Friday, November 19, 2010

Changing the Debate in Congress

"No man ever prospered by unjust practices, but in a righteous cause there is hope of safety." - Euripides 480-406 BC

The tactics, goals and methods employed by the Obama administration; the bailouts, the stimulus packages, the executive orders and the unilateral rules making as well as a host of trial balloons intent on re-distributing income have failed with the American people.

Yet with the coming Republican majority in the House of Representatives, we appear to be headed toward intense debate rather than fixing problems. Many people are saying don’t go after this program or that; right now is not the time to go after NPR; we have more important issues to address; getting people back to work and improving the economy. Some people say we should ignore earmarked programs that represent a miniscule amount of theft and keep our hands off of programs that represent a gargantuan amount of theft. This debate within a debate threatens to block our ability to act at all.

The strategy behind this obfuscation is that of progressives of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. Both parties want to continue the spending banquet that they enjoy regardless of how much damage is done to the lives of real people. They don’t want change, in spite of how bad things are, so they avoid meaningful reform of government. They have no bearings, no principles that would guide their decisions, they are pragmatists concerned only about the “practical” means of keeping power. They are the problem.

A different, though not new, idea came out of the Tea Party revolution that swept so many Republicans into power in 2010. The idea that the Constitution meant something has emerged and, certainly, there are more than a few interpretations of what it means to get back to the original meaning of the Constitution. So I’d like to offer my suggestions and hopefully, by approaching these debates from a Constitutional base, we can obtain a political consensus rather than baseless gridlock.

First principle
I think the Bill of Rights expressed one principle that will help in our understanding of what the Founders had in mind. The principle of individual rights holds that each individual is a sovereign agent who must make his own decisions about his life. I use the word “sovereign” to contrast individual rights with the idea of sovereignty of the King or of the government. When we say that the individual is sovereign we negate and deny the idea that anyone else is above him or in control of his life and the decisions he will make. No one, neither King nor government has the authority to dictate the choices that the individual is responsible for making on his own behalf. This precludes any government regulation that would tell an individual or business how to operate, the decisions that individuals may make in the marketplace when selecting products and the moral choices they might make when it comes to their most important decisions and dealings with others in society. It assumes that man is capable of deciding for himself, that his mind is competent to affect his survival. In other words, by right, according to the nature of man and of how he survives on this earth, no one has the authority to dictate to him what he will do. The only constraint on the individual under this premise is that he or she must also operate according to that principle when it comes to dealing with others; he must respect their individual rights.

This principle means no income taxes, no welfare, no re-distribution of any type and especially no interference in the individual’s personal choices about what he will buy, what he will sell, what he will say, with whom he will associate, what he will think or believe, what he will do with his money and property.

Once that principle is established, we must agree not to look for exceptions or find arguments that justify violating these rights in delimited ways or in any way. This first principle, the principle of individual rights, is sacrosanct and the individual who is thus liberated, as long as he does not violate the rights of others, must then live with, suffer from or prosper as a result of his individual choices. Even charity must be a freely chosen act.

Because we know that reason is the singular most efficient faculty possessed by man, and since we know that once left to their own devices, most men will seek to live according to the best exercise of their minds, we know that the result of a society based on individual rights, the best possible outcome, will be a vast realm of peace and prosperity.

As I wrote in a previous blog post, “Do You Know Your Rights”:

“You have a right to make a living. This means you can create your own job by learning skills and selecting the profession you desire. More than this, you have a right to be proud of making a living. You should never accept the idea that you owe something to a collective or to others. The idea of having a moral obligation to “give back” to society is a collectivist notion intended to make you feel guilty and exploit your production for the sake of despots. The more freedom you have to make a living, the better our society is becoming. Likewise, the more the government creates jobs paid for by the money of other citizens, the worse our society is becoming. You do not have a right to a job created by government for the purpose of giving you an income.

You have a right to what you create. If you use your mind to create a product, what you create is yours to trade with others or to keep. Your production cannot be taken from you for the sake of a collective that thinks it knows what to do with your work. In order to be productive, you had to use your mind and, because of this, whatever you produce is yours by right. You also have a right to be proud of what you create. You should never accept the idea that all production and creative thought is a collective endeavor undertaken for the sake of the group.

You have a right to make as much money as you can possibly make. You create wealth by producing and if you have invested time in educating yourself, spent money in buying the tools of production and worked hard for hour upon hour, the money you make, all of it, should be yours to keep. No one, especially the government, has a right to take it.

You have a right to say what you think without fear of disapproval from others. Your mind is your property. It is an expression of your excellence and of your ability to ascertain reality. Just as you respect the right of others to think, your right to think should be respected as well. Only when you are free to express what you think are you living in a society that is just and fair. If government assumes the power to tell you how to think and how to express yourself, you are living in a society that considers you a slave. If government attempts to punish you for your ideas, you are living in a dictatorship.

You have a right to be moral. Whether you are young and inexperienced or old and wise, you are the decision maker about what is right for you. No one has the authority to dictate to you what you should do. As long as your actions do not violate the rights of others, you have the ability and the obligation to decide for yourself what is moral.

You have a right to your own philosophy. Whether you accept a religion or a secular philosophy or decide upon your own philosophical views, no one has the right to tell you how you should think. Just as in any other decision, if you accept wrong ideas you will have to deal with the consequences. No one can force you to accept a given religion or body of ideas at the point of a gun or by law.

You have a right to associate with whomever you like. This right is an extension of the fact that you have a right to decide what is moral. No one has a right to demand that you go to group meetings, that you repeat slogans and that you think group thoughts. You are a free person and you can do as you please so long as you do not violate the rights of others.

You have a right to all the energy you can use…there is no way you will ever use more energy than is available to the planet. The more energy you use, the more you can produce and the more money you can make. As long as your energy use does not harm the property or lives of others, you should use all the energy you can use to make a better life. Anyone who says you are harming the planet is trying to destroy your mind and stifle your ability to enjoy your life.

You have a right to privacy. What you do in the privacy of your own home is your business so long as you violate no other person’s rights. No one has a right to invade your privacy without due process of law whether it is a policeman or a census taker. You have a right to your body and your health. Your health decisions are yours to make in consultation with your doctor. The government can never tell you what to do with your body. You have a right to choose your doctor, choose your treatment, choose your method of payment and no one can violate your body and tell you or your doctor what to do.

You have a right to protect yourself against violence and fraud. The government that seeks to prohibit your right to self-defense is a government intent on robbing you. You have a right to live where you want. As long as you are able to trade income for a residence, you are free to live where you choose. No one can tell you what house or what neighborhood should be your abode.

You have a right to trial by a jury of your peers. A fair trial using objective laws and logical argument is the only way you can keep thieves and government from destroying your rights or stealing your property. It is also the best way to fairly settle disputes among citizens in civil cases.

You have a right to capital accumulation. Capital accumulation is the method that enables you to grow your wealth. Savings, astutely invested, should never be skimmed by government. When the government assumes the right to take your savings by means of money inflation or direct taxation, it is operating as a thief. You have the right to keep your savings in whatever form you see fit such as gold, silver or secured paper. The government has no right to decide for you what currency you should use.

You have a right to make your own economic decisions. The government has no right to intervene in your economic decisions, business operations, banking decisions, transactions or more. It does not have the right to tax your property away or tell you how you should act economically. It has no business regulating your business and as long as you are not defrauding anyone, it should always be “hands off” of your economic activity.

Each of these rights is an extension of the concept of individual rights. If our society respects these rights, then we can have a vibrant, healthy society, diverse in people and in opinions, where the best ideas win and where there is no limit to how far you can advance. It is a secure society because there are no threats to the individual, where people can trust one another and where self-sufficiency and respect are the hallmarks. Let no one tell you that freedom is the gateway to sin or that self-interest is evil. Never let them tell you that freedom has failed and it is time for central planning. The man who tells you that is a thief. Freedom is the gateway to accomplishment, to cooperation, to reason and to happiness. Anything else is slavery.”

If our elected leaders would keep these principles in mind and recognize that the government does not have a justification, nor does it have a prerogative to violate these rights, we’ll know our priorities going forward.

In addition, we should look closely, not only at the 16th Amendment, but also at the Interstate Commerce provisions as well as the “general welfare” clause in the Constitution and interpret them, properly as restrictions on government action, not as license to act. There is no valid justification for the violation of individual rights by government – which means that the common interpretations of these clauses are invalid. Any effort to use them to justify government coercion must be opposed and stopped by the people.

The principle of individual rights is the principle that can guide our politicians as they move forward. The only proper “social” goal of government is to respect and protect the rights of individuals.

This is the debate we should be having.

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