“Our practical choice is not between a tax-cut deficit and budgetary surplus. It is between two kinds of deficits: a chronic deficit of inertia, as the unwanted result of inadequate revenues and a restricted economy; or a temporary deficit of transition, resulting from a tax cut designed to boost the economy, increase tax revenues, and achieve . . . a budget surplus.” John F. Kennedy


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Aug 1 2012

Chic-fil-A and Government Power

C.M. Phippen

For many of us, the days of the cold war have been long forgotten and the lessons of the Soviet Union as a precautionary tale have been lost. We don’t quite grasp the machinations of such a government, and we certainly don’t understand how it gains such a hold over the people.

When I lived in Czechoslovakia in the early nineties as a missionary for my church, I spent a lot of time talking to all kinds of people.

I have been struck over this past week as I’ve watched the uproar over the comments of Chick-fil-A president Dan Cathy regarding gay marriage.

We generally tend to think that the power over speech of oppressive government regimes is exercised by throwing citizens in jail when they speak out against such governments. Sometimes that is the case. Other times as in the former Soviet Union, China, and much of the Middle East, the power of the government to control speech is used much more subtly.

The people under such oppressive regimes understand that the initial step is often simply to strip them of their livelihood, their home, or their child’s ability to get an education. In order to quickly shut down speech that violates state dogma, and before taking the more extreme step of imprisonment, an all-powerful government just needs to make it impossible for those whose speech doesn’t conform to the official party line to continue supporting their families. Imprisonment generally doesn’t happen until after they refuse to sit down and shut up with the more run-of-the mill intimidation.

I spoke with mothers who told me that under Communist rule in Czechoslovakia, not only were their children forced into mandated preschool programs by the age of two or three, but there they were taught that government was the answer to all problems. Rather subtle, in fact. They were taught that government was their master and that, as children, it was their duty to inform on family members, including parents, if they spoke or acted against government philosophies.

The result was a forty-year period where children were not taught the beliefs of their parents during their formative years; they were taught, in public schools, the prevailing government dogmas. Religion was virtually done away with because speech was so tightly controlled that parents were afraid to speak truth to their children. Children were also taught in those same government-run schools to never question the authority or “beliefs” of the state, enabling a virtual monopoly of uniform thoughts and ideas.

But how to explain the amazing technological progress and innovative thinking that came out of the Soviet empire?! Oh no, that would be us . . .

Back to the US, 2012, Chick-fil-A. President Dan Cathy offers his opinion regarding gay marriage. I’ve written about the way the free-thinkers and espousers of tolerance among us are quick to steamroll over the rights of individuals to live and speak according to their own beliefs, be they religious or otherwise, whenever they come into conflict with the beliefs of the enforcers of speech code.

Now we have liberals taking this one step further: we have attempts at Communist-dictator/fascist-style oppression. Like it or not, the tactics are the same. In the US today, apparently using the power of government to destroy the livelihood of those whose speech doesn’t conform to the official party dogma is now coming into vogue by the left. After eruptions of alarm across this country, some of these government officials have backed down, for now, while the issue is in the public eye; others have not.

When supporters of religious liberty and free speech refuse to bow to the powers of the almighty state, the next step in a dictatorial regime would be imprisonment. Certainly we’d never go there . . . not unless we could just institute some kind of hate speech statute that would make it illegal to disseminate ideas that don’t agree with the official government dogma . . .

But really, little plebes, you just keep eating your bread and watching those circuses (provided, of course, by benevolent government officials) and it’ll all be just fine.

Oct 11 2011

Elizabeth Warren and the War On Our Way of Life

C.M. Phippen

Elizabeth Warren has made waves by recently announcing that the rich aren’t paying their fair share in taxes and that as part of a “social contract,” they owe the rest of society for the wealth they have accumulated. Social contract, the most recent buzzword of the left, apparently means that if you prosper in this land of relative freedom, then you owe a greater part of your wealth to a government that has apparently granted you the opportunity to be productive by providing you with things they have been given the responsibility to provide for all of us – roads, education, freedom from criminal interference, etc. Apparently, the social contract doesn’t require anything of those who choose to bleed society dry by taking its resources and producing nothing.

A number of years ago I was involved in an organization that dealt with foster-care issues for my state. At one point, those of us involved in this organization were asked to share why we chose to become involved. The most common refrain was a desire to “give back.” My response was nothing of the sort. I don’t do good because of what society has done for me; I choose to do good because of who I am and because I care about the suffering of others. Government has no real power to provide anything beyond what the productive in society produce and pay; not the other way around.

Our greatest gift is to live an honest, constructive life by doing our best to improve ourselves and those around us every day and to work hard to provide for ourselves and our families. The greatest destruction we can wreak is to allow a sense of entitlement to lead us to expect that others owe us a portion of their labors, especially a greater portion than we ourselves are willing to give voluntarily.

Bill Gates’ and Steve Jobs’ innovation increased the productivity of every single human being in every part of the world. What honest person can say with a straight face that they owe you some cash along with the myriad blessings that are ours because they chose to develop and utilize the brilliance of their minds? Using their God-given talents in a way that makes our lives easier and enables us to do things that just a decade or two ago were completely unimaginable is an incredible gift. To be given such a blessing and then respond with, “Well, we [may or may not have] paid taxes that paid for those roads and enabled thousands of individuals to get to work so they could make all of our lives easier, but could you throw in a couple bucks too?” just sounds kind of trashy.

Would we be a better society if those innovate, productive individuals had chosen to sit on the couch watching Oprah, collecting a welfare or disability check? I’m certain Jobs could have applied for and received disability during most of the past decade if he’d chosen that road. According to the thinking of Warren, had he made such a choice he wouldn’t owe us anything. Because of the fact that he instead chose to work hard, developing products that are sought after the world over and allowing phenomenal efficiency and personal enjoyment, he owes us a portion of whatever he makes. The very act of producing something everybody wants is apparently worthy of punishment. Hey, in the old Soviet Union nobody made anything anybody wanted but everybody there had a job; maybe this administration does have a jobs plan after all!

Sep 22 2011

Dictators, Money and Freedom

C.M. Phippen

As the Arab Spring recently swept across many dictator-led countries and multitudes cheered for the reforms to soon be in place, I have to wonder how much of the reality is known to us and how much is no better than the cruel dictatorships of the past.

I recently engaged in a conversation with someone who has international commodities contacts, and he mentioned to me that he had received a request for a contract in Libya. He spoke with his supplier, who told him that only certain individuals are allowed to arrange contracts to bring this particular commodity into the country of Libya. If someone there was looking to buy, they were probably one of the individuals who had been buying for, I don’t know, 10, 20, 30 years. The contract they were requesting was worth between $250 million and $500 million, so even though Gadhafi is supposedly no longer in power, I had to wonder who the end buyer on this product could be and how closely he must have been connected to the old regime.

Like Russia and many of the countries that made up the Soviet Union, there is probably a good chance that those who will hold power in these newly “free” North African and Middle Eastern countries will be the same people who held the power previously with their dictator friends. If not, chances are it will be others just like them who are more interested in seeking control over the citizenry and the ability to drain them of their resources rather than fight for their freedoms.

Not long after the country of Czechoslovakia was freed through the “Velvet Revolution” of 1989, I was living there. Because the means of production had been in the hands of the “people” for the previous forty years (in other words, in the hands of the only rich people in the country – the Communist leadership, who certainly lived very differently from their working brothers), the decision was made to distribute ownership in industry in the form of vouchers. These vouchers could then be exchanged for stock in state-owned companies.

These vouchers were being handled by individuals who were used to having all necessities of life provided for them by the government and who, for the most part, knew nothing about investing and long-term financial planning. What they did know was that when the government fell they were on their own, and the reality of the situation for many was dire.

According to what I was told repeatedly, the events that then transpired make up the great tragedy. Those who had held power for the previous 40 years knew that most of these citizens who had lived behind the iron curtain had been shielded from witnessing economic realities and had limited resources (after all, the government gave you little more than what you needed to live, unless you were a friend to someone in power).

Those who had been high-ranking Communists and had access to massive government resources then went to these citizens and offered to buy their vouchers for far less than they were worth. Not knowing any better, many sold and were left with nearly nothing. Those who had held power in government for decades now morphed into “capitalists,” exercising their newly-found power through control of industries they had done nothing to build.

Let’s hope the changes taking place across the ocean this time are more than superficial, and result in freedom and prosperity for people who have been so long brutalized by savage dictators. Unfortunately though, with very few exceptions, history teaches us to expect little more this time around.

Apr 10 2010

A Divided Society

C.M. Phippen

The media consistently tells us how divided we are as a nation and how the divisions among is are increasing. If this is the case, it would serve us well to ask a few questions as to why and how this happened.

If we are more divided than ever, and I would submit that we are – why? One of the reasons can be found in the the latest news about who pays taxes in this country. Just last week, we were told that for 2009, 47% of Americans will pay no federal income tax. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, original estimates for 2009 were that 38% of Americans would be exempt from federal taxes, but the “$787 billion economic recovery package . . . included a host of new or expanded tax breaks.”

While the burden on some in society was increasing exponentially as a result of skyrocketing government spending, the burden on others was removed completely. Exempting nearly half the population from any liability to support government spending and increasing government dependence, while demonizing those paying the bills, isn’t going to bring us together as a nation.

According to Aristotle, the duty of a mature legislator and statesman is to pull against the natural human tendency to want to undermine the wealthy and preach the redistribution of their wealth. “Demagogues are always dividing the city into two, and waging war against the rich. Their proper policy is the very reverse: they should always profess to be speaking in defense of the rich.” This conclusion came to him as he studied nearly 160 types of constitutions in dozens of Greek city-states, and observed and recorded their successes and failures.

It works to the benefit of a demagogue to have a deeply divided society, to pit the 47% of non-taxpayers against the 53% who labor for their support and their benefit in society. Equalization of outcome leads to a place where eventually, no one can be (or is willing to be) successful enough to foot the bill. After all, it is the 53% from whom the federal services flow, as well as the welfare benefits and “tax refunds,” often EITCs (Earned Income Tax Credits) that aren’t really refunds at all, but cash transfers. We wouldn’t want to explain that to the non-payers, let them just believe it’s all coming from the “government.”

According to economist Milton Friedman, the use of political channels, as opposed to the market, for the provision of resources leads to the straining of social cohesion. The reason for this is that markets allow diversity, while government policies require conformity. In Capitalism and Freedom, he states that the more extensive the range of issues we attempt to solve through political means, the greater the strain on the “delicate threads that hold society together.” He goes on to say,

The wider the range of activities covered by the market, the fewer are the issues on which explicitly political decisions are required and hence on which it is necessary to achieve agreement. In turn, the fewer the issues on which agreement is necessary, the greater is the likelihood of getting agreement while maintaining a free society.

Thus, the more extensive the range of issues attempting to be resolved through coercion (force of law) as opposed to individual choice and market forces, the greater the conflict in society between those who desire conformity to their ideas and those who desire freedom.

Pretty straightforward to me.

Mar 17 2010

Freedom and War

C.M. Phippen

Quite a few Americans, on the left and on the right, oppose US entanglements in other countries unless we have been attacked. For the most part I would agree, but I have to ask if it’s ever permissible to enter another country and enforce our moral code when the opposing country’s conduct is so egregious and their citizens are so victimized that we feel it is the only right thing to do?

In his writing, John Stuart Mill pointed out that the British, for at least a half-century, “have spent annual sums equal to the revenue of a small kingdom in blockading the Africa coast, for a cause in which we not only had no interest, but which was contrary to our pecuniary interest.” He was here, of course, talking about Great Britain’s efforts to abolish the slave trade around the world. Interestingly enough, Mill pointed out that the moral crusade was economically harmful to the British. Most of us would agree that despite that, it was worthwhile.

In 1849, the British entered Brazilian waters and destroyed Brazilian ships that had been used in the slave trade. The Ottoman Empire resisted attempts to pressure it to ban the African slave trade, and when it finally was banned, the British had to threaten that they would start boarding Ottoman ships in the Mediterranean if the Empire didn’t better police the ban. America was responsible for the destruction of the slave trade in the Philippines and the Netherlands was responsible for its end in Indonesia. In Central Asia, the Russians were the cause of its demise, as were the French in their West African colonies and in the Caribbean, and Germans in their East African colonies.

Outside of the Western world, the fight to abolish the slave trade endured for over a century, often at great cost to the countries that insisted upon its end. Reports from government officials as they tried to convince leaders of slave nations that the concept of slavery itself was immoral, always seemed to include a defense from the offending country regarding their customs and an explanation that their customs, as well as their people, differed from those in the Western world.

In 1841, the British representative consul to Zanzibar, Atkins Hamerton, attempted to convince the ruler of that country to end the slave trade. The response he received was that if he were to do so, his subjects would not remain loyal and would appoint another ruler who would allow the trade to continue. He reminded Hamerton that “Arabs were not ‘like the English and other European people who were always reading and writing’ and were unable to understand the anti-slavery viewpoint.” He also pointed out that one of his most important responsibilities was to protect and guarantee for his people their “dearest interest” – the slave trade.

Throughout this century-long struggle, the British patrolled the waters off of Africa in an attempt to halt the trade there. They would would seize and destroy slave ships, pay to resettle rescued slaves, and risk international relationships with countries that didn’t agree with them. The cost was high, but the moral mission was seen as a greater good.

I ask again, is it ever permissible to use military resources and personnel in order to “enforce” freedom, and a better way of life for others?

Much of the history is taken from Thomas Sowell’s book, Black Rednecks and White Liberals, pp. 111-132.

Sep 9 2009

Just Who Are We Americans?

C.M. Phippen

The more I hear about the Obama administration the more I realize that this president honestly doesn’t know who we are as a people.  He thought this vastly diverse country that has lifted more people to prosperity than any other nation in the history of the world was made up of haters, extortionists, and whiners.  Apparently that has been his experience.  He has chosen, over the decades of his adult life, to engage with those who claim victimhood as a right.  During the campaign he told us to look to the people he surrounds himself with to understand who he is, and to do so is a frightening expose.

Since graduating from law school, he hasn’t worked in any organization that actually produces anything.  He has, though, spent time working as a civil rights lawyer and teaching at a university, in addition to running for numerous political offices.  Our current president seems to have never held a job that brought him into regular contact with the vast legions of hardworking Americans who just want government to allow them the freedom to pursue their own idea of success and happiness – those Americans who ask for no financial remuneration from the rest us outside of that willingly offered in the exchanges of the free market.  This is the America that works, and this is diversity: each pursuing his own idea of fulfillment and happiness.  Unfortunately, our first African-American president apparently didn’t even know it existed.

While many Americans, especially the youngest who haven’t yet been tutored by the realities of family life and budget concerns, gladly buy into the paradigm of “something for nothing” and “let the other guy pay my way,” that isn’t the heart and soul of this country.  Those who value freedom over freebies apparently needed a push in order to wake up.  And wake up we did. 

The problem with this latest uprising is that it was completely unexpected by those in Washington who have been passing legislation for decades, unchecked by those of us who believe in personal responsibility and other such silly notions.  Most of us have just been too busy trying to keep our heads above water and create, within the walls of our own homes, our own little havens of peace.  We now realize more brutally than ever that those who’ve chosen not to work to create their own sense of security and happiness feel entitled to ours and have the support of those in power in informing us that we owe it to them.  Watch out, America, community organizing has moved into the White House!

We are a country founded on the principles of hard work, freedom, and the ownership of our own private property (as opposed to the ownership of someone else’s).  Extortion and arm-twisting just aren’t the way most of us live our lives.  But, because of our long silence, some misunderstood; they mistook that silence for either acceptance, or proof that we didn’t exist at all.  Well, hello, Mr. President!  Here we are, louder than ever, and willing to say what needs to be said.  It was grassroots support that got you where you are today, and without a willingness to listen to us now it will be grassroots opposition that makes sure your reign of serfdom lasts no longer than it must.