SUTHERLAND SOAPBOX: There Will Be Order

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order.One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

self-controlConservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

There will be order – Sutherland Soapbox, 3/10/15

self-controlThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

When it comes to figuring out how to live together in society, there’s one thing we can all be sure of. It’s this: There will be order. One of conservatism’s icons, Edmund Burke, captures this concept beautifully in a 1791 letter:

What is liberty without wisdom and without virtue?

It is the greatest of all possible evils; for it is folly, vice, and madness, without restraint.

Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; inproportion as they are disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good in preference to the flattery of knaves.

Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without.

It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.

So many great little gems there from Edmund Burke. Liberty, he argues, if it is not bridled by wisdom and virtue, can run unrestrained into folly, into any number of vices, and finally into unrestrained madness.

Conservatism holds that ordered liberty is the optimal way to secure freedom while maintaining order in a civil society. But in order to maximize freedom, each of us must control our appetites and our passions. Because if we don’t, some external force will control them for us.

If we cannot rely on self-control; if our families are too broken to love us and teach us and nurture us; if our religions are too corrupt to call from within us the better angels of our nature, or if we are too corrupt to hear that call; if our schools are ineffective wrecks; if all of this is true, if these little platoons, as Burke called them, fail us, we will still have order.

Society might, as it has throughout history, devolve for a time into chaos. But some one, or someones, will seize control in the chaos and produce some form of order. It might be a dictatorship. It might be an oligarchy. It might be socialism.

Some may say America is now no better than any other country, and worse than a lot of them at maximizing freedom. It is true, in the U.S., we have seen the rise, for instance, of the police state and the diminution of individual rights. Partly, we can blame this on the natural desire of man to rule over man, but also partly, we can safely say, this is the result of the failure of individuals, families, churches and the other “little platoons” to sufficiently self govern. As families and churches fail, government will naturally, and with little encouragement, fill the void.

But there is hope. The United States, along with many other countries, was created as a nation of laws, and not of men. And, fortunately, the foundational laws that created our republic, and the free market economic system built alongside it, both reflect the realities of the inherent good and evil of human nature. Other ideologies actually try to change human behavior, which is why they always have and always will fail. So, yes, ordered liberty does require some government coercion, but in a free society, that coercion conforms to human nature.

No system is perfect. But America is built on the most solid foundation yet devised by humankind. The responsibility, therefore, lies with us. If civil society is crumbling around us, the repairs must start with us, with our families, with our little platoons. Because there will be order. How much freedom we will have to go along with it is up to us.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

A right to discriminate?

ReligiousSymbolsA common accusation made by those who oppose robust protections for religious liberty is that proponents are seeking a “right to discriminate.” The common form this argument takes is that religious liberty is already protected (say, by the First Amendment to the Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”) so any other concession is asking too much — it would be dangerous or scary, a license to pick and choose what laws to comply with*; it would be a right to discriminate.

Discrimination in this context is, basically, denying a person a job or a place to live or refusing to provide goods or services normally provided in the course of doing business.

To assess the validity of this accusation, some background is helpful, though necessarily I will paint with a broad brush. Religious people believe they are accountable to God in every aspect of their lives. Acting on this principle is what constitutes the “exercise of religion.” There are at least five possible categories of organizations or people who could benefit from religious liberty protections.

First are churches. The basic liberties they seek are to teach their doctrines, provide sacraments or ordinances, build and maintain places of worship and select official representatives (clergy) without interference. These aims, which may be thought of as the core religious rights, are typically protected by interpretations of the U.S. Constitution. For instance, in 2012, a unanimous Supreme Court rejected a claim from the federal government that it should be able to second-guess a church selection of a teacher in a religious school. The fact that the current administration pushed this attempt all the way to the Supreme Court is concerning, but that claim lost and there’s reason to believe that at least for now, these core religious functions are protected from direct government interference.

That’s not to say there won’t be non-governmental interference with these function, like vandalism, threats, slander, etc. Read more

‘Cromnibus’ and the emergent courtier society

"Prince Salim with a courtier and attendants in a tent," circa 1600, by Sur Das. (Source: Smithsonian's Museums of Asian Art.)

“Prince Salim with a courtier and attendants in a tent,” circa 1600, by Sur Das. (Source: Smithsonian’s Museums of Asian Art.)

Holiday feasts always remind me of that old Twilight Zone episode where aliens with sparkly robes, big eyes and knowing smiles show up with a book called “To Serve Man.” Everyone naturally assumes the book is a primer for saving us silly humans from our own ignorance and evil natures. This is during the Cold War, remember, when we all assumed we were going to blow each other to smithereens at any moment.

Naturally the best and the brightest humans line up for a trip to the home planet where further enlightenment undoubtedly awaits, and a select few will be chosen as mankind’s benevolent overlords: to serve their fellow man.

Unfortunately, though, “To Serve Man” turns out to be a cookbook and the best and brightest are on the menu instead of the guest list.

Maybe it’s just the Christmas sugar rush talking, but I think that’s where this country is headed as people and businesses line up for special treatment from an increasingly centralized, opaque and powerful federal government. At some point they’re going to find out that they’re dinners instead of diners.

Last weekend’s Cromnibus is a case study in how this happens. A huge unreadable bill covering everything from national defense to prairie chickens is ginned up behind closed doors and presented as a “must-pass” piece of legislation that no one will either read or debate before heading home for Christmas.

And who’s behind those closed doors? Only those who can afford their own D.C. lobbyist or, better yet, politician. The result, besides more spending, is a pact with the devil filled with restrictions, regulations, and costs that disproportionately fall on small businesses and families, and favoring inside interests and their benefactors.

Packing bills with favors has been going on for years, but it really reached an art form during the financial meltdown with Dodd/Frank. This “reform” resulted in taxpayers bailing out big banks to the tune of billions of dollars and includes massive increases in compliance, insurance and capital costs, along with giving politically favored large institutions a de facto “too big to fail” designation.

It’s a law that was written for big bankers by big bankers. They can absorb the increased compliance costs while small banks with much lower margins can’t. They can meet the capital and insurance requirements that stifle small banks’ ability to make local loans to farmers and homebuyers. And of course with an implicit government guarantee, big banks enjoy lower borrowing costs than small banks, giving them even more of a competitive advantage.

Big banks, like most big businesses, can absorb and pass along compliance costs and other regulatory burdens while smaller businesses, often operating on razor-thin margins as it is, cannot. That’s why box stores and big hospitals like Obamacare, why drug companies like the FDA, why big banks like Dodd/Frank. Expensive and byzantine regulations erect barriers to new companies entering the market and drive smaller players out completely.

But that’s not my point.

My point is that by centralizing and expanding government power we’re creating a courtier society, one where access to the King’s court is more vital to success than merit is. Read more

EPA's proposed carbon rule hits most vulnerable hardest

epa-logo_edited-1The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed carbon rule is the latest in a series of regulations that will increase the cost of electricity and natural gas at a time when wages are stagnant and a lot of people are struggling to get by.

According to a recently released study, if this new carbon rule is imposed, the average Utah family’s electric bill will go up by $124 and their gas bill will increase by $266 annually, for a total of $32.50 per month. If you don’t think that’s a meaningful amount, then you’re out of touch with a lot of Utah families that are living paycheck to paycheck and are all too often faced with a choice between heating their houses or buying groceries for their children.

These regulations are a backdoor tax plain and simple, and the most regressive and punishing kind possible. It may not hurt you or me to pay an extra few bucks a month to satisfy an environmental feel-good agenda, the results of which will have absolutely no measurable impact on the global climate. But it does hurt the most vulnerable among us. It forces them to pay a larger percentage of their paycheck for everyday needs like heat and electricity, cutting into what disposable income they may have and harming not just their quality of life but also their ability to live. It’s despicable and the height of hypocrisy for ivory tower do-gooders to inflict real pain and suffering on others so that they can enjoy a clear global warming conscience in the comfort of their beautiful homes and SUVs. Read more

How Silent Cal's 'normalcy' led to prosperity

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

President Calvin Coolidge in the Oval Office, 1923.

Calvin Coolidge is often noted for his penny-pinching ways and “Silent Cal” demeanor. His administration came on the heels of massive government expansion that occurred as the U.S. entered World War I. While some natural spending contraction is to be expected as the war ended, Coolidge took it a step further – a giant step further.

While today our federal government doesn’t pass budgets for half a decade, President Coolidge met with his budget director every week with the express purpose of finding places to reduce spending. This allowed him to lower federal expenditures every year of his presidency, despite a Congress flush with tax revenue from a booming economy.

That’s right – government spending decreased and the economy improved. This allowed Coolidge to lower taxes as well, but always with an eye to keeping the budget balanced and paying down debt. His was a fiscal record second to no other U.S. president.

As important as Coolidge’s record on spending and taxes was, it may be another aspect of his terms in the White House that had the most impact.

Click here to read the rest of this article at Utah Citizen Network.

When the West is pushed, it turns right

Morgan_Farm_2Most people have heard by now that the locals out West are getting a little restless, as they have every other generation or so since the mid-19th century.

What’s less clear is whether this restlessness reflects a new conservative political tilt, or if it’s just the latest flare-up in a turf war over resources and real estate that’s been waged for over a century.

Are we looking at an ideological movement determined to turn this region to the right, or simply a periodic episode of sound and fury, signifying nothing?

Defining Western political forces has always been tricky because these forces so much depend on the current state of relations between the locals and their Washington, D.C., landlords. The federal government’s hand is especially heavy in a region where bureaucrats half a continent away control 50 percent of all lands and heavily regulate the state and private lands that remain.

Increasingly, though, Westerners’ political leanings can be pretty accurately guessed by how far their trade or their traditions lie from that heavy hand.

As in the blind men and the elephant parable, what an observer might “see” depends a lot on which part of the elephant he or she is sampling. A nurse in Seattle or a software engineer in Denver will perceive a much different Western political culture than will a rancher in Montana’s Missouri Breaks, or a roughneck in Utah’s Uinta Basin. They will also have significantly different public policy inclinations: not so much because their interests or goals vary so much they don’t. Their policy preferences diverge because of the angle and proximity of their viewpoint.

One perspective witnesses and experiences the rural production economy up close as a livelihood and a lifestyle, while the other has real memories or implanted images of an unspoiled and imperiled natural legacy.

This isn’t a left/right or Republican/Democrat divide, although that’s how it is manifested in the voting booth. It’s an urban/rural difference of perceptions more than of aims, and it is too often exacerbated by cooked-up controversies and outside agendas insisting that urban and rural values must be competing rather than complementary. But those perspectives are different, and they do make a difference. Read more

Listing sage grouse as endangered would be 'the worst thing for it'

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

Sage grouse in San Juan County.

By Carl Graham and Brian Seasholes

Add one more potential victim to the catalog of high-profile species likely to be harmed by the Endangered Species Act.

The sage grouse, a large ground-dwelling bird that inhabits 165 million acres in nine Western states, appears headed for listing under the Act, much to the detriment of both the grouse and those with the greatest stake in preserving it.

Over its 40-year history, the Endangered Species Act has often caused significant harm to the very species it is supposed to protect by unnecessarily creating adversaries of landowners harboring these species and pre-empting state conservation efforts.

The Endangered Species Act’s massive penalties — $100,000 and/or one year in jail for harming a bird, egg, or even habitat — turns species into economic liabilities. Understandably, landowners often respond by ridding their land of potentially regulated species and their habitats; but the tragedy is that most do so very reluctantly. They cherish their land and take pride in being good conservationists.

States, meanwhile, realize what is at stake. Listing the sage grouse under the Endangered Species Act “would be the worst thing for it,” said Greg Sheehan, director of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “It would all but do away with any of the conservation that is in place.” States have taken the lead in conserving the grouse but are concerned their efforts will be snuffed out by Endangered Species Act mandates if listing occurs. “We can probably do a better job with our local programs and partnerships than Fish and Wildlife can trying to regulate from afar,” according to Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper. Read more

There’s so much more to caregiving than government ‘support’ – Mero Moment, 7/8/14

elderlyThis post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations.

Big-government advocates at AARP tell us that Utah ranks dead last in support for family caregivers. To be clear, AARP means that Utah ranks dead last in providing government support for family caregivers. A claim to which most Utahns would respond, “Well, isn’t that the cultural point of family caregiving?” We care for our own loved ones for a variety of reasons, including that most of us feel as if caring for our elderly parents and relatives is our personal responsibility.

The AARP research isn’t news. It’s politics. They admit that 89 percent of adults with disabilities in Utah are satisfied with their quality of life. Nearly every solution AARP has to the genuine needs of elderly Americans involves your tax dollars.

I was 26 years old when I asked to be and was appointed legal guardian for my disabled sister, my only sibling. I remember our small two-bedroom apartment in Provo back then. I was a student at BYU. My sister shared a bedroom with our two young daughters. When our son was born, we put his crib in the living room. We sacrificed to care for her.

Today, my elderly parents and my sister live with us. Mom is at a rehabilitation facility due to a broken hip. Dad has dementia and my sister has developed even more health complications. My wife and I live in our basement because my parents and sister can’t go up and down steps. Caregiving is what we do. We feed them. We shop for them. We handle their finances. We drive them to appointments. We keep them company. We have their health care proxies.

I think I can speak confidently for all family caregivers when I say – we’re exhausted. My wife and I hardly have time for each other. Family caregivers do need support but not like AARP thinks.

Here’s the support we could use. Read more

Thanks to Utah leaders for careful approach on climate politics

Click the graphic to watch a live stream of the International Conference on Climate Change.

Click the above graphic to watch a live stream of climate scientists and policy experts at the conference.

In “Herbert Catching Heat for Climate Change Stance,” (July 7, 2014, Utah Policy Daily), Bryan Schott shares the observation that “half of the nation’s Republican governors are climate change deniers, including Utah Gov. Gary Herbert.”

To which an appropriate response would be “Thank you, Gov. Herbert” – with similar expressions of gratitude to the majority of Utah legislators that prudently have not embraced group-think-based proposed responses to purported anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming/change/disruption/etc.

The perspective underlying Mr. Schott’s July 7 post is similar that of his June 9 “Krugman: Anti-Intellectualism Biggest Hurdle to Addressing Climate Change,” wherein he notes,

Economist Paul Krugman says it’s not vested interests that pose the biggest obstacle to addressing climate change, it’s those who don’t trust scientists. Krugman argues that economic ideology and hostility to science is the biggest problem in the climate debate, because it directly challenges the world view of those who deny climate change.

Quoting Krugman, Schott includes,

And the natural reaction is denial – angry denial. Read or watch any extended debate over climate policy and you’ll be struck by the venom, the sheer rage, of the denialists.

We should be pleased to hear any debate, even a brief one, between anthropogenic global warming (AGW) proponents and those skeptical of that view. Several years ago, while I was collaborating with the governor’s environmental advisor in efforts to plan and organize a public forum/debate that would address the topic of anthropogenic global warming, he and I were frustrated that our efforts came to the disappointing conclusion that no debate would be held. Why? In large measure because, despite earnest and persistent attempts, we could find no AGW advocates of national stature that would be willing to accept our invitation to engage in a public contest of ideas and data on the subject.

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Take advantage of the opportunity today and tomorrow (July 8-9) to watch via live streaming as climate scientists and policy experts meet this week to provide updates on current climate research at the Ninth International Conference on Climate Change. Sponsored and hosted by the Heartland Institute, the full conference schedule, including all keynote addresses and 21 break-out panel discussions, can be viewed live and at no cost as the proceedings unfold, and will be available online after the conference. Note that as all times listed are PDT (Pacific Daylight Time), Utah viewers will be watching one hour later than the listed time.