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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Liberal Party to libertarians: You're a bunch of Peter Pans

With the new Parliamentary session now begun, there's a blog post out there by Liberal MP, Glen Pearson (London North Centre) that you need to pay some close attention to.  In this post, widely circulated by Liberal MPs, Pearson explains what the Liberal Party stands for and what they are fighting against.

If you're in any doubt, look in a mirror, it's you:

What this session of Parliament should be all about is the open struggle between public and private life.  Famed American author, Thomas Friedman, has described our current condition: “We have this tendency to extol consumption over hard work, investment and long-term thinking.”  Friedman goes on to elaborate on how our concentration on ourselves as opposed to our country has led to the privatization of citizens.

... there is no need to take the common good into account because only individualism prevails.  When Thatcher shockingly declared, “There is no such thing as society,” she could just as easily have been describing the current government’s outlook on Canada.  And the way they’ll live it out will be a relentless attack on government itself as the only way to true prosperity and freedom to live as we wish.

Except it doesn’t work that way.  It’s a kind of libertarianism that leads to the empowerment of the few over the many: the very condition that the lovers of freedom fought against two centuries ago in both Europe and North America.  It’s the kind of ideology that imprisons us as citizens.  Author Alan Wolfe describes it perfectly when he states: “Libertarianism is a political philosophy for Peter Pans, an outlook on the world premised on never growing up.”  Well, this session of Parliament will be about whether Canadians decide it’s time to mature, or remain adolescent.

"Private" citizens - quelle horreur!

Every now and then here on the Western Standard, there's a debate on where libertarians belong.  Is it the Tories, the Greens, the NDP, the Liberals?  I don't have the full answer to that, but what I can say is that wherever we might think we belong, it ain't the Liberals.

Posted by Robert Jago on September 22, 2010 in Canadian Politics, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (74)

Friday, August 13, 2010

This week's popular posts

(5) Mike Brock: My first and only thoughts on the Ground Zero Mosque

(3) Hugh MacIntyre: Poll shows Michael Ignatieff has recovered from the Spring

(2) P.M. Jaworski: Unexpected: Strippers decide to counter-protest church

(1) P.M. Jaworski: Greg Gutfeld: I'm building a gay bar next to the Ground Zero Mosque

(4) PUBLIUS: The redeeming social benefits of the Sunshine Girls

Posted by westernstandard on August 13, 2010 in Freedom of expression, Humour, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

WS on the census: Karen Selick

The chief Tory spokesman against the mandatory long form census has been Industry Minister Tony Clement. Too bad Tony is so inconsistent in his views about defending freedom and privacy. When he was health minister, Tony spearheaded the drive to bring in Bill C-6, the so-called Canada Consumer Product Safety Act. That bill (which died on the order paper, but has recently been revived as Bill C-36) is chock-full of powers for bureaucrats to intrude upon Canadians’ privacy.

It will deploy a vast army of inspectors to poke their noses into every nook and cranny of Canadian businesses—including those operated in people’s homes—seeking phantom dangers. No-one has yet produced any evidence that the existing law (The Hazardous Products Act) has failed to ensure consumers’ safety. In fact, during hearings, the Health Canada bureaucrats promoting the bill admitted that the old law has done a good job. The new bill seems to be desired primarily by those same bureaucrats for the purpose of building their empires.

In addition to authorizing frequent intrusions into business premises (including homes), C-36 also authorizes the federal government to give confidential business information about Canadian businesses to foreign governments, without the consent of the business.

But back to the census. All the do-gooders who want to make it mandatory seem to cite reasons that are themselves illiberal. For instance, Bill Robson of the C.D. Howe Institute, writing recently in the Globe & Mail, cited the need for information in the fields of education and health as a reason. But the provision of education and health are not services that properly fall within the mandate of the state. Both should be privatized, and then -- poof! -- there goes the reason for needing the statistics.

It’s funny that the suppliers of other necessities to the poor—for instance, inexpensive clothing of the kind sold in WalMart or Giant Tiger stores—they don’t seem to need the census to figure out where to put their stores, what quantities of goods to order, or what price to offer them for.

Notably silent on the census issue has been the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA). One would think this would be an issue about which they would have clear, strong freedom-oriented views. Alas, much of the decision-making in that organization is in the hands of committed leftists who no doubt support the idea of the state supplying education, health and more.

The sectors of the economy that keep devouring greater and greater shares of our resources, and producing worse and worse results are -- guess what? -- education and health care! And this is after they’ve had the supposed benefit of the long-form census for all these years!

Karen Selick is the litigation director of the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

Ed's note: More WS on the census: Paul McKeever, Kalim Kassam, PUBLIUS, Hugh MacIntyre, Martin Masse, Terrence Watson, J.J. McCullough, Walter Block, and P.M. Jaworski.

Posted by westernstandard on July 17, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (6)

WS on the census: Paul McKeever "Optional long form census a blow to racism"

Canada's Conservative government has announced that completion of Canada's "long form" census will cease to be mandatory in 2011.  Shrieks of condemnation can now be heard from a wide range of interests.  None of them are justified.  To the contrary, this is one step the Harper government has announced in recent history that is actually praiseworthy.

Pursuant to the instruction of Industry Minister Tony Clement, on June 28, 2010, Statistics Canada announced, in part, that:

The 2011 Census will consist of the same eight questions that appeared on the 2006 Census short-form questionnaire. It will be conducted in May 2011.

The information previously collected by the long-form census questionnaire will be collected as part of the new voluntary National Household Survey (NHS). This questionnaire will cover most of the same topics as the 2006 Census, but will exclude the question asking for consent to release personal census information after 92 years as this is only required by the census. The NHS questions will be made available by the end of July.

The National Household Survey will be conducted within four weeks of the May 2011 Census and will include approximately 4.5 million households. (emphasis added)

The one somewhat unconvincing reason given by Clement for the government's decision to make the long form optional was explained in a July 13, 2010 media release by Clement which stated, in part:

The government does not believe it is appropriate to force Canadians to divulge detailed personal information under threat of prosecution.  For this reason, we have introduced changes for the 2011 Census.

The rationale for objecting to lifting the mandatory completion of the long form are numerous. According to the CBC, the long-form of the census includes questions about religious affiliation every 10 years (2011 being the next such year) and religious groups complain that they need the data to deliver programs and services and to track changes the "religious landscape". The Star reports that Canadian Medical Association journal needs long-form information for health care planning. In short, a good number of private associations like getting free data, and are quite happy to have the federal government threaten Canadians with fines and jail time in order to get it.

Others, not focusing upon the use to which census data is put, complain instead that taking a gun from the heads of those asked to fill out the long form will undermine the quality of the data.  For example, the Ottawa Citizen's Dan Gardner, and a host of statisticians about whom he writes, express concern that:

...the switch from a mandatory to a voluntary form will bias the data in many ways and increasing the number of households that get the long form won't correct the biases. It will just produce more numbers. That are biased. And not comparable with past census data.

Toronto Dominion Bank senior economist Drummond has complained that if the long form is optional, white middle-class individuals will submit a greater percentage of the long-forms, leaving minorities, aboriginals and the very wealthy under-represented in the data.  He says that, eventually, the data would be useless.

Implied in such complaints is an underlying belief that the data collected with the long form should be used by government.  So, what exactly is the nature of the data that so many are clamouring for, and to what purposes can a government put such data?

In 2006 - the year in which the most recent long-form census was sent out to Canadians - talk radio host Robert Metz described in great and illuminating detail the questions set out in the 2006 long form, which he refused to file.  Metz is the founder of the pro-free-market Freedom Party of Ontario and a long-time opponent of the census.  In his account (which is a must-read for anyone weighing in on the issue of continuing to force people to fill out the long form), he explains that the long form of the census divides Canadians into discrete collectives distinguished by race and wealth:

None of the census questions relate to any proper function of government or of its proper relationship to the citizen: the administration of justice, maintenance of an objective court system, or the function of the military. They're all about genetic make-up and wealth redistribution.

Many opponents of the plan to make the long form optional take the position that the long form does not take too long to fill out.  Others, like Liberal Party industry critique Marc Garneau argue that:

"...no one has gone to jail over the census, at least as far back as 1981. Only about 50-60 people are charged over each census, with about six having to pay fines".

Metz's account anticipates that argument, and responds as follows:

But again, fines and jail sentences are a secondary issue, particularly when rarely enforced. The real significance of Canada's Census lies not in the seemingly senseless questions being asked, nor in the threats of penalties directed against us, but in what we are being told about our collective future. Sadly, if the racists and other collectivists who design and administer the Canadian Census have their way, Canadians can expect a continued reversion from a productive society --- which survives by consensual trade in which wealth is earned by productivity --- towards an uncivilized jungle inhabited by warring tribes forced to segregate and divide themselves according to a genetic code.

Now, before the reader rebuts that Metz, an unflinching advocate for individual freedom and free markets, might be misrepresenting the purpose of the collection of such data, consider the statement issued last Tuesday by Armine Yalnizyan, an economist with the collectivist Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives:

The long form is a critical tool that helps business, communities and governments decide where you need your money...

Without this information, we are all punching in the dark. Without this information, we cannot properly allocate our resources. The people who will pay most dearly are those who are already most vulnerable: the poor, aboriginal communities, recent immigrants and racial minorities.

Yalnizyan essentially agrees with Metz about the intended use of the data is to redistribute wealth to collectives distinguished by race.  To conclude that those not getting "our" resources (i.e., government subsidies) thereby "pay", it is necessary first to assume that the money taxed out of the pockets of those who earn it is, in fact, money that is owned by, and owed to, Canadians collectively.  Characterizing collectives of individuals defined almost exclusively by race as those who "pay", Yalnizyan confirms Metz's summation that the collectives in question are racial collectives; that the census is a tool to impose and facilitate tribalism (a state of affairs in which government governs not individuals, but collectives distinguished by race, sex, nationality, et cetera). 

Whether or not they realize it as explicitly as does Yalnizyan, the opponents of making the long-form optional are condemning not merely privacy and the freedom not to provide information, but also the individualism and free markets that the long form data is ultimately intended to undermine.  Whether the opponents want unpaid-for data or consistent statistical history, their objections are in the service of the most vile form of collectivism - racism - and of that well-known toxin to any economy, central planning.

It would give me great comfort were I to believe, as Liberal Party industry critic Marc Garneau somehow does, that the Harper Conservatives are motivated by a desire to put an end to central planning:

"By attacking the census, this government is throwing us in the dark on immigration-related issues. They're doing the same for aboriginals, visible minorities and the disabled, and for those arguing for the need for pay equity...That's what the Conservatives' endgame is here -to permanently hobble the government's ability to enforce legislation and deliver social programs aimed at our most vulnerable."

To be sure, the economic case against the practicality of central planning is as damning as the moral case against it (the immoral being the impractical, such will always be the case, in the long term, as knowledge grows).  But, alas, I do not share Garneau's belief that the Conservatives are using privacy concerns as a cover story for a secret agenda to end central planning.  The painful evidence is everywhere about us that the Harper Conservatives have no particular affinity for free markets, and no particular opposition to central planning.  Billions of dollars borrowed by the federal Conservatives to bail out or nationalize private companies (after having campaigned against such bail-outs and deficit spending); cuts to the rate of the inherently single-rate, less invasive GST instead of to the progressive rates of income taxes; soccer-mom hand-outs at taxpayer expense; quiet and countless transfers of billions across little community groups like Youth for Christ of Langley, BC: all stand as the best evidence that the Conservatives' only agenda is to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to stay in power. 

Moreover, such Conservative actions have been backed also by Stephen Harper's unequivocal condemnation of free markets; a condemnation not made in public to lefties and righties alike, but to a closed-door conservatives-only audience in 2009 at the Manning Centre for Building Democracy. In that speech, he condemned liberals for thinking government to have a role in all economic decisions, and condemned "libertarians" for thinking government to have no role in economic decisions.  Like so many on the left, his argument was founded upon the falsehood that the west's economies are free markets, and that it was the alleged free market - rather than fraud, credit inflation and government mandated loans to the uncreditworthy - that led to the current economic crisis.  Playing second fiddle to no fellow Keynesian, Harper made it clear he thinks individuals are all irresponsible children that need governmental parenting from cradle to grave:

Now, I know the libertarian – and I am sure there are a few in this room that define themselves that way – the libertarian says, and it's a perspective that I have a lot of sympathy for, let individuals exercise full freedom and take full responsibility for their actions.

The problem with this notion is that conservatives know from experience that people who act irresponsibly in the name of freedom are almost never willing to take responsibility for their actions. I don't speak *just* of individuals who may have ruined their lives through drugs or crimes or whatever, but look at Wall Street, the great free-enterprise financial institutions who wanted so much freedom from government regulation. They were the first in line for government support when the recession hit. And now I read, I read yesterday, that now some of them are saying they don't like that this government money may limit their freedom.

These are not the words of a closet capitalist.  They are the anti-capitalistic (i.e., anti-free-market) words of a man who, first and foremost, likes the Prime Minister's chair. 

It is true, in my view, that the Conservatives do not at all care about the quality of the data collected in the long form of the Census.  And I would quite agree with any leftist who said that the Harper Conservatives, in fact, have no real need or desire for census data: I sincerely doubt they will use it to identify spending priorities, and I suspect that the only reason they did not announce scrapping it altogether was to ensure that the various people wanting free data (including Conservative-friendly religious organizations) could not argue that they have been deprived of it (they are left, instead, making sleep-inducing technical arguments about statistical accuracy, and other things that few voters care about).  

Though it pains me to say it, the decision to eliminate the mandatory completion of the long form is not founded upon a secret Conservative agenda to end central planning.  It is, in reality, nothing more than an effort to feed a bit of red meat to that slender, politically homeless demographic that nowadays finds itself so uncomfortable associating itself with a Conservative Party so bent upon managing the economy, pandering to the more radical religious elements, and setting itself up as a hand of god that will deliver us from such 'evils' as the decision to smoke a bit of cannabis.  For years, the Conservatives have dangled the carrot in front of that constituency, communicating by wink and smirk - but never by voice - a false promise to deliver a pro-free-market, pro-individualism revolution.  The mandatory long-form is a long-term gripe of that constituency and making it optional - without eliminating it - is only the latest half-hearted attempt to maintain whatever party loyalty there remains among those who seek individual freedom and capitalism.

I do not think the Conservatives will gain or maintain much loyalty from that constituency, but neither do I think they have much to lose by taking the step they have taken (unless they commit the cardinal sin of, again, reversing themselves only to fend off the Liberals and other collectivists).  Nonetheless, making the long form optional accomplishes something more important for Conservatives and non-Conservatives alike.  I anticipate relatively few people will volunteer to spend their time filling out an optional long-form census and, if that ends up being the case, the Conservatives will at least unintentionally have struck a blow against that most destructive and dehumanizing form of collectivism: racism.

Posted by Paul McKeever on July 17, 2010 in Canadian Politics, Census, Economic freedom, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (9)

Friday, July 16, 2010

WS on the census: Martin Masse "Census data feeds government intervention"

Martin Masse, publisher of the libertarian webzine Le Québécois Libre (whose banner ad we've been proudly hosting for going on two years now) and former advisor to Industry minister Maxime Bernier, responds to our request for opinions on the census with a longer and more thoughtful piece. (For shorter quip-like responses, check out Terrence Watson's, J.J. McCullough's, and Walter Block's responses).

Martin writes:

It’s interesting to note that the first general census in North America was conducted in New France in 1665 by the then-intendant of the colony, Jean Talon (who has a big street and a metro station named after him in Montreal). Talon had been sent to North America by Louis XIV’s finance minister, the famous Jean-Baptiste Colbert.

Colbert was the master bureaucrat of his time. He used his considerable powers to direct French economic development and to increase the prestige and revenue of the French state. His version of mercantilism, the interventionist doctrine popular in all European countries at the time, even bears his name: colbertisme.

Talon was of course a follower of colbertisme and he had all kinds of good ideas to “stimulate” the colony’s development, which then numbered about 3,000 inhabitants. But first, he had to know more precisely the state of the colony. How can you plan the economy and tell people what to do with their lives if you don’t first have a clear picture of the situation?

There is a page on Statistics Canada’s website devoted to the first statistician on the continent, which explains very well what censuses were for in Talon’s time, and are still for today, which is to help governments “manage” societies:

As Intendant of Justice, Police, and Finance, Talon's tasks were to stimulate the economic expansion of New France, increase the colony's self-sufficiency and bring order to its financial administration. He was a man of enthusiasm and vision, and although he ranked below the Governor, he soon became the real manager of the colony.


After collecting his statistics, Talon put them to work. He was responsible for everything from taxes to health, from bridge building to chimney sweeping, and his influence touched every facet of government, and of the day-to-day lives of colonists. He used knowledge gained from the census to develop the colony in many directions.

Clear enough?

Fast-forward 350 years, and who do we hear denouncing the Conservative government’s decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire of the census? All those whose job it is to plan and manage society’s development. There was only one such bureaucrat in the 1660s, but today there are hundreds of thousands of them in Canada, at all levels of government and even beyond, in all the parasitic “private” organizations and professional fields that depend on government to conduct their business.

You know who you’re dealing with when a unanimous chorus of protest emerges from organizations such as the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Canadian Institute of Planners, the Canadian Economics Association, the Canadian Council of Social Development, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, francophone minority groups, women’s groups -- and the list goes on and on.

Over the past two weeks, we’ve heard that it would become extremely difficult for governments, municipalities and community groups to make decisions regarding education, health care, income inequalities, immigration, urban planning, and countless other fields, if the government goes ahead with its decision. A Liberal MP, Marlene Jennings, said that visible and linguistic minorities could suffer (that is, might get less government money) because the demographic studies that help government organizations and others hone in on the problems in certain regions rely on the results of long-form census surveys.

Despite the modern jargon, Talon would find the arguments entirely familiar. As a professor of Urban and Regional Economics reminded us in The Gazette, “enlightened policy decisions can only be taken if the government and its advisers have a good idea of what is happening in Canada.” Or hear this unnamed statistician asking in the Globe and Mail: “Should those who collect and spend our tax dollars on matters determined to be in the public interest not do so with the most informed statistical information possible?”

A census can only gather accurate information with the use of widespread coercion and intrusion in people’s private lives. Whether or not masses of citizens find it worthwhile to protest officially is not the point; this in itself is enough to oppose it from a libertarian perspective and the government was right to justify its decision on this basis. But everyone should also be aware that statistics are not just any neutral information that is useful to have.

As the great libertarian economist, Murray Rothbard, explained half a century ago:

Certainly, only by statistics, can the federal government make even a fitful attempt to plan, regulate, control, or reform various industries - or impose central planning and socialization on the entire economic system. If the government received no railroad statistics, for example, how in the world could it even start to regulate railroad rates, finances, and other affairs? How could the government impose price controls if it didn't even know what goods have been sold on the market, and what prices were prevailing? Statistics, to repeat, are the eyes and ears of the interventionists: of the intellectual reformer, the politician, and the government bureaucrat.

Without their eyes and ears -- or at any rate, with poorer eyesight and hearing -- the interventionists will find it more difficult to defend their work and they might lose some legitimacy. Which is why we should enthusiastically support this decision to scrap the mandatory long-form questionnaire.

Now, if only the government had been a little bit more coherent and scrapped the thing entirely instead of replacing it with a voluntary questionnaire sent to more households that will cost more, produce less reliable data and be a source of unnecessary controversy for years to come. Perhaps industry minister Tony Clement really believes his lines about the new data being as reliable and useful as the data collected the old way? That would not be surprising, coming from a government that has shown almost no inclination to cut spending, stop managing the economy and get out of our lives.

Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (3)

WS on the census: Terrence Watson

"My opinions about the census aren't very strong," writes WS editorial team member Terrence Watson. "I did find it amusing that Warren Kinsella has come out defending the plan to scrap the mandatory long form."

Here is what I think: Getting rid of the long form will indeed hamper social science research.

Is that bad? Not necessarily.

That research is often used by our benevolent overlords to justify additional government intrusion. Weaken the census, and you weaken the ability of the government to plan. More than that, you limit the ability of special interests groups to rely on that data when engaged in rent-seeking attempts.

Thus, maybe it's better to keep them in the dark. Perhaps Harper even knows this -- the long game, again? This isn't the kind of thing that's going to do damage right away, but only over time. Some of the lefties have figured this out, and they're really mad about it. And Kinsella sounds like a libertarian talking about it.

Here's the original post, Walter Block's response, and J.J. McCullough's.

Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

The first sign of the U.S. Dollar apocalypse has come

Over a year ago, I was sitting around with a group of people talking about the long-term prospects for the USD. And, for more than a year, I've been hyper-bearish on the US economy.

In fact, in a spat of tweets on Twitter last Fall, I publicly pronounced that I was completely divesting of all US-denominated assets and moving almost entirely into Canadian and Asian stocks.

I talk markets with many colleagues, and many people poked fun at this position. In fact, a stock analyst friend of mine tried to convince me that I was going to "miss" the ride up the slope of the assuredly coming US recovery. Holding firm, I decided I was okay being the odd-man out in the terms of my investing strategy.

Further, much of my moves were aimed specifically at shorting the US as a whole. This move paid off huge at the beginning of the year, and since has been sort of a so-so strategy of late. But I held on, refusing to jump ship from my commodity-heavy, inflation-hedged strategy all the way up until today. Even when people were cheering on the strong US job growth a few months ago, I refused to budge.

Today, I'm increasingly convinced that I was right to do so.

I have long said that the first sign of the coming US economic apocalypse would be when China stopped buying US treasures. And China has done just that. In fact, China's Dagong Global Credit Rating two days ago, downgraded US Treasuries from an AAA to AA rating with a negative outlook. Ouch.

That comes on the heels of downgrade warnings by S&P and Moody's earlier in the year.

This action on part of China, for all the political posturing over China's currency peg, is not something the US can come out of unscathed. In fact, the likely outcome is a massive decline in the value of the USD in the near to medium-term.

Those of you non-Americans who believe the USD is safe, and have serious US-based holdings need to seriously consider your portfolio immediately. You are at extreme risk of losing it all. Make no mistake, the US is on a collision course with disaster; the entire country is over-leveraged to the hilt, and it's biggest creditor is no longer loaning it money.

As global investors and foreign central banks continue to perceive the increasing risk of US treasuries, yields will be forced up, and US debt will become more and more unsustainable.

Here's my personal outlook for the US economy, that's driving my investment choices, for what it's worth:

Legal Disclaimer: Any investment advice is the opinion of the author, and not that of the Western Standard. The author is not a registered investment advisor, and provides this commentary for educational purposes.

Investors should be aware that markets are subject to uncertainty and that performance of investments or investment strategies recommended by the author have no guarantee of success. The author and the Western Standard do not accept any responsibility for any losses incurred as a result of following any advice offered, and inexperienced investors are encouraged to seek the advice of a professional investment advisor before pursuing any investment strategy.

Author's Relevant Disclosure: Mike Brock owns TSE:HDD (Horizons Betapro US Dollar Bear Plus), TSE:XGD (iShares S&P Global Gold Index Fund), TSE:CGL (Claymore Gold Bullion ETF), TSE:CEF.A (Central Fund of Canada Limited), CMP.UN (CMP Gold Trust), TSE:G (Goldcorp Inc.)

Posted by Mike Brock on July 16, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

WS on the Census: Walter Block

We're putting up opinions about the census from around the Western-Standard-verse. Here's Professor Walter Block's contribution:

Statistics are the eyes and ears of government. Therefore, the less of them they have, the better off we will all be. Why? Because data, information of the sort collected by a compulsory census enables the government to engage in central planning, and the less of that the better.

Or, have we not learned any lesson from the failure of the 5 year plans of the late and non lamented USSR? Any step in the direction of reducing the impact of the census is a step in the right direction: it is a step in the direction of liberty. That government is best that governs least, and the census enables the state to govern more. So, that census which gives the government the least information is the best.

Dr. Block is the Harold E. Wirth Eminent Scholar Endowed Chair and Professor of Economics at Loyola University, and author of several books, including these:


Posted by westernstandard on July 16, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Run from the Rahn Curve

Recently, Shotgun blogger PUBLIUS featured a video made by the Center for Freedom and Prosperity concerning a graph of the so-called "Rahn curve". The video serves as a good example of what is wrong with the idea of founding upon quantitative economic arguments ones advocacy of individual freedom. And, given the political orientation of those telling us about the Rahn curve, an explanation of why libertarians are prone to making the aforementioned error is warranted.

In the comments section of the
 blog post about the Rahn Curve, I essentially 'promised' a video response. The argument below may be a bit more precise, but I did in fact prepare a video in which I opine extemporaneously upon the same subject discussed in this post. For those who would rather watch and listen than read, I include that video response below:

 There should be little argument that the Center's video is being presented by an organization that wants the world to view it as advocating individual freedom. Were that not the case, I sincerely doubt that the "Center for Freedom and Prosperity" would bother mentioning freedom, and would instead call itself something like "The Centre for National Prosperity" (a name that would be more fitting). In the video, the Center's spokesperson is Dan Mitchell, a libertarian economist who is both a founder of the Center, and is a senior fellow with the
Cato Institute. The Cato Institute takes its name from Cato's Letters, which the Institute describes as "...a series of libertarian pamphlets that helped lay the philosophical foundation for the American Revolution." The Cato Institute states that its mission is: "...to increase the understanding of public policies based on the principles of limited government, free markets, individual liberty, and peace."  In short, the video is presented by entities that wish to be regarded as advocates of individual freedom. 

The purpose of the video is informed by the fact that those providing the video wish to be regarded, in doing so, as advocates of individual freedom. Accordingly, the arguments set out in the video purport to be arguments in defence of individual freedom (hence, of capitalism).  So let us turn to the content of the video for the purposes of determining whether the video's message strengthens or undermines the case for individual freedom.  

The video gets off to a bad start. The "Rahn Curve" graph does not disclose what, exactly, is being plotted.  The X axis is labeled ambiguously as "Economic Performance", and the Y axis is labeled just as ambiguously: "Size of Government". That ambiguous labeling, together with such narrative as "But you the viewer only need to understand one thing", suggests that the producers of the video are not very concerned with having viewers actually understand the curve, so long as viewers accept the curve as economic proof that government is currently too big. With not too much googling, one can find for oneself the units that the Center thought should be replaced with ambiguous terms. Values on the X axis (which the Center labels "Economic Performance") are actually: Percentages of Annual Growth in GDP. Values on the Y axis are (which the Center calls "Size of Government") are: Percentages of Annual GDP that is Spent by Government". 

Mitchell tells the viewer that "economic performance" is maximized when government spending (a.k.a., the "size of government") is somewhere in the range of 15% to 25% of GDP. He goes on to deliver the video's take-home message: because U.S. government spending is in the 35% to 40% range, the Rahn curve demonstrates "...that government is too big, and this is reducing prosperity".

As an aside, I should add that, given that that which is spent by government must first also be taxed by government, it should not be surprising that the Rahn Curve has the same shape as the Laffer Curve. Yet the Rahn Curve is presented to the viewer as though it is a second piece of evidence that there is a right size for government.

There are numerous problems with the Center's use of the Rahn Curve as a basis for advocating individual freedom. First, consider the implications of an alleged freedom advocate advocating the maximization of annual growth in GDP. GDP growth is not a measure of the increase of any particular individual's productivity, but of the increase of the productivity of a collective entity: the country, or nation. Because the Center is advocating the maximization of GDP growth as a desired goal, it is implicitly advocating for the interests of a collective (the country, the nation), whether or not such a goal is in the interest of a particular individual.  In other words, the Center is necessarily advocating in favour of what utilitarians and other collectivists are prone to calling "the greater good" ("greater", as in: "of greater importance than the good of any one individual"). 

One cannot seriously expect to found the advocacy of individual freedom upon maximization of something that designed to serve "the greater good"; the good of the collective. When one uses the economic benefit of the greater good as the basis for arguing that individual freedom is desirable, one instantly undermines the cause of individual freedom. Every instance of individual freedom that leads to an economic result in which the collective does less well than it otherwise would have done but for the individual freedom serves as an argument against individual freedom. Does the use of marijuana, or alcohol, or opiates decrease growth in the collective productivity of the country? If so, then the result of alleged individual freedom advocates holding up collective productivity growth as a desired goal implies that some of the revenue spent by government should be used to force individuals not to use such substances. The violation of liberty is thereby held up as somehow being consistent with, or even necessary for, the defence of individual freedom.

Second, the assertion that there is an ideal size of government, together with the assumption that the size of government is properly measured by spending as a percentage of GDP, implies that it is ideal for the government to grow – more precisely, that it is ideal for government spending to grow -- as GDP grows. The Center for Freedom and Prosperity having as one of its aims greater productivity, the Center is, ironically, advocating the continuous growth of government (assuming the economy continues to grow). So, if one starts with the libertarian notion that "the best government is the government that governs least" (i.e., that smaller government is necessarily more compatible with individual freedom than is bigger government), one is left with the self-defeating spectacle of libertarians implicitly arguing for ever-growing government; a growth allegedly serving "the greater good". 

Worse, the Center provides us with not even an attempt to explain why productivity growth leads to a situation in which government needs more money. If one individual's efforts increase the productivity of the country, it does not follow that that productivity increase causes a state of affairs in which defending life, liberty, and property becomes more expensive. The notion that government spending should increase as a percentage of GDP is a welfare statist conception, founded upon the notion that so long as the percentage of wealth stolen from the public does not change, there is no harm done: the amount of wealth transferred from the increasingly productive to the under-productive or non-productive can increase as the economy grows. Such wealth redistribution, being accomplished by a gun pointed by government at the head of every producer, is neither an incentive for production nor consistent with the role of government in a free society: defending every individual's life, liberty, and property. 

Third, government spending is, itself, an ambiguous concept. There is simply no way that “government spending”
per se, is necessarily good or necessarily bad for productivity growth. Law enforcement is not, per se, good or bad for productivity. For example, the supposedly ideal 20% recommended in the video could be spent on defending every individual’s life, liberty and property. Trade requires that a person’s property not be obtained without his consent so, clearly, if government pays officers to ensure that nobody obtains another person’s property by such means as theft or fraud, productivity will be higher than were government to allow thefts and frauds to occur. But productivity will be undermined if government uses exactly the same amount of money to pay officers to force stores or factories to close on Sundays or religious holidays, or to seize the property of milk farmers who sell milk directly to consumers instead of complying with a law requiring them to buy quotas and sell their milk only to a milk marketing board. 

As another example, the government can spend $1.8M Canadian tax dollars to pay a year’s salary to approximately 6 Canadian judges who will try and convict murderers, rapists, and thieves. Alternatively, the government can spend that $1.8M Canadian tax dollars to buy a painting comprised of three vertical stripes ("
Voice of Fire"). The arrest and conviction of criminals will facilitate productivity and trade, but the purchase -- by a non-productive entity such as government - of three lines on a canvas, will not increase productivity. To the contrary, the government's purchase of the painting may well reduce productivity by taking money out of the hands of producers (i.e., taxpayers) who would have used the money as capital with which to facilitate more valuable production.

Fourth, in a political context, individual freedom means: not having ones life, liberty, or property taken without ones consent. Individual freedom is not a reference to government using force (i.e., laws, backed by guns) in an attempt to maximize the increase of the collective productivity of the country's inhabitants. Individual freedom is not a reference to government using force to increase tax revenues and government spending when the country's productivity increases. Individual freedom does not refer to government using force to redistribute wealth from those who produce it to those who do not. All such uses of force in the economy are instances of the very coercion from which the government is supposed to be
protecting individuals. They are instances of the very crimes for which the government rightly arrests and imprisons people. They are evidence that the government now regards itself as being above the law.
The whole notion of “smaller government”, similarly, has nothing
per se to do with individual freedom.  Individual freedom depends upon the quality of government, not the quantity of it. Individual freedom is not a function of how big or small a government is, per se, but of how effective government is in defending every individual’s life, liberty or property; how effective it is in ensuring that no person is deprived of his life, liberty or property without his consent. A small government that does not defend life, liberty and property is less desirable than a big government that limits itself to doing so. Therefore it makes no sense to assert that there is a given percentage of GDP that the government should take and spend (i.e., it makes no sense to advocate that there is a right size for government based upon economic figures). A government's expenditures will properly depend upon such things as how much crime there is; how many thieves, rapists, and murderers there are, et cetera. A largely moral and peaceful society with a given GDP will be much less expensive to govern than a largely immoral and violent one with the same GDP.

Now, if neither the alleged size of government nor the quantitative arguments of economics has anything to do with individual freedom, why do many libertarians spend so much time calling for “less government”?  Why do libertarians base so many of their arguments upon the attainment of economic goals? The answer to both questions is rooted in the fact that economics deals not with the qualities of things, but with the quantities of things; it deals explicitly not with right and wrong, but with more and less. And, because economics deals with quantities instead of with qualities, an economic argument gives libertarians a rallying cry to attract individuals whose qualitative opinions about government differ greatly, or are even in opposition. 

For example, quantitative economic arguments in support of “small government” allow libertarians to attract religious anti-abortionists who want to take away government’s ability to fund abortions, while also attracting anti-religious pro-choicers who want government to stop funding (or to stop providing tax breaks for) religions that oppose a woman’s right to choose to have an abortion. The result is a libertarian group that claims to advocate individual freedom though its members cannot agree about whether doctors who provide abortion services should be protected from those who bomb abortion clinics, or whether such doctors ought to be given the death penalty. 

The libertarian's conscious or unconscious attraction to economics is founded upon the hope that if you give people common quantitative conclusions with which they can agree, they will voluntarily stick their heads in the sand, or keep their mouths shut, with respect to the qualitative commitments that make their fellow libertarians their political enemies. And so we have libertarians who rally behind the anti-abortion Ron Paul, a proponent of Austrian economics, joining with libertarians who rallied behind - and continue to praise - pro-choice libertarians like Murray Rothbard who, similarly, was a proponent of Austrian economics. 

In discussing libertarians, I do not imply that I restrict my criticism - concerning the use of economics to justify individual freedom, or to bring people together despite their substantive opposition - to libertarians or members of Libertarian parties. The same misguided attraction to economics imperils other political parties. For example, in a recent
interview of blogger Andrew Lawton by Libertas Post, Lawton took the libertarian position that health care should be entirely privatized. Lawton is anti-abortion and he considers himself a "social conservative". Yet he told Libertas Post that "at the end of the day, I think the most important issues that we have to work on as conservatives are the issues that we agree on, which are economic issues". Like the big L libertarians, the big C conservatives attempt to use economics as a no-conflict zone between warring factions who somehow think it desirable, for electoral ends, to work together though their desired governmental ends are mutually exclusive. 

However, unlike libertarians and Libertarians, conservatives and Conservatives do not seek to be seen as advocates for individual freedom, and generally do not hold themselves out to be such. Accordingly, trying to unite people with economics does little to undermine the case for individual freedom when it is conservatives who engage in such folly. If anything, it undermines conservatism.

In contrast, when libertarians - holding themselves out to be proponents of individual freedom -- use economic arguments to bring together individuals who oppose one another on qualitative matters (e.g., anti-abortion vs. pro-choice), each instance of disagreement on such fundamental qualitative matters -- among alleged advocates of individual freedom -- serves to convince the public that "individual freedom" itself is itself an ambiguous concept; individual freedom itself is undermined.

The prospects for individual freedom would be undermined even more were libertarians -- having been drawn together by economic arguments -- somehow to win the reigns of governmental power. Returning to the abortion example, when conservatives disagree about abortion, and decide upon a "compromise" law in which women are free to have abortions in the first five months of pregnancy, but in which abortions conducted thereafter are punishable by imprisonment, the wisdom or insanity of the law is attributed to conservativism or to a Conservative party. 

In contrast, were a governing libertarian party -- a governing party that claims to be comprised of proponents of individual freedom -- to adopt the same 5-month law for abortions in order to accomplish the same comprise between its anti-abortionist and pro-choice membership, what would that tell the onlooking public? It would tell the public a range of falsehoods: that "individual freedom is not absolute"; that compromise is,
per se, a virtue, and is necessary; that "individual freedom is good in theory, but it doesn't work in practice"; that, ultimately, any argument in favour of individual freedom is flawed; that advocates of individual freedom are "naive" and should be ignored. In short, even were it possible to use economic arguments to unite de facto political opponents to win an election, the winning of the electoral battle would only serve to undermine the cause of individual freedom.

Nothing I have said about economics should be interpreted as a condemnation of economics itself. To the contrary, economics explains a great deal that should be known and that can help producers and consumers make wise choices. However, in a free society, economic choices are made by producers, who trade their respective values consensually. If the economic aim of a government is a free market, the government can ignore economic arguments altogether, and simply ensure that all trades a mutually consensual. Any other economic aim pursued by government (e.g., increasing government revenues and expenditures as the economy grows so as to maximize the productivity growth of the country), with or without economic knowledge, necessarily will involve using force to coerce individuals to part with their values non-consensually.

Accordingly, in a free society, economic arguments are of no use to government except for the identifying instances where an individual's life, liberty or property is being taken without his consent (e.g., arguments about the nature and effect of fractional reserve banking, monetary inflation, the use of gold as money, et cetera).  Any economic argument in favour of government having an economic aim other than a free market serves not to defend individual freedom, but to undermine it.

Posted by Paul McKeever on July 12, 2010 in Economic freedom, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Congressman Ron Paul on The Daily Show

Posted by Kalim Kassam on September 30, 2009 in Economic freedom, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The Canadian Tradition

I'm currently part way through Brian Lee Crowley's latest book: Fearful Symmetry: The Fall and Rise of Canada's Founding Values. So far so good. I hope to have a review up later in the week. The basic thesis is that Canada was founded as a classically liberal society, and then lost its way through a combination of changing intellectual trends and Quebec nationalism. It is the later that Crowley cites as vital in explaining Canada's higher than average level of statism compared to other English speaking nations. The Quiet Revolution, and its aftermath, sparked a bidding war for the loyalty--if that's the word--of the Quebecois. The thesis is not original, but Crowley brings a considerable weight of scholarship to bear on the issue. He also breaks the taboo among the Canadian intelligentsia of stating the obvious: In the main the Quebecois are not loyal to Canada. The book is endorsed by a dazzling array of Canadian conservatives: Conrad Black, Michael Bliss, William Gairdner, Barbara Kay, Tom Flanagan and David Frum. If we can speak of Canadian conservative establishment, the above is a Who's Who. From the National Post:

The state had been expanding on both sides of the border for years. When Stephen Leacock warned of the impending arrival of socialism in Canada in 1924, the state in Canada was spending 11% of GDP. By 1960, we were spending over 28%. Again, however, there was nothing in that that distinguished Canada; government was carving out a bigger role for itself everywhere. No one denies that the zeitgeist was there, no one denies that government in general and the social service state in particular were growing. What has to be explained is not the direction of change, but rather its speed and scope and timing. 

And here the parallel social and economic developments of Canada and the United States over the previous century must be given their due weight. We were two societies with a similar intellectual, philosophical and institutional endowment. We Canadians thought of ourselves as the truer guardians of the British traditions of liberty and limited government, but the Americans fought a revolution in order to vindicate what they thought of as the rights and liberties of Englishmen. The spirit of the great liberal individualist John Locke presided over America's founding debates in the eighteenth century, just as he did over the Confederation debates of the nineteenth.

Posted by Richard Anderson on September 19, 2009 in Canadian History, Canadian libertarian politics, Canadian Politics, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

Friday, September 04, 2009

Anarchism & Education

In February 2007 I published a small magazine of current affairs opinion pieces, mostly for the experience as well as getting my ideas out to those I could reach. Although I forget the number now, I would estimate about 50 copies were made. Most of those copies were given to family, friends, and the Civitas conference that happened to be in Halifax in May 2007.


I have published a couple articles from this magazine and the LPC newsletter already, but here are a couple scans I thought were still at least decent. The rest is unfortunately anti-conservative at times, but hey, you have to start somewhere! It must be said that the second article is not written by me, however I agree with the overall message that the whole public school system is so rigid that creativity, intellect, and intelligence is no longer rewarded. Sometimes, it’s even punishable behavior. Hooray for progressivism!

The first article is essentially a rant about the comparison of anarchism and libertarianism. Someday I will write about the fact that anarchism is essentially more left-wing than even communism, but in the meantime I would love to hear hear my fellow conservatives’ opinion on both of these (old) articles.


[Cross-posted at The Right Coast]

Posted by Dane Richard on September 4, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (12)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Free Talk Live: Liberty Radio

If you value liberty and you aren't familiar with Free Talk Live, then you're missing out. FTL is radio show and podcast hosted by Mark Edge, a self-described Minarchist; and Ian Freeman, a voluntaryist/anarcho-capatalist. They have frequent co-hosts that range from small-government libertarians to anarchists and speak honestly and frankly about the failings of the government paradigm.

The content of Free Talk Live is largely responsible for showing my the logic of liberty, and real-life solutions that are found through personal and economic freedom. They are members of the Free State Project, a movement of 20 thousand liberty loving people to New Hampshire to get active in promoting liberty.

You can listen on line for free at their website; they are live 7-10 Eastern Time, Monday to Saturday.

Posted by Freedom Manitoba on July 29, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Philosophy of Liberty

Understand personal liberty, economic liberty and property rights in 8 minutes.

Posted by Freedom Manitoba on July 20, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (30)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The existence of evil: the real divide between libertarians and social conservatives

Hopefully, this post won't offend anyone, libertarian or conservative. My intent is not to assess the truth of either of these views, but merely to determine the degree to which they are compatible.

While I'd like to offer definitions of both positions -- both libertarian and social conservative -- doing so would immediately embroil this post in debates I would like it to avoid. In any event, I don't have an exhaustive definition of either term, and descriptions of social conservatism, like this one are worse than useless. Rather, I would like to suggest one point, only one, on which libertarians and social conservatives differ. They may differ in other respects, but this one difference can explain much or all of the variance between the two positions.

There is a common view, and it used to be more common, that politics is a matter of applied morality. Relatively speaking, the idea that "you can't legislate morality" is of recent vintage, and even the people who now declare their allegiance to it probably don't believe what they are saying. Not really; but it is a fashionable thing to say, and so the fashionable left says it. Repeatedly. Until it becomes nauseating.

There can be no complete separation between politics and morality. To take a trivial example, murder laws track the moral prohibition on killing. The distinction between murder and manslaughter depends on our suspicion that malicious intent adds to one's moral responsibility.

The question, therefore, is not whether morality should drive politics, but the degree to which it should do so. On one end of the scale, law prohibits every immoral act, and political institutions are used to ensure that people make good choices for their lives and the lives of others. On the other end, politics is completely detached from morality, or even opposed to it, so that citizens are commanded to act immorally.

We want to find a principled basis for stopping somewhere between these two extremes. The libertarian has one, or thinks he does: law is violence, and so it is fitting that it be used only to prohibit violence. Violent actions are particularly immoral -- or immoral in a special way -- and this is why the line must be drawn at this point and no other. The libertarian claims that only part of morality should drive politics, the part that prohibits violence, but that otherwise government and morality ought to be kept at arms' length.

Thus, while the libertarian may recognize that there are better and worse ways to live, he will only make use of the law when it is necessary to protect people from the violent actions of others. He may believe, and be right to believe, that non-violent drug users tend to live poorly from a moral point of view. Their lives may be shallow and empty, but as long as they refrain from inflicting violence on others, the law will not intervene. So says the libertarian.

The social conservative has a different perspective. Despite what some may think, I have quite a bit of sympathy for that perspective, and hopefully that will prevent me from drawing a caricature. First, the social conservative recognizes that those who live poorly often encourage others to live poorly. The very presence of the non-violent drug user can lead others to live worse lives than they would otherwise. Moreover, a culture of irresponsible and intemperate drug-abusers will be unable to sustain a commitment to important values and principles, including ones the libertarian hopes to rely on. The law can prevent this, and should prevent it.

The libertarian has a response to this way of thinking. Rational persuasion, social stigma and economic forces will keep people in line, the response goes. The invisible hand will ensure that society does not sink into a miasma of cannabis smoke. Violence is unnecessary.

There are reasons to reject this response. Some are rooted in history (China's experience with opium is an oft-cited example.) But grander than history, tradition and theology teach another lesson: evil exists, and that's the way most people like it. Running counter to the magnetism of rationality or the pull of the invisible hand, there is evil. Indeed, evil, reason, and economics sometimes work together, reinforcing each other, birthing new, more efficient kinds of perversions and devastation.

"Of course evil exists," the libertarian declares. "Violence is evil, isn't it?" Of course, that's not what the existence of evil means to the conservative, or not only.

What does it mean for evil to exist? I think one of Dostoevsky's characters, the narrator of Notes From Underground, had it about right: humans really like to do what they know they ought not do. If a person realizes he is living poorly, this may be precisely the motivation he needs to encourage others to live the same way. If another recognizes that it would be better, all things considered, if he did X, he is just as likely to spurn X in favor of Y. This is not the banal evil of Hannah Arendt, but the primal evil, the first evil, the evil of Milton's Lucifer, who once declared, "Evil, be thou my good!"

If humans are enmeshed in this kind of evil, born into it, then rationality and economic forces will be insufficient to curtail the destructive impulses of the masses. Evil, by this standard, becomes rational: absent the violence of the state, it is rational for the drug addict to create other drug addicts, and for the corrupt to corrupt others. For the "supply" of evil to be curtailed by diminishing "demand" -- there must be diminishing demand for evil, not an ever-increasing appetite for it.

The libertarian draws the line. The conservative says, "That's not good enough. It permits too much evil to flourish. And evil will eventually wipe away that line, too, and the result will be more violence than you ever thought possible."

At this point, the libertarian has a response: "You are right that limiting the role of government permits evil to flourish. You have to accept that. The alternative is a more powerful government, one that can use its power to create more evil. Limiting government, keeping evil on an individual scale -- that's the better bet." I've come to think that this response is a dodge.

I call it a dodge. Why? Because it's not necessarily the better bet. There is no evidence that allowing individuals to spawn as much evil as they please (except violence) results in less evil. There is no evidence that governments, given the constitutionally-limited power to quash evil, will all turn into versions of Nazi Germany. In addition, the conservative can agree with the libertarian that governments given an unlimited mandate to quash evil will themselves become evil. But that is not what the conservative wants; what he wants is not unlimited power but some power; not the ability to crush evil no matter the cost, but the ability to nibble at evil, around the edges, and to keep it on a leash.

Outside prohibiting violence, the libertarian thinks government ought to leave evil alone. The conservative thinks government ought to engage it -- defeat it -- sometimes. The choice is not that of liberty or fascism, but that of freeing evil from political control, trusting other forms of social control to fully contain it, or giving government a role in doing so.

It should be noted that the liberal and the libertarian do not necessarily clash in this way. The liberal -- and here I mean the modern, "progressive" variety -- does not believe in evil the way the conservative does, as John Kekes has pointed out. To the liberal, evil does not exist, or at least does not exist as a natural force. For example, the non-violent drug addict is not evil, but sick. Terrorists who kill children are not evil, but the product of corrupt institutions and U.S. foreign policy. Naturally, people are good, or at least decent; if they don't act that way, it's because other, un-natural forces are at work (like religion, with its scrupulous, stifling moral codes, etc.) It is not freedom but that lack of it that causes people to behave in an evil fashion, or so says the progressive.

While this way of thinking can be traced at least as far back as Rousseau, it's unfair to put all the blame on him. If people have a natural inclination towards evil, then we should expect people to be drawn to ideas that glamorize that inclination and denigrate the institutional forces that, in the past, kept it in check. In this respect, Rousseau is just a scapegoat, and we might as well blame Satan.

But, in some sense, the liberal and the libertarian agree that more individual freedom is the answer to the problem of evil. Leave people alone, let them make decisions for themselves, and they'll end up seeking the good and shunning the bad. This is why I said there is no real clash between the liberal position and the libertarian one, at least as far as evil is concerned.

If I'm right, then the root of the conflict between libertarians and social conservatives is an old one. This is not to say that libertarians can't believe in evil as thoroughly as conservatives do. However, I'm not sure they can believe in it in precisely the same way.

Let's consider the example of violence. Often, violence is an evil. But almost no one (except maybe the progressive liberal) thinks that violence can't be put to good use. If a small amount of violence can prevent a great amount of evil, then that might be reason enough to support the use of violence. Fortunately (here, libertarians will disagree, and I will disagree with them), modern government has gotten quite good at being economical in its use of violence. The barest threat -- the frown of the police officer; the possibility of an tax audit -- is enough to get most people to comply.

Thus, the very efficiency of the modern state, its ability to use small amounts of violence for very great effect, makes it difficult to sensibly reject unleashing the state against the threat of evil. If you believe in evil, of course. The libertarian who both believes in evil and believes that the state should not be unleashed to combat it has the burden of explaining why. In what follows, I'll call the libertarian who believes in evil (beyond the infliction of violence) a conservative-libertarian, and attempt to meet the burden he bears.

Here is one explanation: violence is evil to such a degree that its use can never be sanctioned, not even against (by implication) lesser evils. The drug user lives poorly and encourages others to do the same, but we do even worse if we bring violence against him.

This has to be the comparison the conservative-libertarian has in mind: using violence against people who live evil lives is worse than allowing them to continue and spread their evil. But if this is the idea, then, frankly, it sounds silly. A tiny amount of violence, directed at a few, evil people, to prevent them from spreading their evil further. And still, that's too much? On every occasion? But why? What makes a small amount of violence -- neutered, and under the control of legions of bureaucrats -- so bad that it can never be used in this way?

What the libertarian needs to say, I think, is that it is an injustice to use violence just to get people to make good choices. That it is wrong to force people to live good lives. That we cannot use the smallest amount of violence to make the world a better place. But this sounds absurd, and must sound absurd to social conservatives.

Thus, I submit that the libertarian, to avoid this absurdity, cannot believe in evil the way the social conservative believes in evil. He must believe in evil the way liberals believe in evil: that it is unnatural, and that more freedom will, over time, lead to less of it. This is not to say the libertarian can't believe the drug addict is living poorly, that his life would be better if he made different choices. But he must believe that, given sufficient freedom, the vast majority of people will not choose to follow the drug addict into perdition. Evil is always the exception and never the rule.

Posted by Terrence Watson on June 14, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (64)

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Motor Home Diaries: A road trip in search of freedom in America

Leave it to my dear fellow libertarians to envision the Motor Home Diaries<, a story of three friends who took to the road in April 2009 to search for freedom in America. According to their website....

Along the way the friends — Jason, Pete and Tom — interact with individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints at college campuses, homes, businesses and organizations that are united by one thing: increasing individual freedom and responsibility and decreasing the scope of government.

Their story takes place in a 30 foot used motorhome affectionately dubbed M.A.R.V. (Mobile Authority Response Vehicle). Driving from the urban jungles to picturesque small towns and everywhere in-between, they connect with those who reject government violence in favor of a voluntary society. Through the stories of the individuals they interview they explore the historic shift in power from individuals to the government and the growing movement of those who are fighting back to reclaim their liberties. They consider their project to be a near-real time documentary since they will post quickly edited videos online so their trip can be viewed on MotorHomeDiaries.com. There, you can read their frequently posted blog and tweets. Videos, photos and media will be posted rapid fire.

Tomorrow night, these three gentle liberty-lovers will be honored at my humble home. I look forward to sharing more details about their trip and the unfortunate sally with law enforcement.

There are rumors of the Motorhomers venturing into Leonard-Cohen-land, and I am sure they would love to do so given a little financial assistance (i.e. funding). Currently, they are being funded by the Atlas Foundation, Bureaucrash, Free State Project, and Free Talk Live. Any Canadian non-profits interested in bringing the Motorhome Diaries up north should send a friendly email to [email protected].

Posted by Alina on May 17, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (12) | TrackBack

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

US Congressman Ron Paul talks libertarianism with Pete Eyre

Last week on Western Standard Radio's flagship show The Hot Room, Pete Eyre, Jason Talley and Adam Mueller joined hosts Mike Brock, Jay Currie and Peter Jaworski from the road to talk about their Motorhome Diaries project where they're documenting their trip across the US (with a couple jaunts into Canada) in search of liberty and those who defend it. Among the topics discussed were the merits of US Republican Congressman Ron Paul's approach to constitutional government and libertarianism and specifically his approach to immigration.

Today, in an interview with the country doctor-turned-political superstar at his home in Lake Jackson, Texas, Pete Eyre had a chance to ask Paul more about his views on immigration and also to talk to him about monetary policy, civil disobedience, anarchist supporters of voluntaryism, and how to make the case for and build towards a freer society.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on May 12, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bioethics in a godless world

I'll leave abortion at the door today, and look at the second-biggest bioethical issue: embryonic stem cell research.

Recently, Michael J. Fox appeared on Oprah and was presented with a new line of bio-research that promises to be even more promising than embryonic stem cell research; the technique involves using adult skin tissue to culture cells that can repair the damage of Parkinson's Disease.

This predictably has Christian's and other religions preoccupied with this issue jumping for joy, believing this somehow closes the debate. Except it doesn't.

What particularly bothers me about the bio-ethical questions surrounding stem cell research as it pertains to it's religious opponents, is they're completely dishonest in regular discourse about what they're really trying to say.

What they're really trying to say is: stem cell research is wrong, because god says it's wrong.

Even if you really believe this, I have to tell you that it's not terribly convincing reasoning for someone who doesn't believe in god. Would you be terribly impressed if I told you that eating spaghetti was immoral because the flying spaghetti monster says it isn't? Of course not.

Most religious people just give up on the god justification, and go after arguments of efficacy, claiming that embryonic stem cell research has no benefits over adult stem cell research--which are patently bad reasoning, considering only research on embryonic stem cells will reveal whether or not they have benefits or not.

The truth of the matter is, the vast majority of scientists are not religious. A famous US Academy of Sciences survey of it's members found that nearly 90% of scientists within the life sciences are atheists, about 5% agnostic, and only about 5% professing to having a belief in a god. So it's safe to say, that the scientists engaging in embryonic stem cell research have no religious reservations about the practice.

This all leads up to a question: what--if any role--would the state play in determining these bioethical questions in a libertarian framework? Clearly, an atheist libertarian like myself or the 95% of scientists that are not religious do not believe we are acting immorally by engaging in such research. Would some libertarians be willing to accept any such limits--in the name of a specific God--and if so, why?

H/T Celestial Junk

Posted by Mike Brock on May 6, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (52)

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

The Church of Property: Part II

This is a continuation of a series that was started here, which begins to ask a question: are absolute property rights ultimately compatible with libertarianism?  This article will continue to expand on that question.


I am a software engineer.  And when I say that, I don’t mean that I’m just a computer programmer.  Rather, I work for a fairly large company, where I work on parsers, compilers and optimizers. 

My job is logic-intensive; it requires a firm grasp on the concept of mathematical truth, in that a lot of the work I do when dealing with logic optimization, is creating programs that accept logical instructions as input, and output optimized (or simplified) logical instructions on output.  It goes without saying that compiler optimization is one of the most sophisticated and erudite practices within the broader software engineering field. 

I mention this not to qualify myself, but rather to provide an insight onto the type of thought process I am accustomed to.  I am and always have been, fairly predisposed to pedantic analytical thinking.

In software engineering--as in the broader field of mathematics--we employ a process called regression analysis as a method of predicting future behaviour of a logical system.   In software engineering, that’s really a very technical way of saying: we look for bugs.

But regression analysis is something that all logical thinkers do--in general.  It is essentially what a philosopher is doing when they perform thought experiments.  They are testing the behaviour of a logical system by asserting a test case against that system to determine how that system behaves when presented with a particular set of variables.

It might come as no surprise then, that a great number of software engineers--at least ones in my kind of work--tend to have at least a passing interest in philosophy.   Software engineering, is after all, an extension of a form of philosophy; computer science is a subset of mathematics and therefore, the philosophy of science.  Software engineering explores--in quite a direct way--the practice of exploring and employing mathematical truths as means of describing systems, which is an entire school of philosophy in and of itself.  Which is why it’s quite correct to suggest--as many philosophers do and should--that you ultimately owe all of your modern creature comforts to the schools of philosophy in one way or another.

The reason for this preamble will become clear as we move on into the core points of this article.

Libertarianism is a term that describes a set of philosophies (plural) that seek to maximize personal liberty.  To be clear: libertarianism is not one, single, philosophy.  There is much diversity and disagreement within the libertarian set of philosophies about the role of the state, the exceptions to liberty, and as this article explores, the limits of property rights.

Maximizing liberty is to imply that a libertarian accepts--implicitly--that maximum liberty is unattainable or rather, undesirable.  Some of these limits are self-evident in libertarian philosophy;  I cannot punch you in the face just because I want to.  In a declarative logic system we might say:


This is a beautiful logical expression.  And it’s self consistent.  It doesn’t fully describe the libertarian ideal, but it does immediately create a logical system that makes clear that murder must be wrong, since this is declarative logic.  Any scenario which would result in any person not having life, violates the logical assertion.  The logic has no way of regressing, either.  No set of input variables results in a scenario in which the person cannot have life.  It is a perfectly self-consistent, closed, logical system.

In yesterday’s article--in the comments--Terrence Watson and myself provided three regression tests as it pertains to the absolute right to property.

Terrence provided the following regression test:

You buy all the land around Sally's house, which - to take the metaphor - means now there is a moral force field around her house. But let's make it a literal bubble: You put up walls of plastic stretching into the sky, all around Sally's house.

Given the right to exclude, Sally is obligated not to try to break through those walls. It would be morally wrong for her to cross over your land in an attempt to get food or water.

But of course you haven't coerced Sally, haven't done anything unjust to her from a libertarian point of view. At the same time, your actions have effectively crippled her autonomy.

So the question: suppose we accept that there is no divide between self-ownership and stuff-ownership. It's one force field and it applies to both you and to the stuff you've labored on (or something like that.) This means that when Sally cuts through the plastic, she's done violence to you. This means -- I'm assuming -- that you would be fully justified in shooting her in the head as she tries to make her escape. After all, she just tried to break into your property with a blow torch!

Intuitively, was it permissible to shoot her?

Now assume that there is a divide between self-ownership and stuff-ownership, one that works out in this way: self-ownership is absolute. No one can use your kidneys without your consent. But stuff-ownership is not absolute. Every once in a while, when it's necessary to give someone any shot at all of living an autonomous life, the stuff force field can be bent, manipulated a little.

In this case, if you refuse to ease your force field to accomplish some moral goal or protect certain values, Sally does nothing wrong when she ignores the field, and you are not justified in shooting her. Rather, you've committed murder, because you used violence in a way that, under the circumstances, was not permissible.

And I provided the example where-as, a private individual buys a plot of land, and establishes a private town to the exclusion of homosexuals.  The second example I provided was an example where-as a private individual establishes monopoly ownership over all effective public spaces (roads, sidewalks).

I should note that: as of this writing, no libertarians have attempted to address these two regressions.   The only responses that have been offered have been philosophical statements about non-aggression, that I do not believe provide a satisfactory response to Terrence’s wall-dilemma or my private community dilemma.

I assert that these are particularly bad regressions in the libertarian philosophy of absolute property rights.  They are bad because they result in property rights, ultimately taking precedence over other people’s ability to be autonomous agents;  Sally can no longer leave her house, and will likely starve to death, because the person who built a wall around her house has property rights that supersedes her need to leave in order to have a livelihood.

This is an extreme example.  But it’s an example that is perfectly compatible with libertarian principles.  Which leads two one of two conclusions about most property absolutist libertarians. a) either they think it’s sufficiently unlikely it will not happen (the security through obscurity argument); or b) they simply don’t care if this type of thing happens (they worship at the Church of Property).

I assert that if the answer is “a”, then I’m highly suspicious of your faith in market and humanity.  If your answer is “b”, then I assert you cannot be a libertarian--you’re an egoist that is principally concerned with your property, up to and including the demise of Sally. 

I received an e-mail response to my article, that set up what I think is a ridiculously false dichotomy. If you don’t believe in absolute property rights: you’re a socialist.  And some of the comments in the previous article seemed to sing a similar tune if not outright coming out and saying it.

Absolute property rights is asserted as being a sacred, untouchable, non-negotiable element of many libertarian's core philosophies.  And the more and more I think about it, the more I think that such libertarians are not motivated by the maximization of liberty, but rather the maximization of wealth potential; I think these are two completely different things, and the difference is exemplified by Terrence’s wall example, and my monopoly over public space example. 

If I can own all the roads in the country--including the roads on which your home's driveway is connected--I can arbitrarily forbid you have driving on, or crossing the road.  I can, without building a physical wall--as Terrence’s example does--build an invisible wall around you.

I can demand that only white people drive on the roads that I own.  I bought them, I maintain them, and I charge for their use.  It’s my property.  Anybody who enters my property who has been expressly forbidden from crossing onto my property, will be interpreted in a libertarian framework, as committing an act of violence against me; Jimmy--who’s a black man--just wants to go to the supermarket and buy some food.  But if he steps on my property, given that I’ve made it clear that black men are not allowed, I will have one of my road security people shoot him.  It’s nothing personal.  I’m just defending my property in accordance with my free association rights.

I assert, as Terrence does, that this type of scenario effectively places property above individual liberty itself--to it’s absolute and demonstrable detriment. In this sense, absolute property rights libertarians have a glaring regression test failure starting them in the eyes, as their philosophy cannot rectify this problem outside of simply damning Sally and Jimmy to death--or boycotting RoadCo Inc.--oh wait, never mind.

The argument used against this, is that publicly administered roads have the same potential.  That, the government can be racist, and engage in the same sort of exclusionary behaviour.

I don’t think this is a good argument.  Firstly because a liberal constitutional democracy, codifies in law, that the application of public property must not be discriminatory.  Also, Sally and Jimmy have political representation in the body that administers the public property.  Where-as, it is not likely they will have any representation in WallCo Inc. or RoadCo Inc.  The public, democratic model has a system of redress, and the private model may or may not.  That’s up to the whim of the private property owner.

It is also a particularly bad argument in the sense that it concedes that private authority can be just as evil and even more evil than public authority.  In fact, it doesn’t deal with the problem that private authority can, through monopoly, effectively become the supreme authority.  Which in my view, is the ultimate failed regression; liberty dies in practice, on the mantle of private property.

Posted by Mike Brock on May 5, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (97)

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Church of Property

These thoughts are a culmination of a process that began months ago when I started examining the libertarian street’s position on various issues. The most notable of those examinations was looking at the relationship of libertarianism and social conservatism: a topic that this article will expand on.

Libertarianism is undergoing a renaissance of sorts. Its ideas are starting to permeate into the mainstream. Which is good. What is not good, is the flag-bearers of libertarianism. That is, its opinion leaders and the nature of the movement.


I believe in property rights. They are to me -- like most libertarians -- an extremely important facet of my philosophy. But unlike most libertarians, my faith in property as the solution to all social discord is, well, less than firm.

From the Libertarian Church of Property (LCP), comes the notion of private authority; a curious beast that serves as the basis for the libertarian alignment with social conservatism. 

I say it’s a curious beast, because private authority seems to imply a sort of trump card for justifying all sorts of unjustifiable things like racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  

I brought my wife to the Manning Centre Networking Conference where she engaged with a thoughtful libertarian, and asked about women’s rights in the context of a libertarian society; as someone who has felt victimized by sexism, the explanation emanating from the LCP was less than enduring for her. It went something like this: “if people unreasonably exclude a member of society simply on the basis of an immutable trait like gender or race, it will lead to a market opportunity that will be exploited by others.”

Now, I know that many libertarians honestly believe this -- in fact, I do to an extent. But I have yet to run into a single person who views themselves as an oppressed group that has done anything but laugh off this economic-technocratic response. And why wouldn’t they? It’s asking someone for patience where they have no reason to have any; I’m sorry you suffer from social exclusion for the colour of your skin, but my libertarian free market ideology will sort it out in the end!

This is essentially the argument libertarians make. That’s it. It’s all there. Move along. Nothing else to see here. You might as well say: suck it up and deal with it, dumb bitch! -- in the end, the response will be much the same. 

To make matters worse, socially liberal libertarians bend themselves into pretzels trying to find common ground with the exact people who are so threatening to people like my wife.

It makes my life quite hard, and has turned me into nothing more than an apologist for libertarianism. And it makes me ask, why should I be?

There are socially liberal libertarians here at the Western Standard who lean over backwards to welcome social conservatives into their movement by effectively saying: hey social conservative, be a libertarian, and you can have your own homophobic private community, where the gays will be cast out, banned from “private community” and demonized within the community and to its children and future generations. This is a the vision of the libertarian utopia according to some.

It’s perfectly understandable to me, why my wife will never truck with libertarianism as long as this is the line of reasoning, and it’s plainly clear to me that libertarianism is well on it’s way to becoming the de facto social conservative apologist movement with glaring mascots like Ron Paul.

I reject the definition of libertarianism that is compartmentalized to a political framework. I reject it because it’s an incomplete thought, that fails to account for the cultural forces that enable a political disposition in the first place. I reject the social conservative who calls themselves a libertarian while asserting that gays and lesbians are immoral human beings. Why? Because I reject the idea that any human being acting in their own self-interest, in a voluntary relationship, which harms no one, is an immoral act. 

Social conservative libertarians believe they can take that principle and then add a series of special pleadings that are only defensible insofar as some piece of religious scripture validates them.

Socially liberal libertarians on the other hand, also seem to place an irrationally low level of suspicion on the propensity of these social movements to seek political legitimacy in the long run. There’s absolutely no reason to believe they won’t. For this reason, there’s no reason to believe that liberty will be of any enduring quality in a movement that embraces abject bigotry -- or in the case of libertarians, turns a blind eye to it and places it in the capable hands of "market forces".

So I say this to you my social liberal libertarian socon apologizers: good luck with that. I’ll be busy over here promoting liberty through a humanist lens, so I can actually sleep at night and have a wife who can relate to me.

Posted by Mike Brock on May 4, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (62)

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Freedom movement news: The Moderate Separatist, The Fraser Institute, Tibor Machan, Pierre Lemieux, and the Canadian Constitution Foundation kick statist butt today

In freedom movement news today, Leigh Patrick Sullivan over at The Moderate Separatist is doing his part for free speech by promoting Ezra Levant’s new book Shakedown: How Our Government is Undermining Democracy in the Name of Human Rights. Sullivan is calling the book a “must read” and writes:

In Shakedown, Levant goes into disturbing detail about his 900 day battle with the Alberta Human Rights Commission over his decision to print those dastardly infamous Muslim-themed Danish political cartoons in his Western Standard magazine.

Nice work, Sullivan – but why so moderate about Alberta secession?


The Fraser Institute is taking their fundraising machine south of the border. In a job posting, the Institute announced today that it is looking for a Director of Philanthropy, America, someone to squeeze cash from rich American donors.

The Fraser Institute is the best financed free market think tank in Canada, but the U.S. is where the serious cash is found for fiscal conservative and libertarian organizations. The Institute is adhering closely to rule #18 of The Laws of the Public Policy Process: “You can't save the world if you can't pay the rent.”

I only hope Fraser Institute bagmen get to their greenbacks before the Fed, the silent monster of hyper-inflation hiding behind every ruinous "stimulus" scheme.


Libertarian author and philosopher Tibor R. Machan will be speaking tonight in Jacksonville, North Carolina at Hilda's Restaurant in Northwoods Shopping Center.

Cool. I wish I could be there.


Former Western Standard columnist and gun rights advocate Pierre Lemieux will be challenging the Canadian gun control laws in defence of his right to self-defence. He will be in court in Mont-Laurier on May 26 and 27.

When renewing his firearms licence, Pierre refused to answer a question about his love life. Question 6(d) asks, "During the past two (2) years, have you experienced a divorce, a separation, a breakdown of a significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy?" As an answer, he wrote, "My love affairs are none of your business."

For his defiance, on December 1, 2007, Pierre received a registered letter from the Québec provincial police, which administers the federal gun control laws in cooperation with the RCMP, notifying him that the "registration certificates" of his legally registered guns had been revoked.

You can join me in supporting Lemieux’s legal fight here.


Finally, former Western Standard columnist and lawyer Karen Selick has joined the Canadian Constitution Foundation as Litigation Director. The CCF is a great organization and the libertarian Selick is a wonderful addition.

I’m going to send the CCF a donation today using this link. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

Posted by Matthew Johnston

Posted by westernstandard on April 7, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

Monday, April 06, 2009

The deficit trials of 2017

A classic 1986 video by Ridley Scott, done in protest of deficit spending under Reagan. 

In the Canadian version, who would we have up there in the dock?


Posted by Robert Jago on April 6, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, March 30, 2009

Burton S. Blumert, 1929-2009

Picture 3 Eric Garris, the webmaster for LewRockwell.com and Antiwar.com reports some sad news about Burt Blumert,  proprietor of Camino Coins, publisher of LewRockwell.com, and a giant of the freedom movement:

A dear friend died this morning.

Burt Blumert was not only an old and close personal friend, he was an important friend to Antiwar.com.

In 1999, when Antiwar.com started really taking off, Burt took us under his wing by making us a part of the nonprofit Center for Libertarian Studies, giving us the ability to substantially expand. I don’t think we would be even a shadow of what we are today without Burt.

I met Burt in 1975, during my early involvement with the Libertarian Party. Burt was well-known as a successful businessman and and a very successful fund-raiser for libertarian causes. He was a good friend and early promoter of Murray Rothbard, forming the Center for Libertarian Studies to publish his works. He was a good friend and advisor to Congressman Ron Paul, and served as Ron’s national finance chair in his 1988 run for the White House. Burt was also a very close friend of Lew Rockwell, and was the publisher of LewRockwell.com. Burt was a radical, antiwar and anti-state to the core.

Over the next 34 years, Burt was always there, helping me with both my political endeavors and my personal problems. He always had great advice, just the right connections, and a loose wallet to help with seed money. And Justin Raimondo told me he doesn’t think he’d be alive without Burt’s help. [...]

Burt recently retired from his successful coin dealership, Camino Coins. Only months after he retired, Burt was diagnosed with cancer. He spent the next year battling the cancer while still keeping active to the end. Just last month, Burt cooked me a delicious feast. The way he waited on me, you would have thought I was the sick one. Burt turned 80 a few weeks ago.

In a review of Burt's recent book, a collection of essays, written in his characteristic comedic style called Bagels, Barry Bonds, and Rotten Politicians, Doug French wrote:

Burt Blumert has been fighting that good fight for decades, all the while poking fun at the government thugs, societal decay, political correctness, the medical-industrial complex, the persecution of Barry Bonds, and anything else that has slid under his skin. Burt's the kind of guy who seems like he was born wise. Thus, it's no surprise that, as David Gordon writes, "He knew almost everyone important in the libertarian movement, as well as in the hard money community of which he was a leading member." Up until Lew Rockwell persuaded Burt to put his views of the world on LewRockwell.com, only Burt's friends and customers benefited from his keen and funny insights.

Our thoughts today are with Burt's family, friends and community in Burlingame, California. Like them, his customers and the larger freedom movement have suffered a great loss; a man of immovable principle, incredible wit and generous spirit is no longer with us.

UPDATE 3: Brian Doherty, the documenter of the American libertarian movement adds:

Like many involved in the movement who were more backers than active contributors to writing and activism, he downplayed his own accomplishments and importance. But such sponsorship and patronage of intellectual movements are of course vital to the survival and spread of ideas.

UPDATE 2: From Mises.org, a life in pictures (and one reason why Ron Paul should be impeached):

UPDATE: Lew Rockwell has a beautiful tribute to Burt, excerpts below the fold.

[Picture: Burt Blumert with his close friend Texas Congressman Ron Paul]

In every age, the idea of liberty needs benefactors, far-seeing people willing to make personal sacrifices so that each new generation is taught not to take freedom for granted, but rather to fight for it in every field of life. That is necessary because the idea of liberty isn't really a product that can be provided either by private enterprise or, of course, its enemy the state. It must be provided as a gift to civilization.

These are points taught to me by the life and work of Burton Samuel Blumert, one of liberty's great benefactors. He died at age 80 on the morning of March 30, 2009, after a long battle with cancer. He would deny it, but his name deserves to go down in history as a person who served as a champion of freedom during his long life. [...]

He saw politicians as predictable in their scammery and racketeering. He saw the state as no more than a massive drain on society, something we could do well without. War he regarded as a massive and destructive diversion of social resources. Welfare he saw as a perverse system for rewarding bad behavior and punishing virtue. Regulations on business he saw as interventions that benefited the well-connected at the expense of the true heroes of society who were pursuing enterprise with an eye to independence and profitability.

His main enemy was the inflationary state, and one reason he got into the business of precious metals was to battle paper money. As a lifetime observer of the business cycle, he knew that paper money and artificial credit creation lead to illusions that would eventually dissipate. So it was no surprise that he saw that the latest bust coming early on. As a resident of the Bay Area in Northern California, he was surrounded by illusions, but his knowledge of Austrian business cycle theory permitted him to see through the fog. [...]

So in his death, let us say what is true about him, simply because he would never let anyone say it about him in life. Through his daily life and good works, his loyalty and indefatigability, he showed us a path forward, the very model of how a successful businessman can achieve greatness in a lifetime. His legacy can be found in many of the books you read and in the massive growth of libertarianism in our times. Signs of his works are all around us. These were his gift to the world. And for those of us who knew him, Burt's wonderful life and outlook are gifts to us of inestimable value.

We will miss him every day, but no day will ever pass when we are not inspired by his example. May his great soul rest in peace.

Read the rest.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on March 30, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (5)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

A transformational conversation

Charles Burris shares a fascinating story at the LRC blog:

Several years ago I went to downtown Tulsa's Central Library for their Saturday morning book sale. This was where the Library sold its out-of-date materials. I had gotten in the habit of buying many of these surplus items -- hardbacks 25 cents, paperbacks a dime -- for students to use in my classroom. As I was paying for a couple of books (one being Rose and Milton Friedman's Free To Choose) the elderly gentleman behind the cash register desk commented on the book, expressing his approval. I agreed but said I preferred economists Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard to Milton Friedman. He then proceeded to tell me the following anecdote: In 1962 he was travelling from Tulsa to Denver via a train (trains, you remember trains, don't you?). The trip was in the nighttime and early morning hours. Most passengers were asleep. But this gentleman was kept awake by a nearby conversation of four men. They were discussing socialism. Since this gentleman considered himself a socialist, he paid particularly close attention to what was being discussed. After a while he got up, gently interrupted the men, and remarked how fascinating he thought this conversation he overheard had been. The men asked him to join them. The conversation continued. When he reached Denver he was no longer a socialist. The four men were Ludwig von Mises (the 20th century's most brilliant economist), Henry Hazlitt (the journalistic champion of Mises), Lawrence Fertig (the businessman who raised the money for Mises's NYU professorship, and Leonard Read (president of the Foundation of Economic Education). Imagine this chance encounter with those particular four libertarian giants! The elderly gentleman had gone through a "Saul of Tarsus" conversion from socialism to individualism and the free market. He soon headed up Barry Goldwater's 1964 presidential campaign in the Sooner State, which at that time was a gathering for proto-libertarians and anti-collectivists. I shook his hand and told him how honored I was to have met him.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 8, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"I told you so, but you still think I'm bats"

"It feels bad," is the simple answer provided by Associate Professor John Hasnas of Georgetown University in his short piece "What It Feels Like To Be A Libertarian." "Imagine what the internal life of Cassandra must have been and you will have a pretty good idea," he explains, "imagine spending two decades warning that government policy is leading to a major economic collapse, and then, when the collapse comes, watching the world conclude that markets do not work."

Libertarians haven't been scorned by Apollo, they have no hotline to the Fates, but they tend to make accurate predictions "because [those predictions] are derived from Hayek’s insights into the limitations of human knowledge, from the recognition that the people who comprise the government respond to incentives just like anyone else and are not magically transformed to selfless agents of the good merely by accepting government employment, from the awareness that for government to provide a benefit to some, it must first take it from others, and from the knowledge that politicians cannot repeal the laws of economics."

I don't feel all that bad, or all that lonely; but scorned, derided, and frustrated I can understand and even relate to. Hasnas has spent some time in the trenches collecting battle scars, he was a libertarian before anyone knew what a libertarian was. I suppose this young optimist can grant him his curmudgeonry.

(h/t SK)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on February 3, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (3)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Pope Benedict XVI: Classical liberalism is the heart of Europe

"Murray Rothbard, though not a Catholic, held that we owe the very ideas of freedom and individualism to the Church" says Lew Rockwell, as he introduces an article about a letter from Pope Benedict XVI in which "[he] says that classical liberalism is the heart of Europe, criticizes multiculturalism, and warns that liberals go wrong when their reject their religious foundations."

That reminds me of a story about Rothbard, who reportedly told Father Robert Sirico "I don't believe in God, but I believe that Mary was His mother."

VATICAN CITY, DEC. 2, 2008 - At the heart of liberalism is the Christian image of God, and rediscovering that is the key to overcoming the current crisis of ethics in Europe and the world, says Benedict XVI.

 The Pope wrote this in a letter sent in September to Italian philosopher and senator Marcello Pera, in response to the latter's latest book titled "Perche dobbiamo dirci cristiani. Il liberalismo, l'Europa, l'etica" (Why We Must Call Ourselves Christians: Liberalism, Europe, and Ethics").

Published by Mondadori, the Italian-language book will be presented Thursday in Rome. The letter appears as a foreward in the text. 

Marcello Pera, 65, president of the Italian Senate during the last legislature, dedicated his academic research to his friend Karl Popper, Austrian philosopher of the "open society."
In his letter, Benedict XVI acknowledged the text to be "a fascinating read," and he applauded Pera's analysis of liberalism. "With an exceptional knowledge of the foundations, and with convincing logic, you analyze the essence of liberalism from its principles, showing that rooted in the heart of liberalism is the Christian image of God."
"With irreproachable logic, you show how liberalism loses its base and destroys itself if it abandons this foundation," he added.
The Pope also expressed his admiration for Pera's analysis of liberty, and the concept of multiculturalism, in which he "shows the internal contradiction of this concept and, therefore, its political and cultural impossibility."

... The Holy Father said he believed Pera's proposals are necessary to overcome "the contemporary crisis of ethics."
"You show that liberalism, without failing to be liberalism -- rather, to be faithful to itself -- can refer to a doctrine of the good, in particular the Christian, which is familiar to it, thus truly offering a contribution to overcome the crisis," he continued.

Read the rest.

(h/t the young fogey at A Conservative Blog for ☮)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on December 4, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Monday, December 01, 2008

Political reporter David Weigel leaves reason magazine

Weigel One of the freedom movement's best journals is reason magazine, enhanced in recent years by a crack political reporter named David Weigel. reason colleague Mike Riggs writes in the Washington City Paper blog: "Wiegel is not only a great political journalist, but also a breathing, fidgeting, iPhone-checking encyclopedia of political trivia. Other people can do strange things with ping-pong balls, but Weigel rocks the party by reciting electoral-vote margins from the last eight presidential elections."

After 2 years of great work reporting on the Libertarian Party and the wider freedom movement, including a number of cover stories, Weigel will be leaving reason for other pursuits. He writes on his blog:

[A]t the start of December I am leaving reason magazine, my journalistic home since April 2006. You could not concoct a better 30 months to be the political reporter for America’s flagship libertarian journal. I was there when the Republican party hit the rocks in 2006 (and I’m afraid I helped cost Jeff Flake his committee seat). I covered the Ron Paul r3VOLution from start to… well, is it finished yet? I was there when Bob Barr joined the Libertarian Party, there when he became its presidential candidate, and there when he ended his campaign by blowing out the candles on a birthday cake. It’s an amicable parting. Starting last week, I’ve been writing at The Economist’s Democracy in America blog. There are three Word files with freelance stories open in front of me, and there are e-mails about additional reporting gigs in my mailbox.

Previously on the Shotgun: Western Standard editor in chief Peter Jaworski celebrates 40 years of reason magazine, Weigel writes about the failure of conservative Republicans to oppose the bailout and I take issue with one of Weigel's complaints against Ron Paul.

(h/t Third Party Watch)

Posted by Kalim Kassam on December 1, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Ron Paul honours Marshall Fritz in the House of Representatives

Picture_6 On November 5th, I noted the passing the previous night of Marshall Fritz, the founder of the Advocates of Self-Government, the Alliance for Separation of School and State and the inventor of the popular World's Smallest Political Quiz.

On November 19th, Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives about his friend Marshall Fritz. At the end of his speech, Paul pointed to Fritz' uncompromising commitment to principle, willingness and ability to build broad political coalitions and, most importantly, his attitude of respect towards his opponents as examples which libertarians who wish to successfully advance their ideas should emulate:

In 1990, Marshall stepped down as President of the Advocates to found the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, an organization focusing on the vital issue of parental control of education. Thanks in large part to Marshall's work, the idea that parents, not the government, should control education is no longer excluded from public debate as a "fringe" notion. One of the features that most impresses me about the Alliance is the way that Marshall brought libertarians, conservatives, and liberals together to work for education freedom.

Anyone who knew Marshall and worked with him would not be surprised that he was able to forge a coalition of people of diverse views. Marshall’s focus was always on building alliances and trying to persuade those with whom he disagreed, rather than on scoring debating points. While he never compromised his principles and never hesitated to criticize even his closet allies if they took what he considered an anti-liberty position, Marshall never personalized disagreements and always treated his opponents with courtesy and respect. I believe the freedom movement would be more successful if more libertarians followed Marshall's example of never turning policy disagreements into personal attacks.

All of us who care about building an effective freedom movement owe a debt of gratitude to Marshall Fritz. I join Marshall’s family in mourning his loss and I urge all of us who work for liberty to honor Marshall’s memory by following the example he set.

Update: Here's a nice obituary from the libertarian-conservative editorial team of the OC Register:

Marshall Fritz, a tireless activist for the cause of human liberty, died peacefully in his hometown of Fresno on Nov. 4 at age 65 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. The founder of three different nonprofit organizations dedicated to furthering freedom in different ways, he was a genial giant with a booming voice and an inexhaustible font of kindness and understanding.

Born in Inglewood, Marshall began his career as a salesman and development specialist for IBM, but as his passion for liberty grew he became convinced that the freedom movement could benefit from his experience in business communications. In 1985 he founded the Advocates for Self-Government (www.theadvocates.org) to help libertarians express their ideas positively and persuasively. He developed the World's Smallest Political Quiz (more than 10 million copies distributed) to help people locate themselves in the political universe and to convey that positions beyond the usually sterile liberal/conservative dichotomy were possible and even widely held.

A devout Catholic, Marshall founded the Pioneer Christian Academy in the early 1990s to put his innovative ideas about high-quality education into practice. Although the school was endorsed by luminaries like Milton Friedman and former New York state Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto, it was not as successful as he had hoped. Yet he learned much from the experience and went on to found, in 1994, the Alliance for the Separation of School and State, dedicated to the idea that an endeavor as important as education could only flourish independently if it is independent of political control. This is a cause that has not yet triumphed, but the Alliance is still active (www.schoolandstate.org).

Unlike some who hold to strong principles that are not yet widely appreciated, Marshall Fritz, although he was always seeking to persuade people, was unfailingly patient and civil, especially in discussions with people who disagreed with him. He would point out examples of fuzzy thinking or questionable premises, but always in a way that sought to get to the root of the thinking of those with different ideas and to deal with an adversary's best arguments rather than straw men. He was also strongly involved in his community in Fresno, as a youth soccer coach and a volunteer at a homeless shelter. He leaves Joan, his wife of 43 years, four children and 12 grandchildren. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Requiem aeternam, dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on November 30, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Walter Block: Controversy can’t eclipse this giant of the freedom movement

Walter Block doesn’t believe in glass ceilings or colour bars, or, if he does, he doesn’t think they explain income inequality. He explains this unfortunate social condition in a less politically correct way: discrepancies in productivity.

Women and blacks are less economically productive than men and whites, Block told a mostly student audience at Loyola College in Baltimore. (Block teaches economics at Loyola College in New Orleans.)

This conclusion sparked outrage on campus and moved the Loyola College (Baltimore) president to publicly apologize for Block’s comments in an email. Block, however, is offering no apology and is, in fact, inviting any and all economists to debate him on his arguments.

In a story published on the website NOLA.com, James Gill reports:

Women are less productive in the workplace than men because of the time they devote to [parenting and family] duties and to domestic chores, according to Block. As evidence for this thesis, he notes that among 18-24 year olds, and workers who have never married, income disparity is virtually non-existent.

Pretty tame really, but Block goes on to suggest intelligence is also behind the productivity gap between the genders:

The way Block sees it, women's intellects cluster around the mean, while men dominate the high and the low ends of the spectrum. Thus, while women are much less likely to wind up in prison, an early grave or sleeping on the streets, they are also much less likely to win a Nobel Prize -- except for "wussy stuff like poetry" -- or rise to the top of a corporation.

Block is then asked a more thorny question about race. When asked why blacks earn less than whites, Block said:

"The politically correct answer is that lower black productivity is due to slavery, Jim Crow legislation, poor treatment of African-Americans in terms of schooling, etc. The politically incorrect explanation was supplied by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in their book 'The Bell Curve': lower black IQs."

Almost 15 years after it was first published, The Bell Curve still elicits hostility with its mere mention.

At a conference in Las Vegas, I heard Bell Curve co-author Murray speak about how IQ, and not race, is the primary determinant of success and social standing in America (if you’re smart, you’ll get ahead in America regardless of race). But he also argued that there is a relationship between race and IQ, with Asians at the top, blacks at the bottom and whites in the middle. In his speech, Murray expressed deep concern about a growing intellectual underclass in America, a social problem, unlike racial prejudice, that in his estimate can not be solved by tearing down stereotypes or encouraging multi-cultural understanding.

The idea that there are enduring racial differences in intelligence offends our sense of natural justice, and makes us inclined to discount IQ entirely, but Herrnstein and Murray bring a staggering amount of empirical data to their theory, which fills over 800 pages of The Bell Curve.

It’s a controversial subject that was thrust into public discourse by a controversial book. Most stay clear of the topic, but not Block. According the report by Gill, Block “regards sensitivity as the enemy of intellectual inquiry and truth.”

That’s true of the Block I know and love. It is also true that Block is a favourite figure among students of libertarianism not just because he is a brilliant theorist and entertaining author, but because he has endless patience, generosity and kindness. In a memorable dinner I had with former UNLV libertarian professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe, I pestered the master property rights theorist with questions about libertarianism. He eventually grew bored with me and said: “I don’t know. Ask Walter. He loves this stuff.” While I had a wonderful evening with Hoppe, complemented by martinis and cigars, it is Walter Block who I go to with questions about liberty and even once for career advice.

My experience with Block is not dissimilar to that of many other libertarians who know this controversial intellectual as a man incapable of malice or prejudice, which is why this fake controversy will never eclipse this giant of the freedom movement.

Posted by Matthew Johnston on November 29, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Friday, November 28, 2008

Anthony Gregory on how the democratic state co-opts its victims and opponents

Wester Standard editor, Peter Jaworski, has written about the conflicts between the California gay community and Mormons following the passage of proposition 8, an anti-gay marriage ballot question. Mormons (along with blacks) who voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposition are being blamed for the success of the ballot initiative and have faced political attacks on their church's tax-exempt status and even violent protests. 

Anthony Gregory, a research analyst at the Independent Institute, cuts through the blame and vitriol being launched from both sides and  cites this conflict as just the latest example of a larger trend, how "no matter how much the people seem to hate the government as it is, that energy all too often ends up to the state’s benefit":

"Some gay activists and Mormons, major victims of the state in this country not that long ago, have recently turned to fighting over state power in California because of the gay marriage issue. Neither side seems to want a truce based on the idea that the state should get out of marriage entirely, leave people to their own consciences and religious and secular arrangements, a position most Americans would probably agree to if it were presented to them. Instead, the two sides of the polarized debate all fight over control of the state.

In all types of systems, the state wishes to co-opt other potential competitors for social authority, but this is perhaps easiest under democracy. The artistic, scientific, journalistic, academic, legal, and religious communities – each at points in history the most reliable opponents and critics of tyranny – become bought off, intimidated or tricked into rallying for more state power. Churches begin lobbying for tax exemptions – a separation of church and state – and sometimes end up pushing for subsidies. Artists go from being against the establishment to being propagandists for it (witness how Obamania has co-opted the counterculture; those who used to wear anti-U.S. Che Guevara shirts now sport the likeness of the next head of the U.S. empire). "

His examples of this pattern are numerous, from the U.S. Founding Fathers, to abolitionists, opponents of U.S. entry into WWI, the civil rights movement, journalists, scientists, lawyers, and perhaps most importantly, both conservatives and liberals alike.

Looking forward, Gregory says:

"So as we see Bush’s term end and Obama’s just around the corner, we can anticipate a new rhetorical dynamic emerging. The failures of the Bush administration will all be misinterpreted as examples of not enough government. Those who have supported Obama as an alternative to excess neocon imperialism and unbridled police statism will become temporarily placated. The election cycle means throwing out the bums, but it is often actually quite good for the state itself. It gives a new image to the same old racket.

Until the true partisans of liberty understand how the enemy co-opts our message, our struggle will seem futile and our gains will be illusory. The key to championing freedom is in staying dedicated to true free-market principles, property rights, individual liberty, free association, and peace – and eschewing all forms of warmongering, socialism and statism, no matter what rhetorical games are being played or whether the conditional friends of liberty have become duped into accepting the state’s aggrandizement in the name of anything, especially freedom."

Gregory's arguments about how democracy enables the state to aggrandize itself with the people's support are similar to those by Austrian Economist and libertarian theorist Hans-Hermann Hoppe, author of Democracy: The God that Failed–but there another work by Hoppe, an understanding of which can enable defenders of liberty to oppose the phenomenon being described: in "Marxism and Austrian Class Analysis" [pdf], Hoppe reclaims classical liberal class analysis from the Marxists, putting forward that there are two classes: a productive class and and exploiting class, or, as John Randolph of Roanoke described them: taxpayers and tax consumers.

A clear understanding of who the enemies of liberty are (i.e. the exploitative tax consumers and the state) and a commitment to private property and the sovereignty of the individual can stop this cycle of cooptation which transforms aggrieved parties and victims of state power into advocates or apologists for the expansion of that very same state.

Read the rest of this fantastic article.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on November 28, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Worst case scenario: What would you do?

The New York Times Freakonomics blog recently published a feature in which they asked five professionals how they would response to a "worst case" scenario. The Freakonomics people defined the worst case scenario in the following way:

Imagine you just lost all your possessions and money, and you were suddenly living in the streets.

They asked their panel to answer the following questions:

1. What’s the first move you would make?

2. What’s the first organization you would turn to?

3. What would your extended plan look like?

The answers are pretty interesting. One of the quorum was Will Wilkinson, a libertarian philosopher now working for Cato (personal aside: mark my words, people like Wilkinson are the future of the libertarian movement, if it has one.) He wrote a little more about his response on his blog here.

Here's part of Wilkinson's very honest response:

I’m a Midwestern white guy with good manners and an excess of education. That is, I’m rich in human and cultural capital, and that gives me a safety net too few people have. Even if my one set of clothes was funky and filthy, it would be easy enough for a guy like me to approach strangers and get them to trust me. So that’s what I’d do; I’d politely ask sympathetic-looking strangers for some help, and I’d get it. That’s privilege.

Meanwhile, Ann Wroe, the obituary editor for the Economist gave a response that, at least in part, made me laugh out loud -- but only at first.

Assuming I hadn’t lost my wits (a big assumption), my first move would be to walk away from those streets, towards the sea or towards the woods. It’s easier to be empty there. The leaves or the waves would soothe me, as they always do, and I would try to reconcile myself to being stripped down to the essentials.

Thinking about it, Wroe's response isn't really that silly. Although wouldn't it get a little cold in the woods after a while? And what about -- I don't know -- bears?

Algonquin provincial park is a terrible place to be empty. Unless you're a bear. Then it's a great place to get full (by eating Ann Wroe.)*

Anyway, everyone in the quorum took it upon themselves to assume the option of turning to family and friends for assistance would be unavailable. That makes responding to the scenario more difficult.

So: what would you do in the worst case scenario? Remember: for whatever reason, turning to family and friends can't be the whole story. So where else would you turn?

My own thoughts are below.

Here's the thing: I don't know about the religious commitments, or lack thereof, of the people in the quorum, but I'm pretty sure none of them are deeply religious. Yet at least three of them mentioned that they would turn to faith-based organizations for assistance. I found this interesting, which is what led me to make this post in the first place.

While I'm not sure how I would response if placed in the worst-case scenario the quorum was discussing (and, let's be clear, we can imagine scenarios that would be much, much worse), I think that I would also seek out support from churches and the like.

In other words, if the worst struck, I'd turn to the Salvation Army, not the local chapter of American Atheists or the Ayn Rand Institute.

Why? Well, I know Christian organizations would probably help. That's part of the ethos of Christianity. It isn't that atheists, as individuals, can't be generous, but altruism isn't a ground-level principle of atheism. This makes sense, given that atheism isn't a philosophy.

To a large extent, my background is similar to Will Wilkinson's, but I'm not nearly as sanguine about the possibility of just demanding help from strangers and getting it. Christians, and, by extension, Christian organizations -- yes. Strangers in general? I doubt it.

The significance of this point came home to me when I read Josh Piven's response to the worst case scenario: "I might rob a bank." I think this is (mostly) a joke, but there's a hard truth to it. Absent the existence of the organizations just mentioned, robbing a bank (or a 7-11) would become a more attractive option.

Still, that's not to say I would turn to crime. But the existence of non-governmental charitable organizations makes it less likely. And, since the hypothetical worst case scenario is not really so hypothetical for some people -- and wouldn't be completely hypothetical in libertarian land, either -- it's important that these organizations exist.

This is yet another reason to attack the all-encompassing nanny state: by co-opting the role of these organizations, it weakens them. But, when it comes to helping people, the state is inept, although it's still pretty good at killing them.

Some have argued that disaster scenarios prove that we need the state to take care of us. Perhaps these scenarios prove the opposite: if the worst struck, I wouldn't turn to the government for help. I'd turn first to the organizations that have always been there to help, because helping is built into their ethos from the ground up.

Or else I could go to the woods with Ann Wroe and be empty. And get eaten by a bear.

* Yes, I know, the bears in the vicinity of Algonquin don't generally eat people.

Posted by Terrence Watson on November 20, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack

Thursday, November 13, 2008

(Video) Ron Paul on the international fight for liberty

11 months ago, in a feature article about Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul's supporters amongst Canadian libertarians and antiwar conservatives, Peter Jaworski noted that:

"Paul's appeal is surprisingly international. No other candidate has generated as much interest or support outside of the U.S. as Ron Paul. Canadians, in particular, appear to be surprisingly sympathetic to the "revolution," a popular description of Paul's campaign that has caught on, partly because the letters "evol" are inverted, to spell out "love" when viewed in a mirror.

As his campaign intensified, Paul's popularity also increased, with supporter blogs springing up around the world and meetup groups in 20 countries.

Check below the fold for a video interview with Ron Paul about his popularity outside the United States and the prospects for individual freedom and the minimization of state power around the world.

Posted by Kalim Kassam on November 13, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Lemieux: The mirage of state morality

In this week's column, Pierre Lemieux examines the state's control over "dangerous substances." These include not only hard, illegal drugs, but also things like alcohol and tobacco. The government thinks all these substances are dangerous, and exercises control over all of them that makes them harder for you and I to get.

So what's the deal? What reason does the government have to make our lives more difficult in this way?

According to Lemieux, there is basically one fake reason for the government to control substances and two real reasons.

The fake reason is the one we're told: alcohol, tobacco, and other substances are kept out of our hands "for our own good." The government wants to live good lives, and -- so the argument goes -- that's incompatible with smoking pot. It's incompatible with being able to buy beer, liquor, and cigarettes anywhere we want, with minimal hassle.

I haven't been back for a while, but I hear in Ontario the government now forces vendors to keep cigarettes off the shelf and behind the counter. Like porn. All for our own good. All because some bureaucrat somewhere decided our lives would be very much improved if it became harder for us to get the things we wanted.

But, of course, the government is only making it harder for us to get "dangerous" substances. As Lemieux writes:

Who’s to draw the line between legal and illegal “substances”, except politicians and bureaucrats, including apparatchiks who write reports for the government? Aren’t we observing a gradual move towards tobacco prohibition?

I don't mind the government placing some regulates on substances that are inherently dangerous to others: explosives, perhaps. Drugs that cause those who use them to become uncontrollably violent (read: not marijuana.) But many of the regulations on so-called "dangerous substances" seem unnecessary, expensive, or just silly.

There are two real reasons the government has to control substances. First, as Lemieux notes, some substances receive quite a bit more control than others. Alcohol is controlled less than pot. Why is that? He argues:

Why does the state actually control substances? And why some substances more than others? Obviously, some interest groups are more efficient in having their preferences satisfied. The preferences of the ruling class certainly influence the preferential treatment alcohol receives.

The new bourgeoisie loves its swimming pools, which is why private pools go unregulated even though they present a serious risk to children. The new bourgeoisie loves its wine, and wine is less regulated for the same reason (in fact, wine is the only booze you can get in the typical Ontario grocery store; a certain lobbying group had something to do with that, I'm sure.)

As for the other reason government chooses to exercise control over substances, just look at the resoundingly successful War on Drugs in the U.S. It's been successful, all right. Under the banner of this "war", the government has expanded its power of search and seizure and its ability to confiscate assets of suspected (not convicted) criminals.

The War on Drugs, like almost all wars,  has been very beneficial to the state waging it. It's been less of a success for the war's many victims.

What of the original argument for control of dangerous substances -- that it is necessary for our own good? Lemieux writes:

The conservative argument that some substances should be controlled because they undermine morality is based on a series of illusions: the illusion that we know which substances are morally dangerous, the illusion that the state can be trusted to intervene and restrain its own power, and the illusion that the state should legislate morality.

Here, I have to part ways with Lemieux, just slightly: the state does legislate morality, and it should legislate morality. To take a simple example, when the state enforces a valid contract, it is "legislating" morality. When the state protects the right of a detested minority to speak freely, it is "legislating" morality.

What the state should not be doing is enforcing a single vision of the good life on groups that reasonably reject that ideal in favor of some other. The state should protect our rights, but refrain from trying to make us better people.

You can read Lemieux's column in its entirety here.

Posted by Terrence Watson on November 11, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Monday, November 10, 2008

Drunk on liberty

Encouragement to those who want to spread the message

Most people value liberty.  At their core, most people prefer freedom to coercion, choice to mandates, and peace to violence.  Many people just don’t know it.

Libertarians often lament the difficulty of convincing the world that freedom is the most moral and practical choice.  But understanding the nature of the struggle is key to overcoming it.  As tough as it seems, convincing people of libertarian ideas is seldom like pulling teeth.  It’s more like introducing someone to alcohol for the first time.

It’s unfamiliar, a bit too strong and kind of weird.  The first taste doesn’t sit well.  The second isn’t much better.  A little more time and a few more tries and it’s tolerable, but certainly nothing to write home about.  Before long life is enhanced by it's frequent enjoyment and the initiated find that they do things under its influence they couldn’t have imagined before.  (Inevitably, some pictures of those things end up on Facebook, but before long they go from embarrassing to brag-worthy)

With drink and liberty, you must start sweet, without much potency.  Starting with Ludwig von Mises’s Human Action is like introducing an abstainer to alcohol with a keg-stand.  The uninitiated typically respond to “foo foo” very well.  At first they’ll tell you it’s the sweetness they like, and that they could do without the potent ingredients.  Keep serving them.  Soon, the sweetness will be an unnecessary afterthought, and they will imbibe to get the good stuff and get it fast.

There’s something in human beings that almost universally reacts to alcohol.  It’s nearly always an acquired taste, yet throughout history the peoples and societies that have tried it have fallen in love with it, created new versions of it and even invented elaborate games and festivities around it.  It is enjoyed by people of every race, religion, language and custom.  So it is with liberty.

If someone coughs and winces a bit when you offer them their first taste of liberty, don’t be discouraged.  Sweeten it up, serve it again and wait for the results.  Soon they’ll be a “social” libertarian; next they’ll brag about how much liberty they can handle, and finally, if the substance works its magic, they’ll be consuming Human Action even when alone.


Note: Don't get carried away. Like all analogies, it obviously breaks down at some point. Too much alcohol is very, very bad.  Freedom on the other hand, like truth and justice, is not something that can be had in excess, as it is itself the mean between vices.  If you're in a huff about this claim, read this.

Posted by Isaac Morehouse on November 10, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

A voice from the grave's edge

Today's Vancouver Sun features an extraordinary cri de coeur from former columnist and member of Parliament Paul St. Pierre. Here's a taste:

Our Canada is now very close to a condition in which everything that is not compulsory is forbidden. We have become prisoners of the state. Like modern jail prisoners, all our needs for balanced diet, climate-controlled shelter, approved and tested medication, mental health counselling, higher education, suitable entertainment, grief counselling and consensual safe sex are available free. The inmate lacks only freedom itself.

Here's the link to the entire piece.

Posted by Terry O'Neill on November 10, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates of Self-Government, dies at 65

Lew Rockwell reports:

Marshall Fritz, 65, a genial giant of the libertarian movement, has died from cancer after a long and heroic fight. The founder of the Advocates of Self-Government and the Alliance for Separation of School and State, Marshall was a happy warrior for liberty. Even desperate disease did not change his good and optimistic nature nor his dedication to freedom, for which he never stopped working. A devout Catholic, Marshall is survived by Joan, his wife of 43 years, four children, and 12 grandchildren.

Marshall Fritz was the inventor of the World's Smallest Political Quiz which, in conjunction with the Nolan Chart, has been distributed widely and become a mainstay of Government, Civics, and Political Science textbooks.

In honour of Marshall and his dedication to the separation of school and state, I'm reposting this wonderful video:

Posted by Kalim Kassam on November 5, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Vive la liberté

There is a lot of anger among the Canadian right-flanks about Barack Obama's victory in the US. I'm not sure why.  I mean, it's hard for me to imagine that people on the right don't see a serious problem with the US conservative movement.

I wrote an article over a year ago, where I pretty much called the US conservative movement "insane".  And for good reason.  While conservative commentators laughed from a hill about Bush derangement syndrome, many of those same people could not contain their hatred for liberalism.

What is liberalism, anyways? I don't think anybody seems to know what it means anymore.  Social conservatives have somehow morphed it to be synonymous with socialist, which is patently absurd.

Liberalism and socialism are actually at opposite ends of a politico-economic spectrum.  Free market capitalism is a liberal ideology, not a conservative ideology.  Even the founding fathers of the US considered themselves liberals not conservatives.

atBut thats neither here nor there. I understand how people use language to convey a meaning. And when most conservative's say liberal, they mean socialist. But it's really sad that they would do this, as it actually surrenders a perfectly good word to a group that doesn't deserve it.

But the reasons for why liberalism and socialism have been grouped together by social conservatives is easy to understand. Neither liberalism or socialism are ideologies grounded in tradition and religious morality. But I would rather suggest that social conservatives and socialists have a lot in common. More so than liberals have with the other two.

Social conservatives and socialists both believe that the role of government is to regulate morality. For social conservatives, it's Judeo-Christian morality. While for socialists it's the morality of collectivism and altruism. Social conservatives almost never manage to deliver on the promise of small, less intrusive government, because let's face it: they really don't believe in it.

Social conservatives want "creation science" taught in high school science class, and socialists want collectivist ethics rammed down our throats.

Social conservatives want self-immolation to God to be a mandated virtue. Socialists want self-immolation to the collective to be a mandated virtue.

The true liberal believes in the value of self. That one owns oneself. Not a God, not a collective. I own me. If two people defecating in each others mouths in the comfort of their own home gets them off, liberals have no problem with this. Why? Because they both own themselves, and they can do to themselves what they please. This is what drives social conservatives mad about liberals, because social conservatives do see a role for the state in matters of personal morality.

The connection between liberalism and socialism by social conservatives is simply a manifestation of the fact that both liberalism and socialism are viewed as non-theistic systems of ethics. But I would actually argue, that the ethics of socialism and Christianity are more closely linked than many contemporary Christians would admit to themselves.

In the Book of Revelations, Christ spoke lowly of the rich, and saw himself as a spokesman for the poor.  Charity is a high moral principle in Christianity. 

Charity is not a tenet of liberalism. Liberalism places emphasis on free markets, private property, freedom of thought, speech, etc. There's nothing contradictory about a selfish liberal. But a selfish Christian or selfish socialist? Come now.

We should be clear, though. Barack Obama, is not a liberal. He is a center-left populist. Bush was a centre-right populist.  Stephen Harper is a center-right populist. Jean Chrétien was a center-right populist.  Paul Martin was a centre-right populist. Jack Layton is a centre-left populist. Bill Clinton was a centre-right populist.

There are no liberals and socialists. Politicians break from their ideology faster than you can scratch your nose, once they reach office. They do something that we often loath. They "moderate".

For true liberals and libertarians, they are pretty much locked out of power. But so are social conservatives.  The mushy-middle is as good as it gets.

But all hope is not lost for libertarians. The Libertarian Party will likely never see electoral success, but the ideas and values of liberty are powerful, they have legs, and their influence permeates society. It is a needed fringe, a useful fringe, and an effective fringe.

To accept that we libertarians are on the fringe is sometimes hard to take. But that is where we can be most effective.

Libertarians have lead the charge to protect free speech. We have led the charge to protect property rights.  We have led the charge to stand up for basic liberty around the world. And despite setbacks, our voices do have an effect.

It's not about swinging people away from the mushy-middle. It's about changing just where the mushy-middle is. Slowly, and over time, it happens.

The adage two steps forward, one step back almost always applies. Be it Reagan and Thatcher, who took two giant steps forward.  Or Mike Harris in Ontario in 1995. The change they effected still exists to this day.  After these revolutions, there was blowback. There is always blowback. You measure the success of ideas on how far the blowback goes. 

Fiscal conservatism, as it's called, has survived as a value. It is a value that even leftist Labour Parties around the world have adopted.  It's influence has even reached into the socialists bastions of Scandinavia.   Look at Russia and China today.

The road to liberty is a long road. But the idea lives on. It suffers it's setbacks. But those setbacks have proven not insurmountable. 

The defeat of the Republicans in the United States is indicative of a long over-due correction. Whether I agree with the Democrats big-government tendencies (and I certainly don't), now is their time. But why any libertarian would lament the defeat of the Republicans is beyond me. 

The Republicans have been no friend of liberty.  They have, much like Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's government, sought the erosion of constitutional protections of it.  They have spent the US treasury into the toilet. Spending levels in the US are beyond sustainable, and the debt burden to the American taxpayer is–dare I say–criminal. 

Now is the time for the Republicans to figure who they are and what they stand for. Being not-liberal clearly isn't cutting it for Americans. And it shouldn't.

Posted by Mike Brock on November 5, 2008 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack