Is Free Enterprise Materialistic?

A common objection to the capitalist system is that free enterprise leads to or encourages materialismthe excessive desire to consume and accumulate material goods. This view is often accompanied by the idea that capitalism is based on the pursuit of profits, and thus elevates the accumulation of wealth to a kind of first-order good. However, when compared with its alternatives, the free enterprise system does not especially concern itself with the accumulation or distribution of material goods.

Free enterprise is a system whereby individuals, secured in their property rights by the rule of law, are free to exchange and produce goods in any manner that does not violate the rights of other individuals to life, liberty, and property. Goods acquired by production or exchange are owned by the individual, and cannot be taken or used without his leave. Whether a man chooses to consume his property, give it away, destroy it, or use it to produce more goods is not the concern of the overseeing State: in a system of free enterprise, the State’s role in the economy is to prevent theft and fraud. The focus is on human action: individual liberty to act, and individual responsibility for those actions.

Redistributionist alternatives are guided by whether or not the current distribution of economic goods meets some criteria – without regard to how that distribution came about. Socialist and communist endeavors taxed or confiscated the wealth of the very rich to make all men more equal in outcome, and class- and caste-based societies saw confiscatory taxation of the more successful members of the lower classes as a method of “keeping them in their proper place.” After all, it would not do for a peasant to have more wealth than a nobleman! In redistributionist systems, the State additionally tasks itself with transferring property and wealth between parties to achieve some desired wealth distribution. Here, the focus is on the outcomes of human action: did those endeavors lead to the “proper” distribution of goods and services?

The difference should be clear: free enterprise secures property rights to individuals and allows men the freedom to dispose of their goods and lands as they see fit, and the major alternative family of systems ignore, to some degree or another, the rights to liberty and property of some in order to secure a given distribution of material goods. Why then, is free enterprise maligned with the epithet “materialistic”?

The reason is simple: the system of free enterprise provides both the freedom and produces the wealth to allow people to act in materialistic ways. In some sense, capitalism civilizes materialism: the system produces so much excess wealth that it becomes possible for a man to horde goods without pillaging his neighbor. Nevertheless, the dual guiding lights of free enterprise are individual liberty and individual responsibility, and equality is equality of rights before the law. On the other hand, the more redistributionist systems view equality in different terms: the question is not whether men are equally free to act, but whether their actions lead to materially equal outcomes. The materialism of redistributionist regimes is embedded institutionally, whereas the materialism of free enterprise is not intrinsic to the system, but is engraved upon man’s Fallen and sinful nature.

Don’t Be Evil

As of May 31st, Google, self-proclaimed champion of free expression and of increasing global access to information, began censoring Google Shopping search results. Specifically, if one is searching for information on firearms or ammunition via the search giant’s Shopping service, Google will return no results. This level of arrogance, paternalism, and hypocrisy is really rather angering. If Google’s leaders wish to promote stupid views on firearms, they should feel free to do so as private citizens, not as the heads of a public company. In the mean time, I’ll be binging it.

Don’t be evil, Google. Gun rights are human rights.

Syria, Free Societies, and Decentralized Gun Ownership

Many arguments for gun control attempt to cite a tension between the rights of individuals to acquire weapons for self-defense and the safety of society. “Sensible” gun control requires that some limitations on the individual right to bear arms be enacted to protect society at large. These limitations often take the form of bans on particularly potent weapons, such as the now-defunct U.S. assault weapons ban. While such laws may seem intuitive, I argue that the good of a free society requires not restrictions on military-style firearms, but the widespread and decentralized ownership of such arms.

Syria’s bloody rebellion saw the deaths of more civilians on June 6th. Over fifty-five civilians were killed in the town of Al-Qubeir. The perpetrators of this massacre were members of the Shabiha militia. Shabiha, roughly translated as “thugs,” are regime-friendly civilians armed by the government and used by the Assad regime as a sort of deniable means of suppressing rebels. President Assad would technically be telling the truth when he claims that criminals and terrorists conveniently killed and intimidated his foes.

What does this have to do with gun ownership? Centralization. The Shabiha militia, as previously noted, was armed by the government of Syria. Also, according to gunpolicy.org, there are only 735,000 civilian-owned firearms in Syria, or 3.9 firearms per 100 persons. For comparison, there are 270 million civilian-owned firearms in America, with approximately 88 firearms for every 100 citizens. This low rate of civilian firearm ownership in Syria allows the Assad regime to selectively arm friendly segments of society, thereby creating a radical imbalance of power. Suddenly, these favored groups have weapons, and the common people do not. They can intimidate or murder a subversive majority without fear of reprisal and without assuming any significant personal risk of death.

A free society, which our Republic is designed to be, requires that democracy be limited to guarantee the rights of minorities against majoritarian depredations. Our Bill of Rights, in addition to protecting the people from the government, also allegedly functions to protect one group of people from the legislated tyranny of another group. In particular, the Fourteenth Amendment legally guarantees equal protection under the law to all persons. Unfortunately, legal guarantees do not always equate to actual guarantees. The Constitution of the Soviet Union included legal guarantees to freedom of speech, press, assembly, and religion. However, the people had no way of holding the government to these promises.

Consider a free society, with legal guarantees of equal rights to life, liberty, and property. In this imaginary republic, approximately (say) forty percent of the citizens, regardless of ethnic or social class, possess military-style assault rifles. Even relative poverty will not exclude persons from firearm ownership, if the society values weaponry. An AK-47 can be had for as little as $460, and I purchased my Kalashnikov for $300 from a private citizen (a practice legal in America and any free society). Suppose that a well-connected minority attempts to suppress dissent, Syria-style, in response to some new legislation enacting, oh, say, an unfair taxation scheme. Instead of mowing down unarmed demonstrators with no risk to themselves, soldiers in the employ of the oppressing group will have to face significant resistance. While it is certainly possible that the oppressing group will defeat the subversive group, such an accomplishment will require a war, and wars are costly in terms of both lives and money. Massacres are relatively cheap for the perpetrators. Further, while an oppressive class or regime might arm friendly groups with military weapons, the power gap between these ad-hoc militias and the general populace is merely well-equipped versus ill-equipped, rather than rifles against fists. While no sure guarantee of the rights of all people can realistically exist, distributed military firearm ownership presents a powerful deterrent to oppressive groups.

Such a society is one in which the rights of minority groups or poor majorities are more likely to be respected – not out of altruism, but out of that universal human quality: aversion to being shot. Combined with the fact that assault weapons are rarely used in crime, a compelling case for legal civilian ownership of assault rifles exists. Even if one believes that the good of society can legitimately trump or compromise individual liberty, the decentralized and widespread ownership of military-style firearms is clearly in the public interest.

A Reply to Dr. Mohler on Contraception

Earlier today, Dr. Mohler published an article entitled “Can Christians Use Birth Control?” attempting to deal with the question of whether or not the use of artificial contraceptives was permissible. The good doctor rightly condemns the ‘contraceptive mentality,’ drawing on the Catholic arguments re-presented by Paul VI in Humanae Vitae. However, he dismisses the absolute prohibition on artificial contraceptives, arguing that “The focus on “each and every act” of sexual intercourse within a faithful marriage that is open to the gift of children goes beyond the biblical demand.”

Unfortunately, this rather common evangelical argument is methodologically flawed. The proposition is that a couple can live a life which is on the whole open to life without leaving each and every conjugal act open to life. However, the broader sense of one’s life is composed of individual acts. If one generally remains chaste, but occasionally engages in fornication, one is not living a chaste life, even in this “broader sense.” Or similarly, one cannot be a pacifist in any sense if one kills people – even if one lives peaceably in a “broader sense.” Certainly Christians can fail and sin, and repent and try again, but we must recognize that actions that contradict a right moral attitude must be wrong, no matter how rarely they are undertaken. Fundamentally, the act of contraception is directly opposed to being “truly open to the gift of children.”

Furthermore, strict biblical exegesis should not be considered the exclusive guide to morality. While the pages of scripture hold much moral knowledge, the Bible is not meant to be a complete compendium of the moral law. For example, the New Testament never explicitly condemns slavery, but no Christian can pretend that (with the possible exception of penal servitude imposed by the State as a punishment for crimes) slavery can somehow be morally permissible. God has given us the gift of reason, and the gift of wise forbears, the Fathers of the Church (who opposed contraception, by the way). We would be foolish to discard these.

Nevertheless, Dr. Mohler’s article represents a larger and very positive moral development within Protestantism, a trend which we should pray reaches its logical and necessary conclusion.

A Thank-you to the CDF

Sr. Margaret Farley wrote Just Love in 2010, a work purporting to give Christian justifications for immoral practices. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has been in correspondance with Sr. Farley since 2010, attempting to correct the errors of the book. Finally, on June 4th, the Vatican’s patience with this wayward sister and dissident theologian ran out, and the CDF published a condemnation of the errors within the book, and stated that it could not be used “as a valid expression of Catholic teaching.”

Sr Farley is a theologian and member of the Sisters of Mercy, and though she does not possess a teaching office in the Roman Catholic Church, is nonetheless associated by laymen with that Church. By dissenting from Catholic teaching and setting up a false, alternate ‘magisterium,’ Sr. Farley is a source of public scandal and a danger to the faithful. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is doing exactly what they should be doing. Bravo.

The Mini-14 and California Gun Control

The Ruger Mini-14 Ranch Rifle is pictured above. It is a scaled-down version of the military M-14 used in the early years of the Vietnam war, and chambered in .223 Remington, a cartridge very similar to 5.56NATO. Sans the high-capacity magazine pictured, this semi-automatic rifle is perfectly legal to purchase in California. This simple fact reveals the utter incoherence of our regulations here in the Golden State.

The original California assault weapons ban prohibited further acquisition of semi-automatic rifles that had both an easily detachable magazine (limited to ten rounds) and one or more “evil features.” These features include such sundries as a pistol grip, a muzzle brake, or a forward grip. Most are primarily ergonomic improvements. Our exemplar firearm normally comes with no features on the list, so it is legal to own in California. The lethality or utility of the firearm is not in question: the criminal Michael Platt used a Mini-14 to deadly and tragic effect in the 1986 Miami FBI shootout. However, add a simple aftermarket stock to the Mini-14 (such as this one) and the weapon magically becomes illegal. The magazine size has not changed. The barrel is the same. The bolt is the same. The lethality of the weapon has not changed. It does look considerably more scary, sure, but it is essentially the same firearm.

Some time after the California AWB, clever people invented the bullet button. This device covered the magazine detach button, forcing the operator to use a tool to remove the magazine. This legally transformed detachable magazine situations to an attachable-fixed magazine situation. While still very inconvenient, this invention allowed California gun owners to have AR-15- and AK-type rifles. This weapons would be inferior to the Mini-14, but still serviceable, and safer to use than fixed-magazine variants that require weapon disassembly to clear jams or reload. However, they do look like their more-useful military and free-state cousins – that is to say, scary.

Recently, the right of Californians to own even these crippled but ergonomic rifles has come under further attack. A CBS article inspired some new legislation to ban the bullet button. Mr. Yee is absolutely terrified that civilians could own these “military-style” weapons, but seems to be missing the point completely. These weapons are less lethal than the legal Mini-14! Further, a brief look at the history of this Ruger firearm shows that it too is a “military-style” weapon, along with the M1A and the M1 Carbine – all legal, all military. I can’t find any instances of a bullet button-equipped M16 or AK47 having been used in a crime. The Mini-14 has at least as much killing power as an M16, and has been used in two high-profile crimes (1986 Miami and the Norway shootings). But again, even a crippled M16 or AK47 looks scary.

I would hope that those who seek to restrict our inalienable and pre-existing right to keep and bear arms would at least do some basic research to learn the capabilities and functions of what they would seek to ban. Unfortunately, these laws are driven by fear. The lack of knowledge on the part of the legislators is appalling. To be oppressed is never fun. To be oppressed by fools is truly depressing.

Why I Care About Abortion and not Gay Marriage

Essentially, Emily Stimpson of CatholicVote says it all. Civil marriage, with its misdirected focus on the individuals rather than the family formed, looks nothing like what scripture or even history describes. No-fault divorce and the “contraceptive mentality” that marriage is solely directed to the happiness of the individuals and happens to involve one man and one women characterize civil marriage. Christian marriage is a lifelong union of one man and one woman for the purpose of forming a family, to generate and educate the next generation of the Church. Every aspect of Christian marriage, from the components of the institution to its indissolubility to the Catholic prohibitions on artificial contraception is directed to the good of the family.

The pro-marriage advocates would have me believe that civil marriage need not reflect Christian marriage to be worthy of my support. However, I’m really not seeing any significant similarities between the two aside from composition. To argue that allowing “gay marriages” amounts to a redefinition of traditional marriage might be technically sound. But at this point, the gulf between the legal definition of marriage and the objectively true definition is so vast it is really hard to summon any enthusiasm for its defense. It’s not good and evil, it’s twisted and completely twisted.

On the other hand, the abortion abolition movement is about white and black, good and evil, light and darkness, literally life and death. If we had a Second Civil War to decide the issue (God forbid), this is a cause I would gladly die for. Preventing tweaks to an already ravaged definition of marriage? Not so much.

Campus Shootings and False Security

Monday, a little after 10 in the morning, seven people were killed and three wounded at a Northern California college. CNN described the killings as “execution-style” and said that the shooter ordered victims to line up against a wall. Police Chief Jordan referred to the tragedy as “unprecedented” – a demonstrably false claim. Rather, this shooting is part of a larger trend of mass shootings that occur on college campuses.

Police believe the suspect fled after shooting his victims because he did not want a confrontation with police. Other mass shooters has killed themselves rather than face the police. The common thread is the ability of the shooter to kill a large number of persons who are incapable of resisting, and then attempting to avoid armed confrontation with police by either fleeing or committing suicide. College campuses attract this sort of behavior because college and sometimes government policies often guarantee that the only firearm in play will be in the possession of the shooter. The only security provided by such policies is psychological.

To get a glimpse inside the reasoning behind such policies, we turn to a recent Huffington Post article praising a ban of concealed firearms on campus in Oregon. The author’s thrust is that it would require a majority of students on campus to be armed in order to prevent such events, and that the fewer firearms on campus there are, the better. Further, the author asserts (probably correctly) that most people are not qualified to carry firearms. This reasoning fails on multiple points, most of which can be demonstrated via an analysis of my own situation.

I am a graduate student at the University of California at Davis, and I am a gun owner. I legally possess a Springfield XD9611 chambered in .45ACP. I do not have a concealed carry permit, nor am I allowed to carry a weapon on campus. Being a law-abiding citizen, I do not carry my firearm on campus or in public. However, assuming that if I am not permitted to carry on campus, I will be prevented from carrying on campus is foolish. I prevent myself from carrying my firearm on campus, not the law. There are no metal detectors or checkpoints around UC Davis. Nothing, nothing, save the fact that I think I should obey the law, prevents me from tossing my .45 in my laptop bag and biking (it’s Davis, after all) onto campus. If an individual were determined to take out his woes on students here, my firearm would lie undisturbed in its resting place roughly five miles from my lab. The hypothetical shooter, having already committed to breaking statutes on murder, would surely not be deterred by a little sign reminding him that this is a “gun free zone.” Only individuals already disposed to keeping the law will be affected by carry restrictions.

Now, suppose that California were a free state, with reasonable gun laws. Most individuals would still be unqualified to carry a firearm. However, those people also by and large simply would not want to carry a firearm. Three groups of people would: the peace officers, the crazed or criminal, and responsible firearm owners such as myself. Let us suppose that I am the only individual in my building who carries a firearm. Since it’s a free state, every morning I bike to work with my 😄 loaded with nineteen (free state!) rounds and secured in my IWB holster. One of those mornings, a troubled individual with a gun decides to shoot up my building. Certainly, I won’t be able to save the first few victims, unless the shooter is grossly incompetent. Neither will the police, or anyone else. In fact, even if everyone were armed, those first few would probably die anyway – it takes several seconds to draw a firearm. I might confront the shooter and be killed immediately, allowing him to continue his spree. In this case, nothing was really lost, and nothing gained, by allowing me to carry my firearm. I might also take the shooter by surprise, killing or capturing him before he kills any more people. Confronted with a firearm, he might surrender – the best possible outcome at this point. Alternatively, I might end up engaging the shooter for a prolonged period of time (in which case that CA-banned high-capacity magazine shows its legitimate purpose). This would delay his rampage, regardless of the outcome of the firefight, allowing more people to escape and giving the police more time to arrive. It is possible that inaccurate fire by myself or the shooter would strike bystanders. I practice at the range to avoid exactly this sort of thing, but it could happen. If it does, it’s tragic, but at least the gunman can’t be using that time to put aimed shots on unarmed people.

Laws restricting the carry of firearms by citizens do not protect us. Such laws create an environment in which armed criminals or mentally ill individuals have every advantage. Gun control enables mass murder.

Roaring 20s is now Waypoint!

So, last night, the multi-denominational Bible study held at the Guys House (where I live in Davis) on Wednesday nights voted to change the name from the Roaring 20s to Waypoint, a name which was chosen over Forge, Cambium, and The Branch after two rounds of voting.

With our name worked out, we’ve finally gotten our group blog up, feel free to head over and check it out.

The Catholic Educational Crisis

The Obama Administration’s “compromise” – an accounting trick to hide the payments for contraceptives – was soundly rejected by the US Catholic Bishops. And rightfully so – claiming that religious providers would not have to pay for contraceptives, but that all insurance providers would have to cover them is an insultingly thin smokescreen. Nothing has changed. The Catholic leadership clearly recognizes this and is rallying. Many conservative Catholics have happily and publicly opposed this latest overreach of the administration, and even some stalwart Catholic supporters of Obama have decided that this is too much – Chris Matthews among them. Protestants, too, have closed ranks with the Catholic Faithful in opposition to this grievous crime. Sadly enough, these Protestants show a greater grasp of the issue at hand than some of our own.

In defense of the contraception mandate in health care, a misguided young Catholic wrote this response. The author is a student at the Catholic University of America, was baptized and confirmed in the Church, and “attended weekly catechism classes and received a Jesuit education.” And yet she says “[n]ever once did the opinion of the church on a person’s use of contraceptives surface.” The only conclusion I can draw is that the weekly catechism classes never made it to CCC2360-2400, and that Jesuit education never even gave a summary of Paul VI’s Humanae Vitae. My much-less-impressive education in Catholic teaching was no better – none of my confirmation classes touched on the subject, and the fundamentalist Protestant Christian school I attended certainly had no use for Paul VI or the rest of the Catholic magisterium. My mother was Catholic and my father Protestant, so the compromise on theology at home seemed to be “lay out basic Christianity, and let him figure out the rest” – which actually strikes me as the best possible under the circumstances. In fact, my years-long adventures in Protestantism (fundamentalist/pseudo-Catholic->confused->Calvinist) laid a better foundation for me than any previous teaching. It was more through the questions of close Protestant friends (and my ensuing research) than the teaching of Catholics that I came by my own scant knowledge of Catholic teaching, and eventually reverted to Catholicism.

Pia de Solenni has it exactly right: we have a failure of Catholic eduction. The author of the article shows deep ignorance of Catholic teaching – as well as the contraceptive mandate issue at hand – in nearly every sentence of the article. And I fear this sort of shortcoming is endemic. Political correctness should never keep the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church from teaching the full and authentic truth at any level, no matter how low. It doesn’t matter if the uncomfortable topic is Hell or sex: teachers, parents, and priests need to inculcate their charges with the full truth of Catholic teaching. It’s an evil and nasty world, a world at war, and we send in young Catholics (myself included) who don’t know which end of the Sword of the Spirit to hold (not the pointy end). Needlessly sending untrained men to battle is akin to murder; tossing untrained souls into spiritual war is far worse.