The conventional wisdom among those in the mainstream media is that Stand Your Ground laws lead to violent encounters and are unnecessary. Many assume that Stand Your Ground is a new concept in the law- it most certainly is not. Even though laws specifically codifying the concept are new- the idea has been grounded in English common law and therefore American common law for centuries. Even progressive states such as California and Maine have some form of codified Stand Your Ground. Stand Your Ground laws were meant to restate and protect the right of common law self defense. The idea that we have the right to defend our most basic right- the right to our lives is not a new idea.
Prosecutors in many self defense cases were arguing that the accused could have retreated, or that if they did retreat that they could have retreated even further. Legislators wanted to give specific protection within the law for the right to defend yourself without the need to run from a lawfully occupied space. This does not mean that a person should not retreat- a reasonable person knows that if retreat is possible they should retreat. The intent was to protect a person from being second guessed in a sterile courtroom by aggressive prosecutors. There are still overwhelming incentives for a person to use great discretion and avoid violent self defense. Even if found not guilty the person who kills or maims in self defense risks severe civil penalties and social penalties. In many self defense schools and books the concept is: “if it is not worth dying for- it is not worth killing for.”
The Stand Your Ground laws also do not change any of the underlying requirements accepted for lawful self defense. We still have a duty to be innocent, reasonable and proportional in our defense of self. The law does not protect someone who instigates a confrontation, nor does it protect someone who did not have a reasonable fear of death or grave bodily injury.
In the aftermath of the Zimmerman acquittal the professional grievance industry has seized on Stand Your Ground and argued that the law is racially biased and hurts minorities- nothing could be further from the truth. John Lott has delved into the Tampa Bay Time database of Stand Your Ground defense cases and found several striking things. Blacks are 16.6% of the Florida population but they account for 31% of the Stand Your Ground defense cases. When black defendants are compared to white defendants they are acquitted 8 percent more frequently. Unfortunately more blacks are victims of violent crimes so it makes sense that they would use the defense more often.
Lott has also looked at states that have passed Stand Your Ground and similar Castle Doctrine laws and found that murder rates dropped by 9% and overall violent crime by 11% even after accounting for a range of other variables. Other researchers have disagreed with Lott’s conclusions and it is always hard to isolate one variable. If we look at Florida where the most controversy lies we can make some very clear assertions. Florida has made it easier to carry a gun and broadened the ability of justifiable self defense through Stand Your Ground. Violent crime has plummeted in Florida since 1992 from 1200 per 100,000 to 492 per 100,000. In fact the two greatest year over year percentage drops, 2010 and 2009 have been after Stand Your Ground was passed in 2005 and after the great recession began. Criminals in Florida are aware that many Floridians can now lawfully carry a gun and defend themselves and this does have an affect.
Most of us have no desire to be in a violent confrontation. You can never leave a violent encounter with more than what was brought in. The best you can hope for is to keep your health and life. Society is very hard on those who use violent force even when justifiable. The law has a duty to protect individual rights, above all those rights is the right to life. Stand Your Ground laws protect all of us from wrongful prosecution and punishment.
There has been much hand wringing on the left about inequality. We are told by the media that the American dream is dead; that the rich get richer while the poor get poorer. Is the American dream dead?
43% of American born into the bottom quintile of wealth stay there as adults. 40% of Americans born into the top quintile will stay in the top quintile as adults. This of course means that 57% of the bottom will rise out of the bottom, 4% of them reaching the top and conversely that 60% of the top will fall, 8% of them to the bottom. Is this really the full picture of inequality?
Consider that quality of life in absolute terms has continued to go up. Being poor in 1950, 1960 or even 1990 is not the same experience as it is today. Most of the poor today have things considered luxuries in the recent past such as cell phones, computers, and air conditioning. The median family today has nearly twice the purchasing power than they would have had in 1960. Therefore absolute income is only a part of the story. The same capitalistic system that rewards those with money with more money also leads to tremendous advancement in quality of life.
Even looking at income alone, 84% of individuals have family income greater than their parents, after adjusting for family size. In the bottom quintile, 75% greater than $10,000 more in income, 44% greater than $25,000 more.
Much of this information comes from reports from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. I did some research to see what the other side is saying about these numbers. Think Progress took on Heritage’s assertion of relative prices by pointing out that education and healthcare costs have risen in relative cost. So let’s analyze this fact for a moment. College costs have in fact risen dramatically faster than inflation. Is this because of greedy capitalists- no; it is precisely the opposite, cheap government money has allowed higher education costs to rise. Healthcare is more complex, costs are rising because we have much more healthcare choices and technological advancement allows us to live longer and better. Once again Government has also been deeply involved driving up costs with regulations and controls. Obamacare was sold as a way to provide healthcare for all; the president promised it would lower costs; but so far the opposite has occurred as choices do down and costs rise.
Meanwhile the greedy capitalists that the left so often points the finger at have brought us cheaper and better goods and services. The poor can afford cell phones- that make their lives easier. Most of them can access the internet, many even in their own homes. Information that was once costly to consume and learn is now cheap and easy. Henry Ford grew rich by bringing the average American worker a car he could afford. Steve Jobs by revolutionizing products that connect us and entertain us. Products that were once luxuries are now available to almost all.
Healthcare and education need not be exempt from this progress. Technology in healthcare can also bring costs down and increase wellness if we let markets work. Home schooling is thriving in America; parents today have the ability to bring world class instruction into their homes through the internet. If we decouple government money from higher education, we will see choices go up and costs go down as institutions are force to innovate and compete for students.
Much of the philosophical divide in this country comes down to a lack of understanding of economics and capitalism. Progressives fall into the zero sum fallacy- that there is a set amount of wealth in the world and it can be managed by governments to create more equality. The left uses fairness and inequality arguments to further their socialistic philosophies and grow their power.
The reality is that wealth isn’t fixed, capitalists create wealth by serving their fellow man. The more wealth they create the more potential relative prosperity for all.
All of us are born with different circumstances, some of us have advantages over others, and we will never have wealth equality in America. Free Market Capitalism remains the best system to foster income mobility and allow all of us to maximize our potential and live prosperous productive lives.
Physicians swear to first do no harm. Doctors must carefully weigh their treatments and interventions into the body to be sure not to do more harm than good. They must weigh the pros and cons, they utilize science to make informed decisions and to guide their patients.
If only government understood this simple idea. We have an activists government, a government that sees problems everywhere and is eager to solve them with laws, regulations, prohibitions and interventions of force. It is of course our own fault, we expect our government to take care of us. Governments have always existed to prevent force from outside their borders and maintain an army and defense. In modern times governments have become expected to do many more things. The government is expected to shepherd the economy to make sure the citizens have jobs that pay the bills. Governments are expected to care for the elderly and provide fairness in all things. Drugs are bad- so government must outlaw them and put those who refuse to obey in jail.
When politicians see a problem they immediately start thinking of how to address it with the force of government. All too often we pass laws thought to address a problem that create more harm than good. No one would argue that the disabled should be discriminated against so we passed a law, the ADA. Then we all moved on feeling good about our great society. But the result of that law was that fewer disabled people got jobs as businesses were afraid of the costs of accommodating them or being sued if they didn’t work out. It didn’t matter if a particular disabled person was happy to work somewhere under the conditions, the government wouldn’t allow it making that person a liability- and taking away that choice. Prostitution is demeaning to women so we prohibit it almost everywhere. But the demand remains and so now women who become prostitutes, some willingly some not, are at the mercy of the lawless streets. The intention is to get rid of the behavior we abhor but the result is worse.Regulation of industry is similar. The process was described in comical fashion by Ronald Reagan: “If it moves tax it, if it continues regulate it, if it stops subsidize it!”
In my debates I am often asked to prove that a particular law or regulation is harmful; shouldn’t the burden be on the government- the only institution with the compulsion of law to prove that it isn’t? Shouldn’t we expect our lawmakers to first do no harm? Shouldn’t they examine all the costs and weigh these against the proposed benefits of what they propose? The problem with laws and rules are that they rarely go away once passed. Year after year they persist despite all the evidence of their failure or high cost to benefit ratio. Whole industries thrive on these laws and protect them with powerful lobbyist and lawyers.
We have an ever growing nanny state, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats in recent years has been the size and scope of the nanny state. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, a quasi Republican has gone after smoking, salt, and now soda in his city all in the name of protection. He has even tried to control the amount of pain killers doctors prescribe in the cities hospitals. We are more enamored today with safety and comfort than we are freedom. We expect to be protected and we have been all too willing to give up choice and freedom to do it. Let the citizens demand that their government first do no harm.
Yesterday my 7 year old son told me a bold face lie. He lied for expedience about a test at school- he didn’t want to study so he said it had already passed. After he was exposed and admitted to the lie, my wife and I tried to explain integrity. I talked about meaning what you say and being honest even when it is tough to do so. My wife and I talked about the importance of trust and gave examples. We all want our kids to be honest with us and do what is right. As a society however we have lost much of our collective integrity and moral clarity.
The recent former LAPD shooter is a good example. Despite killing multiple innocent people not even directly connected to his grievance the shooter has generated significant support from many. Even some very law abiding and decent people have sympathized with his plight and assumed that he was wronged. The shooter, now deceased, has had his firing re-opened by the LAPD. I do not pretend to know if he was wronged or not or what if any was true in his published manifesto- I find it completely irrelevant. Have we gotten so far from moral certainty and discernment that a man can kill four innocent people and be praised by some and partially excused by others? Most of us have been fired unfairly before; many of us- myself included; have had others in the workplace lie about us in order to gain an edge. As your mother probably told you- two wrongs don’t make a right. The second this man decided to take a life he should have lost all credibility- he should have been strongly and unequivocally condemned by all. His manifesto shouldn’t have been published widely in the media- he should have been seen as the criminal lowlife murderer he was. It can be natural to root for an underdog and many have had poor dealings with the LAPD or police in general. When I drove most of the day for work I racked up quite a few trivial or unfair traffic tickets. Most of the officers I dealt with were unhappy and discourteous- I felt I was often treated unfairly. The LAPD has had major corruption scandals and officers have even been convicted of murder- I have no illusions about the LAPD. Most big organizations will have some major flaws. None of this justifies murder- the LAPD shooter may have been wronged- but the second he shot that innocent young couple he earned his violent death. People generally hate unfairness and perhaps that is why so many rallied to his cause- assuming his accusations were true. I think there is something else at play- moral relativism and a lack of clarity.
Moral relativism is a cancer that eats at the moral fabric of our society. We now are encouraged not to judge anyones behavior and we tend to focus on all the excuses instead of the morally deficient behavior of a person. Class and race play a role as well. Stealing from a rich corporation by illegally downloading software or music is deemed ok. Of course the reality is that the rich and powerful are rarely hurt much by these thefts- it is the lowlier workers that suffer as revenues dry up- but this is again irrelevant- theft is wrong either way. Young minority gang members who terrorize their own communities are merely victims of racism and “the system”.
Let’s be clear, no one has the same experience in life- fairness doesn’t exist. Some people have many more breaks than others. Some of us have loving parents and financial security some of us have neither. We do need to try to understand root causes and we do need to try to help the less fortunate- including criminals and especially children who are more reachable. However we also need to make judgements and hold people accountable on a community and societal level. Young men who impregnate women and then run shouldn’t be called “baby daddies” and they shouldn’t be able to walk with their heads high anywhere. They should be condemned by their communities and shamed by society until they take responsibility. Society should forgive people their transgressions but not without conditions and atonement. We need to remove the excuses as well and stop allowing some to absolve themselves of responsibility by always playing the victim. Being a victim can paralyze a person as they blame everything on some external force beyond their own control. Real victims exist but the successful are rarely without adversity; they just learn to rise above it and take responsibility for their lives.
Christianity is the biggest influence to my morality as it is for many others but I have known many men of great integrity and moral clarity who are atheists. My father is deeply religious and has abundant integrity, he is honest to a fault and carefully considers all his decisions. He is very careful never to take advantage of anyone, even when he has been taken advantage of by many. His deep faith allows him to keep things in perspective and he believes he will be richly rewarded some day. On the other side is my favorite teacher, Mr. R. I remember Mr. R. being in tears apologizing to the class for what I thought was a relatively harmless comment he made that embarrassed a student. He cared so deeply that he had hurt this girl that he visibly wept; even though everyone knew he had no malice and was only trying to be funny. I also remember him being deeply hurt when he found out that several students had cheated on a test. Morality need not come from faith or religion- but there is a basic morality that everyone should uphold. It can be relatively easily defined in the golden rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated.
As a child I remember several occasions where I thought I’d been treated unfairly and told my mother. My mother almost always sided with the adult or authority in question. When she did fight for me she did it without my knowledge or on rare occasions where she knew I was right. My mother reinforced personal responsibility and discipline and now I do that for my son. It is easier to make excuses for our children, to be on their side always- but this is a grave injustice to them. Our children need parents who act as parents not as friends.
We do no service to the immoral when we make excuses for them or try to justify their actions. We owe them accountability most of all. Our young men are especially vulnerable, they need strong and steady leadership- they need to be taught right and wrong. They need limits and boundaries- in the absence of these things they lash out and test the limits of their egos. For some this leads to a violent, criminal life. Let’s not take the easy or politically correct way out let us do our best to be moral leaders in our spheres of influence. Live by example first- but do not be afraid of speaking out and holding others accountable.
I hear and read over and over again that we have an economy based on infinite growth in a finite world. One common refrain goes something like this: “an economy based on infinite growth is unsustainable.” I have even been “assaulted” by this phrase while listening too and attending a concert by one of my favorite current bands: “Muse.”
The logic is of course partially correct; everything we know if finite. I believe in an infinite God but I cannot logically explain that belief- I accept it on faith. So it is easy to say something is finite on logic alone. Our economy is certainly based on energy and there is a fixed amount of energy- even the sun will stop burning someday. One of the most common applications of this logic applies to our use of fossil fuels. We use oil, coal and natural gas to provide most of our energy and there are fixed amounts of these natural resources. The question becomes how much of these resources do we have and what are the best way to distribute these resources.
Peak oil is one theory used to try to predict when we will reach a peak in oil production and when we will run out. M. King Hubbert, the author of the theory predicted in 1974 that we would reach this peak in production in 1995. This did not happen, from wikipedia:
M. King Hubbert initially predicted in 1974 that peak oil would occur in 1995 “if current trends continue.” However, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, global oil consumption actually dropped (due to the shift to energy-efficient cars, the shift to electricity and natural gas for heating, and other factors), then rebounded to a lower level of growth in the mid 1980s. Thus oil production did not peak in 1995, and has climbed to more than double the rate initially projected.
History is littered with very smart people predicting all kinds of things that turned out to be completely wrong. The most basic reason for this is we can’t know what we don’t know. It was unthinkable in 1974 that oil consumption would drop in a few short years and then go to more stable growth. It was unforeseeable how good engineers would become at finding more of it and finding unconventional ways to get it. Some other very smart informed scientists and oil men believe we have only scratched the surface of oil production and that we won’t run out for perhaps hundreds of years. But these men, just like the men who claimed we are running out now; can’t know what they don’t know.
So where are we now? Oil production is still increasing but so is demand. We can now drill horizontally using new technology- and old technology in new ways such as the much maligned and misunderstood hydraulic fracturing. We can get oil from tar sands and shale rock. In fact it is now estimated that only 30% of oil reserves are the conventional oil we currently rely on heavily. We also have learned to make cars, homes and factories much more energy efficient. I drive a large car (VW Passat) that gets 40MPG easily, in 1974 an equivalent car may have gotten 15 at best.
Natural gas production has skyrocketed and is one of the few things keeping manufacturing in the United States from contracting. Natural gas can be used to power cars and is already used in many municipal car fleets and mass transit vehicles.
It is ironic that the use of natural gas in the United States is responsible for the majority of the reduction in CO2 emission since 2007. Coal emissions went down as it was replaced by natural gas which was made economically viable by the fracking that environmentalist love to hate. Windmills and solar panels that are so in favor and heavily subsidized by government had little overall effect.
Back to growth. Capitalism and globalism are good things, as we grow in the 1st world the third world grows with us. 20 years ago cell phones were expensive and bulky devices mostly used by wealthy businessmen. My Dad had one that was the size of a small briefcase and it could only be used for work emergencies. Fast forward to today and one of the fastest growing cell phone markets is third world Africa. Shanties are built with solar panels to charge cell phones in places that land line service never reached. A cell phone may allow a poor woman to get more work as she can now communicate quickly and easily and find opportunities to earn money. The wealthy businessman with a mobile in 1986 wasn’t thinking about the poor sub Saharan woman- but by buying and using the technology he made it cheaper and better and eventually almost everyone can afford to use it. Much of the anti capitalist rhetoric presents a false premise that markets are a zero sum game. Our “excessive” consumption leads to the deprivation of someone else is the theory. The reality is that our consumption and desire for a better life allows for more abundance everywhere. As our standard of living increases in real terms so does that of the extremely poor. Growth is good for all and capitalism is the engine of growth in the world. Free markets and simple rule of law lead to prosperity wherever they occur.
We will have to consider our sources of energy and continue to make everything more efficient and find better cleaner ways to power our world. We will also have to continue to consider other resources like food and water as the world gets more populated and people live longer we will need more of everything. Capitalism has proven to be the answer to these problems again and again. Markets allow people to make choices based on costs and ration their needs. A truly free market will continue to produce the most abundance of resources and it will not discount the future for the present either.
Some may say that we have enough things in the modern world and are overly consumeristic. I agree but growth isn’t the problem and neither is capitalism in general. Many people in the world are still living in extreme poverty and growth can and will lift them up also as it has lifted the modern world. Capitalism isn’t perfect and life can be unfair but it is still the best system with which to manage our scarse resources and plan a better more abundant and fair world.
At the dawn of man- it was the brute, the strong man who ruled over his clan. He may have developed some primitive form of respect but it was based on the fact that he was the strongest and able to defeat other men and hunt for food better than the rest. As civilization progressed we started to reason with each other with our words, we made agreements that were mutually beneficial and eventually learned to trade goods and services amongst ourselves. Most men and women wanted to be treated equitably and acted in kind. As societies learned and advanced the societies that valued reason gradually overtook those that favored brute force alone. This was still accomplished with force- societies that valued reason developed better weapons and defenses and lived and prospered longer. The societies with the better weapons and stronger armies became the dominant forces and spread their ideals through conquest. These societies became more peaceful over time as prosperity increased.
The Romans became the dominant western society through force, but with that force they brought peace and prosperity and the Greco-Roman ideals of governance. Roman society was brutal compared to today but less brutal than the barbarians they conquered. It has been written that it took one thousand years after the fall of the Roman empire for Europe to regain the standard of living it had at the time of the fall. In the scope of human history peace has always come through strength first.
Relatively speaking America today is a paradise of peace and prosperity because we provide ourselves- and much of the world, security from the brute, and tyranny. We spread our ideals of equality, freedom and democracy but it is the threat of force that allows for all of it.
All human interaction can be divided into reason and force. Most of us want to live in peace and wish to be treated fairly and will treat our fellow man with fairness in return. On a macro level our military and national defense keeps our country free, in our communities the task falls to the police and criminal justice system to keep us safe. When a rational man wants to take something and is willing to use force to do it, the threat of the police and the law keep them at bay. Police and law are not perfect and the rational criminal man knows this so he may act anyway. When irrational men such as the shooters in Aurora and Sandy Hook act the law does almost nothing to deter them as they do not care about punishment.
All of us understand this concept of the law on some level. Consider something as simple as crossing the street. The law states that the pedestrian has a right of way and can severely punish a driver for hitting someone. Do we therefore cross blindly- confident that the law keeps us safe? Of course not- we look out for ourselves and look both ways to make sure drivers are stopping for us. The same relationship is true for crimes of force. Brazen criminals have already made the choice to ignore the law, the law only restrains them by catching them and ultimately confining or executing them. The best the police can hope for most of the time is to catch a criminal after their crime and let the law punish them. It is very rare that the police stop a crime in progress.
Therefore most of the responsibility of safety falls to the individual. We must be prepared to defend ourselves and our families from the man who will use force. A criminal avoids the police because he knows the police are armed and ready to exert force. In the same manner if the criminal expects force from a citizen victim they will likely avoid confrontation. If the law prevents the potential victim from carrying a gun the criminal knows they are less likely to have one and is emboldened. If the law makes it hard to have a gun in the home the criminals knows this also. We see this in London where home invasion is up dramatically since the virtual gun ban. Criminals in the US rarely rob a home when someone is home but in England the reverse is true because the criminal has more upside sometimes when the homeowner is present and can be forced to comply.
The lawful man doesn’t carry a gun looking for conflict, he carries a gun to preserve his life and freedom and that of his loved ones. The gun itself doesn’t make the man evil it just mirrors the present values of the man or woman. The gun works to equalizes the equation of force allowing the just to live in peace. For the smaller and weaker the gun is even more important. A small woman of 120lbs can equal or surpass the force from a 250lbs man who wishes to harm her. Anytime we put limitations on gun rights we have to acknowledge that we are making the vulnerable weaker.
Will the law apply more to the criminal or more to the lawful? Clearly it is the criminal who flouts the law who benefits. Most new gun control laws tip the balance to the criminal. Laws that work against the criminal are good, laws that work against the lawful under the pretext of working against the criminal are bad.
In the final equation when all is measured and balanced guns are a force for good.
Conspiracy theories can be attractive because they help us make sense of senseless acts; but they are rarely the truth. Large conspiracies are just too tough to hide from the public. Recently I have seen some Newtown massacre conspiracies start to surface. I watched a bit of an online video cobbled together with news footage and content from a popular conspiracy webpage. I am not going to mention either because I don’t want to give them any more attention.
It is very easy to pull news clips and assemble information to make almost any case. I watched about 7 minutes of aforementioned video so I can’t comment on all of it. In the aftermath of events like Newtown everyone in the media is trying to present as much info as possible and that leads to some sloppy news gathering where lots of things are reported that aren’t true. For example: the naming the shooter as the brother and that the shooter was wearing body armor and his mother was a teacher at the school. I will mention one example from the video; the director asserts that the rifle reportedly used by the shooter was pulled from the trunk of the car and then shows video of a rifle being held over a trunk. We don’t see any context other than the assertion of the director. Could this be a police gun- sure. Could it be the gun used by the shooter, taken from the scene after processing and in the process of being unloaded and secured for transport- of course. The viewer doesn’t know and the director fills that void with an assertion. The director then shows the medical director reporting that most of the injuries were cased by the rifle. Conspiracy theories like this usually rest on creating confusion and showing gaps and problems in the official stories. They don’t have to build a logical case showing all the motives and addressing all the facts. They just pick and choose selectively finding “facts” that support their assertions. With the explosion of information in modern society it is easy to find “facts” some of which aren’t even somewhat true and other that are taken out of context or distorted.
In order to buy into a conspiracy at Newtown you’d have to have a tremendous amount of co-conspirators and they would all need to be quiet. Tremendous scrutiny is placed on these events and the news media loves uncovering deception or conspiracy of any kind. Consider Watergate or the Clinton- Monica Lewinsky affair, far fewer people were involved and the truth came out. It is also notable that the “news media” is bigger and more diverse than ever before and not controlled by a few powerful corporations that could be compromised. Some might argue that some “news” media is reporting the conspiracy- but that only bolsters my point. The fringe story doesn’t go beyond that step. Matt Drudge a fringe blogger at the time uncovered the Lewinsky affair but then the story spread quickly to all the media precisely because it had validity.
Conspiracy theories exist for 911, the JFK shooting, MLK shooting and virtually every major news event. I used to buy into at least a bit of the JFK shooting theories but after years of examining the full evidence and seeing re enactments I am convinced that Oswald acted alone and that the official story is true. Thankfully we have many others who make it their business to attack conspiracy theories such as Snopes and Popular Mechanics which addressed the 911 conspiracies.
Another common conspiracy theory is what I will call the Corporate conspiracy. Corporations are by their nature less open than government and they do tend to have more consolidated power at the top making conspiracies more possible. With the GMO (Genetically Modified Organism; typically seeds) debate in full swing a common conspiracy I hear is that Monsanto and the government both know that GMO food is dangerous but are in league together to continue promoting the products for money. In order to buy into this you have to believe that literally thousand of geneticists and scientists including medical doctors are all willing participants knowingly hurting people. You also have to believe that somehow Monsanto has enough money to maintain this influence over government which monitors and approves its’ products. Lets look at some numbers; Monsanto had 13.5 billion in revenue last year and a market cap (total value of all shares) of about 50 billion, according to opensecrets.org they spent 4.7 million in 2012 on lobbying which is about their average. Monsanto is a big powerful company with lots money to spend but when you compare it to the power of the federal government it seems trivial. Our government spends about 10.5 billion every day or 3,700 billion a year. I want to make clear that corruption does exist and it is likely that Monsanto does have some influence over some regulators. It is also clear though that there are strong interests opposing Monsanto and corporations in general. Many in government are naturally inclined to be anti corporate especially in regulatory positions.
It is also clear that you can believe that GMO food is bad without believing in any of these conspiracies. Conspiracy theories provide cover from a real debate on the science and evidence. It has been said when the facts are with you lean on the facts and when the facts are not bang on the table. Many times ideas and philosophies are emotionally driven and we are inclined to buy into conspiracies that support our ideas.
I am not asserting that all conspiracies are wrong. There are some very well documented conspiracies in history. Many of these come from totalitarian regimes and are well known and exposed quickly even in closed societies. There have also been corporations who have made big mistakes and tried to cover them up for a time it is logical to assume that some conspiracies have never been exposed. When a conspiracy is proposed I look at the merits and the evidence. The truth tends to come out in time and in modern society that time frame is shorter than ever before due to the speed that information moves.
Leaders do use tragedies for political purposes. Former White House chief of staff and current mayor of Chicago: Rahm Emmanuel is famous for saying: “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” The current administration is using Sandy Hook to advance an anti gun rights agenda. I don’t question their intentions, I think they mostly believe what they are doing is good for all just as those of us who favor more gun rights use Sandy Hook to call for our ideas of meaningful change.
I am not naive; the powerful must be watched and monitored closely. This particular administration has been deceptive and the 9-11 Libya attack and Fast and Furious debacle are examples of that.
Suggesting a Sandy Hook government conspiracy is illogical and just not feasible in our relatively open society.
A couple months ago I was challenged by blogger/activist Chris Agnos at Sustainable Man; to read Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein. In exchange Chris is reading Applied Economics by Thomas Sowell. The hope is that each will learn something from looking at the antithesis of our own philosophies and beliefs. I have always tried to read and expose myself to ideas from all sides of an issue. Any valid argument seeks to address couter arguments and provide answers and alternatives.
I have finished reading the first part of the book. Eisenstein sets up the first part of the book to attack modern capitalism and society. This isn’t new ground by any means but Eisenstein is no crack pot and he does a good job at making a cogent argument without too much invective and empty rhetoric. Anybody seeking to change a system has to first demonstrate its’ failings and Eisenstein does that with a mix of logic, evidence and history. I am going to summarize a couple of his key points and address them in this article. I am not seeking to write a book here just address some key and common points.
“Today we associate money with the profane, and for good reason. If anything is sacred in this world, it is surely not money. Money seems to be the enemy of our better instincts, as is clear every time the thought “I can’t afford to” blocks an impulse toward kindness or generosity. Money seems to be the enemy of beauty, as the disparaging term “a sellout” demonstrates. Money seems to be the enemy of every worthy social and political reform, as corporate power steers legislation toward the aggrandizement of its own profits. Money seems to be destroying the earth, as we pillage the oceans, the forests, the soil, and every species to feed a greed that knows no end.”- Charles Eisenstein
First let me agree with Eisenstein, society largely does associate money and therefore greed with evil. This is a testament to 100 years of progressive thought in government and education. This association however is just plain wrong headed. Money is good and greed can also be good, especially for society. Adam Smith wrote about this over 200 years ago:
“By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention. Nor is it always the worse for the society that it was not part of it. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good. It is an affectation, indeed, not very common among merchants, and very few words need be employed in dissuading them from it.”
At the time (1776) most men worked in farming to feed their family and bartered some for other services. Women worked from dawn until dusk just maintaining a house and preparing food. There are parts of the world where this is still the case. Money allows us to engage in activities we are best suited for, I can create videos and take photographs and earn currencies which I exchange for food or technology that makes life easier. This exchange allowed innovators to create technology and to innovate new ways of farming, healthcare and countless other things that allow a relatively poor person in modern America to live longer and better than Louse XIV did not that long ago considering the scope of human history.
Han Rosling has studied the progress of human history and demonstrated how much better we live today than our agrarian barter societies did before. Indeed since 1970 world poverty as defined by living on less than a dollar a day has plummeted 80%. Why? Globalization aided by technology allows a subsistence farmer in India to get a job in a call center or a factory servicing a wealthier economy in the United States. As the economy of India grows it impacts even poorer areas in Bangladesh or Africa. That same farmer turned factory workers child may become an engineer and move up the ladder again. It is not benevolence that has created this new prosperity it is the desire to live better lives that creates wealth. In a capitalistic society we trade value for greater value. I spend $300 on an iPhone because I value that iPhone more than alternative items I can buy for the $300. The iPhone is $300 and not $3 million dollars because of a global capitalistic model that allows growth, efficiency and innovation. Money is the tool that allows this all to happen, we agree as a society to recognize currency as a store of value and that facilitates trade. Money also allows for cooperation in an amazing way. Think of all the things needed to create that iPhone, even a simple pencil is the sum product of thousands even millions of different people in different places cooperating to create a product. A miner digs for the graphite while being feed, clothed and transported by others. That graphite goes to a factory where another worker perhaps around the world uses it combining it with other raw and semi raw materials to create the pencil. That pencil is then transported, marketed and sold by other people. Can a local barter economy even create something as simple as a modern pencil?
Eisenstein seems to understand this- even while glamorizing communal barter and what he calls “gift” economies; but he argues that we are in a different stage now and uses the current recession to indict the whole system:
“Money is disappearing, and with it another property of spirit: the animating force of the human realm. At this writing, all over the world machines stand idle. Factories have ground to a halt; construction equipment sits derelict in the yard; parks and libraries are closing; and millions go homeless and hungry while housing units stand vacant and food rots in the warehouses. Yet all the human and material inputs to build the houses, distribute the food, and run the factories still exist. It is rather something immaterial, that animating spirit, which has fled. What has fled is money.”
Putting aside the obvious dramatic overstatements and exaggerations of the current or past recession, Eisenstein is attacking the very idea of growth in general. Environmentalist many times phrase this argument as a zero sum game in that we are taking from others or taking from the earth and that our prosperity equates to someone else’s poverty. This idea is completely counterfactual, it is precisely our prosperity and desire for a better life that allows for others to rise out of poverty. As the United States and Europe became richer so did South East Asia and Africa. Many look at the proportion of wealth to poverty, the gap which does tend to grow in absolute terms. This misses the point though and is to say we would rather our neighbor be even poorer as long as we are closer in means. Some have put it this way: Would you rather make $40,000 a year and know that your neighbor makes $1 million or make $10,000 a year knowing your neighbor only makes $40,000. In the second scenario the gap is smaller but you have 1/4 of the means. This argument for fairness is the common tool politicians and leaders use to gain power over men; they promise to make for a more fair society but the result is always less for all with usually the only winner being those connected to the government.
It is mathematically certain that all resources are finite, even the sun will stop reacting at some point. We cannot understand infinity even if we believe in an infinite god. Given this logic some argue that we are running out of resources and that resources cannot be owned and are collective and therefore must be collectively managed. No one can argue that resources are scarse, the question becomes how should these resources be managed? Capitalism has been the system that has worked better than all the rest.
For decades some have predicted that we are running out of certain resources and that costs for a given commodity will continue to rise. They have almost always been wrong, innovative self interested corporations and men continue to find more and more resources and different resources. Other innovators find new uses for resources and ways to use alternatives and less of a given resource. Right now in America manufacturing is starting to come back- in part because of a shale gas revolution that is making energy for factories cheaper. 120 years ago expensive whale oil threatened to empty the sea of whales and made it hard to light the night. Rockefeller discovered oil could be refined into kerosene and in the process saved more whales than Greenpeace ever will. Later Edison discovered how to create electric light and now even most of the poorest Americans have cheap and abundant light at night- something we don’t even really consider living without. I am not arguing that resources such as oil are limitless they clearly are not. However capitalism allows us to use them more efficiently and will someday reward those who replace unsustainable resources with more sustainable ones. The market will force people to ration when necessary and do so more orderly and efficiently than any team of bureaucrats could no matter how smart or well intentioned. No one knows when we will start to run out of natural resources or what new innovations will allow us to use less or alternatives. There is no reason however to believe that this century cannot be full of as much growth as the 20th century was and lead to a more peaceful and prosperous world provided of course reason prevails and we don’t kill the free market engine of growth.
For most of human history Kings and despots controlled all the wealth and almost all where poor. We then moved into democratic capitalism in America, Europe and then Asia and prosperity followed. In the early 20th century Socialists pointed to the obvious injustices and unfairness and successfully convinced nations to try socialistic and communistic governments. These systems lead to despotism and decay because they overlook human nature and motivation. We create and work to attain a better life for ourselves and our families. When we cannot profit from our work and industry we don’t work as hard we don’t take risks and progress stagnates. In a truly free market there are powerful incentives to use resources wisely and efficiently. Eisenstein is not arguing that Communism worked but he doesn’t accept this as the natural progression of his ideas. We have been fighting this battle for more than 100 years and I expect it will endure for at least 100 more. The ideology of from one according to her abilities to one according to her needs is very attractive, it sounds good and noble. Eisenstein attacks Ayn Rand specifically and those of us who believe in true capitalism by comparing us to selfish children and saying that we need to evolve our thinking to a more parental mindset. This is the kind of paternalistic thinking that leads to statism- the idea that an economy must be managed by benevolent high minded people. This is how freedom dies and it does not lead to prosperity it leads to poverty and decay for all.
Eisenstein has some of the problems of modern life correct, we do seek satisfaction in things too much. We are overly consumeristic, we waste our time and energy on things that don’t make us happier and we do live overly on debts that become our masters. This isn’t a byproduct of capitalism it is a byproduct of human nature and ignorance- dismantling capitalism won’t make us desire material things less it will only destroy the engine of prosperity for all. As a society we are more prosperous and therefore can afford to think more about the planet and our role in making it better for all people. We are more conscience of our impact in a multitude of ways and many of us do give of ourselves freely to help others at home and oceans away.
Money isn’t evil but man certainly can be. Capitalism rewards the good far more than the bad, it isn’t perfect but most of the problems blamed on capitalism are the result of less freedom and more management by disinterested benevolent men. We have history and philosophy and evidence that democratic capitalistic free societies work better than the alternatives. We must be careful not to throw out the good seeking an impossible perfection.
I will read the second part of Eisensteins book and comment on his ideas for change.
12-14-12, Sandy Hook Elementary School
It is 9:30am and Principal Dawn Hochsprung is meeting with a parent in her office, suddenly she hears the loud crash of glass and then gunfire…
4 months prior…
The Colorado theatre slaying hit Dawn hard and she decided she would not be a victim, so she took action. She travels to Front Sight in Nevada and took an intensive 4 day handgun course offered free to educators. She learns how to safely handle a gun and store it. She learns all about the immense responsibility of using a gun. She listen to instructors talk about how horrible any gun battle would be and the moral and legal implications of using a gun defensively. She learns how to present a weapon from concealment and fire a controlled pair accurately in less than 2 seconds. She was surprised to learn that she can fire a gun as quickly and accurately and many times better than a trained police officer. As a new comer to shooting she has no bad habits reinforced by years of practice with poor technique. She learns that firearms can be the great equalizer and that a smaller older woman could protect herself from a much stronger larger man. She learns about the combat mindset and being mentally alert and prepared. She wrote herself a letter describing how and when she would use a firearm, when she would choose to use force and when she would retreat.
The Connecticut school board decides to allow trained teachers to carry concealed weapons in September and Dawn arms herself with an easy to use Glock 40 caliber handgun. She practices at a local range and does dry firing rehearsals once a week at home.
Dawn springs into action she pulls her gun at the ready at her side and leaves her office. A man with a rifle is firing indiscriminately into a classroom approaching the door. He doesn’t see her and his back is turned. She fires twice hitting him center mass in the back. He falls and two other teachers tackle and seize his guns. Ten minutes later the police arrive- the shooter dies at the hospital. Dawn’s secretary and 2 children are also dead. Dawn prevents countless deaths, the shooter had over 200 rounds of ammo and 4 guns. Dawn is celebrated nation wide as a hero and example to many others.
Principal Dawn did act, she heard shots and despite having nothing to fight with she charged the gunman courageously. She could have locked her office and called 911- she didn’t- she fought back and she died a hero; gunned down- defenseless against a man with a gun.
Watch the exchange below between the young man and Judge Judy. What does it tell you about the state of entitlement and dependency in America? Was their any shame at all in the young man for the handouts he received? Was their any sense of humility or responsibility for the investment others have made in him? Do you think the young man would have had a different attitude if he received money from a local charity or relative? Do you think he would have managed to get so much aid over so long a period from a local charity or relative? When some get money from the federal government they feel entitled to it. This is the possible outcome of federal welfare programs.