Ban Assault Vehicles or Ask Tough Questions

Today it is commonplace to hear individuals who are not gun owners (or only casual gun owners) advance the argument that it is easier to buy a gun in some neighborhoods than a book. But this point is only a little more than a distraction. For although is all too easy to buy an illegal gun (or a gun for illegal purposes) in some American neighborhoods, the presence of this fact does not prove that draconian gun laws are necessary.

In many of the neighborhoods where books and computers are deplorably scarce, illicit drugs are arguably more common than guns – even though these drugs are almost completely illegal. The reason for this is self-evident: an object’s legal status does not control its availability – the market does. Bearing this truth in mind, it is obvious that the fundamental problem is not the availability of guns, but the demand for them; sellers supply what buyers demand.

Almost a century ago progressive crusaders attempted to fix society’s problems with a supply-oriented prohibition against the manufacture of alcohol; their efforts were a spectacular failure. More recently, policymakers have been waging a war against the sale and consumption of illicit drugs, yet this solution has likewise failed. Now, well-meaning (and idealistic) reformers suggest that gun violence in America can only be solved if peaceful firearm owners (many of whom place cultural importance on individual firearm ownership) acquiesce to a ban on some rifles, and the elimination of popular features on other firearms. These legal changes would be a superficial solution to a complex problem.

As recent events in France have shown, large trucks are almost as dangerous as firearms. The logic is inescapable – heavy, high-capacity assault trucks should be banned. Ordinary peace-loving citizens do not need them. Likewise, modern engines are also unnecessarily powerful. Private citizens do not need to move a vehicle in excess of 70 mph. Assault trucks, SUVs, and large cars should only be available to members of the military, law enforcement officers, and individuals who have the financial wherewithal to purchase an expensive permit. Most folks only need something a little bigger than a Smart car, cleverly equipped with a governor to limit its top speed to 45 mph.

Satire aside, heavy regulations on certain vehicles would save hundreds (if not thousands) of lives each year. Nevertheless, our cultural attachment to fast, pleasant, individualistic, travel has severely thinned the ranks of sane car-ban activists. Culture also lies at the center of the firearms debate: many Americans, including some casual gun owners, find the culture of firearm ownership alien, and are therefore comfortable advocating strict regulations for this strange culture. More cultural tolerance is needed.

Reasonable gun control advocates should reassess their position. It is strikingly heavy-handed to advocate the  regulation of all individuals in a given category (lawful gun owners) when more than nine-tenths of the whole group are peaceful, productive members of society. Open-minded progressives would not tolerate this porous logic from conservatives, nor should they be expected to. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were specifically designed protect the “liberty” of “the people” from the well-meaning but ill-conceived whims of the majority.

Gun violence, like alcohol and drug abuse, is a symptom of a larger human problem. If all guns were prohibitively expensive, cheaper hand-held weapons would indubitably proliferate. Politicians and activists should move beyond the world of superficial problems; an illiberal attempt to curtail the constitutional rights of gun enthusiasts will not solve the underlying spiritual, social, and economic problems. Open-minded and thoughtful Americans should enter the uncomfortable realm of ultimate causes. Now is the time to ask the toughest questions.


The Future Looks Entertaining

The Republican party is cracked, and arguably in danger of fracturing. A recent Politico report suggests a number of delegates to this summer’s Republican convention want to change the convention rules, and thereby snatch the Republican nomination from Donald Trump. If they are successful, the convention would be the most chaotic and compelling Republican event since 1912. However, such a maneuver would also cost Republicans the presidency in 2016. Convention shenanigans might even split the Republican party permanently.

Change is often unsettling, particularly for people who possess power.  A business might go bankrupt, a politician might lose an election, and yesterday’s favorite coach might be turned out. Yet an individual or institution’s inability to accept gradual changes only increases the pain that change will eventually cause.

As discontent over Donald Trump continues to simmer, Republican power-brokers should resolve to rearrange the apple cart. Republican convention delegates in 2020 should be awarded proportionally, and a run-off election should be added to the party’s presidential primary calendar. The aforementioned changes would strengthen the Republican party’s delegate selection process at a time when bruising demographic and cultural changes have made it essential to field a superior presidential candidate every four years.

Unfortunately for party elite, the modern Republican party may not survive another presidential standard bearer who is favored by less than 45% of his or her own party. It is time to get the popcorn bucket: political entertainment is on the horizon.

Hostel Respect

Female refugees in Germany face daily trials that are quite horrible; unfortunately this outcome was predictable. Bad actors exist in any large group of individuals, culture and nationality notwithstanding. However, it is also true that some cultural groups do a better job of respecting the sexual dignity of women than others. ISIS presents an extreme example of this truth – they frequently treat women like servants or slaves.

Regrettably it seems that a notable portion of immigrant men from patriarchal areas of the world struggle to respect women. Germany is not the only country that has encountered a disturbing level of cultural dissonance, Nordic countries have fared similarly. As a result, Norway even began pilot programs designed to teach immigrant men how to behave towards women.

Westerners are not inherently better than anyone else, yet it is also demonstrably true that some cultures promote values that are unfortunate, at best. Hence caring westerners need to think more deeply and plan more carefully: crowding refugees of both sexes into close quarters is guaranteed to multiply the problems migrants and officials must confront. Yet without such a strategy, costs necessarily soar, and thereby make it more likely the next group of asylum seekers will be rejected. This catch-22 creates an unenviable financial, moral, and political quandary.

Well-off westerners of all hues, inclinations, and associations should be thankful for peace and prosperity. Meanwhile it is imperative to learn a simple lesson: government-run hostels are a poor substitute for robust private charity. This is particularly true for woman and unaccompanied children. It is time for European and American leaders to embrace a 21st century Kindertransport, it is time for additional private charity. Top-down government solutions are of little solace when the results are only slightly superior to living in a war-torn country.

Update: an abundance of compassion or blind ideology motivated a well-meaning German activist to lie to the German police about the men who raped her.  

Donald Trump’s Speaker

Of late Donald Trump has made a big to-do about how Ted Cruz and John Kasich are establishment Republicans. In a sense he is right: many established Republican voters are supporting Mr. Trump’s two rivals. Governor Kasich has strong establishment ties, and a Kasich administration would be ideologically similar to George W. Bush. In a similar manner, Senator Cruz’s consistent message of fiscal and social conservativism has endeared him to many established Republican activists. Nevertheless, candidate Trump’s rhetoric is misleading – he has prominent establishment friends of his own, the most famous of which is former House Speaker John Boehner.

Mr. Boehner has “has played golf with Donald Trump for years” and “would vote for Trump in the general election.” The former Speaker’s kind-words for Donald Trump should be extremely disquieting to Trump supporters who hope to up-end the established order; John Boehner was pushed from the Speaker’s chair in large part because he was an establishment politician.

Many mothers and fathers have annoyed their teenage offspring with the trite saying “show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.” Of course parents aren’t always correct, one wayward friend does not necessarily alter the course of a teen’s life. However, personal associations can tell us a great deal about people, including politicians.

If Donald Trump captures his party’s nomination he will most likely lose the general election (the electoral college favors the Democrat candidate). But even if Mr. Trump miraculously ekes out a general election victory, his presidency will disappoint many of his supporters. Maybe then a major political realignment will take place.

Trump’s Denial

A few weeks ago Donald Trump shocked knowledgeable Americans when he stated the United State’s 19 trillion dollar debt could be paid off in roughly a decade. The math is actually very simple.

Presently the United States raises between 3 and 4 trillion dollars in revenue each year, and nevertheless it adds to the national debt annually. Essentially the US is like a teacher who earned $43,000 in 2015, and spent $48,100 during the same period of time. Yet Mr. Trump essentially suggested this teacher would be able to pay off a debt of more than $172,000 over the next 10 years. How utterly ridiculous!

There are only three possible reasons why candidate Trump made this statement – and all of them are extremely unsettling. Perhaps Mr. Trump has an uncontrollable habit of making things up, maybe he was pandering to ignorant voters, or mayhap he was uninformed about the actual numbers involved. Each of the aforementioned rationales should easily dissuade any potential voter from casting a ballot for Mr. Trump. But wait there is more: last week Donald Trump changed his mind, and he now denies ever saying he would pay off the debt so quickly.

Trump voters, like true partisans, will inevitably highlight the fact that candidate Trump answered the debt question correctly the second time around. Yet Mr. Trump’s first answer, the rationale behind it, and his subsequent attempt to deny reality will hopefully make the difference in the minds of dispassionate American voters.

Hayek’s Harsh Wisdom

Most of us are scared by the blunt truth because it often posits questions we are unable answer, and questions without answers can cause oodles of damage to cherished beliefs. Demagogic political rhetoric is much more palatable: it offers enough of the truth to seem refreshing, avoids cumbersome long-term thinking, and places the blame for past failures elsewhere. In his famous anti-totalitarian work “Road to Serfdom,” F.A. Hayek identified two noteworthy reasons “Why the Worst Get on Top.”

Observation one: a disturbing number of voters across the political spectrum are primarily moved by  emotions such as hope, anger, frustration, and fear. According to Mr. Hayek, potential dictators exploit this fact –

“he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently. It will be those whose vague and imperfectly formed ideas are easily swayed and whose passions and emotions are readily aroused who will thus swell the ranks of the totalitarian party”

Observation two: politicians constantly use the rhetoric of battle, and then regularly question the motivations those who will not join them. Professor Hayek believed this tendency was dangerous –

“It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program – on hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off – than on any positive task. The contrast between the ‘we’ and the ‘they,’ the common fight against those outside the group, seems to be an essential ingredient in any creed which will solidly knit together a group for common action.”

An incisive thinker by training, Mr. Hayek was even less charitable to individuals who were united by shallow thinking; he was convinced an aspiring dictator could gain a loyal following by appealing to the “lowest common denominator.” Today the lowest common denominator is naked self interest – a disease that cuts through the heart of our political society. Politicians exhibit self-interest when they ignore the United State’s substantial budgetary problems, or speciously claim that economic growth and a few relatively painless cuts will enable the US to retire the national debt in a short period of time.

Citizens can no longer afford to ignore reality because they find it distasteful or disturbing. Now is the time for thoughtful voters to ferret out their own self interest; freedom is sustained by a willingness to endure political and personal hardship, but freedom dies where a firm resolve is absent. The United States will only remain free and wealthy if thoughtful Americans undertake the arduous task of sublimating their self interests and eschewing demagogues.

GOP Primary Reform Needed

Today established Republican party leaders are frowning – glumly wishing there was a path to victory aside from a political fight at the convention. Conservative Republican insurgents harbor similar feelings. If all segments of the Republican party are sincere (and their sincerity can certainly be doubted), a reformation of the present system of presidential primaries is in order. Francis Barry, writing for Bloomberg View, recently proposed a few possible ideas, all of which should garner discussion. Unfortunately, the best idea was not included: a limited nationwide runoff.

A limited nationwide runoff would work like this: one or two weeks after the final primary or caucus, every state with a plurality winner would have a runoff between the two most popular candidates nationwide. The beauty of this reform lies in its fairness: every state would have a say about the top two candidates, and highly fractured electorates across the country would be given the opportunity to clarify their preference.

Since numerous states could not award their delegates until after the runoff vote, the Republican party would be forced sacrifice early certainty for overall clarity. Party leaders should make the sacrifice. Otherwise, Republicans risk offering general election voters a weak candidate chosen by a plurality of his or her party in 2020.