Welcome to Liberrants, a blog dedicated to editorials, discussions, and studies of all things libertarian. Don't let the title mislead you; it's merely my attempt to be creative in describing myself as a "hopeful curmudgeon" who embraces the goal of the free, peaceful, economically vibrant society envisioned by America's founding fathers. Jump in! Contribute! Enjoy!

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Location: Tucson, Arizona, United States

A critically thinking curmudgeon whose goal, in addition to creatively venting about the imperfect world in which we live, is to induce critical thinking in others. The ultimate goal is to help bring about a peaceful world in which we can all live in freedom.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Alright, What Happened to the Real Charley Reese?

I’ve just finished reading Charley Reese’s latest column, posted three times per week (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) on King Features Syndicate’s website. I really look forward to my thrice-weekly “Reese’s fixes” and normally agree with at least ninety-seven percent of what Charley has to say. Today, however, he takes on Equal Opportunity and winds up missing his target by a very wide mark. I almost wonder if his column wasn’t ghostwritten by someone from The Nation, AARP, Ebony, or National Review.

If you read today’s column you’ll notice that Charley starts off on a sound enough footing by stating, correctly, that while equal opportunity is a very laudable goal, equal outcome, the unstated goal of today’s government policies, is simply impossible, for there is no way that every single human being will automatically succeed in life, regardless of the environment in which they are born, bred, and live.

So far, so good.

But he starts to stray off course in paragraph seven in his prescriptions for righting what few correctible problems there are in the realm of equal opportunity. He states here:

Public schools, which are 100 percent creations of the government, should be equal in material and human resources. There is no excuse for children in one part of town to attend a broken-down school while children in another neighborhood attend a fully equipped modern school. Equality of government resources is achievable.

I’ll lay aside, for the sake of focus, any discussion of the fundamentally dysfunctional nature of public schools as an entity and focus on the economics and politics of Charley’s statement. While his premise seems reasonable on its face, what Charley seems to forget is that government is inherently based on a system of coercive redistribution of wealth between individuals of varying economic backgrounds, usually taking the form of confiscation of wealth from society’s most productive segments and the subsequent conferring of same wealth upon non-productive members. Yet what ultimately determines where government’s purloined largesse is spent is political influence and in the average American locality, the wealthy who dominate the political process are not about to allow their confiscated tax dollars to be spent on the infrastructure of poorer school districts at the expense of their own children’s schools. Thus we have the disparity in public school “quality” (a very relative term, I might add) between wealthier and poorer districts. The only way to remedy this is to centralize tax collection and distribution at the state or federal level, a remedy that Charley must surely admit is worse than the affliction he seeks to cure. For all of his (justified) bellyaching about our inefficient, unlawful, runaway central government, what would lead Charley to believe that this same central government will effectively redistribute resources to remote local school districts based on each district’s need? We’ve seen how unworkable this process is in other areas in which the federal government has insinuated itself, so why on earth would anyone believe it would work with education funding?

Charley then digs himself even deeper into a hole in the next paragraph when he talks about health care, saying:

I've come to believe that we must adopt a national health-insurance program that will provide basic medical care to all citizens regardless of age or income. Every other industrialized nation has already done this, and the U.S. needs to junk its patchwork system and get on the train.

Well, Charley, that “train” you so admiringly speak of is headed for derailment. Would you care to ask one of our northern neighbors what they think of “national health insurance programs” and why it is that if such a program is so wonderful and so readily meeting the citizenry’s health care needs, so many Canadians head south to Detroit, Milwaukee, and Buffalo for lifesaving medical treatment? You might also want to ask our British cousins what they think of the National Health Service, now so burdened by cost overruns and resource shortages that it often takes a minimum of three months for patients with life-threatening illnesses to even schedule an initial examination.

More to the point, just look at what the already-evolving socialization of American medical care is doing to clinics and hospitals around the country due to congressionally-mandated “minimum care” laws. Briefly stated, emergency medical facilities must, by law, provide whatever lifesaving treatment a patient needs regardless of their ability to pay. The natural result of this is that emergency rooms are flooded with indigent or uninsured patients who are unable to pay even the minimum costs required fund their own care, costs that are seldom reimbursed to the provider in a timely manner or at all and which therefore must be borne by third parties – that is, you and me, the taxpayers. Worse still, those same patients, absolved of any responsibility for providing for their own health care, routinely use emergency rooms as a substitute for non-emergency outpatient treatment, diverting precious resources away from emergency care and in the process jeopardizing the lives of other patients with more critical needs. No better example exists of this than in the ever-increasing number of states overrun with “illegal aliens” who take advantage of the minimum care law to shift the costs of their health care onto the backs of the American taxpayer. This practice has resulted in the closure of a number of hospitals in around the country (here is just one example), thus aggravating the “shortage” of healthcare. So, Charley, are you sure this is the solution you want for America’s healthcare “crisis?” Or did you, like most of your generation (which includes my own parents) simply assume that Social Security and Medicare will take care of you as your body breaks down with age and therefore did not bother to save any money for your care in your declining years? Yes, that’s a brutally frank question with some very unkind insinuations, I admit, but it’s probably one that probably hits closer to home than you or your peers care to admit.

Apparently still not trusting the power of the market despite all of his many years of conservative editorial rhetoric, Charley thinks that not only medicine, but food and housing are something for which our government should assume responsibility. The fact that government fails spectacularly in accomplishing far fewer and simpler tasks for which it actually has constitutional responsibility, let alone more than ample evidence of failure in these very areas of which Charley speaks, apparently doesn’t register on his radar screen. As Charley sees it:

We also need workable food and housing supplementary programs. A free market, distorted as it is today by speculation and inflation, does not do a good job of providing affordable housing for people with limited incomes. If we want a decent society, then we have to make sure that even personal failure does not result in sleeping on the street and suffering malnutrition or starvation.

I suppose this brands me as a liberal. Well, I've never feared labels. I simply do not want my grandchildren to grow up in a society in which they have to step over people's bodies and live in fortified compounds to protect themselves from mobs and criminals.

Here Charley finally jumps the track completely. On the one hand, he accuses the “free market” of failing to provide for people’s basic needs. But then in the next half of the same sentence, whether he realizes it or not, he admits the truth: what we have in today’s America is not a “free market” at all, but a government-induced speculation and inflation-based mess caused by the Federal Reserve’s unsound fiat currency and meddlesome, unworkable economic and monetary policies that distort and subvert the non-existent “free market” he speaks so ill of. I ask Charley the same question that I often ask the “liberals” among whom he is now content to group himself: How can you possibly think that a government that has caused all of the problems which you describe now will somehow magically solve those very same problems? I’m not going to bet that he’ll be able to answer that question in any logical or convincing way.

More importantly, how can Charley possibly reconcile his claim that it is government’s responsibility to provide the average citizen’s basic life necessities with his recurring conservative editorial mantra over the years that our government should be one of limited and enumerated powers and that individuals should be responsible for themselves? I might also ask Charley another question, one that I doubt he’d answer honestly either: When was the last time you looked at a person sleeping on the street and/or suffering malnutrition or starvation and thought anything other than “How much and what kind of drugs, booze, or mental illness drove this person to that condition?” If Charley were honest, he would admit that this is exactly the condition that drove ninety-nine point nine percent of street denizens to their present circumstances, not economic hardship. Far less than one percent of the current “homeless” population in America exists in its present condition due to “hard luck” caused by unemployment or financial crisis and those that do find themselves homeless due to such circumstances seldom ever stay homeless for very long, nor are there any shortage of private charities and organizations ready, willing, and able to help them help themselves. So for Charley to claim that hunger and homelessness in America is the fault of the free market or a “corporate” economy displays sheer ignorance at best and disingenuousness at worst. You know better, Charley!

As for not wanting your grandchildren to grow up in a dysfunctional society, all I have to say is that if you want government to assume responsibility for your grandchildren’s well-being without them having to take any for themselves, if you have no qualms about letting the government continue to inflate the national currency to fund its ever-exploding cornucopia of extra-constitutional programs to pay for the idealistic solutions you suggest, then you’ll see exactly that condition as your grandchildren’s lot and you’ll have only yourself to blame for not encouraging them to follow a lifestyle of planning for the future, financial prudence, self-sufficiency, and respect for private property. Let the libertarian principles of the free market, respect for private property, and responsibility for one’s own behavior become the norm and you can rest assured that the shortages and hardships you speak of will be things of the past in very short order. Do things your way, and we will accelerate the warp-speed flight to national catastrophe that we are now traveling.

In closing I can only hope that this latest editorial flatulence was an aberration, the result of a bad day, a hangover, a bout of depression, a belated April Fool’s joke, or (heaven forbid) the onset of senility. This isn’t the Charley Reese I know and respect and I hope this alter ego doesn’t make any further appearances. If he does reappear on a regular basis, I’ll find myself removing yet another link from my blog.