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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Free Stuff


It always amuses me when a random denizen from the internet shows up to explain to me what I really meant.

On March 12th I posted the following comment to Twitter:

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Calling universal healthcare and public education free stuff is the same as calling a Navy aircraft carrier a free ship.

That’s what I said.

Twenty Words. 106 Characters.

A fairly typical Tweet for me.  

On the surface, a soundbite, a throwaway line.

Underneath, however … well, we’ll get to that.

And two weeks later it’s been viewed by more than  333,000 people, responded to more than 10,000 times, retweeted 2,300 times, and garnered more than 3,000 “likes.” (Those numbers do not include the interactions where people clipped my words and attributed them to Bernie Sanders – Dread Cthulhu only knows what the stats are on that)

It’s not the most popular thing I’ve ever said on Twitter,  but it’s up there and it’s still going around even as I write this.

 

So?

 

Well, it’s funny you should ask. 

As I noted on Facebook, the comment was originally prompted by a brief online exchange, to wit:

During the course of a conversation regarding use of public monies with regard to military spending vs public welfare (welfare in this case being the public good, not the federal program for assistance to poor people) a commenter on social media, after a string of insults and non sequiturs, ended his message to me with “Liberals just want FREE STUFF!

Free stuff.

Free stuff?

Evidence would suggest that everybody, liberals and conservatives, likes “free stuff” -  just so long as somebody else is paying for it. However, in the conversation at hand,  nowhere did I or anybody else suggest or even attempt to imply that public education or public healthcare programs were “free.”

In fact, it was just the opposite.

Those programs, public education, public healthcare, are costly.

However, In the US, money spent in both areas combined is but a fraction of that spent on the military, particularly when you examine how and why citizens are taxed and how the resulting local, state, and federal monies are allocated to various portions of the various budgets.

The point being that if you call public health and public education “free,” then you must  also consider national defense “free.”

It also means you’ve redefined the word “free.”

This didn’t go over well with the original commenter, a self-declared libertarian who really, really loved the idea of publicly funded warships and really, really hated the idea of publicly funded education and healthcare. He yelled something about the Constitution, then stormed out of the conversation and blocked me from any further interaction.

Writers are not ones to waste good words or interesting ideas. And for political writers, well, It’s all grist for the mill.  If we could figure out how to deduct social media conversations on our taxes, we would and to hell with the aircraft carriers.

So I boiled the conversation down to twenty words, 106 characters, Calling universal healthcare and public education free stuff is the same as calling a Navy aircraft carrier a free ship and posted it to Twitter.

Why?

Because that’s what I do.

As I noted last week in a post on my Facebook page, which was also published on American News X, sometimes it’s about tossing out ideas and seeing what comes back.

What came back in this case, and continues to come back two weeks later, is endlessly fascinating.

 

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Noted writer and futurist Karl Schroeder responded that while universal healthcare and education are certainly not free, ultimately such programs cost far less than the cost of not having them.

This is true.

Provably so. As many times as you’d care to run the experiment.

And it is, in point of fact, why we have such programs in the first place – because there was a time when we did not. Because epidemics kill rich and poor, taxpayer and freeloader, alike. 

So do revolutions of impoverished torch wielding proletarians.

So do wars, and blight, and poverty, and ignorance.

Over time, against the scope of history, a healthy educated population benefits the nation as much, or more, than the aircraft carrier.

But not everybody saw it that way.

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These two comments are the antipodes of citizenship.

This is the difference between those who regard civilization as a social construct which is only as good as the weakest link and those who see it as every man for himself.

The point of my statement was this:

Here in America, when someone suggests perhaps education and healthcare should be the birthright of all Americans and not just those who can afford it – or at the very least accessible to all with a little work – and that the resulting healthy, educated population would benefit us all, certain conservatives inevitably respond with YOU JUST WANT FREE STUFF!

However, when someone suggests taxpayer dollars should be used to buy trillion-dollar stealth fighters, or tanks, or nuclear missiles, or another aircraft carrier, conservatives don’t shout, “YOU JUST WANT FREE SHIPS!”

And that, that right there, is the very crux of what divides us today.

That is the difference between “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and “what’s in it for me?”

For example, take this conversation from yesterday:

 

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Ebadirad considers public roads and Navy aircraft carriers as a “fee for service.”

And by extension healthcare and education are apparently not.

I suggested that he might have misunderstood my comment:

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No, he really doesn’t know why I said what I did.

He was confident he knew what I meant, even after I told him he was wrong.

Ebadirad, who calls himself a "Developer with a serious passion for trail blazing in the startup tech world" and says "If it can be imagined, I can design and build it" apparently can't stretch his serious trailblazing imagination to encompass the idea that there might be more to my comment.

And he didn’t bother to check.

From my own experience in the field of cutting-edge technology and my extensive experience with technology "developers," I find this hilariously familiar.

A digression: A number of years ago when I was still on active duty with the US military I was at a defense contractor reviewing a system they were developing for use on Navy ships. The project leader, whose military experience existed solely inside of an XBox, spent a week demonstrating a "tactical, quick-response" weapon that required two operators, an hour of sensor sampling followed by 30-60 minutes of alignment and tuning, had to be programmed for each target by complex differential equations performed by an 18-year old Navy tech - in his head, on the fly, where a mistake could kill our own people – and nobody else on the ship could do anything during the setup phase (including changing course or speed, operating radar or communications equipment, firing other weapons, and so on).

I laughed.

You have no idea how I laughed. I couldn’t help it.

When I could speak, I had to explain to a room full of disbelieving developers who simply could not fathom (yes, I did that  on purpose) that a warship in a hostile environment might have to change course or communicate or use its radar or fire its guns or do all of those things simultaneously at high speed plus thousands of other operations. While I appreciated the engineering and the capability inherent in their system, while I might admire what it could do if its use was the only consideration, in reality, practically, all  we really needed was a single large heavy-duty red knob with two settings: "Off" and "Full Power." Because if I ever had to use this thing, well then circumstances were dire indeed and I would never ever use any setting other than full power. Off. Or Vaporize. And screw the math.

Because that is the difference between a lab and a battlefield.

Because that is the pragmatic nature of war.

And because in war, weapons, like people, are part of a greater whole which must be able to work together for the benefit of all.

(The contractor came back several months later with a redesigned system which was twice as complex and took twice as long to set up. They didn't get the contract)

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A wise man, like a wise developer, would have looked for context before attempting an argument.

Alas.

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“Unless you feel that my healthcare and education directly benefits you.”

Well, if you go look you’ll see I never said exactly that – though if pressed I would agree that it’s entirely possible his healthcare and education might indeed directly benefit me depending on circumstance. Certainly his education and healthcare, and by extension that of all Americans, indirectly benefits me – though I suppose I’m just arguing semantics here.

He says that he has to pay for both his healthcare and his education, but his tax dollars cover aircraft carriers.

He calls this a “fee for service.”

 

You see it, don’t you?

 

First, our tax dollars don’t cover the aircraft carriers.

If they did we wouldn’t be looking at a $19,000,000,000,000 debt, would we?

(for the literalists, “aircraft carriers” in this context is a metaphor for the US Federal military budget, as it was in the original Tweet)

Second, I’m a self-employed writer with a kid in college, tell me about paying for education and healthcare. Go on. Make me laugh.

Third, the truth of the matter is that you’d be paying a hell of a lot more for both education and healthcare if the government wasn’t involved. That was the whole point of the Affordable Healthcare Act. That’s the whole point of tax credits for education. And so on.

I do feel public health and education of the population at large both directly and indirectly benefits me.

Benefits me and you and society as a whole.

For example: federal vaccination programs paid for by my tax dollars directly benefit me. I get to live in a society where the diseases which killed literally billions of people down through history are practically nonexistent. And I benefit whether the various recipients of those vaccines paid any taxes or not.

Look around. How many of your kids are currently in an iron lung from polio? How many of your relatives died from small pox this year? How’s that typhus outbreak going? What? There hasn’t been a typhus outbreak in your neighborhood in living memory? How beneficial. And unless you’re just being a facetious ass, it should be no great effort to extend the example of vaccinations to all healthcare in general. And to education, as well – uneducated ignorant people fear doctors and vaccinations, don’t they?

Another example, it benefits me to pay taxes which support the fire department – even if my neighbor doesn’t.

It directly benefits me if that protection extends to my freeloading neighbor. Why? Well, because if his house burns down, mine might too if the fire department doesn’t show up and put out the flames on his property. Maybe the whole damned city burns down.

Ultimately, of course, it depends on how you define “benefit.”

 

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How do you know you’re talking to a libertarian?

“Wealth transfer.” That’s what a libertarian calls taxes.

“You’re [categorizing] a wealth transfer as a fee-for-service provided by the gov[ernment].”

 

You may at this point, if you like, picture me shouting at a room full of engineers, “Big. Red. Knob. Big red knob! Off! On! BIG RED KNOB!

 

I digress.

In this case, like most libertarians, Mr. Ebadirad labels an aircraft carrier a legitimate “service” and education and healthcare as not.

Because he can point to an aircraft carrier and say that it benefits us all – even if some of us don’t want another damned aircraft carrier.

And because he can’t (he thinks) point to a person’s healthcare or education – which he sees as only benefitting the recipient.

As such, he considers the aircraft carrier a legitimate use of public money

Healthcare and education he considers theft.

Ironic, isn’t it, that the very same people who believe if the rich are given more wealth at taxpayer expense the resulting largess will somehow benefit us all, but at the same time those very same  people do not believe their vaunted sacred principle of Trickle Down Economics applies to healthcare and education.

Maybe it’s just me.

Ultimately, I suspect, this is less about the constitutional limitations of government and more about a self-imposed limitation of imagination.

Look here, as an American, you’re certainly entitled to your opinion.

If you believe aircraft carriers are a public service but education and healthcare are not, well, you’re wrong but the guys manning that aircraft carrier are out there with their government healthcare and education defending your right to be a selfish ass anyway.

In reality, America doesn’t work that way.

Right or wrong, good or bad, aircraft carriers, healthcare (to varying degrees), and education (again to varying degrees) are all benefits of civilization and therefore funded, regulated, and overseen by government because most of us understand that the alternative is far worse – and far more expensive.

“Someone’s education is not gov[ernment] owned.”

Perhaps.

And perhaps not.

Someone’s education might not be “government owned,” but it’s entirely likely they got that education in a government owned facility – unless they went to a private school, and even then it’s very likely the government provided funding, certification, standards, access, grants, leases, land, materials, tax credits, and etc. Not to mention paid for much of the larger science, engineering, technology that education references and not to mention those aircraft carriers out there ensuring you have a safe environment to go to school in.

Note, again for the literalists, in this context, “aircraft carrier” is a metaphor that includes but is not limited to military forces, police, security, legal structures and courts, infrastructure, standards, transportation, safety systems, communications, knowledge, and social systems which ensure the functioning of our society and therefore access to education and ultimately give you a place to exercise that knowledge once your education is complete.

If you went to a government owned and operated military school, like I did, or your education was paid for and directed by a government military program such as ROTC and OCS, well, then the government does own your education – at least until you’ve completed your service obligation and paid back the taxpayer.

More to the point, while the aircraft carrier might be a tangible government owned asset, the larger “service” it provides as part of our national defense isn’t.

National Defense is as nebulous and as intangible as national education.

We tend to only notice it when it isn’t adequate.

Saying the government doesn’t own your education while technically and grammatically correct, is incredibly shortsighted and ignorant of a much larger context.

Education doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

And neither does healthcare or national defense.

Ultimately, warships and bombers are only as good as those who build and wield them.

Throughout history, the societies we admire, the ones we seek to emulate, the ones our founders modeled the United States on, those societies advance by education, by science and technology, by increased standards of living, by increased public health, by innovation, and most especially through a sense of shared purpose and shared destiny.

The societies we despise advance by the sword.

Those who believe their civic duty extends only to warships and not to education and healthcare are fools.

Taxes are the price you pay for the service of civilization.

And it’s damned cheap, given the alternative.

158 comments:

  1. In reality, American doesn’t work that way.

    You might want to fix that

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    1. The main thing he got wrong was that because of the American Military Might ...... we have not had a war onshore of the lower 48 since the 19th century. Almost all other countries have been DEVESATED by war numerous times since 1900. Germany twice, Russia Twice, france three times if you count 1940 and then 1944. Asia, Africa, South America, the Middle East and the list goes on. War to Americans are little news stories in the newspaper or on TV and dead soldiers coming home. We have not had neighbor hoods bombed into submission, cities fire bombed, nuked, or gassed. We have not had trenches dug across our fields or had green lines through the center of cities. All because the american mitlitary keeps the wars away from our shores. That is the benefit we get from the Aircraft Carriers and as a news hound that follows these things I thank god that we have spent the money on the tools of war and have the best trained military in the world.... so I can sit here and type this on Facebook without a fear of some army knocking down my door to kill me and my family.

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    2. I think it's more due to the fact that we haven't had the relationships with Canada and Mexico that European nations had for their neighbors hundreds of years prior to their invasion, subjugation, and almost complete genocide in the Americas. Had Japan had a larger vision and more bodies, Hawaii could easily have been all theirs for the taking 60 years ago despite our tools of war. Personally I like to think the Europeans' reluctance to engage in war and its unintended consequences has more to do with them being wiped out by it a few times. But historical amnesia and economic despair is resurrecting a new wave of right wing nationalism, so that may change.

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    3. A strong, well funded military allowed you to sit safely at home misspelling "devastate". Awesome!
      Anonamoose

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    4. Oceans on two coasts, Canada to the north and a largely failed state to the south. Mighty convenient for avoiding invasions.

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    5. Thanks Jackie,
      I was waiting for someone to point out the obvious.
      See also: sphere of influence.

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    6. So, we've not had the mainland invaded since the 19th century. How many aircraft carriers did we have preventing that in 1900? 1920? 1930? 1950? If the military prevented mainland invasions with zero (or very few, very crude) aircraft carriers for all those earlier decades, then the 10+ carriers we have now is overkill and thus wasteful spending.

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  2. 'Your healthcare and education benefit me because I don't want to live in a nation of stupid sick people.' :-)

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  3. Once again, great blog.

    Just one thing, three zeroes short of 19 trillion for our national debt number. Otherwise, spot on articulation!

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    1. A trillion here, a trillion there, pretty soon you're talking about real money. It's fixed. Thanks // Jim

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    2. Thank you, Senator Everett Dirkson, for that quote.

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  4. As usual, you hit it right on the noggin. Can't give more praise than that.
    Side note, not sure if you meant "that's not how America works" or if you intended to use the word "American". Either way, it makes sense to me, but if it was a typo, I figure you'd like to know.

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    1. No, it was a typo. It's fixed. Thanks // Jim

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    2. Yeah, I saw that after I posted. There was not a single comment on board when I started. Stupid phone, takes forever to type.

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    3. Gosh, Golly. The concept of healthy, educated citizens contributing to the welfale of the community is bad ???
      I started my military service in 1964. I've participated in "single payer" healthcare ever since. My education was at government expense. I 've pAid taxes and SS on every dime. What's wrong with that. I gave over 20 years of my life playing
      "you bet your blood," to earn whaT I've received.
      Today, it's all "... I'm allright Jack, pull up the ladder."
      We're so frelled.

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    4. “I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”

      ― Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

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  6. I choose to pay taxes for universal education and health care because I prefer not to live in a country of stupid and diseased people.

    "Educate and inform the whole mass of the people. Enable them to see that it is their interest to preserve peace and order, and they will preserve them. And it requires no very high degree of education to convince them of this. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty." --Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1787

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  7. I believe it was the great Slim Pickens who remarked "You use your tongue purtier'n a twenty-dollar whore." In this context, "tongue" refers to vocabulary, logic, and reason.

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  8. That was beyond brilliant. Thank you, sir. I am, as always, in awe of your command of the language.

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  9. There's a great cognitive dissidence in his thinking. After all, the military is the last bastion of socialism in the US, when you think about it.
    But it's an acceptable face, because while we're employing that E-1 (whose job requirements are not really any different from any other minimum wage job) at an above-market rate (or at least what those who think the free market should determine wages would pay significantly less) with government housing, government cheese, government healthcare, and government education on top of that, luckily we have that CAROBAR-squadron, because without that, we'd be in so much trouble.

    After all, who knows how many more people would have died over the last 20 years in the US if we'd not had any carriers, to launch fighters at our crumbling bridges, to drop explosives on our hungry and homeless at the cost of $70k per hellfire and $20k per paveway.

    The guy's idea of public good is a bit skewed, as to my knowledge, there's not been a direct threat to the US (certainly not to any citizens rights/freedoms in the US) in the last 20 years). Except maybe for threats to freedoms by the NSA and CIA and their uniformed masters, through domestic spying and links with others using horseshit like the deliberately misnamed 'usa patriot act'.

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    1. Dammit, CATOBAR not CAROBAR (that sounds like it was dictated by the KimJong Il puppet from Team America when asked about his favourite 80's ursine-based childrens cartoon)

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    2. Pssssst...it's also "cognitive dissonance", not "dissedence", though that's an amusing error

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    3. Thanks. I had it spelt right the first time I wrote the comment, THEN I hit "sign out" instead of "publish" and lost it, so tried to redo my erudite and well researched comment as best I could.

      I failed, badly.

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    4. Anyone saying our military is weak and needs to be rebuilt is either completely ignorant or talking treason. Our military is the most well equipped and trained in the world. I'd go so far as to call it defense, but I can't get a grasp on who we're defending ourselves against, seems more likely to be used by armchair patriot chickenhawks to send the real patriots off to scratch geopolitical itches more than anything related to defense.
      But reducing, or even leveling off military spending is easier said than done. By design, the Pentagon has grown into a 100% taxpayer funded 50 state jobs welfare program. Entire regions are dependent on wages earned by producing the equivalent of adult GI Joe action adventure toys, most of which can’t even meet the specs for which they were purchased. A quick re-allocation of resources needs to happen before the tornado of middle class worker whining turns into another 'Reagan Revolution' when that giant teat starts drying up. But let's not overlook the fact that those workers are all home from a day of air conditioned work at the Raytheon or General Dynamics plant watching their kids' soccer games while the users of their toys are dispatched half way around the world on ideological dreams of being greeted as liberators and vague open-ended objectives.

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    5. "I'd go so far as to call it defense, but I can't get a grasp on who we're defending ourselves against..."

      A good point. Maybe we should go back to calling the Defense Dept. the "War Department"?

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  10. just a question: do you ever get tired of arguing the obvious to people who just simply aren't constituted to grasp the obvious? never mind, sometimes the distraction from reality can be amusing i guess.

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    1. Do I ever get tired of it? No. First, I only engage when it amuses me to do so. Second, as noted in the text, often it becomes grist for the mill. Particularly on my facebook page. // Jim

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    2. I am of the belief that if you do not speak up for the facts, then the lies and the foolishness prevail. It is better to speak as Jim does here, and keep speaking to the facts of how public service really works FOR US ALL, than to let the con artists and thieves of the "Drown it all in Grover's bathtub" club dominate the debate.

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    3. It's an argument that needs to keep being made. The libertarians have successfully convinced large numbers of people that taxation is theft. Actually private property is a human invention. To own more than one holds in ones hands takes a whole infrastructure of laws, courts, enforcement, and protection. Add to that other infrastructure, education, and public health it has produced a dizzying amount of stuff. And we mostly want that stuff. But, one of the costs has been been treating labor as another commodity to be priced by the market. I think we need to realize that when that result in below livable income we must pay for the privilege of stealing people's human birth right. Jefferson and Paine had ideas about that in their economy. In our economy I think it means a combination of minimum wage, earned income, subsidizing food, health care. It also means giving people a start with education. It also means someone some much stronger help when change in the economy helps the whole but leaves others behind.

      I worked in the tech industry as an engineer all my life, unfortunately I have seen too many young engineers who thought they were self made when they had been given everything, even the down payment on their house by family and government. All need to be reminded of the tremendous benefit of society and the price of maintaining it.

      On a bit different track some have come to see the mysterious hand of the market as the hand of god. And thus shrug off the externalities, the moral choices on human safety and environmental safety.

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  11. I am so tired of hearing people ask what's in it for them. Given the difference between John Kennedy and any given Libertarian, I will take the Kennedy look-alike/sound-alike every time.

    Also,
    In reality, American doesn’t work that way. I think that should just be America, not American.

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  12. The thing I most appreciate about our military is the fact that many of the officers learn to think.
    I expect it's a throwback to the days of 'officers and gentlemen'.

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  13. Jim, that was one hell of a mic drop--excellent essay.

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  14. Dear God I love it when you mount that soapbox! Thank you!

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  15. You might want to adjust the debt from 19,000,000,000 (19 billion) to 19,000,000,000,000 (19 trillion). You need an extra set of zeros. Otherwise, excellent article as always.

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  16. Public healthcare and educations are part of the national defense. We need healthy, smart service members.

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  17. No education, no aircraft carrier. I'm reminded of the "Six Degrees of Separation" where each of us is connected to others. My military surgical residency had allowed me to save countless lives, quite possibly including that of libertarians or their family or friends. Or someone that helped design and build aircraft carriers.

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  18. Excellent essay! I need to print this off and staple it to the heads of every person who is against universal healthcare and education, along with a link to this blog. Thank you for the amazing read.

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  19. "My education doesn't benefit you? Let me remind you, I vote. I have a Constitutional right to vote, and I'm sure you would much rather have votes cast by informed people with solid critical thinking skills than people whose entire knowledge of anything comes from Fox News."

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    1. Well, that depends on who the "you" is. Certainly our plutocrats absolutely LOVE the Fox braindead humanoids.

      Me, not so much.

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    2. Actually they think they like them until they get out of control and threaten the world economy as do the Trump followers. The Plutarch s only have their wealth in our complex economy. It disappears in anarchy. Destruction is a bad bet. Some realize that.

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  20. I always wonder why Libertarians never show any interest in moving to Somalia. No taxes, no EPA, etc. Maybe it's the lack of nuclear aircraft carriers?

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  21. I appreciate the clear and thoughtful argument(s) and the mental image of yelling at engineers about a red button. I was the general quarters OOD on a middle east deployment a few years ago and the thought of sitting on my thumb for half an hour while something winds up is beyond laughable.

    I liked that tweet the first time I saw it, but not just as a throwaway line. It really does lend itself well to framing the discussion when encountering one of those "taxes = theft" broken records...as you've proven just now.

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  22. the lala land libertarians live in drives me nuts--maybe when they get past thinking like 3yr olds when it comes to our social contract and reality they can be trusted in society

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    1. True Big L Libertarians will NEVER get past thinking like toddlers, hence can never be trusted to invest in society in any meaningful way. They'll just mooch off of it while complaining about it.

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  23. Jim, this is probably mean-spirited of me, but my new nickname for libertarians is now "Big Red Knob." Thank you for that and the entire post.

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    1. This blog platform needs a "LIKE" button for comments such as yours.

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  24. 'I like paying taxes. With them, I buy civilization."
    - Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

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  25. As always, I sit in awe of your ability to build an argument in the face of appalling short-sightedness. I'm only rarely able to do the same, being cursed with a persistent case of "I-should-have-said-itis". I admit I follow certain writers, you in particular, to experience vicariously the wonderful experience of reading quick-witted responses to idiotic arguments.

    While your train of thought throughout this piece is a delight, the final few paragraphs are worthy of being spread far and wide, for history to note.

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  26. There is a cost to all of us for every person that isn't insured or isn't educated. Thank you for a thoughtful essay.

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    1. Indeed, how on earth can people think that in a democratic political system-- where you have to live with what your fellow citizens vote for-- there's no benefit from others' education? You want to live in a country where people think the Bible defines pi as equal to three, and pass laws to jail engineers who use the samizdat irrational value?

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  27. The first public school in America was founded in 1635. It's still in existence, still a public school; Boston Latin. The Puritans, with all their faults, decided that an education was necessary for everyone, and before long every town had a teacher. Public education is a public benefit. Mr. Libertarian doesn't understand how someone else's education helps him? Other than cops who can read and write, doctors who know how to cure the sick, customers who buy his products, his employees, (if any), and so on? How about this: someday, someone who got a public education is going to change the brakes of the car in back of Mr. Ebadirad. Won't he be happy then that someone got an education?

    Public education, public roads, public service that includes police, fire, and EMTs, all benefit the general public. If all he can see is aircraft carriers, then he has a sharply limited view of America, and I'm rather sorry that he doesn't understand how much he stands to lose without all those people who have an education.

    Thank you for another great essay.

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    1. Nicely said, Nancy.

      MarianW

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  28. When I was a kid, in Flint, we were taught this in school. We were also taught the reasons it was important to have regulations which ensured the restaurants were clean, the food was safe to eat, and the air was fit to breathe. We were taught that the roads, the water and sewerage, the police and fire services were paid for by the taxes our parents paid, and that's why it was important to pay them, and that anyone who cheated on or didn't pay their taxes was a freeloader, and stealing from the rest of us.

    I shudder to think what they apparently don't teach in school, these days.

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    1. Flint kid fistbump! (CHS '85)

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  29. I've never been able to comprehend why some people seem to believe that our safety from invasion is different in kind from our safety from disease and ignorance. Despite all the "libertarian" verbiage attempting to prove why national defense is legitimately a common good while healthcare and education aren't, I suspect it's emotional at base: an attachment to warships and a strong military as a symbol. People who are attracted to libertarianism as a result of thinking of themselves as "strong", as likely winners in competitive contexts, also wish to identify with a nation that they can think of as equally "strong" and able to defend itself as well as impose its interests on others. Whereas the idea of a nation that is healthy and well-educated does not appeal to them in the same way as one that bristles with military might. Of course emotional diagnoses of people's opinions is rather obnoxious, but when something makes no rational sense, one is tempted to resort to explanations on the level of psychology or emotion. The public goods of health and education are obviously benefits to each of us as individuals in a democratic political context; when I'm going to be ruled by the consensus of my fellow citizens, it's suicidally stupid to allow our citizenry to remain unhealthy or ill-educated!

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  30. Thank you Jim
    Again

    This conversation often derails when the wheels hit the “free stuff” junction. As you say so well we all benefit from a better educated, healthier and financially secure society (yes, I threw that last in there)
    Those are the moral and shared value arguments. I would ask too what is the value to our society of the message that “it is important to all of us that you be healthy knowledgeable and successful”? Or maybe cohesion and community are overrated
    But, I think another thing is ignored when the conversation starts with the term “free stuff”. These things always costs us and not just in consequences but directly. Take education, despite the ever increasing cost of higher education people are still spending the time and the money for those degrees. Why? Well in no small part because they anticipate commanding a higher price for their time. And they will need to make some nice change because they are starting out in the hole. They are motivated by that debt and those costs are passed along through their employers. And money becomes the driver when choosing careers.
    Remember the stories about the polymaths choosing Wall Street rather than science? That’s worked out well.
    Healthcare is even better example. The uninsured and the under-insured still need treatment and they receive it (mostly) the hospitals don't just absorb that cost, it is passed on to the paying customer through the health insurance companies.
    When the argument against single payer healthcare goes to “but don’t you know your taxes will go up?!” my response is “What do I care whether my money went to an insurance company or the government, provided I received the best value for that money? Is there a moral imperative to the insurance companies profits? ” In the end, from a purely selfish perspective it is just about what I received (directly or indirectly) vs how much lighter my wallet is.
    These things are not zero sum. It is not the difference between the price tag on the thing and nothing. We were all ready paying.

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  31. Registered Libertarian here. I always figured "Promote the general welfare" covered education and healthcare. I sure appreciate my "free education".

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    1. You sir did not receive a free education. Your parents paid for that education with their taxes. Now if you were being sarcastic you can ignore the above.

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  32. Registered Libertarian as I fit neither Republican nor Democrat,not so sure about Libertarian anymore. I received a "free" education and see it as a basic right of citizenship.

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  33. When you argue with one of these "I don't want to pay for your healthcare" crowd ask him/her if they own stocks or funds invested in Rx,medical equipment, or health services. Ask them how profitable those investments would be if the federal government didn't invest in healthcare.

    Of course that also opens the door to a debate about whether healthcare should be for profit or not (or at least some rational amount of profit...which it seems Martin Shkreli finally made people think about).

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  34. Our tax code remains the biggest tool of so called wealth transfer. A libertarian would have rejected all of the New Deal expenditures. Actually, they did. And still rejecting them with a straight face before they fondle the government purse after their time in the house or house staff as members of the Gucci Gulch lobbyists union.

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  35. Sick, uneducated people aren't much good at running aircraft carriers.

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    1. Or building them in the first place for that mater.

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  36. Well said, once again.

    Having worked for a defense contractor in the 90s, I have a clear and beautiful image of someone like you laughing at the demo of a system designated as "quick-response" that takes two hours or more to respond at all.

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  37. A reminder: In a democracy, there is no such thing as "government-owned", because government is We The People, and what government owns is owned collectively by We The People. That aircraft carrier is as much owned by me as the college education that was largely paid for by Pell grants. Probably moreso, because far more tax money went into that aircraft carrier than into my education at a state school.

    Regarding public education, I find that a lot of these libertopian types are from well-off backgrounds and attended private schools as children. I had one of them tell me that if parents couldn't afford to send their children to private school, they shouldn't have children. I replied that yet, they do have children, at which point we have a choice of the children becoming criminals who prey on us if we leave them uneducated, or being our future employees if we give them an education. This was a guy who just a few minutes earlier had been whining about how hard it was to find competent employees for his business. He saw no connection between his support for cutting public education in Texas, and his problem finding qualified employees for his business...

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    1. If I could LIKE up-thumb this post where you point out the hypocrisy and contradictions these anti-government types are using in their arguments. "This was a guy who just a few minutes earlier had been whining about how hard it was to find competent employees for his business. He saw no connection between his support for cutting public education in Texas, and his problem finding qualified employees for his business..." Exactly that. They don't see the connection because they don't want to.

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    2. Or that when the family had the kids they had a good job or jobs and could afford all that "good" stuff. Then the economy goes south so fast the country gets the bends. It's not like you can take kids back to WalMart for refund, now is it.

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  38. One last thought: There is no such thing as a nation that is poorly educated and unhealthy, AND is a military power. You look at poorly educated nations, their military is always a joke because they lack the brainpower to develop and manufacture good military weapons and poorly educated people can't create enough capital to buy good military weapons, and poorly educated people aren't capable of the high level of training that is necessary for an effective military. There's no such thing as saying "I'm for a strong military" and "I'm against education and health care". Because you're talking about a contradiction in terms -- you can't have the former without the latter.

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    1. Well you are correct, only not for their reality. They are masters of the universe and a puny being who believes that a society is made of people shall not convince them otherwise.

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  39. I think a large part of the argument against expanded public healthcare and education is that most people are just lazy and won't use the system efficiently.

    They'll coast through college, because they aren't paying for it so who cares, and emerge on the other side a D- champion of the newer, smarter America. Or they'll head for the hospital after every scrape, bruise, bump, or funny feeling in thier guts. Hey it's free. It's my right. It's my tax dollars at work. Gimme some meds, doc!

    Don't get me wrong. I think we need both programs in this country. Bootstrap yourself up, get rich or die in a ditch style tough-love just isn't working. I just don't know how to argue that the above scenarios won't happen...

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    1. How about we can argue that the bad things you imagine will happen won't happen, because they haven't happened in any other country that has universal healthcare and free higher education? Unless you're implying that Americans are lazier and more venal than other peoples, in which case I have to ask, why do you hate America? (The last is tongue in cheek of course, but it's a point).

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    2. They do happen, but....

      Education: Ok, they can coast through college, knowing it's government paid for. But college doesn't have to pass them, and anyway, can and does give out grade point averages. There are ways around it: maybe government will fund or partially fund four years of college, and after that you're paying much higher tuition, so the onus is on you to make the most of your time ... or maybe the funding is dependent on getting a GPA of C average, so if you flunk you're out... or maybe it's all paid for and after spending 10 years of your life getting a four year C average degree you find out all the jobs go to those with A and B averages. It'll work out.

      Healthcare? Well, I lived in Taiwan, which has one of the best healthcare systems in the world. It has top rate hospitals, very good equipment, and is super cheap due to national health insurance. My son swallowed a coin and went to the hospital, had numerous scans, ultrasounds and (I think) an MRI, before going under general anaesthetic for a simple surgery where they went down the oesophagus and got it out. I think it cost us the equivalent of about a hundred dollars. Yes, the system is abused. I have a cold? Go to the hospital, see a doctor. No problem, no waiting list, costs maybe $10 including medicine. So yeah, people go there for trivial stuff, and the NHS loses money and they complain about that and discuss what to do. But then... this is possible because a) things are cheap in Taiwan, b)everybody has national insurance which is part subsidized by employers and is also cheaper because everyone is in the same program, and it's also cheaper because it's a government program not a program aimed at milking the government, and c) Taiwan doesn't have the same litigation problem the US has. In the US if a doc stuffs up he can get sued for millions, so doctors and hospitals cough up something like 40% of their income for malpractice insurance - which gets passed on to the customer. Taiwanese doctors and hospitals are spared that.

      What else. Oh yeah, the system gets abused a bit and people go to doctors for simple stuff. But that means that serious stuff is caught at a much earlier stage, which means it's much easier and cheaper to treat.

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    3. Geoff, where are those "most people" of which you speak? Are they standing around somewhere shuffling their feet just waiting for the "free stuff" doors to open or are they fearful flitting figures that hang around in your imagination? To be sure, we have a few people who make it through college with little more than a fragile grasp on basket weaving - hardly the "most people" though.
      Most colleges, especially in the "free" education countries require the ability to learn and think. If students choose to work at a D- goal they will be dismissed, replaced or land a D- pay grade job. Sure there are a few individuals, but not "most people.
      "Most people" will not flood out healthcare facilities either. Sure there will be a few. There are always a few who think a mosquito bite will be the end of them or feel the need for attention. Sometimes though, that bump or bruise is cancer that caught early saves hundreds of thousands of dollars down the road money that comes out of your pocket today.
      Another thing Geoff, my experience with people who accuse "many people" of jumping in the free stuff pile is that they, themselves, would like to be first in line.
      Here's my take Geoff. I have worked since I was 15. I have worked seven day shifts, night shifts, mixed shifts and double shifts. I have worked a part time job along with a full job at times. I built my house while working full time. I raise a garden and hunt for food. I look at the models of success in other countries and wonder why our country is still in the dark ages. I am all for expanded education and healthcare even if a few people abuse it because in the end most people will benefit, and so will you.

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    4. Yeah I guess in a way I am. It's anecdotal but I've seen plenty of examples. Plenty of family and ex-friends who's life goals include getting on disability. Athletic scholarships that were squandered away. I believe the corrosion of our society is real. The worst problem we face, the elephant in the room. A corrupt government creates a corrupt citizenry. They lead by example. If our leaders are all on the take then I might as well be too. Why work hard and play by the rules when exploiting the loopholes (and your fellow man) is the fast track? Not sure now, but the trend a few years ago was all the bright kids going for finance degrees, not STEM. Villains are the new heros.

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    5. Regarding the U.S. "litigation problem" mentioned above, does anybody know what percentage of U.S. healthcare costs goes to malpractice insurance? Hint: It's not 40%. It's not 4%. It's not even 1%. It's 0.6%. That's zero point six percent, in case you're having trouble. Or basically lost in the noise. There may be some medical professional, somewhere, paying 40% of his income for malpractice insurance, but on the overall scale of healthcare spending in the US, malpractice insurance is basically lost in the noise.

      As for the dude who claims that we can't have education and healthcare for all Americans because Americans are lazier and more venal than people in other countries, I don't know what to say. It certainly contradicts all the statistics out there, which show that Americans are the hardest working and most productive people in any major advanced economy. I wonder about people with such self-hatred for themselves and their country. Meanwhile, I've had "free" health care for years, and I don't abuse it. You know why? It's because I have better things to do than cluttering the doctor's office. Like look up statistics about labor productivity, malpractice insurance costs, and average hours worked per week rather than just pulling shit out of my ass :).

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    6. Ray Kuzmich. They're all around me. I see them and talk to them every day. I'll collect thier names and numbers if you'd like. I'll take a survey next time and bring data. The words *anecdotal* and *I think* were used for a reason.

      And I'm not claiming we can't. And I'm not saying we shouldn't try. I'm just saying I think it's going to be abused far more than most people think. And I'm playing devil's advocate here and trying to understand both sides of the argument rather than just cheering from one side of the bleachers. I know we'll benefit. Eventually. But only if it takes hold. My faith is low.

      Not sure how your work history and accomplishments are relevant but I've worked 60-70-80 hour per week jobs for the last 20 odd years. So right there with you.

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    7. "I believe the corrosion of our society is real."

      May I respectfully suggest you read a lot of history books, books about other societies and cultures, past and present, and even fiction from past years and eras. I'm not sure when you think there was a "Golden Age" of American society, before the "corrosion" set in, but your rose-colored hindsight gives too much credit to the past and not enough to the present.

      Delete
    8. It is hard to know where to begin to respond to this....My father went to CCNY in the 1930's during the Depression - because it was free, that was the only way he could go. He became a CPA and then a lawyer, put 3 kids thru college, 2 thru lawschool, 1 got a PhD in computer science, and paid far more in taxes over the years than the cost of his "free" college education. One of my brothers spent time in Sweden doing post-doc work...he went to their "free" health service and was told rather abruptly that he had a cold and should just go home...He answered that he was a bit subject to strep throat -- they did a very short test -- he didn't have it -- and he went home. Personally, I think that most of the people looking to "take advantage" of disability and other "free" stuff have given up trying to do things the right way. We all know of people who were promoted because they were related to the boss, or married the boss' daughter, or who got into Ivy League schools due to legacy admissions (Bush 2 comes to mind here)...So, either you have a sad outlook on people or that is just an excuse not to participate in helping your neighbors.

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  40. Mr. Ebadirad might want to consider that the whole reason he can make a living blazing trails in the tech startup world is that there is a healthy and educated population to fund his imagination.

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  41. Spot-on, once again. It's just sad how some people can cling so desperately to being "right" when they're just being deliberately obtuse.

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  42. Short-sighted, but also weirdly lacking in enlightened self-interest (as many people have noted above ). Sort of reminds me an acquaintance who complained vociferously about "Obamacare" (socialism! socialism!) until his spouse got ill (really ill, like might-have-lost-a-limb ill), and they (uninsured as a protest) suddenly found themselves with multiple five-figure medical bills - all of which the hospital and physicians/staff ended up writing off. Funny, this year they have insurance.Yes, the medical bills were insanely high (that's a separate question - whether health care should be so expensive), but the point is that they Could Not See how helping cover healthcare for everyone benefits them, as one of the "everyones". I'm just waiting until some Marburgvirus shows up in the US and needs to be contained - people who treat health care and education like a privilege will suddenly be screaming like babies for the infected persons to be hospitalized, treated, etc so the infection doesn't spread the virus to them.

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  43. Yours is a slight twist from Ike's chance for peace speech. Both would compliment the other. Every sailor and marine on my carrier were educated and healthy. Now its a museum and the education continues.

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  44. "National Defense is as nebulous and as intangible as national education."

    A couple of years ago, an aircraft carrier steamed up in the Mediterranean Sea - roughly in the direction of Syria.

    As far as I recall, it didn't actual fired a shot or launched aircraft; yet it was instrumental in getting Assad giving up his chemical weapons.

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    1. On the other side of your comment, the benefits of public education can be demonstrated by one name - Jonas Salk. The child of Polish immigrants who attended CCNY, a tuition free college. Why was he so important? He created the first effective Polio vaccine and founded the Salk Institute.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonas_Salk

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  45. Jim, you have once again articulated points I have tried (and failed) to make to people I've had similar discussions with. I'm going to keep this in my back pocket (as Jim would say, for the literalists, that's a metaphor) for my next encounter.

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  46. "The foundation of every state is the education of its youth." ~Diogenes
    Because a stupid populace is a great populace. They don't need words. Trump has enough words for us all. Great words, the best words, big words and he will use those words. He will own those words and "trumpify" those words. Words should end with ump. His words will be special and big.

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  47. Universal healthcare insurance and education damn sure do mean a lot to all of us. Back when the Big Orange Boner was Speaker of the House, I used to email him after each one of his 50-odd idiotic votes to repeal the Affordable Care Act, and tell him the tale of Typhoid Mary. I finally got so fed up with his
    obtuseness that I put it into very personal terminology: "Suppose you go to a restaurant for dinner, and your server has a case of ebola that has gone undiagnosed because s/he couldn't get wellness care at an emergency room. All your gold-plated, gubmint-funded healthcare insurance won't help you one bit, and I certainly won't mourn your passing. I will, however, mourn all the people you infect and kill, because you just HAD to make the black dude look bad."

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  48. Jim: If it weren't for you and Bruce Lindner, I would have lost the last shreds of my sanity a long time ago. Thank you for, once again, verbalizing what so many of us cannot do in such a public and far-reaching manner. You are at the top of my "Most Admired" Americans list, always spot on, and your sarcasm is like manna to my soul ... ..

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  49. I would agree Jim. I guess, I have wondered for a while, why in a country very interested in investments (look at all the tv shows), we don't view education and health care as investments.
    As I see it, it is an investment for the future.
    Personally I think the rise of the angry right has come home to roost. Rush and the like, who got people stirred up for the sake of getting people stirred up. If you fact check these people you can through out half of what they say. Hence, my thoughts on why we need a strong education system.

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  50. I'm a high school principal. An alumni couple, lovely people, stopped by recently. They were excited to tell me about the Tea Party rally they'd attended the day before, because they "don't benefit from anything the government does." I asked them for details.

    They got up in the morning, checked the weather (Nat'l. Weather Service) on the internet (DARPA-created), took their pills (Medicare), got in their Winnebago (safety inspected), followed the directions from their GPS (gov't satellites) as they drove down the (public) highway to the (state) park where the rally was being held. Had a great time, then picked up their grandkids at their (public) school on the way home.

    No benefits, indeed.

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  51. it's all a bit overwhelming, this "free stuff" conversation; because it's so much bigger than just education, health care, and the military. I live surrounded by the uneducated and the ailing impoverished, and I can tell you, my community struggles to survive and thrive. Meanwhile, the largest employer in the County is the government agencies that keep people working to restrict the rest of us from doing things affordably and without outrageous regulations. "Free stuff" can be a government job, including military. Thank gosh for Jim Wright, who keeps the focus real, and who loves to poke people with Reality.

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  52. What would America look like if taxpayers could have more control over where their taxes are spent. i.e. 1) Education 2)Health initiatives 3) Military 4) Infrastructure 5) 6) 7)...right there on their tax forms. All taxpayers get the same level of importance regardless of taxes paid. I know our elected representatives are supposed to do exactly that, but it often leaves people feeling like they are being taxed without representation. It's just a thought experiment. I'm just curious how it would play out. Great article. Thought provoking, informative, and entertaining. Thx, John Collier

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  53. Yes, we need education and healthcare for the guys that design, build and run that big navy carrier to his benefit :)

    We don't need some sick, uneducated rube in charge of that carrier trying to figure out the big red knob!

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  54. Going back to the beginning of the essay, Joe McDermott is correct. The free education and healthcare of any random stranger does not benefit me. HOWEVER, living in a society full of educated people with access to proper healthcare is amazingly beneficial. It's sad that so many people lack the imagination to look beyond their own noses and think about other people.

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  55. That "libertarian" appears to suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect. (See Wikipedia.) Of course, he did allegedly graduate from Arizona Western College, a 2-year public college. Perhaps he's under the illusion that his nominal tuition pays all the costs.

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  56. How does that libertarian dimwit expect to operate that highly technical, highly complicated aircraft carrier WITHOUT publically educated and publically cared for healthy sailors?

    Because that's ALL we need on a billion dollar carrier, a bunch of illiterate morons with tuberculosis on the flight line, getting sucked into intakes, FODing out the turbines and shit.

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  57. I have a question. How would one go about dealing with the opposite issue? Education and healthcare are funded, supported, and demanded by the citizens while military and some other security services are a necessary evils that is so underfunded there is an increasing safety concern for the servicemen and women and soon the country itself.

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    1. Simple. You invent an ideology where everyone derives his/her self-worth from "dying for your country".

      Case in point (Europe): National Socialism.

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  58. The United States is one of the few societies in history that could have chosen BOTH guns and butter.

    Unfortunately, like all the others, we chose guns.

    Peace
    Chris in S. Jersey

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  59. The greatest asset of any nation is it's population, not it's natural resources. Anything that improves said asset, will benefit the nation far more than other actions.

    I consider myself really fortunate to be living in a nation (Norway) which appreciates that. The oil fortune we have comes in addition.

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  60. The Founders knew that an educated citizenry was critical to the success of a democracy. One of the first things the federal gov't did was to donate real estate to each state gov't for the creation of the so-called "land grant" colleges.

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  61. The Founders recognized that having a democracy without a well educated electorate was a waste of time. Hence, one of the first things that they did was create the so-called land grant universities, in which plan the federal government donated tracts of real estate to each state to help finance the establishment of those schools.

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  62. Nonsense. A man can build it all by himself. Remember when Robinson Crusoe built that software company using nothing but twigs and howler monkeys?

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    1. I love you. :) Howler monkeys, indeed.

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  63. My four siblings and I lost our father when I was 8. My mother got Social Security and SSI as our only income until each of us turned 18. I guess, for me, that totaled about $12,000 over those 10-years, during which I went to public schools, later to a private university aided with federal loans, and into the military. And after my 4-years in uniform to civilian life where I made a shit-ton of money I never would have made without that federal help. On that shit-ton of money I - in one year - paid that $12,000 back in taxes several THOUSAND times over. (It was a hellofayear.) My brother and sisters did the same, although on a smaller scale. If the government had come back to us and said, "We want that money back" - I'd pay it. Joyfully. With interest. (As long as I knew it was going to be "invested" - and that's the word - in the next guy in line.)

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  64. Communism looks like a ton of fun. Let's give it a try!

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    1. Isn't he cute, Folks? Let's give him a big hand.

      Delete
    2. Wow, that's deep. Communism is one historically likely outcome of societies consisting of a very small set of entrenched oligarchs (Tsars if you will) and their water-carriers living without bounds surrounded by working class peasantry (Serfs if you will) scrabbling for a barely subsistence existence. One of FDR's greatest macro accomplishments is preventing it from happening here during the great depression. Luckily for us in the present, it failed in the historically short-term of 50-60 years, but at the time, it must have seemed like a REALLY good idea compared to the status quo.

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  65. Well, first of all the "fee for service" thing only looks like that because of the way we currently pay for healthcare. We INTENTIONALLY affix the cost to the individual to make it clear that this is fee-for-service, or at least fee-for-insurance. But of course, if we had single-payer, healthcare would look a lot like defense -- money going to the providers directly and some people benefiting more than others due to luck, misfortune or whatever. For some reason most people seem to have no problem with taxpayer-funded primary and secondary education but cry like crazy when one suggests extending the same model to college, even though not long ago there were plenty who didn't benefit from secondary education.

    Second of all, people don't seem to understand how money works. Where does money come from? It comes from bank loans, whether that be the Fed loaning money to the federal government or you or I taking out a mortgage on our homes. Taxes don't "pay for" federal expenditures, they simply provide a mechanism for the government to 1) redistribute the net assets of the private sector 2) control inflation. The government doesn't need anyone's money to pay its bills. It doesn't sit around waiting to see if the money is going to come in before it buys a tank or ship or pays your mom's Social Security. Taxation and spending are SEPARATE fiscal operations and they are legislated SEPARATELY.

    These days the feckless Fed is trying desperately to boost inflation using monetary policy and essentially failing. Still, people whine about government spending and debt, when government debt, dollar-for-dollar, is a private asset. Government debt/GDP is FALLING -- not good. Less money for you and I. Sheesh. People need more school.

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    1. You need more school. It's "Less money for you and ME."

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  66. Bravo Mr. Wright. As a teacher married to a veteran, we do not fuss when we pay our annual taxes to the school district, even though we never had any children. I don't even teach in a public school but we still willingly pay those taxes, and not because we would be in legal trouble if we didn't. We do it because there has GOT to be a bigger picture for the future of our country. This myopic selfishness and the inability to think beyond one's own present and only of one's own progeny is what led to this situation we find ourselves in. We are doomed if we can only care for ourselves and those who are like ourselves.

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  67. Excellent post!!!

    Indeed, we all do benefit when our society is working together, as a whole, cohesively, with an educated, healthy citizenship. Many of us know this to be true and understand the benefits,

    Unfortunately, I am not sure the much of the general populus is all that concerned with a well oiled working machine, and the general welfare of us all anymore. Just looking through the comments of most political posts is shocking. Nobody seems to care about their fellow man. They don't care about what happens to the next generation. They don't care if they look like an ass when they say "if it's not for me and mine I don't want it".

    I suppose the sown seeds of the 90's Me Generation have finally grown some damn deep roots.

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  68. The other day I was talking to an ultra conservative friend who was worried about her taxes having to pay for healthcare and government run education, and if the government is paying for it, the government can control it. I asked her where public schools, state colleges, state universities, and county hospitals got their money. No answer. She graduated from a state college. So I asked her what the government told her she had to study. No answer. The fact that she's a police officer whose salary is paid by city tax revenues was completely lost on her. Healthcare and education are not free, and anyone who thinks so needs to read a federal, state, county, and city budget. People, this is your tax dollars at work!

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  69. "He yelled something about the Constitution, then stormed out of the conversation and blocked me from any further interaction."

    Amen. That happens to me so often that if I had a nickel ... well, you get it. And I've found that you can substitute a dictionary's worth of other words for Constitution—words like "Bible", "freedoms", "2nd Amendment", [random Truther blog/theory] "sheeple," "Muslims" ... the variety is endless.

    I recognize it for what it is—surrender. Unwitting surrender, but surrender all the same, to the realization that you got nothin'. In some cases the person adds the flameout of calling me names (Mom taught me that name calling is a jettisoning of reason), but the situation inevitably ends with me being blocked, when I had done nothing but present reasoned arguments.

    My family asks why I engage in those discussions knowing that, 99 times out of 100, they'll end with a blast of four letter words and an unfriending or blockage. While I do occasionally get someone to rethink a position on something, I explain that it's not really the person on the other end of the discussion that I'm really talking to. I've had many people tell me that what I said helped them clarify their own assumptions about reality and encouraged them to go out and explore ideas for themselves. That is the real goal, for me—and I suspect it is for you too.

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  70. Excellent post, but I fear you're preaching to the converted. As for the rest, if they don't know logic, they will never know squat. One of the most telling things about American society surfaced a few years ago when some Texas school board tried to ban the teaching of critical thinking in their district.

    Yours very crankily,
    The New York Crank

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  71. You might ask Alex how he would feel about someone with little education and poor health (mental and/or physical) being in charge of that aircraft carrier he helped buy.

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  72. In many a discussion concerning taxes, it has been put to me that I should desire and, indeed,would be better off if I were taxed less and could use those dollars for whatever I wanted rather than on what the government spends them. My response is often that what I want is clean air followed by a request for their suggestion of what I should spend my few windfall dollars on to achieve this.

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  73. If all you truly value is the ships, but you want your neighbors to help you pay for them, you'd better hope they're educated well enough to pay taxes, too. And it's their kids who'll be funding your Social Security, for that matter, because the "trust fund" is a big bucket of IOUs for those ships we bought with the national debt.

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  74. If all you truly value is the ships, but you want your neighbors to help you pay for them, you'd better hope they're educated well enough to pay taxes, too. And it's their kids who'll be funding your Social Security, for that matter, because the "trust fund" is a big bucket of IOUs for those ships we bought with the national debt.

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  75. Benjamin Rush, decades after signing the Declaration of Independence, was fighting for "common schools" in first his home state of PA and then at a federal level. When confronted with the same arguments against tax burdens, he mirrored Thomas Jefferson's position stating:

    "But, shall the estates of orphans, bachelors, and persons who have no children be taxed to pay for the support of schools from which they can derive no benefit? I answer in the affirmative to the first part of the objection, and I deny the truth of the latter part of it…. The bachelor will in time save his tax for this purpose by being able to sleep with fewer bolts and locks on his doors, the estates of orphans will in time be benefited by being protected from the vantages of unprincipled and idle boys, and the children of wealthy parents will be less tempted, by bad company, to extravagance. Fewer pillories and whipping posts and smaller jails, with their usual expenses and taxes, will be necessary when our youth are more properly educated than at present."

    IMO, that position is as applicable today as it was in it's time.

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  76. Your essay made me realize something about this quote: "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."

    I don't necessarily think it comes down to a difference between “Ask not what your country can do for you…” and “So, what’s in it for me?”.

    I think it comes down to a difference of who you apply “Ask not what your country can do for you…” to. Conservatives apply that quote to welfare recipients or "freeloaders" as they call them. Liberals apply that quote to tax paying welfare providers.

    See what I mean? If you apply that quote to welfare recipients, then it becomes an anti-welfare slogan. It becomes a way of saying: "You shouldn't be asking for handouts from the government. You should be asking what you can do for the government, you lazy freeloader."

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  77. I would have a damned big problem with one of those "boats" being manned by people who were NOT educated.
    Boom.

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  78. Jim,
    I am one of 10 children in a household with only a working father. Somehow we scrapped by. The 9 of us who survived childhood have gotten a least one college degree.
    My degrees are in business and engineering. The cost were mostly funded by the government under different programs. With some hard work I was able to become a partner in an engineering firm.
    When it was time for my child to go to college there was no government funding available due to the amount of my income, even though my child was a straight A student.
    One day at the breakfast table my wife was complaining about the fact that our super smart kid could not get any assistance. I reminded her that he did. The fact that the government largely paid for her degree and my degree allowed us to go beyond middle class and afford to pay for our children’s college. We had a good laugh about it.
    Last year I paid more in taxes than most people make. I was proud to pay those taxes. My son works for the DOD protecting the citizens from terrorist attacks.
    My education was very much a positive cost/benefit for the USA.
    By the way, my sister died in the 1950's from an sickness that would be easily cured today.

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  79. Tell your tweeter you don't wish to pay towards the Iraq invasion, as it was of no benefit to you.

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    1. Oh I don't know, I got a limp out of it and an arm I can barely use.

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  80. I loved this essay. However, as someone who worked for a defense contractor on a Navy contract right after getting my EE degree designing part of an automated targeting system (Aegis) FORTY YEARS AGO, I have to wonder WTF is going on in that insane weapons system scenario you related in your "aside".

    ISTR in the 1800's New York City had private fire companies and private police forces... it didn't work out so great when places were on fire that didn't contract with them ahead of time.

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  81. The best argument I've made to people like your libertarian is a selfish one, but it seems to work with the more thoughtful. We ALREADY pay for education and healthcare for the poor, in higher costs, sometimes in taxes already.

    IF we're paying acute care costs (due to the inability of the poor to pay their emergency room visit costs, for example or failure to pay back tuition and other costs), why would any sane, KNOWLEDGEABLE person prefer paying acute costs when every sane, KNOWLEDGEABLE person knows that preventative maintenance is ALWAYS cheaper than deferred maintenance costs. You want a smaller bill, address the maintenance first.

    Unfortunately, it doesn't work often. :(

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  82. Big Red Button and some iron sights so you shoot the right target.

    Whether it's weapons or the latest software, what looks great on paper isn't necessarily great in use.

    And for all you 'free stuff' whingers: yes, all those programs you think are either unnecessary or could be privatized DO help the public good. Unless you WANT to retire and depend on undereducated young adults to take care of you while rampant homelessness makes our cities look like Kolkatta. Sheesh.

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  83. Some simplified math.
    Just to throw it out there, the US has spent about what, $400 billion on the F-35 program. Lets assume an average university education is going to be what, about $100K? 4 years? We'll use it anyhow.
    So you take that $400 billion, invest it on the university education of 4 million(!) citizens, thats 4 million well educated people paying high taxes into the pot, not scraping by at WalMart. Hmmm.
    So you say I'm a dreamer, well I'm not the only one.

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    1. The F-35 program, which is not expected to produce an operational front-line fighter until 2019, is now well over $1.3 TRILLION dollars.

      Just sayin.

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    2. So remove 400 billion and educate 4 million? How many jobs, direct and indirect, would be lost by removing 400 billion? We would also lose more security for our country. Don't see how this scenario could work.

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    3. What I've noticed over the years is that anything government puts their hand into ends up corrupt or over regulated to the point of choking business owners. Why would one want state sponsored education? Isn't common core enough?

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    4. Here's an idea for healthcare. Remove insurance companies from the picture. There are 3 entities, maybe more, vying for our dollars. Each want to profit from 1 client. Remove insurance, limit profit % items used to treat, a $20.00 band aid is ridiculous, and limit what doctors can charge, $2000.00 to remove your apendix that took 1 hour or less is ridiculous. Create a chart of reasonable charges that can be charged. I'm sorry but when I see a doctor driving a $100,000 car and living in a million dollar home....I just don't feel pity for him because his malpractice insurance is high. We're out here trying to make a living and they are really living it up.

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    5. So, just to be clear here, Jerry,

      Your argument is government sucks. Everything it touches turns to overregulated shit which chokes business -- well, except for massively overrun defense projects which are good because they employ a handful of people in Red States and make Defense Industry CEO’s insanely rich.

      So, therefore, apparently the best way to fix healthcare is to have government liquidate an entire industry by fiat, fix prices for goods and services like in communist countries, and set a limit on salaries for doctors to include what kind of houses they can live in and what kind of cars they can drive.

      That about sum it up?

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    6. Jim, I'd say that any system which enables charging $250 for giving someone an over the counter medication that costs less than 5¢ should be treated as racketeering. Healthcare in the USA is profit driven while at the same time keeping costs as secret as trigger technology for nuclear warheads. Such a system is broken.

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  84. Outstanding wordsmithing craft displayed here, Jim Wright !!

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  85. Recently I have stopped talking about "military spending" because it's as descriptive as "welfare."

    I prefer to break down military spending into a few large chunks:

    1) Manpower
    2) Operations (bullets and gasoline)
    3) Procurement (aircraft carriers)
    4) R&D (designing the next aircraft carriers)
    5) Veterans Benefits (promises made that should be kept)

    I feel this is an important breakdown because it allows us to talk about the areas of "military spending" where maybe there is some agreement. For example, I would be interested to meet the person who says we need to cut back spending on manpower. The United States couldn't run conflicts in two third-world nations without serious manpower shortages. I think we need to spend more on manpower, because you simply can't wish troops into existence.

    Operations is a big piece of that "Iraq War cost a trillion dollars" thing. You cut back on operations by not invading countries for the heck of it.

    Procurement. We do need to update and replace weapons platforms, but how many $2B bombers do we need? Most of this money goes to the executives and stockholders of Lockheed, Northrop, Grumman, etc.

    R&D. This is where we *design* the weapons platforms for 2035. Considering that the military of 1990 could have probably defeated virtually every other nation on earth, one could ask why we need to keep pouring money here. Folks argue that commercial enterprise benefits from breakthroughs in DARPA - why not just spend the money on public grants for R&D that are open to all? I mean - our own FBI took months to break into an iPhone; I don't feel like technology is our problem.

    Veterans Benefits. As I said, I personally believe this is keeping a promise made. I also know that money spent on supporting veterans benefits us all - I think half my high school teachers were retired military. From a political perspective, when you break down "military spending" this way, then we get to see which elected officials are willing to stand up and say they support cutting veterans' benefits. Let's get those names on a big ol' billboard in their home district.

    My $.02.

    Philo

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  86. "A society becomes great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in" Greek proverb
    Sums up the difference pretty well.

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  87. So does this mean the illegals would get even more free healthcare? They learned to go to emergency rooms and not pay the bill and they already get free education.....so an awesome gift of free medical on my dollar would be great...FOR THEM.

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    1. You betray a stunning lack of reality with this comment. Emergency room "dine and dash" folks already DO get free healthcare WE pay for, regardless of national status. Do you think they'll start handing out champagne for those of questionable legal status somehow?! We pay for those "dine and dashers" already in higher medical costs, factored directly into the payments you already make to both insurance and practitioner bills.

      And what evidence do you have that "illegals" get free education? If you're talking K-12, then every child in within our borders must receive education and that was local, regional, state, and federal mandated from over a century ago. So are you raging against your great-grandfather (grandfather?) for being too damn liberal?

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  88. Hello Jim Wright. I just wanted to put my other stuff aside for a moment, and stop by to let you know that I appreciate your point of view. You always make me stop and think about things, and if affords me the opportunity to do a reassesment of my own beliefs. Things I thought about this week which I can directly attribute to you include scotch, yellow mustard, the peace corps, and nation building. I'll just mention a little more about the last topic because the mention of scotch has, understandably, made me thirsty. I imagine you've seen your fair share of nation building by our country over the course of your career. I further imagine we nation build to fulfill our desire to promote democracy throughout the world. But here's what I don't get -- why did we ever stop state building? For most of our history we've added states, well, we kind of slowed down towards the end, but why did we stop at 50? Would 51 states be too many? Is our flag too perfect as it is that we can't bear to add another star? Or is the real reason more somber? I honestly don't know. I apologize because this is way off topic from your essay. It was the talk about defense spending that made me think of this. Thanks again.

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  89. A few years ago I got slammed six ways from Sunday when I suggested that folks who claim "I did it all on my own, why can't you" weren't thinking too clearly. If you live on a desert island and independently create metallurgy from copper to high grade steel from the bottom up? Maybe that claim will work. The same with textiles, machinery, farming, animal husbandry, written language, printing etc. perhaps you can make that claim. Otherwise you are standing on pyramid of mighty tall shoulders. Perhaps a thank you to your ancestors would be a good place to start.

    I was called everything from an idiot to a communist. Really touched a nerve.

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  90. Before I retired, I taught primary grades (ages 5-8) in public schools. Many of my children were from poor neighborhoods and immigrant families. They were eager to learn. Ideas and questions were popping the time. I know that as they aged into middle and high school some would become discouraged and even drop out. My full intention was to instill a love of learning for its own sake, in hopes that they would not succumb to disillusionment and be lost.

    That's a high ideal to try for; expectations, workload, regulations and testing worked against that kind of wonder and enthusiasm both for teachers and students. But I have never lost the conviction that universal public education is the greatest bulwark we have against tyranny. Perhaps that is the reason that so many cheerleaders for authoritarianism rail against public schools.

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    Replies
    1. God bless you for trying, but most of these children go home to an environment that destroys their initiative directly or by example. Some of their parents will hold them to higher standards that will allow them to develop the character to escape the cycle, but not nearly enough.

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  91. You say "Ironic, isn’t it, that the very same people who believe if the rich are given more wealth at taxpayer expense the resulting largess will somehow benefit us all...". What libertarian believes that?

    The federal government was originally funded by direct taxation on imported goods, or tariffs. You could buy the import and pay the tax, or not. Your choice.

    Indirect taxation, like the income tax, was flatly rejected. Trying to earn a living was essential to life. Taxing existence itself is tyrannical.

    Our current system is even stupider than communism. It's "to each according to his need" and doesn't even bother with "from each according to his ability." That's why we have a $19T debt. Anyone who is dumb enough to produce anything is a target for expropriate by the ruling class for the benefit of themselves and the underclass that keeps them in power.

    I would get a lot more benefit by giving to a school or hospital or volunteering the equivalent in time than running it through the self serving and wealth destroying federal klepto-bureaucracy.

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  92. Jim, I like Stonkettle and you've always struck me as a pretty smart guy.

    So I'm puzzled ... why would anyone with a functioning brain waste any time talking to a libertarian? Libertarians are deeply defective abd should be plonked where possible and scrupulously ignored if not. Never argue with a fanatic about his issue, he'll just go in circles.

    The whole "free stuff" thing is just dog whistle.

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  93. Did anyone mention yet that the aircraft carrier doesn't benefit the USA as much as it benefits Japan, Saudi Arabia, the EU and Canada?

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  94. My favourite method of getting up the nose of libertarians is to call them anarchists. Because that's what they are.

    Why do I say that? Look at the central belief of each system: That no one has authority over the individual save the individual themselves.

    So, in my opinion, libertarianism is a marketing ploy, a rebranding of an existing product. The question then is why was this done? I believe there are two reasons for this.

    First, it means libertarianism has no history. It, apparently, has no relationship with anarchy. Thus it doesn't carry the unpleasant historical baggage of anarchism.

    The second reason for the rebranding is rhetorical. By using 'liberty' as the root word of the brand name the field for argument is set in libertarianism's favour before the debate even starts. By arguing against libertarianism it appears that the individual is arguing against the very idea of liberty itself. It's idiocy of course but too many people can't see through this obfuscation.

    At any rate libertarians are really anarchists and if they ever get the world they want we'll end up admiring more stable nations like Somalia.

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  95. I am a newbie to your site, Jim, and abs. love it. Love your writing style, love the YOU that comes thru your words. We seem to think alike, eh, so I'm biased. I'll tell others, and we WILL donate to your cause, whatever we can. Your cause is our cause, and you seem kind and fair minded.
    I had thought the present zeitgeist in America was due to my growing up and growing old. Now I think, maybe not so much. Your blog is shelter from the storm and nourishment for the mind and soul.
    Thanks for your service, Jim. And thanks for your blog. You got some fans in NC!

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  96. YES. Those who believe that civic duty applies only to warships and not to education...are simply doomed to lose the freedoms they now enjoy.

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