McCarthyism, Then and Now

Nobody asked but …

The stale whiff of McCarthyism stole across the venue of the State of the Union address last week.  POTUS played the “socialism” card, or rather he just showed the back of the card, allowing no peeks at the face of the card — not of its value, not of its suit.  He was deliberately vague and ambiguous.  He traded in his wall and immigration, in favor of an even more nebulous concept, gearing up for 2020.  Wonder why he didn’t go all in against communism?

I am all in against both communism and socialism.  I believe that nothing should be subjugated to state interests.  That is why I believe that when politicians use fear of these preposterous systems, they are playing with fire.

Let’s face it, immigration and the border wall had 6 years of exposure under Bush II, and now another two under POTUS (clown car edition).  That’s more than double the mileage that Joe McCarthy got out of the era of McCarthyism.

All adult Americans should consider it a mandatory educational chore to learn, in some depth, the who, what, why, when, where, and how of the fervor against communism that distracted us, to the benefit of exploitative politicians, in the 1950s.  Google “books, articles, and research on McCarthyism.”  Make your own choices — you are responsible for what you learn.  Further, you are responsible for what you make of that knowledge.  It may be instructive to note that POTUS has invoked the words “witch hunt,” it seems, I could be wrong, more than has been done by any politician since the era of McCarthyism.

— Kilgore Forelle

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Educational Trolling (17m) – Episode 003

Episode 003: Jared shares his five rules to help facilitate better social media communication.

Listen to Episode 003 (17m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “voluntary contrarian”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc or PayPal.me/everythingvoluntary.

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Homeschoolers: Guilty Until Proven Innocent?

My eight-year-old daughter and I recently read about the Salem witch trials. She had heard about Salem from a friend who visited the nearby town during its popular Halloween festivities, and she was curious about the witches. We went to the library to get some books on the topic of how 20 innocent people were put to death for “witchcraft” in 1692, with scores more accused and jailed.

What struck me most about revisiting the Salem Witch Trials with my children was the fact that these English Puritans who had recently settled in Massachusetts Bay Colony had no presumption of innocence. Those accused of a crime at the time, both in the New World and elsewhere, were guilty until proven innocent. The presumption of innocence in trials, with court defenders and impartial juries, would take centuries to catch on. The phrase “innocent until proven guilty” was coined by an English lawyer in 1791, but even then it took a long while to become the legal precedent we all now take for granted.

A Pattern of Privacy Invasion

Of course, this legal designation is still imperfectly applied, particularly in cases of fear and bias against certain groups. The US PATRIOT Act, for instance, allows law enforcement agencies the authority to conduct surveillance on individuals and groups by monitoring personal phone calls, emails, and financial documents without a court order. First passed in 2001 in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and reauthorized since, it is intended to root out the evils of terrorism but does so by violating individual liberty and presuming guilt over innocence.

We see this pattern of privacy invasion by the state and presumed guilt in other areas, as well. In the United Kingdom, for example, there has been such a dramatic rise in the number of homeschoolers that the state believes it must regulate and monitor the practice. Estimates suggest that the number of homeschoolers in the UK increased 40 percent in just three years, and it is thought to be the fastest-growing education option in the UK, with approximately 60,000 homeschooled children in 2018.

The rapid growth of parents taking back control of their children’s education has led to calls by government officials to create a “compulsory register” of homeschooled children and to monitor their education. The UK’s Department of Education told the BBC through a spokesperson this week:

Where children are being home educated, we know that in the vast majority of cases parents are doing an excellent job. We also know, however, that in a very small minority of cases children are not receiving the standard of education they should be.

The idea that all homeschooling families in the UK must now be presumed guilty of neglect because a “very small minority” might be is not a legitimate reason to violate the privacy and personal freedom of law-abiding citizens. There are already laws to protect children from abuse and neglect in the UK and elsewhere, and those laws should be duly enforced; but subjecting all homeschooling families to regulation and oversight because of fears of a few is a blatant example of state intrusion.

Guilty Until Proven Innocent

Families often choose the homeschooling option because they are especially attentive to their child’s well-being. As The Guardian reported last fall:

Many parents who opt to homeschool their children say they are avoiding bullying, exam pressure and stress. Others have concerns about special educational needs, not getting a place at the school of their choice, or the school environment.

In other words, most of these homeschooling parents are going above and beyond to provide the best education for their children and should not have their decisions questioned and educational approaches monitored.

Supporters of homeschooling regulation, both in the United States and abroad, frequently say that it’s really no big deal. If you’re one of the vigilant homeschooling families then you shouldn’t mind state oversight. But that’s like saying if I have nothing to hide, it’s okay for the government to search my house and read my emails—without a warrant. It presumes guilt over innocence.

Intentions may be good. The Salem Puritans wanted to root out witchcraft and what they saw as the work of the devil. The PATRIOT Act aimed to prevent terrorism through government surveillance. Monitoring homeschooling families is presented as protecting children. But in all cases, innocent people are suspected of guilt and must prove themselves worthy. It’s antithetical to the values of a free society.

I wanted to tell my daughter that we’re so much better now than those Puritans, that “innocent until proven guilty” now prevails. But I’m honestly not so sure.

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Immigration and Redistribution: The Research to Trust

Evaluating the quality of research is laborious.  Unless you re-do the whole paper yourself, how do you know the authors were not only truthful, but careful?  Faced with this quandary, one of my favorite heuristics is to ask: Did the authors want to find this result?  If the answer is No, I put a lot more credence into the results.  In research as in the law, statements contrary to interest count more.

For example, when I learned that most economists find little effect of national education on national GDP, I was simultaneously surprised and convinced.  Surprised, because I know that most economists want to find a big effect of national education on national GDP.  Convinced, because if legions of smart people fail to find the result they want, the best explanation is that what they want to believe isn’t true.

Moving along…  Many people debate the effect of immigration on redistribution.  Libertarians (like me) want to find that immigration reduces redistribution, because we like immigration but dislike redistribution.  As a result, non-libertarians sensibly discount libertarian claims that this is so.  Sensible libertarians would do the same.  People who agree with you are still flawed human beings, right?

So how can we approach the truth despite these impediments?  Well, most of the researchers who study the effect of immigration on redistribution are, in fact, left-wing.  They like immigration and redistribution, so they want to find that immigration increases redistribution.

In practice, however, they usually don’t.  And it disturbs them!  Here are two notable examples.

First, Alesina, Miano, and Stantcheva’s recent NBER working paper:

Support for redistribution is strongly correlated with the perceived composition of immigrants — their origin and economic contribution — rather than with the perceived share of immigrants per se. Given the very negative baseline views that respondents have of immigrants, simply making them think about immigration in a randomized manner makes them support less redistribution, including actual donations to charities. We also experimentally show respondents information about the true i) number, ii) origin, and iii) “hard work” of immigrants in their country. On its own, information on the “hard work” of immigrants generates more support for redistribution. However, if people are also prompted to think in detail about immigrants’ characteristics, then none of these favorable information treatments manages to counteract their negative priors that generate lower support for redistribution.

While Alesina et al. maintain a scholarly tone, their sympathies are pretty clear:

Anti-immigration parties have an incentive to maintain and even foster the extent of misinformation. Because information is endogenous, a vicious cycle of disinformation may arise. The more natives are misinformed, the more they become averse to immigrants and redistribution, and the more they may look for confirmation of their views in the media.

Second, Soroka, Banting, and Johnston’s chapter in Globalization and Egalitarian Redistribution (Princeton University Press and Russell Sage Foundation, 2006):

International migration does seem to matter for the size of the welfare state. Although no welfare state has actually shrunk in the face of the accelerating international movement of people, its rate of growth is smaller the more open a society is to immigration. To the extent that spending growth is inescapable, mandated by the aging of populations in industrial societies, specific parts of the welfare states—especially the parts that redistribute from rich to poor or from the old to the young—may truly have shrunk in the face of migratory pressures. Whatever the details, the typical industrial society might spend 16 or 17% more than it now does on social services had it kept its foreign-born percentage where it was in 1970.

Their sympathies, too, are also pretty clear:

What do the propositions imply? They do seem to vindicate Miller’s (1995) worries about threats to the national basis of the welfare state… The attitudinal problem is more among natives than newcomers and reflects more the apprehension of cultural threat than the fact of threat. But those apprehensions, combined with often realistic appraisals of cost and benefit, mean that the human component of globalization may represent a constraint on the expansion of welfare states that seemed fully consolidated two decades ago.

If you want to go meta, you could naturally object, “Libertarians want to believe that non-libertarian researchers support their desired conclusions.  So why should I trust Bryan’s summary of the research?”  Yes, it’s a problem, but it’s not insuperable.  Try reading Alesina et al.’s literature review and see for yourself if I’m being unfair.

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Poverty and Success

Perhaps the most unpopular opinion I hold is that—in spite of the myriad obstacles to success instigated by the state—success is still achievable by a significant percentage of the population (>95%) and poverty is a result of one’s own choices in a similar percentage of cases.

I am not suggesting that everyone’s idea of success necessarily requires financial wealth or that poverty (a lack of financial wealth) is always an undesirable state of existence. Some people do indeed choose to prioritize other goals above wealth, and that is certainly their right. I also acknowledge that there are some people (<5%) in any population who, due to severe disability or state maleficence (typically through the so-called “criminal justice system“), have limited or no ability to achieve financial success.

Caveats aside, my basic thesis is that greater than 95 percent of people are capable of and have the opportunity to achieve financial success, but that many (and even a majority) do not take advantage of their opportunities. There are numerous decisions, reasons, and alternative priorities that explain this phenomenon and the following are far from an exhaustive list.

  1. Not taking advantage of educational opportunities. In the U.S. and most developed countries, basic education is available to all at no charge and higher education is available inexpensively or even at no charge to those who can demonstrate financial hardship. In addition, the information age has led to an unprecedented increase in the quantity and quality of educational materials available at little or even no charge. Nearly anyone can learn to do anything if they are willing to put in the effort. Those who choose to live their lives in ignorance have almost always chosen that path.
  2. Having children (they cannot afford) too young. This is another huge predictor of one’s likelihood of achieving financial success. Having children represents nearly a quarter-million dollars’ worth of expenses taken on which will have to be paid in a span of fewer than two decades. Why do people make this foolish choice? If your finances would not support the purchase of a Lamborghini Huracán, they also don’t support you having a child. Wait or abstain!
  3. An unwillingness to relocate. Here we see another significant problem that plagues the perpetually poor. Sometimes opportunity doesn’t knock on your door. Sometimes you have to go hunt for it. Cost of living is also a major factor here. The Apartment List National Rent Report found that the median rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City was $2,523. It was even higher at $2,621 in San Jose, CA. Compare that to Phoenix, AZ or Houston, TX where the averages were $1,061 and $1,024 respectively.

It is not just rent either; today, the average cost for a gallon of gas in San Jose, CA, is $3.27 while in Houston, TX, it’s $1.93. Play with a Cost Of Living Calculator and observe the difference. Right now, the cost of living is 44.33% lower in Houston than in the San Francisco area and 56.82% lower than in the Manhattan area. Why do poor people stay in expensive cities?

What about finding a job? The lowest unemployment in the country right now is in the Ames, IA Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) at just 1.4 percent. That’s less than half the 3.6 percent unemployment rate in the New York MSA, and yet the cost of living in Ames, IA, is 59.19% lower than in Manhattan. If you are working full time earning $20 an hour (well above the minimum wage) in New York, you could move to Ames, IA, and take a job making $8.50 an hour and you would be better off ($8.17/hr. is the breakeven point.) Oh, and gas at Sam’s Club in Ames is going for $1.86 a gallon today.

So what is my point with all this information? My point is that if people would make smarter decisions—particularly about their education, when they have children, and where they live—they would have a far greater chance of achieving financial success. I’m not suggesting that it is always easy or that there are not obstacles to overcome, but I am suggesting that it is not nearly as difficult as some people claim. Poverty is not the fault of billionaires or of “greedy capitalists” or of some systemic injustice that keeps “po’ folks” down. Poverty is the natural and predictable result of ongoing poor choices, and until people realize this and start taking responsibility for their own culpability in their financial situations, we will continue to hear the growing chorus of complainers demanding political intervention to redistribute money from those who earned it to those who did not.

With few exceptions, it is fair to say that poor people make poor choices.

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The Best Things to Learn about Raising Children (37m) – Episode 275

Episode 275 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: using an essay by Leo Babauta of ZenHabits.net, he looks at 18 of the best things to learn about raising children; loving your children unconditionally; helicopter parenting; the harmful effects of harsh discipline; self-directed education; learning independence; democratic family decision-making; leading your children by example; parental contrition; shielding children from sex, drugs, and technology; giving children space; recognizing that your children should be allowed to become their own person; and more.

Listen to Episode 275 (37m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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