Archive for June, 2013

Our regular readers may remember Jason’s run-in with the law due to his non-standard front yard.  Fortunately, that situation ended reasonable well.

Unfortunately, his city isn’t the only one trying to enforce a one-size-fits-all approach to front yards.  Orlando, Florida also has issues with property owners exercising their property rights in ways it does not like but which do not violate the law of equal freedom or raise health/safety concerns.  In particular, Jennifer and Jason Helvenston are being threatened with serious fines if they don’t comply with the city’s code for this egregious threat to the vision of city leaders (see below and see it in this Institute for Justice article on the subject that tipped me off to the case):


Thankfully, IJ is on the case – and that excellent institution and the Helvenstons are taking the fight to the public with the Patriot Garden movement.  You can learn about it here at their website: www.patriot-gardens.com.  According to that site, you can help their cause (and the broader fight for property rights protection) by planting your own food garden in lieu of a lawn: “Stand up for your rights!  Help us tell our leaders ‘hands off our food.’  Be involved in a peaceful protest by planting your seeds and placing your Patriot Garden sign in a visible, sunny area of your front yard.”  In short, “Plant a Seed.  Change the Law.”

Good luck!  You have my support.  I’d join you but I rent and need to respect my contract with the landlord as much as the city needs to respect your property rights!   But I hope others, especially citizens of Orlando, will be able to help you fight the powers that be in city hall.

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A reply to James

This started out as a comment on James’ post but ended up long enough to stand on its own….

James, I appreciate your sentiments here.  However, I think your conception of marriage is too atomistic (or perhaps I should say “dyastic”).  I think marriage is best understood as a multilateral compact with the married couple at its core.  The marriage compact also includes the connection between families, principally through extended families, but also through neighborhoods and a variety of social associations, such as schools and churches.  Married couples expect things from the community (such as assistance in safeguarding children), and the community expects things from the couple (such as responsible parenting).

A radical redefinition of marriage will alter what marriage means in society and how it functions.  Thus gay marriage may, indeed, threaten marriage (though it may strengthen it, too).  Some argue that internalizing gay couples into the social fabric through marriage makes that fabric stronger.  Perhaps.  But stripping gender from our concept of marriage is a fundamental change in what marriage is. Indeed, I think it is creating something that (though it may be valuable or rewarding in some ways) is definitely not marriage.  It is not just intimacy or commitment that makes a marriage a marriage, though those are essential traits; marriage is a man and a woman, very different creatures, coming together in a permanent union where a new family can be created and flourish.  The man and woman bring to this union their very different backgrounds and cultures, which are profoundly shaped by gender, and they produce and raise children in an environment that is profoundly influenced by gender.

In short, two men may love a child, but neither of them will ever be a mother.  There have always been motherless and fatherless children, but that is something to be mourned, not celebrated.

Libertarians often argue that the state should get out of the marriage business.  I’m not going to try to articulate a political theory of marriage, but I think that the state has an important role to play in recognizing and sanctioning marriages.  I think that in the “state of nature” marriages are a social fact that pre-exist the state and that the state must respect, encourage, and protect marriages from forces that threaten them.   In a pluralistic society, state-sanctioned marriage creates bonds between different cultural and religious traditions by identifying a common thread that runs through these different traditions.  Marriage is so embedded in our common and statutory law that extracting the state from marriage is likely to have all sorts of unintended consequences.  The state also provides a common commitment mechanism in a pluralistic society that is weaker than the “sacred compact” you refer to, yet which still functions to tie a couple to each other and to the community.

Marriage is the primary institutional force through which society conditions men to behave themselves (through fidelity to wives and children). Marriage is already threatened by a variety of social forces not having anything to do with homosexuality, nor is gay marriage the greatest threat to the marriage institution.  I think an atomostic, secular view of a marriage as a bilateral contract between consenting sexual partners strips marriage of much of its value.

Taking God out of the social compact also weakens marriage bonds.  In my view, couples who do not draw on the power and love of God in making their marriage work leave a valuable source of marital strength untapped.  Religious communities are also an extremely valuable source of strength in creating successful marriages.  Certainly, couples should be under no religious obligations with respect to their marriage, but the decline of marriage as a sacred covenant couples make with their God is something to be mourned as well.

The past half century of social change has unleashed a set of pernicious forces that have undermined marriage and, thereby, social norms (though some of that change, such as greater social equality of the sexes, has been positive).  In some countries, marriage is disappearing and marital childbearing is no longer the norm. When we fundamentally change what marriage means and its importance in society, we undoubtedly shake the foundations of the world that my children and grandchildren must live in.

So, James, that is what I fear.

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My marriage is a sacred compact between my wife and me before God. No law, proposition, or court decision can ever change that. The government’s recognition of my marriage did not make it the sacred compact that it is; the government’s recognition of anyone else’s relationship does not affect what mine is; and no legal definition or redefinition of any term touches it in the least.

To paraphrase Psalm 27: Whom, then, shall I fear?

The recent Supreme Court decision did not redefine Christian marriage, because no court could ever do so even if it wanted to. For a Christian, a marriage was and remains a sacrament before God between a man and a woman, and its authorities derive from sources other than, indeed beyond, those of the state. The fact that others have different conceptions of marriage, or that some want to call a relationship a “marriage” that a Christian does not recognize as counting as a “marriage,” is, frankly, irrelevant. I am thankful to live in a country where we do not have to agree on everything in order to live with one another peacefully and respectfully.

It is beyond passing strange, however, that some of the same Christians so vehemently resisting the Affordable Care Act’s decrees that violate their religious freedom—and they are right to do so, in my view—are among those so anxious to have the government validate their religiously based conception of marriage. As Albert Jay Nock reminded us, whatever power you give the government to do something for you, you give it also to do something to you. You lose your right to complain when the government you have empowered and supported when it aligned with your worldview then decides to stray from your worldview and begins employing the power you gave it in the service of other ends. As the saying goes, government is, like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master: You should have known what deal you were making. 

The solution, it seems to me, is to return to the beginning: We must recognize freedom of religion, and the freedom of conscience it implies, as our first freedom, and abolish all government connection to it. No special favors, no legal protections, and no legal restrictions. “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s,” as a wise man said a long time ago.

Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of this affair, however, is the incredible speed with which public opinion changed on the subject of same-sex marriage. Remember, the Defense of Marriage Act passed overwhelmingly (342–67 in the House; 85–14 in the Senate), enjoyed broad bipartisan support (even among many who subsequently called for its repeal and who now applaud the Supreme Court’s decision), and it was signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who also later decided to oppose it). And all that happened only in 1996. Contemplate for a moment that in the compass of just seventeen years, our culture went from broad and deep opposition to same-sex marriage to not only support for legalizing same-sex marriage but finding it obvious, even self-evident, that it should be legal and assuming that any opposition to it could come only from gross stupidity or blind bigotry—or both. I cannot think of another complete cultural about-face of this speed and magnitude.

In light of these recent events, I say to those who are disheartened by the Supreme Court’s striking down of DOMA: take heart! You now have the opportunity to witness to the world what your conception of marriage is not by relying on statutory props but by living your conception. Have the marriage you espouse; be the parents you extol; live the life you preach. Do not underestimate the power of personal example.

Moreover, if our culture can change this quickly about one matter, it can change this quickly about other matters as well. Perhaps this decision, along with other recent government mischief, can awaken from its dogmatic slumbers the American spirit of liberty—a spirit, that is, that once chafed not only at one or another particular invasion of conscience and privacy, but at invasions of conscience and privacy generally. Lord knows there remain many threats to our liberties to which a revivified love of personal choice and freedom could fruitfully turn its jealous scrutiny.

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A child faced with limits on her behavior will often lash out at the adult who is imposing those limits as being mean or hateful.  We ignore or forgive such words because we do not really expect children to understand the true motivations behind adult actions.

We would expect a Justice of the Supreme Court to have a more mature response, but this week Justice Kennedy showed such an expectation to be false.  That the Court struck down DOMA was not surpising, nor was the due process rationale unexpected.  I don’t agree with those arguments, but I can see how reasonable people would make them.

The disturbing part of Kennedy’s claim was his amazing rhetorical leap where he claimed (slurring, in the process, a large majority of Congress, former President Clinton, and the millions of Americans who supported the Act) that the only motivation for the act was “animus.”  Hatred.  Hostility.  That is all he can see.  Now, humility is not ubiquitous among jurists, but sweeping judgments on the true motivations of lawmakers (without any evidence on the matter, mind you) is not common.

In dissent, Justice Scalia summarized the Kennedy argument better than I could:

To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual. All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence—indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race. [emphasis in original]

So, whatever your cause may be–gun rights, climate change, universal health care, abortion, tax reform, whatever—you now have license to judge the motives of those who oppose you, a justification not to give them the benefit of the doubt or not to assume they have reasons why they oppose your view, however illogical or errant those reasons may be.

Justice Kennedy has now provided you with the moral legitimacy you need.  Just say it.  “I’m right, so you’re a hater.”

Case closed.

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The Free State Project’s Porcupine Freedom Festival was last week, and the media mentions have been trickling in. Unfortunately, I was not able to go due to scheduling conflicts, but the organizers claim, on the basis of 1,500 paid registrants, that over 1,700 people attended (including children). That makes it the biggest PorcFest ever, unsurprising considering an excellent lineup including David Friedman, Robert Murphy, Don Boudreaux, Michael Huemer, and many, many more. In addition, PorcFest’s “Agora Alley” has become (in)famous as a real-life example of a free-wheeling free market in action.

Here are some after-action reports I’ve been able to dig up:

Next year, I’m so there. And you should be too.

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From Pietra Rivoli:

“The USITC [U.S. International Trade Commission] estimated that the removal of all textile and apparel quotas and tariffs would have resulted in an economywide gain of $10.4 billion in 1996, but at a cost of 117,150 jobs.  Using these estimates, textile and apparel protection in the United States cost approximately 88,000 per year in the mid-1990’s for each job preserved.  Hufbauer and Elliott estimated the consumer cost of protecting an apparel job in 1990 to be $138,666, while a later USITC study estimates the cost of textile and apparel quota at between $7 and $12 billion.  Using the USITC’s most conservative estimate, 2002 textile and apparel quotas cost $174,825 per job saved.” (175)

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Stephen Grover Cleveland, 22nd and 24th U.S. President

After no fewer than six attempts, United States president Grover Cleveland has finally been inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. (Yes, there is such a thing, apparently.) It is a long-overdue honor, but it is well deserved. Of course, President Cleveland has to share the honor with co-inductees like Whitney Houston and Joe Piscopo, but one has to take what one can get. 

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