Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Teaching Economics To "Spiritual Progressives"

To Jean Barker, for the Network of Spiritual Progressives:
You write:
> Please note that the Tikkun Community plans to publish the responses from you and your fellow candidates to the letter's questionnaire, in order to help Tikkun Magazine readers evaluate candidate stands on these issues <
I look forward to your readers being afforded this opportunity to hear candidates' unfiltered responses to your thoughtful questions. It's refreshing to see an organization that is open-minded and intellectually confident enough to challenge their readers with perspectives that aren't filtered to merely confirm their existing beliefs.
1. War in Iraq: Do you believe the U.S. should have a timetable for bringing the troops home from Iraq, and that full withdrawal/redeployment occur within calendar year 2007?
( ) Yes ( X ) No Why, or why not?
Withdrawal should be based less on arbitrary timetables than on these exit criteria: elimination of any WMD or international terrorist infrastructure; inauguration of a federal democratic constitutional framework that protects minorities and human rights; and successful transition of security responsibility to Iraq. Our leaders should not disclose our precise pain thresholds, but America will not tolerate a total cost over 3000 U.S. combat fatalities or $500B. Sunni and Shia infighting is now close to exhausting the reconstruction and stabilization efforts we owed the Iraqis for having liberated them.

2. New Bottom Line: The NSP is calling for a new bottom line in America, by which organizations, corporations, social and governmental practices, and legislation would be judged rational, efficient, and productive not only to the extent that they maximize money and power (the old bottom line), but also to the extent that they increase our capacities to be loving and caring, kind and generous, ethically and ecologically sensitive, able to see others as embodiments of the sacred and able to respond to the universe with gratitude, awe, and wonder. Would you work to implement this "New Bottom Line"?
( X ) Yes ( ) No How would you implement it?
The only legislation I would support along these lines would be to protect species from extinction, to protect animals from torture, and to legally recognize the economic value of the environment through market-smart environmentalism: tax products and transactions for pollution caused; allow trading and retiring of emissions licenses; and auction access to natural resources. Government is the only institution with police and prisons, and I would oppose all use of such power to enforce some social vision at gunpoint. The problems with the current "bottom line" are caused more by too much government than by too little.

3. Strong Families: Do you agree that strong families will be supported if we reward institutions and social practices that promote love and caring in our work places, economic policies, government and corporate practices, and our educational system?
( ) Yes ( X ) No How would you promote such institutions and practices?
Markets are already able to reward such institutions and practices to the extent that they produce value for consumers, workers, and other market participants. Except for correcting textbook market failures, use of government power to "promote love and caring" is guaranteed to do more harm than good. If you love families, then free them from government interference.

4. Health Care: Do you support the call for a federal government-sponsored single-payer national health care program?
( ) Yes ( X ) No Why, or why not?
Healthcare policy should limit government's role to the things that government can do better than market participants can do on their own:
  1. Provide a safety net of basic health care for people in immediate need.
  2. Provide vouchers to people who cannot otherwise afford catastrophic health insurance.
  3. Require non-poor people to buy catastrophic insurance (so that they don't use the safety net as their insurance).
  4. Incentivize people to buy preventive care by means of tax-deductible medical savings accounts
5. Education: Would you support legislation aimed at restructuring educational priorities, so that in addition to teaching basic academic skills, schools gave high attention to teaching students to be socially, ethically, and ecologically responsible, caring toward others, kind, generous, loving, non-violent in their behavior and their speech, and responsive to and grateful for and in awe of the grandeur of the universe?
( X ) Yes ( ) No Why, or why not?
I support privatizing education and providing tuition vouchers from states and localities to those too poor to educate their children. Giving parents control of tuition dollars will enable a free market in education to satisfy the consumer demands of all the parents who share your educational priorities, while protecting the rights of parents who disagree with your priorities. I oppose your use of government power to force your educational priorities on others, just as I oppose such use of government power by the Religious Right.

6. Global Poverty: Would you support a plan to allocate 5% of our gross domestic product (GDP) each year for the next twenty years to ending global as well as domestic poverty and inadequate health care and education?
( ) Yes ( X ) No Why, or why not?
The two greatest forces for material well-being in human history have been freedom and knowledge, while the two greatest forces for misery have been tyranny and ignorance. Your organization is "The Network of Spiritual Progressives". Spirituality promotes ignorance about the nature of reality, and "progressivism" opposes economic freedom. Thus while your good intentions are demonstrated by your opposition to religious fundamentalism and support for civil liberties, a strong argument can be made that your efforts against "poverty" actually retard its amelioration. Are you open-minded and self-critical enough to examine that argument? Are you even aware of it?

7. Social Responsibility Amendment: Do you support legislation that would require every large corporation (income over $50 million/year) to get a new charter every ten years, with the charter being granted only to those corporations that could prove a satisfactory history of social responsibility to a jury of ordinary citizens?
( ) Yes ( X ) No Why, or why not? To what practices would you want such a jury to give particular attention?
No. History has already pronounced its verdict against this naive notion that the voluntary interactions of peaceful honest competent adults should be controlled or policed by some central authority, regardless of whether you call it (as Stalin and Mao did) a "Five-Year Plan" or (as Goering did) a "Four-Year Plan" or (as Nixon did) a "Price Commission and Pay Board" or (as you do) "a jury of ordinary citizens". However, I support reforming limited corporate liability so that at least one shareholder must have unlimited liability.

8. Social Responsibility Impact Legislation: Would you support the SRI‹legislation that would require than any corporation applying for public funds in excess of $100,000 to file a Social Responsibility Impact report describing the steps they've taken to increase social responsibility in the way that they treat their employees, the choice of products they produce or services they provide, and their impact on the ethical and ecological climate of the communities where their products are advertised or bought. In awarding the contract, the government office would take into account their history of social responsibility as presented by them and also as described in SRI reports filed by their employees and by community organizations in the communities affected by their activities.
( ) Yes ( X ) No Why, or why not?
See answer 7. Under my policies, there would be much less "applying for public funds" and other corporate welfare. Consumers would thus have more influence over corporations than now, and would be more able to encourage "social responsibility" through voluntary means such as boycotts.

9. Modeling Personal Responsibility: Do you support the NSP's call for elected officials and their staffs to give a few hours during each work week to hands-on service to the needy, for example in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter?
( X ) Yes ( ) No Why, or why not?
I support almost any policy that limits that time available to legislators and bureaucrats to create new rules for men with guns to enforce against the voluntary interactions of peaceful honest competent adults. However, a better reform would be to have legislators be required to repeal as many rules as they enact. The best reform would be to have a legislative house (and/or an co-President) whose only powers are to repeal or veto legislation.

10. Hunger for Meaning: The Network of Spiritual Progressives holds that people have meaning needs that are as important to them, if not more so, than their economic needs. In what ways would you give priority to the need for meaning and what role might government play in this process? What higher meaning and purpose would be given higher priority if you had power to influence the shape of our economic life beyond the goals of accumulation of wealth and material goods?
By definition, the only way for an alleged need to be immune from economic analysis is for it to 1) have absolutely no constraints on its fulfillment, or 2) have absolutely no observable influence on the needer's behavior. Neither is true of the need for meaning, and there is already a rich economic literature studying this very important need. As an institution, government is characterized by its unique authority to initiate coercive force, and coercive force has zero role to play in our quest for meaning. All institutional roles in that quest can and should be performed by non-coercive institutions such as your own.

11. Global Warming: What specific policies do you support to save our planet from ecological degradation and to dramatically reduce and reverse global warming?
A modest carbon tax and intensive research are prudent due to the possible effects of anthropogenic global warming on species in marginal ecosystems. Extinctions of species and forgetting of languages are our century's only crimes that history will not forgive. Warming's biggest threat -- up to 5m higher seas due to complete collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet -- is very unlikely, and the projected moderate warming (up to 2C) would have a net positive impact on the developed (i.e. temperate) world. See Skeptical Environmentalist p. 301, and the authoritative 2001 UN IPCC report.

12. Values in the Public Sphere: What values do you think should be encouraged by our government, schools, and social policy? How would you exemplify those values as an elected official? Or do you believe that the introduction of any values are a slippery slope toward undermining the first amendment separation clause? Explain your views on the separation of church
and state and the role of values in the public sphere.
Government is distinguished from other public institutions only by its dangerous authority to use non-defensive force, and should do only what no non-coercive institution can do: 1) Provide police and courts. 2) Regulate unowned natural resources. 3) Regulate natural monopolies -- i.e. road/pipe/wire networks. 4) Provide services for which free-ridership prevents market provision: national defense, anti-poverty safety net, prevention of contagion/conflagration/flood, and fundamental scientific research. That's it. Every other societal function is best fulfilled by non-coercive institutions.
Brian Holtz
Libertarian candidate for Congress, CA14 (Silicon Valley)

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