Saturday, July 30, 2016

Governor Johnson on Religious Liberty

Governor Johnson strongly favors religious liberty, but he does not favor federal legislation to protect Christian business people who wish to boycott gay weddings.    Such legislation would use federal government power to carve out an exception to anti-discrimination laws enacted by some state and local governments that prohibit discrimination based upon sexual orientation.

Governor Johnson has not made this a major issue of his campaign.   "Vote for Johnson to protect  gay people from the religious right's effort to restrict their right to have wedding cakes or photographers. "    

And while Ted Cruz ran on a platform of ending gay marriage along with getting the Federal government behind the boycott, he lost the primary.   The nominee of the Republican party, Donald Trump, is pro-gay marriage.

So, what is the issue?   It is just a line of attack Trump supporters are using against Governor Johnson to keep religious conservatives in line.

Gary Johnson is not Ted Cruz.   Get over it.

This attack was started in the Libertarian nomination contest.   Johnson favors existing civil rights laws.    His hardcore opponents argue that businesses should be allowed to discriminate on whatever basis they choose.  For example, Ford Motor Company should be able to initiate a "whites only" hiring policy.   

One of his opponents asked if anti-discrimination laws would require a Jewish baker to bake a cake for Nazis.   Johnson said yes it has that implication and went on to express concerns that a public utility might refuse service to a Muslim.  

Later, Johnson said that the first amendment protects Jewish bakers from baking pro-Nazi cakes.  

It is dishonest to take Johnson's passing remark, "yes it has that implication," and transform it into the view that Johnson wants to force Jews to bake cakes for Nazis.   It is rather that the prospect of that happening is not enough to convince him to favor the repeal of all laws against private discrimination based upon race, color or creed, or even to provide an exception to those laws based upon religious conviction.

If the Libertarian Party had nominated one of Johnson's opponents, we probably would be hearing next to nothing about the candidate.   However, I prefer having a candidate who will not get trapped as did Senator Paul into criticizing the 1964 civil rights act.   Senator Paul wisely backtracked on his public skepticism about the prohibition of private racial discrimination.    

My own view is that churches should be free to insist on whatever criterion they wish for marriages--that includes both the clergy and places of worship.   I am sure Governor Johnson agrees and he should state that every time this comes up.  

I believe that Christian bakers and photographers should joyfully serve gay couples.   Even if gay marriage is contrary to God's Law and sex outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin, Christian merchants should be out in the world, not cloistered away.   Our Lord provided the example and had no part in shunning sinners.   Witness the Word.   If you feel that preparing a cake or even going to a wedding to take photos would be a trial, it probably won't be too much of a problem in practice if you start with, "I will be glad to have your business, but perhaps you should know that I believe the only real marriage is between a man and a woman and that any sexual activity outside of marriage is a grave sin.  Now that we have that out of the way, how can I help you?"   

I also believe that gay couples should not try to compel people who don't approve of them to participate in their weddings.  If some vendor says they don't want your business, why not find someone who does?   This seems especially relevant if you are looking for a personal service from a small business.     It is hard to avoid the impression that these anti-discrimination cases regarding gay marriages are less about getting services and more about punishing people for their political views.   Is that really what you want to do?   Isn't it better to live and let live?

I strongly agree with Governor Johnson that public utilities, even when privately owned, should not be able to discriminate--especially when they have an exclusive franchise monopoly.   But I think it is worth considering whether modifying anti-discrimination laws to allow an exemption for small businesses involved in personal services is the least bad option. 

I don't think that there should be some kind of rush to get federal legislation to overturn state and local discrimination laws as applies to vendors with religious objections to gay marriage.  I am glad that Governor Johnson has not jumped on board that religious right talking point.   But it is possible to be a bit more nuanced in opposition.  I certainly wouldn't make sweeping claims about the dangers of discrimination.

I don't favor federal legislation to prohibit discrimination against gay couples seeking wedding cakes or photographers for their weddings.    I wish Governor Johnson would not imply that he does.

In my view, there are many important issues before the United States.  I don't agree with Gary Johnson on everything.   But he is by far the best candidate seeking the Presidency.

Friday, July 1, 2016

A Scarcity of Rents?

One common fallacy is the notion that jobs are scarce and so it is important to protect jobs.

Labor is scarce, so there are more than enough jobs for people to do.

If labor is to be used to produce as much as possible of whatever it is that people consider most important, then sometimes what labor is used to produce must shift due to new opportunities.

In a command economy that would occur by people being transferred from less important tasks to more important tasks.

In a market economy, what happens is that people lose jobs and have to find new ones.   It isn't that they have done anything wrong.  And it is unlikely that that their old jobs producing nothing of value at all.  It is rather than their time can be better spent doing something else.

Fortunately, the long run trend has been for labor to be compensated by more and better goods and services.   Unfortunately, for some workers sometimes, there might be a set back and they end up in new jobs that provide less than the old jobs, at least for a time.  

And while this could be a consequence of competitive markets, it might sometimes be the result of a loss of rents.  

For example, suppose the steel industry is unionized.   The steel workers earn rents mostly at the expense of those who use products that include steel.   Somewhat fewer of those products are purchased, less steel is produced than otherwise, and fewer steelworkers are employed.   Displaced steelworkers find other work, slightly depressing wages in the rest of the economy.   That extra labor results in more production of other products and slightly reduced prices of those goods and services that utilize less steel.   Steelworkers earn higher real incomes and a less efficient allocation of resources results in slightly lower real incomes for everyone else.

Now, suppose foreign steel producers begin to expand their market share.   Domestic steel production and employment contract.   The displaced workers find other jobs and produce more.   More steel and more other goods and services are produced increasing total economic well being.   But some of the steel workers have lost their rents.  

Suppose the rents collected by the steelworkers makes it profitable to introduce labor saving technology--something that would be too expensive if steelworkers earned a competitive wage.   More steel is produced and the unionized steel workers that are displaced find other jobs and produce other goods and services.   Total output and income increase.   But some of the steelworkers have lost their rents.

So, labor is scarce.  Jobs aren't scarce.  But perhaps rents are scarce.