Why I Am Not A Liberaltarian

From James Poulos:

How many hipsters are too poor to party? The liberaltarian bargain, with the state as cool parent, does have a first principle: we should help create a popular ‘private sphere’ that can, should, and does expand as costs are socialized and power is centralized.

It is the allure of this promise, already planted within the popular culture, which is making lots of young people more liberal and more libertarian — this principle, and nothing else.

Spontaneous order, centrally planned? If that oxymoron is the offer, count me out.

Okay, count me out anyway, because “liberaltarianism” is little more than progressives attempting to sell economic errors to libertarians because we allegedly agree on social issues. We don’t agree because liberty is about more than opposition to the current American Right. Libertarianism concerns itself with liberty for each individual. Much like today’s conservatism, liberalism seeks its preferred collective outcomes, to be imposed on the unwilling minority. All partisanship is the mistaken belief that everyone should play for your team. It assumes the defeated would like this, if only they weren’t so <insert negative personal attribute>. That’s not liberty.

But I reject the idea more vehemently and vocally if a government-created private sphere is what I should expect. I think it is.

Link via Andrew Sullivan.

Homes are undervalued by $6,000?

Rather than try an idea that might work and has the added benefit of extending liberty, President Obama unveiled his $75,000,000,000 plan to rescue us from the foreclosure crisis. Presumably Obama’s plan is precise and complicated, but Doug Mataconis has a succinct explanation at The Liberty Papers for why this plan will fail. His entire post is worth reviewing because he gives a concise summary of the various incentive problems involved, but his basic, widely-applicable conclusion is this:

Most of all, this part of the plan seems to be aimed at the idea that the government must reinflate the housing bubble so that housing prices return to the “correct” level.

Here’s a clue, though. The only “correct” price for your house is the price that someone is willing to pay for it. Today.

Exactly. As much as I’d love to be able to sell my house for what I paid for it in 2005, that’s not where the market is at in 2009. That is unfortunate, but the only way the government can help me is to get out of the way and allow the market to stabilize itself. They’re self-correcting that way. It’s a little lot painful, yes, and, although I bought what I could afford rather than what the bank was willing to lend me, I still made my choice despite the warnings. Lesson learned. And I wish it wasn’t so, but pain is how most people will have to learn. Buffeting them from that only prolongs the faulty thinking.

Unfortunately, even in the misguided belief that propping up the market is an effective method for stabilizing it, President Obama’s plan ignores the reality of the market. It appears to be nothing more than Do Something at its worst.

“The plan I’m announcing focuses on rescuing families who have played by the rules and acted responsibly: by refinancing loans for millions of families in traditional mortgages who are underwater or close to it,” Obama said at a speech in Mesa, Ariz. The White House released an early transcript.

Those of us who played by the rules are those of us who bought what we could afford and continue to pay for what is not worth what we owe. We don’t need or want to be “rescued”. Giving me money that you will extract from me later through taxes is hardly a bargain worth applauding.

If the plan rescues people like me:

Finance companies cannot currently refinance a loan if the homeowner owes more than 80 percent of the home’s value. But under the plan, Fannie and Freddie — which were taken over by the government last year — would be able to refinance a mortgage if it does not exceed 105 percent of the current value of the property. For example, if the value of the borrower’s property is $200,000, but the homeowner owes $210,000, he or she could still qualify for the program. The program will not launch until March 4.

The housing market in America is far worse than a 1.05 loan-to-current-value ratio. I’d flip cartwheels up-and-down my street if I had a 1.05 ratio. I think most people with negative equity are in the same situation. (If the administration knows something to the contrary, now might be a good time to provide that information.) This plan hardly seems a response to that, under the not-conceded belief that the government should get further involved. President Obama wants to add further government involvement and debt to rescue people who would lose no more than 5% if they sell today? A homeowner who can’t cover a 5% loss shouldn’t own a home. A homeowner with a ratio larger than 1.05 will apparently see no benefit.

Maybe the theory is that propping up home values by the claimed $6,000 will grease the market into action. That’s unlikely, at best, but it’s not the claim the administration is making. This plan gets us nowhere other than $75 billion further in debt, with a more-entrenched, market-distorting incentive system.

When a politician offers to save the economy, he will seek to destroy it first.

GM and Chrysler are back at the federal trough, this time hoping to extract billions more in “loans” from American taxpayers. This is not a surprise. David Z asks the right questions at no third solution:

What happens when April comes around, and General Motors still doesn’t have a viable future? Do they get more money? At what point does the nonsense end? At what point do the politicians recognize and accept the fact that continually taking money from the taxpayers and giving it to companies like General Motors in massive corporate welfare schemes can’t ever work? …

Giving money to Detroit auto makers is nothing more than a lesson in how to destroy wealth. First, we destroyed $17.4 billion. Next we’ll destroy at least $14 and probably $21.6 billion, as the article states. At some point we (i.e. Congress) need to realize that these companies are dead. Walking dead, but they’re dead. Treat the original “loans” as a sunk cost, hope to recover something in bankruptcy, and move on with a commitment to never make that mistake again with someone else’s money.

That won’t happen, as suggested by the Obama administration yesterday.

“The president of the United States wants to see a strong and vibrant auto industry that’s employing tens of thousands of hardworking Americans and building the cars of tomorrow for Americans right now. That’s what this president wants to see,” Obama spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters aboard Air Force One.

President Obama apparently believes that wishing makes it so. It doesn’t. The rational economic perspective would remove obstacles to a strong and vibrant free market that deploys – and redeploys – its finite resources in the most productive manner possible. Employment of hardworking Americans (and Chinese and Germans and Brazilians and …) would follow.

But the president isn’t interested in a rational economic perspective because the president, like all the politicians in Congress, is interested only in political games. Watching as winners and losers emerge based on merit is too risky. Picking the winners and losers himself better enhances his power. That’s what this president wants to see. A free market without centrally-planned allocation of resources won’t provide that, so it mustn’t be allowed.

Is this a defensible thought-process?

I want to pass along an e-mail sent to David Wilson of Stop Infant Circumcision Society. There is rough language throughout, but it demonstrates a valuable point. [sic everywhere]:

I’ve seen the nasty ass excuse of a dick you rocket pop weilding bastards have I love my circumsized penis it is the prettiest dick I’ve ever laid my eyes on it doesn’t smell if I miss a shower either you sick fuck why would you want to inflict a circumcision on a full grown man any way have you seen the process fuck you my dick is gorgeous I love my wang and I sure as fuck wouldn’t of made the decision myself as an adult what kind of a fucked up world are you trying to create where an eighteen year old has to decide weather a mental scar like that is worth hygene

I am told that the choice to circumcise only male children for non-medical reasons is a parental right. This is objectively wrong, and this e-mailer is the too-typical anecdotal proof. I will posit that he is not qualified to make medically necessary decisions for a child, so medically unnecessary, permanent decisions should be prohibited. Despite this easy-to-understand truth, he is allowed to circumcise a male child with this thinking because no politician or judge has the courage to reject the status quo and defend the individual rights of all children. Our society is not yet sane on this topic.

Press Release: An Instrument of Distortion

I loosely follow a rule in my blogging that I don’t bother with press releases. They’re skewed to push the angle of whoever is paying the bill. It might be worth picking out the propaganda from a press release to find the facts, but I can usually achieve that with less effort by going to news sources to make a point. (Of course, most news sources reporting on circumcision are filled with propaganda, too.) Generally a press release is only good for demonstrating propaganda. This recent press release is a good example:

Hospitals in states where Medicaid does not pay for routine male circumcision are only about half as likely to perform the procedure, and this disparity could lead to an increased risk of HIV infection among lower-income children later in life, according to a UCLA AIDS Institute study.

The first half is fact. The second half is conjecture. News, then propaganda. The HIV-circumcision studies researched the effect of voluntary, adult male circumcision in reducing the risk of female-to-male HIV transmission from heterosexual intercourse. It is inaccurate to draw the conclusion that the foreskin puts men at higher risk of HIV. Unprotected sex with HIV-infected partners increases an individual’s risk of HIV infection. The male must first engage in that specific activity to become infected. Focusing on the foreskin distracts from efforts to reduce such behavior.

But that doesn’t sell the way fear sells.

But recent clinical trials in South Africa, Kenya and Uganda have revealed that male circumcision can reduce a man’s risk of becoming infected with HIV from a female partner by 55 to 76 percent. In June 2007, the AAP began reviewing its stance on the procedure.

By now you know what was left out of that summary, right? When public health officials talk about voluntary, adult male circumcision, they never mean voluntary, adult. Never.

As the press release so helpfully theorizes in its opening line:

Lack of coverage puts low-income children at higher risk of HIV infection

Think of the (poor) children. That’s not very original. It has the added bonus of being inaccurate. Are these children sexually active? Specifically for the age of the children discussed in this press release, the answer is no for 100% of them. They are not at risk of (female-to-male) sexually-transmitted HIV infection. But those necessary, contradictory details must be ignored. Think of the (poor) children.

That is how propaganda is done.


Not to let an opportunity go to push for a collective response to an individual problem, the Family Planning Cooperative Purchasing Program helpfully regurgitates this press release, with the necessary bits of speculation helpfully emphasized in bold. An example:

In addition to the overall lower circumcision rates, the researchers found that the more Hispanics a hospital served, the fewer circumcisions the hospital performed. For Hispanic parents, the circumcision decision was about more than simply cost, since male Hispanic infants were unlikely to receive the procedure even in states in which it was fully covered by Medicaid.

What point is FPCPP trying to make with that emphasis, given the sentence that follows it? The only justification I infer is an implicit suggestion that we need to encourage Hispanics to “Americanize”. That wouldn’t surprise me because it’s the typical, mindless support for non-therapeutic genital mutilation in America. And FPCPP files this under “Public Policy”, among other categories. See above re: voluntary and adult. If it’s not that, I’m stumped.


You and I, through a grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, paid for this research. Mental Health? With mission creep like that, who could possibly worry about government-run health care?

However, this raises the question of national health care and the future of routine infant male circumcision in America. I’ve long held that the former would not end the latter. The political environment for defending non-therapeutic circumcision is too strong, as evidenced by studies like the one leading to the above press release. No politician is going to say that parents can’t circumcise, despite the clear constitutional flaw in our status quo.

Ending public funding isn’t sufficient. The state should not pay for mutilation, but fails to end the practice. Poor parents pay for the surgery out-of-pocket. They complain about it, citing the potential benefits as an excuse for why Someone Else should pay, but they pay the cost anyway. Their sons are not protected by their state’s lack of Medicaid reimbursement. And ending government reimbursement doesn’t always end government reimbursement, as Minnesota’s politically-motivated solution showed.

Still, I need to have a think on my position. I won’t suddenly support government-run health care, but I should explore the nuances further.

How to Require Extra Rules for Opponents

Steven Pearlstein began his Friday Washington Post column with this line:

To most Americans, the language on Page 52 of the report of the House Committee on Appropriations would have seemed perfectly sensible.

He’s picking a fight, but he intends to pretend that he’s not fighting because only the other side is fighting what is supposed to be “perfectly sensible”. Given that President Obama uses this tactic repeatedly to push the deficit spending bill, Pearlstein is not alone.

He continues:

The report spelled out the committee’s rationale for including $1.1 billion for something called “comparative effectiveness research” in the massive economic stimulus bill. For those of not steeped in the argot of health policy, that’s research done by doctors and statisticians who troll through large number of patient records to determine, for any particular disease, which treatments work best.

“By knowing what works best and presenting this information more broadly to patients and healthcare professionals, those [treatments] that are most effective . . . will be utilized, while those that are found to be less effective and in some cases more expensive will no longer be prescribed.”

Those of us Pearlstein attempts to discredit are those who will ask the important question. It doesn’t matter that comparative effectiveness research already occurs. Who will make those decisions? Stating without support that “nearly all experts agree [the effort] is a necessary first step to reforming a broken health-care system” does not dismiss the question.

After describing the opposition as a right-wing brushfire, he continues:

It’s not that these various groups have no reason for concern. If comparative effectiveness research is done badly, or if the results are used simply as an excuse to deny insurance coverage for all expensive treatments, then there would be plenty of reason to get out the pitchforks and storm Capitol Hill. And there are surely examples from Britain and other countries of people being denied access to the latest drugs and procedures, including some that are significantly more effective than other treatments.

So, we’re in agreement, right? What were we arguing about?

What the critics don’t have, however, is any shred of evidence that the professionals who do this research are incompetent or have any but the best intentions in trying to figure out what treatments are the most effective for patients. …

This is a bait-and-switch. We’re not arguing about the ability or integrity of the researchers. No one said anything about that. The issue is who will make decisions resulting from the research. Pearlstein’s desire to obfuscate the issue suggests he has an intention he doesn’t want fully known. It’s obvious since he spoke of experts he did not quote, but he gives it away as the paragraph continues:

… There is no reason to believe that once this clinical research is completed, it cannot be used in a disciplined, scientific way by physicians, economists and medical ethicists to determine whether there are drugs, tests, surgical procedures or devices that simply don’t deliver enough benefit to justify their cost. …

Physicians? Sure. Many could use a lesson about cost-benefit mixed with ethics. It’s easy to fall into a pattern of inertia, despite evidence. But where do economists come into this? Again, who is making the decision? I don’t think he means economists at insurance companies or parents as economic actors. As Pearlstein continues:

… And there is no reason we cannot set up reasonable procedures, overseen by independent health professionals, to protect patients who can demonstrate a special need for a treatment that is not normally cost-effective.

We finally get there. Patients need procedures to demonstrate a special need for “not normally cost-effective treatments”. When not trying to pretend that is enlightened, it’s called rationing. Regardless of an individual’s willingness to pay, someone else must decide if it’s cost-effective rather than first asking if the treatment is effective, followed by the question of how much it costs? That’s government-run health care, despite Pearlstein’s pretense that it is not.

Remember: Good, cheap, and universal. We can only have two. Yet, we actually try for three, despite Pearlstein reciting the tired lies that America denies “vital medical services to the 40 million Americans without health insurance”. Lies, plural, because we do not deny care to the poor in the manner Pearlstein implies, nor are there 40 million Americans without insurance because of it’s cost. He’s advocating services without visible sacrifice. Why would anyone think the goal of this is government-run health care?


LINK: Think government manipulation of intervention in the economy is good? Read George Will’s latest column. (H/t: Cafe Hayek)

LINK: Jim Harper has an entry on Cato @ Liberty discussing President Obama’s pledge to post all bills for 5 days of public comment before signing them. Mr. Harper reviews the steps the administration has taken and offers a positive review of the idea, although he correctly criticizes the administration for playing loosely with the 5 day timeline.

I agree with that in principle, but that’s not my concern here. The deficit spending bill mistakenly labeled The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 is now online for public comment. I thought about adding comments, but why? I’m realistic enough to understand that what I say will not matter. It will not matter how many people comment against it, this is a done deal. The five days concept as implemented is worthless political propaganda. Honestly, if members of Congress can’t be bothered to read the bill, yet they’ll happily vote by party line, they don’t care what the American people think. They’re trading favors for power. The game hasn’t changed. So, wake me when this fails and tell me what the next stupid idea is.

LINK: I reject non-therapeutic infant circumcision because it is logically and ethically unacceptable. I question the science surrounding claims, particularly those involving HIV risk reduction, because there are obvious holes in the argument. However, unlike (too) many activists, I have no problem with vaccines. I think the logical and ethical arguments differ, and I don’t believe in conspiracy theories about Big Pharma. And from what I’ve read, the autism-vaccine link appears weak, at best. This report seems to confirm that (link via Kevin, MD):

THE doctor who sparked the scare over the safety of the MMR vaccine for children changed and misreported results in his research, creating the appearance of a possible link with autism, a Sunday Times investigation has found.

I would use this as a lesson for everyone who thinks that a claimed HIV risk reduction for (adult, voluntary) male circumcision need to be concerned about the long-term reality of their idea. I think we will eventually look back on the HIV-foreskin connection and realize the mistakes in the studies. But I do not approach the topic from that angle. I don’t need it, of course. I can concede the point for the argument and rely on ethics and objective indications of health and easier methods prevention.

For now, it’s too late anyway. The link has gained widespread acceptance because people want to believe it, regardless of facts or reasonable caution. The mindset is the same, as this excerpt from Orac’s post at Respectful Insolence suggests. (I read the post, but there’s too much to parse easily, so I’m using the summary pulled by Kevin, MD.)

“None of this will matter to antivaccinationists,” he writes, “who view Wakefield as . . . a persecuted scientific hero . . . I’m sure that [anti-vaccine proponents] will wax ridiculous about what a great doctor and man Wakefield is and how it’s big pharma and its minions who, frightened by the implications of Wakefield’s work, are working hard to demonize him and suppress his ‘science.'”

When emotion precedes logic in an objective debate, reason is lost. That would be unfortunate but defensible if it only affected the decision maker. It does not. The individual fears of parents results in poorly conceived decisions for children. Vaccinate but circumcise. Don’t vaccinate and don’t circumcise. Neither combination is justifiable when weighing the evidence with logic and ethics.

LINK: To lighten things up just a bit, will the Mets never learn?

“Whatever they did last year, they already got paid,” [Francisco] Rodriguez told the New York Daily News. Whatever they did, I have all the respect in the world. They worked hard and they deserve it. This is a different year and different ballclubs now. I don’t want to make any controversy, but with me and (J.J.) Putz and the additions in the bullpen, I feel like now we are the team to beat.”

K-Rod should ask Carlos Beltran how that worked out last year. However, I love this rivalry.

From the Archives: The Ethics of Vanity, Part III

The madness continues [emphasis added]:

About 150 patients in the U.K. have already received injections of Vavelta, a foreskin-derived skin treatment aimed at rejuvenating and smoothing skin withered with age or damaged by scarring from acne, burns and surgical incisions, according to a spokesperson for Intercytex, PLC, the Cambridge, England-based company that makes the product. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved Vavelta, nor have any other federal agencies outside the U.K., where it was introduced in June 2007.

The fibroblasts in Vavelta are isolated from the foreskins taken from baby boys [ed. note: healthy baby boys], given several months to grow and multiply in the lab, and then packaged into treatment vials that are shipped to a select group of U.K. physicians. Each vial costs approximately 750 pounds, or $1,000], according to the company spokesperson.

I discussed Vavelta in November.


Last week I saw news links similar to discussed before. And, while I’m happy an ethical issue appeared in the article…

There are also ethical issues to consider, especially if the folks behind Vavelta start paying parents for their sons’ severed sheaths.

… it hints at the wrong ethical issue. Parents do not own their sons’ foreskins. That’s why they don’t have the right to cut them off, much less demand payment for them. If a similar value worked for freshly circumcised adult foreskins, adult males should be free to sell for the highest price. They’re not, because the state thinks selling parts of your body is “wrong”. But taking healthy, functioning body parts from a child for no objective reason without his consent? That’s somehow a valid parental choice. It’s madness.


There was more in the original post, but it’s not necessary to repeat for this. I’ll add that discarded foreskins from adult males do not work well for this procedure. That changes nothing surrounding the ethical argument that demands stopping this practice.

2009: Party like it’s 2008

Photo lovingly “borrowed” from Phillies.com

One year ago today, I wrote these words to mark the opening of Spring Training:

Now begins the process of trying to love this team more than last year’s National League East Division Champions.

Process over. Like learning to love a newborn, it’s instantaneous. World Series or Bust. Go Phillies!

Pitchers and catchers report today. My sentiment is as true this year as it was last year. Except – and this is something I pheared I’d never be able to say – I must modify last year’s sentiment. 2009: World Series Repeat or Bust. Go Phillies!

“Stimulus” suggests we should constantly change the rules.

From a Forbes article on the porktastic spending bill’s impact on business:

Currently firms are allowed to record their losses during the previous two tax years. The compromise bill permits only companies with $15 million in gross revenues to account for the losses five years back. That’s particularly bad news for big manufacturers and homebuilders who have been hammered by the downturn.

Many firms had already planned on taking the tax break. “We had a large number of clients who were very far down the road of having their taxes prepared,” says Clint Stretch, a tax expert at Deloitte Tax.

If I’m to believe the porktastic spending bill will stimulate the economy, isn’t this the type of wasteful productivity we want to root out? They’ve produced their tax returns already. Bah. If we change the rules, they’ll have to do them again. Think of how many people tax firms will have to hire. It’s brilliant.

While we’re at it, change the 2008 individual tax filing rules. I’ve already filed mine, so changing the rules would make me do work. And maybe pass a law that only TaxCut can get the new rules, since I used TurboTax. I’ll have to buy a new copy of software. Sure I can deduct that from my taxes, but it would stimulate the economy.


No matter how many times it’s identified, the Broken Window fallacy will never go away. Why should it, of course? Advocating for inefficiency has its privileges, like a plush gig at the New York Times.