Feel the Bern: Part 3: Social Justice

Social Injustice & Inequality

The second video of the sociopolitical discourse between Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders kicks off with Bernie bemoaning the “outrage” that is the existence of homelessness in America. He is also rightfully upset over the employment status of the African American demographic. The growth of American incarceration is mentioned, as is outsourcing jobs to foreign countries, and tax evasion among the wealthy. He rails against the indifference of business owners towards the national debt, against the greed of the “people on top,” and against America choosing a wealth/poverty system over a equally-and-moderately prosperous system.

Killer Mike, for his part, professes a trust of most old people and criticizes the departure of the American steel industry. He lays this at the feet of the increasing selfishness and greed throughout the country and wonders why people vote against their own self-interest. The video ends in agreement on the dangers posed by creating monarchs of political families.

Homelessness: To Be Or Not To Be?

A major problem in American discourse on homelessness is the variance of definitions. Generally, when a typical American refers to someone as “homeless,” the implication is that they are chronically homeless, in the sense that they have been homeless for a period of years. It also typically implies that they are likely to remain homeless. The problem is that both these characteristics are a tiny, though not insignificant, minority.

According to the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s 2010 Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress (AHAR), approximately 1.59 million Americans were homeless at some point between October of 2009 and September of 2010. Let’s stop right there and note the accomplishment. The 2010 census revealed a US population of 308 million:

Homeless:   1590000
American: 308000000

Even assuming that all of the 2010 homeless were permanently homeless, that means the homeless population accounts for 0.5% of the US population. While we should certainly strive to eliminate this unfortunate phenomenon, a 99.5% success rate is pretty amazing, as I’m sure any grade-schooler expecting a report card would agree.

But that 0.5% can be considered exaggerated, because only 39.1% of that 1.59 million were homeless prior to October of 2009, bringing what might be termed the “homeless problem” down to 0.2%! I do not mean to dismiss the hardships the other 955K people endured, but while homelessness that ends in less than a year[1] is worth addressing, it is not all-important, especially in the face of the yearly million or so abortions and the specter of more US involvement in the Middle East. Nor does it necessitate a massive rethinking of the system.

In any case, the number of chronically (using a fairly liberal definition[2]) homeless individuals – that is, the definition most commonly assumed by typical Americans – was around 124K in 2010. It is worth mentioning how many of the homeless actually choose homelessness due to a gypsy-like love of roaming, a desire for near-total freedom, or even, yes, simple laziness. My parents once took a homeless woman off the streets for several months. They finally made the difficult decision to have her leave after she spent those months watching TV over the Internet in the room she virtually monopolized, all while doing nothing around the house save cleaning dishes on occasion. She did have some mitigating health issues, but the point is that she never exhibited a desire to earn her keep or even express gratitude in any tangible sense.

Hopefully, we can agree that the issue of homelessness is small enough to be considered even by the most ardent statist as falling under the purview of private charity and existing systems.

Black Employment

It is true that the employment situation among African Americans is disproportionately negative. However, it does not necessarily logically follow that this necessitates political action. Given that the United States has elected a black President and that many of the country’s leading executives and business owners are minorities, it is irrational to assume the unemployment issue is a result of systemic racism. And therefore, I find it very likely that it is cultural shifts – not political revolutions – that are required. The idolization of gangsters and the idea that economic success marks one as discredited or even someone who betrays or abandons one’s race must stop. I won’t be so arrogant as to outline goals and plans for the reduction of African American unemployment. There are many people more qualified and in touch with the community than either myself or Bernie Sanders. And many of them are saying the exact things I just wrote.

Wisdom of the Ancients

Killer Mike briefly breaks from politics to express his trust for most of the elderly. It might interest those of similar sentiments to know that the elderly are much more likely than youth to embrace the label of “conservative,” which when coupled with the idea that the elderly possess vast stores of wisdom gives rise to the saying that “a young conservative has no heart, but an old liberal has no brain.”

Steeling Economic Prosperity

Killer Mike cites the flight of the US steel industry as evidence of growing selfishness, completely ignoring the preceding unionization of the steel industry and accompanying rise in costs, the liberalization of China, and other relevant factors. This seems indicative of a common statist practice – ascribing malicious motives to the direct actors of a specific economic event rather than holistically considering all the build-up and convergence of circumstances that propels a system to such an act.

Similarly, Sanders lambastes U.S. business owners for moving jobs overseas, which creates several interesting questions. First, where is the intellectual integrity in demanding higher wages while simultaneously wishing to penalize outsourcing? Second, is Sanders implying that Americans deserve those jobs more than the Chinese or the Indians? If so, how can he claim that his ideology is motivated by a compassion for the poor or a desire for equality? If not, then why is outsourcing a morally negative practice?

The Good Old Days

Mike and Bernie seem in agreement that the United States is becoming more selfish, more greedy, and more self-absorbed. Putting aside the issue that this supposed trend coincides temporally with a rise in policies and legislation in line with Sanders’ plans (increases of government spending, increased welfare, increased taxes, increased regulation), I wish to examine this common failing amongst people of all walks of life and political persuasions. That is, a yearning for the Good Old Days and a belief that people from one time period are fundamentally different than those from some preceding time period. The Good Old Days of business owners supposedly caring more for their employees and being more selfless were also the Bad Old Days of lower standards-of-living, racist legislation, and massive warfare. I am not implying causal links between these things. I am merely attempting to remove the rose-colored glasses with which these two statists are viewing modern history.

What About the Deficit?

Continuing in a similar vein, Sanders attacks business owners for not caring about the national deficit. This is highly irrational and hypocritical. Irrational because, except in the context of voting, it is not truly a business owner’s responsibility to care for the national deficit. That is the responsibility of those who create it, i.e. the government, i.e. Senator Sanders. His attack heavily implies that he believes one should have concern for the deficit. That is an interesting opinion for a man who consistently advocates for increased government spending in almost every category. One may argue that he also endorses corresponding tax increases, but if the government has thus far been unable to balance what it has, it seems unwise to exacerbate the problem by continuously tithing more and more money into the abyss.

Greed

A consistent theme throughout the video is the greed of the rich and powerful. But Mike and Bernie seem to espouse a double standard on the definition of greed. According to the Sum Total of Human Knowledge, greed is composed of an

intense and selfish desire for something, especially wealth, power, or food.

Selfish simply means to desire for oneself (without regard for or to the detriment of others). While the wealthy Sanders and successful Killer Mike may not be putting forth ideologies that are selfish from their perspective, it is obvious that they are appealing to the selfishness (and greed) of the voting public (among other – possibly more positive – things). And in this context of satisfying one’s own needs and wants by taxing the properties of others (and justifying it with accusations of excess and greed), we must add envy to the list as well. Sanders is building his campaign on voters’ desire for free healthcare, free food, free education, and free shelter. (That is, sanfreedoms.[3])

In light of this attack on selfishness and greed, it is incongruous that Killer Mike complains that many of the Sanders opposition seem to be voting against their own self-interest. One cannot maintain integrity by both attacking greed and appealing to it.

On a cliché note: Killer Mike and Bernie Sanders claim the country is selfish. Indeed it is, such is the nature of mankind. Free market economies are fueled by and dependent on this selfishness. The leftist ideals these two espouse are dependent on changing this aspect of human nature, of establishing a system fueled by that which we lack in sufficient quantities: selflessness.

Fallacy Time!

It is at this point that Bernie Sanders appeals to a major and all-too-common false dilemma. In his view, the world can be a world of haves and have-nots (the wealthy and the homeless) or a world where everyone is “doing pretty well.” It is inarguable that self-interest creates wealth (through mining, farming, and construction, among others). It is also evident that in the general sense, selflessness merely shares wealth (few have ever obtained or created jobs and goods solely for the purpose of providing for others). Therefore, a system that rewards selfishness will tend to increase in overall wealth, while a system that does not will tend to stay level at best, and will almost certainly decline.

The two options presented are not immediately obvious as a false dilemma until you add in the hidden qualifiers. That is, in Sanders’ view (as stated), the world can be a place of wealth disparity with a given quantity of wealth or a place of relative equality with that same quantity of wealth. In actuality there are several potential systems, and among them are wealth disparity with a world-leading quantity[4] of wealth and wealth equality with a much lesser quantity of wealth as evidenced by Denmark’s[5] $10,000-lower per-capita wealth.

To put it cliché terms, any rational individual would prefer a smaller slice of a larger pie than a perfectly equal slice of an insufficient, shrinking pie.

Together in One Accord

Killer Mike ends the video with apprehension over the potential creation of “monarch” families in American politics, a concern which I share wholeheartedly. He is referring to the potential of Hillary Clinton’s election as the second President in her household. And no doubt Sanders would use a similar argument (correctly and accurately) against a potential Bush dynasty.

I will however, caution that this is not a novel trend. The Kennedys have wielded substantial power over the last fifty years. Two Roosevelts have occupied the White House and the George W. Bush was not the first President Jr. While this concern would have likely prevented me from voting for Jeb Bush had he won the Republican primary, it is not cause for panic or hyperbole.

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, (b) the First Amendment does not prevent me from doing this, and (c) if you inform me via smoke signal that you are a socialist, I may wonder what a socialite is doing on a political blog.

Notes

  1. A conservative assumption, given that AHAR’s homelessness estimate for 2015 is a mere 0.5 million, meaning that homelessness is declining, meaning that those who were newly homeless were not likely to remain so
  2. 1+ years or 4 instances of homelessness in the last 3 years.
  3. See Part 2
  4. As Sanders himself emphasized so thoroughly only one video ago.
  5. It is unfair to single out a particular country (insufficient sample size), but Bernie chose this one, so my intellectual conscience is clear.

Edits

  1. 2016-06-02 10:33 EST – Slightly updated definition of selfishness.
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Feel the Bern: Part 2: Economic Freedom & Rights

Economic Freedom & Rights

econfreedomThe core of the first video in the interview between rapper Killer Mike and Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is Bernie Sanders’ discourse on freedom and rights. He equates the freedom of speech with a hypothetical right to healthcare, food,[1] shelter,[1] and education. In the form of a rhetorical question, he posits that one is not truly free if one lacks these things. He terms these services and goods as “economic rights” and claims that as the wealthiest nation in the history of the world, America can and should do a far better job of providing these rights. Also included in these rights are employment, a “decent wage” (by which he means a wage that allows you to “make it”). Essentially, he desires to guarantee a minimal standard of living for every American.

Freedom

One of the roots of Sanders’ disconnect from reality is his concept of freedom. True freedom is defined by the Wise and Benevolent Disseminator of All Knowledge as this:

the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.

While this definition does not quite explicitly capture the distinction, the phrase “without hindrance or restraint” begins to shed light on the difference between true freedom (the right to be free from interference) from Sanders’ pie-in-the-sky freedom (the right to be free of want).

lemonade_girlsThe problem with sanfreedom[2] brings us back to the question of reality. True freedom can easily exist in reality. Say you drop a man on the surface of the moon. Harsh mistress though she is, the man has by default true freedom. No one will interfere with his plans to sell lemonade, to hunt moon fairies, or to vainly suck in nothingness as he inevitably surrenders to the chilling fatal embrace of the endless void.

He does not, however, possess sanfreedom. He has neither food nor healthcare; neither shelter nor additional education. Because Wal-Mart has not as of this writing claimed Luna for all of Buffetdom, there is no one there yet to provide these things. Therein lies the crucial distinction between true freedom and sanfreedom. True freedom is negative – it requires nothing to be done or created. Sanfreedom is positive – it requires things to be produced and performed. Therefore, since these goods and services must be provided, sanfreedom is entirely dependent upon their availability and – crucially – cannot be guaranteed regardless of political rhetoric or legislation. Just as vacuous pop stars come and go with the tide of fandom, so will “economic rights” come and go with the rise and fall of the economic supply-demand equilibrium (read: price).

Furthermore, a right that infringes upon someone else’s right is irrational. A right, by nature, must apply equally to all, otherwise it is a privilege. Since sanfreedoms depend on goods and services which must be produced, any would-be guarantor of sanfreedoms (such as Sanders) must have a mechanism by which to extract these goods and services from the producers. Since the guarantor does not have infinite resources, he, she, or the Brain may be forced to exchange fewer resources than the provider is willing to accept or be forced to exchange under circumstances which the provider is unwilling to accept.

Since the provider may be unwilling and the guarantor must take the provisions regardless, it follows that the guarantor will violate the producer’s true freedom (that is, his right to be free of interference). This is true even if the guarantor is entirely virtuous at heart. Since supply is finite and subject to fluctuations, the guarantor will at some point reach a crossroads where they must either fail in their guarantees of sanfreedoms or violate true freedoms. This is evidenced in the low wages of public educators and the laggardly pace at which government documents are obtained. (Which is not to say that low wages are a foregone conclusion for public educators – trade-offs do exist.)

Therefore, since sanfreedoms require the violation of rights, they cannot logically be considered true freedom.

The Logic Train Breaks Down

train_wreckIt is simple, trivial, and obvious to determine that the invalidity of sanfreedoms invalidates the basis upon which Sanders has built all the ideology he espouses in this video. And, therefore, the justification for his socialist policies of government guarantees must be discarded by any rational observer. This does not automatically prove his policies immoral or illegal, but it does leave them wanting for justification.

Philosophy

This is all not to say that Bernie Sanders’ statements are entirely with out merit. A critical statement of his follows:

bernie_sanders_twitter_profile.jpgYou don’t have food in your stomach. You don’t have a house, roof over your head. If you don’t have any education are you really free?

This is an interesting philosophical statement worthy of some consideration. It is true that the realities of human existence create constraints on our freedom to do as we will. The very nature of things requires us to perform some action (typically work) to produce or procure food, shelter, and all the rest. Therefore, we are not truly free to do as we will. However, since these constraints are imposed by the nature of a finite reality – which trends towards maximum entropy –  they cannot be removed by human policy or ideology.

Therefore, Bernie’s rhetorical question, while relevant, is a non sequitur in the context of supporting government-guaranteed services.

Wealth

I wish to take a quick moment to note that Bernie’s emphasis on America’s wealth has no bearing on my preceding arguments. Wealth is a factor, of course. Wealthy America might take longer to reach the guarantee-or-bust crossroads than, say, the Central African Republic. But reach it it would, and our wealth would only make the crisis all the more dramatic, just as our depressions and booms are more far-reaching in their effects than those of much smaller economies.

Conclusion

While Bernie Sanders and Killer Mike both seem completely earnest and desirous of helping others in need, the ideals and policies put forth in this video are self-contradictory and defy physical reality. Unless I am very much mistaken, rational people of principle and logic must therefore discard their arguments and seek policies, ideals, or at the least arguments more consistent with physics, scarcity, and internal consistency.

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, (b) the First Amendment does not prevent me from doing this, and (c) if you inform me via smoke signal that you are a socialist, I may wonder what a socialite is doing on a political blog.

Notes

  1. implied; not explicit
  2. sanfreedom – An ancient term I just made up, meaning “freedom from want.” It works equally well as a reference to Bernie Sanders or San Francisco.

Feel the Bern: Part 1: The Interview

Background

Some time ago, a rapper named “Killer Mike” sat down and had a fairly all-encompassing social, economic, and primarily political conversation with Democrat presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. I admit it is quite refreshing to see a relatively novel form of political discourse, and the interview has only enhanced my opinion that Sanders is a “true believer” to a greater degree than most politicians. (And it provides a convenient segmentation on which to outline a response.) That said, they say a great many things that may sound nice to the casual observer, but their ideals – while arguably admirable – are simply incompatible with reality.

To illustrate what I mean, I’ll say that every human has  a right to life. However, our society must nonetheless deal with the realities of death in the form of burial arrangements, inheritance laws, and even the simple act of recording history. The human right to life does not obviate the need for various systems to deal with and account for failures to protect that right. We pay not only police officers, but also district attorneys, judges, and coroners because reality does not permit the ideal which we desire.

Goal

What I hope to accomplish here is to expose where the sentiments and statements of people like Mike and Bernie conflict with reality, and are therefore untenable. I am Christian, and that will likely have considerable bearing on my train of thought, but I believe these arguments will be apparently accurate to any honest seeker of truth, regardless of political or religious persuasion.

My goal in this series is not to assault Bernie Sanders intent or sincerity and perpetrate an ad hominem attack. I make no claims for or against these qualities; I wish only to discuss his goals and ideas on their own merits.

Capitalism

Killer Mike frequently refers to capitalism, which everyone is familiar with (to paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s definition of “status quo”) as the colloquial term for “America’s dysfunctional system.” I (both generally and in this specific argument) am not intending to defend America’s current system in many respects, and will therefore use the term “free market.” This system is more relevant in any case, as it constitutes the system most securely rooted in personal liberty (i.e. “freedom”), the actual ideological opposite to Sanders’ beloved (democratic) socialism (as opposed to the quasi-opposite system America represents in Killer Mike’s false dichotomy).

Engagement

As always, I welcome any criticisms or disagreements in the form of comments, messages, emails, or smoke signals. But be advised that (a) I may ignore or remove profanity or ad hominem attacks, (b) the First Amendment does not prevent me from doing this, and (c) if you inform me via smoke signal that you are a socialist, I may – due to the inherent inaccuracies of the medium – wonder what a socialite is doing on a political blog.