Some of the responses to my column last week, titled "Immoral Beyond Redemption," prove that Americans have been hoodwinked by Congress. Some readers protested my counting Social Security among government handout programs that can be described as Congress' taking what belongs to one American and giving to another, to whom it doesn't belong — legalized theft. They argued that they worked for 45 years and paid into Social Security and that the money they now receive is theirs. These people have been duped and shouldn't be held totally accountable for such a belief. Let's look at it.
The Social Security pamphlet of 1936 read, "Beginning November 24, 1936, the United States Government will set up a Social Security account for you. ... The checks will come to you as a right." (http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssb36.html). Americans were led to believe that Social Security was like a retirement account and that money placed in it was, in fact, their property. Shortly after the Social Security Act's passage, it was challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court, in Helvering v. Davis (1937). The court held that Social Security was not an insurance program, saying, "The proceeds of both employee and employer taxes are to be paid into the Treasury like any other internal revenue generally, and are not earmarked in any way." In a 1960 case, Flemming v. Nestor, the Supreme Court said, "To engraft upon Social Security system a concept of 'accrued property rights' would deprive it of the flexibility and boldness in adjustment to ever-changing conditions which it demands."
Benjamin Franklin, statesman and signer of our Declaration of Independence, said: "Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters." John Adams, another signer, echoed a similar statement: "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Are today's Americans virtuous and moral, or have we become corrupt and vicious? Let's think it through with a few questions.
Suppose I saw an elderly woman painfully huddled on a heating grate in the dead of winter. She's hungry and in need of shelter and medical attention. To help the woman, I walk up to you using intimidation and threats and demand that you give me $200. Having taken your money, I then purchase food, shelter and medical assistance for the woman. Would I be guilty of a crime? A moral person would answer in the affirmative. I've committed theft by taking the property of one person to give to another.
Our nation is rapidly approaching a point from which there's little chance to avoid a financial collapse. The heart of our problem can be seen as a tragedy of the commons. That's a set of circumstances when something is commonly owned and individuals acting rationally in their own self-interest produce a set of results that's inimical to everyone's long-term interest. Let's look at an example of the tragedy of the commons phenomenon and then apply it to our national problem.
Imagine there are 100 cattlemen all having an equal right to graze their herds on 1,000 acres of commonly owned grassland. The rational self-interested response of each cattleman is to have the largest herd that he can afford. Each cattleman pursing similar self-interests will produce results not in any of the cattlemen's long-term interest — overgrazing, soil erosion and destruction of the land's usefulness. Even if they all recognize the dangers, does it pay for any one cattleman to cut the size of his herd? The short answer is no because he would bear the cost of having a smaller herd while the other cattlemen gain at his expense. In the long term, they all lose because the land will be overgrazed and made useless.
Each year, roughly 7,000 blacks are murdered. Ninety-four percent of the time, the murderer is another black person. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, between 1976 and 2011, there were 279,384 black murder victims. Using the 94 percent figure means that 262,621 were murdered by other blacks. Though blacks are 13 percent of the nation's population, they account for more than 50 percent of homicide victims. Nationally, black homicide victimization rate is six times that of whites, and in some cities, it's 22 times that of whites. Coupled with being most of the nation's homicide victims, blacks are most of the victims of violent personal crimes, such as assault and robbery.
The magnitude of this tragic mayhem can be viewed in another light. According to a Tuskegee Institute study, between the years 1882 and 1968, 3,446 blacks were lynched at the hands of whites. Black fatalities during the Korean War (3,075), Vietnam War (7,243) and all wars since 1980 (8,197) come to 18,515, a number that pales in comparison with black loss of life at home. It's a tragic commentary to be able to say that young black males have a greater chance of reaching maturity on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan than on the streets of Philadelphia, Chicago, Detroit, Oakland, Newark and other cities.
Let's think about whether all acts of Congress deserve our respect and obedience. Suppose Congress enacted a law — and the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional — requiring American families to attend church services at least three times a month. Should we obey such a law? Suppose Congress, acting under the Constitution's commerce clause, enacted a law requiring motorists to get eight hours of sleep before driving on interstate highways. Its justification might be that drowsy motorists risk highway accidents and accidents affect interstate commerce. Suppose you were a jury member during the 1850s and a free person were on trial for assisting a runaway slave, in clear violation of the Fugitive Slave Act. Would you vote to convict and punish?
A moral person would find each one of those laws either morally repugnant or to be a clear violation of our Constitution. You say, "Williams, you're wrong this time. In 1859, in Ableman v. Booth, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 constitutional." That court decision, as well as some others in our past, makes my case. Moral people can't rely solely on the courts to establish what's right or wrong. Slavery is immoral; therefore, any laws that support slavery are also immoral. In the words of Thomas Jefferson, "to consider the judges as the ultimate arbiters of all constitutional questions (is) a very dangerous doctrine indeed, and one which would place us under the despotism of an oligarchy."
The Washington, D.C.-based Tax Foundation does a yeoman's job of keeping track of how much we're paying in taxes and who's paying what. It turns out that American taxpayers worked this year from Jan. 1 to April 17, 107 days, to earn enough money to pay their federal, state and local tax bills. That statistic requires some clarification, and I ask my readers to help me examine it.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, Congress will spend $3.8 trillion this year, about 24 percent of our $15 trillion gross domestic product. But federal tax revenue will be much less, only $2.5 trillion, or 16 percent of the GDP. That means there's a shortfall of $1.3 trillion. Some people, including economists, say there's a deficit. That's true, but only in an accounting sense, not in any meaningful economic sense. Let's look at it.
It's difficult to be a good economist and simultaneously be perceived as compassionate. To be a good economist, one has to deal with reality. To appear compassionate, often one has to avoid unpleasant questions, use "caring" terminology and view reality as optional.
Affordable housing and health care costs are terms with considerable emotional appeal that politicians exploit but have absolutely no useful meaning or analytical worth. For example, can anyone tell me in actual dollars and cents the price of an affordable car, house or myomectomy? It's probably more pleasant to pretend that there is universal agreement about what is or is not affordable.
When NBC's "Today" show played the audio of George Zimmerman's call to a Sanford, Fla., police dispatcher about Trayvon Martin, the editors made him appear to be a racist who says: "This guy looks like he's up to no good. He looks black." What Zimmerman actually said was: "This guy looks like he's up to no good or he's on drugs or something. It's raining, and he's just walking around, looking about." The 911 officer responded by asking, "OK, and this guy — is he black, white or Hispanic?" Zimmerman replied, "He looks black." NBC says it's investigating the doctoring of the audio, but there's nothing to investigate; its objective was to inflame passions.
In his Associated Press article titled "Old photos may be deceptive in Fla. shooting case," Matt Sedensky pointed out that the photos carried by the major media were several years old and showed Zimmerman looking fat and mean and Martin looking like a sweet young kid.
Right now, there isn't enough known about the circumstances surrounding the fatal shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, a black, by George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old part-Hispanic, during his neighborhood watch tour in an Orlando, Fla., suburb. If evidence emerges that Zimmerman's actions were not justified, he should be prosecuted and punished; however, there's a larger issue that few people understand or have the courage to acknowledge, namely that black and young has become synonymous with crime and, hence, suspicion. To make that connection does not make one a racist. Let's look at it.
Twelve years ago, a black Washington, D.C., commissioner warned cabbies, most of whom were black, against picking up dangerous-looking passengers. She described "dangerous-looking" as a "young black guy ... with shirttail hanging down longer than his coat, baggy pants, unlaced tennis shoes." She also warned cabbies to stay away from low-income black neighborhoods. Did that make the D.C. commissioner a racist?
Last month, at a Raeford, N.C., elementary school, a teacher confiscated the lunch of a 5-year-old girl because it didn't meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines and therefore was deemed nonnutritious. She replaced it with school cafeteria chicken nuggets. The girl's home-prepared lunch was nutritious; it consisted of a turkey and cheese sandwich, potato chips, a banana and apple juice. But whether her lunch was nutritious or not is not the issue. The issue is governmental usurpation of parental authority.
In a number of states, pregnant teenage girls may be given abortions without the notification or the permission of parents. The issue is neither abortion nor whether a pregnant teenager should have an abortion. The issue is this: What gives the government the authority to usurp parental authority?
If one manages to graduate from high school without the rudiments of algebra, geometry and trigonometry, there are certain relatively high-paying careers probably off-limits for life — such as careers in architecture, chemistry, computer programming, engineering, medicine and certain technical fields. For example, one might meet all of the physical requirements to be a fighter pilot, but he's grounded if he doesn't have enough math to understand physics, aerodynamics and navigation. Mathematical ability helps provide the disciplined structure that helps people to think, speak and write more clearly. In general, mathematics is an excellent foundation and prerequisite for study in all areas of science and engineering. So where do U.S. youngsters stand in math?
Drs. Eric Hanushek and Paul Peterson, senior fellows at the Hoover Institution, looked at the performance of our youngsters compared with their counterparts in other nations, in their Newsweek article, "Why Can't American Students Compete?" (Aug. 28, 2011), reprinted under the title "Math Matters" in the Hoover Digest (2012). In the latest international tests administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, only 32 percent of U.S. students ranked proficient in math — coming in between Portugal and Italy but far behind South Korea, Finland, Canada and the Netherlands. U.S. students couldn't hold a finger to the 75 percent of Shanghai students who tested proficient.
Let's think about the kind of mess that we're in. Federal 2010 Medicare and Medicaid expenditures totaled $800 billion. The projected annual growth of both programs is about 7 percent. Social Security expenditures are more than $700 billion a year. According to the 2009 Social Security and Medicare trustees reports, by 2030, 49 percent of federal revenues will go for Social Security and Medicare payments. The unfunded liability of both programs is already $106 trillion.
But not to worry. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that it's possible to sustain today's level of federal spending and even achieve a balanced budget. All that Congress would have to do is raise the lowest income tax bracket of 10 percent to 25 percent and the middle tax bracket of 25 percent to 66 percent and raise the 35 percent tax bracket to 92 percent. That's a static vision that assumes that people will have no response and they'll work just as hard and send more money to Washington. If Congress did legislate such tax increases, it would be the economic equivalent of committing national hara-kiri.
There's been a heap of criticism placed upon President Barack Obama's domestic policies that have promoted government intrusion and prolonged our fiscal crisis and his foreign policies that have emboldened our enemies. Any criticism of Obama pales in comparison with what might be said about the American people who voted him in to the nation's highest office.
Obama's presidency represents the first time in our history that a person could have been elected to that office who had long-standing close associations with people who hate our nation. I'm speaking of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor for 20 years, who preached that blacks should sing not "God Bless America," but "God damn America." Then there's William Ayers, now professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago but formerly a member of the Weather Underground, an anti-U.S. group that bombed the Pentagon, U.S. Capitol and other government buildings. Although Ayers was never convicted of any crime, he told a New York Times reporter, in the wake of the September 2001 terrorist attack, "I don't regret setting bombs. ... I feel we didn't do enough." Obama has served on a foundation board, appeared on panels, and even held campaign events in Ayers' home, joined by Ayers' former-fugitive wife, Bernardine Dohrn. Bill Ayers' close association with Obama is reflected by his admission that he helped write Obama's memoirs, "Dreams from My Father."
Larry Sand's article "No Wonder Johnny (Still) Can't Read" — written for The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, based in Raleigh, N.C. — blames schools of education for the decline in America's education. Education professors drum into students that they should not "drill and kill" or be the "sage on the stage" but instead be the "guide on the side" who "facilitates student discovery." This kind of harebrained thinking, coupled with multicultural nonsense, explains today's education. During his teacher education, Sand says, "teachers-to-be were forced to learn about this ethnic group, that impoverished group, this sexually anomalous group, that under-represented group, etc. — all under the rubric of 'Culturally Responsive Education.'"
Last week's column started off asking: "What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done?" The answer is that human greed is what gets wonderful things done. I wasn't talking about fraud, theft, dishonesty, special privileges from government or other forms of despicable behavior. I was talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves.
Think about greed and racial discrimination. In 1947, when the Brooklyn Dodgers hired Jackie Robinson, why did racial discrimination by major league teams begin to drop like a hot potato? It wasn't feelings of guilt by white owners, affirmative action or anti-discrimination laws. It turned out that there was a huge pool of black baseball talent in the Negro leagues. It became too costly for teams to allow the Dodgers to gain a monopoly on this talent. Black players won the National League's Most Valuable Player award for seven consecutive seasons. Had other teams not stepped in to hire black players, allowing the Dodgers to hire them, it might have given the Dodgers a virtual monopoly on world championships.
What human motivation gets the most wonderful things done? It's really a silly question, because the answer is so simple. It turns out that it's human greed that gets the most wonderful things done. When I say greed, I am not talking about fraud, theft, dishonesty, lobbying for special privileges from government or other forms of despicable behavior. I'm talking about people trying to get as much as they can for themselves. Let's look at it.
This winter, Texas ranchers may have to fight the cold of night, perhaps blizzards, to run down, feed and care for stray cattle. They make the personal sacrifice of caring for their animals to ensure that New Yorkers can enjoy beef. Last summer, Idaho potato farmers toiled in blazing sun, in dust and dirt, and maybe being bitten by insects to ensure that New Yorkers had potatoes to go with their beef.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, in his New York Times column titled "Free to Die" (9/15/2011), pointed out that back in 1980, his late fellow Nobel laureate Milton Friedman lent his voice to the nation's shift to the political right in his famous 10-part TV series, "Free To Choose." Nowadays, Krugman says, "'free to choose' has become 'free to die.'" He was referring to a GOP presidential debate in which Rep. Ron Paul was asked what should be done if a 30-year-old man who chose not to purchase health insurance found himself in need of six months of intensive care. Paul correctly, but politically incorrectly, replied, "That's what freedom is all about — taking your own risks." CNN moderator Wolf Blitzer pressed his question further, asking whether "society should just let him die." The crowd erupted with cheers and shouts of "Yeah!", which led Krugman to conclude that "American politics is fundamentally about different moral visions." Professor Krugman is absolutely right; our nation is faced with a conflict of moral visions. Let's look at it.
Benefiting from a hint from an article titled "Is Harry Potter Making You Poorer?", written by my colleague Dr. John Goodman, president of the Dallas-based National Center for Policy Analysis, I've come up with an explanation and a way to end income inequality in America, possibly around the world. Joanne Rowling was a welfare mother in Edinburgh, Scotland. All that has changed. As the writer of the "Harry Potter" novels, having a net worth of $1 billion, she is the world's wealthiest author. More importantly, she's one of those dastardly 1-percenters condemned by the Occupy Wall Streeters and other leftists.
Thomas Edison invented the incandescent bulb, the phonograph, the DC motor and other items in everyday use and became wealthy by doing so. Thomas Watson founded IBM and became rich through his company's contribution to the computation revolution. Lloyd Conover, while in the employ of Pfizer, created the antibiotic tetracycline. Though Edison, Watson, Conover and Pfizer became wealthy, whatever wealth they received pales in comparison with the extraordinary benefits received by ordinary people. Billions of people benefited from safe and efficient lighting. Billions more were the ultimate beneficiaries of the computer, and untold billions benefited from healthier lives gained from access to tetracycline.
President Barack Obama, in stoking up class warfare, said, "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money." This is lunacy. Andrew Carnegie's steel empire produced the raw materials that built the physical infrastructure of the United States. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft and produced software products that aided the computer revolution. But Carnegie had amassed quite a fortune long before he built Carnegie Steel Co., and Gates had quite a fortune by 1990. Had they the mind of our president, we would have lost much of their contributions, because they had already "made enough money."
According to CBS News, "the number of people in the U.S. living in poverty in 2010 rose for the fourth year in a row, representing the largest number of Americans in poverty in the 52 years since such estimates have been published by the U.S. Census Bureau." MSNBC said, "The U.S. poverty rate remains among the highest in the developed world." Let's look at a few poverty facts.
Heritage Foundation researchers Dr. Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield laid out some facts about the poor in their report "Understanding Poverty in the United States: Surprising Facts About America's Poor" (9/13/2011). Eighty percent of poor households have air conditioning. Nearly three-fourths have a car or truck, and 31 percent have two or more. Two-thirds have cable or satellite TV. Half have one or more computers. Forty-two percent own their homes. The average poor American has more living space than the typical non-poor person in Sweden, France or the U.K. Ninety-six percent of poor parents stated that their children were never hungry during the year because they couldn't afford food.
Many Wall Street occupiers are echoing the Communist Party USA's call to "Save the nation! Tax corporations! Tax the rich!" There are other Americans, on both the left and the right — for example, President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner — who call for reductions in corporate taxes. But the University of California, Berkeley's pretend economist Robert Reich disagrees, saying, "The economy needs two whopping corporate tax cuts right now as much as someone with a serious heart condition needs Botox." Let's look at corporate taxes and ask, "Who pays them?"
Virginia has a car tax. Does the car pay the tax? In most political jurisdictions, there's a property tax. Does property pay the tax? You say: "Williams, that's lunacy. Neither a car nor property pays taxes. Only flesh-and-blood people pay taxes!" What about a corporation? As it turns out, a corporation is an artificial creation of the legal system and, as such, a legal fiction. A corporation is not a person and therefore cannot pay taxes. When tax is levied on a corporation, who pays it?
After Moammar Gadhafi's downfall as Libya's tyrannical ruler, politicians and "experts" in the U.S. and elsewhere, including French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, are saying that his death marked the end of 42 years of tyranny and the beginning of democracy in Libya. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said Gadhafi's death represented an opportunity for Libya to make a peaceful and responsible transition to democracy. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said, "Now it is time for Libya's Transitional National Council to show the world that it will respect the rights of all Libyans (and) guide the nation to democracy." German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that "Libya must now quickly make further determined steps in the direction of democracy." It's good to see the removal of a tyrant, but if we're going to be realistic, there's little hope for the emergence of what we in the West call a democracy. Let's look at it.
The Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are demanding "people before profits" — as if profit motivation were the source of mankind's troubles — when it's often the absence of profit motivation that's the true villain.
First, let's get both the definition and magnitude of profits out of the way. Profits represent the residual claim earned by entrepreneurs. They're what are left after other production costs — such as wages, rent and interest — have been paid. Profits are the payment for risk taking, innovation and decision-making. As such, they are a cost of business just as are wages, rent and interest. If those payments are not made, labor, land and capital will not offer their services. Similarly, if profit is not paid, entrepreneurs won't offer theirs. Historically, corporate profits range between 5 and 8 cents of each dollar, and wages range between 50 and 60 cents of each dollar.
President Barack Obama and the Democratic Party have led increasingly successful efforts to pit Americans against one another through the politics of hate and envy. Attacking CEO salaries, the president — last year during his Midwest tour — said, "I do think at a certain point you've made enough money."
Let's look at CEO salaries, but before doing so, let's look at other salary disparities between those at the bottom and those at the top. According to Forbes' Celebrity 100 list for 2010, Oprah Winfrey earned $290 million. Even if her makeup person or cameraman earned $100,000, she earned thousands of times more than that. Is that fair? Among other celebrities earning hundreds or thousands of times more than the people who work with them are Tyler Perry ($130 million), Jerry Bruckheimer ($113 million), Lady Gaga ($90 million) and Howard Stern ($76 million). According to Forbes, the top 10 celebrities, excluding athletes, earned an average salary of a little more than $100 million in 2010.
Years ago it was easy to be a racist. All you had to be was a white person using some of the racial epithets that are routinely used in song and everyday speech by many of today's blacks. Or you had to chant "two, four, six, eight, we don't want to integrate" when a black student showed up for admission to your high school or college. Of course, there was that dressing up in a hooded white gown. In any case, you didn't have to be sophisticated to be a racist.
Today all that has changed. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., pointed that out back in 1994 when the Republican-led Congress pushed for tax relief. Rangel denounced Republicans' plan as a form of modern-day racism, saying, "It's not 'spic' or 'nigger' anymore. (Instead,) they say, 'Let's cut taxes.'" That means the simple use of the N-word is not enough to make one a racist. If it were, blacks would be the nation's premier racists. Today it's the call for tax cuts that makes you a racist. That's why the "tea" party, short for "taxed enough already," is nothing more than organized racists. What makes tea partyers even more racist is their constant call for the White House and Congress to return to the confines of the Constitution.
Politicians who are principled enough to point out the fraud of Social Security, referring to it as a lie and Ponzi scheme, are under siege. Acknowledgment of Social Security's problems is not the same as calling for the abandonment of its recipients. Instead, it's a call to take actions now, while there's time to avert a disaster. Let's look at it.
The term was derived from the scheme created during the 1920s by Charles Ponzi, a poor but enterprising Italian immigrant. Here's how it works. You persuade some people to give you their money to invest. After a while, you pay them a nice return, but the return doesn't come from investments. What you pay them with comes from the money of other people whom you've persuaded to "invest" in your scheme. The scheme works so long as you can persuade greater and greater numbers of people to "invest" so that you can pay off earlier "investors." After a while, Ponzi couldn't find enough new investors, and his scheme collapsed. He was convicted of fraud and sent to prison.
What's the common thread between Europe's financial mess, particularly among the PIIGS (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain), and the financial mess in the U.S.? That question could be more easily answered if we asked instead: What's necessary to cure the financial mess in Europe and the U.S.?
If European governments and the U.S. Congress ceased the practice of giving people what they have not earned, budgets would be more than balanced.
For government to guarantee a person a right to goods and services he has not earned, it must diminish someone else's right to what he has earned, simply because governments have no resources of their very own.
During the recent GOP presidential debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Social Security is a "monstrous lie" and a "Ponzi scheme." More and more people are coming to see that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, but is it a lie, as well? Let's look at it.
Here's what the 1936 government pamphlet on Social Security said: "After the first 3 years — that is to say, beginning in 1940 — you will pay, and your employer will pay, 1.5 cents for each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year. ... Beginning in 1943, you will pay 2 cents, and so will your employer, for every dollar you earn for the next 3 years. ... And finally, beginning in 1949, twelve years from now, you and your employer will each pay 3 cents on each dollar you earn, up to $3,000 a year." Here's Congress' lying promise: "That is the most you will ever pay."
Too much of anything is just as much a misallocation of resources as it is too little, and that applies to higher education just as it applies to everything else. A recent study from The Center for College Affordability and Productivity titled "From Wall Street to Wal-Mart," by Richard Vedder, Christopher Denhart, Matthew Denhart, Christopher Matgouranis and Jonathan Robe, explains that college education for many is a waste of time and money. More than one-third of currently working college graduates are in jobs that do not require a degree. An essay by Vedder that complements the CCAP study reports that there are "one-third of a million waiters and waitresses with college degrees." The study says Vedder — distinguished professor of economics at Ohio University, an adjunct scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and director of CCAP — "was startled a year ago when the person he hired to cut down a tree had a master's degree in history, the fellow who fixed his furnace was a mathematics graduate, and, more recently, a TSA airport inspector (whose job it was to ensure that we took our shoes off while going through security) was a recent college graduate."
What laws are we morally obligated to obey? Help with the answer can be found in "Economic Liberty and the Constitution," a 66-page pamphlet by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.