacks on their businesses. Medical companies have long been the victims of government regulations, particularly in the form of price caps. Politicians claim that high drug prices are the result of greed on the part of drug companies because the marginal cost of the drugs (i.e., the cost of producing more of the drug once it's been developed) is relatively low. What they don't mention, however, is that it costs a lot to develop a drug. This cost must be passed on to the consumers, or the drug companies will lose money and won't develop any new drugs. But to win popular support, politicians have put price caps on drugs (or just don't pay the full price when paying for drugs for government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid in the U.S., or, in more socialist countries (such as France, for example), fully nationalized health care. Price caps on drugs in France and other countries have forced prices up in the U.S., which is essentially free of price caps. In Massachusetts, however, Acting Governor Jane Swift decided to sign legislation that will hurt Medicaid recipients and other prescription drug users alike.

The legislation would reduce the amount paid for prescription drugs to 2% below the "wholesale acquisition cost." That means pharmacies would not only not make money on the drugs sold to Medicaid recipients; they would lose it. The legislation also penalizes anyone buying prescription drugs without Medicaid by imposing an extra fee on their prescriptions. So not only are pharmacies expected to lose money, but now buying prescription drugs without government subsidies is to be discouraged by extra fees.

Fortunately, pharmacies are striking back. CVS announced that it would stop participating in Medicaid, and other major pharmacies are considering the options. It's about time companies responded to these anti-business and, ultimately, anti-consumer government policies. Profit is the incentive for developing new technologies – including new drugs. If companies are forced by the government to operate at a loss, they will stop developing new drugs and even producing and distributing current drugs. Instead, the government should stop interfering with the free market and allow the pursuit of profit to improve medical technology while competition drives down prices.

Massachusetts Medicaid Legislation Links

Bush Stands Firm on Welfare Reform

Bush is standing firm on welfare reform. In a speech on July 29, he stood by his proposal to require welfare recipients to work 40 hours per week. Sixteen of those can be spent to learn new skills. By requiring welfare recipients to actually do work, and by encouraging them to learn new skills, Bush's proposal will continue the welfare reform started in 1996, encouraging people to move up rather than stay on welfare. Since 1996, welfare reform has helped 4.7 million Americans move off of welfare dependency and reduced the poverty rate from 13.7% to 11.3%.

Welfare Reform Links

Review: The Fountainhead

Ayn Rand's classic, The Fountainhead, is a brilliant defense of individualism and denouncement of collectivism. It details the tribulations – and eventual triumph – of a brilliant architect (Howard Roark) in the face of a culture of mediocrity championed by arch-villain Ellsworth Toohey.

Toohey is a collectivist. As a columnist for the Banner (a newspaper which, until the end of the novel, has not a shred of integrity, for the appeasement of the masses is its only maxim) he influences a large audience of "second-handers" who, like the Banner, derive their sense of self-worth entirely from the opinions of others, not from their accomplishments and personal integrity, for they have neither: rather than think for themselves, they copy others. They endorse imitation as a great virtue, and condemn independent thought. Popular opinion, whatever that might be, becomes their opinion. And Toohey controls public opinion.

Toohey declares that no man is great enough individually to design a great building. After all, two heads must be better than one. And all the good styles of architecture have been discovered already. A well-designed building can either be an imitation of an already-discovered style or a motley combination of several; it can't be original. And besides that, a building should be designed to serve the masses. Therefore, it is the architect's job to give the masses what they want: not innovation, for that would be selfish, but imitation. Toohey promotes mediocre architects like Peter Keating in an attempt to expurgate individual greatness from the public's perception, replacing it with mediocre imitation.

Roark is an egoist. He designs buildings for his own enjoyment, not for the benefit of others; although others do benefit from his work, they are not his primary concern. He refuses to submit to the will of others: while the majority insist on imitation, Roark will accept nothing less than his innovation. His condition for all of his work is that he designs his buildings his way, and that once his designs are accepted, they are built without modification. Therefore, despite Roark's superlative architectural skill, he struggles to find contracts in the society Toohey controls, the society of "second-handers."

My favorite scene is Roark's defense of egoism in chapter 18 of part four. He presents a very extensive, logical, and straightforward argument explaining the basics of Rand's philosophy of egoism (Objectivism). While the whole argument is difficult to summarize without losing a lot of the details, it contains many quotes that I'm sure I'll find useful in political debates.

Review: The Seven Myths of Gun Control

I recently read The Seven Myths of Gun Control by Richard Poe. In it, Poe debunks seven myths that gun grabbers have used to infringe on our unalienable right to keep and bear arms. His argument is extremely logical and packed with information, and also easy and enjoyable to read.

Poe exposes gun control for what it is: not a tool for defending the populace, but one for stripping them of their ability to defend themselves. When oppressive dictators come to power, one of the first things they do is disarm the populace. He presents many examples of this trend, from the "Sword Hunt" conducted in 1588 by Japanese warlord Hideyoshi to keep down the peasants (60-61), to the disarmament of slaves by slaveholders and that of Jews by the Nazis (51). Even when gun control has not resulted in crimes on the scale of the Holocaust or slavery, it has caused crime to skyrocket. Crime has drastically increased with stricter gun control laws in Britain and Australia. Take Australia, for example, where most guns were banned after a mass shooting in 1996:

In the two years following the gun ban, armed robberies rose by 73 percent, unarmed robberies by 28 percent, kidnappings by 38 percent, assaults by 17 percent, and manslaughter by 29 percent, according to figures that appeared on the Web site of the Australian Bureau of Statistics in January 2000. (100)

Compare this to the example set by Switzerland, where there is required militia service. Every soldier "keeps a Sturmgewehr 90 assault rifle with ammunition in his closet" (66) and may keep his assault rifle even after retiring from active duty (72). The threat of having to face a heavily armed populace prevented Kaiser Wilhelm II in World War I and Hitler in World War II from attacking Switzerland. Yet despite the abundance of firearms in Switzerland, the murder rate is much lower than it is "in England, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand" (74).

This book packs the logical and informative firepower to soundly defeat the illogic and disinformation put out by the gun grabbers. It also includes an epilogue on the Left's war against manhood. It's an excellent read, and I highly recommend it.

Social Security Should Go

Say an investment company took a certain percentage of your paycheck each year, whether you liked it or not. It promises you that when you retire, it will pay back the money it took plus slightly more than enough interest to compensate for inflation. "What, a company forcing me to invest my money with them? How dare they! They can't do that!" you think. Yet this is exactly what the government does with Social Security. It takes a certain percentage of your paycheck before you even see it (your employer withholds it), and then it forces you to pay a certain percentage of the income you have left.

Not only do you not have the option of keeping your money and spending or investing it as you choose; under the current system, you can't even tell the government how to invest it for you (President Bush's plan to reform Social Security would allow you to invest part of your Social Security money yourself if you want to). Under the current pay-as-you-go system, your money is immediately spent on current Social Security recipients; politicians merely promise you that when you retire, your Social Security payments will come out of the pockets of taxpayers.

Social Security is an unnecessary entitlement program that is infringing on our freedom. It should be phased out. It is the right of the people to invest for their retirement as they choose.

Social Security Reform Links

The Pickering Nomination: Senate Democrats Slander An Honorable Man

Senate Democrats defeated Judge Pickering's nomination to the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals not through an honest, fair vote in the full Senate, but through an unfair, blatantly partisan refusal in the Senate Judiciary Committee to send the nomination to the full Senate. This came after a standard liberal slander campaign of nearly every hate- and fear-mongering trick in their playbook: false suggestions of racism, of supposed disrespect for basic rights (which to them includes abortion, which Pickering personally opposes, although that has not influenced any of his judicial decisions, nor is there any evidence that he would be "biased" in future decisions), and of a supposedly troubling history of "extremism." Apparently, they don't consider blatantly false suggestions to damage the reputation of an honorable man "extremism." Neither do they consider imposing their will by refusing to allow the full Senate to "advise and consent" on the President's nominees "extremism." (Postscript. See the chapter "Extremism," or The Art of Smearing in Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal.)

An honest comparison of Judge Pickering to the fraudulent portrait liberals have painted of him makes one sick. It is disgusting that anyone would ever portray as a racist a man who sent his children to integrated schools when he had the option of sending them to segregated ones, who helped prosecute Ku Klux Klan when doing so resulted in his defeat in the following election, who is a member of the Institute for Racial Reconciliation at the University of Mississippi, and who has earned the support of African-Americans in his home state, of civil-rights activists (excluding the extreme leftists), and of members of both parties. It is disgusting that anyone would portray as unfit for a seat on the Court of Appeals a man whose record supports his "well-qualified" rating from the American Bar Association (the highest rating the association gives). Anyone who would so slander such an honorable man as Judge Charles Pickering, who would deny him a fair vote, has no sense of justice. Sadly, ten such people sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the very committee that oversees our justice system!

Pickering Nomination Links

Objectivism: The Rational Philosophy

I recently discovered Ayn Rand's Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal in the library. It's a brilliant collection of essays that systematically disproves the pervasive collectivist ideology that has led to ever-expanding government infringing on the people's rights. I highly recommend it. If you think that government-funded social programs and government intervention in the economy are "humanitarian," read it for an explanation of why both are bad. If you already agree that minimal government is the best government and that capitalism is the best economic system, read it for a brilliant argument in favor of your beliefs. I also highly recommend The Fountainhead, also by Ayn Rand. I haven't had a chance to read the novel yet, but the movie was excellent.

On An Open Mind

People who call themselves "open-minded" claim to be willing to accept other people's opinions. Yet, whenever someone presents a contrary opinion, they attack him as "closed-minded" and "seeing everything in black and white." Unfortunately, "open-mindedness" as it is used today usually means not a logical consideration of every possibility, but an illogical adherence to a particular political ideology (in this case, liberalism) and an equally obstinate opposition to every other. Indeed, some are so "open-minded" as to be delusional. Personally, I would rather "see everything in black and white" with open eyes and a "closed mind" than imagine everything with an "open mind" and closed eyes.