Michael Stuart Kelly

Debate Between Dinesh D'Souza and Bill Ayers at Dartmouth

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Debate Between Dinesh D'Souza and Bill Ayers at Dartmouth

 

This finished a little earlier today (Jan 30, 2014).

 

I have only seen parts of it so far (see here for excerpts), but I am going to take the time to see it in its entirety.

 

Although the perspective is between a traditional conservative and a left wing dude, there are many issues these guys talked about that are pertinent to our subculture. They even took on libertarian thought at one point.

 

 

I have been going on a bit in the thread linked below about how stupid the government has been in harassing Dinesh, thus giving him massive free publicity for his new film America, which will open on July 4.

 

Dinesh D'Souza indicted

 

See the trailer for the film here.

 

This debate with Bill Ayers is one more publicity stunt for the film. I'm surprised Ayers decided to do it.

 

Irrespective of that, in the excerpts I have seen so far, both men were very articulate and cordial. It was an idea debate, not a trounce the opposition one. So this should give the people who see it a lot to talk about and ponder. In my case, even more than the ideas themselves, I am interested in seeing how these two transmit their messages to their respective audiences--how they persuade.

 

And, the movie actually sounds like it will be good. I know Kat and I will see it when it opens. We saw Dinesh's earlier film 2016 and it was surprisingly good.

 

MIchael

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Thanks for posting. I watched 2016: Obama's America earlier this week, having borrowed it from our local library. I thought it was good but could have been better with less time on the origin and development of BO's ideas and more on their manifestation. The leftist attack dogs came out howling and yapping, e.g. the critics on Rotten Tomatoes (link). A more rational review is here.

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D'Souza asks for "intellectual precision" and then proceeds to make the absurd claim that "Three hundred thousand white boys from the North . . . gave their lives to end slavery."

There is no factual basis for this assertion. Based on an extensive survey of soldiers' letters and diaries, Professor James McPherson of Princeton has shown that few Northern soldiers enlisted primarily to defeat slavery. See For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War.

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D'Souza asks for "intellectual precision" and then proceeds to make the absurd claim that "Three hundred thousand white boys from the North . . . gave their lives to end slavery."

There is no factual basis for this assertion. Based on an extensive survey of soldiers' letters and diaries, Professor James McPherson of Princeton has shown that few Northern soldiers enlisted primarily to defeat slavery. See For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War.

Over 300,000 from the North did die, but mostly of camp diseases and infections, not of battle wounds. And most did NOT fight to end slavery but to preserve the Union. Abolition was not the main agenda of the war and did not even become part of the cause until 1863 with the emancipation proclamation, which by the way did not abolish slavery.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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I just saw the entire debate.

What a pleasure. I'm not going to diss Bill Ayers the way a lot of people on our side do. I think he is passionately engaged in his core story for saving the world. He clearly sees himself as one of the good guys. And, I believe he wants good things for everybody.

He's wrong about a lot (like all utopia people are). But as I tried to suspend my bias and just listen, I found myself agreeing with some of his criticism. Not enough to change my bias, but enough to realize he is not an evil man hellbent on destroying the world.

He does believe people like me are enough of the enemy in his core story for me to be very, very wary of him, though. I'm speaking of if he ever got power.

The problem I sensed in his arguments was that his core story is not relevant to the fundamental issues at stake--not even how to eliminate poverty. He kept returning to the issue of power over and over, although he did not use that word.

He agreed with the distrust libertarians have of the government--that is, until Dinesh said the government does everything badly. Suddenly Ayers was talking about roads and so on. In other words, Ayers doesn't want government in our lives, unless it's the government he wants. That government is OK.

Like I said, power.

However, he's an intelligent critic and I believe it's possible to look at his beefs without swallowing his class warfare swill.

Where Dinesh came out shining (I'm talking about to independents, not to adherents of one side or another) was in framing the issue of what's great about America in terms of wealth creation. He said everyone has an opinion about how to divide the pie, but that people like Ayers don't ever talk about how to make the pie bigger. And that is the formula America devised and gave to the world. What's more, other places in the world have learned it from us and are progressing fast.

Dinesh was right about the critics, too. Ayers did not talk about growing the pie. Not once. Not even a peep. And there were plenty of opportunities since Dinesh mentioned it over and over.

Ayers did a few things that showed he was relying too much on rhetoric, on trying to shame his audience with little rhetorical traps, and not enough on his own core beliefs.

For example, if you look at the number of adjectives he used in relation to the way Dinesh talked, the number and kind were both greater and more over-extended. Wonderful, ridiculous, etc. People who feel the overwhelming, compulsive, unstoppable, tragic, hypocritical, senseless urge to do that... (you get what I mean :) ) People who do that are overselling. Ayers constantly oversold his view. Dinesh conveyed his substance in a simple manner that did not need dressing up.

Ayers was also a terrible name-dropper. All those frigging lists! It almost sounded like he was using this as an intimidation technique.

I did see him use a glimmer of a technique Milton Friedman used a lot. In trying to rebut something Dinesh said, Ayers asked where were those people who did the things Dinesh claimed. That Dinesh was making so many strawmen, Etc. Friedman used to ask this, for example, of those who bashed capitalism because of inequality. He would ask where were the benevolent equality angels because he didn't see them in the governments of Russia or China. So where were they? Then he would go on about strawmen arguments.

I suspect Ayers used this as a learned technique rather than sincere wonderment because he did this once when Dinesh just finished a story about precisely who did these things (including when, where, etc.). In fact, this is in the quote below (the Yale anthropologists).

The following part of Dinesh's closing comments struck home. (btw - I did this transcript since I could not find on on the Internet. This part is that important.)

If you listen to the debate, pay attention to when the words "it's going to be the end of Progressivism" come up. The audience got so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Not because they loved Progressivism (I believe), but because you could replace Progressivism with any other phrase like anarcho-capitalism, Christianity, neo-conservatism, etc., and it would stand just as true. Countries who want modernity and conquest will create great wealth, but abolish the things they don't like--things that threaten their authority, things like that entire debate--after conquest (if they are successful).

That's the beast I think scared people for a minute as they looked it in the eye.

Then the moment passed and before Dinesh ended, the people went back to normal.

I remember many years ago, before I came to America, on the outskirts of Mumbai, there were a group of... I think they were Yale... anthropologists who would come to India to study the local people. They set up a bunch of tents, and they pulled out zoom lens cameras, and they were recording notes, and they were basically recording the lives of the slum-dwellers outside of Bombay.

And the slum-dwellers would come up to these Yale anthropologists and say, basically, “I want your jeans. I want your camera.” And the Yale anthropologist would say, “Oh no... That’s a very simplistic point of view. You are unfortunately in the prism of ethnocentrism. We are not here to affirm the superiority of Western culture. Your culture is just as wonderful from your perspective as ours is.”

Clearly this was a veteran and these were veterans of many anthropology and sociology classes at the Ivy League. And the peasants and the slum-dwellers would sort of peer at this and take it in and then they’d say, “Yeah, but… Can I have your jeans? Can I have your camera?”

Now, what am I talking about here? There is a one-way movement in the world—a way from agrarian, impoverished societies of people who are grinding and eking a living out of the ground… people who are living in the rest of the world the way they have lived for millennia.

All those people can now see that there is a better, more prosperous, more abundant way to live with more possibilities, and it is nothing short of shameful to go around lecturing those people on what they should want—from the benefits of Western modernity to sit privileged enjoying all these accoutrements and telling other people that they don’t deserve modernity—is a disgrace. And you have no right to do it.

Now, those are people who want what we have. And, frankly, they don’t want our generosity. They’re not coming begging the way that a lot of philanthropists and social workers want them to beg. This is probably the greatest insult of globalization.

The Chinese? “We don’t need you. We’ll do it ourselves. We’ll take over the world economy and we’ll become the manufacturing center of the world. We don’t need your help. Send all your aid workers home.”

This is powerful stuff. They have learned our recipe.

So, here’s my point.

Here we are, Dartmouth. You want to be in the middle of the twenty-first century? Don’t sit around saying, “OK… We did… We did civil rights. We did feminist rights. We’ve done gay rights. Now whose rights are we…"

You know… You can do that if you want. This is a rich country. There’s a lot of time to pass your time. You can do that.

But this country, which is on the top of the world, is going to be sliding right down into third, fourth status, and other countries are going to come up and take our place. And they’re going to have the kind of power that we have had since World War Two. And it’s going to be a very different world.

And it’s going to be a little bit of a tougher world because those are people who believe in wealth creation, but they also believe in conquest. And we cannot expect them, when they have our power, to use it to achieve our priorities. I will assure you that the rise of the East… the rise of Asia… is going to mean not only the end of a lot of Western priorities, it’s going to be the end of Progressivisim.

Why?

Because many of those countries want modernization, yes… Westernization, no.


People on our side can like Dinesh or hate him, but I applaud him. He takes on the best his critics have to offer and he argues his principles well. This kind of debate will have far more repercussion than gobs of sloganeering.

Dinesh also makes really good documentaries. And his out-of-the-box thinking (for instance, his criticism of Obama as anti-Colonial) is unique on the right.

I don't agree with everything he says, but I am 100% his fan. He has a hell of a good mind.

As to Ayers? In a strange manner, I pity him. I'm not being snarky, either. He's a true believer on a path to nowhere. From his way of speaking, I saw he is intelligent and has good intentions. He's just deformed inside and that makes me feel sorry for him.

(That is, unless he gets power to deploy the secret police. Then I will reappraise. :) )

Michael

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Just so the main message Dinesh gave--the one I liked and resonated with--is clear, here is a short version.

The USA is not only the first country based on individual rights and checks and balances on power, it was also based on wealth creation (capitalism).

We taught this wealth creation formula to the rest of the world and served as example at the same time. We did both well.

We also did a lot of bad things along the way, but on balance, we have done more good than bad.

Many of the booming countries that learned our wealth creation formula (especially Russia and China, but others, too) are not so keen on the individual rights part, nor the checks and balances on power. They prefer good old fashioned dictatorships and oligarchies.

They are also interested in conquest when they can get away with it. Not cultural conquest like the USA does, not nation-building like the USA does, but literally assimilating the conquered countries under their own.

Dinesh's warning is there is no reason on earth to presume that if these countries gain the power the USA now holds in the world, they will adhere to Western priorities--or any ideological priorities that are different than their own, for that matter. If they believe in armed conquest, that's what they will do. The rhetoric against Westernization is certainly strong in these places.

The Germans had their own wealth-creation formula, it worked, and look what they did.

Twice.

Here's the real danger. If the USA will not be able to withstand the efforts of Eastern conquest (once the USA loses its power, in the event it does), that will mean the end of Western priorities. And that will include Progressivism, conservatism, libertarianism, multiculturalism, Western religions and philosophies, the whole enchilada. I'm speaking about these things as major cultural and societal forces, not as small pockets of rebellion.

In my view, this context exists. It does not have to be used as an excuse for the neocon war machine, but it does have to be on the table--on pain of a disaster coming on its own.

Michael

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Here's the real danger. If the USA will not be able to withstand the efforts of Eastern conquest (once the USA loses its power, in the event it does), that will mean the end of Western priorities. And that will include Progressivism, conservatism, libertarianism, multiculturalism, Western religions and philosophies, the whole enchilada. I'm speaking about these things as major cultural and societal forces, not as small pockets of rebellion.

In my view, this context exists. It does not have to be used as an excuse for the neocon war machine, but it does have to be on the table--on pain of a disaster coming on its own.

Michael

After all this happens we will have a chink in our armor.

Ba'al Chatzaf

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Michael wrote:

If the USA will not be able to withstand the efforts of Eastern conquest (once the USA loses its power, in the event it does), that will mean the end of Western priorities . . . . In my view, this context exists. It does not have to be used as an excuse for the neocon war machine, but it does have to be on the table--on pain of a disaster coming on its own.

end quote

Ba'al Chatzaf responded:

After all this happens we will have a chink in our armor.

end quote

You guys are creeping me out. If we started to disintegrate like the Soviet Union, or our “power” waned as with The British Empire we would still have nuclear weapons. Need our waning be coupled to a diminishing of Constitutional government, individual rights and Capitalism? Yes, it would. In that eventuality our society and status SHOULD BE more like Britain than India.

The view that this waning would be the death knell for Progressivism is insightful. If we take the version of Progressivism espoused by President Obama and Bill Ayers then Americans should and will love their government and be in partnership with Washington DC. But if a dictator takes over we will fear government but not love it.

If the US continues to diminish its citizen's freedom and applies more socialism or fascism we would be more like Russia: possessing the mineral, oil and land but our people would be lacking the “resistance” needed to oppose dictatorships. Innovation, job creation, creation of wealth, and our standard of living would decrease. Militarism and bullying would increase.

I was thinking about “the good old days.” Say in 1820, did those days ever exist? I would say yes, but how could we have learned so much yet dropped so far? I remember the 1950’s but they were not the “good old days.” I remember the oppression and not just of minorities. The reputation of Southern sheriffs and states run like fiefdoms is well known. The paranoia from the “Red Menace” caused a loss in freedom and spying on citizens, so the job of the NSA has not changed in all that time.

The big “S” solution to this global problem is not socialism or Progressivism. It’s not liberal, PC driven education, but classical education and Objectivism. I am disappointed if the good wave of the western future, is shrinking. Is it? Will there be no new generation energized by “Atlas Shrugged?” Did more of the audience at the debate root for Bill Ayers? Why do fifty percent of Americans vote for less freedom? Where did we fail?

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Why do fifty percent of Americans vote for less freedom? Where did we fail?

Peter,

Two words:

Free stuff.

btw - That's an incentive for both sides--those who like to receive free stuff and those who like to give it (so long as it does not come from their own pocket).

It's manna from heaven on one end and a vanity high on the other. Those are the people who vote for less and less freedom.

What's worse, we can't expect people who are motivated by that at root to have the common sense to realize there's a tipping point where those who produce this stuff get pissed off from being bled and simply stop producing.

They are not all unreachable, but we really need good stories to get across to them.

Michael

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I asked, “Why do fifty percent of Americans vote for less freedom?” and Michael answered, “Free stuff.”

Harrumph! No offense taken. I give offense all the time – Groucho.

In the case of Social Security I don’t feel my direct deposited check is a handout. Instead, because I worked for 48 years minus one when I was unemployed for most of a year due to Clinton’s Free Trade Act. I went back and took math and the first year of electrical engineering and it was paid for by the government, though the stipend they gave me was not enough to live on. My Mom used to get a lot of free stuff. She would call to get information about reverse mortgages or a back yard swimming pools to receive a pen or complimentary sun glasses. She thought it was fun “outsmarting” the shysters. In the same vein I suppose it is fun for the government payment receiver to outsmart the system.

At some point, as with me and social security, a person begins to feel the payout is simply payment received. For a food stamp, welfare recipient, or unemployment insurance recipient, many people may feel they are entitled because they are an American. John Stossel had an excellent show on this subject and revealed that he had cashed in on his taxpayer supported flood insurance for his waterfront property. John, pretending you took the money and ran to prove a point, didn’t work.

Roger Bissell wrote on OWL:

And as One more item that may interest list-members who are not already aware of it. Ayn Rand was on Social Security! Perhaps she justified this in the same way that she justified taking government scholarships, employment, etc. -- if you speak out against it and are willing to do without it once it's repealed, then you are justified in taking it. (See "The Question of Scholarships.")

Nevertheless, here are the details on her Social Security membership, taken from the online death

index of Social Security recipients:

Ayn RAND

Birth Date: 2 Feb 1905

Death Date: Mar 1982

Social Security Number: 571-32-9405

State or Territory Where Number Was Issued: California

Death Residence Localities

ZIP Code: 10019

Localities: New York, New York, New York

Radio City, New York, New York

I post this more for people's information, but discussion would be welcome.

Best to all

end quote

I cannot find the source but I heard Ayn Rand also received Medicare for her illnesses near the end of her life.

I will coin a new term for the phase a country is going through when it bankrupts itself giving away other people’s money: “Mentalpause.” It creates a welfare class who vote for a governing elite, steals from producers and screws future generations. Mentalpause causes a mighty country to decline, lose its way, and the whole world suffers. I have an interested letter from Eyal Mozes at the end about Bush’s SS fix.

Eyal resonates when he says, “It is also the cause of a grave injustice towards those who die young; those people have been forced to “contribute” to the system during their working years as much as anyone else, but they and their heirs are deprived of the promised benefits.”

Peter

From: Eyal Mozes <eyal@cloud9.net>

To: "" <objectivism@wetheliving.com>

Subject: Re: OWL: Rand on Social Security

Date: Fri, 7 Jan 2005 20:26:40 -0500

ARI Armstrong criticizes Bush's plan for partially replacing the social security system by private accounts, and criticizes the Cato Institute and some ARI writers for supporting Bush's plan. I agree with ARI on many points, but overall I disagree with his conclusion that the plan is not a step in the direction of liberty at all and that Objectivists should not support it.

Some points on which ARI is clearly right are: that mandatory private accounts will not solve all the problems with the current system; that the only way to solve all the problems with the current system is to abolish it completely, probably in several stages through a phase-out plan; that any free-market advocates who support the private-accounts plan should publicly and explicitly endorse abolition of the system and make clear they support the plan only as a partial improvement over the current situation; and that the Cato Institute, and some ARI writers, have been remiss in not making this clear.

ARI claims that the private-accounts plan is in fact a combination of two totally separate and unconnected proposals: allowing workers a partial opt-out out of social security, and setting up a system of mandatory private retirement accounts. On this, I disagree. As long as we have income taxes that make it difficult to save for retirement, the only way individuals can effectively save for retirement is through special accounts that allow savings to grow tax-free. We have some provision for this today with 401(k) plans and IRA accounts; but any plan to eliminate or reduce the current social security system, whether through phase-out or opt-out, since it will mean individuals can no longer expect to receive social security benefits after retirement, will have to be accompanied by some additional provision for individual saving for retirement. I do completely agree with ARI that there's no justification for making such new savings provisions mandatory; the most reasonable solution would be a phase-out of social security, along the lines that ARI has suggested, combined with some provision for additional voluntary saving, e.g. through a drastic increase in personal IRA contribution limits. But the point is, some form of provision for private retirement accounts has to be an inseparable part of social security reform; the link between the two is not arbitrary as ARI claims.

Given that Bush's private-accounts plan clearly does not solve all the problems with the present system, there are three main questions we need to answer in order to evaluate it:

1. Is it a significant step towards solving at least some of the problems with the system?

2. Is it likely to lead to further reform towards greater liberty in the future, or is it likely to block such further reform?

3. Will it be in any respect worse than the current system, causing new problems and new impingements on freedom?

To answer question 1, we should identify that the current social security system has two basic problems:

a. The coercion problem. The system is a coercive, paternalistic system, forcibly taking individual's earnings, preventing them from using it according to their own judgment, and employing this coercion allegedly for their own benefit.

b. The pyramid-scheme problem. The system is a pyramid scheme (sometimes referred to as a "ponzi scheme"), in which current "contributors" are promised future benefits not from any productive investment but from the contributions of future "contributors".

Note that these are two separate problems. The Ponzi-scheme problems has serious consequences in addition to its coercive nature. It is the cause of the financial unsustainability of the system. It is also the cause of a grave injustice towards those who die young; those people have been forced to "contribute" to the system during their working years as much as anyone else, but they and their heirs are deprived of the promised benefits.

A system of mandatory private accounts will be no better and no worse than the current system as far as the coercion problem. But it will help in solving the pyramid-scheme problem (a complete conversion to mandatory private accounts would completely solve the pyramid-scheme problem; a partial conversion, as Bush is proposing, would partially solve the problem). For that reason, I think it would be a significant, though incomplete, step towards greater liberty and towards solving the problems of the current system.

Regarding question 2, ARI claims that Bush's plan threatens to block meaningful reform in the future. I disagree. On the contrary, I think that if Bush's plan is implemented, further reform would become much easier. The biggest political hurdle, that must be faced by any attempt to reform social security, is the problem pointed out by George Bernard Shaw: "A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend on the support of Paul." In this case, younger workers are Peter, retirees and people close to retirement are Paul, and any attempt at reform must overcome opposition from a very large number of Pauls whose ability to receive benefits at Peter's expense is threatened. Private mandatory accounts will overcome this hurdle; once they are in place, proposals for further reform, by making contributions to these accounts voluntary rather than mandatory, and by easing regulation on these accounts, will not be a threat to anyone's benefits, and will thus be accepted much more easily.

On question 3, ARI notes that because the private accounts will include stock-market investments but will be subjected to heavy regulation, their investment decisions would be subject to political pressure, perhaps even made by government officials. This would be a new problem, a problem that does not exist in the current system and could be created by private accounts. Because the total amount of money in social-security private accounts is likely to quickly become very large, it could become a significant portion of the total money invested in the stock market, and having the investment of this money directed by government officials would create a lot of opportunities for political manipulation of the financial markets and of corporations.

I agree with ARI that this is a serious concern. But I don't think it is unavoidable. From what I have read about the Chilean system, it looks like they successfully avoided this problem (I don't claim to be an expert on the Chilean system, and I may have the wrong impression here, but this is my impression from what I have read). The mandatory retirement accounts are managed by private companies. Workers are required to put a certain portion of their payroll in these accounts, but they have a genuine choice in choosing among the companies. The accounts are subjected to heavy regulations restricting what percentage of the funds can be invested in stocks, and the managing companies are not allowed to engage in any other investment or banking business outside of managing retirement accounts; these regulations certainly make the system less than ideal; but as far as deciding what stocks to invest in, the decisions are made privately, no different from those of any mutual fund manager. This is far from a fully free system, but it is clearly more free than the US social security system, and does avoid the problem of government-directed investment.

In contrast, the plan proposed by Cato (in the paper written by Michael Tanner; http://www.socialsecurity.org/pubs/ssps/ssp-32es.html) would not avoid this problem. Cato propose a three-tier system, and in tier II (which will contain most of the accounts) individuals will have a choice among three funds; each fund will be invested in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, each with a different ratio of stocks to bonds. This means presumably that the social security administration will appoint the managers of each of these three funds, who will then control the investment decisions of most of the social security private accounts. It is likely that the total of these accounts would quickly become very large, thus creating a lot of opportunities for these government-appointed fund managers to exert control over the financial markets and over corporations through their investment decisions. I find it shocking that a free-market organization like Cato would propose such a plan.

Roger Bissell says that a private accounts plan would amount to a fascist program. Regarding Cato's proposal, I agree. The defining characteristic of fascism is that property is nominally private but decisions about its use are made by government officials; Cato's plan - accounts which would be nominally owned by individuals but invested according to decisions made by the government-appointed managers of three funds - clearly fits this definition. But regarding the Chilean system, I think Roger's characterization is wrong. Under the Chilean system, individuals are required to put a certain portion of their payroll into the mandatory retirement accounts, but have a genuine choice among companies to manage their accounts, and the investment decisions in these accounts are subjected to a lot of regulation but are still made privately; this is not fascism, it is a government-hampered market system, and it is clearly preferable to the socialist system we have in the US today.

At this point we have no way of knowing whether Bush's plan will be more similar to the Cato plan or to the Chilean system; so far he and his advisers have not come up with any details about how the private accounts will be managed. If he comes up with a plan in which all private accounts are required to be in one of a designated small number of funds, then his plan, by creating government-directed investment in the stock market, may create more problems than it would solve.

However, if Bush comes up with a plan for private accounts managed by private companies, with individuals having a genuine choice in choosing the company to manage their account, and with the companies, even though subject to regulation, still making their own investment decisions and not having these decisions dictated by regulators; then I think Objectivists, and other free-market advocates, should enthusiastically support the plan. In supporting the plan, we should denounce its coercive aspects, explicitly endorse full freedom, and make clear that we support the plan only as an improvement over the current system; but we should also recognize that such a plan will indeed be a significant step towards liberty compared to the current system, and will make it easier to achieve further reform towards greater liberty in the future.

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