Sunday, November 15, 2009

The Lingering Great Recession: Jobs Needed

Our greatest primary task is to put people to work. This is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously. It can be accomplished in part by direct recruiting by the government itself, treating the task as we would treat the emergency of a war, but at the same time, through this employment, accomplishing greatly needed projects to stimulate and reorganize the use of our natural resources.
--Franklin Roosevelt, Inaugural Address 1933

Confronted with bread lines, soup kitchens, and nearly a quarter of Americans without work, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt knew on his first day in office in 1933 that America needed a massive jobs program. Although Roosevelt wanted private industry to hire workers, he understood the limits of capitalism and knew that, to create jobs in the short term, government needed to hire people. Roosevelt did not doubt the ability of Americans to respond to a national crisis. In a display of ingenuity and creativity not matched since, he proposed legislation establishing the Works Progress Administration (WPA), the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), and the Public Works Administration (PWA). Combined, these agencies funded tens of thousands of projects and put millions of people to work, building waterworks, post offices, bridges, prisons, airports, swimming pools, athletic fields, playgrounds, and railroad stations, many of which are still being used today.

  • At a time when America’s needs seemed limitless, WPA workers painted murals on post office walls, delivered books to rural areas, wrote plays, composed music, and employed more than eight million Americans. Its accomplishments were stunning, as it built or improved 651,000 miles of roads, 19,700 miles of water mains, 500 water treatment plants, 24,000 miles of sidewalks, 12,800 playgrounds, 24,000 miles of storm and sewer lines, 1,200 airport buildings, 226 hospitals, and more than 5,900 schools. Among the WPA’s most famous projects were LaGuardia airport, the San Antonio Riverwalk, and the Timberline Lodge in Oregon.
  • The CCC, Roosevelt’s favorite New Deal creation, was up and running within 37 days of Roosevelt’s inauguration. It put to work 500,000 young men (women were excluded from the CCC), who were taught skills in carpentry and masonry and performed useful work related to conservation and the development of natural resources. These young men, who lived in military style camps throughout the United States in national parks and forests, went on to plant more than three billion trees, erect 3,470 fire towers, and construct 97,000 miles of fire roads; they fought forest fires, built campgrounds, and implemented disease and insect control. By 1942, the CCC's projects positively affected virtually every state in the country.
  • PWA’s workers built the state capitol building in Oregon, the highway linking the Florida Keys to the mainland United States, San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, the city hall building in Kansas City, Outer Drive Bridge in Chicago, Washington National Airport, the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state, and Ellis Island Ferry Building. Between July 1933 and March 1939, the PWA funded over 34,000 construction projects, including airports, electricity-generating dams, and aircraft carriers. It also constructed seventy percent of the new schools and one third of the hospitals built during that time.

The investment in America’s infrastructure during the New Deal made possible the incredible economic growth that occurred after the end of World War II. Much of that infrastructure remains in use today, from bridges and dams to schools and sidewalks.

Although conservatives love to point out that New Deal spending did not end the Great Depression – it took American involvement in World War II and the mobilization of a war economy to do that – in reality, Roosevelt’s programs dramatically reduced unemployment. The unemployment rate dropped steadily from its peak at 24.9% in 1933 to 14.3% in 1937, when Roosevelt, eager to return to a balanced budget, raised taxes and cut spending. Not surprisingly, unemployment jumped back to 19.0% in 1938 and only the deficit spending of the war finally lifted the U.S. economy out of its doldrums more than three years later.

In hindsight, it is apparent that Roosevelt, whose conservative instincts precluded more radical measures, did not do enough to put even more Americans to work. Nevertheless, his jobs programs not only employed millions of American citizens – providing them with productive work and increased self-esteem – but also greatly enhanced the nation’s infrastructure. The New Deal employed millions of Americans at a relatively low cost and, while it did not end the Depression, it reduced the suffering of countless American families.

We could use a little of that New Deal spirit today. The unemployment rate in the United States is now at 10.2%, the highest it has been since the dark days of the Great Depression. It is even worse for African Americans and Hispanics, who face unemployment levels in their communities hovering above 15% and 13%, respectively. If you count the underemployed and those of all races who have given up looking for work (and who are not counted among the ranks of the unemployed), the rate exceeds 17% of the American workforce. We are indeed in the midst of a Great Recession. President Obama and Congress rightly responded to this latest crisis with a $787 billion economic stimulus package in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, but there is little evidence that these billions have been targeted to putting real people to work in real jobs. We bailed out the banks, gave modest tax credits to middle-class Americans, and plugged the leaking budgets of state and local governments, but we have done nothing approaching a Rooseveltian solution to massive job losses.

Paul Krugman, the award-winning economist of the New York Times, correctly noted in a November 12, 2009 editorial that the United States does not have a jobs policy, but a GDP policy. Our policymakers believe that stimulating overall spending will make GDP grow faster, thus inducing the private sector to stop laying-off workers and to start hiring again. Americans are justly proud of our economic system, which has historically produced goods and services and created wealth at rates far exceeding anything ever before seen in history. The standard of living of most Americans has steadily increased over the past sixty years, with America the envy of the world. Although the industrial nations of Europe and Asia have largely kept pace with, and in some cases exceeded, the growth and productivity of the American economy, Americans have generally prospered. We have benefited from an expanding and increasingly educated workforce, until recently a stable financial system, and a legal and regulatory scheme designed to promote free and fair trade while checking corporate excesses. Due to progressive reforms instituted during the New Deal and after, the elderly (social security and Medicare), the poor (aid to families with dependent children and Medicaid), and children (children’s health insurance programs, mandatory education, school lunch programs) are generally protected by government programs designed to provide a social safety net. Yet cracks remain, and have grown increasingly larger, as the ranks of the unemployed have swelled.

While long-term unemployment is at its highest level since the 1930’s, the bankers – bailed out with government largesse – thrive; it was recently reported that bonuses at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase, among others, are up 60% from last year, with over $30 billion scheduled to be paid out this year. The growing inequality of American society continues to present ethical and moral challenges to the defenders of a free enterprise system that enforces a callous form of social Darwinism. Thus, unemployment is on the rise at the same time that productivity, as measured by the GDP, is up by an impressive 3.5% this past quarter, and 80% of the S&P 500 reported better than expected earnings.

Why such a disparity? The United States permits employers to hire most workers "at will" which allows employees to be fired without cause at the whim of an employer. The American corporation, upon the first signs of difficulties, cuts costs by cutting people; it is how companies become more “efficient.” Unemployment thus continues to rise while the corporate bottom line improves. Unlike Germany and some other European Union countries, which have strong employment protection legislation, in the United States we fire employees and let them fend for themselves, while those untouched by layoffs continue to prosper.

Imagine if you were a farmer with a large family. One year, due to a drought and bad weather conditions, you have a very poor harvest. Your accountant advises you that, due to declining revenues, you can make ends meet if you simply evict three of your seven children. This cost cutting measure will permit the rest of your family to maintain its present lifestyle. Do you accept the accountant’s advice? Would anyone accept as ethical the farmer who implemented such a cost saving measure? Of course not, as we naturally expect the farmer to have his family make do on less until next year’s harvest. Why do we treat our economy differently? We bail out the banks to shore up our financial system – rewarding risky behavior motivated by greed – rather than ask the rich to make do with less to prevent the increased depravation suffered by recession’s victims.

It is past time to borrow a page from the New Deal and use a significant portion of the stimulus money to put people to work. It is not as if we have a shortage of needs in this country. America’s core infrastructure – roads, bridges, sewers, airports, trains, mass transit – is outdated and crumbling. While poor road conditions cost us billions of dollars in repairs and countless hours of delays, China opens a new subway system every year and Europeans travel on modernized, high-speed rail systems from Paris to Frankfurt. Our cities have an epidemic of broken pipes, dilapidated and vacant buildings, and sinkholes – just look at Camden, Philadelphia, Newark, and most any Northeastern city for examples. One-third of our schools are rundown and in need of repair. Add to this the fact that our addiction to oil has prevented any serious consideration of transitioning to smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, renewable energy development, and expanded mass transit systems, and we have a recipe for a long-term decline.

Economic relief without jobs makes no sense and has a devastatingly negative affect on the psyche of millions of Americans. Workers who have been unemployed for a long time find it difficult to re-enter the labor market even after economic conditions improve; and the hidden costs of long-term unemployment – the emotional damage, for example, to children and families when parents are unemployed – are immeasurable. As Krugman argues, “We need to start doing something more than, and different from, what we’re already doing. . . . [I]t’s time for a policy that explicitly and directly targets job creation.”

Most economists acknowledge that, historically, spending on public works has a far greater effect on the economy than tax cuts, as more money is spent and jobs created at home than abroad. Let us put Americans to work where the nation’s needs are greatest – retrofitting schools and public buildings, repairing our highways and sewer systems, expanding the nation’s broadband capacity, and improving our cities and landscapes. President Obama understands this; he has put Vice President Biden in charge of a team that is making certain that federally financed projects are targeted to meet real needs, are smart investments in America’s future, and are not wasteful. But Obama, like so many Presidents before him, is caught in that great Congressional power hold that is Washington. Although $152 billion is earmarked for infrastructure investment, it constitutes only 20% of the total stimulus package. And much of that money has yet to be spent, caught in a system of earmarks and legislative trading, which leaves far too much discretion in the hands of individual state governments on how to spend the money.

Although we spend hundreds of billions of dollars on supporting a corrupt regime in Afghanistan and putting at risk the lives of American soldiers, we somehow consider the concept of employing Americans with public money to be dangerous and subversive activity. How is spending public money to create jobs and re-train workers a bad thing, when unemployment hovers at 10.2%? Do we wish to have economic and social policies that protect and look out for the general welfare of our citizens, or policies that protect the haves at the expense of everyone else? I do not have all of the answers, but I believe that looking to the New Deal and adjusting it to today’s needs is a place to start.


  1. Comrade,

    I don’t even know where to begin.

    So be patient.

    Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a sudden urge for whiskey.

    Rich R.

  2. Take your time, Rich. I always enjoy making your head explode.

  3. Interesting. Timberline lodge is cool. I cannot imagine the evolution of the SF Bay Area without the Bay Bridge. And, in fact, we had to close it for unexpected repairs in the last month or so.

    Overprotecting jobs is not the answer. Why? Because it makes companies too reluctant to hire, as they do not want to make the commitments to new people. Especially small companies.

    I was speaking to a client prospect from Italy. He said that there, just to incorporate, the company needs to show a bank account of $250,000. Such a requirement would stop most incorporations cold in the US.

  4. Mike,

    I agree with you about the employment protection laws in Europe -- I did not mean to suggest that we should emulate that here, just wanted to point out that other industrial democracies approach things differently, and at least arguably, more humanely than in the United States. But, of course, there are trade offs. While Germany, for example, has a wider social safety net than here, and while it avoided any substantial increase in unemployment during the latest downturn, they also have more sustained long-term unemployment than we do. My belief remains that, because of the inherent limitations of private enterprise to produce full employment even in good times, and because of the many needs of our country that are not fulfilled by the private sector -- roads, schools, bridges, sewers, etc. -- it is a proper role of government in a progressive society to fill-in the gaps and seek full employment as a national goal.

  5. Wow. I disagree with you on so many levels I don't know where to begin. As a small business owner for over 25 years, my experience has made it very clear to me that the greatest barrier to my success is the federal government of which you speak so highly. Your revisionist historical perspective has become very common among progressives, and frankly, angers me. I would love to say more, but I have to get back to work. Gotta pay those taxes, don't you know!!
    Here is a link to an article from one of my favorite economists. He disagrees with you too.
    Thank you for taking the time to write this blog, and post your opinions Mark. God bless!!
    Tom (nuge)

  6. Tom,

    First, thank you for reading and commenting. Even if we disagree or see things differently, I welcome the dialogue.

    I would be curious, however, as to why you say what I wrote is a "revisionist historical perspective"? What did I write that would constitute revisionist history? What fact or statistic did I cite that is untrue? The article you cite by Walter Williams is a minority view for a reason -- it is incredibly wrong! When Roosevelt took office in March 1933, the United States was already 3 1/2 years into the Great Depression and unemployment was at an all-time high of nearly 25%. Whatever the causes of the Depression, it was not entirely or primarily the actions of the government -- under Hoover, we had Hoovervilles and bread lines, and a lot of Americans were literally starving to death, not because of government action, but because of government inaction. Hoover was a free enterprise, balance-budget, fiscal conservative. Obviously, after 3+ years, his approach was not working. And this was a world-wide depression, not restricted to the United States.

    Roosevelt needed to do something to get people back to work and to jumpstart the economy. What was the alternative to the jobs programs that were part of the New Deal? Hope and pray that the private sector would pick up the slack, when banks and businesses were failing daily? In the 1930's, there did not exist the social safety net that exists today; if you were without work, you begged for food, or stole, or worse. When companies lay-off massive amounts of workers, what are we as a society to do? Let them fend for themselves? If so, are you comfortable with that from a moral and ethical perspective?

    The CCC put to work a half million young men who would otherwise have resorted to crime or begging but for the opportunities provided them by the federal government. The PWA and WPA put to work more than 8 million people. The New Deal did not solve the unemployment crisis, but it sure helped, and it is why FDR was and remains a hero to millions of Americans. He was the best thing that happened to capitalist America, and it is a fact, not revision, that a good deal of our infrastructure was built during the Depression, which contributed greatly to our economic growth in the decades following the Second World War.

    I understand that you are philosophically opposed as a general rule to government intervention and regulation. When you look at government, you see the DMV, whereas I see the astronauts who landed on the moon. It is a matter of perspective. Yes, government can be an inhibitor of creativity and enterprise, but it can also do great things. In times of national crisis, the U.S. government, more than any other institution, has the ability and resources to come to the rescue -- without preventing private innovation. It is always a question of balance, but we live in a global, highly complex world, in which a mixed capitalist system is not just inevitable, but necessary. Using government resources to help get people back to work, and at the same time enhance the nation's infrastructure, is a moral and ethical necessity when unemployment reaches the levels it has these past couple of years.
    Peace, Mark

  7. Hi Mark,
    The revisionist history comment was due to a heated conversation I had just completed with someone else, and I was blowing off steam. I do believe, however, that history is overly kind to FDR. I agree with much of what you write, but I also disagree with some things, and wonder why so much of the criticism leveled at Roosevelt during his lifetime is no longer part of any public discourse concerning him. He is always portrayed as a hero.

    There is no way we can solve this argument here, and you and I will never agree, so I will simply give a couple of examples. In 1937, responding to a Supreme Court ruling that much of the New Deal was unconstitutional, Roosevelt came up with a plan to replace six of the court's judges early, and failed. Congress voted against him, and he lost a lot of credibility in the process. He was also in favor of restricting agricultural production, including destroying crops, to control prices. Social Security is a joke, and many people still defend it. To his credit, Roosevelt never intended this to be a permanent program, at least I don't think he did. You mentioned several programs that had some short term benefits, but there were many more that were extremely costly (CWA), unconstitutional (NRA-Nat'l Recovery Act), or just ineffective. The TVA, which still exists today, was fraught with problems including uncontolled costs, the displacement of thousands of families, etc. My grandfather lost his small oil prospecting business during this time due to problems created by this agency too numerous to mention here.

    Basically, the economy improved very little between 1932 and 1938, even after all of his programs were instituted. Obviously, I am not a fan of big government. I know this idea did not start with FDR, but it sure expanded with him. Many of his ideas were conservative in nature, but many of the things he implemented were not. He once said something like, "...a just society can be secured by imposing a welfare state on a capitalist foundation". I'm not sure that I totally disagree with that, but it bothers me just the same. The safety net you mentioned has become a way of life today for many in America. The American dream used to be considered an opportunity, and now many consider it a right. I think much of that started with FDR. I think it really took off with LBJ, and I think we are in trouble today. I am totally rambling now. I really enjoy the blog. You are an excellent writer, but I think I can probably still kick your butt in hoops. (now THAT'S revisionist history!) Thanks Mark

  8. Tom,

    Good comments. You are absolutely right about FDR and the Court-packing plan. It was a major blunder on his part for which he did lose much credibility. I do not know enough to comment on the agricultural policy issue, but I have no doubt there were many problems with the implementation of his programs, as there always are. My point, however, is that when nothing else is working and you have massive unemployment and suffering, strong government action is sometimes needed -- and for all of its problems, it is generally the only way to accomplish much of what occurred in the New Deal.

    You are also correct that the New Deal did not end the Depression, as I conceded in my essay (it took World War II and massive deficit spending to finally end it). As for Social Security, for all of its issues, I have to side with the majority of Americans who favor it. My grandmother essentially survived on Social Security and Medicare during her last 30 years of life -- she had no pension to speak of and she worked two jobs into her 80's. While you and I might choose to opt out if we had the choice, Social Security gives people like her a true safety net.

    Thanks for the kind comments about my writing, and I have no doubt that you would kick my butt in hoops, as my aching body has started to wave the white flag. Thanks again for reading and know that your comments are always welcome.

  9. Mark,

    So I’ve been mulling over how to best approach this amazing post (in between developing a man-crush on “Tom”). I considered dismantling it paragraph by paragraph, but found the prospect of typing “(con’t)” that many times depressing. I thought of highlighting and expounding on the clichéd liberal/progressive/socialist words and phrases (jobs program, increased self-esteem, putting real people to work in real jobs, social safety net, cracks remain, inequality of American society, callous form of social Darwinism, let (Americans) fend for themselves, rewarding risky behavior motivated by greed, ask the rich to make do with less, addiction to oil, negative affect on the psyche, emotional damage, meet real needs, too much discretion in the hands of individual state governments, re-train workers, protect the haves), but this would prove pointless since you find nothing troubling about them in the first place.

    While thinking I might focus on just the most offensive statements, I even broke down your essay into sentences (75 total) and labeled them (only six were just plain wrong; 35 were naive or socialistic; two were unintentionally hilarious; five expressed pro-American philosophies!; one was absolutely terrifying and the rest were mostly statistics). But this idea was shelved too, as too time consuming (thankfully “Tom” has covered some of these).

    It occurred to me that since liberal philosophy rests on shifting sands of feelings, good intentions and currently in vogue victim groups, as opposed to firm and ageless principles, I might reorganize your post to show the contradictions: “The unemployment rate dropped steadily from its peak...when Roosevelt, eager to return to a balanced budget, raised taxes and cut spending.” “In a display of ingenuity and creativity not matched since, he proposed, and Congress enacted, legislation that created the Works Progress Administration, the Civilian Conservation Corps, and the Public Works Administration.”

    I also toyed with making your post more accurate by replacing “government” with “beleaguered tax payers”: “Although Roosevelt wanted private industry to hire workers, he understood the limits of capitalism and knew that, to create jobs in the short term, BELEAGUERED TAX PAYERS needed to hire people... BELEAGUERED TAX PAYERS funded tens of thousands of projects and put millions of people to work, building waterworks, post offices, bridges, prisons, airports, swimming pools, athletic fields, playgrounds, and railroad stations, many of which are still being used today.”

    But finally I decided that the jumping off point had to be the one truly horrifying sentence in your post (and I bet that “Tom,” a businessman – and just as an aside here, would he rate as a “real person” with a “real job”? – who must generate income, meet payroll, control expenses, and hope to support his family with what is left over, would agree):
    “The United States permits employers to hire most workers ‘at will’ which allows employees to be fired without cause at the whim of an employer.”

    One moment while I shiver...

    Now allow me to rephrase: “The benevolent federal government of the United States, for the time being, grants entrepreneurs, who have leveraged their family’s future to pursue their dream of self-employment, the privilege of hiring those people they view as advantageous to the success of their business and firing or laying off those they believe jeopardize that success.”

    Or maybe:

    “The American employee has the God-given right to apply for any job and accept any job offer (or make a counter offer); he further has the right to quit a job at any time and seek new employment. Unfortunately, at this time, he does not have the government-endowed right to remain employed despite no longer being needed or wanted.”


  10. It would be swell to give you the benefit of the doubt on this sentence and assume you don’t embrace its freedom-killing sentiment, however, over the course of your many posts (impressive, by the way), the frigid winds of authoritarianism have blown through your writings with a gentleness that hides their destructive force:

    ...I am sure he is a brilliant...investor who helped his clients make an EXORBITANT amount of money – the average elementary school teacher earns an annual salary of $52,240, while someone who trades stocks "earns" $100 million – Any drive through Belle Haven...or countless other exclusive neighborhoods... demonstrates that there are more than a few “winners” in the American economy – It is not that I believe people should not be entitled to make a lot of money for work that is VALUED – I, for one, firmly believe in the merits of the free enterprise system (or at least a mixed capitalist system) – should we not be troubled by the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots? – But does our present economy justly and fairly reward those who are most productive, or who provide the most valued products and services? – Are things...out of whack when the men and women...teaching our children...make less than one-half of one-tenth of a percent...of what Andrew Hall made in his Christmas bonus...? – If an investment banker has to pay a slightly higher tax rate to help a poor, inner city kid afford to attend a decent college or to see a doctor, will the banker and economic efficiency really suffer? – particularly when many of the "winners" are making their money in socially unproductive ways – but I do not believe that his receiving a $100 million for what I perceive to be socially unproductive work is a good result – American capitalism is a great system, and I would not fundamentally change it, but it is inherently flawed in ways that often require government intervention – that in the richest country on earth...basic medical care was a right, not a privilege – the conflict in Afghanistan threatens to derail President Obama’s efforts to reshape America – I do believe that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a good thing that should be followed by all countries, and that had we been part of an International Criminal Court, we would have had the ability to prosecute Saddam Hussein – Why would any rational businessman... spend money on safety or clean air unless required by law – failing to insist on fundamental principles of economic and social justice in the tax code and the allocation of federal resources – The CCC put to work a half million young men who would otherwise have resorted to crime or begging – (FDR) was the best thing that happened to capitalist America.

    Along with a love of central government comes the belief that the ends justify the means. Because we still gaze upon it today is proof that it was right to steal money from a hard working (but evil) investment banker in New York to pay for a mural on the side of a post office in California.

    The truth is that President Roosevelt did not “know” that on his first day in office America needed a massive jobs program, anymore than President Coolidge or President Reagan, facing similar situations, knew that they should do nothing. What the latter two had were principals established at the founding of this country that told them that “Government was not the solution to our problems, government is the problem.” So they held fast to their principals, despite advice to the contrary to “do something!” and instead did nothing, resulting in the Roaring Twenties and the glorious “Decade of Greed.”


  11. In other words, they put their faith in millions of Americans, not a handful of bureaucrats who, in many cases, never held a “real” job, let alone gave birth to a business. In the present case, you would reject the wisdom of 300 million Americans in favor of a president whose greatest achievement so far was getting enough people one year ago to vote for his novelty act. Like Roosevelt, this pet rock president is lengthening the economic crisis because he believes he has the wisdom to control an economic system that is just slightly less complicated than the internal workings of the human body. It takes countless medical specialists to grasp what goes on between toenails and hair follicles but only one president to roll the dice on the world’s largest Monopoly board.

    President Obama’s emulation of Roosevelt lacks only the use of a cigarette holder, so it is unlikely that he will heed the warning of Milton Friedman, the award-winning economist likely despised by the New York Times, who correctly noted that “Roosevelt’s policies made the depression longer and worse than it otherwise would have been. What pulled us out of the depression was the natural resilience of the economy plus WW2.”

    The sad thing is that you were one word away from getting it when using the analogy of the farmer who has had a bad year and has to struggle to make ends meet, but then you veered off into commune-land:

    “One year, due to a drought and bad weather conditions, you have a very poor harvest...we naturally expect the farmer to have his family make do on less until next year’s harvest. Why do we treat our economy differently?”

    Do you see the word? Change it and like Ralphie clutching his Red Ryder carbine on Christmas night, all is right with the world:

    “Why do we treat our government differently?”

    All this advocating for even more government action by a president who believes money can be endlessly printed without becoming worthless; businesses can be taken over; executive wages seized; and healthcare mandated to name just a few, leads to one question: When you prepare your taxes, have you ever sent Uncle Sam an extra check to help the government achieve these wonderful goals? In the memo section you could write, “for pressuring banks to make unsafe loans” or “to pay government official in charge of hiring starving writer to pen screenplay for upcoming Obama bio-flick.” Not only would you be backing up your idealism with personal sacrifice, but you might also relieve the pressure on others who have a different philosophy of the role of government versus the individual.

    Sadly though, recent history shows that those who advance the idea of an over-reaching government – Clinton, Kerry, Obama, Biden, to name a few – give very little to charity, preferring to spend other people’s money on their utopian schemes, while those who believe in individual freedoms – Bush and Cheney for example – give massive amounts of their wealth to the needy.

    You see it is not the government’s job to care for the unfortunate. That is your responsibility; that is my responsibility. To that end, you might contribute to a charity that provides clean needles to drug addicts, while I might contribute to a charity that requires a hard day’s labor for three hots and a cot. In both cases our earnings are not confiscated, but given freely to causes that match our fiscal and religious beliefs. And best of all, most of the money goes to those in need and not in the pocket of a government administrator (for a terrific example of this see your post on John Steinbruck, which expresses this idea in a much more vivid manner).


  12. You and others of like-mind (how’s Al doing by the way?) have a habit, whether it is with Global Warming – sorry, Climate Change – or presently, economics, to dismiss alternate opinions with a declarative “science is settled!” or “minority view!” This is true for you because you limit the information you take in to that which reaffirms your beliefs (yes, we’re all guilty of that to some extent). As evidence of that guess, let me pose this question: As a bona fide FDR groupie, have you read the most recent and highly respected book on the Great Depression, “The Forgotten Man,” by Amity Shlaes? Quite an eye-opener to say the least and a must read for anyone who believes in the power of the government over the individual. I had always wondered, for example, what brain surgeon came up with the idea of paying farmers not to farm. Now I know! It also puts into perspective how a book like “Atlas Shrugged” came to be written. The villains of that book came right out of the Roosevelt Administration.

    Your concern for your fellow man is commendable but your solution, relying on a bloated bureaucracy with ever-changing priorities to do the heavy lifting, is misguided and ultimately self-defeating (War on Poverty ring a bell?). All of your writings so far express, as their prime directive, the need to increase the individual’s well being. Fair enough, but understand that while you choose to err on the side of individual security, others believe the greater good is to err on the side of individual freedom.

    Rich R.

    Oh, and I know you’re dying to know the two sentences that were hilarious:

    “In hindsight, it is apparent that Roosevelt, whose conservative instincts precluded more radical measures, did not do enough to put even more Americans to work.”

    “President Obama understands this; he has put Vice President Biden in charge of a team that is making certain that federally financed projects are targeted to meet real needs, are smart investments in America’s future, and are not wasteful.”

    Thankfully these sentences were separated by a few paragraphs otherwise a double-tap like that could have dropped me to the floor.

  13. Rich,

    Conservatives love to talk about individual freedom, but fail to recognize that, in certain areas of economic life, one person's freedom is another person's restriction. Take private property, for example. The private ownership of our homes gives us the right to exclude the remaining 300,000,000 million Americans from entering onto our property. In most Western societies, this is not controversial, as we all tend to focus on the "freedom" of owning one's own home, rather than the restrictions imposed by the real or imagined "Keep Out" sign. I, like you, prefer the balance of rights to favor private ownership of property, but from a strictly philosophical point of view, my right to exclude others from my property means my freedom at the expense of everyone else. This works out fine for all of us upstanding home owners. But for those in our society who, for whatever reason (mental illness, physical disability, old age and bankruptcy, alcohol or drug addiction, or plain bad luck) are homeless, society can respond in one of three ways: (1) tough crap, you "earn" what you deserve - it's not our problem; (2) rely exclusively on the altruistic urges of others, i.e., private charity; or (3) rely on some combination of private charity and government assistance. Even cold-hearted Rich doesn't believe, I don't think, in Option One, although I would note that your beloved hero, Ronald Reagan, once said that the "people who are sleeping on the grates, the homeless . . . are homeless . . .by choice" (Good Morning America, January 31, 1984). Option Two is great, except that in the history of humankind, including over 230 years of U.S. history, private charity has never come close to doing enough. Charity has to do with benevolence or generosity. It results from people’s good will, and can be withdrawn whenever they choose. Thus, an acceptance of Option Two alone is in reality a partial embrace of Option One.

    For me, Option Three is the answer, as it recognizes that relying solely on a system in which everyone is designed to act in their own self interest is always going to leave out some portion of society.

    The inequality of American society is tolerated because the benefits of efficiency -- including increased productivity, creativity, and innovation -- outweigh any corresponding concerns with fairness. But it is precisly because I accept the inequality as a necessary component of our economic system that I also believe, as the richest country on earth, we have an obligation to act collectively to fill-in the gaps of our market-based economy. Thus, children born into families in which Mom is addicted to crack and Dad is nowhere to be found, need to be provided for. Whatever you think of Mom and absent Dad, there is an innocent child who needs help. If Dick Cheney is not feeling compassonate this week, who takes care of this child?

    Conversely, governmental restrictions on certain freedoms benefits a large number of people at the expense of a few. For example, I cannot sell heroin, weapons-grade plutonium or, given my particular training, veterinary or medical services. To me, the fact that people without medical training cannot sell medical services is a sensible protection of the consumer. Yet to Milton Friedman, it is undesirable coercion. (see Capitalism and Freedom, p. 158).

    It all comes down to balancing rights and needs, efficiency and equal opportunity, and recognizing the shortcomings of a market based economy. This does not make me a communist, or socialist, or authoritarian. It is a recognition that a mixed capitalist economy is a necessity. To think that we can not have a significant role for government in today's economy is naive, simplistic, and, frankly, insane.

  14. Rich,

    You did not address my fundamental question: How is spending public money to create jobs and re-train workers a bad thing, when unemployment hovers at 10.2%? Similarly, what were we to do in 1933 when unemployment was nearly 25%, and had been so for over three years? There are some things that government can do better than the private sector, or that only government can do because the private sector cannot make a profit from the activity. Thus, building our infrastructure, which supports everyone, should be paid for with tax dollars. Providing jobs when the private sector is laying off massive numbers of workers (to do activities that benefit us all), taking care of the aged and the sick (where private charity falls short), setting aside certain lands for public use (national parks, national forests, public schools) -- these are things the government either does better, or that the private sector is incapable of doing. This is called mixed capitalism -- sorry to disappoint you, Joe McCarthy, I am not a commie.

    It comes down to questions of efficiency and fairness. Transfer payments to the elderly infirm (whether in the form of social security or other program) do not compromise efficiency to any serious extent, yet it ensures the right of survival for those who cannot work because of age, or disability, or some other infirmity. Yes, we have to pay some of our income in taxes -- nothing is free, whether it is a new highway or a new bomber. But the rich, and everyone else, still have sufficient incentives to think of new and innovative ways to make more money; an extra 60-70% of income is still 60-70% more income. This country has done pretty well with a mixed economy, and I think Andrew Hall and the boys at Goldman will come out OK. But I don't share your faith in Goldman & Co. to provide enough trickle down generosity to ensure the survival of those who find themselves in the economic tides of a great recession.

    Businessmen do what is necessary to stay afloat -- sometimes that means laying off workers. I do not fault the business owner who needs to do this. But when businesses are laying people off, we need to have mechanisms in place to put people back to work, if only temporarily.

    "Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough." -- FDR.

    Peace brother.

  15. Mark,

    Paragraph by paragraph it is then.

    “Conservatives love to talk about individual freedom, but fail to recognize that, in certain areas of economic life, one person’s freedom is another person’s restriction.”

    Breathtaking! The last time my jaw dropped this hard was when I listened to the Constitutional Scholar in Chief criticize the greatest document ever written because it focused too much on pesky “negative rights” and not enough on the wonderful things the government could do for its subjects.

    At the risk of sounding condescending... The rights we enjoy do not come from government but from God, and because they come from God, they can not legitimately be taken from us by the government. Since these rights come from God they also can not impose a duty on anyone to provide them. That is the test of whether or not the right is justified: does it impose a duty on someone else? If it does, then it is illegitimate.

    Now look at some of our God-given rights as outlined in the 10 Amendments. Which right requires that someone provide it? Where is there a justification for “one person’s freedom (being) another person’s restriction”?

    My right to practice my religion does not impose a duty on you to build me a church, or for that matter, supply me a prayer rug and Koran.

    My right to speak my mind does not obligate you to listen or to provide me with a soapbox. 

    My right to assemble does not require you to rent out the VFW for me and my friends.

    My right to arm myself does not mean I should find a donated Sig Sauer in my stocking this Christmas. 

    This should be preaching to the choir stuff but you’re under the impression that restricting access to your house is denying someone their rights and that rights need to be “balanced”! There is no such thing as balancing rights in order to favor private ownership. I have a right to purchase property if I can afford it. Period. And my right to exclude others from my property does not come at the expense of another’s freedom, because he does not have the God-given right to enter my house or board my boat without my permission.

    This is Constitution 101 yet you write, “ right to exclude others from my property means my freedom at the expense of everyone else.” This does not work philosophically, constitutionally or common sensally (and yes, I did just invent a word, I have that right, just as you have the right not to use it).

    Now using this framework let’s ask a tough question: Does a man have a right to food?


    Sounds harsh, but if you witnessed someone walking past a homeless man begging for food, without stopping to feed him, would you be in your right to arrest him for failure to do his duty?

    If the homeless man has a right to food, who is to decide what food he has a right to? Or how much food he has a right to? If he has a right to food then he must also have the right to decide for himself what food he prefers. If he has a right to food he can then walk into Le Bec-Fin and demand to be fed. If he has the right to food then the government cannot ration the amount of food he is entitled to. The complications are endless.

    If there is a right to food then any amount of taxes can be imposed on the productive citizen because he has a duty to feed everyone who cannot, or refuses to, feed themselves.

    And if everyone has the right to food, why should anyone pay for it? Why should I waste money buying food, when it is my right? I can pray to God without paying; I can express myself without paying; I can exercise any other right for free, why not my right to food?


  16. You are willing to contribute some of your taxes to feed the hungry, not necessarily because you are compassionate, but because there is a right to food, and since that right costs money, it naturally falls upon those who earn money to provide it. So how much is that right going to cost you? Is there a point when you say that the government is taking too much money out of your pocket to feed the homeless? What is that dollar amount? And if there is a percentage at which point you say enough! I can’t afford to give more to provide others the right to eat, is that then really a right?

    Now although food may not be a right, that does not mean we, as individuals, do not possess a moral duty to feed the hungry. The government, however, is unable to act morally because it is incapable of discriminating between those who deserve help and those who do not. It cannot judge the worthiness of those who ask for help, as a neighbor or local charity can. The government does not differentiate between a drug dealer looking for extra money or a widowed mother who lost her husband in a freak accident or a single mother with four children by four different baby-dads or a recently laid-off bread winner who never missed a day’s work in fifty years.

    On numerous occasions you have justified the confiscation of earnings to further utopian dreams by claiming that the richest, wealthiest nation on earth is obligated to care for the less fortunate (paragraph 3), but you never recognize the irony: that the United States of America is the richest, wealthiest nation on earth precisely because we acknowledge God-given rights that impose no duty on others. This freedom has created the wealthiest – and the most compassionate – country on the planet. You want to view charity in a narrow lens of organizations but that is not the sole history of American compassion. Neighbor helping neighbor is the greatest and most effective of all charitable endeavors because a neighbor will hold his fellow man accountable for his actions.

    Your idea of charity – let government do it – leads only to more misery and more suffering. The War on Poverty has increased poverty, not lessened it, as well as increased illiteracy, high school dropout rates, out of wedlock births, unemployment and crime. In fact, government charity, entitlements in other words, has succeeded only in enslaving millions of Americans by denying them free will and in the process, killing their very souls. They are indentured servants who are free from the forced labor of yesteryear with only the expectation that they will regularly cast a vote for whichever political party promises to continue feeding their addiction to the fruits of another’s labor. This is the legacy of Roosevelt’s New Deal and his wish for a Second Bill of Rights, and of Johnson’s Great Society. In short, it doesn’t work. Why, in God’s name, would we want more of it?

    Yet despite repeated efforts by government to usurp the citizens’ responsibility to themselves and their fellow man, Americans have jealously guarded the recipe to this country’s success: freedom and capitalism. As mentioned before, you need to devour “The Forgotten Man” and in doing so discover how Americans, caught in the middle of a depression caused by Hoover and extended by Roosevelt, clung to that recipe. Even while politicians were wrecking the value of the U.S. dollar, towns banded together to print their own money, in one case naming it the “vallar.” They knew, if their leaders did not, that the way out was free enterprise and soon there were 150 barter and/or scrip systems in operation in thirty states. These Americans weren’t waiting to be saved by politicians, including a president who viewed the Soviet Union’s approach to government as similar to his New Deal.


  17. So getting back to your first paragraph and first question, I believe in Option One and Two. It is an American’s right to say “tough crap,” although as a citizen of the most generous nation on earth, I know the average American would never say that. But it is his God-given right.

    Regarding the poor children of incompetent, irresponsible or abusive parents, your solution is to leave the kids with the “crack mom” but make sure they’re fed? We used to have a solution to this problem. It was called an orphanage. A concept that should be returned to, instead of this insane idea that keeping the family together is the best goal no matter how bad the parents are.

    Regarding your comments concerning Milton Friedman: “To me, the fact that people without medical training cannot sell medical services is a sensible protection of the consumer. Yet to Milton Friedman, it is undesirable coercion.” This completely mischaracterizes what Friedman wrote. Did you read the proceeding eight pages? Heck, don’t bother, let’s just accurately quote Friedman from page 158: “When these effects are taken into account, I am myself persuaded the LICENSURE (his arguments concerned the AMA’s monopoly of licensing, which prevented people from getting medical training; he in no way advocated those without training practicing medicine) has reduced both the quantity and quality of medical practice; that it has reduced the opportunities available to people who would like to be physicians, forcing them to pursue occupations they regard as less attractive; that it has forced the public to pay more for less satisfactory medical service, and that it has retarded technological development both in medicine itself and in the organization of medical practice.” And in my opinion, he makes a dang good argument.

    Now regarding paragraph 5: You return to this treacherous idea of “balancing” rights, and it occurs to me that you think in terms of rights needing to be balanced because you include as rights all the entitlements that politicians have used as bribe money to amass more and more power. Only in that sense can there be a need to balance rights. Otherwise, my rights are absolute, as are yours, because they do not, let’s say it together, impose a duty on anyone else. And because our rights are shared equally, bestowed on us by God, we all have “equal opportunity.” Only when the government tries to improve on this perfect concept with the unworkable idea that we all have a right to a living wage, welfare, healthcare, housing, food, unemployment compensation and most recently, as I learned from a commercial, free cell phones for low-income people, does the system begin to fall apart. Had we had this mentality at our founding, the United States of America would now be a curious historical footnote.

    Now, I am sure I have never called you a communist. Socialist, yes, because you advocate socialist ideas, but so far you have not advanced the proposition of mass slaughter to achieve your enlightened goals, although I find it curious that you used the “C” word. I also found it amusing when doing a Wikipedia search for “socialism” to find this: “Most socialists share the view that capitalism unfairly concentrates power and wealth among a small segment of society that controls capital and derives its wealth through exploitation, creates an unequal society, does not provide equal opportunities for everyone to maximize their potentialities and does not utilize technology and resources to their maximum potential nor in the interests of the public.”

    I’m just saying...

    Now regarding your fundamental question (paragraph 6): “How is spending public money to create jobs and re-train workers a bad thing, when unemployment hovers at 10.2%?”


  18. Unemployment is over ten percent because of government policies so why would I want more government involvement to fix a problem caused by government? According to the president, if he got his stimulus bill, which he did, unemployment would not go above nine percent. You admit yourself that only the war got us out of the Roosevelt economy (and by the way, conservatives don’t maintain that New Deal spending did not end the Great Depression; they maintain that it caused the Great Depression). Returning to my original argument, I much prefer the thinking of 300 million Americans, many of them with experience in running something other than a campaign, to the brilliance of one man. The idea that the government, always years behind the private sector, would know what jobs and skills will be needed five minutes from now, let alone a year from now, is laughable, unless, of course, they really are planning to take over all areas of production... which brings us back to the “C” word.

    Yes, there are things that government does better and no one would argue that roads should not be built with tax dollars (this is called capital spending and helps private industry work its magic). It’s when we get into the whole liberal/progressive social engineering thing that we part company (by the way, do you prefer “liberal” or “progressive” and how much faith can I put in a group of people who can’t even decide how they want to be described?). It’s when we invent government jobs that have no justification, like painting murals or building swimming pools, that we disagree. It’s when the capitalist system goes through a period of adjustment, which is natural and expected, and the liberals seize on it because you “never want a serious crisis to go to waste,” that we have a difference of opinion. Just because the government does its constitutionally prescribed role does not make it “mixed capitalism”; only when the government purposely sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong (transfer and some consumption spending) do we have your dreaded mix. And then we have 10.2 percent unemployment.

    We have had, over the course of American history, enough experiences now to know what works and what doesn’t. When government is active things get worse (i.e.: the Great Depression, which, had Coolidge run for a second full term instead of Hoover, might very well be known today as the “Roaring Thirties”). When government cuts taxes and regulations and does very little, things get better (go Calvin! go Calvin! go Ronny! go Ronny! go Dubya! {only one Obama shout out for George for getting us out of the Clinton recession, but that whole third act, oh boy!}).

    And for the second time in two paragraphs, I did not call you a commie!

    Paragraph 7: “But the rich (evil sumbitches!), and everyone else, still have SUFFICIENT incentives to think of new and innovative ways to make more money; an EXTRA 60-70% of income is still 60-70% MORE income.”


    That’s how liberals/progressives view people’s money, as “extra,” the money government allows the peasants to keep, for now. When liberals, be they Republicans like Hoover who raised the top tax rate from 25 to 63 percent, or Democrats like Roosevelt who upped the ante to 79 percent, are in power it is not the God-given rights of man that are respected but their own God-like vision of how things should be and how people should be used to achieve their goals.


  19. As before, there was a moment you almost had it, when you said “For me...” But, like President Obama and President Roosevelt before him, you believe that your theories should be forced on others. It’s nice that you believe that the government can take a dollar of your money and spend it more efficiently than you yourself can spend it or a private charity can spend it, but I disagree.

    You claimed I had not answered your fundamental question in my first response and now I believe I have, so now answer my question: Come April, will you forgo legal tax deductions and even add some extra money to your tax return so that the government can do the wonderful things described in your post?

    Finally you end with a Roosevelt quote that sums up what I have been saying. I’ll put my faith in human kindness every time. Government kindness does not exist. The government is an unfeeling hungry beast that feeds on the healthy and breeds dependency. The president needs to be a circus lion tamer, standing between us and the fanged carnivore. Right now President Obama has put a bridle and saddle (English, of course) on the creature and thinks the next gold medal in dressage is his for the taking. Of course when the lion eats the spectators instead of pirouetting, President Obama will simply claim that by mounting the lion he prevented even more people from being eaten.

    Rich R.

  20. Rich (aka Ebenezer Scrooge),

    Wow! Breathtaking is right! Put the kids in an orphanage! Are you kidding?

    I often wonder how the two of us even occupy the same planet, much less the same country. Obviously, I hit a nerve on this one. I do get some satisfaction in envisioning your head bouncing off the ceiling when you come across some of my zingers -- you know, radical notions like, Let's help poor people.

    But first a quibble -- you make a huge deal out of my first sentence in my comments (you need to scroll WAY up there to see it), which raised a strictly philosophical point concerning the rights of property ownership, then completely ignored where I actually stood on the subject (i.e., "I, like you, prefer the balance of rights to favor private ownership of property...). To argue that the right of private property is "God-given" and does not have any affect on others is too wrong for me to spend a lot of time on (is the right to own guns a God-given right as well? I tend to view these things as man-made rights.) In any event, I thought I made very clear that I believe the right to own private property is a good thing, and a system that permits private ownership of property is far better than one that does not (will you ignore this statement as well?). But to suggest that there are not alternatives -- see certain native American cultures, Israeli kibbutzim, and your beloved Communist systems -- is to apply too narrow a lense to these sorts of open-ended discussions. As for some of the other rights you note, there is a difference between your and my right to own property and our right to believe in the religion of our choosing (Bill Gates can practice any religion he wants and have no affect on my life; but if he buys the State of New Jersey and puts up a Keep Out sign, he will have infringed on the rights of a lot of people to enjoy the bountiful majesty of the Garden State.)

    My recognition of a "balancing of rights" does not mean I espouse government policies that confiscate property -- oh, that's right, I believe in taxation to pay for the public good. It all makes sense to me now. It always comes down to paying taxes. By the way, do you believe we should pay taxes to support our military? Or should we rely on private contributions for that? You don't like to pay taxes to support job training for inner city youth, but I don't necessarily like to pay taxes to support unjust wars that kill innocent people in foreign lands. Is it really about taxes, or is it about how the government spends the money? I'm just asking....

    Now, as to private charity. I believe very strongly in the works of private charity (see Steinbruck piece above), but my point is, which you failed to refute, is that private charity alone has never been sufficient to solve the many problems we face as a society. I do not believe that government should provide for everyone's every need -- I believe in the built-in incentives of a capitalist economy that results in a certain degree of inequality (you seem to ignore this as well, despite the many times I have said it). But government has the ability to correct social wrongs in a more comprehensive and sweeping fashion than does private charity. It is the difference between charity and justice. A hungry man needs to eat, and the soup kitchen provides a meal. But Government has the ability to change the conditions of society -- through provisions for better education, job training, drug rehabilitation programs, you name it -- that make it so people need not go hungry. Government doesn't always implement it well, but that is a problem with the implementation or the particular program, not the fundamental concept. I believe that, when something is not working, fix it, or change it. But it does not always mean the whole concept is a failure.


  21. Rich (cont'd):
    As for the War on Poverty. Much has been written (for and against) about whether it was a success or failure. Two things. First, there is no question it succeeded up to a point. The Census Bureau statistics show that, from 1960 to 1970, the poverty rate in this country declined nearly in half, from approximately 23% to around 12% (I am looking at a graph, so my exact numbers may be a touch off). After that, it is true that the poverty rate has stayed pretty much the same -- a reflection of a deep-seated underclass that continues to exist in our poorest inner cities and certain rural areas. But, while our underclass is not being eliminated by government programs (or by private charity), no one is starving to death, emergency medical care is being administered, and all children, no matter how poor, are entitled to an education. This is all due largely to government mandate. You consider that a bad thing, I don't. We may just have to leave it at that.

    As for the so-called "Clinton recession," here is a quote from a January 15, 2001 article published on the BBC online service: "President Bill Clinton will leave office with the longest boom in US history still intact....During the eight years of the presidency, the economy expanded by 50% in real terms, and by the end of his tenure the US had a gross national product of $10,000bn - one quarter of the entire world economic output. The booming US economy has brought economic benefits right across the income spectrum. The unemployment rate has dropped by half, to 4%, a 40-year low, while the economy has created some 15 million jobs." It also noted he left with a government surplus. Some recession.

    Interestingly, the article also noted that,
    "The US has the highest rate of inequality of any industrialised country, and that inequality increased during Mr Clinton's years in office." So, even under the Democrats, the rich get richer -- but they all work so hard for their money, it really isn't fair to use any small portion of it to help those left behind. Happy Thanksgiving.

  22. I have never ventured into the breach of your political "point-counterpoint." Frankly, you are both too good at it and each present data which appear to support your theories. Although I am clearly biased philosophically and personally to Mark's position in these blogs, I have been fascinated (albeit not persuaded) by many of the arguments that Rich has made over the course of this exchange in these many articles. But, Rich, you have just gone over the edge here. "An orphanage . . . a concept that should be returned to . . ." instead of keeping families together??! Where exactly are Republican "family values" in that thought? You would prefer to see the crack mom die in the street and her children placed in an orphanage to getting her (government-sponsored) drug treatment and job training??! On this eve of the Christmas season, how is your statement any different from the fabeled "Are there no poorhouses or debtor's prisons?" in "A Christmas Carol." Should these institutions be revived too? The poor have to hang out somewhere, after all!

    Your faith in the charity of individuals is commendable, but naive. Without substantial government supplement, there is never enough money supplied by individual charitable giving, despite any statistics you may find about American generosity. I daresay much of individual charity is fueled as much, if not more, by the tax deduction it carries than the pure altruism of the giver.

    In truth, with all the brilliant minds on the planet living in their respective camps of liberal/progressive or right-wing/conservative (is that one name or two?) no one has the solution or we would have implimented it already. Each side carries severe and harmful consequences as well as positive benefits. No one ever discusses the former when advocating the latter. The solution lies in a mixture of the two, the precise recipe of which continues to elude us. Until then, we will go through these spasms of bubble and burst, and the pendulum of individual verses collective solutions until we figure out that we are all right and all wrong. Until then, we will never get the table set.

  23. Mark and Andrea,

    Happy Thanksgiving!

    M - You still did not answer my question!

    And as far as the orphange goes, I suspected that was a bridge too far without taking the time to elaborate. Maybe I will, although I suspect the topic will come up again in the future anyway.

    Rich R.

  24. Mark,

    I tried, really I did, to let it slide, but come on:

    “To argue that the right of private property is "God-given" and does not have any affect on others is too wrong for me to spend a lot of time on (is the right to own guns a God-given right as well? I tend to view these things as man-made rights.)”

    There is a fellow who would like to disagree with you; perhaps you’ve heard of him?

    Thomas Jefferson.

    Jefferson, you might recall, penned, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

    As Clarence B. Carson points out in his “A Basic History of the United States, Volume 2”: “This was a reiteration of the natural rights doctrine. It was, however, a variation on the usual way of stating the doctrine, which was, that men have a natural right to life, liberty and property.”

    Or, to put it another way, as Willi Paul Adams did in “The First American Constitutions”: “One of the reasons was that the acquisition of property and the pursuit of happiness were so closely connected with each other in the minds of the founding generation that naming only one of the two sufficed to evoke both. The property clauses in the state bills of rights provide evidence for the close association of both values. Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts listed the acquisition of property among the inalienable right and included happiness and safety in the same sentence. In the words of the Virginia declaration: ‘All men . . . have certain inherent rights, . . .namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursing and obtaining happiness and safety.’”

    Tommy liked “Creator”; I prefer "God." And “man-made rights” don’t exist; they are “privileges” because any “rights” bestowed by man can be taken away by man.

    Rich R.

  25. Rich,

    Took me a while to respond, but... If there are indeed rights bestowed by the Creator, then Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness sounds about right to me. Lest we get too smug in reliance on the words of our dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, however, let me remind you that he owned slaves, which as you may recall were deemed property under the laws and constitution of our great land. And our founding fathers, in their esteemed wisdom, deemed each slave a mere three-fifths of a person in determining how to apportion representation among the states. So, I am not persuaded that the right to own property is God-given. Is it an important, possibly essential, right in a free society? I believe so. But it is a right bestowed by humans for humans. I believe God may have created the heavens and earth for all of humankind, not just for those able to afford a beachfront condo in the Hamptons.

  26. Mark,

    First a long overdue acknowledgment: Concerning our two roles – blogger and responder – I clearly occupy the coward’s role. The easier thing is to react to another’s writing, especially when it pushes the right emotional or intellectual buttons, and easier still to zero in on a sentence or two. Much harder is staring at a blank computer screen and filling it from scratch with something well written and interesting. You should be commended for your impressive body of work so far.

    Now I would love to respond to your most current posts because I have, believe it or not, a few opinions regarding President Obama’s recent speech at the “enemy camp,” but property rights is the most important topic you or I will ever write about as it is at the heart of what it is to be free, so I cannot let this misconception about where our rights come from pass without commenting, line for line:

    “If there are indeed rights bestowed by the Creator, then Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness sounds about right to me.”

    As stated above, happiness and right of property ownership were synonymous, not just for our founding fathers but going back to the great philosophers who inspired them. Unless your idea of happiness is monkish poverty, how can you pursue happiness without being secure in your possessions?

    “Lest we get too smug in reliance on the words of our dear friend, Thomas Jefferson, however, let me remind you that he owned slaves, which as you may recall were deemed property under the laws and constitution of our great land.”

    Because Thomas Jefferson owned slaves, in a world in which not one corner of it was free at one time or another from the evil practice, is a reason to discount his great wisdom? Slavery existed prior to the revolution when this country belonged to a king, but in Jefferson’s great wisdom, he planted a self-fulfilling prophecy that doomed slavery to extinction: “. . . all men are created equal” ended slavery a mere 89 years later, an event unparalleled in human history. A new country, on its own initiative, and at great cost in blood spilled, ended a practice 10,000 years old. Ask yourself how long it took England to accomplish the same thing, or any other culture for that matter.

    And while you sip your Kool-Aid and espouse all the wonderful things a powerful central government, run by the party of slavery, can do for its subjects, consider what you wrote, because the federal government, including the United State Supreme Court did condone and defend slavery. They didn’t know better then, and in their support of abortion – the new slavery – they know not better now, so perhaps your faith, to some extent, is misplaced.

    “And our founding fathers, in their esteemed wisdom, deemed each slave a mere three-fifths of a person in determining how to apportion representation among the states.”

    I don’t know what to make of this sentence, because it is almost accurate, yet sarcastic instead of reverential. You seem to be in agreement with the ex-jogging suit wearing, but always clownish, Al Sharpton, that the founding fathers actually believed slaves were less than human. At the same time, you understand the motive, to deny power to the slave holding states. It was a brilliant compromise that allowed our country to come into being, while weakening those states that practiced slavery. So our founding fathers did, indeed, have “esteemed wisdom” and they did not believe slaves were less human (see “all men are created equal” above) and their judicial use of math made Jefferson’s self-fulfilling prophecy all the more likely to succeed.

    “So, I am not persuaded that the right to own property is God-given.”

    Well you better get persuaded because without God-given property rights – or perhaps we can compromise and say “inherent” rights – you must accept that your happiness depends on the good will of others.


  27. “Is it an important, possibly essential, right in a free society? I believe so.”

    There is nothing “possible” about it: with it there is freedom; without it there is servitude. If you do not have the right to own land, then to whom does it belong? The government? The community? The king? What that means is that other men, more equal than you, grant you the use of the land, as long as you are viewed favorably in their eyes. If one man can grant the right to property to another man then all men are not equal. This was one of the points of 1776, that there is no valid authority of a king to grant rights to “lessor” men: we are “endowed” with these rights. Your dismissal of a God-given right to property goes to the very heart of the birth of this nation and makes clear, sadly, that if you were alive 233 years ago, you would have counted yourself among the Loyalists, siding with the king and his right to own a country and bestow land grants. Your love of diplomacy and negotiating with the world’s psychotic leaders also suggests that “revolution” would not have comfortably passed from your lips, but instead, you would have promoted a better relationship between the king and his subjects.

    “But it is a right bestowed by humans for humans.”

    God help us if that is true, because then what moral recourse do you have to defend your land when other men decide you no longer have that right? If enough men decide that the greater good is achieved by taking what you’ve earned and the courts, man-made institutions, agree, then you, by your own logic, must meekly submit. Even if you wanted to take a stand, you’ve also rejected your God-given right to arm yourself! By your own logic, the founding of this country should never have happened. This was the king’s property after all and as a superior man, he was the grantor of “rights.”

    “I believe God may have created the heavens and earth for all of humankind, not just for those able to afford a beachfront condo in the Hamptons.”

    Cute, but a beachfront condo in the Hamptons is the same as forty acres and a mule or a row home in South Philly. This class-warfare of the left that you’ve embraced, and which courses through your writings like a virus, will leave you ultimately a slave of the state if your ideology wins.

    There is a contradiction to what you wrote: Because slaves were considered property and slavery is wrong, then the concept of property being a God-given right is wrong. But if there is no right to property and the property you enjoy is because another man grants it to you, are you then a free man?

    But don’t believe that racist Thomas Jefferson, or the unparalleled miracle that sprang from our founders’ great gamble (let’s not forget that these rich men put in peril their lives and the lives of their families, their property and their fortunes), instead let’s listen to Armen A. Alchian, an award winning economist who once used the New York Times as an umbrella during a rain storm, who bluntly stated “Property rights are human rights.”

    He also stated: “Private property rights are the rights of humans to use specified goods and to exchange them. Any restraint on private property rights shifts the balance of power from impersonal attributes toward personal attributes and toward behavior that political authorities approve. That is a fundamental reason for preference of a system of strong private property rights: private property rights protect individual liberty.”

    But don’t take an award winning economist’s word for it, listen to George Sutherland, Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court:

    "The three great rights are so bound together as to be essentially one right. To give a man his life, but deny him his liberty, is to take from him all that makes his life worth living. To give him his liberty, but take from him the property which is the fruit and badge of his liberty, is to still leave him a slave."


  28. You can have faith in Justice Sutherland’s understanding of the Constitutional because he and three other justices formed the “Four Horsemen,” who struck down Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation. And if that’s not enough for the Supreme Court Hall of Fame, he also led the charge against the liberty-infringing concept of minimum wage laws!

    But don’t take the word of a long dead jurist; trust the long dead political philosopher, John Locke, much admired by the slave owner Jefferson (bastard!), who said, “The supreme power cannot take from any man any part of his property without his own consent: for the preservation of property being the end of government, and that for which men enter into society, it necessarily supposes and requires, that the people should have property, without which they must be supposed to lose that, by entering into society, which was the end for which they entered into it; too gross an absurdity for any man to own.” I know, I know, but read it again, it really does make sense.

    Another man who greatly influenced our Founding Fathers was the English judge, William Blackstone, who nevertheless thought of the founders as traitors. There was, however, common ground: “There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination, and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property; or that sole and despotic dominion which one man claims and exercises over the external things of the world, in total exclusion of the right of any other individual in the universe.”

    Representing the American judges was Chancellor James Kent, who observed: “Man was fitted and intended by the Author of his being for society and government, and for the acquisition and enjoyment of property.” In the interest of full disclosure, Chancellor Kent retired to New Jersey, which rightly casts doubt on his good judgment.

    But others of his time shared his opinion. Samuel Adams, when not drunk on his own beer, believed that “Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Third, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can.”

    John Adams, Samuel’s sober cousin and the second President of the United States, was a constitutional lawyer when that actually meant something, and most importantly, he was not a slave owner like his on again, off again, best pal Jefferson (slave owning bastard!). Despite not owning even one 3/5 of a human, Adams had this to say about property: “The moment the idea is admitted into society, that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.”

    And just because its timing could not be more perfect, this extended quote:

    “Property is surely a right of mankind as really as liberty. Perhaps, at first, prejudice, habit, shame or fear, principle or religion, would restrain the poor from attacking the rich, and the idle from usurping on the industrious; but the time would not be long before courage and enterprise would come, and pretexts be invented by degrees, to countenance the majority in dividing all the property among them, or at least, in sharing it equally with its present possessors. Debts would be abolished first; taxes laid heavy on the rich, and not at all on the others; and at last a downright equal division of every thing be demanded, and voted. What would be the consequence of this? The idle, the vicious, the intemperate, would rush into the utmost extravagance of debauchery, sell and spend all their share, and then demand a new division of those who purchased from them.”

    Or to put it another way: “...ask the rich to make do with less to prevent the increased depravation suffered by recession’s victims.”


  29. But back on point: John Dickerson, patriot of the Revolution and owner of 37 slaves (or 22 actual humans) until he freed them (which is the only reason I include him here!), had this to say: “Let these truths be indelibly impressed on our minds – that we cannot be HAPPY, without being FREE – that we cannot be free, without being secure in our property – that we cannot be secure in our property, if, without our consent, others may, as by right, take it away...”

    John Jay, first Chief Justice of the United States, said it succinctly, “No power on earth has a right to take our property from us without our consent.” Jay started early in making a reality of Jefferson’s (slave owning bastard!) words, when he first proposed New York state emancipation legislation in 1777, which finally succeeded in 1799. Jay, interestingly enough, knew something about man-made property rights: his French grandfather lost his property when the “Edict of Nantes” was revoked, which abolished the man-made rights given to Protestants by Henry IV.

    Unfortunately, you are not alone in misunderstanding the philosophy that formed the basis of this country. In fact, we have gone so far from the founder’s belief that House Resolution 748, the Founding Fathers’ Property Rights Resolution, was introduced in Congress in September 2009. As Congressman Wally Herger explains on his website:

    “Recently, I joined several of my colleagues in introducing House Resolution 748 to recognize the constitutionally guaranteed right to property and our duty as members of Congress to uphold that right. The words of our founding fathers, as quoted in this resolution, serve as a fitting reminder of our fundamental private property rights, a concept that is continuously under attack by ever increasing regulation and government expansion.”

    As the Lonang Institute’s website states: “The rejection of the laws of nature and of nature's God has led to expanded civil power and the violation of unalienable rights. Once the unalienable right of property is violated, life and liberty are no longer secure.”

    Whether you believe in “God-given” rights or “inherent” rights or “unalienable” rights, you must come to believe that it is not the king, president, congress or your neighbor that allows you to acquire property, but your birth right that allows it. If you entertain anything less, you and the rest of us are on a slippery slope toward tyranny. In reality, of course, we are already on the slope, the most recent slip ‘n slide occurring when the town of New London, Connecticut took Susette Kelo’s house to make way for a hotel and homes for the rich (aren’t they supposed to be doing with less?).

    We have a choice. We can live in a world in which General Cornwallis can offer land to Colonel Tavington for killing Benjamin Martin and the Colonel, his interest peaked, inquires, “Tell me about Ohio,” or a world in which Walt Kowalski can level a M1 Garand at some disadvantaged youths and growl, “Get off my lawn!” The first is an example of man-made rights, while the second is an example of two God-given rights (and yes, two more movies that should be on your list).


  30. If the right to property is man-made then Hitler crossed the line only when he denied a whole lot of people their God-given right to life and liberty. Up until the cattle car doors opened, he had simply altered a man-made right to property. And President Roosevelt was within his right to kick Japanese-Americans out of their homes, if not to herd them into camps (although the Supreme Court thought that was okay too).

    So as you sit in your nice home, not quite the Hamptons but I’m sure quite lovely, who do you thank for your blessings? Man for the momentary privilege or God for the absolute right? It may be the most important question you ever ask.

    Rich R.

    Much of the above can be found at the following sites:

  31. Now that the anti-science, superstition-based initiative presidency is over, we need Manhattan projects to make us great again and boost us out of this Grotesque Depression. First we must provide free advertising-based wimax wireless internet to everyone to end land line monopolies. Better yet, renationalize the telephone companies like in 1917 and now put them and the DTV fiasco and the internet under a renationalized post office. Because bovine flatulence is the major source of greenhouse gases, we must develop home growable microbes to provide all of our protein. We must finally join the metric system and take advantage of DTV problems to create a unified global standard for television and cellular telephones instead of this Anglo Saxon competitive waste. We must address that most illness starts from behavior, especially from parents. Since paranoid schizophrenia is the cause of racism, bigotry, homelessness, terrorism, ignorance, exploitation and criminality, we must provide put the appropriate medications, like lithium, in the water supply and require dangerous wingnuts who refuse free mental health care to be implanted with drug release devices. Churches should be licensed to reduce supersition and all clergy dealing with small children should be psychiatrically monitored to prevent molesting. We need to psychiatrically regulate the preachers and teachers that produce these creatures. Osama bin Laden and Timothy McVeigh were the ultimate superstition based initiatives. Aborting future terrorists and sterilizing their parents is the most effective homeland security. Preganancy is a shelfish, environmentally desturctive act and must be punished, not rewarded with benefits, preference and leave. Widen navigation straits (Gibraltar, Suez, Malacca, Danube, Panama and Hellspont) with deep nukes to prevent war. In order to fund this we must nationalize the entire financial, electrical and transportation system and extinguish the silly feudal notion that each industry should be regulated by its peers. Technology mandates a transformation of tax subsidies from feudal forecloseable debt to risk sharing equity. Real estate and insurance, the engines of feudalism, must be brought under the Federal Reserve so we may replace all buildings with hazardous materials to provide public works. Insects, flooding and fire spread asbestos, lead and mold which prematurely disables the disadvantaged. Disposable manufactured housing assures children are not prematurely disabled and disadvantaged. Because feudalism is the threat to progress everywhere, we must abolish large land holdings by farmers, foresters or religions and instead make all such large landholding part of the forest service so our trees may diminish greenhouse gases. Darwin led to the worst colonial, militarist, atrocity and stock market abuses in history - Lamarkian inhertiance and mitochondrial DNA show that Darwin was not all he is crackered up to be. We must abolish executive pay and make sure all employees in a company are all paid equally. We must abolish this exploitative idea of trade and monopoly and make every manufactured disposable cottage self sufficient through the microbes we invent. Southern Oligarchs destroyed the Democarts in the sixties and destroyed the Republicans this decade - they would not allow viable candidates like Colin Powell, Mitt Romney or Condi Rice to even be considered!

  32. Mark,

    And you think I'm the crazy one?

    Rich R.

  33. Vernon,

    Not sure I follow, but, um, thanks. Rich, I'll get back to you.

  34. Rich,

    You raise some very interesting points and have certainly pushed the conversation to a more philosophical level. However, I remain much less convinced than are you that the right to own property is a right that was bestowed on humankind by our Creator. Where we can agree is that the right to own property is, within certain parameters, fundamental to a free and democratic society. But that is because this is a lesson we have learned based on human experience and history, not because God so decreed. I tend to doubt that God takes a position on capitalism, or socialism, or communism, or utilitarianism, or any other -ism that humans have concocted over the centuries in structuring communities and nation states. In the Christian tradition, whatever one thinks of Jesus’ economic philosophy – he was certainly not a proponent of capitalism, nor was he a socialist – he was definitely anti-materialist. So to invoke God and the Creator in discussing the importance of property rights in a free society is a digression without a solution.

    You consider happiness and the right of property ownership to be synonymous – interesting, but why then are so many affluent people miserable, while many of the happiest people on earth are often those of very modest means? Spiritual contentment and true happiness have almost nothing to do with the right to own property – which in modern times most often comes down to materialism. But lest we debate angels on the head of a pin, I do agree that, in a free society, the right to be secure in one’s possessions – up to a point – is essential. I say up to a point because, and this is where we are certain to disagree, the government has the right to tax a portion of our wealth and income to pay for the benefits and protections of the free society we so cherish; to pay for our military, our police, our DEA agents, our interstate highway systems, our roads and bridges, our sewer systems, etc. I sense from your later comments that this is where the real problem lies – not that Uncle Sam is really going to say you can no longer buy a house or a car or an I-pod.

    Your point that I should not be too harsh on dear Thomas for his slave ownership is valid, given the historical context in which he lived, but it proves that man’s ideas on property ownership – even those who placed property rights among the natural rights bestowed by the Creator – did not conform for tens of thousands of years to God’s concept – because I refuse to believe that God ever needed time to evolve into being anti-slavery; rather, it took humans until recently to get one step closer to God’s will by finally recognizing that slavery was inherently evil. And it was in defense of freedom that the government compelled slave owners to free their slaves – by essentially confiscating their “property”. My point is that, as with so many other things, the concept of property is an evolving concept, including its connection to a free society.

    I believe that God grants human beings the gift of free will, so that if we so choose, we are free to destroy the planet and each other, and God will permit us to do so. That it took the human race ten thousand years to determine that slavery was wrong, suggests two things: (1) We are a very slowly developing species, and (2) our concepts of property – i.e., what exactly constitutes property and what property we have the right to own and/or exploit – are ever evolving. If humans truly loved each other and lived harmoniously with each other in peace and justice - as I believe God truly desires – then the right of property ownership would have less importance to a free society, because we would all be free and happy. OK, I am totally dreaming, so let me move on.

  35. Rich (cont'd):

    I believe that what is really at stake in your position is the notion that freedom is threatened whenever governments infringe in any way on a citizen’s property rights. That for any man, or any government, to take a portion of our property without our consent is the equivalent of tyranny. Certainly, if the government takes my house and land and everything I own in order to enrich the King (he actually wouldn’t get that rich in my case), that would be tyranny – and I would join you in the revolution. But if we are talking about the right of a democratic society to compel its citizens to pay a fair portion of their income and wealth in taxes, in order to support the services and programs that our democratically elected representatives have authorized, then I do not share your view. And that is where I believe the heart of our debate lies. Just because we do not like to pay taxes, and just because you voted against the legislators that are making you pay taxes, does not render you a victim of oppression. For if you benefit from the fruits of that taxation, and if you believe in the concept of democracy, you have effectively consented.

    Anyway, I appreciate the profound nature of your views, but I feel we are walking on different sides of the same ship. Come to my side, you’ll be much happier.