10/15/2012

Libertarianism taken to its logical conclusion

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Professor Walter Block’s Defending the Undefendable is mandatory reading for the libertarian. It’s extremely brief, given the scope of material it covers, easy to read, straightforward, and accessible to the average layman. By using sound economic principles and applying them consistently and vigorously to the most socially stigmatized aspects, Professor Block reaches some startlingly conclusions. Conclusions that initially sound repulsive, but once the clarifying lens of economics is applied thoroughly, we see these matters in a much different light. As Hayek said in his review of this profound work, even if you find yourself disagreeing with Professor Block’s conclusions, it will do you much good to read this book anyway. Professor Block is at his finest when drawing attention to the inherent logical contradictions in so many of the arguments advanced for government intervention:

But the strongest argument against governmental regulation of advertising is not the empirical one showing its dismal record to date, strong though that may be. The strongest argument is the logical one. The reasoning employed by those who want governmental regulation contains a self-contradiction. On the one hand they assert that the American people are unalterably gullible. They must be protected because, left to their own devices, they become victims. They can be made to think, for example, that if they use a certain brand of aftershave lotion, they will end up with the girl in the ad. On the other hand, the argument assumes that the boobs are smart enough to pick political leaders capable of regulating these sirens. This is impossible.

One of the most important consequences of Professor Block’s (successful) defense of the pimp, the prostitute, the litterer, and so on, is that the things we revile about these types of characters, namely the violence, abuse, and other forms of harm associated with them, are revealed to be a consequence of the conditions in which government interventions has created for them. That is to say, the violence that comes to mind between the pimp and prostitute is exacerbated, if not completely caused by, the government prohibition of this voluntary activity. Professor Block’s defense of the litterbug is a perfect illustration of revealing the true villain is not the litterbug, but once again, the conditions created by government intervention:

In the medical practice, on the other hand, littering cannot be tolerated. Operating, consulting, or treatment rooms must be sanitary, well-scrubbed and free of debris. Failure to adopt a strong anti-litter campaign here would involve the administrator of the hospital in financial failure, as it became known that his institution was unsanitary.

In the case of consumption, most restaurants, for example, do not pursue anti-litter campaigns. There are no signs on restaurant walls forbidding the dropping of forks, napkins, or bread crumbs. A restaurant could prohibit litter, but it would lose its customers to other establishments.

What these seemingly disparate examples have in common is to illustrate that in the market, the decision of whether and how much litter to allow is based ultimately on the wishes and desires of the consumers! The question is not treated simplistically and there is no general outcry to “get rid of litterbugs.” There is rather, a careful weighing of the costs and benefits of allowing waste materials to accumulate.

After some hypothesizing about what private ownership of all public land would look like, Block concludes:

In the light of the inflexibility of the government, and its apparent lack of interest in accommodating public tastes, how is the litterbug to be viewed? The litterbug treats public property in much the same way he would treat private property if he were but free to. Namely, he leaves garbage around on it. It has been demonstrated that there is nothing intrinsically evil about this activity, and that but for governmental calcification, it would be as widely accepted in the public arena as it is in the private. It is an activity which should be regulated by people’s needs, not by government fiat.

You know when you are getting gushing praise from both F.A. Hayek and Murray Rothbard you have done something pretty spectacular. Any libertarian who wishes to pursue that system to its logical conclusion owe it to themselves to grapple with the arguments put forth in this libertarian masterpiece.

Reviewing God of the Machine by Isabel Paterson

 

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God of the Machine is a book I struggled with. There can be no doubt that Isabel Paterson is a deep thinker and contributes much in the way of political theory. However, I found the prevailing theme of this work – comparing society to a machine, paying specific attention to whether the flow of energy powering the machine was moving in a beneficial or harmful direction – to be a bit overwhelming. It’s not that I have any problem with the metaphor per se, it just feels like Ms. Paterson is almost acting as if it isn’t a metaphor at all, but an explanation of historical events and society in general. I’m not sure I agree with her assumptions, but the biggest problem I had was the consistent and repeated attention given to that theme. It wasn’t particularly enjoyable from this reader’s perspective and after reading the first 8 chapters I had enough. At that point I decided to skip ahead to the most highly cited and praised chapters, Chapter 20, "The Humanitarian with the Guillotine” and Chapter 21, “Our Japanized Educational System.” Both are brilliant on their own merits, and coincidentally pay much less attention to the machine metaphor than any other part of the book. Here’s one gem to give you an idea:

The government is thus supposed to be empowered to give “security” to the needy. It cannot. What it does is to seize the provision made by private persons for their own security, thus depriving everyone of every hope or chance of security. It can do nothing else, if it acts at all. Those who do not understand the nature of the action are like savages who might cut down a tree to get the fruit; they do not think over time and space, as civilized men must think.

Reinvigorated by how much I enjoyed these two chapters I read Chapters 22 and 19 only to find myself struggling with the same issues that I found in the first half of the book.

I think the most important point to take away from my reading is that if you read any of the more popular quotes, like the one above, that almost exclusively come from Chapters 20 and 21, be prepared that those chapters are not representative of what the rest of the book is like. That’s not to say that the book isn’t good or that some people won’t enjoy it very much. I didn’t. I found it to be a bit boring, with many pages devoting to discussing historical events in a way that struck me as scattered and not very interesting. One of my biggest issues was the machine metaphor theme that I felt was overall misguided, extremely distracting, and treated too literally at times. For instance, “Private property, money, freedom, engineering, and industry are all one system; they are the components of the high potential long circuit of energy.” or when discussing the fall of Rome:

The structure of the republic was vertical and its source of energy internal. It collapsed from the horizontal drive of an overwhelming current of energy from without. The mechanism of the empire operated horizontally, by a centripetal intake of energy. Given the existent factors, it was capable of wide extension; but its continuance called for positive resistance to the agencies of government from the peripheral parts. It was really maintained by the residual separatist tendency of the component nations.

So be prepared for a tremendous amount of the above in this book, and if you find that style of prose compelling, you will most certainly enjoy God of The Machine. I did not, but the chapters on humanitarianism and education contain amazing passages that are rightfully cited in many other libertarian works that address the respective issues.

10/14/2012

You should be a subscriber of The Independent Review

For so many reasons. Their latest issue is chock full of brilliant work, as usual, and I feel compelled to share with you this except from Daniel Klein’s The Improprieties of the Pretense of Knowledge:

To omit interpretation and judgment from our sense of knowledge, however, is
to presuppose that interpretation is singular and fixed. It is to presuppose symmetric
interpretation. And if interpretation is singular and fixed, then there is no concern
with judging among interpretations. Judgment matters only if interpretations
are multiple.
 
The flattening of knowledge down to information, which I call “flat-talk,” gives
the false sense that the theorist has or can have a composite master interpretation that
subsumes the interpretations of those in the system he studies. When economists
practice flat-talk, they make it seem that more and better knowledge is merely an
informational problem.
 
An interpretation is “right” only in the sense that it is better than the relevant
alternative interpretation. It is not “right” in the sense of being final or definitive. But
once the government starts to act on an interpretation, that interpretation tends to
become ossified. Even if the government seizes on a fairly good interpretation of what
is going on “now,” it is likely to cling to that interpretation long after such a view
should have been superseded. Governmentalization of interpretation tends to regiment
social affairs and to repress the evolution of interpretation.

But the farce crescendos in our highest political superstitions. Flat-talk also
flatters the ordinary person as someone fit to know what policies to favor and whom
to vote for. Thus, flat-talk tends to go with social-democratic sensibilities, as when
Donald Wittman (1995) argues that democracy is efficient.
 
Adam Smith, however, spoke of the ordinary fellow as “being unfit to judge
even though he was fully informed” ([1776] 1981, 266). We might ask Smith: But if
the fellow is fully informed, how can he be unfit to judge? Smith’s answer is that “his
education and habits” leave him unfit to judge—that is, his portfolio of interpretations
and his judgment preclude him from judging well. The chief problem, then, is
not a lack of information. By flattening knowledge down to information, Wittman
made the systematic failings of democracy seem to have disappeared.
 
Flat-talk plays to deep-seated yearnings for a sense of common knowledge and
common experience, a universal human weakness. Hayek (1979, 1988) wrote of a
concurrence between the intellectuals’ pretense of knowledge and certain primordial,
Upper Paleolithic instincts possessed by humans in general. The concurrence between
intellectual hubris and rude instinct makes a tacit alliance against the enlightened
sensibilities of liberal civilization.

Now imagine this comes from an article that contains a Sherlock Holmes sketch, an explanation of why Larry David and Seinfeld are so funny, and somehow manages to come in at under 10 pages. Ya, color me impressed.

10/02/2012

Book Review: The Conscience of an Anarchist

This book has me quite excited. It could easily be the Economics in One Lesson for traditionally leftist issues such as social justice and welfare. What I mean by that is it where Economics in One Lesson radically changed the way people viewed the role of the state in economic matters, The Conscience of an Anarchist has the potential for awakening those who care deeply about poverty, social justice, equality before the law, etc. to recognize that these most worthwhile goals are more likely to be realized under a stateless society, than via their traditionally preferred vehicle of implementation, the State. And more profoundly, the State actually creates or exacerbates the very problems that it is supposed to be solving.

The author of The Conscience of an Anarchist is Law Professor Gary Chartier. I don’t know too much about him, but just by reading the book you get a sense he was originally a leftist who cared so deeply about leftist issues, and why they never seemed to improve no matter how much government was thrown at the problem, he started questioning the State itself, and ultimately found himself as an anarchist. Or to be honest, maybe that’s just what happened to me and I’m projecting a bit, but it sure feels that way!

The book is brilliantly constructed, and opens with a most appropriate reminder of what anarchy is, and perhaps even more importantly, what anarchy is not. Chartier defines the idea of anarchy as, “the conviction that people can and should cooperate peacefully and voluntarily.”
From here Chartier proceeds with the 6 chapters that comprise the book, each dedicated to a separate reason as to why he is an anarchist. The first one:
I’m an anarchist because I believe there’s no natural right to rule. I believe people are equal in essential dignity and worth, which means, in turn, that they have equal moral standing. That makes it hard to justify giving some people— those who rule the state and those who enforce rulers’ decisions— rights that others don’t have.
Chartier goes on to elucidate this concept further, and to most libertarians, it is the bedrock of their opposition to the State. I certainly agree with everything he has to say on the matter, but it is, sadly, unlikely to convince most people unless they are already predisposed to liberty. Which doesn’t seem to be nearly as large a percentage of the general public as I would have thought or hoped. Much more effective is a demonstration of how the State harms, followed by examples of viable alternatives that would arise in its place – virtually all of which would be superior than the existing State programs. Thankfully, this process starts in the very next chapter!

Chapter 2 focuses on a brief attempt at making the case that the State isn’t the only method to provide the various services it is tasked with – defense, infrastructure, courts/law, and so on – and offers some rebuttals against common objections to a stateless society. On defense:
One common response is that, without the state, volunteer or professional peace-keepers could end up at each other’s throats. Thus, statists say, an overarching structure is essential to prevent violent encounters between armed factions. On its face, this claim doesn’t seem entirely plausible. After all, there’s no world-state overseeing the behavior of individual countries. But most aren’t at war most of the time. In view of the costs of violence, and because people are more likely than not to adhere to norms mandating peacefulness, an overarching authority with a monopoly of violence doesn’t seem obviously necessary to keep aggressive acts from happening.
A really critical part of this chapter is a listing and brief description of the various historical examples of a free market solution to traditional State functions. He cites medieval Iceland and Ireland, merchant based law in the Middle Ages and Renaissance, as well as more recent examples such as Shasta County, California, the Internet, and the fact that hundreds of different nation-states interact with one another despite the lack of a single, all powerful arbitrator of disputes or set of laws governing them.
 
Chapter 3 is where the book really starts to demonstrate its potential to convince Leftists of the benefits of a stateless society. A very topical theme in America at the moment is of class warfare, and the Left, specifically, is extremely skeptical and concerned about the power of big business exploiting the consumer. All these concerns are justified and quite valid. Chartier takes a clear look at what allows for big business privilege and finds a common denominator in all scenarios – the State. It is the State that makes elites, that empowers big businesses with special privileges, that grants bailouts, and in a wide array of examples enacts policies that specifically hurt those worse off.

As a well read libertarian I can say that almost this entire book wasn’t necessarily new material for me. By far its biggest appeal was the style and framing of the various arguments. However, when Chartier attacks hierarchies and the corporate form itself, as an exploitive State-created, organizations, this was all new to me. He makes some very interesting points about how the State increases the difficulty and cost of running your own business, while grants enormous advantages to large corporations.
 
The end result, in Chartier’s view, is the creation of larger, more inefficient hierarchies that would otherwise be unable to sustain their size. You can feel the personal resentment towards the corporate structure and the people forced to work there, as you continue on. There is no denying the validity of Chartier’s conclusions as he follows the effects of the State all the way towards their logical conclusions. Justly addressing the many indirect and often overlooked ways State action impoverishes the ordinary person, at the expense of the elites:
And, without the state’s interference, as I suggest in the next section, the cost of living for ordinary people would be lower, just like the costs of starting a new firm to replace a failed one, so the risks associated with being out of work would be lower, too. Without building codes and zoning regulations, housing would be cheaper and out-of-home worksites could be located closer to people’s residences. Without tariffs and “intellectual property,” consumer goods would be less expensive. Without corporatist regulations and subsidies, resources would be spent more efficiently and prices would be lower. Without taxes, people would have more disposable income. In short, without the state, people would find it easier to start businesses. And with lower living costs, it would be easier to save for rainy days and easier to pick up the pieces if things didn’t go well, so assuming the risks associated with starting a business could be less stressful. And it’s hard not to think that this would put indirect pressure on hierarchical behemoths to change the way they operated.
Chapter 3 closes with the observation of the fact that contrary to popular belief, the State does not help the poor, and, in fact, harms the poor while enriching the elites. Chartier emphasizes what I believe to be one of the most profound and irrefutable critiques of the theory of government:
The fact that the state serves the interests of the elite while frequently disregarding or undermining the well-being of workers and the poor is not an accident. As long as there is a state, it will be vulnerable to lobbying and manipulation, and the wealthy will be best equipped to lobby and manipulate.
I have yet to seen this simple, yet devastating, insight refuted. It would appear to totally demolish the argument for government on the belief that it both helps the poor, and prevents elites from gaining power and exploiting the ordinary worker. Both theory and an abundance of empirical data have demonstrated the exact opposite is true.

Chapter 4 turns the spotlight on war and empire building. We are presented with the stark reality that States enable mass murder on a scale that would otherwise be impossible. Wars expand the role of government and allow for the destruction of rights and civil liberties. Wars break up families. And on and on. Chartier dutifully notes all the various aspects of war and empire building that destroys free societies and engages in immoral behavior the likes of which non-state actors seem incapable of. In a weird sense, I see this as the least effective chapter of the book, mainly because of people’s ability to totally shut off their morals and reason when discussing the concept of war. I think Dr. Robert Higgs treatment of this topic is the best I’ve seen at awakening people who are in such a slumber, to the absurdity of defending such an institution, and the true nature of why wars are fought and who benefits from them.
 
One of the more intriguing insights in this chapter is the recognition of the effect militarization has on society as a whole, specifically when police are becoming more and more militarized. Both in the institutional sense – military weaponry, tactics, approach etc – as well as the officers themselves, some of which are actually ex-military. Chartier notes:
A further problem: many people who leave the military become police officers…it’s too easy for cops to treat ordinary people like enemies, and some kinds of military experiences can reinforce this tendency. Military organizations and high-pressure combat-linked environments can encourage the dehumanization of perceived enemies. And people can bring their histories with them into civilian life.
Chapter 4 closes with a reminder that anarchy is not utopia, undoubtedly there would still be violent acts of all kinds. There just couldn’t be so much of it, on such a massive scale, without the State.

Chapter 5 is my personal favorite of the book. I think this is where Chartier really shines in driving home how the core social justice type values are assaulted by the State, whereas they would be infinitely better served in a stateless society. Criminal law under the State is an abortion. It is an archaic throwback to the time when crimes were defined as affronts against the King, as opposed to only legitimate concept of crime – when one party directly harms another. When there is no victim, there can be no crime. Unless, of course, you find yourself with the grave misfortunate of leaving in a society that criminalizes behavior the Divine Ruler deems unacceptable:
The justifications often offered for the criminal law often feel like after-the-fact rationalizations for practices in which the state intends to engage whether they’re justified or not. Practices inherited from the era in which criminal law was unequivocally concerned with offenses against the king have continued long after the end of absolute monarchy and the discrediting of the notion of the divine right of kings. But the state does trot out justifications for these practices.
These after-the-fact justifications are retribution and deterrence. The concept of retribution is an ill-conceived justification for a moral system of law as it is based on a desire for revenge. It is restitution – the act of making whole – that is the bedrock of justice. Chartier notes the absurdity of basing a system of justice on retribution when he writes, “retributive punishment doesn’t benefit victims; harm to one person does not as such constitute a genuine benefit to someone else in any way. No matter how much you’ve hurt me, I’m not objectively better off because you’ve been harmed, by me or by the state.” For those interested, Bruce Benson’s The Enterprise of Law is an indispensable primer on this subject.

Chartier’s comments on the inhuman nature of deterrence and how it treats people like objects are particularly brilliant and eye-opening:
Deterrence also seems morally troubling for other reasons. For instance, if deterring serious harms really were an independent justification for using force, it might be acceptable to impose horrible penalties for minor harms if doing so seemed likely to prevent their repetition. Similarly, it might be acceptable to frame and even execute people known to be innocent in order to prevent future harms. If we believe doing these sorts of things is unreasonable, we have good reason to reject deterrence as an independent source of justification for using force, since, if it were such a source of justification, these kinds of choices would be acceptable.
If that doesn’t make one recognize the inherently unjust nature of the so-called criminal justice system of the state, I don’t know what will. Chartier highlights another consequence of a criminal justice system that is built around criminalizing behavior the State disapproves of, rather than providing justice as properly understood. And this is the wake-up call I believe (hope) will resonate loudly with so many of those who claim to be concerned with equality, social justice, and the like:
Punishing conduct because it violates the law, rather than because it’s demonstrably harmful in any particular case, makes it easy for the state to impose penalties for behavior that someone else—someone who’s not directly affected—happens not to like. The criminal law provides another context in which the state can subsidize. Decent communities in stateless societies doubtless wouldn’t have much time for the moralizers. But, in a community in which people really did want to harass others of whose lifestyles they didn’t approve, the would-be harassers would have to bear the cost of harassment themselves. By contrast, being a moralizer is cheap if the state’s on your side…
You can indulge your taste for seeing other people harassed in virtue of their religious practices, their sexual habits, the substances they consume, or anything else you happen to find distasteful, simply by persuading the state to do your harassing for you. You can vote for or lobby in support of measures that the state pays for by dunning everyone who pays taxes. You don’t have to worry about the cost of harassing others if those costs are unwillingly shared by everyone from whom the state can exact tribute.
Yes! Thank you. Say it again, louder. The state amplifies injustice. That’s all it is, all it has ever been. A mighty weapon of force. I do not know how love, peace, tolerance, and equality can be brought about through force and violence. But I can imagine how oppression, discrimination, incarceration, and so on can be inflicted on a mass scale that way. And this is exactly what we see. At its best, democracy is nothing more than tyranny of the majority. Sure there will always be people and behaviors that are undesirable. And while I don’t doubt the intentions of those who advocate for the State to end racism, discrimination, poverty, etc. It simply cannot do any of those things. And at some point, we need to acknowledge the results of our actions, not merely the intentions. And the historical record is perfectly clear on this, the state oppresses. Even in the instance of slavery in the United States, the State actively resisted the sociological changes attempting to end slavery as evidence by the Fugitive Slave Act – which punished anyone found to be aiding runaway slaves. The state has always been a lagging force on social issues. See, for instance, gay marriage and medical marijuana. Eventually these things will finally be legalized, but when they are all it will be is another example of State created and enforced injustices, finally, mercifully brought to an end thanks to an overwhelming shift in public opinion. To praise the State for this is misguided, to say the least.

Chartier turns his lenses towards policing services and, unsurprisingly, finds a host of systemic problems. After documenting the devastating harms of prohibition, the countless instance of police abuse, and the more recent institutionalized resistance against citizens filming police, he concludes:
These recent stories of out-of-control violence are not stories about “bad apples.” That’s the way apologists for the state and for its police forces like to frame things. But the basic problems are systemic. They result from giving police officers relatively unfettered power to use force and from the culture of violence that pervades many police departments. Suppose you’re driving somewhere, and notice a police cruiser in your mirror. Suppose it stays behind you as make multiple turns. Are you likely to feel relieved that you’re the beneficiary of special protection from the heroes responsible for keeping us safe? Or do your stomach muscles tighten as you look nervously— while trying not to call attention to yourself— for a way to escape?
He also briefly touches on the subject of the inherent problems with tasking a monopoly firm with policing itself. As this book is more of a call to action than a thorough exploration of all the topics discussed, I again strongly recommend anyone who is interested in exploring more substantial critiques of government provision of courts, law, and police to check out The Enterprise of Law. I don’t think you need to be an anti-govt radical to recognize the validity of the question, “Who Will Watch the Watchmen?” and be concerned about a system that employs one monopoly agency that has the power to tax, to be responsible for policing its own conduct.

Chapter 6 concludes the book with a call to action. Explore the theory of liberty more deeply. Educate yourself and those around you. Try to live in a way that is as independent of the State as possible. Chartier declares that, “Anarchy is ours to create.” Indeed, it is. So what are you waiting for? Get started by reading this book today!

9/28/2012

Book Review: Delusions of Power by Robert Higgs

The Independent Institute has released a new volume, Delusions of Power, by Dr. Robert Higgs which critically examines the state, war, and the economy. The volume is a sweeping indictment against the State on all fronts, beginning with the theoretical justification (or lack thereof) for a state, to a penetrating analysis of the success or failure the State has achieved in providing its alleged services of "protecting rights, life, and property” of its citizens, to its economic impact, the effect of war, and much more.

In Part I, Dr. Higgs exposes the various narratives used to commonly justify the State as mere propaganda, unable to withstand the harsh light of critical scrutiny. In Chapter 1 he demonstrates that the argument of man’s fallibility as a justification for the state is nonsensical and self-contradictory as any legitimate failing of man’s character, knowledge, and so on, is only magnified when he is vested with the power of the State. Chapter 2 asks if the rationale for government is similar (or identical) to the rationale used for slavery, providing specific historical arguments used to defend the existence of slavery, and contrasting them to the arguments we hear today when someone acknowledges the failings of the State, but is resistant to any proposals of a stateless society.

Chapter 3, Democracy and Faits Accomplis, Dr. Higgs exposes democracy not as a system designed to be responsive to the wishes of the people, but rather, one that lacks any effective means to remove or prevent policies that the people disapprove of:

The great problem is that, by that time, it may be impossible to reverse the outcomes the rulers have brought about. Wilson was not elected in 1916 to plunge the nation into the Great War. Roosevelt was not elected in 1932 to impose the New Deal on the country. Nor was he elected in 1940 to maneuver the United States into the greatest war of all time. Yet, in each case, the president did the opposite of what he had promised to do, and the people were left with no recourse. The world of 1919, the United States of 1936, and the world of 1945 — each was so massively, so irrevocably altered from the preceding status quo that any genuine restoration of the previous conditions was unimaginable. Like it or not, people were to a great extent simply stuck with what the deceitful politicians had done.

Chapters 6 and 7 work in tandem to demonstrate how an economic (or any other type) of crisis, either real or perceived, virtually always results in an increase in government’s size and scope, that never returns to its pre-crisis size. Chapter 6 presents and then abruptly demolishes 12 commonly trotted out justifications for the increased government action during the period of crisis. Chapter 7 looks at the historical record and presents an overview of the “ratchet effect”, which demonstrates how government expands during a time of crisis, and how the subsequent retraction of these newly created crisis powers is always incomplete, leaving the government much larger than before the crisis hit. Higgs notes, “Attempts to eliminate or diminish emergency programs run up against a fundamental principle of political action: people will fight harder to retain an established benefit than they will to obtain an identical one in the first place.”

Higgs uses the term, “iron triangles”, to describe the alliance of government bureaucrats, congressional oversees, and private sector beneficiaries that benefit from the newly created crisis-time powers, and it appears to be an apt metaphor:

These arrangements are called "iron" because they are so difficult to break. Their beneficiaries have great incentive to fight for the retention and even for the expansion of the triangle's activities, whereas the general public rarely has much incentive to fight against them, even when it is aware of them, because the public burden per capita is normally too small to justify anyone's expenditure of much time or effort in the requisite politicking.

Part 1 concludes with Chapter 8, “War is Horrible, But…”, an appropriate attack demolishing 14 morally repugnant, yet disturbingly commonplace, justifications for war.

Part II Closer Look at Key Actors and Events, is where Dr. Higgs shines as a historian. There is a tremendous amount of exciting, fascinating, and rich historical analysis of key events that serve to illuminate just how the US government grew so far beyond its original formation and the confines of the Constitution. There are chapters exploring virtually unknown key political actors who via corruption, subterfuge, and all the other various unsavory aspects of the political process alter the course of US government in unimaginable ways. If you ever suspected that Democracy was nothing more than a cover for an extremely small group of political elites to rule, the historical evidence put forth in this section will validate that suspicion in a way you may not have ever dared to imagine.

One of the most profoundly relevant and timely chapters in this part is “Chapter 11: Truncating the Antecedents: How Americans have been misled about WWII.” Not only does Dr. Higgs take you behind the smokescreen of propaganda and biased historical revisionism to reveal the truth of WWII and the US involvement, but it serves as a perfect parallel to how Americans are being misled today about foreign occupations in the Middle East such as Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and more. There is an undeniable pattern of ignoring the preceding events and only focusing on the seemingly “out of nowhere” attacks in response, in an effort to blind Americans to their government’s role in provoking these attacks, and ensure they remain fiercely supportive of any warmongering ambitions the State is currently pursuing. In short, the world is not as cut and dry as bad guys vs. good guys. If you have the courage to accept that your government isn’t an angelic entity that only acts on the most noble intentions, this book will open your eyes to a reality that must be embraced if one wishes to create a more just, peaceful, and prosperous world.

Part III Economic Analysis, War, and Politicoeconomic Interactions will leave you feeling like you just went 12 rounds in a championship prize fight. The vigorous, relentless exposition of the havoc the State wreaks on an economic scale is simply staggering. I can’t help but to confess I found myself questioning if anything could stop a Leviathan this bloodthirsty. Chapter 19, Military Economic Fascism, makes the irrefutable case that corruption is an inherent feature of the state, not merely an unfortunate byproduct. For instance, the Pentagon’s spending is not even documented in a coherent enough way that it could be audited, this has prompted the Defense Department’s acting inspector general to remark, “financial management problems are long standing, pervasive, and deeply rooted in all operations.” What’s so breathtaking about this is the regularity and routine nature of it all. Every year the Pentagon is required by law to provide an account of its spending for audit. Every year it fails to do so. Nothing changes. As Higgs aptly concludes:

In Iraq since the US invasion in 2003, billions of dollars have simply disappeared without leaving a trace. Surely they did not all evaporate in the hot desert sun. The accounts at Homeland Security are in equally horrible condition.

No one knows how much money or specific property is missing from the military and homeland-security departments or where the missing assets have gone. If a public corporation kept its accounts this atrociously, the Securities and Exchange Commission would shut it down overnight. Government officials, however, need not worry about obedience to the laws they make to assure their credulous subjects that everything is hunky-dory inside the walls. When they are of a mind, they simply flout those laws with impunity.

I found chapter 18, “To Fight or Not to Fight”, almost as a fresh of breath air amidst the avalanche of
data and rigorously sourced examples of government waste and corruption unlike which I could have ever imagined. In this chapter Higgs demonstrates his versatility as not merely a brilliant economist and historian, but also as a writer. The association of individual as one with his government, (for example, “We won the war” or “We should go to war to spread democracy”) is so pervasive and engrained in us all, Dr. Higgs takes an incredibly effective tactic to dislodge it. By approaching the issue in such a simple and straightforward way, as if he himself is genuinely wondering for the first time if wars initiated by leaders of government, are, in fact, for the best interest of the people at large, the absurdity of the whole thing creeps up on you slowly as you follow him along. The simplicity and eagerness in which he seeks to answer this question doesn’t allow for any opportunity for the reader to throw up his emotional barriers out of nationalistic pride and the like. By the time Higgs’ arrives at the only logical conclusion possible – that U.S. leaders make decisions of war based on their own concerns and virtually always at the expense of the people that war impacts - seemingly as if for the very first time, the reader is left feeling embarrassed that he could have ever thought anything to the contrary!

Delusions of Power concludes with a series of book reviews of all the most significant works cited earlier throughout the volume. This allows for the reader to pursue any of the specific topics more deeply, as well as appreciating the depth of research and material underpinning Higgs’ arguments.

9/03/2012

The GOP platform calls for a ban on online poker

 

I suppose the slogan of “keeping the government out of your bedroom” is pretty much officially retired amongst Republican circles now. The stated justification for this horribly intrusive, un-Constitutional, un-American, nanny-state action that the most hardcore Progressive would be proud of, is that “compulsive gambling is a serious disease” blah blah blah, Why is there no call to ban all forms of poker? Or all gambling? Or what about tobacco? Or alcohol? Is alcoholism not a serious disease? What about high-fat diets? Red-meat, perhaps? Of course, this issue, like virtually all, are shaped not by adhering to the desires of your constituents, or (and try not to laugh) adhering to “Conservative Principles” or things like the Constitution, but rather, is shaped by the interests of a very small group of very wealthy and influential backers of the Republican Party. (Read: Sheldon Adelson)

The lamest defense of all of those who have been instructed that they now are to oppose online gambling because their party leaders declare it so, is that the online aspect of it makes it easier for underage children to be exposed to it. If your underage child is able to forge identity documents, steal your credit card and routinely make online gambling charges to it, and sit on the computer all day compulsively gambling, and you are either unaware or unable to stop it, well you are a horrible parent and your child will have much worse issues than gambling. What happened to being the party of family values? I can’t think of anything more dangerous to the family unit than the implications that we are too incompetent to parent our children ourselves, and thus need the heavy hand of government to outlaw any activities that may lead to undesirable behavior. I’m pretty sure children have, on occasion, gotten their hands on their parents’ firearms to disastrous result. Any plans for adding a plank to the GOP platform calling for a ban on guns in households with children? Or would “conservatives” revolt at such a notion and correctly point out that responsible parents can take measures to ensure their child does not access their firearm?

What about being the party of creating jobs for the middle-class? Yes, I know government can’t create jobs and to even pretend that slogan makes any sense whatsoever will rightfully anger my libertarian friends, but they can stop doing things that impede job growth and creation. You know what’s a really bad way to create jobs? To outlaw a profession and literally drive tens of thousands of honest, tax-paying, economy supporting citizens overseas where they can make a living without being oppressed, all the while spending their money in a foreign country as opposed to here.

The reason the Republican Party is dying and will fail to unseat a President who is presiding over the worst economic crisis in nearly 100 years, while simultaneously abandoning all of his campaign promises and disenfranchising an enormous part of his own base, is because the Republican Party no longer stands for anything. Nothing. They stand for whatever issues their wealthiest backers desire and nothing else. To be fair, the Democratic Party is obviously identical in that regard. For decades they have ridden on the coat-tails of words and beautifully crafted speeches of limited government and freedom by people like Ronald Regan. But their actual actions and policies are indistinguishable from their supposed opponents of Democrats. Bailouts anyone? National debt? Abandoning the long-held conservative principles of being a strong, humble nation, who seeks to defend our country while avoiding nation-building abroad? If you don’t believe me just ask Taft or maybe George W. is a better example:

Perhaps it is time that conservatives who believe in the principles espoused by people like Ronald Regan (for instance, “government isn’t the solution, government is the problem!” and so forth) stop blindly supporting politicians and a party that no longer even pays lip-service to these ideas, let alone actually try and implement policies that would achieve them, merely because the have the letter R next to their name and the Republican Party leadership told them to.

There is only so long you can scream insults at the other guy to distract from the reality that there is no substantive difference between what he is doing and what you would do. The online poker is probably the least significant of all the issues the above commentary is true of, but maybe that’s why its so irritating as well.

6/13/2012

No War for Oil

I am currently reading, No War for Oil, by Ivan Eland of the Independent Institute. It is a masterful book, powerfully written, steeped in solid economic analysis and understanding, fantastically well researched, and provides a tour de force history lesson on the role of oil in governments worldwide, with a particular emphasis on the U.S. and the Middle East.

Of the many fascinating discoveries this work has opened my eyes to, the destruction of the myth that oil is a "strategic commodity" and that the price of oil is determined by oil cartels was the most illuminating. Additionally, Eland rebukes the myth that if certain oil-rich regions fall into the control of unfriendly regimes, this would hurt U.S. interests by driving the price of oil up.

With a profoundly Austrian economic analysis, Eland shows what a ridiculously absurd claim this is. Markets clear. A Middle East country that relies almost entirely on the production of oil for economic growth is, if anything, more damaged by their refusal to sell it than those whom they are threatening to withhold it from would be.

In addition to the economic theory analysis, Eland analyzes all the historical examples of past oil "crises" and attempts at limiting supply and/or raising the price of oil by the various oil cartels that have existed, including OPEC. In all of these instances, the ability for any oil cartel to significantly affect the supply or price of oil was miniscule, as the more effective they were at doing so, the greater the incentive for members of the cartel to cheat and sell more oil at the temporarily artificially inflated price. Thus, as the threat of a reduction in the amount of the world's oil is announced, covertly nations and firms begin increasing their drilling efforts!

Rubber is much more important and widely used than oil in war. Yet, there is no talk of rubber as a "strategic" commodity. If Eland's analysis is correct (and I believe that it is) it would appear that economic ignorance among politicians and policymakers has resulted in one of the most disastrously misguided and destructive policies ever conceived. As this policy has been going on for over 50 years, with no end in sight, the lessons contained in this brilliant work have never been of more importance.

No War For Oil is mandatory reading for the libertarian, as well as anyone who wishes to gain a greater understanding of the politicized nature of oil. Even as a well read student of Austrian Economics, I must confess I put a bit too much stock in a few of the myths used to justify oil classification as a "strategic" commodity. Do yourself (and the world) a favor and read this book today!

Update: No War For Oil was just awarded the Gold Medal from the Independent Publisher’s Book Awards (IPPY) for excellence in Current Events (Foreign Affairs/Military)!

4/19/2012

Last Exit

Cost overruns on public road projects average at least 8.4% with a very large standard error, indicating some overruns are much greater. It appears this consistent pattern of under estimating the cost of public projects is due to strategic misrepresentation or "lying" as the authors of the study on the matter determined.

Policymakers continue to ignore improvements in technology that would increase lifespan of roads and reduce long term maintenance costs dramatically. This is because they come with high up-front costs that are politically expensive. Meaning there is little incentive for them to take the short-term heat from voters of raising spending/taxing just because it is the best decision and will be save money - as well as lives - in the long run. In other words, the inherently short run focus that is government is what is responsible for maintaining the long term health of the nation's infrastructure. I wonder what Apple's stock price would do under that type of leadership....

The traffic control system in many cities today were developed by inexperienced public officials for whom the automobile was a new mode of transportation. By refusing to use superior methods road congestion, and thus emissions, is greater. Safety is worse, unemployment increases, and data indicates the health of newborns is adversely affected.

Private highways have replaced human operated toll booths with ETC, an electronic method. This allows for easy implementation of congestion pricing, which would result in benefits in the areas mentioned above. Government regulations restricts the adoption of this method by the privately owned highways. However, the government does use ETC on a few highways of their own. Sadly, they still have not implemented congestion pricing. Instead, they charge a higher toll fee because consumers react to increases in an electronically paid fee with much greater indifference than they do towards the physically paid one.

The preceding sentence is exactly what all the "we need govt bc evil businessmen would take advantage of us otherwise" people would claim would happen by private firms in a free market. Yet, here it is. Obviously. Because that entire world view is a nonsensical, logically contradictory, fairy tale. What exactly makes greedy or bad people transform into angels upon donning the government hat?

And upon having discovered it, there are vastly fewer options a consumer can persue to protest it. As opposed to a private firm which would directly (through loss of sales) and indirectly (bad reputation) be exposed to consumer sovereignty.

I am on a cell phone with no spell check so this post will probably have tons of grammar errors. But I needed to share this info before proceeding on to the next section of this awesome book.


4/05/2012

New books!

I just added three new books to my reading list: Last Exit: Privatization and Deregulation of the U.S. Transportation System by Clifford Winston, No War for Oil: U.S. Dependency and the Middle East by Ivan Eland, and With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful by the great Glenn Greenwald!

I’m starting with Last Exit first and it opens with some great historical information on transportation and infrastructure in the U.S.

By 1860 at least 7,000 corporations had formed to operate bridges, canals, ferries, railroads and roads. Total private capital investment in those transportation facilities and services amounted to over 3 billion dollars. (Which is equivalent to approximately $10 Trillion in today’s dollars!)

By developing an initial overview of the economic case for privatizing and deregulating the transportation system, I hope to show that fundamental policy reform is essential to ridding the system of its vast and intractable efficiencies that have accumulated under decades of public sector management and control. [Emphasis mine]

I’m looking forward to reading the rest and will probably update the blog with the more interesting findings as I make my way through.

3/28/2012

Shocker! Nevada state officials caught double dipping!

The immensely talented, Geoffrey Lawrence, of the Nevada Policy Research Institute (NPRI) has authored a truly remarkable set of policy recommendations in the just released Solutions 2013 handbook. Of the many diverse topics covered, one area that really struck me was on page 60, entitled, Double Dipping. My paraphrasing of their finding is as follows.

In 2001 Nevada passed a statute specifically designed to allow public-sector employees to receive pension payments without ever leaving their jobs. This was achieved via the creation of a "critical labor shortage" (CLS) classification, which allows public officials to collect pension benefits while remaining employed and receiving a full salary!

The CLS exemption was originally passed to alleviate a perceived shortage of teachers during the 2001-2003 biennium, but now is being rampantly abused. For instance, the first people using this exemption were not teachers but rather cabinet-level appointees such as Deputy Director of Public Safety, David Kieckbusch.

The day after this law was passed he retired to begin receiving pension benefits. Two days later he was re-hired and is now receiving pension benefits of 70k a year in addition to his salary of $103,301! The report goes on to document the many similar cases of rampant abuse of this exemption that goes on today, and rightfully proposes the solution of abolishing the CLS classification entirely.

Solutions 2013 contains much more on a variety of topics (39 in total, I believe) that can eliminate waste, reduce government spending, and consequently, promote a healthier Nevada economy in the process. None of which call for raising taxes! When you see all the common-sense, obvious solutions that could save our state millions of dollars that aren’t being implemented, it makes any policies that call for even higher taxes that much more infuriating!

As far as I can tell, the biggest obstacle to implementing these much needed policy changes is creating awareness about them. So be sure to check it out for yourselves, and if you would like a physical copy for free swing by the CCRP HQ or email me directly and I’ll be sure to get you one.

3/18/2012

Liberals most likely to unfriend those with opposing political views

The money section from a new Pew Research study reads as follows:

Liberals are the most likely to have taken each of these steps to block, unfriend, or hide. In all, 28% of liberals have blocked, unfriended, or hidden someone on SNS because of one of these reasons, compared with 16% of conservatives and 14% of moderates.

This touches on a topic I was thinking about the other day. I get that those who identify as Progressive are generally uninterested in politics, war, and all the crap I normally post. And that's fine.

What is a bit troubling, is the tendency for these very same politically dis-interested and unaware folks, to rabidly support the very political liberal agenda.

How can you spend 99.9% of your time with zero interest in politics, economics, foreign policy, etc. but then rabidly defend Obama or any aspect of the liberal regime?

The answer that I commonly get is a regurgitation of Progressive propaganda, such as, "without government poor people would be poorer" or whatever. To which I reply, when Budweiser runs advertisements claiming that their beers have the best taste with the most hops, don't we view that claim with skepticism?

In the event we know nothing about beer and brewing, I suspect we don't make any opinion at all, or if we do it is very weak and open to being changed. Only in the event that we are deeply knowledgeable and experienced in the art of beer brewing, do we have more confidence that our opinion is, in fact, the correct one.

See what I'm driving at here?

3/12/2012

McDonalds refuses to use it, yet public schools feed it to your children

Headline from USA Today: 'Pink slime' eliminated from fast food, but not school lunches.
Boy, I wonder what people would say if schools were purely privatized and they behaved in this way? Absolute, irrefutable proof we need government-run schools! When government-run schools operate in a way that society rightfully thinks is appalling, the reaction is just deafening silence.
Incidentally, ALL red meat increases your chance of dying.
 
So.....if we outlaw smoking because 2nd hand smoke increases your chances of dying, naturally government should outlaw ALL red meat, right? Obviously I am just demonstrating the absurd premise that government should have the authority to keep people safe, and consequently outlaw or forcibly prevent people from doing things that are determined to be unsafe. In a disturbingly ironic twist, this same, so-called "safety first!" government, instead feeds 7 million pounds of slime so gross McDonald's won't even touch it, to our children.



I’m shifting goals from getting people to embrace libertarianism to just acknowledging how unscientific and comically absurd the bias in conversations comparing government to free market are. It is never really a comparison of the pros and cons of each, but instead the anti-free market side merely attempts to illustrate that freedom would not result in a utopia. Upon successful demonstration of this, they feel more comfortable in dismissing libertarianism as the irrefutably superior political theory that is clearly is.

Sorry for the rant, the serving of ‘pink slime’ to children that has a higher risk of containing E.Coli than not such a disgusting, low-quality form of meat, is one of those things that is just so repulsive, it’s hard to contain myself!
If you are as horrified at the failure of public schools as I am, I implore you to read this fantastic paper by the brilliant Jane Shaw, Education - a Bad Public Good?

Update: A Yahoo news story adds the following:
Others are not convinced. McDonald's, Taco Bell and Burger King announced earlier this month they were going to discontinue using the product in their food. The U.K. has banned it for human consumption.
How did the media found out about the product?
Two former USDA scientists have publicly decried the use of pink slime, according to the New York Times. Carl S. Custer and Gerald Zernstein have at turns called the product "a cheap substitute" and "not nutritionally equivalent," to regular beef.

This is such a perfect illustration of why government is the worst possible method to provide vital goods and services, such as education. Bureaucracies do not operate under the profit/loss test, and as such, have much weaker incentives to provide their customers with high quality products, than do their free market counterparts. The fast food restaurants listed in the Yahoo news story are not exactly known for their elite, high-quality food products.
Yet, even they decide to opt out of using this disgusting, low-grade meat, precisely because they are motivated by profit. Or greed, if you prefer. And as such, using a product that increases the chance of food poisoning, is of lower quality, etc. exposes them to potential financial losses. The cost of causing food poisoning is obvious, as far as the lower quality product, we see how public perception or demand is significantly more influential on determining their actions, than it is on affecting the behavior of government. (Ironic that it is government which claims to “serve” the public!)
Namely, the fast food companies stand to lose business if other companies decide to stop using the pink slime meat “in order to better serve their customers”. This creates a dynamic where the firms are responsive to consumer demands in a way bureaucracy is incapable of. Even ignoring the legitimate health and quality concerns, merely the public perception that using pink slime meat is unacceptable, results in the firms responding accordingly. Naturally, the USDA is immune from all these concerns and gets paid via taxation, regardless.





3/07/2012

Metro Police should spend less time searching for weeds on a mountain and more time dealing with real crimes

Putting aside whether or not you support the criminalization of drugs, as a resident of Las Vegas, I find it hard to believe the most urgent use of police resources is scouring Mt. Charleston in search of marijuana farms. This concept, of understanding the scarcity of resources and trade-off that is required when we pursue X over Y, is rarely discussed often enough when making a case for or against legalization.

Even if we put aside the much more important concepts of liberty and the proper role of government, it seems unlikely that even those who do support prohibition, honestly believe this is the most pressing issue that Metro PD should be dealing with given the high crime rate here in Vegas. That’s all for today, just remember to include the opportunity cost involved for X policy when you decide whether or not it is necessary. Simply demonstrating X is bad, is not sufficient to conclude it should therefore be illegal.

 

NORML_Remember_Prohibition

3/04/2012

Government safety regulations make it illegal to improve safety in combat sports

mieshatateAs the sport of Mixed Martials Arts (MMA) continues to grow at a rapid pace, marked improvements have been made in all areas of the industry with only one exception that stands as a potential impediment to MMA’s continued meteoric rise – judging and refereeing. Not surprisingly, judges and referees are both aspects of the various state athletic commissions that sanction MMA, and as such, no competition is allowed in this area. One of the many cumbersome regulations the state athletic commissions mandates is that you must use the judges/referees assigned to you.

The atrocious judging, which UFC president Dana White has said is the greatest threat to the continued growth of the sport, is due to two factors: the incompetency of the judges assigned to MMA events (many are simply recycled boxing judges with little to no understanding of the sport of MMA) and the nonsensical 10 point must scoring system imposed upon MMA. It should not be too surprising that mandating the use of another sport’s scoring system for the sport of MMA may not produce the most desirable results.

Even worse than judging, is the refusal to allow the many free market solutions that have already cropped up, to provide competent referees. As referees are literally tasked with protecting the fighter from serious injury, or even death, one would think that refereeing competency would be set at the highest level, with little to no tolerance for inadequate performance. The reality is almost the exact opposite. Here is the most recent example (of which there are so many) of gross referee incompetency that directly endangers the safety and welfare of the fighter: From popular MMA website, Cage Potato’s recap of last night’s fight, Strikeforce: Tate vs Rousey – The good, the bad, and the ugly under the section for “the bad”:

- The referee in Tate vs. Rousey not stopping the fight until about eight seconds after Tate’s arm had grown a new elbow. Tate showed her warrior heart by not tapping until the pain was overwhelming; the ref showed his ignorance by not stopping the fight until that moment.

When I was watching the fight as this happened live, I could not believe what I was watching. The arm was clearly broken, and the referee just stood there watching. The referee is supposed to stop the fighter from taking punishment when they can no longer intelligently defend themselves, as well as the instant the fighter suffers a debilitating injury. For instance, if a fighter suffers a cut over his eye, or a cut that is sufficiently deep, the referee is required to stop the fight and check with the ringside doctor whether or the not the cut is serious enough to prevent the wounded fighter from continuing. In some cases, the fight will be stopped not because the cut itself is a risk, but because of the location of the cut. If it is directly above the eye, the loss of vision that will result from the blood flowing down past the eye will prompt the doctor to stop the fight, as this impedes the fighter’s ability to defend himself. I hope it goes without saying that a broken arm would obviously qualify as warranting an immediate stoppage as well!

MMA is a great example to demonstrate just how backwards the call for government regulation is. It is in the UFC’s interest to use the most competent, professional, and skilled judges/referees for a variety of reasons. And they have repeatedly begged for better judges and referees. Yet such cries fall on the slow-moving, nearly deaf ears of a government bureaucracy. If we want to only focus on the profit-motive and assume there are no other motivations at play, it is extremely bad for business to have fighters dying or getting seriously hurt in your sport. For obvious reasons, it harms the image of the company, it opens you up to liability and lawsuits, it makes it much less attractive for potential NFL athletes to join a sport that is unsafe and thus reduces the quality of fighters etc. So even accepting the premise that businessmen are soulless demons only motivated by greed, it is precisely that greed that ensures they operate in a way that meets consumers demands – a sport that has competent referees and judges.

As an aside, UFC president Dana White has donated so much money to charity, and gone so far above and beyond his obligations as a boss, it would be remiss of me not to mention that and include one such example. I put a great degree of emphasis on the theoretical strengths of the free market system, as that is where the argument must be, and is won, that I did not want to imply the reality of the UFC is anything close to the illusory “greedy business” that so much of the narrative for government intervention claims to be the case, and ultimately relies on.

As the embedded links above demonstrate, there are already so many free-market solutions coming into existence to meet this government failure of providing quality judges and referees. Unfortunately the government monopoly on licensing limits the effectiveness of these solutions. While it is a great thing to have more and more qualified judges/referees in the world, it is of little use if they are unable to be employed. Unfortunately, it seems like the various state athletic commissions operate much like all other government agencies, and even if they begin to employ some of these superior referees, the licensing process is likely to take years. And worse, the most vital fix, the removal of incompetent refs, is even more unlikely to occur under a government-run athletic commission. Unlike a private firm which operates under the profit/loss test and risks losing funding as a result of acquiring a reputation for incompetent employees, the state athletic commissions have no such concerns. Funded by compulsory taxation, incompetency becomes institutionalized, not purged as it must be in the free market system.

In the next 10-20 years, I fully expect the anemic state athletic commissions, to slowly incorporate some of the amazing new referees being produced by private training camps, and perhaps even adopt an appropriate scoring system for this new sport. The tragic irony is that whenever they finally do a satisfactory enough job, the myth of government keeping us safe will be propagated all over again. The beauty of this example is that MMA is so new. We are here to bear witness to how markets operate (and whether or not the supposed market failures, actually occur!) and the effect government regulation actually has: to retard progress of a thriving sport and directly endangering the safety and welfare of the athletes involved. It is a tragedy to think that whenever they finally absorb enough of the free market solutions, a fresh new generation of progressives will point to the example of how necessary government is to keep us safe. Why look at MMA! Could you imagine if there were no athletic commissions? People would get broken arms and the refs would just stand there, doing nothing! Thankfully government forced their way in to keep us safe from ourselves.

I should mention for those not as familiar with MMA, the referee in the incident above has not and will not be disciplined in anyway. The sport, or more accurately the athletic commissions, has a long history of refusing to discipline and continuing to employ referees and judges that demonstrate extreme negligence. It is so consistent in this regard that there isn’t even any question of whether or not disciplinary action will occur in situations like this. I should have mentioned this earlier, but I forgot that not all of my readers are MMA fans and are not as intimately familiar with its history in that regard.

3/03/2012

Live video Q&A with Tom Woods and I on Liberty Chat next week!

Should be fun. You need to register at Libertychat.com to participate, but that only takes a minute. The Q&A is scheduled for Tuesday, March 13th at 9:30pm EST. Hope to see you there!

Update: Walter Block just added to the lineup!

3/01/2012

FBI’s counter-terrorism specialist: “The TSA is one of the most ineffective and worst-run agencies in the US government.”

I came across the most devastating, authoritative, and substantive critique of the TSA I’ve ever seen. I’ve cropped the intro and last paragraph to wet your appetite, but you must read the whole thing:

"For 25 years, as many of readers know, I was an FBI Special Agent, and for many of those years, I was a counter-terrorism specialist. I ran the Los Angeles Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) Al Qaeda squad.
As a SWAT Agent, I was fully trained to interdict hijackings. I have trained countless hours on actual airliners, learned to shoot surgically inside the airliner “tube,” silently approach the aircraft and breach exterior doors quickly. I was also trained to shoot from airline seats in case I was aboard a hijacked flight, and for 25 years I traveled armed on airliners, meeting with Air Marshals prior to each flight.

I have dealt with TSA since its inception and FAA security prior to that. I have witnessed TSA operate since they became a separate organization in 2002 and seen their reaction to intelligence provided them. I have now watched them operate for a decade, and I have respect for their hard-working employees who are doing a thankless job. But I have come to the conclusion that TSA is one of the worst-run, ineffective and most unnecessarily intrusive agencies in the United States government."

Some other links on the TSA:

2/28/2012

Dispelling the insufficient quantity of gold myth

This post will be necessarily incomplete. The topic of money, of a medium of exchange, of how money comes to be, what transforms a good into a medium of exchange (or money, these words are interchangeable) etc. is not something that is taught or understood by most, and I can not give it a proper treatment in one blog post. I do want to attempt to address one specific fallacy, namely that a gold standard would not work because there is not enough gold available, or it does not grow rapidly enough to support our modern economy.

The quantity of a good is totally irrelevant (within reason) to it being feasible as a medium of exchange. Especially given the technology of the present day, quantity is even less relevant than it was previously. All that is necessary to deal with a static supply of money and an ever growing economy (and the corresponding goods & services that it produces) is the use of a decimal point. If today 1 gram of gold ($60) is sufficient to buy a week’s worth of groceries, with a growing economy and a frozen supply of money, over time the cost of goods fall. Or to say the same thing, the purchasing power of money rises. So instead of needing 1 gram, let’s say in 50 years time it only costs 0.1 gram to buy the same amount. And so on.

By the way, this is what led to the advent of silver as a money alongside with gold. As the supply of gold is much smaller than that of silver, it has significantly greater exchange-value as money than does silver. For our purposes let us say that silver has 0.01 the value of gold. This pushes the decimal point back in the sense that a good that costs 0.01 grams of gold can now be purchased with 1 gram of silver. Or a good that costs 0.0001 grams of gold, a more manageable 0.01 gram of silver gets the job done. But all these physical problems of chopping an amount of gold or silver to a small enough level to deal with daily purchases as the price level continues to decline, due to a static supply of money, are immediately eliminated with the technology available to us today.

Naturally, in physical transactions it is likely that gold certificates (or paper dollars) would most likely be used, as opposed to carrying the actual gold around with you. So banks or gold warehouses could store the bulk of your gold and you could issue paper gold receipts in any denomination you like, which that party can exchange for gold from the warehouse. Online transactions make things even easier and to demonstrate the application of this theory, you need only visit http://www.goldmoney.com/ which facilitates the use of gold as money – all digitally.

We tend to have a hard time visualizing this because we have all lived under an aggressively inflationary monetary policy that continually increases the supply of money faster than the corresponding demand for cash balances and/or economic growth. This has produced the continual and perpetual rise in prices year in and year out. Or again, has decreased the purchasing power of our money. The more dollars created, the less value each one has. The less goods and services one can obtain when trying to exchange these recently-diluted dollars. For roughly the first 150 years or so this country was on a gold standard, the price level tended to remain stable, despite occasional fluctuations. This is because the supply of gold is not frozen, it actually grows by about 2-3% a year, which offset the decrease in prices a growing economy bestows upon the people, and resulted in a roughly stable price level.

I mean to really drive the point home, we can imagine everything as the same. Forgot gold, let’s keep everything in US dollars. The only difference is the printing-press is permanently broken, or even better, 90% of all dollars disappear overnight! And there is no way to increase the supply of dollars. (Yes I know this is crazy, but it will demonstrate my point) So in this scenario where the supply of money has literally been decreased by 90% and there is no way to increase it, how will dollars function as a workable medium of exchange going forward? Well, all that has happened with this tiny stock of money is that each unit has increased its purchasing power by a factor of 10. So pennies (which is just another way of saying 0.01 dollars) will have the purchasing power of what dimes did the night before.

Let’s fast forward 100 years and the economy has grown so much more but our tiny supply of US dollars hasn’t grown one bit since that night we destroyed 90% of all dollars. Well as economies grow, they get more efficient at producing stuff and prices fall. So now we are in a situation where let’s say pennies have gained so much more purchasing power they are equivalent to what $100 can buy today. So how will someone buy something small, like say a bottle of water that costs only the equivalent of $1 today? They’d simply pay 0.01 pennies. Perhaps they would create a new denomination of dollars called “super-pennies” that instead of being worth 0.01 dollars, are worth 0.0001 dollars, instead.

All we are doing is going the opposite direction of needing a $10 bill to buy what $1 could 20 years ago, or a billion dollars to buy what a million could 50 years ago. So hopefully, I’ve demonstrated that with either a commodity money (gold) or a fiat money (US dollars) the total stock of money does not have any bearing on whether or not it makes for a suitable money. I mean if gold was workable as a money for 5000 years before computers and electronic banking made possible a virtually limitless ability to produce ever smaller and smaller denominations, whether or not you are in a favor of a return to gold, or a free market in money more generally (much better choice), one argument that can not be used against gold as a medium of exchange is that there simply isn’t enough of it to go around.

(I would be remiss to not include resources for a proper explanation of money. It is one of the most important and most misunderstood concepts in society today. The greatest thing ever written on money remains Ludwig Von Mises’ The Theory of Money & Credit. As that work is rather difficult to approach, I would recommend What Has Government Done to Our Money? by Murray Rothbard as a more suitable introduction.)

Tyrannical regime continues to terrorize non-criminals

The federal government continues its war on peaceful people indicting Bodog.com founder Calvin Ayre on money laundering charges with a penalty of up to 20 years in federal prison. There is no clearer example of how unconcerned with providing justice a system of government-law is, you need only look at the comparison of penalties for real crimes like assault and rape, compared with the non-crimes of operating illegal business and conspiring to commit money laundering. For a detailed academic work that reaches the same conclusion please see, The Pursuit of Justice: Law and Economics of Legal Institutions.

Ayre hits the nail on the head in his official statement when he writes,

I see this as abuse of the US criminal justice system for the commercial gain of large US corporations. It is clear that the online gaming industry is legal under international law and in the case of these documents is it also clear that the rule of law was not allowed to slow down a rush to try to win the war of public opinion.

What those who rail against big corporations fail to recognize is how much corporate power and influence directly benefit from the state apparatus. In a purely free market environment the only way to displace a rival in business, or become successful in the first place, is to make those around you richer. Be it by creating products that consumers value more than the selling price (free trade is a positive sum, win-win game) or by offering a better quality product, at a lower price, than currently exists on the marketplace. Sometimes, both of these things are very hard to do. So the same greed motive that incentivizes firms to produce wealth for those around them (and reap the profits for efficiently doing so), also results in the realization that co-opting the State can be a cheaper and more effective means of obtaining industry dominance.

In addition to this story exemplifying the perverse and twisted system of US criminal law, a system that is concerned primarily with protecting the State’s interests first, and perhaps, on rare occasions, providing justice later; this story is just one more example of the unimaginable power corporations can achieve under government as compared to a laissez-faire capitalism system.

2/26/2012

I decided to check out the Las Vegas Mob Museum

My friend Katie and I were on our way over to the “Mob Bar” for some food and drink the other night and decided to check out the newly opened, $42 million taxpayer funded Las Vegas Mob Museum, which had just opened a few days prior. Although there were only two parties ahead of us on the only available ticket line, (the other three ticket windows were closed) a good fifteen minutes went by while the several employees behind the window were still occupied with the same person they had been dealing with since we arrived.

Despite the differences in décor, and the employees dressed in different garb, I instantly remembered where it was that I found myself – inside a government-run operation. But, of course! The sights and sounds were different, but you can’t mistake that good ol’ fashioned bureaucracy feel!

At that point I made the obligatory comments about government inefficiency and how the Mob would never let money walk out of the door like this, and we decided to head over to the Mob Bar, instead. Upon arrival, we were promptly seated and served by the courteous staff whom seemed genuinely interested in making us feel welcome. As I had my first sip of a deliciously prepared Blood in the Sand cocktail I couldn’t help reflecting on the irony between the two experiences. Say what you will about the Mob, but one thing they never had any difficulty with (which is arguably the most important aspect of any business) is taking the customer’s money in a timely and orderly fashion! I think its time for another one of those cocktails…


2/24/2012

End the War on Drugs, End the War on Terror. You can keep the promise of safety, I'll take my liberty instead!

I have noticed a rather disturbing trend lately in the federal government’s efforts in the various “wars” on drugs and terror. The first thing we should notice is that neither one of these “wars” are against specific targets. Terrorism is an action; by definition this war is unwinnable as the uncertainty of the future will always allow for a condition in which future terrorist actions are possible. The war on drugs is similarly misnamed as the target is really the people who use drugs, not drugs themselves. The latter is a classic example of the government functioning to protect their citizens from themselves, while the former is designed to protect them from what may happen in the inherently uncertain future.

I’ve written a bit already on the consequences of tasking government with objectives that are, by definition, impossible to achieve. I mainly focused on the inevitable growth of government and commensurate loss of freedom that comes with it. However, there are two examples that recently came to my attention that suggest there are additional harmful consequences to these policies, as well. It would appear the self-interested rational actors who comprise these various government agencies (FBI, DHS, TSA, etc.) function to produce results, no matter the cost. So while at first glance that might sound fine and dandy, what happens if there are no legitimate terrorist threats and your entire function is to arrest terrorists?

What if all that taxpayer money ostensibly designated to “keep us safe” is, instead, spent on creating terrorists where there were none before? Or if the NYPD focused its efforts more on illegal spying on Muslim students in the hopes of catching a potential threat, as opposed to protecting the people, and their privacy rights they once believed they were entitled to as citizens of a free America. In such a scenario it would seem entirely reasonable to suggest that the so-called war on terror has actually become a war on civil liberties and freedom. If those who supported the war on terror did so because they believed in its stated goal of keeping the world safe for democracy and protecting our way of life (freedom), at this point, wouldn’t the most effective action one could take to achieving those most worthwhile goals (mainly the freedom part, but I digress) be to call for the immediate abolition of the DHS as well as the “wars” on drugs and terror more broadly?

Lest one think this is limited to the preferred target of the “war on terror” – Muslims, and as non-Muslims you are safe from such a tyrannical, un-American, aggressive government, similar tactics are being employed in the Drug War. An attractive 25 year-old female undercover office was sent into a high school in Florida to conduct an operation to bust drug dealers. After weeks of flirting and building a relationship with an 18 year old student, who had no criminal record and didn’t even deal or smoke marijuana, the undercover officer asked the student, Justin, to obtain some marijuana for her. He was unable to do so initially, but after repeated requests he was finally able to obtain a small amount for his new “friend”. Upon delivery, the cop attempted to pay him $25 for the marijuana, to which he refused and said he got it for her as a present. The results?

When the operation concluded at the Florida high school, "the police did a big sweep and arrested 31 students -- including Justin," according to the Alternet article. Justin has been convicted of selling pot inside a school, a felony in Florida. He is no longer eligible to join the Armed Forces as he had planned to do upon graduation and is now attending community college. [emphasis mine]

This horrifying example (of which it is merely one of many) embodies the dominant theme - a government obsessed with justifying its continued existence at any cost, even if it has to create the very “threats” it is tasked with thwarting. The Drug War will never be ended by those who benefit and are employed by such a policy. And this is precisely the problem with straying from a government which is tasked with its only legitimate function – the protection of property rights – to one tasked with providing inherently unachievable goals, such as safety. As long as the goals are kept vague and indefinable, there are no limits to what government can do. Any previously unimaginable expanse of authority or violation of liberty can always be justified as necessary in the name of “fighting terrorism!”, for instance, precisely because there is no identifiable way of measuring whether or not such an action is necessary or helpful. When the enemy is uncertainty, there are no measures that can not be justified as being necessary for the Big Brother-like role of keeping you safe, even (or especially?) if that means keeping you safe from yourself. This, by the way, is one of the most compelling arguments for a government limited to providing for the protection of private property rights and nothing else.

Despite the mountains of evidence demonstrating its colossal failure, (is there any other issue today that has such a unanimous consensus from all ends of the political spectrum?) the Drug War continues to thrive. The only two groups whom benefit are the government agents it employees, as well as the drug lords who profit from an artificially inflated price of illegal drugs. Wouldn’t it be crazy if these two groups worked together at some point? 

In addition to the first in the world prison population of non-violent criminals, the fundamentally anti-freedom nature of criminalizing personal behavior, the increasing rates of crime and murder associated with prohibition, and the staggering economic costs, I pray the legalized entrapment and incarceration of innocent people (turned felons!) is finally the straw that breaks the camel’s back and results in a mass outrage that will not cease until these “wars” are finally ended.

Regardless of their stated purpose, or even the intentions of those who defend them, the reality is clear – these wars are waged primarily against American citizens and the very essence of the American way of life. These policies continue not because it is in the best interest of the people, they continue because they are the lifeblood of the police state. They are the necessary pillars of fear and intimidation to provide the foundation for the continual expansion of the State and the corresponding diminution of the sphere of liberty that comes with it. They are un-American and should be vehemently opposed by all those who believe in the American way of life and the freedom it once represented.