America's Brutal Prisons Thursday, November 30, 2006Here is a documentary from the BBC showing what I'm sure is not uncommon in many American prisons. (HT: LewRockwell.com)
The video speaks for itself. But it's worth considering the way people typically react to the reality of how brutal the treatment of prisoners frequently is. For all that people may talk about "rule of law," "social justice," "the rights of the marginalized segments of society," and so on, I know of very few people and essentially zero aspirants to politics who are terribly concerned with the institutional arrangements that make the frequent occurrence of such abuses possible.
The common attitude when some prisoner is treated more forcefully than could ever be considered necessary is usually along the lines of "Well, he shouldn't have provoked the cops to start with." And yet the same people who would say this would never make the reflexive claim that, "Well, he should not have provoked that drug dealer to start with," when some police officer is injured or killed on duty. Very few of us wouldn't recognize the second rationalization for violence as entirely absurd. It's only out of unwarranted deference to the state that people are able to believe that victims of police violence are the ones responsible for their victimhood.
What Monopoly? Wednesday, November 29, 2006Two of the favorite villains of the left are Wal-Mart and Microsoft - they are so powerful that they can get away with anything. Or that's the claim anyway.
The common approach to such claims is to argue that Microsoft or Wal-Mart is great and the benefits outweigh the costs that these behemoths may impose on the marketplace. But this is really the wrong approach because it concedes that Wal-Mart and Microsoft are, indeed, monopolies. It takes a very liberal (excuse the pun) definition of monopoly to fit Wal-Mart or Microsoft into the definition.
The right approach is to show how unmonopolistic these companies actually are. It makes perfect sense - how better to counter an anti-capitalistic argument than to show how the market really works? Fortunately, this holiday season has already shown how inept these giants can be at times and that size (and past success) do not guarantee future success.
Yes, monopolies pop-up from time to time, but the market always corrects them as long as government stays out of the way.
Price Discrimination Friday, November 24, 2006Dell is following an industry trend and eliminating mail-in rebates.
Dell said Tuesday that it would be eliminating rebates from its Dimension desktops and services in an effort to simplify pricing for consumers. The move means that the company would no longer use mail-in rebates on any of its products.Its not often that I can't see the benefit of corporate actions, but this is a case I can't seem to figure out the market forces at work.
Mail-in rebates are nearly a perfect implementation of price discrimination. Companies are always trying to figure out ways to charge cost-insensitive people more while keeping hold of the bargain shoppers. Mail-in rebates are a transparent form of this practice. Bargain shoppers actively seek out the rebates while the rest of us promise to mail them in but never do.
Is the market signaling that bargain shoppers just aren't worth it anymore? Best Buy has all said that they don't make enough money on bargain shoppers because they only buy the loss leaders and never the high margin items.
Or is the market saying that customers don't like rebates? That's possible, but it doesn't explain eliminating them. After all, if customers don't like rebates they simply wouldn't mail them in.
Is there some other explanation that I'm missing?
Praxeology, persuasion and brain drain, Part II Thursday, November 23, 2006I've written before against the claim that Austrian economics represents some sort of brain drain within libertarianism, drawing otherwise intelligent people into a way of thinking that is generally unpersuasive.
A short summary of the argument I made there is as follows: A large number of persons encounter neoclassical economics in their college years, and their exposure usually comes from multiple classes with professors who are pretty confident that neoclassical economics is correct. Very few people encounter Austrian economics unless they seek Austrian ideas out on their own, or perhaps in passing remarks from college professors who don't think terribly well of Austrian economics. About half of all hard core libertarians favor Austrian economics. This can't be attributed to exposure. The explanation that I find most plausible is that Austrian economics provides a more persuasive grounding for libertarianism.
Now, granted, this isn't the only possible explanation. It's just the one I find most plausible. I'm certainly open to hearing alternative explanations. But the one alternative that I've received in the comments on the post linked above is not an explanation at all.
Before I get to that, consider a seemingly unrelated question: Why does gas cost more in neighborhoods with high crime rates? A popular explanation is greed. Most economists will reject the idea that greed has any explanatory power here on the grounds that greed is present in areas with high crime rates and in areas with low crime rates. In order to explain a disparity, there must be some related disparity in the proposed cause. (If there were more greed in high crime neighborhoods, this explanation would work.) To generalize, a difference in one variable can only be explained by differences in another variable.
Back to the popularity of Austrian economics relative to neoclassical economics. As I said, I'm willing to hear alternative explanations, but an explanation, even a bad one, should differ between Austrian and neoclassical economics. The claim that the popularity of Austrian economics relative to neoclassical economics is attributable to the fact that Austrian economics can be used to accommodate preexisting libertarian beliefs only makes sense if Austrian economics accommodates preexisting libertarian beliefs better than neoclassical economics. (I'll just pass over the implied claim that libertarians are starting from the conclusion and working backward.) As it happens, Austrian economics, neoclassical economics, Georgist economics (some varieties anyway), classical economics, and plenty of other approaches can all be grafted onto preexisting libertarian ideas. So the fact that Austrian economics can be used to make a case for libertarianism is a possible explanation for why some libertarians choose Austrian economics. But this cannot account for the popularity of Austrian economics among libertarians relative to other approaches.
This post is part of a series on Austrian economics.
Compromising Positions, Pt. II Tuesday, November 21, 2006In the past, I've written here about my views on compromising one's positions. While I stand by what I wrote in that post, it is now very obvious to me that I was too abstract. In order to compromise at all, one needs some issue to compromise on. So I'm hoping for a free consultation here.
Now keep in mind, I have absolutely no authority to set policy. The only thing I can compromise on is what I actually believe. Well, I do take some rather extreme positions.
As I write this, I take the rather extreme view that there is no type of act which is so laudable when committed by agents of the state that it should be encouraged when agents of the state do it and at the same time so terrible when committed by private actors that it should be condemned when private actors do it. Not only that, I take the position that for any two types of acts (call them A and B), acts of type A are less bad than acts of type B when committed by agents of the state if and only if acts of type A are less bad than acts of type B when committed by private actors.
This is all pretty darn extremist. I mean, any claim beginning with "for any" or "there is no" is pretty bold. Well, perhaps I'm wrong and ought to compromise. But how? On what issue should I compromise?
 We can worry about why those acts are laudable or terrible later. Just assume that I already agree with you as to what makes a type of act good or bad.
Libertarians and Compromise Monday, November 20, 2006As a matter of principle I don't think that I would differ from James on very many issues. As a practical matter I also doubt that I would propose those principled positions.
Its not that James' principles are wrong, its just that convincing 51% of the population that he is right is an dauntingly difficult task - lets take education as a simple example.
In general, I do not think that public funding of primary education is necessary. In fact, once I had been convinced that this was true I argued fiercely for this position. But most people just don't get it. Just like most people fail to understand the unseen in Bastiat's Broken Window fallacy, they can't imagine the unseen effects in a world without government dollars driving education.
Most people don't understand in the absence of government funding of primary schools someone else will likely pick up the tab and they don't understand the positive impacts that this can have. Even trying to explain the effects will get you no more than odd looks and muttered insults.
So once you know that you will never achieve the ideal - no government funding - what is a (l)ibertarian to do? My approach is to support a solution that solves the important problems while avoiding terrifying the general public.
In the case of education this means solving the incentive problems without taking away the scary part - government funding. For me, vouchers solve this problem. It forces private and public actors, both, to compete for dollars which will increase the quality of education while maintain that 'seen' source of the money.
If this goal can be achieved, and I think that it can, the battle is not over. Small government advocates must fight to decrease the level of voucher spending and fight to 'liberalize' other aspects of government that can be handed over to private actors.
Taking a hard, principled stand merely loses the war before the first battle is fought. One thing that I have tried to highlight on my blog is that politicians are really all the same. They care only about one thing and that one thing is getting elected.
Something that (l)ibertarians seem to understand intuitively is once that hurdle is passed its all about handing out the goodies.
One thing that Democrats campaigned on is caring about the little guy - "Republicans only care about the rich!" they said. The solution?
Reforming Alternative Minimum Tax - a tax that only affects incomes over $100K. Republicans get taken to the cleaners for cutting taxes for everyone, but the Democrats priority is cutting taxes for the top 10%. Nice.
Probably the most important issue that won November for Democrats was corruption. "Republicans are too fat and happy," they said. "Trust us Democrats to clean house." The solution?
Take a pass on senior representative Jane Harman for chair of the Intelligence Committee and appoint Rep. Alcee Hastings. You know, one of thirteen judges in the history of the US to get impeached. And impeached by a nearly unanimous Democratic house no less.
The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Self-Defense: An Ethical Conundrum Sunday, November 19, 2006As David Friedman has noted in The Machinery Of Freedom, while natural rights arguments work most of the time in explaining the "rightness" of a given libertarian position, they can fall prey to extenuating circumstances in which the outcome of an event, holding strictly to libertarian principles, may result in a lesser degree of freedom than if one was willing to "compromise" on one's principles.
I accidentally stumbled upon one of these scenarios two days ago, when explaining the libertarian position on war and self-defense to two nominally-libertarian friends of mine at a local ice cream parlor.
Our conversation had perused a number of topics, including anti-drug laws, public education, the governments use of deadly force to back its laws and edicts, etc. Somehow we diverged to war, and here I questioned whether or not it was correct to bomb a foreign enemy's cities in retaliation for a military attack on our soil. The specific situation I was considering was our military response to the Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. I argued that bombing Japanese cities was not an appropriate response, given that discerning what was inside each and every Japanese citizen's heart was unknowable, and therefore there was a strong likelihood that people would be harmed or injured in the bombing who were not actively supporting the opposing war effort of their government.
I referenced the common libertarian example of someone attacking you, and you spraying down a crowd of people across the street in response. I think this example is a valid demonstration of principle in a clear-cut, black and white/right and wrong type of situation. But one of my conversation partners wasn't quite convinced-- what if someone attacked you and your family (or another group of people whose good health is important to you) on one side of the street, and this person stood in front of a group of complete strangers on the other side of the street. He might dance wildly back and forth in front of them, making it hard for you to get a bead on him without harming someone uninvolved, or he might even grab one of the people and use them as an unwilling human shield.
How do you protect yourself and your family/friends now? Keep in mind this person is in a position to continuing doing harm to you and your side, while you are unable to effectively retaliate without risking killing people who have nothing to do with it.
This is obviously a situation designed to be synonymous with the realities of modern war, where the enemy may hide amongst non-combatants, disguise himself as such, or even go so far as to purposefully use non-combatants as human shields.
What is the appropriate response for a principled libertarian? Looking for a directive solely from natural law won't give a result you'd like, because natural law would say it is wrong to risk these uninvolved people's lives, therefore limiting your retaliatory discretion and most likely resulting in further injury to you and your group. Maybe you say you value your people more than the strangers and are willing to kill the strangers if you must to protect your people. But are you ready to personally face imprisonment/execution as justice after the fact?
What's a libertarian to do? I just helped my computer-illiterate parents purchase an Apple Macbook laptop computer. I was excited that they were saving about $100 off the system by exploiting my current university student status at the "Education" version of the Apple online store.
I am going through the check-out process, making sure I didn't accidentally add anything to my cart I didn't mean to purchase for them, when I see "Recycling Fee - $6.00" in the cart.
I know California passed a law awhile ago saying that new computer sales would be taxed with this "recycling fee," but I had forgotten about it until now, so it came as a bit of a shock. Recycling fee? What is this horse crap? Does anyone really buy this crap anymore?
Let's think about the logic involved here with collecting a disposal fee on something prior to the disposal taking place. Computers in my family last about 2-3 years before we replace them with newer technology. I would imagine the average family is getting at least 4-5 years out of their computer purchases, probably more (I don't want to say something outrageous like a decade, so I'll err on the side of too little rather than too much time). Looking ahead four to five years from now, I see two things happening-- the value of the dollar will have decreased further, and recycling, like all things, will cost less. So recycling a computer in 4-5 years might cost only $3, in less valuable dollars.
People paying recycling fees now are getting RIPPED OFF. Where is this money going during the meantime? Certainly the state isn't doing anything intelligent with it. It's probably getting spent on pork projects and political patronage, or on advertising to further harass Californians about their consumption patterns.
And what if the computer is never recycled? What if the owner uses the system forever (or a duration of time long enough to be forever in terms of human generations)? In this case, the computer owner is being robbed, because he's paying for something he never has the advantage of enjoying.
What is it about a computer, by the way, that makes it deserving of a special disposal fee, compared with all the other trash people throw away on a daily basis? All kinds of household chemicals, metals, etc. get thrown away in general waste every day, they pollute just as much, if not worse, than the cathode ray tubes, LCD panels and other components of a computer. No one is charging any extra for them.
Nope, again, trash collection is by and large a public utility in most cities and states in America, so pricing is arbitrary and open to political manipulation. Keeping in mind the anti-human politics of environmentalism that are so popular in California these days, this fee makes sense.
It's just another anti-technological, anti-human progress policy-backed tax aimed at punishing people for enjoying human innovation.
UPDATE: Here's the text of the "What's this?" from the Apple website, concerning the recycling fee
How were the costs determined?
According to the legislation, the fees cover the actual costs of recycling and disposing of the equipment.
Where does the money go?
The fees are sent directly to the State of California, which will redistribute the funds to organizations that transport for recycling and/or recycle equipment.
It all makes sense now. Special interest groups have reared their ugly head. I bet if you dig around in this garbage (PUN INTENDED) long enough, you can find the smell of a ratfink politician who is real friendly with a few disposal agencies and helped write them some legislation that is putting some pretty profits for non-disposal in their pockets.
UPDATE 2: Another thing to consider-- what if you take the computer outside of the state and end up disposing it outside California? Probably won't be getting a rebate check from Sacramento.I don't normally write here about the details of my own life but some things are too bizarre not to mention. While waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store, I saw that the two women with gold teeth in front of me were having difficulty paying for some deli subs with what seemed to be a credit card or debit card. The poor cashier didn't quite understand what to do next, so for a few moments she became the victim of the two women's sarcasm. Granted, a supermarket cashier may not be exactly a "high status" position, but I still think that the superior attitude of the two women was entirely inappropriate. Most people, having suffered through one or two entry level positions themselves, tend to be polite with folks in similar jobs. These two women apparently did not share the same sympathies, demanding instead that the cashier "Just go and call your manager since you obviously don't know how to do your job." The poor cashier, likely wanting backup more than anything else, did exactly that. When the manager arrived, she explained that customers could not pay for prepared foods, including deli subs, using food stamps.
Transparent Society or Circus Maximus Saturday, November 18, 2006Patri at Catallarchy has a new post making reference to the idea of a transparent society, meaning a society where the misdeeds of the agents of the state are made public, giving pause to those who would use the authority of the state to harm others. This is an idea that I'd love to accept, as it implies a regular progression of governments becoming gentler and ever gentler out of a concern for the negative public response which would follow any well publicized abuses.
What I fear, however, is the possibility of public reactions becoming less and less negative as misdeeds by government become more and more common. Apathy, then, would be the best case. The Waco massacre was rather well documented, if not necessarily on camera, and there wasn't much of a negative public response. Here and there, shows like 60 Minutes and Dateline will show footage of guards abusing inmates at some prison and there is hardly any public response, or if there is, it concerns white guards abusing black inmates as though that were the real problem. Seldom is a thought given to the problem of agents of the state abusing those who are not agents of the state.
What I would hope most strongly against is the possibility that people might come even to take an enthusiastic view toward state brutality as a result of seeing it. To some extent, this already occurs now. Witness the fact that you can buy "uncensored" footage from shows like COPS. Such a product would not exist unless there were some demand for it. Don't get me wrong; I really hope that a transparent society will discourage agents of the state from doing things that would disturb the moral and the squeamish. But if past and present events are any guide, publicity may just as well lead to support for state brutality. State sponsored shows like Dallas SWAT seem pretty clearly intended to inculcate enthusiasm for violence, so long as it is the kind of violence the state approves of. Of course this is nothing new. For states to seek support by making public various acts of violence is a longstanding tradition.
It's a sad day today Friday, November 17, 2006I can't say anything that anyone else has not already said about Milton Friedman and his influence on people's thinking about politics, economics and individual liberty. His death is a loss to all of us. Kindest sympathies to David, Patri and Rose.
Compromising positions Thursday, November 16, 2006Libertarians are known for, among other things, their intramural disagreements on topics such as school vouchers, a consumption tax, government funded treatment for drug addiction rather than criminal prosecution, taxes on "public bads," monetary policy and the like. On just about every topic on which libertarians may disagree, the position I take tends to be the same position that other libertarians call extremist. Very frequently, I hear it suggested that I ought to compromise more. Compromise, I believe, means that I should tolerate exactly as much government interference as the person making the suggestion is willing to tolerate. Now speaking for myself, I'd feel embarrassed making the symmetrical suggestion that less extreme libertarians should be willing to compromise, if what I meant was that they should refuse to tolerate any more government interference than I'm willing to tolerate. But that's just me.
What I find more puzzling is the (always unstated) position that these pro-compromise libertarians have toward compromising on such things as, say, private property.
Is the argument that compromise against one's principles is, in itself, a good thing? I certainly don't believe that and I don't imagine that many of the libertarians who constantly suggest compromise believe this either. Though if they do, then let them compromise against their own principles in my direction, toward less government.
Is it that my own principles are actually wrong and I should compromise toward better principles? Well, if so, fine. I'll readily change my mind as soon as they can explain why some other principles are better. But I don't think that's the argument either; whenever some other libertarian suggests to me that I be more compromising, the last thing they seem to want to talk about is the comparative merit of different philosophical principles.
Is the argument that I should be willing to compromise my principles in order to increase the odds that I could have some impact on what governments actually do? Maybe, but this seems an odd argument for a libertarian to make. In general, libertarians don't get into the business of telling others that their marginal rates of substitution are wrong, so I can't see a libertarian making an argument that amounts to "You ought to trade off a few more marginal units of the desirability of what you advocate in order to get a few more marginal units of likelihood of success in in getting what you advocate made into policy."
Now I'll be the first to admit when I've exhausted my imagination. I can only think of one other possibility: the libertarians who claim their more radical fellows need to compromise believe that there are certain acts which are tolerable if and only if they are committed by agents of the state. Sadly, I suspect that this is the idea underlying most every call for radical libertarians to compromise. Why?
Because I've been reading reading libertarian books, papers, blogs and so on for years now and I've never seen any of the compromise loving libertarians advocate compromise when private actors engage in the same activities which, when committed by state actors, elicit calls for more and ever more compromise. If I were to complain in vitriolic language about
- any agency other than the state printing money and using it to manipulate the bond market
- private thieves preying extra heavily on affluent victims because they have the most to take
- men not employed by the state going downtown in a van, fraudulently soliciting the services of a prostitute, binding her at the hands and ankles against her will and locking her in a cage for months
- private individuals taking other people's money by force and giving it to their business associates
- people not acting on behalf of a government blowing up a city block, or even a whole city because a few of the inhabitants, according to rumor, may be planning to do something bad at some point in the future
or any other acts of force or fraud by actors outside of the state, no one would argue that I should be more willing to compromise. It's only when the act of force or fraud being objected to is being committed by the state that the pro compromise libertarian seriously endorses compromise.
What has the state done to merit such consideration?
 If I could push a button and get a government only twice as big as the Libertarian Party platform calls for, with no hope for still more freedom and no risk of turning into less freedom, guaranteed to last for as long as I live, I'd push the button in a heartbeat. But my marginal rate of substitution is such that my odds of actually changing policy at any level of compromise are insufficient to motivate me to make such a compromise.
The Most (un)Wonderful Time Of The Year Wednesday, November 15, 2006Election season pretty much sucks for most small government types. The campaigns really only promise what government can do for you with nary an argument that says:
"You know what? You really do a better job at X than government could ever dream of."
So we get promises for more and more government programs with no real justification about why we need it, and you only get that between ads about racism, sexism, Playboy mansions and macaca (whatever that means).
So I took the only option that I really had and didn't vote. It was really hard, this is the first election that I have missed since I was old enough to step into a voting booth. But I'm sick of telling one party or the other that I agree with them.
Many of my small government compatriots were going to vote Democrat to 'punish' Republicans - and rightly so, the party of small government turn populist while no one was looking. But I have a hard time believing that this is the lesson that will be learned. No politician is going to look at election returns and say to themselves - "Gee, I got 55% of the vote, but 6% of them were from dienfranchised libertarians. I guess I better scale back government or I won't win next time."
Granted, not voting doesn't send the right signal either. They only care about the percentages, not the gross votes. But if a small government type does come out (and that's a big if) and we turn out in droves, maybe then politicians will see what many of us really care about - we just want to be left alone. Thanks to the folks here at Degrees of Freedom for inviting me to blog.
Who am I? I'm smilerz and I typically blog over at Life, Liberty and the Pursuit... I'm not a huge fan of labels, but you could call me libertarian (notice the small 'l') though I prefer to say that I understand the power of incentives.
I typically blog on a wide range of topics from technology to liberty to politics to economics to football. I'm not sure how I'm going to divy up my blogging, but let me know what you like and you don't like and we'll figure this thing out together. Greg Mankiw asks "What should the Dems do?" over at his blog, and then proceeds to provide what he thinks are some helpful policy suggestions. I quote in reverse order for dramatic effect:
The tax system is probably the best vehicle to accomplish the Dems' goal. One possibility would be to reduce the payroll tax rate and to make up the lost revenue by increasing, or perhaps even eliminating, the cap on taxable payroll. That would benefit, approximately, the bottom 90 percent of the income distribution.Ah, yes Mr. Mankiw, that sounds like a reasonable policy to suggest.
But let's suppose for a moment that a free-market economist were hired by the Dems to offer policy advice.Oh, I see what you're saying now! You're saying that if the Dems hired an actual free-market economist (not someone who claims to be one, as you do), that economist would point out that the best economic policy the Dems could pursue would be no policy. Or, seeing as how interventionist our government has already become, the economist could recommend a policy of scaling back and eliminating previous government interventions in the market.
But a free-market economist would never recommend government intervention into the economy. And he'd never advocate redistributive tax policies... he's got a moral conscience, after all, and he couldn't live with himself if he tried to cloak common robbery with lofty economic terms and present it as a reasonable, rational political policy that could be pursued in the best interests of everybody.
This is the point I keep trying to make here and there seems to be a lot of people who just refuse to accept it. I've seen people defend Mankiw, saying he's a compromiser and he realizes that politics is about compromise and he's just trying to help politicians make the least worst decisions.
If you've got a friend who comes to you and says he's thinking of killing himself, and he doesn't know if he should shoot himself or hang himself, what kind of a friend would you be if you gave him any advice besides "Don't kill yourself." It doesn't matter if you're sure your friend is going to kill himself no matter what you say, if you're a responsible friend you should go on the record that killing oneself is wrong and you don't support it. You can't "compromise" and suggest the most efficient method of suicide.
And that is what is going on here, in more general terms. Politicians in this country are slowly but surely enslaving us, destroying our present and future prosperity. Anyone who is observant enough to notice should be yelling, "Stop! Stop! For cryin' out loud are you trying to get us all killed?!" No one should be saying, "Well, if you have to kill us, you ought to do it this way, it's the least painful after all."
Turning Back The Pigovian Tide Friday, November 10, 2006N. Joseph Potts over at the Mises Institute Blog has thankfully addressed the existence of N. Gregory Mankiw's Pigou Club.
Statist economist Greg Mankiw launches a fresh offensive on freedom with the Pigou Club (to view which, you must register at facebook.com, but Mankiw describes it on his blog). There he and a familiar list of famous (Al Gore) statists and their fellow travellers advocate increased taxes on gasoline to bolster government revenues (now there's a lofty goal) and alleviate global warming at the same time - a one, two punch as it were.
As James reported in an earlier post, Mankiw recently shared the results of his political quiz on his blog, which labeled him a libertarian. But the truth is, Mankiw is just another statist economist as Potts points out, and he's giving libertarians a bad rap.
The post also mentions Terence Corcoran's NoPigou Club and blog, which has been established in hopes of combatting the raging statism of Mankiw. The best news, however, is that Arthur Pigou has joined Corcoran's NoPigou Club!
Since Greg Mankiw has no problem unilaterally enrolling people in his campaign to raise gasoline taxes—the Pigou Club—I hereby induct a new member into the NoPigou Club—Arthur C. Pigou. Pigou is widely credited with creating the concept of externalities, even though he never used the word himself. The standard statement on Pigou is that he argued that the existence of externalities was sufficient justification for government intervention.
Well, maybe he did at one point. But in 1954, five years before his death, Pigou seemed to have changed his mind.
Again, serious economists (which is what Mankiw is supposed to be) should know better than to advocate "corrective" taxes of any kind, for any purpose. And they should definitely know better than to climb into bed with politicians, any politicians, but especially politicians like Al Gore.
Three cheers for Corcoran, for making an honest effort at combating this false ideology.
I Jest France, I Jest Thursday, November 09, 2006Over at the Guardian, a new UN report on water and the world's poor has been announced. Of course, the report claims that the solution to the poor's water problem is massive government intervention.
The report mentions many of the negative externalities (oh, negative externalities, how fun!) of water not being cheap/free for the world's poor, but this is the one that got my attention--
Poor people also waste much time walking miles to collect small amounts of water. The report estimates that 40bn hours are spent collecting water each year in sub-Saharan Africa - an entire working year for all the people in France.
An entire working year for all the people in France? I don't see what the big deal is then, I mean it's not that much time being wasted.
In all seriousness however, this article is outstanding because it's representative of the archetype assembly of words and opinions that passes off as "news" at the Guardian. It's got barely veiled finger-pointing at the supposed failures of the free market, no opinions from other authorities on the topic that might be contradictory to those put forth by the UN report, depictions of the poor and their hardships that serve to elicit emotional, rather than rational response, the inclusion of contradictory "climate change" effects (climate change will cause droughts for some thirsty poor people and floods for others!)... it even mentions the Palestinians! It's hard to imagine a Guardian piece (on anything) that would feel complete without mentioning how the story relates to those poor, beleaguered Palestinians, the most sorely oppressed, most blighted of all the members of the human race!
Read the article, and then ask yourself something: why is the market failing here? As the article plainly states, the water problems of the poor are not one of supply (though I'm sure they'll issue an editorial retraction once they realize they just admitted all the conservationist rhetoric about dwindling world fresh water supplies would thus be accordingly false), but one of affordability. The world's poor, the UN report states, are paying more for water than people in Britain and the US, even though they use less. The Law of Supply tells us that producers increase their supply when consumers are willing to pay a higher price, so why aren't water suppliers rushing to the world's poor to provide them with water, and making a hefty profit in the process?
If the best you can come up with is "malice," you're incurable. Then again, I'm the one who is supposedly radical for arguing that the problem lies not with the market, but with the governments involved. Fortunately, the mid term elections are now over, which means no more unwanted phone calls, no more devoted followers standing in the street holding up tacky signs, and no more political ads on television disrupting more interesting content like, say, just about anything. Unfortunately, the results of the election are rather bleak, at least by my standards. Oh, I don't care much about who won or lost or how the colluding firms major parties now stand. Rather, what I find unfortunate is that voter turnout was so high.
I'm not a big fan of democracy, for a variety of reasons. I suspect that many people, even those that claim to like democracy, share my opinion on the matter. Why?
Democracy enthusiasts could make their own lives far more democratic whenever they please. All they would need to do is make arrangements with a few thousand of their dearest democracy loving friends to start voting on the decisions that they had previously made individually. They could choose what kind of car to buy, or what to eat for dinner, or even who will marry whom by voting. But they don't. Despite their professed enthusiasm for collective decision making, their actions reveal a preference for decision making based on individual choice.
Most advocates of democracy would immediately object that these suggestions are silly. And they'd be right. Such suggestions as I am making here are, indeed, silly. But then, if it's silly to be enthusiastic about using votes to decide fairly trivial stuff like what to eat or what to drive, is it not worse than silly to leave even more important decisions like, say, whether or not to conduct a war in the Middle East or whether or not to nationalize the health care industry up to democratic decision making?
Conservatives these days... Tuesday, November 07, 2006Lawrence M. Mead is quoted by Keith Burgess-Jackson as saying that
"So most conservatives have accepted that, at least in antipoverty policy, promoting good behavior must come ahead of smaller government."Really?
Last I checked, governments don't have a particularly good track record in promoting good behavior and the tradeoff between big government and poverty doesn't quite seem to work the way Mead thinks. See here to understand what I mean.
Don't get me wrong; I'm all in favor of the promotion of good behavior, even as most conservatives understand the concept i.e. acts consistent with moral virtue. Rather, I believe that promoting good behavior is best handled by communities and the voluntary institutions that make them up, rather than by the state. There was a time when that was the conservative position.
Quote of the day Monday, November 06, 2006At Matt Yglesias' blog, a commenter asks,
And, yes, I realize that the words of an anonymous blog commenter only mean so much. Comments like this are not representative of the best critics of libertarianism, but if casual empiricism is any indication, such comments are representative of a large portion of libertarianism's critics. The upcoming midterm election is being made out to be the usual spectacle by the media. This political circus, if the media is to be believed, is going to be a referendum of sorts over the Iraq War. From the New York Times to CNN, journalists and newscasters are endlessly chanting about the American public's frustration with how the war is being handled. Many, we are told, want out.
Of course, up to this point the war has been conducted under the auspices of a Republican-controlled executive and legislative branch, not that it particularly matters that the legislative branch is also under Republican control, because Congresspeople don't seem very interested in exercising their constitutional right to arbitrate on issues of war.
The idea here is that Republicans have royally screwed up the war, and that by voting for Democrats, voters are voicing their frustration and helping to put into power a real alternative... or at least they're voicing their frustration. But how different are the Democrats and the Republicans?
Let us take the issue of the Iraq War and examine it more closely, as it is the supposed "decisive" issue at stake in the election. Regardless of votes for or against war resolutions prior to the war taking place, how are senators on both sides of the aisle, for instance, voting when it comes to appropriations for the war effort? Let's just say they don't seem very interested in peace. (Hint: See how many "+" marks show up in Issue #3's column for Senators, representing a vote FOR peace by voting no to war appropriations.)
Someone reading this right now might try to stop me with two objections: 1.) Even if they're against the war, a senator who supports our troops can't just vote no to sending supplies to our troops-- what do we want to do, strand them in the deserts of Iraq with no supplies and let them find their own way home? and 2.) Even if they're against the war, they couldn't show it by voting down an appropriations bill, it'd be political suicide!
I'll address these concerns quickly: 1.) If we stop spending money on the war effort, this doesn't mean the troops become stranded and have to find their own way back. It just means the military gets its stuff together over there, puts it back on their boats and airplanes and sends everyone home once the war tap runs dry. The military still has plenty of money to pay for transportation costs and other costs incurred in bringing the troops home. War appropriations go towards specific costs of establishing and resupplying occupational bases and carrying out operations conducted in theatre. 2.) Isn't that kind of the point? If someone really and truly is against the war, if the Democrats really are anti-war and the Republicans aren't, shouldn't they be voting that way to prove it? How can somebody vote one way and claim their sympathies lie the opposite way? All that counts is the act, not the intent.
No, the truth is that there really are no consequential differences between Democrats and Republicans. They both want to violate the Constitution anytime it's politically expedient for them to do so. They both want to rob you of your hard earned money (taxes) and then spend it on what they think is best, which often means blowing it on pork projects for special interest groups in their home districts. They both want war, because it enriches them politically.
Politics, you see, is like flipping a quarter-- you might get heads, you might get tails, but either way, you've always got a quarter. Of course, we're being told that this election the quarter is war (specifically the Iraq War), and whether you flip Republican or Democrat, in the end you still get war.
Don't blame me... Friday, November 03, 2006... for my radical views. According this, one's beliefs about politics are partly attributable to genetic factors. From the link,
About 8,000 sets of identical and fraternal twins answered a series of questions on topics such as school prayer, nuclear power, women's liberation and the death penalty.Speaking as a sample of one, I'm inclined to think this may not be entirely off the mark. I just think the researchers are identifying the cause in a way that is so general as to make it seem implausible. Can anyone really believe that there is some gene which affects a person's outlook on capital gains taxes? On school vouchers? On the other hand, it's fairly uncontroversial that intelligence is a heritable trait. It makes some intuitive sense to think that a person's beliefs about policy issues will correlate with intelligence. There is also some empirical evidence to that effect.
Identical twins, who share their entire genetic code, answered more similarly than fraternal twins, who are no more similar than non-twin siblings.
If you assume that both identical and fraternal twins share an environment, then the disparity between the results must be genetic, Hibbing and colleagues conclude.
Karen DeCoster Gets Something Right For Once Wednesday, November 01, 2006Although Karen DeCoster usually spends her time at LRC idiotically pumping up fringe foods, internet programs and other commodities for their supposed libertarian-ity, her latest post at the LRC blog on the recent NYT article (requires login to view, full article reproduced in her post) about calorie-deprived monkees is spot-on for once. From her post:
Scientists are using monkees to prove out their theories that we age better, have more energy, and live longer and healthier when we adopt the Auschwitz look intentionally. Scientists are using lab monkees as they compare monkees with normal diets to those with a restricted calorie diet. According to these yahoos, research shows that the monkeys with the normal diets suffer from being "frail" with "poor posture," while those that take in less calories are more vigorous and less haggard. All that follows is a movement to 1) increase the life span of humans, and 2) to do it by starvation means - which is really what calorie restriction is all about. The other solution to living a better life is, of course, a steady diet of "wonder drugs" that will make billions for pharmaceutical coompanies while hoodwinking the misinformed populace into swallowing chemicals to live a "healthier" life.I for one am glad DeCoster took the time to tackle this insanity. For those who aren't frequent (and careful) readers of the NYT, this latest article-study appears to be yet another arm in their conservationist arsenal.
I suppose it's only logical for the paper of record that's ecstatic about reducing our standard of living and energy consumption per capita to also blindly rally around a health regime that puts what would normally be considered undernourishment on a pedestal. I'm just stupefied that a group of people could be logical about the irrational.