Is “Democratic Socialism” Different Than Plain Old Socialism

I hate to keep harping on this topic and hopefully I won’t have to as Bernie Sanders becomes less and less likely to win the Democratic nomination. It is quite apparent that many people, mostly under 35, think that “Democratic Socialism” is a new thing, maybe a more compassionate and modern take on the socialism of old that has been responsible for the deaths of hundreds of millions of people in the last century. Maybe the Bernie Sanders socialism takes all the good things out and throws away all the bad things? Let’s just see about that.

As a comparison between old world socialism and Bernie Sanders socialism, I’ll use the 1936 Constitution of the U.S.S.R. and various parts of and other Bernie Sanders websites. If you remember in my previous blog on socialism, I explained the difference between capitalism and socialism. I think it’s only fair to point out that socialism is not inherently evil. It is a political system devised with the best intentions, I’m sure. Socialism advocates for the very poor people that, in the end, suffer at its hands. This is because of a very simple principle, as it turns out. The cornerstone of freedom and prosperity is the right to own things. Sounds simple right? How can you pin 100 million deaths due to starvation and mass murder on the right to own things? Well, in socialism, the cornerstone of the philosophy, what really makes it work is that individuals can’t own anything. The state allows citizens to own personal property, like their clothes and maybe a home, but stuff you would use to make money, called the means of production, including your building, machinery and all the other things you would need to run a business, are owned by the workers and more generally, the government. It stands to reason that if an individual can’t own the means of production, then they can’t really own anything.

That’s a bold claim. So how can I say that? Well, take a quick look. I think we would all agree that we own our own bodies right? My thoughts, what I’m good at, nobody can take away. So far so good, I hope. I also own my time, because I can choose to use my time here on earth however I choose. Good, bad or ugly. Let’s take that a step further and say when I trade my time, thoughts or talents for things like money or food, I also own those things I gain in the trade. Stated differently, if I trade my time by working, for money, since I own my time, I then must also own the money. By this logic, I can also truly own things by trading that money which I own for other things which I must also own. So far I don’t think many people would disagree with me. Even the Soviet Constitution agrees with me so far. Here’s where I must depart from socialism, and why in that system a person really doesn’t own anything.

This is a line of logic based on the socialist system:

  • I buy a home. Do I own it? Yes
  • I buy a printing press. Do I own it? Yes
  • I buy a typewriter. Do I own it? Yes
  • I start a home based newspaper with myself as the sole employee. Do I own it? Yes
  • Sales increase and I need help, so I hire a few employees. Do I still own my business? No, the employees take ownership of the means of production.
  • Do I still own the typewriters? No, they are part of the business.
  • Do I still own the printing press? No, they are part of the business.
  • Do I still own the home? No, it is part of the business.
  • If I purchased those things with money I gained by trading my time and talent, how can I say I own my time and talent? I can’t.
  • If I don’t own my time and talent, do I own myself? No

With this simple illustration you can see that in a socialist system you not only can’t own things, you don’t own yourself. Your time, talents and treasures are effectively owned by the state government. In socialism the collective group is more important than the individual. This system is enforced by workers unions and cooperatives that are organized by the state. These entities take ownership away from the person who started the business and give it to the workers in those unions and cooperatives. The state dictates the wages based on the income of the business to ensure everyone gets an equal share. This is outlined in the Soviet Constitution I linked to above in the section about “The organization of Society“. Just to recap, in the old socialist system the government, through unions and cooperatives takes over your business, dictates your wages and hours worked by the employees.

What about Bernie Sanders? Well in fact, he absolutely does believe in union and cooperative employee ownership of business. Dictated through government mandates. He absolutely does believe in government dictated wages for employees. Under the guise of income inequality, a socialist mantra, he proposes to steal from the rich and give to the poor, dictate the minimum wage, which is arbitrarily set by government bureaucrats. Class warfare, pitting the rich against the poor, is a classic socialist tactic. Bernie calls the rich the 1% and the poor the 99%, in the old socialist system they called the rich the bourgeoisie and the poor the proletariat. Same exact thing. Create a boogeyman to fight, divide the people, making it easier to control everyone.

How did the old socialist system deal with the needs of the people? In chapter X of the Soviet Constitution, it outlines the “Fundamental Right and Duties of Citizens“. This is mostly a list of positive rights, with a few negative rights thrown in at the end: freedoms of speech, press, assembly and street processions and demonstrations. The positive rights include: the right to a job, leisure time (set workday and paid vacations), free healthcare and social security, free education from elementary to college and vocational school, paid maternity leave for women along with free daycare for their children and the right to join trade unions and cooperative associations.

If any of that sounds familiar, that’s because you have heard it before. Bernie Sanders thinks you have the right to a job, free healthcare and social security, free education from elementary to college, 12 weeks of paid maternity leave for women and expand public unions and grow cooperative businesses.

In chapter X of the Soviet Constitution, not only did they outline workers’ rights, but also the duties they were expected to perform. This is crucial to socialism. Everyone likes the rights because they benefit, but in the end the state has to have a way to provide all those benefits and therefor has to require that the citizens do their part. In the case of 1936 Soviet Union people were required to work, unemployment was illegal. If you did not have a job, a job would be designated to you. If you don’t work, you are an enemy of the state. Military service is mandatory, if you do not serve you are an enemy of the state. If you break any rules, you are an enemy of the state. You have freedom of speech, but if you speak out against the state, you are an enemy of the state. There is freedom of the press, but the state controls the press. There is freedom of assembly, which is state controlled. This is the ugly part of socialism, the part Bernie Sanders won’t tell you about. Without the Capitalist notion of competition and market incentives, a void is created that can only be filled by force.

This is the downfall of socialism and why it has never really worked anywhere it has been tried. It all stems from ownership of things. When a person does not own things, that person does not care as much about those things as when they do own them. Think about things in your life. Do you treat public restrooms as nicely as you treat your own bathroom at home? If you have rented a car, do you care as much about that car as you do your own? When you win a gift card in a contest do you spend that money as wisely as you spend your hard earned money? If you are honest, the answers are all probably no. That does not make you a bad person, just a bad socialist. There has been no system in the history of the world that has propelled people into health, happiness and prosperity like capitalism has. This is because capitalism gets around the problem of incentive by acknowledging the natural right to ownership. When you own it, you have an incentive to take care of it. As we drift closer and closer to a socialist state, we will also go the way of the old Soviet Union.

At the very least, you can at least now see that there is very little, if any, difference between the Democratic Socialism proposed by Bernie Sanders and that of WW2 era Soviet Union. To be fair to Bernie, he’s not the only one with this ideology. He’s just honest enough to admit it. Always vote for freedom.


It’s Time to End the EPA

Any reasonable person would tell you that the environment is an important thing that needs to be protected. Pollution is bad. Most reasonable people would agree that there should be some mechanism by which large polluters are held accountable for their actions. In this way, most reasonable people don’t think twice about letting that mechanism be implemented by the national Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). What I’m going to argue is that the EPA is the wrong mechanism. Let’s get started!

So when I say “mechanism” what do I mean? The mechanism is the process that we use to define what is and is not harmful to the environment and the way that we encourage people to treat the environment with care. The mechanism that the EPA uses are called regulations. Regulations are rules made to force manufacturers to adhere to certain standards in order to keep our air clean and to curb climate change. If they break the rules they have to pay a fine. In order to obey the rules they have to pay to upgrade their systems. How much does it cost businesses in America each year to keep up with the regulations? Well depending on who you ask anywhere from the hundreds of billions to multiple trillions of dollars each year. The claim from the EPA is that more money is saved with the benefits of better air quality, etc. has on our health than it costs to comply with the regulations. I have a problem believing that claim when it is impossible to count the people who don’t get sick, but for the sake of argument let’s just assume that it’s true. We should still get rid of the EPA.

My biggest problem with the EPA is that it is redundant. We have 50 states, each with their own version of the EPA. Each with their own standards and regulations. Some of these standards are more stringent then the federal standards and some are not. I firmly believe that in every area of life that the closer you are to a problem, the better you are at solving that problem. Since each state already has these mechanisms in place, they are the best ones to solve the environmental problems in their state. I think most people think that if the federal government isn’t doing something that it must not be getting done. That’s simply not true. If we get rid of the EPA, or the Department of Education, or whatever, it does not mean that we won’t be protecting the environment or that our kids won’t have public school, far from it and possibly the opposite in fact. Those things would become better.

The other problem I have with the regulations imposed by the EPA is the toll it takes on people, especially the poor. Millions of jobs and entire industries have been lost due to overbearing regulations. The vast majority of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. The costs of complying with these regulations drives up utility bills which disproportionally harms the poor who have less income to spend on those things. These regulations make your groceries more expensive, your car, your cloths, almost everything in fact. Luckily we live in America, so bankrupting the coal industry, or making their product cost prohibitive only kills a few thousand a year here. When they do this stuff in Africa millions die. What is most maddening about articles like the one linked to in the previous sentence is that these places have the natural resources, but since they aren’t deemed “clean enough” they can’t use them, so millions die while these rich countries search for billions of dollars that go towards solving a problem of CO2 that literally cannot be solved even with 100% reduction in CO2 emissions. The basic premise of these types of articles is that a few rich white people need to solve the problem and if a few million dark people die, well, it’s for the greater good so who cares. Well, I care.

So what would America look like if the federal government just outright got rid of the EPA tomorrow? The only thing that would change is that more jobs, better paying jobs would be available, your stuff would get cheaper and your state would be the only one regulating the environmental standards. That’s it. There would still be an agency protecting the air you breathe and the water you drink. A state agency that is more directly accountable to you, the citizen voter. There would also be billions of more dollars available to entrepreneurs to open factories that make things here in the US. When you don’t have to spend millions of dollars wading through the hundreds of thousands of regulations, you tend to use that money to make more money which includes making things to sell. Which includes hiring people to make and sell your things. See how that works?

Just on a side note. I consider myself to be a skeptic. I implore you to also be more skeptical in your life. When someone makes a claim, don’t just take it as fact because they belong to the same political party as you do. Make them prove it. If they can’t prove it, don’t believe it. That includes me. Check to see if the state you live in has an environmental protection agency of their own. If they do, ask yourself why that is, since we also have a federal one. Then ask yourself why we have a federal one if we already have a state one. Try to answer each question fully and decide which should stay and which should go. If you think both are necessary convince me why that is. Once you pass this hurdle, move on to another federal agency that is also being handled by your state, if you are honest, you may start to decipher a pattern.

What Is Our Nature?

images (5)I found myself in an interesting discussion a couple weeks back with a likeminded person at the tail end of a Facebook discussion. I can’t remember what the Facebook post was about, but as the post was coming to a close the subject came up regarding the nature of people. Are we born good or bad? It turned into a “Hobbes vs. Locke” type of discussion. I thought it would be worth blogging about because how someone answers that question can shape their entire worldview regarding politics, thoughts on laws, crime and punishment, etc…

I would imagine at this point it would be a good idea to somehow define what about human nature I would consider “good” and “bad”. I believe that at the heart of all living animals, self-preservation is what drives us. We do what is necessary to be able to take that next breath. Some would describe this as selfish, and that characterization is true, but misunderstood. The trait of self-preservation in neither good, nor bad. It just is. It is present even in the most basic of life forms. Let’s keep that in the back of our minds when we decide what is good and bad. Characteristics that would be “good”, in my opinion would be peaceful, cooperative, charitable and honest. Characteristics that would be by nature “bad”, would include violent, combative, thieving and compulsive lying. This is a short list, but it gives you the gist. The characteristics of basic human nature are designed to propel the deeper nature of self-preservation. Logically speaking, the set of characteristics that would best support self-preservation would probably be the nature we are born with.

This is a subject that I never really had to think about growing up. Long before I ever heard of Thomas Hobbes or John Locke, I read “Lord of the Flies” by William Golding. It was a class assignment, where the topic, “what is human nature” was discussed. The book asserts that the basic human nature is a state of savagery. At the very base of us is something that must be contained, denied, resisted, in order to live peacefully among other humans. We need a heavy handed government to do the containing, denying, resisting for us, since our nature would prevent us from doing it ourselves. Now, this is my impression of this book close to 30 years after my one and only reading of it, so if I missed some nuanced meaning, forgive me, it was my impression at the time. I can tell you that something about that did not sit right with me, even at my young age.

It seems fairly obvious to me that human beings are social animals. We thrive when we are part of a community. We are herd animals. Of course we can survive alone, but very few people try to live that way. Living in a community is built in to our DNA, from early humans to now. Communal living is safer and satisfies our need to be social. So if self-preservation is the goal and we have evolved to learn that living in communities are the best way to achieve it, which set of basic human characteristics would best complement our dealings with each other? Would having a nature that is peaceful be better than having a violent nature within a community? Would being perceived as honest or a liar be more beneficial to self-preservation within a community? I submit that we are born “good” because that is the best way to achieve self-preservation.

But what about all the people who lie, cheat and steal in the world? What about all the perpetual wars for the last several thousand years? What about all the murderers, rapists, pedophiles and bicyclists in the world? How can the nature of man be good when these people exist? The answer may be too complicated for this simpleton’s blog. I would imagine that nothing is ever absolute. People can be born sociopaths and psychopaths. Good people can make bad life choices. Bad people can choose to live decent lives because they understand self-preservation, and good people can choose to be bad for the same reason. When you look at the nature of man, you have to look at it as a whole. The vast majority of people do not steal, murder, touch children or perpetrate genocide. The vast majority of people live peacefully among each other. They trade with each other, they play with each other and they help one another. The vast majority of the people do not have to resist an urge to lie, cheat or steal because this is not a natural gut reaction. A small percentage of people who do those things have made us a little more paranoid. Even as the camera’s watch the shoppers at a grocery store, the vast majority of people are not caught stealing. This is not because they are afraid of getting caught, but because the thought never crosses their minds.

As I became a teenager and more interested in politics, I found that most self-described democrats also called themselves pessimists. They believed people were by nature bad, so laws and structure needed to be made to keep people from becoming savages. This is why the thought of a large government appeals to liberals. They just want to keep the sheep safe from the wolves. The people I knew that self-described as republicans were also optimists. They believed that left to their own devices, people would peacefully interact and therefore needed less government. I wouldn’t meet Hobbes and Locke for a couple more decades, but the theories that they so eloquently proffer are in a more simplistic way ingrained in each of us. Subconsciously, this may have played a part in my becoming a republican early on, and a libertarian later. Why would humans be the only animal on earth that has to fight its very nature to survive? It simply doesn’t make sense, therefore liberalism doesn’t make sense.

If you are a person who thinks that the nature of people is bad and we need a large government to keep the peace, let me ask you this: If the nature of man is bad, wouldn’t the large governmental structure also be created by bad people? If the bottom line is self-preservation, is that not the goal of the people who create this benevolent government? A government that is against the very nature of man, yet created by men? I will leave you to ponder…

Department of Homeland Security, Please Go Away!

images (4)This week I am resuming my series on the 15 federal departments in the executive branch. I was going to save this department for later in the series, but since it has been in the news this week let’s just take a look at it now. I am speaking of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This is the 3rd largest department, started in 2002 in the wake of 9/11. DHS was voted into being under dubious circumstances as a kneejerk reaction to the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

DHS basically took 22 other agencies from other departments that dealt with “homeland” issues and merged them together to form a new bureaucracy. Fun fact, this was the first time the word “homeland” was used to describe domestic policy, or the US in general. Agencies were taken from the Department of Agriculture, Defense, Energy, Transportation, Treasury, Justice, and others.

To learn more about DHS follow the link. Here is the mission statement:

The Department of Homeland Security has a vital mission: to secure the nation from the many threats we face. This requires the dedication of more than 240,000 employees in jobs that range from aviation and border security to emergency response, from cybersecurity analyst to chemical facility inspector. Our duties are wide-ranging, but our goal is clear – keeping America safe.

A noble goal to be sure, keeping America safe. The starting budget in 2003 was 20 billion dollars, this year it will be close to 70 billion dollars. DHS controls everything from FEMA to the Coast Guard, from Customs to the TSA. Did we really need a new bureaucracy in the aftermath of a tragedy? I don’t think so. Are we safer today because of this new bureaucracy? I can’t say we are.

Surely since they took all the homeland agencies and put them under one roof that everything became more streamlined and efficient right? No, if there was a stronger word that meant “no”, I would use it here, but I can’t think of one so I’ll stick with, no. DHS is notoriously wasteful with its money. Government report after government report shows this. They have given away billions of dollars that just go missing. The Coast Guard is a good example of that. Then there’s the new DHS headquarters that is up to 4 billion dollars and is years behind schedule. The list goes on and on.

Are we safer now that we have this huge new department? There is no evidence that we are. The truth is that the attacks on 9/11 took years of planning, saving and coordination. They pretty much blew their wad on that attack, but the assumption was that it could happen again at any time. Those assumptions were nullified when we obliterated Al Qaeda and the Taliban in the wars that started soon after the attacks. The need for an invasive bureaucracy to battle a threat that just isn’t a real domestic threat is simply not justified. The agencies like the FBI and CIA that actually do the work of rooting out threats do not fall under the purview of DHS. The department is unnecessary.

In the research I did to write this blog if found dozens of articles stating why we should get rid of the Department of Homeland Security. I could not find any in defense of it. Non-political people will wonder why we should get rid of something that is supposed to keep us safe at home. What those people need to remember is that there is no part of DHS that was not here before it came into being in 2002. This was not a whole new layer of protection, just a new layer of bureaucracy.

The bottom line is that we don’t really need it. We could save tons of money and jobs, and be just as safe without the DHS. The majority of people employed under the DHS would just go back to whoever they reported to before they were taken away. I’m sure their old employers were just as inefficient with money as DHS is, but any reduction in government is good.

Department of Education, Please Go Away

This week I will be looking at the Department of Education. Started at the end of the Carter administration to appease the National Education Association, The Department of Education has the third largest budgets of any Department, but with the fewest employees. Fun fact time! Guess how many times the word “education” is used in the constitution? That’s right! Zero. The founders knew all too well that education should be controlled by the state and local communities. That makes the Department of Education unconstitutional. But who really cares about constitutionality at this point right? Let’s look at what it does, what it is supposed to do and if it works.

When Congress created the Department in 1979, it declared these purposes:

  1. to strengthen the Federal commitment to ensuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual;
  2. to supplement and complement the efforts of States, the local school systems and other instrumentalities of the States, the private sector, public and private educational institutions, public and private nonprofit educational research institutions, community-based organizations, parents, and students to improve the quality of education;
  3. to encourage the increased involvement of the public, parents, and students in Federal education programs;
  4. to promote improvements in the quality and usefulness of education through federally supported research, evaluation, and sharing of information;
  5. to improve the coordination of Federal education programs;
  6. to improve the management and efficiency of Federal education activities, especially with respect to the process, procedures, and administrative structures for the dispersal of Federal funds, as well as the reduction of unnecessary and duplicative burdens and constraints, including unnecessary paperwork, on the recipients of Federal funds; and
  7. to increase the accountability of Federal education programs to the President, the Congress and the public. (Section 102, Public Law 96-88)

Maybe a little government to English translation is in order.

  1. To strengthen Federal commitment = To take power away from the states into federal hands
  2. To supplement and complement = To pay for with someone else’s money
  3. To encourage = To force
  4. To promote improvements = To mandate government approved programs
  5. To improve the coordination = To consolidate power
  6. To improve the management and efficiency = oxymoron
  7. To increase the accountability = To be accountable to no one

I imagine that the real goal of the Department of Education is to improve the educational systems and outcomes of students. Cato-tot-cost-scores-Coulson-Sept-2012-smLet’s take a look to see if they are actually doing that. In 1979 the Department of Education’s budget was about $14 billion, in 2014 they spent about $67 billion. Was there a drastic improvement in educational outcomes as a result of this explosion of spending? No. There was literally no improvement at all. When you look at the track record of things like no child left behind and common core, you have to ask why are we still doing this?

Why doesn’t all this money help provide a better education? The answer is simply that when it comes to education, like everything else, one size does not fit all. The people best suited to develop educational strategies are the people who are actually teaching kids. The more local a program is to the kids, the better it will do. The farther away from your kids the decision making gets, the worse they will do. Kids in Providence, RI might have different needs than kids in Honolulu, HI. The very nature of the Federal Government forces it to treat them exactly the same.

If you use the standards they set for themselves, I would not be able to see how anyone could argue that This department has been anything but an abject failure. Of the 7 objectives above, the ones that are not redundant or useless would be worse for education had they been more successful. But as with all government projects, failure only gets more money. Our money, borrowed from our great-grandchildren.

If you want to fix education in this country, the first step should be eliminating the Department of Education. Make it possible for parents to pick which school their kids attend. Have schools compete for the best outcomes. Let principals decide what educational materials and programs to use. May the best school win. Winning, in this case, means that the students have learned something. If something works, other schools can implement the strategy. Along with eliminating the Department of Education, we would need to make all public unions, especially the teachers union, illegal. I cannot think of another organization revolving around children that has children lower on their list of priorities than teachers unions. But public unions are a blog for another time. School choice is not a pipe dream, it is already happening in the form of charter schools. It just needs to happen more.

For the snarky summation of the Department of Education:

What it does: spends gobs of money with no discernable results

What it’s supposed to do: spend gobs of money with no discernable results, so it can claim the need to spend more next year.

Is it working: yes, and for that reason it must go.

Do We Really Need That? Department of Agriculture

I talk to people almost on a daily basis, who just take it for granted that the government does what it does because it would not be convenient or profitable for that task, whatever that task is, to be done privately. Even small government types believe that much of our government is necessary and would not be able to be done privately. They might think that the government could spend less, do less of a particular task, but the thought of completely eliminating government programs does not cross the minds of many people very often.

The truth is nobody really knows how many government agencies there are in the US government. Some estimate that there are over 2000 different agencies, but the government disagrees with itself about what constitutes an agency so the true number may never be counted. It would take a very long time indeed to go through every agency to determine its value and necessity. There are 15 federal departments. I think I’ll go through them one at a time to see if we really need them. I’m sure we need some of them and not others, some may be partially necessary, but who knows. I’ll start with the Department of Agriculture and work my way down.

According to the Department of Agriculture, the reason for their existence is for the following:

Founded by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862, when more than half of the Nation’s population lived and worked on farms, USDA’s role has evolved with the economy.  Today, the country looks to rural America to not only provide food and fiber, but also for crucial emerging economic opportunities in renewable energy, broadband and recreation.  People in rural areas operate in a technologically advanced, rapidly diversifying, and highly competitive business environment driven by increasingly sophisticated consumers.  To assist the country in addressing today’s challenges, USDA will: Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving; Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources; Help America promote sustainable agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security; Ensure that all of America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.

Let’s go through these goals one at a time. This department was founded at a time when over half the population were farmers, today only 2% of the people own farms and they employ about 15% of the workforce. It would seem to me that if you make the argument in 1862 that your department is necessary because there are so many farmers that it would stand to reason that as the number of farmers diminished that the Department of Agriculture should diminish in a similar fashion. Apparently that does not stand to reason because the Department of Agriculture employs well over 100,000 people and spends about $150 Billion dollars a year.

It is also of some interest to note that we as Americans look to the dwellers of our rural parts of the country to provide our renewable energy, broadband internet connection, and our recreation. I was unaware that farmers grew broadband internet connections as crops. I was also under the false assumption that I was in charge of my own recreation, but thank you, Department of Agriculture, for correcting me. I now understand that my recreation and internet connection are now provided by peoples of the backwoods. If by renewable energy, the Department of Agriculture means ethanol, I would just say that nobody, and I mean nobody but the boondogglers duping the government into a free handout because of the “renewable” label, was looking for that.

“People in rural areas operate in a technologically advanced, rapidly diversifying, and highly competitive business environment driven by increasingly sophisticated consumers.” Really? Rural areas are technologically advanced? This sentence just makes no sense. Rural generally means country, or unsophisticated. By nature, rural is not “rapidly diversifying”. If there is a “highly competitive business environment”, then it would no longer be rural. If this is how the Department of Agriculture describes rural, I wonder how they would describe urban? Jet packs and hover boards? But I digress.

Now we start to get into the meat of the issue, “To assist the country in addressing today’s challenges, USDA will: Assist rural communities to create prosperity so they are self-sustaining, re-populating, and economically thriving”. So the Department of Agriculture will give money to farmers so that they will become self-sustaining. Does this sound like an oxy-moron to anyone else? How can you pay someone to be self-sustaining? Government assistance with re-populating what? I hope they are not paying farmers to have sex in order to make more farmers. It can’t be re-populating crops, the farmers were doing that before 1862, but don’t quote me on that. If a business is economically thriving, do they really need assistance? I would say, based on its own criteria, that this first strategic goal has been a failure.

The second strategic goal says, “Ensure our national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change, while enhancing our water resources”. Again, this seems to be setting very non-goalish goals. In the area of conserving land, they have been very successful, in 1903 there were about 60 million acres under government control, today there are over 193 million acres under government control. Even back then many people thought that this could be done better privately, but the government wanted this land as a way to make money through permitting and grazing fees, and mineral rights. It was hoped that the forestry service would be self-sustaining one day. It is still not. I cannot say one way or the other if our water supply is more watery or not, but I would tend to doubt it. Making every tree climate change resilient is absurd on its face. This strategic goal has been a partial failure, but the successful part, gaining more land, is success in the wrong direction.

Moving on, “Help America promote sustainable agricultural production and biotechnology exports as America works to increase food security”. This is a situation that does not need to be fixed. America has been “food secure” since the first thanksgiving. We don’t need a government agency for that. As far as biotechnology exports, US corn is being shut out of the European Union because of the ethanol subsidies that the government gives them to produce a fuel that is the worst fuel possible for cars. Another epic failure.

The last strategic goal of the Department of Agriculture is, “Ensure that all of America’s children have access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals.” This is another one of those non-goalish goals. If all else fails, invoke “the children”. Let’s forget that 16 million kids don’t have regular access to safe, nutritious, and balanced meals. You can’t blame the Department of Agriculture for that. Our farmers make plenty of food. We not only feed America, we feed much of the world. This is another fail.

So let’s sum up then, shall we? This department has failed either epically or partially in every one of its strategic goals. I believe that the best thing we could do to “assist the country in addressing today’s challenges”, would be to eliminate the Department of Agriculture. The best way to conserve federal land would be to transfer it to private ownership. The best thing for our food would be to stop paying farmers to not grow it and to stop all ethanol subsidies. That is horrible gas and the rest of the world hates us for making it. This is in no way a reflection of rural people and farmers. Farmers are the backbone of this country. They make the food that feeds us and the rest of the world. My grandfather was among other things a farmer, and a finer man I have never met. When he farmed, he lived a country life. Slow paced, hard working, uncomplicated life that city dwellers just can’t understand. The best thing our government can do for our farmers is to get out of their way. One down, 14 to go.

They’re All the Same!

Nolan_chartI hear a lot of people talk about how there is no real difference between democrats and republicans. I’ve probably said it a few times myself. Most people have some sort of qualifier that tries to explain what they mean, “Sure, they talk very differently while campaigning, but when they get to Washington they do very similar things.” Guilty. On paper there is a good basis for this opinion, but that doesn’t change the fundamental differences between the two philosophies. This is, in fact, the very argument that drove me away from the Republican Party into the awaiting arms of the libertarian philosophy. I’m going to try to explain where the two parties are different and where they are the same and why it barely matters when it comes right down to it.

Before I begin let’s get this out of the way, there is a difference between being a liberal or conservative and being a democrat or republican. Liberalism and conservatism are philosophies, and democrat and republican are political parties. It just so happens that liberalism is currently associated with the Democratic Party, and conservatism is currently associated with the Republican Party. I say this because I may compare the philosophies, but in the end it’s the parties that really run things. So I apologize if I use the terms interchangeably sometimes. In a perfect world the philosophy would dictate the values of the party, but it doesn’t always seem to work out that way.

Political philosophies are a system of values and government that express the idea of the ideal world that the holder of those philosophies would like to live in. In this sense, both liberalism and conservatism have an economic and a social aspect to their way of thinking. Both use the government as a way to enforce those belief systems. Where they differ is in exactly what those beliefs are and in which areas of our lives that the government should be in control of.

In general, liberalism prefers a large central government where individuals have less economic freedom but more social freedom. This means the individual is less important than the collective group as a whole. Less economic freedom means more taxes so more of people money is taken from them so that it can be given to others who are in need. More social freedom means that there are fewer rules regarding personal behavior and people with less are given some of the money collected from others so that they may enjoy their lives a little more.

In general, conservatism prefers a smaller central government where individuals have more economic freedom but less social freedom. This means the individual is more important than the collective group as a whole. More economic freedom means fewer taxes going to the government giving the individual more control over what he or she earns. Less social freedom means that in order to have a well behaved society the behavior of people is regulated based on the moral values of the people elected.

So far this has been mostly academic, how about something a little more descriptive. I’m going to use the analogy of insurance to illustrate a basic difference between the two philosophies, and I apologize in advance that I couldn’t think of a better one, but this one fits so well I can’t help it. In the world of insurance, there are concepts called “all peril” and “named peril” as it relates to coverage. “All peril” means everything is covered unless it is specifically excluded from the policy. “Named peril”, means there is a specific list of things that are covered and everything else is excluded. This analogy relates to political philosophy in that if you take an action but are unsure if it is legal or not, a conservative would ask, “Is this illegal?”, and a liberal would ask, “Is this legal?” It seems like a small difference but it’s not.

Liberalism takes the “named peril” approach to life. This means that every action we take has to be approved by the government or it’s deemed illegal. Everything we buy, sell or do must adhere to guidelines set forth by the federal government. From the time you wake up in the morning on the mattress approved by the government, to your morning pee in your government approved toilet, to your government approved private sector job, to the government approved kitchen that makes your fast food drive-thru meal, to the government approved construction features of your government approved home. In this sense, it is plainly obvious that the greater social freedom you feel with the liberal philosophy is an illusion, because the behavior in question was just added to the approved list, it’s not really freedom at all. A kind dictator is still a dictator. You might be able to tell, but I’m not a fan.

Conservatism, then, takes the “all peril” approach to life. This philosophy opts to list things that are illegal and deems everything else legal. On the surface this seems to be conducive with a truly free society, and I believe it is. This is why I was a republican for most of my adult life. The problem arises when the list of what is illegal things gets longer and longer. For instance, very few people would not put murder on the “illegal” list, but I’m sure less would put buying beer on Sunday there. Having less social freedom means that other people dictate the morals of the individual and society as a whole.

So far I’ve spent a lot of time showing the differences, let’s look at why they are similar. Enter the parties. The Democratic Party is the organizational and enforcement tool for the liberal philosophy. They are there to make sure that everyone adheres to the laws voted on by the people we elect to represent us. The Republican Party does the same thing for the conservatives. What seems to happen when our elected officials get to Washington is that the list of illegal things for the republicans is long enough to match or exceed the list of legal things made by the democrats. For instance, it was the republicans under President Nixon who started OSHA. It was a republican administration under President Bush (43) that raised our national debt by over 5 trillion. These things would be normally thought of as liberal. It was a democratic administration under President Clinton that signed welfare reform into law which is seemingly more a conservative action. The truth is that there are far more examples of republicans acting like democrats than the other way around. It might be less accurate to say that there is no difference between the parties, and more accurate to say that republicans act more like democrats when they are elected.

In contrast to all this, let’s take a look at libertarianism. Libertarianism is strictly a political philosophy and not a social one. This differs from both liberals and conservatives while mirroring parts of both. First, most libertarians agree with the conservative notion of limited government, but to an even greater extent. It’s definitely an “all peril” philosophy. The “greater extent” comes into play because there is no social construct where the government acts as enforcer. This mimics the social freedom that liberals like. The difference is that it is actual freedom in the “all peril” sense. There is no list of legal behavior. This is true freedom. Those social decisions are made by the communities where people have to live and work. Liberals don’t like libertarians because there is no government control over our actions. Conservatives don’t like libertarians because there is no government control over our actions. They can bicker about which actions they hate, but in the end does it really matter? Food for thought.