The Struggle of a Libertarian Scientist

I understand Progressives. I really do. I can identify with their struggle.

Obama is a man with a vision. He wants to change the world. He sees things that need to happen in order to make the world a better place, and if only we all agreed with him, then it could happen. I understand that. I feel the same way. So when people just don’t understand, then what’s a man to do?

The easy way is use the existing societal structure to accumulate power through whatever means necessary, and then force them to follow you. As a scientist, I understand this tempting possibility- it would be so easy to get on the government dole and just live out my life in relative financial security while pursuing technological and societal advancements that I believe will change the world for the better.

But being a Libertarian, I have to ask, is that the right way to do things? Do I have a right to use the taxpayers’ money for my own goals like that? It’s the low-risk, yet unimaginative approach. Tempting, but morally questionable. I know I can make the world a better place with my research. But is it right to do so at the expense of others without their consent? Could I ever be satisfied with myself as a conscientious human being knowing that I’m living off of money taken by force?

And of course, such a deal with the devil comes with a cost- you have to work within the system. You’re subject to the whims of politics. Nothing you create is your own, because it belongs to the people. You do not receive the profits of your creations to reinvest, leaving you dependent on the government for survival and continuation of your professional activities. Obama faces these same problems in the form of an obstinate Congress and strict judicial system. The separation of powers is an important check against totalitarian dictatorship, and that is the system which Obama must work within, often to the detriment of his goals.

But there has got to be a better way. Why should I spend all my time justifying myself to government bureaucrats who get paid more than me when I know my research capabilities are worth paying for, and I know my vision for the future has great value to people? I know that if I could work on my goals full-time, I could create something that would make people happier and more prosperous. So if that is true, then why would I need to use force to obtain financial support? Shouldn’t I be able to find willing contributors?

That’s when it hit me- There is a way to do this. People have been doing this for centuries. It’s called “entrepreneurship.” I could found a business, or an organization, or a foundation. It’s risky. It’s not easy. It might fail. But it’s the right way to do things, and great virtue allows for great rewards. If I can convince the government to give me money for my projects, then I can convince a few millionaires to invest in my vision and put my ventures on the path to self-sustainability. And if I can’t do either one, then I’m screwed either way.

Of course, the path is strewn with many fatal obstacles- a dire warning comes from the fate of Solyndra and other start-ups aborted in their youth. But if I succeed, then I can show the world that there is a better way to innovate than through force. I can show the other scientists how to create value without making everyone participate. I can show the Progressives like Obama that they’d be better off creating something of their own to help others rather than taking resources created by others to help others.

This is how someone can be both a scientist and a morally righteous Libertarian. This is how real innovation happens.

The Laboratories of Democracy

Federalism is a beautiful thing. Under a federalist system, mixing decentralization with national principles of freedom, people are free to choose the state which best fits their lifestyle without giving up the defensive power of a large national government.

However, the freedom of choice is not the only benefit of decentralization. With differences in state-by-state policy, we get to see the effects of different policies under the same national setting. Comparisons between two different countries with two different cultures, and very different legal structures in many ways can be like comparing apples and oranges. On the other hand, states within the same nation are a bit more culturally similar while having an identical national governmental structure, controlling for certain factors. This can be helpful in determining through empirical data which policies are truly the best at bringing about certain goals.

So what are the effects of the different economic policies throughout the US? Art Laffer and Steve Moore have investigated this question and found an interesting result.

Apparently, the states with no state-level income tax have been growing rapidly for the last 40 years, whereas the states with the highest income tax rates have all either stagnated or are in decline. States like California, New York, Michigan, and Illinois achieved prosperity back in the 1960’s, but haven’t actually gained much since then. The blue-state model has brought about economic decline. Meanwhile, Texas and other zero-income-tax states are catching up in economic output and prosperity due to strong GDP growth and high job creation numbers. If we’re trying to restore economic growth and job-creation in the US, shouldn’t our national government be looking to follow the examples set by Texas, Florida, and Tennessee? The scientific approach would be to accept the data and modify policy according to the direction it leads us.

Furthermore, shouldn’t the European nations and others be looking at the results out of these laboratories of democracy and trying to learn from them?

The Individual Mandate Oral Arguments

The oral arguments over ObamaCare are here:

Day 1 deals with whether or not the Tax Anti-Injunction Act bars legal challenges against the mandate until the “tax” goes into effect.

Day 2 deals with the constitutionality of the Individual Mandate.

Day 3 deals with the constitutionality of the Medicaid eligibility expansion, as well as the severability of the Individual Mandate.

By my evaluation, it looks like 6 out of 9 justices (including Sotomayor) are ready to strike down the mandate and at least 5 justices are ready to take down the whole Act with it. The Solicitor General simply could not articulate any sort of consistent limiting principle that could allow the mandate power to derive from the Commerce Clause without giving the federal government unlimited power. Additionally, the whole Act is such a massive monstrosity that passed by such narrow margins that the Justices did not feel comfortable trying to evaluate which portions of the Act would have passed without the mandate.

However, progressive pundits have been fighting back, saying that the limiting principle is there, and the Justices just weren’t listening. They say that the health care market is unique because “Health care is market that everybody will be a part of and must be administered in an emergency basis. NO other market has such a consideration.” This exact statement comes from a progressive on the forums who heard this argument from Sam Seder on a progressive radio show. I’ve heard similar statements coming from numerous other progressives.

The thing is, I have to question whether any of these progressives are actually reading the oral arguments before chiming in like this. Solicitor General Verrilli and Justice Ginsburg tried to make exactly this argument, and it didn’t hold up under scrutiny. First of all, how a service must be administered in order to be most effective or most financially sustainable (e.g. unexpectedly or paid for in advance) is a matter of whether or not a certain act is a good idea, not a matter of whether or not it’s legal. As Justice Kagan once pointed out, the questions of whether or not a law is stupid and whether or not it is legal are completely independent of one another. If the constitutional portions of the law are stupid unless something that cannot be constitutionally justified on its own merits is passed along with it, it doesn’t alleviate concerns of unconstitutionality. As one of the other Justices pointed out (I forget whether it was Roberts, Scalia, or Kennedy), there are plenty of constitutional ways Congress could completely break the economy, and that doesn’t justify unconstitutional action to alleviate those problems deliberately created by Congress. So if Congress doesn’t want to pass a stupid law, they simply should not try to pass a stupid law, not try to violate the constitution in order to make a stupid law a little less stupid.

So, on to the second “unique” factor. “Health care is market that everybody will be a part of.” The Justices brought up a couple of problems with this claim. As Kennedy described, government could define the market that it’s regulating as “the food market,” which everyone will unquestionably be a part of at some point. Would that allow Congress to mandate that everyone buy broccoli? What about the housing market? Can the government force everyone to buy apartments rather than houses? And the transportation market? can the government force everyone to buy a GM car? The information market? Can the government force everyone to buy the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal?

And what about Christian Science followers? Obtaining any kind of health services is against their religion, so that means that not everybody will be a part of the health care market. At best, you can only say that “most” people will be a part of the market. Justice Kennedy nailed Verrilli with this one, and then went on to ask what percentage of the population has to be engaged in a market in order for the government to decide that it can assume that everyone is participating in the market. Is 90% good enough? What about 70%? If we’re letting the government create mandates for everyone regarding markets that only “most people” participate in, then can it also create mandates about the electronics market? Can they force everyone to buy a Macbook? What about the movie market? The cell phone market? The energy market? Is there any market Congress can’t touch?

As Justice Kennedy pointed out, if nobody can find a limiting principle, then the Individual Mandate cannot possibly be considered constitutional.