The Grapes of Wrathful Bureaucracy

bureaucracy-1016178_960_720Bureaucracy. It’s a nasty word that literally means “power of office.”

Kafka saw it in the anti-Semitic environment in which he grew up. Orwell saw it in the terrible dictators of the Second World War And Steinbeck saw it in the more disguised—and more dangerous iteration–in Dust Bowl America. Rand saw it everywhere: people were not free to interact with others in a completely voluntary way.

Steinbeck illustrates bureaucracy for us in a scene from The Grapes of Wrath.  A Dust Bowl sharecropper is being evicted after years of failed crops leave him unable to repay loans. The land is being farmed by huge tractors now, and the displaced farmer can only look on while representatives from the bank come to repossess the land. Watching, the farmer reflects on how owning property—something that is being lost to him—changes a man:

“If a man owns a little property, that property is him, it’s part of him, it’s like him. If he owns property only so he can walk on it and handle it and be sad when it isn’t doing well, and feel fine when the rain falls on it, that property is his, and some way he’s bigger because he owns it.”

The farmer laments how all that changes when a large, non-human entity is in charge of the land:

“Let a man get property he doesn’t see, or can’t take time to get his fingers in, or can’t be there to walk on it—why, then the property is the man. He can’t do what he wants, he can’t think what he wants. The property is the man, stronger than he is. And he is small, not big.”

The farmer then asks, “Who can we shoot?” In other words, who can he appeal to—fight, even—before his land is taken? He realizes that no one man is responsible for the evictions. Although the farmer notes that “the bank [that is repossessing his land] is only made of men,” he’s told that “the bank is something else than men. It happens that every man in a bank hates what the bank does, and yet the bank does it. The bank is something more than men… men made it, but they can’t control it.”

That is bureaucracy.

Steinbeck illustrated the problem with big, faceless organizations like banks. The larger the entity, the smaller the man. In general, people working for such entities are all castrated agents serving a n’er seen master.

I see it in my own career. A public school teacher, I see policies come and go over the years, changing with the fads of education. Plenty of them I disagree with. Plenty of them most experienced and competent teachers disagree with, many that seem detrimental to student learning. Yet I’m up against a behemoth of a machine: policies set by bureaucrats that don’t spend time in the classroom, or spent a year or two and then couldn’t handle it. Even unions seem to care only about pay and increasing union power rather than student learning. No one “owns the land” to touch it and know it. Everyone is less powerful than it.

The point here is the same one that the displaced sharecropper made: when a man is so far removed from making decisions, his job becomes nothing more than a paycheck. The man on the tractor, who has been ordered by the bank to knock down the houses of sharecroppers, used to be a farmer himself. When asked, “What you doing this kind of work for—against your own people?”, he answers, “Three dollars a day.” Questioning the system, he notes, “don’t feed the kids. You get a reputation for talking like that, and you’ll never get three dollars a day.”

And so with the causes of economic prosperity and failure largely invisible to the people, free markets provide an easy scapegoat—one that leads people running to the government for help.

“We’re sorry you don’t live in a house with an in-ground pool and drive your BMW to the Hamptons every weekend. There, there. Let Uncle Sam take you into his arms and protect you from the evil rich people that prosper at your peril.” And so people accept food stamps and tax breaks and welfare and see government as a friend.

It’s a comforting thought, the idea that someone is on your side and feels your pain. In The Grapes of Wrath, the closest thing the Joads found to a “home” was a government-run camp. It was the first time the children saw flushing toilets, and if the family couldn’t pay rent, they were allowed to work off their debt. Just like the idea of a benevolent government being “on our side,” it’s too comforting to question. And so without people questioning it—really questioning it in a meaningful way—the government feeds on its own power, becoming the monster Steinbeck warned us about, the thing that everyone works for yet everyone hates. “The Monster,” Steinbeck notes, “isn’t men, but it can make men do what it wants….When the monster stops growing, it dies. It can’t stay one size.”

How in the world did Hitler convince countless human beings to sentence others to death camps—and to carry out those horrific orders? It was the Monster.

In America, the government is one, too. It grows because it doesn’t want to die. Have you ever heard of a politician who wants to shrink government so small that his job disappears? Governments like to find and even create problems so that it can employ itself to fix them. And the less efficient the fix, the better: more government will be required.

In America, we face a more sinister threat to our freedom than a blatant dictator; dictators are easy to define and fight. We face a slowly-creeping menace, a weasel of a monster slowly feeding on our autonomy and building its own power until we have none. But while Kafka and Orwell seem to leave us largely without hope, Steinbeck and Rand embrace hope in the spirit of the individual. Steinbeck’s entire novel resonates that spirit, the spirit of the individual, the downtrodden, the powerless. The spirit of the novel is that if individuals think and stay together, they will prevail even if not for a generation or more. They are the spirit of Tom Joad. As the displaced sharecropper notes after learning he’ll have to leave land that’s been in the family for generations, “We’ve got a bad thing made by men, and by God that’s something we can change.”

Churchill seems to have understood the situation well: “The bigger the government, the smaller the citizen.”

It’s time to grow.

Book Release: Last Curtain Call

We’re pleased to announce the release of FFP’s latest book, a historical novel addressing the struggles of mining families in western Maryland during the late 1800s.

last-curtain-call-cover-frontAll Annie Charbonneau wants is to stop working at her father’s bakery in her small Maryland coal village, graduate from high school, and go on to college. But in 1894, she is thrust into a personal battle against the ruthless coal company preying on the vulnerable women of her town. Unaware that her actions will bring the evil to her own front door, Annie is caught in a web where her every movement is watched and a vengeance-seeking enemy wants to silence her.

When Jonathan Canavan arrives from Philadelphia and is hired as the new school principal, he becomes an ally, helping Annie to lead the miners’ wives in retaliation against the coal company. As Annie finds herself thrown into a position of leadership, she discovers that sometimes leaders are asked to make the ultimate sacrifice. She is forced to choose between fidelity and love. How can she decide to keep her family safe, when she knows it will cause her to lose the man she has come to love?

 

And we’re pleased to share some advanced praise for the novel as well:

“Sittig is a master of coal company town writing. Her characters are so real, I feel I could sit down and have a conversation with them.”
~ Homer Hickam,
New York Times Best-Selling Author, Rocket Boys/October Sky, Carrying Albert Home

“Take a trip back in time to when women shopped daily for groceries and the aromas from Charbonneau’s French Bakery made customers eager to savor the pastries. However quaint this picture may be, know that this story carries with it intrigue, hostility, bravery and courage, in a time when women also became drawn into the violence of local coal mining strikes.”
~ Susan M. Holding
Author, The Little French Bakery Cookbook

“For those of us who live in mining communities like Western Maryland, Last Curtain Call reconnects us back to our past. A thoroughly inspiring and great read.”
~ Jeffrey A. Snyder
Geologist Lead, Maryland Bureau of Mines

Last Curtain Call is available on Amazon and from the Freedom Forge Press publisher store.

Of Sparklers and Property Rights: A Libertarian Reflection

2550178805_5afb1b72c0_oBy Val Muller

My favorite Independence Day memory involves me running around the backyard, catching fireflies, and waiting until it was dark enough to light sparklers. While waiting, we ate through courses of burgers, ‘dogs, and s’mores. I didn’t have to wear shoes, I didn’t have to worry about bedtime for school or how many burgers I could eat or how sticky my hands got from the melted and flaming marshmallows.

It was kid freedom.

When I reflect about what went into making my favorite memory, I realize at the core of sticky marshmallows and burgers was a more durable principle: property rights. It’s one of the pillars that makes this an exceptional country.

Property rights gave us all a sense of pride. Even though our yard was small, it was ours; and we took care of it. The small but well-loved garden in the corner always bloomed in the spring and yielded bountifully in the summer, fed by the compost pile that we willingly made in the opposite corner of the yard from grass clippings and food rinds.

Even in a simple Independence Day celebration, this right was mirrored in my childhood experience. One year, I was given my own property: a box of sparklers. My sister was given the same. We were allowed to use our sparklers “whenever” we wanted—just not in the house. I don’t remember which of us it was, but we were so excited that one of us lit a sparkler before it was even dark out. Though it was sparkly and awesome, we saw what a waste it was to light them in the daylight. We learned this at the cost of our own sparkler, and it made us treasure the remaining sparklers all the more.

I treated each sparkler like gold, using it only when I had planned out the exact way I wanted to consume it. One, I decided, I would stick in the sandbox and just watch as it burned down. Another, I would race back and forth across the yard with, seeing how many times I could make it before the sparkler burned out. For another, my sister and I coordinated, deciding to write words in the air with the glowing sparklers.

Though a silly childhood story, the larger point is this: people take care of the things they own. But if everybody (and thus nobody) owns something, the experience would have been different. Our sparklers were special because they were ours and there was a limited supply. How would we have acted differently if we could bully our neighbors into giving us their sparklers after we lit off a bunch of them during the day? The sense of ownership and pride naturally led my sister and me to take care of our things, a lesson learned that went far beyond sparklers and summer kid fun.

And what is true at an individual level is repeated hundreds of millions of times over for a nation. Property rights are a pillar of what made America exceptional. Glossed over in school history books – if discussed at all – is the story of New World settlers to America. Both Jamestown and Plymouth colonies flirted with collective property, seeing that each person received what he needed from “the common stock.”

The experiment failed in Plymouth, as Governor Bradford noted people faking illness and not working the “common” farm plots. Communal property was abandoned in favor of individual property rights.

The Jamestown colony was a more vivid and cautionary tale: the colonists also tried communal property and farming and nearly starved themselves to death. Of a colony of nearly 500 in the winter of 1609-1610 only 60 survived, the rest (nearly 90 percent!) perished from starvation. Some resorted to cannibalism or digging up graves to consume the corpses of their fellow colonists in order to survive.

Modern examples exist, too.

Private ownership saved the American buffalo population. When individuals were given ownership (and therefore incentives) to raise buffalo, they did. Now, 90% of the 500,000 buffalo in this nation exist under private ownership, whereas collectively “owned,” they neared extinction.

In Europe, the Landmark Trust rescues historic buildings that would otherwise be lost. Under private ownership, the Trust rents out the properties, using profits for maintenance.

When things are owned by the government or the public at large, “everybody” owns it. So if the US population is 319 million, then you have an ownership stake of 0.00000000313%. And how much do you care about maintaining 0.00000000313% of anything? Everybody owns it and so nobody truly does. And that means nobody takes care of it quite like it would be if it had been owned by an individual.

Consider the federal budget and the fact that the government’s chief auditing agency (GAO) published a report estimating that the number of “improper payments” in FY 2014 was $124.7 billion. These are by the government’s definition simply put, “any payments that should not have been made.” (Examples include Social Security or other benefit payments made to dead people; most improper payments are connected to abuse of an entitlement program.)

To put that into perspective, if “Improper Payments, Inc” were a US corporation, it would be the 15th largest on the list of wealthiest US companies. If it were a country, its annual GDP would be larger than 131 other countries on a ranking of economic output.

But who “owns” the US Treasury? It’s a public federal agency. We all do. So nobody takes the care needed to avoid wasting over $100 billion in tax revenue on an annual basis. What privately-owned company could operate in this manner? Perhaps more depressing to think about, is what other things could have been done with the money wasted on improper payments? Cancer research? Fixing the crumbling infrastructure? Or better yet, returning the money to private hands.

Now grown, I own property myself, and I hope to teach my daughter the same sense of pride and ownership, that good things come when we understand our resources (and their scarcity) and make plans based upon careful study (essentially, the opposite of what our government does!). So as I listen to the fireworks for another Independence Day, I remain thankful for my freedoms, and most of all for my property rights.

PHOTO CREDIT: 

“Sparkler” by Stuart Heath, via Creative Commons License

The Importance of Independence

It seems you hear everyone say “Happy Fourth of July!” At Freedom Forge Press, it’s one of our favorite holidays, but we prefer “Independence Day.” To us, understanding the importance of independence is essential in preserving liberty and an empowering way of life.

This “Man on the Street” video from Mark Dice would suggest that many people don’t know why they’re celebrating the Fourth of July:

Of course you can argue selective editing. Not everybody is as clueless as many people in the video (it finally ends on a positive note!). But a Rasmussen poll of 2014 found nearly 1 in 5 Americans don’t know why we celebrate Independence Day.

One of the reasons we founded FFP was to provide a forum for people to share stories about the importance of independence. It’s no coincidence that many of the authors we talk to have stories from other countries or other times in history, ones that long or longed for the freedoms offered by the United States. These authors are all passionate to share their tales, victorious or cautionary, to help future readers understand what is truly at stake when a loss of freedom is involved.

And really, what makes America exceptional is our independence. Here we believe that humankind is born free and that it’s government’s job to protect our freedoms – not take them away or bargain them back to us. There really is nothing more effective in fostering the potential of the human spirit than a liberal helping of independence. When people are left to their own devices, they find the passions that drive them. And when they’re forced to work for someone else’s passion, they typically deliver the minimum needed to get by.

In schools, children are more routinely passionate about project-based learning—projects they are free to choose themselves— rather than assigned tasks such as rote memorization of dates and locations.

The film 300 effectively illustrates this concept too. A group of 300 passionate Spartans volunteered to defend their homes against impossible odds—a huge army numbering over 100,000. In fighting to the last man, they inflicted significant losses and halted the Persian advance to allow for the organization of a more forceful defense. In one scene, the Spartan king says to the Persian king, “You have many slaves, Xerxes, but few warriors. It won’t be long before they fear my spears more than your whips.”

In America, independence is essential to keep—and, in some ways, to rekindle. Free markets—not crony capitalism or corporate welfare—allow buyers and sellers to meet and determine value by voluntary exchange. There are no political favors owed, no secret agendas hidden from voters and buried deep in the bowels of an innocent-sounding-titled law, tucked away inside another “must pass” law such as an emergency or disaster response package or “‘Murica Good, Terrorists Bad” law.

When people are free to determine their own course, few things can hold back their ingenuity, aspirations, and drive to excel. The #LearnLiberty campaign recently collected the results of improving the independence of free people with government policies increasing personal freedom and independence and illustrates how the lives of people across the globe have improved:

  • Health Savings Accounts in Singapore were enacted in 1984, giving its people independence to plan for health care needs. Today it boasts an infant mortality rate 70% lower than the US, has a life expectancy of 82 and one of the lowest health spending as a percentage of GDP.
  • Botswana is rated as one of the freest economies of the African continent. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a per capita GDP that grew from $70 in 1966 to $16,400 in 2014.
  • Irish taxi deregulation in 2000 led to shorter wait times, greater taxi availability, and reduced prices.
  • Guatemala removed its monopoly on phone lines in 1995. Phone ownership rose from one phone per 37 people to 1.5 phones per person in 10 years.
  • France removed regulations of its mobile phone providers in 2009; prices fell 30% in two years.
  • New Zealand is the only industrialized country that has zero farm subsidies. Agriculture accounts for 2/3 of the country’s exports.
  • England and Wales eliminated laws regulating closing times for pubs (11pm?!)  and allowing them to stay open until 5am. Traffic accidents recorded on Friday and Saturday nights fell by a third.

Independence gives people the power to solve their own problems, far more effectively than can be done for them on their behalf by a self-appointed expert in a distant capital passing ineffective laws that restrict freedom of action.

Although we enjoy celebrating freedom–and our Independence–this weekend, maintaining and increasing our freedoms against power hungry do-gooders, politicians, dictators, and the like, is a constant battle. It’s one we’re passionate about fighting every day because we believe the proper state of humanity should be that of free individuals interacting peacefully and willingly to foster the best we have to offer each other.

And that is always worth fighting for. We invite you to join us!

 

Freedom Friday: Freedom Briefs

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

high resolution 3d rendering of a compass with a freedom icon

For this Friday, we’d like to celebrate with five quick celebrations of freedom. It’s so easy to get bogged down in the news these days and feel that the world is on a downward track to oblivion (who are you voting for in November: bad, or worse?). Even though blood is what sells, we thought we’d end the week on a positive note by highlighting some of the more celebratory stories we have encountered. It’s good to know there are still lots of instances of increased human freedoms despite everything else going on.

A Civil Forfeiture Victory

For those not familiar, civil forfeiture is when the government decides it has the right to grab property or money that belongs to an individual. Usually, this occurs when an individual is pulled over or discovered to have large amounts of cash. Law enforcement often assumes the worst and confiscates the cash, subscribing to a guilty-until-proven-innocent philosophy. The government is many cases does not have to even prove the owner’s guilt )or even bring charges) in order to keep the property. Critics (which should include everyone!) of civil forfeiture note that departments often seem to be on the lookout for large assets to seize as a way to raise revenue. It often affects cash-only businesses, such as restaurants, often with the least ability (time, resources) to fight the red tape that allowed their money to be stolen in the first place or to recover their property from the government.

In a recent case, The Institute for Justice launched a case on behalf of a Burmese Christian rock band against police in Oklahoma—and the case was dropped in record time—that same day. In this case, the band was raising money for charities in Burma and Thailand and was found with $53,000 of cash in their car. Although no drugs were found in the car, police jumped to the conclusion that the band had made that money selling drugs, and seized the group’s assets.

According to the Institute for Justice, Oklahoma has some of the worst civil forfeiture laws: in some cases, they can keep 100% of the proceeds from these forfeitures. This case required international outreach and knowledge of the law. We’re glad, as always, for organizations like the Institute for Justice, fighting for rights and reform that support individual freedom, property rights, and due process.

Human Progress

HumanProgress.org is a fun site to read if you are looking for reminders of all that is good in the world. A favorite section of the site is the “data” feature, in which you can access interactive maps that compare various elements of human progress over the last several decades. For instance, you can view this handy chart to see how deaths from cancer among males has been declining.

Labyrinth

And speaking of human progress, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recognize this week as the 30th anniversary of the release of Labyrinth, starring David Bowie, of course. At Freedom Forge Press, we love stories almost as much as we love freedom (which is why we believe freedom-themed stories are so vital!). Labyrinth is such a fun, whimsical film while still fulfilling all the tick-boxes of an archetypal journey. We especially like how protagonist Sarah falls prey to her life of relative privilege but learns by the end to appreciate what she has.

And Speaking of Appreciating What We Have…

We enjoyed reading in Reason magazine that in absolute terms, the upper-middle class has been growing since 1979. There seems to be a myth perpetuated by vote-grabbing politicians in this country that Americans are getting poorer and it’s the fault of the rich. But the numbers just don’t support that.

And thinking about it, we have made progress in the last forty years. Computers used to be room-sized devices for geeky men in laboratories. Now, almost everyone can afford one, and they’re small enough to fit on your wrist. We can access information in record time, and we can usually acquire food, gas, and entertainment on-demand without shortages or lines.

As much as we hate the idea, we sometimes feel that Americans don’t or won’t appreciate what they have until it’s gone.

And this:

There’s really nothing more we need to say :)

Letter to Santa

Dear Santa,Gifts CC

We’ve been particularly good this year, so we’re hoping we can slip in a few last minute Christmas gift wishes.

  1. Freedom from politicians who want to take away our rights to own Red Ryder BB guns and their adult equivalents.
  2. A government that values private sector innovation over ineffective government regulation to solve problems.
  3. Solutions that create marketplace efficiency and actually advance healthcare delivery rather than bloated bureaucratic regulation and tax administration rules.
  4. Activists who recognize that all lives matter.
  5. Journalists who report facts instead of agendas.
  6. An end to politically motivated climate change hysteria. (Feel free to give lumps of coal to the hysterical alarmists – particularly academics and politicians who want to prosecute scientists who disagree with the climate change agenda.)
  7. Political parties who care about improving the lives of their constituents instead of increasing their own power and enriching their financial benefactors.
  8. A government budget that doesn’t enslave future generations to crippling tax and debt burdens.
  9. An executive branch that understands its role is to execute rather than pass laws.
  10. A judicial branch that understands its role is to interpret laws rather than pass them.
  11. A legislative branch that legislates. Sparingly.
  12. A government that understands alphabet soup is for eating instead of creating ineffective bureaucracies that rob people of their individual liberties.
  13. A rational banking and finance system that isn’t stuffed with funny monopoly money.
  14. Politicians who stop lying to people by pretending a slow down in increased rate of spending is somehow a “cut.”

Even though these might not all fit into our stocking or under a tree, we’d be glad to get any of these! Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Sincerely,

Freedom Forge Press

PHOTO CREDIT:

“Ever Present” JD Hancock, at Flickr, via Creative Commons License 2.0

Of Propane and Politics

What do propane and politics have in common? One smells bad, the other is used to heat hot water and provide heat for your home in winter.

Ha…Ha…Ha…

Very funny, we know! But they have something else in common as well. Both illustrate the beauty of competition. I received a marketing call from a well-known propane distributor (we’ll call them AmeriPropane) asking me if I needed to fill up my tank. And how timely! As the Starks of Winterfell say, “Winter is Coming!”

Propane Tank

Photo Credit: johnpoltrock via www.ilovemurphy.com

AmeriPropane’s business model (I assume) is to give away free gas tanks to commercial developers and home builders in exchange for licensing them to the eventual building occupant. Once licensed, the state government, in my case Virginia, protects the interest of AmeriPropane by outlawing the purchase of propane from any other distributor. Virginia considers filling a propane tank by anyone other than the owner to be a Class 3 misdemeanor.

And abracadabra! A tiny monopoly is formed for my individual propane market. I don’t own the propane tank buried beneath my yard, and I have to accept AmeriPropane as my sole-source provider of much needed heating fuel for the winter months.

As you can imagine, AmeriPropane has zero incentive at this point to provide any discount that might be confused with competitive pricing from other propane distributors.

To be sure, when I called to get a price for a refill, a very apologetic sales representative quoted me a price of $3.58 per gallon of fuel. Two competitors also servicing the area quoted prices of $2.29 and $2.19. (If it doesn’t sound like much, tank sizes average 500 to 1,000 gallons.)

AmeriPropane: $3.58 x 500 = $1,790
Competitor 1: $2.29 x 500 = $1,145
Competitor 2: $2.19 x 500 = $1,095

Propane is an differentiable commodity. Different competitors essentially provide the same C3H8 molecules. Assuming all companies are honest and provide the same propane (in this case they do), then using the lowest bid generates a savings of $695. At every fill-up. With as many as 2 fill ups during the winter depending on how low temperatures go and how vocal complaints from my wife are as to the thermostat setting.

Propane Molecule

Photo credit: Jynto via Wikimedia.org

AmeriPropane isn’t “wrong” or “criminal” or “exploitative” in charging the prices they do. Tanks cost money as does maintenance and installation. Politicians and progressives believe in free lunches. For the rest of us who live in the real world, the TANSTAAFL principle is an iron clad reality.

In this situation, the only way to win the pricing game was to alter the market and set myself up as the tank owner. I purchased my tank for $1,070, which the math above proves was easily paid for in less than 2 fill-ups.

Now I am the tank owner, and the monopoly for propane fill ups is no more. Free market competition – or at least an approximation of it with a market of about 5 local providers vying for business – is the new paradigm.

As an aside, Competitor 2 showed up, filled my tank and left me a swag bag filled with magnets, bag clips, and even a bag of chips to show appreciation for my business. None of which I ever received from AmeriPropane.

Since becoming the owner of the tank, I routinely call around for propane pricing – and am sure to ask my former tank owner for a price, “just to see” how much I’d be saving from my tank purchase. If they were a low bidder, of course they would get the fill up order. AmeriPropane is consistently 50 cents per gallon higher or more from the average price of the other companies.

Now back to where the story began – with the curious calls from my former tank owner. It seems they have started a marketing program to reach out to previous tank owners and offer competitive pricing on propane fill ups. Imagine that! Somehow they’ve reached the conclusion that selling propane at less of a profit is a better outcome than having propane sit in a storage tank at their distribution center.

I recently filled my tank this summer for $1.49. AmeriPropane had offered $1.99. (Yes even when I identified myself as the tank owner – no discount!) But this time, they wanted to offer me $1.45. They would have actually been the lowest bidder – if they had gotten to me a few weeks earlier.

Monopoly Board

Photo Credit: Rich Brooks via flickr.com

So if you’re still with me, you’re probably saying, “The point, man! Get to the point, man!” Talk of free markets, tormenting you with math, resurrecting dreaded economics terms, it’s all too much! The point is simple: free market competition generally produces a superior result than non-free market competition. AmeriPropane quickly learned and even adapted their behavior when stockpiles of gas went unsold at what many would consider ridiculously high prices.

And the more competitors the better. Consumer choice is a key ingredient in any healthy market. Bernie Sanders may not think being able to choose from 23 types of deodorant or 18 types of sneakers is a good thing, but the reality is that healthy competition keeps prices low and quality high, which enables consumers – particularly those with less disposable income who Bernie purports to “help” – to buy more of the things they need.

Suppose there were only 2 producers of deodorant. The inevitable result would be less competition. Higher prices, lower quality, and less responsiveness to consumer demand would quickly follow.

Which brings me to the final point of this post. If we accept that competition is good – that it forces competitors to stay responsive and ultimately produces a superior result than having a market with only one or two competitors, then what does that say about our two-party political system?

Photo Credit: KDSK via KDSK.com

Photo Credit: KSDK via KSDK.com

The current two-party system leaves many people with only one choice and potentially no voice given a particular set of views. Despite all the evidence to the contrary for the failure of government managed programs (e.g., bankrupt Social Security, rampant Medicare/Medicaid fraud, failing schools despite record per pupil investment, the US Post Office, Amtrak, healthcare.gov, Cash for Clunkers, Prohibition, War on Drugs, Immigration Reform, Farm Subsidies, Affordable Care Act, Ethanol, “Green” Jobs frauds, Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, to name only a few…), if you like big government, then Democrats are generally your only choice. Conversely if you don’t like big government, then Republicans might seem like the only choice – except many of them lately behave like Democrats. This is a duopoly. And in duopolies, while things for consumers aren’t as bad as a monopoly, they aren’t much better.

Voter appetites for more choices are becoming crystal clear with the surges in popularity of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump – both of whom are bucking the “establishment” of their respective parties.

So when it comes to our political system, isn’t it time to rethink only having two competitors to choose from?

Words Pale on Memorial Day by Val Muller

MILITARY_CEMETERY_-_PHOTOEach year growing up, I biked several miles with my parents to watch the huge Memorial Day parade. It was a big deal, and of course to a kid, it was a day to have fun. It started with Dad putting the American flag up on our house. I wasn’t sure why—I assumed it was because Memorial Day ushered in the start of summer, and it seemed the Fourth of July was right around the corner.

When we got to the parade, it felt more like summer than anything else. There was such energy and happiness. Kids ran around discussing summer plans and counting down to the end of school. I remember vendors selling inflatable animals, cotton candy, and all manner of colorful treats. I never understood why my parents only ever let me buy one thing, though: a little red poppy.

And Dad didn’t buy the poppy for me, either, even though he usually made the purchases. He gave me money and told me to hand it to the person selling the poppies, and to say “thank you.” I even remember being small enough (and shy enough) that he held me in his arms as I made the purchase. I’m sure he tried to explain what the poppies were, and who made them, but as a little girl, I was more interested in the bright red color and the way I could bend the twisty wire to attach the flower to my bike helmet or handlebar. There was something unique about my having to purchase the poppy myself, but combined with the excitement of the day, it became one of the quirks of childhood I shrugged off: some kids got inflatable bears, and I got a poppy. I didn’t dwell on it—I focused instead on the colors and the sounds and the fun of the holiday, knowing that summer was just around the corner.

But when the veterans marched by in the parade, Mom and Dad always said how sad it was. I didn’t understand: what was sad about people marching in a parade? It’s a parade, for goodness sake! My parents told me it was the veterans NOT marching by that tinged the day with sadness.

I didn’t get it at first, but the year I did, it sent chills down my spine as I rode home, and suddenly there was much more depth to my little world: it was because of those NOT marching that I could ride my bike down the street, and stop at McDonald’s for breakfast, and cheer on the parade with friends, and go home to have a cookout.

This is one of those holidays that words can’t really capture.

The greatest gift one human can give another is the gift of freedom. Though he admits to being against war in general, Thomas Paine said it eloquently in The Crisis when referring to the American Revolutionary War:


“A generous parent should have said, ‘If there must be trouble, let it be in my day, that my child may have peace;’ and this single reflection, well applied, is sufficient to awaken every man to duty…. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.”

Those who made the ultimate sacrifice understood this concept and bore more hope for our future than anyone else—for they saw something in our future worth fighting for, worth dying for.

As Memorial Day fades into summer, let us remember their sacrifices—and in doing so, make our futures and our world something that would make them all proud.

Censoring the Past to Make a Comfortable Present Leads to a Dark Future

This Friday, we celebrate some common sense in the defense of genuine academic freedom.

We tip our hat to Peggy Noonan of The Wall Street Journal for taking on the clueless insanity that has manifested itself at Columbia University’s student paper. The paper penned an op-ed recently decrying western classical literature as

Triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom. These texts, wrought with histories and narratives of exclusion and oppression, can be difficult to read and discuss as a survivor, a person of color, or a student from a low-income background.

In the styling of the inner party of Orwell’s 1984, liberal students winding through the halls of academia (and liberals and progressive statists in general)  seem to want thought based on emotion – how you feel in relation to an event or idea rather than worry with ages-old tried and true approaches such as…logic or reason. And this is good. Provided that you feel the same way and react the same way as your betters. (Compare “bellyfeel” and “duckspeak” from the Newspeak Dictionary.)

Noonan’s response is the serious wake up call college students need before turning over any more of their minds to The Party.

At last year’s Shenandoah University Children’s Literature Conference, our editor Val Muller was lucky enough to hear Aranka Siegal speak. Siegal is a Holocaust survivor and was asked to attend the conference many times before she finally agreed. Now in her eighties, Siegal was encouraged not to travel, and her family discouraged her.

When she spoke at the conference, recounting her experiences in Hungary leading up to her time in Auschwitz, she cried. When she spoke of the last time she saw her mother–as her mother stood in line for the crematorium, she cried. When she spoke of nearly starving to death, of witnessing atrocities in the kitchens, of rape and abuse and death–she cried. There was no emotional safety in sharing these memories.

And yet she emphasized to all at the conference that she thought it important enough to speak to the room of educators not because she wanted their pity, but because she did not want the past to die. As horrific as those experiences were, and as painful as it was for her to recount them again, she wanted to share the pain of history so that it would not be repeated. So that the educators in the room would share her experiences – painful as they were – with the next generation of thinkers.

Avoiding history because it brings up unpleasant memories; bleaching out words of literature because they cause pain; or eliminating literary works to make people feel better about themselves in their present state of being is cowardice and weakness. But it is far more dangerous than that.

The Columbia student paper is advocating for censorship. At first it may appear to be benign – even benevolent. Why not wipe clean the sins of the past in order to spare a few tears or unpleasant moments during our present?

But it is the future that suffers from such folly. The level of censorship of works needed to wipe the past clean enough to accommodate the hyper-sensitivities of our current time would leave the next generation incapable of experiencing texts that can teach us to distinguish good from bad.

If our only reference point for unfairness is imagined exclusion, then we might overlook things like the federal government’s blatant dishonesty in saying it will only use mass surveillance to protect us from terrorists. Meanwhile we find out that federal agencies engage in “parallel construction,” bringing criminal cases against individuals constructed with bits of information obtained illegally and without a warrant.

If our only reference point for corruption is imagining that free market entrepreneurs only amass wealth and success by stealing it from poor people, then we become immune to widespread government theft of private property through civil forfeiture where a government agency seizes cash and property without ever filing charges against an individual – leaving the legal burden on the person to take the government to court to reclaim their own property.

If our only reference point for discrimination is sloppy math and dishonest studies used to politically decry a pay gap for women and to declare a “war on women” is on, then we might miss actual discrimination whereby the US government systematically abuses its power to discriminate against political opponents of the current administration.

And all of these examples are real and happening right now in the Land of the Free. And if the public tolerates these abuses, how much longer will it be before an all-powerful government can detain (even claim to kill) US citizens without trial.  (Oh, wait, it can do that too!? Yes we can…says the President’s Attorney General)

Americans already tolerate the above abuses of their freedoms by the federal government – in the name of security, of course.  And if we have already come this far, then how far away is an experience like Aranka Siegal’s – right here in the United States? Adolf Hitler became Chancellor in 1933. Mass deportations of Jews into extermination camps and the eastern ghettos of Europe began with Operation Reinhard in 1942 – not even a decade later.

We believe sharing a painful past helps to prevent an even more painful future. Telling stories of suffering, of abuse, and yes, even of rape and the evil that Aranka Siegal endured, is strength. Recognizing the evil in those stories helps us identify it and know it when we see it instead of becoming numb and dumb to the world around us.

Perhaps we need to tell students painful stories more often, not less.

Freedom Friday: Freedom for Shaneen Allen!

shaneen-allenFor this week’s Freedom Friday, we are happy to share that New Jersey governor, Chris Christie, has issued a full pardon to Shaneen Allen.

Allen, a Pennsylvania resident, was in possession of a firearm for which she held a valid and legal conceal carry permit from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Her crime was crossing the Delaware River into New Jersey, home of some of the strictest gun laws.

At a traffic stop, Allen informed the officer that she had a firearm in the car which she was licensed to carry. This triggered her arrest, 40 days in jail, loss of her job, and perhaps most devastatingly, the loss of custody of her children. Due to New Jersey’s Byzantine gun control laws, which some gun control activists continue to push for, Allen would also face felony charges preventing her from owning a firearm in the future as well as a mandatory minimum 3 year prison sentence.

All for exercising what is a black-letter right guaranteed by the Constitution via the 2nd Amendment. In addition to this right, the Constitution requires states to give “full faith and credit…to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” This should certainly apply to the permitting process whereby states allow law-abiding citizens the right to “conceal carry” firearms.

Allen’s situation is not isolated. And many law-abiding citizens can find themselves in a similar predicament and be victim to overzealous prosecutors and a patchwork of state agreements making a gun permit of one state accepted in a collection of others. To know every possible permutation of what states honor which other states’ permits, you need an interactive map, like this one.

No state has the right to unleash this kind of prosecutorial terrorism on law-abiding citizens. That goes for those who hold the legal right to possess a firearm, and are visiting their state, as well as their own citizens. We prefer to leave it to states to run their own affairs, but each state admitted to the Union shares one federal Constitution. And that Constitution guarantees citizens the right to keep and bear arms.

We tip our hat to the governor of New Jersey and hope that Shaneen Allen’s story will become a call for other states having similar over-the-top gun control laws, like New Jersey (we’re looking at you, Maryland!), to reform their criminal codes to decriminalize the lawful exercise of Constitutional rights!