Pork is Not the Problem

It’s that time of year: Citizens Against Government Waste just released its annual “Pig Book,” a compendium and analysis of pork barrel spending, aka earmarks, by the US Congress in 2019.

Summary: Congressional appropriations for 2019 include 282 earmarks, up from 232 last year. The cost comes to $15.3 billion, up from $14.7 billion.

That sounds like a lot of money, and it is. But not nearly as much as one might think, in the scheme of things.

The federal government plans to spend more than $4.5 trillion in 2019. Those earmarks constitute a whopping one third of one percent of that total.

Critics of earmarks point out, correctly, that they’re used by members of Congress to direct federal spending to their own districts, not always with much “public good” justification (cue complaints about $500,000 for the Sparta Teapot Museum, $7.5 million for golf education, etc.)

True, all of it — but it’s baked into any political process. Whether formal earmarks exist or not, politicians will support bills that spend money in their districts, oppose bills that don’t, shill for their favored projects, and make deals to bring home the bacon.

And, it should be mentioned, earmarks do not directly increase total spending. They simply require that if Congress appropriates $10 billion for Purpose X, $1 million of that $10 billion be spent on Project Y.

The problem in that hypothetical isn’t the $1 million earmark, it’s the $10 billion appropriation.

The problem with the real numbers isn’t $15 billion in earmarks, it’s $4.5 trillion in federal spending.

If Congress has $9 million to spend on a fruit fly quarantine program and $3 million to blow on bad loans to ship buyers (among 2019 earmarks), Congress has too much money to spend on, respectively, Agriculture and THUD (Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development).

Congress DOES have too much money — money it takes from all of us via various tax schemes, and money it borrows in our names on the promise to bond-holders that it will beat us out of it, with interest, later.

Earmarks could be part of the answer to that problem.

If Congress specified in greater detail where and how EVERY dollar of EVERY appropriation must be spent, instead of just handing the dough over the executive branch under broad categories, we’d have a much better idea of where it was going — and be better prepared to protest, and bring pressure to bear against, wasteful spending.

It would also clarify “separation of powers” violations, such as President Donald Trump’s illegal and unconstitutional “emergency” misappropriation of  Treasury and Defense Department funds for his pet “border wall” project, making it easier to rein in presidential misbehavior.

Silly earmarks are fun to point out, but concern over them comes at the expense of addressing the bigger problem: The spending is too damn high.

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Instead of a US Peace Plan for the Middle East, How about a US Peace Plan for the US?

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo describes the Trump administration’s plan for peace between Israel and Palestinian Arabs as “unexecutable.” President Trump says Pompeo “may be right.”

Good! As addiction counselors say, the first step is admitting you have a problem.  With addiction, the way out is not “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It’s admitting that the thing you’re addicted to will never solve your problems and giving up that thing.

The United States suffers from a long-term addiction, since at least the end of World War 2, to trying to run the world.

That addiction has cost American taxpayers trillions of dollars.

It’s cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans and millions of citizens of other countries.

It’s empowered evil regimes to suppress human rights both at home and abroad.

And it has never, ever “worked” in the sense of bringing about lasting peace, any more than booze saves marriages or methamphetamine repairs mental anguish.

In fact, just like booze or methamphetamine, the US addiction to world “leadership” wrecks the lives of everyone around the addict too. Which means that if the US gets its act together, everyone else, not just Americans, will be better off.

Here’s a four-step peace plan that addresses the roots of the problem instead of just unsuccessfully trying to treat the symptoms:

First, the US should shut down its military bases on foreign soil and withdraw its troops from the foreign countries they’re currently operating in.

Second, the US should end economic sanctions on, and extend full diplomatic recognition and trade privileges to, all the countries it’s currently bullying.

Third, the US should end all foreign aid, especially military aid.

Fourth and finally, the US should dramatically decrease its so-called “defense” budget to levels consistent with actual defense.

Cold turkey withdrawal may be out of the question, but the US can and should wean itself off the damaging drug of foreign interventionism.

Let the Arabs and Israelis settle their own hash. Quit taking sides between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Stop pretending North Korea is or ever has been a threat to the United States. Step back and let Venezuelans, Syrians, and Libyans decide who’s going to run Venezuela, Syria, and Libya.

It won’t be easy, but it’s not complicated either. The US can continue drinking itself to death on the poison of foreign meddling, or not. Not is better.

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Why is Immigration a “Contentious Issue in Classical Liberalism”?

“Contentious Issues in Classical Liberalism” was the theme of this year’s Mont Pelerin Society.  This gave me a chance to explore a major puzzle: Sociologically, immigration clearly deserves to be on the agenda.  After all, many people otherwise sympathetic to human freedom and free markets support even more immigration restrictions than we already have.  Intellectually, however, it’s hard to see why.

The plot thickens when you notice that pro-freedom immigration skeptics routinely use arguments that almost never use in any other context, starting with:

1. Collective ownership.  Yes, if countries are the collective property of their citizens, then they have a right to regulate immigration.  But this also implies nations’ right to regulate everything else, too!  You can’t live on my land without my consent, but neither can you open a store on my land without my consent, or even hire someone to work on my land for less than the minimum wage without my consent.

2. Collective guilt.  Yes, if e.g. foreign Muslims are collectively guilty for whatever wrongs foreign Muslims have done in the past, then immigration restrictions against Muslims would be justified.  But this also implies that other people can legitimately hold us collectively guilty for whatever wrongs “we’ve” done in the past.  So affirmative action, reparations for slavery and colonialism, returning land to American Indians, and much more are suddenly on the agenda.

3. Shocking anecdotes.  Yes, if we ought to take shocking anecdotes seriously, then any awful immigrant action on CNN justifies a major policy response.  But this also implies that shocking anecdotes about poverty, health care, worker safety, and the environment on CNN also justify major policy responses.

4. Popular support.  Yes, if “This is what citizens want, and they’re entitled to get their way,” then immigration restrictions easily pass muster.  But so do virtually all the policies classical liberals traditionally oppose, starting with protectionism and a bunch of price controls.

Unless you’re going to abandon the whole classical liberal framework, basic intellectual hygiene requires you to excise any argument along these lines.  What remains?  Only arguments claiming that the consequences of immigration are awful enough to overcome the standard classical liberal presumption against government action.

How does that approach fare?  See my full presentation to find out.  Bonus: A bunch of Zach Weinersmith cartoons!

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American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond

The Civil War (1861-1865) was nothing less than a revolutionary reorganization of American government, society, and economics. It claimed almost as many lives as every other U.S. conflict combined and, by war’s bloody logic, forged the nation which the Founding Fathers could not by settling once and for all lingering national questions about state sovereignty and slavery.

The postwar period, however, was one of arguably greater turmoil than the war itself. This is because many men in the South did not, in fact, lay down their arms at the end of the War. What’s more, freedmen, former slaves that were now American citizens, had to take defensive measures against pro-Democratic Party partisans, the most famous of whom were the Ku Klux Klan.

America’s militia has existed for a number of purposes and has exercised a surprising number of roles over the years. But at its core, it’s a bulwark of the power of the country against the power of the state. In Early American Militias: The Forgotten History of Freedmen Militias from 1776 until the Civil War, we covered the historical roots of the militia. Below is the modern history of the militia following the Civil War, and how unforeseen changes which started during Reconstruction have set the stage for the contemporary movement of Constitutional citizens militias.

Continue reading American Militias after the Civil War: From Black Codes to the Black Panthers and Beyond at Ammo.com.

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Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs, & Mass Shootings

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), a mass murder occurs when at least four people are murdered, not including the shooter, over a relatively short period of time during a single incident. Over the last 30 years, the United States has seen a significant increase in mass shootings, which are becoming more frequent and more deadly.

Seemingly every time a mass shooting occurs, whether it’s at a synagogue in Pittsburgh or a nightclub in Orlando, the anti-gun media and politicians have a knee-jerk response – they blame the tragedy solely on the tool used, namely firearms, and focus all of their proposed “solutions” on more laws, ignoring that the murderer already broke numerous laws when they committed their atrocity.

Facts matter when addressing such an emotionally charged topic, and more gun control legislation has shown that law-abiding Americans who own guns are not the problem. Consider the following: The more gun control laws that are passed, the more mass murders have occurred.

Whether or not this is correlation or causation is debatable. What is not debatable is that this sick phenomenon of mass murderers targeting “gun-free zones,” where they know civilian carry isn’t available to law-abiding Americans, is happening. According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, 97.8 percent of public shootings occur in “gun-free zones” – and “gun-free zones” are the epitome of the core philosophical tenant of gun control, that laws are all the defense one needs against violence.

Therefore, when the media and politicians focus their ire on guns, specifically what types of guns are used, such as AR-styles, carbines, semi-automatics, and “high capacity” handguns, in the wake of such tragedies the American public are being intentionally drawn into an emotionally charged debate about legal gun ownership (irrespective of whether the murderer’s gun was legally or illegally obtained). This debate leads them away from the elephant in the room and one of the real issues behind mass shootings – mental health and prescription drugs.

Ignoring what’s going on in the heads of these psychopaths not only allows mass shootings to continue, it leads to misguided gun control laws that violate the Second Amendment and negate the rights of law-abiding U.S. citizens. As Jeff Snyder put it in The Washington Times:

“But to ban guns because criminals use them is to tell the innocent and law-abiding that their rights and liberties depend not on their own conduct, but on the conduct of the guilty and the lawless, and that the law will permit them to have only such rights and liberties as the lawless will allow.”

Violence, especially random violence, is a complex manifestation of various thoughts, feelings, and external factors. When a multivariate analysis of these factors is conducted, it becomes apparent that it’s not just mental health issues that are leading to such an increase. There may be an underlying substance which plays a role in a high percentage of these violent acts – the use of prescription antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs.

At first glance, it makes sense that those involved in mass shootings may be taking antidepressants, as they’re clearly suffering from some sort of mental health issue. But the issue with SSRIs runs much deeper than just a random mental health break. These drugs are a prescription for violent crimes, and that’s a story the anti-gun media and politicians don’t want to talk about.

Continue reading Prescription For Violence: The Corresponding Rise of Antidepressants, SSRIs, & Mass Shootings at Ammo.com.

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Laws Are Creating Immigration Issue

Imagine you have an antique car in your back yard behind a privacy fence. A neighbor climbs your fence, sees the car, and decides something must be done about it. How he decided your property is his concern is a mystery. Clearly, he’s a bad neighbor who doesn’t mind his own business.

Then it gets worse. He doesn’t ask about the car, offer to buy it or to help you get it running. Instead, he hires the local crime boss to force you to build a shed for the car, paint it pink, give it square wheels, and pay an annual ransom for the privilege of owning it. Or else it will be taken from you and you’ll be punished.

This is how government solves problems. Very often these problems shouldn’t even be government’s business, even if it’s possible to apply a law or two to the situation.

If you are waiting for government to solve a problem you are wasting time.

If you imagine problems where none exist, you are the problem.

This is why most political discussion is, at best, misguided.

People debate how government should address health care when government shouldn’t be involved in health care at all. Don’t insist government come up with a health care plan, demand it gets out of the way.

Easily manipulated people panic over “climate change.” Even if it’s a net negative and your fault, don’t ask government to make up laws to violate your life, liberty, and property to fight it. It’s not government’s business. Don’t soil your own nest with pollution or laws.

People argue over immigration, border walls, and sanctuary cities when the Constitution doesn’t allow the federal government to keep people out of the country. Yes, it outlines steps for people already here to become citizens and regulates the importation of slaves, but those are not what people argue about.

Government laws create the immigration issue. Don’t look to government and its laws to address immigration; insist government stop criminalizing private property rights, the right to self-defense, and the right of association.

Everyone has the right to associate with — or avoid — anyone for any reason. Laws that force people together or apart are the problem.

Anything you ask government to address gives government more power. Government employees feed on this power like vampires feed on arterial blood. You won’t solve a problem — real or imagined — by involving those who use problems as an excuse to gain power.

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