Mark W. Hendrickson
Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, Grove City, Pennsylvania. These articles are from V & V, a web site of the Center for Vision & Value, and Forbes.com.
The Excessive Meanness and Injustice of Obama's Healthcare Law
I got a call the other night from my friend who was disgruntled about the myriad hassles caused by Obamacare. You may be tempted to respond, "No fooling! Join the club," and you'd be right, but there's more to it than that. My friend, Larry, is almost impossible to irritate. One of the definitions of "imperturbable" in the dictionary should be "Larry." If Obamacare is egregious enough to bother him, then the Obamacare fiasco is registering 9.0 on the Richter scale of political earthquakes.
Besides the meanness and injustice of millions of Americans suffering from this policy, Obamacare is spreading misery far and wide. This grotesque program has left millions feeling betrayed and abused, and has caused them to feel anxiety, bitterness, and resentment. Obamacare has placed the health (both physical and financial) of masses of innocent Americans at risk. And why? All so that some implacable ideologues can play social engineer and central planner, trampling on the Constitution, defying common sense, and abandoning common decency.
This fiasco is exposing the soul of leftism. Leftist ideologues (perhaps, by now, even some Democrats may concede that this is what Obama is) are chronic malcontents, constantly peeved that the world doesn't conform to their own ideal notions. Consequently, they sanctimoniously lash out, willing to tear down and tear apart society, condemning it for not being perfect, magnifying its imperfections while ignoring, if not despising, what is good about it.
Hardcore leftists are worse than malcontents; they are haters. Lenin told the commissars of education in 1923, "We must teach our children to hate. Hatred is the basis of Communism." Karl Marx, according to Bertolt Brecht, proudly proclaimed himself, "the most outstanding hater of the so-called positive."
It is the left's unremitting negativism that dominates their character. They are like spiteful, spoiled children who never grow up. They rage and complain about "injustice" because other people are not doing what leftists believe they should be doing. Thus, you have Bill Ayers, the young Jane Fonda, the petty intellectuals like Richard Cloward and Frances Fox Piven, the president, and many others who, having partaken of all the rights, privileges, benefits, and amenities of the USA, nevertheless resent, despise, damn, and war against it. They strive to trigger cataclysms and revolutions in our "bourgeois" society to punish it for its alleged sins, even if it harms millions of innocent people in the process. They are so obsessed with the bad that they are blind to the good.
In short, the left has lost the capacity to be happy, unless they are able to impose their will on other people. They are ungrateful for the abundant good that abounds in America. Since "misery loves company," leftists want the rest of us to be as unhappy as they are. What right have we to be happy (indeed, what rights should we have at all?) if they aren't, is their malevolent attitude.
Let us not allow them to succeed in dragging us down to their level of unhappiness. Let us not give in to despair, even as Obamacare swings its deadly wrecking ball through the health insurance industry.
The best response we can make to the predations and depredations of this vicious leftist administration is to refuse to share their wretched mental state. Instead, during this holiday season, let us remember and celebrate the abundance of blessings that we Americans have. Let us vigorously reaffirm that life is a beautiful gift and loved ones are a priceless joy. Let us remember that even though freedom and prosperity have been historical rarities, we Americans have enjoyed them to an unprecedented degree. Let us be glad and rejoice that, despite the unconscionable encroachments of the progressive left, we are still freer than most human beings ever have been. Let us exult that we have the opportunity to exercise that freedom to throw off the yoke of creeping tyranny that the progressives are trying to impose on us.
The left are after our rights, our liberty, and our joy. Let's not let them take them from us.
Do Americans Disrespect Congress or Themselves?
The approval ratings for the U.S. Congress are abysmal. According to realclearpolitics.com, the average score on polls of Congress' popularity taken between Dec. 4 and 23, 2013 was 80 percent disapproval and only 13.9 percent approval. Ouch!
Ironically, the results of the 2012 election paint a different picture. Of 393 seats in which incumbents ran for re-election, 13 were defeated in primaries and 22 in the general election. In other words, over 90 percent of incumbents were re-elected. Where polls show disapproval, actual elections indicate approval. What gives?
Since Americans overwhelmingly re-elect congressional incumbents, it seems that dissatisfaction with Congress is directed mainly against the other 434 representatives rather than one's own single representative. Voters don't like the fallout and side effects from our current system of redistributive politics - the increasing debt; too much spending; the clamor, chaos, and conflicts that inevitably result when each congressman is trying to benefit his constituents at the expense of voters in other congressional districts.
In short, when so many are trying to get their hands into someone else's pockets, and everyone knows that property is up for grabs and that those with the most political clout or pull can get their hands on it, then social harmony is undermined. Voters on the take are unsatisfied with Congress because they aren't getting more, while voters whose property Congress is plundering are upset at being plundered. Few are content.
Far from advancing brotherhood and social justice, the modern transfer society has turned neighbor against neighbor as the fabric of society unravels in a Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all against all). The unseemly, shrill, incessant squabble over the spoils in Washington is not so much the fault of Congress as of the person in the mirror. Yes, Congress is obnoxious and rapacious, but that is because most Americans want, or at least tolerate, a government that redistributes wealth. Congress is merely carrying out the will of the people, so the blame is ours primarily, and Congress' only secondarily.
There are other reasons why many Americans disrespect Congress. Congress exempts itself from costly laws that apply to the rest of us (e.g., Obamacare). Congressmen often seem to leave office worth far more than when they entered. But why should we be surprised? Surely, when millions of voters expect Congress to redistribute trillions of dollars of wealth every year, we shouldn't be surprised when congressmen feel entitled to skim off a minuscule percentage for themselves.
Congressmen can lie with impunity; no truth-in-advertising laws apply to them. Congress - again unlike private businesses - can employ anti-competitive, monopolistic practices to ward off electoral challengers, giving themselves advantages such as large taxpayer-financed staffs and the franking privilege. But why should voters protest when congressmen attempt to rig the outcome of elections when many of those same voters engage in rent-seeking behavior and want Congress to rig the economic game to their financial benefit?
The area in which I deem Congress' performance most worthy of withering disrespect is its abdication of its fundamental constitutional responsibility to legislate the rules by which we live. Today, more than 90 percent of the rules we must obey are not legislated by Congress, but promulgated by unelected federal bureaucrats (e.g., the EPA's current drive to regulate the coal industry out of existence). Add to that the unaccountable Federal Reserve Bank to which Congress has delegated its constitutionally mandated monetary prerogative, and we must conclude that contemporary Americans are subject to powerful, unaccountable, unelected individuals who whittle away at our liberty.
By delegating to unelected officials its constitutional mandate to legislate the laws and policies by which we live, Congress has evaded its responsibility to make the tough decisions and stand accountable to the voters. They may pretend to commiserate with us when the Fed and other bureaucrats discomfit us, but they are glad they can use the unelected officials as scapegoats, blaming them for our diminished wealth and liberty.
Yes, Congress is a disgrace and a mess. Each congressional election is, as Mencken once wrote, an "advanced auction of stolen goods." For the sake of their own personal profit, power, and prestige, individual members of Congress have been plundering our property and diminishing our liberty.
As much, though, as I disapprove of Congress' performance, I think "we the people" are just as much to blame. Joseph de Maistre wrote, "Every country has the government it deserves." That seems particularly true when voters choose their own representatives. Millions of Americans have concentrated so much on using Congress to obtain financial benefits that they have tolerated or ignored Washington's progressive encroachments on their rights. Many of the 80 percent of voters who disapprove of Congress should look in the mirror. If they disrespect Congress, then they are disrespecting themselves.
100 Years Later, the Federal Reserve Has Failed at Everything It's Tried
On Dec. 23, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson signed the Owen-Glass Act, creating the Federal Reserve. As we note its centennial, what has the Fed accomplished during the last 100 years?
The stated original purposes were to protect the soundness of the dollar and banks and also to lessen the jarring ups and downs of the business cycle. Oops.
Under the Fed's supervision, boom and bust cycles have continued. Three of them have been severe: the Great Depression, the stagflationary period of 1974-82, and the current "Great Recession." Bank failures have occurred in alarmingly high numbers. Depending on what measurements are used, the dollar has lost between 95 and 98 percent of its purchasing power. (Amazingly, the Fed's official position today is that inflation is not high enough, so the erosion of the dollar continues as a matter of policy.)
Having failed to achieve its original goals, the Fed also has had a miserable record in accomplishing later goals. The 1970 amendments to the Federal Reserve Act stipulated that the Fed should "promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates." In baseball parlance, the Fed has been "0-for-three."
First, the premise that the central bank can "fix" unemployment is erroneous. It is based on the Phillips curve - the discredited academic theory positing a trade-off between inflation and employment. Unemployment is fundamentally a price problem, not a monetary problem; therefore, the cure for unemployment is a free market in wages, not any particular monetary policy. The Fed's current policy of persisting in "quantitative easing" until the official unemployment rate reaches a targeted level is the wrong medicine.
Second, central bank tampering with interest rates is the fundamental cause of, not the cure for, the boom and bust cycles; thus, the Fed should cease from tampering with interest rates.
Finally, focusing on "stable prices" is looking at the problem backwards. The Fed shouldn't try to influence prices any more than a nurse should influence the readings of a thermometer. The "fever" that causes prices to rise and purchasing power to fall is sick money. "Heal" the money (i.e., do away with a fiat currency and abolish fractional reserve banking) and prices will take care of themselves.
So, what has the Fed accomplished during its century of existence? Well, it has become adept at bailing out mismanaged banks. In the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the Fed orchestrated the big bailout of Wall Street. (Why the Occupy Wall Street movement didn't focus their protests on the Fed mystifies me.) Its other "accomplishment" has been to become the enabler of runaway federal deficit spending through its manipulation of interest rates.
Politically, the Fed is repugnant to the American system. Its chairman is commonly referred to as the second most powerful person in the country. In a democratic republic, should the second most powerful policymaker be unelected?
The Fed is unaccountable. Former congressman and presidential candidate Ron Paul tried to get Congress to mandate an audit of the Fed for years, but a majority of his colleagues seem afraid to take this simple, prudent step. Here, let me share an experience I had in 1981: A young congressman (later the governor of his state) gave a talk in which he asserted that Congress essentially was helpless because of the Fed's enormous power. Afterward, I approached him and said that the creator is superior to the creation, and that since the Fed was created by an act of Congress, it could be reformed or abolished by an act of Congress. The congressman turned ashen and fell silent. You can decide for yourself whether congressmen are afraid of the Fed or are using the Fed to get themselves off the hook, but unless something changes, Congress will allow the Fed to remain unaccountable.
The Fed is unconstitutional. Thomas Jefferson argued that Congress has no authority to create a bank and give it a monopoly over our money, because such actions "are not among the powers specially enumerated" in the Constitution. I agree. The Constitution plainly designates the people's elected representatives as the guardians of their money ("Congress shall have Power...To coin Money, [and] regulate the value thereof . . . " -Article I, Section 8.)
The Fed is a rogue entity. As I mentioned in my article about Ben Bernanke, the Fed has arrogated to itself arbitrary powers to create however much money it wants and buy whatever financial assets - whether government, private, or even foreign - it chooses. The Fed even keeps its own Inspector General in the dark.
It is anomalous that there should be such a powerful, unrestrained institution as the Fed in our body politic. The Fed's centennial is nothing to celebrate. Instead, this institution of awesome, arbitrary powers makes a mockery of constitutional checks and balances. It poses a threat, not just to our currency and economic well-being, but to liberty itself. It's a tragedy that this institution has lasted as long as it has.
One of the Most Powerful Christmas Lessons
The entire country pauses on Dec. 25, as Christians commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, known to Christians as God's Christ and Saviour, and known to many as The Prince of Peace.
The impact of this one special life has reverberated through the centuries. Kingdoms and governments rise and fall; the celebrities of one generation are largely forgotten by the next; powerful institutions and organizations - from central banks to giant business enterprises to mighty armies - come and go, but the influence of Jesus of Nazareth endures.
From the very beginning, Jesus' mission was misunderstood. Many of his own people had expected God to send them a mighty man of war, not a healer and teacher.
Today also, Christians often misunderstand their Saviour, as when they invoke the New Testament as justification for government to forcibly redistribute wealth in the name of charity. The social gospel, social justice, and liberation theology strains of Christianity have overlooked one fundamental principle of Jesus' life - one that should be especially obvious at this time of year when we think of Jesus as a tiny infant: He never used force to compel others to do good.
In Matthew 19, Jesus offered a rich young man a contract - his wealth to be given to the poor (demonstrating that he would not make an idol of his money and be willing to follow Christ fully) in exchange for eternal life - and he accepted the man's decision to decline the offer. In Luke 12, he refused to get involved in a "redistribute the wealth dispute," tacitly accepting the sanctity of property rights. In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10), Jesus illustrated genuine Christian charity. The Samaritan freely gave his own money and time to help the person in need. He most assuredly did not seize money from others to pay for the wounded man. Jesus shunned the use of force. He rejected the liberal temptation of using other people's money to accomplish ostensibly charitable goals (what William Graham Sumner referred to as A and B deciding what C should do for D).
Adam Smith, the great moral philosopher, understood the difference between law and gospel better than many contemporary Christians do. In The Theory of Moral Sentiments, Smith cited prudence, justice, and beneficence as the three great social virtues. Christian charity - beneficence - was "the ornament which embellishes, not the foundation which supports [society]." Justice, by contrast, is "the main pillar that upholds the whole edifice" of society. Therefore, no person may compel another to give charity, for that would violate justice, the basis of society and law. While Jesus encouraged charity and beneficence in the clearest terms to his disciples, he did not view the gospel as abrogating the law protecting private property; hence his statement in the Sermon on the Mount, "Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law." (Matt. 5:18)
Just as the physician's first principle is "do no harm," so Jesus did harm to nobody. He did not believe in a zero-sum economy in which one person would benefit at the expense of another, but believed in freedom, voluntary contract, and mutual benefits. His life was the highest example of the non-aggression principle in practice. He never taught that it was legitimate to help one person by trespassing on the rights of another. He never taught that the key to heaven lay in compelling other people to do good things. Instead, he healed, comforted, taught, and saved human beings, rescuing them from their sins, errors, diseases, and fallibility with a love so far above the normal human sense of love that we still are far from grasping its full import.
What we can grasp is the innocence and gentleness of the baby Jesus. Think of how blessed the world would be if that spirit governed mankind.
At Christmastime 2013, it's worth pondering what Jesus would ask of us today. I imagine it would be profoundly simple and sublimely wise - something along the lines of: Whatever you do, don't hurt anybody and, if you can find it in your heart, be willing to help somebody.
Merry Christmas everyone, and "on earth peace, good will toward man." (Luke 2:14)
A Miracle of Coincidence
Every now and then, something unforeseen and special happens - something that logic or reason would tell you is either impossible or that the odds against it happening are overwhelming. And yet those things occasionally happen and fill us with wonderment.
How should we characterize or classify such events? Are they miracles? Flukes? Coincidences? Or do they hint at some sort of transcendent or metaphysical power - perhaps another dimension of reality that exists just beyond the range of the human mind - something like karma, fate, destiny, or divinity?
Before I tell you about my recent experience, let me share an incident that typifies the improbable long shots that somehow happen even when there is no apparent reason why they should. Some years ago, I read the book, Beyond Coincidence: Amazing Stories of Coincidence and the Mystery Behind Them, by Martin Plimmer and Brian King.
Over the course of about 260 pages, the authors relate dozens of actual incidents that seemed to mock the laws of probability. One story in particular caught my fancy. In the 1920s, a young opera singer named Lauritz Melchior (whom I later learned became the pre-eminent Wagnerian tenor opera singer of the 20th century) was practicing in the garden at his pension in Munich. Plimmer and King write:
As he sang the words, "Come to me, my love, on the wings of light," a female parachutist landed at his feet. It was the Bavarian actress Maria Hacker, who was performing a stunt for a movie thriller. They were married in 1925. "I thought she came to me from heaven," said Melchior.
Knowing my wife, Eileen, to be a romantic, of all the vignettes compiled in that book, this was the one I decided to share with her. The "coincidences" weren't over, because Eileen said:
I met Lauritz Melchior shortly before his passing when Lou [Eileen's first husband, who died tragically young] auditioned for him at the New York Met.
Think about it: What are the odds that my wife would know any of the individuals whose stories were included in the book I was reading, much less the protagonist in the only account I shared with her?
Okay, now on to recent history and a real feel-good story. This August, while going through a box of memorabilia, I found an article in my high school newspaper about the man who had been my English teacher in the seventh and eighth grades, Mr. Ted Walters. He was leaving our school to return to his native Pittsburgh. This really intrigued me, because the embryonic idea had been developing within me for a few years that I should track down this teacher to thank him for all that he had done for me, and since I now live in western Pennsylvania, too, this seemed like a real possibility.
As a teacher, Mr. Walters worked my tail off. I had to write one paper every week for two school years. Those papers made my Sunday nights in the dormitory miserable, but the payoff was immense. In two years of academic boot camp, he whipped my writing into shape and taught me to write like an adult. Becoming a clear writer helps one become a clear thinker. Quite literally, Mr. Walters equipped me to succeed in all subsequent academic and intellectual endeavors. One example: I earned the first "first" (that's the top grade) ever awarded by my tutor in literature at Oxford, but it was Mr. Walters' achievement as much as mine. Basically, the papers that I wrote for my tutor were based on lessons that Mr. Walters had taught me way back in junior high school at Cranbrook.
Well, you know where this is going, so let's get to it: After learning that he had ties to my geographic area, I tried to find him through Google searches and on the website of the college where he taught, but no luck. Then the school year started and I put my search on hold. On Monday, Oct. 14, I sent an email to my friend and colleague, Paul Kengor, to ask him if his van had broken down, because it had been in the same spot in the school parking lot for several days. Paul wrote back that he and his wife had parked it there while they were out of town at a wedding. Then he added, "By the way, Lee (Wishing, another friend and colleague) and I had lunch with a Grove City College grandfather who told us about teaching Mitt Romney and Mike Kinsley at your school. His name is Ted Walters. Do you know him?"
WOW! I'm looking for one person in the world, not sure how to get in touch with him, and a friend writes and says out of the blue, Oh, by the way, I just had lunch with this man. What are the odds of that? And to make the story even sweeter, it turns out that Ted's granddaughter was a student in a couple of my courses, so I went full circle with the Walters family. And, yes, the story gets happier. Ted and I have exchanged several emails, and we're making plans for a reunion soon.
What unseen force accomplished this joyful miracle for me? I don't think it was luck or coincidence. I'll call it God, you call it what you want, but I'm convinced there is a higher intelligence binding us together for good in ways that we haven't begun to comprehend. The Force is there. May it be with you and bless you. *