With the recent Texas ruling that the insurance mandate component of Obamacare is unconstitutional, it seems fitting to republish the article I wrote for SwiftEconomics.com the day before its passing (on March 20th, 2010). Enjoy:
As we approach the vote on healthcare reform, a major question needs to be asked: Why are health insurance stocks trading at close to 52 week highs? Why are pharmaceutical companies doing the same? If the health insurance and pharmaceutical companies are set to lose massive amounts of money if healthcare reform is passed−which is appearing more and more likely−why are these companies doing so well? (1)
On average, these companies saw their stocks rise 79.2% from March 20th, 2009 to March 19th, 2010! Cigna alone went up 115.07%. They have done over 60% better than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rose only 48.7% over that same time.
The pharmaceutical companies haven’t done as well, but the top five U.S. based pharmaceutical companies’ stocks still rose an average of 24.7% over the past year:
While that’s only about half of what the Dow Jones did, why are the prices going up at all? Stock prices are derived from an estimation of discounted future cash flows. Or, when translated from financial gobbledygook to English, companies are not valued by how much their assets are worth. Instead, they are valued by how much a company is expected to make in the future and how much those future cash flows are worth today (money is worth more now than it is worth in the future, which is why we demand interest on loans). If the 2400 page healthcare bill is expected to reduce these companies’ future profits, investors would expect the present value of these companies’ future cash flows to fall and act accordingly. In other words, their stock values should be going down.
What is going on is actually rather simple. Big corporations have done what they love to do with big government; get in bed together. Unfortunately, it’s us, as the common taxpayers, who will have to foot the bill for this love affair.
This was visible from the beginning. As I’ve discussed before, our current system−built upon almost five decades of heightening government intervention−is littered with corporate handouts. But it was amazing how honest the pharmaceutical industry was about this. In March of 2009, Billy Tauzin, head of PhARMA, the main lobbying group for the pharmaceutical industry, was asked on CNBCwhether investors should be worried about healthcare reform. He responded as follows:
“Think about what this plan does: This plan talks about providing comprehensive health insurance to people who don’t have it. That means to patients who can’t take our medicines because they can’t afford it: $650 billion spent to better insure Americans for the products we make. That ought to be a very optimistic and positive message for everyone [who] is interested in our sector of the economy.” (2)
Mike Huckman: “…if there is some kind of universal healthcare plan where prescription drugs are more broadly available and they’re available at a cheaper price, [is it possible] that your sector may make up in a higher prescription volume and sales what it might lose on price?”
And this was back in March of 2009; the deal just got sweeter from there. In August of 2009, The LA Times reported that “Tauzin has morphed into the president’s partner. He has been invited to the White House half a dozen times in recent months.” (4)
It probably surprises no one that the pharmaceutical industry spends more on lobbying than any other industry. In 2009, they spent a whopping $263 million. The insurance industry came in 4that $164 million (securities and investments was only at $96 million). (5) And no, this didn’t just go to Republicans, as Democrats received 52% of health sector donations and 49% of the pharmaceutical donations in the 2008 election cycle. (6)
And now it is appears quite obvious that Big Pharma and Big Insurance are solidly behind healthcare reform. According to The New York Times, the drug industry has authorized $150 million on television commercials supporting the healthcare overhaul! (7) Below is one example, sponsored by Americans for Stable Quality Care, a group primarily funded by the Pharmaceutical Researchers and Manufacturers of America:
So what is in this bill that has the pharmaceutical and insurance industry so excited? Tim Carney, expert on government-corporate corruption and author of Obamanomics, lists out the main reasons:
Insurance companies have to weigh the added costs of insuring high-risk people, but they will get more customers and the government will spot much of the bill through subsidies, so this is certainly a win for them, too. And none of this even addresses the political payoffs, such as the “Cornhusker kickback” and the “Louisiana Purchase” that were originally part of the bill. (9)
All of this corruption is likely a major reason that healthcare reform has become so unpopular. It’s so unpopular that, according to Bloomberg, three states have passed bills and 30 to 35 others have bills pending that would overturn the federal mandates if they are passed. (10) All this pressure has put congressmen in a difficult bind on which way to vote, since their political lives may be at stake. So Nancy Pelosi came up with a way out for them. She even proposed using the Slaughter Rule to pass the bill. (11) Under the Slaughter Rule, the Senate would vote on a bill, then let House members tinker with the bill and vote on the changes, but not on the bill itself. If they pass the changes, the bill would be ‘deemed’ to have passed the House. It would, more or less, allow a law to be passed while never being voted on in the House of Representatives. For her part, Nancy Pelosi defended the process by saying, “…I like it because people don’t have to vote on the Senate bill.” (12) And then of course, she gave us this gem:
Wow. Just wow. And while most dictators would probably be fond of this, it would seem to be in direct violation of our Constitution which states that “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States.” (13) I think, even under the loosest of interpretations, that would demand both the House and Senate to pass the bill. But who cares about the Constitution anymore, right?
Regardless of the politics behind this bill, it’s important to know that there are options for healthcare reform worth debating on both sides of the aisle. On the left, there’s the single-payer option, which I oppose, but at least the argument for it makes sense. There are other options, too, such as eliminating the employer-mandate, repealing laws that prevent people from shopping across state lines for insurance, allowing for drug re-importation, eliminating HMO’s and the whole system of 3rd party payments that dis-incentivize price shopping, increasing the number of health savings accounts, reducing the power of the FDA, repealing CON Laws, loosening patent laws, etc. But what’s important is that none of that is on the table. What’s on the table is a startling mess of pork-filled, corporate handouts and political kickbacks. And that’s something that liberals, conservatives, socialists and libertarians can all join hands in opposing.
More reasons to oppose the healthcare bill here.
Tim Carney’s Speech on corporate-government corruption here.
(1) Numbers derived from Google Finance, March 19, 2010, http://www.google.com/finance
(2) See Jeffrey Young, “Big pharma’s top lobbyist said what?,” The Atlantic, March 6, 2009, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2009/03/big-pharmas-top-lobbyist-said-what/1284/
(4) Tom Hamburger, “Obama gives powerful drug lobby a seat at healthcare table,” LA Times, August 4, 2009, http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/04/nation/na-healthcare-pharma4
(5) See “Who’s Up, Who’s Down?,” The Center For Responsive Politics, http://www.opensecrets.org/lobby/incdec.php
(6) Patrick Hollsetin, “More pharma donations for Obama,” Pharma Adhoc, November 10, 2008, http://www.pharma-adhoc.com/index.php?m=1&id=139
(7) David Kirkpatrick, “Drug Industry to Run Ads Favoring White House Plan,” New York Times, August 8, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/09/health/policy/09lobby.html?_r=3
(8) Timothy P. Carney, “Christmas comes early for the big drug companies,” Washington Examiner, December 23, 2009, http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/politics/Christmas-comes-early-for-the-big-drug-companies-8674150-79934522.html
(9) For a rundown on those scandals and the reluctant removal of them from the bill, see Jordan Fabian, “Obama healthcare plan nixes Ben Nelson’s ‘Cornhusker Kickback’ deal,” The Hill, February 22, 2010, http://thehill.com/blogs/blog-briefing-room/news/82621-obama-healthcare-plan-nixes-ben-nelsons-cornhusker-kickback-deal
(10) Ann Woolner, “States Say We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Health Reform,” Bloomberg, March 19, 2010, http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601039&sid=aOaPsHEnNAuY
(11) “Slaughter House Rules,” Wall Street Journal, March 16, 2010, http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703909804575123512773070080.html?utm_source=Newsletter&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=Heritage%2BHotsheet
(12) Lori Montgomery and Paul Kane, “House may try to pass Senate health-care bill without voting on it,” Washington Post, March 16, 2010, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/03/15/AR2010031503742.html
(13) The United States Constitution, Article 1, Section 7, http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#A1Sec7
In my second article for the entrepreneur and startup website Alleywatch, I take on the myth that performance bonuses spur improved employee performance. Quite the contrary, they usually both cost money and reduce productivity. As I note,
Pink persuasively argues that financial incentives can lead to all sorts of negative consequences; from reducing internal motivation, fostering short-term thinking and crushing creativity. Probably the worst consequence of such incentives is that it incentivizes cheating though. If, for example, an employee gets a bonus if that employee sells 1K units, it’s hardly surprising if that employee uses some underhanded and perhaps unethical or illegal techniques to hit that mark.
It shouldn't at all be a surprise that employees may bend the rules to reach the benchmarks needed for a bonus. But further than that, performance bonuses reduce "intrinsic motivation." What is that you ask? Well, you'll just have to read the article to find out.
So Gillette decided the best way to sell razors to men was to tell us all how terrible we are:
Ahh yes, that "toxic masculinity" (a useless term dreamt up in fraudulent university departments). Just shave it off with Gillette! It's the best a manlet can get!
Corporate wokeness has gotten so tedious and tiring it's almost just window dressing at this point. Remember when the Left freaked out over Tim Tebow's sappy pro-life commercial (that said nothing about abortion) during the Super Bowl? Ahh yes, what's good for me is bad for thee.
Anyways, Gillette's customers seem to be less than impressed:
Gillette's marketing strategy appears to be to dethrone the last Youtube Rewind video for the most hated of all time. Obviously the best way to market to men is to create an ad that appeals to man-hating, blue-haired feminists... or something.
Kind of reminds me a of Nike's Colin Kaepernik ad:
"Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything."
A philosophy, of course, that's held by just about every terrorist:
I know, I know. Too soon.
Hey, remember the good old days when companies just sold products? Here's a Gillette ad from 1989:
That's more like it! Men doing awesome shit and kissing pretty girls and everyone being happy. Ahh nostalgia. Kinda makes we want to shave.
And what do the customers think?
Whatever you think of Donald Trump, it's hard to deny that he is absolutely hilarious (and intentionally so at least 70 percent of the time or thereabout.) Lately, he's been trolling it up with the best of them in a historic run. First target, the less-Native American-than-the-average-American Elizabeth Warren:
Not very "culturally sensitive," but damn that made me laugh. Oh, and her presidential campaign?
These LOL's Mr. President... I just can't handle all of these LOL's!
And then there's jumping on the conservative "dear diary..." meme that's been memetically employed against Jim Acosta for a while now (basically because everything he tweets sounds like melodramatic whining):
And the funniest bit is that all of these will be preserved for posterity in the National Archive. There just simply aren't enough laughing emoji's for the current year.
My new article for Mises.org is out, which is actually a reworked version of this older article that was also published on Mises. This one takes the newly elected congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (whom both the Left and Right seem to be obsessed with) to task for her absurd plan to tax the rich at 70 percent in order to get America's carbon footprint down to zero in 12 years...
Wait what? Seriously? Why did I spend my time to critique this nonsense?
Anyways, as I note, while the tax rates in history have been much higher (as high as 91 percent), the amount collected as a percentage of GDP has pretty much always been the same since the early 1950's. As I note,
Regardless, one should ask how much the rich were actually paying. It should be noteworthy that back in the 1950s, the government wasn’t actually collecting any more in tax revenue as a percentage of GDP. There’s something called Hauser’s Law, which basically states there is a maximum threshold on how much the government can tax out of its population. I believe this “law” is no such thing. If the government really wanted to expropriate more, it could do so. But Hauser’s Law is based on the fact that in pretty much every year since 1950, the government has collected between 16 and 20 percent of GDP in taxes. Here are the government tax receipts compared to the top marginal tax rate:
The reason there has been such a discrepancy between the tax rate and the amount collected boils down to the differences in the where the top marginal tax rate kicked in as well as a myriad of deductions that used to exist, but no longer do.
I go into much more of the history and explanation in the article, so check it out!
...follow you talent. I've been big on this since I read the thought-provoking book So Good They Can't Ignore You by Cal Newport. But this was highlighted to me by a great quote from Scott Galloway in his book about "The Four Horseman" of the digital economy (Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon), The Four. (Which in its own right is a quality read that advocates breaking up the big tech firms, although he doesn't seem to be bothered by the danger they pose with their ability to censor and direct search results.)
Take responsibility for your own career, and manage it. People will tell you to 'follow our passion.' This, again, is bullshit. I would like to be quarterback for the New York Jets. I'm tall, have a good arm, decent leadership skills, and would enjoy owning car dealerships after my knees go. However, I have marginal athletic ability--learned this fast at UCLA. People who tell you to follow your passion are already rich.
We are entering a world of "winner takes all" in almost all of the arts and "passion" careers. A couple winners (i.e. Taylor Swift, Chris Pratt and Pewdiepie) and a lot of losers. Passions can wait (or be hobbies). And given the fact that most people are out there "searching" for their passion and waiting to begin their career until they find it; following your passion can be very dangerous advise indeed.
Instead, follow your talent. Be so good they can't ignore you.
With Jeff Bezos impending divorce I thought it would be worth reposting this short piece I wrote for SwiftEconomics on a variety of famous divorce "settlements." Bezos infidelity may cost him a cool $69 billion! Oops. And yes, our divorce courts in the United States are a joke. And yes, these "alpha males" who couldn't stay monogamous if their life (and certainly most of their wealth) depended on it, should not be getting married.)
I’m not one for celebrity gossip; I find it to be a futile exercise in time-wasting, mind-numbing, soul-destroying, culture-wrecking stupidity. But I have to make an exception with a couple of recent celebrity divorce settlements that simply boggle the mind.
The first is Tiger Woods. Yeah, apparently 15 prostitutes is just a wee bit too much indiscretion for those good old marital vows to take, so his wife, Elin Nordegren, divorced him. I have no idea what goes on in these settlement hearings (nor do I want to) or how they come up with what appears to be an arbitrary (but ridiculously huge) number. This settlement cost Tiger over $750 million! Some of that sum was to buy Elin’s silence. The settlement prevents Elin from ever discussing Tiger’s infidelity in public (no book deal), but it also has a strange clause that bans Tiger from even introducing his kids to a new girlfriend; he has to marry her before they can meet. Given Tiger’s propensity for infidelity, doing that could cost him another $750 million.
Then there’s Michael Douglas, whose marriage with Diandra Douglas actually ended 10 years ago and cost him a cool $45 million. Well she’s suing him again. See, Michael Douglas is coming out with the sequel to Wall Street called Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (I kid you not) and there is a clause in the original divorce settlement that allows Diandra to receive residuals for any “spin offs” of movies Michael Douglas did while they were together. Does reprising the role of Gordon Gecko count as a spin off? I don’t know, but isn’t $45 million enough?
t’s almost like the court just takes a cut as if they were the house at a card game; so the bigger the number the better. There’s Paul McCartney’s $235 million nightmare of a divorce. Or you can scan through this list from Michael Jordan’s $168 million settlement to Mick Jagger’s $25 million settlement. From time to time it goes the other way, Guy Ritchie managed to snatch $75 million from Madonna when they split even though he was already a successful movie director.
But the trend typically involves some high status male who gets caught cheating and then forks over some obscene amount of money in divorce. Tiger Woods is simply the most obvious example and I should also note that Michael Douglas’ ex accused him of having an affair. Or hell, just think of the Democratic leadership of recent decades: Bill Clinton, John Edwards, and now Al Gore. Al Gore is way beyond infidelity. He’s [was] facing sex abuse charges, which is probably the fault of global warming… he couldn’t control himself, it was just too damn hot.
The thing is, these guys are alpha males. No doubt about it. Alpha males may be extremely talented (Woods), extremely charismatic (Clinton) or just a huge douchebag that is famous for some reason (Gore), but they do typically have some traits in common. First and foremost, fidelity is not something they’re particularly good at.
It’s not really their fault, well it is, but monogamy is kinda going against their nature. As Alan Miller and Satoshi Kanzawa at Psychology Today put it:
…powerful men of high status throughout human history attained very high reproductive success, leaving a large number of offspring (legitimate and otherwise), while countless poor men died mateless and childless… Men strive to attain political power, consciously or unconsciously, in order to have reproductive access to a larger number of women.
So let me offer some unsolicited advice. Ladies, if you want your husband to remain faithful, DO NOT MARRY AN ALPHA MALE! And alpha males, if you like NOT paying out multi-million dollar divorce settlements, DO NOT GET MARRIED! You’re going to cheat, because that’s what you do, and in all likelihood, you’ll eventually get caught. At which point an alpha male and his money are soon parted.
So luckily this proposal didn't really come to fruition, but I figure it's a good thing to republish an article I wrote in 2010 for SwiftEconomics on the military draft (or military slavery as I call it). Yes, we still have the Selective Service, but fortunately, we aren't, at least for now, bringing back the damn draft.
Congressman Charlie Rangel, despite being investigated for major ethics violations, some of which we’ve discussed before, is pushing for a reintroduction of the military draft. The bill is H.R. 5741 – The Universal National Service Act and it has reached committee. The text of it reads as follows:
“To require all persons in the United States between the ages of 18 and 42 to perform national service, either as a member of the uniformed services or in civilian service in furtherance of the national defense and homeland security, to authorize the induction of persons in the uniformed services during wartime to meet end-strength requirements of the uniformed services, and for other purposes.”
It does at least offer a non-military alternative, but it’s involuntary and coercive “service” nonetheless. And “all persons” includes women too for the first time in American history; a huge step forward for gender equality indeed. You know, kind of like going up to Susan B. Anthony circa 1900 and saying “hey Susan, babe, let’s forget about this whole women’s suffrage thing. I mean. c’mon, women voting, you’re kidding right? Let’s just take the right to vote away from men and then we’ll all be equal.” Equality can suck for everyone.
The military draft, which H.R. 5741 basically reintroduces, is indefensible in anything other than an extreme national emergency (in which it would be almost certainly unnecessary). The reason it’s indefensible is simple enough, as Russell Kirk said, “the military draft is slavery.” Yes, quite literally, by definition, it’s slavery. Here’s the text of the 13th amendmentof the Constitution, and how exactly could the draft not be defined as anything other than a form of “involuntary servitude.”
“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction."
Unless its a crime to exist there’s no way the military draft is constitutional. I don’t care if the Supreme Court ruled it constitutional because “compelled military service is neither repugnant to a free government nor in conflict with the constitutional guaranties of individual liberty” and “it may not be doubted that the very conception of a just government and its duty to the citizen includes the duty of the citizen to render military service in case of need, and the right of the government to compel it.”
If that sounds like the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard, it’s probably because it is. A “just government’s duty to its citizens includes the duty of the citizen to render military service”… huh? Are they arguing that its not just constitutional, but actually the duty of the government to conscript its citizens? Indeed, arguments that conscription is anything other than a euphemism for slavery are all quite embarrassing. The very weak arguments could be broken down as follows:
1) ‘Draftees get paid so it’s not slavery.’ [Irrelevant, slaves got paid with food, shelter, clothing, etc. And if slaves had gotten wages, would that have somehow made the institution justifiable?]
So yes, arguing that the military draft is not a form of slavery is quite literally arguing with a dictionary. This is not to imply that military slavery is as bad as the chattel slavery that existed in the United States before 1865. No, that was certainly worse for a host of reasons, primarily because it was typically perpetual. But the chattel slavery in the antebellum south was also worse than the slavery in ancient Greece and possibly better than the slavery in the Stalinist gulags (‘better’ being a relative term of course). There are certainly degrees of evil here, but they are all still forms of slavery and are all unjustifiable.
And unfortunately, Obama seems to like this proposal:
All I can say is I am disgusted. Call your Congressman or Senator, write a letter to the editor, post on your blog or something to stop this nonsense from getting passed.
My newest article for BiggerPockets is up on whether or not it makes sense for you to pursue your CCIM (Certified Commercial Investment Member) designation. I previously wrote about what the courses entail here, but this article outlines the pros and cons of pursuing your CCIM. In brief, the pros are:
1. Increased Credibility
2. Solid Education
3. Opportunities to network and make new contacts
And the disadvantages are rather simple:
1. The cost
2. The time
A lot of the decision comes down to whether or not you fit the mold. CCIM's are usually held by those in commercial real estate not those in residential. So a house flipper has little incentive to pursue one. The article contains a much more in depth discussion on the topic. Check it out!
And here is the second piece, originally from SwiftEconomics.com, on why political terminology often obscures more than it clarifies. I may have oversold it here, but I still believe it's good food for thought. See Part 1 here.
As seen in Part 1, political terms, such as liberal, conservative or libertarian, are muddled enough. Unfortunately, political organizations, popular terms and ideologies have many of the same issues. The political parties in the United States have gone through whole sale shifts in political ideology. Republicans used to be the party of tariffs and protectionism, now they are avid free traders. Democrats were the party of slavery and Jim Crow, before becoming the party of Civil Rights and Affirmative Action.
In no area is this shift more apparent than in foreign policy. Today, Republicans are seen as the hawkish, militarists and advocates of an aggressive foreign policy while Democrats are seen as the peace-loving, doves. However, a quick glance at history reveals this is not the way it has always, or evenly recently, been. The four major wars the United States took part in during the 20th century were all entered into by Democratic presidents (World War I: Woodrow Wilson; World War II: Franklin Delano Roosevelt; Korean War: Harry Truman; Vietnam War: Lyndon Johnson), two of which were ended by the Republicans who promised to do so (Dwight Eisenhower with Korea and Richard Nixon, albeit pathetically, with Vietnam). Take a quick look at the party platforms from 1952 (Eisenhower vs. Stevenson) and 1968 (Nixon vs. Humphrey) and ask which one looks more aggressive:
“We urge continued effort, by every honorable means [italics mine], to bring about a fair and effective peace settlement in Korea.”
Even as late as 2000, George Bush and the Republicans decried Bill Clinton for nation building in Somalia, Haiti and Serbia. The difference in rhetoric between the 2000 and 2004 Republican platform is quite, well, embarrassing:
“In the last eight years the administration [of Bill Clinton] has squandered the opportunity granted to the United States by the courage and sacrifice of previous generations:
Or even more embarrassing, take a look at what George Bush, in his 2000 speech at the Republican National Convention, outlined as the requirements for the United States to use military force:
“A generation shaped by Vietnam, must remember the lessons of Vietnam. When America uses force in the world, the cause must be clear, the goal must be just and the victory must be overwhelming.” (3)
Well that’s a solid 0-3. At least George Bush was able to justify this about-face with a whole host of meaningless political rhetoric. What would politicians, of either party, do if they couldn’t throw words like freedom, liberty, democracy, change, hope, opportunity, or equality around?
Take the word “freedom,” which has been misused to point of pure, ridiculousness. For example, George Bush couldn’t go more than a few sentences without saying the word, even while passing legislation such as the Patriot Act, which obviously curtailed many of our freedoms here in the United States.* Or when France declined to support the United States in the Iraq War, the Bush administration decided to go all 3rd grade on those cheese-eating, surrender monkeys, and rename French fries, the very clever name of “freedom fries” (French fries are not actually French by the way).
“Democracy” is another word that has suffered a similar fate. The United States’ has made a mission of exporting it for crying out loud. However, we only like it when democracy goes our way. Take the Palestinian election in 2006, when Hamas was elected as the majority party. The United States refused to even recognize them! I’m certainly no fan of Hamas, but you can’t try to export democracy and then whine and pout when you don’t like the winner. If that’s the case, then you weren’t a fan of democracy in the first place, you were just a fan of the word “democracy.”
Then there’s “equality,” a term often used as a cudgel among the political-correctness police. The common, borderline Orwellian application tends to take the form of some interest group demanding “equal rights” through some sort of government enforced special privileges. It all boils down to whether equality means equality of outcome, or equality of opportunity; while discrimination certainly exists, the two types of equality can’t coexist, especially financially speaking, since everyone pursues different goals which lead to different ends. Still, “equality” remains an incessantly popular buzzword, especially on the left.
Finally, the word “change,” which every challenger uses when running against the incumbent party and which Barack Obama has made a career out of. Yet, as we’ve seen, whether it be foreign policy, spending, etc., a politician can run a campaign on change, without actually changing much… and Barack Obama is a perfect case study for this.**
So these words are continuously tossed around in a consistently vague and disingenuous way. I think politicians almost prefer not to define them. After all, if these words were defined, it would be much easier to see politicians are, basically, full of crap.
Unfortunately, politicians and political parties are not the only ones who use vague or hollow terminology. The same term is often used to mean many different things, by all sorts of different groups and organizations holding fundamentally different beliefs. Say if someone were to ask you: “Are you in favor of Civil Rights?” The answer would probably, well hopefully, be yes; but by what definition? The NRA and the ACLU have very different ideas of what “civil rights” entail. If someone were to ask you: “Are you a libertarian?” What do they mean? They could be referring to a civil libertarian, a libertarian by the American definition, a libertarian by the European definition or just someone who likes liberty. How about if someone were to ask you: “Are you a feminist?” Well, just a brief glance at Wikipedia tells us this question, to say the least, is a little vague, given the “subtypes” available:
It seems to me that gender feminism and womanism feminism are somewhat redundant; regardless, many of these subtypes are not subtypes at all. Some have diametric world views that are incompatible with each other. For example, individualist feminists and Marxist feminists agree with each other on almost nothing, other than the basic premise that “women are totally awesome.”
Even with religion, simple answers do little to suffice. Shiite’s and Sunni’s continue to kill each other in Iraq despite both groups being “Muslims.” This bloodshed is very reminiscent of the way that Protestants and Catholics killed each other for centuries after the Reformation (30 Years War, conflict in Ireland, etc.), despite both groups being “Christian.”
According to the World Christian Encyclopedia, there are almost 34,000 different denominations within Christianity alone. (5) Some are relatively similar, say Anglicanism and Methodism. Others are worlds apart. The Gnostic’s, whom no longer exist, believed that the God of the Old Testament was actually at odds with the God of the New Testament. The goal of these Gnostics seems somewhat Buddhist actually: teaching that human souls are trapped in a material world, the goal of which, is to escape said material world. Even today, many Christians are at theological odds with each other. Many old-school Catholics, who protest the reforms made by Vatican II in 1962, believe that only Catholics will go to Heaven. Mel Gibson even went so far as to imply his Protestant wife would actually go to Hell (they’ve since filed for divorce… shocking, I know). Given all these differences, even to say one is a Christian or Muslim is, at best, only a partial description.
It becomes quite evident that these labels, political or otherwise, are simply shortcuts, if not meaningless altogether. In my opinion, if you fall in line completely with either the Democratic or Republican platform (as discombobulated and contradictory as those platforms tend to be), or just about any other political organization, you are, in all likelihood, a complete tool. There is no reason that someone who is pro-life should necessarily oppose gay marriage. There is no reason that someone who supports the gold standard should necessarily oppose the minimum wage. There is no reason that someone who supports drug legalization should necessarily support a gun ban. These are different issues, and as painstaking as it may be, an opinion on each one needs to be arrived at individually, if one’s opinion is really to matter.
Sometimes it may be better to just say “I don’t know.” The situation in Sri Lanka, for example, is a complex one: Are the Tamil Tigers ruthless terrorists, or are they freedom fighters standing up against the oppressive Sinhalese government? I honestly don’t know and don’t really have the time or motivation to find out. But to just say “I don’t know,” often is better than identifying blindly with an ideology, political party, organization or buzzword. At the very least, it’s less muddled and confusing.
* For example, the Patriot Act allows federal agents to write their own search warrants and enter suspect’s homes without their knowledge before or after. This is in direct contradiction with the 4thamendment of the U.S. Constitution, which reads as follows:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.” (6)
**While the standard rhetoric from Democrats and Republicans would make it seem like Barack Obama and George Bush are worlds apart, their policies are actually very similar. I discuss this in detail here, but briefly, both have substantially raised government spending, deficits and increased regulations. Furthermore, Obama’s plan to withdraw from Iraq is similar to what Bush had already negotiated: Obama voted to reauthorize the Patriot Act and while he shut down Guantanamo Bay, he is still using the rendition program Bush put in place. The Cap and Trade policy he just pushed through Congress is similar to what John McCain proposed as well, the candidate Bush endorsed.
(1) The American Presidency Project, “Democrat Party Plaform of 1952,” “Republican Party Platform 1952, Democrat Party Platform 1968,” and “Repulican Party Platform 1968,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php
(2) Ibid., “Republican Party Platform of 2000,” and “Republican Party Platform of 2004,” http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/platforms.php
(3) George Bush, 2000 Republican National Convention Acceptance Speech, August 3rd, 2000, Transcript can be seen here: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/election2000/gopconvention/george_w_bush.html
(4) “Feminism,” Wikipedia, Retrieved July 1st, 2009, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Feminism
(5) Quoted from Religious Tolerance.org, “Relgions of the World,” http://www.religioustolerance.org/worldrel.htm#wce, David Barrett et al, World Christian Encyclopedia,Oxford University Press, 2001
(6) “The United States Constitution,” 1787, U.S. Constitution Online, Retrieved July 1st, 2009, http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html
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