Sunday, October 14, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 6: The World Police Turn in Their Badges

We Put the "F" Back in "Freedom"
"Beware of entangling allances"
-Pres. George Washington
"A Policeman's Lot Is Not A Happy One"
- From "The Pirates of Penzance" by Gilbert and Sullivan
Now that U.S. presidential nominees are decided by primaries, the party conventions have become pointless, predictable bores. They are little more than rallies disguised as deliberative bodies. Both conventions are so scripted that the few moments that stand out are those where some participant tosses down the script and improvises. One of those moments this year came from Senator Rand Paul's Republican convention speech. At a convention where military one-upmanship was the coin of the day, Sen. Paul made the case that to balance our budget, "Republicans must acknowledge that not every dollar spent on the military is necessary or well spent". This is a brave admission; even Democrats such as Leon Panetta argue that even the recent slowing of military spending increases threaten our security. Although Sen. Paul's views on military spending are in the minority, soon the debt crisis will bring these views into the mainstream. When we absolutely must make the hard choices, it will soon come to light that much of our military spending has nothing to do with defending our nation, and some of our military efforts actually damage our security.

Defending Everyone Against Everyone Else

The 2012 U.S. military budget accounts for 41% of all military spending done on this planet. Our military spending is more than that of Russia, China and our NATO allies combined. Why does it cost so much to defend a nation surrounded by two oceans, and bordered by two very friendly neighbors? The answer is that much of the U.S. defense budget goes to defending other nations. America maintains 900 military bases in 130 countries. Our nation has 119,000 troops in Europe, 37,000 in South Korea, and 45,000 in Japan. There 44 American military bases in Germany alone. The average American taxpayer pays more for these bases than the average German taxpayer does.

A large part of why the U.S. defense spending is so high is that it includes a huge ersatz foreign aid program where we take on the defense duties of many of our allies. This is a great deal for the countries we defend: their tax burden is lessened, this in turn gives them a competitive advantage over us, and fewer of their young people are asked to sacrifice their lives. But is this a good deal for us? And if not, how did we end up in this situation?

The Diplomatic Equivalents of the Helium Reserve

We are all aware of Department of Defense programs that were continued far beyond any practical purpose. The National Helium Reserve, originally set up to make sure we had helium for our dirigibles, continued until 2007. The horse mounted cavalry was maintained as late as 1942. And don't forget the Mohair subsidies ooriginally enacted during WWI guarantee enough wool for soldiers uniforms. These subsidies continued until recent years, in spite of the fact that no uniforms have been made from mohair for more than half a century.

The State Department has its own share of programs that go on far past the time where their original rationale made any sense. The prime example of this is NATO, started in 1949 to help European nations rebuilding after the devastation of WWII to defend themselves against the Soviet bloc. This treaty was originally intended as a temporary measure, to help out until these nations could defend themselves. Dwight Eisenhower, as NATO Supreme Commander said that “if in 10 years, all American troops stationed in Europe for national defense purposes have not been returned to the United States, then this whole project will have failed.” As a perfect illustration of the Reagan maxim that there is nothing more permanent than a temporary government program, NATO is still going strong after more than six decades, long after all the member nations have recovered from WWII, and even long after the Soviet threat has disappeared into history.

A similar situation exists in South Korea. After the end of the Korean war, one could make the case that it was in America's best interest to help our war-torn ally defend herself against communist aggression. But more than half a century later, South Korea now has a GDP 20 times the GDP of North Korea. If South Korea cannot defend herself now, when will she be able to do so?

When Defense Works Against Security

It is bad enough that American taxpayers are forced to pay for defend nations other than their own. What makes matters worse is what the CIA calls blowback, where the unintended consequences of American military ventures actually worsen our security. Major security failures such as 9/11 were retaliations for U.S. wars fought on foreign soil.

What Rand Paul said about defense spending may be controversial in 2012, but as the debt crisis comes to a head and every tax dollar needs to be accounted for, Paul's call for a closer look at defense spending will become more mainstream. Article 1 Section 8 of the constitution points out the need to provide for the common defense. But this meant the defense of the United States, not that of the world. It is time to end our role as world policeman, and concentrate on protecting our own citizens.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 5: Debt Will End Corporate Welfare as We Know It

That's how we're gonna keep 'em down on the farm
"The statesman who should attempt to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, would not only load himself with a most unnecessary attention, but assume an authority which could safely be trusted, not only to no single person, but to no council or senate whatever, and which would nowhere be so dangerous as in the hands of a man who had folly and presumption enough to fancy himself fit to exercise it."
- "The Wealth of Nations" by Adam Smith
"Government is the great fiction through which everybody endeavors to live at the expense of everybody else."
- Frederic Bastiat
The coining of a new word, or the re-introduction of a long dormant word, can often advance our understanding of important issues. A prime example is the word "corporatism" that pervades much of current political discourse to derisively describe economic policies designed around the needs of the present leading corporations. A prime example of corporatism is the bank bailouts of 2008, a bi-partisan policy that eventually were condemned by both the Tea Party and the Occupy Wall Street movements.

Real Capitalism Versus Crony Capitalism

Before this word gained popularity, many ascribed the attributes of corporatism to free market economics. This is rather ironic: the eighteenth century term for the corporatist ideology is mercantilism. Adam Smith, the father of modern economics, strongly refutes the tenants of mercantilism in his opus "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations". In a true free market, the government does not show favoritism to the elite corporations. It is the consumer, not the state, that picks winners and losers in a free market economy. Corporatism is not only a highly unfair public policy, it is also poor economic policy. A company favored by corporatism is shielded from competitive pressures, and hence does not make the improvements that the unprotected companies would. Competition has given us the iPhone and Android cell phone technology. Corporatism has given Bangladesh a typewriter industry that survived until this decade.

Corporate Welfare: Supported by Many, Liked by No One

The most outrageous form of corporatism is corporate welfare, where the government actually subsidizes particular businesses. This practice is denounced across the political spectrum, which raises the question as to why it is so prevalent. The problem is that welfare is in the eye of the beholder. Voters often fail to see that aid to the industries that they work in as welfare, and will cast their votes to save that aid.

A prime example of this is our agriculture subsidies, a program that protects farmers' income with price supports that keep domestic food prices artificially high. Our agricultural policy keeps U.S. sugar prices at twice the world level. As a result, candies such as Life-Savers are no longer made in this country. The high sugar prices have also forced American soft drink manufacturers to use high fructose corn syrup in place of sugar. The politically connected farm lobby have also pushed ethanol usage, a real boon for corn farmers but an expensive burden both at the pump and at the grocery store. Ethanol is not even good for the environment; producing ethanol uses more fossil fuel than it replaces, which is why Al Gore no longer endorses it. The only advantage to the ethanol program is that it makes farming more profitable.

Why, in a democracy, do these programs that benefit a few at the expense of the many stay alive for so long? The problem is that we do not directly vote on issues like this; instead, we vote for representatives, who will be voting on many issues. When choosing a representative, voters tend to focus on the few issues that are most important to them. Although most voters believe (correctly) that they would benefit from eliminating corporate welfare, very few voters have that as their top issue. The top issue for most voters is aid for their own industry, i.e. what is clearly corporate welfare to anyone outside that industry. This is why corporate welfare constantly wins elections, in spite of its unpopularity.

Putting Corporate Welfare on the Table

In the battle over corporate welfare, the debt crisis could be a game changer. The federal spend approximately $100 billion per year on corporate welfare, which is more than what it spent on welfare for individuals. When the nation's debt is called, these expenditures has to be on the table. We simply cannot afford to maintain all of these corporate welfare programs. At that point, how can one make a politically viable pitch for saving any of these programs?

In short, the debt crisis will force a type of welfare reform for corporations, similar to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996. Proponents for the 1996 welfare reform act argued that recipients are better served by being transitioned to some form of self reliance when possible. Soon, it will be widely recognized that this same principle applies to corporations: they should not be dependent on the government.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 4: The End of the Victimless Crime Spree

"Even if one takes every reefer madness allegation of the prohibitionists at face value, marijuana prohibition has done far more harm to far more people than marijuana ever could."
- William F. Buckley, Jr.
"Oh what a delight to
Be given the right to
Be care free and gay once again"

- From "Cocktails for Two" by by Arthur Johnston and Sam Coslow
Some of humanity's greatest advances emerged from severe crises. As bad as the looming U.S. debt crisis is, it will force badly needed reforms in our criminal code. This nation devotes and a tremendous amount of resources prosecuting victimless crimes, especially the war on drugs. This relentless pursuit of adults engaging in consensual behavior is wasteful, ineffective, and frequently violates our civil liberties. But this particular form of government overreach will almost certainly end, and it will do for a rather mundane reason: the state simply won't have the funds to continue.

Prohibition Repeal as the Ultimate Rent Party

There is a historical precedent for the immanent demise of most victimless crimes. Consider the Volstead act, commonly known as prohibition. This forerunner of the war on drugs banned intoxicating alcoholic beverages. Even though the failures of this act became apparent soon after the act's passage in 1919, it was not repealed until 1933. What happened in 1933 that finally did in the Volstead act?

In part, prohibition was ended by the great depression. At a time when the economic downturn was drying up tax revenue, governments were saddled with the substantial costs of enforcing prohibition. Moreover, keeping bars and liquor closed also closed off a badly needed source of tax revenue. When it became clear that prohibition could only be continued by asking an impoverished public to tighten their belts still further, the prohibition repeal effort passed overwhelmingly.

The Volstead Act on Crack

If 1930's depression era America found prohibition too dear a luxury, then twenty-first century debt crisis America will almost certainly reject its even more expensive offshoot, the war on drugs. Essentially, the war on drugs is the Volstead Act on Crack. Consider these expenses:

Jail House Rock

Key element of the war on drugs is harsh minimum sentences for drug offenses and extremely aggressive enforcement. Since President Nixon kicked off the war on drugs in 1971, American incarceration rates have more than quadrupled. We now hold the dubious distinction of having the highest incarceration rate in the world. We have more prisoners than all of China, which has four times our general population. We jail a larger portion of our black population than did Apartheid era South Africa.

The costs of all these prisoners is straining state budgets.
California pays $45,563 a year to keep a man in prison, so now the Golden state spends more on jails than it does on universities. And that does not even could the loss of tax revenue from taking these prisoners out of the economy. Longitudinal studies show an even greater expense: those serving lengthy drug sentences are less likely to ever become a productive member of society.

In the past, the mantra of the drug warrior has been that it is important to "send a message" to users of illicit drugs. But as states such as California and Michigan face the threat of default, they are bound to ask if we could please send this message via Western Union.

Putting the War into "The War on Drugs"

The war on drugs quickly took up a large portion of law enforcement efforts at all levels. It even has its own enforcement agency, the DEA, which has spend $536 billion on drug enforcement since its inception in 1973. (See the suitable tacky DEA museum gift shop). But victimless crimes are notoriously hard to enforce. When this effort fell short, harsher tactics such as SWAT teams and no-knock raids were tried. Some police departments have even acquired military equipment from the DOD. When they called it the "War on Drugs", they were not kidding!

Like most wars, this one has had plenty of collateral damage. There have been raids on the wrong house that have resulted in innocent people or even pets getting shot. To be fair, raids on real drug dealers are highly dangerous operations, so police are bound to make mistakes in these high stress situations. But this is a danger of our own making. The day prohibition was repealed, the bootlegger gangs went out of business, and with their demise, there was a marked decrease in gang violence. Drug decriminalization would likely have the same effect, saving us both money and lives.

Too Poor to Keep Screwing Up

Due to budget constraints, Detroit has had to make cuts in its police force. In order to protect themselves, some of this city's citizens have formed a citizen's group called Detroit 300 that patrols the streets that Detroit's finest used to patrol. Not surprisingly, all the crimes that Detroit 300 deal with are crimes with victims: rape, robbery, assult, murder, etc. They are not chasing down dope smokers. When hard choices have to be made, enforcing victimless crimes is the first thing to go.

As the nation's debt crisis comes to a head, we will forced to take the same approach as Detroit 300. There are many better reasons to end the war on drugs, but it will definitely end for one reason: we cannot afford it. Lack of funds will force our government to do the right thing.

Speaking of victimless crimes, check out the documentary Derrick J's Victimless Crime Spree, where one activist gets into an amazing amount of legal trouble for peaceably protesting his local public officials.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 3: Paul Ryan, Rambo, and J. Alfred Prufrock

"We fail far more often by timidity than by over-daring."
- Ray Stannard Baker
"Do I dare eat a peach?"
- From "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T. S. Eliot
The most controversial deficit reduction plan was put forward by Wisconsin Representative and Vice Presidential candidate Paul Ryan. In 2008, he introduced H. R. 6110, entitled "Roadmap for America's Future Act of 2008", as a plan to balance the budget and create jobs. This proposal has garnered both high praise and scathing condemnation.
  • Democratic co-chair of President Obama's National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform called the Ryan plan “sensible, serious . . , and honest”.
  • In April at an Associated Press Luncheon, President Obama denounced Ryan's plan as "nothing but thinly-veiled Social Darwinism."
  • New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote "Today, Paul Ryan, the Republican chairman of the House Budget Committee, is scheduled to release the most comprehensive and most courageous budget reform proposal any of us have seen in our lifetimes"
  • Even the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have blasted the Ryan plan, writing that it fails to meet a basic moral test.
As is often the case, the truth lies between the extremes. Paul Ryan's plan would not produce a future ripped from the pages of Oliver Twist. On the other hand, the plan would also not succeed in its primary mission of eliminating the deficit. The reason why the Ryan proposal would fail is that, contrary to what both his supporters and critics contend, this plan is actually too timid to be effective. Contrary to popular rhetoric, the senator who is likened to Rambo is much closer to J. Alfred Prufrock. 

Bill Clinton, Social Darwinist?

One of the more popular attacks on the Ryan plan is that it would cut spending much too quickly, threatening our fragile economic recovery. President Obama even went so far as to call the plan a "prescription for decline". Everyone agrees that spending cuts are inevitable, but Obama asserts that these cuts must be done more gradually to preserve both the safety net for the poor and this nation's greatness.

This argument focuses its line of attack on the notion that Ryan's plan spends considerably less than recent federal budgets, a major talking point for the plan's proponents. So how does the Ryan plan compare to federal spending levels, or for that matter, how does it compare to Obama's proposal? An analysis of the numbers shows how Washington's definition of a cut differs from the rest of the nation: the only sense in which Ryan's budget for the next 10 years can be considered a "cut" is in the sense that spending will not increase a fast as politicians originally planned:
  • Even after adjusting for inflation, Ryan's plan for the each of the next ten years would be 46% higher than Bill Clinton's last budget; and
  • In this 10 year period Ryan plan spends only 5% less than Obama's proposed budget.
If Paul Ryan is a Social Darwinist, wouldn't that make Bill Clinton one as well? And if we are to believe that the Ryan plan would put us on the path to decline, why should we have any confidence in a plan that only differs from the Ryan by only 5%?

Voting for the Party That Will Throw Granny Off a Cliff

The most contentious issue with the Ryan Plan is the entitlement program reforms. As an alternative to the current defined benefit program, Ryan proposed block granting the program, and an opt-out for younger people who wish to vest in private retirement plans instead of Social Security and Medicare.

The imminent debt crisis has finally forced a senator to touch the "third rail" of American politics. And predictably, his opponents have played upon the public's fear of changes in these popular programs. The Agenda Project produced an infamous ad depicting Paul Ryan throwing an old woman off a cliff. The Romney campaign responded by producing its own ad, attacking Obama's plans to divert Medicare "savings" to pay for Obamacare. So which party will really preserve Medicare as we know it?

The honest answer is neither party: no matter who wins the elections here and in the next few decades, our entitlement programs as we know them will come to an end, period. These programs are completely and utterly unsustainable. As early as 2008, the trustees reports for Social Security and Medicare place their unfunded liability (that is, what they are obligated to pay out minus anticipated revenue) at $101 trillion. Given that our annual GDP is around $14 trillion, this is a hole that even a 100% tax rate cannot fill. A health care economist put the Medicare situation in far stronger language (warning: possibly NSFW) here.

Ryan's plan is probably insufficient to fix the entitlement crisis, but it is better than the current administrations' non-plan. In reality, the most likely outcome for the entitlement programs is that they will become means tested. But saying that is not politically popular (ask Ron Paul and Gary Johnson), so the two major party candidates will continue to argue over which one will push granny off the cliff.

Watching the Glaciers Speed By

For all the hoopla about the rapidity of the Paul Ryan's cuts, what is amazing is how agonizingly slow this plan is in terms of solving the debt crisis. CBO projections show that the plan won't even produce a balanced budget until 2040. Even this is based on optimistic assumptions, such as that no other national crises will arise in the next 28 years, and that congress will remain committed to this plan for nearly three decades. Part of the problem is that Senator Ryan has his own sacred cows: he leaves the budgets for defense and the war on terror untouched. Given the severity of the debt problem, everything should be on the table. The Pentagon and the Office of Homeland Security both have a lot of waste that could be eliminated.

To really fix the debt crisis, what is needed is a plan far more bold than the Ryan plan. But since Washington views this plan as reckless, what will actually be implemented is something weaker, and therefore even more inadequate, than the Ryan plan. This is the strongest evidence yet that no serious remedy will be attempted until it is too late, i.e. in financial terms, America will become Detroit.

What we are facing is nothing short of default of our nation. Granted, the consequences of this will be terrible: treasury bonds are frequently purchased because of their reputation for stability. Many who are depending on these bonds, including some who were dependent on them for their retirement, will be devastated. But there will be a few upsides to this crisis, as will be detailed in the next installments.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Will America Become Detroit, Part 2: Popular Solutions That Are Bound to Fail

"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong."
- H. L. Mencken
"In the book of life, the answers aren't in the back."
- Charlie Brown, from Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz
The U.S. government debt crisis has garnered enough attention that pundits from across the political spectrum have weighed in on the issue by proposed solutions that are pleasing to their core constituencies. As we look at these proposals, it is easy to see why they are crowd pleasers, but they all have one serious defect: they won't solve the problem.

Don't Worry, Be Happy: S&P Says We're OK

One popular solution to America's debt crisis is to contend that the problem does not really exist. CNN anchor Fareed Zakaria summarized this point of view as "America is not Greece". Debt crisis skeptics content that America is prosperous, competitive, and has a high bond rating, hence she should have no problem borrowing money at reasonable rates for the foreseeable future.

The problem with debt crisis denial should have become clear with the financial crisis of  4 years ago: bond ratings, along with other measures of credit worthiness, can change blindingly fast. Standard & Poor's rated Lehman Brothers AAA 72 hours before they filed for bankruptcy. And as late as December of 2009, Moody's rated Greek bonds a high A, only to drop that rating to Junk level in the following months. So three years ago, we could have argued that "Greece is not Greece"!

The ratings from firms such Moody's, Fitch, and S&P are merely numerical measures of human trust in the institutions being rated, hence they can change just as quickly as our emotions change. If creditors change their opinion of American credit worthiness, the ratings may change even faster than they did for Lehman Brothers and Greece, due to one disquieting fact in the back of investors' minds: the U.S. government is too big to be bailed out by anyone.

Denial of the debt problem is a temporarily comforting, but ultimately dangerous, solution. One needs to look at the Motor City to see how it plays out. America may not be Greece, but it may very well be Detroit.

Eat the Rich!

Michael Moore, among others, want us to balance the budget by raising taxes on the rich. This method has tremendous appeal, for everyone assumes that "rich" means "people who make more money than me". Wouldn't it be great if the debt could be paid off purely by stereotypical Thurston Howell III millionaires who need only sacrifice a few yachts and mansions?

Michael Moore's "Eat the Rich" solution plays well, but would it actually fix the problem? Michael Moore doesn't run the numbers, but Veronique De Rugy at George Mason university has. Her study of historical U.S. revenue data, from 1930 to 2010, shows that the government has generally has been unable to raise more than 19% of the GDP in taxes. The few times we have been able to raise 20% of the GDP in taxes has been a few years at the peaks of boom cycles. This data include the Halcyon days of the 1950's, when the highest federal tax bracket was over 90%. In short, our government is already raising close to the maximal amount of money it can raise, no matter what we do with rates.

Upping the tax rates on the highest earners can have some rather nasty negative consequences. The rich are not all Thurston Howell III clones; they also include some of the world's best developers and entrepreneurs. Excessive taxes might encourage these people to move elsewhere, and the economic activity that they would generate will move with them. This happened in 1960's Britain, where 95% tax rates caused the "brain drain", where the best British minds went overseas to protect their wealth. The "brain drain" phenomenon even inspired a Beatles song.

Well, desperate times call for desperate measures. Maybe we need to be even tougher on the rich than America was in the 1950's or Britain was in the 1960's in order to raise the money we need. Again, this scenario does not hold up once you run the numbers. Fellow blogger iowahawk computes what we could raise by the most extreme "Eat the Rich" tax schemes, including taxing 100% of all income above $250K, confiscation all the wealth of America's richest families, and all the profits of our largest companies; he finds that even these most extreme measures will just barely cover this year's budget, with no hope of covering next year's.
When you do the math, it turns out that the only way we could possibly maintain our current level of spending would be to tax the middle class so much that they would be forced to lower their standard of living. Don't hold your breath waiting for a politician to tell you that.

Next Time

In the next FatherBrain post, we look at the controversial Paul Ryan plan (I think Sen. Ryan had his first name legally changed to "controversial"). The usual complaint is that this plan cuts spending too sharply. This post will make the case that the real problem with the Ryan plan is that it does not cut enough.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Will America Become Detroit?

"Neither a borrower nor a lender be"
- Hamlet Act 1, scene 3
"You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt

Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go

I owe my soul to the company store"
- From "Sixteen Tons" by Merle Travis
Detroit News editorial writer

We have general agreement that our current spending is unsustainable. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton went so far as to identify the debt crisis as the greatest threat to our nation's future. My next post will look at both party's (wholly inadequate) proposed solutions. But at this point, it is safe to say that, irrespective of who wins in November, this crisis will be dealt with the same way it was in Detroit: at the very last minute, using desperate measures. But cheer up: the impending U.S. default may be very painful in the short run, but it will force some very positive changes in our governance. Follow up posts will explain why the coming storm will be followed by brighter days. Watch this space.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Speaking for the Left-Handed Majority

"But when you do your giving, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing"
- Matthew 6:3
"Some people are right-handed. Some people are left-handed. There are other people who are able to use both hands with equal ease. Such people are called Handbidextrous."
- Sally Brown in "Peanuts" by Charles M. Schulz
Of all the traits that evolution bestowed on humans, our dexterity is one of the most valuable. Yes, human intelligence and communication are quite essential to our species success, allowing us to create thoughts that can be shared widely and passed down through generations. But we would not be able to readily turn those thoughts into tools without the imposable thumb. Due to the value of our dexterity, one of the more important differences between humans is handedness. The majority of humans primarily use their right hands, and this is reflected throughout our culture and technology. The vast majority of languages are written from left to right. In most countries, traffic travels on the right side of the road, drivers are seated on left, and hence the gear shift is operated with the driver's right hand. Most desks, computer mice, scissors and watches are designed for the right handed. Most cameras are ridiculously right-handed.

The left-handed live in a world not designed for them, and yet many of them become quite accomplished:
  • Southpaws that have excelled in the arts include Michelangelo, Da Vinci, Toulouse Lautrec, and M.C. Escher;
  • The music world has benefited from left-handed artists such as Beethoven, Prokofiev, Mozart, Cole Porter, Judy Garland, David Bowie, and the two surviving Beatles;
  • Scientists Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Albert Schweitzer, and Alan Turing were left handed; and
  • U.S. Presidents Harry Truman, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama all won elections from a largely right-handed electorate.
So what percentage of the population is left-handed? This is a hard question, complicated by factors such as how to count the ambidextrous or those who have trained themselves to use the other hand. Depending on how you them, 10% to 20% of the population is left-handed. But in a more general sense, one could make the case that the vast majority of us are left handed. Each individual has some characteristics that differs from the majority, and these differences often have the downside of making it hard for said individual to "fit in". In this sense, virtually all of us are all left-handed.

The simple concept of the left-handed majority provides a pragmatic justification for tolerance. Every time you accommodate someone else's differences, you strengthen the social contract and hence advance acceptance of your own differences.

I am an unlikely spokesman for the left-handed majority. For one thing, I am right-handed. I am also a white heterosexual male and married with two offspring. On the other hand (pardon the expression), I am a member of a political minority (libertarians) and a religious minority (Unitarian-Universalism). This may seem like an odd combination. There is the common perception that libertarians are just conservatives who smoke marijuana. There is also the perception and that Unitarian-Universalist churches are the last refuge for Woodstock hippies. So how can an ersatz conservative join a granola church?

In part, I would answer this question by pointing out that these common perceptions are wrong. For the record, I am not a conservative, and the last time I smoked marijuana was back when disco music was not retro. But for the most part, I am a member of both these organizations due to some common themes. Libertarianism emphasizes freedom as the core political value of modern society. Unitarian-Universalists promote freedom of thought as a core religious value. Moreover, both groups celebrate our individuality, libertarians in the political sphere, Unitarian-Universalists in the religious realm. This is why I am a libertarian Unitarian-Universalist: I am doing it for the left-handed majority.

Update: check this Facebook page for more libertarian Unitarian-Universalists.