Freedom of Association

One of the central themes of a free society is the freedom to associate.  For reasons of political correctness, most people are afraid to support freedom of association to its logical conclusion.
It is a bit puzzling to me because most Americans will support free speech, even to its logical conclusion.  It is said that free speech is an anti-democratic idea and that is certainly true.  People speaking with the majority, or saying something popular, don’t really need protection.  It is the people who are saying unpopular things that need protection.
While free speech is not fully supported everywhere, even in America, it is far more accepted than freedom of association.
Ask someone if a restaurant owner should be able to turn away customers because of race, or religion, or gender, or a handicap.  Most people will not recognize the right of the property owner to decide who enters his property.
Interestingly, if you ask about a homeowner, then most people will agree that the homeowner can turn away whomever he wants.  For some reason, a restaurant owner is thought of as having less property rights than the homeowner because the restaurant is open to the public.
Of course, all people discriminate.  Some discrimination is rational and natural.  Other discrimination might be bad manners or just plain immoral.  But I have to maintain that the pro-liberty position is that you should be free to associate or not associate with whomever you want, provided that you are not using force or threatening force or breaking a contract.
If a guy asks a girl out on a date and she says no, she is likely discriminating, particularly if she would have said yes to someone else.  But regardless of her reason, does anyone think she should be obligated by the law to say yes?
A restaurant owner, who discriminates based on age or gender or race or sexual orientation or whatever, will most likely just hurt his own business.  Not only will he lose the business of those he is not allowing in, he will probably lose the business of others who simply find it distasteful.
The same concept applies to an employer.  An employer, in a free society, should not have to prove that he is not discriminating.  He should be able to hire anyone or not hire anyone that he wants.  People who conduct interviews will usually discriminate in some way anyway.  It just isn’t blatant.  It is human nature to assess a person based on looks, personality, speech, mannerisms, etc.  You can’t help but do that.
Ironically, anti-discrimination laws lead to unintended consequences and can often hurt the very people they are purported to help.  In our litigious society today, many employers will avoid associating with people if they think it will increase their chances of a lawsuit.
It is now common for older people who are fired or laid off to sue for age discrimination.  So if you are an employer, you are better off not hiring someone who is older because if the person is a lousy worker, you will be stuck with them or else risk a lawsuit for firing them.  The result is that it is harder for older people to get a job.
Why would an employer fire someone over age?  The reason isn’t because the person is old.  It is likely because they are either too expensive or can’t do the job properly.  It is not to say that the employer’s perception is always correct, but that could apply to anyone.
Shouldn’t an employer be allowed to get rid of someone who is producing less than he is being paid?  Should an employer be forced to take losses because he isn’t allowed to fire someone who is unproductive, just because he is old?
I understand that most Americans want to be sympathetic.  But using the force of government to make people associate is not the answer.  The answer itself lies in liberty.  A society that doesn’t use coercion is a more harmonious society.
There will always be people who are rude, immoral, distasteful, etc.  But as long as they are not directly hurting others, then they should be free to make their bad choices.  They probably won’t get very far.
It is the same as free speech.  You are going to hear people say things that you find wrong or distasteful, but you can choose to tune them out and not give them an audience.
To support liberty, we have to be consistent.

The Impacts of a Higher Minimum Wage

There is debate stirring about a possible minimum wage increase.  Obama and the Democrats in DC are advocating a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $10.10 per hour.
This would actually be an increase in the minimum wage of 39%, which is extraordinarily high, especially given the already high unemployment rate, particularly among less skilled workers.
Overall, the American people are in a state of naivety about the minimum wage, thinking there is such a thing as a free lunch.  The majority of Americans, who support not only a minimum wage, but also an increase in the minimum wage, do not understand that there will be negative consequences, or they don’t think they will be affected.
Some Republicans will speak out against raising the minimum wage.  You will find fewer who will advocate an elimination of minimum wage laws.  We also have to remember that the last time minimum wage legislation was enacted to raise the amount, it was under George W. Bush.
Neither side is consistent, with the occasional exceptions.  If the Republicans say that raising the minimum wage will cause higher unemployment, then why wouldn’t they advocate getting rid of it?  There are a few who do say that, but not nearly enough.
And if the Democrats think that raising the minimum wage is great and virtually cost free, then why not raise it to $15 per hour or $50 per hour?
The minimum wage simply prevents employment between consenting parties.  It doesn’t mandate that someone be hired or that someone can’t be fired.  It just means that some transactions won’t take place that otherwise would have.
If someone wants to pay another person $6 per hour to do some manual labor and the other person is willing to do the job at that price, then the government is telling them they are not allowed to enter into such an agreement.  If the person willing to pay $6 is not willing to pay $7.25 (maybe soon to be higher), then the transaction will never take place.
Like so many laws, it hurts the people most who it is purported to help.  In this case, it tends to be younger people and those with fewer skills.  These are the people most likely to lose a job or have more difficulty in finding one.
Ironically, it is legal to hire an unpaid intern in many circumstances.  The intern would be willing to work for no pay just to gain experience.  But if the company offered to pay the intern $5 an hour, then the transaction all of a sudden becomes illegal.
There was just a CBO report released saying that raising the minimum wage would lead to the loss of half a million jobs by late 2016.  But the report also said that it would lift 900,000 people out of poverty, meaning it would push them above the designated poverty line.
Of course, these numbers are meaningless.  The CBO has no idea what is going to happen.  They can plug their numbers into graphs, charts, and various computer-modeling programs, but it can’t actually tell you how humans will react.
A 39% increase in the minimum wage could easily lead to greater poverty.  If there are that many more people unable to find work, we really have no idea how bad the effects could be.
The estimate of 500,000 lost jobs could easily end up much higher than that too.
Think of a small business with about 20 employees.  Half of the workers are making around the minimum wage and the other half are making more, maybe even significantly more.
If the employer simply can’t make a big enough profit paying an extra $2.85 per hour per worker, then the employer might just shut his doors for business.  The extra expense might be around $5,000 per month.  And if any of the other workers were making around $10 per hour, how would they feel making the same amount as the other people who have less experience or fewer skills?
If the employer shuts down his business, then it would mean all 20 people would be out of a job, not just the minimum wage workers.
It is also important to point out that there are a lot of other hidden effects from minimum wage laws.  An increase in the minimum wage may not lead to some people being fired, but it could lead to jobs not being filled or jobs never being created in the first place.
In conclusion, minimum wage laws are bad economic policy.  It will cause higher unemployment, assuming that the mandated wage is not lower than what workers would be paid anyway.  It will also cause lower overall productivity and it distorts market activity.
The politicians who push for a higher minimum wage are playing on the economic ignorance of the voting population.  Meanwhile, it is only hurting the people it is supposed to help.
The minimum wage should be abolished and people should be allowed to freely associate.

Congress Folds on Debt Limit, Again

This may be a recurring theme that annoys some conservative Republicans, but the Republicans in Washington DC are not going to save us.  Most of them are part of the problem.
Last week, Congress passed legislation not only to extend the national debt ceiling, but to essentially remove the ceiling until next year.  This includes the Republican controlled House, where 28 Republicans defected and supported the legislation.
It is always the same story with a different line.  This time, Republicans will point out that most Republicans in the House and Senate opposed the legislation, but that a few centrists are the ones who helped it along.
But that is just the point.  There are always some centrists who will support the big government legislation.  It is almost rigged in that fashion.
It wouldn’t have mattered if those 28 Republicans in Congress had been Tea Party people.  The House still would have found a way to pass legislation to raise the debt limit.  It would have been the next 28 most centrist Republicans then.
It is all a political calculation.  The Republicans in less conservative districts vote for the legislation, knowing they are less likely to suffer consequences back home.  Meanwhile, the more so-called conservative Republicans can go home and say they tried.
Nothing in substance ever changes.  During 8 years of George W. Bush, the majority of which the Republicans controlled the House, there was barely any opposition to raising the debt limit.  Actually, the little opposition there was, came from just a few people, one of them being Senator Obama.
It is only now that there is a Democrat as president that the Republicans show opposition to massive budget deficits.  But it is mostly talk.  The few “cuts” that are ever enacted are not really cuts at all.  They are reductions in the projected increase in spending, years down the road.  And the so-called cuts, that aren’t really cuts, don’t even take place.
I hear some politicians in Washington DC say that they support an amendment to the Constitution to balance the federal budget.  But if these people were really serious about balancing the budget, then they could just refuse to ever raise the debt limit.  This would automatically force a balanced budget.
The problem here is that politicians will talk about balanced budgets, but don’t have the political will to actually cut major specific programs to get anywhere close to a balanced budget.
At the same time, I can’t keep from laying any blame on the American people.  It is a two-way street.  Americans will overwhelmingly say they favor a balanced budget, but then are reluctant to support any major cuts to their favorite federal government programs.  They are only ok if it is somebody else’s subsidy being taken away.
The reality is that we aren’t going to see a balanced budget because of political action.  We will only see a balanced budget when the laws of economics catch up to the whole situation.
When the Federal Reserve finally faces a situation of high inflation and rising interest rates, it will likely stop buying government debt in order to save the U.S. dollar.  It will be at this point that the federal government will not be able to issue debt at low interest rates, unless China and Japan keep foolishly buying more of it.
When the government no longer has anyone to buy its debt at low rates, then spending cuts will be forced.  Something closer to a balanced budget will happen.
They will probably try to raise taxes, but the American people are more resistant when it comes to increasing taxes.  For this reason, Congress will eventually face making tough spending cuts that will hurt both rich and poor in the short term.
Until that time, we can expect more deficits and a rising debt.  The politicians aren’t going to stop it, regardless of which party is in power.

Yellen Faces Congress

Last Tuesday, new Fed chair Janet Yellen appeared before Congress and answered questions.  It gave us a sneak peek on what we can possibly expect from her and the Fed going forward.
Her statements and demeanor confirmed something to me.  She is towing the political line and she will go along with the establishment, even if it is contrary to her core beliefs.  She is a figurehead for the Fed, just as Obama is a figurehead for the executive branch.
A lot of conservatives were really fearful about Obama and his Marxist/ socialist ideology when he won the presidency.  A lot of conservatives (and some libertarians) are still quite fearful of Obama and his ideology.  While I am fearful of his policies to a certain extent, I can’t say that it is any more so than I would be with an establishment Republican in the White House.
If Obama did half of the things that his predecessor did, Republicans would be ripping him apart, calling him a socialist.  Other than Obamacare, most of Obama’s policies have just been a continuation of Bush.  Even Obamacare could be considered a continuation.
Obama’s ideology probably is Marxist/ socialist, but his politics come first.  He will play ball with the establishment and he won’t make any drastic changes, especially in his second term now.
After Yellen’s appearance before Congress, we can conclude something similar.  She may be a Keynesian or a socialist or whatever, but her ideology is only going to go so far.  Going along with the establishment will take precedent over her ideology.  She is not going to risk her career by strongly going against the establishment.
One of the things Yellen discussed was continuity.  She made it clear that she was not going to alter the Fed’s course set by Bernanke, unless it was warranted by economic changes.
She did admit that the Fed might consider slowing down tapering if the economy showed troubled signs.  But, this could have just as easily been said by Bernanke.
The stock market went up a lot on Tuesday.  Investors seemed to like what Yellen was saying, although we never know how much of the rise in stocks can be attributed to her words.
Gold was also up.  This is an indication that investors are less concerned about the Fed tapering.  Yellen provided reassurance that the Fed may slow down its tapering in the face of a declining economy.
It actually puzzles me that investors would have been that excited over her remarks.  Everyone who pays attention knows her ideology and that she thinks creating money out of thin air is the main answer to all of our economic woes.  If anything, her statements before Congress were less extreme than what she would normally say.
At this point, I am not sure that we should be any more scared of a Yellen Fed than a Bernanke Fed.
Bernanke more than quadrupled the adjusted monetary base in 5 years time and he assisted in the biggest bailout ever seen in this world.  Bernanke may not be as outspoken as Yellen on Keynesianism and money printing, but does is really matter?  Can Yellen really be any worse than Bernanke was?
I will take Yellen at her word that she wants continuity.  It is continuity of horrible policies that will lead to a major train wreck down the road.
When the next major financial crisis hits, I’m sure Yellen’s Fed will turn up the monetary inflation if it is within the acceptable bounds of establishment opinion.  But would Bernanke’s Fed have really been any different?

Will Obamacare Result in Fewer Jobs?

The latest blow to Obamacare is a report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) that the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) will result in the equivalent of 2 million fewer jobs in 2017, and rising to 2.5 million fewer jobs in 2024.
I use the term “equivalent” because the CBO estimate is based on hours.  So it may not mean that 2 million people will lose their job by 2017 because of Obamacare, but that we may see many more millions have reduced hours.
Some of the latest stories on the CBO analysis are saying that the whole thing isn’t as bad as it sounds, because these will be voluntary job reductions.  The CBO’s report is estimating these reductions in hours partially because of Obamacare’s subsidies for those with lower incomes.  Therefore, people will voluntarily reduce their hours and their reportable income so that they can qualify for health insurance subsidies under Obamacare.
While perhaps it seems slightly positive that reduced hours will be voluntary by the employees, as opposed to having hours reduced by the employers, is this really anything to celebrate?
Aside from the moral aspects, this is the main problem with government welfare programs and socialism in general.  They provide perverse incentives.  In this case, the government program – Obamacare – is encouraging people to work less.  It is a distortion of the market and it results in less productivity.
Encouraging less productivity means that we will have a lower standard of living than we otherwise would have had.  It means that we have to spend more on basic needs, while having less in the way of luxuries.  It also means greater poverty.
Unfortunately, we are focused on jobs as a major side effect only because the government has managed to destroy so many jobs in the first place with unemployment benefits, other welfare, minimum wage laws, and other labor regulations.
There should be plenty of jobs for anyone who wants to work in this world.  We live in a world with scarce resources and there is always labor that is needed to improve our standard of living.  Until we have robots and computers doing everything for us, this will always be the case.
We should be concerned about productivity, as that is what ultimately determines the standard of living for a society.  But it is understandable that so many people are concerned about jobs, only because the government has made it so difficult for people to work.
Even with the stories from Obama supporters promoting the idea that the CBO’s estimates are due to voluntary reductions, I still believe that Obamacare will result in a lot of employers cutting jobs.  Plus, there will be a lot of jobs that are never created in the first place because of Obamacare.
Obamacare is just one more regulatory and tax hurdle that employers face and that will affect their decision in hiring.  As a result of Obamacare, there will be certain jobs that will never appear that we will never know about.  There will be certain products and services that are never offered that we will never know about.
I think it is great that the defenders of Obamacare are having to grasp at straws once again.  This is just another major mark against the whole scheme.
If this estimate of lost jobs had come from some libertarian or conservative economist, it would have been dismissed by many.  But since it was put out by the CBO, which ironically was used for projections regarding Obamacare when it was being sold to the American people, the Obamacare defenders can’t dismiss the report as being a partisan attack against their program.
First, it was the dysfunctional website.  Then it was seeing millions of people lose their insurance due to Obamacare mandates.  This CBO report is the third major blow.  We still have more to come, especially as more people start paying increased premiums with decreased benefits.
I have been saying all along that Republicans are not going to defeat Obamacare.  Obamacare is going to defeat Obamacare.

The Farm Bill is the Government You Get

There is a farm bill going through Congress that will likely be signed into law by Obama.  I don’t think I could find a more fitting example of what the government does and how the average American gets the short end of the stick.  This farm bill represents almost everything that is wrong with this country.
There might be some on the far left who will criticize this bill because it cuts money for food stamps.  While I don’t agree with the federal government handing out food stamps at all, I find it even more despicable when money is handed out to rich farmers and special interests.
In this sense, it is the perfect Republican bill.  They can brag to their constituents that they cut food stamps, while not mentioning the fact that this is a bill costing the American taxpayer about $100 billion per year.
But this will be a bill that passes in bipartisan fashion.  Whenever legislation is bipartisan, it means you should hold on to your wallet.
This means it will cost the average American family about $1,000 per year.  Do you want to pay $1,000 per year funding agricultural subsidies and various other programs, or would you rather keep the money and spend it how you see fit?
It is a bill written for lobbyists, special interests, rich farmers, and insurance companies, while also doling out some welfare to poor people.
The latest provision is to eliminate direct subsidy payments to farmers and instead expand a crop insurance program.  I guess you could say it is the agriculture sector’s version of Obamacare.
Why is the federal government involved with crop insurance?  Why is the federal government subsidizing farmers?  Why is the federal government funding catfish inspections?  Why is the federal government funding wool research?  Why is the federal government involved in the pricing of milk and sugar?  Why is the federal government involved in Christmas tree advertising?
Is this really the role of government?  Much of this goes back to the 1930’s with Franklin Roosevelt.  It just shows that it is hard to get rid of government programs once they come into existence.  They may go through some changes, but the spending and regulating continues.
This farm bill is also a perfect example of legislation that has concentrated benefits and costs that are spread out.  In this sense, it is a classic government program that is almost impossible to defund.
The concentrated benefits are the lobbyists, the farmers, and the other special interests, all of whom will receive millions or billions of dollars because of this legislation.  They have a strong interest in lobbying politicians and lining their pockets to make sure it passes.  The special interests will devote a lot of time and resources because of the high payout.
Meanwhile, the costs are spread out, although in this case they aren’t that minor when taking the whole bill into account.  Most legislation that costs “only” a few million dollars here and there does not get any attention, unless it somehow gains national attention because it carries a particular symbolic message, especially with social issues.
But in most cases, the costs are spread out such that the opposition is not nearly as strong as the proponents.  Even for legislation that will cost you $1,000, you perceive that it is not worth your time and money to try and fight it.  You are probably correct, unless there are thousands or millions of other people willing to contribute to the cause.  The opposition, in most cases, simply won’t be as well organized and as well funded.  The incentives are far greater for the special interests.
This will only change in one of two ways.  One way is for the government to run out of money and be forced to stop or cut back on this type of funding.
The second way is for a large percentage of the American population to demand an end to these government welfare programs.  It is not enough just to say that you oppose them.  You have to stop supporting the people who support such programs.

Why Do You Want Money?

I use the terms freedom and liberty somewhat interchangeably, as do most people.  I have seen it pointed out that there is a difference.  Liberty means that you are free from others (including government) encroaching on your person or your property.  In this sense, liberty is a political term.
Freedom on the other hand can be more personal.  You may have the right to do something, but it doesn’t mean you can do it.  You may have the liberty to sail around the world, but you don’t really have the freedom to do it because you lack the money and time.
This all depends upon definitions, but it makes a point for this piece.  Many people are at liberty to do many things in life, but they may not have the means to do them.  We do live in a world with scarce resources.  In our world today, a mark of wealth is not necessarily to accumulate resources, but to accumulate money, which can be used to buy resources.
This brings me to the topic of accumulating money.  There are some people in this world who actually look down on it.  They think it is a bad thing to accumulate money.  While many Americans have this attitude, I think Americans tend to have a much better appreciation for wealth accumulation than most other places in the world.  There are a lot of cultures that take an attitude that is negative towards accumulating wealth and even just being successful.  This is one of the reasons parts of the world are so poor.
What amazes me though is that many people, including Americans, do not see a point in saving money.  They want to live for today.  That is why about half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, or at least one of the reasons.
It is funny to me when I hear someone accuse others of being greedy simply because they save money.  If anything, wouldn’t it be the opposite?  The saver is delaying gratification and is not spending his money on unnecessary things that only bring short-term happiness.
But it is especially strange to me that so many people don’t understand why others would save so much.  They don’t understand that it can bring a person security and freedom, all at the same time.  Of course, people who tend to be critical of savers tend to be people who don’t have any money themselves, and are also very short-term oriented.  They cannot delay gratification for the future.
Having money can give you security for various reasons.  Obviously, if you lose your job or main source of income, having money means having a cushion.  You aren’t going to starve.  You may not even have to cut back on your lifestyle if you have enough in reserves.
There are even more extreme examples where having money provides security.  If you get sick and need the best treatment in the world, don’t count on your health insurance to cover it for you.  If you have money, you have the means to try an alternative doctor halfway around the world.  You have the means to try special therapies that may be expensive.
But the biggest thing that shocks me about those who are critical of savers is that they don’t understand the huge benefit of freedom.
If you ask most people what they would do first if they won the lotto, what is the number one answer you would hear?  The first thing most people would do with the money is use it to support themselves so that they can quit their job.  That is the number one reason people want to win the lotto.  They want to say goodbye to their job.
This is freedom.  If you accumulate a lot of money, it allows you to do things that others simply cannot do.  Even if you don’t have enough to retire, you can always quit a stressful job and find something easier, even if it means less pay.  And having money also means that you can pursue work that is more meaningful to you.
I think the reason that this doesn’t occur to the saving critics is because they can’t fathom the idea.  They live paycheck to paycheck and they have absolutely no hope of retiring before the age of 65 (or even later) unless they do win the lottery, especially since big pensions are becoming a thing of the past.  They cannot understand someone accumulating enough capital to actually have the freedom to walk away from a job.
In terms of the distinct definitions of freedom and liberty, it is clear that money doesn’t buy you liberty, unless you count hiring good lawyers and accountants to help you legally avoid taxes and other government dictates.
But having money does give you freedom, as long as there is still some degree of liberty.  Even if you are not anywhere close to being able to retire, having at least some money gives you a cushion and some peace of mind.  It certainly doesn’t make you greedy.  It means you can somewhat prepare for an uncertain future and it means you have a little more freedom in reserve for when you may need it.