“Public Choice” -Liberty Vocabulary

 

If you listen to political or economic podcasts, read blogs and journals, or go to lectures, the phrased “public choice” will be bandied about.

Once we get a working knowledge of any topic (say….econ or politics) we often stop learning terminology, because we can gather the gist of what is being said by the context.

Pubic Choice is a microeconomic tool used to critique political structures, especially constitutions and the like.

It is a peer-reviewed science, and tries to understand, in economic terms, why people do what they do and vote the way they do.

How does consensus work? And how much unanimity do you need? Does the Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) affect group decisions, and if so, how? Is utility for the majority, or a sense of justice which drives most people in public decision-making?

One of the problems with “majority rules” voting is that, scientifically speaking, decisions are more often than not favored which are less beneficial and cost more, rather than the other way around. Hello, $20 trillion deficit. 

Public Choice thought has exposed the idea of rent seeking (which I will explore soon in Life & Liberty). Rent seeking happens when incentives get mixed up when the government can offer certain advantages to certain individuals or groups. These protected entities tend to become monopolies. Thus the government, rather than protecting us from monopolies, is often tempted (by self interest) to go on multiplying and creating them, knowing that people would rather earn rent (cash flow from a stake in something) than work for money.

Public Choice thought tends to have an anti-statist bent, mostly because of its ongoing critique of the misplaced incentives in public bureaucracies as opposed to those in private corporations. Bureaucrats owe their allegiance to those above them who appoint them, and they lead a large, protected class of civil servants below them. Their tendency (behaviorally) is to please their appointers rather than the public which they “swear” to serve. Whereas no one on the private sector food chain, from CEO to laborer, can afford to take her/his eyes off of the well-being of the customer for very long.

It is especially controversial right now, because of Nancy McLean’s jeremiad against libertarianism, Democracy in Chains.

MacLean focuses on James Buchanan, her “bete noir,” who was prominent proponent of Public Choice thought. Buchanan and four other Public Choice scholars have won Nobel Prizes in Economics, including Vernon Smith whom I was privileged to meet in 2016 at Acton University.

MacLean sees a vast right-wing conspiracy, masquerading as science, which uses Public Choice data as a way to keep African Americans from voting. She presents no evidence for this; in fact, many Public Choice scholars were strident activists against Apartheid in South Africa.

This should be enough to get you started. But certainly not enough to explain it. Have a look around and let me know what you find.

For a great, simple slide show on Public Choice, click HERE.

For more info, check out the Wikipedia entry on Public Choice.

There is a Journal called Public Choice.

TrumpCare? ObamaCare? No thank you…

 

Both TrumpCare and ObamaCare are disasters.

Put together by politicians who have Cadillac health care plans and zero professional experience in medicine or insurance (with tiny exceptions like Rand Paul, an ophthalmologist). It’s ironic that John McCain could not make it to the vote because he was enjoying co-pay-free surgery at the time.

And what does Trump know about these things? He doesn’t even HAVE insurance because billionaires are simply self-insured by their net worth.

TrumpCare and ObamaCare are horrifically bad compromises between government control and free enterprise, somehow managing to avoid the benefits of either school of thought!

The benefits of socialized medicine:
  • It’s universal. Everyone has it and no one is left out. ObamaCare fails here, and TrumpCare leaves an even bigger “coverage gap.”
  • It’s streamlined. No layering of private/public bureaucracies which just over-feed each other and drive down efficiency and transparency, and drive up costs.
The benefits of a free enterprise health care system:
  • Competition. Which creates innovation and improvements. Look at the explosion of cell phone technology once government got out of the phone business.
  • Cost. What are the two fastest-improving segments of health care with dramatically falling prices? Lasik eye surgery and cosmetic surgery. Why? Because they aren’t under the control of government/insurance juntas.
  • The free market makes a huge effort to serve everyone (notice the dollar menu at the drive thru), and it is not incompatible with a basic social safety net for the poorest of the poor.
We end up with the worst of both systems with ObamaCare AND TrumpCare:
  • We have capitalism without competition (because of government control) which leads to price gouging and a total lack of pricing transparency. Heavy regulation favors the big boys of insurance and health care chains, because no startups can afford regulatory compliance. This is known as “regulatory capture” and monopolization.
  • We have “socialized” medicine without total coverage of the population; and so many layers of administration that the average person has no clue how to navigate the system.
  • The “Affordable Care Act (ACA)” has universally and dramatically driven up prices for both health care and insurance. It has been the polar opposite of “affordable.”
  • The truth is, it may not be feasible to administer any total-care system in a vast, continental empire of 335 million people. The necessary hierarchical layers would choke the whole thing. Poster-child examples tend to be little nations in Europe with the population of Orange County.
We have three options outside of the hideously dysfunctional non-option of ObamaCare or TrumpCare.
  1. Single-payer government health care. Even those who hate socialism can grant that it would be better than what we have now.
  2. A total free market. Don’t underestimate the power of the market to try to serve everyone, and to do it in better and better ways. The incentives are in the right place.
  3. Something way more creative which preserves competition and total coverage in a creative blend. That’s above my pay grade and certainly above the pay grade of your average senator.

The Conservative Case for Workers’ Unions

We all know that the “pendulum” swings back and forth over time as to many issues. And, although I never thought I would say this, one pendulum swing that should happen again regards what I call voluntary workers’ unions. I came to that conclusion after reading an article by Jonathan Rauch in the July/August issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Conservative Case for Unions.” As we all know, private-sector labor unions in the past had become so powerful that they could sometimes dictate how many companies could do business. So eventually the reaction against that power became so strong that laws were passed, along with many bureaucratic regulations and court interpretations  that specifically prohibited creative ways of forming unions, and those already formed were forbidden from engaging in a number of activities. Public unions (a real problem) are a whole ‘nother issue for another time. But, Liberty-lovers should always be in favor of voluntary associations.

Times have certainly changed, but the restrictive laws have not; laws which (mostly) prohibit the formation of such things as creative “workers’ unions.” Even if not fully empowered to negotiate wages, engage in strikes, or be involved in collective bargaining issues, workers’ unions can serve other functions. For example, almost all surveys of lower economic-level workers show their biggest complaint being a lack of respect and a feeling of diminishment in how they are treated in the workplace. So a workers’ union could 1) give the workers a unified voice, and 2) address and propose resolutions for things such as workplace safety issues. In addition, it would allow the workers to pursue (together with management) innovations like helping the administration of government-funded unemployment, health and benefit plans, wage insurance, and even serve as employment agencies. Liberty allows for innovation and change and, in this area, Liberty is being stifled.

-Judge Jim Gray, from his “Two Paragraphs for Liberty” series. Slightly edited.

Candidate for Vice President of the United States in 2012 on Governor Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Party ticket. 

The Vocation Revolution. Martin Luther and 500 Year Reformation Anniversary

 

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther is more or less the “Hamilton” of Germany this year–with a strange crossover merging pop culture and history.

What follows are my notes from a lecture at Acton University 2017 by Jordan Ballor (PhD Zürich); including some of my insights and comments. 

What is your vocation?

Before Martin Luther, the medieval view distributed the population into somewhat static “roles” (the military and clergy always being the exceptions; avenues of flexible upward mobility). One did one’s duty within the expectations of one’s place, and was rewarded with being worthy of approval.

There were mundane professions, on the one hand, and the way of perfection on the other.

Many look at the 1517 Reformation in economic terms, but the focus on vocational revolution was stronger.

Luther, personally, walked through a vocational transformation at the same time he was transforming Europe. This had theological, social, economic, and political implications. The “rood screen” between the “robed ones” in the choir and clergy and the unwashed laity sitting on the floor (religious and mundane), was removed, shuffling the ordered deck of medieval “role” cards.

Luther expounded the Bible texts “QVIA HODIE” (for today). He opposed the popular and libertine wings of the Reformation, asking rather “What is the faithful Christian to do…today?”

He appealed to the Christian nobility, and to Charles the emperor, in vocational terms. He called Charles to his vocational duty as emperor to call a great council (as Constantine had done), basically saying, “You can reform the oikumene.”

Martin Luther’s vocation: faithful exposition of scripture. 1520: temporal authority needs to act. But he knew Charles might fail to do so, and felt it correct, in this case, for local authorities and universities to do so in response to the emperor’s vocational failure.

What started as a theological dispute became a project for reforming all of life.

Luther held a pre-modern, pre-enlightenment worldview. He saw there being two kingdoms (sacred and secular); each consisting of three estates:

  • Household/oikonomia
  • State/polis
  • Church/ekklesia

Max Weber, in his study of the “Protestant work ethic,” was “off” in many ways. Capitalism existed long before the Reformation. But why only in the West was there thorough organization of labor and rational bookkeeping?

Weber explored the motivations behind Protestants. Why would they work so hard and in this way?

Weber traced some of it back to Luther, who equalized all vocations in the eyes of God. In doing so, he brought dignity to everyday work. Our “jobs” acquired a spiritual aspect, whether or not our vocations had anything to do with religious work.

Luther introduced the idea that all Christians have an equal vocation of following Christ, and thus their various forms daily work (some glamorous–some not) was of parallel value.

Luther never fully worked it out–this was left to the Reformed tradition, including Kuyper, and others.

But the wheels were set in motion and the train had left the station…

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Please go back to the main page and scroll down to see all the Acton University lectures I attended.

The House Is Burning…

A message by Pastor Dana Hanson, ELCA pastor in Los Angeles.

Honoring God means honoring Jesus. Everyone is called to acknowledge what he has done for them, give thanks, and trust in his way.

Judaism and Natural Law (Daniel Mark, Villanova U)

 

What follows are my notes (with some editorializing on my part) of Daniel Mark’s lecture at the Acton University in 2017. Mark, who is Jewish, is professor of political science at Villanova University.

Why do Jews so seldom talk about natural law?

Let’s go back to Genesis. For one thing, Jews don’t extrapolate (as many Reformed and Roman Catholic theologians do) original sin out of the Adam and Eve story.

But natural law is “built in.” Adam was obligated to obey the command of God.

For instance, consider the many questions raised in the Jewish tradition about the justice of what happens in the Bible:

  • The binding of Isaac and the command to kill him
  • The conquest of Canaan
  • God harding the hearts of people so they don’t understand/hear.
  • The wiping out of the Amalekites.
  • And many more…

Where are these questions coming from? Not from revealed law, but from NATURAL LAW.

Leviticus 18:4–“Do my judgments and keep my statutes.”

Do my Judgments:  אֶת־מִשְׁפָּטַי תַּעֲשׂוּ  Mishphatim (pl). Having more to do with natural, rational, reasonable thought. What a judge does when she/he has to decide/discern. “Common law.”

And keep my Statutes:  וְאֶת־חֻקֹּתַי תִּשְׁמְרוּ Khuqim (pl). Written statues, clearly defined. Not from human reason. Often used for revealed law as opposed to natural law. “Statutory law.”

Was natural law assumed and never made explicit? Is it true because it’s in the Bible, or in the Bible because it’s true (natural)? The Jewish tradition, unlike the Greco-Roman Catholic tradition, never wrote out extended proofs.

Judaism is less consistent with natural law than Roman Catholicism. RC thinking has “exceptionless norms.” There is daylight between Jewish ethics and natural law.

Whether or not the Torah is fully rational, the goal of Judaism is to spread ethical monotheism, not to make everyone Jewish. Truth cannot contradict truth.

Many fundamentalisms (of all kinds) teach some kind of anthropological ‘total depravity’ which robs us of our ability to reason. Human rationality is judged guilty and not redeemable.

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My comments: the entire oral Torah tradition (the original “Wikipedia” spanning centuries) is a skyscraper of natural reason interacting with the rugged fabric of the biblical narrative. As the Jewish tradition paralleled the Greek tradition, rather than flowing out of it, as the Roman Catholic tradition was birthed, it uses different vocabulary not dependent on Greco-Roman philosophical grammars.

Reading contemporary-friendly “plunges” into the oral Torah (see, for instance the work of Avivah Zornberg) is one of the most intellectually refreshing journeys one can make, and a feast of reason meeting narrative.

Putinators are the New Birthers?

 

Deja vu all over again.

Two terms ago, a young African-American was elected president. Many Republicans couldn’t digest it, so the extreme right wing of the party, in full-blown sour grapes mode, cooked up the “Birther” conspiracy.

Supposedly, Barack Obama “cheated” because he wasn’t really born in the USA. His Hawaiian birth certificate was a “forgery.” No amount of evidence could convince the hardened skeptics that he was legally elected.

Any schoolgirl in fourth grade can figure out that he was indeed born in Hawaii. The alternative narratives border on the bizarre.

Some “birthers” give us the impression that Obama was really some “Manchurian candidate” (sent by Kenya?) planted here by some foreign group. Seriously?

With all the maturity of the losing team playing unsupervised “ball” on the kiddie playground, many birthers were simply unable to get to the point of good sportsmanship and accepting that they lost the election.

 

Fast forward to 2017.

Now the shoe is on the other foot. The hard left cannot seem to accept that they lost the election. In strategy worth of Tom Brady’s super bowl comeback, Donald Trump pulled off a win by focusing on the electoral votes of the disenfranchised of the Rust Belt and the NASCAR crowd; the very crowd no one ever seems to bother polling ahead of time.

“Putinators” are the exact mirror image of the birthers. Same thing–different side. This time it’s the lefties calling “foul.” And it’s just as silly as the birther conspiracy.

Mark my words, the birthers kept it up all 8 years of Obama’s presidency and the Putinators will be dragging this around for all 4 or 8 years of Trump’s term in office. Why? Because it’s logically impossible to prove that Putin DIDN’T swing the election!

How can you prove there ISN’T a Loch Ness Monster? The lifeblood of all conspiracy theorizing is to come up with something that is by definition impossible to prove.

Never mind that Hillary Clinton had the press, the universities and most of Wall Street behind her in the election. Against all of that power, one guy in Russia over-rode all of that support and put Trump in office? Please. We’re smarter than that. We’re giving the little guy in Russia way too much credit. Given Putin’s ego, my guess is that he thinks the attention is pretty cool :-).

 

We have become a nation of sore losers, both left and right.

Can we just give both the Birther and Putinator conspiracies a rest? You and I can both agree that we have bigger fish to fry.

Can’t we?

 

Photo courtesy of NY Daily News.

Daryl Charles: Natural Law in our Post-Consensus World?

 

What do you get when you listen to a spry little guy with a Duck Dynasty beard (who was a street mime) whose topic is Natural Law?

J. Daryl Charles PhD, of the John Jay Institute, may just be one of the most gifted lecturers on the Acton University circuit.

What follows are my notes on his presentation with some of my own thoughts thrown in…

Today’s prevailing thought patterns:
  1. Metaphysical Naturalism. A rigorous denial of the transcendent, placing the burden of proof on everyone else.
  2. Fixation with rights divorced from duties or common good.
  3. Denial of morally fixed reference points. (However, these same people complain that things are not “fair” or “just.” Where did they get such “absolute” ideas?)
How should we respond to these trends?
  1. Resign to the impossibility of countering this thinking. Why polish the deck on the Titanic. Enter permanent “grievance mentality.”
  2. Isolation. The “Benedict Option.” Amish. Monastic thinking. Circle the wagons.
  3. Get absorbed into the culture. If you can’t beat them, join them.
  4. Being committed to the task of engaged citizenship. Be stewards of this cultural moment. To whom much is given….
Of course, Charles is advocating for door #4….

We must cultivate the art of translating our moral convictions in the public square. This is hard work and will require almost infinite creativity. We can call this BRIDGE BUILDING.

What are our resources?
  1. Abraham Kuyper (see my previous post on him) was ambidextrous. He articulated and affirmed general revelation and common grace which are available to all people, regardless of worldview. He could operate deftly in the public arena, cooperating with all as needed, but not forgetting who he was and why he thought differently that the “world.”
  2. The IMAGO DEI. We are all (believers, ‘other’ believers, and non-believers) created equally in the image of God, according to the way we see the universe.
  3. Commonly held beliefs on human nature and “self-evident truths.”
  4. The acknowledgment that all thought systems, sacred and secular, have quite a few unprovable postulates/axioms (see Euclid) at their foundation. At least 5 and more like 20 even in the leanest of epistemological skyscrapers.
Why is general revelation so important?
  1. There is reasonable evidence to see order and beauty in the creation, a sense of solidarity with all people, and at least some moral common ground.
  2. Universal possession of minimal moral knowledge.
  3. General revelation gives knowledge of creation, the self, and moral truth
The challenges before us
  1. We are not the first to face this. Every generation must polish up Natural Law, and re-present it to the human race.
  2. We must keep an eye on the progress of religious freedom (un-coerced conscience and corresponding action upon it) throughout the world. The first freedom without which the others are meaningless.
  3. Resist the temptation to “opt out” of the current political climate. There is a growing tendency to become disenchanted with the tone out there. Netflix and chill becomes more and more tempting as escapism.
  4. Content of our social ethic is important. It must contain charity, in the broadest sense of the word. People (left and right) often use “justice” as an excuse to be an a**hole.
  5. Manner of persuading (tone) is important. Religious faith is no guarantee of good manners. Let the message, not the method, offend. Then we will be focusing on real issues.
  6. C.S. Lewis was a master at moral persuasion. Adapting to the host culture. Learning the lingo. Read his works The Abolition of Man and Mere Christianity (chapter 1) to see this kind of persuasion at its finest. Lewis: Why do we ALL (without exception) react when we are slighted by others? Because there is a natural moral law….
  7. Ask others: On what basis can you argue for justice? We may draw the line in different places, but we all draw the line. A law has to be the same for both you and me for it to be just.
  8. Abortion issue. At conception, the DNA of a human is set. All other “lines” that are drawn are arbitrary and thereby plagued by inaccuracy.
  9. Sexuality. A good question: On what basis is your homosexuality natural? Is human nature based on design or passion? If our sexuality is based on biological design, then what constitutes disordered sexuality? Can rejection of created order ever be normative?
  10. Thoroughgoing pacifism. Does extreme pacifism make the world unsafe for all? Is force not proportional and relative? Can pacifism lead to the innocent being punished?
  11. Euthanasia. Is life extrinsically (value to others) or intrinsically (“an sich”) valuable?
  12. John Paul II: Only with some fixed norms is freedom and justice possible. Jefferson also: “These truths we hold to be self-evident….”
You can catch Daryl Charles surfing on the East Coast if you want to discuss this with him…