Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Individual Rights and Abortion

The Colorado based Pagosa Daily Post published my letter to the editor today in response to a rebuttal by one Steve Van Horn to Diana Hsieh's op-ed piece defending a woman's right to an abortion. The letter was only slightly edited from the original ("Man" was changed to "human being"). Here it is as the Post published it (go to the letters for 10/29/2008 and scroll down):

Van Horn Opinion Misses the Point
Gideon Reich
Steve Van Horn's rebuttal in the Post to Diana Hsieh's excellent article on abortion shows a complete lack of understanding of the one crucial concept in the abortion debate: Individual Rights. Far from being mythical supernatural endowments implanted at conception, or social conventions subject to popular vote, rights derive from a human being's nature as a rational being. His existence requires the free exercise of his rational faculty to sustain his own life.

A "right," as Ayn Rand pointed out, "is a moral principle defining and sanctioning a man’s freedom of action in a social context." Thus, the freedom of action that ought to be guaranteed to an individual is the freedom to think and act without interference from others in society for the achievement of his goals, as long as he respects the right of others do the same.

The very first requirement for such a freedom to apply is that the "individual" in question actually be a separate individual in a social context — not a mere potential that is part of another actual individual. As Ms. Hsieh has eloquently shown, the unborn fetus, to say nothing of the embryo or zygote, has not met that requirement.

The pregnant woman, on the other hand, clearly has — and has every moral right to act accordingly.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Reisman on the Laissez Faire Slander

Economist George Reisman has penned an excellent essay on the current crisis. It is entitled "The Myth that Laissez Faire is responsible for the Financial Crisis".

Sunday, October 19, 2008

California Voting Guide

I have just filled out and sealed my mail-in ballot. I thought I would share my choices and at least some of my reasons.

People
  • President -- none of the above. I knew from early on that nothing could make me vote for McCain and while I played with the idea of voting from Obama, in the end, he just has so many bad positions that I could not stomach it. For a more intellectual defense of abstention, see Craig Biddle's "McBama vs. America" in the fall 2008 issue of The Objective Standard.
  • Congressional Representative -- none of the above. After John Campbell voted for the bailout twice, I vowed not to support him. But Steve Young is unfortunately too unreasonable a Democrat to support.
  • Various other local judges, representatives, commissioners, etc -- none of the above. Part of the problem here is that I simply know nothing about these people. But I would also argue that I don't quite understand why all these people have to be elected rather than appointed.
Propositions
  1. "High-speed rail bonds", later apparently changed to 1A "Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act" (I'm not kidding!). No. In principle I'm opposed to all bond measures -- the last thing the state needs is to borrow more money. And the last thing that needs to be funded by the government are trains. The state government needs to remove the numerous restrictions in the path of rail, not borrow money and give it to undeserving private interests.
  2. "Standards for confining farm animals" No. It is none of the government's business how farmers treat their farm animals.
  3. "Children's Hospital bond act. Grant Program". No. See 1. And in addition I don't believe that government has any role to play in health care or the funding of hospitals.
  4. "Waiting period and parental notification before termination of minor's pregnancy." No. Though I have to admit I had to think about that one a little bit and my wife finally convinced me that it was too dangerous to a young girl's life to let this pass. See also Adam Reed's recent excellent opinion piece in the Orange County Register.
  5. "Nonviolent drug offense. Sentencing, parole and rehabilitation." No. Though if it wasn't for the rehabilitation bit I might have supported it since it reduces penalties on drug offenders. However, it intends to spend more money on drug rehabilitation programs and I just don't think I should have to spend any of my money on that kind of scum.
  6. "Police and law enforcement funding. Criminal Penalties and laws". Yes. This law increases funding for police at the expense of schools and health care, among other things (so its opponents claim) -- that's a selling point for me. Also, it increases penalties for gang-related crimes and Southern California has been struggling with those quite a bit lately.
  7. "Renewable Energy Generation" No. I want utilities privatized and any regulations against them removed, not new ones added.
  8. "Eliminates right of same-sex couples to marry" No. I sympathize with the freedom of association arguments but two wrongs don't make a right. I have come to the conclusion that gay marriage is a reasonable extension of regular marriage and I agree with the recent Supreme Court decision authorizing such marriages. See also Diana Hsieh's arguments here.
  9. "Criminal justice system, victim's rights. Parole." Yes. This one makes sure you as a victim of a crime are notified of parole hearing and the like for the criminal and given a chance to voice your objections. What could be more reasonable?
  10. "Alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy." No. See also 7. This one's another bond measure subsidizing "alternative fuel" vehicles. I think not.
  11. "Redistricting" Yes. A seemingly reasonable change of how districts are drawn away from local politicians and in the hands of an independent commission. I'll take a chance on that one.
  12. "Veteran's bond act of 2008" No. Again another bond. "Farm and home aid for California veterans" -- As much as I appreciate veterans, I think their benefits should come from the Federal government and I don't think should get farm and home aid.

Ugh! I hope at some point there will be some candidates worth voting for and a lot more good laws to support.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Correspondence with my Congressman

On September 29th after I heard the House had voted against the bailout bill, I sent the following letter to my Congressman John Campbell (California, 48th district) :

Dear Congressman,

I'm writing to say that I was heartened to hear the opposition of the House to the $700 billion dollar bailout plan. I strongly urge you to continue your opposition. Far from being a result of so-called "greedy capitalism," this financial mess resulted from government intervention from the Fed, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, the Community Reinvestment Act and numerous other regulations that distorted the operation of the free market. To bailout financial companies at tax payers expense would be immoral and impractical. Rather efforts should be made to expose and eliminate the regulations hampering a truly free financial market, including a discussion of a return to a gold standard.

Sincerely yours,

Gideon Reich

That was before I was able to find out whether he voted with the opposition to the bill or in support of it. Later I found out that Campbell had voted in favor of the bill.

On Friday, October 3rd, after the bill passed, Congressman Campbell sent me a detailed letter explaining why he voted for the bailout package. I responded in kind.

First, here's the Congressman's letter:

From: Congressman John Campbell <ca48ima@mail.house.gov>
To: Gideon Reich
Sent: Friday, October 3, 2008 2:54:27 PM
Subject: Reply from Congressman John Campbell


October 3, 2008



Mr. Gideon Reich

[address supressed]

[address supressed]

Dear Mr. Reich:



You are one of many people who called, wrote, or e-mailed my office with questions or opinions about the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. As you probably know, the bill was passed by both houses of Congress, signed by the president, and is now law. The vote in the Senate was 74-25 and included yes votes from a wide range of the political spectrum including both Senators Obama and McCain, both California Senators, and the most conservative member of the Senate, Tom Coburn (R-OK). It then passed the House by a vote of 263-171 which included yes votes from The Speaker, Majority Leader and Minority Leader.



As you may also know, I voted in favor of the bill and was a strong advocate of it. I hope you will take the time to read on so I can explain why I feel so strongly about this legislation.



First of all, if you are personally opposed to the bill it is probably because you are against a $700 billion bail out of Wall Street. You should be against that. I am too. But that media term for the bill is a complete mischaracterization of what the bill does. It will not cost $700 billion and it is not a bail out of anyone. Let me explain:



$700 Billion: This amount will not be spent. It is being invested in hard assets (mortgages secured by homes) which will have an expected cash flow in excess of the purchase price. So the taxpayers should get all their money back that way. But if that doesn't work, taxpayers will also get warrants (stock options) in the companies from which these assets are purchased. So, if those companies recover, taxpayers get part of profits. And if both of those don't get the whole $700 billion back, whoever is president in 5 years is required to submit to Congress a proposal to get any loss back from the companies who sold the government the assets. That's 3 different ways to be sure the taxpayer is made whole and maybe makes a profit. This bill may wind up costing less than one year's worth of earmarks.



Bail Out: The assets will be bought from companies at probably 30%-60% of what they paid just a year or two ago. If I offered to buy your house that you bought 2 years ago for half what you paid for it, would I be bailing you out? I don't think you would look at it that way. These companies will lose lots of money. Fine. They made an investment that went bad and they have to live with it. But they will not be bailed out. Many companies and a number of banks will still fail even with this bill. The purpose of the purchase is to cut out the cancer that is clogging the world's financial arteries so that credit and loans and cash can flow again. No one is being bailed out.



Wall Street: If we do nothing, expect to see many days on the stock market like Monday, September 29th when the stock market suffered its biggest one day point drop ever. That will devastate the retirement plans of millions of everyday people. All forms of credit have already dried up. If they dry up more, companies small and large will not be able to get standard short term loans to buy inventory and make payroll. That means lots of job losses and layoffs. And people with money market funds and bank accounts may not be able to get their money, even with FDIC Insurance because these entities have to sell a loan to get you cash. And no one is buying the loans.



Many different proposals were looked at and discussed. I was actually part of a working group appointed by the Republican Leader to develop an alternative plan, which, in fact, developed several provisions that were included in the final bill. Our goal was to develop a virtually cost-free plan to stabilize the global financial markets and save every American's savings and investments, not a bail out. I believe that the final bill meets these criteria. There is no guarantee that this bill will work. But I have not seen an alternate plan that I thought had a better chance to both work and pass both houses of Congress.



If the bill works, some banks will still fail and some companies will still not make it. But it will be far, far fewer than would have otherwise occurred. Some of you have asked me why a believer in free markets would support this bill. I have done so because I believe this is a solution to preserve free markets, not replace them. In some ways, this bill is more of a free market solution than other actions that have been taken. The government will not take over any companies here. Even the warrants will be non-voting. No one will be compelled to sell the government their assets if they don't want to. Even the "reverse auction" process of establishing pricing for the assets, where sellers submit bids to one buyer rather than the other way around, is a market based pricing method.



No one wanted this bill. No one wished for this crisis to occur. But it is here. This is a worldwide problem and not just an American one. And we had to act. My vote was carefully considered, but made without reservation. I applaud my colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, who joined me in doing so.



I appreciate the great honor you have given me by allowing me to represent you in the United States Congress.



I remain respectfully,



JOHN CAMPBELL

Member of Congress

Here's my response:

Dear Congressman Campbell,

Thank you for your honest and detailed letter of explanation as to your vote for the "Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008." I have read your letter and I regret I cannot accept your explanation. Morally, based on your support for free markets, you should have been opposed to such blatant an interference with their operation. Since you actually believe that "this is a solution to preserve free markets" I have now come to the conclusion that you do not in fact understand how free markets work.

I also cannot accept your claim that "if we do nothing, expect to see many days on the stock market like Monday, September 29th when the stock market suffered its biggest one day point drop ever." There are several things wrong with that. First, it is not clear the market was reacting to the absence of government bill rather than fear of what a bill that will likely eventually pass may contain. Second, it is not the job of representatives to either save retirement plans or ensure the availability of credit. Capitalism includes the possibility of business failures, and people who invest their retirement in markets must accept the risks of such an investment and not pass it on to others. As to credit, I thought that's how we got into this problem in the first place. It is time we abandoned the failed government controlled credit system, also known as the Federal Reserve, and starting working toward a return to a gold standard. I would also add that in general, the availability of credit does not appear to be in any danger at all, as there are a good many banks including such giants as Wells Fargo and BB&T who seem to be doing quite well. I would also further add that perhaps a move toward more savings and less reliance on credit might of benefit to many in this country.

Furthermore one hears little from Republicans about the fundamental causes of this crisis which are NOT the result of the frequently mentioned mythical free markets (which certainly do not exist in banking or the mortgage industry, minor deregulation tweaks notwithstanding) but first and foremost of Fed action, assisted by quasi-governmental Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and encouraged by Carter's and Clinton's Community Reinvestment Act. In addition local conditions, specifically numerous restrictions and regulations, that exist in California particularly exacerbated the situation here such that homes in my area that I might be interested in for my family still cost upwards of $500,000. I do not accept that I need to "invest" a dime, either temporarily or permanently to rescue either the borrowers, lenders, or investors, who respectively, chose to ignore their limited incomes, or not carefully examine that of the borrowers, or not methodically examine the loans that they purchased.

The fact is that you have gone against the principles of the free market. You should have followed the wish of the majority of your constituents, not because they were the majority, but because in this case they happened to be right in their opposition to this terrible bill. I'm afraid your vote here has made it impossible for me to support you in the future. I hope I have made it clear to you why that is the case.

Sincerely yours,

Gideon Reich