Monday, April 25, 2005

Un-Taxing the Rich

Nick Woomer of the Minnesota Daily (the University of Minnesota student newspaper) writes:

Freedom for the vast majority of us means that we should all be entitled to live at a certain level of comfort in spite of how the economy is doing: We should be guaranteed access to health care, to decent unemployment compensation, to be able to retire at a certain age and to have a say in our workplaces.
Typical fare. Freedom means to be provided with a laundry list of nice things regardless of one’s individual choices--with a clear implication: those who choose wisely have a moral obligation to provide for those who don’t.

But just how is Woomer’s gift to the "vast majority" to be met by the un-vast minority? Recent legislation proposed by the state of Connecticut offers a hint. There, the Connecticut General Assembly's Joint Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee has passed SB 1321, a bill which would raise the existing 5 percent state income tax rate for high-income residents to as much as 6.75 percent for those individuals earning more than $1 million a year. Dubbed the "millionaire tax," SB 1321 targets the wealthiest of Connecticut’s residents at a time when Connecticut is enjoying a $417.8 million dollar surplus in state tax revenue.

Not surprisingly, the legislation enjoys broad support.

Those polled were asked whether they favor or oppose four different tax increase proposals. Three-quarters (75%) of residents say they support an increase from 5% to 6% in the income tax rate on single filers who make over $500,000, and 81% support the same tax rate hike on the income of joint filers making over $1,000,000. [University of Connecticut]
Or more honestly, three-quarters of Connecticut residents say they support increasing taxes on people other then themselves.

I'm not too worried about Connecticut's wealthy; many of them will simply switch to tax jurisdictions that don’t penalize wealth. But in a larger sense, what is one to do? Obviously, this is a moral fight that needs to be fought on moral terms. Yet one can easily target the forces that seek to punish achievement with a simple political reform that would reap tremendous benefit. Where our opponents seek to make state taxes more progressive, we should seek to make state taxes flatter.

Why do I think we should make moral augments and expect political change as a result? Because somewhere in the history of Objectivism’s rise, pioneers are going to translate Objectivist ideas into concrete political action. If it were up to me, the sooner this is achieved, the better.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

The Day America Lost its Soul

This makes me sick:

Elian Gonzalez, the young Cuban castaway whose international custody battle ended in his dramatic seizure from a Miami home five years ago, addressed a crowd of thousands Friday, thanking Cubans and Americans alike for fighting for his return to the island.

Elian, now 11, read a speech at a televised event in Havana marking the fifth anniversary of the April 22 raid in which armed U.S. federal agents snatched him from his Miami relatives in the first step to getting him back to Cuba.
It gets better:

Elian's father also spoke at Friday's event, which included dance and music performances as well as speeches by young Cubans.

"I have enjoyed the happy childhood of my son," the father said. His presence in Cuba "is proof that the mafia in Miami lost again."

Cuba's state-run press on Friday accused Elian's anti-Castro relatives in Miami of a "cruel kidnapping," and referred to Elian's seizure from the house as a rescue from "the hands of the terrorist Miami mafia."

One young Cuban girl speaking Friday said she was happy Elian has spent these last several years on the island, where he "has the privilege of living in a socialist country." [AP]
The article was headlined "Elian Gonzalez Thanks Americans for Help" but the more honest headline would be "Castro Puppet Thanks Americans for the Betrayal."

I was active in the movement to keep Gonzalez free and in America, on the grounds that returning him to Castro’s Cuba was tantamount to sentencing him to prison. Looking back, I ask myself why the "Free Elian" movement failed.

There has never been the same revulsion in America against communism as there has been with Nazism. Even though communists murdered far more people then the Nazis and held on to power far longer, a portion of their message has resonated with America. While many object to communism’s practice, not so many object to communism’s moral message, even in the light of its fantastic failure. Communism's alleged concern for the meek still speaks to many, even as its means of implementation are acknowledged to be unworkable.

In the case of Gonzalez, the side dedicated to preserving the boy’s freedom needed to demonstrate clearly that communism itself was child abuse. And its not as if we didn’t try. Both Leonard Peikoff and Ed Locke spoke passionately in defense of Gonzalez’s rights, Peikoff in Miami in front of the boy’s family and Locke on the steps of the Justice Department here in Washington, but even their words were not able to carry the day.

Why? Americans are lousy thinkers when forced to confront the abstract, and for most Americans, the difference between communism and capitalism is an abstract difference that lies outside their immediate concern. When they receive conflicting evidence, they all to often write off the debate and run with what works—that is, they run with pragmatism.

After all, we did present our claims. In his speech in front of the Department of Justice, Ed Locke noted that 15,000 to 17,000 Cubans have been killed for political reasons; that more than 100,000 people have been sent to prisons or concentration camps for political "crimes"; in prison they are often beaten, tortured and starved. He noted how youths are forcibly removed from their homes and made to work in the countryside for 45 to 60 days each year and that Cuban parents have been so desperate to save their children that more than 14,000 of them have been smuggled off the island unaccompanied by their parents. I was there—it was a brilliant speech.

Others spoke out too. Famed Soviet defector Walter Polovchak, who broke free of communism as a teenager in a harrowing escape said that if his parent’s rights had been placed first and he had been returned to the Soviet Union, "the plan was to place [him] in a mental institution, because [he] was deemed unfit to live in a normal society." Evidence was presented everywhere about the horror that awaited Elian if he was returned to Cuba.

Yet in the American mind, these arguments were reduced to a mere political debate when press reports highlighted the allegedly high literacy rate in Cuba, or the myth of "free" healthcare under communism (as if slavery comes without a price). Instead of reconciling the contradiction, a pragmatic America chose to ignore the political evaluation it needed to make and instead choose to focus on the parental right of the father to his son. In the process, America revealed that it had lost its soul.

In the years since, our nation has suffered. Whether it suffers more (and us along with it) depends on our ability to communicate a proper defense of the good. While I remain hopeful for the future, in that regard, much remains to be seen.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Oh, Yeah . . .

Where have I been? Been busy with school (I graduate in May), just finished a move, and got engaged (did it at St. Paul's in London, where my paternal grandparents first met during WWII).

How about them apples?

"The Unregulated Offense"

There’s already been a lot of chatter over GW Law school professor Jeffrey Rosen's portrayal of the "Constitution in Exile" movement in the New York Times, but here’s what I consider to be the million dollar line:

All restoration fantasies have a golden age, a lost world that is based, at least to a degree, in historical fact. For the Constitution in Exile movement, that world is the era of Republican dominance in the United States from 1896 through the Roaring Twenties. Even as the Progressive movement gathered steam, seeking to protect workers from what it saw as the ravages of an unregulated market, American courts during that period steadfastly preserved an ideal of free enterprise, routinely striking down laws that were said to restrict economic competition. [Emphasis added]
Rosen is not so coyly trying to portray those who seek to "restore" the Constitution (which by my definition means the rejection of huge swaths of law, starting from the enactment of the Sherman Antitrust Act) as proponents of the fantasy of economic competition—yet this fantasy belongs to Rosen.

If you read any of CAC’s amicus briefs to the US Supreme Court, you will find that we don’t argue once that competition is primary. We argue that individual rights come first and that government’s sole legitimate mission is the protection of those rights. In a free society, competition is a consequence of the freedom to enter markets, but competition is not in and of itself the justification for anything. If it were, we’d be the "Little "D" Democrats in Favor of Antitrust" instead of the Center for the Advancement of Capitalism. Yet in this essay, Rosen tells us what our position is. I think there is a reason for this. A few paragraphs later from the above quote, Rosen tips his hand:

Today, the conventional wisdom among liberal and conservative legal thinkers alike is that Lochner was decided incorrectly and that the court's embrace of judicial restraint on economic matters in 1937 was a triumph for democracy.
Rosen is referring to Lochner v. New York, a 1905 Supreme Court case which overturned a New York law regulating the working hours of bakers. By claiming bi-ideological support for democracy (and seemingly pooh-poohing anyone who strays from conventional wisdom), Rosen only proves what Objectivists have been saying for years; the battle is not between liberals and conservatives, but between individualists and statists. (And conversely, by highlighting the lead the libertarians have taken in this fight, Rosen’s article shows Objectivists the ground that’s being lost by the libertarians in legal activism.) Any movement that claims a "restoration" of the past as its goal forgets the conditions that led to its replacement in the first place.

In the end, I do agree with Rosen, albeit perhaps not as he intended. There is an ongoing battle between democracy and freedom. Rosen’s cheap shot of an article, with its menacing photos of "exile" thinkers and its stacking of its facts is just another piece of evidence that reveals how hard the upcoming battle will be—and the desperate need for a body of people who can cogently explain the principle of individual rights to a culture dominated by those hostile to its precepts.

And just in time for Earth Day . . .

"I won't ever even jaywalk again." [AP]

--Convicted environmental terrorist William Jensen Cottrell, trying to weasel out of being thrown into the slammer. According to the AP U.S. District Judge R. Gary Klausner sentenced Cottrell to more than eight years in federal prison and ordered him to pay $3.5 million in restitution for an August 2003 vandalism spree that damaged and destroyed about 125 SUVs at dealerships and homes in the San Gabriel Valley east of Los Angeles.

The only disappointment in this story is that two of Cottrell's accomplices have yet to have been brought to justice, having fled the country in order to avoid arrest.