The Ideology of Texas Republicans, Part 5

To Rick Perry, and many conservatives, Progressive policies are guided by the “shifting sands of moral relativism.” Moral relativism, he has written, “would remove any mention of God from the public square, would sanitize our society of bright lines dividing right and wrong, and would elevate doing what ‘feels good’ as a moral imperative higher than doing what is necessary for us to live together.” But Perry has embraced the same moral relativism that he so vocally decries.

We have seen that Perry believes that like-minded people should be free “to determine what should or should not be lawful behavior.” While Perry openly calls for Biblical principles to guide political policies, that is, the “bright lines dividing right and wrong,” Texans hold many different views of the Bible, ranging from the belief that the Bible is the literal word of God to outright rejection of all religion. How are we to determine which view to follow? Perry has made his answer clear: the majority. Which means, a vote will be taken to determine right and wrong.

The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy states that moral relativism holds “that the truth or justification of moral judgments is not absolute, but relative to some group of persons.” This is precisely what Perry advocates when he calls for like-minded people to determine right and wrong through a democratic vote.

Perry is correct when he claims that Progressives have rejected moral principles. But Perry’s solution is no less relativistic. To Perry, the majority should decide was is right and wrong, what will be permitted and what will be prohibited. These are the “shifting sands” of the majority, which may change whenever enough like-minded people can be assembled.

Politically, the solution to moral relativism is an objective and universal moral/political principle: individual rights.

Individual rights protect the freedom of each individual to live his life as he judges best, so long as he respects the freedom of others to do the same. When individual rights are recognized and protected, the majority cannot impose its values upon others. And this is true whether the majority is Progressive or conservative.

The Ideology of Texas Republicans, Part 4

Many on the right, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, argue that the economic examples provided by Texas will ultimately sway voters to reject an intrusive, interventionist government. As he writes in Fed Up!,

In order to find like-minded people, under federalism Americans can exercise true liberty and ‘vote with their feet’—choose to leave a climate in one state that is incompatible with their beliefs and go to one more to their liking….

This mobility put competitive pressure on states. Policies that undermine progress and the well-being of a state’s citizens will not be long-lived. State politicians have an incentive to identify and satisfy resident preferences so that dissatisfied citizens do not leave, taking their tax dollars with them (pages 27-8).

In one sense, Perry is incorrect. In another sense, he is correct. And the extent to which he is correct illustrates the destructive consequences of collectivism, and specifically democracy.

In any community, the preferences of residents are not monolithic. Individuals have different desires, values, and preferences. In a democracy, politicians have an incentive to identify and satisfy the desires, values, and preferences of the majority. And this is precisely what has happened in both California and Texas.

California voters and legislators have supported liberal/progressive ideas for decades. They have imposed draconian regulations and exorbitant taxation on businesses and individuals. Even as evidence mounted that this is wrecking the state’s economy, Californians have continued to support those policies. Remember, in 2010 California voters overwhelmingly approved the Global Warming Solutions Act, which was projected to kill 1.1 million jobs and cost each family nearly $4,000 a year. Despite the economic consequences, the majority of Californians have preferred increased government intervention in the economy and legislators have responded accordingly. This is democracy in action.

While it is inarguable that the Texas economy has outperformed California’s, there has been no “competitive pressure” on California to change its policies. Even while businesses have fled the state, taking their tax dollars and jobs with them, the same policies have continued. Indeed, in October 2010, just before voters approved the Global Warming Solutions Act, unemployment in California was 12.4 percent, the third highest in the nation. Why did Californians approve such a destructive measure? If the evidence presented to Californians to date is insufficient, what will it take to change their minds?

Perry may disagree with the policies enacted in California, but he cannot challenge them morally. Californians have found “like-minded people” and are enacting the policies that they prefer. Californians are acting on Perry’s premise. And this illustrates the danger of democracy, in both California, Texas, and anywhere else it is practiced.

Similarly, in Texas like-minded people have banded together in the past to restrict the freedom of blacks, and more recently anti-sodomy laws, alcohol prohibitions, and obscenity laws have imposed restrictions on other individuals. Texans have repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to make illegal actions that the majority finds distasteful. In both California and Texas, like-minded people have used government to impose the values of the majority upon the citizenry.

The proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights, not the imposition of the values of “like-minded people” upon the entire citizenry. Individuals should not have to “find like-minded people” and move to another state in order to exercise their rights. Individual rights are not subject to a vote.

Texans have failed to identify the real lessons we can learn from Texas and California. And the reason is because Texans, like Californians, have embraced collectivism. If that continues, the future will not be as rosy for Texas.

The Ideology of Texas Republicans, Part 3

The Texas Republican Party platform of 2010 called for an outright ban on pornography: “We urge more stringent legislation to prohibit all pornography including virtual pornography and operation of sexually–oriented businesses.” While expressing support for the principle of free speech in theory, Texas Republicans seek to limit free speech in practice.

Free speech means exactly that—the freedom to express one’s ideas without restrictions or reprisal from government, no matter how obnoxious or unpopular those ideas may be. Those who express ideas that are accepted and supported by the majority have little fear of such reprisal. It is those who express ideas that are unpopular that have such fear. The purpose of the First Amendment is the protection of unpopular ideas, not merely those ideas embraced by the majority. The call to ban pornography is more than an attack on free speech. It is also an attack on property rights.

The right to property means the right to own, use, keep, and dispose of material values. The right to property means that individuals may use their property—including printing presses and websites—for whatever purpose they choose, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. If an individual chooses to use his property to show X-rated movies or to print sexually explicit pictures, that is his right, and government should protect his freedom to do so. Those who do not want to watch or view pornography are equally free to refrain from doing so.

Texas’s obscenity laws attack both free speech and property rights on the grounds of “community standards”—the views of the majority. The law offers the following definitions:

(1)  “Obscene” means material or a performance that:

(A)  the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that taken as a whole appeals to the prurient interest in sex;

(B)  depicts or describes:

(i)  patently offensive representations or descriptions of ultimate sexual acts, normal or perverted, actual or simulated, including sexual intercourse, sodomy, and sexual bestiality;  or

(ii)  patently offensive representations or descriptions of masturbation, excretory functions, sadism, masochism, lewd exhibition of the genitals, the male or female genitals in a state of sexual stimulation or arousal, covered male genitals in a discernibly turgid state or a device designed and marketed as useful primarily for stimulation of the human genital organs;  and

(C)  taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, and scientific value.

(2)  “Material” means anything tangible that is capable of being used or adapted to arouse interest, whether through the medium of reading, observation, sound, or in any other manner, but does not include an actual three dimensional obscene device.

(3)  “Performance” means a play, motion picture, dance, or other exhibition performed before an audience.

(4)  “Patently offensive” means so offensive on its face as to affront current community standards of decency.

In 2008, the United States District Appellate Court ruled on the Texas obscenity law and remanded the case. The court noted that state’s “primary justifications for the statute are ‘morality based.’ The asserted interests include ‘discouraging prurient interests in autonomous sex and the pursuit of sexual gratification unrelated to procreation and prohibiting the commercial sale of sex.’” In other words, Texas sought to discourage sexual activities that were not intended for procreation, including masturbation.

Both the statute and the state’s defense of it are founded on the premise that private, voluntary actions are subject to state regulation. Individuals may not “affront current community standards of decency,” even if those actions involve consenting adults and take place in private. Indeed, the law prohibits individuals from engaging in certain activities even if they are alone in their home.

While the statute addresses sexual activities, the same prohibitions could be applied to virtually any activity and speech. For example, Christians could argue that Islam and atheism are an “affront current community standards of decency.” The majority Republicans could argue that the minority Democrats violate “contemporary community standards.” Government officials could argue that individuals who protest government policies are offensive to the standards set by a democratic majority. If the state can regulate or restrict speech regarding one topic under this collectivist premise, then speech on all topics can also be regulated and restricted on the same premise.

To use “current community standards of decency” of what is and is not acceptable is to make the individual subservient to the collective. If the majority in the community finds an idea “indecent,” according to the state of Texas, it is valid and proper for the community to silence the offender. Such a view holds that it is proper to throw an individual in jail for espousing ideas that the majority finds offensive. The individual is to conform to the views of the majority, even in him most private affairs. That is not freedom of speech. It is a tyranny of the majority.

Government Without Taxation

If your neighbor broke into your home and stole money to pay for his health care, he would be guilty of theft. If an employer withheld wages from an employee in order to pay for his daughter’s braces, he would be guilty of theft. Indeed, if a private citizen takes money from another individual by force for any purpose, he is guilty of theft. Neither the status nor the moral nature of an action changes simply because government is doing the taking. In a capitalist society, the initiation of force in any form—including taxation—is prohibited. In a capitalist society, government financing is obtained through voluntary means. How then, does a government in a capitalist society raise the funds that it requires for its legitimate functions? If payment for government services is voluntary, why would anyone volunteer? Don’t we need taxation to ensure that everyone pays his “fair share” to support government? After all, government is necessary to protect individual rights, and all individuals benefit from government. These are legitimate questions, and the answers may surprise you.

The answers are contained in Chapter 16 of Individual Rights and Government Wrongs. Click here to download the chapter for free.

The Ideology of Texas Republicans, Part 2

In Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, the United States Supreme Court overturned a Texas anti-sodomy law that banned certain voluntary, consensual acts between individuals of the same sex. The “Homosexual Conduct” law made it illegal for an individual to engage in “deviate sexual intercourse with another individual of the same sex.” The statute had been adopted by the Democrat-controlled Texas Legislature in 1973.

Perry ran for his fourth term as governor in support of the 2010 Texas Republican Party platform, which stated: “We oppose the legalization of sodomy. We demand that Congress exercise its authority granted by the U.S. Constitution to withhold jurisdiction from the federal courts from cases involving sodomy.” In his book, Fed Up!, Perry decries Supreme Court intervention into state affairs, citing the Lawrence case as an example. In regard to Connecticut’s ban on the sale of contraceptives, which was overturned in 1963, he implies agreement with justice Potter Stewart, who stated that the ban was “an uncommonly silly law.” But Perry goes on to write that “we should all agree with him [Stewart] that it was nevertheless constitutional” (p108). Perry believes that it is proper for state governments to regulate the private, voluntary actions of consenting adults, whether it involves sexual relations or contraception.

Perry doesn’t think that individuals should be free to make such decisions. When it comes to sex and contraception, Perry believes that the individual should conform to the views of the majority.

Perry, and the Texas Legislature in general, opposes federal regulation of the boardroom, but has no qualms about state regulation of the bedroom. While Perry believes that individuals should generally be free to make money, he doesn’t believe that they should be free to make love.

As a further example of Perry’s support of the regulation of personal conduct, the 2010 Republican Party platform stated: “We are opposed to any granting of special legal entitlements, refuse to recognize, or grant special privileges including, but not limited to: marriage between persons of the same sex (regardless of state of origin), custody of children by homosexuals, homosexual partner insurance or retirement benefits.” This plank is mixed, in that government should not grant “special legal entitlements” to any group or individual. The proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. While gays do not have specific rights separate and distinct from heterosexuals, they do have rights as individuals. Gays and heterosexuals alike have a moral right to live as they choose, so long as they respect the mutual rights of others. Gays, like all individuals, have a right to pursue their own happiness.

Issues regarding insurance and retirement benefits are private affairs, and a proper government has no voice in the matter. If an employer or insurance company wishes to grant benefits to homosexual partners, that is an issue between the employer and employee. Government has no legitimate right to demand or prohibit such private agreements. Just as employers have a moral right to offer whatever wages they choose, they also have a moral right to offer whatever benefits they choose. But the Texas Republican Party wants to prohibit such agreements, not because they violate anyone’s rights, but because the majority of Texans are supposedly opposed.

The Ideology of Texas Republicans, Part 1

Republicans have dominated Texas politics for decades. During that time, Texas Republicans have developed a reputation of being in favor of free enterprise and limited government. But is this reputation deserved? Are they really defenders of individual liberty, or are they something else. This week, I will look at the ideas that dominate the Texas Republican Party.

Rick Perry served as governor of Texas longer than anyone. He has also authored several books, and thus, he provides us with insight into the ideas that guide the Texas Republican Party.

During his time in office, Perry presided over one of the nation’s most vibrant economies, but he also worked to pass a number of laws that restrict the non-economic activities of Texans. Perhaps the most notable of these was his 2007 executive order that mandated all 11-year-old girls be vaccinated for human papillomavirus, which causes cervical cancer. While the order allowed parents to opt-out, and Perry later rescinded the order after enduring heavy criticism, it illustrates Perry’s views on the role and purpose of government.

In his book, Fed Up!, Perry explains his view on state government: “States have the prerogative to legislate on any topic—public health, morals, and so forth—while the new federal government was designed to be of limited function” (p23). He went on to write, “From marriage to prayer, from zoning laws to tax policy, from our school systems to health care, and everything in between, it is essential to our liberty that we be allowed to live as we see fit through the democratic process at the local and state level” (p27).

Consider that Perry does not speak of individuals living as they choose. Instead, he speaks of the group—we—making collective decisions through the democratic process. The group, not individuals, should make decisions regarding morals, marriage, health care “and everything in between.”

Perry repeatedly denounces statism—the view that the individual is subordinate to the government—writing that “statists believe in a powerful, activist central government…” (p13). Despite this, he is not opposed to the subjugation of the individual to a central government; but he wants that government to be located in the state capital. Perry merely opposes statism on the national level. On the state and local level, he advocates for democracy—for the individual to be subservient to the majority. He writes:

Your city council, your mayor, your local school board, and often even your state representative are people who live and work in your neighborhood. These are people you are more likely to be able to influence and whom you can more easily hold accountable. So, is it better for them or for Washington to have more power over your life? (p12)

Perry doesn’t object to the fact that politicians have power over our lives. He simply wants us to have an opportunity to influence those politicians.

Whether we have influence over politicians is irrelevant. If they have power over our lives, our lives are not ours to live as we choose. Ultimately, the decisions of those politicians supersede our own decisions. The real question isn’t which politicians should have power over our lives, but rather whether any politician should have power over our lives. And according to the principles of America’s founding, the answer is a resounding NO.

Perry implies that if we have a voice in policies and legislation, then we are free. The fact that we are forced to abide by the policies and decisions of legislators, regardless of our own values, desires, or judgment, is not mentioned by Perry. Perry believes it proper to force individuals to abide by the dictates of the majority in regard to land use, taxes, and other economic issues, as well as marriage, morals, education, health care, and “everything in between.”

To Perry, there is virtually nothing that states cannot regulate, so long as the majority is in agreement. Perry claims that “there are fundamental rights, expressed in the Constitution and Bill of Rights,” such as the right to bear arms (p99). But he later writes, “Through the police power, states have the right to determine what should or should not be lawful behavior and to administer punishments accordingly” (p107). If the state—through its police power— can determine “what should or should not be lawful behavior,” on what basis can he claim that we possess certain fundamental rights? What limitations are there on state government?

If one accepts Perry’s premise, there are no limitations on what state governments can do. If the state can regulate economic issues—land use, taxation, and health care—as well as social issues—marriage and morals—there is virtually no activity beyond the state’s control.

To Perry, liberty does not pertain to the individual, but to the majority—the collective. To Perry, liberty means the “freedom” of the majority to impose its values upon the entire citizenry. Federalism, he writes, allows “like-minded people who share our values and beliefs” to live in the same state (p13). And those who do not share those values and beliefs can either live elsewhere, or be forced to conform to those values and beliefs. In short, according to Perry, individual rights are not unalienable, but subject to the permission and approval of the majority.

Protecting Texans From Their City

The Texas House is considering a bill that would severely limit the ability of local governments to impose historic designations on private property. Under current law, local authorities have broad discretion in designation historic landmarks and subjecting such properties to government control.

As might be expected, preservationists are up in arms. Steve Sadowsky, the historic preservation officer for Austin, said, “It takes away the ability of a local community to recognize and preserve what’s important to it.” Sadowsky is correct, and that is why this is a good bill.

The purpose of historic preservation is to grant government officials the power to control the use of private property. According to preservationists, property owners should not be free to use their property as they deem best. Instead, they should be required to obtain the approval of the community before using that property. And if the community disapproves, the property owner has little option but to abide by the wishes and desires of his neighbors.

This is not the first time that this legislative session has taken a stand against local governments to protect the rights of Texans. The Chronicle writes that this is part of a

trend of proposals by Republicans in both the House and Senate that began in the last legislative session to consolidate power at the state level by limiting cities and other local governments from exercising authority over an array of issue ranging from property taxes and gender-neutral bathrooms to the regulation of ride-hailing apps and bans on plastic bags.

Of course, the paper considers this to be a nefarious trend, because it believes that local governments should be free to do whatever they desire.

However, just as it is proper for the federal government to override laws passed on the state level, it is proper for the state government to override laws passed at the local level. The only proper purpose of government is the protection of individual rights. If a local government passes a law that infringes on those rights, the state government has a moral responsibility to take action.

Unfortunately, the state is not being consistent. If it were, it would be addressing dozens of other laws violate individual rights, including zoning and other land-use regulations. Attacking historic preservation is a start, but it’s only a start.

Whose Money Is It?

Last week, the Texas House effectively killed school choice, at least for now. By a vote of 103-44 in the Republican controlled House, legislators prohibited the use of tax money for private schools. Gov. Gregg Abbott, who supports school choice, said that the issue may be revived before the legislative session ends.

The debate over school choice has largely focused on the claim that school vouchers will deprive government schools of desperately needed funds. Whether this is true or not is really irrelevant, for it evades a fundamental issue: whose money are we talking about?

Opponents of school choice argue that we–all Texans–have a responsibility to fund government schools. They treat our money as public property that can be confiscated for purposes they deem desirable. As an example, consider the words of Rep. Abel Herrero, the Democrat who sponsored the budget amendment to ban vouchers. He said,

I think, regardless whether you’re talking a child that has special needs or disabilities or not, that the state (should) meet its obligation to them and all other students in their neighborhood schools to ensure that we provide the necessary resources and funds to ensure our teachers have the resources ensured to educate every child.

But what about those who don’t want their children educated in neighborhood schools? What about those who object to what is taught in government schools? Their desires and concerns are considered irrelevant, and they will continue to be forced to surrender their money.

School choice would allow parents some control over how their money is spent in regard to education. Supporters of government schools don’t want parents to have that control. Giving parents more control means less control for politicians and educational bureaucrats.

If your neighbor broke into your home and stole money to pay for his children’s education, his action would be regarded as criminal. The principle does not change merely because state officials act as the middle man.

5000 Montrose Apartment Building

Originally called “5000 Montrose at the Museum”, this high rise modern apartment building is located about a block north of the grouping of the Glassell School of Art, the Contemporary Arts Museum and the three Museum of Fine Arts Houston buildings proceeding east from the Bissonnet intersection. Its entrance is set considerably back on the first floor, with its garage levels and higher general structure above and has a tall shiny metallic front door motif that suggests the rather loud aspects of early 1980’s design (of which this building is a product). This reflective suggested arch could counteract the darkening effect of the entrance being sheltered by so much of the second floor, forming a loggia that protects pedestrians from rain and summer sun. But other aspects of the apartment building are sedate and functional, as with the uncomplicated horizontal window bands with no mullions (just glass seams) and the flexible and open floor plans of the units, typically 8 to a floor. Also, the visually jarring heating/ventilating/air conditioning constructs on the roof are hidden from view by a curved cowling, set back from the edge about 20% of the width of the floors. It’s a kind of inside-out version of how Mies Van der Rohe inset the same systems on top of the Seagram Building in Manhattan, dressy but not exactly unprecedented.

There is however an impressive and very public feature to this building that renders its effect anything but sedate. The point where chances are taken would be the corners, where the unit balconies are all located. These balconies are not formed by the usual ninety degree edges but are circular spaces without a corner girder. Where the corner would usually be, there is no corner at all. The round balcony is suspended by cantilevering, which supports a surface from the side, not beneath, leaving one edge or end suspended. But rather than oblong floors being suspended from one end (as in Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Fallingwater’), the architecture firm here uses one edge of a theoretical circle to “grasp” the other 240 degrees or so of the balcony, as you do when you hold a dinner plate in your hand. And these plate-like balconies extend in 17-story stacks all the way to the top on all four corners. I cannot recall any precedent for this arrangement in any architectural period. These unit features give 270-degree views of the city and in getting them allow the viewer to step out beyond the “usual” edge of the structure.

A newer apartment building across Montrose to the northeast blocks some of the more spectacular views of the downtown skyline formerly possible to some units of 5000 Montrose but the extended circular balconies mitigate that circumstance by allowing so many other views. The site is, after all, in the middle of town and Galleria, Museum, Rice University/Medical Center, River Oaks and eastern sunrise views are still possible and even unobstructed depending on the unit. This building is one of my favorites, since the dramatic corner arrangement makes it very difficult to take a bad picture of the place. Unfortunately there are no public spaces to visit since its only function is to house private residences. But other construction aside, it commands the views from Montrose both to its north and south, from the US59 bridge almost all the way to Mecom Fountain.

Houston’s Labor Shortage

Last week, the Chronicle ran a story on the dearth of construction workers in the Houston area. The article claimed two causes: a decline in wages and a lack of unionization. The solution, according to the article, is for construction companies to raise wages and work with the unions.

Yet, that very same article notes that wages have been rising:

Part of the goal for the industry is to increase the labor supply so that wages stop escalating as quickly as they have been recently. “We’re losing money as contractors, because the wages have skyrocketed so fast that we can’t keep up with it in the bid process,” said Paul McCurdy, president of City Masonry in Tomball.

Apparently, construction companies didn’t need the paper’s advice on raising wages. They did it as a matter of self-interest. And that brings us to the paper’s suggestion that construction companies work with the unions.

Contractors don’t want increased unionization because of the rules and regulations that unions negotiate as a part of labor contracts. However, contractors admit that the unions provided training programs that were beneficial.

The Chronicle wants government to fill the training void:

The state does have various training grants available. The federal government has been pushing union and non-union apprenticeships, and the schools are doing their best to provide short-term programs that produce people ready to go to work. It’s a good target for public investment: America needs buildings, and construction work isn’t likely to be automated away any time soon. Still, many of those programs require public money and a political commitment to stay in business.

The paper has yet to find a problem, real or imagined, that government can’t fix. “America needs buildings,” the article proclaims, and then concludes that “public money”–i.e., your money–should be spent to make sure the requisite labor is available.

Never mind the fact that construction companies have a vested interest in finding solutions that don’t require robbing taxpayers. Never mind the fact that they are already increasing wages and taking other measures to attract workers. Never mind the fact this is a business problem, and successful businesses solve problems without resorting to government handouts.

The labor shortage did not develop overnight, and it won’t be solved overnight. But contractors will solve it–their livelihood depends on it. They certainly don’t need government meddling in their affairs more than it already does, nor do they need the advice of statist newspaper columnists.