Monthly Archives: July 2010

Eliminate the Electoral College? The coming tyranny of the majority.

Many states are currently working to eliminate the electoral college and replace it with a straight democratic election of the President. This articles sums up the situation nicely.

Instead of writing new material here, I will quote from my own book, The Path to Tyranny.

On the benefits of the electoral college:

The Founding Fathers saw the benefits of keeping the three branches of government as independent of each other as possible. They therefore created the electoral college to choose the President. Instead of directly electing the President with majority rule or allowing Congress to select the President, each state held a number of “electoral votes” equal to its number of House and Senate seats. Originally, the candidate with the most votes became President and the person with the second most votes became Vice President. After the election of 1800, when no candidate received a majority and it took the House thirty-six ballots to elect Thomas Jefferson, the Twelfth Amendment altered the system so that votes for President and Vice President would be separate. Also in the original system, the electors were chosen by the states and those electors then decided which candidate to vote for. But the people began demanding that the electors vote for a specific candidate, so now the people vote for a Presidential candidate and the electors from each state are pledged to vote for that candidate. This system makes the President totally independent of Congress because they have no say in his election, except in the rare situation in which no person receives a majority of electoral votes, which last occurred in 1824. Additionally, because a candidate becomes President by winning the most electoral votes, even if he does not win a majority of the popular vote, he is somewhat independent of the people, as well. In this way, the President represents the entire country and not Congress, a single state or region, or even the majority of people over the minority.

Replacing the electoral college with a more democratic system is exactly what the Founders hoped to avoid. The Founders created a republic, but we’ve been becoming more democratic with time thanks to the increasing use of ballot initiatives at the state and local levels and with passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, ratified in 1913, providing for the direct election of Senators.

Here are some quotes from The Path to Tyranny warning about the evils of democracy:

  • Aristotle calls democracy a perversion of constitutional government in the interest of the needy.[Aristotle, Politics Book 3 Part 7.] In ancient Greece, this democracy often led to tyranny, not just of the majority, but also to tyranny of a single ruler chosen by the majority to lead them.
  • “Now the first of these to come into being is monarchy, its growth being natural and unaided; and next arises kingship derived from monarchy by the aid of art and by the correction of defects. Monarchy first changes into its vicious allied form, tyranny; and next, the abolishment of both gives birth to aristocracy. Aristocracy by its very nature degenerates into oligarchy; and when the commons inflamed by anger take vengeance on this government for its unjust rule, democracy comes into being; and in due course the licence and lawlessness of this form of government produces mob-rule to complete the series.” [Polybius, The Histories 6.4.7-13.]
  • The key, therefore, to maintaining peace, prosperity, freedom, and stable government is to create a system balancing monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, each with checks on the other two. But as power was being distributed downward to the people, Polybius warned that giving the people too much power would result in mob rule followed by a new tyranny: “And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others and to depend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the houses of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch.”[Polybius, The Histories 6.9.7-9.]
  • The term “tyranny of the majority” originated with Alexis de Tocqueville in Democracy in America. (Tocqueville, Democracy in America 292.) However, Polybius, the Greek historian who lived from 203-120 BC, used the expression “cheirokratia,” loosely translated as “mob rule,” to describe this unlimited direct democracy, arguing that mob rule was a result of “the licence and lawlessness” of democracy. (Polybius, Histories 6.4.9.)
  • This second principle is in many ways a contradiction of his first principle. The first includes “all to rule and be ruled in turn” whereas the second is “to be ruled by none.” The first says “the majority must be supreme” whereas second says “a man should live as he likes.” The first principle leads to the tyranny of the majority whereas the second results in anarchy. It is only by balancing the two principles that a free society can be maintained without falling into tyranny or anarchy.
  • Plato warned about the evils of democracy from its birth to its death. He argues that, from the start, democracy involves killing and exiling its enemies. “And a democracy, I suppose, comes into being when the poor, winning the victory, put to death some of the other party, drive out others, and grant the rest of the citizens an equal share in both citizenship and offices.”[Plato, Republic 557a.]
  • The result of this democratic uprising, Plato argues, is anarchy, mockingly calling democracy “a delightful form of government, anarchic and motley, assigning a kind of equality indiscriminately to equals and unequals alike!”[Plato, Republic 558c.] But he contends that the end of democracy is tyranny as demagogues prey on the people’s lust for wealth. “Well, then, the insatiate lust for wealth and the neglect of everything else for the sake of money-making was the cause of its undoing.”[Plato, Republic 562b.] Plato insists that this “climax of popular liberty… is attained in such a city when the purchased slaves, male and female, are no less free than the owners who paid for them.”[Plato, Republic 563b.] “And so the probable outcome of too much freedom is only too much slavery in the individual and the state… from the height of liberty, I take it, the fiercest extreme of servitude.”[Plato, Republic 564a.]
  • The desire for more democracy and larger, more centralized government has turned what once was a laissez-faire representative government into a large interventionist government.
  • The United States was fortunate that its Founding Fathers were so well versed in political philosophy and history. They understood that they had to design a system with checks and balances between the different branches of government and between the states and federal government. They knew that both centralized power and unfettered democracy led to tyranny and hoped to limit the power of government. At the Constitutional Convention, Alexander Hamilton said, “We are a Republican Government. Real liberty is never found in despotism or in the extremes of Democracy.”
  • More than two thousand years ago, the Greeks and Romans wrote about the evils of democracy, as did the Founding Fathers just two hundred years ago. James Madison writes in Federalist No. 10, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.” Nevertheless, Americans have ignored these warnings and history’s examples. Since the adoption of the Constitution, the United States has trended toward more democracy, exemplified by the direct election of Senators and increased use of referendum and initiative. One effect of this democracy has been the growing demand for the government to provide for the people.
  • The Founding Fathers warned about the evils of democracy. Today the politicians and special interest groups use propositions to trick the voters into constantly growing government. We have to rid ourselves of the democracy in our midst and return to our republican roots.

United States History Is One of Peaceful Progress

If you read the book of Judges in the Bible, you get a sense that ancient Israel was constantly at war with its neighbors or between the tribes. Chapter after chapter describe the battles Israel fought. Only when one realizes that this period lasted for hundreds of years does one realize that Israel spent most of its time at peace, only occasionally getting involved in military conflicts.

The history of the United States is much the same. If you read a US history book, you will spend much of your time reading about wars. The American Revolution, War of 1812, Mexican-American War, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan against the Soviets, Iraq I, Somalia, Afghanistan against the Taliban, Iraq II, and many other smaller engagements. While the US has been involved in its fair share of war, especially in recent history, the vast majority of time the US enjoyed peace.

The real history of the United States is one of peaceful economic progress. Free from the expense of large military undertakings and with low taxes and limited government, for most of its history, the US economy grew faster for a longer period time of time than any other country in the world. People today marvel at the economic growth of China, which has been growing quite remarkably since the Cultural Revolution ended in 1976. Over the last 34 years, China’s economy has grown more than any other. But compare that to the US. From 1789 to 1929, 140 years, the US economy grew quite consistently. Yes, the US had panics, recessions, and depressions during that time, but growth was quite consistent until the Great Depression. As John Steele Gordon calls it, the US is An Empire of Wealth.

In 1925, Calvin Coolidge remarked, “After all, the chief business of the American people is business.” Of course, this sentiment has been attacked by many on the left. But Coolidge is correct. Historically, the history of America is one of invention, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. When one looks at the histories of other countries, one does not see this. The history of ancient Rome was one of military conquest. The history of France is one of rises and falls, of kings, aristocrats, and revolution. The history of Russia is one of expansion and enslavement. The history of England comes closest with its leadership during the industrial revolution and granting of rights to its citizens, but it still has a history of kings, rebellions, and empire. Only America’s history is one primarily of “business.” As a result, the US has created more wealth for more people than any other country in history. Though the history books may overlook this achievement in favor of focusing on military conflicts, the people of the United States and the entire benefit more from this wealth creation and the freedom that enabled it to occur than any other achievement in world history.

Teens Going Jobless This Summer. Minimum Wage Laws Partly to Blame.

A follow-up to my post  Teens Face Worst Summer Job Market in 41 Years. CNBC reports Many Teen Workers Are Going Jobless This Summer:

Several factors have aligned to hurt what was once a vibrant and reliable labor market, experts say. In some cases, unemployed older Americans or illegal immigrants have taken the jobs, while an increase in the minimum wage has made it too expensive for some employers to hire teens.

Many teenagers would be willing to work for less than the minimum wage, if only it were legal.

“It’s good experience and it’s good to put on your college application,” she says. “You can’t put sitting around and doing nothing on your application.”

This will have severe repercussions in the future:

With less experience on their resume, some teens might find it hard to compete for jobs when they’re older, experts say.

“Employers across the spectrum are going to opt for someone with more experience.” says Dion Lim, president and COO of online job-search site “There’s no replacement for work experience.”

Not that the minimum wage is the only cause of teenage unemployment. The article mentions other factors, most notably high unemployment in general. However, the minimum wage is supposed to help those at the lower end of the employment market by boosting their wages. Instead, it is making it harder for them to earn any wage and depriving them of much needed experience.

Atlas Shrugged: Tempe Town Lake dam bursts

In another story that could have come straight out of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged:

Tempe Town Lake overnight became a bog after one of the four inflatable bladders at the west end of the lake exploded around 9:44 p.m., sending a wall of water into the Salt River bed.

Tempe spokeswoman Kris Baxter estimated that at least three-quarters of the about 1 billion gallons of water had drained overnight. Officials say the dam breach left some areas of the lake with three feet of water or less; the average lake depth is about 16 feet.

So far, the story just sounds like a normal accident. But there is more to the story:

In April 2009, Tempe officials said they intended to ignore a safety recommendation from the makers of Town Lake’s rubber dams because sufficient safeguards already were in place to prevent the dams from deflating.

In 2009, the dams’ manufacturer, Bridgestone Industrial Products, had urged Tempe to evaluate whether the safety measures at the lake were sufficient “to prevent injury and reduce the risk of loss of life” if the dams were to rapidly deflate. Bridgestone manufactured the eight inflatable dams that contained the lake.

The eastern dams upstream are submerged and have held up. But a plan to keep the western dams wet failed, exposing the rubber to scorching sun that has damaged the material.

Tempe and Bridgestone officials have argued over whose fault that is. In March 2009, the City Council approved an agreement for Bridgestone to replace the four damaged dams at the lake’s western end.

But the question of people’s safety on the lake if the dams were to deflate remained a sticking point. Bridgestone recommended that the city look at increasing the buffer zone between safety buoys and the western dams, adding warning signage and enhancing the alarm system to better warn lake users if the dams rapidly deflate.

The cost to temporarily replace the dams was estimated at $2.5 million earlier this year. Tempe at that time budgeted an additional $250,000 to fund the project’s contingency costs. Bridgestone was expected to reimburse Tempe up to $3 million of the costs to replace the dam.

It is clear that Tempe knew about this problem for well over a year now and did nothing about it except complain and blame the manufacturer. Tempe should have taken Bridgestone’s advice on how to prevent this problem or replaced the dams entirely. Bridgestone may not be blameless here, but they did warn Tempe and Tempe chose to do nothing, endangering the river and people.

The Fall of Civilization Part 2: Asphalt Is Replaced By Cheaper Gravel; ‘Back to Stone Age’

A follow up to my recent post The fall of civilization spreads to Oakland.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

Paved roads, historical emblems of American achievement, are being torn up across rural America and replaced with gravel or other rough surfaces as counties struggle with tight budgets and dwindling state and federal revenue. State money for local roads was cut in many places amid budget shortfalls.

In Michigan, at least 38 of the 83 counties have converted some asphalt roads to gravel in recent years. Last year, South Dakota turned at least 100 miles of asphalt road surfaces to gravel. Counties in Alabama and Pennsylvania have begun downgrading asphalt roads to cheaper chip-and-seal road, also known as “poor man’s pavement.” Some counties in Ohio are simply letting roads erode to gravel.

Fans of Ayn Rand will of course be reminded of the country’s situation in Atlas Shrugged where highways and railroads deteriorated from neglect as economic conditions worsened when the government punished success and rewarded failure.

I am reminded of a much more ancient example. The prophet warns (Micah 3:12):

Therefore because of you, Zion will be plowed like a field, Jerusalem will become a heap of rubble, the temple hill a mound overgrown with thickets.

The Temple was a beautiful palace and holiest place on earth. Not only would it be destroyed, twice, it would be neglected, becoming a heap of rubble and overgrown with weeds. Is the same thing happening in American? Especially in places such as Detroit and other “rust belt” cities?

In fact, America’s situation may be even worse than ancient Israel’s. In ancient Israel, the temples were destroyed by foreign invaders. In modern America, as in Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, we are destroying our own property through self-imposed economic decline, especially in the industrial sector. We apparently need no help from foreign conquerors to go “Back to Stone Age,” as The Wall Street Journal describes it.

Civil Disobedience by the States by becoming Sanctuary States

In a previous post, I wrote “It is time for civil disobedience by the states.” The post was directly addressing Arizona’s immigration law.

Now, the Obama administration is stating that its problem with Arizona’s law is that it “actively interferes with federal law.” On the other hand, the Department of Justice has said it will not prosecute sanctuary cities because they are only passively ignoring federal law. The exact quote:

“There is a big difference between a state or locality saying they are not going to use their resources to enforce a federal law, as so-called sanctuary cities have done, and a state passing its own immigration policy that actively interferes with federal law,” Tracy Schmaler, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., told The Washington Times. “That’s what Arizona did in this case.”

Republican lawmakers immediately saw the problem with such an approach:

“For the Justice Department to suggest that they won’t take action against those who passively violate the law –who fail to comply with the law — is absurd,” said Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and chief author of the 1996 immigration law. “Will they ignore individuals who fail to pay taxes? Will they ignore banking laws that require disclosure of transactions over $10,000? Of course not.”

Maybe there are individuals brave enough and crazy enough to test the DOJ’s new stance on not prosecuting those who passively ignore federal law, but the DOJ spokesperson actually said “state or locality,” not individuals, so the DOJ could still go after individual violators.

So I again call on the states to disobey the federal government. We can start with the many unfunded mandates the federal government imposes on the states, most especially the new ones that will appear as part of the recently passed health care reform.

If you are a governor who believes in liberty and the Constitution, please announce that your state will become a “sanctuary state” from socialized health care and will not enforce the new health care laws within your state.

If Corporations Are Evil, Government is Evil Times Five (or more)

Collectivists (communists, socialists, and many liberals) hate corporations for a number of reasons, yet they love government. But in fact, government is the largest corporation. The US government has revenue five times the size of Wal-Mart, the largest US corporation in terms of sales, nine times the spending (due to the huge budget deficit), debt five greater than Bank of America, the largest bank (not including off-budget liabilities such as social security and medicare), and is the country’s largest employer. And this is just the federal government, with state and local figures only adding to the imbalance.  But this government, which the collectivists love so much, perpetrates the same “evils” for which they blame corporations.

The major criticism of corporations is the Divisions between labor, management, and owners. Adam Smith explains:

The directors of such [joint-stock] companies, however, being the managers rather of other people’s money than of their own, it cannot well be expected, that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance with which the partners in a private copartnery frequently watch over their own…. Negligence and profusion, therefore, must always prevail, more or less, in the management of the affairs of such a company.

This same criticism applies to government. Government officials spend other people’s money and, as a result, “it cannot well be expected, that they should watch over it with the same anxious vigilance” as which they would spend their own. But there remains a major difference between government and corporations. Corporations only have money to spend if people voluntarily give them money. Either investors must give the corporation funds to expand their business or customers must purchase products from the company. If neither of the two occur, corporations have no money to spend. On the other hand, nobody voluntarily gives money to the government. Government forcibly takes money from a country’s citizens with the threat of imprisonment if taxes are evaded. In theory, the people control the government through the election process, but that would be just as true when it comes to corporation in which shareholders elect the Board of Directors. In both cases, there is a division between the people who are supposed to be represented and the managers of the corporation/government. Yet, the distinction between the two remains: corporations must earn their revenue whereas government simply takes it by threatening to use force.

Another argument is that corporations are anti-democratic:

Chomsky contends that corporations transfer policy decisions out of the hands of the people and into corporate boardrooms, where public oversight is limited. The extensive financial resources of corporations and the extent to which they’re employed to influence political campaigns in the United States has also been implicated as a way in which corporations undermine the democratic institutions in a society[6].

By extension, the large government bureaucracy transfers “policy decisions out of the hands of the people and into” unelected government agencies “where public oversight is limited.” Again, a major difference remains. Corporate heads can be fired by the Board of Directors and the Board of Directors can be fired by the shareholders. Additionally, corporations must “do good” in order to stay in existence. If they don’t sell product, the corporation will go bankrupt. On the other hand, government bureaucrats largely work in secret in which the shareholders (the country’s citizens) do not even know of the bureaucrat’s existence. Furthermore, government agencies that underperform do not go out of business. Instead, they request even more money from the government, which they claim they need in order to properly carry out their duties.

As a result, the government acts even more like a corporation than actual corporations do and without the requirement of actually providing something. Worse yet, government is much larger than any corporation can ever be. Throughout history, liberals complained about a number of corporate monopolies. Yet, government is much larger than any corporation and a real anti-monopolist would attack government for its monopolistic control of our health care system, defense, retirement funds, and education system.

The fall of civilization spreads to Oakland

NBC Bay Area reports:

Oakland’s police chief is making some dire claims about what his force will and will not respond to if layoffs go as planned.

Chief Anthony Batts listed exactly 44 situations that his officers will no longer respond to and they include grand theft, burglary, car wrecks, identity theft and vandalism. He says if you live and Oakland and one of the above happens to you, you need to let police know on-line.

Obviously, Oakland has been hard hit by the recent economic recession, as have many other cities. What the article fails to mention is that Oakland has some of the highest tax rates in the region: a 9.75% sales tax rate (only the relatively unknown towns of Pico Rivera and South Gate have higher sales taxes) and a property tax rate of 1.33%, one of the highest in the state.

The government’s primary job is to protect the people’s rights to life, liberty, and property. Despite collecting more taxes than its competitors, Oakland has decided it can no longer protect its citizens’ property rights.

How can Oakland charge obscene rates of taxation and not be able to afford to provide the basic services government is supposed to provide?

In an article from May 2010:

Ballooning pension costs will push the city’s projected deficit to $58.7 million by July 2011.

The biggest portion of that budget shortfall is a debt payment of $43.9 million due July 1, 2011, to the old Police and Fire Retirement System. The payment would be more than 10 percent of the roughly $400 million city budget.

In the private sector, these defined benefit pensions have been largely phased out. Most companies now provide defined contribution plans, in which the employer and employee put money into an account which is then invested and whatever is left upon retirement belongs to the individual. But a defined benefit plan guarantees the individual a certain income upon retirement, regardless of how much he contributed and investment returns. Worse than the uncertainty of not knowing how much the employer, in this case the government, needs to contribute to provide the pension, governments purposely underfunded these pensions, borrowing against the future, and public unions continually demand increased pension benefits. As a result, government employees retire younger and receive more generous retirement benefits than private-sector employees while the government lacks the funds to actually provide them.

Now, the government is left with a choice. It can either cut back on government services, including the essential ones, or stop paying the pensions, essentially defaulting on its debt.

In the end, it was the combination of the greed of public unions and the incompetence, corruption, and hunger for power by government that is leading to the fall of civilization in places such as Oakland.