You Own You, I Own Me

There’s been a lot of talk about Robert Draper’s New York Times article on a possible “libertarian moment.” On Townhall, “last weekend,” I focused on the partisan political aspect of the movement. There was a lot of curious stuff in the article, and I haven’t seen anyone comment on one of its stranger passages.

Call it a moment of culture shock.

The article briefly profiled a “Washington-based journalist” who sported “a tattoo under her right biceps that reads, ‘I Own Me.’” This is a provocation, of course, sure to annoy authoritarians and collectivists and . . . David Frum:

“What does that mean, ‘I own myself?’ ” David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Republican commentator, sputtered in exasperation when we spoke later. “Can I sell myself? If I can’t, I don’t own myself.”

Taken at face value, one could simply answer Frum by mentioning that in olden times people could sell themselves — into slavery.

Or one could make an extended political point. “Haven’t we all sold ourselves long ago?” That might be unnerving.

But the informed answer is this: “We can’t sell ourselves because our ‘self-propriety’ (as Richard Overton put it long ago) differs from other kinds of ownership. Our self-ownership is inalienable. That’s why it’s so important.”

It’s like this: You own you, I own me — we are free.

It turns out, Mr. Frum, that this “inalienability” idea was central to much discussion of rights at the founding of our country. Funny you don’t seem to know anything about that.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Inequality Problem

Ah, the Paul Krugman Problem! How does Nobel Laureate economist-cum-New York Times progressive-blogger come to his conclusions?

The other day, the eminent Scott Sumner noted — in “The power of wishful thinking?” — that in the space of one year Krugman seemed to gain a great deal of certainty about how vital it is to reduce inequality.

Sumner quotes Krugman from a year ago, when he frankly admitted that he’d like to agree with Joe Stiglitz’s thesis about inequality, but just wasn’t able to persuade himself.

Unfortunately, Krugman hasn’t given us a lot of reason to follow his “lead,” his new-found faith in Stiglitzian equality. Sumner cites a possible “inspiration” for Krugman’s new tune: Krugman’s employer, the New York Times, has, as editorial policy, shifted leftward on such issues. And then Sumner waxes philosophical:

Sometimes an economist will change his view on a single issue because of some new empirical study (although that actually doesn’t happen as much as you’d think, or as much as you might like). But what about when an economist suddenly swings sharply to the left or right on a whole range of unrelated issues?

Many people do go through radical conversions; you can find interesting conversion testimonies of a religious nature, if not so many in political economy.

As for me, the subject of inequality continues to fascinate, like picking at a scab.

I suspect that rising inequality is caused by the very institutions that Paul Krugman regards as bedrock: institutions that redistribute money from one group to another; institutions that regulate behavior for the benefit (we’re told) of the worse off; institutions altogether “progressive.”

Surely there would be more downward mobility for the rich and upward mobility for the poor in a freer society than in a more Krugman-approved society.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Wrong Lesson Learned

Last week’s interview with New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman brought a rare admission from President Barack Obama.

Friedman asked, “What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned doing foreign policy?”

“I’ll give you an example of a lesson I had to learn that still has, you know, ramifications to this day,” Obama replied, “and that is our participation in the coalition that overthrew Gaddafi in Libya.”

The president was quick to defend the “lead from behind” 2011 intervention, itself, as “the right thing to do,” because “had we not intervened, it’s likely that Libya would be Syria, right?”

Or Iraq, perhaps?

He decided to attack Libya militarily, Mr. Obama went on to explain, precisely “because Gaddafi was not going to be able to contain what had been unleashed there” (via the Arab Spring) and thus, “there would be more death, more disruption, more destruction.”

Does that make any sense? Was Gaddafi’s inability to wield more complete and total power over his rivals within the country plausibly be the rationale behind the NATO intervention?

In acknowledging his error, the president said, “What is also true is, I think we underestimated . . . the need to come in full force — if you’re going to do this. Then it’s the day after Gaddafi’s gone, when everyone’s feeling good, everybody’s holding up posters saying ‘Thank You, America!’ At that moment, there has to be a much more aggressive effort to rebuild societies that don’t have any civic traditions.”

Of course, it isn’t possible to “re-build” that which you admit never existed.

And it isn’t the role of the U.S. Government.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Townhall: Time for a Rethink

This weekend at Townhall.com, the problems of relevance that the Republican Party faces, especially vis-à-vis the libertarian wing. Click on over, then come back here:

Video: Creativity, Innovation and Entrepreneurship

It is important to ask questions.

A Right to Hide Wrongs?

Are public officials entitled to a right to privacy that must be “balanced against” our right to protect ourselves from their misconduct?

Too often, how to adjudicate rights is regarded as a matter of juggling competing interests, whatever those interests may be, rather than of specifying

  • the nature of the relevant right,
  • whether it is fundamental or derivative, and
  • when it does and does not properly apply.

The right to life, for example, entails the right to peaceably earn a living and to acquire and exchange property — but not to steal somebody else’s property.

Thus there’s no call for judges to furrow their brows over how to “balance” your right to your wallet with a mugger’s “right” to it. Whatever rights a thief has, he has never had a right to your wallet. Nor to immunity to the consequences of stealing.

Similar considerations apply to the “right to privacy” of government officials guilty of misconduct in their official capacity.

Whatever information about themselves which, even so, officials may be entitled to withhold from us, this right-to-keep-stuff-about-me-confidential can’t encompass evidence of abuse of power. We are entitled to that information for the sake of combating such abuse and protecting our own rights.

So Eugene Volokh is right to conclude, with respect to the June 11 Chasnoff v. Mokwa decision — a case originating in what certain cops did with tickets taken from scalpers — that it “should be obvious” that “Police officers have no constitutional ‘right of privacy’ in records” of misconduct.

This is really little more than basic law.

Indeed, this is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

An Epic Rebuke

The Good Ol’ Boy Network is under attack. And there’s no nicey face, kiss-and-make-up from its enemy, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich), to his just-defeated primary opponent, Brian Ellis.

Ellis called Amash to congratulate his opponent on election night, after Amash defeated Ellis by a rather large margin. Amash refused to answer Ellis’s call.

No wonder. During the campaign, Ellis sure didn’t play nicey-nice, calling Amash “Al-Qaida’s best friend.”

Amash is well known as a Tea Party candidate, someone who fairly consistently opposes crony capitalism. Ellis was heavily funded by the Chamber of Commerce, local and national . . . and you know what that means.

Or should. The Chamber, “while claiming to be ‘pro-free-market,’” Ryan McMaken explains at The Circle Bastiat, “has gone after him for not spending enough government money. This is not surprising. Business groups like Chambers of Commerce are not free-market organizations at all, but rent-seeking lobbying groups looking for government favors.

There’s nothing new here. When Ron Paul was in Congress, the US Chamber ranked him as one of the worst members, giving him the lowest score of any Republican. In Chamber-speak, being “free-market” means voting for things like TARP and various bailouts and No Child Left Behind.

Are you for the freedom principle, or a mere insider free-for-all?

That principle may be why Amash rebuked not only Ellis but Ellis’s major backer, former Rep. Pete Hoekstra, as well. “You are a disgrace,” Amash lambasted Hoekstra. “And I’m glad we could hand you one more loss before you fade into total obscurity and irrelevance.”

Harsh. Though refreshing candor. In a fight over principle, nicey-nice may not suffice.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.