Monthly Archives: February 2011

Supporters of Liberty Are Always Attacked

Members of the tea party have been called tea baggers, extremists, racists, and Nazis by opponents of the grass-roots pro-liberty movement. While this shows the lack of “civility” of the left, supporters of liberty are always attacked for their beliefs.

Socrates spent his life fighting for freedom of speech and freedom of religion and became a martyr for these causes. In 399 BC, Socrates was charged and put to death for disbelieving in the official Greek pantheon and for corrupting the youth of Athens. But Socrates had also angered most of Athens for praising Sparta while the two were at war with each other, insulting the intellectuals of Athens by claiming he was the wisest man alive, criticizing the leaders of Athens, and arguing against democracy. Admitting that he enjoyed stirring up trouble, Socrates said at his trial: “For if you put me to death, you will not easily find another, who, to use a rather absurd figure, attaches himself to the city as a gadfly to a horse, which, though large and well bred, is sluggish on account of his size and needs to be aroused by stinging. I think the god fastened me upon the city in some such capacity, and I go about arousing.” [Plato, Apology 30e.] Socrates’ criticism of ancient Athens’ political system and leadership got him killed.

Demosthenes fought bigger government, higher taxes, and political corruption in ancient Athens. But he is best remembered for his opposition to Philip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Great. For years, Demosthenes spoke constantly against Philip, but had little success gaining allies. Nevertheless, Demosthenes demanded action, arguing it is “better to die a thousand times than pay court to Philip.” [Demosthenes, “Speeches” 9.65.] When Philip finally marched against Greece, his army easily won the battle and occupied Thebes but spared Athens. When Philip was assassinated, Demosthenes again attempted to form alliances and encouraged the territories under Macedonian control to rebel. But Philip’s son Alexander marched on Thebes, which immediately submitted to him. Thebes and Athens rebelled yet again upon mistakenly hearing that Alexander was dead, at which Alexander destroyed Thebes and placed Athens under Macedonian control. When Alexander the Great died, Demosthenes again tried to rally the people for independence, but Antipater, Alexander’s successor in Greece and Macedon, defeated the Athenians in battle, forced them to dissolve their government, and Demosthenes committed suicide before he could be arrested and executed.

Cicero was one of the most powerful men in ancient Rome and its Senate. Cicero fought for property rights, arguing “I do not mean to find fault with the accumulation of property, provided it hurts nobody.” [Cicero, De Officiis 1.25.] Cicero also fought against government-provided welfare, abolition of debts, and redistribution of land and wealth. But he is best remembered for his fight against imperial power. In his quest for power, Julius Caesar asked Cicero to join his Triumvirate with Pompey and Crassus, but Cicero declined, fearing it would hurt the Republic. When Julius Caesar was assassinated, Cicero as leader of the Senate and Mark Antony as consul and leader of those who supported Caesar became the two leaders of Rome. Cicero opposed Antony and made a series of speeches against him, known as Philippics for the similarity of his speeches to those of Demosthenes against Philip of Macedon. Mark Antony formed the Second Triumvirate with Octavian, Julius Caesar’s heir, and Marcus Aemilius Lepidus, a former consul and strong supporter of Julius Caesar. They immediately sought to exile or kill their political opponents, especially Cicero. Cicero was captured on his way to the coast, where he had hoped to escape to Macedonia. Cicero’s capturers “cut off his head, by Antony’s command, and his hands — the hands with which he wrote the Philippics.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cicero 48.6.]

Cato the Younger was a very stubborn man who vehemently opposed corruption, demagoguery, and immorality. In the Senate, Cato focused especially on taxes and wasteful government spending. When Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus created the First Triumvirate, Cato was an immediate opponent. Cato opposed Caesar’s first major proposal to distribute public lands to the people. “No one spoke against the law except Cato, and him Caesar ordered to be dragged from the rostra to prison.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cato 33.1.] Though the Senate disagreed with Cato’s position, they forced Caesar to free him from his unjust imprisonment. Seeing the growing tyranny, “Cato warned the people that they themselves by their own votes were establishing a tyrant in their citadel.” [Plutarch, Parallel Lives Cato 33.3.] But the people refused to listen to Cato and continued to support Caesar. Ten years later, Caesar and his army crossed the Rubicon, thus declaring war on the Roman Senate. The Senate fled and Caesar chased after them. Seeing that Caesar had won and knowing Caesar would have him executed, Cato committed suicide.

When you are attacked for supporting liberty, know that you stand on the shoulders of giants. And let us thank God and country, for we live in a society in which we have freedom of speech and in which the supporters of government tyranny can do no more than insult their opponents.

Advertisements

Sovereign debt implications of Middle East turmoil

Disregarding the discussion about the political effects of the protests in the Middle East, how about the financial implications?

The cost of protecting sovereign debt against non-payment in northern Africa and the Middle East continued to rise Tuesday as investors reacted to ongoing turmoil in Libya. Morocco was hardest hit, with the spread on five-year credit default swaps widening to 200 basis points from around 184 on Monday, according to data provider Markit. That means it would cost $200,000 annually to insure $10 million of Moroccan debt against default for five years, up from $184,000. The Egyptian CDS spread widened 19 basis points to 375, Markit said, while Bahrain’s spread widened 10 basis points to 317. The Israel CDS spread widened to 163 from 154.

Losses by banks in this region will only hurt the important countries’ fiscal situation.

Looking at Portugal, now the key country, interest rate are new highs.

The turmoil in the Middle East just adds a new twist to the sovereign debt crisis. Until nations reduce their debt levels, which none are doing right now, this story is far from over and will be around for years to come.

How much does an education really cost?

I thing the 7% expected annual return may too high, but otherwise Mr. Bill Walker has a very good point. Are we really getting our money’s worth with our public schools?

US Education: Show Us the Money!

by Bill Walker

According to the 2009 OECD figures, the US government spends more per pupil than any nation in the world except Switzerland. The US spent an average of $149,000 for the K–12 education of every 2009 public high school graduate. That works out to $11,461 per year or so.

So the solution is obvious: shut down the schools and invest the money instead. Just let the kids stay home and study on the Internet. Let’s even save some money to reduce the deficit, and only invest $11,000 per year. At 7% return, each child would have a $391,000 IRA when they’re 18. That way, even if they spend the next 50 years surfing or hiking the Appalachian Trail, they would all retire at 68 with $12,512,000 (assuming the same 7% average yearly return). This solves not only the education crisis, but the Social Security problem (they wouldn’t need it) AND the health-budget crisis (how much heart disease could there be, if everyone spent their time surfing and hiking?)

Continue reading…

An obvious defense of Scott Walker against the smears

Protestors in Wisconsin have compared Governor Scott Walker to Hosni Mubarak. But it’s not just the protesters. Even former Rep. David Obey (D-WI), a 41-year veteran of the House, said:

“All I know is that last week, when people were asking where Mubarak was — whether he had gone to Sharm el-Sheikh or Paris — I was saying he was ensconced in the governor’s mansion in Madison.”

Let’s compare the two.

  • Hosni Mubarak was an autocrat who ruled over Egypt for 30 years without fair elections and no checks and balances on his power.
  • Scott Walker is the duly elected governor of Wisconsin. He has been in power for a month and a half. He cannot enact any laws without bills first being passed by the state legislature.

The comparison is laughable. But then again, these very same people have compared Scott Walker to Mussolini and Adolf Hitler. Some even say he is Mubarak and Hitler combined.

As one who has been called a Nazi for supporting the tea party (I am an active member of the North Phoenix Tea Party), I know what it feels like. And for those who don’t know, I’m an orthodox Jew. If you are going to insult somebody, at least be tactful. These attacks against Governor Walker are tasteless, historically inaccurate, and make the protesters look bad. But then again, maybe the protesters are bad…

Teachers Unions only care about money

With the massive teachers strikes and protests in Wisconsin, I am very afraid for this country. The Bolshevik Revolution began with protests and union strikes. The Fascists in Italy and Nazis in Germany took over in part to stop the socialist/communist strikes. This country hasn’t seen strikes like these since the 1920s.

The teachers in Wisconsin don’t care about their customers: the students. We hear the cry over and over that “it’s for the children,” but when the teachers’ benefits are called into questions, they abandon the children during the school year to protest about money.

Just so you know, US Airways is protesting today down at Phoenix Sky Harbor over some contract dispute. Airline employees complain they aren’t making enough money. What about your customers? Airfares have gone up and quality of service has declined as we are packed into planes like cattle, and we now are poked, prodded, scanned, and molested to get through airport security. And through taxes and airfares, we pay for the right to do so.

Teachers unions. Airline unions. All other unions. All you care about is money, so stop pretending otherwise. “Fairness.” “Quality education.” “Safety.” You don’t care about any of that. You just want your share, more than your share, of the money.

Why should those struggling to make ends meet subsidize unions. Why can’t union employees compete in the free market like the rest of us? Because they are not worth what they are being paid? When did the land “of the people, by the people, for the people” become the land of “from the people, against the people, at the expense of the people?”

Bill of Rights. Good, bad, or indifferent?

In Federalist No. 84, Alexander Hamilton writes:

I go further, and affirm that bills of rights, in the sense and to the extent in which they are contended for, are not only unnecessary in the proposed Constitution, but would even be dangerous. They would contain various exceptions to powers not granted; and, on this very account, would afford a colorable pretext to claim more than were granted. For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do?

I can see both sides of this argument:

  • By listing certain rights, other are ignored and those in power will infringe on those unlisted rights, even if they are included in the ninth and tenth amendments.
  • On the other hand, it is possible the government would have more easily infringed on our rights if they were not written down for posterity.
  • Maybe the Bill of Rights has made no difference in either direction as the Constitution is increasingly ignored and reinterpreted. The government has simultaneously grown its power and reduced our rights so that the Federalist argument against bills of rights and the Anti-Federalist argument for them turn out to be the same thing: different methods of limiting the growth of government, both of which failed over time, but only after working well for many decades.

I must admit that I have an ulterior motive in bringing this up. I am writing about this in my next book. I’d love to hear your thoughts. (And if you have a great idea or quote, I may even quote you in my book.) So please, comment below.

New York ruling changes tax law. Get ready for a marginal tax rate of 288%.

New York has decided that owners of property living in another state may still have to pay income taxes in New York. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Connecticut and New Jersey residents with a Hamptons summer cottage or a Manhattan pied-a-terre are about to get a nasty surprise: New York state wants more taxes from them.

A New York court ruled last month that all income earned by a New Canaan, Conn., couple is subject to New York state taxes because they own a summer home on Long Island they used only a few times a year. They have been hit with an additional tax bill of $1.06 million.

Tax experts and real estate brokers say this ruling could boost the tax bill for thousands of business executives who own New York City apartments they use only occasionally. It could also hurt sales in the Hamptons and New York’s other vacation-home communities.

I want to focus on this line:

Under the ruling, if an owner doesn’t spend a single a day in a home it could still count toward a permanent residence.

If every state applied this ruling and federal court does not overturn it, a person could in theory own housing property in every single state and thus owe income tax in every single state and the District of Columbia. By my rough calculation using the top marginal federal income tax rate of 35% and the sum of all the top marginal state income tax rates, a person could theoretically be taxed at a rate of 288%. (Yes, I recognize it is absurd for somebody to have property in all 50 states and DC, but the whole notion of paying income taxes in every state you own property is equally absurd.)

I urge the federal courts to overturn this ruling. A permanent residence should be and must be the state in which the person lives the most. Income should only be taxed by states once, either by residency or by where it is earned. Not both and certainly not in a state where a person is neither a resident nor an income earner.

Isn’t this why we have the interstate commerce clause in the first place? To stop states from conducting commercial and financial warfare against other states or residents of other states?