Archive for July 4th, 2010

Here’s something uplifting for Independence Day.

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Here’s an appropriate post for today. Having just watched a Bloggingheads.tv debate between Will Wilkinson and Jonah Goldberg on the topic of patriotism, it got me thinking about whether advocates of limited government can love (or at least have warm and fuzzy thoughts about) their country. I think it is correct to say that libertarians are understandably suspicious of patriotism if it means nationalism (my nation is good, so your nation must be bad). But some libertarians, including Will, think any patriotism is undesirable because it can be harnessed to statism. That’s a danger, to be sure, but I’ve always interpreted patriotism as support for the ideals of a nation rather than its government. That’s why the sentiments in this image match my definition of patriotism.

That being said, I’ll be the first to admit that patriotism in not a particularly rational sentiment. One could live in Switzerland, Hong Kong, or the Cayman Islands and be part of a culture that is based on ideals that are at least somewhat similar to what we have in America. So why feel any special warmth for the United States? In large part, it is an accident of birth. Many of us feel affection to America because that’s where we were raised – in the same way we may feel loyalty to sports teams based on our hometowns (Go Yankees!) or where we went to school (Go Dawgs!).
Here’s my two-part quiz. One question deals with a trivial topic, and the other one revolves around something more profound. In both cases, though, I’d be interested in feedback on whether affirmative answers put one on a slippery slope to statism.
1. Do you want athletes representing the United States to win international contests such as the World Cup, Olympics, Ryder Cup, and Davis Cup – even if you don’t follow the sport?
2. Even if you disagree with nation building and want the US out of Iraq and/or Afghanistan, do you want America to prevail in military battles? On a related note, would you rather have 100 (or 1,000) Taliban or Al Qaeda fighters die or one US soldier die?
The first question (at least I assume) is easy. Wanting your nation to win a contest presumably does not imply that you want to persecute other countries, invade other countries, or even have negative thoughts about another nation or its people. I also don’t see how it could imply anything bad on the domestic front. Wanting the US to do well in the Olympics, for example, does not have any implications for big government or small government (am I missing something?). Heck, if I understand correctly, the United States (to its credit) does not even finance national teams with tax monies.  
The second question is a lot harder. For all intents and purposes, an affirmative response means you value an American life over a foreign life. I’m not an expert on foreign policy, so I don’t pretend to know exactly what the United States should have done in the aftermath of 9-11. But I know I’m not a fan of nation building, so I don’t want endless occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan in the futile hope of transforming them into democracies. Nonetheless, I instinctively want nothing but good results for the soldiers and others who are stationed there. And if shooting happens, I want all the casualties on the other side. I don’t think these views make me a bad libertarian, but I welcome your thoughts.

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Chris Christie of New Jersey has done a remarkable job so far, but his biggest battles are still ahead of him. A key fight is whether the state will impose a cap on property taxes. As the Wall Street Journal opines, this reform has worked very well in Massachusetts and is critical to curtailiing the greed of government employee unions in the Garden State.
The Governor wants to cap annual property tax increases at 2.5%, on the model of the successful cap that Massachusetts imposed in 1980. Over the next 27 years, property taxes in the Bay State rose 22% compared to 68% nationwide and 102% in New Jersey. The cap is crucial to preventing local Garden State school districts, which are dominated by teachers unions, from raising taxes and thus defeating whatever spending restraint Mr. Christie can impose on Trenton. The unions know this, which is why they’ve spent some $7 million in TV ads portraying Mr. Christie as the scourge of police, firefighters and children. The Governor’s approval rating has held up well despite the onslaught, which may reflect that voters understand the state’s new fiscal reality. New Jersey’s property taxes and its overall state and local tax burden are the nation’s highest, and the state hasn’t created a single net new private job in a decade. Democrats who run the state legislature have counter-offered with a 2.9% cap, but with so many spending exceptions that it’s more fig leaf than cap. Their bill would allow lawmakers to raise property taxes above the cap to pay for pensions, health care and utility costs and, here’s the kicker, even in order to promote the health, safety or welfare of the municipality. …This showdown is worth watching because Mr. Christie has shown admirable political grit so far, and success in New Jersey would bolster the nerve of other reform governors. One temptation for Mr. Christie would be to settle for too little reform when his political capital is at its highest, which was Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original mistake in California. …Mr. Christie’s best reform opportunity is now, and taxpayers everywhere should hope he succeeds.

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