Universal National Service, or Slavery for Dummies

A story the other day in the Washington Post by state-worshiper Michael Gerson talks about how Universal National Service can be useful in trying times such as we live in today. Besides the urge to vomit, statements like this induce many thoughts. Firstly, if “Universal National Service” isn’t a fantastical Orwellian term for conscription, I don’t know what is. Why is it that Conservatives (or any others who endorse the policy) dishonestly call conscription Universal National Service, instead of what it amounts to, which is Compulsory Military Slavery? Probably for the same reason why we didn’t call the PATRIOT Act the “Spying on Americans Act,” or why we didn’t call The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act the Waiting Lines and Compulsory Expensive Healthcare Act: because if defined in appropriate, pejorative terms it sounds a lot less attractive. 

If we are not free to decide what profession we may choose, or what work we can or cannot choose to do, we are no different than a slave. The state does not own us; every individual owns their own body and the fruits of their labor by extension. By endorsing public slavery, with the state qua slave master, but condemning private slavery, one is being a hypocrite of the nastiest variety.

The article also mentions that:

Gen. Stanley McChrystal offhandedly endorsed universal national service for young people graduating from high school or college, fulfilled in either a military or civilian setting. His particular concern was the growing disconnect between the less than 1 percent of Americans who serve in the armed forces and the rest of the country. The result is not only an unequal distribution of burdens but also the unequal development of citizens. “Once you have contributed to something,” McChrystal said, “you have a slightly different view of it.”

But why would we want to have any connection to the military? Why would we want to be connected to an institution that is responsible for occupying and killing so many innocent civilians each year in undeclared wars in foreign countries? Why would we want to be a part of an organization where 26,000 members of the armed forces are raped or sexually assaulted each year, with 53% of them being men? Should we be anxious to be sexually assaulted? Why would we be anxious to be part of the military where suicide is at an all time high and more soldiers die from suicide than from combat? Is this the kind of fraternity and common experience we should be seeking to share with all Americans? Why should we be seeking to share these “unequal burdens” at all? Shouldn’t we be trying to remove these burdens entirely? 

And speaking of unequal burdens, who is it that is paying for the military to go on useless expeditions in foreign countries we have no business being in as well as paying for the salaries and multitude of benefits these soldiers receive? Oh, that’s right, the taxpayer; the class of citizen who does actual productive work that increases wealth rather than destroying or squandering it. This is the false trade-off that is often presented that the military is fighting over there, so we can be safe over here. The trade-off should be presented in those terms if we really want to get a sense of who is supporting who. Why is it that Canada has never had a single terrorist attack? Arguably, Canada is just as free of a country as we are. If it is the hatred of freedom that causes terrorism, why isn’t Canada a target for terrorism? Maybe it’s because they don’t play the role of policeman of the world and don’t stick their nose in other countries business where it doesn’t belong. The golden rule says to do unto others as you would have done unto yourself. If we had a foreign policy built upon this axiom, we wouldn’t be a target of foreign terrorism

Is  this really the kind of “burden” we want our children to be put through? When McChrystal says that by contributing to the military we will have a slightly different view of it, is he talking about the indoctrination we will receive? Does he mean that we will no longer be capable of thinking on our own and only be capable of responding to orders? I think it’s pretty clear from Daniel Somers story and the countless other military suicides that participating will only confirm the viewpoint that the military is both not a desirable place to be employed..

Further, it mentions, “The service movement has always had an element of nostalgia for the shared, unifying burdens of World War II, the United States’ epic of citizenship.” Whether or not this “nostalgia” is even in line with reality, it is clear that the military today isn’t comparable to the military of WWII. Nostalgia likely isn’t the term most soldiers will use when describing their time in the military 30 years from now.

The article next states that, “Taxation allows us to fund common purposes, but it does not provide common experiences. A rite of passage in which young people — rich and poor, liberal and conservative, of every racial background — work side by side to address public problems would create, at least, a vivid, lifelong memory of shared national purpose.” But in what sense are our imperialistic aspirations of benefit to the public? And in what sense does taxation fund common purposes? How do subsidies to farmers or any other number of industries benefit us in common? How does giving hundreds of millions or billions of dollars away in foreign aid benefit everyone? The taxation funding common purposes argument is completely ignorant of reality. He attempts to convey the notion that to obtain usufruct of the benefits of society, we must submit ourselves to the government, put the handcuffs on our own wrists, and resign ourselves to bondage for the common good. The assumption that we belong to the state relies on the proposition that all our rights are in fact privileges that we enjoy only because of the good graces of our leaders. If the “shared value” we are trying to diffuse is military slavery, how can we expect society to prosper rather than degenerate?

Gerson goes on, “Future generations will struggle to explain the conservative elements that praised Edward Snowden, apparently granted on the theory that the enemy of my government is my friend.” This statement is problematic for multiple reasons. By stating that Edward Snowden is an enemy of the government he is correct, but his tone implies that Edward Snowden is being treasonous, which makes him not simply an enemy of the government, but an enemy of the people. As we can see by the reception of most reasonable Americans, Edward Snowden is clearly a friend of the people. Naturally the government will view someone who exposes their violations of our rights as an enemy to them. If resisting political power makes us guilty of treason, then I’d be glad to be in the company of our founders who did the same thing. The government is more concerned with its own well-being than the purposes it was instituted for; to protect us and secure to us the blessings of our liberty, not to spy on us.

Patriotism is not obedience to the state. As Ron Paul would say, patriotism means to love liberty; it means opposing state power and standing up for your rights against the oppression of tyranny. Blind obedience to the government when it commits immoral acts is no virtue; to deny this principle necessarily assumes that all the Nazi’s who were obeying their government in exterminating Jewish people were in fact patriots and serving their country honorably.

He ends by stating that Universal National Service “strengthens…our national character.” Aside from the obvious demagoguery, any time we talk of “national character” or national values, we are explicitly talking in collective terms, ignoring that societies are heterogeneous made up of individuals with subjective values. This means that there are many competing values in society so the notion of a collective version of this that everyone belongs to is ridiculous.We are a society of individuals, not individuals composing a society. Individuals like Michael Gerson would fit in very well in Soviet Russia where they also recognized the benefits of compulsory national service in fostering a society of obedience and lack of the ability to generate their own convictions. Those who cannot think for themselves are in no condition to differentiate between right and wrong or justice and injustice; a servile and docile population is ideal for a government hell-bent on tyrannizing its people.

See Something…Keep Quiet

We are expected to uphold the motto espoused by the Department of Homeland Security of “See Something, Say Something;” yet if a private citizen sees the government doing something reprehensible and sheds light on this betrayal, he is a traitor? The government encourages us to become informants against our neighbors, but condemns any attempt to blow the whistle on its own crooked and immoral operations. As Judge Andrew Napolitano has said, “If the road to hell is paved with good intentions, then the road to tyranny is paved by believing the government.”

Natural Monopoly and the Myth of Destructive Competition

We are often presented with the case of the “natural monopoly.” We are told there are certain industries that have extensive barriers to entry, usually in the form of costly infrastructure, meaning high fixed costs. Two examples would be water and telephone companies, water companies having to place pipes in the ground and telephone companies having to erect telephone poles and run wires. They say that to have more than one company in the industry promotes “duplication,” ie. two competing water companies will lay out two sets of pipes to reach consumers, two electric companies will each place their own telephone poles and wires, and in each instance we are supposed to be “wasting resources” because we don’t need more than one set of telephone poles or water pipes. We are told cities will be riddled with this duplicate infrastructure and so many resources will have gone to waste. Having two (or more) companies compete in these “natural monopoly” industries only creates waste by duplication. This kind of competition is then deemed “destructive,” hence the state must establish a monopoly, which we call a “public utility.” This notion of “destructive competition” is a corollary to the myth of natural monopoly.

Examining the notion of destructive competition bring up several problems. The fact that we pick and choose between instances of intensive competition and declare one to be favorable while the other is destructive is enough to make one question the existence of this phenomenon known as “destructive competition” in the first place. Why is it that we have companies like Apple competing against Samsung, Barnes and Noble, Google and Amazon with the iPad, Galaxy Tab Nexus, Kindle, and Nexus, yet we don’t make the statement that this competition is “destructive?” Let’s look at the tablet PC’s market and the iPad. Would we have been better off if we banned competition with Apple’s iPad, and instituted a monopoly for Apple, because competition would be destructive? A priori we can reason that this claim is absurd.

It can be observed that when companies compete with each other for better products at better prices, they in many instances create their own demand. Looking at the tablet PC market, the demand for the first iPad was very limited (at least much more so that today). Many individuals had doubts about the relevance of tablet PC’s; why get a tablet PC which will under-perform a laptop and desktop PC and a few years from now will be an obsolete technology? 

Using the logic of destructive competition, we would say that the entry of additional competitors would be destructive with two (or more) companies competing for a limited demand, competing for the same customers. But yet, as more competitors entered the tablet PC market, more demand was created. These companies competed with each other for better products with more features, more computing power, lower prices, etc. and demand exploded. 

More competition is not destructive; competition fosters innovation. Creating better and cheaper products allows for more people to be priced into the market, creating demand where there was none prior. In the case of tablet PC’s, the better and cheaper products gave more people confidence that the direction of computing was, in fact, heading towards tablets, making it seem like a more reasonable purchase in the eyes of buyers. 

The error most people make in calling some competition destructive is that they consider demand to be static; they fail to realize that demand adjusts in response to changes in the market. They only see that the demand for iPads is, let’s say, one million customers and the addition of more competitors for that same one million customers is anti-social behavior and must be destined to ruin the market. As we’ve seen, more competition can in fact stimulate demand so that rather than more competitors vying for the same customers, we have more companies competing for a comparatively greater number of customers.

This is the same flawed argument that has been used to deride technological innovation over and over throughout the years. “If we allow this new piece of machinery, all the laborers who did the work previously will be out of jobs. Their jobs are stolen by machines, the horror!” 

But let’s look at the facts; did the replacement of the horse and buggy with the automobile destroy jobs, or create countless more? Did the replacement of the farm laborer with machinery destroy jobs and make us worse off? As Henry Hazlitt points out, technology either frees up labor for more productive uses or it stimulates comparatively greater demand, as was the case of the automobile and countless other technologies. Sure people may be unemployed temporarily, but this is a natural condition of the market. It’s not something to be derided, it’s something to be praised. Are we not grateful that the automobile threw many “poor horse and buggy makers” out of work temporarily so that we all could benefit from the wonders of this new technology? Would we be better off if all farm cultivation had to be done by hand so as to stimulate jobs for agricultural labor? This process of creative destruction is what allows us to integrate newer technologies, allocate labor to its most valuable use, and advance everyone’s standards of living.

Also, we cannot expect a company to improve its products or services if they have no one to compete with. A company with no competitors is never going to innovate and they will always defend the status quo. If you are granted a government given right to exclusively serve consumers, why would you want to take entrepreneurial risks if you can retain your customer base regardless of whether they’re happy and satisfied or angry and dissatisfied?

We must also realize that even if we take demand as a given, the process we might refer to as “destructive competition” is a process that would simply sort out those who are best from those who are weak. Destructive competition could not continue forever. If there is an overabundance of firms in the market, many (or even all) firms may take a loss in the short run, but in the long run, only the strong will survive. Uncompetitive firms will be weeded out and there will no longer be ‘too many’ firms anymore. Further, in a market where no firms are making a profit, there aren’t going to be any new entrants. Who would enter a market where there is no opportunity to profit? We find that as weaker firms go out of business, there’s a magnetic tendency for the market to head towards equilibrium.

To rephrase it, if the market decides there are “too many” firms (characterized by firms taking losses), those who go bankrupt will be cast aside, and those still remaining will find better opportunities for profit with fewer firms. If the market decides there are “too few” firms in the industry (characterized by large profit margins), entrepreneurs will recognize the potential for profit and enter the market. On each side, there is a tendency to sort out the weak from the strong and head towards equilibrium. Only the market is capable of deciding questions like how many firms are too many, through the system of prices and profit and loss. If the market is a natural monopoly, it is immune from the instructions given by the system of profit and loss.

To conclude, the things to take away from this are 1. Destructive competition doesn’t exist 2. Even if destructive competition did exist, the profit and loss system ensures that it cannot continue.

(For a specific look at natural monopolies read Dilorenzo’s article on The Myth of the Natural Monopoly)

Salinas v. Texas and The Bill of Privileges

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that you must expressly invoke your 5th Amendment protection to the Right to Remain Silent. Justice Alito and the concurring Justices (Kennedy, Scalia, Roberts) claimed that a witness who “desires the protection of the privilege…must claim it.” In what world are they living in that the right to remain silent is a “privilege?” A privilege is a favor, a gift granted by the legislature, subject to revocation on any whim they deem expedient. A right is inherent; it is inalienable; it is something no legislator or ruler can take away from you. To call the right to remain silent a privilege is blasphemous.

If, to be able to exercise a right you must expressly invoke it, that is no different than saying there is no such right (which is what they are saying by calling it a privilege). To say this means that we have no right to silence, and that we may be compelled to speak if we do not choose to expressly invoke the 5th Amendment. It is hard to stomach anyone interpreting the simple act of saying nothing as an admission of guilt, as nonsensical as that is. Also, the act of saying nothing is itself an express act invoking the 5th Amendment. It is self-evident, a priori, that if an individual chooses to stay silent (or chooses to do anything else, for that matter) they are exercising their right to do so.

If I am talking to someone on the sidewalk, do I (or should I) have to explain to a police officer that I am exercising my right to free speech? No, the act of speaking itself is a priori an invocation of the right. Telling someone that you are exercising your right is explanatory of the fact that you are exercising it, but the ability to exercise the right is not dependent upon this explanation. It is granted to Justice Alito that the 5th Amendment says that no one may be “compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself,” but is that not what has happened? If we may interpret a defendants lack of testimony as an admission of guilt, is he not ultimately being compelled to be a witness against himself in a criminal case? It is a fine line.

In my own tendency to extend as much protection to defendants as possible, I believe the protection against self-incrimination cannot be limited to the witness stand nor can it be limited to an express invocation of the right. At the same time, I find myself agreeing with Justice Thomas that the Griffin case, where they determined that a prosecutor cannot make damaging statements about an individuals exercising their right to remain silence, does in a sense fall outside the bounds of the 5th Amendment. However, the rule determined today that the 5th Amendment right to remain silent must be expressly invoked to extend an individual protection is absurd on its own rights.

If someone would rather say nothing at all (their right), why should we force them to state they are invoking the 5th Amendment?  And again, the most disparaging aspect of this case is the reference to our 5th Amendment right as a “privilege.” So has the Bill of Rights been ab ovo a Bill of Privileges? Should we be grateful that our merciful overlords granted us such a privilege in the first place?

The God of the Machine

“If the primary objective of the philanthropist, his justification for living, is to help others, his ultimate good requires that others shall be in want. His happiness is the obverse of their misery. If he wishes to help “humanity,” the whole of humanity must be in need. The humanitarian wishes to be a prime mover in the lives of others. He cannot admit either the divine or the natural order, by which men have the power to help themselves. The humanitarian puts himself in the place of God.
But he is confronted by two awkward facts; first, that the competent do not need his assistance; and second, that the majority of people, if unperverted, positively do not want to be “done good” by the humanitarian. When it is said that everyone should live primarily for others, what is the specific course to be pursued? Is each person to do exactly what any other person wants him to do, without limits or reservations? and only what others want him to do? What if various persons make conflicting demands? The scheme is impracticable. Perhaps then he is to do only what is actually “good” for others. But will those others know what is good for them? No, that is ruled out by the same difficulty. Then shall A do what he thinks is good for B, and B do what he thinks is good for A? Or shall A accept only what he thinks is good for B, and vice versa? But that is absurd. Of course what the humanitarian actually proposes is that he shall do what he thinks is good for everybody. It is at this point that the humanitarian sets up the guillotine.” – Isabel Paterson, The God of the Machine

The Problem with Conservatives

Many libertarians applaud conservatives on their economic views, and rightfully so. Conservatives generally want to keep the government off our backs and reduce the regulatory burden so that businesses can operate unmolested and provide jobs to hardworking Americans (this doesn’t include those so-called ‘fake’ conservatives who support corporate welfare, bailouts, protectionism, etc., although historically this was what conservatism did support). Personal freedoms, on the other hand, is where it gets trickier in aligning with the conservative viewpoint. Certain personal freedoms, particularly those reserved specifically in the Constitution like the right to bear arms, are vehemently supported by conservatives which should to be commended accordingly. Even certain freedoms not enumerated in the Constitution, particularly in the sphere of the family, are also guarded jealously. However, conservatives fail to apply their support for personal freedoms across the boards. When conservatives are able to apply their principles consistently, they will be much better off. 

For example, conservatives cannot say something to the effect that “The U.N. should not have authority over the citizens or public policies of the United States” and then think that we are the policeman of the world and can exact our authority on foreign nations and their citizens both militarily and diplomatically. If we think as Americans we have a right to “protect our national interests,” and therefore we may invade and occupy foreign nations, how can we consistently say that the U.N. cannot have any power over us? Maybe the countries composing the U.N. are simply trying to protect their “national interests.” 

When we talk about protecting our national interests, it only begs the question: who decided these “national interests?” A conservative versed in economics should know that value is subjective; one person’s interests are not the same as another’s. And a majority’s interests doth not a national interest make; ask those who’ve had violence perpetrated on them during the Holocaust about the validity of “national interests” or the interests of the majority.

Not only this, but conservatives often rely on the U.N. to enforce sanctions on countries we dislike, patently violating their own view that the U.N. cannot have authority over sovereign nations and individuals. In reality what they mean is, “The U.N. cannot have authority over the citizens or public policies of the United States; however, if it’s in the United States’ interest, let it do our bidding.” They believe the U.S. stands on a moral high ground and is the de facto U.N. Only an intense form of nationalism could possibly answer for this contemptible stance.

It is equally amazing when conservatives make a statement like, “The permanent institutions of family and religion are foundational to American freedom and the common good, and the federal government has no business interfering in these institutions,” evidently concerned with personal and private issues, but then hypocritically want the government to interfere with other personal and private concerns like abortion, drug use, etc. No self-reflecting individual can believe that the government should not interfere with the institution of marriage because of its intense personal nature, yet want to regulate what we put into our bodies by advocating for ever-stricter penalties and enforcement of marijuana laws, even against medical users. 

From a property rights aspect, the same hypocrisy could be said for the right to possess guns vs. the right to possess marijuana (or any other physical good). Just because the right to possess marijuana isn’t enshrined in the Constitution via enumeration doesn’t mean we don’t have that right. As the Tenth Amendment states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Further, supporting the right to possess a certain class of property but not another weakens the whole argument for property rights generally.

To have a respectable viewpoint, to be practical is not enough; it must be principled. There must be reason consistently applied throughout the philosophy, or it will be filled with holes. In the end, the conservative philosophy doesn’t stand for anything consistent; it simply means that whatever they profess is supreme and should be enforced at the barrel of a gun. This is why there is a more pronounced convergence between liberals and conservatives in so many issues; they rely on the government to enforce their societal ideals on the rest of us, who may or may not share their particular perspective. Hypocrisy is rampant in politics and our two parties are paragons of this vice.