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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Legalized Plunder Becomes Plain Old Stealing

Governments have stolen from their citizens for as long as governments have existed. Fredrick Bastiat, in The Law, used the phrase “legalized plunder” to describe this theft. Legalized plunder is theft that becomes legitimized and legalized when the criminals make the laws. It is commonly known as taxes. The looters have conditioned us to believe that this is how it has to be; we are told the only constants in life are death and taxes. They have also led us to believe that when money is forcibly taken from us without our consent that it is ok when the government is the one holding the gun.

Due to “recent budget problems” (a.k.a. the states spent too damn much of your money) California and Kansas are going to “delay” paying income tax refunds. They will not be paying the citizens any interest or fees for keeping the money, and who knows if they will ever actually pay the money back. These states have crossed the line from legal plunder to plain old stealing.

The income tax refund is when the government takes more from you than it is legally allowed to steal so they give part of it back (without interest). Up until now, they have been nice criminals and gave back some of what they stole (in Colorado they were forced by TABOR to give it back). Wouldn’t it be great if the mugger in the park would send you a check for some of the money he took from you?

These governments have decided that in these tough economic times they need your money more than you do (just like the mugger in the park). Better be careful next time you buy a car. Use exact change because GM might decide to keep the change to help with their budget problems.

Colorado did this in 2005 with the passage of Referendum C. At least they had the decency to ask us if they could steal our money and let the tyranny of the majority punish the minority. California and Kansas didn’t bother with that formality.

Where is the moral outrage from the citizens of these states? Where are the cries of “No taxation without representation?” How much more abuse are we going to accept from our governments?

Selfish Students

Everyday there is talk about selfish, greedy businessmen interested only in profit. They say these selfish people should “give back” to the community and have “social responsibility.” These businessmen don’t need so much money and it isn’t fair.

What about the selfish, greedy high school and college students who are only concerned with grades? They get better grades than they need to graduate. They do nothing to help those who are struggling to get by. Students drop out of school everyday because they can’t make it and these selfish students are getting A’s and B’s. When will these students “give back” to their fellow students? Where is their “social responsibility” to sacrifice their 4.0 to help a struggling student?

In college, most students need a C or C+ to pass their class. In high school they need D’s in most cases. If these students only need a C or D to pass their class, why are they so selfish and get A’s and B’s? Rather than spending three hours every night doing homework, why don’t they do one hour of homework to get a C and spend the other two hours doing the homework of struggling students? Some students may not be as smart or as ambitious. They might work, play sports, or like to party and not have time to study and do their homework. Is it fair that they should fail while others get better grades than they need?

These selfish students then use their excessive grades to get into good colleges or graduate schools. They then go on to get good jobs and become the selfish businessmen. Other students have to go to community colleges or go straight to work after high school. Is it fair that some students should get to go to better colleges just because they spent extra time studying and doing homework?

In order to have the same type of fair school systems that many want in our business world, we need to denounce these selfish students just as we denounce entrepreneurs and CEO’s. These students should be responsible for the grades of their fellow students. The selfish, overachieving students should also be restricted to the number of hours they can study and do homework so that the other students have a chance to compete. In the spirit of “social responsibility,” those students who have the time to study more, should be required to do the work of those students who can’t or won’t. They should work according to their ability, to give to others based on their need.

These are the ideas that are expected of our businesses, why shouldn’t we expect it at all levels? We denounce the rich and the successful as having more than they need. Why do we celebrate students who get better grades than they need? We hate the rich and want the government to level the playing field, but we call the selfish students “valedictorians” and let them give speeches at graduation. We give them honors, respect, and pride them on their selfish pursuit of excessive grades.

The problem is not that we celebrate those who earn better grades than they need, but that we denounce those who earn more money than they need. We celebrate scholastic achievement but denounce productive achievement. We don’t expect students to go against their self interest and give back to the less fortunate students, but we expect it from the producers. Our heroes should be the people who live to pursue their own happiness and self interest; those who do not sacrifice for others or ask others to sacrifice for them. Ayn Rand described man as a, “heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.”

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Time for Bat'leth Control

Today a man wielding a Klingon Bat'leth blade robbed a 7-Eleven. Where are the calls for Bal’leth control? How did this man obtain this dangerous weapon? If he was able to get this “deadly weapon,” how easy is it for our children to get one? They can be obtained online, at pawn shops, and weapons stores with no regulation. There is no background check to make sure the buyer is not a felon, insane, or a member of a murderous race of humanoids intent on destroying the United Federation. If we don’t do something soon, today it was a petty robbery, next it will be a school Bat’leth killing spree, and then there will be blood in the streets ending in galactic conquest. How many people have to be robbed before we institute a 5 day waiting period and registration of all Sci-Fi themed weaponry?

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Dirt on Restaurant Inspections: Health Department Gets Failing Grade

(Originally written September 4, 2008)

The El Paso County Health Department says it can't perform all required inspections of retail food establishments, public pools, and tattoo parlors. There is a solution that doesn’t require increasing taxes or added bureaucracy.

Rosemary Bakes-Martin, an El Paso County Public Health Administrator, says, “With increased populations, more restaurants are opening up. We can’t get out and do the inspections we are supposed to do, even those that are mandated by state law, so we are seeing more people get sick from eating in some of our restaurants.”

For each of the last three years, complaints and food-borne illness outbreaks have increased. The reported illness or complaints requiring Health Department attention rose from 60 in 2005 to 299 in 2007. In 2007 there were two reported food borne illness outbreaks, and in the first half of 2008 there were 14.

On August 2, 2008 the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest released a report listing cities with the dirtiest restaurants. Colorado Springs ranked as the fourth dirtiest with 46 violations in 30 restaurants and Denver was seventh with 35 violations in 30 restaurants.

Surprisingly, the situation in El Paso County may lead to improved health conditions. Restaurants are now responsible for the safety of their customers and can no longer pass it on to the government.

In 1993, a chain of Jack-In-The-Box restaurants in Washington started an E. coli outbreak hospitalizing 11 children, killing one, and leaving eight on kidney dialysis. The outbreak came because the chain did not cook their burgers at the new, higher temperature established by the Health Department. The restaurant passed its previous inspection, but the Health Department admits they may not have properly informed the restaurants about the change. The Health Department gave Jack-In-The-Box a false sense of security. The restaurant had no reason to change their actions because they trusted the government inspection. This failure not only caused many to get sick, but gave the restaurants an excuse to pass the blame to the government.

The private sector can help provide solutions to this problem. There are private inspectors for homes and building, why not restaurants? A Florida inspection company, BSF Food & Alcohol Testing, picks up the slack for the government’s failures. Vincent Giordano, Vice President at BSF, explains that the Florida government “inspectors would allow establishments to remain open with 50-150 critical violations and only perform inspections once or twice a year…Usually an [official] inspector is in and out within an hour; we usually take about 3-4 hours and leave a very detailed report.” The company has been contacted to do inspections in two Colorado tattoo parlors and says they would be eager to work with Colorado restaurants.

It is important for businesses to provide a safe and clean environment for their customers.

If a restaurant cuts corners and does not maintain a clean facility, control pests, and properly store and prepare food, the customers will not have a pleasant experience. Few people want to eat in a dirty restaurant or have mice or cockroaches scurrying around. Beyond that, one of the most effective ways to lose customers is to make them sick.

Private inspections would make restaurants more responsible for the health of their customers by taking the sole burden off the government. Hiring private inspectors, secret shoppers, and better managers will attract diners by assuring them that the restaurants are safe and clean. Supplemental private inspections also help assure the businesses that they will be able to pass their next county inspections.

Consumer advocates and the media can also step in to make things cleaner and safer. They provide another incentive for cleanliness by exposing dirty and unsafe conditions to the public.

If a restaurant or inspection company fails, they lose money and go out of business. If the government fails, it asks for more tax dollars. By hiring private sector inspection companies, El Paso County restaurants can make themselves known for exemplary standards of safety.

The Philosophy of Liberty

Is Greed Good?

“Greed is Good.” I heard that three times last summer from three different types of people. First from a socialist professor who said that capitalism is based on greed and when I challenged him, he said that greed doesn’t have to be bad. Really? The next day my marketing professor told an anecdote about her professor who wrote “Greed is Good” on the board on the first day of class and then told all of the students to watch the movie“Wall Street.” I told that story to some people at a free market think tank where I interned, and was surprised when two of them agreed and mentioned that a speaker who would be attending an event we were hosting wrote the book Greed is Good: The Capitalist Pig Guide to Investing. I don’t want to discuss the book or why he chose that title, but rather the idea that greed can be good. Is there a definition of which I am not aware? The definition of greed on is “a selfish and excessive desire for more of something (as money) than is needed.” This is a poor and vague definition, because who decides how much is needed? A better definition of greed is a desire to take all you can. I cannot see how taking all that you can get can be good and it explains why I have never heard greed used to describe anything virtuous.

Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, and while I am not religious, I agree that things like sloth and gluttony are bad. At the same time though, pride and lust are also deadly sins. Pride can be either good or bad depending on the level to which you are prideful. You should take pride in your work and be proud of your accomplishments, but when you become too prideful you become arrogant and pompous. Lust is not necessarily ever a good thing, but it is natural and can range from neutral to very bad depending on the level of lust. Is this the case with greed? Can greed be good or bad depending on how it is used or to what level? I have never heard it used to describe anything good. Being “greedy as a pig” comes from the pig’s voracious and disgusting eating habits. When you push your luck gambling and lose everything, people will say that you lost because you got greedy. Greed is the reason why Enron executives swindled their employees and stockholders. It is also why businesses lobby elected officials for special treatment and corporate welfare. Bernie Madoff was greedy when he ran a ponzi scheme and stole $50 billion. Greed doesn’t drive people to take more than they need, it drives them to take more than they earn.

In the discussion with my co-workers, they made the argument that greed is what drives people to be the best. To start the best company and to make the most money you can by providing the best service to your customers. They used it to express the rational self interest that drives all of us. They said that we are all greedy to do what is in our best interest and to make the most of ourselves. I argued that a better term for what they described would be ambition. While I believe that greed is the desire to take as much as you can and ambition is the desire to earn as much as you can. It is only one different word, but that one word makes all the difference. To take whatever you want, means that you would be willing to lie, cheat, and steal to achieve your goals. This makes a zero sum game in which one party wins only when the other loses. When you are ambitious, however, you work for what you get and you win only when you provide value to another. Both partied benefit. This is how they described greed to be good. Basically we were talking about the same thing, but they used the word greed where I used the word ambition. Rather than use a different word to fit their argument, they changed the meaning of the word. In the end, I knew what they were trying to say and it made sense. The problem with using a negative word to mean something positive is that every time you use the word you have to make sure that everyone understands the definition you are using.

My first thought is that the liberty movement is trying to do is what they always do when challenged by leftists, accept their premise and fight from behind. It has become the go-to argument for those on the left to call capitalists greedy. Rather than dispute the claim that we are greedy and say that we are ambitious (a term that most consider positive) we try to change the definition of greed from being a negative term to one that is positive. This seems to be a terrible way to market liberty and capitalism to a country that is becoming increasingly socialist due to its ignorance and apathy. Why would you take a negative word and intentionally attach it to yourself in the hope that you can make it positive?

After I considered it for awhile, I thought of another way that changing the definition could be beneficial. It is very difficult to change a word’s meaning, but once you do, you can control the word and destroy it if necessary. The leftists call capitalists greedy, so if we can make it meaningless, it would take the word from them. This is what has happened to the word fascist. It has been used in so many different, incorrect ways that it has become meaningless. Fascism is typically referred to as “right-wing.” Fascism is a leftist movement that is a slight variation on socialism. The simplified difference between socialism and fascism is that under socialism the government controls the means of production and redistributes wealth and property. Under fascism, there is private ownership of the means of production, but the government controls how it is used through regulations, laws, taxes, and intimidation. In the sense that there is still private ownership of the means of production it is right of socialism, but just barely and it is far from being “right-wing.” It would be like calling conservatism left-wing because it is slightly left of libertarianism. However, it became a term used to refer to conservatives and now is pretty much a term for general dislike of anyone in a position of power. The word is completely useless now in any argument, because it is overused and if you try to use it correctly to describe a person or policy, you have to spend the next seven years of your life explaining what fascism means and eventually you just give up. The left has also effectively changed the meaning of the word liberal to get away from calling themselves “progressive” and now that liberal is no longer en vogue they are going back to calling themselves progressives, all of this, of course, to hide that they are socialists and fascists.

If the left can destroy words that are harmful to them, why can’t we? If we can change the meaning of greed to something positive, or at least caste doubt in the meaning of the word, we could render it useless. It would reach a point where you would call someone greedy and they wouldn’t know whether to thank you or punch you. The problem is that while the left has slowly changed the meaning of fascist, they didn’t make it positive. They passed the negative term to the right and then over used it to make it meaningless.

Could embracing the word greed be helpful for capitalists or would it perpetuate the myths about capitalism already spread by the left? Could we successfully convince people that there is virtue in greed, or is this just another way to play into the hands of the left by adopting their terminology? Is this movement to make greed good a way to help spread capitalism or a way to justify greed by the truly greedy?