January 30, 2006
You Can’t Get There from Here
Bridging on Kevin Rollins’s blog, what Robert Kaercher does not address, and Carl Milsted does address, is any sense of process. How do we get from here – lots of coercion – to there – little to no coercion?
Writes Kaercher: “When the parasite eventually exhausts itself, as it inevitably will, the very same 99+% of people who currently say they reject anarchy will be more prepared for anarchy than they realize.
“We just need to persuade them of that crucial idea.”
As measured by per capita GDP, Americans, at least, keep getting richer, despite government growing as a percentage of GDP over time. Americans are practical people, and are like Missourians, who like to say: “Show me.” Based on results, more government would seem to lead to more wealth. While I believe that’s incorrect, that we’d all generally be far wealthier with less government, how can this be demonstrated?
Self-styled “anarchists” seem to remain mum on the matter. Instead, Kaercher seems to be predicting a cataclysmic collapse of Western civilization, at which time 99% will see the light: Big government is a failure, let’s have none! This logic leap is astounding and dumbfounding on its face.
If anything, the opposite is true. In times of crisis, people tend to cede more control to the State, not less.
To say, as Kaercher does, we “just” need to “persuade them” begs the question: With what? Where is the evidence that no state is in any way sustainable or desirable?
Muslims and Danish Drawings: A bad mix.
Millions of Muslims throughout the Middle East are outraged over a Danish newspaper publishing several cartoons about the prophet Muhammed. It is hard to see even the wackiest group of Christian right-wingers getting as carried away as so many in the Middle East are right now over a few drawings. Do these people not understand the concepts of free speech and a free press at all? Bush has his work cut out for him if he really believes that rhetoric about spreading democracy through the region.
The Seen and the Unseen
Robert Kaercher, at Strike-the-Root, has responded to Carl Milsted’s “The Need to be Anarchists,” disputing Milsted’s assertion that establishing anarchy now is risky. Kaercher extrapolates from the fact that we see peaceful transactions in our day-to-day lives proves that anarchy could work.
“Anarchy works every day, to the extent that it is allowed to work. Thousands, perhaps millions, of various transactions—of goods, services and ideas both philosophical and spiritual—take place every day between individuals and voluntary associations with nary a government bureaucrat or law enforcer in sight.”
There are two problems with this argument. The first is that it confuses free market activity within the context of a welfare-state and rule of law, with the conditions which might prevail in the absence of government. Peaceful transactions should not themselves be defined as anarchy. The attribute is not the system.
Second, the argument assumes that more “anarchy” is always better. It suggests a linear relationship between “anarchy” and peaceful interaction – that increasing amounts of “anarchy” always lead to increasing amounts of human happiness. This misses the possibility of diminishing marginal returns to “anarchy” and that at some point it may become negative. Anyone who has gone on an all night drinking binge can testify to the superiority of the first few drinks to the last few.
Frederic Bastiat wrote about the seen and the unseen. He described how many people only see the things which government produces and not the lost opportunities that were the cost of government action.
“There is only one difference between a bad economist and a good one: the bad economist confines himself to the visible effect; the good economist takes into account both the effect that can be seen and those effects that must be foreseen,” wrote Bastiat.
This should apply to the creation of government programs as well as their destruction. We libertarians always see the bad things that governments do, but never question whether we are failing to see any positive aspects. In advocating the reduction in government we see the removal of costs without addressing whether we are also losing some benefits. We cannot see the peaceful aspects of our current society without wondering if the rule of law plays some part in fostering them.
-- Kevin D. Rollins
January 27, 2006
Theory and Consequences
Carl Milsted, Bob Capozzi, and Stephan Kinsella are having an important debate on the role of the state and the possibility of anarchy as the best way to organize society. It is important for the libertarian community to challenge itself to have the best ideas it can – otherwise, it may be offering an inferior product compared to competing ideologies.
Kinsella brings an important question to the fore – should we concern ourselves with the “workability” of the ideas we promote? That is, does it matter what happens as a result of those ideas being implemented?
As Richard Weaver observed, “Ideas have consequences.” That is primarily why we care about obtaining them, using them, and improving upon them. Parents discipline their children to give them the “idea” that aggressive behavior is unacceptable in a free society. We use ideas to discern between moral options, and to navigate our day-to-day experiences. Should I walk into oncoming traffic? No, because my theory is that I will die if a speeding car hits me. Aircraft designers want to know if a new plane will be faster and stealthier than previous models. If their idea is incorrect, they can lose millions of dollars after building a series of lemon fighter jets.
Should we not include the consequences in our formulation of our political ideas? Does it matter whether we exert our intellectual energies towards ideologies which can improve the world, versus harming the world? There is no intellectual or moral difference between a car designer who markets a car that will not run and a political theorist who suggests solutions which cannot work.
I am not saying that anarchy could not work. I don’t know if it could or not. It would be quite interesting to see it tested on a small scale to give us some data to base our decisions on. But, suggesting that it does not matter what happens as a result of our ideas is dangerous. If libertarians adopt this view that it is acceptable to divorce theory from reality, it removes their moral standing to demand that policies promoted by socialists and statists provide “workable” solutions rather than needless despotism and suffering.
-- Kevin D. Rollins
January 26, 2006
A Priori Anarchists
My previous entry has inspired quite a few comments from Mr. Kinsella. Amazing comments, in my earth-bound opinion. They might be more understandable for those who live in the Platonic Astral Plane.
"If anarchy was indeed workable, then I would favor it."
Here we go again. Talk about what is "workable." An anarchist is someone who believes aggression is unjust and the state commits it. Period. It does not mean they think anarchy is "workable" (whatever that means).
I didn't say I was an anarchist; I said that I am a libertarian, only who loves liberty and dislikes aggression. I once was an anarchist, but determined that the non-anarchists are probably right: that anarchy would likely lead to something worse than the current state.
Mr. Kinsella states that one shouldn't care whether anarchy is workable or not. On the Lew Rockwell blog he states that workability should not interfere with normative discussions. By doing so he reminds me of the able-bodied young homeless in Asheville who have decided upon the normative goal of maximum leisure. Then, they complain when those of us who work for a living don't contribute to their unworkable philosophy.
Here is my normative assertion as a libertarian: aggression is bad.
The a priorists would argue that this assertion leads to the corollary that the state ought not exist becase the state performs aggression. The logic runs:
aggression is bad; the state aggresses; therefore, the state is bad.
Here is a conflicting corollary:
aggression is bad; battling warlords agress; therefore anarchy is bad.
There is aggression whether the state exists or not. To determine what the good is in this real world requires mixing the normative with the scientific. Do battling warlords aggress more or less than a modern welfare state?
This talk further demonstrates my contention that empiricists tend to shun theory, rationalism, apriorism, and deduction and to adopt the positivist view of science that is in conflict with Austrian praxeology, which is an essential economic underpinning of genuinely "scientific" economic understanding.
Sorry, if it doesn't pass the test of experiment, it isn't theory, it's hypothesis. The point of view you express is the diametrical opposite of science; it is regression back to the thinking of universities in the Middle Ages.
A priori reasoning from very basic truths can work up to a point. But if the definitions and the axioms have even the slightest deviation from reality, the conclusions drift further from reality the more steps you take from your axioms. I wish more natural rights libertarians would study fuzzy logic...
Back on the Lew Rockwell blog he says:
I am not a sacrificial beast whose life is to be spent in a futile attempt to marginally benefit others. Have we libertarians turned into altruists? Do it if you want; but exhortations like this imply we libertarians have a duty to be activists. We do not. Our only libertarian duty is to avoid endorsing or employing aggression.
Why do I have this duty? Why should I never endorse an action that employing aggression even it results in a substantial net reduction in aggression? Why should I have a duty to advocate something that would not work? This statement strikes me as borderline religious. Is he implying that the Creator will be angered if I don't agree with a priori anarchism?
Why do I have a duty to watch the nation I grew up in devolve into tyranny? Why can I not do something about it?
If you wish to be an intellectual and not an activist, fine. I have no problem with that. My problem is with those who call themselves libertarian and get in the way of those of us who are actually trying to increase liberty -- and then have the gall to be self-righteous.
In all this discussion I reiterate that my gripe is not with those who desire anarchy per se. My gripe is with those who contend that a libertarian must be an anarchist.
Admittedly, I do have some contempt for those who invoke proof by wishful thinking in their calls for anarchy.
On the other hand, I have great respect for people like David Friedman who written deeply and intelligently on the subject. I highly recommend The Machinery of Freedom to anyone, even though I now question the conclusion that there are fewer externality problems with zero government than small government.
And I might even support a venture to set up a stateless society on an island somewhere -- assuming that venture had a reasonable chance of success.
Chalk another one up for corporate America!
The Free Liberal has never been shy in criticizing corporate America, but between BB&T's willingness to take a strong stance against eminent domain and Andy Grove, the former Chairman of Intel speaking out against recent anti-immigrant legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives, I'd say these guys are on a roll.
I wish I could post the article, but the Wall Street Journal requires a subscription. I will give you a few highlights of Grove's piece from the January 26 edition:
Grove writes: "Let me illustrate. The bill contains a provision punishing anyone who 'assists, [or] encourages . . . a person who . . . lacks lawful authority to remain in the United States' to remain here. Punishment: three to 20 years in prison, the same punishment meted out to professional smugglers who profit from transporting illegal aliens across the border."
He then recounts how "As a Jewish child hiding from the Nazis in Hungary, he saw how the persecution of non-Jewish Hungarians who hid their Jewish friends or neighbors cast a wide blanket of fear over everyone. This fear led to mistrust, and mistrust led to hostility, until neighbors turned upon neighbors in order to protect themselves."
Grove caps his argument by putting the legislation in the context of today's America, saying "Consider the potential effect of this bill. Victims of the hurricane that devastated New Orleans more often than not did not have proof of their immigration status. Relief workers who helped them -- for example, by providing schooling to their children -- could have been charged under this bill with assisting undocumented aliens. Volunteers who save the lives of individuals who are left to die by smugglers -- by providing water or food, or by taking them to a hospital -- could face arrest and prosecution. An immigration worker who encourages a refugee from political persecution to seek asylum in the United States could be charged with a felony; so could a manager who forgets to check the papers of a job applicant."
It's pretty clear that anyone who is concerned about preserving individual liberty and the American way of life should be concerned about the ways in which supposed immigration control efforts will ultimately cost us all our personal freedoms. Three cheers for Andy Grove!!!
A bank rejects "blood money"
This is an amazing story from the Charlotte Observer. "BB&T Corp. said Wednesday it will not lend money for commercial projects on land seized by the government through an exercise of eminent domain."
"'The idea that a citizen's property can be taken by the government solely for private use is extremely misguided, in fact it's just plain wrong,' Chief Executive John Allison said in a statement."
We could use 100s of John Allisons in Corporate America! Blood money MAY add incremental revenue, but it's still blood money.
Am I a Utilitarian?
Attorney Stephan Kinsella has written a response on lewrockwell.com to my article "The Need to be Anarchists." In it, I am accused of many bad things, mostly false. I will address only some of the accusations here.
Mr. Kinsella has claimed that I have let concerns of strategy and tactics cloud my judgement on the matter of principle. The opposite is true: my activism has led me to actually listen to the counter-arguments against Rothbard's utopian dreams. Turns out some of the counter-arguments are true.
However, I am by no means a utilitarian. I do not believe in initiating force whenever there is an opportunity to increase overall utility by doing so. I did not advocate such in my essay. I am advocating a position that is in between the natural rights school of libertarianism and the utilitarian view. My thesis is much closer to the former than the latter.
Mr. Kinsella writes:
Rather, as I have pointed out elsewhere, to be an anarcho-capitalist is simply to recognize (a) aggression is unjustified; and (b) even the minarchist state necessarily commits aggression (and is therefore unjustified). It does not mean one predicts such a situation will occur, or "is workable," etc. It only means that the anarchist libertarian opposes all forms of aggression
My position is subtly different. I posit that aggression is evil. Therefore, it should be minimized. This proposition does lead to different conclusions. For example:
If I was near Adolf Hitler and had a bomb that could destroy him and his cronies, I would happily use it, even if some innocent bystanders got killed. Better to kill a few than to allow millions to be murdered.
Mr. Kinsella's statement of libertarianism would allow the gas chambers to continue their operation in order to avoid the much smaller aggression of collateral damage. Taking his position to the extreme, blowing up Hitler and cronies would not be justifiable even if the collateral damage was limited to property damage.
Given the truly vile theorems that follow from Mr. Kinsellas moral axiom, I do proudly reject it. I am a libertarian, not a nit-picker. I value liberty highly, enough to actually do something about it that could possibly work.
If anarchy was indeed workable, then I would favor it. Zero aggression is better than some aggression. However, I am a scientist, not a philosopher. I demand evidence. I know of very few successful anarchistic civilized societies throughout history, and know of a great many instances where anarchy led to civil war, conquest, dictatorship, looting, pillaging, slave trading and/or feudalism. To extinguish the U.S. govenment without a practical replacement available is to put hundreds of millions of people at risk of far greater aggression.
I am a libertarian. I dislike aggression. Apparently, Mr. Kinsella doesn't care, as long as he is not the technical aggressor.
Now it is true that I do make some concession to utilitarianism in the sense that I also believe in government built roads and certain similar services. But the argument I used to justify such was not the utilitarian argument!!!!!!!!!!
The utilitarian argument would justify any amount of aggression as long as the benefit to people in general outweighed the cost to those aggressed upon. I did not make that argument at all.
I argued that the government could forcibly provide a service to taxpayers if the value of that service is at least twice that of the open market. This is a far narrower standard. First, it has to be a benefit to the specific taxpayer. Second, the government has to do much more than match what the market can do; it must exceed by at least double. My argument does not justify transfer programs.
Without government, you would have to pay far more for protection services. History has proven this time and time again. When Rome fell, the rich could no longer afford fancy villas. They were spending their wealth on castles and henchmen instead. The Celts in Britain learned just how valuable Roman protection was when the Saxons invaded. Later, the Anglo-Saxons did have a competitive protection system; however, they later learned that they would have been better off had they been forced to pay more for protection. William the Conqueror taught this harsh lesson.
Some tribal societies of old are considered to be anarchic by some libertarian thinkers. Notably, they have all been conquered. But even before conquest, they paid quite a bit for their inefficient defense system. Tribal societies were seen as warrior societies by surrounding civilizations, since nearly all men prepared extensively for war.
So, the data indicates great economies of scale for military defense. It also indicates that all will pay one way or another. It is a sunk cost. If the majority bands together to form a government, and taxes all to pay for defense, they are greatly reducing the cost even to those who object. Thus, the adequate compensation argument.
This is a very narrow "social contract." It is not a moral license for government to do whatever the majority wants it to do.
It is a practical look at how to maximize liberty.
Unlike Mr. Kinsella. I am a real libertarian.
Push the Button?
In a thoughtful critique of our own Carl Milsted’s “The Need to be Anarchists,” attorney Stephan Kinsella makes some interesting points here. Kinsella suggests that “We principled libertarians have no problem recognizing the difference between what is right and true, with what is likely and what we can get away with.”
In disputing Milsted’s utilitarian argument, Kinsella concludes: “However, if libertarianism is at root about the opposition to aggression and the desire for peace, harmony, and cooperation – as I believe it ought to be – the proposed normalization of theft simply isn’t libertarian.” Taxation and all government is based on theft, he claims, and “principle” dictates that it is all unjustified.
OK, fair enough. Let’s test that. Let’s take Leonard Read’s liberty button one step further. There’s an anarchy button, that, if pushed, would instantly end government and taxation.
An interesting thought experiment, that. All coercion ends tomorrow. There is no national defense, no police, no courts. Further, there is no way to enforce contracts, save individuals taking matters into their own hands. All transit systems stop. All airline travel stops, for there is no air traffic control. Most water and sewage systems stop. Street lights go off. Nuclear missile silos are abandoned, or commandeered. With all this going on, few would go to work, in both the government and the private sector. Why work when you can’t get there, and your paycheck is worthless?
Sure, some things might still function, but clearly there would be a profound setback in everyone’s standard of living. Perhaps there would gradually spring up new, non-coercive mechanisms to keep the peace. But, then again, perhaps not.
In the post-anarchy-button-pushed world, we would be in a state of nature. The concepts of “rights” and “property” would be as meaningless as they are to flora and fauna.
I suppose Kinsella might say, “Yes, well, but at least pushing the anarchy button is the right and true thing to do, albeit impractical.” This line of thinking, IMO, is more science fiction than political philosophy, for political philosophy cannot be entirely divorced from process. This “vision” is horrific and unappealing to virtually everyone, except perhaps nihilists.
It seems obvious that if Kinsella wouldn’t push the anarchy button, then he is acceding to utilitarian considerations.
January 22, 2006
U.S. Taxpayers for Fatah?
Once again, the Bush Administration's action show that it supports democracy as long as its favored party wins. Now we find out that U.S. taxpayer dollars are funding pro-Fatah efforts to ensure victory in the upcoming Palestinian elections. I'm so thrilled that my money is being spent on activities that if Jack Abramoff or some other lobbyist tried to do these things domestically, they'd be accused of corruption and locked in jail.
Problem Already Solved?
For my past few posts I have been tearing apart the many illogical statements made in http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net, a site devoted to claiming that we are doomed because of the impending peaking of the oil supply.
My intent had been to follow these reviews with some posts on ways that we can deal with the oil peak without a collapse of industrial civilization, and I still might, but another physicist, Amory Lovins, appears to have beaten me to the punch. See the February issue of Discover. Or see the free posting on their site.
According to the article, the problem is already solved. The article only lists some of the solutions, but others are hinted at, and Dr. Lovins has a bunch of books out. I have some reading to do.
Here is the interesting part: many of the ideas I had intended to post are not in this article. This doesn't mean my ideas are original, of course; it only means that there are so many potential ideas that we can pick and choose.
So much for doom.
January 21, 2006
You Gotta Love Lawyers
"I would never join a club which accepts me as a member."
Listening to the Laura Ingraham Show yesterday, I was reminded why I opted to not go to law school years ago.
Ingraham, a lawyer turned pundit, was interviewing a fellow who is with a city council that’s called for impeaching W for, among other things, warrantless wiretaps and fighting an undeclared war. (I believe the gentleman was from Santa Cruz, CA. I didn’t catch his name.)
At one point, Ingraham exclaimed, “Have you gone to law school?!” The councilman admitted he’d not. Ingraham dismissed his views, apparently because he was not a member of that exclusive club.
To be clear, I don’t think W should be impeached. While I was against the Iraq War, his waging of it was supported by Congress, albeit not with an outright declaration. Unfortunately, this is how wars have been waged in modern times, with resolutions, not declarations. I don’t support this trend, but to call it “impeachable” does seem to be a stretch.
The warrantless wiretaps, too, have a lot of precedent behind them. There is enabling legislation that defines what are “reasonable” searches and seizures in times of crisis or hot pursuit, at root.
I challenge, however, Ingraham’s implication. Where does it say in the Constitution that only lawyers can opine on what is constitutional and what is not? And where does it say that only lawyers can define what “high crimes and misdemeanors” are?
Imagine the ramifications of Ingraham’s “attorney-ocracy.” Somehow only lawyers can know what the law is. We unwashed non-bar members will be at the constant subjugation of lawyers in relation to government. We can’t know what the law is; we always, apparently, have to ask a juris doctor. Imagine this reductio ad absurdum: “I’m not sure I can cross the street here, better check in with a bloodsucker.” (Of course, I love lawyers, and count them as among my best friends.)
Is that what the Framers intended, Ms. Ingraham? And where exactly does it say that? Please explain it – slowly – as I’m not a member of the bar.
It’s a Groucho kinda thing.
January 20, 2006
Play Ball! President Bush Allows Cuba into World Baseball Tournament.
It looks like President Bush has at last relented and decided to grant a waiver to allow the Cuban baseball team to play against other countries around the world this March. It is truly amazing that both Congress and a long string of American Presidents have chosen to follow the misguided embargo, but at least Bush's love of baseball may have won out over his hatred for Fidel this time.
Now, if we could only get our politicians to realize that making Fidel a scapegoat rather than engaging in free commerce directly with the Cuban people plays right into the dictator's hands, we'd be on to something!
January 19, 2006
Cell Phone Headsets as Fashion?
Not too long ago, if you saw someone in the park talking to themselves, it was a pretty sure bet they were crazy. All that changed with the advent of the dangling headphone earpieces that became popular a few years ago. Now, people everywhere are sitting by themselves, often muttering or shouting about something, but at least nowadays someone is usually on the other end.
Today, a new trend is developing that is even more disconcerting: the use of cell phone earpieces equipped with “Bluetooth” as a fashion statement. Now, I have nothing against people using the latest technology to make their lives easier, but the earpieces that include a reach-around microphone look like something Mr. Spock would have used – and it makes you look like a gigantic dork. Very rarely do I overtly criticize fashion – it is usually just a matter of taste – but keeping your headset on when you are at the mall, at a bar, or when you are just hanging out with your friends – you are making a statement that you are so important that you have to keep a silly-looking earpiece on your head or you might miss a phone call.
Maybe someday everyone will walk around looking like Captain Kirk and instead of actually dialing the phone, we will be able to wear our headsets and just talk to whoever we want to without dialing a set of numbers. Until that day comes, I hope the fashion-conscious among us will realize that they really do look like morons when wearing their headsets as a fashion statement in public.
January 18, 2006
Chickens, Eggs, Gluttony, and Influence Peddling
Kevin Rollins makes a great analogy here.
Influence peddling is a two-way street. Pols become addicted to the power, and, as practical people, they increasingly seek out campaign contributions to maintain their addiction. The Abramoffs of the world are the pushers, hooking their clients into the life.
To maintain the power, pols have built in incentives to expand their "territory," i.e. grow government. That attracts more Abramoffs, and more drug kingpins, i.e. special interest groups.
It's a vicious circle, indeed.
However, it seems that pols don't get in the game to "do bad." They don't say, I want to run for office because I'm a power-mad megalomaniac. And, some day, I'll take big bribes and lavish junkets from influence peddlers.
This seems highly unlikely, although perhaps there are exceptions. They are more likely to want to "do good" as they see it. The more they go along to get along, the more they lose perspective, and the more likely they are to step over the line.
January 17, 2006
Is Gore A Civil Libertarian?
Yesterday, on January 16th, 2006, former Vice President Al Gore joined the Bob Barr show and become the second, following Barr, former government official to recognize the great importance our liberties are to our way of life and to publicly call for them to be protected against the state. As a civil libertarian, I welcome Mr. Gore to the party, and hope others in both major political parties join him in his support for civil liberties against encroachment by this and any Administration. Congressman Barr recognized early that this is not about being a Republican or Democrat, Conservative or Progressive but about protecting our inalienable Constitutional Rights.
It is good to see Mr. Gore realize the same. As others hopefully join the party, the transpartisan civil liberties party, I hope more and more American begin to wake up from their narcolepsy and begin to take back their lives from the State and its agents in private industry.
Michael D. Ostrolenk
To read Mr. Gore's speech go to www.libertycoalition.net
Corruption and Benefit
Responding to Jim Turbett's and Bob Capozzi's blog entries below, I would say it is possible for the corruption to be mutually beneficial to both lobbyist and congressman, even sought by the congressman, while also being insidious and ultimately destructive of both.
If I may draw an analogy, I will use that of gluttony. I had a delicious grilled cheese sandwich for breakfast this morning. It consisted of 8 pats of butter to soak into the exterior, 4 slices of extra sharp cheddar for the interior, and 2 slices of hard-crusted, organic, Whole Food's-brand, wheat bread to go in
But, if I could find a cafe or diner that served inexpensive grilled cheese sandwiches, and would give me tea in the morning, soda in the afternoon, and micro-brew beer in the evening; and if they had wi-fi and good cell-phone reception, I would be prone to stay there all day long, fattening myself into oblivion.
In one sense, the cafe and I would be experiencing a mutually beneficial relationship. I go there, out of my free choosing. They take my dollars in exchange for their delicious food. A win-win situation, right? But, the longer I stayed, and the more I would eat, the harder would it be to see the wrongness of it, especially if the cafe trained their female wait-staff to flirt with me, no matter how disgusting I became. Then, seeing other colleagues sitting there, themselves lost under a pile of greasy sandwiches, it would become my cultural norm.
Meanwhile, the outside world, seeing the horde of grilled cheese eating beasts leaving the cafe for the hospital, would be shocked by our lack of self control, disgusted at the patrons for being so easily corrupted, and at the restaurant for "doing this to us." But, the restaurant did not make us do these things, but it made it easy to be gluttonous.
Similarly, I think it is unfair to blame either congressman or lobbyist for the other's poor behavior. But, neither can be excused, because as the the public's representatives, we have the right to hold them accountable.
-- Kevin D. Rollins
Symptoms, Causes & Insidiousness
Bridging on Jim Turbett's blog and Ron Paul's column, it seems wise to remember that the Abramoff scandal was, in many ways, a function of a large government. With the stakes being as high as they are, special interests seek out influence peddlers to bring home the bacon from DC.
But let's make no mistake: Ferreting out the Abramoff's of the world is important work. I'm reminded of Jefferson's "the price of freedom is eternal vigilance."
While government can bring out the worst in people, it's not the only institution that is prone to corruption. Markets can, too. Were Abramoff's crimes any worse than, say, Bernie Ebbers, the convicted former Worldcom fraudster?
Teapot Dome happened when government's control of the economy and our lives was substantially less than it is now. There were Abramoffs then, Abramoffs now, and will be Abramoffs in the future. They will tend to insidiously corrupt those whose influence they buy.
It seems to me a mistake to assume that politicians go into that game for the money. Many, and perhaps most, of them can make far more in the private sector. Abramoff was able to exploit several politicians need for more and more campaign contributions to stay in their chosen "game."
Rather, my assumption is they go into it in part out of a sense of public service, and in part for power and ego gratification. Dr. Paul is one of the few who seems entirely motivated by the former, and, for that, we should all be grateful.
While the ethics of human cloning are hazy, can't we make an exception in the case of Dr. Paul? We could use a lot more of him.
January 16, 2006
Abramoff -- Seducer?
The title of Ron Paul's article on The Free Liberal web site, Scandals Are a Symptom, Not a Cause, counters something Al Gore said today. Gore suggested that legislators were led astray by Abramoff, but the relationship between lobbyists and legislators is mutually beneficial and sought after by both groups -- until they get caught.
New Zealand: Have Nukes will Trade?
It is truly amazing that the United States has refused to sign a free trade agreement with New Zealand because the country is "nuclear free." So, let me get this straight, we could go to war any day now with Iran because they want to attain nuclear weapons, but we excluded New Zealand from a recent trade agreement we signed with Australia, in part because New Zealand is "nuclear free." I've heard of hypocricy and double-standards, but this is ridiculous.
-- Paul Gessing
January 12, 2006
It's Always Something
Gilda Radner from the original Saturday Night Live show had a compelling character named "Roseann Rosannadanna." Rosannadanna used to end her schtick with the line "It's always something."
Truer words have never been spoken.
After much effort was put into killing the bizarre Federal pork-barrel project, the infamous Bridge to Nowhere, Congress and the State of AK has, bluntly, pulled a mendacious fast one on the taxpayers. They simply changed the earmarked appropriation to a general subsidy for AK, and AK's governor quickly announced he'd use the subsidy for the Bridge to Nowhere.
This sordid affair is beyond repugnant, IMHO.
January 08, 2006
Is taxation “theft”?
A slogan that one hears from liberty lovers is “Taxation is theft.” A clever notion, that. For those who want a peaceful society, those three words seem to sum up a powerful philosophical perspective. Taxation is coercive (not peace), therefore taxation is theft.
But, let’s pause a moment, and consider the term a bit more slowly.
“Theft” implies the existence of “property.” However, in the state of nature, there is no “property.” There are, instead, “things” and “possessions.” A bear that catches a fish doesn't have "property," it has "food". If another bear comes along and takes the fish from the first bear, there is no “bear court” to sort out the dispute. There is no agreement among bears that there's finders keepers.
Property, then, is a human institution, a helpful contrivance to facilitate wealth creation. Without the institution of property, however, there is no “theft,” but merely “takings.”
Now, and throughout pretty much all of human history, the institution of property has been established by governments. Title to land, for instance, is registered with government. Contract disputes are settled in government courts. Nations defend people and property from attack through government.
Governments, then, establish the framework for property. The institution of government is created to defend this framework; it creates a baseline peacekeeping mechanism. Without this mechanism, we are in a state of nature, where “property” doesn’t exist.
This doesn’t foreclose the possibility that non-governmental mechanisms to keep the peace aren’t possible, only that the existence of property is conditioned on the institution of a system that defines and defends property. It’s like the transporter in Star Trek – it’d be a neat thing to have, but, sadly, it’s not been invented yet.
So, no, taxation isn’t “theft.” It isn’t even coercion, if there is no baseline peacekeeping mechanism. It probably could be characterized as “theft” to the extent that it finances things functions beyond maintaining the peace. As Bill Clinton taught us, the word “is” may be somewhat in dispute, but I suggest that reasonable people will perhaps unanimously agree that “is” denotes “in existence now.”
Whether the “theft” characterization is effective sloganeering is a good question. It appears not so, given the current and historical state of affairs.
But, for the time being, “taxation is theft” is a false statement.
January 05, 2006
I'm not even sure what a "uniform education" is, but the misguided souls who wrote the Florida Constitution said that every kid should have one. Unfortunately, uniform also apparently means "uniformly poor," so no vouchers allowed. I don't know about you, but I think this decision really gets to the nub of the whole public education matter. Public schools are not really about educating students and they never have been; they are designed to shoehorn students of diverse learning capabilities and styles, backgrounds, and interests into one "product." To an extent, that model worked when the two options were to work on a factory or a farm, but we are way beyond that. Now we are stuck with a failing system that is based on an outdated model. Not exactly the best way to compete in a global business environment.
-- Paul Gessing
January 03, 2006
Third Party Chances
Libertarians, Greens, and other third party types have looked at the Bush-Gore race in 2000 and the Bush-Kerry race in 2004 and wondered how anyone could choose between such abysmal candidates. The conventional wisdom goes that with such poor choices, a third party candidate would naturally do better than if he had to compete against widely-loved heroes of the public.
However, in the last campaign, we saw Kerry's team aggressively work to undermine Nader by emphasizing how bad Bush was. "Anyone but Bush" was the battle-cry. But, a vote for Nader was a vote for Bush, or so the argument went. The hated "negative campaigning" is the modus operandi of major party politicians. The result is that people are "voting against" rather than "voting for" candidates in many cases. My grandfather even voted for Bush because he "just couldn't see Teresa Heinz as first lady."
Since the major party candidates and their respective machines are much better able to frame the debate than their third party competitors, we should expect their messages to dominate the debate. If we expect every flaw of each major party candidate to be trumpeted by the opposition, and if the greater the negativity of the campaigns causes people to vote out of fear, third party operatives should hope for the best possible candidates from the Republicans and Democrats. With good Republican and Democratic candidates, more voters may be less afraid to support third parties.
-- Kevin D. Rollins
Rhode Island Legalizes Medical Marijuana
Undoubtedly, the most important ongoing battle over federalism involves medical marijuana. Rhode Island has become the first state to legalize its use since the Supreme Court ignored the U.S. Constitution to continue the war on (some) drug users.
-- Paul Gessing
Who's Afraid of Frankenstein?
On their blog, Gary Becker and Richard Posner counter the wrong-headed arguments against allowing cash payments for human organs. From an economic perspective, only allowing charitable giving of organs before or after death acts a price control, reducing the well-being of many market participants.
There is a concern that such a market will cause some individuals to “rob” others of their organs – the victim waking up in the bathtub of ice scenario. Or even murder them and cut them up to be sold to the highest bidder. One fear of genetic engineering is that we might have body part farms, where people are “grown” to be “harvested.” All of these are possible though, with the prohibition in place.
With free exchange of organs, it is less likely these practices will occur, as the availability of legal organs will be greater, so the incentive to engage in truly criminal activity will be less. Getting rid of this prohibition is the best way to improve the lives of many people.
There was a brilliant Law and Order rerun the other day which put flesh and blood onto such “cold” free-market arguments. It depicted a desperate father trying to save his dying son, by illegally buying a kidney on the black market. The father and the doctor are arrested for their willingness to break the law to do good, while the cops seem to recognize that they are enforcing a law that is only hurting people.
This is the sort of thing we should remember when talking about public policy. Every bad law does not just offend our abstract sense of truth, and of right and wrong, but it has real consequences. The prohibition of a human organs market does not just cause a certain number of people to die needlessly. It also punishes those who try to do what is right despite the law. We need to recognize that these “criminals” are not blood-thirsty predators, but people who are just everyday folks, who want to save their loved ones.
-- Kevin D. Rollins
January 02, 2006
NSA-Gate, at this point in time, has devolved into technical places that makes it unlikely to become Watergate, or even Clinton/Lewinsky. But I’m finding the apparent double talk coming from Compound W to be frustrating.
Sayeth W: "If somebody from al Qaeda is calling you, we'd like to know why."
Sure, so would I, especially were I in his shoes. That’s not, IMO, the question. The question is, is it legal to wiretap a call without a warrant? Is that a reasonable, or an unreasonable, search?
Then there’s this:
White House spokesman Trent Duffy later said that while the president focused on calls being made from abroad, the eavesdropping program was also conducted on communications originating from inside the United States.
To me, if the NSA is wiretapping non-US citizens calling into the US, I’m less troubled. If such a call requires a warrant is a great question, but it seems understandable.
But the admission that outbound calls are being wiretapped without warrants seems over the line.
The issue, in short, isn’t whether alleged al Qaeda operatives should be scrutinized – of course they should. The question is should the Government obtain a warrant first?
Well, yes they should, IMO. Could there be “reasonable” exceptions, like being in “hot pursuit”? Yes, of course. Could mistakes be made? Yes, certainly. But, to me, it’s vital that we all understand that there’s a line that should not be crossed, even if it very occasionally is crossed, due to mitigating circumstances.
Free-for-all (frfr-ôl) -- n. A disorderly fight, argument, or competition in which everyone present participates.