The Independent Institute


Happy Birthday, Mr. Jefferson!

April 13, 2017, marks the 274th anniversary of Thomas Jefferson’s birth. Most Americans know him as the drafter of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, and founder of the University of Virginia. While these are great accomplishments, what we should remember him for most of all in this age of centralization are The Summary View of the Rights of British America (1774), Opinion on the Constitutionality of a National Bank (1791), and the draft of the Kentucky Resolution of 1798.

The Summary View was a critical document that called into question the power of the British Parliament to legislate for America. Jefferson argued that Parliament had no power over the colonies and instead the sovereign legislative power rested with each colonial assembly. These mini-parliaments were closer to the people and better situated to legislate than such a distant body in which the people had no representation. Jefferson wrote in the Summary View “that experience confirms the propriety of those political principles which exempt us from the jurisdiction of the British parliament. The true ground on which we declare these acts [various statutes and commercial regulations] void is, that the British parliament has no right to exercise authority over us.” Parliament’s acts were “exercises of usurped power” and “intermeddle[ing]with the regulation of the internal affairs of the colonies.” The Summary View could be said to be Jefferson’s first statement of nullification.

Review: The Liberty That Drives A United Kingdom

A film capable of tying political and economic freedom together in one story is rare, but the British film A United Kingdom makes a valiant effort. The story hinges on the culturally and politically taboo romance and marriage between the heir to the throne of Bechuanaland (modern-day Botswana), and his white, working-class English wife in 1948. While the film focuses primarily on the political implications and intrigue triggered by their marriage, the story is perhaps more important because it also exposes the intellectual foundations for what would become Africa’s most important and sustained economic success story (which I discuss further here).

Sir Seretze Kama III (David Oyelowo, Selma, The Butler) was studying law in London when he met Ruth Williams (Rosamund Pike, Die Another Day, Gone Girl, Pride & Prejudice ), a clerk. Kama became the designated heir to the throne of Bechuanaland as an infant after his father passed. He was groomed for his future role under the guardianship of his uncle, Tshekedi Khama (Vusi Kunene, Cry the Beloved Country), and was educated in South Africa and England. The mixed marriage was opposed by both the English authorities and Tshekedi, who served as regent of Bechuanaland under British colonial rule.

The Dignity and Value of Work in La La Land and Moonlight

The award-winning films La La Land and Moonlight did more than share a chaotic stage in the closing moments of the 89th Academy Awards. They also share an intriguing underlying economic theme through rare insight into the substance and dignity of work, albeit in radically different ways.

Work is front and center in La La Land, the widely popular musical that had Hollywood buzzing with its potential to gather a record-setting number of awards—which it did for the Golden Globes. (See my review here.) The film follows two aspiring artists, jazz musician Sebastian (Ryan Gosling, Crazy, Stupid, Love, Drive, The Big Short) and hopeful film actress Mia (Emma Stone, Crazy Stupid Love, The Amazing Spider-Man, Birdman ), as they pursue their personal visions of professional success. Sebastian wants to open an authentic jazz club, even if it means staying poor. Mia wants to become a movie star as she toils away as a low-wage barista on a local movie set.

Their visions of work and its meaning clash, but their respect for each other grows with a deeper understanding of each other and of the dignity their professional aspirations give them. Eventually, they yield to practicality, forsaking what appear to be elusive dreams for the less-satisfying options the real world places before them. Sebastian takes a job with a contemporary pop jazz band, while Mia gives up on Hollywood after her one-woman show flops commercially. Both characters bend to reality, recognizing they need more than a personal commitment to art.

I Reject the Right of the Government to Choose My Friends and Enemies for Me

“I reject the right of the government to choose my friends and enemies for me.” – Bill Kelsey

Indeed, Bill, it makes no sense to allow the government to do so.

But the situation is much worse than such nonsensical allowance by the people at large. From time immemorial, the reigning myth of rule has been that the rulers provide a quid pro quo: in exchange for the people’s submission and payment of tribute, the rulers protect the people from the enemies who lurk “out there.” The promise was often unfulfilled, however. The lord of the manor might well flee into his castle, leaving the peasants outside the walls to suffer whatever outrages an invader chose to wreak on them. Or the lord might haul them off to a distant war in which they had no real interest, merely to satisfy the lord’s feudal obligation to the baron or duke just above him in the feudal pecking order.

Most important, however, is the sheer fact that the ordinary people’s most dangerous enemy, the one by far the most likely to plunder and abuse them, was their own impudent lord, the selfsame “nobleman” who forbade them to leave their place of birth or to engage in a variety of tasks and pleasures they might prefer—that is, the man who held and exploited them in a condition of serfdom.

Today as always, the “bad guys” from whom the government purports to protect the people are as a rule not a particularly serious threat to the people’s enjoyment of their life, liberty, and property in their own country. And when the threat is real, it is usually the product of provocation by the presumptive protector who rules the people at home. That people allow this rapacious government to decide one’s friends and enemies abroad (or at home, for that matter) is indeed preposterous. The root cause, however, is now ideological; it is the people’s nationalism, which causes them to stand idly by—or, in many cases, to cheer wildly—as their true enemy, the one who plunders and oppresses them every hour of every day, goes on its merry way of creating and supposedly combating foreign devils in order to frighten the people into submission, loyalty, and continued payment of tribute to their de facto lord of the manor.

The Tangled Web of Anti-immigration Argumentation

Probably the most often voiced objection to open immigration of all peaceful people is that “you can’t have open immigration and a welfare state.” (Even people as smart as Milton Friedman have made this objection.) But why can’t you?

Well, people claim, if you have a welfare state, the masses of the world will flood into the USA just to collect the welfare state’s “free stuff.” But why let them? Even under currently existing rules, undocumented immigrants are ineligible for nearly all welfare-state benefits. If a flood of immigrants will break the welfare-state bank, why not simply make immigrants ineligible? Case closed.

In that case, the opponents of immigration claim that making the immigrants ineligible for welfare-state benefits won’t work because they will find a way to get the stuff in one way or another. But this objection is, in effect, a declaration that the state is incompetent—which is not exactly a news flash, to be sure. So the anti-immigrationists insist that instead the government must “close the borders.”

Notice, however, that in this case the anti-immigrationists, having just insisted that the government is too incompetent to exclude ineligible immigrants from welfare-state benefits, now presume that the government is so competent that it can keep undocumented immigrants out of the country. This assumption is manifestly counter-factual, given that more than 10 million such immigrants are estimated to be living in the USA at present.

Oppose Your Enemies, or Look for Common Ground?

On a few occasions I’ve used my privilege as a blogger on The Beacon to write in support of viewpoints held by people that some readers of The Beacon view as the opposition. For examples, I supported the Black Lives Matter movement for protesting police brutality, and more recently, the Resist! movement for opposing overreach by the executive branch of government.

I’m confident that most readers of The Beacon oppose both police brutality and executive overreach; yet I received some pushback from readers, both in comments here and in emails sent to me privately, making the argument that both the Black Lives Matter and the Resist! groups, overall, do not support the pro-freedom and limited government values that underlie The Independent Institute and The Beacon, and therefore my posts were misguided.

The pushback I received made the argument that I should not have written in support of the positions of those groups, not because their positions were wrong on those specific issues but because overall, the groups are left-leaning supporters of bigger government.

Average Wait Time to See a Doctor up 30 Percent in Three Years

Merritt Hawkins, a physician-staffing firm, has published its periodic survey of waiting times for appointments with physicians in 30 metropolitan markets. The results:

  • Average new patient physician appointment wait times have increased significantly. The average wait time for a physician appointment for the 15 large metro markets surveyed is 24.1 days, up 30% from 2014
  • Appointment wait times are longer in mid-sized metro markets than in large metro markets. The average wait time for a new patient physician appointment in all 15 mid-sized markets is 32 days, 32.8% higher than the average for large metro markets.

Of the 15 major markets surveyed, Boston has the longest waiting time (52.4 days) while Dallas has the shortest (14.8 days). This is not surprising, because queuing is a symptom of a system where resources are allocated by central planners exercising government privilege. Massachusetts has long been at the forefront of efforts to guarantee universal access to care through government planning, whereas Texas has no interest in such a program.

Is a National Government Necessary for National Defense?

Gordon Tullock used to taunt anarchists by asserting that if the USA abolished its government, people would not have to worry about the Russians taking over the country because “the Mexicans would get here first.”

This little story actually incorporates a common objection to anarchy—namely, the idea that because, if a country abolished its government, other countries would not necessarily follow suit, the governments of those other countries would be free to, and would, simply take over the country that, lacking a government, also lacked an effective means of defending itself against takeover by a foreign power.

This thinking presumes at least two critical ideas: first, that defense of a population requires a government that rules that population; and, second, that if a government has the power to take over another country, it will do so.

Where Does Your Health Insurance Premium Go?

AHIP, the trade association for health insurers, has a nifty infographic answering the question: “Where does your premium dollar go?”

Obviously designed to defray accusations that health insurers earn too much profit, the infographic shows “net margin: of only three percent. A full 80 percent of our premium dollar goes to paying medical, hospital, and prescription claims.”

Fair enough. However, the elephant in the infographic is the 18 percent of premium that goes to “operating costs.” Lest you think that’s a synonym for “overhead” or “bureaucracy,” AHIP helpfully explains: “Operating costs include consumer-centric activities such as communicating with members, running customer service operations, quality reviews, and data analysis, among other activities.”

Well, readers have to judge how “consumer-centric” those operations are.

In 2015, average premium for a single worker in an employer-based plan was $6,251. So, $1,125 of that contributed to the insurer’s “operating costs.” How much health spending did the average insured person in an employer-based plan incur? $5,141, of which $813 was out of pocket. In other words, insurers’ “operating costs” added 22 percent to actual spending on health care.

Who Are the Demanders of Local Government Services?

Local governments produce lots of services that people value: schools, police protection, water and sewer services, and more. Who are the producers of these services accountable to, and who determines the characteristics of the services local governments provide?

Ideally, the people who live in the jurisdictions of those local governments would be the people who would determine the characteristics of the services they provide, but more than one-third of local government expenditures are financed by intergovernmental transfers, and those higher-level (federal and state) governments send that money with strings attached. To get the money, local governments have to spend the money the way the higher level governments want.

In large part, the demanders of local government services are higher level governments. They tell local governments what they want with the money they spend.

The result is that we get policies like No Child Left Behind, which comes with federal mandates and guidelines that direct local government education spending. Teachers “teach to the test” because federal funding demands it. We get militarized local police forces because the federal government provides grants and equipment to arm local police department with military vehicles and military weapons.