Thursday, April 30, 2020



Week 28: The World Stage

The “world stage” is the second of three posts exploring the tripartite vision that candidate Joe Biden expressed for America. On his website, he states, “We’ve got to demonstrate respected leadership on the world stage. The world is facing inescapable challenges: a rapidly changing climate, the risk of nuclear conflict, trade wars, a rising China and an aggressive Russia, millions of refugees seeking shelter and security, and attacks on universal human rights and fundamental freedoms. The next president must repair our relationships with our allies and stand up to strongmen and thugs on the global stage to rally the world to meet these challenges. We can reclaim our longstanding position as the moral and economic leader of the world.”

Let us consider the “world stage” by first grounding ourselves in advice proffered by our first President. In George Washington’s farewell address to the People of the United States in 1796, he wrote, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.” His vision, which one might characterize as a sort of political isolationism, began eroding to varying degrees during the 19th century and was all but forgotten the 20th century. His vision, though, wasn’t one of complete isolationism. He saw the benefit of free and open trade among the nations of the world. With the exception of the manufacture of materiel for engaging in war, which he felt a nation should have a good degree of self-sufficiency, Washington’s economic philosophy was well aligned with that of Adam Smith. “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” was published in 1776, the same year the colonists issued the Declaration of Independence and two decade prior to Washington’s farewell, had an influence on Washington and other leaders of the time.

Regrettably, Washington’s advice seems more distant than ever.

Climate Change

Climate change seems to be a central issue for politicians, one based on a “consensus” of scientists. There is, of course, evidence that the planet’s temperature is rising, along with sea levels and evaporating ice shelves at the poles. The question at the hear of the climate change issue is the cause. Temperatures have risen and fallen throughout the life of our planet. Some claim that climate change is caused predominantly by humans. Some say that this claim is unproven. Progressives regularly accuse conservatives of ignoring science, yet it tends to be progressives who put forth the “consensus” concept related to climate change. Is consensus science?

As is my custom, I will not tell you, kind reader, what to think about this topic: climate change. I will simply challenge you to think. Consider the article “Consensus Science and the Peer Review” from the September 2009 issue of the journal Molecular Imaging and Biology. It quotes a lecture given by physician, producer and writer Michael Crichton at the California Institute of Technology. Dr. Crichton stated, “I regard consensus science as an extremely pernicious development that ought to be stopped cold in its tracks. Historically, the claim of consensus has been the first refuge of scoundrels; it is a way to avoid debate by claiming that the matter is already settled. Whenever you hear the consensus of scientists agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.” He continues, “Let’s be clear: the work of science has nothing whatever to do with consensus. Consensus is the business of politics. Science, on the contrary, requires only one investigator who happens to be right, which means that he or she has results that are verifiable by reference to the real world. In science consensus is irrelevant. What are relevant are reproducible results. The greatest scientists in history are great precisely because they broke with the consensus. There is no such thing as consensus science. If it’s consensus, it isn’t science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period.”

Science demands a rigorous process of trial and error. It demands reproducibility of results. Rather than take climate change, as proposed by a collection of scientists – and yes – politicians, at face value, take the time to review the data, for and against, and determine for yourself if human-caused climate change is in fact scientific fact or merely consensus. I would suggest that leadership on the world stage on this or any issue should be based in fact and not on consensus or supposition.

War and Aggresion

With the exception of the following years – 1796-97, 1807-09, 1826, 1828-30, 1897, 1935-50, 1976-78, 1997 and 2000 – the United State of America has been engaged in some war or significant military conflict since its founding, which is more than 90 percent of the time we have been a nation. If history, with all due respect to the Right Honourable Edmund Burke, informs the future, it serves a nation well to understand the key factors of success in the theater of war. According to Carl Von Clausewitz, in his work “On War,” the principal moral elements of war include, “the skill of the commander, the experience and courage of the troops, and their patriotic spirit.” In terms of commanders, our nation’s generals, admirals and other military leaders should be excellent students in the theory and practice of warfighting. In terms of the experience and courage of troops, our nation’s military recruiters, drill sergeants and other instructors bring volunteers into the armed forces and prepare them with the expertise they need to be confident in their warfighting abilities, which enhances courage in the face of conflict. Von Clausewitz observed that military theory and practice exercised by commanders and troops have evolved such that there is, more or less, some parity among the nations.

“It cannot be denied,” von Clausewitz states, “therefore, that as things stand at present proportionately greater scope is given to the troops’ patriotic spirit and combat experience.” Given the fact that our nation has been engaged in warfighting for almost its entire history, our troops do indeed have combat experience. Thus, for the United States, our principal, differentiating resource for military success must be found in patriotic spirit.

Consider aggression by China, Russia and North Korea throughout their spheres of influence. True, they may have skilled commanders and well-practiced troops, but I dare suggest that they may lack that patriotic spirit, at least lack the degree of spirit that the American warfighter has. I suggest this because of the political oppression the people of these nations – the “masses,” as people in Marxist societies are called. How can purity of heart in terms of patriotic spirit exist in a society that is based on coercion. I claim that it cannot. Such purity must be freely given, and that freedom requires liberty for a people.

It is in enkindling the flame of patriotic spirit that the Commander-in-Chief can play a significant role. As we look at candidates for office, be it the presidency or in the legislature, it is important to consider who speaks to the patriotic spirit. Who embraces American exceptionalism? Who focuses, instead, on our nation’s faults, real or contrived? Regarding our real faults, who uses such issues as talking points, and who takes action to correct these faults and produces results? Which candidates foster national pride among the citizenry, and which candidates foment shame? This is not to suggest that problems be swept under the rug. Instead, it’s to say that we should not continue electing people who fail to solve problems, so that they can continue to have the problem as an election-year topic every two, four or six years.

Trade

The topic of trade harkens back to Washington’s farewell letter and the notion of “extending our commercial relations.” As an unabashed, free-market capitalist, I look to the lessons of history, and it is crystal clear that the human condition for people at all levels of the socioeconomic ladder has improved the nearer a society approaches a system of free and open markets. Furthermore, in any society that has departed from such a system for organizing economic activity, as has the United States over the course of nearly a century, inequity takes hold and socioeconomic mobility eventually grinds to a halt.

Progressives denounce capitalism as an oppressive system that exploits people. This demonstrates an utter lack of understanding as to what capitalism is. It is a system of economic organization in which all exchange is voluntary. A person freely chooses where to work or not to work. A person freely chooses to exchange goods for other goods or for money. No one is coerced to engage in any form of exchange. As Adam Smith described in “Wealth of Nations,” when each person pursues his or her own self-interest, he or she promotes the self-interest of another. It creates a ripple effect that advances the interests of society, as a whole. For example, I want a pencil, so that I can jot down notes for my weekly blog. Another person has a pencil to sell. We may engage in a voluntary exchange if I have something of value to the other person, such as money for example. If we agree on the price, we can make an exchange, and we are both better off than just a moment before. If we don’t agree on the price, I may seek out another seller of pencils to see if I can get a better price. What I don’t do in a capitalist system is force the pencil seller to give me the pencil for less than he or she is willing to sell it, nor does society force me to pay what I perceive to be the unacceptable price of the seller. Additionally, society does not subsidize either party to effect the proposed exchange. Under capitalism, exchange of goods and services does not happen unless all interested parties benefit from mutually acceptable terms. This example does not end with the exchange between myself and the seller. In the wonderful story, "I, Pencil: My Family Tree as Told to Leonard E. Read,” which was published in the December 1958 issue of The Freeman, Read describes the countless number of people from around the globe who also enter into mutually beneficial exchanges to create a simple pencil. Those processing the graphite, harvesting and milling the wood, mining the copper, producing the paint, and farming the rubber, all people from around the world, speaking different languages and holding different beliefs, come together harmoniously to make the simple pencil that I would endeavor to purchase voluntarily. This is a very real and a very practical illustration of Smith’s “invisible hand.” It is not mere theory. It does indeed work, as Smith describes.

Warnings of monopolies and the exploitation inherent in them are often mentioned by skeptics of capitalism as an argument against this form of economic organization. Again, the record of history is conclusive that monopolies cannot exist, at least not for very long, without the support and influence of the state. Legislators allow themselves to be bought and paid for by companies and lobbyists in exchange for legislation favorable to their contributors and harmful to their contributors’ competitors. This arrangement is not capitalism. At best it may be described as crony capitalism; however, I thing the more accurate term is fascism.

Let us return to the “world stage.” According The Heritage Foundation’s “2020 Index of Economic Freedom,” the United States ranks 17 among 180 ranked nations in terms of economic freedom. Granted, we are in the top 10 percent, but leadership in trade begs the question, what must we do to improve our standing among nations? According to the index, the areas that present opportunities for improvement include: government integrity, tax burden, government spending, business freedom, labor freedom, monetary freedom, and trade freedom.

As we look to the platforms of candidates in the upcoming election, who will restore integrity to government? Beware the temptation to assume that one candidate has integrity, just because you think another lacks it. Taking the candidates for the Office of the President, I hear many say that President Trump lacks integrity. I will not debate that here. However, I think it is a mistake to assume that Mr. Biden does have integrity, just because it’s said that Trump lacks it. One need only look to Biden’s boasting in a 2018 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations (a dubious organization, to be sure, but a discussion for another time) that he would withhold $1 billion dollars in loans unless the Ukrainian government fired the prosecutor who was investigating the company for which his son served as a member of its board of directors. One need only look to his verbal assaults of people who question him on the campaign trail, even challenging one to fight. If one exercises fair judgment, they will not only investigate Trumps integrity, they will also investigate Biden’s, as well as any candidate’s integrity. We absolutely should be concerned about the integrity of our government and who will serve to elevate it.

As responsible citizens, we should similarly explore candidates’ economic and tax policies and whether such policies will enhance American’s ability to engage in market activities freely and will provide employment opportunities for our citizens. As responsible citizens, we should, in my opinion, reclaim authority and responsibility for our lives and for our fellow citizens. Over the course of a century, we have abdicated more and more of our individual sovereignty to the state. Consequently, government spending as a percentage of GDP has skyrocketed. From 1790 to 1930, spending as a percentage of GDP never exceeded five percent, save during the Civil War and World War I. During and following the Great Depression, spending as a percentage of GDP rose quickly to a point at which it has hovered since 1970, fluctuating up and down around the 20 percent mark. At present, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid account for more than half of government spending. A little less than 25 percent represents military spending. The remaining quarter or so goes to protection of natural resources, interest on the national debt and a big category that covers “all other.” Such profligate spending by our economically licentious leaders doesn’t just hurt the economy, it has a ripple effect that damages our standing in the other indicators of economic freedom mentioned above, including trade freedom. Through disastrous management of our national economy, those in government, at all levels, look for any and every way to squeeze more money out of what should be private, voluntary exchanges. Collectively, they form an unwelcome third party that bastardizes free market capitalism and free trade and renders their fruits rotten through the embedded cost of burdensome regulations that add little real value and through direct effect of taxes on the costs of goods and services. Anti-capitalists demand that we look at the terrible of effects capitalism is having today. What they fail, time and time again, to recognize is that we are not living in a free-market, capitalist society, and we haven’t been for nearly 100 years.

As we look to our would-be leaders, question which will restore the trade leadership of the United States through sound economic and taxation policies that limit the role and interference of government and that promote voluntary arrangements of exchange – exchange of goods, services and labor.

Human Rights and Freedom

Human rights and freedoms, by definition, are inherent in each person, as we discussed in the Week 52 post. Rights are not dispensed by government, and the lack of restriction on citizens’ rights promote freedom. Restrictions on rights limit freedom. As we discussed in Week 52, there may be benefits or entitlements that a society decides to confer on its citizens, but an intellectually honest discussion of human rights cannot permit these to be called rights. Doing so diminishes the meaning of the word “right.” I have no inherent right to the labor of another person, just as they have no right to my labor. “Rights” to healthcare or to education are perfect examples. Once we go down the path of accepting these things as “rights,” we are compelled go down a parallel path, a path that leads to servitude. It enslaves the doctor or nurse, the teacher or professor to you and me. If I have a right to these things, how can the doctor, nurse, teacher or professor refuse them to me? Having discussed rights before, I will not belabor the point this week. Be mindful of one more thing: rights cost nothing; they are free. Only the restriction of rights and the characterization of a benefit or entitlement as a right have a cost for society, and it’s a terrible cost, financially and morally. Let us ask ourselves which candidates understand this distinction and act in a way that protects our rights and freedom.

Refugees and Immigration

Economic policy and respect for human rights influence the immigration crisis, a topic we explored in the Week 40 post. I will not repeat that in-depth analysis here. Suffice it to say that nations have borders, and those borders are like the cover of a book, separating its contents from other books on the shelf. Like a book, a nation has a story to tell. Its contents are informed by its laws, its respect for those laws, its culture, and yes, its economic system and the entitlements it does or does not offer.

With regard to refugees (and asylum seekers), the non-partisan Migration Policy Institute states, “The United States has historically led the world in terms of formal refugee resettlement, accepting more refugees annually than any other country. With significant cuts in refugee admissions by the Trump administration, however, the United States fell behind Canada in 2018 as the top resettlement country. Approximately 22,500 refugees were resettled in the United States during fiscal year (FY) 2018. Beyond accepting refugees for resettlement, the United States also grants humanitarian protection to asylum seekers who present themselves at U.S. ports of entry or claim asylum from within the country; in FY 2017 (the most recent data available), the United States granted asylum status to 26,568 individuals.” Part of the reason for cutting the number of refugees was to accommodate an increase in the number of asylees. It is important to differentiate the two. Refugees apply for resettlement prior to entering the country. Asylees apply for resettlement after they have entered the country. With programs like catch-and-release, a growing number of people have entered the country without going through an official point of entry (i.e., illegally) and then claimed asylum. This growing number puts pressure on the immigration system, thus necessitating a reduction in those being accepted under a refugee status. The point to be considered is that things are not as clear-cut as politicians or the media would have us believe. It is an issue that involves human life – real people with a desperate desire for a better life. As an American citizenry, we owe it to them to understand the issues and principles involved and to reject the spoon-fed half-truths of those in power.

America is constantly criticized for enforcing its borders, particularly its southern border. It is exceptionally ironic that the same nations that criticize the United States for its border enforcement policies are ones that have some of the most restrictive immigration policies in the world, an extreme example being the Holy See (and being a Roman Catholic, this hypocrisy troubles me greatly). Like so many issues that represent humanitarian crises (e.g., homelessness, generational poverty, failing schools, etc.), this is yet one more issue that politicians love to talk about during election cycles but fail to improve during their tenure in office. Remember that the United States, save Native Americans, is a nation of immigrants. Immigrants bring richness to our culture, diligence to the workplace, and synergy to our endeavors to create a more perfect Union. Despite propaganda to the contrary, President Trump regularly recognizes the importance of people immigrating to America, but his opposition to illegal immigration is used to demonize him as a xenophobe and racist. What is wrong with requiring an adherence to our system of laws? Isn’t that part and parcel of the oath our leaders take – to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution? In the context of immigration, consider all the candidates and find out which of them supports the rule of law, not only in immigration but in all parts of our social contract.

Standing up to Strongmen

Finally, standing up to strongmen is a bravado-laden cliché that belies sound foreign policy. Again, turning to history, it is interesting to note that conservatives tend to open America to other nations of the world. Nixon engaged with China, introducing free market capitalism, “a necessary but not sufficient” condition for political freedom, as Milton Friedman would remind us. Reagan engaged with the former Soviet Union, leading to the fall of the Iron Curtain. Trump has engaged with North Korea, which may lead to an easing of sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom, which could ease the humanitarian suffering of the people of that communist state. Carter, a moderate, especially compared to the Progressives of today, engaged with Egypt, enabling the State of Israel to exist and thrive in a part of the world populated by nations intent on its destruction. Progressives are often portrayed as “doves” militarily; yet, it is interesting to consider the trail of devastation that follows their military interventions. One need only to look at the Clinton military policies related to Africa (i.e., Rwanda and Somalia) and the Balkans (i.e., Bosnia and Kosovo), at the Bush military policies in the Middle East (for I do not consider Bush to be a true conservative), and at the Obama military policies that escalated the Bush Middle East policies, as well as his failure to stand up to Russia (e.g., his failure to support the sovereignty of the Crimea), relaying to Prime Minister Putin through  Russian President Medvedev that he would have “more flexibility” to negotiate with Russia after his second election to lay bare their failures.

Bravado is not equivalent to standing up to strongmen. Engagement through non-military means is the “grown-up” way of standing up to a strongman. Will reason or war alleviate the scourge of nuclear proliferation, another key point made by Mr. Biden. We’ve continued building up nuclear stockpiles over the years – granted, actual numbers do decrease, but they are substituted with an increasing lethality of newer weapons – and the number of nations with nuclear weapons continues to grow. Again, proof that the bravado of force has unintended and unwanted consequences. Again, might it be time for reason? Examine at the deeds and records of each politician. Who uses their mind, and who uses their fists, so to speak? Determine this and vote accordingly.

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