Thursday, May 27, 2010

Unpopular Laws

The healthcare reform bill, controversy over Rand Paul’s Civil Rights Act comments, and the current debate over immigration law all suggest a fundamental question: Do laws precede or follow public support for the principles underlying them? Does a law have the ability to force a change in a society’s values, or must an effective law be consistent with those values from the outset? I suppose that the answer depends to some degree on the amount of social dislocation and disorientation that the law entails. Lurching and expansive legislative encroachments, regardless of their academic appeal, are likely to be resented by a populace that is not supportive of them.

When a law is enacted contrary to significant public opposition, the natural outcomes are increasingly coercive enforcement measures, or widespread flouting of the law. Neither is hygeinic to a flourishing democracy. The experiment of prohibition is probably the most obvious example of this principle, with many of the excesses of drug enforcement providing supporting references. Governments do not “lead” healthy societies to adopt particular values; to the contrary, they can only function effectively when they reflect the values of the population, for good or ill.

If the people do not support ObamaCare, they will find ways around it. It will become an albatross. States will be under pressure to permit alternative disciplines to practice healing arts, conceirge practices will spring up to cater to wealthy clients who will refuse the rationing queues, and medical tourism will flourish. Bankruptcy laws will have to accommodate nonpayment of insurance premiums, the government monopsony will have to subsidize failing and inefficient physicians, as it will be unable to simultaneously control supply, quality and cost. Fraud and waste will consume increasing portions of medical costs while outcomes stagnate.

The grand lesson to be learned from ObamaCare, probably from dusty hard drives a hundred years from now, is that all of the smart, flippant and self-assured “leaders” of the early twenty-first century were not nearly as smart as they thought they were.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Judicial Philosophy

What I'd like to hear a Supreme Court nominee say in answer to a question about her approach to deciding cases:

"Senator, I think it would be inappropriate for me to... um....O.K., here's the deal. I know that it is not possible to perfect human bings through the law. It is not possible to do it through legislation, through creative interpretation of legislation and certainly not through rules handed down from courts in the absence of legislation. The fact is, Senator, there are none of us in public life who is smart enough to craft a law or ordinance telling people how to live that does not cause unnecessary injury to someone. We don't have the capacity to, by imposing general requirements and prohibitions, make any person's life better than he or she could make it themselves, living their lives according to priorities that they set for themselves, and that require simply a basic respect for the rights of others. The people who are given temporary management of the affairs of government haven't the foggiest idea of what should or should not be important to the people in this country, and we shouldn't pretend that we do. So I would have to say that I would approach legal issues humbly because the people who come before the Court will know a hell of a lot more about what individual liberties mean to them than you, I or anyone else in government does. Thank you."

Monday, May 10, 2010


Being able to prioritize things is an essential skill in a complex world. Families must prioritize items in their budgets, Homemakers must prioritze their use of time, corporations their allocation of capital etc. This seemingly universal and self-evident principle causes some difficulty when transposed to the government arena.

There are some things government must prioritize, particularly when economic circumstances are tight. The most obvious list of priorities is that concerning government functions. If we simply list out an informal census of these, we might include collective derfense, public health, education, justice, public safety, immigration, resource management, ensuring adequate supplies of food and energy, and maintiaining relations with other governments. Of course, the more eager acolytes of government action might include such novelties as promoting "social justice," cultural diversity, and economic redistribution. The specific rank that a person would give each item in such a list would be a product of that person's individual values and political philosophy, and determining such priorities is a large part of the entire political process.

In contrast with the necessity of prioritizing essential government functions, politics is inadequate to the task and often causes great harm when it attempts to prioritize among competing rights. These contests are most visible in the conflicts that arise among the right of free expression and the neologic oddity of the right not to be offended. Similar conflicts are found regarding rights of conscience and access to abortion, and between those who own firearms and those who are made nervous as a result. Govenrment can not effectively prioritize rights because the very essence of rights includes the ability to prioritize for one's self those which are are most and least important. The value of a particular right to a particular person is inherently subjective and it is difficult to conceive of a more perfect parody of tyranny than that in which the government tries to tell individual people what should be most important to them.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

The Basics

Political discourse should proceed from a set of fundamental principles, similar to the axioms of Euclidean geometry. As a starting point, I would propose the following:

1.) Human beings are tool users, and naturally exploit things, even for purposes for which those things were not intended (cf. government).
2.) Value is subjective.
3.) Economic wealth depends on how much someone has of something that only has value because other people think it does.
4.) The use of force is the last recourse when two parties cannot otherwise resolve a dispute. The human mind has not not found a substitute for force as the ultimate decider, except more force.
5.) The use of force must always be “justified” to be acceptable because civilized people assume that it is unjust unless shown by circumstances to be otherwise.
6.) “Rights” is a concept that only has meaning in the setting of human beings interacting with one another. So is justice.
7.) “Fairness” is an attribute of a process, not an outcome.
8.) The vast majority of all human beings that have ever lived have been religious to one degree or another.
9.) Religion is one of those tools that tool users exploit for purposes other than those originally intended.
10.) There are far more people on earth now than could be supported by hunter-gather economies. If not for man’s technological progress a whole lot of people would die horrible deaths.
11.) Because of the political penchant for favoring the ideal over the reasonable, a whole lot of people have died horrible deaths.