BrianGarst.com

Malo periculosam, libertatem quam quietam servitutem.

Thursday

19

March 2015

Shut Up and Give Me My Coffee

Written by , Posted in General/Misc.

Would you like that with cream, sugar, or a lecture on race relations? The Starbucks CEO seems to think his customers are clamoring for the latter, as that’s what he’s offering with a campaign called ‘Race Together:’

In a video message, Schultz urges “partners” to write the phrase on their paper cups “to facilitate a conversation between you and our customers.” A USA Today supplement, set to be published March 20, includes a number of “conversation starters,” including the fill-in-the-blank question: “In the past year, I have been to the home of someone of a different race ___ times.”

Here’s a thought, how about you just shut up and give me my coffee.

That’s probably giving too much credit to the impact this PR-aimed initiative will have on most customers, but do we really need yet another conversation on race that goes nowhere? How many of these unproductive conversations must we have before it begins to sink in that obsessing over race at all times is part (though just a part) of the problem?

And must every economic transaction come attached with social and moral grandstanding, as is the current trend (with Starbucks being a prolific offender)?

One of the great values of the free market is that the incentives are toward tolerance. At times in the past that incentive has been overwhelmed by stronger social prejudices, but trade still promotes tolerance. And that’s because it allows people to interact that otherwise don’t like one another (for whatever reason). Trade strips transactions down to their core of value for value and thereby reduces social conflict.

Americans disagree with their peers on a lot of issues, and yet in most contexts it doesn’t matter. But if every economic transaction must be accompanied with exchanges of social and political values, some of those exchanges will inevitably result in unnecessary conflict. Society would become more fractured, not less.

On the other hand, here we all are talking about Starbucks. Even if it’s just to slam their CEO’s ham-fisted attempt at playing white savior, I suppose that’s an advertising win.

Wednesday

18

March 2015

Obama’s Warped Perspective

Written by , Posted in Big Government

President Obama is calling on young people to have some perspective about this whole marijuana business. When asked in an interview with Vice about marijuana legalization, their audience’s “number one question,” he went into lecture mode:

First of all it shouldn’t be young people’s biggest priority. Let’s put it in perspective. Young people, I understand this is important to you. But you should be thinking about climate change, the economy, jobs. War and peace. Maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana.

So Obama wants to focus on issues where (he thinks) the public supports more power and control for government, and not an area where it clearly and in growing numbers wants less. Is anyone really surprised?

You have to give it to him. He is a committed ideologue. Nothing is more important than expanding the state.

Friday

6

March 2015

Rule of Law on Trial in King v. Burwell

Written by , Posted in Health Care, Welfare & Entitlements, Liberty & Limited Government, Taxes, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

You might think King v. Burwell is just about Obamacare. To be sure, the ruling could profoundly impact the law if nothing else is done. Though depending on how legislators react, even a finding in favor of the challengers could be made to have no real impact at all.

But what will certainly have an impact is a finding in favor of the government. Endorsing their position would be a huge blow against a most basic tenet of our representative system. I wrote about this in my latest column for EveryJoe.

…If the court rules in favor of the government, it will mean that the executive branch is free to rewrite legislation despite the clear meaning of a law if they can plausibly argue that the consequences for not doing so would be negative. It is, at its core, a case about who gets to write the law.

It’s true that Congress typically gives the Treasury department more latitude than typical because of the complexity of the tax code. But where Congress has not said to fill in the blanks, Treasury must follow the law, as must any other agency within the executive branch. To allow otherwise would undermine a fundamental principle of our government: that we are a nation of laws, which are created by elected representatives.

As an example of what to expect if the court allows for erosion of the separation of powers, consider the current call by Sen. Bernie Sanders – self-described socialist – for the White House to rewrite the tax code without Congress.

He wants Obama to declare by fiat the elimination of certain “loopholes.” But what are commonly referred to as “loopholes” are really just particular policy choices made by elected leaders. They can be either good, such as those which alleviate double taxation, or bad, such as those which provide special handouts for politically favored businesses. Regardless, they are part of the tax code which Congress has created, as is their legal prerogative. If they don’t like it they should legislate a new tax code, and if we don’t like it we can vote them out of office.

…This White House has been open about its desire and willingness to rewrite the law as Obama sees fit in order to advance his agenda. And his spokesman responded favorably to Sen. Sanders suggestion, saying that Obama is “very interested” in unilaterally hiking taxes. If the court rejects the latest challenge to Obamacare and finds in favor of the government, it will only serve to embolden his efforts to unconstitutionally transform the nation.

The whole piece is available here.

Sunday

22

February 2015

Safety is Overrated

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Culture & Society, The Nanny State & A Regulated Society

Modern obsession with risk avoidance is threatening our liberty and harming the development of future generations. I explain in my most recent column at EveryJoe:

Society overrates the prevalence of criminal and physical dangers to children, so parents fail to realize that it is the relative safety of their own children in their day-to-day activities that even allows them to obsess about the smallest of dangers. The playground equipment that many of us grew up on and survived just fine, for instance, is being torn down or cemented into place by panicked governments, and replaced with safety-first boregrounds that no child wants to use.

Aggressively trying to eliminate all risk that children face is likely to create more problems than it solves. Overzealous government bureaucrats and helicopter parents that refuse to grant their children any independence are doing the next generation a disservice. Obsessing over even tiny risks leads to decisions that deprive children not only of fun, but of opportunities to learn independence, confidence, and self-reliance.

It’s not just little kids we’re coddling, either. Universities – once a bastion for free wheeling debate, intellectual confrontation, and experimentation – are increasingly stifling debate and insulating students from any difficult experience by insisting on so-called “safe spaces.”

Today, any time an event features a speaker that doesn’t toe the politically correct, “progressive” line, it faces ritual denunciation by students and faculty alike. Assuming a speaker is not outright disinvited, the event may be accompanied by school administered “safe spaces” and counseling services for student traumatized by the mere presence of different views, as happened last year at Brown when a debate participant had the audacity to oppose the dubious rape culture narrative.

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday

4

February 2015

Is Government Sanctioned Theft on the Chopping Block?

Written by , Posted in General/Misc.

The government gets away with a lot that clearly violates the rights of the people. My most recent column at EveryJoe considers whether it might be getting away with a little bit less in the near future.

First, the good news. The Supreme Court agreed to hear a case that could have significant impact on property rights. It’s brought by California raisin farmers who were fined massive amounts by the government simply for selling their crop. You see, in America – the land of the free and the home of the brave – it’s rarely ever true that you can juts make a product and sell it. You must jump through hopes to produce your goods, then jump through more to sell them.

…Raisin farmers were promised a return on their forced contributions, but over time saw ever dwindling returns. In 2003 the government confiscated 47% of their crops and provided zero compensation. Let me say that again. The government stole nearly half of all raisins produced without compensating farmers at all.

…When it hears the case later this year, the Supreme Court has the opportunity to breathe life back into the Takings Clause and make clear that the law does not allow for such blatant government theft.

The other bit of positive news comes from an unexpected source. As one of his last acts as Attorney General, Eric Holder recently announced new restrictions on civil asset forfeiture, which allows police and prosecutors to take money and property from citizens never convicted of a crime if they can plausibly argue a tangential relation of the property to a suspected crime. It is then put on the citizen to prove their innocence, or more specifically, the innocence of their property. And I kid you not, the government actually “charges” the property in question, which results in bizarre case names like United States v. $124,700 in U.S. Currency or Nebraska v. One 1970 2-Door Sedan Rambler (Gremlin).

…In apparent response to this growing awareness, Holder’s order declared that “Federal adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement under state law is prohibited.

But there are some important caveats to both pieces of news, which you can find out by reading the whole thing here.

Saturday

31

January 2015

Thursday

29

January 2015

The Carbon Tax Schism

Written by , Posted in Taxes

The center-right tends to be united on issues of taxes. We’re against them. But there’s a push from some among this coalition – like the R Street Institute, and the newly formed Niskanen Center – to put a tax on carbon. Do they think Americans need to be taxed more? Have they been bought out? Have they suddenly gone insane? The answer to all three is absolutely not. Their arguments are based on the presumption that burdens can be shifted from economically destructive taxes like those on income and capital and put on far less destructive, and perhaps even beneficial, taxes like those on carbon. In theory I agree, but political reality must be taken into consideration.

The economics are sound. The politics are not. The problem is that any gains would only last until the next Democratic majority, which would raise the income/capital taxes right back to their previous level or higher. Then we’ll have our current taxes plus a carbon tax. And that’s a step back, not forward, for advocates of limited government.

I explain more in depth in my recent column for EveryJoe:

To understand where they go wrong, we must first consider the case for a carbon tax. Obviously, supporters start from the assumption that carbon is bad and that we want less of it; if they thought otherwise we wouldn’t be having this discussion. In economic parlance, they identify carbon production as a negative externality, meaning it places costs on those not involved in the economic transaction from which it was produced…

The most market-friendly solution … is the Pigovian tax. Simply put, by taxing activities responsible for negative externalities, market participants are forced to price in its full costs, thereby reducing supply and correcting a market inefficiency.

…After carbon taxes are collected, conservative supporters argue they can be used to reduce other, more destructive taxes. As mentioned, when you tax something, you get less of it. This means that taxes on things that are good – like work, savings or investment – are particularly harmful to the economy. Replacing taxes on good things with taxes on bad things thus makes a lot of economic sense. Unfortunately, it’s just not that simple.

You can read the rest here.

Wednesday

21

January 2015

Celebrating Gridlock

Written by , Posted in Big Government, Liberty & Limited Government, Waste & Government Reform

There was, predictably, a lot of end-of-year handwringing about Congressional gridlock and a lack of legislative productivity. In my recent column at EveryJoe, I explain why we should be celebrating gridlock instead of whining about it.

Chastising a session of Congress as “unproductive” due to gridlock has become a sort of tradition for statist media. Whenever a new year roles around, columnists and editorial boards begin wagging their figurative fingers at Congress for failing to meet some arbitrary threshold of activity, before sagely calling on the next session to do better.

…These arguments are not new. The same stories were written last year, and the year before that, and the year before that. They are also fallacious, suffering from flaws both logical and methodological.

…The whole exercise comes off as little more than poorly disguised concern trolling, where those with ideological axes to grind seek to discredit opponents without having to engage in the messiness of debating what policies are right or wrong.

You can read it all here.

Tuesday

13

January 2015

The Case for Criminal Justice Reform in the 114th

Written by , Posted in Legislation, The Courts, Criminal Justice & Tort

I don’t see much getting done in the next two years in terms of major legislation. The reforms Republicans want aren’t likely to be signed by President Obama, and his proposals will have a hard time finding traction in Congress, even among Democrats. That said, there’s one major issue that has at least a slim chance of advancing. I explain why in my most recent column at EveryJoe.

…Recognition of serious problems in the criminal justice system spans the ideological spectrum. The left has long had its concerns, though often narrowly focused on issues of race. Libertarians, too, have been consistent in criticizing the excesses of the drug war and the police militarization it has enabled, as well as the appalling practice of civil asset forfeiture. Gross abuse of the latter, which allows police to seize property without ever charging – much less convicting – an individual with a crime, has also contributed to a growing conservative awareness of the need to address the nation’s criminal code and its enforcement.

…The organization Right on Crime has made strong inroads among conservatives in making the case for reform…

Meanwhile, libertarian Charles Koch has  trained his sights, and deep pockets, on criminal justice reform, and has stated plans to ramp up his efforts in 2015. Typically treated as a boogie-man by the left, Koch has even forged alliances with the more liberal ACLU and progressive king-maker George Soros to bolster his efforts.

Taken altogether, these groups represent a rare and potent coalition.

The rest is available here.

Sunday

11

January 2015

The War on Personal Offense

Written by , Posted in Culture & Society

There’s a lot that could be said about the attack on Paris-based satirical publisher Charlie Hebdo. It’s a horrific demonstration of Islamist barbarism. It’s also provided opportunity for western outlets like the New York Times to demonstrate their warped priorities and edit their own stories that accidentally reveal too much truth, and to cravenly refuse to print the Hebdo cartoons that so riled the terrorists despite their obvious newsworthiness.

These are important topics, but I won’t be addressing them here. Others are doing so quite well already. I want to focus on another aspect of the story, and that is its place in the liberty threatening war on personal offense.

Free speech is a required ingredient for a free society. It empowers citizens to be a check on both government and other social institutions that might overwhelm the individual. Through communication, individuals can combine their dispersed power to become a potent collective force.

The obvious threat to free speech is government, protection from which being secured by the First Amendment. But government is not the only threat. As much as there is a legal and protected right to free speech, there must also be cultural respect for free speech. And that means recognizing the value in letting others speak and be heard, even when you don’t like what they say. That doesn’t mean ideas cannot be criticized, merely that the exercise of speech should be respected and honored.

Unfortunately, there are strong currents developing aimed at devaluing speech. That they are cultural currents and thus do not implicate the First Amendment make them no less troubling, or the threat no less serious. The core of this threat is the growing belief that individuals have a right not to be offended, discomforted or otherwise upset by the speech of others.

And like most bad ideas, this one seems to be emanating most strong from universities, where a new generation of students insists that respect for feelings is more important than respect for speech. For instance, the University of Iowa pulled an anti-racism display because it featured newspaper coverage of racial tension and violence over the last century on a klansman sculpture. UI’s School of Journalism director even said that, ”If it was up to me … I would follow the lead of every European nation and ban this type of speech.”

It’s not just administrators and eggheads, either. Students are often times leading the charge to censorship. Michigan State University students demanded that George Will be disinvited as commencement speaker because he wrote a column about the college victim culture and the absurdity of “micro-aggressions.” When students fail to prevent hearing thoughts they don’t like, they heckle and scream to drown out the speaker and ensure no one else can hear them either. It’s not just the US, either. Stepford students are busy halting dialogue and preserving their hugboxes in the UK as well.

These are deeply disturbing trends of which I’ve only just barely scratched the surface.  It’s disturbing because valuing comfort over the give and take of ideas first leads to stagnation as militant orthodoxy prohibits new ideas, and then eventually to oppression when majority views are no longer able to be challenged.

For free speech to have any meaning, there must be a right to offend. And for it to be effective, the right to offend must be absolute.