Barack Obama and Church-State Separation

Although the first hundred days of President Barack Obama’s term haven’t ended yet, this seems like a good time to examine his record in office so far and see how it’s lived up to his own campaign pledges and to freethinkers’ expectations. These past few months have been a roller-coaster ride – from the exhilaration of Election Day to the disgraceful selection of homophobic bigot Rick Warren to preside at the inauguration. Now that the euphoria has faded and the Obama administration is getting down to the nitty-gritty of governing, we can begin a more sober evaluation of their politics.

Overall, I’d say my impression of the Obama administration is mixed, trending slightly toward positive. He’s worlds better than George W. Bush, though he’s no bright-blue progressive champion, both of which were fairly obvious from his campaign. Without a doubt, he’s done plenty that he deserves praise for: I applaud the numerous green provisions of the economic stimulus bill; his raising of the fuel efficiency standards for cars; and his signing of the pro-equal-pay Lilly Ledbetter Act and the children’s healthcare program S-CHIP. There’s reason for cautious optimism regarding his positions on the drawdown from Iraq, the closing of Guantanamo and the ending of torture and illegal detention, but while some progress has been made, much more still needs to be done. In some ways, he’s also been a letdown: my most severe disappointment is that the Obama administration has continued the Bush-Cheney position in arguing that “state secrets” serves as a blanket immunity for the government from anyone charging them with violating any law.

In issues that specifically relate to church-state separation and secularism, Obama’s record is again mixed. He’s reversed George W. Bush’s “global gag rule” which prohibits international aid agencies from helping women obtain access to abortion, lifted restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, and directed our ambassador to the U.N. to endorse a resolution calling for the decriminalization of homosexuality. All of these are very good things, particularly in light of the outrage that all three of them have roused from the religious right. He even chastised those who use faith as “an excuse for prejudice and intolerance” at the National Prayer Breakfast and reminded attendees of his upbringing by a freethinking mother, which had to have taken guts.

And yet here, too, Obama has been a disappointment in some ways. He’s instituted a troubling practice of prayer before nearly all presidential events, which even George W. Bush didn’t do; worse, the White House is vetting the prayers in advance, implicitly making the religious speakers a mouthpiece for the government. But Obama’s worst decision, by far, relating to church-state separation is his breaking of this very clear campaign promise:

First, if you get a federal grant, you can’t use that grant money to proselytize to the people you help and you can’t discriminate against them – or against the people you hire – on the basis of their religion. Second, federal dollars that go directly to churches, temples, and mosques can only be used on secular programs.

Instead of living up to his word, President Obama is, so far, continuing the White House “faith-based” initiative that permits religious charities funded by taxpayer dollars to proselytize and to discriminate in hiring on the basis of religion. This is a major, serious letdown and a clear violation of the articulate understanding of church-state separation he showed during the campaign. It’s astonishing that we, as Americans, are paying taxes to support religious organizations that openly discriminate against us for having the “wrong” beliefs. Any job paid for by the government should be open to all qualified applicants, not merely those who fit a certain set of prejudices.

This action of Obama’s continues a troubling pattern seen during the campaign and the inauguration: even though his views are generally progressive, he’s far too willing to cozy up to the religious right – not just to bring them to the table (I have no objection to them voicing their views), but to grant them special access and special privileges. For reasons I cannot fathom, Obama evidently does not believe that his primary responsibility should be to his progressive allies who worked so hard to get him elected – and whose support he will need to pass major legislation – but rather, to appeasing the hate-spewing religious right who regard him as a secret Muslim terrorist and an enemy of America, and who will fight his legislative agenda no matter how many bones he throws them.

Compared to the open Christian supremacy of the Bush administration, President Obama’s actions are an improvement. But we must not fall into the trap of excusing his faults or overlooking our disagreements just because he accomplishes good things in other areas. Progressives and freethinkers must continue to apply pressure, correcting him where he errs and giving political cover where the mood of the majority is not as progressive as his plans are.

About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Broken Ring, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.

  • John Nernoff

    Have you written to the White House with these criticisms?

  • DemonHype

    I don’t like it either, but he’s just getting started. When I start getting upset, I remind myself that he kind of has a huge pile of shit to clean up and putting the clamps to the faith based crap isn’t the most immediate need. He’s done more good in a couple months–and more work, too–than Bush did in eight years, and I’m inclined to wait and see what happens in a year or so, once the economy stabilizes. He’s done a huge amount, but he’s not some sort of magic man and there are only so many brick walls he can smash his forehead against at one time–and he’s got an entire wrecking-yard full of them, so…

    I can’t help but think that his delay on this is more tactical, given the strange combination of “increased prayer vs. criticism of misuses of faith/reminder of freethinking mom” that he’s been doing. He may be holding off until he finally manages to plug the dam and save the town, at which point he might be in a more stable position to start in on fixing the faith based programs. At this point things are very up in the air, and to divert attention from the more immediate needs to “attack” something less pressing that contains the convenient buzz-word “faith” would give the Rethugs a tactical advantage. Way too easy for the opposition to turn that into a moral panic and sabotage Obama’s entire administration at this unstable point. Might I emphasize that the Rethugs are already trying to set the stage for 2012? I don’t blame him for not wanting to jump into the faith-based initiative so soon. His idea may be that he needs to prove himself first by pulling the country out of the hole it’s in. Until then, he needs to give the impression that he’s no threat to their god-based federally-funded discrimination. Fact is, we’ve already got the advantage that people are becoming increasingly disgusted with what the zealous faith-heads have done to this country. So I’m going to go ahead with some cautious optimism and wait to see what happens in the next year or two. It’s way too early to be sure how this is going to turn out.

    It’s kind of like how the Dems voted with the Rethugs these last several years. In my family we saw the tactics they were using, so we didn’t get upset. The Dems didn’t have anywhere near enough votes to even dent the Repub agenda, yet when (not if, when) the regime’s fascist policies came crashing down around everyone’s ears, it would be the “lack of support” shown by those evil Commie Dems that would be to blame. And everyone would go along, because it’s easier than admitting that we, as a country, were wrong, so the majority of the people would gleefully jump on the easy scapegoat.

    As it was, the Dems robbed the Repubs of their fallback plan, and on top of that they could say “hey, we believed in the mission too, but it turns out we were all wrong. You and me both were screwed over by the same people”, thus turning the blame back where it belonged.

    I could be wrong about Obama, and in four years the faith based initiative might still be there. Even then, if he’s done a particularly good job I might be optimistic that he’s saving it for his second term. This is just how I’m seeing it, but I could also be wrong. Time will tell, or so I’m hoping. :)

  • DemonHype

    PS

    That’s not to say that the Rethugs didn’t try to pass the buck. Do you recall the cries that the Dems were to blame for not providing a strong opposing voice to their policies? But nobody was biting by that point, and the attempt just kind of petered out pretty fast. Hee hee hee!

  • Kaltro

    Ebon, maybe you shouldn’t lump all freethinkers together as ‘progressives’ from now on. Though I consider myself a freethinker I’m definitely not blue on economic issues.

    For instance, President Obama has been either extremely naive or extremely hypocritical when it comes to the federal deficit. After expanding the deficit to nearly 2 trillion by some estimates he has the gall to lecture about fiscal responsibility and cutting deficits. During his latest news conference he complained that he inherited a deficit from President Bush. As if that justifies his expanding the deficit even more than what he inherited. Just because the last President ran huge deficits Obama shouldn’t get a free pass to run even larger deficits himself.

    The last thing we need is an even bigger government with even bigger debts. Bush was terrible about this, but Obama may be even worse. If the economy flattens because of Big Brother sitting on it church/state separation will be the least of our worries.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    For instance, President Obama has been either extremely naive or extremely hypocritical when it comes to the federal deficit. After expanding the deficit to nearly 2 trillion by some estimates he has the gall to lecture about fiscal responsibility and cutting deficits.

    Kaltro, I don’t know how you think the government should deal with the economic crisis (or whether you think they should do anything – I realize Herbert Hoover still has some modern-day disciples), but among economists, it’s widely accepted that deficit spending is the only way out of a depression such as this.

    The economy is in a downward spiral of layoffs leading to decreased demand leading to further layoffs. To reverse this trend, you need to create demand, and the government is the only entity that can do that by fiat. The resultant (and, hopefully, temporary) increase in the deficit is an unfortunate necessity; the alternative is for the government to sit and do nothing while the economy collapses, which will cause drastic decreases in tax revenue and will lead to greater deficits anyway in the long run.

    During his latest news conference he complained that he inherited a deficit from President Bush. As if that justifies his expanding the deficit even more than what he inherited.

    The difference is that Bush’s deficits were created by his flushing money down the toilet of a foreign war of choice that did nothing to improve American safety or prosperity. Obama’s spending programs are targeted toward things like creating jobs in alternative energy, or improving public education or healthcare, that will benefit the country and pay for themselves in the long run. A country running a deficit is no different than a family going into debt to purchase a home; what matters is whether you bought a house in an area where you can expect property values to rise over time and make your investment worthwhile.

    I also note that Obama’s budget takes into account the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, whereas Bush’s budget pretended those costs didn’t count by treating them as “supplemental”. In this and some other areas, Obama’s deficit is going to appear larger simply because he’s being more honest about it, rather than using Bush-era accounting tricks to hide the true magnitude of the problem. This alone is evidence that he takes the issue of deficits more seriously than the Republicans ever did.

  • Leum

    If the economy flattens because of Big Brother sitting on it church/state separation will be the least of our worries.

    On the contrary, if the government (or the economy) flattens, church/state separation will become one of our biggest worries. Tough times tend to lead to rises in fundamentalism. After the flattening people will want a scapegoat and an easy solution. Atheists make an excellent scapegoat (as do gays, women, blacks, and Jews) and theocracy is a predictably easy solution.

  • Christopher

    Ebon, maybe you shouldn’t lump all freethinkers together as ‘progressives’ from now on.

    Ditto on that – I’m a freethinker as well but I despise the political mainstream (both the “conservatives” and “progressives” alike).

  • Kaltro

    Herbert Hoover wasn’t a do-nothing president. He signed the Hawley-Smoot tariff act which started trade wars in the years leading up to the Great Depression. He also tried to increase the availability of credit through government stimulation of banks and the creation of new federal lending institutions. Whatever else you can say about Hoover, he wasn’t taking a hands-off approach to the economy.

    I also dispute the idea that government intervention is necessary to turn the economy around. Government intervention largely fueled the boom and bust through such institutions as the Federal Reserve. When the Fed can tinker with interest rates and print new money whenever it likes accurate economic decisions are difficult. Bundles of new printed money cause inflation which causes an artificial boom. The boom, since it is built on printed paper rather than real wealth, eventually leads to a bust. Further government tinkering in order to mitigate the bust only worsens the problem, because the bust was a necessary correction following the unsustainable boom.

    You might think it’s counter-intuitive, but it is better for the government to do nothing(besides lower all taxes and spending, that is) and let things work themselves out. Most people are perfectly able to make their own economic choices without being instructed by the government.

    One other thing–What does the consensus of economists count for really? Consensus, in itself, is worthless as a test of truth. There has been a wide consensus through most of history on the existence of the supernatural. But we both disagree strongly with that consensus. Pointing to consensus is the Argumentum Ad Populum fallacy.

  • Christopher

    Kaltro, I don’t know how you think the government should deal with the economic crisis (or whether you think they should do anything – I realize Herbert Hoover still has some modern-day disciples), but among economists, it’s widely accepted that deficit spending is the only way out of a depression such as this.

    Deficit spending is merely the act of spending money you don’t have – an act that will likely end up with your country’s government looking for foreign creditors that are all-too-happy to have your nation indebted to them (China comes to mind – as they own about a trillion dollars of your nation’s debt already).

    You would be selling your sovreignty to a foreign power for an economic boost – do you really think that it’s worth it?

    The economy is in a downward spiral of layoffs leading to decreased demand leading to further layoffs. To reverse this trend, you need to create demand, and the government is the only entity that can do that by fiat.

    You should know that things created by fiat can’t be sustained indefinately – it’s just a matter of time before your government no longer has the capital to create demand and is left with a huge bill to pay for it all…

    The resultant (and, hopefully, temporary) increase in the deficit is an unfortunate necessity; the alternative is for the government to sit and do nothing while the economy collapses, which will cause drastic decreases in tax revenue and will lead to greater deficits anyway in the long run.

    Actually, there is one thing your government can do: stop spending so damn much on pork (and let’s face it – much of the so-called “stimulus bill” Obama passed into “law” is pork) and on social services (which really aren’t an essential function of government anyway) and use the money saved by this lack of expendature to retire its existing debt! This is what normal people like myself do all the time: make a few sacrifices in order to spend less money and pay off your existing debts before thinking about accumulating debt again.

    It’s so simple, but your political class would never do it because the special interests they serve would be pissed at them for cutting off funding to their pet causes – so the cycle of debt and expendature continues on downward…

  • Leum

    Pointing to consensus is the Argumentum Ad Populum fallacy

    Kaltro, if not consensus, then what? AFAIK none of us here has the training to conduct an economic study to disprove the current economic theories, so we either accept that the economic community know what they’re doing, or we flail around randomly in the hope that something will work*. Argumentum ad populum is a fallacy because there is no surety in the popularity of an idea, but when all (or most of) the people who are experts in an area agree, it makes more sense to take their word than to guess. If you have the training needed to disprove Keynesian theories**, I do, of course, apologize.

    The boom, since it is built on printed paper rather than real wealth, eventually leads to a bust. Further government tinkering in order to mitigate the bust only worsens the problem, because the bust was a necessary correction following the unsustainable boom.

    I agree that bust may be necessary, but I do not agree that we can’t (or shouldn’t) soften the blow. Talking about how the economy just needs to run its impartial and majestic course is all well and good, but it ignores the incredible amount of suffering that such the course will bring. A recession for a decade may be better than a depression for a year***.

    *Admittedly, I sometimes feel that this is all economic theory is

    **Or Neo-Keynesian or whatever they’re calling it these days

    ***Hypocritically, I lack the training to say this with confidence****

    ****But it’s okay, because I admit it

  • dolio

    Pointing out that the vast majority of biologists think that evolution is well supported by all available evidence is just argumentum ad populum. :)

  • Kaltro

    “Kaltro, if not consensus, then what?”

    Ideas that make sense and work. Ideas that are properly explained are easy to grasp. Economics is not quite as scary as you imagine. It’s my view that if something seems confusing that’s because of one of two things– either the person explaining it is conning you, or the person is unable to explain it well for some reason. When ideas are not confusing it’s easy to see their merits and faults. For instance, everyone can see that twice two is four and that twice five is not eleven. The ideas behind the numbers are easy to grasp and don’t require consensus.

    We need to learn to be a bit more skeptical of the ‘experts’. Theologians have long claimed to be ‘experts’ in their field. A common theist complaint is that atheists have not adequately studied the theological masters and learned their subtle expertise. Of course many theists haven’t adequately read the theologians either. They sometimes argue more from authority than experience. I think some skepticism is warranted no matter what field an ‘expert’ is in.

    Also, how can an economic bust be softened without damaging the economy? The Keynesian method is to increase government spending as a way to keep the economy moving. But how is that spending funded? With taxes, loans, or a printing press. taxes are legal plunder, and loans are really just deferred taxes since we have to pay them back some day. Printing money at a whim leads to inflation and a devalued currency. This is why so many things cost more than they did fifty or sixty years ago. Our currency is being bled of its value. The more money the Fed prints up, the more value it loses. It’s basic supply and demand.

  • Alex Weaver

    Ideas that make sense and work. Ideas that are properly explained are easy to grasp.

    How about “ideas that have a track record of performing as advertised?”

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Bundles of new printed money cause inflation which causes an artificial boom. The boom, since it is built on printed paper rather than real wealth, eventually leads to a bust.

    That explanation is in conflict with the facts. The root cause of this crisis wasn’t inflation, it was banks fueling a bubble by making bad loans with money they didn’t have. If too much money had been printed, the banks would have had sufficient liquid assets to cover those subprime loans they made, but they didn’t. As you can see, the inflation rate was actually fairly low during the past several years. (By contrast, the inflation rate reached 10% or more during the recession in the early 80s.)

    You might think it’s counter-intuitive, but it is better for the government to do nothing(besides lower all taxes and spending, that is) and let things work themselves out. Most people are perfectly able to make their own economic choices without being instructed by the government.

    Most people are perfectly capable of doing that, yes; and in the current situation, if people make choices that are rational for them in this climate – cutting back on spending and saving money – then the economy will further worsen. This is Keynes’ paradox of thrift. Again, the way to stop this downward spiral is for the government to institute spending programs that create demand.

    Pointing to consensus is the Argumentum Ad Populum fallacy.

    Not when you’re appealing to the opinions of experts. If you had cancer, would you want to follow the course of treatment recommended by the majority of doctors, or would you dismiss that as “argumentum ad populum”?

    With taxes, loans, or a printing press. taxes are legal plunder…

    I think this line makes it clear that the root source of your objections is not concern over what course of action is most effective, but an ideological resistance to the idea of government.

  • Christopher

    Most people are perfectly capable of doing that, yes; and in the current situation, if people make choices that are rational for them in this climate – cutting back on spending and saving money – then the economy will further worsen.

    Actually, this is something of a half-truth – yes a cut in spending will reduce demand and damage the economy in the short-run, but you ignore the supply side of the equation: it also causes businesses to curtail waste and streamline efficiency by eliminating unnecissary elements from them (such as jobs done by two or three men that easily be be done by one), thus putting an end to irrational and short-sited business pratices that put your nation in the situation it finds itself in now. Once those issues are correct, the bleeding will stop and the economy can recover (slowly, but steadily).

    Providing those companies with bailouts (thus artificially propping them up to create demand for their services), on the other hand, actually rewards them for poorly-conceived business practices – leading to things like government bailout money being wasted on bonuses for top-level execs. (you should know to whom I refer): essentially defeating the purpose of the bailout. The best way for government to deal with companies failing due to their own poor pracitices is this: let them fail so that they might be swept away for their incompitence – and so that other who are compitent can move in and fill the gaps they leave behind.

    Not when you’re appealing to the opinions of experts. If you had cancer, would you want to follow the course of treatment recommended by the majority of doctors, or would you dismiss that as “argumentum ad populum”?

    That depends on who “the majority of doctors” happened to consist of: if the “majority of doctors” still practiced humoral medicine or voodoo healing I’d have second thoughts about their judgements.

    I don’t trust authority simply on the basis of authority alone (even if it’s a majority opinion) – I attain the facts myself from third-parties whenever possible before committing to anything.

    I think this line makes it clear that the root source of your objections is not concern over what course of action is most effective, but an ideological resistance to the idea of government.

    Funny you should mention that – as your whole support for government intervention in the economic sphere seems to betray your ideological notion that government exists for some purpose other than providing a common order and defense: an idea that I find quite disturbing as it implies that government has some unstated objective to accomplish – leaving room for giving all sorts of powers to the political class in the name of achieving this objective (i.e. “the public good” constantly stressed by beaurocrats in “Atlas Shrugged” before destroying their nation’s ability to produce).

    There’s nothing more dangerous to sovreign individuals than a government with unstated objectives – as it gives them more power over the individual than anyone (individual or collective) can wield without becoming completely intoxicated: and everything this power-drunk institution does will be in the name of “the people” (read: the stupid and easily-manipulated masses), giving it some unearned sense of legitimacy that would make it nearly impossible to fight by any means short of a full-scale uprising.

    That’s the abyss that your current leaders would send you over without a second thought…

  • Kaltro

    “The root cause of this crisis wasn’t inflation, it was banks fueling a bubble by making bad loans with money they didn’t have.”

    And the banks made those risky loans due to the government passing legislation trying to make homes more affordable for people who normally couldn’t afford them. I wasn’t blaming inflation for this particular crisis. I meant that in general government interference leads to the boom and bust business cycle.

    “if people make choices that are rational for them in this climate – cutting back on spending and saving money – then the economy will further worsen. This is Keynes’ paradox of thrift. Again, the way to stop this downward spiral is for the government to institute spending programs that create demand.”

    But that’s unsustainable. The economy can’t go straight up all the time, and it doesn’t usually go straight down all the time either. You seem to assume that once people start saving that will cause a vicious cycle of decline that results in a dead economy. But this ignores common experience. People save because they don’t currently feel like they should spend. But once they’ve saved up enough they will start spending again and the economy will grow. This is much better than expecting unrealistic growth through reckless and continuous spending.

    Keynes was wrong to think that the economic troughs could be filled in by government spending. All that does is lead to an even bigger trough once the government runs out of capital. Do you keep throwing a rock in the air expecting it to stay put? Do you keep using more government spending in an attempt to keep the economy growing unrealistically?

    “Not when you’re appealing to the opinions of experts. If you had cancer, would you want to follow the course of treatment recommended by the majority of doctors, or would you dismiss that as “argumentum ad populum”?”

    I’ll listen to a doctor who has proven himself capable. I won’t listen to someone simply *because* they are a doctor and claim to be an expert. There is a difference.

    “I think this line makes it clear that the root source of your objections is not concern over what course of action is most effective, but an ideological resistance to the idea of government.”

    My concern is about what course is most effective. I do not think government is the most effective way to deal with economic problems.

    Also, do you disagree with the claim that taxation is a legal form of plunder? Think of it this way. How many people would pay their taxes if taxes were optional? Probably not many. The definition of theft is that something is taken without the owner’s consent.

  • Alex Weaver

    And the banks made those risky loans due to the government passing legislation trying to make homes more affordable for people who normally couldn’t afford them.

    What evidence would you offer that government legislation regarding homeownership is more likely to be the culprit than a fixation on short-term gains and minimal regulatory oversight for the industry?

    But that’s unsustainable. The economy can’t go straight up all the time, and it doesn’t usually go straight down all the time either. You seem to assume that once people start saving that will cause a vicious cycle of decline that results in a dead economy. But this ignores common experience. People save because they don’t currently feel like they should spend. But once they’ve saved up enough they will start spending again and the economy will grow. This is much better than expecting unrealistic growth through reckless and continuous spending.

    Keynes was wrong to think that the economic troughs could be filled in by government spending. All that does is lead to an even bigger trough once the government runs out of capital. Do you keep throwing a rock in the air expecting it to stay put? Do you keep using more government spending in an attempt to keep the economy growing unrealistically?

    Your “common sense” economic pontificating is at odds with the observed behavior of actual economies under the circumstances described, in response to deficit spending. If you want to be taken seriously, you’re going to have to start adjusting your hypotheses to fit the facts.

    Also, do you disagree with the claim that taxation is a legal form of plunder? Think of it this way. How many people would pay their taxes if taxes were optional? Probably not many. The definition of theft is that something is taken without the owner’s consent.

    Actually, the working definition of theft, as evidenced by its use in the context of, for instance, digital copyrights, is “any activity of which the speaker has a low opinion,” which is ironically also the sense in which you are using it here. As regards your conclusion that people being required to help pay to support the various manifestations of societal infrastructure (broadly defined) which they have access to by virtue of living in this country and on which they depend for their livelihood and way of life constitutes “something taken without the owner’s consent” I’m having trouble detecting, let alone following, any underlying logic.

  • Kaltro

    “What evidence would you offer that government legislation regarding homeownership is more likely to be the culprit than a fixation on short-term gains and minimal regulatory oversight for the industry?”

    For one thing, these subprime mortgages don’t make economic sense without government pressure. A subprime mortgage is a loan to a person with a poor ability to keep up payments on that loan. The Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) set all this in motion. It forced banks to make loans to low-income individuals with poor credit ratings. Should we be surprised when quite a few of these people default on their loans?

    This was a result of excessive government regulatory oversight rather than too little. Banks wouldn’t have made these risky loans if the Fed and other institutions weren’t forcing them to.

    “Your “common sense” economic pontificating is at odds with the observed behavior of actual economies under the circumstances described, in response to deficit spending. If you want to be taken seriously, you’re going to have to start adjusting your hypotheses to fit the facts.”

    Why don’t you cite some of these specific facts so we both know what you’re referring to?

    “Actually, the working definition of theft, as evidenced by its use in the context of, for instance, digital copyrights, is “any activity of which the speaker has a low opinion,” which is ironically also the sense in which you are using it here.”

    That makes no sense. I could call your post ‘theft’ by your definition. You could also think Chavez calling Obama an ignoramus was also theft. What a worthless and vague definition. I definitely wasn’t using that sense of the term ‘theft’ in what I wrote.

    “As regards your conclusion that people being required to help pay to support the various manifestations of societal infrastructure (broadly defined) which they have access to by virtue of living in this country and on which they depend for their livelihood and way of life constitutes “something taken without the owner’s consent” I’m having trouble detecting, let alone following, any underlying logic.”

    Is it really that hard to grasp? Taxpayers are not generally consulted about how their tax money will be specifically used. It would be one thing if each city held town hall meetings discussing what projects needed funding and then taking a vote on whether or not said projects would be funded. It’s another thing when taxpayer money is taken and then used willy-nilly by the Congress and the President as they see fit. Lots of people object to the spending of taxpayer money on bank bailouts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People didn’t receive a say on how that money was spent. It was simply taken from them and used without their consent. I would not have funded those bank bailouts. I wouldn’t have funded the wars either without more information and discussion. As it is the government is increasing my debt on a daily basis without a clear end in sight.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    And the banks made those risky loans due to the government passing legislation trying to make homes more affordable for people who normally couldn’t afford them.

    Once again, this explanation fails to accord with the facts. The government never passed any law forcing banks to make home loans to anyone. (If I’m wrong about that, you should be able to cite a specific bill or executive order easily.) The government did pass laws outlawing redlining, the discriminatory practice of giving minorities less favorable terms than were offered to whites for what were otherwise the same loans.

    EDIT: Since Kaltro mentioned the Community Reinvestment Act, here’s a relevant article from BusinessWeek. The money quote:

    University of Michigan law professor Michael Barr testified back in February before the House Committee on Financial Services that 50% of subprime loans were made by mortgage service companies not subject comprehensive federal supervision and another 30% were made by affiliates of banks or thrifts which are not subject to routine supervision or examinations.

    Your hypothesis is also contradicted by abundant evidence showing that the banks participated gleefully, not grudgingly, in making subprime loans. Why else would banks permit low-income borrowers to apply for “ninja” (short for “no income, no job, no assets”) loans, or wildly variable “exploding ARMs”, which any reasonable evaluation would have shown stood no chance of ever being paid back? (If they knew these were bad investments, shouldn’t they have taken every possible step to protect themselves?) Why did all the rating agencies give subprime collateralized debt obligations their highest, top investment-grade rankings? Why were firms like AIG (which sold insurance, not mortgages) getting involved in the subprime market so heavily? Why was anyone even interested in buying these CDOs if everyone knew their prospects were so poor?

    I meant that in general government interference leads to the boom and bust business cycle.

    Any informed observer of history knows that this is the opposite of the truth. Unfettered capitalism, lacking government regulation, tends to go in boom-and-bust cycles. Effective regulation is what leads to stability.

    Do you keep using more government spending in an attempt to keep the economy growing unrealistically?

    No, you supply enough government spending to break the downward cycle of layoffs and contraction, put people back to work so that they can resume spending and generating wealth, and that way normal economic growth resumes. This is really basic stuff, you know.

    Also, do you disagree with the claim that taxation is a legal form of plunder?

    Yes, for the same reason I disagree with the claim that policemen taking people to jail is a form of kidnapping.

  • Chet

    Most people are perfectly able to make their own economic choices without being instructed by the government.

    And the Paradox of Thrift? You’ve just never heard of it, or you think it doesn’t happen? Or doesn’t matter?

  • Chet

    This is what normal people like myself do all the time: make a few sacrifices in order to spend less money and pay off your existing debts before thinking about accumulating debt again.

    Right, but that’s not the problem facing the economy.

    Most families face one pretty basic problem, if they’re in financial problems – a lack of supply. They literally don’t have enough money to buy all the things they want to buy. And you’re right, the solution is pretty simple – they buy less, they make sacrifices, until either they have more money coming in or they’re able to spend less money servicing their own debt. That’s prudence in finances everyone can understand.

    That’s not what’s wrong with the economy. What’s wrong with the economy isn’t a sudden lack of supply, it’s a sudden lack of demand. All those families suddenly facing financial woes and spending less at the mall mean the people at the mall lose their jobs too, and now they’re cutting back – everybody is cutting back, demand falls through the floor, a whole lot of warehouses fill up with goods people want but aren’t buying (because they’re prudently sacrificing) and a whole lot of factories that could be producing aren’t because people are cutting back on buying the goods they used to make.

    In that environment? The government buying less goods and services is the exact last thing it should be doing. When the problem is a lack of demand, reducing demand even further is just idiotic. The government should be running a deficit right now, in order to correct for a sudden, temporary, and self-reinforcing decline in demand.

    Keyesian economics works and it makes sense. Surely everyone can see that. The economy isn’t just a bunch of moms and dads figuring out what they can cut back on to make ends meet. To some extent, those moms and dads are exactly the problem. Even though it makes sense individually for them to cut back, collectively all those cutbacks make the recession even worse.

    That’s the Paradox of Thrift. The way out of the paradox is a massive increase in demand for goods and services, and only the government has the money to do that. Because they print it.

  • Adam

    Does anyone have documentation of embryonic stem cell research working?

  • Leum

    We’ve actually moved past such vulgar acts as increasing the supply of money by printing more. We just say there’s more. We buy dreams with the idea of money. Terry Pratchett’s written two books on this and related subjects.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Does anyone have documentation of embryonic stem cell research working?

    What do you mean by “working?”

  • Alex Weaver

    Is it really that hard to grasp? Taxpayers are not generally consulted about how their tax money will be specifically used. It would be one thing if each city held town hall meetings discussing what projects needed funding and then taking a vote on whether or not said projects would be funded. It’s another thing when taxpayer money is taken and then used willy-nilly by the Congress and the President as they see fit. Lots of people object to the spending of taxpayer money on bank bailouts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. People didn’t receive a say on how that money was spent. It was simply taken from them and used without their consent. I would not have funded those bank bailouts. I wouldn’t have funded the wars either without more information and discussion. As it is the government is increasing my debt on a daily basis without a clear end in sight.

    Have you, by chance, heard about these things called “elections” at some point? On the news, perhaps?

    (Or are you complaining that the government doesn’t allow you as an individual to veto these projects?)

  • Adam

    Does anyone have documentation of embryonic stem cell research curing anything?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I don’t believe there is much documented evidence of “cures,” (somebody please correct me if I’m wong!) This, however, is a simplistic measure and not a very good one to use.

    Embryonic stem cell research has been hamstrung by the federal rules put in place by the Bush admin, which has greatly slowed efforts to find “cures.” So, turning around and criticizing it for not finding any so far (if that is what you are doing) would be rather unfair.

    Also, scientists have not hidden the fact that it will take a long time for these avenues to produce “cures” and that the research has to be done in order to get there. There are multiple benefits to using embryonic cells, however, that we have not seen in using other stem cell lines, so it is an important avenue of research that we should investigate.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    There is some evidence of successful medical treatments using embryonic stem cells. For example, take this study, where transplanted stem cells appear to have restored partial vision to several patients who were blind from retinitis pigmentosa. There’s also a study which found that human embryonic stem cells restored some motor function in rats with spinal-cord injuries; this treatment is now entering Phase I clinical trials for humans.

    Two important things to note are that, first, stem-cell research of any kind is in its earliest phases. (There are no FDA-approved treatments for humans using adult stem cells, either.) It’s far too early to give up on any line of research in an area as promising as this. Second, as should be obvious, research in this area was greatly hampered by Bush-era restrictions which all but banned use of embryonic stem cells, except for those in a few existing lines, and those lines turned out to be unsuitable for human use because they had taken up a foreign protein from their substrate that would have provoked immune reactions. It’s only now that Obama has lifted those irrational restrictions that research can proceed in earnest.

    There’s another important point which Adam and other religious apologists usually ignore. The embryonic stem cells used in human research are not made just for that purpose; they come from fertility clinics which fertilize multiple eggs, implant one in the patient, and then discard the rest. Even if these cells weren’t used for medical research, they’d be getting discarded anyway. (“Snowflake children” make for good photo-ops, but will never account for more than a tiny fraction of the embryos produced this way.)

    Anyone who genuinely believes that embryos are human lives ought to be lobbying to shut down all fertility clinics. The religious right has evinced no interest in doing this, which suggests that they haven’t thought their positions through very carefully.

  • Adam

    Can we call an embryo “human”? It depends on your the definition. Is an embryo the beginning of human life, without a doubt.

    “Even if these cells weren’t used for medical research, they’d be getting discarded anyway.”

    This is the same line of thought Hitler used with the Jews. We’re going to burn them anyway, what not use them for medical research…which is way the Catholic Church is against it using embryo’s.

    Save the embryo’s, and lets have the government spend our money on stem cell research that is already working!!

    Adult stem cells: http://www.stemcellresearchfacts.com/index.html

    Why won’t the government do it?? I say greed.

  • LindaJoy

    Back to the issue of church/state. I am NOT optimistic about Obama in this area. Besides the prayers before rallies and town hall meetings, he has created, for the first time in American history, and advisory panel comprised of mostly faith based groups to advise him on religious issues. This is a HUGE violation of the first amendment. He is crossing lines that Bush didn’t even think about crossing. Awful! We are in big trouble, because all of this is setting precedents that will be just as hard to get rid of as the $60 billion faith based bureaucracy.

  • Kaltro

    Chet, the paradox of thrift is a flawed idea. When demand falls prices fall with it. This fall in prices eventually renews demand and gets the economy growing again. Also, savings can serve as investment in the economy such as when savings are kept in banks. The more savings a bank holds, the more that bank can give out loans and stimulate the economy.

    We can’t just spend on credit like drunken sailors. This might create the illusion of prosperity in the short term, but it makes a big economic drain for us and our children once the credit bills come due.

  • Alex Weaver

    Chet, the paradox of thrift is a flawed idea. When demand falls prices fall with it. This fall in prices eventually renews demand and gets the economy growing again. Also, savings can serve as investment in the economy such as when savings are kept in banks. The more savings a bank holds, the more that bank can give out loans and stimulate the economy.

    Aside from “common sense” do you have any evidence for this claim whatsoever?

    Or, for that matter, any intention of comprehending and responding to the examples given of market, institutional, and individual behavior that contradicts your assumptions here?

  • Kaltro

    “Yes, for the same reason I disagree with the claim that policemen taking people to jail is a form of kidnapping.”

    Ebon, this is a false comparison. Policemen take criminals to jail because the criminals violated the rights of others. Since the criminal has ignored the rights of a citizen it is fair to limit the rights of the criminal in the public interest.

    What has the taxpayer done that allows the government to take a portion of his income? Has he violated another person’s rights? What has he done that has stripped him of the right to keep what he earns and use it as he wishes so long as he doesn’t violate the rights of another?

    “No, you supply enough government spending to break the downward cycle of layoffs and contraction, put people back to work so that they can resume spending and generating wealth, and that way normal economic growth resumes.”

    As I pointed out above, the downward trend would not continue forever. Falling prices lead to a rise in demand that corrects the contraction. You seem to think that people are helpless sheep that need to be ‘put back to work’ by the government. Are you substituting government for God?

    “Any informed observer of history knows that this is the opposite of the truth. Unfettered capitalism, lacking government regulation, tends to go in boom-and-bust cycles. Effective regulation is what leads to stability.”

    Give me specific examples where ‘unfettered’ capitalism was at work, and examples of effective regulation that created stability.

  • Kaltro

    Weaver, I don’t believe you ever cited specific examples or facts. So far you’ve just been lecturing me in general terms. If you have specifics let’s see them.

    As to what I said, the high prices of oil not too long ago illustrate my point. When the cost went over 4 dollars a gallon people stopped buying so much gas. Then gas prices fell and people started consuming more gas again. The rise in prices decreased demand while the later drop in prices increased the demand again.

  • Alex Weaver

    What has the taxpayer done that allows the government to take a portion of his income?

    Benefitted from the services and institutions the taxes pay for.

  • Chet

    What has the taxpayer done that allows the government to take a portion of his income?

    Lived in his country and enjoyed the public benefits of same. It’s much like how the bill comes after the meal. Or do you consider that “theft” as well, because if you’d eat for free if nobody was making you pay?

    This fall in prices eventually renews demand and gets the economy growing again.

    I don’t see this as a given. People don’t buy just because prices are low, especially if they don’t have any money in the first place. Supply doesn’t drive demand. (Otherwise people would be lining up for canned air.)

    Also, savings can serve as investment in the economy such as when savings are kept in banks. The more savings a bank holds, the more that bank can give out loans and stimulate the economy.

    Giving out loans doesn’t “stimulate the economy” when nobody’s asking for loans. Why would anybody want a loan? Expand a business or start a new one? What idiot would do that when people aren’t buying goods or services?

    We can’t just spend on credit like drunken sailors

    True for you, true for me, but not true for the government. The rules are different because they’re the ones who print the money. I would think that would be obvious. And I’m aware of the putative costs down the road of deficit spending, but compared to the costs of a deflationary recession? Compared to a decade or more of bottomed-out demand and wasted production?

    This might create the illusion of prosperity in the short term, but it makes a big economic drain for us and our children once the credit bills come due.

    Which will be nothing at all compared to the costs to our children of a decade of depression. I’m aware of the costs of deficit spending to future generations. At this point it’s basically like robbing your kid’s college fund to pay for his heart transplant.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    This is the same line of thought Hitler used with the Jews. We’re going to burn them anyway, what not use them for medical research…which is way the Catholic Church is against it using embryo’s.

    Clearly, Adam has failed to grasp my point. If we run with his ludicrously inappropriate analogy, then the Catholic church is the group that’s protesting vociferously against the medical experiments, but is perfectly okay with the Holocaust in general.

    If embryos are the moral equivalent of human beings, then fertility clinics across the country are routinely destroying human beings by the thousands. Yet the religious right seems to have no concern about this, and is instead protesting only the comparatively tiny fraction of embryos that are used for stem cell research. Why is their concern for embryos so selective? Is it because they’ve never taken the time to think through the implications of their own position, or do they have some other, more sinister reason? I leave it to my readers to decide.

  • Kaltro

    Weaver:
    “Benefitted from the services and institutions the taxes pay for.”

    So why not give us the option to opt out of those services and institutions we disagree with? If I don’t intend to use Social Security or like programs can I keep the taxes that would normally be taken for those? And If I home school my kids why should I pay taxes to fund the public schools? Do I get a deduction for those costs as well?

    Chet:
    “Why would anybody want a loan? Expand a business or start a new one? What idiot would do that when people aren’t buying goods or services?”

    Not all areas of the economy are equally affected by the recession. Even though some sectors might be contracting others could be growing. Somebody starting or expanding a business in a growing sector of the economy would benefit from the larger pool of people looking for work and lower costs due to other businesses having trouble clearing out their inventories or selling their services.

    “True for you, true for me, but not true for the government. The rules are different because they’re the ones who print the money. I would think that would be obvious.”

    So they can just print as much money as they want, huh? That doesn’t really give me confidence for the future. Not everybody values the money we print quite the same as we do. If we keep printing more they’ll decide to prefer some other currency instead.

    “Which will be nothing at all compared to the costs to our children of a decade of depression.”

    What makes you think it would last a decade? You’re assuming that the economy would keep contracting without government spending but I don’t see how that’s an obvious assumption. As I said before, the recession is felt differently in different parts of the economy. Even though some areas might be contracting, expansion in other areas can lead to recovery.

  • Chet

    So why not give us the option to opt out of those services and institutions we disagree with?

    I don’t understand. You’re free to opt out at any time.

    Even though some sectors might be contracting others could be growing.

    If the contraction didn’t dramatically outpace the growth it wouldn’t be a recession, by definition.

    So they can just print as much money as they want, huh?

    Uh, yeah, basically. There’s very good reasons that they don’t, but the money supply is something the Federal government manages.

    If we keep printing more they’ll decide to prefer some other currency instead.

    If we don’t get this recession under control they’re liable to do it anyway. Or they may simply decide that their reserve holdings shouldn’t be subject to fiscal policy in a country that acts without regard to their interest. I’m not sure that would be the worst thing in the world.

    What makes you think it would last a decade?

    Because that’s what happened last time, and the two times before that. You’ve never heard of “Japan’s Lost Decade”? Or The Great Depression? Ask your grandparents about the effects of laissez-faire responses to recession.

    Doing the exact same thing and expecting different results is, as they say, the definition of madness.

    You’re assuming that the economy would keep contracting without government spending but I don’t see how that’s an obvious assumption.

    I’ve explained how it’s obvious. The Paradox of Thrift is why it’s obvious. A $1.2 trillion shortfall in demand just this year alone is why it’s obvious.

    It is, in fact, obvious to everyone but you. This isn’t “papa lost his job; time for some belt-tightening” time. That’s true for you and true for me but it’s not even remotely true for the government. I mean, think about it – you’re probably making the exact same amount of money you made last year, but your spending is probably way down. In a recession demand retracts way more than it needs to because people are literally afraid to spend money. Keynes figured this out like 80 years ago. What’s holding you back?

  • terrence

    What a great thread this is, may it live on for a while.

    “100% of all those in favor of abortion have already been born”

  • Alex Weaver

    So why not give us the option to opt out of those services and institutions we disagree with?

    You have that option. I would give you a distance figure to the nearest national border, but I don’t know where you live.

  • Alex Weaver

    But, let’s consider your argument, given its assumptions.

    If I don’t intend to use Social Security or like programs can I keep the taxes that would normally be taken for those? And If I home school my kids why should I pay taxes to fund the public schools? Do I get a deduction for those costs as well?

    Okay, let’s say you were actually allowed to irrevocably surrender your right to social security benefits (it would have to be irrevocable because otherwise people would cheat by opting out until they were nearly 65 and then signing back up when they’d benefit from it), or to any other public assistance program. Leaving aside the extra bureaucratic overhead that would be required to deal with this kind of situation, there is perhaps some merit in this. You could probably also arrange to opt out of contract enforcement and police protection from those who would look to historical example in dealing with your “let them eat cake” attitude towards those who actually need social services.

    However, there are problems with your second example: children are not competent to make the decision to surrender their right to a state-supported education, and their rights would be violated by you denying it to them out of sheer petulance over compulsory taxation. This is to say nothing of the eventual burden on society from people who do not have education enough to be gainfully employed, a disproportionate number of whom turn to crime and/or wind up receiving social support services. (For the same reasons, you wouldn’t be allowed to opt your children out of those services. Your children are your dependents, not your property.)

    But, um, how exactly do you propose that you be allowed to opt out of roads paved and maintained by government at various levels, potable water, breathable air, defense against invasion (please don’t tell me you’re one of those narcissistic nutjobs who thinks they could hold off the Chinese or Russian armies with his gun collection), disease control by public health and sanitation efforts, social stability, etc.?

  • Leum

    So why not give us the option to opt out of those services and institutions we disagree with?

    Because government is sold as a package in this country. You either buy the software with three thousand applications you need two of, or you don’t buy the software at all. If you don’t like that, feel free to find a country where all taxes are collected as user fees. If you can’t find one, well, that’s the free market in action. Countries that do that don’t survive.

  • Kaltro

    “I don’t understand. You’re free to opt out at any time.”

    No, I’m not. The Social Security tax is taken automatically from paychecks, and if I don’t pay some of my taxes on principle the IRS comes after me. Or do you mean I should just leave the country? Even then, the IRS would still pursue me for tax evasion unless I renounced my U.S. citizenship. The only trouble is that the rest of the world seems worse than the U.S. in regard to taxes and other issues. So unless some aliens arrive from space who offer me a better living, I’m pretty much stuck.

    “Because that’s what happened last time, and the two times before that. You’ve never heard of “Japan’s Lost Decade”? Or The Great Depression? Ask your grandparents about the effects of laissez-faire responses to recession.
    Doing the exact same thing and expecting different results is, as they say, the definition of madness.”

    Yes, doing the same thing and expecting different results is madness. That’s why I can’t understand the recurring desire to use government as an economic stimulus. Hoover did it. FDR did it. The government of Japan did it. But it didn’t work in any of those cases. Japan still hasn’t totally recovered. Yet here we are trying it again. None of those cases was an excess of laissez-faire. It was an excess of government saying “We have to do something, or else!”

  • Kaltro

    “But, um, how exactly do you propose that you be allowed to opt out of roads paved and maintained by government at various levels, etc…”

    Weaver, that’s why I said opt out of *some* services but not all. I recognize the worth of law and order via the police and so on, and the common benefit from roads and other utilities. I would voluntarily pay for those. It’s some of these other programs I object to.

    “However, there are problems with your second example: children are not competent to make the decision to surrender their right to a state-supported education, and their rights would be violated by you denying it to them out of sheer petulance over compulsory taxation.”

    Parents have a right to raise and protect their children. That includes making decisions about how to educate them. In my experience state-supported education is often of poor quality. Many of the students just coast through. They care more about the diploma than about learning. They go through school to get pieces of paper they hope will increase their income.

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    Many of the students just coast through. They care more about the diploma than about learning. They go through school to get pieces of paper they hope will increase their income.

    How would getting government out of the school system fix that problem? I can see a lot of schools ending up more like degree mills if government got out of it (and not teaching anything is cheaper than teaching anything, something a profit motivated company would figure out and sell to those parents that just don’t care).

    Much of the reason that private schools appear to be better than government schools is because the private schools can choose not to admit some students (such as say, those who cause problems or are of below average intelligence) which skews the results. If private schools had to admit everyone, even those from broken homes who have been abused, you wouldn’t see them doing any better than government schools.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Or do you mean I should just leave the country? Even then, the IRS would still pursue me for tax evasion unless I renounced my U.S. citizenship. The only trouble is that the rest of the world seems worse than the U.S. in regard to taxes and other issues. So unless some aliens arrive from space who offer me a better living, I’m pretty much stuck.

    Kaltro unintentionally touches on an important point, which is addressed by Mike Huben’s Non-Libertarian FAQ:

    There are roughly 200 nations to which you could emigrate. They are the product of an anarcho-capitalist free market: there is no over-government dictating to those sovereign nations.

    …If any other market provided 200 choices, libertarians would declare that the sacred workings of the market blessed whatever choices were offered. The point is that choices do exist: it’s up to libertarians to show that there is something wrong with the market of nations in a way they would accept being applied to markets within nations.

    Libertaria is a combination of values that just doesn’t exist: the government equivalent of a really posh residence for very little money. You can find nations which have much lower taxes, etc.: just don’t expect them to be first class.

    And the reason these combinations don’t exist is probably simple: the free market of government services essentially guarantees that there is no such thing as the free lunch libertarians want. It’s not competitive.

  • Chet

    No, I’m not. The Social Security tax is taken automatically from paychecks, and if I don’t pay some of my taxes on principle the IRS comes after me.

    Only if you’re a US citizen.

    The only trouble is that the rest of the world seems worse than the U.S. in regard to taxes and other issues.

    Seems? Or is? Did you do the research? No? Then I guess I’m not especially concerned about your objections. It sounds like you’re simply too lazy to opt out. I mean you could always move to Iraq, or to Somalia – nobody would pester you for taxes there.

    That’s why I can’t understand the recurring desire to use government as an economic stimulus. Hoover did it. FDR did it. The government of Japan did it.

    Hoover didn’t and Japan didn’t, which was the problem. Hoover balanced the Federal budget in response to the depression, and the dramatic decline in government demand for services only made things worse. FDR started with the stimulus, and it started working – just long enough for his cabinet to agitate for more budget balancing, which undercut his stimulus. Keynes, of course, was begging him not to cease the stimulus and, in the end, was proven absolutely correct.

    The greatest stimulus, of course, was the industrial production of World War II, which employed millions and put production capacity back to work, ending the recession. But it didn’t have to be a war; it could have been bridges, or dams, or highways, or basically any excuse to put production and industry back to work. In fact war is probably the worst kind of stimulus – all those planes and tanks and guns might as well have simply been dropped in the ocean, for all the lasting economic benefit we got from them.

    Stimulus spending on infrastructure is ideal because it pays dividends coming and going – the immediate effect of a recession-ending increase in demand, plus lasting benefits that magnify economic gains down the road. When the government tries to stimulate the economy by building roads, you don’t just create an industry of road-builders, you create a shipping industry, a delivery industry, a car and truck construction industry, a GPS-based navigation industry, a chain of highway-based fast-food restaurant industry, and so on. (I’d rather see stimulus spent on high-speed rail and green energy, but the results would likely be the same – growth not only in that industry but in derivative industries made possible by government infrastructure.)

  • Kaltro

    Chet, Hoover intervened through such things as the Smoot-Hawley Tariff act, and starting work on Hoover Dam. He also signed the Emergency Relief and Construction act to create the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which funded public works projects across the country. Before that Hoover spent plenty of time influencing the economy as Commerce secretary in the 1920s.

    Japan bailed out Japanese banks and created road-building programs.

    Ebon, your quote doesn’t really represent what I actually believe. I don’t want a free lunch, and I don’t want to be on a government dole either. I despise that sort of dependency.

    Bestonnet, I don’t care what the government does with the public schools so long as it leaves the option for parents to use private schools or home schooling. If other parents want to send their kids to public schools that’s up to them. I prefer other options.

  • Leum

    Kaltro, what do you consider the legitimate functions of government and how do you think it should collect the revenue for those functions?

  • Chet

    Smoot-Hawley was not a stimulus act; in fact it was the exact opposite. Tariff acts are designed to suppress demand, not create it. Smoot-Hawley precipitated a massive decline in US-European trade and began the Great Depression.

    Japan did not bail out banks, which resulted in a massive consolidation of banks with insufficient capital assets to cover additional liabilities. The result was a credit crunch that prevented basically everybody from having access to credit through the 1990′s, even with Japanese national interest rates at essentially zero.

    Kaltro, these are facts easily accessible from Wikipedia. Did you ever consider that the reason you arrive at economic conclusions precisely at odds with consensus economics is because you’ve been woefully misinformed about history?

    The Lost Decade and the Great Depression were the result of not stimulating the economy – and that’s what you want us to do now? The very definition of madness.

  • Kaltro

    That’s a good question, Leum. I’d say the only legitimate function of government is to punish individuals who violate the rights of other individuals. Such service, in my view, ought to be mutually agreed to. Those who want the service of police or pay into a fund for that purpose. Those who feel they can do without police don’t pay into the fund and don’t receive protection. On the other hand, the police would have no right to insist that anyone pay them if their services are unwanted. But police could also refuse service if they didn’t like the customers for some reason. Any set-up would need to be agreed to by both parties.

    Perhaps even that would not be government as commonly meant, since I would allow the existence of multiple police services. If someone didn’t like the service (or cost) of one group of police they could find another group. I don’t really think it’s any smarter giving government a monopoly role than giving a monopoly to business.

    And yourself? How would you answer?

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    Bestonnet, I don’t care what the government does with the public schools so long as it leaves the option for parents to use private schools or home schooling. If other parents want to send their kids to public schools that’s up to them. I prefer other options.

    There are some parents who should simply not be allowed to homeschool their children and there are many private schools that should not exist (i.e. faith schools).

    You really do need to learn to accept that children are not the property of their parents and that parents do not have any rights over their children, merely responsibilities and privileges granted should they fulfil their responsibilities.

    Kaltro:

    Perhaps even that would not be government as commonly meant, since I would allow the existence of multiple police services. If someone didn’t like the service (or cost) of one group of police they could find another group. I don’t really think it’s any smarter giving government a monopoly role than giving a monopoly to business.

    What if two police services disagreed?

    Law and justice really is a natural monopoly to some degree and they must all operate under the same law and there would need to be a single body that could decide in disputes.

  • Kaltro

    Smoot-Hawley was passed to protect U.S. trade, Chet. Of course it was a terrible way to do so. But that was the intended effect. Hoover had political commitments to certain businesses that thought they would benefit from tariffs. The idea was to push out foreign competition and thereby increase purchases of American goods. Obviously it didn’t work. But the intent behind it was to help certain American businesses. You also aren’t acknowledging the other things Hoover did to provide economic stimulus such as the creation of Hoover Dam and the public works funded through the newly-created Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

    Did you read Wikipedia’s page on Japan’s lost decade? It says :

    “Recognizing that this bubble was unsustainable, the Finance Ministry sharply raised interest rates[when?]. This abruptly terminated the bubble, leading to a massive crash in the stock market. It also led to a debt crisis; a large proportion of the debts that had been run up turned bad, which in turn led to a crisis in the banking sector, with many banks having to be bailed out by the government.

    Eventually, many became unsustainable, and a wave of consolidation took place, resulting in only four national banks in Japan. Critically for the long-term economic situation, it meant many Japanese firms were burdened with massive debts, affecting their ability for capital investment. It also meant credit became very difficult to obtain, due to the beleaguered situation of the banks; even now the official interest rate is at 0% and has been for several years, and despite this credit is still difficult to obtain[citation needed].”

    That’s what Wikipedia says. Perhaps you should recommend a different source to justify your particular spin on events.

    As well, thank you for the implied “you’re mad”. I’ll take that as a compliment.

  • Kaltro

    Bestonnet, I don’t think children are property. I do think most parents should be given the benefit of the doubt and presumed competent to raise their kids until proven otherwise. We can’t start a bunch of witch hunts based on mere suspicion. There has to be actual evidence first. And besides that, don’t you see the other side of this? Your judgment is subjective. If you start a trend of discrimination based on your subjective judgment, you have to know that eventually someone will come to power with judgments opposed to yours. When that happens it will be your kids that get forced into, say, a faith-based school since according to the new authorities maybe ‘secular schools are a form of child abuse,’ or some other rationale. You can’t assume your viewpoint will always be dominant. History shows us that shifts in power and viewpoint are mind-numbingly frequent.

    “What if two police services disagreed?”

    They would have a several options. They could try to reach a compromise. If a compromise seemed difficult they could call in a third and hopefully more impartial party to help them sort it out. If the matter were serious enough perhaps even that wouldn’t settle the matter. Then they might have a duel, or a battle, or a war, depending on the severity of the disagreement. But the high costs of any violence would make that a rare occurrence. Only incredibly large and rigid disagreements require warfare. For the rest compromises can be found.

    Justice and law aren’t a natural monopoly. A monopoly in any other area leads to corruption, abuse, and inefficiency. If only one guy in the world makes shoes he can make shoes how he wants, when he wants, and for how much he wants. He can arbitrarily decide not to make shoes for people he doesn’t like. He can charge exorbitantly high prices. He can pass off flat pieces of cardboard with string punched through at certain intervals as shoes. Since he’s the only shoemaker around people have to buy from him or else go without shoes.

    Justice and law are similar. A Supreme Court might be the last word on legal affairs, but who keeps the Court in check? Any court will be managed by humans and humans are easily corruptible. Do you really think a Supreme Court that had the last say in any dispute anywhere in the world would be free of or immune to corruption and abuse? That assumption isn’t justified by human history. It isn’t justified by the weekly news, for goodness’s sake.

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    Bestonnet, I don’t think children are property.

    Then how else do you justify allowing faith-based homeschooling?

    If a child were the property of the parents then the parents can decide to not bother with education (which is for the most part what religious homeschooling is given how little is actually taught).

    Though there are some people who think children other than their own should be sacrificed to maintain diversity and so are willing to let child abuse like what the Amish do occur.

    Kaltro:

    I do think most parents should be given the benefit of the doubt and presumed competent to raise their kids until proven otherwise.

    That is how it works at the moment.

    Kaltro:

    And besides that, don’t you see the other side of this? Your judgment is subjective. If you start a trend of discrimination based on your subjective judgment, you have to know that eventually someone will come to power with judgments opposed to yours.

    Which is why the children will always have the freedom to believe whatever they want to believe, even if it is Christianity.

    This issue is about the right of all children (regardless of what their parents believe or want) to hear the best explanations of reality we have (i.e. science). If they want to believe their parents then they can do that, but there’s no justification for allowing their parents to prevent them from finding out.

    But even so, that argument is a red herring, whether something should be banned should not be based on whether the ban may be turned around, but on whether it should be banned.

    Kaltro:

    When that happens it will be your kids that get forced into, say, a faith-based school since according to the new authorities maybe ‘secular schools are a form of child abuse,’ or some other rationale. You can’t assume your viewpoint will always be dominant. History shows us that shifts in power and viewpoint are mind-numbingly frequent.

    Oh come on, the theocrats would do that regardless of whether faith schools were previously banned or not.

    Kaltro:

    They would have a several options. They could try to reach a compromise. If a compromise seemed difficult they could call in a third and hopefully more impartial party to help them sort it out. If the matter were serious enough perhaps even that wouldn’t settle the matter. Then they might have a duel, or a battle, or a war, depending on the severity of the disagreement. But the high costs of any violence would make that a rare occurrence. Only incredibly large and rigid disagreements require warfare. For the rest compromises can be found.

    More likely the weaker one would just give in.

    Kaltro:

    Justice and law aren’t a natural monopoly.

    Having two systems of law in a country is generally considered a bad thing given the confusion that can result along with the uncertainty when the different legal systems contradict. The only way to have competition between legal systems is for those legal systems to cover different countries (the free market of nations seems to work pretty well, with the successful countries being copied
    ).

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Those who want the service of police or pay into a fund for that purpose. Those who feel they can do without police don’t pay into the fund and don’t receive protection.

    What a grim and brutal world you propose, Kaltro. Has it occurred to you that, in your utopia, people who lose their jobs and run out of savings would become easy prey for criminals who knew they could rob and murder them without consequence?

    But police could also refuse service if they didn’t like the customers for some reason.

    I can’t even fathom how to begin writing a response to this. This is insanity; I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

  • bestonnet

    Ebonmuse:

    people who lose their jobs and run out of savings would become easy prey for criminals who knew they could rob and murder them without consequence?

    It’s not as far from reality as I’d like it to be, crimes against the homeless are commonplace.

    Ebonmuse:

    Kaltro:
    But police could also refuse service if they didn’t like the customers for some reason.

    I can’t even fathom how to begin writing a response to this. This is insanity; I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

    I think what he is proposing is that if one police company refuses to serve you then you’d be able to go to their competitors, just as in libertopia where if a restaurant refuses to serve you, you’d be able to go to the one down the street.

  • Chet

    moot-Hawley was passed to protect U.S. trade, Chet. Of course it was a terrible way to do so. But that was the intended effect.

    By suppressing foreign trade. Tariff acts, by definition, decrease demand. They cannot be stimulus, by definition.

    You also aren’t acknowledging the other things Hoover did to provide economic stimulus such as the creation of Hoover Dam and the public works funded through the newly-created Reconstruction Finance Corporation.

    One dam and a few public works were insufficient stimulus, obviously.

    Did you read Wikipedia’s page on Japan’s lost decade?

    I did, and it contains exactly the information I told you, and absolutely none of what you said happened. Where in the Wiki article do you see the words “bank bailout”? I don’t see that phrase, or any synonym, in the entire text of the article. The article is pretty clear that the substantive response of the Japanese finance ministry was to slash interest rates to try to alleviate the credit crunch, but the problem with that strategy is this – once interest rates are zero and the economy hasn’t recovered yet, where do you go from there?

    Japan did not “bail out” any banks; the result was a decade of lost economic growth. And that’s exactly what you’d have us do here, now, in our own country? Stupid.

  • Alex Weaver
    But police could also refuse service if they didn’t like the customers for some reason.

    I can’t even fathom how to begin writing a response to this. This is insanity; I can’t think of any other way to describe it.

    I can: “…you’re white, aren’t you?”

  • Alex Weaver

    Has it occurred to you that, in your utopia, people who lose their jobs and run out of savings would become easy prey for criminals who knew they could rob and murder them without consequence?

    I’m sure it has.

    But, Kaltros…has it occurred to you that you might be one of those people?

    Seriously. What you propose – people paying gangs (this is what police reduce to without the sanction of popular consent and the limitations of the rule of law) for protection – is essentially what’s going on now in parts of the world. Look at states where no government really controls the country as a whole and people are forced to rely on competing paramilitary forces or even literal gangs for protection. Look at Somalia, Iraq over the last few years, parts of Pakistan. Is that really the kind of society you want to live in?

  • bestonnet

    Alex Weaver:

    Look at Somalia, Iraq over the last few years, parts of Pakistan. Is that really the kind of society you want to live in?

    Kaltro:

    The only trouble is that the rest of the world seems worse than the U.S. in regard to taxes and other issues.

    Looks pretty obvious to me.

  • Leum

    And yourself? How would you answer [wrt legitimate functions of government]?</blockquote

    Kaltro, not surprisingly, I see the legitimate scope of government as much wider. Specifically, I see the function of government as providing those services that are necessary to society that the free market cannot provide at all or cannot provide adequately to the society’s needs.

    So schools (I don’t necessarily oppose vouchers, just the proposals for them I’ve seen), road construction, civil and national defense, healthcare (in any of a variety of forms, I have preferences, but don’t see one as mandatory for the government to provide), firefighters, paramedics, lighthouses (or whatever the modern equivalent is), and so on. I also consider the regulation of the free market to be a legitimate function, but recognize the importance of not letting the government become the market.

    As for revenue collection, I think user fees can be appropriate for some services (especially transportation), but I feel that income taxes are probably the fairest means of larger-scale collection.

  • Kaltro

    Chet, your reading skills disturb me. The article says at the end of the second paragraph that “a large proportion of the debts that had been run up turned bad, which in turn led to a crisis in the banking sector, with many banks having to be bailed out by the government.” Again: “Bailed out by the government.” And again, in case you missed it: “Many banks having to be bailed out by the government.”

    Are you a computer that only recognizes exact phrases and can’t read for the meaning behind the words? Your commitment to Keynes is making you miss what’s in front of your nose. Your faith in him is misplaced.

    Ebon:
    “Has it occurred to you that, in your utopia, people who lose their jobs and run out of savings would become easy prey for criminals who knew they could rob and murder them without consequence?”

    I never claimed it would be a utopia. In your example though it’s likely that the ones who lose their jobs and savings would become the criminals more often than not. Robbing someone without any job or savings doesn’t make much sense. What is there to take that’s worth anything? Murder doesn’t make much economic sense either unless the person murdered has great wealth or power, or if other dire factors make it the only option.

    The ones that rob and murder for enjoyment, on the other hand, would draw opposition from the majority of people. Such gleeful criminals would rightly be seen as a threat to everyone’s well-being and dealt with accordingly.

    Bestonnet:
    “Then how else do you justify allowing faith-based homeschooling?”

    You’d need to definitively prove how faith-based schooling is a violation of the child’s rights. Is it violating his life or property? If it isn’t some sort of clear violation I don’t see how you could discriminate against it. Parents serve as representatives for their children in matters of informed choice until the children come of age, or until the parents prove themselves incapable of serving their children’s best interests.

    Knowledge is a very subjective matter. You need a clear way to prove that some idea is false AND harmful to the children, such as demonstrating that twice two is NOT two thousand. Parents that taught their children it was safe to walk off the tops of buildings would also be incapable of representing their kids’s best interests.

    If you don’t have a clear instance of violation like that any government interference would itself be a violation of the rights of the parents and of the children, since the parents represent their children unless proven incapable of doing so.

    “Having two systems of law in a country is generally considered a bad thing given the confusion that can result along with the uncertainty when the different legal systems contradict.”

    The different laws of the states (individual American states) haven’t destroyed society, law, or order. Different states have different legislation concerning gay marriage, taxes, punishments for offenses, what qualifies as an offense and what type, and so on ad infinitum. But the world keeps turning somehow.

    Are you arguing for ever-increasing centralization?

  • Alex Weaver

    “Has it occurred to you that, in your utopia, people who lose their jobs and run out of savings would become easy prey for criminals who knew they could rob and murder them without consequence?”

    I never claimed it would be a utopia. In your example though it’s likely that the ones who lose their jobs and savings would become the criminals more often than not. Robbing someone without any job or savings doesn’t make much sense. What is there to take that’s worth anything? Murder doesn’t make much economic sense either unless the person murdered has great wealth or power, or if other dire factors make it the only option.

    The ones that rob and murder for enjoyment, on the other hand, would draw opposition from the majority of people. Such gleeful criminals would rightly be seen as a threat to everyone’s well-being and dealt with accordingly.

    Is there a limit to the number of people you are willing to see raped, murdered, or robbed, with no recourse, simply so you don’t have to feel like your money is being taken without your consent?

    “Having two systems of law in a country is generally considered a bad thing given the confusion that can result along with the uncertainty when the different legal systems contradict.”

    The different laws of the states (individual American states) haven’t destroyed society, law, or order. Different states have different legislation concerning gay marriage, taxes, punishments for offenses, what qualifies as an offense and what type, and so on ad infinitum. But the world keeps turning somehow.

    Are you arguing for ever-increasing centralization?

    It is trivially obvious that this example is irrelevant to the argument, as different states’ legal systems do not claim jurisdiction in the same territory, and an established superior system exists for handling disputes that do arise. Bluntly, attempting to deploy this obvious red herring shows you to be either incredibly dishonest or dumb as a stump.

  • Chet

    Fair enough – the Wiki article has one sentence that, somehow, I didn’t see the first three times I read it.

    One sentence doesn’t a stimulus policy make. And bank bailouts aren’t stimulus, they’re irrelevant to what we’re talking about. Keynes doesn’t say “bail out the banks”, he says only the government has the freedom to dramatically counteract an enormous shortfall in demand during a time of recession.

    And that’s true, Japanese bank bailout or not. It’s not “blind faith in Keynes”, it’s observation: observation that it worked to end the Great Depression, observation that not doing it neither ended the Great Depression nor Japan’s Lost Decade.

    The Keynes prescription is stimulus. Not bank bailouts, not Smoot-Hawley trade tariffs – the failure of the latter two is not indicative of a failure of the concept of stimulus, because bank bailouts and trade tariffs – as well as debt reduction and fiscal solvency – are not stimulus.

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    In your example though it’s likely that the ones who lose their jobs and savings would become the criminals more often than not.

    That’s partly why we need a welfare state.

    Kaltro:

    Robbing someone without any job or savings doesn’t make much sense. What is there to take that’s worth anything?

    They tend to be easier targets (and they still usually have something worth stealing) and would be even easier under your legal system.

    Kaltro:

    The different laws of the states (individual American states) haven’t destroyed society, law, or order. Different states have different legislation concerning gay marriage, taxes, punishments for offenses, what qualifies as an offense and what type, and so on ad infinitum. But the world keeps turning somehow.

    But of course that’s not what you seem to be proposing (and Alex Weaver did deal with that argument quite well), you seem to be proposing having multiple legal systems in the one place, something usually called civil war.

    Kaltro:

    You’d need to definitively prove how faith-based schooling is a violation of the child’s rights. Is it violating his life or property? If it isn’t some sort of clear violation I don’t see how you could discriminate against it. Parents serve as representatives for their children in matters of informed choice until the children come of age, or until the parents prove themselves incapable of serving their children’s best interests.

    I am using a test described by Nicolas Humphrey, reading the whole thing is worth it but here are some quotes from it.

    [...] young members of such a faith would—if given the opportunity to make up their own minds—choose to leave. Doesn’t this say something important about the morality of imposing any such faith on children to begin with? I think it does. In fact I think it says everything we need to know in order to condemn it.

    So I’ll come to the main point—and lesson—of this lecture. I want to propose a general test for deciding when and whether the teaching of a belief system to children is morally defensible. As follows. If it is ever the case that teaching this system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they in fact to have had access to alternatives, they would most likely not have chosen for themselves, then it is morally wrong of whoever presumes to impose this system and to chose for them to do so. No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else.

    “No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else”. That just about sums up why faith schools are immoral.

    Still, utopian as the criterion is, I think its moral implications remain pretty obvious. For, even supposing we cannot know—and can only guess on the basis of weaker tests—whether an individual exercising this genuinely free choice would himself choose the beliefs that others intend to impose upon him, then this state of ignorance in itself must be grounds for making it morally wrong to proceed. In fact perhaps the best way of putting this is to put it the other way round, and say: only if we know that teaching a system to children will mean that later in life they come to hold beliefs that, were they to have had access to alternatives, they would still have chosen for themselves, only then can it be morally allowable for whoever imposes this system and choses for them to do so. And in all other cases, the moral imperative must be to hold off.

    This is, surely, the crux of it. It is a cornerstone of every decent moral system, stated explicitly by Immanuel Kant but already implicit in most people’s very idea of morality, that human individuals have an absolute right to be treated as ends in themselves—and never as means to achieving other people’s ends. It goes without saying that this right applies no less to children than to anybody else. And since, in so many situations, children are in no position to look after themslves, it is morally obvious that the rest of us have a particular duty to watch out for them.

    But the grounds I’m proposing are firmer. Some of the other speakers in this lecture series will have talked about the values and virtues of science. And I am sure they too, in their own terms, will have attempted to explain why science is different—why it ought to have a unique claim on our heads and on our hearts. But I will now perhaps go even further than they would. I think science stands apart from and superior to all other systems for the reason that it alone of all the systems in contention meets the criterion I laid out above: namely, that it represents a set of beliefs that any reasonable person would, if given the chance, choose for himself.

    My questions are rhetorical because the answers are already in. We know very well which way people will go when they really are allowed to make up their own minds on questions such as these. Conversions from superstition to science have been and are everyday events. They have probably been part of our personal experience. Those who have been walking in darkness have seen a great light. The aha! of scientific revelation.

    By contrast conversions from science back to superstition are virtually unknown. It just does not happen that someone who has learnt and understood science and its methods and who is then offered a non-scientific alternative chooses to abandon science. I doubt there has ever been a case, for example, of someone who has been brought up to believe the geological theory of volcanoes moving over to believing in divine anger instead, or of someone who has seen and appreciated the evidence that the world is round reverting to the idea that the world is flat, or even of someone who has once understood the power of Darwinian theory going back to preferring the story of Genesis.

    It’s pretty clear that an exposure to science should be considered a fundamental human right.

  • Snoof

    Robbing someone without any job or savings doesn’t make much sense. What is there to take that’s worth anything?

    Organs. There’s (sadly) a thriving black market in them.

  • Alex Weaver

    To say nothing of trafficking in live humans.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/daylightatheism Ebonmuse

    Is there a limit to the number of people you are willing to see raped, murdered, or robbed, with no recourse, simply so you don’t have to feel like your money is being taken without your consent?

    Thank you, Alex; I think that perfectly sums up what I was getting at in my previous comment.

  • Kaltro

    Bestonnet:
    “That’s partly why we need a welfare state.”
    I disagree. The welfare state is worse than what it seeks to cure, because it smothers anyone who gets stuck in it. It robs the productive people of the fruits of their labor and gives the people without work an excuse to not take responsibility for themselves. I know from experience how deadening it is to depend on money I didn’t earn. You have no idea how much anger, frustration, guilt, and even depression such welfare causes. This is the last thing we need more of.

    “They tend to be easier targets (and they still usually have something worth stealing) and would be even easier under your legal system.”

    Perhaps. But under my ideal system other things would be different too which would change the current economic climate to make finding work easier. I wouldn’t want to try putting my ideal set-up in place all at once though. I think such changes should be more gradual.

    “No one has the right to choose badly for anyone else”. That just about sums up why faith schools are immoral.”

    Who decides what qualifies as ‘badly’, though? We have the problem of subjectivity again. There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so… and different people think differently. I know that some people will never agree. So does it come down to who has the most power to enforce their wishes, then?

    Chet, let’s agree to disagree on the issue. We aren’t getting anywhere.

    Weaver:
    “Is there a limit to the number of people you are willing to see raped, murdered, or robbed, with no recourse, simply so you don’t have to feel like your money is being taken without your consent?”

    Why do you assume that without government chaos would reign? Do you think that government and society are the same thing, and that without government people would be barbarians?

  • Leum

    Kaltro, it’s not that people are barbarians in the absence of government; it’s worse than that. Without government the justice system becomes vigilantism and people get murdered because their brother killed someone else, theft is punished by on-site execution, and any police force or court system becomes so susceptible to bribery that it’s worse than nothing.

    This isn’t speculation, it’s what we see today in Iraq, in American cities where the government no longer bothers with the slums, it’s what we saw in the Old West (although it wasn’t quite as bad as advertised), it’s the system that must arise, because crime needs to be prevented and there’s no central mechanism to do so.

    You can either have one government or you have many competing governments each serving the interests of a select few at the expense of everyone else. Not because people are barbarians, but because we aren’t.

    As to people suffering from anger, guilt, frustration, and depression while on welfare, I can only suggest that similar emotions are felt by those without welfare with no hope of going higher, and that if people don’t like being on welfare they are under no obligation to remain so.

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    I disagree. The welfare state is worse than what it seeks to cure, because it smothers anyone who gets stuck in it.

    Only a minority suffer that fate.

    Kaltro:

    It robs the productive people of the fruits of their labor

    Without a welfare state you’ll get riots which do an even better job at robbing productive people of the fruits of their labour.

    Kaltro:

    and gives the people without work an excuse to not take responsibility for themselves.

    Only a minority of people are like that.

    Kaltro:

    I know from experience how deadening it is to depend on money I didn’t earn. You have no idea how much anger, frustration, guilt, and even depression such welfare causes. This is the last thing we need more of.

    So what would you have to help people down on their luck? Let them starve? Private charity? Faith based charity?

    Charity is in terms of how it feels just like welfare, only less dependable.

    Kaltro:

    Perhaps. But under my ideal system other things would be different too which would change the current economic climate to make finding work easier.

    If it works the way you think it will then yes, the problem is that it probably won’t.

    Kaltro:

    I wouldn’t want to try putting my ideal set-up in place all at once though. I think such changes should be more gradual.

    Doing things slowly also provides the possibility of correcting errors and if you’re ideas really are good then moving towards them should improve things without needing to go all the way.

    Kaltro:

    Why do you assume that without government chaos would reign?

    Because that is what tends to happen (until a new government appears).

  • Kaltro

    Bestonnet:
    “Only a minority suffer that fate.”

    Probably because so far only a minority has been on welfare.

    “Without a welfare state you’ll get riots which do an even better job at robbing productive people of the fruits of their labour.”

    You get riots with the welfare state. Look at France. Look at Greece. Welfare states, by encouraging dependence, make riots more likely. Welfare creates addicts. And addicts just care about their next dose. When welfare services don’t arrive as expected, you’ll find that the junkies get antsy.

    “So what would you have to help people down on their luck? Let them starve? Private charity? Faith based charity?”

    I would get the government out of the market and allow a combination of market forces and private charity help them out. Things like minimum wages increase unemployment. The government, as usual, makes things worse. I’m beginning to think Reagan was right. Maybe the most terrifying words in the English language really are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

    “If it works the way you think it will then yes, the problem is that it probably won’t.”
    Well, that’s a risk for any imaginative and idealistic thinker. No matter what the specific idea it always seems rosier in theory than in practice. That’s a risk anybody takes when thinking in theoretical or imaginative terms.

    “Because that is what tends to happen (until a new government appears).”

    But history is filled with failed nation states that had authoritarian streaks of varying strength and prominence. A revolution has historically been preceded by a state; it takes the systemic inequalities of a state to provoke the violence of a revolution. For that matter, states have committed so much murder and other crimes both domestically and abroad that I don’t see a huge degree of difference between them and the chaos you imagine is waiting. During WW2 alone states like Germany and Russia murdered millions of their own citizens. Shortly after China joined in. Perhaps you will tell me that we’d experience Armageddon in the absence of states.

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    Perhaps you will tell me that we’d experience Armageddon in the absence of states.

    No, but new states would arise, ones which may not be the nicest places to live.

  • Alex Weaver

    Why do you assume that without government chaos would reign?

    ….

    Historical track record, maybe?

  • Alex Weaver

    “If it works the way you think it will then yes, the problem is that it probably won’t.”
    Well, that’s a risk for any imaginative and idealistic thinker. No matter what the specific idea it always seems rosier in theory than in practice. That’s a risk anybody takes when thinking in theoretical or imaginative terms.

    It didn’t work the last time it was tried. What’s different about the situation now?

  • Kaltro

    Weaver:
    “It didn’t work the last time it was tried. What’s different about the situation now?”

    I don’t share your assumption that it failed last time, so your question is meaningless to me. I do know that government intervention in the economy has been tried again and again with similar results.

    We have a philosophical disagreement. I think that given the chance humans can organize themselves into harmonious society without the strong arm of a state. You seem to think that without the state humans would degenerate into Hobbes’s war of all against all. In other words, you believe that humans are totally or mostly depraved and that they will become evil monsters without some sort of restraining authority. I’m not so pessimistic.

  • Alex Weaver

    It’s not an assumption, it’s an empirical observation of the actual conditions in states with an absence of government regulation of the economy, or effective government in general. Hello? The Gilded Age? Somalia? Have you ever opened a history book in your life?!

    I do indeed think that, because it has what has happened in every society from which effective government was removed. You are going to have to acknowledge and deal with this if you want to be taken seriously. A counter-example would be helpful, for instance. Can you name even one?

  • Kaltro

    Alex, why don’t you just start your own cult in praise of government? It’s obvious you looked to it for protection and guidance when the conventional gods failed. I disagree with you but you can worship how you please.

    As for examples, a fairly current one would be Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen. That one isn’t very large but it is an example. Another would be the Icelandic Free State during medieval times. There are others I’m unaware of, I’m sure. The past is huge and it’s easy to miss things.

  • Leum

    Kaltro, I’m willing to believe small societies can function in an anarcho-capitalist manner. I am likewise willing to believe small societies can function in an anarcho-communist manner. What I do not believe is that large-scale societies can work in the absence of a controlling force.

    Freetown Christiania, however, cannot even be fairly called anarchistic. Cars are banned within the town, it is surrounded by the city of Copenhagen and so benefits from the Danish and Copenhagen governments. Even if it were anarchistic, it’s population is a mere 850 residents, hardly large enough to demonstrate the ability of an entire nation to function without a government.

    As for Iceland:

    Therefore, the Icelandic Commonwealth can hardly be claimed in any significant way as an example of “anarcho”-capitalism in practice. This can also be seen from the early economy, where prices were subject to popular judgement at the skuldaping (“payment-thing”) not supply and demand. [Kirsten Hastrup, Culture and History in Medieval Iceland, p. 125] Indeed, with its communal price setting system in local assemblies, the early Icelandic commonwealth was more similar to Guild Socialism (which was based upon guild’s negotiating “just prices” for goods and services) than capitalism. (emphasis added, source)

    As I said earlier, this has nothing to do with believing humans are inherently depraved. This has everything to do with the fact that we aren’t. When we are wronged we seek redress. If there isn’t an organization that that can (or at least attempt to) right wrongs and protect society fairly we will form organizations that will do so, and those organizations will be accountable only to those who form them. Your system merely overthrows a single government for a system of many competing governments serving only those lucky enough to pay them.

  • Alex Weaver

    Alex, why don’t you just start your own cult in praise of government? It’s obvious you looked to it for protection and guidance when the conventional gods failed. I disagree with you but you can worship how you please.

    Kaltro, there is nothing “cultish” or “worshipful” about recognizing that doing the same thing over again and expecting different results is insane. This is classic projection, and, frankly, it’s pathetic.

    As for examples, a fairly current one would be Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen. That one isn’t very large but it is an example. Another would be the Icelandic Free State during medieval times. There are others I’m unaware of, I’m sure. The past is huge and it’s easy to miss things.

    As to your examples, the Icelandic Free State was a non-kingdom but does not seem to have existed without a state and a government – note their court system and the decisions mentioned under it, for instance. The same appears to be true of Freetown Christiana. Exactly what traits of these communities persuaded you to cite them as examples of states without government?

  • Nes

    As to people suffering from anger, guilt, frustration, and depression while on welfare, I can only suggest that similar emotions are felt by those without welfare with no hope of going higher…

    Speaking from personal experience, subtract the guilt and add a heavy weight and that pretty much sums it up.

  • Adam

    Adam,

    Clearly, Adam has failed to grasp my point. If we run with his ludicrously inappropriate analogy…

    You’re right.

    But Adam, Isn’t the purpose of embryonic stem cell research to get the results we’re already getting in other area’s of stem cell research??

    Why must we spend billions of dollars to reinvent the wheel if it’s already working? Cures are happening!!!

    Is there not anyone on the web board that agrees with me?

    Adult stem cells, it already works!: http://www.stemcellresearchfacts.com/index.html

  • An Indonesian Atheist

    Did cl just died and resurrected as Kaltro?

  • Kaltro

    I’m not cl. I am frustrated by the pervasive liberal bias though.

    Suit yourselves. I’m not debating any longer.

  • Alex Weaver

    Bluntly, given your actual position and tactics, while you have certainly been “‘bating” you dropped the “de” a long time ago.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Why must we spend billions of dollars to reinvent the wheel if it’s already working? Cures are happening!!!

    Because (as I already explained) embryonic stem cells open up avenues that we simply can’t reach with adult stem cells.

    So, can I take it that you would rush into a burning IVF clinic to save the frozen embryos?

  • bestonnet

    Kaltro:

    I don’t share your assumption that it failed last time, so your question is meaningless to me. I do know that government intervention in the economy has been tried again and again with similar results.

    Ah yes, 1987, when government intervention in the aftermath of a stock market crash worse than the one which started the great depression prevented a repeat.

    Kaltro:

    I think that given the chance humans can organize themselves into harmonious society without the strong arm of a state.

    We do, it is called a state.

    Kaltro:

    You seem to think that without the state humans would degenerate into Hobbes’s war of all against all. In other words, you believe that humans are totally or mostly depraved and that they will become evil monsters without some sort of restraining authority. I’m not so pessimistic.

    There will always be those who prey on the weak, the only defence the weak have against them is to either band together to defend themselves (which eventually becomes a government, usually a dictatorship) or to just do whatever the strong say (in which case it becomes a dictatorship).

    Kaltro:

    As for examples, a fairly current one would be Freetown Christiana in Copenhagen. That one isn’t very large but it is an example.

    It also has to follow Danish law.

    Kaltro:

    Another would be the Icelandic Free State during medieval times.

    That is one of the better examples although even that had it’s problems (like a law requiring everyone be baptised).

    Kaltro:

    There are others I’m unaware of, I’m sure. The past is huge and it’s easy to miss things.

    Not a very good argument that.

    Let’s try another argument:

    There is proof of God I’m unaware of, I’m sure. The universe is huge and it’s easy to miss things.

    One of the stupidest arguments for the existence of a god out there.

    Saying that the universe or the past or whatever is huge and that what you claim to exist is out there isn’t good enough, you have to actually find what you exists.

    Adam:

    Isn’t the purpose of embryonic stem cell research to get the results we’re already getting in other area’s of stem cell research??

    There are a lot of things we can’t do with adult stem cells that we might be able to with embryonic stem cells.

    Even so, there’s a lot of potential research we could get out of embryonic stem cells (and you’re going to have a much harder time figuring out how to turn adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells if don’t research embryonic stem cells).

    Adam:

    Why must we spend billions of dollars to reinvent the wheel if it’s already working? Cures are happening!!!

    But we are likely to create even more cures if we spend those billions of dollars on embryonic stem cell research.

    Adam:

    Is there not anyone on the web board that agrees with me?

    Did you ever ask whether it might have something to do with you being wrong?

    Kaltro:

    I am frustrated by the pervasive liberal bias though.

    Yeah, it’s bad, even reality has a liberal bias.

  • http://www.myspace.com/driftwoodduo Steve Bowen

    Yeah, it’s bad, even reality has a liberal bias.

    It’s official! there’s something not quite “right” with the universe.

  • Adam

    There are a lot of things we can’t do with adult stem cells that we might be able to with embryonic stem cells.

    What are those?

  • bestonnet

    How do you expect us to figure out how to turn adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells (or something close to it) without doing research on embryonic stem cells?

    We need to know what is different about the two types to be able to do that (i.e. for your opposition argument that we don’t need embryonic stem cells because adult stem cells can do the job to become true, we need to do research on embryonic stem cells anyway).

    Besides, when you do science you never really know what you are going to find, but as a religious person you probably have a hard accepting that.

  • Adam

    bestonnet,

    why are do you want to turn adult stem cells into embryonic stem cells? what is the benefit?

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    Adam
    Google is your friend.

    There are currently several limitations to using adult stem cells. Although many different kinds of multipotent stem cells have been identified, adult stem cells that could give rise to all cell and tissue types have not yet been found. Adult stem cells are often present in only minute quantities and can therefore be difficult to isolate and purify. There is also evidence that they may not have the same capacity to multiply as embryonic stem cells do. Finally, adult stem cells may contain more DNA abnormalities—caused by sunlight, toxins, and errors in making more DNA copies during the course of a lifetime. These potential weaknesses might limit the usefulness of adult stem cells.

    We want to use embryonic cells because they are pluripotent, meaning they have the capacity to develop into any type of cell that we direct. We are still learning exactly how to direct them, but that’s why we want embryonic cells. Adult cells are more flexible than we thought from the outset, but still not as flexible as embryonic cells.

    Now, I see you are very keyed up on only using adult cells, but you forget where the embryonic cells come from. They come from fertility clinics from embryos that are not going to be carried to term anyway. Are you against fertility clinics? If an IVF clinic were on fire, would you save the embryos trapped in the freezer? I see that you never address these questions. Why is that?

  • Adam

    Are you against fertility clinics?

    Yes.

    If an IVF clinic were on fire, would you save the embryos trapped in the freezer?

    Would you run into a building on fire with Children locked inside a classroom, in which you do not have a key?

    I’m answering these questions because they’re not on topic.

  • http://whyihatejesus.blogspot.com OMGF

    I would try and save children, I’m seeing if you would try to save the embryos.

    And, they are on topic. If you are going to try and argue that it is wrong to take embryonic stem cells because they are human beings, just like children, then these questions probe how consistent you are with that. Considering that protests outside of abortion clinics happen frequently, but that no one protests outside of fertility clinics, I have to wonder why that is. I also have to wonder if you really would try to save embryos from a freezer (given the key or not) if the building were on fire. Or, given the choice of being able to save 100 embryos or one child, which would you choose? The point is that you probably would not try to save the embryos, in either situation, because we implicitly recognize the differences between us and embryos.


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