Are Obligations to the Government Infinite?

taxesGather round, boys and girls, it’s analogy time!

Scenario A:  You walk into an unfamiliar bar in a bad part of town.  You sit down at the bar, and the bartender approaches you and says, “Hey buddy, you look really thirsty,” and slides you a cold beer.  You drink the beer, chit-chat with the other patrons for a bit, decide this particular bar isn’t really the right place for you, and announce that you’re leaving.  The bartender glares at you and barks out “Hey!  You owe me twenty bucks for that beer!”  You think this is absurd!  First of all, you never asked for the beer, he just gave it to you.  Secondly, there was no agreement ahead of time about the price of the beer, there are no prices posted in the bar, and $20 seems incredibly excessive.  You try to haggle with the bartender, but he becomes more aggressive:  “What?  You think you can just come in to my bar and drink my beer and not pay for it?  Are you some kind of thief?”  The bartender is a very large man with a neck tattoo.  He seems to be reaching behind the bar for something.  Over in the corner, a bunch of big, gruff-looking guys who seem to be regular stand up and start approaching the bar.  Although you still think that this transaction is unfair and you don’t really agree with or consent to paying $20 for a beer you never asked for, you begrudgingly take our your wallet, slap a 20 on the bar, and quickly get out of dodge in order to avoid having your skull caved in.

Scenario B:  You’re moving across town.  You call up a friend and ask him to help you with your move.  He happily agrees.  The move takes up most of the day and includes a lot of heavy lifting.  It’s not a pleasant task, but your friend helps out cheerfully with whatever you ask him to help with.  You don’t offer him any payment for his services, it’s just a friend helping a friend, and at the end of the day, you say to him, “Thanks buddy, I really owe you one!”  Two months later, the friend asks you for help building a fence on his property.  You had a rough week at work and were really looking forward to just relaxing on the weekend, but you recall how he helped you previously.  You feel indebted to him for this, even though you never explicitly agreed that you would help build a fence in exchange for his helping you move.  There is no real contract here, he can’t legally require you to help him out, but you feel a moral obligation to “return the favor,” so you assent, and help build the fence.

Let’s call Scenario A the “payment for services” model and Scenario B the “moral obligation” model.  In both scenarios, you receive some type of good or service with no specific method or amount of compensation being agreed to beforehand.  But in Scenario A, it is made clear that you are paying a certain amount for a certain service, whether you agree with that amount or not.  Once you pay, the transaction is complete.  In Scenario B, no one ever explicitly states that any one thing is being exchanged for any other thing.  There is no real contract involved here.  Everything is left fairly vague.  But you are expected to comply nonetheless due to moral or ethical reasons.  You received a favor, and therefore you should return the favor.

Now for the million dollar question:  Which of these scenarios does taxation fall under?

If you ask someone on the left:  both!  Now they won’t typically admit that at any given moment, but as you get in arguments with these people, both of these scenarios will be used as justifications for taxation, depending on the specific issue being debated.

Object to taxation in general?  The argument will usually go something like:  “Well, you drive on public roads, don’t you?  You were educated in a public school, weren’t you?  What gives you the right to refuse to pay for these things!”  This sounds an awful lot like the bartender in Scenario A, doesn’t it?  Never mind the fact that you never asked for these things, that the price was never explained to you, or that the price seems exorbitant, unfair, and completely disconnected from economic realities.  You had a benefit, so now you must pay, and the other party gets sole discretion in deciding what the amount is.  Of course, the government is worse than the bartender, who bills you a specific amount and then lets you leave.

Object to transfer payments, welfare programs, and foreign aid?  Then Scenario B is invoked:  “You received help from the government at some point in your life; therefore you have a moral obligation to return the favor to the less fortunate.”  But wait a second; didn’t you already pay for the services you received?  Isn’t that what Scenario A was all about?  After you pay for something, your “moral obligation” ends.  Similarly, you don’t incur the “moral obligation” in the first place unless you received something without paying for it.

But you did pay for it.  That’s what your taxes are supposedly for, right?  We are now caught up in the circular reasoning.  Taxes are equivalent to a bill that you pay for services you received, but you also have a moral obligation to keep paying new bills because you received the services.  This makes no sense.  Once you pay the bartender for the beer, he cannot call you up two weeks later and demand you come in and wash dishes for eight hours because hey, remember when he gave you that beer?

Which begs the question, at what point do our obligations to the government end?  Is there ever an end, or are they infinite?  If they are infinite, are we not slaves?  If your friend helps you move, do you have a moral obligation to help him with each and every favor he might ever ask of you for the rest of your life?  Or is there a certain point where you’re finally even?  If you build his fence, paint his house, bail him out of jail, and save him from drowning, is it not possible that after all of those things, he might even owe you a favor?

These are the questions the left cannot answer.  Rather, they focus on one scenario or the other, hoping you will be blind to the fact that they are demanding both scenarios at once.  They demand you pay what you “owe,” but even when you do, they hold it over your head for the rest of your life, demanding more and more whenever the need arises (and don’t worry, they’re inventing new needs all the time).

This is especially instructive when you consider new government programs that are added every day.  While it might not seem unreasonable to say something like, “You benefitted from public schools as a child, therefore you are morally obligated to pay for current children to attend public schools as well,” this reasoning falls short when it comes to, say, government-provided cell-phones for low-income families.  Because my family was low-income, and yet, the government never provided us with a cell phone (probably because the free market hadn’t invented them yet).  So how can I have a moral obligation to provide something that I myself was never provided?  How can I be required to pay for services that I never received?  If my friend didn’t help me move, where does he get off asking me to build his fence?

The difference between these two scenarios may seem very subtle and unimportant, but I encourage you to really think about this.  The demands of leftists are quite extreme.  Not only must you pay for government-provided services, but the fact that you used those services also causes you to incur a lifelong obligation to pay whatever the government demands for those services in the future, as well as any other new services they happen to invent afterwards.

Sorry, but it just doesn’t work that way.  If you want to justify taxation as payment for services used, then the obligation ends with the payment.  Furthermore, you cannot be morally obligated to pay for things you never received.  If you want to stick with the “moral obligation” reasoning, then that requires you to admit that what you pay is entirely arbitrary, that you will incur this obligation for life, and that it has nothing to do with whether you used the service or not.  Stating this outright is scary, because it sounds like slavery (because it is).

Watch for this inconsistency whenever you’re debating the merits of taxation with a leftist.  Don’t let them get away with it.  Demand they pick one justification or the other, and force them into attempting to defend an indefensible position.

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The Minimum Wage and Indifference

Seattle-Wallpaper-seattle-2232631-1024-768We Can Predict The Effects Of Seattle’s $15 An Hour Minimum Wage.

In light of Seattle’s recent decision to raise its minimum wage to $15 an hour, numerous free-market writers have done an excellent job detailing the long list of economic arguments against the notion that minimum wage laws benefit the poor.  I assume most readers are well-versed in the basics, so I won’t be reviewing the general arguments against raising the minimum wage.  Rather, I want to address one specific issue that is occasionally brought up in these discussions – the notion of indifference.

Writing for Forbes, Tim Worstall addresses the issue of indifference while commenting on hotel employees in SeaTac (where the minimum wage is already $15 an hour).  He tells us of two employees he spoke to who were dissatisfied with the wage increase, because it was accompanied by a decrease in non-monetary benefits.  Employees saw their wages go up, while perks such as free food, free parking, and paid holidays were eliminated.  Worstall explains:

“Employers look at the total cost of employing people. They’re indifferent (that is, they just don’t mind) whether that’s made up of wages only, or wages and benefits, or what the precise mix between the two is…” 

While his analysis of employers being indifferent is correct, he does not address the issue from the perspective of the employee.  He highlights employees who are upset at how the minimum wage increase motivated employers to reduce non-monetary compensation in exchange for higher monetary compensation.  But these employees may be missing the bigger picture.  The average person would be expected to have a preference for increased wages in lieu of non-monetary benefits.

Money is fungible – meaning it can be used to satisfy a very wide variety of potential desires.  Most of us would much rather have $50 in cash than a $50 gift card for a local boutique – after all, what if the boutique doesn’t have anything we’re interested in buying?  But if forced to choose between a $50 gift card and a pair of pants (valued at $50), we’d take the gift card.  What if the pants don’t fit, or we don’t like the style?  If monetary values are equal, we naturally prefer to receive compensation in the form of money, rather than highly specific items such as free parking, the total benefit of which will vary radically from person to person.

Economic historians often outline the progression of economies starting with a barter system and developing into a monetary economy where goods and services are exchanged not for other goods and services directly, but for money.  When you sell your labor for money, you can use that money to purchase anything you desire – including parking, lunch, or other benefits your employer might have provided to you as compensation.  Or you can choose to not have these things at all.  If you walk to work, you wouldn’t place a high value on free parking.  The abolition of parking in exchange for higher wages would be a pure gain.  Rather than a dreaded scenario worthy of scorn, this is a development to be celebrated.  Employees are receiving much more flexibility regarding how their compensation can be used to benefit their own lives.

This is not to say that an increase in the minimum wage is a great thing – it is still an unnecessary government intervention into the economy that creates a whole host of problems for low-skilled workers.  There might also be very legitimate reasons why employees may have preferred the previous state of affairs (perks and a low wage) to the current one (high wage, no perks).  Perhaps the employer was able to negotiate a group rate for parking that individual employees would not be able to obtain for themselves.  Or perhaps the employees were accustomed to eating large amounts of free food that was highly marked up, so the benefit they received was higher than the pre-markup cost of the food to the employer.

Optimally, the government would not be involved in any of these decisions, and employers and employees would be free to negotiate whatever terms of employment they deemed appropriate.  This might include a high wage with no benefits, or a low wage with many benefits.  Each individual will seek an arrangement that best suits their needs and desires.  Employers may be indifferent towards differing forms of compensation, but individuals are not.  While monetary compensation is preferred if all things are equal, in real life, this is rarely the case.  Understanding this distinction is critical to comprehending a large portion of debate surrounding minimum wage policies.

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Article Roundup – 6/6/14

zodWinter Olympics Sports Socialism Goes Out of Fashion in the Free World – Hit & Run : Reason.com.

Following the giant embarrassment in Sochi, they’re having a tough time convincing cities to spend tens of millions of dollars to host the Winter Olympics.  After decades of failure, the people (not the bureaucrats) are starting to wise-up, and recognize that this whole thing is a giant waste of money.  After all, even Putin couldn’t make it work!

 

How Valuable Is a Federal Grant? :: The Mises Economics Blog: The Circle Bastiat.

A short post from the LVMI blog that I think is hilarious.  Apparently some federal grants come with so many regulations, requirements, and strings attached that some groups are now refusing to take them.  The Feds “free money” literally has a negative value.  Another thing that conservatives and libertarians figured out a long time ago and that the mainstream is finally catching up to.

 

Statism: Doing Most of an Invader’s Work for Him – Robert Murphy : LibertyChat.com.

Bob Murphy invokes Superman in order to explain another often overlooked downfall of governments.  They make it easier for hostile regimes to “take over.”  If there was no government, there wouldn’t be anything to “take over.”  No central authority would be empowered to “surrender” to an invading force on behalf of hundreds of millions of people.  The invaders would have to subjugate each individual, a virtually impossible task.

 

Occidental Expels Student for Rape Under Standard So Low That the Accuser Could Have Been Found Guilty, Too – Hit & Run : Reason.com.

Apparently “rape culture” means that you can now be expelled for sex so obviously consensual that the police didn’t even bother to press charges.  But no need to worry about things like “evidence” and “proof.”  The school decided he was guilty because he “fit the profile” of a rapist.  What’s the profile of a rapist?  Well obviously it includes things like coming from a good family, getting good grades, and being on a sports team.

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Screw The Rules – I’m A Marine!

coriolanus_03Roseburg principal responds to questions about Marine uniform |  KVAL CBS 13.

Stories like this annoy the hell out of me.  This type of thing happens every few years, where someone with a military affiliation (the article doesn’t mention whether this person is active, reserve, or separated) makes a big stink, demanding special and preferential treatment because of the fact that they’re connected to the military.  They generate public outrage at school officials, who are accused of being stupid and unpatriotic because they dare to insist that the rules exist for a reason and should apply to everyone equally.  They whine and complain and shame and bully until they get their way, demanding to be treated as an individual rather than as part of a group.

Is this the image that Marines really want to cultivate with the general public?  That the rules don’t apply to them?  That the public should bow down and worship the very ground they walk on?  Doesn’t this directly contrast the image of recruits getting off a bus and arriving in basic training, where they will all receive identical clothes and haircuts?  Where they will be stripped of all but their last name and social security number, and explicitly treated as expendable cogs in a vast and uncaring machine?  Isn’t it surprising that people who receive that sort of training would then go on to demand that a school waive a rule that has been standing for over 20 years in order to accommodate their singular desire?

I don’t think it’s surprising at all.  I think the secret to understanding this issue is to understand that the military produces a culture of entitlement.  This might sound shocking or controversial, but it is also true.  Our culture as a whole reinforces this theme.  From the first time you see a recruiting commercial as a child, we are taught that people in the military are heroes, whose occupation alone gives them greater value than mere civilians.  They don’t work, they “serve.”  They are the best, the brightest, the bravest, and all that crap.  This sort of propaganda isn’t just a tool to increase enlistments, it also seeps in to the mindset of active duty personnel.  You learn to ask for a discount everywhere you go (and businesses who don’t engage in price discrimination based on military status are often ridiculed for the crime of treating everyone the same).  You learn to expect preferential hiring status because of your “leadership experience.”  You learn that you are entitled to “special” protections that others are not.  Within your unit, you may be content with being a mere cog in a machine for the “greater good,” but as soon as you step foot off the base, you are taught to expect reverence from the common plebes.  (In fairness, I’ll note that this isn’t exactly a new phenomenon…)

This post might not make me very popular with my former friends and co-workers, but the point needs to be made.  This kind of outrageously selfish behavior on the part of veterans has to be stopped.  It makes us all look like spoiled, selfish, children who demand that the entire world stop and cow-tow to our own desires.  The school has a rule.  The rule is long-standing.  If you want to march in the ceremony, you wear a gown.  Period.  If you don’t like it, don’t march in the ceremony.  There is nothing controversial here.  There is only a fully grown adult acting like a child and attempting to use popular support for the military as a weapon against school officials in order to demand special treatment.

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Common Core Complaints Co-Opted

I’m starting to miss the good old days, when the only media coverage of “Common Core” consisted of Glenn Beck ranting about how it was a giant conspiracy led by Bill Gates to brainwash your children into buying Microsoft products.  But alas, those days are gone and we aren’t getting them back.  Like many of Beck’s rants, common core hysteria has now gone mainstream, and even leftists are starting to speak out against it.

The traditional media is slowly becoming more and more vocal on this issue, and they’re publishing more and more complaints from teachers and parents about why this system is awful.  Good news right?  Liberals and conservatives working together!  What could go wrong?

The same thing that always goes wrong.  Conservatives are so desperate for the attention and approval of liberals that they’re about to get completely screwed over, as they don’t seem to realize that the left’s objections to common core are completely and totally different from what their objections are.  The Glenn Beck opposition to common core seems to be based on two major factors:  that it essentially creates a mandated “national curriculum” which teachers will be required to use, and that it includes a lot of “data mining” conducted by large corporations.  The issues are teacher independence, and student privacy.

But what are the objections we’re seeing in the mainstream media?  Well, let’s have a look, shall we?  This piece was, at one point, the most popular article on The Washington Post yesterday.  In it, a public school teacher (and local teacher’s union chapter president) complains about how awful common core is.  But what does he oppose about it?  Is it the nationalized education system that would reduce all teachers to mindless robots?  Is it the tracking of children and the potential conflict of interest with private companies?

Nope, it’s not any of those things.  This guy’s major complaint is that the tests are too hard.  It’s the same point that has been made by Louis CK, and a countless number of Facebook memes.  And as of now, it seems to be the only argument against common core that the mainstream media is actually willing to support.  Nearly all of the common core coverage you will get from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN is exactly like this:  “Common core sucks because its test questions are too difficult.”

It would seem that this teacher, and many of the other “mainstream” opponents of common core have no objection with the concept in theory, only the specific implementation of it.  They have no problem with a single curriculum being forced on teachers nationwide.  They have no problem with relying on private companies to track your child throughout their educational career.  They just want easier tests.  After all, difficult tests make students feel bad.  They get sad and frustrated.  It’s bad for their self-esteem!

(Sidebar:  How much do you want to bet the same people whining about these tests being too difficult are the same people who constantly insist that we need to dump more money into the failing public school system because we’re “falling behind” other nations?  Do you think that if a Chinese student came home with a failing grade on a test and told their parents it was “too hard” the parents would react by saying, “This is an outrage!  I’m going to write a letter to the newspaper demanding these tests be changed!  You shouldn’t have to face anything this challenging!”  Or would they say, “Go to your room and study until you figure it out!”  It seems ridiculous that the same people who regularly demand “higher standards” will immediately freak out at the first glimpse of a test that their normally brilliant (according to them) kids struggle with.  For more on “falling behind” and standardized testing, click here.)

So how does this eventually play out?  Allow me to make a prediction.  The collective outrage over “common core” from the left AND right is gaining traction.  The system known as common core is too unpopular, and supporting it will soon become political suicide.  So our great and wise overlords of parties R and D will get together and develop a “common sense, bipartisan solution for reform” that the media will claim “abolishes common core.”  In reality, it will work the way “bipartisan compromise” almost always works in Washington.  The left will get exactly what it wants, and the right will get nothing.  The “common core” name will vanish, and the tests will be made significantly easier in order to placate the school teachers (and their politically influential unions) and the helicopter parents (who have nothing better to do than whine to newspapers all day).

But the nationalized curriculum will remain.  Teacher independence will be very much dead.  RINOs will brag in their campaign commercials about how they “led the effort to abolish common core” and get re-elected based on that technically accurate, but entirely misleading claim.  And most of the public will buy it.  They’ll support the new system with the new name, because they’ll be so excited at having “won” the battle against common core, they won’t bother looking into the details of its replacement.  Anyone who fails to support this “bipartisan compromise” will be branded as a ridiculous extremist standing in the way of fixing our schools (or smeared as being in favor of common core).

I could be wrong here, but I really don’t see this playing out any other way.  The left will get what they really wanted all along (nationalized educational curriculum and detailed tracking mechanisms), the right will be told to shut up because after all, we gave them what they wanted by getting rid of common core!  Incumbents on both sides will be lauded for heroically standing up and fighting for teachers and children to repeal a bad system (without mentioning that it’s being replaced by something that will be the exact same, but with easier tests.)  This is what co-opting looks like, and it’s happening right now, under our eyes, in real-time.

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Donald Sterling Proves Me Right

An artist’s rendering of Donald Sterling

Originally, my plan was to completely ignore the Donald Sterling fiasco.  I considered this to be another non-story, hyped up by a bunch of sports “journalists” envious of their friends who work in “real” news.  To me, “old man continues to hold beliefs that were widespread during his youth” is something of a “dog bites man” story.  It’s not surprising, and it’s not particularly relevant to anything.

But as the days wore on and the story refused to die, it started popping up on a lot of the “libertarian” sites I regularly visit.  As it tends to happenwithn these things, each individual author wanted to offer the “libertarian view” on this mess.  There doesn’t seem to be much of a consensus.  Some decry the politically correct thought police for crucifying an old man whose statements weren’t that racist, some defend the NBA’s right to disassociate itself from Sterling and maintain that the non-aggression principle was not violated, therefore nobody has any right to complain.  Meanwhile, the leftist agitators who ginned up this controversy in the first place are happy to sit back and automatically dismiss any criticism of the NBA’s actions with a, “Ha ha you stupid libertarians, this is your free market in action!  Now shut up and like it!”

After reading a lot of back and forth that left me ultimately unsatisfied, I found some pretty great discussion of this issue over at Economic Policy Journal, where Robert Wenzel and various commenters have shed some unique light on the situation and offered a robust debate.  My understanding of Wenzel’s position is that libertarians can be simultaneously outraged and disturbed by the public lynching of an individual for borderline-racist comments made in a private conversation while simultaneously upholding the NAP and refusing to suggest that any actions involved with this issue either are or aren’t “libertarian.”  I agree with Wenzel on this point:  Libertarianism = following the non-aggression principle, but that does not preclude libertarians from suggesting that certain actions, even ones that don’t violate the NAP, are wrong and should be condemned.

While reading one of Wenzel’s posts on this topic, commenter Josiah made a point that really resonated with me.  He says:

“The free market viewpoint is interesting. If Sterling is this outrageous bigot, why does he hire a black coach, why doesn’t he have all white players? Because he wants to win and make money. Free markets lead to cooperation.”

I made a brief reply to this, and the purpose of this post is to further explore this issue in more detail.  I think this really is the heart of the story, and this is the “libertarian” angle to this issue that is largely going ignored.  It’s a great opportunity for libertarians to make a critical point that, for the most part, we seem to be wasting.

Freedom of association is a pretty common topic on this blog (over the long-term, this is my most popular post).  Libertarians regularly make the case that not only are government policies prohibiting discrimination against private parties morally wrong, but that they are completely unnecessary.  Racism would not run rampant on the free market, because racism is bad for business.  Stores who refuse to serve blacks have immediately alienated a large portion of potential customers.  Employers who refuse to hire blacks will find themselves with either less efficient employees, or a more costly labor force.  In either case, these companies should be thoroughly out-competed by their more tolerant competitors, who will do what’s most profitable without letting prejudice stand in the way.  If that was true in the Jim Crow south (remember:  a private company sued to get Jim Crow overturned), then it is far more true in 2014 America.  Putting the question of whether racist actions (not thoughts, this is a key distinction here) are immoral or not, we can safely conclude that they are terrible corporate policy, and will lead to public backlash and likely boycotts, in addition to simply being economically inefficient.

The left usually chimes in here to reject this line of thinking entirely.  They accuse us of being utopians who don’t understand how entrenched racial hatred really is.  They insist that there are plenty of white business owners who are so racist that they wouldn’t mind making a little less profit in order to discriminate against blacks.  That without the government vigorously forcing businesses to integrate, Jim Crow would come roaring back and we’d have “colored only” drinking fountains in a manner of weeks.

How does this relate to Donald Sterling?  Well, Sterling would appear to be living proof that libertarian predictions are correct.  Sterling, who, according to media analysis, is a repugnant and unrepentant racist, is also an employer.  According to my research (which consisted of looking at the Clippers roster on ESPN and examining the photos of the players), their current roster consists of 10 out of 14 non-white players, who collectively made over $71 million this season.  The NBA has no affirmative action policy.  The evil racist Donald Sterling is free to draft and sign players based on his racism.  And yet he does not.  Why?  Two possibilities.  Either he’s not really that much of a racist after all, or, more significantly, he IS at least partially racist, but as a businessman, he’s far more concerned with profitability than with indulging his racism.  He understands that the vast majority of great basketball players are black.  Therefore, he employs them on his team, because he wants his team to be successful.  He may secretly despise every last one of these black players.  It may bother him a great deal that they are on his team.  But he continues to court them nonetheless.  This is the exact scenario the left regularly proclaims would not ever happen.

In addition to the players, Sterling employs Doc Rivers, a black man who is currently the coach of the Clippers.  In contrast to black players, black coaches are hardly a baseline requirement for success in the NBA.  Of the last five NBA championship teams, two were coached by an Asian-American, and three were coached by whites.  While truly great white players are now a rarity, outstanding white coaches are abundant in the NBA, and readily available.  Why didn’t Sterling hire one?  Why did he agree to pay $7 million to Doc Rivers?  It might have something to do with the fact that Rivers himself is the last black coach to have won an NBA championship, with the Boston Celtics in 2008.  Rivers is a good coach.  So Sterling hired him, because that’s what businessmen do.  I haven’t researched it, but I think it’s also probably safe to assume that Sterling employs minorities in his various non-basketball business ventures as well.  We know for certain he employed one as a girlfriend/prostitute/archivist.

Once again, there are only two possible explanations:  Either Sterling isn’t really much of a racist at all, or he is willing to put his racist thoughts aside to engage in non-racist actions because it is profitable to do so.  This is precisely the outcome that libertarians regularly predict would occur in a society where the government respects the freedom of association.  A few small-time businesses might choose to discriminate, but they would never meet with any real success.  Meanwhile, actual racists would, in most cases, choose to hire and serve minorities, because they care more about profit than they do about racism.  Donald Sterling is living proof that “anti-discrimination” laws are a completely unnecessary violation of our natural right to free association, and that the free market has built-in mechanisms to readily combat the evils of racial discrimination.

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Soccer Team Promotes War Criminal, Everyone Laughs

Columbus Crew fans welcome Atlanta to MLS with Civil War trash talk – SBNation.com.

I find this one to be utterly fascinating.  Major League Soccer just announced that it would be creating an expansion team in Atlanta.  How did the official Twitter of the Columbus Crew respond?  With this.

In all seriousness here, if William Tecumseh Sherman isn’t a war criminal, then the term really doesn’t have any meaning at all.  He completely terrorized the civilian population of the south, encouraging violent retribution against unarmed citizens as “punishment” for secession.  He carried out a “total war” campaign that was considered barbaric under any legitimate standard of the rules of warfare.  After the war between the states, he would carry on this concept, managing the government’s extermination campaign against the Plains Indians.

Now look, I appreciate a joke as much as the next guy.  I’m not going to claim some ridiculous outrage.  This picture doesn’t “offend” me, and it is clever in a certain way.  I’m just asking for a bit of consistency here.  Can you imagine the German soccer team taunting the French soccer team with a picture of Adolf Hitler?  If you that analogy is entirely inappropriate, then you probably need to do a little more research on Sherman.  In fact, several years ago, it was a minor controversy when Mexican soccer fans chanted “Osama” at the U.S. national team.  Journalists were outraged, and considered this to be highly inappropriate.

The fact that Sherman is treated as a hero rather than a war criminal is just one more piece of evidence that ignorance of the details of the war between the states permeates American culture.  I’m not for publicly shaming an organization for an attempt at humor, and I don’t seek to silence or censor anybody.  I’d just like a little bit of consistency when it comes to these things.

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