Category Archives: Musings

Two On-Ramps?

Normally, when a road intersects with an interstate highway, there’s one on-ramp and one off-ramp in either direction. Just north of Watertown, New York, there’s something I’ve never seen before: two on-ramps going in the same direction. At the intersection of Route 342 and I-81, traveling east, you have two options if you want to take I-81 south.

The sign directs you to a wide, looping on-ramp, but you can also just turn left and get on I-81 south much quicker. That ramp is clearly for people approaching from the west, but check it out–there’s nothing preventing drivers coming from either direction from using that ramp. Was this by design, or just a weird accident?

A Way Forward for Rockford Republicans

Rockford is a blue collar city in northern Illinois. Like many former manufacturing towns in the Rust Belt, its citizens vote primarily Democratic. Between 2005 and 2017, Independent Larry Morrissey was able to sway enough Democrats, Republicans, and Independents to stay in the mayor’s office. Morrissey declined to run for a fourth term, and in Tuesday’s election, Tom McNamara restored Democratic control over City Hall in a landslide.

Since 2001, Republican candidates for mayor have fared poorly, due to the fact that most Republican voters were satisfied with keeping Larry Morrissey in office. Despite a robust Democratic primary voting record, they considered Morrissey a better choice than the alternative. Here are the results for Republican candidates since 2001 (the last time a Republican came close to winning):

  • 2001 – Dennis Johnson – 34.83%
  • 2005 – Gloria Cardenas Cudia – 4.07%
  • 2009 – John H. Harmon – 9.23%
  • 2013 – Michael Kleen – 18.32%
  • 2017 – Brian Leggero – 13.6%

Not a stellar record, but it doesn’t show the whole picture. Rockford’s east side is deeply Republican, and Republicans have a strong showing on the city council. Unfortunately, these aldermen do not seem to have a unified agenda. Individual priorities and loyalties trump political party affiliation. How can the Republican Party turn things around? How can it appeal to a majority of Rockfordians, many of whom are suspicious of GOP motives and ideas? There are no easy answers but here are a few good places to start.

Read the rest of this entry

Rockford Mayoral Election Roundup

17778642_138386740027953_1810896886_o

Millionaire developer Sunil Puri and John McNamara celebrate his son’s victory.

On Tuesday, April 4, Rockford, Illinois held a municipal election for mayor and city council. Democrat Tom McNamara, son of former mayor John McNamara (1981-1989), won in a landslide, with 68.3% of the vote. As usual, voter turnout was low, though a few thousand more voted than last time. Mayor Larry Morrissey (I) decided not to run for a fourth term, which was probably for the best given his contentious and scandal-ridden administration.

I was the 2013 Republican candidate for mayor of Rockford, winning 3,505 votes, or 18.32%. Republican candidates for mayor have not fared well in this predominantly blue collar, rust belt city. The last to come close to winning was Dennis Johnson, who got 34.83% in a four-way race in 2001. Gloria Cardenas Cudia, a wonderful and enthusiastic lady, got 4.07% in 2005, and John H. Harmon got 9.23% in 2009. This time, Brian Leggero was the Republican candidate. He received 3,043 votes, or 13.6%.

I supported independent candidate Rudy Valdez, an aerospace engineer and award-winning community activist. He got 16.5%. A fourth candidate, Ronnie Manns, garnered a meager 1.6%. I was disappointed more Republicans didn’t support Valdez, but not surprised. According to his voting record, Valdez is a Democrat, and his wife worked for the Morrissey administration. I voted for Rudy because I saw he was a reasonable and dedicated man, willing to work with all sides. He certainly had the experience, intelligence, and community pull to be an effective mayor.

Republicans had a chance to elect a well qualified candidate in the primary, but instead chose a perennial candidate with a mixed voting record and eccentric personality. Brian was once thrown off the ballot for failing to disclose a name change on his election paperwork. Recently, he successfully circulated a petition to have Cheap Trick inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve been away from Rockford for several years, but I don’t understand why Tom McNamara was so popular in comparison to his main opponent, Valdez. He is an insurance salesman and one-term alderman with a M.S. in Non-Profit Administration. I suppose insurance salesmen would make great politicians, now that I think about it. But I suspect it has more to do with nepotism than anything else.

Despite repeatedly denying a desire to run, I knew McNamara was going to run for mayor as soon as he was elected alderman. His dad has been grooming him for the position since childhood. He was a bought-and-paid for corporate candidate backed by every special interest in Rockford.

In local elections, political parties matter very little–at least in Illinois. You have to look at who is beholden to whom. No one donates thousands of dollars to a candidate expecting no return on investment. Look at McNamara’s top 25 investors. The guy raised over $240,000 from unions and developers for a job that pays $110,000 a year. Is it any mystery who will be running the show?

The Problem with Ideology

The National Dictionary of 1939 defines ideology as “the science of ideas.” Since then, ideology has taken on other meanings—specifically of dogma and a rigid, doctrinaire understanding of the world. After the Second World War, both communism and fascism were labelled political ideologies, but that label can be applied to a variety of political beliefs. Ideology today constitutes a rigid set of political or social doctrines and ideas that frame a ‘black and white’ worldview.

Ideology is harmful because it reduces the complexity of human life and society to ultimates. It substitutes conscious reflection and careful consideration with axioms meant to apply to all situations. To an ideologue, for instance, ‘X’ will always supply the solution for every problem. “One simply turns to the ideological vending machine,” Daniel Bell once wrote, “and out comes the prepared formulae.”

Ideologues believe in an interpretation of history that places them at the peak of a great historical project—the sum total of enlightenment and progress. Anyone who doesn’t agree is either ignorant, simpleminded, or dangerous–a political enemy. He or she is unable to understand how anyone can see things a different way.

Read the rest of this entry

Incrementalism vs. Revolution

In any political or social philosophy, there are those who believe they can achieve their goals all at once or in a series of large jumps, and those who believe broad-based change should be (or is most rationally) achieved through incremental change. Incremental change is the more pragmatic and beneficial method, and more likely to achieve long term success. Incrementalism is also more compatible with a voluntary society. Revolutionary change inevitably requires intrusive central planning, compulsory work systems, or violence to bring everyone immediately in line with its goals.

Most goals are achieved through incremental action–one step building on another. If you wanted to build a house, you can’t simply blink it into existence complete and all at once. Yes, you need a vision for how it will look, but you also need a blueprint and a plan of action. You need to raise funds, hire carpenters, plumbers, and electricians, and purchase raw materials. A frame needs to be erected, foundations poured, etc. Each step in the process is an incremental change toward your end goal.

Fundamentally changing society or government is a much more complicated process than building a house. It’s easy to forget there are many competing factions with their own ideas for how to govern. Some are large, some small, some with vast resources, and some that wield considerable political or social clout. None of them are going to just step aside and allow you to remake the country into something that fundamentally conflicts with their own vision and goals.

As an idealist, Murray Rothbard often fell into this trap. In his article “The Case for Radical Idealism,” Rothbard criticized what he called “gradualism,” or the strategy of “concentrating solely on a gradual whittling away of State power,” as opposed to the radical and instant abolition of the State. By confining themselves to gradual and practical programs that stand a good chance of immediate adoption, he argued, the gradualists “are in grave danger of completely losing sight of the ultimate objective.”

Read the rest of this entry

Sweatshops and Social Justice: Can Compassionate Libertarians Agree?

This article originally appeared at C4SS.org on November 17, 2011. It was the last in a series, the fallout from which led me to end my brief flirtation with “market anarchism.” There’s no room for genuine discussion in an echo chamber, and arguments over intellectual purity get boring pretty quickly. They’re still probably over at C4SS and Strike-the-root, churning out articles from the ideological vending machine.

Sweatshops and Social Justice: Can Compassionate Libertarians Agree?

In the past several months, Matt Zwolinski and Ben Powell took to the pages of the Journal of Business Ethics, as well as the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog, to defend what they consider to be the mainstream libertarian position on sweatshops: that sweatshops represent a positive good in developing economies.

Citing Kevin Carson and I as representative of the “left-libertarian” position against sweatshops, Matt Zwolinski took us to task in his recent article, “Answering the Left-Libertarian Critique of Sweatshops.” I cannot speak for Mr. Carson, but I do not consider my opposition to sweatshops a “left wing” position; I consider it the only sensible position for libertarians and other champions of a free market to take.

First, let’s be clear about the definition of a sweatshop. A sweatshop is not any working environment in a developing economy; it is a working environment that is considered to be unreasonably difficult or dangerous. Many factors might contribute to a factory being labeled a “sweatshop,” including long hours without breaks, low pay, overcrowding, poor lighting and ventilation, unsanitary conditions, and few to zero considerations for employee safety. Low pay is just one of these factors and may not even be the chief factor in determining whether a particular place of employment can be called a sweatshop.

The argument in favor of sweatshops, as laid out by libertarians like Matt Zwolinski and Ben Powell (as well as neo-liberals like Paul Krugman and Nicholas Kristof), is essentially an economic argument. Sweatshop labor, they argue, is often the best (or only) option individuals in the developing world have for improving their lot in life. Therefore, it would be immoral to oppose sweatshops because their absence would take away a crucial option for economic improvement.

Read the rest of this entry