28 September 2008

A Legislative Crime

I realize that the passage of a bailout plan by the House and Senate is all but inevitable, but all the same I sent this letter to Senator Kerry, Senator Kennedy, and the Representative of my district. 

Dear Senator:

The notion of using taxpayers’ earnings to “bail out” companies that are going out of business is an outrageous violation of free-market principles.  Government intervention in the economy (via the Federal Reserve and innumerable government programs and regulatory agencies) has caused the failures in the first place; it makes no sense to try to cure the patient by adding another gigantic dose of legislative poison.

If you vote for such legislation, you will be adding to your legacy your participation in the most destructive attack on American principles in my lifetime.  It would be unforgivable... and unforgettable. 

If you wish to correct the problem - and simultaneously grab the free-market baton that the Republicans have long ago dropped - you will refuse to bail out Wall Street firms, work to undo devastating anti-American legislation (such as the Community Reinvestment Act and Sarbanes Oxley, to name just two), and repudiate further government intrusions in economic affairs.


Stephen Bourque


Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

I sent a similar letter out on Wednesday to the same two Senators and my Rep in Congress, the no so honorable and not so bright Nicki Tsongas. I don't expect anything to change.

Kennedy could care less about what people think of him now or down the road after he's passed. Kerry is too in love with hearing himself speak to listen to anyone else, and Nicki is, well, a celebrity appointment - kind of like Obama, only older and too typically white. :-)

Burgess Laughlin said...

Is there any profit in engaging in political activism unless the intellectual and philosophical groundwork has been laid previously?

The only justification I can see, for myself, is that political activism might be used as a vehicle for making intellectual and even philosophical points. Unfortunately, most politicians are unresponsive to intellectual and philosophical arguments. Their course was set decades ago when they absorbed the ideas (or pragmatism) that guide them.

Stephen Bourque said...

Thanks for the comments, Rick and Burgess.

I think there is very little to be gained by writing to legislators if one's goal is to actually convince a politician that he ought to advance liberty. That's why I didn't spend much time or effort on the task.

However, the one language that politicians seem to understand is power, and for them to remain in power, they need votes. I have no expectation that Senators or Representatives read much (or any) of their mail, of course, but it wouldn't surprise me if they have a platoon of college interns sorting through it. If my effort resulted in one more tally mark under "free market nut" on a spreadsheet in Senator Kerry's or Senator Kennedy's office, I'll take it.

Also, I tried to put in a little bit of carrot and a little bit of stick into the letter. The big stick, of course, is my vote, which I implied I would withdraw forever ("unforgivable... and unforgettable"). Another subtle stick was the mention of the legislator's legacy. Politicians are vain and narcissistic creatures who want to be remembered as great, not infamous.

The carrot, of course, was to dare the Democrats to "grab the free-market baton that the Republicans have long ago dropped." I have no illusions that they will pursue laissez faire principles for the right reasons, but perhaps they could be motivated by their lust to defeat the Republicans.

It's disgusting stuff, but as I said, I didn't put much work into it. I'll continue to spend the bulk of my efforts on my blog, letters-to-the-editor, and conversations with colleagues.

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

The point in "political activism" is not necessarily to get politicians to respond to initiatives in so much as it is to keep important issues visible, to make them clear over time to others. To do nothing accomplishes what? I don't recall our founders waiting for a philosophical or intellectual shift in the groundwork or the common citizen during their time.

Senator Kerry is up for reelection this year. He defeated his Democrat challanger in a primary, but he no longer commanded a landslide. He has a strong Republican challanger for a change and is feeling at least some heat locally, which is where opinion really matters as "Tip" O'Neil was fond of reminding us.

I didn't hear any change in Kerry's voice during his interview with Bill O'Reilly, but he's been know to be against things before ultimately being for them. :-)

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...


There may be little profit in political activism, but what profit is there in keeping quiet and doing nothing? I don't suppose that our founding fathers waited for a shift in the level of intellect and philosophy of the commoner before deciding to revolt against the British.

Senator Kerry is in a race this time around. He defeated his democratic challanger, but not by the margin expected. We have what appears to be a decent Republican challanger and perhaps, just perhaps, he's feeling some heat.

My guess, based upon hearing him respond and pontificate during an interview with Bill O'Reilly, is that he'll remain unchanged, but where's the harm in trying? In Massachusetts trying is a full time occupation for conservative leaning citizens. :-)

Burgess Laughlin said...

> "There may be little profit in political activism, but what profit is there in keeping quiet and doing nothing?"

There is no profit in doing nothing. But what puzzles me is this: Are there only two choices, marginally profitable political activism or "keeping quiet and doing nothing?"

On my weblog, Making Progress, I have written of alternatives, especially in-line activism, that is, focusing on philosophical, intellectual, and perhaps even political activism in the field that one loves because it is the backdrop for one's beloved central purpose in life:


. . . the August 1 and 8 articles. I am not saying one is wrong to engage in political activism outside one's chosen field. I question its effectiveness. Is it anymore effective than cheering or booing at a football game?

Each individual must decide for himself whether, how much, and where to engage in philosophical, intellectual, or political activism. My point is that there are more choices than political activism chosen by the crisis of the moment--whose only hope is to scare a politician into crafting a slightly less destructive bill.

I have nothing more to offer, unless something I have said is unclear and anyone needs clarification.

Best to you all.

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

Since political activism is, in essence, philosophical activism, I think it must be an imperative part of any plan to change the culture of the nation.

I would like to see Objectivism taught in Universities and Objectivist viewpoint explored in earlier grades. I would like to see business leader do more and to demonstrate more courage and grow into civic leaders as well.

The truth is that our Universities are led most by socialists and business leaders, at every turn, are threatened by the force of government. Wage workers could care less about the success or failure of a business until it affects their pocketbook directly.

I see many people preach personal responsibility to their children, then go off and scream for government (or unions, etc) to do more for them. Most people are for individual responsibility until they are being held personally responsible. At that point, their problems and failures are someone elses fault.

No one fails or their feelings could be hurt; so, even the cretins get a trophy. That's especially true here in Massachusetts. Come here if you want a tough nut to crack. It's hard to soar with eagles when you are surrounded by turkeys.

I help to run ancillary medical facilities throughout the Commonwealth. I hold people accountable and lead by example. I work under intensely restrictive government regulation in a field where reimbursements are down and costs are constantly going up. This field is also highly competitive for skilled employees and companies are frequently caught in wage and benefit bidding wars for technologists who are more than willing to play all sides.

Now with a real world example, you tell me how activism in my field would be more helpful and efficient than activism in the political arena. In fact, I'd be happy if one could point to a spot to begin.

Teachers are employees of the state. Until you change the philosophy of government, the educational system will remain a source of misinformation and socialist indoctrination. As long as government is as powerful and entrenched in business as it now is, business leader will be too timid to act againt what they perceive to be their own interests. The only source of real help seems to be the Ayn Rand Institute, but even with their resources, the outward momentum from the Center is moving at a snail's pace; while socialism is vaulting every hurdle history has put before it.

The few voices in the wind outside of the political sphere of influence, in my view, have amounted to basically nothing - therefore, my premise.

I haven't read your articles, but will do so now. If there is anything concrete there that I can do that I'm not already doing, I'll work in those directions as well.

Thank you very much for your input. I agree with your premise that more must be done, but that's a battle cry that seems to be lacking troops and direction, at least at this point in time.

Best wishes,

--Rick "Doc" MacDonald

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

I just breezed through your article on this subject matter and find what you are doing and advocating admirable. However, I think much of that is already being done. I not only write politicians; I also write letters to the editor (The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald and the Lowell Sun) of three of the most socialist newspapers in the country. I attend town meetings and speak out whereever I can. In the end, though, all of these activities are political in nature in that one does them with the hope of changing the viewpoints (hence, the philosophy) of people reached.

I will be happy to join the study group and to work with its members, but until Objectivism gets a stronger foothold in foundational institutions such as Primary Schools, Universities, and beyond, and until sufficient representatives are present who will work to nurture and allow such a cultural change to flourish, I think political activism is key.

The letter writing campaigns should also, perhaps, go to business leaders to encourage them to demonstrate some courage and to use some of their resources to encourage a more active climate in favor of business and a free market economy. Instead, here in Massachusetts, business leaders appear on TV and Radio programs and mumble the same socialist rhetoric as their hosts and show no backbone, what-so-ever. So much for the business man as a heroic figure. Here in Massachusetts, one asks: Where is John Galt and does he really exist?

Please take no offense. I've never been known or respected for my tact.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Rick, I agree with almost all of your observations and I empathize with what I infer to be your anguish at seeing the direction that W. Civilization is taking.

If we have any disagreement, it is terminological. Following is what I mean:

- Philosophical activism means taking action to spread a philosophy as a whole or at least branch by branch. One branch is politics, that is, the principles of proper government.

- Intellectual activism is spreading ideas which are the application of philosophy to particular fields or general problems. An example would be applying the concept of rights, in 1830, to the then fact of chattel slavery and showing that slavery is wrong.

-Political activism is taking action to change the particular, concrete mechanics (or personnel) of a particular government at a particular time. An example might be to work locally to abolish a particular city law banning fences at the front of a home lot.

We agree that all are necessary for making changes to a whole society.

My position is that broad changes in government, as it is today, will arise only after philosophical and intellectual activism has prepared the ground to some extent.

The steps need not be serial (some individuals can work in each of the three areas, in parallel), but they cannot be reversed. We cannot expect philosophical changes to arise from political activism, as I think you know.

One individual can work today for particular political changes without engaging in either philosophical or intellectual activism, which can be performed by other individuals. An example is working in a coalition with other groups to completely abolish the institution of the draft. The purpose is to smash a particular law. If this is the path one chooses, I would suggest, the most productive approach is a proactive one: Prepare now for the future, and don't react to each crisis as it appears.

The choice is personal. I can't see investing time into cheering or booing during a crisis. I would think it would have been more productive to have started a small organization ten years ago to prepare for the inevitable crisis in financing. That is where the payoff is, not in generalists writing LTEs after the fact.

Best to you in difficult times.

Burgess Laughlin said...

Rick: "I see many people preach personal responsibility to their children, then go off and scream for government (or unions, etc) to do more for them. [. . .] That's especially true here in Massachusetts. [. . .]

I help to run ancillary medical facilities throughout the Commonwealth. I hold people accountable and lead by example. I work under intensely restrictive government regulation [. . .]

Now with a real world example, you tell me how activism in my field would be more helpful and efficient than activism in the political arena."

One possible alternative for some individuals (not necessarily you) to consider is to do what Adam Reed (weblog Born to identify, an article on in-line activism) and Raymond C Niles (The Objective Standard, "Property Rights and the Electric Grid," Summer 2008) have done: engage in intellectual activism in their fields by addressing others in their industry, rather than politicians and political junkies.

> "In fact, I'd be happy if one could point to a spot to begin."

If I have understood you correctly, you have been addressing mostly politicians and the sort of political people who go to political meetings. If that is what you like doing the most, I applaud your tremendous energy, drive, and persistence. My point is that there are alternatives, as Reed and Niles have shown. Each of us can choose for himself the most suitable path to follow.

P. S. -- Now that I know what you are engaged in, it sounds very much like what I have been calling "in-line activism" (whether intellectual or political or both). I think that is the most productive approach to take, compared to someone firiing off an LTE about a subject he hasn't mastered to an audience that doesn't care (as in the case of a Senator).

Your approach is right on target, in terms of effectiveness. I hope you enjoy it as well, because it will be a long hard road. You have my admiration.

Rick "Doc" MacDonald said...

Thank you, Burgess,

I'm fairly new at this, but sometimes I think my dedication to this new found philosophy (discovered at age 59) is what continues to fire up my engine. I have a lot to learn and I thank you for helping me. I look forward to reading more of your postings and have added you to my Objectivist Links along with "Born to Identify".

Best wishes, always,

Rick "Doc" MacDonald

Thank you, Steven for allowing this discussion to take place on your site.