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.

Wages & Benefits

To anyone reading this who think that they or others deserve $15/hour (or $10/hour, or frankly even $5 for some people), in the hopes that it will help you live a better life in some small fashion,

INTRODUCTION

When I got my first job mowing grass for $5 an hour (which the keen-eyed Virginian observer will note as $0.15 *less* than minimum wage of the time), it was possibly the second most exciting thing for me in my short ten or eleven years after getting my first pocket knife, the possible exception being my bike (my brother’s adoption notwithstanding).

I was also frequently happy to help out at my father’s construction sites for the same amount (the last time I did, I believe the North Carolina minimum wage was $6.15, $1.15 more than I was making). You’ll note that neither of these jobs involving spinning razor-sharp metal blades with a noticeable lack of OSHA presence provided any kind of health insurance. Unless you count Dad’s pocket knife removing my splinters as “healthcare”. (Frankly, if I’d gotten my way at the time, some of those splinters might still be there.)

When I was sixteen and found out  I’d gotten the job at Food Lion for minimum wage, I was so excited I could barely sleep. Somehow the lack of any benefits whatsoever beyond the paycheck itself (that I knew about or used) failed to depress me. Anyway, I was only injured on the job once. That was due to my own stupidity and I never considered asking Food Lion to pay for my trip to urgent care. The one (small) holiday bonus in my two years there was just icing on the cake, not my due.

Despite the free meals, my next job selling fried chicken at Bojangles excited me less. But it did let me move out of my parent’s house. Admittedly, I was making about $0.25 above minimum wage, but that changed when the North Carolina government, in its wisdom, raised it again. (Before moving on, I am legally obligated to say TANSTAAFL[1] or risk the wrath of libertarians of all stripes due to my reference to “free meals” just now.)

ATTITUDE

Not once during my tenure at any of those jobs was I ever convinced I’d deserved the amount I was paid. Not once. That is not hyperbole. Now, I was entitled to it; the employers and I had agreed that was the amount I was to be paid. And I earned it (except perhaps for the minimum-wage jobs). But I have never been convinced that I deserved it.

Frankly, this trend has continued and I still think I’m making more than I deserve. That doesn’t mean I’m willing to work for less – market forces have virtually guaranteed a person of my particular skillset will have a certain minimum income – but it is true.

And it certainly doesn’t mean I’ve never wanted more or been dissatisfied with my income. Frankly, the fast food income and the circumstances of my father’s job sites are what pushed me towards software development.

Now there are some details I’m glossing over. I was covered under Medicaid and obviously, my parents provided for my needs until I moved out (back to that in a moment). But neither of those things have any bearing on whether or not I deserved that income. You deserve things based on what you do in exchange (that’s called “earning”), not because you have some need (that’s called “whining”, “theft”, or sometimes “taxation”). “Need” and “deserve” are two completely different things, which are frequently not even related. Hence why a mandated “livable wage” confounds so many liberty-minded individuals and economists.

DISCLAIMER

Quick side note regarding parental support: they did stop supporting me financially pretty much as soon as I moved out. Sure, I came home for a few meals. And during my last year at college (not a typo… I’ll never live in an apartment again) I probably washed about a dozen loads of laundry at their house (maybe, what, $40 worth?). And my mother (*without* any request or prompting from me) did buy me a few articles of clothing at times. But the support as a whole stopped. Similarly, my parents probably could’ve afforded to buy me a (albeit very cheap) car when I was sixteen. But they never offered and I never asked. I waited until I had the right ballpark amount and then *borrowed* a few hundred dollars from them – short-term – to buy my own.

This is not meant as a criticism of people who continue receiving support for a few years. I mean, my parents have less money than most to give in the first place and I did receive a few thousand dollars a year in financial aid (above and beyond school costs) through FAFSA and my grandparents. And different people have varying degrees of ability. Nor is it meant as a criticism against those who get free stuff. My own sister inherited “her” car from her namesake and it has never bothered me. (Side note: that’s another pet peeve of mine and one of the few stated opinions of Louis C.K. that I support – how much someone else has should have no bearing on your own contentment or sense of entitlement.)

But the point is that self-sufficiency is a worthy goal that should be sought even before it becomes necessary.

ADMISSION

Now I’m not trying to bragroller_blades or build myself up as something special. I was a whiny kid who shirked his chores and spent hours (and hours and hours and hours) reading sci-fi and playing video games. I screamed bloody murder when I got a staple in my thumb and refused to talk to Dad for hours after he had the audacity to grab my hand and pull it out. I was 13. I was reprimanded multiple times at my jobs for being too casual or not greeting customers with enough forced cheerfulness. I thought rollerblading outside on a hilly sidewalk was a good idea and I’ve got a face to match. (I was 19.) I even thought deleting some Windows system files was a good way to save hard drive space as a teenager. And one time I tried to remove Internet Explorer from Windows, almost bricking my computer in the process.

I even once thought it’d be a good idea to jump off the riding lawn mower and try to race it. An idea that predictably ended with a tree-shattered bumper 20 yards from the driveway I’d been driving down. If you want more of these stories, just ask my sisters. I’d recommend some popcorn and a comfortable chair because they’ll keep you busy for a few hours. Anna’s probably disappointed I didn’t mention my alleged momentary forgetfulness that gravity is a thing.

CONCLUSION

But the point is that you mark_twain_the_world_owes_you_nothingshouldn’t think of what you – or anyone else – “deserves.” Focus instead on what you can *earn* and *do* and on accepting responsibility for your own self and actions. (That last anecdote cost me four or five hours worth of pay at my lawn-mowing job and a two-hour trip for a replacement part while my sisters got to go swimming. Two hours of car time before I’d ever owned a Game Boy or conceived of smartphones.) Make use of the undeserved free stuff you get (presents, financial aid, etc.), but don’t ever take it as your due.

I’m just sick and tired of hearing about how minimum wage workers “deserve” this or that. No, they don’t. They deserve not to be abused by their employers. And they’re entitled to make their own choices. But they don’t deserve one cent that someone else doesn’t choose to give them, except as reparations for some abuse or infringement.

Quit whining, and get to work. If you support this $15 (or some variation) on others’ behalf, tell them to get to work. If they legitimately can’t, then maybe help them out or help them find someone who can. But, for the love of all that is good in the world, stop whining. You are better off than 90% of the world’s living population and 99.9% of the world’s historical population. They would be amazed at the sort of things we throw away (not even “we” meaning Americans – just “we” meaning young, often “poor” Americans who re-use paper cups or use coats as blankets). And they would be dumbstruck by your complaints, in your circumstances. And the same goes for almost every American, employed or otherwise.

P.S. Please, if you must support Bernie Sanders, find some better reason for it than the free services and goods he’s promising to you or others.

BIBLICAL BASIS

For the Christians among you, here are some relevant Bible verses, from the New International Version:

https://goo.gl/Pv6914

First, a few select verses:

Proverbs 6:10-11 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest- and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.

Proverbs 11:7 Hopes placed in mortals die with them; all the promise of their power comes to nothing.

Proverbs 16:26 The appetite of laborers works for them; their hunger drives them on. (The Bible seems to frown upon the idea of a guaranteed minimum lifestyle.)

Proverbs 18:9 One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys. (No middle ground here.)

Proverbs 22:13 The sluggard says, “There’s a lion outside! I’ll be killed in the public square!” (“No one’s hiring” “It’s the wrong time of year.” “Employers just don’t want me because I’m young, female, inexperienced, [insert race here], skinny, and/or fat”)

Proverbs 28:19 Those who work their land will have abundant food, but those who chase fantasies will have their fill of poverty.

Ecclesiastes 5:10 Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.

Lamentations 3:27 It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

And now, the rest:

Continue reading “Wages & Benefits”