Monday, January 27, 2014

Of course Canada is more business-friendly than the United States

A recent report from Bloomberg News ranks Canada as the second-best country in which to do business, behind Hong Kong and ahead of the United States. This comes on the heels of a survey by the Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation, in which Canada was rated sixth in economic freedom, while the United States came in twelfth.

To anyone who has done business in both countries, this comes as no shock.

Indeed, the only surprising thing about these reports and the surrounding analysis is that Americans continue to be flabbergasted each time their system of high taxes and crippling regulation, backed up by a draconian prosecution regime, is revealed not to be working.

As I explained to Fox News Channel’s Tucker Carlson last year, not only are Canada’s personal and corporate tax rates lower than those of the United States, the compliance burden of the American system – including the international theft perpetrated by the Internal Revenue Service in the form of its worldwide reporting requirements – makes serfs of its citizens and renders the country inhospitable to business.

Reports of Canada’s economic success usually give credit to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and that’s fair enough. But there is nothing novel to Harper’s approach. Politicians of many parties in numerous countries have opted to reduce tax rates as a means to increase revenue and entice capital. It is only relative to other modern Western leaders, to whom the concept of growing an economy by shrinking the government has seemingly never occurred, that Harper’s approach seems revolutionary.

From a policy perspective, Harper bears little resemblance to the hard-right, puppy-eating Sith Lord his liberal detractors imagine. As just one example, despite enjoying a Parliamentary majority – which amounts to near-dictatorial powers until the next election – Harper’s Conservatives have just enacted one of the environmental movement’s most absurd agenda items (and this is some distinction) in the form of a ban on incandescent light bulbs.

Fair or not, Harper’s image is bloodless and cold. He is not a smiley sort, and this is perhaps a good thing as his attempts to seem cheerful result in a Bond-villain rictus that puts no one at ease. While this may satisfy some people’s notion of a heartless conservative, the test of a political leader is the effectiveness of his policies, not how chummy he comes off while spending other people’s money.

For the United States, this demonstrates that electing leaders on the basis of demographic superficialities and big government populism, even as their policies harm the same middle class they purport to help, is a path to economic mediocrity and worse.

But elected leaders are only part of the problem. America’s administrative state, wherein myriad regulations are drafted and enforced by anonymous, unaccountable bureaucrats, smothers the prospects of small business. This distinction is important, as large corporations are better able to absorb the costs of massive regulation – and indeed, can lobby to have those regulations crafted in their favor – while small business is the lifeblood of a vibrant economy, creating two-thirds of the new jobs in America.

An entrepreneur seeking access to North American markets would be positively loopy to choose the United States over Canada. Apart from America’s crushing regulatory and tax requirements, its fearsome prosecution apparatus stands ready to mete out harsh punishments for mistakes or non-compliance. This rapacious, unforgiving system, for which incarceration is the default solution, informs the cruel irony that the “Land of the Free” holds more prisoners than any other country on Earth.

As a matter of commerce, justice, or just day-to-day living, America is one of the least-free developed nations in the world. In almost every respect, not only is Canada a more liberty-minded environment than the United States, it isn’t even close.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Charles Krauthammer's Defense of the 'Victimless' NSA

In conservative quarters, telling Charles Krauthammer he’s wrong is like giving the Pope a noogie. As a graduate of Harvard Medical School, a board-certified psychiatrist, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, Krauthammer is rightly revered as the most brilliant participant in modern political debate.

Unseemly though it may be for a plebian like me to take crayon in hand and write that Krauthammer is mistaken, in his defense of the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance program, he is.

Krauthammer is the most prominent among a number of conservatives who, while advocates of limited government in other spheres, have defended the NSA’s collection of Americans’ phone records and electronic data as essential to national security. A recent tack, which both Krauthammer and Senior Political Analyst Brit Hume have articulated on Fox News Channel, is to state that not a single victim of abuse under this program has been identified.

The spectacle of such respectable public commentators advancing a defense so specious burns the eyes and sears the soul.

By its very nature, the NSA program is secretive, such that citizens cannot know if their communications are being read by government operatives. What we do know is that all phone records and emails are collected, and it is the scope and opacity of the system that offends freedom-minded people.

Perhaps we cannot yet point to someone whose Pier 1 card was cut up before his very eyes because a disgruntled public servant opted to futz with his credit rating (although we know that NSA officers have used their positions to spy on love interests – are those people not victims?), but officials have admitted to “minor” abuses of the database. By and by, we can expect more to emerge.

It has been less than a year since the general public learned of this nefarious undertaking, and new revelations of its scope appear daily. Every step of the way, the government has admitted to as little as possible, while outright lying when it could. As Tony Stark observed of intelligence agencies that fear intelligence: “Historically, not awesome.”

Contemplating President Obama’s recent speech on the NSA, Krauthammer concluded that there would be no practical change to the program, and ended his analysis with, “If I were a lefty, I’d be really upset.” Usually, Krauthammer’s meaning is clear, but I admit to being puzzled by this cast-off remark. Having never been accused of leftism, yet disquieted by the NSA program and the president’s unwillingness to curtail it, does Krauthammer contend that I and millions of Americans who object could only do so as a reflex of modern liberalism?

He may see an inconsistency at work, whereby conservatives who have been hawkish in years past betray their principles by weakening our anti-terror apparatus.

I submit that the greater contradiction, which has more profound implications for the republic, is represented by erstwhile champions of personal sovereignty and individual freedom, like Krauthammer, advocating ubiquitous government surveillance in the name of “security.”

Almost as unsettling as Krauthammer’s departure from good sense is the gentlemanly, previously prudent Hume defending the NSA thusly: “This program threatens no one unless it’s abused.”

Exactly. About how many government programs, or even household objects, could one say the same? The IRS threatens no one, unless it decides to. The police are no danger, unless they opt to be. That waffle iron is no threat, unless you close your hand in it. And so on.

As a matter of pure semantics, perhaps Krauthammer, Hume and others are correct. When you have no privacy or space of your own, when you have no expectation that your personal communications will not be monitored by the authorities, you are less a victim than a slave.

In free societies, governments ought not to have this power. Personal privacy is a codified, self-evident right of citizens, and the burden of proof is upon those who wish to compromise it, not those who seek to maintain it.

In previous, rare instances in which my conclusions have differed from those of Dr. Krauthammer, I have assumed that the mistake was on my side. But brilliance and bad judgment can occupy the same space, and some of the most profound, perspicacious thinkers can be very wrong on big issues (the late Christopher Hitchens’ ardent atheism comes to mind).

A breathtaking resume, impeccable reasoning, and scholarly intonation are no match for common sense. In this case, the mass surveillance of citizens by their government is anathema to a free country, and the brightest among us, Charles Krauthammer included, ought to see that.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at

Friday, January 17, 2014

Hillary Clinton as Ted Kennedy

I like to think Chappaquiddick was the reason Ted Kennedy never became president. That is, when he ran against President Jimmy Carter for the Democratic nomination in 1980, one hopes voters concluded it would be unseemly to elect a man who had driven a woman off a bridge and left her to drown while he salvaged his political career, as Senator Kennedy had done eleven years before.

That is one plausible version of history. Another is that timing, the power of incumbency, and Kennedy’s inability to articulate exactly why he wanted to be president doomed his bid.

This is called to mind by recent House and Senate reports on the 2012 terrorist attack of the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans died. Many analysts predict the reports’ revelations will be devastating to the expected presidential campaign of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Perhaps Clinton’s failure to provide adequate security, as had been requested by consular staff, or her subsequent misleading of the American people and the families of the deceased as to the reasons for the attack will be her undoing. Then again, perhaps her fate will hinge on matters less consequential.

The circumstances of Clinton and Kennedy are not directly analogous. While Clinton’s misconduct amounts to insouciance and deception – hardly unique in politics, although hers resulted in dead Americans – Kennedy was personally responsible for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne. Nevertheless, each instance provides opportunity to consider whether America elects or rejects potential leaders on the basis of form or substance.

Ted Kennedy embodied much of what is wrong with the US Senate, as well as American political dynasties. Both offer sinecures to dyspeptic incompetents, affording them immense position and privilege to behave in ways that would get regular people fired or imprisoned, all the while claiming they are engaged in “public service.”

He lacked the wit and bipartisan appeal of his presidential older brother, Jack, to whom he owed much of his political success. John F. Kennedy was, like Ted, famous for indiscretions with women, but his personal charm, the romance surrounding his too-short life, and the fact that nobody drowned as a result of his shenanigans spared him the same opprobrium.

Similarly, Hillary is a less-affable member of a political clan although, unlike the Kennedy brothers, her scandals are often of a different stripe than those of her family members. Ted Kennedy drank too much at a party, then drove off with a woman not his wife. If one could picture a Clinton doing such a thing, it wouldn’t be Hillary.

There is some commonality in the vicissitudes of Hillary and those of her husband, Bill. In modern political parlance, “Clinton” is often shorthand for dishonesty. There are other aspects to the name, of course, encompassing Bill’s two presidential terms and post White House career, Hillary’s eight years in the Senate and four years at State, but a statement or person characterized as “Clintonian” is understood to be blithe with the truth, at best.

Even so, there is an appreciable difference in the manner of dishonesty of each Clinton. In Bill’s case, to take just one example, when he squints defiantly and insists he “did not have sexual relations with that woman,” even those appalled by his conduct can appreciate his reasons.

In Hillary’s case, from claiming she was named for Everest-conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary (notwithstanding that Sir Edmund was still a New Zealand beekeeper at the time of her birth), to saying she landed in Bosnia “under sniper fire,” she tends toward easily exposed falsehoods designed to craft an image. In this respect, she is more like Al Gore than Bill Clinton.

Even when fibbing with practical intent, Hillary does so in a way that is insultingly obvious. In her infamous, “What difference does it make?” congressional testimony on Benghazi, her tack was to shift the debate to two options more favorable to her cause (“Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk one night who decided that they’d they go kill some Americans?”), as though these were the questions at hand, rather than whether she neglected her duty and lied about it.

Add to this that her policies and pronouncements, true or otherwise, are often uttered through a supercilious, Nurse Ratched rictus, and the “inevitable” Hillary remains a tough sell.

Certain aspects of the 2016 campaign are foreseeable. Reliable quarters will characterize any opposition to Hillary as “anti-woman,” casting her as the personification of female aspiration (in stark contrast to their treatment of Sarah Palin). But the effect of the Benghazi episode on the contest cannot be predicted.

There are myriad excellent reasons why Hillary Clinton should not be president of the United States. If she goes from front-runner to also-ran in 2016, as she did in 2008, will it be because of her failures in office, or her personal shortcomings? The answer, to the extent it can be divined, will say much about the discernment of American voters.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

America's Greatest Problem

If this is your first week following the news, you could be forgiven for believing America’s biggest problem is that pylons were placed with extreme prejudice on a New Jersey bridge last September.

The closing of the George Washington Bridge by members of Gov. Chris Christie’s staff, apparently as payback for the denial of an endorsement by the local mayor, has reached the level of national scandal for two reasons: Christie is a formidable presidential contender, and he is a Republican.

Many have pointed out that the media have devoted more time to this regional dust-up involving a potential president than to the weaponization of the IRS by the man who actually is president, Barack Obama.

That’s fair enough. The United States possesses the most oppressive and rapacious tax authority in the world, and siccing it on political foes is unworthy of a leader. But these issues are merely symptomatic of the real problem.

Indeed, both stories – the IRS debacle and bridge imbroglio – have some bearing on what truly ails America. Sages from Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to Mark Steyn have warned of the peril posed by faceless bureaucrats whom you don’t know, didn’t vote for, and against whom you have no recourse, possessed with tremendous power to screw with your life.

And whether you find yourself in the throes of a thorough audit, or unable to speak your mind or practice your religion for fear of crippling costs and possible imprisonment, or simply stuck in traffic for hours because some politico wanted to teach someone a lesson, you are experiencing a manifestation of America’s greatest problem: the loss of personal freedom.

This is a systemic, cultural crisis, with incidental relevance to particular politicians.

Christie is the wrong man to lead America not because members of his staff engaged in petty revenge tactics, with or without his knowledge. Rather, Christie is poorly cast as Leader of the Free World because he demonstrably does not believe in individual freedom.

Moreover, he announces his antipathy to personal sovereignty with bluster and swagger, as though it were absurd to dispute that ubiquitous security and total surveillance are crucial to our liberty.

Christie is of that breed of benighted Republicans who may not agree with what you say, but will defend to the death the National Security Agency’s right to monitor it. Such politicians, who purport to represent the party of personal freedom and responsibility, really ought to know better.

Likewise, Obama campaigned for the presidency promising to restore civil liberties and undo the national security excesses of his predecessor. Instead, he has exacerbated these issues and taken government intrusion upon private life in bold, new directions.

The loss of personal freedom spans every aspect of modern existence, from doing business, to getting around, to behavior in your own home. If individuals are not free to strive and speak and move about as they wish, what is America, really? A continental land mass with a large consumer market?

How long is that sustainable? Josef Schumpeter called capitalism incomprehensible without an understanding of the role of the entrepreneur. The concept of entrepreneurship is not confined to commerce; it means a person making a different choice, doing things his own way, and bearing responsibility for the outcome. A “free society” in which everything is legislated, regulated and overseen is likewise incomprehensible, and anathema to freedom.

Modern Americans are living off the last sparks of other people’s ideas. If the Bill of Rights were written today, is there any chance it would codify individual liberty through negative licenses (that is, things the government may not do to you)? Or, more likely, would it mandate the wants and entitlements of a soft people who wouldn’t know what to do with freedom if they found it?

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote of this when he gave the Sturm und Drang movement its first novel hero in the person of Young Werther: “Most people spend the greatest part of their time working in order to live, and what little freedom remains so fills them with fear that they seek out any and every means to be rid of it.”

Goethe refined this notion in later years, writing in his oft-quoted Elective Affinities: “None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free.”

When I hear Americans bang on about how free they are, I genuinely wonder what their frame of reference might be. That is, do they mean they enjoy greater liberty than, say, Saudi Arabians or North Koreans? Well, super, but was oppression of that type ever on the table?

Compare the United States to other English-speaking, developed nations, and its reflexive boast of “freedom” is exposed as utter rhubarb. For example, Americans are more likely to be imprisoned, dispossessed, or killed by their own government than citizens of most any country it is their tic to disdain.

Many Americans have no clue how other nations do things, yet insist their way is better. Even lacking a frame of reference, free countries’ cops don’t roll through cities like they’re re-taking Fallujah, their tax departments do not pursue citizens around the globe, passengers at their airports are not prodded and probed like super-max inmates, and their governments do not monitor and store all their electronic communications.

The U.S. Department of Education has its own militarized wing. For that matter, so does most every government agency. Having banished the concept of an innocent misunderstanding, and since they have all the jazzy equipment anyway, their default position is to stick a gun in your face, lock you up, and confiscate your property, if not shoot you on the spot.

This column would rather light a candle than curse the darkness. Herewith, therefore, are a half-dozen suggestions to get us off that road to serfdom, and back on the narrow path to freedom:

  • Demolish any public policy that begins with “War on.” That means the War on Terror, the War on Drugs, the War on Poverty, the War on What-Have-You. As we have seen with each of these, saying we are at “War” provides a catch-all justification for silly-bears and abuse. The language is both reflective and instructive of a mindset that sees government enforcers as soldiers, in combat with the very people who pay their salaries.
  • Abolish the IRS.
  • Provide any citizen who is the subject of a government action or complaint with the full names and resumes of the public officials conducting the investigation.
  • Punish police who abuse the public more harshly than civilians who commit similar crimes. For example, if a cop uses his badge and uniform as a subterfuge to commit violence upon a citizen, he should be charged not only with the relevant degree of assault, but also with exploiting his public position to do so.
  • Return responsibility for airport security to the airlines.
  • Cease the government’s collection of private communications except when a warrant has been issued, naming the individual to be monitored and the reason for suspicion.

People often lament a lack of bipartisanship and comity in politics. This is an opportunity to achieve just that. Liberty-minded citizens on the Left and Right have agreed on a number of these issues (the NSA, for example), and the pressing need for a re-birth of freedom surpasses other political differences.

This needs to be the defining issue of our national discourse. As we head into midterm elections this November and choose a new president in 2016, what difference does it make (to borrow a phrase) if corporate tax rates are 35 percent or 25 percent if Americans are not free to pursue happiness in the manner of their choosing, to go confidently in the direction of their dreams?

America has been described as the last, best hope of Earth. If that is true, if it is even close to being true, we owe it to the world, and to the generations who bequeathed us our freedom, to right our course and restore our liberty.

Theo Caldwell is an author, investor, and a former Member of the New York Stock Exchange, the Chicago Board Options Exchange, the American Stock Exchange and the Kansas City Board of Trade.  He can be reached at

Monday, January 6, 2014

Edward Snowden defends freedom better than Peter King

Congressman Peter King is not just a disgrace to the Republican Party, inasmuch as “safety first” politicians like him are a bipartisan disgrace to America.

As a member of the House Homeland Security Committee and Chairman of the Sub-Committee on Counterterrorism and Intelligence, King is a reliable and ubiquitous proponent of whatever the federal government wishes to do with your personal information, private communications, or your body, no matter how obscene, in the name of winning the infinitely elastic “War on Terror.”

Often combining spittle-flecked indignation with breathtaking ignorance, King pops up on cable news whenever the indefensible needs defending, or to 
impugn  those who dissent from his view that there is nothing untoward in the masssurveillance  of supposedly free citizens by their government.

Most recently, King blew a 
gasket  on Fox News over a New York Times editorial  suggesting clemency for Edward Snowden (this column called for his pardon  last year).i

Snowden, of course, is the former National Security Agency contractor who revealed the government’s massive surveillance program to the world, and is hiding out in Russia for his trouble.

Now, I have no use for the New York Times and, even if I owned a parrot, I like to think my affection for the bird would be sufficient to find something of higher caliber for its cage.

That said, it is eminently possible to disdain the Times while simultaneously determining that Peter King is almost always dead 

His calculus is that no matter how excessive and intrusive security protocols are, or how omniscient the NSA becomes, it’s worth it to stay 
safe  and defend freedom.

Travel through a US 
airport, or a land border crossing, or one of the security “checkpoints” cropping up, and ask yourself if this is a free country.  If it all seems tickety-boo, Rep. King’s PAC would be delighted to hear from you.

As to Snowden, it is disquieting to see politicians attempt to burnish their anti-terror street cred by grasping for new ways to call him a traitor.  It is a malign irony that they do this while enjoying the perquisites of Congress and collecting government paychecks, even as they labor to make the “Land of the Free” less-so.

It is truly appalling for people who lead cosseted lives, neglecting their sworn duty to defend the US Constitution, to sneer at those who defend it for free, or at great personal cost.

Case in point, Edward Snowden has done more to protect Americans’ freedom than Peter King.

Yet King will never be without a home, a salary or a pension, he will never miss a meal or fear for his life.  For the rest of his days, he will be comfortable and free to advocate the circumscription of his countrymen’s liberty. 

Having locked up his New York constituency decades ago, and congressional incumbency being what it is, King could run successfully for re-election wearing a Ronald McDonald costume (which would no more beclown him than his stated opinions do).  Has America lost its sense, or is it just Long Island that’s out where the buses don’t run?

Snowden’s suffering is no proof of nobility, and he has made 
mistakes.  Critics, including King, are fond of saying Snowden should have gone through “proper channels” with his concerns, rather than fleeing to the arms of unfriendly nations.

But this has always been illogical, as though their complaint with Snowden is how he did it, rather than what he did.  Since King and other NSA enthusiasts, including 
President Obama, insist that there is nothing wrong with the agency’s surveillance program, how likely is it Snowden would have had success going through “proper channels”?

There are precious few glimmers of hope.  Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky is filing 
suit  against the NSA for its surveillance activities, and mused that perhaps Snowden and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper could share aprison cell.  After all, if Clapper can lie  to Congress, routinely violate Americans’ Fourth Amendment  rights, and betray the trust of our allies, why should he be treated less harshly than Snowden, who simply told  us about it?

Columnist Jonah Goldberg recently listed 
misconceptions  liberals and conservatives would be wise to eschew in the New Year.  The latter group, he advised, should cease taking for granted that there is a vast, silent majority who share their views.

As the security state grows, perhaps those of us who are alarmed and disgusted by it should take a similar approach.  For example, in 2010, when US airport security ramped up to the full-blown obscenity it is today, I 
averred  that this travesty would be corrected post-haste.  Mistakenly thinking Americans to be the freedom-minded renegades of national myth – rather than the obsequious, obedient incarnation of modern citizenry – I expected them to rise up the first time a child was traumatized  or a wife was objectified  or a veteran was humiliated  by this insane regime.

Demonstrably, I was 

Snap out of it, America.  As 2014 dawns, you are among the 
least-free  developed nations in the world and nincompoops like Peter King are making it worse in the name of “security.”  By the time you recognize what’s happening, will it be too late?

Theo Caldwell can be reached at