An Open Letter to My Friends on the Right

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

by Jason Kuznicki. Inspired by this.

My friends,

For some time now the presidential race has focused on the place of the market in our society. The nomination of Paul Ryan for Vice President only sharpens that focus. I’m happy about that, whatever my other reservations might be about Mr. Ryan. Many of the left’s assumptions on economics deserve to be criticized, and I do hope you give the Obama administration the well-deserved hell it has coming.

You, my friends on the right, are entirely correct when you condemn Obama’s facile “you didn’t build that”-ism. Yes, we are all to some degree the products of our communities. As conservatives, you already know this. But “community” doesn’t equal “federal government,” and giving back to the community certainly doesn’t mean that the government gets to grow indefinitely. Particularly not when spending and debt are already at or near record levels.

You also affirm something the left goes out of its way to deny: The freedom of the marketplace is fundamental. Markets matter not just because they supply consumers’ needs better than any other arrangement yet devised — although they do. Markets matter because what we do in the market is an expression of who we are, both in our consumer preferences and in where and how we earn our livings. Markets are never perfect, never fully free, never fully efficient. But they are the theaters of our aspirations, our goals, and our deepest values. When liberals snobbishly put down workers’ or consumers’ choices in the market, this is what they are denigrating.

As the philosopher John Tomasi put it:

A society that denies people the chance to take up questions of long-term financial planning for themselves, or that restricts the ways in which individuals and families can respond to such questions, thereby diminishes the capacity of citizens to become fully responsible and independent agents. So too a society that limits the freedom of individuals to negotiate the specific terms of their employment, or that makes their ownership of productive property subject to calculations about social expediency, no matter how benevolent their intentions in doing so, thereby creates social conditions in which the moral powers of citizens can be exercised and developed only in a stunted way. (Free Market Fairness, pp 80-81)

Self-fashioning is the reason that market freedom matters, far beyond giving us full bellies, clean clothes, or shiny electronic toys. It’s the reason you can forgive Ayn Rand her atheism: She understood that markets are valuable for moral reasons. And so do you.

But so much for the easy part. My friends on the right, I find that you have failed in two ways.

The first is that you have mistaken mere wealth for market process. You praise the industrialist and the banker. Very well. Often they deserve it. But have you looked closely at the industrialists and the bankers just lately?

Among Ayn Rand’s villains, I don’t believe that a single one was poor. Every one of them was a member of the elite, and almost all of them were rich. They were people much like we know today, who maybe once upon a time set themselves apart through their own efforts. But at some point they committed a cardinal sin — they reached for the state to keep themselves on top. They made bad bets, then pleaded that they were too big to fail.

You’ve heard these things before: “You have to make certain sacrifices to the public welfare… We cannot permit the ruin of an establishment as vast as [GM, or Chrysler, or Citigroup, or Fannie Mae, or Morgan Stanley]… The country’s economy would not be able to stand a major dislocation at the present moment.”

That’s not from the recent financial crisis. It’s on page 902 of Atlas Shrugged. And really it’s everywhere in the book. Always in the mouths of the villains.

Often the biggest enemies of the market properly understood are precisely those who have made large fortunes—and who now want the government to shield them from all further risk. They are also trying their best this election cycle to portray themselves as your friends, and as friends of the market. You’ve spent way too much time listening to them and doing their bidding.

A politician who loves the market as a moral institution would be the very last one to do any favors for individual market actors. And I do mean any favors. I mean subsidies, tax breaks, eminent domain, no-bid contracts, and all forms of regulation that keep honest competition out. I mean our intellectual property system, which if conservatives had any tactical sense they’d already be attacking—cheap entertainment for the consumer, less cash for liberal Hollywood elites. What’s not to like?

Scrutinize your own side too. Take a hard look at cushy “privatization” deals that really just funnel power and money directly into private corporations’ hands. As a certain liberal recently observed, the way to privatize a prison isn’t to give imprisonment power to a corporation. It’s to stop imprisoning so many people, then sell off the property. About which more below.

And now for your second failing: The market has moral value because it is an arena of self-fashioning. But there are other arenas. They have value too, and they should be free for exactly the same reasons.

Everyone loves low taxes, even people on the left. I am almost convinced that you, my friends on the right, love low taxes for the right reasons. Taxes are always an imposition on our liberty; they always limit our self-fashioning. Taxes on consumption limit our ability to consume in ways that might otherwise define who we are. Taxes on investment limit our ability to plan for the future, to supply ourselves with order, security, and dignity — and in the process, to supply the same to others. Trace them far enough, and all taxes are restrictions on individual self-authorship.

But other restrictions exist. Many of them bite even harder.

Consider immigrants. In particular, if our free market is so great, why do you work so hard to exclude immigrants from it? Is the immigrant laborer less a moral self-fashioner than the Wall Street banker? I wouldn’t say so. He’s clearly at least as motivated. If the immigrant wants to make a life in America — why not let him?

Mr. Ryan recently proclaimed that the United States is the only nation founded on an idea. It’s a common conservative theme, and even if it’s not 100% accurate, I’m certainly sympathetic to it. But we are founded on an idea if and only if our borders remain open to all who share that idea. The moment we start checking for purity of blood, we become a tribalist nation-state just like so many others. Not founded on an idea, but on accidents of birth—and in fact standing squarely against the idea that all people should be the authors of their own lives.

Consider our surveillance state. Mass secret data collection has grown almost unchecked over the course of the last two administrations. What chance is there for dignity, for autonomy, for self-fashioning when the government may well be spying on almost everything we do? Are you really comfortable with the fact that the NSA keeps dossiers on virtually every American? If you balk at the imposition of taxes, should you not protest even more at having to live your life in a panopticon? That’s where we are headed, my friends. But you could change it—if only you wanted it as badly as you want low taxes.

Consider the Drug War. In the final analysis, it’s a war on the market process, at least for some goods. But it also appears purposefully designed to wreck individual lives and to make a mockery of the kind of self-fashioning that we so value in our defense of the market. Nothing kills self-authorship like being thrown into prison. Not business regulations, not high taxes, not even the demon weed itself.

Radley Balko’s blog chronicles the damage the Drug War is doing to our homes, families, communities, and law enforcement agencies. What do we have to show for it? Hundreds of thousands of arrests per year and an incarceration rate that is the envy of the unfree world. Tens of thousands murdered. Billions of dollars poured down the drain.

There is no good reason for the Drug War to keep happening, and it may soon be in your power to stop it. Please do, because Obama certainly won’t. You could own this issue if you wanted, and with it, the votes of the next generation.

My conservative friends, the very reasons why you love free markets and low taxes should bring you to love liberty in many other areas. That’s all I’m here to say, ultimately. I’m leaving aside issues where I don’t think you’re persuadable (foreign policy), or where I don’t think libertarianism has much to offer (abortion). I understand that some things just aren’t going to change, and I can live with that.

I also know that you have an election to win. I don’t expect you to turn against the candidates you’re about to nominate. You’re not going to drop everything and start reading Robert Nozick or Murray Rothbard. But a little Milton Friedman wouldn’t kill you, would it?

To lay out my own agenda — I would like to change the terms of the American political conversation. On the right. On the left. Everywhere. It’s thinkable, after all, that both left and right could become a little bit more libertarian. From where I sit, it seems like you on the right have no good reason not to, and I’ve tried my best here to say why, using terms that you have already made your own.

So what do you think?

Jason


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169 Responses to “An Open Letter to My Friends on the Right”

  1. #1 |  supercat | 

    #127 | johnl | “Again, to supercat, if open borders advocates had their way, there wouldn’t be undocumented aliens, because they would be provided documents.”

    Perhaps, though given the passive-aggressive behavior of the INS/ICE, I wouldn’t count on it. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, for example, the INS announced that it was beginning deportation proceedings against a woman who was in the country on her husband’s work visa; she and her husband were in the process of becoming citizens, and were well on the way when her husband was killed in the World Trade Center. Since her husband’s work visa was no longer valid (as a consequence of his being buried under tons of rubble), it no longer allowed her to remain in the country and the INS thus considered her a priority candidate for deportation.

    Even if the INS was instructed to grant identification documents to people as fast as their home governments could act to confirm their identity and backgrounds, I suspect the bureaucrats would drag their feet if nothing else so they could get out of doing all the necessary paperwork.

    Also, another issue that I’ve not heard discussed much: many of the people who covertly enter this country are emigrating from countries which themselves have immigration policies which are even stricter than those of the U.S. I believe that when dealing with others (whether at the personal or national level), one should treat them *slightly* better than one is treated by them. A policy of treating others well without regard for how one is treated by them will not encourage reciprocal good treatment, but rather abuse. If other countries wish for the U.S. to open our borders to them, then they should likewise open their borders do us. If they won’t open their borders, why should we?

  2. #2 |  el coronado | 

    #148, PNG –

    Wow. You managed to combine the US Constitution and ‘The Matrix’ in one short comment. That was pretty cool. Who knows? Maybe that’s the angle we need to get the word out.

  3. #3 |  Criticizing the Right « Notes On Liberty | 

    […] You can read the rest here. […]

  4. #4 |  Susan | 

    #135

    Illegals CANNOT get welfare, so ending welfare will have NO effect on illegal immgration. As a New Yorker, you ought to know these facts. Don’t get out much?

  5. #5 |  Deoxy | 

    Illegals CANNOT get welfare

    You know, it’s illegal to murder anyone, too. And thus, it NEVER happens!

    Giggle.

    Seriously, the reason people keep ignoring this incredible point of yours is that it’s about as useful as “gun free zones” – sure, I was going to go shoot people, but since having a gun there is illegal, I guess I won’t….

    Yeah. We know it’s against the law for illegal immigrants to get benefits… but it’s also against the law for them to work. In fact, it’s against the law for them to be even be here in the first place!

    So yeah, it’s illegal for them to get benefits. Guess what? It still happens. A lot.

    (And actually, that’s giving you a huge freebie. A significant chunk of the benefits they receive are things that it is illegal NOT to give them – ER visits, for instance. Show up with need, get service. No check of any kind is done. So yeah, really, you’re making an idiot of yourself.)

  6. #6 |  Deoxy | 

    Half a dozen cases of minors being smuggled across state lines

    This already happens.

    One cannot hold those positions and maintain the high moral ground in the minds of the citizenry.

    Only if the citizens are paying attention. Whenever the light shines on these things, yes, they are losers (PBA more than PN), but the activists simply lie lie lie, bide their time, wait for the hubbub to die down, and go right back to it.

    The citizens have other things to worry about, and a few activists being morally despicable simply doesn’t keep their attention long enough to get that far.

    At least, it hasn’t happened yet. Not sure what it will take to actually make it happen…

  7. #7 |  Danny | 

    Hey, Deoxy, I don’t think you have to register at a government office to work under the table or to commit murder. Sorry to have to throw a little annoying internet meme at you but, if you say it “happens a lot” …. CITATION NEEDED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  8. #8 |  Cheryl | 

    This has been a fascinating comment thread. I describe myself as fiscally Republican and socially Democrat. I wish I could find a candidate as well balanced as me. (ha). But, ultimately, it comes down to what I feel is a well planned attack on women’s rights in this country…I feel a sense of doom that I have never felt in my 50 years on this rock. It goes beyond abortion, beyond birth control, beyond wage equality (which I will never see in my lifetime, sadly). I am gainfully employed, most of my friends and family are as well, I am doing ok financially and ultimately, when it comes down to it, that’s my final, gut check barometer at the polls–how is my personal life? I live in a predominantly Muslim community in Michigan, I feel safe and at no danger of being put under Sharia law. (Those of you who really feel this is an actual danger should go back underground to your apocalypse shelters and put on your tinfoil hats) But in that same state, female legislators were censored for saying vagina. If the Romney/Ryan teams is elected, I firmly believe that my daughter, who is 16, will find it harder to get coverage for birth control, not have access to safe abortion providers and should Ryan find the support to get all of his initiatives passed, she won’t be able to access the preventative (mammograms, cancer screenings, etc. ) health care she might need someday if she isn’t able to pay for it out of pocket.

    That’s my gut. Telling me to go vote for Obama. Because at this point, it’s all about voting AGAINST someone.

  9. #9 |  Deoxy | 

    Citation needed… really? Are you serious?!?

    At any workplace that doesn’t pay cash under the table, you have to have a SSN to get the job, and usually ID as well – that is, some large percentage of them already have fake IDs (and PAY TAXES under those SSNs, too, actually, in many cases).

    But they couldn’t be using those for benefits, oh no.

    Anyway, you want citations – ok, here’s some:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/05/business/05immigration.html?_r=1&ex=1270353600&en=78c87ac4641dc383&ei=5090

    “Our assumption is that about three-quarters of other-than-legal immigrants pay payroll taxes,” said Stephen C. Goss, Social Security’s chief actuary, using the agency’s term for illegal immigration.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Economic_impact_of_illegal_immigrants_in_the_United_States
    http://www.cbo.gov/ftpdocs/87xx/doc8711/12-6-Immigration.pdf

    During 2007, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reviewed 29 reports published over 15 years on the impact of unauthorized immigrants on the budgets of state and local governments. While cautioning that the reports are not a suitable basis for developing an aggregate national effect across all states, they concluded that:[33]

    * State and local governments incur costs for providing services to unauthorized immigrants and have limited options for avoiding or minimizing those costs;
    * The amount that state and local governments spend on services for unauthorized immigrants represents a small percentage of the total amount spent by those governments to provide such services to residents in their jurisdictions;
    * The tax revenues that unauthorized immigrants generate for state and local governments do not offset the total cost of services provided to those immigrants, although the impact is most likely modest; and
    * Federal aid programs offer resources to state and local governments that provide services to unauthorized immigrants, but those funds do not fully cover the costs incurred by those governments.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_immigration_to_the_United_States

    Illegal hiring has not been prosecuted aggressively in recent years: between 1999 and 2003, according to The Washington Post, “work-site enforcement operations were scaled back 95 percent by the Immigration and Naturalization Service.[56] Major employers of illegal immigrants have included:

    * Wal-Mart. In 2005, Wal-Mart agreed to pay $11 million to settle a federal investigation that found hundreds of illegal immigrants were hired by Wal-Mart’s cleaning contractors.[57]

    * Swift & Co.. In December 2006, in the largest such crackdown in American history, U.S. federal immigration authorities raided Swift & Co. meat-processing plants in six U.S. states, arresting about 1,300 illegal immigrant employees.[58]

    * Tyson Foods. This company has also been accused of actively importing illegal labor for its chicken packing plants; however, the jury acquitted the company after evidence was presented that Tyson went beyond mandated government requirements in demanding documentation for its employees.[59]

    * Gebbers Farms. In December 2009, US immigration authorities forced this Brewster, Washington farm known for its fruit orchards to fire more than 500 illegal workers, mostly immigrants from Mexico. Some were working with false social security cards and other false identification.[60]

    All of these places would require ID/SN to go to work.

    So, fake IDs/SSNs are common. What is required for social services? ID and SSN, if that much.

    So yeah, it is pretty easy, and the CBO (generally called “non-partisan” by both sides of the aisle in any debate I’ve seen) says they cost more than they put in in taxes.

    I’ve now given citations for something painfully obvious. You claim something much less obvious…. where are YOUR citations for otherwise?

  10. #10 |  Deoxy | 

    But in that same state, female legislators were censored for saying vagina. If the Romney/Ryan teams is elected, I firmly believe that my daughter, who is 16, will find it harder to get coverage for birth control, not have access to safe abortion providers and should Ryan find the support to get all of his initiatives passed, she won’t be able to access the preventative (mammograms, cancer screenings, etc. ) health care she might need someday if she isn’t able to pay for it out of pocket.

    That’s my gut. Telling me to go vote for Obama.

    OK, the reasons you cite actually work exactly backwards of what you just said they told you.

    ObamaCare (and socialized medicine in almost every country it has ever been tried) is what will limit access to stuff, not the free market. heck what kinds of screenings have suddenly become “not recommended” just since ObamaCare passed!

    The “birth control” thing was a transparent Democrat talking point, which they abandoned several months ago now. Dude, the pill costs $9 a month. Condoms are cheaper than that. That’s just silliness.

  11. #11 |  el coronado | 

    Cheryl, glad to hear you feel safe living in a predominantly moslem area of MI – Dearborn? – and feel no animosity, pressure, increasing push for sharia, all that. But what if your personal experience is an outlier on the ol’ Bell Chart?

    Because _elsewhere_ on the Bell Chart/Probability Curve, gringos living in or near London’s Finsbury Park; or the banlieu’s of suburban Paris; or anywhere in southern Sweden are reporting radically *different* experiences. The MSM won’t report this, (ever wonder why?), but it’s googleable: Malmo, Sweden, is pretty much the rape capitol of the world. Seems the young, almost-always-moslem peaceloving ‘immigrants’ are reaping the blonde infidel Swedish lasses there SO much that they (the women) have taken to dying their hair black to avoid be targeted. Naturally, it goes without saying the moslem areas of Malomo are no-go areas to everyone not a member of the peaceful faith: including the cops & firefighters. Ever wonder why?

    All your other political ideas aside, if your biggest worry is “a well-planned attack on women’s rights”, why not take a look at where it’s needed most? Focus on who it is doing the attacking, instead of worrying how the eebil Mormon & Catholic conservatives are gonna stamp out ubiquitous dirt-cheap condoms; or a Pill that now runs $10 a month?

  12. #12 |  el coronado | 

    “raping”, dammit.

  13. #13 |  JGLarner | 

    DEOXY:

    ObamaCare (and socialized medicine in almost every country it has ever been tried) is what will limit access to stuff, not the free market.

    And yet, somehow, the citizens of EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRACY THAT HAS SOCIALIZED MEDICINE live longer, healthier lives than Americans do, and have lower rates of infant mortality (according to the CIA World Factbook.) Even the UK, which, unlike most countries that have some form of national health insurance (like Canada) actually does have government-run healthcare. Take it from me; I grew up in Canada. The right-wing and libertarian attacks on socialized medicine have absolutely no basis in reality.

    And rationing? Seriously? You’re going to make that argument? You don’t think that private insurers cutting people off their plans, or denying necessary treatment on the basis of cost, constitutes rationing? You want to give rationing powers to private corporations, seeking their own private good; but not to governments, seeking public good?

  14. #14 |  JGLarner | 

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jesse-larner/its-the-tea-party-people-_b_700936.html

  15. #15 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    Cheryl,

    you desperately, DESPERATELY need to do a little bit of research on the gap between what Liberals say they want and what their policies actually DO. I fully understand how you can be deeply uncomfortable with the religious Right, but you should be at least as uncomfortable with the Dogmatic Left. As a political movement Feminism has become a caricature of itself. Liberal academia is almost completely divorced from reality. In many ways the political Left is as much a stew of prejudice, dogma, and stupidity as your worst nightmare about Jerry “God’s Clown” Falwell.

    Put it this way; the Religious Right thinks abortion is immoral and unwed mothers should be made to bear their bastard children and put them up for adoption. Despite what the Left wants you to believe, the Islamic extremists think that women are immoral, and want to stone unwed mothers to death. This is cold fact, backed up by any moderately diligent search. Anybody who is telling you otherwise is either lying or living in a fool’s paradise.

  16. #16 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @160 – The far right thugs are the cause, yes. White thugs. Malmo’s mayor basically asked them to come, and they did. You’d fit in just fine.

    And because white thugs are no longer welcome to rape Muslims. Odd that!

    @162 – And you use this to call a Jihad onto every Muslim, right.

  17. #17 |  Leon Wolfeson | 

    @159 – Overtreatment in America is a HUGE problem.

  18. #18 |  | Nobody's Business | 

    […] addthis_share = [];}Over at The Agitator, guest blogger Jason Kuznicki has a terrific post titled “An Open Letter to My Friends on the Right,” in which he tries to explain how the right wing gets freedom […]

  19. #19 |  Deoxy | 

    And yet, somehow, the citizens of EVERY SINGLE DEMOCRACY THAT HAS SOCIALIZED MEDICINE live longer, healthier lives than Americans do, and have lower rates of infant mortality (according to the CIA World Factbook.)

    The asiest example of the fallacy here is infant mortality: when a child is born 4 months premature and dies an hour after birth, only the US counts that as an infant death. Those stats count different things.

    The rest are very similar. You want to talk about health and how long people live? Especially in regards to health care? Let’s look at cancer survival rates.

    Oh wait, let’s not… because the US clobbers everyone there, and ti make the other countries look bad.

    OK, let’s look at any other specific category… Hmm, what can we find that doesn’t make socialized medicine look bad?

    Broken arms! Yes, a broken limb (assuming it’s nothing complicated) is a good thing to judge against. Simple wounds needing stitches are good, too.

    Average life expectancy involves a GREAT many things. Health care is only one part of that.

    And when you look at the specifics, the US is on top – it’s not close. To be fair, yes we also cost the most*… but there’s a reason wealthy people from countries with socialized medicine come to the US for treatment.

    *Also, to be fair, in part we cost the most because we are bearing the lion’s share of the R&D burden for the whole world, particularly in drugs, but also in other areas.

    ake it from me; I grew up in Canada.

    The same Canada who recently had one of their high-ranking officials attempt to get his healthcare in the US without anybody in Canada finding out? The same one where there are enormous wait times for things that people come south of the border and get the same week, or even day?

    Yes, I’m familiar with Canada (got relatives there), and it’s one of the better ones… but everything I just said still applies, even there. The US bearing the R&D burden particular applies.

    And rationing? Seriously? You’re going to make that argument? You don’t think that private insurers cutting people off their plans, or denying necessary treatment on the basis of cost, constitutes rationing? You want to give rationing powers to private corporations, seeking their own private good; but not to governments, seeking public good?

    Yes, I absolutely DO want to make that argument!

    An insurance company not covering something they said they wouldn’t cover (or even something they said they would, which you should be able to sue for breach of contract for – yes, I know that’s harder in actual practice than it should be) is absolutely NOTHING like the government simply not allowing you to have something.

    The morality of those things is night and day different; the actual outcome in almost every country it has been tried in so far is even more different than that.

    “Rationing” is when the government (or other authority figure) won’t give you something. What you’re complaining about the insurance companies is the opposite of that – they won’t sell you something at below price. That’s the market at work.

    Also, even when the insurance company won’t pay for it, you can at least pay for it yourself – the limit is money, rather than being allowed to (many of the less well-run socialized systems actually forbid private purchase at all).

    The history of governments acting for the “public good” is governments acting for the good of the members of that government, and F*** the rest of the public. Even wonderful Canada has that problem – what are the average wait times for procedures for public employees (especially the the higher one goes) compared to non-public employees?

    THAT is what you are, in practice, advocating.

    I want the most people to get the most care, and only a handful of the socialized medicine systems ever actually implemented get anywhere close to how well we are doing it. “That’s because the right people weren’t in charge”, or whatever, doesn’t work with communism, and it doesn’t work with socialized medicine, either.