Save The Republic


Save the Republic

By M. Northrup Buechner

[This article was originally published on line by on November 18, 2013, with the title “Obama’s Disdain For The Constitution Means We Risk Losing Our Republic.” This version is slightly revised.]

Since President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law, he has changed it six times. Most notably, he suspended the employer mandate last summer, and last week he changed the provision that cancelled individual insurance policies.

The New York Times (11/15/13) described this last change as “a sweeping assertion of presidential authority to delay enforcement of certain provisions of federal law.” That is the narrowest possible interpretation, but still, where did Mr. Obama get that authority? From the premise that he is not bound by the Constitution.

The Constitution authorizes the President to propose and veto legislation. It does not authorize him to change existing laws. The changes Mr. Obama has ordered in Obamacare, therefore, are unconstitutional.

Why is he doing this? For the worst possible reason. “[T]o avoid opening the measure to legislative attack in Congress,” The Times says. In other words, to keep it out of the hands of the people’s representatives because the Constitution gives them, and only them, the power to write laws.

By changing the law based solely on his wish, Mr. Obama has acted on the principle that the President can rewrite federal laws and—since this is a principle—not just this law, but any law. It is appalling that Mr. Obama has taken this power at the behest of Congressmen who, like Mr. Obama, have sworn to defend the Constitution—to whom their oath evidently meant, and means, nothing.

What is the effect of vitiating the Constitution, of establishing the principle that the President can change laws when he wants to?

The time will come when Congress passes a law and the President ignores it. Or he may choose to enforce some parts and ignore others (as Mr. Obama is doing now). Or he may not wait for Congress and issue a decree (something Mr. Obama has done and has threatened to do again).

Mr. Obama has not been shy about pointing out his path. He has repeatedly made clear that he intends to act on his own authority. “I have the power and I will use it in defense of the middle class,” he has said. “We’re going to do everything we can, wherever we can, with or without Congress.” There are a number of names for the system Mr. Obama envisions, but representative government is not one of them.

If the President can ignore the laws passed by Congress, of what use is Congress? The President can do whatever he chooses. Congress can stand by and observe. Perhaps they might applaud or jeer. But in terms of political power, Congress will be irrelevant. Probably, it will become a kind of rubber-stamp or debating society. There are many such faux congresses in tyrannies throughout history and around the globe.

Mr. Obama has equal contempt for the Supreme Court. In an act of overbearing hubris, he excoriated Supreme Court Justices sitting helplessly before him during the 2010 State of the Union address—Justices who had not expected to be denounced and who were prevented by the occasion from defending themselves. Mr. Obama condemned them for restoring freedom of speech to corporations and unions.

Again in defiance of the Constitution, President Obama made four recess appointments in January 2012, when the Senate was not in recess. Three courts have found that his appointments were unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court has agreed to take up the case. If the Supreme Court finds against him, what will Mr. Obama do?

We can get a hint by looking at how other parts of his Administration have dealt with Court decisions they did not like.

The Attorney General’s Office is the branch of government charged with enforcing federal laws. After the Supreme Court struck down the key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Attorney General Holder announced that he would use other provisions of the act to get around the Court’s decision.

The Supreme Court has defined the standard for sexual harassment as “severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive” behavior to a “reasonable person.” In open defiance of that ruling, the Obama Department of Education has declared a new definition of sexual harassment for colleges, that is, “any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” including “verbal conduct,” even if it is not objectively offensive—thus reinforcing the reign of terror over sex on college campuses. If a young man’s request for a date turns out to be unwelcome, he is guilty of sexual harassment by definition.

The lack of respect for the Supreme Court by the Obama administration is manifest. They feel bound by the Court’s decisions only if they agree with them. If they disagree, it is deuces wild; they will embrace any fiction to nullify the Court’s decision.

The direction in which Mr. Obama is taking us would make possible the following scenario. A Republican Congress is elected and repeals Obamacare over a Democratic President’s veto. The President refuses to enforce the repeal. The Supreme Court rules that the President’s refusal is unconstitutional. The President denounces that ruling and refuses to be bound by it.

If the President persists in rejecting all authority other than his own, the denouement would depend on the side taken by the Armed Forces. Whatever side that was, our national self-esteem would be unlikely to recover from the blow of finding that we are living in a banana republic.

The shocking fact is that our whole system of representative government depends on it being led by an individual who believes in it; who thinks it is valuable; who believes that a government dedicated to the protection of individual rights is a noble ideal. What if he does not?

Mr. Obama is moving us away from our traditional system of checks and balances and toward the one-man-rule that dominates third world countries. He has said that he wants a fair country—implying that, as it stands, the United States is not a fair country—an unprecedented calumny committed against a country by its own leader.

What country does he think is more fair than the United States? He has three long years left in which to turn us into a fair country. Where does he intend to take us?

Mr. Obama got his conception of a fair country from his teachers. Their ideal was and is egalitarianism, the notion that no one should be any better, higher, or richer than anyone else. A fair country is an unfree country because it is regimented to prevent anyone from rising too high. Combined with a dollop of totalitarianism, egalitarianism has replaced communism as the dominant ideal in our most prestigious universities. Mr. Obama and his colleagues are the product of those universities, and they have their marching orders.

The most important point is that Mr. Obama does not consider himself bound by the Constitution. He could not have made that more clear. He has drawn a line in the sand and we cannot ignore it.

Those who currently hold political office, and who meant their oath to defend the Constitution, need to act now. Surely, violation of the Constitution is grounds for impeachment and charges should be filed. In addition, there are many other actions that Congressmen can and should take (Congressional hearings, for example)—actions that will tell Mr. Obama that we have seen where he is going and we will not let our country go without a fight.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Benjamin Franklin was asked what form of government had been created. “A republic,” he replied, “if you can keep it.”

We are losing it. If Mr. Obama’s reach for unprecedented power is not stopped, that will be the end. Everyone who values his life and liberty should find some way to say “No!” “Not now!” “Not yet!” “Not ever!”

M. Northrup Buechner is Associate Professor of Economics at St. John’s University, New York.



Teleological Measurement

The Theory of Consumer Choice IV


By M. Northrup Buechner

September 18, 2013

Another in a series of essays elaborating Objective Economics: How Ayn Rand’s Philosophy Changes Everything about Economics by the author.

My last blog defined a hierarchy of values as the ranking in one’s mind of a series of items, ranked by reference to a goal one wants to reach. Ayn Rand called the procedure by which we rank values in a hierarchy “teleological measurement” (her emphasis) (ITOE, pp. 32-35, almost two and a half pages). This is perhaps her most important identification for the science of economics, so let us consider it closely. (If I could do it over, I would begin with this material.)

Teleological measurement is the type of measurement that applies to “the psychological process of evaluation” (ITOE, p. 32). Teleology means goal-directed or end-directed. Usually, the end is one’s life, explicitly or implicitly. Teleological measurement means measuring or evaluating or grading or ranking something by its relationship to an end. That relationship consists of the effect of the item on the end—by whether it helps to advance, support, enhance, or achieve the end, and by how much (in which case it is a value)—or by the extent to which it helps to negate, undermine, and destroy the end (in which case it is a disvalue).

Ayn Rand defined measurement as “the identification of a relationship—a quantitative relationship established by means of a standard that serves as a unit” (ITOE, p. 33). If the standard is an inch, we can determine that there are thirty-six of them in a yard. Thirty-six is a cardinal number; it answers the question “how many?”

Teleological measurement deals in ordinal numbers. It does not tell us the number of units there are in a total; instead, it measures things by the ranking or order of the units, such as first, second, third—or high, low, middle.

According to the OED, evaluation means “the action of appraising or valuing.” Putting aside issues of developmental psychology, evaluation is the origin of all the values of people’s lives. Evaluation transforms facts into values in our minds. If one evaluates something as crucial to one’s life, then that value is ranked high. If one evaluates something as unimportant and inconsequential, it is ranked low. The basis for both is teleological measurement, “a graded relationship of means to end,” with the end in this case being one’s life.

Most teleological measurements are relative measurements; that is, values do not stand alone like a tree on a plain. Rather, alternatives are ranked or “graded” relative to one another, and the ranking of any one derives its meaning from the values that are ranked higher and lower. For example, suppose a man looking for a car to drive to work ranks a used Lexus first, a new Hyundai second, and a new Ford third. The ranking of each car in the series is the teleological measurement of its value to him, and that measure is relative to the other cars he has ranked.

If one is willing to look, the universality of teleological measurement in human life is transparent. Every man alive makes such measurements all the time, every hour of every day. An individual’s success in life varies in part with the accuracy of his teleological measurements. If we consider that human values are the final cause (in Aristotle’s sense) of everything we are and do, teleological measurement is the most widespread and most important measurement in the world. Consequently, it is crucial to understand that this is a real measure, involving real measurements and real numbers, numbers that are absolutes in their context—but ordinal numbers, not cardinal numbers.

Teleological measurement is also the foundation of human emotions. Whereas values vary with ranking in a hierarchy, emotions vary in “intensity or dimension” (ITOE, p. 35). Emotions proceed from the relation of the external world to our values and are defined by the particular relation involved. For example, fear is the emotion caused by a threat to one’s values. Teleological measurement determines the ranking of the value that is threatened. The higher the value, the more intense the fear. Happiness proceeds from the achievement of a value. The greater the value one achieves, the greater is one’s happiness (other things equal).

Modern economists take the emotion they call utility as the starting point for the theory of consumer choice. We will take up later the meaning of utility, where it comes from, and what its role is in economics. For the time being, let us note, in opposition to this starting point, that emotions are not a first cause in human beings but derive from their hierarchies of values. Consequently, even a theory of emotions could not be erected on an emotion. Modern economists disagree; they are committed to utility as the foundation of economic thought.

Teleological measurement is true; it exists. As the cause of hierarchies of values, and particularly hierarchies of economic values, it is one of, if not the foundation of a rational economics. Persuading economists of the value of this idea may be the biggest hurdle that a rational economics has to get over.

The next installment of this blog will elaborate further the idea of a hierarchy of values.


The Theory of Consumer Choice III

The Theory of Consumer Choice III

By M. Northrup Buechner

July 31, 2013

Another in a series of essays elaborating Objective Economics: How Ayn Rand’s Philosophy Changes Everything about Economics by the author.

I concluded my last blog by saying that a valid theory of consumer choice requires the concept of “a hierarchy of values.” I should also have said that consumer choice is not unique, that all human choices reflect an individual’s hierarchy of values to some extent. Since consumer choice is a subdivision of human choice, it is easier to understand the former if we first understand the latter.

The meaning of a hierarchy of values depends on grasping the two concepts of which it is composed. Let us begin with the concept of “hierarchy.” There are other definitions of hierarchy, but the one I prefer is “a graded or ranked series, one thing above another.” (I have been using this definition for so long that I have forgotten its origin.)

Hierarchies are everywhere in the world that one choses to look for them. There are the ranks of authority in the Catholic Church (priests, bishops, cardinals, archbishops, patriarchs, etc.). All the military services have hierarchies of command (in the army: private, corporal, sergeant, sergeant major, 2nd lieutenant, lieutenant, captain, etc.). Universities have hierarchies of (presumed) knowledge (instructor, assistant professor, associate professor, full professor). The students in a college or university are ranked in a hierarchy according to their grade-point average. Investors exist in a hierarchy defined by their wealth. The list is endless.

Having grasped the meaning of hierarchy, we need to grasp the concept of values. Let us begin with Ayn Rand’s definition of value: “that which one acts to gain and/or keep.” A value, in this sense, is a goal, end, or purpose that one acts to reach or attain. Usually it is a fact of external existence, such as a house, a car, or an ice cream cone, but it can also be an aspect of consciousness that one strives to achieve, for example, happiness, or virtues such as pride and integrity.

A value presupposes an evaluation, that is, an act of consciousness that gives the object a positive ranking. An evaluation in turn presupposes a standard or end to which the value is a means. Evaluation is the process of ranking things by whether they cohere with a standard or contradict it, and to what extent.

When several items are ranked by reference to the same standard, we get a hierarchy. If the standard is “getting ahead at work,” then the hierarchy might be (1) volunteer for jobs; (2) work long hours; (3) an MBA. If the standard is rational, if the standard is, in the words of Ayn Rand, “derived from the facts of reality and validated by a process of reason” (CUI, p. 14), then the values are objective. If one also ranks objectively the values in the hierarchy, then action based on that hierarchy will serve one’s life.

In these blogs, sometimes I have referred to “the value placed on an object.” When I have used that phrase, I thought the context made the meaning clear, or at least clear enough that my audience would not be troubled. (I would like to hear from anyone who cares to confirm or deny my judgment on that.) But until now, I have not defined value in the sense of value placed on something—which certainly is not the meaning Ayn Rand defined.

Now I can say exactly what that value is: It is the ranking of the object in a hierarchy of values. A hierarchy of values is a phenomenon of consciousness. The values ranked in the hierarchy are phenomena of existence, in exactly the meaning Ayn Rand defined: goals of action, things one wants to gain and/or keep (including things like happiness, integrity, and pride). The value placed on values is their ranking in one’s mind.

Clearly, there are two concepts of value here. First, there are the things one acts to gain and/or keep—objects of action in reality; for example, “Water is a value to a thirsty man.” Second, there is the ranking of those values in consciousness—in a hierarchy of values; for example, “Water has a high value to a thirsty man.”

Metaphysically, values as ends of action come first; a hierarchy of values cannot be grasped without the concept of values as goals of action in reality. The “values” in a hierarchy of “values” are the values Ayn Rand defined. Existence comes before consciousness.

Causally, values presuppose evaluation by a human mind. To create a value, someone evaluates an item as valuable according to some standard, and gives that goal positive ranking in a hierarchy. Simultaneously with that evaluation, the item becomes a value to that person.

Next time we will elaborate further the idea of a hierarchy of values, and begin the process of understanding human choice.