Celebrating Average


“Your merciful God?  He destroyed his own beloved, rather than let a mediocrity share in the smallest part of his glory.  *He* killed Mozart, and kept me alive to torture.  *Years* of torture.  Years . . . of slowly watching myself become extinct; my music growing fainter, all the time fainter, ‘till no one plays it at all.  And *his* . . . I will speak for you, Father.  I speak for all mediocrities in the world.  I am their champion.  I am their patron saint.  Mediocrities everywhere . . . I absolve you.”

            —F. Murray Abraham as Antonio Salieri in Amadeus

What happens to us as a society when we stop cultivating talent?

Our parish priest once asked us why, if we were paying for private school anyway, we weren’t sending our kids to our parish school.  The answer at the time was pretty simple: St. Laurence didn’t have any kind of an honors program for academically gifted students, while the nearby secular school was nothing but an accelerated curriculum.  When we inquired as to why that was so, what we were told was that St. Laurence’s mission was to provide basic education to as broad a swath of the community as possible, so their sole focus was on the average student.  I suppose if you’re privately funding an educational endeavor, you are free to craft its charter any way you choose.

But watch the pattern here.

Fast forward several years, and our eldest has moved on to high school.  For a number of reasons not germane here, we steered her into the local public high school, which is one of the very best in Texas and a major reason we moved to this area.  Our school district has established a number of “academies” spread among the several high schools.  These are special programs that provide accelerated college-level curricula (and credit) for students with special talent and interest in specific areas such as computers, engineering, international business, math/science, etc.  The academies operate on a “magnet” basis, meaning that students who qualify for one can enroll regardless of whether they reside in an area zoned to attend the high school hosting it.

Well, it seems someone on the school board has gotten a burr under their saddle about the academy program.  A meeting was convened last week to discuss the “fact” that the district is spending too much on the academies at the expense of not spending enough on the regular curriculum for the average students.  Of course, no one had any hard figures as to how much was “too much” or why it was too much, nor on what was “too little” or why; these were just truisms to be accepted on their face.  Much of the blame, however, apparently is being cast at the cost of the extra busing required to move academy students away from their zoned schools.  But rather than consider the obvious solution of eliminating the busing (or charging for it), the board is looking at two draconian alternatives: (1) cancel the academy program altogether, or (2) consolidate the program at one high school that is underutilized because it is in so dangerous an area that everyone has moved out (which will effectively kill the program because everyone will pull their kids out).  Either way, the effect is the same: diverting resources away from talent to funnel them to mediocrity.

This is where we’ve come as a society, and it is positively insane.

I am not for one minute suggesting that there is anything wrong with average students or that they should be looked down upon.  Nor am I suggesting that they should be denied an education.  But we as a collective whole do ourselves an enormous disservice when we don’t do everything we can to identify talent and provide it with the means truly to excel.  We should be celebrating the gifted and investing in their success; otherwise we dumb everything down.

But Rusty, won’t the gifted students still be more successful than the average students if they’re all pooled into the regular curriculum?

Most likely, sure.  But those gifted students won’t become what they could have.  The average students will still reach the same level of achievement with or without the accelerated programs (which they don’t attend, and in which many, if not most, would likely not succeed if they did).  What killing the accelerated programs does is hold back those who would have been capable of more than the average students are, if given the resources and support to nurture and develop that additional ability.

Rather than maximizing our potential for development by investing in talent, we are increasingly about celebrating the average at the expense of the successful.  This was one of the principal warnings in Atlas Shrugged.  Consider the story of Midas Mulligan, the world’s most successful banker, who was sued under a law that forbade discrimination in any matter involving a person’s livelihood.  The plaintiff in that case was a failed businessman who demonstrated that due to his own incompetence his only chance to make a living was to be given the money to buy a factory.  As Mulligan tells it:

“[A] court of law ordered that I honor, as first right to my depositors’ funds, the demand of those who would offer proof that they had no right to demand it.  I was ordered to hand out money earned by men, to a worthless rotter whose only claim consisted of his inability to earn it.”

A court ordered him to make a loan to a man whose only qualification for the loan was that he lacked the business talent to qualify for that loan.  Ineptitude equaled need, and thus constituted the trump card over ability in the claim on resources.  Mulligan refused to participate in such an absurdity, and instead chose to close shop and drop out of society altogether.

This is where we’re heading.  We’ve already dumbed-down most of our core classwork in favor of standardized-testing based checklists; today’s average high school senior would flunk the 8th grade of 1950, not because of a lack of intelligence, but because we don’t teach the material anymore.  Many school districts have abolished Fs in a misguided attempt to protect children’s self-esteem and curb their dropout rate at the expense of actually making the kids learn.  And now we’re making a conscious decision to refuse to give those students who have the ability to excel the opportunity to make the most of that ability, choosing instead to increase our societal investment in those whose more modest potential is already more or less being maximized.

When we focus our resources on the average, when we shift our support from the gifted to the lowest common denominator, we as a society become limited to that which the mediocre can achieve.  The median is the ceiling, and we deny ourselves the opportunity to realize the much greater heights that could have been achieved had we nurtured the ability to fly in those that could.  This is the Peter Principle in its ultimate manifestation.

Why would we cheat ourselves like that?

 

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BENGHAZI UPDATE:  107 days since a military attack on sovereign U.S. soil killed four Americans while somebody in intelligence or the White House watched live via spy drone, and the President still hasn’t addressed the American people about it.  He’s on vacation in Hawaii, and his Secretary of State is nowhere to be found.

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Bad Reflexes (continued)

Little Bill:       Well, sir, you are a cowardly son-of-a-bitch!  You just shot an unarmed man!

Will Munny:  Well, he should have armed himself if he’s going to decorate his saloon with my friend.

           —Gene Hackman as Little Bill Daggett, and Clint Eastwood as Will Munny in Unforgiven

 

I want to expand a bit on the last post, because the issue has really been troubling me.

As you listen to the hysteria from the Left about the need for controls to curb gun violence following the tragedy in Connecticut, what you have to understand is that this debate isn’t limited to, nor is it even really about gun violence per se.  It’s about the continuing viability of the Constitution as a whole, and about all of the individual liberties it is supposed to guarantee.  And what you’re seeing is less of a reasoned and compassionate response to a tragedy than an opportunistic manufacturing of a “crisis” to push (and mask) a broader and more sinister agenda.

Rusty, how can you say it’s not about gun violence?

The Left is pushing a return to the Clinton-era ban on “assault weapons” that was in place from 1994 to 2004.  This ban outlawed civilian sales of certain military-style rifles (defined largely by a list of cosmetic attributes having more to do with sinister appearance than with lethality), and limited the magazine capacity of semi-automatic weapons to a maximum of 10 rounds.  Of course, I made the point in the last post that banning guns doesn’t stop violent lunatics, the majority of whom don’t even use guns anyway.  Taken further, study upon study upon study was unable to conclude that the 1994 federal assault weapons ban resulted in any measurable reduction in gun violence.  Even the 2004 University of Pennsylvania study ABC News has disingenuously characterized as saying the impact was “unclear” concluded that

“We cannot clearly credit the ban with any of the nation’s recent drop in gun violence . . . And, indeed, there has been no discernible reduction in the lethality and injuriousness of gun violence.”

Shockingly, it turns out that violent criminals and lunatics don’t abide by gun control laws.  Moreover—and this was part of my point in the last post—these things the Left seeks to ban actually show up in so few violent crimes in real life that banning them has no real effect.  And surely the Left knows this, which begs the question what it is they’re really trying to achieve, because it isn’t curbing gun violence.  And this question raises two very troubling issues.

The first is one of political precedent.  The Left repeatedly challenges the gun-rights lobby with the question why do you need assault weapons?  You don’t use those to hunt.  But that’s framing the debate in terms of a false construct.  The Second Amendment isn’t limited to hunting or “need”; it doesn’t prohibit infringement of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms for the purpose of hunting,” or of “the right of the people to keep and bear arms that they need.”  The question hunting or of what you in your subjective judgment think I “need” is totally irrelevant.

But not only is the Left casting the threshold test in terms of a qualification the Constitution does not impose, they are then using that false premise to un-do an absolute Constitutional right by legislative fiat.  Unlike many of the “rights” the Left claims are “implied” in or emanate from the “penumbras” of the Constitution, the Second Amendment actually grants an explicit and unequivocal protection of the right to bear arms.  And as with any other provision of the Constitution, the only way to curtail that right is by Constitutional amendment, as provided in Article V.  The Framers understood that there may over time be a need to make changes to the Constitution, but there’s a reason they made that process difficult and cumbersome:  the Constitution was established specifically to protect the fundamental rights of free individuals against infringement by the passing whims of an emotional and fickle majority.

If the government can curb your right to bear arms by mere legislation grounded in a needs-based test that is found nowhere in the Constitution, it can do that with any other Constitutional right, and the amendment process in Article V becomes meaningless.  Indeed, the Constitution as a whole becomes meaningless, because it’s subject to override by anyone who can cobble together a temporary majority in Congress.  Then the federal Beast becomes truly dangerous, because once the government can limit the Second Amendment without going through the Amendment process, there is no limit to the rights it can take away.

Suppose a 50.1% majority in Congress decide that the world would be much safer if it required that we all went to Sunday School, or that it’s becoming too difficult for prosecutors to develop evidence in criminal investigations without being able to compel the accused to testify, or to search homes without a warrant.  Your First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment protections would be no safer than your Second Amendment ones.

So what is it you think the Left is really doing by capitalizing on the emotions in the heat of the moment to press for a legislative restriction of a Constitutional right that doesn’t even address the stated problem?  There’s a reason they are playing to your sense of shock and compassion over a traumatic event, and relying on semantic games that sound reasonable but have no grounding in the Constitution: they are trying to distract you from their real agenda and guilt you into going along with them before you realize the full implications of what they’re doing.

The question you have to ask is: if the Second Amendment goes, how are you going to stop them from taking away anything or everything else?  And this highlights the second major troubling issue in this debate:  your Second Amendment rights are ultimately the only protection you have for all your other rights.

Patrick Henry, arguing against ratification in Virginia, noted the inexorable link between liberty and the ability of an armed public to defend it against the government: “[N]othing will preserve [liberty] but downright force.  Whenever you give up that force, you are inevitably ruined.”  This argument—not hunting rights—is the primary reason the Framers included the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights: to provide a final check against a tyrannical government by ensuring that the people themselves were armed and could fight back against that government if necessary.  James Madison in Federalist No. 46 argued that even a federal government with a regular army could not long persist in infringing upon the rights of the people and the States, because unlike in Europe where governments were “afraid to trust the people with arms,” the people of the United States would have “the advantage of being armed.”  Noah Webster, in urging ratification in Pennsylvania, echoed Madison’s sentiment:

“Before a standing army can rule, the people must be disarmed; as they are in almost every kingdom of Europe.  The supreme power in America cannot enforce unjust laws by the sword; because the whole body of the people are armed [and] they will possess the power, and jealously will instantly require the inclination, to resist the execution of a law which appears to them unjust and oppressive.”

Supreme Court Justice William Story, writing in his Commentaries on the Constitution in 1833, later confirmed this understanding of the purpose and importance of the Second Amendment:

“The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject.  The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers . . . The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers[.]”  (emphasis added)

There is no doubt that the Framers were deeply distrustful of a central federal government stepping outside its proper bounds; they fought a revolution over precisely that issue, and they weren’t about then to leave it to the good nature and honest intentions of future elected officials to limit their exercise of power.  They built into the Constitution the ultimate insurance policy in the form of a guarantee of an armed citizenry that could resist—by force—a tyrannical overreach of their own government.  Certainly that is a drastic and last-resort remedy, but there is no denying that the Framers intended that remedy to be there if necessary.

This debate is crucially important.  The process and rationale of the Left places the entire Constitution in jeopardy.  And because their target is the Second Amendment, if they succeed there will be essentially nothing left to protect against further usurpations or even total destruction of the Constitution and the individual liberties it is supposed to guarantee.

Bad Reflexes

 

John:              We’re not going to make it, are we?  People, I mean.

Terminator:   It’s in your nature to destroy yourselves.

John:              Yeah.  Major drag, huh?

            —Edward Furlong as John Connor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as the Terminator in Terminator 2:  Judgment Day

 

There’s a saying among lawyers that bad facts make bad law.

In the wake of last week’s horrifying and tragic school shootings in Connecticut, the usual suspects on the Left were (all-too predictably) immediately out there foaming at the mouth over the need for nationalized gun control.  NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg (himself surrounded by gun-wielding bodyguards) and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino separately demanded “immediate action” on a “national policy” against guns—as though mayors in New York and Massachusetts have some authority based on a shooting in Connecticut to impose limitations on the citizens of, say, Texas.  Never mind that Connecticut already has some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country, and that didn’t seem to stop Friday’s rampage.

By the way, gentlemen, have you seen how dangerous Chicago and Washington, D.C. are, despite the fact that you almost can’t legally possess a gun there at all?

Rupert Murdoch, in his infinite wisdom, called for politicians to find “the courage to ban automatic weapons.”  Of course, automatic weapons are already for all practical purposes banned in the U.S.  But the better point is that Murdoch’s reflexive response to the Connecticut tragedy ignorantly misplaces the blame; the Connecticut shooter didn’t use any automatic weapons.  In fact, while I couldn’t readily find any statistics, I’d wager that few people, if any, have been killed in the U.S. by a truly automatic weapon in private hands since the days of Dillinger and Capone.

It is natural for us to want to respond to something like the Connecticut tragedy.  As human beings we want to control events and make sure that something like that never happens again.  But we tend to make bad overgeneralizations and faulty causal connections when we seek to find reason in the unreasonable.  The fact is our history is replete with people who kill people—lots of people—without guns.

The three most prolific serial killers in U.S. history didn’t use guns at all.  Gary Ridgway, who killed at least 71 people, strangled his victims.  Ted Bundy decapitated or bludgeoned his 35 victims.  John Wayne Gacy stabbed or strangled 33.  No gun ban, automatic or otherwise, would have had any impact on these killers.

In fact, when you look at the list of twentieth century multiple-killers in the U.S. (check out Wikipedia on this—there are too many separate instances for me to use individual citation links), you see the majority either didn’t use guns at all, or used them sporadically and more as a weapon of opportunity (or killed in the course of an armed robbery).  That list includes some of the more notorious killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer (bludgeons and other perversions) and Ted Kaczynski, (the “Unabomber”).  Not on the list was the Manson Family, who did most of their deadly work with knives.  Granted, the list excludes “rampage killers”—and I’ll get to that—but of the 88 U.S. mass murderers I counted, only twenty (less than 25%) used guns as their primary M.O., and seven of those had five or fewer victims.  By far the more common choices were strangulation (35) and/or stabbing/slashing and bludgeoning (35).  Obviously we can’t outlaw kitchen knives, rocks, and bare hands, but that’s where we have to go if we follow the knee-jerk logic, because they’re more commonly used to kill multiple victims than the guns we’re hearing once again have to be banned.

Rusty, those people only killed one or two at a time.  What about the rampage killers who go kill a bunch of people at once?

To be sure, there have been incidents where gunmen have killed large numbers of people at one time.  But let’s put that in a little bit of perspective.  The largest single-event mass murder in U.S. history took place on September 11, 2001, costing 2,996 lives—I would venture that that outnumbers all other U.S. mass murders combined, including binge killers who used guns.  Their weapons of choice were Boeing 757s and 767s; not one of the killers had a gun, not even to hijack the airplanes, which was done with 50-cent box-cutters.  And that’s not the only time airplanes have been used to commit mass murder.  I count at least four other murderers who killed their victims by hijacking and crashing commercial aircraft in the U.S.  Every one of them racked up a single-event death toll higher than that in Connecticut or any other gun-related rampage killing ever in the U.S..

Are we going to ban commercial air traffic?

Timothy McVeigh used $250 worth of commercial fertilizer to fashion the truck bomb he used to blow up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.  He killed 168, again a total several multiples higher than the highest number anyone in the U.S. has killed on a shooting spree.  And like the Connecticut shootings, many of his victims were children.

Are we going to ban fertilizer?  Better warn the ethanol producers, GM, EPA, and the Obama administration if you do.

We can go on.  Jack Kevorkian (“Dr. Death”) participated in some 130 assisted suicides (most, it turns out, with people who had no physical sign of disease) by administering overdoses of prescription drugs.  In 1997, 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult killed themselves with a cocktail of Phenobarbital, vodka, arsenic, and cyanide.  Any number of arsonists have killed hundreds over the years.  And don’t even get me started on the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken every year by Planned Parenthood, all with government imprimatur and the insanely rabid cheering of the very same Leftists who shriek about gun control.

And that’s just the intentional killings.

My point here is not to deny that there are those who misuse guns to kill people, sometimes on a tragically large scale.  Unfortunately, they do.  My point is mass killers use a lot of other things, too, and banning guns isn’t going to stop people from killing people.

The uncomfortable, but undeniable, fact is there is evil in the world.  Violent, vicious evil.  It’s as old as Mankind itself: Cain killed Abel, and he didn’t need a gun to do it.  This evil is unpredictable except in its inevitability, and you can’t legislate or regulate it away.  There are simply a certain number of people out there who, for whatever reason, are programmed, destined, or genetically predisposed to commit unspeakable acts of massive horror.  Yes, they may use a gun.  But for every psycho-killer who uses a gun, there are one or more who use a common household item, a construction tool, or even their bare hands.  Taking the guns away isn’t going to stop that.  It might not even stop many of those who end up using guns; if they’re hell-bent on committing large-scale evil, they’ll either obtain the gun illegally or just look to a different weapon to do it.

On the flip-side, for every Adam Lanza, there are a million or more of us who responsibly and safely own guns.  Each of us has our reasons.  Some own for sustenance.  Some for sport.  Some professionally.  And some for self-defense.  All are legitimate reasons, but the more important point is it doesn’t matter why each of us owns guns:  the Constitution absolutely and unequivocally guarantees our right to do so, no matter what Michael Bloomberg or Barack Obama or Piers Morgan says:

A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

“Shall not be infringed.”  Period.  And there’s a serious reason why the Framers did this.

Our Fathers understood all too well that at the end of the day, the only line of defense against a tyrannical government is a well-armed citizenry.  They fought and won a war for their independence against the best-armed, best-trained, best-equipped professional army on the planet, and they did so in large part with the use of their own private guns.  Without private arms, we’d all be British subjects today.

Or German.

I’ve made this point before, but it bears repeating.  One of the first acts of a would-be dictator is to disarm the public, because people are much easier to control when they can’t shoot back.  That’s what Hitler did.  That’s what Lenin did.  That’s what Mao did.  That’s what Pol Pot did.  That’s what Idi Amin did.  Think you can own a gun in North Korea?  Iran?

My heart cries out for the victims of the Connecticut shootings and their families.  But we cannot allow our natural human emotional reaction to an unspeakable tragedy lead us to sacrifice our fundamental freedoms—and the ultimate backstop for them—in a misguided knee-jerk effort to regulate away evil, which will always be with us.

Right To Work: Choice v. Coercion

 

Vinny:   I understand you played a game of pool with Lisa for $200, which she won.  I’m here to collect.

J.T.:       How ‘bout if I just kick your ass?

Vinny:   Oh, a *counter*-offer.  That’s what we lawyers—I’m a lawyer—we lawyers call that a “counter-offer.”  This is a tough decision, here.  Get my ass kicked or collect $200.  Let me think  . . . I could use a good ass-kicking, I’ll be very honest with you . . . Nah, I think I’ll just go with the two hundred.

               —Joe Pesci as Vinny Gambini, and Chris Ellis as J.T. in My Cousin Vinny

 

Tuesday, over much rending of garments and gnashing of teeth, Michigan displayed some semblance of sanity and became the 24th State to pass a “right-to-work” law forbidding mandatory membership in, and payment of dues to, labor unions.  Shockingly, there apparently was also at least a little violence involved, and we wouldn’t want to have some sort of union issue without someone getting beaten up, now would we?  But let’s understand: right-to-work laws do not outlaw labor unions.  Nor do they “gut” them, as the Washington Post’s resident nitwit E.J. Dionne is claiming; if unions really are still the benevolent good for workers that they claim to be, their membership and leverage should not suffer in the least.

So why are Dionne’s and the unions’ panties in a wad?

Let me say up front that I have friends and family that in one way or another are or have been involved with unions, and I recognize that organized labor has played a valuable role in improving the lives of workers.  One wonders, however, if the unions have outlived their usefulness, or at least overstepped their proper bounds.

The modern U.S. labor movement has its roots in the late nineteenth century, when working conditions born of the industrial revolution were often prohibitively bad.  Hours were too long, pay was too low, and the environment was too dangerous.  And for the average mill worker, or miner, or longshoreman, there wasn’t much you could do about it, because individually you had no leverage.  The job was a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and if you complained to management that you were overworked, couldn’t survive on your current wages, or needed a better hardhat, there was someone else willing to take your place without those complaints.

By organizing into unions, workers as a group were able to accomplish what any one of them as an individual could not.  One miner or one millworker with a complaint would be told to take a hike.  But if all of them—or enough of them—went to management together and said “fix this or we’ll walk,” management would be forced to listen or face the possibility of being shut down due to a lack of workforce.  This is the concept of “collective bargaining,” and at a time when wages and working conditions really were a problem, and when the unions confined themselves to representing their membership in negotiating with their employer for improvements, they did some good things.

But by the 1950s, all that had pretty much been accomplished.  So what’s a union to do, once its workers have 35 or 40-hour week, $50K or better in wages (plus overtime bonus)—i.e., the median American income—full medical coverage, and a retirement pension on top of Social Security?

Well, a funny thing happened once the union leaders discovered it was much cushier and more lucrative living off of union member dues than going back to the assembly plant floor.  Having achieved their primary purpose, the unions increasingly ceased to be about representing their membership than about perpetuating their existence and expanding their financial and power base.  This only got worse as local unions became national ones, and groups of national unions became umbrella mega-unions-of-unions (see, e.g., AFL-CIO).

More and more, the unions moved out of the business of negotiating labor contracts and into the business of politics, which has led to a symbiotic relationship between labor and the Democrats, almost exclusively to whom unions contribute a collective hundreds of millions of dollars a year.  Although federal law technically allows employees to “opt out” of union political spending and pay only for direct representation costs, a report by the Wall Street Journal last summer found that actual union political spending was more than three times higher than their reported amount of “voluntary” member political contributions.  Things like lobbying activities, internal voter-persuasion drives, and support for unionized political protests, all come from the unions’ general dues fund, whether you as an individual union member like it or not.

But as the unions grew in size and power, the bargaining position pendulum overcorrected.  Not only were the unions able to extort untenable compensation and benefits packages, but they were also able to force many employers to accept union security agreements that required employers either to hire only union members, or insist that non-union members join the union within 30 days of employment or be fired.  This is not unlike the tying arrangements and exclusive dealing contracts that are largely outlawed by our antitrust laws—laws that people like Dionne and the rest of the Left would undoubtedly support at the top of their lungs.  The unions in effect establish a monopoly on the supply of labor, and then use that monopoly to perpetuate their cycle of political symbiosis through the extraction and expenditure of compulsory dues taken from their members, many of whom did not voluntarily join.

This is where right-to-work comes in.

Contrary to all the vitriol from the unions and the Dionnian Left, right-to-work laws do not outlaw unions.  Unions can and will continue to exist, as they do in every one of the 24 States that have right-to-work laws.  No one is denying anyone the right to organize in Michigan, Texas, or anywhere else.  You may freely associate with anyone you choose, for any lawful purpose, and that includes getting together with as many of your fellow dockworkers or truck drivers as agree and seeing if you can negotiate a better deal for yourselves (which is what “unions” originally were).  And presumably if what your organization is providing for its members is as beneficial as you say, people acting in their individual self-interest will reach that same conclusion and join.

If you are going to have this freedom of association, however, the necessary corrollary must be that you are equally free NOT to associate if that is your choice.  The right to free association cannot also include the right to compel others to join you (and, by extension, to fund your political activities whether they agree with you or not), or the freedom becomes meaningless.  This is all a right-to-work law does; it prevents unions from establishing circumstances where union membership—and dues payment—is a prerequisite to employment.  They give people a choice.

Of course, once you introduce free individual choice, you create the prospect for competition.  It is this competition that the unions and the Left can’t tolerate, hence the squealing over right-to-work laws.  Like everything else the Left spawns, this system depends on a built-in mechanism of mandatory participation in order to sustain it.  They cannot survive on their own merits in a universe of individual free will.  Whether it’s Social Security, Medicare, Obamacare, or Unions, their idea/program/system/organization is so good for you you can’t be trusted to decide for yourself whether to join.  Like your mother with cod liver oil, they’re going to force it down your throat because they know what’s best for you.

Right-to-work is about choice.  Opposing it is by definition about coercion, as it always is with the Left.

Soft Slavery

Well you’ll work harder with a gun in your back for a bowl of rice a day

Slave for soldiers till you starve, then your head is skewered on a stake

Now you can go where people are one, now you can go where they get things done

What you need, my son, what you need, my son

Is a holiday in Cambodia, where people dress in black

A holiday in Cambodia, where you’ll kiss ass or crack

            —Dead Kennedys, Holiday In Cambodia

WARNING:  THE FOLLOWING PIECE CONTAINS PLOT SPOILERS RELATING TO ATLAS SHRUGGED.  READER DISCRETION IS ADVISED (although Atlas is required reading for this site, and you really should already have read it at least once by now).

 

Let me start with a couple of fundamental questions.  First, with the possible exception of murder, is there anything in the human experience more immoral and repugnant than slavery?  Second, do you really understand what a “slave” is?

We tend to think of slavery in the simplistic terms of one human being owning another, and we picture LeVar Burton as a young Kunta Kinte standing in chains on an auction block in Roots.  But the condition of a slave has a broader outline, with wider implications.  Black’s Law Dictionary tells us that a “slave” is “One who is under the power of a master, and who belongs to him; so that the master may sell and dispose of his person, of his industry, and of his labor, without his being able to do anything, have anything, or acquire anything, but what must belong to his master.”  A slave, by definition, has no control over his person, and by extension no control over his labor or the fruits of that labor; he may acquire nothing, and is entitled to no compensation for the work of his hands or his mind.

This is the basic essence of private property, and the reason why the concept of private property is at its core inherently moral (and, thus, the denial of private property rights is inherently immoral).  Private property, honestly obtained, is the product or representation of one’s physical or mental labor; you’ve traded your effort in exchange for some value you perceived as a benefit to you, whether in the form of a good or service, or in the form of that representation of value we call “money.”  Put differently, you have converted your industry into a tangible form, and thus private property is in a very real sense simply an alternative manifestation of some part of yourself.  So the exercise of private property rights by keeping, accumulating, exchanging, passing down to your children, or otherwise disposing of it as one sees fit, and to the exclusion of all claims by others, is simply the exercise of control over one’s own person.  It is the opposite of slavery.

We call that “freedom,” and it is Man’s natural, proper, and moral condition.

When you deny private property rights, when you purport to exercise control over the physical manifestations of the labor of another, to the extent you do so you are denying the owner’s right to exercise control over himself; you usurp for yourself the right to control the owner’s person and labor.  That’s slavery.  And it is what is so insidious about taxation, particularly when taxes are levied for the purpose of redistribution to someone else.  By taking that private property and giving it to another, you have literally forced the owner to work some portion of his life for the benefit of the recipient without compensation.  That part of the owner’s person and life is thus owned by someone else.

That is not Man’s natural or proper condition, and it is therefore necessarily immoral.

This concept that private property rights are the very essence of freedom and their denial or confiscation—for whatever alleged “greater good”—is slavery is the heart of the story in Atlas Shrugged.  In one of the plot’s driving episodes, the government passes the “Fair Share Law” as part of an increasing series of measures designed to preserve failing businesses by preventing free trade and competition.  Under the Fair Share Law, manufacturers are required to provide an equal amount of their product to all who ask for it, regardless of whether the manufacturer could make more by selling it all to someone else.  So for a man like Hank Rearden, the inventor of the revolutionary and proprietary Rearden Metal, although he could make more by selling his finite supply to the highest bidder, he is required instead to ration his product in order to accommodate all comers.  He can neither decline a sale, nor sell to whom he chooses; in other words, he has lost control over the fruit of his labor and ingenuity, which means he no longer governs himself.

He has become a slave.

Ayn Rand published Atlas Shrugged in 1957, and some might dismiss her dystopian tale as an extreme and irrational fantasy borne of the McCarthian anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s.  The government would never really confiscate private property or require businesses to ration their product instead of selling on the free market.  No?  Consider how prescient the following story makes her seem today.

In Friday’s Houston Chronicle, we saw an article reporting on concerns being voiced by manufacturers like Dow Chemical over a new government report that favors the granting of permits allowing natural gas producers to sell their product overseas.  Natural gas in the U.S. has trended around $2 per bcf (billion cubic feet), making it a cheap source of energy for manufacturers.  But that same natural gas can command as much as $15-$16/bcf in Asia, and emerging Liquefied Natural Gas (“LNG”) technology allows gas to be shipped by pipeline and tankers, making the Asian market increasingly available to U.S. producers.   The incentive to shift supply for sale in Asia is obvious.

This is what scares manufacturers.  They fear that opening a new market where natural gas producers can make several times more than they can here will force them to pay higher prices to keep the gas here for their own use.  In other words, they as consumers would have to compete.

The horror.

So their solution is to lobby the Obama administration to ignore the report and limit the export of natural gas.  In other words, they want the government to step in and tell natural gas producers where and to whom they may sell their product.  This is almost exactly the essence of the Fair Share Law in Atlas.  And like they did with the Fair Share Law, they of course justify their position in terms of the greatest concern for the collective good, as reflected in this quotation in the article from Paul Cicio, president of the Industrial Energy Consumers of America:

“If we use these resources domestically, it will maximize economic growth and job creation for this country.”

Never mind that no one is preventing these resources from being used here in the U.S., even if the Asian market is opened.  Cicio’s bluster about how beneficial it will be to keep those resources here is nonsense; he, his constituents, and industry in general aren’t in the least bit concerned about that.  What they’re concerned about is having to pay for it.

But the real problem with this thinking is they’re not your resources to decide how and where to use.  Cicio and others like him speak of this product as though it is a collective good, owned in common for all of us to decide how to dispose of it for our collective benefit.  But that’s not so.  Natural gas is produced through the considerable effort, expense, and risk of the producer, using technology and expertise that has taken literally decades and billions of dollars to develop.  It is produced under a private contract (we call it a “lease,” but as to the gas itself it’s really a sale) between the producer and the owner.

It’s private property.

When manufacturers like Dow and members of the IECA claim a right to restrict the disposition of that private property, particularly when they are doing so in order to claim that property for themselves, they are assuming control over the product of the labor of others.  As such they are assuming control over the persons themselves, in every bit the same way the Fair Share Law assumed control over Hank Rearden.

There may not be any leather whips and iron chains.  But it’s slavery nonetheless.

Back-Scratchin’ Boogie

They say that life is tit for tat, and that’s the way I live

So I deserve a lot of tat for what I’ve got to give

Don’t you know that this hand washes that one, too

When you’re good to Mama, Mama’s good to you!

                  —Queen Latifah as the Matron in Chicago

I suppose it’s the Chicago way.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about our evolution into a society of moochers and looters, expecting to live—and live well—on assets taken from others.  I also pointed out that those Northeastern states seeking 100% federal coverage for their Hurricane Sandy losses were shifting to the rest of us risk and loss that they could have mitigated had they allocated some of their own resources to some advance planning and insurance.  Apparently you can now add GOP stalwart, convention keynote speaker, and potential 2016 presidential hopeful Governor Chris Christie to those ranks.  Fresh off of swapping spit with Obama just days ahead of the election, Christie has now asked for 100% federal reimbursement for New Jersey’s reconstruction costs.  

If you can’t beat ‘em, right?

Well, although the losses could have been mitigated, at least you can’t say those states deliberately caused them.  Not so for some other situations.  Case in point: The City of Detroit.

By any account, Detroit is a mess.  I somewhat inadvertently traveled there with a business colleague a couple of years ago, and downtown looks like 1980s Beiruit.  And the city’s fiscal woes are well-documented.  Well, it seems they now have found a solution for what ails them: have the federal government take the money from you, and give it to them.

A report by Fox2 Detroit yesterday quoted—and posted video—of Detroit City Council Member JoAnn Watson not only advocating just that, but taking the position that Obama owes Detroit a bailout as quid pro quo for three-quarters of Detroit area voters voting to re-elect the President:

“Our people in an overwhelming way supported the re-election of this president and there ought to be a quid pro quo and you ought to exercise leadership on that . . . Of course not just that, but why not?  After the election of Jimmy Carter, the honorable Coleman Alexander young, he went to Washington, D.C. and came home with some bacon.  That’s what you do.”

We vote for you, and you gotta come home with the bacon, baby.

At least they’re fully out of the closet as to their thought process and intentions.  Either they’re simply ignorant and think that the District just has a magic pile of money and they’re entitled to get their share, or they know perfectly well where that money comes from and are comfortable electing politicians who will confiscate as much of it as possible for them.

What pisses me off about this is it’s a problem of Detroit’s own making.  Bear in mind that the City’s fiscal situation is so bad that earlier this year it was forced to submit itself to oversight by the State of Michigan, kind of like what Greece has had to do with the Eurozone.  The main albatross dragging down the City’s finances is $12 billion in unfunded long-term retiree health care and pension costs (read: union benefits); in other words the City—largely to satisfy the SEIU—is spending itself to death.  And now, having run out of their own money, the citizens of Detroit have appointed a federal agent to take yours.

But Detroit is just a drop in the bucket.  The comic irony in Detroit having to submit to state oversight is that the City’s problems really just mirror the larger problem at the state level in Michigan.  As of 2010, Michigan had run ten consecutive years of budget deficits, and the state had $87 billion in debt.  And as with the City of Detroit, the major culprit in Michigan’s fiscal woes is spending on public employee compensation.

And it doesn’t end there.

California’s budget problems are the stuff of legend.  Earlier this year Governor Jerry Brown was forced to confront the issue and reach some kind of deal with lawmakers.  Their big-ticket item:  public employee pensions, specifically pension salaries, employee contributions, and retirement age.

In Illinois, Standard & Poor’s has downgraded the state’s bond rating due to its serious budget shortfalls.  The problem: the underfunded public employee pension system—anyone sensing a pattern here?—which is presently 43% or $83 billion short of its obligations.  This, despite a massive “temporary” tax on its residents instituted to help right the ship.  In other words, Illinois has tried to solve its crisis by taxing the crap out of its residents, and is finding there simply isn’t enough tax to be had.

New York has fared a little better, being upgraded from “stable” to “positive,” but is still looking at a $3.5 billion budget shortfall.  The driver behind New York’s issues was . . . wait for it . . . public employee pensions.  S&P upgraded its outlook on New York in large part because of reforms to the public employee pension plans.  Viewed in reverse, it was an overly exorbitant pension plan that was largely responsible for the previous weaker outlook.

The story in each of these cases keeps repeating itself.  Union workers imposed compensation and benefits packages their states could not afford; exactly the same cancer that sank GM and Chrysler.  And these were packages the government officials who approve them have no incentive to negotiate, since it’s not their money, and the unions fund elections and vote (this is entirely the point behind Governor Scott Walker’s reform efforts in Wisconsin).  To be sure, those States and the City of Detroit have other gross spending problems, from welfare programs, to overly-extensive higher education systems, to bloated bureaucracies.  But in each case, the issue is the same: the citizens of those states have voted themselves a lifestyle based on programs for which they simply did not have the money.

And now they’re broke.

Like a plague of locusts that has exhausted its existing field, they must now find somewhere else to take from in order to sustain themselves.  So they look to us, and their friend Barack Obama for relief.  Don’t think they’ll get it?  Take a look at an electoral map, Brother.  California.  Illinois.  New York.  Michigan.  That’s nearly half the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the White House in just those four States.  These States were solid blue for Obama, and don’t think he’s not in tune with the you-scratch-my-back-I’ll-scratch-yours score.  So although we had nothing to do with the irresponsible spending sprees, we’re going to get the bill.  They’ll now come to us and say it’s our responsibility as Americans, that we’re all in this together.  And they’ll take.  And they’ll take.

So watch for the State/local bailouts, because they’re coming, and they’re coming with your money.  And my question for you is this:

How much more of this are you going to take?

Unfounded Fear?

Wait a minute, Man

You mispronounced my name

You didn’t wait for all the information

Before you turned me away

                    —Alanis Morrissette, Right Through You

 

Once again, Leonard Pitts, Jr. sees racism everywhere, this time in the form of crazed white people mowing down innocent blacks left and right in a blind racist fear that blacks are dangerous just for being black.

Pitts focuses on the case of Jordan Davis, a 17 year old black kid who was shot dead by Michael Dunn, a white man, in the course of an altercation at a gas station.  According to Pitts, when Dunn told the teenagers in the SUV next to him to turn their music down, it turned into a volley of obscenities; when—Dunn claims—he saw a rifle poked through an open window.  He then retrieved his pistol from the glove box and fired repeatedly into the SUV, even as it was leaving.  Davis was killed by the volley.

Pitts correctly notes that there are problems with Dunn’s story, in that no rifle was ever found, and it is more than passing curious that he kept firing, and that after the incident he and his girlfriend drove to a hotel rather than going to police.  But Pitts goes a step further, claiming that the incident demonstrates that racism causes whites to see things like phantom rifles, which makes stand-your-ground laws dangerous because they—according to Pitts—allow private citizens to open fire if they “feel threatened.”  Pitts, of course, is wrong about the legal standard established by stand-your-ground laws, as I have discussed any number of times.

What’s more interesting, however, is what Pitts leaves out.

Pitts uses the Davis case to make sweeping generalizations that whites “feel threatened” by blacks because of some unfounded fear born from centuries of racist propaganda.  He might do well to examine some data, rather than cherry-pick an isolated—yes, isolated—incident with unique facts and loaded with a sympathetic young victim.

As of the 2010 Census, there were about 304 million people in the U.S.  Blacks made up 38.6 million, or just under 13% of the population.  Whites numbered about 197.4 million, or 65%.  Now, Pitts’ theory that there is some widespread fear of blacks that comes from pure racism means that, to the extent there is such a fear, it’s unfounded.  In other words, the relative threat posed by a black man is essentially the same as that posed by a white man.  If that’s so, we’d expect to see the number of violent crimes perpetrated by whites and blacks respectively to more or less mirror those groups’ proportion of the national demographic, right?

In the words of the immortal John Bender:  Not even close, Bud.

According to the FBI, in 2011 there were 6,131 homicides in the U.S. for which there was information about the races of the perpetrator and the victim.  Of those, 2,958—48%—were committed by blacks, compared to 2,904—47%—committed by whites.  Pretty even split, you say, but remember that there are about 5 times as many whites as blacks in the U.S.  Blacks made up only 13% of the population, but committed roughly half the total murders in 2011.

When we adjust for the relative sizes of the respective populations and look at how many blacks and whites commit murders on a per-capita basis, we see that in 2011 blacks committed murders at a rate of about 0.07 per 1,000 of population.  Whites committed murders at a rate of about 0.01 per 1,000.  In other words, for all of Pitts’ protests that fear of black men (yes, women commit murders, too, and all my data is gender-neutral, but by far the lion’s share of murders are committed by men) is irrational and thus can only be the product of racism, as a statistical matter a given black was seven times more likely to kill you than a given white.

And this is not an aberration confined to 2011.

In 2005, blacks made up 37.9 million of a total population of 293 million—12.9%.  Yet they committed 3,569 of the 7,346 murders in which the FBI had racial data, the same 48% as in 2011.  Whites made up 237 million, or about 80% of the population, and committed 3,445 murders, the same 47% as in 2011.  Per 1,000 of population, blacks committed murder at a rate of 0.09, compared to 0.01 for whites.

We can argue about the reasons, but it’s difficult to argue with the numbers.  The simple fact is that on a per-capita basis, blacks kill a lot more people than whites do.  And it’s hard to understand how Pitts can ignore this; over 90% of all black murder victims are killed by black perpetrators.  If anyone should know the statistical danger, it’s Pitts.  Yet he persists in pushing a narrative that it’s inherently dangerous to be a black man because racist whites are out there waiting to kill you.

Since Pitts is afraid racist whites are going to kill him because they’re irrationally afraid of blacks, let’s look at the interracial breakdown.  In 2011, of 3,172 white murder victims, 448 were killed by black men; that’s about 14% of the total, slightly above what we’d expect based purely on demographics, and a rate of .013 murders committed per 1,000 of black population.  On the flip side, of 2,695 black victims, 193—just 7%—were killed by whites, barely one-tenth the number we’d expect based on demographics.  And the white-killer figure represents just .00098 per 1,000 of white population.  2005 numbers were almost identical to that.  Thus, based on the FBI’s statistics, relative to their proportion of the population blacks kill whites at a rate about twelve times that at which whites kill blacks.

Perhaps the most telling statistical comparison, however, is the per capita rates for black victims of white perpetrators vs. black perpetrators (i.e., black victims of each subgroup of perpetrators as a proportion of the black population).  In 2011, blacks were killed by blacks at a rate of .06 per 1,000 of black population, while they were killed by whites at a rate of .005 per 1,000 of black population.  In 2005, blacks were killed by blacks at a rate of .087 per 1,000, vs. .006 by whites.  What this shows is—not as a matter of racist speculation but simply a matter of objective statistics—as a black you are thirteen to fourteen times more likely to be killed by another black than by a white, racist or otherwise.

My point here is not to suggest that black people are inherently dangerous and should be feared solely by virtue of the color of their skin.  The good news from the statistics is that regardless of the racial relationship between perpetrator and victim, murder is rare.  And I am not so naïve to believe that our world is free of racism and that there are no racially-blinded whites who see danger that isn’t there; maybe Dunn was just out that night to kill a black kid.  That’s certainly possible and obviously unacceptable, but it’s not necessarily indicative of widespread unfounded fear of black people.

My point here is that Pitts’ use of the Davis case, however tragic, to extrapolate a global argument that there is a white gun pointed at every black person based on an irrational racist fear of blacks is irresponsible at best.  The data simply don’t bear his point out.  Mr. Pitts and “the family of every boy who looks like [Davis]” have far more to fear from other blacks than they do from racist whites.  Pitts may be highlighting a widespread unfounded fear, but I submit it’s a different one that what he identifies.

Perhaps Mr. Pitts should spend less time and energy trying to find widespread racism around every corner, and more of them on more serious problems closer to his own doorstep.