The Right To Work On A Farm

An article from The Daily Caller has been storming the Internets this week. The Obama administration’s Department of Labor was reportedly planning to “prevent children from doing farm chores” by applying child labor laws to children working on family farms, prompting lots of outrage from lots of people. (I’m glad I waited my self-imposed 48 hours before commenting on new controversy, as it now seems that the administration “withdrew” the proposed rule after the outcry. The reversal happened almost as fast as last year’s Christmas tree tax.)

Was Obama trying to lose the rural vote? Heaven forbid children have the opportunity to learn responsibility and work ethic – they might learn they can get by without the federal government guiding their every step! Maybe the government doesn’t want kids helping out on the farm because that’s not taxable! What kind of country are we living in where parents increasingly allow their children to do irresponsible things while the government is actively clamping down on responsible options?

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Global Climate Snapshot: Spring 2012

I am a global warming agnostic. A lot of people are completely convinced global warming is real. A lot of other people call themselves “skeptics,” but they are just as completely convinced that global warming is not real. I am biased towards that latter viewpoint, based on everything I have read and seen, but I am on the whole undecided, because there is also evidence that points the other way.

I thought it would be useful, then, to begin summarizing recent news about the environment and whether these events point towards or against the notion that the earth is warming and making lots of bad things happen. This will help me keep track of climate trends, and also help you form a more complete opinion in case you heard about some of these events but not all of them.

Note: I do not care about studies or computer models that suggest that the green Tibetan juice beetle could potentially decrease in size by 10% thanks to a slight increase in ocean acidity, or anything like that. I’m talking about actual things that are actually happening. Give me data! Let’s begin…

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Graduates Can’t Find Jobs. Can They Create Them?

1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed

I saw this article on my lunch break yesterday. I’ve seen college friends nervously sharing it on Facebook. I’ve seen anti-Obama people spreading it on Twitter. It’s the sort of rare national news that personally impacts lots of people you know. College is supposed to be the path to prosperity, and when it’s not, you get a whole lot of ideas about what to do to fix the job market and what to do to help new graduates and what to do about student loans and what to do about the whole notion that college is the path to prosperity.

But as I read this article, I couldn’t help thinking that it suffers from the same nearsighted paradigm I discussed in my post a few months ago about Steve Jobs and the 99%. There’s a lot of talk about graduates “finding” jobs. There is absolutely no talk about graduates “creating” their own jobs.

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The Right To Eat Dog

The level of political discourse surrounding this year’s presidential race has not been particularly remarkable, but it stumbled to a new low this week. Tired of the incessant liberal mockery of Romney’s terrible treatment of the family dog a couple decades ago, the Romney campaign attacked Obama this week for eating dog when he was a kid in Indonesia.

Or something like that. (I don’t feel like retrieving the exact details, which would give the dignity of more page views to news articles reporting on this nonsense.)

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Defining the terms “Liberal” and “Conservative”

Hello, readers, I would like to introduce the well-educated and thoughtful Nick Sacco. Prepare to learn something today. – Joshua

As the quest for a Republican candidate for the 2012 Presidential election continues to roll on – although we are getting closer to the end – sharp debates have taken place between each of the candidates over who should be considered the “most conservative” nominee. Who has the best credentials? Who will appease the Tea Party? Who will reject President Obama’s calls for “change” and restore the role of the federal government back to its supposedly “conservative” roots? These sorts of questions have arisen during every GOP primary over the years, albeit with different politicians and different social, cultural, economic, and political questions to solve. However, the question of who best embodies the conservative principals of the Republican Party has been of fundamental importance when picking a presidential candidate for at least the past 60 years. In order to truly understand what exactly it means to be “conservative”, perhaps we should take a moment to analyze how the term has been used historically, along with the term “liberal”, so that we can not only better understand how each of these words has shaped our modern political culture, but to provide an opportunity to consider how we can use these words within a more accurate context to provide for more fruitful political discussion in the future.

The concepts of liberalism and conservatism have taken many different forms and names ever since men have formed governments to regulate their respective societies, but a good starting place to understand each term in a modern context would be 17th Century England. During the English Civil War of 1642-1651, fundamental questions regarding the proper role of the monarchy and parliament in dictating executive governmental policy – and who would ultimately have the last say in these matters – led to massive bloodshed between the “Roundheads”, who supported efforts to establish parliamentary superiority, and the “Royalists”, who supported the absolute power of the monarchy in deciding political matters. The Roundheads ended up winning, leading to the abolishment of the English monarchy altogether. However, by 1660 Charles II had been inaugurated as King, returning monarchial rule to England.

During the English Civil War, a group of citizens dedicated to what would later be considered “liberal” political positions began organizing and identifying themselves as “Levellers”. The Levellers made clear their dislike for the machinations of the English monarchy and their desire to reform many aspects of the government. While they did not all conform to one unified platform, the Levellers advocated such positions as religious toleration, low taxes, extended suffrage, freedom of the press, and equality before the law. These positions were not very popular with either the Roundheads or the Royalists, and the movement died by the end of the war, but a solid “liberal” position advocating limited government and the restoration natural rights had been established within English society.

Several years later, during the Glorious Revolution of 1688, a much different movement – one that dedicated itself to preserving the rule of the monarchy and upper classes of England – began to emerge in response to the increasingly liberal tendencies of the English people.

Historian William C. Davis described this “conservative” movement as such: “The slow spread of rights and opportunity and the growing power of national legislatures [following the Glorious Revolution] posed an ever greater danger to the aristocrats’ status quo.” Thus, conservatives established themselves as defenders of the King’s throne, using their power to maintain order and stability in society via the concentration of power within the upper classes of British society. While conservatives, much like the Levellers, didn’t have a cohesive political party to promote a uniform set of policy objectives, they all unified behind the idea of monarchial supremacy and upper class political privilege.

Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries the terms “liberal” and “conservative” became more clearly defined political concepts. Those who supported conservative ideals generally advocated positions that more firmly entrenched the power of governments throughout the world to control the actions of their subjects, especially those of the middle and lower classes. These positions included the protection of upper-class property, limiting the right to vote to those with substantial wealth and/or property, state churches (such as the Anglican Church in England), mercantilist economic policies that promoted monopolies within staple ports and discouraged free trade, restrictions on free speech and free press, strong militaries, and centralized government. Royal families such as the Stuarts of England, the Bourbons of France, and the Hapsburgs, who controlled many different parts of Europe over hundreds of years, reigned throughout the 17th and 18th centuries with the avid support of conservatives. During the 19th century, conservatives dominated the Congress of Vienna following the fall of Napoleon, promoted the maintenance of large empires such as the Austrian empire, and resisted the various nationalist uprisings that attempted to bring democratic reforms throughout the world.

Liberalism was a response to these conservative policies and the absolute monarchies that benefited from them. Expanding on the ideals of the Levellers, liberals called for the promotion of natural rights and limited government that focused on the preservation of life, liberty, and property. During the 18th century, liberals called for the removal of monarchial governments and the implementation of representative government, leading to revolutions in America and France, among other countries. Liberals in the 19th century supported nationalist movements throughout the world that promoted self-determination; the right of a people to determine what sort of government they wanted. They also supported expanded voting rights for all classes, regardless of wealth and property, free markets, and the abolition of slavery in favor of free labor. A few radical liberals went so far as to advocate the complete removal of government or supported fringe movements such as women’s rights.

However, the term “liberal” took on a new meaning in the 20th century. As David Boaz explains in his book The Libertarian Reader, liberalism “had come to mean advocacy of big government: high taxes, the extension of the state into the realm of civil society, and massive intrusion into the personal choices of individuals.” There are many reasons why this occurred, but one worth mentioning is the ascension of the Progressive movement in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The movement held that pragmatism was central to proper governance; as society evolved, government should alter its function and practice to meet the needs of contemporary society. Some of the Progressives’ positions included the end of government corruption, to be replaced with the idea of a “positive government” under the control of the federal government, regulation of industry, trust busting (the removal of monopolies), prohibition, and the implementation of the first national income tax via the 16th amendment. The term “liberal” showed signs of a definition change when former President Teddy Roosevelt – running in the 1912 Presidential election as a progressive against his former friend William Taft after a divisive split over political views – branded Taft as being too “conservative” and himself as the proper “liberal” candidate to lead the nation going forward.

Thus, from the Progressive movement to the present day, liberalism has experienced a profound shift in its definition. Outlining the policies of the Democrats and Republicans is beyond the scope of this essay, but it doesn’t take long to see examples of 20th century liberalism in both parties, from the Democrats promotion of an individual mandate in the Affordable Health Care Act that would force all U.S. citizens to purchase healthcare, to the Republicans promotion of an aggressive, interventionist foreign policy and the support of some of its members for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, even if a state were to legalize it.

With this in mind, it is no surprise to discover that throughout the pre-20th century world distinguished thinkers such as John Locke, Adam Smith, Thomas Paine, Alexis De Tocqueville, and John Stuart Mill considered themselves liberals, dedicated to promoting liberty and freedom for all individuals. Some 20th century intellects such as F. A. Hayek and Milton Friedman also considered themselves liberals, even after the term dramatically changed in meaning. Hayek explained in an essay that he was a liberal because of his support for spontaneous order and its ability to lead to natural progress within society without the use of coercive measures against individuals. “Order”, explained Hayek “appears to the conservative as the result of the continued attention of authority”, as opposed to the liberal who finds order out of individuals working within the free marketplace of ideas.

Should we consider redefining the terms “liberal” and “conservative” to fit the definitions used in past centuries? Ultimately, we can use the actions of past thinkers to help guide our intellectual thought today, but we must engage in useful discourse with our eyes focused on our current political situation while also considering the circumstances of our future. Perhaps it would be useful to have the Republican Presidential candidates of 2012 debate amongst each other who is the most liberal, but it could be equally fruitful to devise an altogether new term that better defines the unique political issues of contemporary society. More than anything, this discussion reminds us of two truths. Firstly, it reminds us that words have distinct meanings, but that these meanings sometimes change over time. If one were to do a quick brainstorm of common words used in 19th Century America, he or she could probably find a few words – quite easily, in fact – that are still used today, but have changed in meaning. Secondly, it reminds us that what is considered “liberal” and “conservative” changes over time, sometimes quite often. For example, most conservatives today have expressed their support for upholding the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, support for that act back in the 1960s and 70s would have branded you a liberal, a “socialist”, or worse.

In conclusion, let us look at a recent attempt at definition-making. The Encyclopedia Britannica defined one of these aforementioned political terms as such:

“[a] political doctrine that takes the abuse of power, and thus the freedom of the individual, as the central problem of government.”

Which term is it? The Encyclopedia defined “liberalism” in this manner, but it would be safe to say that both liberals and conservatives today would argue that their respective movements embody this principle. It remains to be seen whether one of these terms, or a new one altogether, will properly represent this definition in the future.

Simplifying the Tax Code?

I’ve heard people from both the left and the right call for simplifying our complicated tax code. So why does it seem like all the discussion these days is about making it even more complicated?

President Obama has been touting the “Buffet Rule,” which would require Americans who earn at least $1 million to pay a minimum income tax rate of 30%. The rates for regular wages are already higher than that, but since a lot of millionaires earn most of their money from investments, which is taxed at a lower rate, combined with a variety of other tax breaks, a lot of millionaires pay an overall rate lower than 30%. Thus, the hoopla about Warren Buffet paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. Thus, the “Buffet Rule.”

But apparently there aren’t too many millionaires cheating the system too badly, because the Buffet Rule is supposed to add less than $5 billion a year to government revenues (remember, we’ve been running deficits over $1 trillion – or $1,000 billion – for several years and are projected to do so for several more). As the Obama administration itself admits, this is less about reducing the deficit and more about the vague concept of tax “fairness.”

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Why Can’t We Have 32 Libertarians In Congress?


An Introduction to Proportional Representation

Six percent of Americans in a recent Reason poll identified as Libertarian. It’s hard to know how reliable that is, but there are a collection of other polls claiming anywhere from 2% to 15%, so that seems like a reasonable middle ground. Let’s say 6% of Americans really are libertarians. Now libertarians can vary in ideology as much as Republicans and Democrats, but let’s assume that if you call yourself a libertarian you are more aligned with the platform of the Libertarian Party than the Republican or Democratic parties. If libertarians were represented in Congress according to their numbers, the Libertarian Party could have 26 members in the House of Representatives and 6 in the Senate. Instead, there are zero.

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Ron Paul Wins Rescheduled St. Charles County, MO Caucus

Following last month’s turbulent attempted caucus, my county completed a successful GOP caucus last night, and slates of Ron Paul supporters won seats for all 147 delegates going to the party’s district and state conventions in Missouri.

The caucus was probably even less relevant to the actual 2012 nomination than it would have been a month ago. Santorum announced his campaign suspension hours before the event, all but erasing whatever feeble hopes remained that someone but Romney would come up with enough delegates to win the nomination.

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The Downside of “Made In China”

A few weeks ago my wife and I looked into buying a fire pit. We did some research and read reviews on websites like Amazon, Lowe’s, and Walmart, but eventually we got “reviewer fatigue” (pretty much all of them had lovers and haters) and just picked one that looked decent in our price range: The $79 Garden Treasures 35″ Black Steel Wood-Burning Fire Pit, made in China and sold at Lowe’s.

We brought it home, put it together, and immediately returned it.

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Friday Links

1. Supreme Court rules 5-4 to allow strip searches for any arrest. I haven’t seen much commentary on this, but it sounds pretty bad to me. The rationale is that you might need to strip someone before admitting them to jail to make sure they don’t have anything dangerous on them. But the whole case came before the Supreme Court because a guy was strip-searched after being mistakenly arrested. Apparently the Supreme Court didn’t want to “second-guess” correctional officers (if they won’t, who will?), so apparently if the police make a mistake about you, you’re no longer protected from them looking at you naked. Hmm.

2. America’s Most Important Anti-War Politician Is a Senate Republican. Good feature on Rand Paul.

3. Arctic polar bear levels not declining as predicted. In fact, they are most likely increasing: “…stands at 1,013 and could be even higher, according to the results of an aerial survey… That’s 66 per cent higher than estimates by other researchers who forecasted the numbers would fall to as low as 610 because of warming temperatures that melt ice faster and ruin bears’ ability to hunt…” I don’t know science well enough to know if pro-warming scientists are right or wrong in their understanding of greenhouse gases and Earth’s climate, but I’m increasingly skeptical of their forecasts every time another one is proven wrong.

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