Should Libertarians Compromise with Taxing Marijuana?

Should Libertarians Compromise with Taxing Marijuana?

Marijuana freedom is a good thing. The taxation of marijuana is a bad thing. Unfortunately, owing to the greed of spendthrift politicians, it looks as though we will have to take the good with the bad or not at all.

Now, this does not mean that smoking marijuana is “good.” It just means that the freedom to smoke marijuana — and be responsible for any negative consequences that may come with it — is a good thing.

On the federal level, a bill (H.R.3884) to decriminalize marijuana that would have removed “marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act” and eliminated “criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana” languished in the U.S. House of Representatives for a year and a half before it finally passed on party lines at the end of 2019. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019, which was never voted on in the Senate, would also have imposed a 5 percent federal tax on cannabis products.

On the state level, although there are thirty-five states where the medical use of marijuana is legal, there are only fourteen states (plus the territories of the District of Columbia, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam) where the recreational use of marijuana is legal: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington.

Make that seventeen.

The legislatures in New York, New Mexico, and Virginia recently passed bills to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. That is unusual because the path to marijuana legalization in most states has been ballot initiatives.

In Virginia, the legislature last month passed HB 2312. The governor recommended an amended version of the bill, to which the legislature then agreed by an even greater margin than it did to the initial bill. I wrote about the efforts to legalize marijuana in Virginia last month.

Unfortunately, the marijuana legalization legislation comes with a 21 percent excise tax on marijuana in addition to the state’s 5.3 percent sales tax. Local municipalities are also allowed to add an extra 3 percent tax.

In New Mexico, the legislature on March 31 passed the “Cannabis Regulation Act” by a vote of 22-15 in the Senate and 38-32 in the House, which then concurred with the senate amendments. The majority of Republicans voted against the bill, which the Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, signed into law on April 12. The measure allows:

  • the possession of a maximum of two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrated marijuana, and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis.
  • each person to grow a maximum of six mature and six immature marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 mature plants per household.
  • local governments to pass laws regulating certain commercial activity and density.

The legislation establishes a Cannabis Control Division to regulate and license commercial marijuana activity, which can begin no later than April 1, 2022.

The governor also signed into law a companion bill to provide for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions for activities made legal by the marijuana legalization bill. She praised the bills, “saying they would bolster the economy and help those who have been harmed by the ‘country’s failed war on drugs.’”

Unfortunately, the legislation also taxes marijuana sales at a rate of 12 percent through July 1, 2025, which increases annually by one percentage point until it reaches 18 percent in 2030. One-third of the revenue will go to the city in which the sale occurred, one-third to the county, and the other third will be distributed by future legislation.

In New York, the legislature on March 30 passed the “Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act” by a vote of 40-23 in the senate and 100-49 in the House. Again, the majority of Republicans voted against the bill, which the Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, signed into law on March 31. The measure:

  • allows possession of a maximum of three ounces of marijuana.
  • allows each person to grow a maximum of three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household.
  • creates expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law.
  • allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of their operation.
  • contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.
  • establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. State officials estimate legal recreational marijuana sales will begin in 18 months to two years.

According to the New York Times,

There will be licenses for distributors who would sell cannabis wholesale to retailers, including dispensaries where individuals will be able to buy cannabis products and “consumption sites” where people will be allowed to smoke or ingest the products.

The tiered system of licenses is meant to create a division among those who produce, wholesale and retail the products, like in the alcohol market. Most businesses would only be allowed to have one type of license to avoid a few players from consolidating the entire market.

Half of business licenses are supposed to be issued to “social equity applicants”; that is, “people from communities with high rates of marijuana enforcement, as well as businesses owned by women and minorities, distressed farmers and disabled veterans.” Priority will be given “to applicants who have a marijuana-related conviction, or a close relative with such a conviction.”

Unfortunately, the legislation also institutes a 13 percent excise tax on retail marijuana sales and enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries. Forty percent of the tax revenue from marijuana sales will be steered to communities “where Black and Latino people have been arrested on marijuana charges in disproportionate numbers.” The new law is expected “to eventually generate $350 million in yearly tax revenue” and create new businesses and thousands of new jobs.

Although libertarians oppose tax increases of any kind, opposing these imperfect marijuana legalization bills is a textbook case of making the perfect the enemy of the good.

Clearly, marijuana should be legalized, but not taxed. The reality, however, is that state legislators, just like members of Congress, because they have an insatiable desire to spend the taxpayers’ money, are simply not going to legalize marijuana without taxing it. It is just not going to happen.

Just look at the taxes on alcohol and tobacco.

The federal tax on alcohol is $18 per barrel for beer, $1.07 per gallon for wine, and $13.50 per gallon for distilled spirits. The federal government collects approximately $1 billion per month from these taxes. The federal tax on cigarettes is $1.01 per pack.

Each state then levies its own taxes on alcohol and tobacco. In Washington State, distilled spirits are subject to a $32.52 per gallon tax. In New York State, the tax on cigarettes is $4.35 per pack.

It is unfortunate that Americans must take the freedom to use alcohol and tobacco (the good) with taxes on alcohol and tobacco (the bad), but that’s just the way it is. Why would anyone think that marijuana would be any different? It shouldn’t be the case, but that’s just the way it is.

Would any users of alcohol and tobacco say that they would rather have them to be illegal than to pay taxes on them? Of course not. So again, why would anyone think that marijuana would be any different?

State legislators should be voting to legalize marijuana because of their respect for individual liberty, property rights, the free market, and limited government. There may be a handful of exceptions, but when have state legislators ever voted for or against anything strictly on the basis of those things? I think the best we can hope for, in today’s political climate, is for marijuana to be treated by government just as alcohol and tobacco are: regulated and taxed. Libertarians should, of course, strive to reduce those regulations and taxes just as they should currently strive to reduce regulations and taxes on alcohol and tobacco. But waiting for the ideal marijuana legalization bill or ballot initiative means that marijuana legalization will never happen.

In a free society, we would not have to take the good with the bad. But since we don’t live in a free society, it appears that taxes are the price we have to pay for marijuana legalization.

This article was originally featured at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished with permission.

Yes, Republicans Are the Party of Drug Warriors

Yes, Republicans Are the Party of Drug Warriors

The federal government considers growing, distributing, buying, selling, possessing, or using marijuana to be a criminal offense, punishable by fines and imprisonment. Possession of marijuana will get you a maximum sentence of one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.

Yet there are fourteen states (plus the District of Columbia) where the recreational use of marijuana is legal.

In the Supreme Court case Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Court ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes because the Controlled Substances Act did not exceed Congress’s power under the commerce clause as applied to the intrastate cultivation and possession of marijuana for medical use.

Yet there are thirty-five states (plus the District of Columbia) where the medical use of marijuana is legal.

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.”

Yet there were six ballot measures in five states that related to marijuana in the 2020 election, and they all passed by either wide or comfortable margins.

What does all of that have to do with Republicans?

South Dakota voters were able to decide on legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana at the same time. Initiated Measure 26 sought to establish “a medical marijuana program in South Dakota for individuals with a debilitating medical condition.” It passed by a margin of 69.92 to 30.08 percent. Constitutional Amendment A sought to “legalize the recreational use of marijuana and require the South Dakota State Legislature to pass laws providing for the use of medical marijuana and the sale of hemp by April 1, 2022.” It passed by a margin of 54.18 to 45.82 percent.

Before the election, South Dakota governor, Kristi Noem, a Republican, publicly opposed both the measure and the amendment. And after the first of the year, she sought to thwart the will of the people of South Dakota.

Noem “announced a plan to delay the state’s medical marijuana program implementation until July 1, 2022, a year later than the dates included in the initiative.” She also led the effort to overturn the legalization of marijuana for recreational use (the first time a state governor has done such a thing). Noem said that voters made “the wrong choice” by deciding to legalize marijuana. She said that she directed the petitioners (two police officers) challenging the election outcome “to commence the Amendment A litigation” on her behalf.

What is so disheartening about this is that Noem is one of the “better” Republican governors, perhaps even the best one, when it comes to doing as little as possible to destroy individual liberty and property rights during the COVID-19 “pandemic.”

Regarding Measure 26, a compromise proposal was reached that would delay its implementation, but not for as long as originally sought by the governor. But regarding Amendment A, a Circuit judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs, “finding that the measure violated the state’s single-subject rule and was a revision of the constitution rather than amending it.” Thus, South Dakota was only briefly the fifteenth state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Meanwhile, over in Virginia, the House (48-43) and Senate (20-19) recently passed HB 2312. It “eliminates criminal penalties for simple possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older, modifies several other criminal penalties related to marijuana, and imposes limits on dissemination of criminal history record information related to certain marijuana offenses.” The legislation, which the Democratic governor is expected to sign into law, passed without a single Republican vote. Although it would not begin legal marijuana sales until January 2024, it would establish a marijuana regulatory agency beginning this summer.

The action of the legislature is unusual because the path to marijuana legalization in most states has been ballot initiatives. However, the actions of Republicans in the Virginia legislature were as expected because Republican politicians are incorrigible drug warriors.

It was not because they were just being partisan and refusing to work with Democrats that not a single Republican in the Virginia legislature joined with Democrats in voting to legalize marijuana.

Republicans in the Virginia legislature joined with Democrats last year to repeal the state’s archaic laws against fornication (HB 245) and cursing (HB 1071). Although there was much Republican opposition, ultimately only five Republicans in the House voted against the former bill and only five Republicans in the Senate voted against the latter bill, which was co-sponsored in the House by a Republican. (A bill [HB 1070] to repeal the law against spitting in public was rejected.)

The actions of these Virginia Republican legislators mirror that of Republicans in Congress. A bill (H.R.3884) to decriminalize marijuana that “removes marijuana from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act and eliminates criminal penalties for an individual who manufactures, distributes, or possesses marijuana” passed in the U.S. House of Representatives late last year by a vote of 228-164. Only five Republican representatives supported the bill, “The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act of 2019.”

Republican governors, legislators, and congressmen who oppose the legalization of marijuana for medical or recreational use are out of touch with rank-and-file Republicans in their states. It is impossible that it is just Democrats around the country who are voting to legalize marijuana in ballot initiatives.

But Republican politicians are out of touch with something else as well: freedom. They cannot conceive of people making their own decisions whether they will use marijuana. Instead of family, friends, acquaintances, churches, pastors, counselors, and physicians being the ones who help people make that decision, they feel that the government just has to be involved in some way. Go against their drug prohibitions and they think nothing of fining you, seizing your property, and locking you for years in a cage. All for possessing too much of a plant that the government doesn’t approve of. And woe be to those who are caught with drugs other than marijuana.

It all comes down to this: It is none of the government’s businesses what people want to smoke, eat, inhale, snort, or inject into their bodies. We own ourselves; the government does not own us. And we don’t need a government nanny to tell us how to live our life.

This article was originally featured at the Future of Freedom Foundation and is republished with permission.

Ice and Fire

Ice and Fire

The relationship between conservatism and libertarianism is a tenuous one. However, such was not always the case. Fellow travelers of both groups were united in opposing Roosevelt’s New Deal. The work of the late economist Murray N. Rothbard (1926–1995) on the “Old Right” is indispensable here. After World War II, the political right was generally opposed, not only to “domestic statism,” but also to war, foreign intervention, and “American statism in the international arena.” But after the death of the political and intellectual leaders of the Old Right, the conservative movement — which “was basically classical liberal and libertarian” in the 1930s and 1940s — suffered a “power vacuum in both the political and the intellectual areas,” and was taken over and transformed “beyond recognition” by William Buckley (1925–2008) and those associated with him at National Review magazine. The “modern conservative movement” — after the departure of its libertarian element and the purging of “embarrassing extremists like the John Birch Society” — “combined a traditionalist and theocratic approach to ‘moral values,’ occasional lip service to free-market economics, and an imperialist and global interventionist foreign policy dedicated to the glorification of the American state and the extirpation of world Communism. Classical liberalism remained only as rhetoric, useful in attracting business support, and most of all as a fig leaf for the grotesque realities of the New Right.”

“At the heart of the dispute between the traditionalists and the libertarians,” says Rothbard, “is the question of freedom and virtue: Should virtuous action (however we define it) be compelled, or should it be left up to the free and voluntary choice of the individual?”

The disagreements between conservatism and libertarianism — the “uneasy cousins,” in the words of the conservative sociologist Robert Nisbet — were made public in the early 1960s in the pages of National Review and other lesser-known publications. No resolution was forthcoming, in spite of the “fusionist” efforts of Frank S. Meyer. Ronald Reagan, apparently, never got the memo.

In between his time as the governor of California and the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) was interviewed by Reason magazine in 1975 about his political philosophy. The first question he was asked was about conservatism and libertarianism: “Governor Reagan, you have been quoted in the press as saying that you’re doing a lot of speaking now on behalf of the philosophy of conservatism and libertarianism. Is there a difference between the two?” Here is his response: “If you analyze it I believe the very heart and soul of conservatism is libertarianism. I think conservatism is really a misnomer just as liberalism is a misnomer for the liberals — if we were back in the days of the Revolution, so-called conservatives today would be the Liberals and the liberals would be the Tories. The basis of conservatism is a desire for less government interference or less centralized authority or more individual freedom and this is a pretty general description also of what libertarianism is.”

When asked to give “some examples” of what he “would consider to be proper functions of government,” Reagan replied, somewhat libertarianishly, “Well, the first and most important thing is that government exists to protect us from each other.” He maintained that he didn’t “believe in a government that protects us from ourselves.” He recognized that “government’s only weapons are force and coercion and that’s why we shouldn’t let it get out of hand.” Although Reagan acknowledged that “the government has legitimate functions,” he also thought that “our greatest threat today comes from government’s involvement in things that are not government’s proper province.”

Yet when asked about the issue of “laws against gambling,” Reagan quickly abandoned any pretense of libertarianism and showed that he, like modern conservatives, had no firm philosophical foundation: “You’ve named an issue that is one of the most difficult for me to reconcile. I know this gets into the whole area of the sin laws and here again I think you’re in one of the grey areas. There’s one side of me that says I know this is protecting us from ourselves; there’s another side of me, however, that says you can make the case that it does get into an area in which we are protecting us from each other.”

The issue of “laws against gambling” is one of the least difficult for libertarians to reconcile. No government at any level should ever, for any reason, enact any laws against gambling. It’s that simple. This straightforward question shows that libertarianism and conservatism are not traveling “the same path” as Reagan said in his Reason interview. Their paths are going in opposite directions.

A contemporary and admirer of Reagan, conservative icon Russell Kirk (1918–1994), saw things differently. Although conservatives and libertarians “share a detestation of collectivism” and “set their faces against the totalist state and the heavy hand of bureaucracy,”

In the nature of things, conservatives and libertarians can conclude no friendly pact. Adversity sometimes makes strange bedfellows, but the present successes of conservatives disincline them to lie down, lamblike, with the libertarian lions.

When heaven and earth have passed away, perhaps the conservative mind and the libertarian mind may be joined in synthesis, but not until then.

I venture to suggest that libertarianism, properly understood, is as alien to real American conservatives as is communism.

Conservatives have no intention of compromising with socialists; but even such an alliance, ridiculous though it would be, is more nearly conceivable than the coalition of conservatives and libertarians. The socialists at least declare the existence of some sort of moral order; the libertarians are quite bottomless.

What else do conservatives and libertarians profess in common? The answer to that question is simple: nothing. Nor will they ever have. To talk of forming a league or coalition between these two is like advocating a union of ice and fire.

Why, then, do some people have the idea that conservatism and libertarianism are cousins, or at least compatible? Before answering this question, it is first necessary to take a closer look at conservatism and libertarianism.

Conservatism

What is conservatism? I will let conservatives explain it.

In his book The Conservative Mind (1953), Kirk listed and described “six canons of conservative thought” that he considered to be a summary of themes common to conservative thinkers:

  1. Belief that a divine intent rules society as well as conscience, forging an eternal chain of right and duty which links great and obscure, living and dead.
  2. Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of traditional life.
  3. Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes.
  4. Persuasion that property and freedom are inexorably connected.
  5. Faith in prescription and distrust of “sophisters and calculators.”
  6. Recognition that change and reform are not identical.

In the introduction to his anthology The Portable Conservative Reader (Penguin, 1982), which includes essays, poetry, and fiction from writers that he identified as conservatives, Kirk offered a variation on his six canons, which he termed “first principles.” Kirk’s “canons” were revised and expanded in subsequent editions of The Conservative Mind.

In his book The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Conservatism (1957), Kirk listed ten of “the chief principles which have characterized American conservative thought”:

  1. Men and nations are governed by moral laws.
  2. Variety and diversity are the characteristics of a high civilization.
  3. Justice means that all men and women have the right to what is their own.
  4. Property and freedom are inseparably connected; economic leveling is not economic progress.
  5. Power is full of danger; therefore the good state is one in which power is checked and balanced, restricted by sound constitutions and customs.
  6. The past is a great storehouse of wisdom.
  7. Modern society urgently needs true community; and true community is a world away from collectivism.
  8. In the affairs of nations, the American conservative feels that his country ought to set an example to the world, but ought not to try to remake the world in its image.
  9. Men and women are not perfectible, conservatives know; and neither are political institutions.
  10. Change and reform, conservatives are convinced, are not identical: moral and political innovation can be destructive as well as beneficial.

In his book The Politics of Prudence (1993), Kirk returned again to “principles,” presenting “a summary of conservative assumptions differing somewhat” from the “canons” and “principles” found in his earlier books. In introducing his new “ten articles of belief,” he said that they “reflect the emphases of conservatives in America nowadays.”

Next is George H. Nash, The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America (1996, second ed.):

What is conservatism? For those who have examined the subject, this is a perennial question; many are the writers who have searched for the elusive answer. Such an a priori effort, I have concluded, is misdirected. I doubt that there is any single, satisfactory, all-encompassing definition of the complex phenomenon called conservatism, the content of which varies enormously with time and place. It may even be true that conservatism is inherently resistant to precise definition. Many right-wingers, in fact, have argued that conservatism by its very nature is not an elaborate ideology at all.

So I offer here no compact definition of conservatism. In fact, American conservatives themselves have had no such agreed-upon definition. Instead, the very quest for self-definition has been one of the most notable motifs of their thought since World War II.

And then there is Bruce Frohnen, writing in American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia (2006):

Conservatism is a philosophy that seeks to maintain and enrich societies characterized by respect for inherited institutions, beliefs and practices, in which individuals develop good character by cooperating with one another in primary, local associations such as families, churches and social groups aimed at furthering the common good in a manner pleasing to God.

Conservatives are attached, not so much to any particular regime or form of government, as to what they believe are the requirements for a good life for all peoples. In the American context, conservatives defend the ordered liberty established by the Constitution and the traditions and practices on which that constitution was built.

Conservatives believe that there is a natural order to the universe, governed by a natural law that gives mankind general rules concerning how to shape their lives in common as individuals.

Nathan W. Schlueter, coauthor of Selfish Libertarians and Socialist Conservatives? The Foundations of the Libertarian-Conservative Debate (2017), has a hard time defining conservatism, since it “is not a specific philosophy of government but a generic term that can have a wide range of specific meanings, depending on context.” Nevertheless, he does say,

Conservatism seeks to “conserve” the best elements of that [Western philosophical and political] tradition.

Conservatism rests on a recognition of the mutual interdependence of liberty, tradition, and reason.

American conservatism is committed to conserving the principles of the American founding, and to renewing the models of political leadership that gave those principles life.

It seems as though the only thing that conservatives can say with absolutely certainty is that they don’t exactly know what conservatism is. But it is no wonder that conservatism suffers from not having any clear, concise, coherent, and consistent definition. Contrary to its name, conservatism changes with convictions, circumstances, country, and consensus. Conservative godfather Kirk readily acknowledges that:

Conservatism is not a fixed and immutable body of dogma, and conservatives inherit from Burke a talent for re-expressing their convictions to fit the time.

The diversity of ways in which conservative views may find expression is itself proof that conservatism is no fixed ideology. What particular principles conservatives emphasize during any given time will vary with the circumstances and necessities of that era.

Although certain general principles held by most conservatives may be described, there exists wide variety in application of these ideas from age to age and country to country.

Conservatism amounts to the consensus of the leading conservative thinkers and actors over the past two centuries.

Concludes Kirk, “Conservatism offers no universal pattern of politics for adoption everywhere.”

Libertarianism

In contrast to the confusion and contradictions of conservatism, there is the simplicity and consistency of libertarianism. For a compact definition of libertarianism, here is Future of Freedom Foundation president Jacob Hornberger: “Libertarianism is a political philosophy that holds that a person should be free to do whatever he wants in life, as long as his conduct is peaceful. Thus, as long a person doesn’t murder, rape, burglarize, defraud, trespass, steal, or inflict any other act of violence against another person’s life, liberty, or property, libertarians hold that the government should leave him alone. In fact, libertarians believe that a primary purpose of government is to prosecute and punish anti-social individuals who initiate force against others.”

Libertarianism is the philosophy of nonaggression, whether that aggression be theft, fraud, the initiation of nonconsensual violence against person or property, or the threat of nonconsensual violence. The initiation or threat of aggression against the person or property of others is always wrong, even when done by government. Aggression is justified only in defense of one’s person or property or in retaliation in response to aggression against him. Violence is justified only against violence. Force must be proportional, but is neither essential nor required.

There is nothing inherent in libertarianism that stands in opposition to custom, convention, tradition, natural law, Christian humanism, prudence, the natural order, religion, civilized society, moral laws, patriotism, the natural world, family values, community, civic pride, ordered liberty, an enduring moral order, cooperation, local associations, or the common good. And contrary to the smears of some conservatives, libertarianism has nothing to do with libertinism, greed, selfishness, antinomianism, hedonism, utopianism, materialism, atheism, anarchy, licentiousness, relativism, or nihilism. Likewise, libertarians qua libertarians don’t fetishize change, delight in eccentricity, sacrifice order on the altar of liberty, reduce everything to economics, deify efficiency, romanticize a fictional past, or celebrate alternative lifestyles.

Libertarianism celebrates individual liberty, personal and financial privacy, private property, free markets, free enterprise, free exchange, individual responsibility, personal freedom, free association, free assembly, voluntary interaction, freedom of conscience, free speech, and free expression — as long as one’s conduct is peaceful and doesn’t violate the personal or property rights of others.

The nature of conservatism

Beneath the conservative façade of tradition, culture, community, and prudence lies an authoritarian ideology. Conservatism is the philosophy of state-coerced morality and virtue. Conservatism is more interested in order, conformity, control, and orthodoxy than tradition, culture, community, and prudence. Conservatives are statists when the state does its bidding. They deem it just, right, and necessary for government at some level — (1) to arrest, fine, imprison, or otherwise punish people for engaging in entirely private, peaceful, voluntary, and consensual actions that do not aggress against the person or property of others; (2) to regulate, license, or prohibit commercial activity between willing buyers and willing sellers; and (3) to take people’s resources against their will, by force if necessary, and transfer or redistribute them to other citizens or foreigners as the government sees fit.

Conservatism is an authoritarian philosophy that looks to the state to arrest people and then fine them, appropriate their property, or lock them in cages for engaging in private consensual behavior or peaceful activity that doesn’t violate the personal or property rights of anyone.

Why?

Why, then, do some conservatives and libertarians, and many liberals, progressives, and socialists, have the idea that conservatism and libertarianism are cousins, or at least compatible? Consider these statements from the Conservative Review news site and the Heritage Foundation think tank: “Principle[s] such as limited government, free markets, traditional family values, individual freedom, rule of law, and a strong national defense are at the core of Conservative Review’s principles.” The Heritage Foundation promotes “conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defense.”

Conservative organizations also regularly include in their mantra adherence to the Constitution, federalism and States’ Rights, free trade, and private property.

The reason people think that conservatism and libertarianism are related, allies, or two sides of the same coin is that libertarians regularly talk about those very things. There is one major difference, however. Libertarians actually believe them, although they don’t confound the idea of national defense with national offense, as most conservatives do. Conservatives only selectively believe their own mantra. They don’t follow the Constitution in many areas. They reject federalism when it comes to things such as the drug war. The only limited government they desire is a government limited to control by conservatives. They don’t accept the freedom of individuals to do anything that’s peaceful as long as they don’t violate the personal or property rights of others. They don’t believe in the sanctity of private property. They think traditional values should be legislated by government. They confound free trade with managed trade. They don’t yearn for free enterprise and a free market in every area.

When conservative politicians want votes, and especially the votes of “libertarian-leaning” conservatives, they don’t talk about tradition, culture, community, and prudence. They instead use libertarian rhetoric to portray themselves as advocates of libertarian principles.

So Russell Kirk was right. There is no real affinity between conservatism and libertarianism. Conservatives and libertarians have about as much in common as ice and fire.This article was originally published in the January 2020 edition of Future of Freedom.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Australia and New Zealand Show the True Nature of Social Security

Australia and New Zealand Show the True Nature of Social Security

Writing at the Christian Post in “Will Social Security Go Broke?” Christian financial advisor Chuck Bentley recently answered a question about Social Security from a “Worried Millennial”:

I’m a recent college graduate with my first “real” job. With that comes paying into the Social Security System. My concern is whether or not there will be funds for me someday, especially in light of the recent deficit report.

Bentley correctly observes that “many fear that the money to fund America’s Social Security program will run out and a large portion of our population will be negatively affected.” Referring to an article about Social Security (“How Much Longer Will Social Security Be Around?”) on the website of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Bentley explains where the money for Social Security benefits ostensibly comes from, the projected depletion of the Social Security trust funds, the dilemma that more money is needed for the program while fewer and fewer workers pay into the system, and solutions offered by the AARP to increase the funding of Social Security.

Bentley believes that the “Worried Millennial” will “get Social Security benefits.” He maintains that “the government has a moral and legal obligation to pay out the benefits that have been paid in.” Although he considers it “highly unlikely” that the government “would ever fail to make payments to those who have paid into the system,” he acknowledges that “the value of what is paid out may be devalued and be far less helpful than it has been to past generations.”

Bentley’s advice regarding Social Security?

  • Don’t rely on it.
  • Assume the responsibility for saving and investing yourself by living and planning as if Social Security will not be there.
  • Live contrary to the way the government does.
  • Live frugally, give generously, save regularly, and invest wisely.
  • Put your hope in the Lord, not man or government programs.

This is certainly good advice, but is it true that “the government has a moral and legal obligation to pay out the benefits that have been paid in”?

Absolutely not.

According to Title XI, section 1104, of the Social Security Act, “The right to alter, amend, or repeal any provision of this Act is hereby reserved to Congress.” Congress can raise Social Security taxes, raise or eliminate the wage base upon which taxes are figured, cut benefits, or raise the retirement age again. Congress can even do all of those things at the same time. And under legislation enacted in 1983 and expanded in 1993, Congress now taxes up to 85 percent of some Americans’ Social Security benefits.

Americans have no contractual right to receive Social Security benefits. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled many years ago in the case of Helvering v. Davis (1937) that “the proceeds of both [employee and employer] taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like internal revenue taxes generally, and are not earmarked in any way.” In Fleming v. Nestor (1960), the Court further ruled that “the noncontractual interest of an employee covered by the Act cannot be soundly analogized to that of the holder of an annuity, whose right to benefits are [sic] based on his contractual premium payments.”

Americans pay a Social Security tax of 12.4 percent (split equally between employer and employee) on the first $137,700 of their income. The only reason Americans think that Social Security is an earned benefit instead of a welfare program is that one of their payroll taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) is designated the Social Security tax.

Citizens of Australia and New Zealand never make that mistake.

Late last year, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) issued Revenue Statistics 2019: Tax Revenue Trends in the OECD. This is an annual publication that “gives a conceptual framework to define which government receipts should be regarded as taxes.” It presents “a unique set of detailed and internationally comparable tax data in a common format for all OECD countries from 1965 onwards.” The OECD has thirty-six member countries, most of which are in Western Europe. On page 9 we read this interesting statement: “Social security contributions as a share of total tax revenues on average across the OECD accounted for 26.0% in 2017. They were highest in the Slovak Republic and the Czech Republic (43.9% and 43.0%, respectively). In contrast, Australia and New Zealand do not levy social security contributions.”

Australia and New Zealand have Social Security programs, but no taxes are withheld from employer or employee paychecks to pay for them. The total cost is financed from general revenues. That shows the true nature of Social Security in the United States.

Social Security benefits are not based on the amount of Social Security taxes paid.

Social Security benefits are not paid out of an individual account.

Social Security benefits are based on one’s income earned from wages during his life and calculated with an arbitrary formula that Congress can change at any time. Benefits are figured on the basis of one’s “primary insurance amount,” the average of a worker’s 35 highest years of earnings (up to a particular year’s wage base), adjusted for inflation. According to the Social Security Administration (SSA), the PIA is:

The benefit (before rounding down to next lower whole dollar) a person would receive if he/she elects to begin receiving retirement benefits at his/her normal retirement age.

The sum of three separate percentages of portions of average indexed monthly earnings. The portions depend on the year in which a worker attains age 62, becomes disabled before age 62, or dies before attaining age 62.

And as the SSA acknowledges, “The money you pay in taxes is not held in a personal account for you to use when you get benefits. Today’s workers help pay for current retirees’ and other beneficiaries’ benefits. Any unused money goes to the Social Security trust funds to help secure today and tomorrow for you and your family.”

No one is entitled to Social Security benefits no matter how much money he “contributed” to the Social Security system. Australia and New Zealand show that governments can have Social Security programs without designated Social Security taxes. That proves that Social Security is just another part of the welfare state. Efforts to save or expand Social Security should be opposed root and branch.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.

Monsters and U.S. Foreign Policy

Monsters and U.S. Foreign Policy

It looks like the Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity will be having some competition.
The formation of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft was recently announced. The think tank gets its name from John Quincy Adams. According to the organization’s website,
The Quincy Institute promotes ideas that move U.S. foreign policy away from endless war and toward vigorous diplomacy in the pursuit of international peace.
The foreign policy of the United States has become detached from any defensible conception of U.S. interests and from a decent respect for the rights and dignity of humankind. Political leaders have increasingly deployed the military in a costly, counterproductive, and indiscriminate manner, normalizing war and treating armed dominance as an end in itself.
Moreover, much of the foreign policy community in Washington has succumbed to intellectual lethargy and dysfunction. It suppresses or avoids serious debate and fails to hold policymakers and commentators accountable for disastrous policies. It has forfeited the confidence of the American public. The result is a foreign policy that undermines American interests and tramples on American values while sacrificing the stores of influence that the United States had earned.
The Quincy Institute is an action-oriented think tank that will lay the foundation for a new foreign policy centered on diplomatic engagement and military restraint.
The primary funders of this new anti-interventionist foreign-policy think tank are billionaires George Soros and Charles Koch. Soros’s Open Society Foundation and Koch’s Charles Koch Foundation each donated a half a million dollars to the Quincy Institute. Other individual donors added another $800,000 in funding. The think tank hopes by next year to have a $3.5 million budget and a staff of policy experts.
Writing in the Boston Globe, author Stephen Kinzer termed the Soros-Koch union “one of the most remarkable partnerships in modern American political history.” Soros has said, “An endless war waged against an unseen enemy is doing great damage to our power and prestige abroad and to our open society at home. It has led to a dangerous extension of executive powers; it has tarnished our adherence to universal human rights; it has inhibited the critical process that is at the heart of an open society; and it has cost a lot of money.” And likewise Koch: “We keep kicking out dictators and then we don’t get anything better, and we mess up a lot of people’s lives in the process — spend fortunes and have Americans killed and maimed. What do we have to show for it?”
But progressives and conservatives alike are questioning how two seemingly diametrically opposed parties can work together, especially since the leftist Soros is hated by conservatives and the right-wing Koch is despised by progressives. Others have pointed out that both Soros and Koch aren’t exactly anti-interventionist libertarians when it comes to U.S. foreign policy. Soros’s foundation is a big donor to the Atlantic Council — as are some U.S. defense contractors. And Koch’s foundation supports the American Enterprise Institute — the opposite of an anti-interventionist think tank. But since the leaders of the Qunicy Institute are broadly anti-interventionist, and because there are apparently no policy conditions set by the donors, this new left-right consensus is a welcome alternative to liberal “humanitarian” and neoconservative interventionists.
It’s not just the Quincy Institute that has appropriated the name of John Quincy Adams. The John Quincy Adams Society has been around a few years. It differs from the Quincy Institute in that it is a student organization. According to the organization’s website,
The John Quincy Adams Society (JQA) is a national network of student groups focused on U.S. foreign policy, with a centering vision of restraint. Our chapters aim to help college students advance, both intellectually and professionally, while promoting a broader and more strategic conversation about America’s approach to international affairs. We’re nonpartisan and nonpolitical: we work in the world of ideas, not on activism or elections, and we seek to work with every corner of the political spectrum.
The United States is far bigger and far stronger now than it was in Adams’s day, and that means it is in better position than ever to serve as an exemplar of liberty, justice, and peace to the world. While remaining an exemplar of a prosperous, open society at home, America’s relations with foreign nations should be characterized by commerce and cultural exchange rather than entangling military and political ties. These beliefs were, for much of America’s history, one of the main currents in its foreign-policy debate. Yet now, they are underrepresented in academia, in the policy process, and in the press. The result has been a string of unsuccessful, expensive, destabilizing interventions, and, more subtly, a decline in the ability of that foreign-policy debate to distinguish between truly vital interests and those that are secondary. A less rigorous, lower-quality debate hinders all viewpoints. JQA aims to revive that conversation.
Why the appropriation of the name of John Quincy Adams? Why the association of him with a non-interventionist U.S. foreign policy?
John Quincy Adams
John Quincy Adams (1767–1848) had an unusual and privileged life, but one that was marked by tragedy. He was born in Massachusetts, educated by private tutors, graduated from Harvard College, acquired several languages, lived in Europe for several years, practiced law, served in the Massachusetts State Senate, kept a diary for most of his life, outlived three of his four children — and became the sixth president of the United States.
He was one of the most unusual of all the American presidents. He was the son of the nation’s second president, John Adams. He was appointed to fill a vacancy in the U.S. Senate before he became the president and was elected to nine consecutive terms as a representative to the U.S. House from Massachusetts after he had served as the president. He was a diplomat under three presidents before serving as secretary of State to James Monroe during both of his terms in office.
Adams also has the distinction of being the only U.S. president chosen to that office by the House of Representatives. In the election of 1824, Secretary of State Adams was in a four-way race with Sen. (and former general) Andrew Jackson, Secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Speaker of the House Henry Clay. Jackson received the most electoral votes (99 of 261), and had a plurality of the popular vote (41.36 percent) as well. But (for the first and only time in history), because no candidate received a majority of the electoral votes, the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution directed that the election be decided in the House of Representatives, with voting by state for one of the top three candidates by electoral vote. Adams won on the first ballot.
In the election of 1828, Adams lost his bid for reelection to Andrew Jackson. Adams was an opponent of slavery and its expansion, and opposed the annexation of Texas and the Mexican War, although he supported the westward expansion of the United States. While secretary of State, Adams negotiated with Spain what came to be called the Adams-Onís Treaty of 1819, wherein the United States acquired Florida and the western and southern borders of the United States were set. Adams took a broad view of the Constitution’s General Welfare clause and supported federal funding of internal improvements, such as roads and canals. But aside from of all of that, there is mainly one thing that John Quincy Adams is known for.
Adams’s Fourth of July address
On the Fourth of July in 1821, in Washington, D.C., Adams was invited to deliver an address “at the request of the committee of arrangements for celebrating the anniversary of independence.” His 34-page learned address, which is full of classical and biblical allusions, was afterward published by the Harvard University Press. Adams begins with a brief survey of the British nation, “a nation, renowned in arts and arms, who, from a small Island in the Atlantic ocean, had extended their dominion over considerable parts of every quarter of the globe.” Though “through long ages of civil war the people of Britain had extorted from their tyrants, not acknowledgments, but grants of right,” yet the people “looked back only to conquest as the origin of their liberties, and claimed their rights but as donations from their kings.” Adams then recounted the founding of the American colonies and how they declared their independence because of how they were harshly and unjustly treated by the British parent state. In the middle of his address, Adams read the entire Declaration of Independence. The Declaration “demolished at a stroke the lawfulness of all governments founded upon conquest” and “announced in practical form to the world the transcendent truth of the unalienable sovereignty of the people.” It holds out “to the sovereign and to the subject the extent and the boundaries of their respective rights and duties.” After briefly mentioning the formation of the state governments, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution, Adams brought his address to a conclusion by asking and answering the question, “What has America done for the benefit of mankind?”
America, with the same voice which spoke herself into existence as a nation, proclaimed to mankind the inextinguishable rights of human nature, and the only lawful foundations of government. America, in the assembly of nations, since her admission among them, has invariably, though often fruitlessly, held forth to them the hand of honest friendship, of equal freedom, of generous reciprocity.
She has uniformly spoken among them, though often to heedless and often to disdainful ears, the language of equal liberty, of equal justice, and of equal rights.
She has, in the lapse of nearly half a century, without a single exception, respected the independence of other nations, while asserting and maintaining her own.
She has abstained from interference in the concerns of others, even when the conflict has been for principles to which she clings, as to the last vital drop that visits the heart.
She has seen that probably for centuries to come, all the contests of that Aceldama the European world, will be contests of inveterate power, and emerging right.
Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.
But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.
She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all.
She is the champion and vindicator only of her own.
She will commend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example.
She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom.
The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power.
She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit….
Adams’s statement that America “goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy” is a phrase short on words but long on significance. It is one of the most profound things ever said about the foreign policy of the United States by one of its early presidents. It is rivaled only by a statement made by Thomas Jefferson in his first inaugural address, delivered on March 4, 1801: “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations — entangling alliances with none.”
Contrast Adams’s Fourth of July address with what the Fourth of July has become since 9/11: a day to celebrate American military might, a day to reverence veterans and current members of the U.S. military, a day to celebrate a reckless, belligerent, and meddling U.S. foreign policy, a day to celebrate America’s vanquishing of monsters.
Monsters
The world has always been full of monsters. Hollywood may have its make-believe monsters, but history has its real monsters who are responsible for the starvation, torture, maiming, and killing of millions of people: Adolf Hitler, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin, Idi Amin, Pol Pot, Benito Mussolini, Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-un, Fidel Castro, Robert Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, Joseph Stalin, Leopold II, Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon Bonaparte, Maximilien Robespierre, Mengistu Haile Mariam, Hugo Chávez, Josip “Tito” Broz, Manuel Noriega, Nicolae Ceauşescu, Augusto Pinochet, François Duvalier, and Nikita Khruschev. There are, of course, many other lesser-known monsters and their henchmen who have caused untold suffering across the globe down through history. And it’s not just individuals; it is also ideologies: fascism, Nazism, communism, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Bolshevism, totalitarianism, authoritarianism, collectivism, despotism, absolutism, colonialism, imperialism, nationalism, progressivism, militarism.
The question is not how bad, how destructive, or how evil these foreign monsters are. The question is what the U.S. government should do about them. We are not talking about actual, unprovoked, and verified attacks on U.S. territory by the armies, navies, and air forces of these monsters. We are talking about what they and their militaries, secret police, intelligence agents, and security forces do to their own people and to each other.
Should America intervene in civil wars? Should America change regimes? Should America bomb other countries? Should America take sides in territorial disputes? Should America invade other countries? Should America occupy other countries? Should America conduct drone strikes in other countries? Should America make the world safe for democracy? Should America be the world’s policeman? Should America garrison the planet with hundreds of bases and thousands of troops? Should America care which flag is hoisted on a small piece of land thousands of miles away? Should America engage in nation building? Should America enforce UN resolutions? Should America maintain no-fly zones in other countries? Should America try to change a country’s form of government? Should America monitor elections in other countries? Should America send military advisors to other countries? Should America engage in covert actions in other countries? Should America forcibly open markets in other countries? Should America contribute peacekeeping forces to trouble spots around the globe? Should America conduct assassinations in other countries? Should America guarantee the security of other countries? Should America conduct extraordinary renditions? Should America support revolutions and coups? Should America contain Communism? Should America go abroad seeking monsters to destroy?
One’s view of the nature and purpose of the U.S. government will determine the answers to those questions. For that we must turn, not to the Declaration of Independence, but to the Constitution.
The seven articles and twenty-seven amendments of the Constitution concern the government of the United States and its relationship to its states. Nothing in the Constitution authorizes the U.S. government to intervene in the affairs of another country, police the world, or go abroad seeking monsters to destroy. Absolutely nothing. The purpose of government is supposed to be to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of the people who form it — not to protect the lives, liberties, and properties of people thousands of miles away.
Other monsters
There are other monsters that America should not be going abroad seeking to destroy. Like the monstrous tyrants, governments, and ideologies that have plagued the world, these monsters are also bad. They hurt people, mentally and physically. Sometimes they kill people. I am referring to things such as poverty, homelessness, hunger, starvation, disease, and national disasters. But also to things such as religious persecution, injustice, sex trafficking, slavery, forced labor, political oppression, violence against women, exploitation of children, suppression of free speech, human-rights abuses, and violations of property rights.
Again, the question is not how bad, how widespread, or how fixable these monsters are. The question is what the U.S. government should do about them. Again, the answer is absolutely nothing. The United States cannot right every wrong, correct every injustice, stop all oppression, feed all the hungry, fix every problem, and relieve all the suffering in the world — nor should it. That means that the U.S. government has no right to take money from Americans against their will and give it to foreigners or their governments — regardless of the need, crisis, or circumstances.
All foreign aid and disaster relief should be individual, private, and voluntary. If individuals (or groups of individuals or organizations) in America see a problem or an injustice or a monster somewhere in the world, they are welcome to try to do something about it on their own or through any number of private organizations — as long as they use their own money. But it is not the job of the U.S. government to go abroad seeking monsters to destroy.
It is not enough to appropriate the name of John Quincy Adams. It is his principles of U.S. foreign policy that must be adopted and strictly adhered to, no matter what is going on in the world: neutrality, nonintervention, friendship, independence, noninterference, and peace.
Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation.
Oklahoma Frees Some of Its Political Prisoners

Oklahoma Frees Some of Its Political Prisoners

Communist and other authoritarian and totalitarian governments around the world have always, throughout history and at this very time, arrested (or sometimes just simply seized) and jailed (or sometimes just killed) political dissidents and other nonconformists whom they considered to be “enemies of the state” whose only crime was disagreeing with some government law or policy. Those so horribly treated didn’t kill anyone, assault anyone, violate anyone’s natural or civil rights, destroy anyone’s property, steal anything from anybody, or rape anyone. They were incarcerated (and sometimes tortured) for years (or sometimes for life) even though they engaged in peaceful activity that didn’t violate the personal or property rights of anyone else.

Unfortunately, the same thing regularly happens in the United States.

The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801) with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” Under federal law, possession of marijuana is punishable by a jail sentence not to exceed one year and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction. Subsequent convictions have higher penalties. You can get life in prison for manufacturing or distributing 1,000 plants or kilograms of marijuana and the death penalty for “manufacturing, importing or distributing a controlled substance if the act was committed as part of a continuing criminal enterprise.”

Most of the states have similar laws.

Every year, more Americans are arrested for marijuana possession than for murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery combined. Roughly every minute that goes by, someone in the United States is arrested for marijuana possession.

That means that Americans can be arrested, fined, see their cash and property confiscated, and be locked in a cage with those who have committed violent crimes merely for growing, possessing, or selling a substance, or too much of a substance, that the government doesn’t approve of.

They are political prisoners. If they are arrested just for marijuana possession, they haven’t committed any act of violence, harmed anyone, or damaged anyone’s property. They are incarcerated even though they engaged in peaceful activity that didn’t violate the personal or property rights of anyone else.

Although thirty-three states have legalized the medical use of marijuana (with many restrictions), only ten states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana (with many restrictions). Oklahoma is one of those states where medical marijuana is legal but recreational marijuana is illegal. The state has a reputation for having some of the strictest drug laws in the country and the highest incarceration rate in the United States — until now.

More than 450 inmates in Oklahoma were released earlier this month. Most of them were political prisoners who were incarcerated for possessing a plant that government bureaucrats decided was an evil weed. Here is why that happened.

Back in 2016, “The Oklahoma Reclassification of Some Drug and Property Crimes as Misdemeanors Initiative,” also known as State Question 780, was on the November 8 ballot in Oklahoma as an initiated state statute.

The measure had been filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State on January 27, 2016. Supporters of placing State Question 780 on the ballot needed to collect 65,987 valid signatures by early June. They submitted more than 110,000 signatures on June 2, 2016.

State Question 780 “changed certain non-violent drug- and theft-related crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, which come with a maximum penalty of one year in prison and a fine of $1,000, thereby reducing the number and duration of state prison sentences for those crimes.” State Question 780 made drug possession a misdemeanor instead of a felony, but continued the classification of drug manufacturing, trafficking, and selling as felonies.

The measure was approved by Oklahoma voters by a margin of 58.23 to 41.77 percent. It took effect on July 1, 2017.

But what about inmates in Oklahoma prisons who committed drug offenses before that date?

In May 2019, the governor of Oklahoma signed a bill (HB1269) passed by the Oklahoma House (78-14) and Senate (34-11), effectively making State Question 780 retroactive. HB1269 modifies the state expungement statutes by adding a new category of eligibility:

The measure allows a person to seek an expungement if the person was convicted of a nonviolent felony which was subsequently reclassified as a misdemeanor under Oklahoma law, the person is not currently serving a sentence for a crime in this state or another state, at least thirty (30) days have passed since the completion or commutation of the sentence for the crime that was reclassified as a misdemeanor, any restitution ordered by the court to be paid by the person has been satisfied in full, and any treatment program ordered by the court has been successfully completed by the person, including any person who failed a treatment program which resulted in an accelerated or revoked sentence that has since been successfully completed by the person or the person can show successful completion of a treatment program at a later date.

The measure directs the Pardon and Parole Board:

  • to establish an accelerated, single-stage commutation docket for any applicant who has been convicted of a crime that has been reclassified from a felony to a misdemeanor under Oklahoma law,
  • to recommend to the Governor for commutation, by majority vote, any commutation application placed on the accelerated, single-stage commutation docket that meets the eligibility criteria; and
  • to certify a list of potentially eligible inmates to the Pardon and Parole Board within thirty days of the effective date of this act.

According to a press release by Oklahoma governor Kevin Stitt, the Pardon and Parole Board considered 814 inmates’ cases during “an accelerated single-stage commutation docket to review the sentences of inmates in prison for crimes which would no longer be considered felonies if charged today.” On Friday, November 1, the Pardon and Parole Board voted unanimously “to recommend the sentences of 527 state inmates be commuted, the largest such action in state and national history.”

Said Steven Bickley, Executive Director of the Pardon and Parole Board, “This is a historical day for criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, as we send the largest single-day commutation of sentences in our nation’s history to the governor’s desk.” And said Governor Stitt, “I applaud the Pardon and Parole Board’s dedication to fulfill the will of the people through the HB 1269 docket, giving hundreds of nonviolent, low-level offenders an opportunity at a second chance.”

On the following Monday, November 4, 462 inmates were ultimately released. Had these political prisoners served out their full sentence, it would have cost the state of Oklahoma approximately $11.9 million.

This is a significant event, and one can only hope that other states follow suit.

Every crime needs a real victim — not a potential victim or a possible victim, but a tangible and identifiable victim who has suffered measurable harm to his person or measurable damages to his property. Possessing some form of a plant should never be a crime. That means that the change in the law in Oklahoma is just a first step. Marijuana possession shouldn’t even be a misdemeanor. But at least Oklahoma has freed some of its political prisoners.

Reprinted from the Future of Freedom Foundation

The Letter That CEOs Ought to Be Writing

The Letter That CEOs Ought to Be Writing

The mass shootings in August at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and at a bar in Dayton, Ohio, prompted the CEOs of more than a hundred large and small corporations to write a letter to the members of the U.S. Senate about “a public health crisis that demands urgent action” — gun violence.

Says the letter in part,

As leaders of some of America’s most respected companies and those with significant business interests in the United States, we are writing to you because we have a responsibility and obligation to stand up for the safety of our employees, customers and all Americans in the communities we serve across the country. Doing nothing about America’s gun violence crisis is simply unacceptable and it is time to stand with the American public on gun safety.

That’s why we urge the Senate to stand with the American public and take action on gun safety by passing a bill to require background checks on all gun sales and a strong Red Flag law that would allow courts to issue life-saving extreme risk protection orders.

The Senate must follow the House’s lead by passing bipartisan legislation that would update the background checks law, helping to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, in an effort to save lives.

Background checks on all gun sales are a common-sense solution with overwhelming public support and are a critical step toward stemming the gun violence epidemic in this country.

Interventions in states with Extreme Risk laws have already prevented potential tragedies. Expanding Extreme Risk laws to enable families and law enforcement nationwide to intervene when someone is at serious risk of hurting themselves or others is critical to preventing future tragedies.

These proposals are common-sense, bipartisan and widely supported by the American public. It is time for the Senate to take action.

The letter is signed by two groups of CEOs — those heading organizations with more than 500 employees and those heading organizations with fewer than 500 employees. (There were no signatures of those heading organizations with 500 employees.) Notable signers include Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb; Edward Stack, CEO of DICK’S Sporting Goods; Art Peck, CEO of GAP Inc., Steve Huffman, CEO of Reddit; Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter; Dara Khosrowshai, CEO of Uber; and Chip Bergh, CEO of Levi Strauss & Co.

“To a certain extent, these C.E.O.s are putting their businesses on the line here, given how politically charged this is,” said Bergh. “Business leaders are not afraid to get engaged now. C.E.O.s are wired to take action on things that are going to impact their business and gun violence is impacting everybody’s business now,” he added. Bergh insists that he is not “trying to repeal the Second Amendment.” To the contrary: “Nothing is further from the truth.”

Basically, according to these CEOs, the solution to gun violence is stricter federal gun control laws. That solution is nothing new. It is the same solution that liberals and progressives always propose whenever there is a mass shooting.

There is just one problem with the requests of the CEOs who signed this letter, and it is an insurmountable one: the Constitution.

The Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to perform background checks, decide who should and shouldn’t be allowed to have a gun, prevent potential tragedies, pass gun legislation, or stem “the gun violence epidemic in this country.”

Public support, common sense, and bipartisan agreement have nothing to do with it.

The Constitution doesn’t authorize the federal government to have anything to do with guns. The Second Amendment acts as an additional limitation on federal power to infringe gun rights.

It is that simple.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a group of CEOs getting together and writing a letter to members of Congress. It just depends on the subject of said letter. For example, if CEOs want to write a letter urging Congress not to pass any new gun legislation and to repeal all previous federal gun legislation, then that would be a good thing because it would be limiting the federal government to its constitutional functions. However, that is a letter that few CEOs in America would be willing to sign.

But if the CEOs of American companies really want to write a letter to Congress, here are some subjects they ought to be writing about.

CEOs ought to write to Congress about taxes. The corporate income tax rate is 21 percent. Corporate profits are double-taxed because a corporation pays income tax on its profit and then shareholders pay income tax on that same profit when it is distributed as dividends. The employer share of each employee’s Social Security tax is 6.2 percent on the first $132,900 of employee income. The employer share of each employee’s Medicare tax is 1.45 percent on every dollar of an employee income. The Federal Unemployment (FUTA) tax rate is 6 percent on the first $7,000 of employee income in a calendar year. Corporations don’t pay taxes; people do. The corporate tax burden is borne by shareholders through lower dividends and share prices, passed along to consumers through higher prices, and paid by workers in companies in the form of lower wages. Taxing corporations is just another government mandate that raises the cost of doing business. Why don’t CEOs write to Congress about lowering their tax burden?

CEOs ought to write to Congress about government regulations. According to the latest edition of “Ten Thousand Commandments,” the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s “annual survey of the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, and how they affect American consumers, businesses, and the U.S. economy at large,”

  • The estimated $1.9 trillion “hidden tax” of regulation is greater than the corporate and personal income taxes combined.
  • Each U.S. household’s estimated regulatory burden is at least $14,615 annually on average.
  • The estimated regulatory cost burden is equivalent to more than 40 percent of the level of total federal spending.
  • In the pipeline now, 67 federal departments, agencies, and commissions have 3,534 regulatory actions at various stages of implementation.

The federal government regulates every conceivable product, from the amount of water that toilets flush to the size of the holes in Swiss cheese. Why don’t CEOs write to Congress about oppressive government regulations?

CEOs ought to write to Congress about the drug war. There are many evil things about the government’s war on drugs. One of them is that it makes otherwise law-abiding Americans into criminals. Having an arrest record can keep people from getting a job. Getting thrown in jail can cause people to lose their job. The war on drugs deprives corporations of potentially talented employees and causes them to lose talented employees. Although the federal government requires drug testing by employers only in a few safety-sensitive industries, the war on drugs has made all employers drug-testing crazy. Most companies now waste untold dollar amounts testing all potential employees for any position for drug use. Why don’t CEOs write to Congress about the negative consequences of the war on drugs?

CEOs ought to write to Congress about anti-discrimination laws. Firms cannot freely hire, fire, promote, or demote whom they want. Businesses cannot freely choose to serve or not serve certain customers. Companies cannot freely give discounts to whatever group they want. To prove to the government that they are not discriminating against any protected groups, corporations have de facto racial and sex quotas. Why don’t CEOs write to Congress about freedom-denying anti-discrimination laws?

CEOs ought to write to Congress about government subsidies. Certain sectors of the economy are subsidized by the federal government. Farmers are subsidized in a variety of ways by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Planned Parenthood receives millions of dollars in government funds. Many colleges and universities would go out of business if the government didn’t subsidize students with generous grants and low-interest loans. Why don’t CEOs write to Congress about the unjustness of government subsidies?

Any legislation passed by Congress that interferes with the free market is what every CEO should be concerned about.

Republished with permission by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

The Real Korean Question

The Real Korean Question

Last year in June, Donald Trump met with the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore. Said Trump,

We’re very proud of what took place today. I think our whole relationship with North Korea and the Korean Peninsula is going to be a very much different situation than it has been in the past.

We both want to do something. We both are going to do something. And we have developed a very special bond. So people are going to be impressed. People will be very happy and we’re going to take care of a very big and very dangerous problem for the world. I want to thank Chairman Kim.

Earlier this year, in February, Trump met with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam. However, their summit ended early when no agreement on ending sanctions and denuclearization was reached between the two heads of state. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that,” said Trump. “He wants to denuke; he just wants to do areas that are less important than what we want,” he said of Kim. He described his relationship with the Korean dictator as still “very warm.”

Just recently, Trump met for the third time with Kim Jong Un and became the first U.S. president to set foot on North Korean soil. The two leaders then spoke for nearly an hour at the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea. Although Trump initially claimed that his invitation to meet Kim was spontaneous, he later acknowledged that it was “long planned.”

Some of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates took issue with Trump’s recent meeting with Kim Jong Un. The Joe Biden campaign released a statement saying, “President Trump’s coddling of dictators at the expense of American national security and interests is one of the most dangerous ways he’s diminishing us on the world stage and subverting our values as a nation.” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, “Our President shouldn’t be squandering American influence on photo ops and exchanging love letters with a ruthless dictator. Instead, we should be dealing with North Korea through principled diplomacy that promotes US security, defends our allies, and upholds human rights.”

Some Republicans took issue with President Trump as well. Meghan McCain criticized Trump for being “chummy” with “the closest thing to Hitler’s Germany that exists in modern time.” But others defended him, even though they previously criticized Barack Obama for saying that he would meet with Kim Jong Un.

Liberals and conservatives of every variety all across the country are asking a number of questions that express many concerns about Trump, Kim, and North Korea:

Should Trump have met with Kim in Singapore and Vietnam?

Should Trump invite Kim to the United States?

Should Trump have set foot on North Korean soil?

Should Trump have met with Kim in the DMZ?

Is Trump too friendly with dictators?

Should Trump be more firm with North Korea?

Should Trump go back to North Korea?

Is Kim another Hitler?

Is the United States appeasing Kim?

Should Trump meet again with Kim in a neutral country?

Should the United States and North Korea make some kind of an agreement?

Can Kim be trusted to keep any agreement he signs?

Should the United States impose more sanctions on North Korea?

Should the United States lift its sanctions on North Korea?

Is North Korea a threat to South Korea?

Is North Korea a threat to the United States?

Should the United States continue to conduct joint military exercises with South Korea?

Should Trump have made an issue of human rights abuses in North Korea?

Should Trump have pressed Kim more forcefully on what happened to Otto Warmbier when he was imprisoned by North Korea?

Should the United States pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons?

Some of these questions are no doubt legitimate questions that even otherwise like-minded people will disagree on. But in the grand scheme of things, they are all utterly irrelevant. When it comes to Korea, there is one far more important question that needs to be asked: What are U.S. troops still doing in South Korea? That is the real Korean question.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States encouraged Japanese dominance in Korea and Manchuria. Later, during World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union collaborated in driving Japan out of Korea and occupying the Korean peninsula. Korea was divided at the 38th parallel, with the Soviets occupying the north and the Americans occupying the south. Separate governments were eventually established. After months of repeated incursions across the 38th parallel by forces from the north and south, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in 1950.

President Harry Truman responded by sending U.S. troops to fight for South Korea in a “police action.” There was no U.S. declaration of war against North Korea. There was not even a congressional authorization for the president to use force, as when George W. Bush invaded Iraq and Afghanistan. Sen. Robert Taft (R-Ohio), one of the few Republicans in Congress who objected to Truman’s unconstitutional action, remarked, “The president is usurping his powers as commander in chief. There is no legal authority for what he has done. If the president can intervene in Korea without congressional approval, he can go to war in Malaya or Indonesia or Iran or South America.”

The war ended in a stalemate in 1953 with the country still divided at the 38th parallel, but not until more than 36,000 American soldiers died for absolutely nothing. The United States has had its troops in South Korea ever since. There are currently about 30,000 U.S. soldiers stationed there.

Why?

According to The World Factbook, published by the CIA, North Korea “faces chronic economic problems”:

Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending and development of its ballistic missile and nuclear program severely draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power outputs have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.

The mid 1990s through mid-2000s were marked by severe famine and widespread starvation.

A large portion of the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions.

Compared with North Korea, South Korea has a much larger population, a much larger military, a much higher life expectancy, a much lower infant mortality rate, and a huge advantage in GDP.

All U.S. troops should have left South Korea decades ago. The United States should not concern itself in any way with anything that happens on the Korean peninsula. If South Korea thinks it needs more weapons to protect itself against North Korea, then U.S. defense contractors will be more than happy to sell them. If South Korea thinks it needs more soldiers to defend itself against North Korea, then former U.S. soldiers will be willing to hire themselves out as mercenaries.

What are U.S. troops still doing in South Korea? That is the real Korean question. It is the real Korean question in 2019 just as it was the real Korean question in 1999, 1979, and 1959. Will U.S. troops ever leave the Korean peninsula? They are still in Germany years after the demise of communist East Germany and the reunification of Germany.

Republished from fff.org.

What Robert Reich Failed to Say about Marijuana Legalization

What Robert Reich Failed to Say about Marijuana Legalization

Professor, economist, author, and political commentator Robert Reich is best known for being President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997. Before that he held positions in the administrations of Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter and was a professor at Harvard. After leaving the Labor Department he taught at Brandeis University, ran for governor of Massachusetts (he lost), and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama’s economic transition advisory board. Since 2006, he has been the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Along the way, he wrote fifteen books.

But more important than any of that, Reich is a vocal critic of federal marijuana laws.

Reich is decidedly left-wing on economic issues. He favors expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and financing the expansion with higher taxes on “the rich.” He is pro-union. He opposes deregulation. He favors increasing the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour. He supports a universal basic income and a wealth tax to address the crisis of wealth inequality.

But even though Reich is a liberal in every sense of the word, conservatives should be paying attention to what he says about marijuana legalization. And so should liberals, since, after all, drug freedom is not a tenet of liberalism.

A recent post on Reich’s blog titled “Why We Must Legalize Marijuana” also appeared at Salon. He begins,

The federal prohibition on marijuana has been a disaster. For decades, millions of Americans have been locked up and billions of dollars have been wasted. It’s also deepened racial and economic inequality.

We must end this nonsensical prohibition.

The facts are staggering. In 2017, more Americans were arrested for marijuana possession than for murder, rape, aggravated assault, and robbery combined. That’s one marijuana arrest every minute.

The costs associated with enforcing this ban — including arrests, court costs, and incarceration — reach nearly $14 billion a year.

Prohibition also hurts the economy in terms of lost wages. And Americans with criminal records have a harder time finding a job and getting the education they need.

That marijuana prohibition is a colossal waste of money with costs that greatly exceed any of its supposed benefits is reason enough to legalize marijuana. But Reich doesn’t stop there. He also maintains that “legalizing, taxing, and regulating” marijuana “is good for the economy and creates jobs.” He believes that marijuana should be taxed by state and local governments the way cigarettes and alcohol are. Reich points to states such as Colorado and Washington that tax and regulate marijuana and generate “millions of dollars for health care, education, and other public investments.” As a libertarian, I certainly oppose taxes and regulations on marijuana, just as I oppose taxes and regulations on cigarettes and alcohol. But, like it or not, the fact remains that every state that has legalized marijuana has also taxed and regulated it — and reaped a windfall.

But Reich isn’t finished yet. Marijuana legalization is “more than an economic issue” because “it’s also a matter of racial justice and equality.” Reich recounts the racist origins of the federal prohibition on marijuana and asserts that “black and brown Americans are still much more likely to be arrested for marijuana than white Americans, despite using marijuana at similar rates.” He also points out that “more states are taking action to reform their laws and move toward legalization” and “support for marijuana legalization has surged in recent years, with two-thirds of Americans now in favor of it,” although I take issue with his statement that “even a majority of Republicans are in support.” “It’s time to legalize marijuana,” concludes Reich.

Even though thirty-three states have legalized the medical use of marijuana, and ten states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and at least twenty states and more than fifty localities in a dozen states have either fully or partially decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana, the federal government still considers the growing, distributing, buying, selling, possessing, or smoking of marijuana to be a violation of federal law. The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801) with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” The Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes. Under federal law, “possession of marijuana is punishable by up to one year in jail and a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first conviction.” Subsequent convictions have higher penalties, including life in prison, and under certain circumstances, one can get the death penalty. Half of the inmates in federal prisons are there for drug offenses.

So Reich is certainly correct: It’s time to legalize marijuana.

Yet, there are some extremely important things that Robert Reich failed to say about marijuana legalization. And they are, in fact, much more important than anything he says in his article.

Reich has a law degree. He should know that the Constitution says absolutely nothing about marijuana or any other drug. He should know that the Constitution gives no authority to the federal government to have a Controlled Substances Act, a Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), a drug czar, an Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), or a Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program. He should know that the federal government has not only no authority under the Constitution to prohibit marijuana possession, but also that it has no authority whatsoever to have anything to do with marijuana.

So why didn’t Reich say so? They are things that any liberal, progressive, socialist, or Democrat could say. And they are also things that any conservative or Republican could say, and especially those who claim to revere the Constitution and say that the Constitution should be followed.

But that’s not all that Reich failed to say about marijuana legalization.

He failed to say that it is not the proper role of government to be concerned with the medical or recreational habits of Americans.

He failed to say that it is not the business of government bureaucrats to interfere with what Americans want to put in their mouths, noses, veins, or lungs.

He failed to say that it is an illegitimate purpose of government to regulate what Americans desire to eat, drink, smoke, inhale, or inject.

He failed to say that people should be able to do anything that’s peaceful as long as they don’t infringe the personal or property rights of others and are responsible for the consequences of their actions.

He failed to say that every crime should have a tangible and identifiable victim who has suffered measurable harm to his person or measurable damages to his property.

He failed to say that no American should ever be arrested, fined, or imprisoned for possessing a plant his government doesn’t approve of.

He failed to say that the government’s war on marijuana is a war on personal freedom, private property, personal responsibility, individual liberty, personal and financial privacy, and the free market.

But at least he said what he did about marijuana legalization. That is more than most conservatives would ever say.

Republished from fff.org.

Time to End the Postal Monopoly

Time to End the Postal Monopoly

After blaming the billions of dollars a year in losses by the United States Post Office (USPS) on its failure to charge Amazon enough to deliver its packages — “making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer” — Donald Trump, on April 12, 2018, signed Executive Order 13829, which established the Task Force on the United States Postal System “to evaluate the operations and finances of the United States Postal Service (USPS) and develop recommendations for administrative and legislative reforms for the U.S. postal system.”

The task force’s report, United States Postal Service: A Sustainable Path Forward (dated December 4, 2018), recommended that “the USPS and Congress work to overhaul the USPS’s business model in order to return it to sustainability. Both administrative and legislative actions are needed to ensure that the USPS does not face a liquidity crisis, which could disrupt mail services and require an emergency infusion of taxpayer dollars.”

But the Post Office is already facing a “liquidity crisis.” In fiscal year 2018 (which ended on Sept. 30, 2018), the USPS reported an increase in annual revenue by $1 billion over the previous year. However, it also spent almost $4 billion more than it took in during the year, resulting in a $1.2 billion increase over the amount of money it lost last year. The Postal Service not only loses billions of dollars every year, it has done so for the past decade. As acknowledged by the task force’s report,

The USPS has been losing money for more than a decade and is on an unsustainable financial path. The USPS is forecast to lose tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. Further, as of the end of FY 2018, the USPS balance sheet reflects $89 billion in liabilities against $27 billion in assets — a net deficiency of $62 billion.

According to Postmaster General Megan Brennan, “Existing laws and regulations limit our ability to introduce new products or services, enter new markets, generate new revenue streams, or manage our cost structure.” “We cannot generate revenue or cut enough costs to pay our bills,” she maintains. Without drastic operational changes, the USPS will continue to post losses at “an accelerating rate.”

It turns out that commercial package delivery for e-commerce retailers such as Amazon was actually profitable for the USPS. Revenue from delivering packages increased in 2018. The problem is that revenue from first-class mail, which is still the biggest source of the USPS’s revenue, continues to decline even as labor costs continue to increase. In 2018, labor costs accounted for 76 percent of overall operating costs, and especially the pension and health benefits provided to each of the USPS’s retired government employees.

Lost in all of this is the real problem with the Post Office, specifically the postal monopoly and, to a larger extent, the fact that the federal government is involved in the postal business.

The Post Office

According to the aforementioned report of the Task Force on the United States Postal System, “The USPS is a $7 billion enterprise that collects, processes, transports, and delivers 46 billion pieces of mail and packages to nearly 159 million households and businesses annually.” According to the USPS, it carries 47 percent of the world’s mail volume, travels 1.5 billion miles a year to deliver the mail, has more than 30,000 “Postal Service-managed retail post offices in the United States,” employs more than half a million career employees, and operates the largest civilian vehicle fleet in the world.

The USPS is actually older than both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress appointed Benjamin Franklin the first postmaster general in 1775. After adoption of the Constitution in 1789, the federal government established three departments: State, Treasury, and War. They were joined by the Post Office Department in 1792. Unlike the departments of Labor, Education, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development, the Post Office is one of the federal government’s few departments that is clearly authorized by the Constitution. In Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 7, Congress is given the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads.” According to U.S. Code, Title 39, Part V, Chapter 50, §5003, the following are considered post roads:

(1) the waters of the United States, during the time the mail is carried thereon;

(2) railroads or parts of railroads and air routes in operation;

(3) canals, during the time the mail is carried thereon;

(4) public roads, highways, and toll roads during the time the mail is carried thereon; and

(5) letter-carrier routes established for the collection and delivery of mail.

The Postal Reorganization Act of 1970 reconstituted the Post Office Department as the United States Postal Service. The USPS is now a government corporation like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac), the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), the National Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak), and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The new USPS officially began operations on July 1, 1971.

The head of the Post Office is the postmaster general. Until 1971, he was appointed by the president (subject to Senate confirmation), and was a member of the president’s cabinet. Now, the postmaster general is appointed by a board of governors, who are appointed by the president (subject to Senate confirmation). Postage rates are set by the Postal Regulatory Commission, formerly called the Postal Rate Commission, the members of which are appointed by the president (subject to Senate confirmation).

The Post Office operates under a Universal Service Obligation (USO). According to U.S. Code, Title 39, Part I, Chapter 1, Section 101,

(a) The United States Postal Service shall be operated as a basic and fundamental service provided to the people by the Government of the United States, authorized by the Constitution, created by Act of Congress, and supported by the people. The Postal Service shall have as its basic function the obligation to provide postal services to bind the Nation together through the personal, educational, literary, and business correspondence of the people. It shall provide prompt, reliable, and efficient services to patrons in all areas and shall render postal services to all communities. The costs of establishing and maintaining the Postal Service shall not be apportioned to impair the overall value of such service to the people.

(b) The Postal Service shall provide a maximum degree of effective and regular postal services to rural areas, communities, and small towns where post offices are not self-sustaining. No small post office shall be closed solely for operating at a deficit, it being the specific intent of the Congress that effective postal services be insured to residents of both urban and rural communities.

The unofficial motto of the Post Office, which is engraved on the outside of the James A. Farley Post Office building in New York City is, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

The postal problem

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), established in 1914, is a federal agency “with a unique dual mission to protect consumers and promote competition.” According to the FTC,

Free and open markets are the foundation of a vibrant economy. Aggressive competition among sellers in an open marketplace gives consumers —both individuals and businesses — the benefits of lower prices, higher quality products and services, more choices, and greater innovation. The FTC’s competition mission is to enforce the rules of the competitive marketplace — the antitrust laws. These laws promote vigorous competition and protect consumers from anticompetitive mergers and business practices.

But when it comes to the postal monopoly, the FTC is silent.

According to the official USPS publication, Report on Universal Postal Service and the Postal Monopoly, “To ensure funding of the USO, Congress and the President established the Private Express Statutes (PES) and the mailbox access rule, which together comprise the postal monopoly.” By law, only the Post Office is allowed to deliver regular mail, and mailboxes can be used only for the deposit of outgoing mail to the Post Office or incoming mail from the Post Office.

According to U.S. Code, Title 39, Chapter I, Subchapter E, Part 310, Section 310.2, “Unlawful carriage of letters,”

(a) It is generally unlawful under the Private Express Statutes for any person other than the Postal Service in any manner to send or carry a letter on a post route or in any manner to cause or assist such activity. Violation may result in injunction, fine or imprisonment or both and payment of postage lost as a result of the illegal activity.

A letter is defined, in Section 310.1, “Definitions,” as “a message directed to a specific person or address and recorded in or on a tangible object.” According to Section 310.3, “Exceptions,”

  • The sending or carrying of letters is permissible if they accompany and relate in all substantial respects to some part of the cargo or to the ordering, shipping or delivering of the cargo.
  • The sending or carrying of letters is permissible if they are sent by or addressed to the person carrying them.
  • The sending or carrying of letters without compensation is permitted.

The use of a “special messenger” to deliver a letter is permitted under certain circumstances:

(1) The use of a special messenger employed for the particular occasion only is permissible to transmit letters if not more than twenty-five letters are involved. The permission granted under this exception is restricted to use of messenger service on an infrequent, irregular basis by the sender or addressee of the message.

(2) A special messenger is a person who, at the request of either the sender or the addressee, picks up a letter from the sender’s home or place of business and carries it to the addressee’s home or place of business, but a messenger or carrier operating regularly between fixed points is not a special messenger.

The PRS statutes are suspended, according to Section 320, for “extremely urgent letters.” However, there are several caveats:

For letters dispatched within 50 miles of the intended destination, delivery of those dispatched by noon must be completed within 6 hours or by the close of the addressee’s normal business hours that day, whichever is later, and delivery of those dispatched after noon and before midnight must be completed by 10 A.M. of the addressee’s next business day. For other letters, delivery must be completed within 12 hours or by noon of the addressee’s next business day. The suspension is available only if the value or usefulness of the letter would be lost or greatly diminished if it is not delivered within these time limits.

That is why UPS and FedEx are able to legally deliver overnight letters. Packages were never subject to the delivery monopoly. That is why Americans can lawfully ship packages of any number, size, weight, or content to any address by UPS or FedEx instead of the Post Office.

The Post Office has its own law- enforcement agency, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS). In addition to enforcing some 200 federal laws relating to “crimes that adversely affect or entail fraudulent use of the U.S. Mail, the postal system, postal employees, and customers,” the USPIS enforces the postal monopoly, and can carry out searches and seizures if it suspects that the postal monopoly is being contravened. The aforementioned Report on Universal Postal Service and the Postal Monopoly concluded, “Reducing or eliminating the Private Express Statutes (PES) and mailbox rule will harm the Postal Service’s ability to provide universal service at affordable prices, and it is the American public who will suffer.”

The simple solution

The simple solution to the postal problem is not to reform, make more efficient, modernize, or privatize the Post Office, although all of those things would be an improvement. It is certainly true that delivering the mail is an illegitimate function of government. To the libertarian, the only possible legitimate functions of government are defense, judicial, and policing activities. All government actions, at any level of government, beyond the reasonable exercise of those functions are illegitimate — and that includes the Post Office. Government should never punish individuals or businesses for engaging in entirely peaceful, voluntary, and consensual personal or commercial activities that do not aggress against the person or property of others. As long as people don’t infringe on the liberty of others by committing, or threatening to commit, acts of fraud, theft, aggression, or violence against their person or property, the government should just leave them and their businesses alone — and that includes the Post Office. The simple solution is to just end the postal monopoly.

Violating the postal monopoly is the ultimate victimless crime. Libertarians frequently point out the absurdity of laws that seek to prevent and punish the commission of victimless crimes — such as selling drugs, using drugs, exchanging money for sex, engaging in illegal gambling, charging usurious interest rates, discriminating in employment or housing, or raising prices after a natural disaster. Many Americans consider those actions to be immoral. And so do many libertarians — they just don’t believe it is the business of government to legislate morality or punish activity that doesn’t aggress against the person or property of others. But what could possibly be immoral or wrong with an entity’s delivering a letter for some other entity to a third entity — as long as all parties were in agreement with the activity? Where is the crime? Where is the victim? Where is the harm? Could anything possibly be more innocuous?

The postal monopoly is worse than occupational licensing. An occupational license is a certificate of permission and approval from a government-sponsored board that a job-seeker is required to obtain before he can begin working in a certain occupation. It is government permission to work. It is government approval for two parties to freely contract or engage in commerce. But at least with occupational licensing, the government barriers to entry can be overcome by paying a fee, taking a course, receiving training, or passing a test. Not so with overcoming the postal monopoly. It matters not how efficiently, inexpensively, or safely one can deliver the mail. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to defeat the postal monopoly.

The postal monopoly is the most egregious form of government interference in the market. Governments in many states prohibit certain business from opening on Sundays, staying open past a certain time at night, or selling alcohol before a certain time on Sunday (or not at all). But the postal monopoly is a nationwide, 24/7, 365-day, perpetual, permanent ban on engaging in a certain kind of commerce.

The postal monopoly is not mandated by the Constitution. Frustrated with high postage rates, Lysander Spooner, back in 1844, challenged the postal monopoly when he began the American Letter Mail Company. Article I, Section 8, Paragraph 7 of the Constitution — where Congress is given the power “to establish Post Offices and post Roads” — has never been amended. Therefore, Spooner’s arguments against the postal monopoly are just as relevant now as they were then.

In his 1844 essay “The Unconstitutionality of the Laws of Congress, Prohibiting Private Mails,” Spooner uses the Constitution against the postal monopoly:

The power of Congress, then, is simply “to establish post-offices and post roads,” of their own — not to interfere with those established by others.

The constitution expresses, neither in terms, nor by necessary implication, any prohibition upon the establishment of mails, post-offices and post roads, by the states or individuals.

The constitution expresses, neither in terms, nor by necessary implication, any surrender, on the part of the people, of their own natural rights to establish mails, post offices, or post-roads, at pleasure.

The simple grant of an authority, whether to an individual or a government, to do a particular act, gives the grantee no authority to forbid others to do acts of the same kind.

This doctrine also fully admits the absolute authority of Congress over whatever mails they do establish. It admits their right to forbid any resistance being offered to their progress, and to prohibit and punish depredations upon them. But it, at the same time, asserts that the power of Congress is confined exclusively to the establishment, management, transportation and protection of their own mails.

The power “to establish post-offices and post roads” of their own, and the power to forbid competition, are, in their nature, distinct powers — the former not at all implying the latter.

Spooner and other private-mail entrepreneurs during the 1840s were all eventually shut down by the government. They not only proved that private mail delivery was possible, but also forced the Post Office to reduce its prices.

It goes without saying that pursuant to the Constitution, there might still be a government Post Office, but there would certainly be no postal monopoly. Private businesses would have the opportunity to compete with the Post Office, as well as with each other, for customers. They might even put the Post Office out of business, which would be ideal, since delivering the mail is an illegitimate function of government. Because the Post Office is constitutional, the chances of ending government mail delivery are slim. But it is time to end the postal monopoly. Although the Constitution does authorize the establishment of post offices, it nowhere establishes a postal monopoly. There is no reason that private industry cannot deliver packages and letters just like the Post Office.

Republished from fff.org.

Republican Tax Reform Plan: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Republican Tax Reform Plan: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Last month I did a preliminary libertarian analysis of the Republicans’ newest tax-reform plan. I concluded that their “Unified Framework For Fixing Our Broken Tax Code” left us with too many unanswered questions to render a verdict.

Now the Republicans have issued the specifics of their plan. H.R. 1, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” was introduced in the House on November 2. The 429-page bill—which has 5 titles, 25 subtitles, and 116 sections—amends the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 in a number of ways.

I have read though much of the bill and skimmed the rest so that you don’t have to. But don’t weep for me, I have read over the years read so many bills and so much of the tax code that I almost enjoy it.

As I say in my analysis of every tax-reform plan, a libertarian analysis is based on certain libertarian axioms of taxation. A libertarian analysis of any tax-reform plan is concerned with only one thing: to what extent does it allow Americans to keep more of their money in their pockets and out of the hands of Uncle Sam.

With that in mind, let’s dive into the main features of the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.”

The current tax brackets of 10, 15, 25, 28, 33, 35, and 39.6 are consolidated into four brackets of 12, 25, 35, and 39.6 percent. But, of course, whether this is good or bad depends on the income ranges of each rate. These are better than I expected. The income thresholds for single taxpayers are up to $45,000 for the 12 percent rate, over $45,000 up to $200,000 for the 25 percent rate, over $200,000 up to $500,000 for the 35 percent rate, and over $500,000 for the 39.6 rate. The figures for married couples filing jointly are up to $90,000 for the 12 percent rate, over $90,000 up to $260,000 for the 25 percent rate, over $260,000 up to $1 million for the 35 percent rate, and over $1 million for the 39.6 percent rate. The 39.6 percent rate currently kicks in for married couples at incomes over $466,950. Yet, in the end, the 39.6 percent rate is retained. How outrageous and destructive that some Americans will have to hand over almost 40 percent of their income to the government just for payment of their income tax.

The standard deduction is increased from $6,350 ($12,700 for married filing jointly) to $12,200 ($24,400 for married filing jointly). However, the personal exemption, currently worth $4,050, is eliminated. This appears to hurt families with children, and especially families with more than one child. Let’s run some numbers. Under the current system, a family with four children receives an exemption of $4,050 for each member of the family plus a standard deduction of $12,700. This comes to a $37,000 deduction. Under the new GOP plan, the deduction is only $24,000. However, the increased Child Tax Credit, discussed below, will offset this, since credits are worth more than deductions.

Many other deductions are eliminated or reduced. This includes deductions for medical expenses, student loan interest, tax preparation fees, moving expenses, unreimbursed employee expenses, state and local income taxes paid, and alimony. The property tax deduction is retained, but will be capped at $10,000. The home mortgage interest deduction is retained for current mortgages, but will only apply to new mortgages for homes costing up to $500,000 (half of the current amount). The elimination or reduction of any tax deduction is never a good thing because it results in some Americans having a higher tax bill just like a tax rate increase. At least the charitable donation deduction is retained as is.

The alternative minimum tax is eliminated. This is very good. Just don’t applaud the Republicans too much. They could have eliminated it years ago when they had total control of the government for over four years under George W. Bush. But it should be pointed out that this will only affect upper-income taxpayers.

The exemption amount of the estate tax will double to $11 million per person. Again, this is very good. And if you can wait to die until 2024, it will be even better for your heirs because the estate tax is repealed after 2023. But again, this will only affect upper-income taxpayers.

The Child Tax Credit is renamed the Child and Family Tax Credit and expanded from $1,000 to $1,600 (with up to $1,000 being refundable), and the phase-out threshold is increased from $110,000 to $230,000. New is a $300 credit for each parent and non-child dependent, such as older family members, but the credit expires after five years. The credit for child and dependent care expenses is retained, but the adoption credit is eliminated. The partially refundable Americans Opportunity Tax Credit is retained as is the fully refundable Earned Income Tax Credit. Refundable tax credits are a form of welfare and should be eliminated.

There are no changes to tax rules for 401(k) plans and IRAs or the treatment of capital gains and dividends. Individuals earning more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married filing jointly) must still pay an additional 3.8 percent Obamacare Net Investment Income Tax on capital gains and dividends. The Obamacare individual mandate tax is also still in the tax code.

At every scenario I can figure (and I have figured many) for married couples or families (with a variety of number of children) that would be in the new 12 percent tax bracket (adjusted gross income of $90K or less) and don’t itemize deductions, their taxes would be slightly less under the new GOP plan. Higher-income taxpayers who used to have a large amount of itemized deductions won’t fare so well. And neither will millionaires like having to pay a 6 percent surcharge.

From a libertarian perspective, we can grade each of these things as follows:

Reduce the number of tax brackets: good
Broaden the tax bracket income ranges: good
Retain the 39.6 top rate: very bad
Eliminate the alternative minimum tax: very good
Retain refundable tax credits: very bad
Increased the standard deduction: good
Eliminate the personal exemption: bad
Retain the Net Investment Income Tax: very bad
Retain the Obamacare individual mandate tax: very bad
Expand the Child Tax Credit: good
Increase the child credit phase-out threshold: good
Eliminate deductions for student loan interest and moving expenses: bad
Eliminate itemized deductions for medical expenses and taxes paid: bad
Eliminate the adoption credit: bad
Cap the property tax deduction: bad
Add a new $300 credit: good
Phase out the new $300 credit after five years: bad
Double the estate tax exemption amount: good
Phase-out the estate tax: very good
Limit the home mortgage interest deduction: bad
Retain the charitable deduction: good
Impose a 6 percent surcharge on millionaires: very bad

The “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” will also affect businesses. The corporate tax rate is lowered from 35 to 20 percent. But why should any business have to pay even a 20 percent tax on its income? Most of this is ultimately borne by workers in the form of lower wages and consumers in the form of higher prices. A new rate of 25 percent is instituted on pass-through business income (sole proprietorships, partnerships, and S corporations). However, certain personal service businesses like medical, law, accounting, and consulting are not included. The corporate alternative minimum tax is eliminated. However, most business deductions and credits, with the exception of those for research and development and low-income housing, are eliminated. Full expensing of capital investment is allowed for five years. The plan also moves to a territorial tax system in which U.S. companies would generally only pay tax on profits earned in the United States and implements a one-time repatriation tax of 12 percent on liquid assets held overseas, payable over eight years.

The Joint Committee on Taxation has estimated that the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” would reduce federal revenue by $1.43 trillion between 2018 and 2027.

We can only hope. But that is only $143 billion a year out of a budget that is now over $4 trillion a year and will certainly grow to over $5 trillion within ten years. Ultimately, then, the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is not much of a tax cut. A real tax cut would starve the federal beast of $1.43 trillion a year. The GOP plan ought to be renamed the “Tax Reform and Jobs Act,” because tax reform is not necessarily tax cutting.

It should be kept in mind that this “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act” is subject to change. It still has to go through the House Ways & Means Committee and be voted on by the full House. Then it has to go to the Senate to be approved before it lands on President Trump’s desk. It is inevitable that changes will be made to the bill along the way. Stay tuned for another libertarians analysis of the final version of the bill if any significant changes are made.

This article originally appeared at LewRockwell.com

Decriminalization Is Not Enough

Decriminalization Is Not Enough

According to recently released FBI crime data, there were 1,572,579 drug arrests in the United States last year. That’s an average of one drug arrest nearly every 20 seconds. The total number is up by about 5.6 percent from the 1,488,707 arrests for drug crimes in the United States in 2015.

Because of a change in how the annual law enforcement numbers are publicized, it’s harder to determine just how many people were busted for marijuana and how many were busted for other drugs. However, Tom Angell — founder of the nonprofit Marijuana Majority and editor of the cannabis news portal Marijuana Moment — was able to determine that “marijuana arrests are on the rise in the U.S., even as more states legalize the drug.”

According to Angell,

Marijuana possession busts comprised 37.36% of all reported drug arrests in the U.S. in 2016, and cannabis sales and manufacturing arrests accounted for another 4.18% of the total. Added together, marijuana arrests made up 41.54% of the 1,572,579 drug busts in the country last year. That means, based on an extrapolation, that police arrested people for cannabis 653,249 times in the U.S. in 2016. That averages out to about one marijuana arrest every 48 seconds.

It is incredible that the federal and state governments’ war on marijuana is still going strong.

Read more at the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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