2019-12-25 05:30:58

This week, children may learn about that greedy man, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge is selfish until ghosts scare him into thinking about others’ well-being, not just his own.

Good for the ghosts.

But the way Scrooge addresses others’ needs matters.

Today’s advocates of equality, compassion, increased spending on education, health care, etc., say “we care” but demand that government do the work.

Controlling other people with the power of government doesn’t prove you care.

If you want to help the poor, clean the environment, improve the arts. Great! Please do.
But if you are compassionate, then you’ll spend your own money on your vision. You will volunteer your work and encourage others to volunteer theirs, by charity or commerce. You don’t force others to do what you think is best.

But government is not voluntary. Government has no money of its own. Whatever it gives away, it first must take from others through taxes.

If you vote for redistribution of wealth, welfare benefits, new Medicare spending or free education, you can tell yourself you’re “generous.” But you’re not. You’re just forcing others to pay for programs you think might help. That’s not generosity. That’s control. The more programs you demand, the more controlling you are.

In fact, you are worse than greedy old Ebenezer Scrooge.

With Scrooge, people have a choice. They can work for Scrooge or quit. They can do business with someone else.

Governments don’t offer us choice. Governments say: “Comply or we will lock you up. Pay taxes and we will decide whom to help. No one may escape the master plan.”

Why, then, do people react to big government ideas as if they’re generous instead of scary? Because most people don’t think clearly about what it means to tell government to use force against their fellow citizens. They think about society the way their ancestors did.

“Our minds evolved tens of thousands of years ago, when we lived in small groups of 50-200 people,” says HumanProgress.org editor Marian Tupy. “We would kill game, bring it back, share it.”

The idea of everyone getting an equal share still makes us feel warm and cozy.
Some of you may feel that coziness this week, sharing a Christmas meal. Great. But remember that if you decide that society’s resources should be redistributed, that’s much more complex than passing meat around a family table.

Seizing control of a big society’s resources has unforeseen consequences—ripple effects that are hard to predict.

Back in the cave, you stood a pretty good chance of noticing which hungry relative needed a bigger share of meat. In the tribe, that sort of central planning worked well enough. It doesn’t work as well once the tribe numbers thousands or millions of people. No tribal elder knows enough to plan so many different people’s lives.

Today’s politicians, for instance, don’t know how many workers will be laid off if they raise taxes on Walmart. They don’t know what innovation will never happen if they cap CEOs’ salaries. They don’t know how much wealth creation will be lost if they tax investors’ money in order to fund another government program.

Government’s built-in ignorance explains how it can spend trillions on failed poverty programs, and then respond to the failure by demanding more funds to continue the same programs.

You stand a better chance of getting good results if you do real charity, close to home, where you can keep an eye on it—and without coercing anyone else to do things your way.

We can invent new ways to give to each other. Philanthropy evolves, much the way markets do, harnessing new technologies and social networks that span the globe.
Innovative ideas, like microlending, start in one kitchen. If they work, they grow.

By contrast, government grows even when it doesn’t work. It bosses people around even when it’s not really helping them.

Big hearts are a good thing. Big government is no substitute for them.

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2019-12-18 05:30:07

Sen. Rand Paul (R–Ky.) just wrote a book, The Case Against Socialism.

I thought that case was already decided, since socialist countries failed so spectacularly.
But the idea hasn’t died, especially amongst the young.

“Hitler’s socialism, Stalin’s socialism, Mao’s socialism. You would think people would have recognized it by now,” says Paul in my latest video.

Paul echoes Orwell in likening socialism to “a boot stamping on the human face forever” and warning that it always leads to violence and corruption.

“You would think that when your economy gets to the point where people are eating their pets,” says Paul, contemplating the quick descent of once-rich Venezuela, “people might have second thoughts about what system they’ve chosen.”

That’s a reference to the fact that Venezuelans have lost weight because food is so hard to find.

“Contrast that with (the country’s) ‘Dear Leader’ Maduro, who’s probably gained 50 pounds,” Paul observes. “It really sums up socialism. There’s still a well-fed top 1 percent; they just happen to be the government or cronies or friends of the government.”

Naturally, American socialists say our socialism will be different.

“When I talk about democratic socialism,” says Sen. Bernie Sanders, “I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

Paul responds, “They all wind up saying, ‘The kinder, gentler socialism that we want is Scandinavia … democratic socialism.’ So we do a big chunk of the book about Scandinavia.”

Paul’s book is different from other politicians’ books. Instead of repeating platitudes, he and his co-author did actual research, concluding, “It’s not true that the Scandinavian countries are socialist.”

Scandinavia did try socialist policies years ago but then turned away from socialism. They privatized industries and repealed regulations.

Denmark’s prime minister even came to America and refuted Sanders’ claims, pointing out that “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.” In fact, in rankings of economic freedom, Scandinavian countries are near the top.

“They have private property, private stock exchanges,” says Paul. “We learned that, actually, Bernie is too much of a socialist for Scandinavia!”

Scandinavia did keep some socialist policies, like government-run health care. The media claim that’s why Swedes live longer, but Paul says: “This is the trick of statistics. You can say, ‘The Swedes live longer, and they have socialized medicine!’ Yet if you look hard at the statistics, it started way before socialized medicine.”

Scandinavians already lived longer 60 years ago, and they also had lower rates of poverty. That’s because of Scandinavian culture’s emphasis on self-reliance and hard work. Paul reminded me of an anecdote about economist Milton Friedman.

“This Swedish economist comes up to him and says, ‘In Sweden, we have no poverty!’

Friedman responds, ‘Yeah, in America, we have no poverty among Swedish Americans!'”

In fact, Swedes have 50 percent higher living standards in the U.S. than when they stay in Sweden. Danish Americans, too. Socialism can’t take the credit.

But the most important argument against socialism is that it crushes freedom.

Socialists get elected by promising fairness and equality, but Paul points out: “The only way you can enforce those things is to have an equality police or a fairness police, and ultimately they show up with truncheons. … The best kind of socialist leader ends up having to be ruthless because you can’t be a kinder, gentler socialist leader and get the property.”

By contrast, capitalism largely lets individuals make their own choices.

“It’s a direct democracy every day,” says Paul. “You vote either for Walmart or you vote for Target. You vote with your feet, with your wallet. People who succeed are the people who get the most votes, which are dollars. And as long as there’s no coercion, seems to me that that would be the most just way of distributing a nation’s economy.”

It’s not perfect, but look at the track record of the alternative, says Paul: “Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, Maduro. It doesn’t work.”

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2019-12-17 13:17:23

Even as Venezuelans starve, Senator Rand Paul (R–Ky.) notes that socialism has gained ground in the United States.

That’s why he wrote “The Case Against Socialism.” The chapter on Venezuelan socialism is titled, “Because Eating Your Pets is Overrated.”

“You would think that…when your economy gets to the point where people are eating their pets, people might have second thoughts about what economic system they’ve chosen,” Paul tells John Stossel.

But Stossel notes that today American socialists say, “We won’t be like that.” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) says, “when I talk about Democratic socialism, I’m not looking at Venezuela. I’m not looking at Cuba. I’m looking at countries like Denmark and Sweden.”

But Paul debunks that myth in his book.

“It’s not true that the Scandinavian countries are socialist,” Paul tells Stossel.

Stossel points out that while Scandinavia tried socialist policies years ago, they then turned away from socialism, privatizing industries and repealing regulations. In fact, when experts rank economic freedom, Scandinavian countries rank near the top.

Denmark’s prime minister even responded to Sanders, saying: “Denmark is far from a socialist planned economy.”

Scandinavia did keep socialist policies like government-run health care. Media outlets suggest that’s why Scandinavians live longer.

But Paul says: “This is the trick of statistics…it started way before socialized medicine.”

His book has the stats to back that up. In the 1960s, before Sweden’s healthcare was totally nationalized, Swedish men already lived five years longer than American men. Now, they…still live five years longer.

Stossel says Paul’s book is different from other politicians’ platitude-filled books. Paul did actual research. He cites sources that back up his point about health care, comparing the life expectancy of Swedish and American men in 1960s.

Regarding Sweden’s ability to pull people out of poverty, Paul credits Swedish culture, not government programs. He tells Stossel of a story about Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman:

“This Swedish economist comes up to him and he says, ‘You know in Sweden we have no poverty.’ And Friedman responds, ‘Well, yeah, in America we have no poverty among Swedish Americans.'”

Paul confirms that with data from Swedish researcher Nima Sanandaji, who writes: “Danish Americans today have fully 55 percent higher living standard than Danes. Similarly, Swedish Americans have a 53 percent higher living standard than Swedes.”

Stossel says it’s good that Paul debunks these myths and warns against repeating the tragic history of socialism.

Paul gives a partial list of failures: “Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Castro, Chavez, Maduro. It doesn’t work.”

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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2019-12-16 11:00:01

Since her entry into the Democratic presidential primary race, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has been running against war. Gabbard, a National Guard major who served twice in the Middle East, launched her campaign by telling CNN, “There is one main issue that is central to the rest, and that is the issue of war and peace.”

In June, she used a primary debate to blast President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of America’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran, warning that “Donald Trump and his chickenhawk cabinet—Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and others—are creating a situation where a spark would light a war with Iran.” But she also went after her own party’s acquiescence to permanent war, asking Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan (who has since exited the race), “Will you tell the parents of those two soldiers that were killed [recently] in Afghanistan that we have to be engaged? That is unacceptable. We have lost so many lives. We have spent so much money.”

Gabbard’s staunch anti-war stance has led to accusations of disloyalty and even possible foreign allegiances, with 2016 nominee Hillary Clinton musing in October that a Democratic candidate was likely being “groomed” to play spoiler in the 2020 race. That candidate, Clinton warned without explicitly naming Gabbard, “is the favorite of the Russians.” Gabbard shot back that she was running for president to “undo Mrs. Clinton’s failed legacy.” The fight seemed to work to Gabbard’s benefit: After polling near the bottom of the field for much of the summer, the Hawaiian’s numbers have shot up in the important early primary state of New Hampshire.

In October, Gabbard sat down with Reason‘s John Stossel to talk about the pitfalls of endless war, the pros and cons of expanding Medicare and government-funded college, and why military spending is every bit as important as health care.

Reason: You often say you know the costs of war. What do you mean?

Tulsi Gabbard: I am a soldier. I have been serving in the Army National Guard now for over 16 years, and I deployed twice to the Middle East. I’ve served in Congress now for nearly seven years on the Foreign Affairs Committee, the Armed Services Committee, and the Homeland Security Committee. And so from both perspectives, I understand the importance of our national security.

As a soldier, I served in a field medical unit in Iraq in 2005, during the height of the war. Our camp was about 40 miles north of Baghdad, and it was something every day that we all experienced firsthand: the terribly high human cost of war—of our fellow soldiers, friends of ours, who were killed in combat. And the toll that continues now with veterans coming home with visible and invisible wounds, dealing with post-traumatic stress.

You’ve said the best way to honor our troops is to make combat the last option. We don’t do that?

We have to honor our servicemen and women by only sending them on missions that are worthy of their sacrifice. Now, like so many Americans after Al Qaeda attacked us on 9/11, I made the decision to join our military. To enlist, to be able to go after and defeat those who attacked us on that day, to defeat that great evil that visited us.

Unfortunately, since that time, our leaders failed us. Instead of focusing on defeating Al Qaeda, they’ve instead used that attack on 9/11 to begin to wage a whole series of counterproductive regime-change wars, overthrowing authoritarian dictators in other countries. Wars that’ve proven to be very costly to our service members, to the American people—

Plus to Saddam Hussein, Moammar Gadhafi.

Hussein, Gadhafi, and the ongoing regime change that’s still happening in Syria today.

So in Afghanistan, you would’ve gotten out when?

Go in, defeat Al Qaeda, get out. That’s what should’ve happened. Instead, what we’re seeing now is a very long, protracted, ambiguous mission where no one really knows what “winning” looks like. And the ensuing nation building that’s followed in these different wars, that’s taken so much of our resources, our taxpayer dollars, out of where they should have been dedicated—in nation building and serving the needs of our people right here at home.

If we just pulled out, wouldn’t there be more slaughter?

If we stay focused on what our mission and objectives should be, which is the safety and security of the American people, then we end up saving a whole lot of lives [and] we end up saving a whole lot of taxpayer dollars. The conflict and the complexities and the challenges, for example in Afghanistan, that we’re seeing continuing over the years and through today are things that only the Afghan people can resolve. What we’ve got to stay focused on is how we ensure the safety and security of the American people.

There seldom is a discussion that I’ve heard asking, “What is our mission?”

That’s exactly the problem. Before sending our men and women into harm’s way, we’re not hearing, “What is the problem that we’re trying to solve, and what is the clear, achievable goal that we’re sending them to do?” Without that, we end up with the result that we have, where we have troops who are deployed in these countries without a real understanding of what they’re there to accomplish, and at what point they’ve accomplished that and then can come home.

Let me get your response to this op-ed in The New York Times from some years back about Syria: “Five reasons to intervene in Syria now: It would diminish Iran’s influence in the Arab world.”

Let’s look at what’s happened in Syria. Because of the regime-change war that we’ve waged there, because of the regime-change war that we waged in Iraq, Iran has far more influence in both of those countries than they did prior to our going in. This is exactly one of the [times] where we see how our intervention has been counterproductive to our own interests.

The argument was that this could keep the conflict from spreading to Lebanon and Iraq.

Once again, look at the costs that the Syrian people have paid as a price and the impact that it’s had on the region as a whole.

Something that these articles often fail to recognize is that terrorism groups like Al Qaeda and offshoots like ISIS have been strengthened, to the point where now we just observed the 18th anniversary of the attack on 9/11, and Al Qaeda is stronger today than they were in 2001 when they launched that attack.

But there is a human rights crisis in Syria, and our hearts go out to them. We want to help.

Absolutely. We want to help. What we have been doing has been making the problem worse. This is what is so often the case when these regime-change wars are waged in the guise of humanitarianism, saying, “There are people suffering under an authoritarian regime. We have to go in and help them.”

But if you look at these examples throughout our country’s history, our going in and toppling that brutal dictator has not made their lives any better. [It has] resulted in more death, more destruction, more pain and suffering, more refugees. This is why we’ve got to stop being the world’s police. If we want to be a force for good in the world, let’s actually make sure that what we are doing effects a good outcome.

So what’s going on with your party? Democrats used to be the anti-war party.

Unfortunately, this is something that crosses both parties. I call out leaders in my own party and leaders in the Republican Party as well, who are heavily influenced by the military-industrial complex that profits heavily off of us continuing to wage these counterproductive wars.

They’re heavily influenced by the foreign-policy establishment in Washington, whose whole power base is built around continuing this status quo. So much so to the point where, when I’m calling for an end to these wasteful wars, they’re saying, “Well, gosh, Tulsi. Why are you such an isolationist?” As though the only way that we can relate with other countries in the world is by bombing them or putting crippling economic sanctions in place. Rather than seeing, “Hey, we’re the United States of America. We have the opportunity to be a force for good. To reach out to other countries. To show respect. To find those areas of common interest where we can work together for the well-being of our people and the planet. To be able to work out those differences that we have rather than resorting to war.”

If you were president a few years back, what would the alternative have been with Syria? How would we have worked with them?

Well, first of all, making sure that we don’t launch a regime-change war. That war began, a lot of people don’t realize, all the way back in 2011. And it began with a covert mission working through the CIA to arm and equip and provide support to terrorist groups in that country, like Al Qaeda, to overthrow the Syrian government.

This is something that has now been published out in the open. And it continued to further escalate, both through covert and overt means, using the Department of Defense.

Now we have the conflict with Iran.


They apparently were responsible for the recent attacks on Saudi Arabia. What would you do?

If I were president today, I would end this cycle of retaliation, this tit for tat that we’re seeing. What happened in Saudi Arabia was an act of retaliation to the sanctions and the blockade against Iran, basically stopping them from being able to sell any of their oil on the market.

You’d remove the sanctions.

I would get Iran and the United States to re-enter the Iran Nuclear Agreement, to make sure that Iran is not continuing to move forward in building a nuclear weapon. Get those inspectors back in there. And I would remove those crippling sanctions.

I’m going to quote Sen. Lindsey Graham: “A weak response invites more aggression.”

So if we do what Lindsey Graham says and we come in with a strong response, a retaliatory attack, how does then Iran respond? These are the questions that these policy makers and the media too often don’t ask….If we follow down the Lindsey Graham approach, what we end up with is an escalation of this tit for tat: retaliation, attack, counterattack, counterattack. And what it’ll result in is an all-out inferno, not only in Iran but across the entire region.

It’s unimaginable to think about how many servicemen and women would lose their lives in such a war. How many people in the region would be killed, refugees forced to flee. And how many more trillions of our taxpayer dollars would be taken out of our pockets, out of our communities, to go and pay for a war that is completely unnecessary and that actually undermines our national security.

Let’s move to a domestic area where you agree with libertarians. America locks up an unusual number of people: 2 million at the moment. More than Russia or China.

Our criminal justice system is so broken, and it’s perpetuating the problems that have caused this kind of mass incarceration that we’ve seen. I have the only bipartisan bill in Congress that would end the federal marijuana prohibition.

This is one easy first step that we can take to begin to end this failed war on drugs that has unnecessarily filled our prisons, and that has really been a drain on our resources, both from the law enforcement perspective as well as within our criminal justice system.

People say it’s a gateway drug and the country has to send the message to children that it’s not OK. You’re going to let it be legal everywhere?

We should. This is a free country. I’ve never smoked marijuana. I never will. I’ve never drank alcohol. I’ve chosen not to in my life. But this is about free choice, and if somebody wants to do that, our country should not be making a criminal out of them for doing so. I think this is the hypocrisy of the argument that we’ve heard since this war on drugs began, which is, “We really care about you. We really care about your kids. So if you are caught using this drug, we care so much about you that we’re going to arrest you, and we’re going to give you a criminal record, because we don’t want you to hurt yourself.”

So once we’re an adult, we own our own bodies and we ought to be able to poison them if we want?


But you haven’t proposed legalizing heroin or cocaine or meth?

That’s the direction that we need to take: decriminalizing an individual’s choice to use whatever substances that are there, while still criminalizing those who are traffickers and dealers of these drugs.

But I’m confused by that. Because you say, and I agree, “It’s my body, let me do what I want.”


But you call the sellers “traffickers.” They’re only traffickers because it’s illegal. Isn’t that hypocritical? You can use it but nobody can sell it to you?

No, it’s not at all. I think there’s a difference here, where you have those who are profiting off of selling substances that are harmful to others, as opposed to those who are making those choices on their own to do what they wish with their bodies.

There are some models of this in other countries who’ve taken this approach. What we’ve seen in Portugal is how they are not treating drug use as a criminal action but instead as a health care one. For those who are dealing with substance abuse and addiction, rather than throwing them in prison and giving them a criminal record, we’re actually providing them with the treatment that will get them and their lives back on track.

That’s been good in Portugal. There are even fewer people using drugs now.

That’s exactly right.

The leader in the Democratic primary race is Elizabeth Warren. Are you happy with that? Obviously, you would rather it be you.

I’m focused on our campaign and how we can continue to connect with voters in early states and all across the country, and sharing with them the kind of leadership that I would bring.

Your campaign pitch has been: Instead of all this military spending, focus on rebuilding communities at home.

We are in a new Cold War. We have escalating tensions between the United States and nuclear-armed countries like Russia and China—a new arms race. Trump tore up that [Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces] treaty that [Ronald] Reagan and [Mikhail] Gorbachev negotiated, sparking off billions more dollars to build these missiles that were banned under that treaty.

All of this amounts to an incredible cost that, whether they realize it or not, every single one of us as taxpayers are paying. Those dollars should either be used to decrease the deficit that we have or to serve the needs of our people.

But you would still have a military, right? How much would it be cut? How much would be left?

I don’t think it’s an arbitrary number. I think, once again, focus on what is our objective. Our objective must be to have a strong and ready, capable military able to fulfill their mission of protecting and defending our country and the American people.

We’ve got troops who are deployed in so many countries around the world.

Something like 80 countries.

But the questions that aren’t really asked, even in the Armed Services Committee where I serve, are, “Well, how many of those countries actually require a prolonged U.S. presence to serve our interests?”

So what happens in the Committee?

Here’s the issue. There’s this fearful word called “BRAC”—Base Realignment and Closing—right? People actually vote against that commission from doing their job, which is to look at these bases around the world and here at home and say, “Hey, do we still need them? Are they still performing a necessary function for our national security? And if not, let’s repurpose them or shut them down.”

We should explain this for people who don’t know what BRAC is. It was created because the military wanted to close some bases. But the local congresspersons said, “Oh, not my base.”

That’s right.

So they then said, “We’ll create a committee so that you politicians won’t have to take the heat.”

Exactly. Create a commission who can be the neutral arbiters. The member of Congress [will be able to] say, “Well, hey, this commission is the one who decided this.” But still the member of Congress fights against what that commission has recommended, rather, once again, than looking at this from an objective perspective, of being responsible caretakers for the taxpayer dollar and looking at what is actually necessary for our military to be able to do the job of protecting and defending our country. So I think there’s a huge opportunity to reduce defense spending in that area.

You would reduce military spending and spend that money domestically. You want Medicare for All.

I want to see Medicare Choice. So right now, as people, we’re spending far more on health care than any other developed country in the world….I agree with the concept of Medicare for All, what I would call Medicare Choice, because it provides for that lower-cost quality health care for every American, regardless of how little you may have in your pocket. But also allowing for those who, if you want to keep your employer-sponsored health care plan, or if you’ve got a union that’s negotiated a great health care plan, or if you just as a private citizen would rather pay into a private complementary plan, you should have the freedom to do so.

And we can afford this? Bernie Sanders, who promotes it, admits it will cost $3 trillion [annually]. Cutting unnecessary military spending will be enough?

By bringing down our defense spending, by ending these wasteful wars, [by stopping] the new Cold War arms race, we’re bringing back a lot of resources that would otherwise continue to be spent there.

With health care, we’re reducing the costs. This is the key component: We’re already paying for this one way or the other. Right now I get a certain chunk of money taken out of my paycheck every month that goes to Blue Cross Blue Shield for the insurance for my family. Instead of that amount of money going to Blue Cross Blue Shield, then that amount of money would instead be going to a Medicare Choice plan, except it would be less.

Much as I would like to cut the military, I don’t see how you can get the money, because the military’s entire budget is $700 billion. That’s a long way from $3 trillion.

It’s actually more. It’s actually more. I mean, $700 billion is the direct amount every year that goes to the Department of Defense. But that does not include the hundreds of millions of dollars that go towards the slush fund—the Overseas Contingency Operations fund—which has no constraints on how the Department of Defense is spending those dollars. Those are not accounted for within that budget.

OK, add $100 billion or $200 billion. It still comes nowhere close to what you and your fellow Democrats want to spend. Free college, Medicare for All—we can’t afford this stuff. Don’t you think colleges already waste a lot of money?

They do. Absolutely. And that’s why I think those who are talking about free college—I think that we do need to make sure that our young people are getting opportunity, whether it’s for vocational training, apprenticeships, college, community college. There’s a lot of opportunities there for people to get the skills that they need. But in order to do this, we have to address the overarching issue, which is: Why is it costing more and more and more every single year?…This is the problem. Just throwing more money at it isn’t going to solve it. So we have to deal with the systemic problem here, the root cause of the problem.

I spoke with a college professor recently about this issue. He said, “You want to see why it’s costing more and more? Why don’t you look at how much administrators of a lot of these colleges are being paid, or overpaid?” Let’s actually see where these dollars are going. Let’s look at the fact that these universities, many of them, don’t have any kind of accountability or transparency [in terms of student outcomes].

I’m glad we can have a civil argument about some of these areas where we disagree. Few politicians want to do that anymore.

It’s unfortunate, isn’t it? This is a problem that we’re seeing in our political culture today….Our leaders are increasingly unwilling to sit down with those who may be “on the other team.” Even those who are asking to lead our country. I think this is how we move forward together.

This interview has been condensed and edited for style and clarity. For a video version, visit reason.com.

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2019-12-11 05:30:44

Congress and the media obsess endlessly over whether President Donald Trump should be impeached.

Both ignore $23 trillion of bigger problems.

That’s how deep in debt the federal government is now, and because they keep spending much more than they could ever hope to collect in taxes, that number will only go up. It’s increasing by $1 trillion a year.

“Shut up, Stossel,” you say. “You’ve been crying wolf about America’s debt for years, but we’re doing great!”

You have a point. For many years, I’ve predicted that government, to fund freebies both parties want, would print boatloads of money. That would cause massive inflation. I bought silver coins so I might afford a loaf of bread while the rest of you haul suitcases full of nearly worthless paper currency to the bakery—or go hungry!

Clearly, that inflation crisis hasn’t happened.

Thanks to Trump’s contempt for the “deep state’s” love of endless regulation, businesses are hiring and stock prices are up. America is doing great.

But while our deficits haven’t yet created a crisis, they will. You can stretch a rubber band farther and farther. Eventually, it will snap back—or break.

We can’t pay off our increasing debt—unless we’re willing to tell the government to stop stationing soldiers in 80 countries, stop sending checks to poor people and old people, and stop paying for “free” health care for people like me. If the government did stop, the public would revolt.

Voters scream if there’s even talk of cuts to Medicare or Social Security. But the programs are unsustainable. Social Security was meant to help the minority of people who outlive their savings. When Social Security was created, most Americans didn’t even reach age 65. Now it’s an “entitlement” for everyone.

Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and other federal health care spending account for about half of the federal budget, and because we old people rudely refuse to die, these “entitlements” consistently grow faster than the tax revenues meant to fund them.

Anyone serious about giving our kids a future has to be willing to make big cuts to those programs, or at least privatize them and let individuals make our own decisions with our own money. But good luck to any politician who proposes that.

By contrast, voters don’t get stirred up as we just quietly sink farther and farther into debt. So politicians demand even more spending.

Last week, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said appropriations bills won’t get passed by the end of the year unless Republicans agree to spend “significant resources” on fighting the opioid epidemic, gun violence, child care, violence against women, election security, infrastructure, etc.

“With a Democratic House consumed with impeachment, there is very little appetite for the sorts of common-sense fiscal policies that could rein in our out-of-control deficits and debt,” says Republican Sen. Ted Cruz.

That implies that if Republicans were in charge, they would restore fiscal order. But there’s little evidence of that. Republicans talk about spending cuts and “responsibility” but rarely cut anything.

Democrats want new social programs. Neither party wants to reduce the military budget. Trump wants his wall and tariffs. Farmers, once proud independent capitalists who criticized welfare, now get 40 percent of their income from the government.

“The federal budget is on an unsustainable path,” says Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell.

No matter who you vote for and no matter what speeches they make, none of them is doing anything to put us on a sustainable course. It’s too bad.

Fortunately, thanks to the inventiveness of American entrepreneurs, our economy keeps creating new wealth for politicians to grab.

That might mean Congress wouldn’t have to cut spending for America to gradually grow our way out of this terrible debt. All they’d need to do is make sure spending goes up slower than the rate of inflation.

They won’t even do that.

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2019-11-27 05:01:00

Families will argue this Thanksgiving.

Such arguments have a long tradition.

The Pilgrims had clashing ideas about how to organize their settlement in the New World. The resolution of that debate made the first Thanksgiving possible.

The Pilgrims were religious, united by faith and a powerful desire to start anew, away from religious persecution in the Old World. Each member of the community professed a desire to labor together, on behalf of the whole settlement.

In other words: socialism.

But when they tried that, the Pilgrims almost starved.

Their collective farming—the whole community deciding when and how much to plant, when to harvest, who would do the work—was an inefficient disaster.

“By the spring,” Pilgrim leader William Bradford wrote in his diary, “our food stores were used up and people grew weak and thin. Some swelled with hunger… So they began to think how…they might not still thus languish in misery.”

His answer: divide the commune into parcels and assign each Pilgrim family its own property. As Bradford put it, they “set corn every man for his own particular…. Assigned every family a parcel of land.”

Private property protects us from what economists call the tragedy of the commons. The “commons” is a shared resource. That means it’s really owned by no one, and no one person has much incentive to protect it or develop it.

The Pilgrims’ simple change to private ownership, wrote Bradford, “made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been.” Soon they had so much plenty that they could share food with the natives.

The Indians weren’t socialists, either. They had property rules of their own. That helped them grow enough so they had plenty, even during cold winters.

When property rights are tossed aside, even for the sake of religious fellowship or in the name of the working class, people just don’t work as hard.

Why farm all day—or invent new ways of farming—when everyone else will get an equal share?

You may not intend to be a slacker, but suddenly, reasons to stay in bed seem more compelling than they did when your own livelihood and family were dependent on your own efforts.

Pilgrim teenagers were especially lazy. Some claimed they were too sick to work. Some stole the commune’s crops, picking corn at night, before it was ready.

But once Bradford created private lots, the Pilgrims worked hard. They could have sat around arguing about who should do how much work, whether English tribes or Indian ones were culturally superior, and what God would decree if She/He set rules for farming.

None of that would have yielded the bounty that a simple division of land into private lots did.

When people respect property rights, they also interact more peacefully.

At this year’s Thanksgiving dinner, if people start arguing about how society should be run, try being a peacemaker by suggesting that everyone should get to decide what to do with their own property.

If your uncle wants government to tax imports or thinks police should seize people’s marijuana, tell him that he doesn’t have to smoke weed or buy Chinese products, but he should keep his hands off other people’s property.

If your niece says everyone loves socialism now, remind her she has enough trouble managing her own life without telling the rest of the world what to do. When families don’t agree, they certainly shouldn’t try to run millions of other people’s lives.

In America today, religious groups practice different rites but usually don’t demand that government ban others’ practices. Private schools set curricula without nasty public fights. Businesses stock shelves without politicians fighting about which products they should carry.

All those systems work pretty well. That’s because they are private.

In most of our lives, private ownership makes political arguments unnecessary.

I’m thankful for that.


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2019-11-13 05:30:00

Governments create problems. Then they complain about them.

“A public health crisis exists,” says Kentucky’s government, citing a report that found “a shortage of ambulance providers.”

Local TV stations report on “people waiting hours for medical transportation.”

“Six-year-old Kyler Truesdell fell off his motorcycle,” reported Channel 12 news. “The local hospital told (his mother) he should be transported to Cincinnati Children’s to check for internal injuries.” But there was no ambulance available. Kyler had to wait two hours.

Yet Kyler’s cousin, Hannah Howe, runs an ambulance service in Ohio, just a few minutes away. “We would’ve (taken him) for free,” she says in my new video. “But it would’ve been illegal.”

It would be illegal because of something called certificate of need (CON) laws.

Kentucky and three other states require businesses to get a CON certificate before they are allowed to run an ambulance service. Certificates go only to businesses that bureaucrats deem “necessary.”

CON laws are supposed to prevent “oversupply” of essential services like, well, ambulances. If there are “too many” ambulance companies, some might cut corners or go out of business. Then patients would suffer, say the bureaucrats.

Of course, Kentucky patients already suffer, waiting.

It raises the question: If there’s demand, then who are politicians to say that a business is unnecessary?

Phillip Truesdell, Hannah’s father, often takes patients to hospitals in Kentucky, “I drop them off (but) I can’t go back and get them!” he told me. “Who gives the big man the right to say, ‘You can’t work here’?!”


Phillip and Hannah applied for a CON certificate and waited 11 months for a response. Then they learned that their application was being protested by existing ambulance providers.

Of course it was. Businesses don’t like competition.

“We go to court, these three ambulance services showed up,” recounts Howe.

“They hammered her, treated her like she was a criminal,” says Truesdell. “Do you know what you’re going to do to this company?!…To this town?!”

“It wasn’t anything to do with us being physically able to do it. (They) just came through like the big dog not trying to let anybody else on the porch,” says Howe.

Three other ambulance companies also applied for permission to operate in Kentucky. They were rejected, too.

Truesdell and Howe were lucky to find the Pacific Legal Foundation, a law firm that fights for Americans’ right to earn a living.

Pacific Legal lawyer Anastasia Boden explains: “Traditionally we allow consumers to decide what’s necessary. Existing operators are never going to say more businesses are necessary.”

One Kentucky ambulance provider who opposed the new applications sent me a statement that says “saturating a community with more EMS agencies than it can…support (leads) all agencies to become watered down.”

Boden replies: “That’s just absurd. We now recognize that competition leads to efficient outcomes.”

It’s not just ambulance companies and people waiting for ambulances who are hurt by CON laws. Thirty-five states demand that businesses such as medical imaging companies, hospitals, and even moving companies get CON certificates before they are allowed to open.

Boden warns: “Once you get these laws on the books, it’s very hard to get them off. Monopolies like their monopoly. This started back in the ’70s with the federal government.”

But the feds, amazingly, wised up and repealed the mandate in 1987, saying things like, “CON laws raise considerable competitive concerns (and) consumers benefit from lower prices when provider markets are more competitive.”

Unfortunately, politicians in Kentucky and many other states haven’t wised up.

When Virginia tried to abolish its CON law, local hospitals spent $200,000 on ads claiming competition will force hospitals to close. Somehow, hospitals operate just fine in states without CON laws. But the Virginia scare campaign worked. The state still has a CON law.

In health care, and all fields, it’s better to see what competition can do rather than letting the government and its cronies decide what to allow.


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2019-11-12 14:45:54

Want to start a business? Imagine having to get your competitors’ permission first.

John Stossel points out that in 35 states, laws block new businesses from operating unless they get their competitors’ permission. One such law prevents Phillip Truesdell from operating ambulances in Kentucky.

“You’re going to tell me that I’m not fit to work in your town?” he asks.

He and his daughter Hannah Howe run Legacy Medical Transport, an ambulance service, in Ohio.

When they tried to expand into Kentucky, which is just a few minutes away from them, they learned it would be illegal.

It’s illegal due to Certificate of Need laws, also called “CON” laws. In Kentucky and three other states, you have to get a Certificate of Need to run an ambulance service.

Truesdell doesn’t think this is right.

He tells Stossel, “Anybody that draws breath ought to be allowed to work. Who gives the big man the right to say, ‘You can’t work here?'”

“The government. The law,” Stossel responds.

Then “Kentucky ought to change that law,” says Truesdell.

To do that, he and his daughter are working with the Pacific Legal Foundation, which filed a lawsuit with the goal of getting CON laws declared unconstitutional.

Kentucky authorities and established companies resist. One ambulance provider told us, “When saturating a community with more [Emergency Medical Services] than it can financially support, all agencies become watered down.”

Truesdell’s attorney, Anastasia Boden, calls that “absurd.” She tells Stossel, “It is an abuse of government power to restrict somebody’s right to earn a living. [It’s] just as a handout to the other businesses.”

“It’s not a handout. It’s protecting a vital service,” Stossel pushes back.

“It’s protecting a vital service for the current operators only,” she responds.

Boden says we need competition, “because competition has been the driving force of innovation, lower prices, and better services.”

Stossel agrees: “Competition works! CON laws are a bad deal for both consumers and entrepreneurs. No one should have to ask permission to compete.”

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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2019-11-06 05:30:05

House members summoned Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg to Washington, D.C., and grilled him—harshly—about his plan to create a new currency, Libra.

“Why should we trust you?!” asked Rep. Mike Doyle (D–Pa.).

I liked it when Zuckerberg said, “I actually don’t know if Libra’s going to work, but I believe that it’s important to try new things.”

He was right. That’s very important.

The Libra would make it easier to transfer money anywhere in the world. It also promises stability. Its value would be based on a basket of currencies from different countries, which would protect Libra owners from inflation in any one country.

It’s an idea that deserves a try.

But it may never be tried because the clueless politicians’ threats of punitive regulation scared off many of its supporters.

Politicians want to crack down on Libra “because they’re threatened by it,” says tech reporter Naomi Brockwell in my new video. “This is going to be competition for the U.S. dollar. Government doesn’t like competition.”

Governments also like to control any money that we might use.

“Want to send money to Russia to a family member; it’s going to be censored. You want to send money to a relief effort in Venezuela; it’s going to be censored,” says Brockwell. But if you use a cryptocurrency like Libra or Bitcoin, “your money will get through. That’s an incredibly powerful tool that gives people the freedom to spend their money where they want to spend it.”

Bitcoin is harder to stop than a currency like Libra would be because Bitcoin doesn’t emanate from one company or government mint. There’s no one owner of Bitcoin or most other cryptocurrencies.

“It is the first currency that is decentralized,” Brockwell points out. “That’s why it’s still around, because they haven’t been able to have these hearings, haven’t been able to call the CEO of Bitcoin and say, ‘cease and desist!’ There is no server to unplug, no company to shut down, no CEO to throw in jail, so it persists! That’s really exciting.”

Digital currencies “live” on thousands of individuals’ computers, so no government can stop them by pressuring any one company.

That’s a reason they’re valuable.

When Bitcoin started, it was worth virtually nothing. But two years ago, the price of one bitcoin reached $19,891. Then it crashed to $3,192. As I write, the price is $9,390.

That volatility deters many people from using Bitcoin as money, but to those of us who don’t trust governments, Brockwell points out: “It is the only suitable money for free people.”

Of course, many disagree.

“I think it’s a gigantic classic pump and dump scheme,” says investor Peter Schiff. “There’s nothing to give Bitcoin value.”

It’s “a bubble,” vulnerable to attacks from governments. “They can get banks and financial institutions to make it very difficult for Americans to use it.”

Schiff doesn’t claim we should count on dollar bills because he doesn’t trust politicians either. He suggests people buy gold to hedge against politicians’ irresponsibility.

“Gold has worked for thousands of years,” says Schiff. Unlike Bitcoin, “gold has actual value. A huge industry needs gold: jewelry…consumer electronics, aerospace, and medicine.”

I’ve hedged against the dollar by buying both gold and Bitcoin. My Bitcoin investment did better. But Schiff says I’m a fool if I don’t sell it now.

I don’t know which way prices will move. But I know that it’s good to have alternatives to government-created currencies. The dollar’s value is only backed by politicians’ promises. I sure won’t trust those.

Even when currency is stable, government can use its power over currency to censor people.

“The government decided that they didn’t want WikiLeaks to receive donations, so they froze transactions,” observes Brockwell. But they couldn’t stop Bitcoin.

She says government has had “a monopoly on the money supply for a very long time, and now consumers finally have a choice. You can send bitcoin peer-to-peer to someone on the other side of the world almost instantly at very low cost, and it can’t be censored. That’s incredibly powerful.”

It is.

Alternatives to government monopolies are very good things.


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2019-11-05 13:15:51

Facebook proposed a new digital currency called “Libra.” It would be backed by several different existing currencies.

The Libra might be better than the dollar, tech reporter Naomi Brockwell and investor Peter Schiff tell John Stossel. It’s easy to send online. If a government currency has a lot of inflation, Libra holders will be largely protected from that.

But politicians oppose Libra. “Why, with all of your problems, should we trust you?” one congressman asked Mark Zuckerberg in a hearing.

“They’re threatened by it,” Brockwell tells Stossel.

Politicians may succeed in killing Libra. Paypal, Mastercard, and other companies were going to work with Facebook on the project, but they’ve bailed because they’re scared of regulation.

That’s why it’s good that Bitcoin exists, says Brockwell. Bitcoin, unlike Libra, can’t be stopped so easily.

“It is the first currency we’ve ever seen that is decentralized,” Brockwell tells Stossel.

“They can’t shut it down,” Stossel responds.

“Exactly. That’s why it’s still around, because they haven’t been able to have these hearings. They haven’t been able to call on the CEO of Bitcoin and say, ‘You’d better cease and desist.’…There is no server to unplug. There is no company to shut down, no CEO to throw in jail, so it persists. That’s really exciting.”

Bitcoin is mostly safe from government because it “lives” on thousands of individuals’ computers, so no government can stop it by pressuring any one company.

But investor Peter Schiff says Bitcoin is a “bubble.” He recommends investing in gold.

“Gold has worked for thousands of years. Bitcoin’s only been around for ten,” Schiff argues. “Gold has actual value. There’s a huge industry that needs gold. Jewelry…you have it in consumer electronics and aerospace and medicine.”

Stossel says: “I don’t presume to know which way prices will move. But I do know that it’s good to have alternatives to dollars.”

The views expressed in this video are solely those of John Stossel; his independent production company, Stossel Productions; and the people he interviews. The claims and opinions set forth in the video and accompanying text are not necessarily those of Reason.

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