"Most of the harm in the world is done by good people, and not by accident, lapse, or omission. It is the result of their deliberate actions, long persevered in, which they hold to be motivated by high ideals toward virtuous ends… …when millions are slaughtered, when torture is practiced, starvation enforced, oppression made a policy, as at present over a large part of the world, and as it has often been in the past, it must be at the behest of very many good people, and even by their direct action, for what they consider a worthy object.” ~ Isabel Patterson
Here we go again. Another day, another Internet call-to-arms! Readers may remember my rant-fest about the Non-Urban Dictate (NUD) e-mail that I got from a buddy of mine. (Interestingly, I'm still getting positive e-mail about that essay.)
This time, I'm responding to a call-to-arms piece I got from my wife, a piece that has been attributed to both Bill Cosby and George Carlin at different times. (Yes, if you're scratching your heads over that one, you're not alone.) The piece, which could easily be categorized as a joke (it is, after all, attributed to a comedian) seems to resonate with people. Unfortunately, it is also sorely lacking in not only basic logic, but also economic understanding. One might ask why it makes sense to do a long-format article about an Internet chain letter joke. The answer is: the thinking that undergirds the humor is widespread. If not, no one would “get” the joke, nor would the piece be sent around so often.
The platform was not penned by either Bill Cosby or George Carlin. (Snopes notes that this piece doesn't really fit either comic's personal style or political leanings. Frankly, I can't see either of them saying half the stuff this platform asserts.) Although the economic logic is flawed, as I said, there are other areas of concern. I'll cite selected platform planks directly, some in more detail than others, with the hope of providing subsequent people who receive this type of stuff with insight, whether they get a good laugh or not. Not surprisingly, other authors have pieces that attack specific flaws in the platform, to which I will link as appropriate. (Certainly I will not include every relevant citation on any one topic, so my apologies to anyone I miss.)
The Horrors of Press u20181' for English…
The platform says:
Any use of the phrase: "Press 1 for English" is immediately banned. English is the official language; speak it or wait outside of our borders until you can.
First of all, English is not the official language of the United States. In fact, the U.S. does not have an official language. (Remember all that land of the free stuff? It goes hand-in-hand with not requiring that one speak a specific language, or pray to a certain idol.) One should never let facts get in the way of a good Internet chain letter though.
Why does this thinking resonate with anyone? Why does it matter? A business, any business wants to increase revenue by increasing customers. An easy way to do this is to cater to (or pander to, if you will) specific traits displayed by a set of customers. Providing a selection for Spanish-language customers is no more (and no less) reasonable than: providing later hours for people who work 9–5; providing Saturday hours for people who work Weekdays; providing a mailing address for people who would prefer to use the U.S. Mail versus show up in person; or, providing an "Express Lane" for people with only a few items in their shopping carts, just to present a few comparable options.
If I said that, effective immediately, anyone who couldn't arrive at my business between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. would be turned away, you'd think I was an idiot, right? At very least if I lost many of my customers it wouldn't be that surprising. The economic law — economics 101 — can be stated thusly: A successful business generally morphs to fit its customer(s) needs, not the other way around. (Businesses do "train" customers, but that's a subtle point.) Any backlash to the availability of alternative language choices is not enlightened; it is racist, plain and simple. Providing options for non-native English speaker is good business, particularly given that Spanish is spoken by approximately 12 percent of the U.S.
No More Imports!
The platform says:
We will immediately go into a two year isolationist attitude in order to straighten out the greedy big business posture in this country. America will allow NO imports, and we’ll do no exports.
That's what I call packing a cornucopia of economic ignorance into a tight space. As Mises states in this recording, the goal of business is to supply as many customers as possible; to fully satisfy as many needs as possible. (FYI: Mises is answering the question: "Are the interests of the American wage earners in conflict with those of their employers, or are the two in agreement?") The greed of big business is no issue, unless the guns of the State help them along. One example and one very basic overarching concept may prove instructive here. The concept is: division of labor.
Let's say, for example, that one thinks "America will accept no imports, and America will provide no exports" is a valid option. Think of the case where one applies this to himself and his next-door neighbor on a desert island. The corollary would be: you'll make everything you need and he'll make everything he needs. (You take this action despite the fact that you might be better at fishing. and he might be better at hunting.) Looking forward, I can make this prediction without feeling one pang of doubt: This arrangement will result in both of you attaining no better standard of living, remaining at a subsistence level.
The economic law — economics 101 — can be stated thusly: Through cooperation and exchange, we can produce more, often much more, than if we work in isolation. When examined through an understanding of comparative advantage — another name for division of labor — the suggestion that we should only use what we can make here is, well, ignorant. By the way, comparative advantage doesn't know anything about fake lines in the sand called borders or made-up abstractions like citizenship, so the economic truth is the same for someone located in India as someone you can see upon the grassy knoll next to your house. Going into an "isolationist attitude to straighten out the greedy big business posture in this country" would result in the rank-and-file having (and not enjoying) a lower standard of living, with no real change in the attitude of big business either way.
The platform continues with:
When imports are allowed, there will be a 100% import tax on it coming in here.
This platform plank might actually be more economically ignorant than the previous one. Who gets the money from an import tax? Why do they deserve it? What service has been provided? If an item is cheaper to buy from Harry than from Stan, imposing a tax on Harry's item does not necessarily hurt Harry, as he could still sell the item to someone else, particularly if one is talking about a worldwide market. Nor does it necessarily help Stan. It hurts the customers of Stan's business, who will now either have to pay much more than they otherwise would for the item they want or continue buying the item they don't want. Either way, the customer loses out. Worse, neither the customer nor Stan will get the "extra" money. Paraphrasing Manuel Ayau from Not a Zero-Sum Game, we could say: "If we had imposed a 100% import tax on the first Toyotas, we could still be driving Tempests!" Stated more rigorously with regard to Austrian economics, the additional cost added to the transaction by the import tax provides no additional benefit or value to either party in the transaction. It is useless overhead, effectively only funding the bureaucracy that accepts the money.
Patrolling the Border
The platform says:
All retired military personnel will be required to man one of the many observation towers located on the southern border of the United States.
The number of people who genuinely feel that it makes sense to forcibly repel "illegal aliens" using an imaginary line in the dirt called a border is amazing. First of all, from the standpoint of simple geography, America is not full, and not close to being full. So, the influx of people, from wherever, will not, in the foreseeable (or I'd argue the distant) future, cause any problems for the U.S. in terms of a place for them to go. Furthermore, even if every person on Earth — all 6.5 billion of them, and counting — moved to Texas, that single state would be about as full as say, Hong Kong, according to some pretty basic computations by someone from Ithaca College.
However, this platform plank is not about geography or population density. It is, similar to the "press 1 for English" complaint, about racism. (It is also a reflection of the sheeple fighting over the crumbs, but maybe I will get to that later.) A few years ago, I co-authored a piece with Molyneux entitled, "Importing Freedom" that was published at Strike-the-Root.com. In that article we asked, "Other than when they got here, what makes immigrants different than the poor [or other inhabitants] we already have?" Of course, the answer is nothing. If it would be immoral to deport those already supposedly draining the system, how can the inefficiency and theft of that system be used as a logical argument against letting others come here simply because they too could end up using it?
Akers and Boudreaux provide additional insight in an article published in the Christian Science Monitor, citing division of labor while ably dismissing the claim that more workers will lead inexorably to less income for those already here. They noted that, "The US work-force has more than doubled since World War II, yet workers’ real total compensation (wages plus benefits) is higher now than ever. Notice that Manhattan’s employees make more money than Mississippi’s."
There is neither a moral nor an economic reason to worry about immigrants entering the U. S. The most basic libertarian ethic, the non-aggression principle, puts the immorality of the anti-immigration paradigm into context. In order to prevent voluntary migration of peoples, one must employ either violence or coercion. Even if the supposed attraction of welfare checks is the raison d’être for this platform plank, Block clears up that concern in "A Libertarian Case for Free Immigration": "Let it be said loudly and clearly: end welfare for all people, but at the very least for immigrants and their descendants, and by definition immigrants will no longer be attracted to our shores in order to receive such funds." I'd bet good money that if welfare ceased to exist, anti-immigration fanatics wouldn't shut up, and that's probably the real message.
Bringing Social Security Back
The platform states:
Social Security will immediately return to its original state. … Neither the President nor any other politician will be able to touch it.
I don't really know if this plank is more a reflection of economic and historical ignorance or a display of a belief in alternate realities. Social Security began as a government scam. It remains a government scam. To which original state should it return? The first recipient of monthly payments, Ida May Fuller, took out much, much, more than she put in, which effectively illustrates the scamariffic nature of the plan. (According to the Social Security Administration, Miss Fuller paid in $24.75 and took out $22,888.92. Even over 40 years, that's not a bad return!) The current recipients are financed by the current payers. While one might debate whether a pay-as-you-go scheme is the same as Ponzi scheme, no one can reasonably claim that a pay-as-you-go system is the same as an investment fund. The government uses the ostensible fund, and always will, as a slush fund for whatever purpose it likes, borrowing against it willy-nilly. There is no chance — none — of setting this situation straight. Abolish it, period.
The platform goes:
Professional Athletes – Steroids? The FIRST time you check positive you’re banned from sports … for life.
I've already gone on record saying I don't care who uses hGH. That opinion extends to steroids, but this platform plank points to a deeper issue. Why should someone running for President of the United States care one whit about an issue specific to professional sports? Certainly, presidents, like kings before them, tend to take an interest in the hobbies and pursuits of their subjects, but this plank suggests the imposition of rule from above, over sports. What possibly justifies this interest? I heard a sports-analyst-pundit say it best, "The government has more important things to do than worry about steroids!" (I would say the government has nothing important to do, but then again, I am an anarchist.)
Regardless of one's view on the government's appropriate job, the issue should rest with Major League Baseball (MLB). As Armentano notes, "MLB did not have an explicit prevention and treatment program for drugs until well after Mark [steroid poster child] McGwire retired in 2001." The people in charge of deciding important stuff like the height of the mound and the number of strikes didn't legislate against so-called performance enhancers until very recently. Yet this presidential platform offers a resolution? In the pantheon of things the State might worry about — were it actually necessary — steroid use in sports should be near the bottom, just above the quality of pizza cheese and whether or not navel lint should be considered a natural resource.
Pulling Back the Aid
The platform says:
All foreign aid, using American taxpayer money, will immediately cease and the saved money will help to pay off the national debt and, ultimately, lower taxes.
Wonder of wonders, this platform plank actually makes sense! The best saying I have heard about foreign aid is attributed to Peter Lord Bauer, and goes, "Foreign aid is a process by which the poor in rich countries subsidize the rich in poor countries." Thompson Ayodele, the Executive Director of Initiative for Public Policy Analysis (IPPA) in Lagos, Nigeria, would agree. Further, he would suggest that not only does aid not help those to whom it is ostensibly given, but it actually hurts. James Shikwati, a Kenyan economist would emphatically disagree with any suggestion that money is what is needed to solve Africa's problems. Taking money from U.S. poor that does not help African poor doesn't much sound like aid to me.
The Pledge and the Anthem…
The platform offers:
The Pledge of Allegiance will be said every day at school and every day in Congress. … The National Anthem will be played at all appropriate ceremonies, sporting events, etc.
LRC's own J. L. Bryan says it best, "Anyone who attended those giant child-processing centers the state insists on calling u2018schools' will recognize the [pep rally] scene." Bryan cites Gatto with regard to the most important point to understand about situations where the Pledge and the Anthem are played.
The Pledge and the Anthem are collectivist indoctrination devices, similar in content and intent to the infamous salute employed by another collectivist, the mention of whose name will undoubtedly draw many e-mails. The bottom line is quite simple: if you're forced to do it as part of a big group at a government school, it likely is intended specifically to undergird government control.
There were other planks in the platform that I wanted to address, but time and space ran short. Much has already been written on crime and punishment, and law. Equating welfare checks with legitimate paychecks doled out on Fridays, also mentioned in the platform, is not really worth much analysis, except to say: Treating a welfare check as if were a paycheck does nothing to change its source from theft, its purpose from income redistribution, the fruit it bears from emasculation.
In the final analysis, this bogus presidential platform appeals to the same jingoistic ignorance as many all-too-real populist political movements throughout the U.S. I don't want to take over the government. I don't want a person I've selected to take over the government. I don't want to control your life. I don't want you to control mine. If "working inside the system" was a viable step to take, then I — or someone who could "pass" for white — should have joined the KKK a long time ago and cleared things up for black folk all over the South. Of course, that's lunatic, as are most of these Internet presidential platforms, well, except for the ones you'll see around here!
Wilt Alston [send him mail] lives in Rochester, NY, with his wife and three children. When he's not training for a marathon or furthering his part-time study of libertarian philosophy, he works as a principal research scientist in transportation safety, focusing primarily on the safety of subway and freight train control systems.