Check out what the loopy Ayn Randroids are up to now. In long-suffering Detroit, a libertarian real estate developer wants to buy a civic crown jewel, Belle Isle, the 982-acre park designed by Frederick Law Olmstead—think the Motor City’s Central Park—and turn it into an independent nation, selling citizenships at $300,000 per. Not, mind you, out of any mercenary motives, says would-be founder Rodney Lockwood—but just “to provide an economic and social laboratory for a society which effectively addresses some of the most important problems of American, and the western world.” (Sic.)
Address how? Well, let’s say I’ve never seen a document that better reveals the extent to which, for libertarians, “liberty” means the opposite of liberty—at least since Rick Santorum held up the company town in which his grandpa was entombed as a beacon of freedom.
An aspiring Ayn Rand himself, Lockwood has set out his vision in a “novel,” poetically titled Belle Isle: Detroit’s Game Changer. Although he’s actually done the master one better, by imagining he can get his utopia built. Last week he presented the plan, alongside a retired Chrysler executive, a charter school entrepreneur (who apparently enjoys a cameo in the novel running one of the island’s two K-12 schools) and a senior economist at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, to what The Detroit News called “a select group of movers and shakers at the tony Detroit Athletic Club,” who included the president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.
Never let it be said Rod Lockwood (perfect pornstar name? You be the judge) hasn’t thought this thing through. The plan is foolproof: “Belle Isle is sold by the City of Detroit to a group of investors for $1 billion. The island is then developed into a city-state of 35,000 people, with its own laws, customs and currency, under United States supervision as a Commonwealth.” Relations with neighboring, impoverished Detroit will be naught but copacetic, and not exploitative at all: “Plants will be built across the Detroit River…. with the engineering and management functions on Belle Isle. Companies from all over the world will locate on Belle Isle, bringing in massive amounts of capital and GDP.” (Because, you know, tax-dodging international financiers of the sort a scheme like this attracts are just desperate to open and operate factories.) Government will be limited to ten percent or less of GDP, “by constitutional dictate. The social safety net is operated charities, which are highly encouraged and supported by the government.”
Although, on Belle Isle, “the word ‘Government’ is discouraged and replaced with the word ‘Service’ in the name of buildings.” Note the verb-tense slippage between present and future throughout. Lockwood is a realist.
He says what he imagines is a “Midwest Tiger”—helpfully explaining that his self-bestowed nickname is “a play on the label given Singapore as the ‘Asian Tiger.’ Singapore, in recent decades, has transformed itself into the most dynamic economy in the world, through low regulation, low taxes and business-friendly practices.”
Singapore. You know: that libertarian paradise where chewing gum is banned; thousands of people each year are sentenced to whippings with rattan canes for such offenses as overstaying visas and spray-painting buildings; the punishment for littering can be $1,000, a term of forced labor and being required to wear a sign reading “I am a litter lout”; and where pornography, criticizing religion, connecting to an unsecured Wi-Fi hotspot and (yes!) over-exuberant hugging are all banned. Freedom!
What are the Commonwealth’s other inspirations, you ask? “The country of Liechtenstein, which, although a monarchy, has a very effective government.”
And indeed, just like little Liechtenstein, Belle Islanders will enjoy protection from America’s security umbrella: “As a Commonwealth of the United States…Belle Isle pays its share of the U.S. defense budget, based on its population. It amounts to about $2,000 per person per year.” In fact Belle Islanders can expect nothing but fiscal gratitude from citizens of the United States. Yes, “a citizen who lives on Belle Isle who operates an investment fund with world-wide customers will pay no income taxes” to the United States. “Won’t the US lose a lot of tax revenue?” Oh, ye of little libertarian faith. “It will probably gain revenue…. Entrepreneurs from around the world will locate on Belle Isle and headquarter there, but often have their plant operations in the US because the island is so small. Businesses producing products in the U.S. will still be taxed at US corporate rates…. the influx of capital and jobs will be staggering…. Detroiters will see this vision as the answer to their prayers, and how could the federal government deny Detroit a chance to turn itself around, accelerate its re-birth, all at no cost to the taxpayer? How could they deny this long standing population of over 700,000 their first real shot at the American dream.” (Sic.)
Want in? Three requirements. First, of course, you need to come up with $300,000. “Will the citizenship fee pay for the purchase of any land for homes or businesses on Belle Isle?” “No—that will be an additional cost.” But look what that $300,000 buys you: “One of the core values” of the new nation, Lockwood writes, “is respect for all its citizens, no matter their station in life.”
Second: approval by the “citizenship board.” (Freedom!) Third step: “a command of English.” Because nothing says “respect for all its citizens” like “funny-talkers need not apply.”
And yes, it’s true, Lockwood proposes the “Rand” as the name of Belle Isle’s currency. But I’m sure he means Rand as in “Ayn Rand,” not, you know, Rand as in “South Africa,” the former home of a social system that functioned by surrounding minority enclaves of affluent whites with a reserve army of impoverished and disenfranchised blacks. Not like that at all.
What could go wrong? What’s the downside? After all, writes Lockwood in the section of his FAQ asking, ‘What is Bell Isle used for currently?”, “It is uninhabited and functions as a public park.” Just like that dead zone between 59th and 110th Streets in Manhattan.
You can sign up for updates on the project here. Although, take note, in order do so you have to give the organizers your phone number. Because, you know… freedom.
By: Rick Perlstein, The Nation, January 28, 2013
Today, Philip Bump at Grist passed along this interesting story about a shock jock in Australia who, after spewing some false nonsense about climate change on the air, “has been ordered to undergo ‘factual accuracy’ training, and to use fact-checkers.” Obviously, the government has no such powers here in America, but it’s a good reminder that America’s particular version of free speech wasn’t handed down from above, or even by the Founders. The words in the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”) are very general; the contours and details of that freedom have been given shape over the decades by a succession of Supreme Court cases. James Madison didn’t have an opinion about whether it was OK for Rush Limbaugh to go on the air and call Sandra Fluke a “slut” and a “prostitute,” so we had to figure out later how to handle that, and we chose, for some good reasons, to let it slide (legally speaking).
In other countries where people are just as committed to freedom as we are, they’ve come to slightly different conclusions about where the limits of those freedoms are. It’s not that they don’t value free expression, it’s just that competing values like truth and civility sometimes get weighed more heavily. We believe there are limits to freedom of speech no less than the Australians do; we just put those limits farther out. There are plenty of speech acts you can be sued or even prosecuted for, from intentionally libeling someone to inciting violence to revealing state secrets to conspiring to commit a crime.
I wouldn’t be comfortable with our government making decisions like the one the Australian government did, but we shouldn’t forget that our expansive interpretation of free speech comes with a cost. Because we don’t want the government policing the truth, we have to put up with a lot of lies; because we don’t think you have a right not to be offended, we have to put up with lots of offensive speech. There are countries where the consensus belief is that personal dignity is a value that outweighs freedom of speech, so you can be punished for offending someone. This is at the heart of why many people in the Muslim world can’t quite understand why our society would tolerate something like that anti-Muslim film, and why we can’t quite understand why they got so worked up over it, since it was just some jackass making a stupid video. Here in America, we offer wide latitude to jackassery.
There are lots of Americans who only value free speech so long as their own feelings aren’t being hurt and they don’t have to hear any speech they don’t like. But democracy is often painful and unpleasant. For instance, 18 days from now, half the country is going to be very, very disappointed with the results of the election. I have a feeling that when it happens, particularly if Barack Obama wins, we’re going to see how thin the commitment to democracy is on the part of some people.
By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, October 19, 2012
At this point, it appears that Mitt Romney delivers a “major” speech on the economy about once a month, apparently working under the assumption that, eventually, someone will take one of these speeches seriously. The last such effort, delivered to an empty football stadium in Detroit, didn’t go well, so the former governor gave it yet another try yesterday at the University of Chicago.
The event was largely overlooked — apparently, once-a-month economic speeches read from teleprompters on a weekday afternoon have started to bore political reporters — but the remarks were actually worth paying attention to. Jamelle Bouie described the speech as “a remarkable work of staggering dishonesty,” which struck me as more than fair.
I believe speechwriters tend to call remarks like Romney’s yesterday as “big picture speeches.” The former governor presented no specifics and offered no details about any aspect of his economic vision, but he used the word “freedom” 29 times, and the word “free” an additional 10 times — all while standing in front of six American flags — all of which apparently was supposed to distract the audience from the fact that Romney’s vision lacked all meaningful substance.
But there was something to be learned from the speech anyway. For one thing, Romney presented an economic vision that’s very conservative.
“[O]ne feature of our culture that propels the American economy stands out: freedom. The American economy is fueled by freedom. Free people and their free enterprises are what drive our economic vitality. [...]
“Today, however, our status and our standing are in peril because the source of our economic strength is threatened. Over the last several decades, and particularly over the last three years, Washington has increasingly encroached upon our freedom…. If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come.
“We see this attack on our freedom in every corner of the economy.”
Just get the government out of the way and wait for “freedom” to solve all of our problems. Once we get pesky safeguards and regulations out of the way, we’ll be free to breathe dirty air and drink dirty water; we’ll be free of the burdens of affordable medical care; we’ll be free to watch Wall Street excesses rob the country blind; we’ll be free to slip into poverty into an inadequate safety net full of holes; we’ll be free of the homework assigned to college students; and we’ll be free to remain dependent on oil indefinitely.
It’s the kind of freedom that Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) will find inspiring, and working families will find crushing.
What’s more, yesterday offered a reminder as to just how dishonest Romney is prepared to be to advance his ambitions. To listen to this speech, you’d think that President Obama raised taxes instead of having cut them repeatedly. You’d think the stock market has been crushed by “restricted freedom,” instead of having soared under Obama’s watch. You’d think oil production has been sharply reduced, instead of having gone up each of the past three years.
And you’d think Obama vastly increased government spending and hired legions of new bureaucrats, none of which happened in reality.
“The reality is that, under President Obama’s administration, these pioneers would have found it much more difficult, if not impossible, to innovate, invent, and create.
“Under Dodd-Frank, they would have struggled to get loans from their community banks.
“A regulator would have shut down the Wright Brothers for their “dust pollution.”
“And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that.”
When Mitt Romney says “the reality is,” you can probably assume you’re not going to hear anything about reality. In this case, Romney is completely wrong about Wall Street reform; the Wright Brothers line doesn’t make sense; and the light bulb line refers to a Bush-era, bipartisan energy measure that doesn’t ban light bulbs at all.
“A remarkable work of staggering dishonesty,” indeed.
By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, March 20, 2012
I’ve said this before, but in light of Mitt Romney’s economic speech today, it bears repeating: Virtually his entire case against Obama’s economic record rests on the assumption that the American people have developed a case of mass amnesia about the depth and severity of the economic crisis the President inherited.
A few months ago, Romney liked to claim that Obama made the economy “worse.” But the good economic news forced Romney to revise that argument, and he took to claiming that, yes, okay, the economy is getting better, but only in spite of Obama’s policies, which are slowing down the natural recovery.
Today Romney upped the ante yet again, offering still another explanation for why Obama should be denied a second term, even though the economy is recovering: It’s all about freedom! From the prepared remarks:
The Obama administration’s assault on our economic freedom is the principal reason why the recovery has been so tepid — why it couldn’t meet their projections, let alone our expectations. If we don’t change course now, this assault on freedom could damage our economy and the well-being of American families for decades to come…
The proof is in this weak recovery. This administration thinks our economy is struggling because the stimulus was too small. The truth is we’re struggling because our government is too big.
Relatedly, this morning, Romney said: “The economy always comes back after a recession, of course. There’s never been one that we didn’t recover from. The problem is this one has been deeper than it needed to be and a slower recovery than it should have been, by virtue of the policies of this president.”
The common thread here is obvious, and it’s important. The pace of this recovery, according to Romney, is sluggish compared to that of previous ones — proving that Obama’s policies, or his “assault on freedom,” are the reason why. Missing from this telling, of course, is the most important reason this recovery is different from previous ones: It came after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Romney’s argument that the recovery’s pace would otherwise have been normal if not for Obama’s polices rests on a bet that the American people will forget about this, or won’t factor it into their decision this fall. Perhaps some enterprising reporter will ask Romney the obvious follow-up questions: What would you have done as president in early 2009? Is it really your contention that the economy would have recovered at a typical pace from the worst financial crisis since the 1930s if government had done nothing at all?
By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, March 19, 2012