Category Archives: Politics

Immigration

Immigration is a magnificent thing. I want to see more of it, not less. As a country we may have misconceptions about immigration that actually make us worse off. I hope to persuade you to think differently about immigrants and immigration.

I see immigration as the ability to visit, travel, live, or work where you choose. When speaking about immigration below, I am not speaking about citizenship, with the attendant rights to vote, receive benefits from government programs, etc. I’ll consider that a separate topic.

Photo by Kevin Miller

Photo by Kevin Miller

Let’s get the easy part out of the way. Immigration of highly educated people seems more easily accepted. If someone comes to the U.S. for a PhD program, why not staple a visa to their diploma upon graduation?, it has been said.

  • Companies founded by 1st-generation immigrants include Google, Yahoo, Intel, PayPal, Tesla, eBay, Kohl’s, Comcast, and Nordstrom.
  • Companies founded by 2nd-generation Americans include Apple (Steve Jobs’s biological father was a Syrian immigrant), Amazon (Jeff Bezos’s step-father, who raised him, was from Cuba), and IBM.
  • Companies currently run by foreign-born CEOs include Microsoft, Adobe, Pepsi, and CitiGroup.

It’s hard to imagine arguing against the above type of immigration. We should want as many founders and CEOs of companies as we can get. These new companies create thousands of jobs and improve our lives through the products they develop. Likewise, in chronically under-staffed positions such as for computer programmers, nurses, and doctors in rural areas, we should want as many immigrants as we can get.

But we should not stop there.

Even low-skilled or no-skilled immigrants are a boon to society and we should be far more accepting and encouraging of this type of immigration than we are.

In short, we should be accepting of all types of immigration.

Immigration is often synonymous with Mexican immigration, and that’s not unwarranted. The largest migration of one country’s citizens to the U.S. was the 12M Mexican immigrants that have come in the last 40 years[1]. However, Mexican immigration has slowed or even stopped (on net) in recent years. There are now more Asian immigrants than all Hispanics[2].

What I have learned about Mexican immigration

  • The U.S. border was largely unenforced before 1970. Migrations were seasonal.[3]
  • “By 1980, about half of Mexican immigrants living in the United States were unauthorized” [3]
  • Mexico has been the largest source of immigrants in U.S. history. In the last four decades, roughly 12 million immigrants have come from Mexico. [1]
  • “The Mexican-born population continued to grow until 2007. At that point, the combined effects of the failing U.S. economy, increased border enforcement, more expensive and dangerous crossings, violence at the border, and changes with the Mexican population and economy brought this population growth to a halt.” [3]
  • “In recent years, there appears to be less short-term seasonal migration between Mexico and the U.S., perhaps because of the increased costs and risks of crossing the border.” [3]
  • The net migration from Mexico has stopped; that is, roughly as many people go from the U.S. to Mexico as come from Mexico to the U.S. now. [1]
  • More Asians have immigrated here in the last five years than Hispanics. [2]
  • Border apprehensions are at the lowest since 1971. [4][5]
  • According to a 2010 survey among labor migrants in Mexico who previously worked in the U.S., 20% said they would not return, compared with 7% in 2005. [4]
  • Immigrants to the U.S. are more educated than they’ve ever been and are more likely than the U.S. born to have a degree. 41% of immigrants in the last 5 years have at least a bachelor’s degree. [6]
  • Why more immigration?

    There are several reasons to allow more immigration, appealing to our self-interest, our altruism, and our understanding of human rights and liberty.

    Black Swan Immigrants

    Some immigrants have created life-changing companies, some of them mentioned above. However, we’ve denied entrance to many other potential immigrants. What companies and products have these would-be-immigrants not created because they lack similar opportunities at home? What if someone in Ghana, India, or China, with the right education or opportunity, has a cure for cancer or aging, or an invention that can turn salt water into drinking water economically?

    What life-changing or life-saving inventions are we missing out on because a would-be immigrant is not here?

    It’s not just about high-tech. If you’ve eaten at any Asian restaurant in the last few years, you’ve probably seen Sriracha sauce, the red hot sauce in a large, round bottle with a green spout. It was named Ingredient of the Year in 2010. Sriracha sauce was created by David Tran, a refugee from Vietnam whose company is named after the freighter ship on which he escaped from Vietnam, the Huy Fong.[14]

    What foods, flavors, and experiences are we missing out on because a would-be immigrant is not here?

    Indeed, not every immigrant will cure cancer or introduce a well-loved food product. We might call these immigrants “Black Swan immigrants,” to borrow a phrase from Nassim Taleb, because they are rare. However, to increase the likelihood of these “Black Swan” events — huge, breakthrough contributions by immigrants — we need to increase the number of rolls of the dice, allowing more immigrants to come here and take their chances. I doubt we, or even they, could know ahead of time what break-through contributions they might make under the right circumstances.

    Photo by Kevin Miller

    Photo by Kevin Miller

    Working-class immigrants

    Even if most immigrants won’t make break-through contributions to the world — and again, we won’t know which ones until they have the opportunity — all working immigrants are a positive addition to the economy.

    I don’t suppose employers hire immigrants for charity. An immigrant may not speak English as well as a native-born American and may not be familiar with the culture of the customers. To hire an immigrant implies the immigrant will do the job better and/or more affordably than someone else (not to mention the increased cultural richness for the customers and co-workers, which some employers appreciate.) The ability alone to do a job better and/or cheaper is a win for the economy.

    Labor is a key ingredient in most products and services we buy. When labor is cheaper, the products and services we consume become less expensive. Imagine cheaper food or electronics, or a less expensive night out at a restaurant. Cheaper products and services also help the poor, even more so than they help the middle-class.

    In addition, immigrants don’t just sell us their labor, they buy our products. To have more immigrants in the economy is to increase aggregate demand in the economy.

    Because We’re Human

    In addition to strong, self-interested reasons to want more immigrants here, allowing more immigration is a way to exercise our altruism and humanity.

    To allow immigrants to come here is to let the very poor lift themselves out of poverty. I suspect very few immigrants want a hand-out, and most simply want the opportunity to work. Why take the risk to leave home and live far away from family if not for the opportunity? The “lazy” immigrants don’t immigrate; they stay home.

    Immigrants send money to their friends and family in home countries. This is the most ennobling form of international aid. This money reaches individual families, one by one, and is not a large grant of one country to another.

    A Natural Right

    In addition to economic and altruistic reasons, a belief in natural rights also supports immigration. This is the idea that we have natural rights from our Creator, or from our humanity, that precede and supercede government institutions.

    The right to travel is an individual personal human right, long recognized under the natural law as immune from governmental interference. Of course, governments have been interfering with this right for millennia. The Romans restricted the travel of Jews; Parliament restricted the travel of serfs; Congress restricted the travel of slaves; and starting in the late 19th century, the federal government has restricted the travel of non-Americans who want to come here and even the travel of those already here. All of these abominable restrictions of the right to travel are based not on any culpability of individuals, but rather on membership in the groups to which persons have belonged from birth.

    Yet, the freedom to travel is a fundamental natural right. This is not a novel view. In addition to Aquinas and Jefferson, it has been embraced by St. Augustine, John Locke, Thomas Paine, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope John Paul II and Justice Clarence Thomas. Our fundamental human rights are not conditioned or even conditionable on the laws or traditions of the place where our mothers were physically located when we were born. They are not attenuated because our mothers were not in the United States at the moment of our births. Stated differently, we all possess natural rights, no more and no less than any others. All humans have the full panoply of freedom of choice in areas of personal behavior protected from governmental interference by the natural law, no matter where they were born. — Judge Andrew Napolitano

    In the 19th century, the Burlingame Treaty between the United States and China’s Qing Dynasty, recognized “the inherent and inalienable right of man to change his home and allegiance, and also the mutual advantage of … free migration and emigration … for purposes of curiosity, of trade, or as permanent residents”. Wikipedia

    Concerns

    But immigrants use our government programs

    While I suspect few immigrants come here for the government benefits, but for work opportunities, it’s worth looking at this.

    Temporary immigrants and undocumented immigrants are generally ineligible for benefits. Lawful permament residents are eligible after 5 years. One source indicates immigrants are less likely to receive public benefits and when they do, they use less than native-born people. [7]

    In fact, it may be true that allowing more immigrant workers will help the social security program, precisely at a time when there are many baby boomers retiring and not enough young workers to fund it. [8]

    It’s true that temporary or undocumented immigrants may use emergency room services and schools. However, isn’t public education considered a public good precisely because the education of youth should have a multiplying effect in society? Why would that not also apply to immigrants?

    Bill Niskanen said, “build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country.” [6]

    But immigrants steal our jobs

    The idea that a job “belongs” to a country strikes me as odd. Why not let the employer and employee decide?

    But immigrants use our government programs and steal our jobs

    Marc Andreessen identified the irony of the above two claims, side by side:

    He also said if immigrants steal our jobs, so do our children.

    But immigrants depress our wages

    As mentioned above, when labor costs can be reduced, the system is working. This means lower prices for you on a variety of products and services.

    But immigrants are criminals

    “Although a host of reasons exists to expect that immigrants are high-crime prone, the bulk of empirical studies conducted over the past century have found that immigrants are typically underrepresented in criminal statistics.”[9]

    But if we open our doors wider, we’ll have a flood of immigrants. They will overwhelm our cities and infrastructure.

    Counterintuitively, strict immigration controls may have the effect of keeping people here that would like to go home. If you’re a migrant farm worker, why go home in the off-season if it will be difficult to return?

    Ronald Reagan…championed a version of open borders: “Rather than talking about putting up a fence, why don’t we work out some recognition of our mutual problems? Make it possible for them to come here legally with a work permit, and then, while they’re working and earning here, they’d pay taxes here. And when they want to go back, they can go back. They can cross. Open the borders both ways.”[17]

    But immigrants don’t assimilate

    Suppose immigrants really don’t assimilate, that is, become “normal Americans”. That doesn’t really bother me. We live in a pluralistic society with a variety of cultures. Immigrants have every economic incentive to integrate with society at large, so I see no reason to force it. It will happen naturally.

    In any case, one study showed, “Immigrants have opinions barely discernible from those of native-born Americans.” One hypothesis was, “Those who decide to come here mostly admire American institutions or have opinions on policy that are very similar to those of native-born Americans.”[10] That is, immigrants may have some pre-existing affinity toward the U.S. or they might not have come here.

    But terrorism

    I see the issues of immigration and terrorism as orthogonal to each other. That may not be entirely true, but consider this. A wall around the U.S. would not have kept out any of the 19 terrorists involved in the 9/11 attack, who came here on a variety of student, tourist, or business visas.[11] It’s also not clear to me that reducing legal immigration levels to zero would have prevented the attacks, nor is it clear that increasing legal immigration now will mean future attacks.

    While I appreciate law enforcement efforts to reduce terrorist threats, terrorism is so statistically rare that I don’t see wisdom in connecting it closely with immigration policy. (You are more likely to be killed by disease, car crash, or lightning strike than by terrorism.[12])

    OK, but immigrants must learn English

    A non-English-speaking immigrant has every incentive to learn English to improve his/her own opportunities. One such incentive would be to access government services or apply for citizenship, but immigration alone would not require knowledge of English. I see no need for a language requirement.

    OK, but only if immigrants come (or come back) legally. No amnesty.

    I find this argument interesting. If the only thing you dislike about immigration is that illegal immigrants came here illegally, why don’t we simply wave our wand, declare them forgiven, and welcome them to full fellowship in the economy? That would solve their problem and ours, our problem being the dissonance about their being here illegally.

    I suspect that any punitive effort to “get tough” on illegal immigrants — requiring them to pay a fine, requiring them to go home and “get in line,” asking them to pay back taxes — will not work. Illegals are already here illegally. They’re already in the shadows. Why not break down the barriers, make it easy for them to join the ranks of tax-paying workers, and welcome them to society?

    Bad Policy Ideas

    A Wall

    There is no wall high enough, deep enough, or with enough laser-shooting drones patroling it, that can physically keep people out of the United States. When you hear a politican say, “Let’s build a wall,” it should trigger your spidey sense. Discussion about building a wall is a way for politicians to sound tough on immigration, possibly pandering to a crowd, and a great way to give a large contractor millions of tax-payer dollars. Dismiss this idea out of hand when you hear it.

    VIDEO: John Stossel on immigration and building a wall

    E-Verify

    E-Verify is a federal program to track the right to work of each employee. The idea is that if you apply for a new job, the employer looks up your name in a national database and proves that you can legally work. Four states require all their employers to participate in E-Verify: Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, and South Carolina.

    A recent audit of E-Verify concluded that the system has an error rate of 0.3 to 0.7%, meaning that if all 150M American workers were run through the system, 450,000 to a 1M workers would be incorrectly flagged as ineligible to work. If you were incorrectly flagged as illegal, imagine a DMV-like experience to resolve the issue and earn back the “right” to work.[13]

    Breaking up families through deportation

    In 2010, 87% of immigrants deported to Mexico were male, and 34% of those were married. 53% of the total (male and female) were the head of their household.[3] Breaking up families by deporting individuals strikes me as a horrible idea. It may also cause a previously self-sufficient home to become dependent on community or government programs.

    Mass deportation

    “Removing millions of undocumented workers from the economy would also remove millions of entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers. The economy would actually lose jobs. Second, native-born workers and immigrant workers tend to possess different skills that often complement one another.” [18]

    Texas Comptroller Susan Combs stated, “Without the undocumented population, Texas’ work force would decrease by 6.3 percent” and Texas’ gross state product would decrease by 2.1 percent. Furthermore, certain segments of the U.S. economy, like agriculture, are entirely dependent upon illegal immigrants.

    The U.S. Department of Agriculture states that, “about half of the hired workers employed in U.S. crop agriculture were unauthorized, with the overwhelming majority of these workers coming from Mexico.” The USDA has also warned that, “any potential immigration reform could have significant impacts on the U.S. fruit and vegetable industry.” From the perspective of National Milk Producers Federation in 2009, retail milk prices would increase by 61 percent if its immigrant labor force were eliminated.[15]

    Restricted tourism

    The average tourist from China spends $6,243 during his or her trip, and the average tourists from India and Brazil spend $6,131 and $4,940, respectively. But long waits for visas – more than 100 days for an interview in Brazil – have resulted in tourists traveling elsewhere. Between 2000 and 2010, these delays cost the United States $606 billion in travel and tourism output, 467,000 American jobs, and as many as 78 million visitors.[16]

    Conclusion

    I have attempted to persuade you that immigration is fully a good thing. Admittedly, I have not proposed any policy specifics. Instead, I’m proposing we start by looking more kindly at immigrants. As you evaluate candidates and political proposals, and discuss this issue with friends, look more favorably on immigration.

    Look skeptically at politicians who label immigrants as a problem. To get “tough on immigration” should sound as odd to us as getting tough on any other good thing. Would it not sound off to hear, “tough on innovation,” “tough on economic growth,” “tough on culture,” or “tough on the poor”? “Tough on immigration” should sound equally odd.

    I see increased immigration as the humane, liberty-minded, small-government, pro-economic-growth approach.

    There is room for discussion about policy details, but on the margins we should look more favorably at immigration.

    At a personal level, an immigrant does not need to be well-educated, speak English, have special skills, or have documents to be welcome here.

    Further Watching and Reading

    Sources

    1. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/
    2. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/05/future-immigration-will-change-the-face-of-america-by-2065/
    3. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/ii-migration-between-the-u-s-and-mexico/
    4. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/net-migration-from-mexico-falls-to-zero-and-perhaps-less/
    5. http://www.pewhispanic.org/2012/04/23/iv-u-s-immigration-enforcement/
    6. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/10/05/todays-newly-arrived-immigrants-are-the-best-educated-ever/
    7. http://www.cato.org/publications/working-paper/use-public-assistance-benefits-citizens-non-citizen-immigrants-united
    8. http://www.independent.org/issues/article.asp?id=486
    9. https://www.ncjrs.gov/criminal_justice2000/vol_1/02j.pdf
    10. http://fee.org/anythingpeaceful/the-best-argument-against-immigration/
    11. http://www.factcheck.org/2013/05/911-hijackers-and-student-visas/
    12. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-terrorism-statistics-every-american-needs-to-hear/5382818
    13. http://www.cato.org/publications/commentary/dont-reauthorize-e-verify
    14. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sriracha_sauce_(Huy_Fong_Foods)
    15. http://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/foreign-policy/203984-illegal-immigrants-benefit-the-us-economy
    16. http://www.renewoureconomy.org/issues/tourism/
    17. https://reason.com/blog/2015/08/20/the-gops-35-year-devolution-on-immigrati

    How a Caucus is Not a Primary and Why It Matters

    In addition to whom to support for public office, it’s important to consider how we select candidates for public office.

    I wrote previously that in 2008 I voted for Mitt Romney but now I prefer Ron Paul. I believe there are strong principle-based reasons to support someone like Ron Paul.

    Now that Romney is the GOP nominee, I want to share some observations about the nomination process itself. The nomination process has implications for whether we operate like a republic or like a pure democracy.

    The 17th Amendment shifted the selection of U.S. Senators to a more direct democracy

    Prior to the 17th Amendment, U.S. senators were selected by state legislatures, not by the direct vote of the people themselves. The House represented the people; the Senate represented the states. The 17th Amendment made Senate selection equivalent to House selection: by direct vote of the people.

    Before the 17th Amendment:
    Citizens —> State legislature —> U.S. Senate

    After the 17th Amendment:
    Citizens —> U.S. Senate

    Arguably, this change has crippled states’ power and damaged the notions of federalism (power shared between national and state governments) and bicameralism (a Congress with two chambers):

    “Let the state legislatures appoint the Senate,” Virginia’s George Mason urged at the Philadelphia Convention of 1787, lest a newly empowered federal government “swallow up the state legislatures.” The motion carried unanimously after Mason’s remarks.

    So it’s probably fitting that it’s a George Mason University law professor, Todd Zywicki, who has done the best work on the 17th Amendment’s pernicious effects.

    Zywicki shows that selection by state legislatures was a key pillar of the Constitution’s architecture, ensuring that the Senate would be a bulwark for decentralized government. It’s “inconceivable,” Zywicki writes, “that a Senator during the pre-17th Amendment era would vote for an ‘unfunded federal mandate.'”

    Source: Repeal the 17th Amendment? by Gene Healy

    According to Professor Zywicki, prior to the 17th Amendment U.S. Senators were called “ambassadors of the state governments to the U.S. government”, which highlights their role in representing the interests of the states. (Source: Repeal the 17th Amendment?)

    When Judge Andrew Napolitano was asked what might be the most important major political transformation, he stated:

    I would repeal the 17th Amendment…. If you read Madison’s notes from the constitutional convention, they spent more time arguing over the make-up of the federal government and they came up with the federal table. There would be three entities at the federal table. There would be the nation as a nation, there would be the people, and there would be the states. The nation as a nation is the president, the people is the House of Representatives, and the states is the Senate, because states sent senators. Not the people in the states, but the state government. When the progressives, in the Theodore Roosevelt/Woodrow Wilson era, abolished this it abolished bicameralism, the notion of two houses. It effectively just gave us another house like the House of Representatives where they didn’t have to run as frequently, and the states lost their place at the federal table.

    That was an assault, an invasion on the infrastructure of constitutional government. Even kings in Europe had to satisfy the princes and barons around them. And that’s how…their power was tempered.

    Source: Injustice System

    (Interestingly, while most states ratified the 17th Amendment a century ago, between 1912-1913, Maryland ratified it earlier this year on April 1, 2012. Utah rejected the 17th Amendment and has never ratified it.)

    The selection of Presidential nominees has shifted to more direct democracy over time

    In a primary system, a party nominee for President is selected by direct vote of the people. In a caucus system, citizens select delegates from their precinct, who go on to select delegates from the county, who go on to select delegates from the state, who select a nominee. The caucus system is multi-tier, while the primary system is single-tier. (For more information, see Khan Academy’s Primaries and Caucuses.)

    Historically, most states used a caucus system. Over time, many states have shifted to a primary system. Now, only 10 states rely entirely on a caucus.

    Most states, in the past:
    Citizens —> Precinct delegate —> County delegate —> State delegate —> Nominee

    Most states, now:
    Citizens —> Nominee

    The primary system allows you to express preference. The caucus system allows you to express preference and intensity.

    I live in Colorado, which is a caucus state. On February 8, 2012, I attended my local precinct meeting at a nearby elementary school. There were 12 people present and we voted as follows:

    • 7 for Ron Paul
    • 2 for Romney
    • 2 for Santorum
    • 1 for Gingrich

    We elected 3 of 3 precinct delegates (and 2 of 3 alternates) to support Ron Paul. My bias speaking: Ron Paul supporters in my precinct were far more enthusiastic about their candidate than the others were for their candidates.

    While the fraction 7/12 represents our collective preference for Ron Paul, the fraction 3/3 represents the intensity of our preference for Ron Paul. (None of the 5 citizens supporting other candidates objected to the voting; they didn’t appear to feel strongly about their candidates.)

    On March 24, I attended the Boulder County Assembly as a delegate from my precinct. Among other things, we elected delegates to represent our county at the State and Congressional District assemblies.

    On April 13-14, I attended the Congressional District and State assemblies as a representative of my county. My perception was that the delegates were among the most informed and most passionate supporters of their candidates.

    A caucus system causes a bubbling up of informed citizens. Not to say these delegates were perfectly informed, or that any one candidates’ delegates were more informed than any others’, but these were the most informed of the Mitt Romney supporters, the most informed of the Gingrich supporters, the most informed of the Ron Paul supporters, etc. To some degree the caucus system filters for indifference and ignorance.

    The United States is a republic, not a democracy. Pure democracy can be dangerous.

    Pure democracy is majority rule, for better or worse. Benjamin Franklin said democracy is like “two wolves and a sheep voting on what’s for dinner”. A republic, on the other hand, is that sovereignty rests with the people, governed by the rule of law. The majority doesn’t rule the minorities. At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government they had created. He said, “A Republic, if you can keep it.”

    LearnLiberty has an excellent video on how democracy can lead to tyranny: Democracy, Tyranny, and Liberty

    The caucus system more closely resembles a republican form of government while a direct primary more closely resembles pure democracy

    Thomas Mullen writes that “…caucuses do not let the majority rule unchecked. Instead of merely pulling a few levers behind a curtain, caucus participants must complete a multi-tiered process that occurs for months after the popular vote before being chosen for the national convention. Who can doubt that these delegates are more informed than the typical primary voter? The essence of republicanism is for reason to triumph over the transient passion of the majority.” (Source: Ron Paul’s caucus strategy is authentic republicanism)

    Conclusion

    I’m not implying that the 2012 GOP primary necessarily would have been different with some other system. However, my perception is that the caucus system provides several benefits:

    • Caucuses filter for indifference and ignorance, to some degree
    • Caucuses filter for the “transient passions of the majority”
    • Caucuses filter the influence of mass media. If you’re worried that such-and-such network is a puppet of such-and-such political party, which system makes it easier to influence the masses? Which system makes it harder? (Similarly, if you’re worried about corporate lobbying, which system makes it easier to influence senators? Which system makes it harder?)

    Our selection of candidates either by primary or by caucus has implications for “what we get” through our political system.

    Other Reading:
    Wikipedia: Seventeenth Amendment to the United States Constitution

    Huffington Post: Repealing The 17th Amendment ‘Would Be A Positive Thing’

    An early draft of this post was accidentally published and retracted earlier this week.

    I voted for Mitt Romney in 2008, but in 2012 I’m voting for Ron Paul

    I didn’t just vote for Mitt Romney in 2008, I donated to his campaign, asked others to donate, and volunteered at phone banks, fundraising events, the national call day in Boston, and at the Nevada caucuses. I’ve met him several times. I drank the Romney root beer (someone actually made some) and I have a Mitt Romney bobblehead. I even dressed up as Mitt Romney for Halloween 2007.

    Mitt strikes me as exceptionally bright and a truly good man. We could certainly do worse than to have Mitt Romney as our president. And despite what we sometimes hear, I think I’d rather enjoy getting (root) beers with Mitt Romney. I found him to be plenty personable and warm.

    However, I’d like to explain how I came to support Dr. Ron Paul. It’s been a really satisfying journey, and I’m far more enthusiastic about my candidate now.

    In 2008

    In retrospect, I didn’t have strong reasons for supporting Mitt Romney. I usually said something like, “Well, he’s a very successful businessman and has an incredible resume of turning around failed companies.” To be fair, his resume is far better than most candidates’. But I couldn’t say much more than that.

    My response to many political issues was “it depends on the situation.” That’s what Mitt Romney often says, and that’s what most politicians say (I’ll consult the generals on the ground, I’ll gather together the experts, I’ll pull in my czars, etc.)

    It doesn’t have to be this way. I came to learn that we can be guided by consistent political principles. The common thread in these principles is liberty.

    From 2008 to 2012

    Over the last 4 years, I studied a lot.

    • I read Ron Paul’s Revolution and End the Fed.
    • I re-read the Constitution for the first time in years.
    • I read George Washington’s farewell address.
    • I read Murray Rothbard, Peter Schiff, Ayn Rand, and Reason Magazine.
    • I listened to the CATO Daily Podcast.
    • I watched YouTube videos from Judge Napolitano, John Stossel, Tom Woods, and LearnLiberty.

    Scales seemed to fall from my eyes. The principles I learned were coherent and satisfying. A bunch of topics “clicked” for me: macroeconomics, monetary policy, business cycles, political influence and lobbying, civil liberties, war, and foreign policy. Not that I know a lot, but these all make much more sense to me now.

    I came to discover that liberty is a unifying principle. We can agree to live in a free society without having to agree on anything else. A free society is one that protects life, liberty, and property. The purpose of liberty is to allow us to develop “virtue and excellence”. Heaven to me is to live with family and friends in a state of complete autonomy as virtuous individuals, living correct principles because we want to.

    A Few Observations

    The two parties are isomorphic

    Our two parties are philosophically isomorphic, meaning having the same “shape”. (It’s a large shape!) Both parties say, “I believe in letting you keep some of your liberty, but I can’t let you have liberty in areas that go against my morals.” A Democrat might say this about policies meant to stop poverty. A Republican might say this about policies meant to stop drug use. The problem isn’t in the intentions — both sides mean well — but in the use of coercion to attempt to bring about the desired results. You may have noticed that our “war on poverty” hasn’t eradicated poverty and our “war on drugs” hasn’t eradicated drug use (far from it.) We spend so much energy debating these differences, and the policies don’t even work! The better path is for individuals to learn and live correct principles, learning for themselves to take care of the poor and to avoid drugs for intrinsic reasons.

    And that’s just the philosophy. In practice, the two parties aren’t just isomorphic, they’re nearly identical. Both parties break their own principles and are becoming increasingly like each other. For example, the Republican party is said to be the party of free markets and no social programs (anti-Solyndra and anti-Obamacare), but Bush signed the TARP bailout and the Medicare prescription drug benefit. The Democratic party is said to be the anti-war, pro-civil liberties party (anti-Iraq war and anti-Guantanamo), but Obama hasn’t closed Guantanamo, initiated a new war in Libya, and signed the NDAA bill that allows indefinite detention of Americans with no trial. Notice that neither party follows its own principles and both parties are very similar. (Can you name something you dislike about Bush or Obama that the other didn’t do?) Both are increasingly statist (in favor of a growing state).

    Liberty is a set of the best principles from both parties (what they say not what they do), and would mean the reversal of the large, near-identical parties we now have. Ron Paul has consistently taught this liberty message for 30 years.

    Video: The two parties are “two wings of the same bird of prey”.
    Video: “It appears people now recognize that Obama is a 3rd term for Bush”
    Video: Romney, Gingrich, and Santorum are all the same

    The problem with a powerful, messianic presidency

    Both parties have a similar attitude toward the presidency, seeming to say, “If I can just get my candidate into the presidency, all our problems will be solved.” The Democrats said “Obama will bring Change and Hope.” Republicans say “Mitt will bring a Bain-style Turnaround.” The president is ascribed an almost messiah-like quality.

    If we think our president will solve our problems, we’ll give him any amount of power. Later, when the presidency changes hands, the power accumulates, and the presidency becomes more and more powerful over time. The Founders didn’t intend for the presidency to be powerful. It’s not correct to think of the president as the CEO of the country; he’s not supposed to “run” the country. We simply need a government that will protect principles of liberty, and then we can live our lives and solve our problems.

    Ron Paul says “I’m not running for President because of the things I want to do, I’m running because of the things I don’t want to do. I don’t want to run your life, I don’t want to run the economy, and I don’t want to run the world.” Source

    Instead of an attitude of “our president will save us,” we should change our own attitudes toward the proper role of government. We should be leery of the mindset that fixing our country is about finding the right candidate, not about making changes in ourselves. The concept of liberty requires you to make some changes in your own mindset: I won’t fear terror. I won’t expect something for nothing. I don’t need government to enforce everything I believe. I’ll work. I’ll be self-sufficient. I’ll take care of my family and the poor around me. The change needs to happen in us.

    Ron Paul and Mitt Romney Are Not the Same

    The Republican party of today has drifted from traditional conservatism — free markets, small government, and the Constitution. I wouldn’t have believed this in 2008, but unfortunately Mitt Romney is more typical of today’s drifted Republican party, while Ron Paul is more typical of traditional conservatism. In fact, this is where Ron Paul shines; he has consistently advocated the principles of traditional conservatism. Here are a few issues on which Mitt Romney sides with today’s Republican party and on which Ron Paul sides with traditional conservatism and liberty:

    Monetary Policy and the Federal Reserve

    It’s hard to find an economist who thinks price-fixing is a good idea, and conservatives are against central economic planning. However, our interest rate (the price of money over time) is centrally planned and fixed by our central bank, the Federal Reserve (also called “the Fed”). This means that the price of money, which is half of every financial transaction, is centrally planned. If you believe in free markets, you should take issue with this!

    The temptation is strong for government to lower interest rates too far, print too much money, and use it to pay for large programs. No matter what political side you’re on, the devaluing of our currency via the Fed is probably being used to pay for programs you disagree with (domestic social programs or war or foreign aid, etc.) Without the Fed, the U.S. government could only spend what it could borrow or tax, like a state or city government, so we’d have to have some serious conversations about what we really want from government. With the Fed, we’ve been able to postpone that conversation, and it comes at the expense of savers (disproportionately elderly) and the low- and middle-income.

    Ron Paul is the only candidate even talking about The Fed. Ron Paul’s book End the Fed was one of the most eye-opening books I’ve read in the last few years.

    I know you’ll be tempted to think, “Mitt’s a smart guy; if he’s not worrying about this, it must not be a problem.” Fight that temptation.

    Video: Tom Woods on inflation, deflation, and money
    Documentary: Money, Banking and the Federal Reserve
    Lecture: U.S. Monetary Policy in 2012

    Capitalism / Bailouts

    Republicans rightly defend capitalism. However, without a correct understanding of capitalism, there’s a growing tension between populist movements like Occupy Wall Street, some of whom mistakenly think capitalism is to blame, and Republicans, some of whom think their opposition to OWS is the defense of pure capitalism.

    The liberty message makes a distinction between capitalism (free markets) and corporatism (certain businesses being favored by government.) Corporatism is also called crony capitalism.

    Much of what Occupy Wall Street considers wrong about capitalism is actually instances of corporatism — large banks or defense contractors or auto manufacturers receiving special contracts or bailouts or favors from government. In pure capitalism, you can’t get rich without selling something that someone wants. In corporatism, you can get rich by receiving a bailout or contract from government.

    Ron Paul is the only candidate I see making the distinction between capitalism and corporatism. Mitt Romney, like most politicians, says he is in favor of capitalism, but has occasionally disregarded his own principles and favored corporatism including bailouts for large companies.

    Video: Top 3 Common Myths about Capitalism
    Video: Makers vs. Takers at Occupy Wall Street

    The Sixth Amendment

    On Dec 31, 2011, President Obama signed a bill allowing the indefinite detention of American citizens. This contradicted the 6th Amendment, “the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury.” The ACLU said, “We are extremely disappointed that President Obama signed this bill….” The president said he had “reservations” but signed it anyway. This seems to contradict who Democrats thought their president would be.

    Mitt Romney said he would have signed the same bill. Romney said “Obama won’t abuse it, I won’t abuse it, and we simply need to elect presidents that won’t abuse it.” If you follow that logic, then we could safely grant ALL power to the presidency and then simply elect presidents who won’t abuse it. In my mind, that’s not how the 6th Amendment works.

    Ron Paul, who introduced a bill to repeal the above bill, falls on the side of Thomas Jefferson, who said, “I consider trial by jury as the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.”

    Foreign Policy / Foreign Aid / War

    Ron Paul’s foreign policy is to trade with all, maintain diplomatic relations with all, and give no foreign aid to any. Sometimes he’s called an “isolationist”. Mitt Romney’s foreign policy, on the other hand, is like all the other candidates’, designating some countries as special friends and others as enemies.

    The foreign policy George Washington outlines in his farewell address more fully agrees with Ron Paul.

    “The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave. It is a slave to its animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest.

    “So likewise, a passionate attachment of one nation for another produces a variety of evils. Sympathy for the favorite nation, facilitating the illusion of an imaginary common interest in cases where no real common interest exists, and infusing into one the enmities of the other, betrays the former into a participation in the quarrels and wars of the latter without adequate inducement or justification.”

    Again, fight the temptation to say within yourself, “Things have changed; the world is a different place.” Ask yourself, if these are true principles, should we not live by principles?

    Ron Paul’s policy is that wars should be declared by Congress, started, fought, and ended, and that we should go to war when there is imminent danger, not as a preventative measure. Mitt has shown a propensity to side with most politicians (from both parties) in favor of pre-emptive wars and nation building. Ron Paul makes the distinction between defense spending and military spending, the implication being that much of our current military spending doesn’t contribute to our defense and may actually endanger us.

    Here, the troops are on the side of Ron Paul: active-duty military donate more to Ron Paul’s campaign than to all other Republican campaigns combined.

    Text: George Washington’s farewell address
    Video: Tom Woods on changing his mind on Ron Paul’s foreign policy
    Video: You Like Ron Paul, Except on Foreign Policy
    Video: Tribute to our Troops
    Video: CIA Chief Endorses Ron Paul
    Video: 10 years of foreign policy predictions by Ron Paul
    Video: Ron Paul’s “What If” speech
    Video: The Golden Rule applied to foreign policy
    Opinion: Which GOP candidate would the Founders support?

    FAQ / Objections

    But Ron Paul is too far left / too far right
    The modern left and modern right offer a false dichotomy; they’re actually very similar. Ron Paul offers something actually different.
    But I’m a moderate
    The liberty message includes the best principles of both the left and the right. (Too often, moderatism or bipartisanship is simply agreeing to give up your principles mutually and leads to the large, homogeneous parties I mentioned above.)
    But I’m a liberal
    The liberty message has several positions that should appeal to liberals: pro-peace, anti-war, pro-civil liberties, anti-drug war, anti-bailout, anti-cronyism. In fact, in all of these listed issues, Ron Paul is a stronger candidate than even President Obama, who has gone against these principles he said he supported.
    But I’m part of the 99% / Occupy Wall Street
    See my section above about capitalism and corporatism.
    But I’m apathetic
    Perhaps you’re sick of politics because it seems like nothing ever changes. See my section above about the two parties being the same. The liberty message is real change.
    But Ron Paul is unelectable
    Did you know that only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are on all states’ ballots? Gingrich and Santorum are not. In head-to-head polling against Obama, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are in a statistical tie. Gingrich and Santorum trail by 10-12 points.
    But Mitt Romney is articulate and looks presidential
    I don’t dispute this. Ron Paul has even said he wishes he were better able to deliver his message. However, if Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are in a statistical tie against Obama, and Mitt’s outward appearance is so much better than Ron Paul’s, what does that say about the message?
    But Ron Paul is too radical
    Compared to whom? Ron Paul is indeed very different from other GOP candidates, but he’s very similar to the Founding Fathers. The Founding Father might have considered Romney, Gingritch, and Santorum radically different from how they envisioned government.
    But Ron Paul is an isolationist
    Are you sure? Which candidate is in favor of trade with all nations? Which candidate, on the other hand, is in favor of “preventative” wars and economic sanctions?
    But Ron Paul will never get Congressional support for his policies
    Ron Paul’s message is about changing opinions about the role of government. For example, he wants to eliminate the income tax. I’ve never heard him say that he wants to eliminate it immediately and plunge us into more debt. He wants the people to have different expectations about government so they no longer want the programs that require an income tax.
    But Ron Paul wants to eliminate the Department of Education, Department of Commerce, etc.
    The liberty message requires a new mindset that separates wanting some objective from requiring that a federal agency provide it. Eliminating the above departments doesn’t mean actual education or actual commerce would disappear. (There’s no Department of Happiness, no Department of Optimism, no Department of Entrepreneurship, etc.. We don’t need a department for every worthwhile cause.)
    But life with a President Ron Paul would be a wild, godless, anarchy
    The proper role of government is to protect life, liberty, and property. Ron Paul says the purpose of liberty is to allow us to pursue “virtue and excellence”. Law doesn’t produce virtue; that must come from inside of us, by our learning and living correct principles. We won’t legislate our way to an ideal world; we’ll get there by learning and teaching correct principles.
    But I’m in favor of Buddy Roemer / Larry Lessig / Campaign Finance Reform
    It’s noble to seek to remove the influence of money in politics, but campaign finance reform is like plugging holes in a bucket; if money wants to talk, it will find a way to talk. This isn’t the root of the problem. The larger government gets, the more reason there is to lobby for favors. The smaller government gets, the less reason there is to lobby for favors. In my mind, all Buddy Roemer supporters could live in their ideal world by joining the liberty movement and voting for Ron Paul. Ron Paul is already running a campaign free of large corporate donations because the liberty message doesn’t accept corporatism. (Buddy’s other large issue, banking reform, is also solved by restoring capitalism, not corporatism, to the banking sector.)

    A Word to my Mormon Friends

    I happen to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (a “Mormon”), the same faith to which Mitt Romney belongs.

    To me, the teachings of the Church allow for the liberty positions I’ve outlined above.

    Several scriptures and quotations from Church leaders speak to the importance of agency — the freedom to choose. These seem to imply that free exercise of conscience is a virtue worth granting to everyone, even if they do things with which we disagree.

    “Every man may act according to the moral agency which I have given unto him” (D&C 101:78)

    “We believe that no government can exist in peace, except such laws are framed and held inviolate as will secure to each individual the free exercise of conscience, the right and control of property, and the protection of life.” (D&C 134:2

    “A man may act as his conscience dictates so long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others.” (David O. McKay)

    We are also taught, “Principles compatible with the gospel are found in the platforms of all major political parties.” Despite hearing this repeatedly, in the past I was often too quick to think of my party as having all the truths and the other party as having none of the truths. The cable news shows frame the parties this way, in absolute terms. However, if it’s true that “principles compatible with the gospel are found in…all major political parties”, which of the other party’s principles do you accept? Once I started looking through a lens of liberty, I was able to easily see true principles in both parties (in what they say, not in what they do.)

    Video: 1. Our problems come from the breakdown of the family and our own values, 2. Government is a reflection of the people, 3. The purpose of liberty is to allow the pursuit of “virtue and excellence”.
    Video: Christ is a God of peace
    Video: Is libertarianism compatible with Mormonism?
    Audio: Is libertarianism compatible with Mormonism?

    Update 05/26/2014: I removed a portion of the section to “my Mormon friends” to leave behind the stronger portion.

    Capitalism is pro-markets; corporatism is pro-business

    I can empathize with the Occupy Wall Street protestors, but my perception is that many of them misunderstand the cause of their pain. They naively blame capitalism; they should blame corporatism.

    Corporatism is the alliance of government and business. It happens on the left (think Solyndra), and on the right (think military-industrial complex), in the Federal government (think bipartisan bailout of GM) and in local government (think Utah naming April 5, 2010 “Cafe Rio day”.)

    Corporatism is pro-business. Specific businesses get government subsidies, above-market-rate contracts, or special recognition.

    Capitalism is pro-market. The consumer decides whether to favor GM or Ford; Cafe Rio, Costa Vida, Bajio, or Chipotle.

    I loved Phil Windley’s post today on how Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, though they seem like polar opposites, actually share a disdain of corporatism and ought to work together to fight it.

    Image source: James Sinclair

    President of the United States, Teacher-in-Chief

    I’m hopeful about the potential for President Obama to be Teacher-in-Chief.

    I did not vote for President Obama. I strongly dislike much of his agenda, including the expansion of abortion rights, the “creation” of jobs by government fiat, and the expansion of government to which he alluded in his Inaugural Address.

    However, President Obama’s apparent popularity affords him the opportunity to be “Teacher-in-Chief.” The Presidency of the United States is a great platform from which to teach. I think it’s been squandered by presidents who think that they must do something, when it may be enough to teach something.

    If President Obama uses this opportunity–the popularity he’s built–to teach correct principles, he’ll do far more good than could be done through any new government program. As long as he has listening supporters, he should teach economics, personal finance, debt-avoidance, self-reliance, service, industry, and more.

    For example, I liked this from his Inaugural Address:

    Our journey has never been one of short-cuts or settling for less. It has not been the path for the faint-hearted, for those that prefer leisure over work, or seek only the pleasures of riches and fame. Rather, it has been the risk-takers, the doers, the makers of things — some celebrated, but more often men and women obscure in their labor — who have carried us up the long rugged path towards prosperity and freedom.

    Not this:

    The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works — whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward.

    We don’t need a president who pretends he can give us what we need. We need a president who will inspire us to work for those things ourselves. I believe this may be within President Obama’s power. Don’t waste it, Mr. President.

    (For an interesting read, see Chris Knudsen’s thoughts on President Obama.)