Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Friday, October 31, 2014
Rights, Fossil Fuel Dangers, Future Generations, and the PennEast Pipeline
My Hunterdon County Democrat letter concerning the PennEast natural gas pipeline generated several comments worth replying to. Below are my replies to those comments:
“Corporate rights to ruin everybodys water. No such animal. Their right to swing their arm ends where my nose begins.”
This is in reference to environmentalists’ claims, convincingly debunked, that hydraulic fracturing contaminates ground water. “Fracking”, as it is called, is the source of the natural gas that will flow through PennEast’s propose pipeline. My reply:
“Their right to swing their arm ends where my nose begins.”
True, and that works both ways. Unless you can objectively prove that an energy producer harmed or will harm you or your property, you have no right to bloody their noses.
“There is a double standard somehow. Cleaner energy sources such as PV, wind, tidal, etc are held to the gold standard. No harm to even an earthworm is acceptable. Yet for fossil fuels it's OK that the products of burning these fuels is causing global climate change and air and water pollution. And the production of fossil fuels and the pollution caused is OK. Fuels spills in the GOM, train wrecks carrying oil and coal, polluted wells and land from fracking. The health care costs for those that get diseases caused by fossil fuel production, transportation and burning. The untold cost of loss of life of species around the globe. The list goes on and on.”
This litany of overblown fossil fuel dangers ignores context. The benefits to our lives far exceeds the alleged environmental (or even monetary) costs.
Our air and water has never been cleaner, our lives never longer, our planet never healthier, and our vulnerability to extreme climate and weather events never lower, than in the era of fossil fuel development. Where would we be without modern transportation, water purification and delivery systems, industrial waste disposal systems, indoor plumbing and sewage treatment plants, clean central heating, sturdy reliable construction technologies, electric and nat-gas stoves, indoor illumination, or clean sterile healthcare facilities—to name a few of the benefits, all of which depend on reliable, economical, industrial-scale energy to power? Or would you prefer the days of scooping drinking water from polluted streams and shallow wells (provided there's no drought), stepping over horse turds to get to our horse-and-buggy transportation, heating and cooking over smoky open wood- or dung-burning indoor fires, whale oil lamps, trekking to smelly, disease-infested outhouses, and being ever subject to infectious disease epidemics?
The idea that fossil fuels have made our environment dirtier and more dangerous is utterly false. In fact, fossil fuels enabled human producers to make our environment much less dangerous—from the perspective of human life as a value. Compared to past eras, fossil fuels are an environmental bargain.
As to those “Cleaner energy sources such as PV, wind, tidal, etc,” they require massive mining, manufacturing, transportation, construction, and power line distribution systems to construct and operate—not to mention reliable fossil fuel (and nuclear) backup generation capacity (which is why consistent environmentalists oppose even these “cleaner” energy sources). “No harm to even an earthworm?” Give me a break.
“I Googled your name so I can see very clearly where you stand regarding a plethora of issues concerning immediate big business profits vs. environmental concern for future generations.”
There was a time when people really did put "environmental concern for future generations” over large-scale energy production (“big business profits”): It is called the Dark Ages. The environmental preservation mindset is a prescription for human stagnation, poverty, and a short, miserable, back-breaking existence. That's because, as Annie sang, "Tomorrow . . . is always a day [or a generation] away."
Thankfully, there were no environmentalists around before the Industrial Revolution to "preserve the environment." If there had been, the few of us that would be around today would still be existing in short, miserable lives—ever at the mercy of "untouched" nature—rather than enjoying the advanced technological industrialization bequeathed to us. We should celebrate the fact that the environment wasn't preserved for our alleged benefit; and then build on the progress we inherited to make our lives still better and happier—by, for example, respecting the rights of productive individuals and their companies to build fossil fuel pipelines. This will result in the passing on to the next generation of an even more technologically advanced society, and thus better environment.
Fossil Fuels and Climate Change: Remember Life Before Them
Labels: Environmentalism, Fossil Fuels, History, Individual Rights
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Wednesday, October 29, 2014
My Letter Rebutting Sierra Club Opposition to N.J. PennEast Gas Pipeline
New Jersey environmentalists seek to slowly starve New Jerseyans of the fossil fuel energy they need and want. First, the so-called New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22 mile natural gas pipeline through the “ecologically fragile” Pinelands region in the southern part of the state, with four former governors joining environmentalists in opposition. Then a liquid petroleum pipeline proposed for the Northern part of NJ ran into vehement opposition. Now, a proposed natural gas pipeline in the Western part faces stiff opposition. In all three cases, the NJ Sierra Club is leading the charge against.
The Western pipeline, which would pass through parts of my county of Hunterdon, was the subject of a my letter, The rights of fossil fuel producers, published in the Hunterdon County Democrat on 8/25/14:
To the editor:
A recent Hunterdon County Democrat article on PennEast Pipeline’s proposed natural gas pipeline in Hunterdon cited the Sierra Club’s “almost immediate opposition” to the pipeline. The article quoted Sierra Club Director Jeff Tittel as labeling the pipeline “an ugly scar through the land,” and reported that “Tittel said the pipeline will hurt the environment by promoting fracking in Pennsylvania, promoting the use of fossil fuels and discouraging the transition to renewable energies.”
What “environment” is meant here? Human beings survive and thrive by altering the natural environment by productive work so as to transform raw nature into a hospitable, livable human environment featuring technologies like central heating and cooling, electric lighting, water purification and delivery systems, modern transportation, clean healthcare facilities, and advanced agriculture, among much else.Fossil fuel producers, including frackers and pipeline companies, are and have been instrumental in providing most of the clean, affordable, reliable, plentiful energy that drives our advanced, flourishing lifestyles.
Ideologically, environmentalism is not concerned with a livable human environment, but with preserving raw nature — consistent environmentalists even oppose wind and solar [and the transmissions lines needed to carry “renewable”-generated electricity]. That’s why when environmentalists look at amazing, human life-promoting industrial technologies like “fracking” and pipelines, they see “an ugly scar through the land” rather than heroic human benefaction.
Some futuristic transition to so-called renewable energies may or may not be possible. But, as with all commercial endeavors, the need for the PennEast pipeline — which Tittel questioned — is properly determined by the market through the voluntary choices of consumers. Adding wind and solar to the power mix is fine if it is produced without government favors and without hampering competing forms of energy production.
The government’s proper job is to equally protect everyone’s fundamental moral right to freely produce, contract and trade. It has no business promoting or discouraging one form of energy or another. Environmentalists should not be allowed to use government force to violate the rights of fossil fuel producers to work, trade and compete for the consumer’s dollar in the energy market — and in the process progressively starve Americans of the vital energy provided by fossil fuels — while waiting for some distant transition to occur.
MICHAEL A. LAFERRARA
"Clean" Energy Subsidies vs. Oil Industry "Subsidies"
Labels: Energy, Environmentalism, Fossil Fuels
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Monday, October 27, 2014
Election 2014: Eminent Domain and the "Limits of Rights"
In my election 2014 letter to the Hunterdon County Democrat, Is Any Taking Just?, I wrote: “The November election will pit John Broten and Sam Tropello against Julia Allen and Frank Gatti for Readington Township Committee.” Another letter by Abraham Farsiou, Rights Have Limits, took the opposite view on the same issue of Eminent Domain against Solberg Airport, endorsing Allen and Gatti.
It’s a long letter, but I addressed the fundamental issue raised by Farsiou in these comments. Quoting from Farsiou’s letter, I wrote:
“Some say the Solbergs have a right to do whatever they want with their property. However, the community in which you live sets up certain standards and there are certain zoning and other restrictions that we all have to abide by. These restrictions are put in place for the good of the community as a whole and to carry out the will of its constituents. For example, I rightly would not be able to put up a gas station in front of my house.”
Wrong. The standards that govern rights are to be found in the factual requirements of human life, not the arbitrary whims of the “community.”
A “community” is an abstraction denoting the individuals who comprise it. When someone invokes “the good of the community as a whole,” he is saying that his values and interests take precedence over the values and interests of others, and aims to impose those values on other community members by governmental force—i.e., at gunpoint.
But no individual or group such as a voting majority has any right to declare, in effect, “The community, c’est moi!, and anoint themselves the arbiters of the community good, or claim the title “the will of its constituents.” America is not based on the rule of the collective over individual subjects. That collectivist notion is as far removed from America’s ideals as one can get, and to the extent it has taken root in American culture is the extent to which America has moved away from its promise of freedom. America, in its original conception, is based on the sovereignty and sanctity of the individual, each of whom possess unalienable rights that can not be overridden by King, Cleric, dictator, “community standards,” or majority mob.
This is where rights and their limits come in. Each individual rightfully has domain over his own life, including his property. That domain takes the form of freedom of action in pursuit of the values one judges his own life and flourishing to require. Unalienable individual rights protect that freedom. Freedom of action does have limits, but those limits are not arbitrarily set by “the community.” The freedom that rights protect is based on the objective fact that to live according to his nature, men must be free from physical aggression imposed by his fellow man. The limits of freedom can be summed up in the truism: “Your rights end where my nose begins.” In other words, one’s freedom to act ends where aggressive acts of force against others begins. Likewise, others’ freedom ends where aggressive force against you begins: “One man’s rights end where the next guy’s nose begins.” In other words, the principle of unalienable rights carries the moral obligation not to initiate aggressive force against others. Rights bannish initiatory force from human relationships, thus subordinating society and government to the same moral law that individuals must abide.
Indeed, in a civil, moral, free society, the “community” is bound by the same limits as its individual members. Just as no number of individuals can privately gather into a mob, march on a neighbor, and run him off his property, so neither can that same mob camouflaged as “the community” hide behind legalities do it, using government as the hired gun. Clearly, seizing others’ land through eminent domain in the name of the community, community “character”, will of the voters, or any such collectivist rationalization is an un-American, rights-violating act of aggression, and the action against Solberg fits that description “to a T.”
It follows that the right to “do whatever they want with their property” includes only peaceable, non-aggressive uses that does not violate others’ rights. One may not, for example, set up a shooting range without an appropriate buffer to protect one’s neighbors. Bullets flying into one’s neighbors’ property is aggressive force that intrudes on the neighbors’ use of his property. Aside from such uses, every individual has the right to use his land as he judges best. If the Solbergs apply for airport expansion, it is their right. If surrounding community members can prove that such expansion violates their rights—i.e., in some way physically interferes with the use of their property—they can come forward in the approval process.
Airport expansion is not the fundamental issue. Individual rights is the issue, and the only rational, fair basis for resolving the airport controversy. Zoning powers, like eminent domain, has evolved way beyond government’s legitimate function. Rather than objectively resolve land use conflicts according to rights-based standards, zoning has become a tool for politically powerful voting blocs to dictate land usage according to arbitrary community standards. But zoning is an issue for another day. For now, the first thing Readington voters should do is stop bloodying the nose of our neighbor, and vote to end the aggression against the Solbergs by voting for Broten and Tropello for RTC.
The Rise of Collectivism and the Fall of the Constitution
Collectivized “Rights”—Ayn Rand
Labels: Eminent Domain, Individual Rights, Individualism vs. Collectivism, Politics 2014
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Saturday, October 25, 2014
"Is Any Taking Just?": My Election 2014 Letter
My election-related letter, Is Any Taking Just?, was published in the Hunterdon County Democrat. Here is the letter in full, as printed:
To the editor:
The November election will pit John Broten and Sam Tropello against Julia Allen and Frank Gatti for Readington Township Committee. For me, the overarching issue is the townships eminent domain action against Solberg Airport.
Broten and Tropello have indicated that they are against this action. Whatever their reasons, I believe they are on the right side of this issue. Here are my reasons:
The Constitution's Fifth Amendment takings clause nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation is understood to grant government the power of eminent domain. But that unfortunate fact contradicts every fundamental premise of America, and begs the question: Is any taking truly just?
Is it just to seize property against the will of an owner who has violated no one's rights, especially when the taking doesnt serve and, in fact, contradicts governments proper purpose to protect individual rights, including property rights? Is it just for government to dictate compensation terms not voluntarily agreed to by the seller? Is it just to force dissenting citizens to fund, through their taxes, eminent domain actions against their moral convictions?
My answer to these questions is: No. That our government has the power of eminent domain doesn’t mitigate its immorality especially since, over time, eminent domain has morphed into a tool of predatory special interests, as is the case in Readington.
I'm voting for Broten and Tropello with the expectation that they will work to end the eminent domain action against Solberg Airport. If they win, and end the Solberg action, I will have helped score a victory for justice in Readington. If they lose, and the action proceeds, I will be able to look myself in the mirror, knowing I did what I could for justice.
MICHAEL A. LAFERRARA
The Eminent Domain Assault by Readington Against Solberg Land is Democracy in Action—and Un-American
Deeper Than Kelo: The Roots of the Property Rights Crisis—Eric Daniels, TOS
Labels: Eminent Domain, Politics 2014, Property Rights
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Thursday, October 23, 2014
NJ's Consumer Fraud Act: Non-Objective Law in Action
In the fictional person of Atlas Shrugged’s Judge Narragansett, Ayn Rand labeled non-objective law “humanity’s darkest evil.” Elsewhere, she wrote:
When men are caught in the trap of non-objective law, when their work, future and livelihood are at the mercy of a bureaucrat’s whim, when they have no way of knowing what unknown “influence” will crack down on them for which unspecified offense, fear becomes their basic motive, if they remain in the industry at all—and compromise, conformity, staleness, dullness, the dismal grayness of the middle-of-the-road are all that can be expected of them. Independent thinking does not submit to bureaucratic edicts, originality does not follow “public policies,” integrity does not petition for a license, heroism is not fostered by fear, creative genius is not summoned forth at the point of a gun.
Non-objective law is the most effective weapon of human enslavement: its victims become its enforcers and enslave themselves.
Keep this in mind when you read the following.
The fallout from the Great Recession continues, and the scapegoating of the mortgage lending industry continues apace. In Court brightens homeowners’ hope, lawyer Adam Deutsch hailed a recent court ruling against a mortgage lender:
New Jersey’s Legislature has always been at the forefront in drafting laws to protect the consumers of this state from foreseeable and unanticipated harms put in place by commercial enterprises in the state. The apex of consumer protection regulation is the New Jersey Consumer Fraud Act.
Note the term “unanticipated harms.” Deutsch continues:
Broadly speaking and with few exceptions, the CFA prohibits any company from engaging in an unconscionable commercial practice.
The housing crises in New Jersey is far from resolved, and now is the time for a sea change brought on by the recent judicial decision in Freedom Mortgage Corporation v. Major.
The quintessential finding of this recent decision is that it is an unconscionable business practice to sell a homeowner a refinance loan when there is little to no net benefit to the consumer.
Deutsch goes on to cite two alleged “unconscionable commercial practices”:
Arguably any loan that contained a negative amortization provision where the homeowner was instructed to make payments that did not even cover the full interest payment is unconscionable.
Likewise, any homeowner who was the target of a loan-flipping scheme, where they were induced to refinance two or more times within one or two calendar years is also unconscionable.
Consider the market conditions pre-crash. Housing prices were rising rapidly, inflated by government policies—a process that had been going on in varying degrees for so long that people believed housing prices would always keep rising. And for those who understood the process and the risks, how were they to know whether the music would stop in a year or ten or 25 years? Financial bubbles are inherently unpredictable. Under these conditions, many negative amortization loans may have seemed to make sense to both borrower and lender. If your home value is rising faster than your mortgage balance, your net worth is rising. If your pay rises over time, you could pay down the balance or refinance out of your negative amortization loan. If not, you could always sell, cashing in on the home appreciation even as you pay off your inflated loan balance.
Hindsight is 20/20. What seemed like a good deal pre-crash became, in retrospect, a bad deal—an “unconscionable commercial practice.” Is it fair to demonize lenders for failing to see the crash coming? Most of the distressed homeowners could have sold at a profit if home values kept rising, as had typically been the case for decades. If that were the case, would lenders have been entitled to the profits? After all, they put the homeowners into the loans that enabled the homeowner to profit. No? Then why are they responsible for the “unanticipated” losses resulting from the home price crash? Are homeowners not responsible for loans they voluntarily took out?
I left these comments:
Non-Objective law is law that is so vague that no one can be sure what, exactly, is unlawful until after one acts; law that, essentially, is up to the momentary whims of lawyers, judges, and juries. It amounts to ex-post-facto law. It is an essential facet of tyranny.
The banning of “unconscionable commercial practice” is just such non-objective law. It is so undefinable that virtually any business practice can be declared illegal after the fact, including actions believed to be legal and ethical at the time of implementation, and the two examples presented here prove it.
How is a lender who helped a borrower that wanted to take advantage of tumbling interest rates “refinance two or more times within one or two calendar years” to know that he would be subsequently accused of “inducing” that borrower into a “loan-flipping scheme.” That, in fact, was my wife and I. If we now have an underwater mortgage, and are in “distress,” is that the lender’s fault? How is a lender to determine whether or not the home loan sought by the consumer is of “little to no net benefit” to every individual consumer that voluntarily walks through its doors—especially considering the utter unpredictability of government housing, monetary, and regulatory policies? How is a lender to determine what some future judge or jury will declare to be an “unconscionable commercial practice”? It would require omniscience on the part of the lender.
This is not to say that businesses shouldn’t consider the best interests of their customers. Good businessmen know that harming their customers is not the path to long-term profitability. Nor is it to say that fighting fraud is not a proper focus of the law. It is. But the fraud must be precisely and objectively defined, such as deliberately misrepresenting or hiding relevant loan terms. Businessmen should know precisely what is illegal before acting.
The NJ Consumer Fraud Act is, at least as described here, non-objective law dressed up in anti-fraud packaging. Any borrower that gets into trouble is another opportunity for some shyster lawyer to manufacture a new “unconscionable commercial practice” with which to prey on innocent lenders, most of whom were as much victims of the housing boom and bust brought on by government policies as consumers. The CFA is a law that inverts the fundamental American principle of “government of laws and not of men”; is another bailout for irresponsible or unlucky borrowers at the expense of lenders; and creates lush hunting grounds for predatory law firms.
The definition of non-objective law given above is not a complete definition. Ambiguous language and ex post facto (retroactive) law are the parts most directly relevant to the article. For the record, I quote Tara Smith’s more comprehensive definition:
Essentially, non-objective law is law that does not serve the legitimate purpose of government. It exercises coercive power to accomplish ends other than the protection of citizens’ rights. Whether intentionally or unwittingly, non-objective law transgresses the boundaries that the [proper] function of government imposes on the government’s activities. (p. 343)
“That which cannot be formulated into an objective law,” Ayn Rand observed, “cannot be made the subject of legislation—not in a free country, not if we are to have ‘a government of laws and not of men.’ An undefinable law is not a law, but merely a license for some men to rule others.”
What is Objective Law?, by Harry Binswanger
Labels: Business and Economics, Constitution and Law, New Jersey, Sub-Prime Mortgage Crisis
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Tuesday, October 21, 2014
Huber on the Personalized Medicine Revolution—and the Government Roadblocks
The convergence of two technological revolutions—biochemical and digital—has given rise to personalized medicine, which allows drug treatments to be tailored to the individual’s own unique genetic profile.
Huber is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, and his book is a fascinating read. He gives us an in-depth look at the modern drug science he dubs “intelligent design.” Huber observes:
In the last three decades, biochemists have made the transition from blind guesswork to the systematic design of precisely targeted drugs [which, in turn, has] transformed molecular medicine into an applied science anchored in immaterial code of almost limitless power and plummeting cost. [P. 23]
For example, scientists using powerful computers can now peer into the genetic makeup of individual patients to identify “biomarkers”—genetic traits that enable scientists to determine which particular drugs work for which individual patients.
But the FDA’s standard drug approval protocols, rigidly geared to one-size-fits-all “crowd” treatments for what Huber calls the “legacy germs”—infectious diseases like smallpox, cholera, and polio which earlier medicine was mainly concerned with—doesn’t jibe with the new sciences. The result: Countless valuable drugs go unlicensed or are severely restricted in their usage.
Huber also shows:
There’s more. Huber’s interesting book is rich in history, facts, insight, and policy prescriptions covering the science, economics, and regulation of modern drug development. He systematically pulls it all together into a convincing call for—if not a fully free healthcare market—at least a much freer one.
From this layman’s perspective, The Cure in the Code is not only a valuable addition to the intellectual arsenal of anyone concerned about freedom and individual rights in healthcare, but also of interest to anyone—rich or poor, of whatever political persuasion—who values a future of quality, ever-more-affordable healthcare.
Close the FDA’s “Loopholes” of Statism, not Freedom
Labels: Books, Constitution and Law, Healthcare
Posted by Michael A. LaFerrara on
Sunday, October 19, 2014
The Job Creators: Santa Claus Government or Private Business?
A recent letter appearing in the NJ Star-Ledger was titled Government, private sector create jobs together.
Actually, the content of the letter is even worse than the title suggests. Walt Lukasik opens with:
Republicans abound in their assertion that the private sector produces jobs in America, not the government. However, the U.S. government is the largest consumer of private-sector goods and services. If our government decided to halve its budget, is there any doubt that businesses would close and millions of Americans would be jobless?
Any guesses on what Lukasik's solution to job creation is? I left these comments:
And just where does the funding for government consumption and "investment" come from? Lukasic apparently believes that the government is Santa Claus; that government creates wealth out of thin air (or in some Polar fantasy land).
But, there is no free lunch. The government gets its money by forcibly seizing it from productive private citizens through direct taxes, future taxes (borrowing), or hidden taxes (printing press money, which is a tax on private purchasing power). Every dollar government spends is one dollar less that private citizens have to spend or invest. The only difference between public and private spending is that government officials, rather than the people who earned it, spend it as they please. Not only is this fundamentally immoral, it is economically destructive, because most government spending is driven by political calculations, rather than economic self-interest.
The source of government revenue is the private initiative of free individuals pursuing their life's goals. The only role of the government, to the extent it "consumes" and "invests," is to transfer money from some individuals to other individuals—and nothing more. Beyond its fundamental job to protect individual rights, the government can only harm the economy. Without the productive private economy, the strength of which depends on economic and political freedom, there could be no government consumption, investment, or jobs. The leaders of the private economy are those extraordinaire individuals whose intellectual energy exceeds his physical capacity to realize his productive vision—and whose ambition leads to action. The result is the businessman, who takes the risks, identifies the markets, organizes the factors of production—including the creation of jobs—and provides the vision and direction of the enterprise toward the creation of products and services that consumers are willing to voluntarily spend their money on.
But in Lukasic's fantasy land, "improving the standing of middle-class America" entails turning productive Americans into a giant welfare class, where every day is Christmas and people wait greedily for prosperity to shower down from Santa Claus government.
This would be hilarious if it weren't so serious. Many powerful people buy into this gunk; or worse, know it's gunk but exploit those who buy it to buy votes and expand their own power. A giant chunk of government policies, called Consumption Economics or Keynesianism, is built on this fantasy, and productive taxpayers foot the bill.
There is no question that jobs are created under government-funded economic activity, but only at the expense of even more job creation under private spending. Government can only help the job creation process by interfering less—lower taxes and regulations—or hinder it, by higher taxes, higher government spending, or more regulations.
In the past 15 years, government has hindered rather than helped. The results are clear for all to see; the housing bubble and bust and related Great Recession; the slowest recovery ever; a semi-permanent underclass of unemployed; record levels of official poverty; slow wage growth; restrained private business (i.e., real) investment; all within the context of what, according to the Santa Claus theory, should have produced economic nirvana— record spending, record debt, and record monetary expansion.
Mazzucato’s Fantasy: The “Courageous, Entrepreneurial State”
What is the "Key" to Job Creation?
"Government Help" Leads to Totalitarian Socialism
Labels: Business and Economics, Government and Economics, Government Spending