Amit Ghate OpEd on Principled Government

 Posted by on 16 September 2009 at 4:00 am  Activism, Government
Sep 162009

PajamasMedia has published Amit Ghate’s latest OpEd, “We Need a Return to Principled Government“.

Here is the introduction:

It’s widely recognized that our government is in dire shape. Our annual deficits are in the trillions of dollars. Unfunded entitlement programs run many times that. Lobbyists and earmarking rule Washington. Special interests, including public-sector unions, environmental groups, the AARP, and countless others, vie against one another for exorbitant privileges — all meted out at taxpayers’ expense.

Our most responsible mainstream news venues, like Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, often carry stories exposing the sobering facts. The analyses are penetrating, succinct, and eloquent. But the recommendations? Timid and trite. The best they can offer is to advise moderation: slow the growth of government here, cut back a program there, oppose a few details of the most onerous regulations, but basically resign oneself to the status quo.

It wasn’t always so. When faced with more difficult problems, our Founding Fathers imagined, created, and then fought for a radically new idea of government. Why were they able to do so, when our modern leaders and pundits can’t?…

(Read the full text of “We Need a Return to Principled Government“.)

Please feel free to link to it, leave supportive comments, and e-mail it to friends, family, elected officials, etc.

Congratulations, Amit!

Amit Ghate On Government Waste

 Posted by on 26 August 2009 at 3:01 pm  Activism, Government
Aug 262009

PajamasMedia has published Amit Ghate’s latest OpEd on the real cause of goverment waste.

This is Amit’s third essay for PJM. His example again proves that a citizen-activist can gain nation-wide exposure, if he is willing to publicly advocate his ideas and to clearly articulate them in a fashion that others can relate to.

Congratulations, Amit!

Simpson on Licensing

 Posted by on 22 May 2009 at 12:01 am  Government, Health Care
May 222009

During an earlier NoodleFood discussion on whether physicians should be forced to work during pandemics as a condition of retaining their medical license, the discussion turned towards the appropriateness of medical licensing in general.

Steve Simpson of the Institute of Justice had the following excellent comments to make in response to some questions. With his permission, I’m reposting his remarks here.

With respect to the question that doctors know up front that they agree to certain terms before they accept a license, hence they’ve voluntarily contracted to any associated obligations:

First, doctors do not consent to medical licensing in the sense in which that consent could legitimately be said to impose further obligations on them, the way one consents to the obligations in a contract.

Doctors do not get to decide to practice with a license or without a license. They are compelled to practice with a license whether they want to or not. So it is wrong to claim that they somehow consent to whatever obligations come with licensing. The state offers them the “choice” of practicing with a license or not practicing at all. That is not a choice the state has to authority to impose upon doctors, any more than it has the moral authority to offer citizens the “choice” of being enslaved citizens or not being citizens at all. I could say much more about this, but I’ll leave it at that.

With respect to the concern that private medical licensing groups would have a conflict of interest between setting high standards vs. retaining their members (and hence government would be better at protecting the public from shady practitioners):

Second, your view that private medical licensing would constitute an inherent conflict of interest because it would be doctors essentially engaging in self-regulation is wrong on many fronts. The fallacy at the root of your view is that individuals are capable of objectively governing the lives of others but not capable of governing their own lives because of their own self interest in the latter situation but not the former. There is much to say to this, and reading Atlas Shrugged would be a good place to start in learning why that view is the exact opposite of the truth, but let me say just a couple things.

You say that there is no guarantee that private medical boards will set high standards or improve them as necessary. But there is, and it’s the best guarantee that has ever existed–rational self interest. Doctors are neither insane, nor irrational (indeed, if they were, I submit they would not be doctors now would they). Nor are their patients. Doctors have no desire to harm or injure their patients, for, among other reasons, if they do they will not remain doctors for very long, they will have no patients, they will get sued, etc.

Moreover, there is no guarantee that state regulatory boards will set high standards either. Indeed, state regulatory boards have no incentive whatsoever to keep current with the latest developments in medicine and to ensure that their standards are high. What is the cost to them if they do not do so? They are committees, and thus each individual can always shuffle off the responsiblity for their failures to someone else, and even if they are found to have failed to set high enough standards, they suffer no consequences whatsoever. Their income and careers are not on the line, they will never be fined or sanctioned for their failures, and rarely, if ever, are any regulatory boards ever held accountable for their failures.

But there’s another mistake in your thinking about this that many people make, which is to consider any regulatory boards to be separate from the professions they regulate. This is flawed as a matter of both history and common sense. Historically, occupational licensing has typically been championed by the very professionals who are to be licensed. They do this both to “professionalize” their industries–because it is much better to be “state licensed” than simply to be qualified–and to make it much harder for others to compete with them.

As a result, all occupational licensing agencies or boards that exist today are composed of the very professionals that they regulate. This makes perfectly good sense when you consider that no one else is qualified to regulate them. Who is going to decide what the proper standards for doctors are but doctors? Likewise lawyers, plumbers, carpenters, engineers, architects, stenographers, morticians and funeral directors, barbers and cosmetologists, florists, etc. Do you know what standards even a licensed florist or interior decorator must meet to be qualified? I don’t. So who, but other florists and interior designers are going to regulate the florists and interior designers?

The term for what I am talking about is “regulatory capture,” which simply means that the idea that regulatory boards and agencies of any type are somehow “separate” from the industries they regulate and thus “objective” is utter, unbridled nonsense. It is a pipe dream. It is the sort of thing that we all believed in fourth grade when we thought that committees should run the whole wide world because that would be “fair.” My point is not simply that regulatory capture is likely to happen.

My point is that occupational and industrial or economic regulation is virtually impossible without regulatory capture, and, indeed, the regulators actively want the participation of the industries they regulate because otherwise they would not know what the hell they were doing. So your view that regulatory boards are somehow more “objective” and less “conflicted” than private boards is just not true factually and by the very logic of what such regulation aims to do.

And with respect to occupational licensing in general:

I could go on about occupational licensing all day. At IJ, we’ve done quite a lot of work on the subject, so if anyone is interested in more concrete examples of how licensing evolves in a given profession, check out our website, particularly the economic liberty cases and some of our research publications ( Or just shoot me an email (or ask a question here) and I’ll do my best to answer it or direct you to more information.

The idea that licensed workers voluntarily consent to the obligations imposed on them by states is really unjust in more ways than I mentioned. As a lawyer, I see this all the time.

The states in which I’m licensed are constantly imposing new requirements, like mandatory pro bono, additional “continuing legal education” and the like to which I never consented and that are burdensome, costly, almost always a complete waste of time, and useless from the standpoint of improving my qualifications. In fact, what does motivate me to do a good job is precisely the opposite of all of these (and more) unchosen obligations.

I am motivated by the chosen obligations I freely decided to accept when I became a lawyer. My own desire to produce excellent work, to give my client the best work I can, to win my cases or at least to outlitigate the other side at every step, and to constantly produce a better brief or better argument or better analysis than I did the last time out.

But even if those things didn’t motivate me, I and every other regulated professional would be motivated by the desire not to be embarrassed or to develop a bad reputation (and I have both colleagues, clients, and judges to worry about) or the other things I mentioned in my last post. In fact, I have never in my 15 year career met anyone who was ever motivated to produce good work by the states in which they were licensed. I could produce consistently incompetent and crappy work for years before any of the three states in which I’m licensed would take notice. My colleagues, my employer, my clients, and all the judges I appear before would take notice long before the state bars.

So my point is that the notion that we voluntarily assume the obligations of our state licenses is both a classic moral inversion–because it is in fact the voluntary obligations that motivate professionals and regulated occupations to produce high quality work–and it is illogical in that it contradicts the supposed purpose of licensing, which is to impose obligations on regulated occupations that they did not choose, because, allegedly, they can’t voluntarily regulate themselves. See the contradiction? On the one hand, the obligations of licensing are “voluntary.” On the other, licensed occupations can’t be self-regulated because “voluntary” regulation would not work. Heads they win, tails we lose.

Thank you, Steve, for this great impromptu analysis!

Here’s the full discussion thread, which includes links to additional articles on licensing by Alex Epstein (“End Government Licensing“) and Shirley Svorny (“Medical Licensing: An Obstacle to Affordable, Quality Care“).

(Crossposted from FIRM blog.)

Police Misconduct

 Posted by on 10 May 2009 at 11:01 pm  Government
May 102009

Wow: A police officer refuses to handle the repeated 911 calls of a panicked young woman as her father has a seizure on the kitchen floor. Why? She used the f-word to express her frustration — before the officer even answered the call. He scolds her, refuses to hear about her emergency, hangs up on her repeatedly, delays calling for rescue, lies about the calls, and then arrests the poor girl.

Based on this report, the officer ought to be fired, not merely suspended and trained. He behaved infamously — in a way thoroughly inexcusable to a police officer in a free society — not merely once but repeatedly. (Via The Agitator.)

May 042009

Professor Carl Coleman of Seton Hall Law School has written an interesting paper entitled, “Beyond the Call of Duty: Compelling Health Care Professionals to Work During an Influenza Pandemic”.

I haven’t read the whole thing yet, but I’m in substantial agreement with the abstract:

In anticipation of pandemics and other mass disasters, several states have enacted little-known laws that authorize government officials to order health care professionals to work during declared public health emergencies, even when doing so would pose life-threatening risks. Health care professionals who violate these orders could face substantial penalties, ranging from license revocations to fines and imprisonment. The penalties would apply even to individuals whose jobs do not normally involve clinical responsibilities, as well as to health care professionals who are retired or taking time off from work to care for their families. This Article argues that these laws impose burdens that exceed the ethical commitments individuals make when they accept a professional license. In so doing, they compel health care professionals to engage in what is normally considered supererogatory behavior — i.e., acts that are commendable if done voluntarily, but that go beyond what is expected.

In making this argument, the Article rejects commonly-made assertions about health care professionals’ ethical obligations, including the claim that health care professionals assumed the risk of infection; that a social contract requires health care professionals to work despite potential health risks; and that individuals who have urgently-needed skills have an obligation to use them. It concludes that, while health care professionals can legitimately be sanctioned for violating voluntarily-assumed employment or contractual agreements, they should not be compelled to assume life-threatening risks based solely on their status as licensed professionals. In place of singling out health care professionals for punitive measures, the Article argues that policy-makers should institute mechanisms to promote volunteerism.

(The full paper can be downloaded here.)

A few comments:

1) I’m encouraged that there’s a recognition that there is no such thing as a duty to engage in suicidal self-sacrifice.

2) This shows what happens when the government is granted the power to license practitioners in any field, whether it be medicine, nursing, cosmetology, etc. The government can then claim, “We’ve granted you this privilege, now you have to pay for it by performing additional duty on our terms rather than your own”.

3) This is yet another reason to oppose government-mandated medical licensing, in addition to the arguments made by Alex Epstein (“End Government Licensing“) and Shirley Svorny (“Medical Licensing: An Obstacle to Affordable, Quality Care“).

(Via Marginal Revolution.)

The ABC’s of Virginia Alcohol Law

 Posted by on 3 May 2009 at 11:01 pm  Government, Politics
May 032009

This video, “The ABC’s of Virginia Alcohol Law“, was the 2009 winner of the “Best Video of the Year” award from the Sam Adams Alliance:

It also features frequent NoodleFood commenter Steve Simpson from the Institute of Justice, discussing how the state of Virginia infringes on the free speech rights of some honest businessmen by outlawing their ability to make true statements about the products they sell.

(Via Ari Armstrong, who was also the 2009 winner of the “Modern Day Sam Adams” award.)

Against Public Works

 Posted by on 9 April 2009 at 11:01 pm  Government, Politics
Apr 092009

On a mailing list, someone recently asked about Adam Smith’s “third duty of government,” namely:

… the duty of erecting and maintaining certain public works and certain public institutions, which it can never be for the interest of any individual, or small number of individuals, to erect and maintain; because the profit could never repay the expense to any individual or small number of individuals, though it may frequently do much more than repay it to a great society.

The person asked, and reasonably so:

How is this determined; and to what extent is the benefit of the majority a reasonable argument for the forced expense of any individual? (i.e., National defense)

Here was my reply:

Adam Smith’s view puts us on a slippery slope, I think. It concedes the moral superiority of the collective over the individual.

If you grant that it’s acceptable to forcibly tax people to provide for “public works” and “public institutions,” then you’ll soon be forcibly taxing people to satisfy the demands of narrow special interests. Why? Because the mechanism of doling out such public funds can and will be used by the special interests that stand to gain so many unearned dollars from it.

That’s certainly has happened in American history, to such an extent that we’re now spending billions on special interests with barely any discussion thereof. Everyone expects their slice of the government pie, they demand it at other people’s expense, and they get it. While many people question the legitimacy of this or that project, few people question the legitimacy of the basic principle. They accept that some people should be forced to part with their money for the sake of projects of no interest to them — or even projects contrary to their values. But that’s wrong.

If some project is truly of great benefit to humanity, then either (1) the users of that project should be willing to pay for the benefit they get (e.g. by paying to visit the museum, attend the opera, drive on the road, attend the school, or use the open space) or (2) benefactors, whether large or small, must be found to fund it (e.g. to endow the school, museum, or opera). Often, some combination of those two methods is perfectly workable — as history itself shows. (The National Gallery of Art, for example, was created and endowed by Andrew Mellon and other private collectors.)

If some grand project cannot be funded by either of those two voluntary methods, then it’s clearly not valued by the public. And in that case, to force people to spend their hard-earned dollars on it is utterly indefensible. It’s a sham, in fact.

As a side note, I regard the military, the police, and the courts as a different kind of case than “public works”: they are legitimate functions of government. Yes, they do benefit everyone, and they are necessary to the existence of a civilized society. Yet even in their case, coercive taxation is morally wrong — and practically dangerous. All government should be financed by voluntary contributions. If we can have an all-volunteer military — where men and women put their lives on the line for too-low pay in order to protect America (and more, unfortunately) — then citizens voluntarily contributing their part in taxes is hardly far-fetched.


Man Detained for Carrying Cash

 Posted by on 5 April 2009 at 11:01 pm  Government
Apr 052009

The Agitator says: “Detained by TSA in town for a conference, a director of Ron Paul’s Campaign for Liberty is detained by TSA at the St. Louis airport because when asked to explain why he’s carrying $4,700 in cash (it was proceeds from book and ticket sales at the conference), he asks the agents to tell him what law requires him to do so. He managed to surreptitiously record his conversations with TSA officers on a cell phone. The audio is infuriating.”

Wow. While I’m no fan of Ran Paul, I’m completely horrified by the attitude displayed by these government employees toward a man guilty of nothing more than carrying a few thousand dollars of cash.

The fact is that too many people — many of them working for government now — would willing participate in police state, even to the point of inflicting torture and death on innocent persons. Stanley Milgram’s famous experiments on obedience to authority prove that with frightening certainty.

Hugel OpEd on National Service

 Posted by on 30 March 2009 at 11:01 pm  Activism, Government
Mar 302009

The March 30, 2009 edition of the Harrisburg (PA) Patriot-News has published the following excellent OpEd by OAC student Lucy Hugel on the national service bill. Here’s the introduction:

National service bill makes ‘volunteerism’ compulsory
by Lucy Hugel

Thursday, the U.S. Senate sent back to the House an amended bill to “expand and improve opportunities for service,” legislation modeled on President Obama’s campaign promise to establish “universal voluntary citizen service.”

If passed, this act will produce an explosion in the number of service programs. Unfortunately, the goal of this legislation is profoundly un-American–to instill an ethic of servitude in every citizen.

How could expanding community service programs have such a radical effect in the land of liberty? To understand this, one must see how the plan aims to smuggle in compulsory service…

Read the whole thing here.

Congratulations on getting published, Lucy! And thank you for defending a person’s right to his or her own life.

The National Service Threat

 Posted by on 26 March 2009 at 11:01 pm  Activism, Government
Mar 262009

The March 26, 2009 Washington Examiner has published a good OpEd on the threatened expansion of the Americorps “National Service” program. Although this issue has received less press than the various bailout-related issues, it could be equally important to the future of America.

Here’s an excerpt from the Examiner piece (bold emphasis is mine):

“Expanded Americorps Has An Authoritarian Feel”

…To begin with, the legislation threatens the voluntary nature of Americorps by calling for consideration of “a workable, fair, and reasonable mandatory service requirement for all able young people.” It anticipates the possibility of requiring “all individuals in the United States” to perform such service — including elementary school students.

The bill also summons up unsettling memories of World War II-era paramilitary groups by saying the new program should “combine the best practices of civilian service with the best aspects of military service,” while establishing “campuses” that serve as “operational headquarters,” complete with “superintendents” and “uniforms” for all participants. It allows for the elimination of all age restrictions in order to involve Americans at all stages of life. And it calls for creation of “a permanent cadre” in a “National Community Civilian Corps.”

But that’s not all. The bill also calls for “youth engagement zones” in which “service learning” is “a mandatory part of the curriculum in all of the secondary schools served by the local educational agency.” This updated form of voluntary community service is also to be “integrated into the science, technology, engineering and mathematics curricula” at all levels of schooling. Sounds like a government curriculum for government approved “service learning,” which is nothing less than indoctrination.

Now, ask yourself if congressmen who voted for this monstrosity had a clue what they were voting for. If not, they’re guilty of dereliction of duty. If yes, the implications are truly frightening.

(Read the whole thing.)

This bill has already passed the House and being considered by the Senate.

The Senate recently voted 74-14 to move the bill onto the floor (i.e., to not filibuster the bill). Hence, it has support from numerous Republicans and Democrats.

If you’re alarmed and outraged by this idea, then you can do the following:

1) Forward the Examiner piece to friends, family, co-workers, etc.

2) Tell your US Senator to vote against the bill.

The Senate version is called S.277.

To contact your Senators to tell them to oppose S.277, click here.

You don’t have to write anything long or super-eloquent. It’s more important that your e-mail subject line be something unambiguous like “Oppose S.277″, so their staff aides know how to tally your e-mail. For instance, I dashed off the following short note to my Senators:

Please oppose S.277. It moves us dangerously close to mandatory national service, something which is un-American and a violation of individual rights.

Of course if you are so inclined, you can write something longer. Here’s what Diana sent:

As your constituent, I wish to express my opposition to any expansion of AmeriCorps and other “service” programs. Such programs are not just costly and ineffective. They also violate the property rights of taxpayers to dispose of their own hard-earned income in accordance with their own choices and values.

Personally, I strongly object to any attempts to use the power of the government to promote the moral ideal of selfless service to the community — as AmeriCorps does. That ideal does not represent my values: I reject that moral ideal as destructive to human life and happiness. Yet I am forced to pay for this government program. That is morally wrong.

A person has every right to donate his own money to the charity of his choice. A person has every right to volunteer or work for the charity of his choice, if the charity is amenable. I do both — routinely — for causes that I care about.

However, a person has no right to dispose of another person’s money to fund his charitable work. That’s theft, plain and simple.

AmeriCorps should be dismantled, not expanded.

The Senate will be voting soon on this. Hence if you wish to speak out on this issue, the time is now!

Update: The Senate has just passed its version of the bill by a margin of 78-20. They still have to reconcile their version with the one passed by the House of Representatives before they can submit it to President Obama (who has promised to sign it).

Suffusion theme by Sayontan Sinha