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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

Fraser Institute: We're getting pilloried over support for making long-form census voluntary

The Fraser Institute sent out the following letter today:

In recent weeks, the Fraser Institute has been pilloried and criticized in both the mainstream media and among the country's political and academic elites for our support for making the 2011 long-form census voluntary, rather than mandatory.

Our rationale for opposing the mandatory long-form census comes down to a core belief that Canadians should not be forced to disclose private and non-essential personal information to the government.

In its current format, the long-form census requires Canadians to complete 40 burdensome pages of intrusive personal questions. Canadians are forced to disclose this information without good cause. The census has simply become a cheap way for academics, economists, and social scientists to get information that should be acquired using market surveys of the kind that are routinely conducted on a voluntary basis.

Having census data collected by a central government agency does not serve Canada's interests, and it does not serve your interests.

We've been called "media shills" by Globe and Mail's Jeffrey Simpson for also siding with voluntariness over mandatoriness. You can read why by scanning our WS on the census page.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 13, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

Read Ayn Rand, and I'll drive all over the U.S. to encourage you

This is pretty amazing. From reason's Hit & Run blog:

How far would you go to tell people to read Ayn Rand? For Nick Newcomen, the answer is measurable down to the mile: Newcomen drove 12,238 miles across 30 U.S. states to pen a message using GPS tracking that can only be read using Google Earth. The message? “Read Ayn Rand.”

Here's what that message looks like:

Read rand

Gizmodo has more of the story of Newcomen, the man with the GPS pen:

Nick Newcomen did a road trip over 30 days that covered stretches from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. First, he identified on a map the route he would need to drive to spell out the message. He put a GPS device in his car to trace the route he would follow. Then, he hit the road.

"The main reason I did it is because I am an Ayn Rand fan," he says. "In my opinion if more people would read her books and take her ideas seriously, the country and world would be a better place - freer, more prosperous and we would have a more optimistic view of the future."

Newcomen offers his top ten reasons to read Ayn Rand here:


1. Relevance. The themes of her books, such as government control versus individual freedom, are highly relevant today. Specific events and characters in her novels are seemingly pulled from today's news even though the books were written over 50 years ago.
2. Popularity. Her books are selling better than ever. Atlas Shrugged, for instance, sold a record half-million copies last year.
3. Personal success. Her books are ultimately about the individual person living successfully and happily using his or her independent judgment and mind to the fullest.
4. Reading pleasure. Her novels feature creative, page-turning stories with unforgettable characters.
5. Solutions. She explains with refreshing honesty and clarity which basic ideas America must adopt and which it must reject if it is to remain a great nation.
6. Controversial. Ayn Rand is passionately loved and passionately hated.
7. Understanding. Her ideas have helped millions of people make sense of a seemingly incomprehensible world.
8. Truth. Her ideas in essence are true.
9. Vision. Ayn Rand provides a glimpse of a radiant future for all humanity.
10. Influential. Atlas Shrugged is the "second most influential book for Americans today" after the Bible, according to a joint survey conducted by the Library of Congress and the Book of the Month Club.

Okay, fine. Go ahead and make this guy happy and read Ayn Rand:


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 13, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

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)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

U.S. Libertarian Party calls the pay gap between private and federal workers 'appalling'

Recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that federal government workers get compensation, on average, more than twice as high as private-sector workers. That gap has expanded dramatically over the last decade. Libertarian Party Chair Mark Hinkle released the following statement today:

"The numbers are appalling. In 2009, the average private-sector worker received $61,051 in total compensation, but the average federal government worker received $123,049. There is no excuse for this enormous, and growing, compensation gap.

"I guess you just can't beat a federal job. Very high pay, unbelievable benefits, extremely generous retirement plans, and near-perfect job security.

"And those retirement plans are often unfunded pensions, which will have to be paid by taxing our children and grandchildren, who never had the opportunity to vote when they were created.

"Apparently wishing to add insult to injury, government employee union reps have claimed that federal workers are entitled to their sky-high compensation because they are more educated and skilled than the rest of us. I have had many personal experiences with federal employees that indicate the exact opposite.

"The problem is that federal worker compensation is not set by the free market -- it's set by government fiat, which causes it to be artificially generous. Another factor is the monopoly government employee unions, which are able to extort that compensation up to even higher levels.

"One sure sign that federal employees are overpaid is that they never quit. Tad DeHaven of the Cato Institute has noted, '...in 2009, private sector employees quit at a rate that was more than eight times higher than federal employees.... This indicates that federal employees recognize that the generous combination of wages, benefits, and job security is hard to match in the private sector, so they stay put.'

"Libertarians support minimum government and maximum freedom. Unfortunately, federal employees have incentives to make government bigger, which makes us less free. With government employment paying more than the private sector, the rational self-interest of many workers will drive them to seek employment with the federal government.

"That's a formula for disaster.

"Libertarians want productive people working in the private sector to build our economy, not working for the government and hurting our economy.

"I would like to see an across-the-board pay cut for all federal workers. That would reduce federal spending, reduce the deficit, and reduce the insult to American private-sector workers. It also just might encourage some federal government employees to quit their jobs and seek more productive work in the private sector."

Note: The above is a press release from the U.S. Libertarian Party.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 12, 2010 in Libertarianism, U.S. politics | Permalink | Comments (9)

Monday, August 02, 2010

Conrad Black... libertarian?

Conrad Black is finally out of a U.S. prison. His time there appears to have made him a lot less conservative, and a lot more libertarian. At least when it comes to the war on drugs, and to incarceration:

I saw at close range the failure of the U.S. War on Drugs, with absurd sentences, (including 20 years for marijuana offences, although 42% of Americans have used marijuana and it is the greatest cash crop in California.) A trillion dollars have been spent, a million easily replaceable small fry are in prison, and the targeted substances are more available and of better quality than ever, while producing countries such as Colombia and Mexico are in a state of civil war.


And I had the opportunity to see why the United States has six to twelve times as many incarcerated people as other prosperous democracies, (Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom), how the prison industry grew, and successfully sought more prisoners, longer sentences, and maximal possibilities of probation violations and a swift return to custody.

Before I got into the maw of the U.S. legal system, I did not realize the country has 47 million people with a criminal record, (most for relatively trivial offenses,) or that prosecutors won more than 90% of their cases. There, at Coleman, I had seen the courage of self-help, the pathos of broken men, the drawn faces of the hopeless, the glazed expression of the heavily medicated, (90% of Americans judged to require confinement for psychiatric reasons are in the prison system), and the nonchalance of those who find prison a comfortable welfare system compared to the skid row that was their former milieu. America’s 2.4 million prisoners, and millions more awaiting trial or on supervised release, are an ostracized, voiceless legion of the walking dead; they are no one’s constituency.

Read the rest of his article entitled, "My Prison Education."

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on August 2, 2010 in Libertarianism, Marijuana reform | Permalink | Comments (16)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Happy Birthday Milton Friedman


July 31st would have marked Milton Friedman's 98th birthday. Since the 31st falls on a Saturday this year, the Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation has selected today as the third, annual "Friedman Day."

Several think tanks, Institutes, foundations, and student groups will be busy celebrating Friedman's legacy, including the Institute for Liberal Studies, and the Fraser Institute here in Canada.

The Institute for Liberal Studies is hosting a luncheon at Parliament Hill in honour of Friedman's birthday, while the Fraser Institute is celebrating his legacy as well.


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 30, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

Libertarianism 101: Mike Brock vs. Stephen Taylor

Yesterday, Western Standard blogger Mike Brock and Stephen Taylor debated whether or not the Conservative government's move to make the long-form census voluntary rather than mandatory would make libertarians be interested in the Conservative Party again. The debate quickly changed into a broader debate about libertarianism and conservatism. Here's video of the discussion, courtesy of Roy Eappen:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 30, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (40)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

"I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting..."

Western Standard blogger Mike Brock just appeared on CBC's Power and Politics alongside Stephen Taylor, prominent Canadian blogging pundit. The two of them got into a bit of a debate over the mandatoriness of the long-form census, and over whether or not this move by the Stephen Harper-led Tories would bring more libertarians into the conservative movement.

Brock and Taylor seemed to be at odds with one another. While both were supportive of this most recent move by the Tories, Brock was insistent that this move is not enough to bring in libertarians. That libertarians cared about other issues that the Conservative government has failed them on. He cited the war on drugs, a dramatic increase in the size of government, and the G20 as thorns in the side of libertarians who might, otherwise, take a second look at the Conservative Party.

Taylor hit back, arguing that Brock's view was too low to the ground, that he needs to go up 30,000 feet to see the bigger picture, and to realize that politics is about the art of the possible.

While Brock is sure to post a few follow-up posts after his debate, one thing might surprise those watching the show -- Brock and Taylor took different positions, and debated the issue, but both Brock and Taylor count themselves as libertarians.

Rosemary Barton, host of CBC's Power & Politics, basically said "huh?" when Taylor said he was a libertarian. She double-checked. And, sure enough, Taylor did admit, somewhat sheepishly, that he is a libertarian (this isn't news to readers of this blog, or to readers of Taylor's blog either. Taylor's been a libertarian for a long time).

No one would be surprised to hear two conservatives differ about policy or strategy. Of course they would differ -- conservatism is a broad movement, comprising fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, social liberals, foreign policy hawks and doves, and so on.

But the same is true of libertarians.

Libertarianism is both a political philosophy, as well as a political morality. On the former, it is a view about the proper function of government, and the proper size of government. It is possible to be a consequentialist, utilitarian, deontological, social conservative, natural rights, and so on, libertarian. "Libertarian" describes what your view is on the role of government, but is silent on why you endorse that role, and no other. For that, you need to look at political morality.

As a political morality, libertarianism refers only to the natural rights foundations of libertarian political philosophy. This might be part of the confusion, since the same label refers to two distinct things -- foundations and outcomes.

Recently, I posted about reason magazine's debate entitled "Where do libertarians belong?" It was a debate between Brink Lindsay, Matt Kibbe, and Jonah Goldberg. This CBC panel on the census was a snapshot of the same debate within the libertarian movement about where libertarians belong. Taylor thinks being a part of the conservative movement is the best way to reach more individual liberty and individual responsibility, while Mike Brock is no longer so sure.

Barton permitted Brock and Taylor to tussle back-and-forth for some time. When all was said and done, she laughed and said, "I had no idea libertarianism was so exciting! Thank you to the both of you for making it so."

It is exciting.

Learn more, pick up these major works of libertarianism (two authors are Canadian, two are American):


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 29, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (11)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Reason debate: Where do libertarians belong?

During the Liberty Summer Seminar this past weekend, our associate editor Terrence Watson and Shotgun blogger Mike Brock challenged former Fraser TV chief Leah Costello (who is currently working on a documentary of talented communicators for liberty) over the issue of whether or not libertarians belong in the broader conservative movement.

Mike's concern, echoed by Terrence, can be summarized like this: in the alliance, it has always been the case that libertarians have had to compromise, while conservatives did not. The two camps agree on fiscal issues -- lower taxes, smaller government, less spending -- but often disagree on civil liberty and social issues -- war on drugs, police powers (illustrated powerfully in the debate that was sparked by Brock's post here on the WS following the G20), role of the state in foreign policy.

Watson, meanwhile, took issue with the fact that conservatives often add insult to injury by publicly denouncing libertarians -- like prime minister Stephen Harper did at the Manning Centre -- only to turn around and grumble about a lack of support from libertarians on issues like the census.

Reason magazine has spent some time discussing whether or not a wedge exists between libertarians and conservatives, and have posted the video of the July 12 debate at reason headquarters between "liberaltarian" Brink Lindsay of the Cato Institute, fusionist Jonah Goldberg of National Review, and FreedomWorks president Matt Kibbe. Their description:

Should libertarians forge alliances and risk being compromised, or preserve their purity and risk irrelevance? Which political groups are worth rooting for, collaborating with, or just sprinting away from?

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 28, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (21)

Saturday, July 17, 2010

WS on the census: Mark D. Hughes, "Always choose the voluntary, peaceful method"

Ed's note: We sent out a call to WS friends to send us thoughts on the census. Of course, we did not email everyone who might have wanted to share their thoughts with us. That led Mark D. Hughes, executive director of the Institute for the Study of Privacy Issues, to drop a comment under Professor Walter Block's submission with his own take on the census. We thought we'd pull his comment out and place it up on the main page. Here it is:

I am greatly troubled by the recent cacophony of vitriol and anger spewed out by the army of special interests who insist the census long form must be imposed by threat of state violence. "Tell us what we want to know or we will lock you away and take your money." How is that part of the Canadian ideal?

These folks (let's be real... supporters of hegemony and state coercion and enemies of peaceful cooperation) employ an argument something like "unless the long form is backed by the threat of state violence no one will give us the information we want." Hmm, why does that sound so familiar? Oh right, that's what they say about the need to torture prisoners in the war on terror... everyone knows a good threat will always get your victim to tell the truth. Right?

To argue that Statistics Canada can derive scientifically reliable data only with the threat of state sanctioned violence is a vile commentary on the degree to which some elitists worship at the alter of government information gathering.

More to the point, this whole mode of thought must necessarily reject an entire body of social science dedicated to the peaceful collection of data by way of voluntary surveys. Should we never again trust (within the scientific parameters set) an Ipsos Reid poll because it wasn't taken at the point of a gun? What utter nonsense!

As to the privacy issues regarding the long form, they are obvious to all but the most dull. In my estimation, however, privacy is not the primary catalyst for the public's dislike of this particular form of state snooping. Indeed, as has been pointed out by many who agitate for a mandatory census, most of the information collected on the long form is not that dissimilar from what the average Canadian is willing to discloses on Facebook.

What really bugs most people about the census process is that the state demands they divulge these intimate details about themselves and their households. And these demands are echoed by elitist special interests -- as diverse as academics, bureaucrats and business marketers -- who enjoy the benefits of this taxpayer-financed information landslide.

Finally, it is delightfully ironic that the vary argument advocates for a mandatory census use to marginalize/ridicule the notion that privacy is a relevant and sensible issue in relation to the census (i.e., the fact that so many Canadians voluntarily empty their guts on Facebook), lays bare the lie that scientifically reliable data, of the sort the long form is designed to capture, can only be derived by way of coercion... backed up by the state's monopoly on institutionalized violence.

If Canadians will voluntarily confess all to Facebook, surely they will answer a few questions from Statistics Canada if they are asked nicely. Indeed, as the Edmonton Journal's Lorne Gunter so wisely reminds us in his excellent June 11 article, "In a democracy, the bureaucrats and politicians have to ask us nicely to comply; they cannot demand we do except in very special circumstances."

I say, if you genuinely value freedom, always choose the voluntary peaceful method.

Mark D. Hughes is the Executive Director of the Vancouver Island-based "Institute for the Study of privacy Issues" (ISPI) and the editor of ISPI Clips, North America's leading news service for identity, surveillance and privacy issues.

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

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 17, 2010 in Census, Current Affairs, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

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:

  • US job growth will continue to falter, and US unemployment will likely be higher before the end of 2010 than it was at the beginning.

  • US treasuries will continue to experience increasing pessimism from global investors and central banks, despite their liquidity advantage

  • The US consumer will find their personal debt unmanageable, and will soon begin feeling serious inflationary pressure due to devaluation of the USD against it's trading partners, pushing import prices up and squeezing the US consumer to his limit.

  • Gold has not finished it's run, and will likely go above $2000/ounce in the next 6 months.

  • There is a high risk of a sudden sell-off of US currency worldwide that could lead to rapid devaluation of US currency in the next 6 months. If this happens, gold could easily reach $5000/ounce in USD.

  • US manufacturing will continue to see improvements, despite all of this chaos, as Americans will be forced to rely more and more on domestic production due to a lack of buying power on global markets. Despite this, investment by international investors is not advisable in the near-term.

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)

WS on the census: Why dumping the census might be a good (or bad) idea

Aaron Wherry, over on Maclean's, has sent out a call to all "conservative-minded" organizations to try and defend the Conservative government's move to scrap the mandatory long-form census.

We're "libertarian-minded" over here at the WS, but we thought we'd oblige Wherry a little, and offer some thoughts on the census.

But let's be clear. It's weird that the Conservatives, whose leader has given the signal to purge libertarians from Conservative Party ranks, have been sounding a libertarian tone on this issue. That tone rings entirely hollow to our ears.

It was Harper, after all, who gave libertarians the elbow during the Manning Centre get-together a few years back. And it was under the Tories that Marc Emery was unceremoniously shipped off to a federal prison in the U.S. to face five years for a "crime" he would have gotten a slap on the wrist for here in Canada. Also, mandatory minimums? And never mind the budget.

This? Scrapping the mandatory long-form census is supposed to be the fop that brings libertarians within the folds of Harper's skirt? If you want us back, dearest Conservative Party, then legalize pot, bring Emery back to Canada to serve his time in a Canadian prison, cut the income tax, reduce spending, and balance the freakin' budget.

Scrapping the long-form census won't lead to droves of libertarians lining up to join the Conservative Party. But, and this is an important but, we're happy to see movement towards greater individual liberty, regardless of motivation, and regardless of party label, and regardless of past attempts to give libertarians the cold shoulder (or the elbow). We're reasonable people over here. If you want to talk increasing individual liberty, we'll talk.

We've sent out requests to our little constellation of the Western-Standard-verse to offer reasons why we might not be so fond of the long-form census (or why some of us might like the census, the request was not restricted to only slagging the census). This weekend, we'll be posting responses as we get them in our inbox.

But I'll begin with myself:

Eliminating the mandatory long-form census strikes me as a good idea.

We're all familiar with polling companies, is there a reason why use of polling companies is not a good idea? Why this alternative is somehow unreasonable or ridiculous? (I really don't know, you tell me).

Come to think of it, why wouldn't compensating people for filling out the long-form census be a good idea? Forget spending money on advertising and census enforcement, spend it on compensating participants for crossing ts and dotting is. Would that be a wholly outrageous suggestion? Would that, dear statisticians, motivate enough people to fill out this thing so that the government can centrally plan much better? Would it yield sufficiently robust findings?

Okay, those are my constructive suggestions for the folks who think that, in principle, it's just fine to make people fill out forms under threat of sanctions. But why should we think that it's okay to make people fill out forms without paying them for it and without them having a choice about it?

I really don't know how much uncompensated time I'm expected to spend filling out forms for the government, but I really don't think it should be more than a minute or two. It's insulting enough for a taxpayer to work for the government half the year, but to have to spend several hours agonizing over hundreds of exceptions, exemptions, special tax breaks, brackets, and so on, just adds to the frustration. And never mind starting your own company and keeping up-to-speed with the latest wisdom in the forms of new regulations coming out of Ottawa or more local governments. I suppose I may be a special case, since filling out paperwork is an especially tortuous form of hell for me.

We might also wonder just how well the census helps the government make really good decisions. I'm not sure how familiar you are with economics, but a general conclusion is that governments are real bad at allocating resources efficiently. Do we have studies to demonstrate that the census has improved allocative inefficiencies? Census-supporters: Can you show me empirical studies demonstrating that the thousands of hours Canadians collectively spend filling out the long form of the census has actually made the Canadian government (or any government) more efficient?

Of course the census might be useful at doing just that. And I bet that, in several cases, it actually does help. But do you really think that government spending decisions are made on the basis of census data, rather than on the basis of possible electoral gain? Do you think it's a really surprising coincidence that the Conservatives have dumped stimulus money on Conservative ridings, or on swing ridings? Really?

But we're getting off track. I'm trying now to persuade you. Instead, I should really be focusing on explaining why I, personally, dislike the census. We can rephrase all of the above into this simple little explanation:

1) I think it's unseemly to expect Canadians to fill out forms without compensation.

2) I think it's extra unseemly to threaten people with sanctions for not filling out forms.

3) Electoral considerations trump other considerations when it comes to dispensing tax money.

4) Opinion polls might be just as good as the census in terms of getting the info, without it being unseemly.

5) A voluntary census with compensation can be not unseemly, and might be sufficient.

So there are my (constructive!) suggestions, and my explanation for why I don't like the census. Soon, Aaron, you'll get some more responses. Some, I suspect, will be fairly radical. So be on the lookout for them.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 16, 2010 in Census, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Video: Ron Paul & the Instruments of Tyranny

You can call him a kook if you want, but one thing you can't deny is that Texas Republican Congressman Ron Paul is fundamentally decent. And sincere. This little video reminded me of why I was so excited about his run to become the GOP's standard bearer:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 15, 2010 in Libertarianism, U.S. politics | Permalink | Comments (4)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Morning links from last night

David Frum chimes in on the Lindsey, Goldberg, Kibbe debate about where libertarians belong.

So does Ilya Somin over at the Volokh Conspiracy.

Stephen Taylor tweets an hilarious pic of the Liberal bus getting a "lift." That bus was fodder for several Blogging Tories besides.

Jay Currie posts a video of dangerous bubbles at the G20.

MEP Daniel Hannan reviews Peter Schiff's book How an Economy Grows and Why It Crashes .

Are tea partiers avoiding social issues?

Tea Party tells the NAACP to grow up.

In other news:

Top British cop calls for a return to the "British model" of policing -- softer, less aggressive, and more gentle.

Singapore expects stunning 13 - 15% growth in 2010.

Crazy censorship-minded Massachusetts law expands to cover emails and IMs and so on.

Speaking of censorship, U.S. second circuit court of appeals tosses out FCC regs on indecency for being "unconstitutionally vague."

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 14, 2010 in Canadian Conservative Politics, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Lunch-time linkage

Here's a little round-up from the liberto-/conservo-sphere:

NAACP will vote on whether or not Tea Partiers are racist today.

Small Dead Animals does not love the Western Standard.

Ted Nugent wonders how Canadians are to be trusted with chainsaws and blowtorches.

The libertarian hunter-gatherer caveman diet guy, John Durant, on the Jimmy Moore show.

How Google's open-ended maps are getting embroiled in touchy geo-political disputes.

Brits are starting to think twice about government-run health care.

Why partisans are immune to facts (and why facts might just make things worse). h/t

Brink Lindsey, Jonah Goldberg & Matt Kibbe debate about where libertarians belong.

Judge Andrew Napolitano says George W. Bush and Dick Cheney should be indicted.

A week of living free at New Hampshire's Porc Fest.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 13, 2010 in 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)

Judge Andrew Napolitano v. Lou Dobbs on rights and illegal immigration

(UPDATE: Someone purporting to be Lou Dobbs chimes in in the comments. Do please take a look to see why I, and some early commenters, raised his ire.)

Who knew Lou Dobbs was a positivist?

Judge Andrew Napolitano, whose show "Freedom Watch" on Fox News is eminently watchable, asked Dobbs a few tough questions. What piqued my interest was Napolitano's persistent insistence that the rights and liberties Americans enjoy are the birthright of human beings in virtue of their humanity, rather than something they get because a bunch of politicians got together and decided to write it down on a piece of paper.

Dobbs agreed that foreigners are just as human as Americans are, but wasn't entirely sure what to make of Napolitano's claims about natural law. Maybe he was just confused about the distinction between the descriptive and the normative, between what is and what ought to be.

Maybe Dobbs takes issue with the preamble of the Declaration of Independence, which claims that all men are created equal (and not just American men), and that governments are instituted for the purpose of protecting individual rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It's interesting to note a little piece of trivia: The U.S. Constitution prohibits only two types of private action (everything else is a restriction on what the government can do. So please stop arguing that illegal immigrants, or foreigners in general, are not protected by the Constitution in the U.S. They most decidedly are, since the Constitution addresses itself to what the U.S. government is permitted to do within its jurisdiction). Those two actions? Individuals in the U.S. cannot own slaves (thirteenth amendment), and, for a time anyways, they had to put up with prohibition (eighteenth amendment). Happily, the latter was repealed. So, really, there's now only one thing in the Constitution addressing itself to what Americans can't do.

Getting back on track: the feisty exchange between Napolitano and Dobbs is especially interesting in the wake of two state legislatures openly considering Arizona's SB 1070 law, which makes it okay for police officers to ask foreigny-looking types for their papieren. Surprisingly, two Florida legislators (William Snyder and Mike Bennett, both Republican) are busy drafting a bill. Unsurprisingly, and unfortunately so, Mississippi is thinking of following suit as well:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 12, 2010 in American History, Libertarianism, U.S. politics | Permalink | Comments (62)

24 different types of libertarians and the 24 different types of authoritarians

A little while ago, cartoonist Barry Deutsch of Ampersand made a bit of a splash in the libertari-overse with his comic strip depicting "The 24 Different Types of Libertarian." In response, Davi Barker, a self-described Muslim Agorist (an agorist is a specific kind of libertarian, please click the link for the wiki explanation), put together a nice rebuttal entitled "The 24 Different Types of Authoritarian."

Here's the original (click for size big enough to read):


And here's Barker's retort (again, click for readable size):


Nice work, Barker!

UPDATED with correct attribution.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 12, 2010 in Humour, Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 09, 2010

Lamenting the loss of the liberal Liberal Party

Lorne Gunter has a nice piece up in the National Post, grumbling about the Liberal Party going from Wilfrid Laurier-style classical liberalism to Trudeau-style anti-liberalism.

Here's an excerpt from his "From Pearson to Ignatieff, the party of elitism":

Trudeau completed the transformation of the Liberals, begun by Pearson, from a party that believed in equality of opportunity (classic liberalism) to one that sought equality of outcome (socialism). In short, the Liberals have become "elitist"--because they no longer trust ordinary people to make the right choices for themselves.

Gunter is not the first to comment on this. Brian Lee Crowley (of the new Macdonald-Laurier Institute), Jason Clemens (Pacific Research Institute), and Niels Veldhuis (Fraser Institute) have penned what I think is a spectacular new book entitled "The Canadian Century: Moving Out of America's Shadow ." Therein, they lay out the vision of Canada's best prime minister, the actually liberal Wilfrid Laurier, and argue that a return to the policies of Laurier would really make the 21st century the century of Canada (or, to use Laurier's phrase, "the [21st] century will be filled with Canada").

Interestingly, and possibly surprisingly if you think all that matters is a party label, they spend a great deal of time talking about "The Redemptive Decade," which was a multi-party unwritten agreement to balance budgets, downsize the government, and cut taxes, plus free trade at the federal level. This decade, the late 80s to early 90s, saw an NDP government in Saskatchewan, Conservative governments in Ontario and Alberta, and, perhaps most significantly, the federal Liberals under PM Jean Chretien and finance minister Paul Martin, usher a return to the "Laurier plan" (Brian Mulroney gets a tip of the hat for NAFTA and replacing the MST with the GST).

But you'll learn a lot more directly from the horse's mouth. So here's Jason Clemens giving a talk at the University of Windsor courtesy of the Institute for Liberal Studies which helps explain both Laurier's vision, and why the Redemptive Decade was so redemptive:


Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 9, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (3)

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Pierre Lemieux: The Idea of America

It's the fourth of July, and Americans are busy celebrating Independence Day. Two years ago, we commissioned Pierre Lemieux to write a monograph for us entitled "The Idea of America." The monograph is as relevant today as it was two years ago. Here's what we wrote about it then:

Americans are busy celebrating the 4th of July today, but do many of them really know what the idea of America was? What were the revolutionaries -- the signers of the Declaration, the men and women who abandoned their old ties to call America home -- doing all of this for? What was that glorious idea?

Pierre Lemieux, our firebrand libertarian columnist, has produced a monograph entitled "The Idea of America," (PDF) published by the Western Standard, to answer this and related questions. His analysis is, in my judgment, accurate and cutting. Once upon a time, Americans (and Canadians) wouldn't even think of the government when presented with a problem.

Once upon a time, no American worth her salt would ever stand for identification papers, gun control, nanny state regulations, and so on. What happened to those Americans? Maybe they lost their grip on the idea of America, and were coddled and pacified by unparalleled wealth and prosperity. Or maybe they were flummoxed by the snake-oil salesman cum politician, insisting that they could get something for nothing, or frightening them with tales of bogeymen under every bed.

"...consider the first decade of the 20th century," writes Lemieux, "[i]n general, anybody could start a business, find investors, and sell his product without any government license and oversight. There was no SEC, no IRS, no FCC, no FDA, no OSHA, no USCIS (formerly INS), no EPA. The absence of regulation did not prevent the development of vibrant capital markets, and New York City was on its way to becoming the top financial place in the world. The right to keep and bear arms, so typically American in the 20th century, had survived relatively unscathed. There was no witch-hunt and, in a legal fight between an individual and the government, it is the latter that felt handicapped. Writing in 1910, Lord Acton could confidently say that the American people are “more free than any other the world has seen.” In her celebration of American liberty in the early 20th century, Rose Wilder Lane could exclaim: “That is what Europeans meant when, after a few days in this country, they exclaimed, ‘You are so free here!’.”

Once, maybe, there was America. But what happened to that idea?

"Americans are now caught in the “network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform” that [Alexis de] Tocqueville forecasted. Virtually all activities—even those protected by the Bill of Rights—are regulated in some way, and most often in many ways. Just at the federal level, there are probably 4,000 statutes, although it’s hard to tell the exact number, notes a Wall Street Journal reporter, “because the statutes aren’t listed in one place.” And this does not include the regulations. “We continue to claim that nobody is supposed to ignore the law,” wrote French legal theorist Georges Ripert in 1949, “but those who know it are certainly to be commended.” In 2001, federal prosecutors brought more than 80,000 cases. To this must be added the laws, regulations and prosecutions at the State and local levels. It is stimated that 15 per cent of all Americans have an arrest record. France has come to America."

Read the monograph. Pass it on. It's the 4th of July, and the idea of America is still worth fighting for.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 4, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

G20 conservative conundrum: It's complicated to be a law and order conservative

Things are really complicated.

They are complicated, in particular, for law & order conservatives -- conservatives whose default position is to trust certain kinds of authorities.

The connotation is difficult to get at, but maybe the denotation is clear. L&O conservatives like police officers. They also like all branches of the military. By "like" I mean, in any dispute between a particular police officer and a citizen, or a particular member of the military and a civilian, their default position is to trust the former against the latter. If we know nothing else, our gut reaction ought to be to trust the uniformed against the non-uniformed, says the L&O conservative.

The same is not true of judges, especially Supreme Court judges. Judges are often subject to ridicule at the hands of these conservatives. I can't always figure out why we should like authorities in blue uniforms, but not authorities in red Santa outfits. But that's neither here nor there.

As for elected representatives, the instinct appears to be to default to partisan preferences. L&O conservatives in Canada support Conservatives, and Republicans in the U.S. If something is done by Tories, the default is to defer to and support them and their policies, unless there are good reasons on the other side.

Finally, Canadian and U.S. conservatives of all stripes embrace freedom of expression. The Canadian conservative commitment to the libertarian position on speech and expression is remarkable both for its tenacity and (apparent) principledness (they've read John Stuart Mill's 'On Liberty'). Conservatives who would otherwise be hostile to the legality of "pisschrist" or other works of "art" depicting Judeo-Christian symbols and personages in, let us say, "disrespectful" ways, recognize the right of jackasses to be jackasses (and recognizing a right is not identical to endorsing what someone chooses to do with that right).

I don't mean to caricature or otherwise mock the L&O conservative. The description above is intended to be an accurate description of the default stance of this variety of conservative. To summarize: L&Os defer to free expression, partisanship, and cops (and the military, but never mind that now).

In the case of this past weekend's shenanigans in Toronto, everything is complicated for this conservative. There's apparent tension between their various default positions.

To see this tension in action, consider the spat over an incident between Kathy Shaidle, BlazingCatFur, and the police in the comment section of Kate McMillan's blog Small Dead Animals, or take a peek at the back-and-forth on our own Mike Brock's post below, where Brock details the apparently unlawful search of his person at the hands of foul-mouthed and aggressive police officers.

It's complicated because the accountability for the police action is diffused between an NDP mayor, a Liberal premier, and a Conservative prime minister. Who's really ultimately accountable? It's hard to tell. It was Harper's conference, in Miller's city, with McGuinty quickly passing temporary enabling laws by cover of night. Small wonder no Party has yet gone on the offensive to demand some sort of investigation into the actions of the police in Toronto. If we had a Conservative premier with a Conservative prime minister, you can be sure the Liberals would be all over this like a police elbow on the back of a Guardian journalist.

And, finally, it's complicated because of the apparent tension between freedom of expression -- including photographing, recording, writing, blogging, and otherwise capturing anything and everything in public -- and the actions of some of the police officers who arrested and/or searched and/or accosted media types (like National Post photographers), bloggers (like our own Mike Brock and Kathy Shaidle), ordinary folk, and countless others.

Since it's complicated, it's not obvious how to reconcile the various default positions. As Jay Currie pointed out to McMillan in her comment thread: "There is a strong cleavage within the conservative interest between people who assert that individual rights and autonomy matters and those who believe in order and an authoritarian state."

It's easier for a libertarian, who ordinarily has a healthy distrust for all political authority (and sometimes even for non-political authorities, like overbearing parents and nagging girlfriends), and consistently defaults to individual liberty in all matters. But the libertarian position is not at issue.

What is, is how a law & order conservative can keep these three balls in the air without letting any of them drop by the wayside. And I just don't see how they could.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on June 29, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (76)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

U.S. Libertarian Party criticizes CPAC conservatives

The U.S. Libertarian Party has sent out the following press release. They sound like fighting words to me, but they also highlight an interesting inconsistency in so-called "small government" conservatives. Read the release, and you'll understand:

WASHINGTON - As the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) holds its annual conference, Libertarian Party Executive Director Wes Benedict offered the following statement:

I'm sure we'll hear an awful lot about "limited government" from the mouths of CPAC politicians over the next few days. If I had a nickel every time a conservative said "limited government" and didn't mean it, I'd be a very rich man.

Unlike libertarians, most conservatives simply don't want small government. They want their own version of big government. Of course, they have done a pretty good job of fooling American voters for decades by repeating the phrases "limited government" and "small government" like a hypnotic chant.

It's interesting that conservatives only notice "big government" when it's something their political enemies want. When conservatives want it, apparently it doesn't count.

If a conservative wants a trillion-dollar foreign war, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants a 700-billion-dollar bank bailout, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to spend billions fighting a needless and destructive War on Drugs, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to spend billions building border fences, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants to "protect" the huge, unjust, and terribly inefficient Social Security and Medicare programs, that doesn't count.

If a conservative wants billions in farm subsidies, that doesn't count.

It's truly amazing how many things "don't count."

Conservatives like Rush Limbaugh can't ever be satisfied with enough military spending and foreign wars.

Conservatives like Mitt Romney want to force everyone to buy health insurance.

Conservatives like George W. Bush -- well, his list of supporting big-government programs is almost endless.

Ronald Reagan, often praised as an icon of conservatism, signed massive spending bills that made his the biggest-spending administration (as a percentage of GDP) since World War II.

Some people claim that these big-government supporters aren't "true conservatives." Well, if a person opposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, opposes the War on Drugs, opposes border fences, and opposes mandatory Social Security and Medicare, it's hard to believe that anyone would describe that person as a conservative at all. Most people would say that person is a libertarian (or maybe even a liberal).

Obviously, most liberals don't want limited government either. It's just that their support for big government leans toward massive handout and redistribution programs.

The fact is, liberals and conservatives both want gigantic government. Their visions sometimes look different from each other, but both are huge. The only Americans who truly want small government are libertarians.

An article posted at CNS News, linked prominently from the Drudge Report, noted that the Obama administration is on track to beat the Franklin Roosevelt administration in terms of average federal spending as a percentage of GDP. However, the article failed to note that the Reagan Administration already beat the Franklin Roosevelt administration easily. Roosevelt's average was 19.4 percent of GDP, while Reagan's average was 22.3 percent of GDP. (Source: White House OMB data)

The LP is America's third-largest political party, founded in 1971. The Libertarian Party stands for free markets and civil liberties. You can find more information on the Libertarian Party at our website.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 18, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

More on Maxime Bernier's conservative vision: Returning to a gold standard

Since coming across MP Maxime Bernier's recent speech in Calgary on his conservative vision for Canada, I've been taking a look through his blog to see other hints of Bernier's specific philosophical and economic vision for Canada. And I've found something pretty remarkable. Maxime Bernier likes the idea of returning to a gold standard. Really!

Here's an excerpt from his January 26th video blog:

The 19th century was one of the most prosperous periods of human history, thanks to this system. Prices tended to go down instead of constantly going up. The level of debt of countries and households was under control. Economic crises were short lived.

More and more economists believe that the gradual relinquishing of the gold standard during the 20e century was a mistake. A mistake which brought about the Great Depression, the inflation of the 1970s, and the recessions that keep afflicting us.

I agree with this analysis. To return to a stable and sustained economic growth, we need to bring back stability to our money. And in the history of civilization, gold and silver always served as anchors to monetary stability.

Bernier explains that we have other measures to deal with possible economic crises at the moment (which he promises to discuss in an upcoming blog post) apart from returning to a gold standard. But continuing economic problems will, he predicts, force us to further discuss the possibility of returning to a gold standard.

Returning to a gold standard. Freezing the budget. Small government, personal responsibility, entrepreneurship, fiscal restraint... is Bernier a Canadian Ron Paul Conservative?

Here's the video of Bernier on the gold standard:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 9, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (7)

MP Maxime Bernier shares his vision of conservatism

Maxime Bernier, Member of Parliament for Beauce and former Minister of Foreign Affairs, appeared before the Calgary Centre Conservative Riding Association on January 21st to share his vision of conservatism.

Bernier's vision is a vision many of us should get behind. Here's a nice overview of the values that underpin his vision:

The Beauce is unique in Quebec. It is well known as the most entrepreneurial region of the province. This is where I learned the values that go with entrepreneurship: individual freedom, personal responsibility, integrity, and self-reliance.

Because I often talk about these values, some people in the media have described me as “the Albertan from Quebec”! This is a compliment, by the way. I wish the media was always this nice to me.

Of course, they are also universal values -- values that are at the core of Western civilization and are shared by millions of Canadians. Values that have made this country prosperous and a great place to live.

And I believe you will agree with me -- they very much are conservative values. Values that distinguish us from our political opponents.

What really caught my eye was a nifty proposal he put forward at the talk that I'd like to get your thoughts on, Shotgun readers. Let me again quote Bernier:

Last year, the federal government’s total expenses were about 250 billion dollars. You can do a lot of things with 250 billion dollars! From a historical perspective, it’s a gigantic amount of resources.

What if we decided that this is more than enough? That expenses are not going to grow anymore?

And I’m not saying zero growth adjusted for inflation and population or GDP increase. Just zero growth.

The overall budget is frozen at 250 billion. From now on, any government decision has to be taken within this budgetary constraint.

Every new government program, or increase in an existing program, has to be balanced by a decrease somewhere else.

We no longer have debates about how much more generous the government can be with this or that group, as if the money belonged to the government instead of taxpayers. The silent majority’s interests are always being protected.

The focus of the debate is shifting to a determination of priorities: what are the most important tasks for government to achieve with the money we have? Is this government function really important and should we have more of it? Then what should we do less or stop doing and leave in the hands of the free market, voluntary organisations and individual citizens?

That would be quite a change, don’t you think? A commitment to Zero Budget Growth could become a powerful symbol of fiscal conservatism, just like the “No Deficit” consensus was, to some extent, until the advent of the global economic crisis. But the consequences would be much deeper.

It would mean that every year, the relative size of government would be smaller. It would force politicians, bureaucrats, lobbyists and everybody else to stop thinking that your salaries are just there to grab for their own benefit. And because of the budgetary constraints, Canadians would have a lot more confidence that we’re not wasting their money.

We have to convince people that we’re not simply aiming to be better managers of a bigger government; we are aiming to be better managers of a smaller government.

Good idea?

Here's Part I of the three-part video from his talk in Calgary. Parts II and III are below the fold:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on February 9, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (5)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

John Stossel on Ayn Rand (Video)

Yesterday, I posted about Cato's Unbound issue for this month, discussing the continuing relevance of Ayn Rand's moral and political philosophy. The authors of the volume will discuss what remains, and what should be left behind, of Rand's moral and political philosophy.

A little earlier, I posted the first part of Paul McKeever's documentary about Marc Emery, the libertarian publisher who is facing extradition to the U.S. for selling marijuana seeds online. McKeever's documentary is primarily about Emery's conversion to "rational capitalism" and individual freedom through reading Ayn Rand. The documentary also features the Ontario Freedom Party, a political party based explicitly on the philosophy of Ayn Rand.

In the Cato issue, Douglas Rasmussen, who wrote the lead essay, explains that Rand's popularity has recently increased. Soared, even.

Her books are bestsellers (again), and the U.S.-based Tea Party movement often have demonstrations with signs that read "Go Galt!" The reference is to John Galt, the protagonist in Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged who decided to stop being productive and move to an isolated place with other producers known in the book as "Galt's Gulch."

Rand is appearing in plenty of places, including on Fox. And small wonder. John Stossel, libertarian former anchor of ABC's 20/20, recently moved to Fox, and has been given a lot more liberty to pursue topics and arguments that he finds interesting and is sympathetic to. And what Stossel finds interesting is what libertarians find interesting. Like Ayn Rand.

Here is the first part of Stossel's show on Ayn Rand, the remainder appearing below the fold:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on January 21, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (9)

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Ayn Rand still relevant? "What's living and dead in Ayn Rand's moral and political philosophy?"

This month's issue of Cato Unbound (one of the finer libertarian publications out there) focuses in on the philosophy of Ayn Rand, and asks about her continuing relevancy.

Here's the description of the questions motivating this issue of Unbound:

In this edition of Cato Unbound we aim to fill some of the vast middle ground between these extremes with a probing, critical discussion of Rand’s moral and political thought by philosophers familiar with, and perhaps influenced by, Rand’s philosophy. What accounts for Rand’s ongoing appeal? Are her arguments for ethical egoism defensible? Does a social order based on individual rights, limited government, and free markets require, as Rand argued, a fundamental reshaping of our culture’s moral assumptions? What, if anything, should we take into the future from Rand’s moral and political thought, and what, if anything, should we leave behind?

I was once enamored by Rand and her philosophy. Times have changed. While I'm still a libertarian, I'm no longer persuaded by Rand's views. Her views on ethics in particular, but her views on other things as well (her aesthetic view, especially what she called a "sense of life," is an especially strange cocktail better left alone) leave me unsympathetic.

But I still find her views deeply interesting and provocative, and enjoy discussing them.

So, I'm curious, what do you think about Rand? Do you think she's still important, even vital?

I'll spend some time today reading Douglas Rassmussen's lead essay, and then maybe return to share some thoughts on it later.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on January 19, 2010 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (24)

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)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Liberty Summer Seminar: Jan Narveson and Travis Smith

The Liberty Summer Seminar, hosted by the Institute for Liberal Studies, is an annual libertarian gathering in Orono, Ontario, an hour and a half east of Toronto.

Set on a beautiful 40-acre property, the event, now in its ninth year, is the premier libertarian event in Canada, drawing 100 attendees and some of the finest libertarian speakers from across North America. This year's event is this upcoming weekend, July 25, 26.

Narveson Dr. Jan Narveson, who is president of the Institute for Liberal Studies, will give his trademark overview speech on the philosophy of liberty (libertarianism), this time entitled "The Courage to do Nothing." After all, that is, to some extent, what libertarians are busy insisting the government should do -- a whole lot of nothing. This does take a certain amount of courage, especially in the face of all the various special interest groups, and non-libertarians who are screaming at the government to always be doing something, even if that something is going to do more harm than good (because, shucks, what matters is that you had good intentions, and you meant well, never mind the ruin you left in your wake).

Smith_web1 Dr. Travis Smith, meanwhile, will round out Narveson's more abstract presentation with some meat in his talk entitled "The Politics of Liberty and Early Modern Thought." Smith specializes in the writings of Thomas Hobbes and Francis Bacon and is primarily interested in the intersection of religion, politics, and science. He teaches political science at Concordia University.

Narveson has attended every single Liberty Summer Seminar, since its founding in 2001. He is an emeritus professor of philosophy from the University of Waterloo, is either the most or second-most published Canadian philosopher, is author of several books, including the seminal The Libertarian Idea. He was made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 2004.

There are still a few spots open for this year's event, and you can register by following the link here. Meanwhile, you can see all of this year's speakers and topics by following this link.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 21, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2)

Monday, July 20, 2009

Liberty Summer Seminar: MP Scott Reid to discuss original intent and the Canadian Constitution

Scott reid

The Liberty Summer Seminar, hosted by the Institute for Liberal Studies, is an annual libertarian gathering in Orono, Ontario, an hour and a half east of Toronto.

Set on a beautiful 40-acre property, the event, now in its ninth year, is the premier libertarian event in Canada, drawing 100 attendees and some of the finest libertarian speakers from across North America. This year's event is this upcoming weekend, July 25, 26.

Scott Reid, Member of Parliament for Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, will speak this year on the topic of "Original Intent and the Canadian Constitution." Canada's Supreme Court has adopted what it likes to call a "living tree doctrine" when it comes to the interpretation of our Constitution, including the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Reid will argue that this is a mistake, and that the court should be more partial to following an original intent doctrine, where the original intentions of the writers and ratifiers of the constitution are given significant weight.

Reid has attended several Liberty Summer Seminars. Also from the riding of Lanark, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington, Reid's provincial counterpart, MPP Randy Hillier, who ran for the leadership of the Ontario PC Party recently on a pro-free speech, pro-private property, and pro-individual liberty platform, will also be in attendance to listen to the speakers. Both Reid and Hillier will be available to speak informally with attendees.

There are still a few spots open for this year's event, and you can register by following the link here. Meanwhile, you can see all of this year's speakers and topics by following this link.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 20, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (8)

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, July 05, 2009

The Idea of America by Pierre Lemieux

The Idea of America

Yesterday marked American Independence Day. Last year, the Western Standard published an exclusive monograph by our columnist Pierre Lemieux entitled "The Idea of America" (PDF). Here's how we described the monograph:

What were the revolutionaries -- the signers of the Declaration, the men and women who abandoned their old ties to call America home -- doing all of this for? What was that glorious idea?

Pierre Lemieux, our firebrand libertarian columnist, has produced a monograph entitled "The Idea of America," (PDF) published by the Western Standard, to answer this and related questions. His analysis is, in my judgment, accurate and cutting. Once upon a time, Americans (and Canadians) wouldn't even think of the government when presented with a problem.

Once upon a time, no American worth her salt would ever stand for identification papers, gun control, nanny state regulations, and so on. What happened to those Americans? Maybe they lost their grip on the idea of America, and were coddled and pacified by unparalleled wealth and prosperity. Or maybe they were flummoxed by the snake-oil salesman cum politician, insisting that they could get something for nothing, or frightening them with tales of bogeymen under every bed.

"...consider the first decade of the 20th century," writes Lemieux, "[i]n general, anybody could start a business, find investors, and sell his product without any government license and oversight. There was no SEC, no IRS, no FCC, no FDA, no OSHA, no USCIS (formerly INS), no EPA. The absence of regulation did not prevent the development of vibrant capital markets, and New York City was on its way to becoming the top financial place in the world. The right to keep and bear arms, so typically American in the 20th century, had survived relatively unscathed. There was no witch-hunt and, in a legal fight between an individual and the government, it is the latter that felt handicapped. Writing in 1910, Lord Acton could confidently say that the American people are “more free than any other the world has seen.” In her celebration of American liberty in the early 20th century, Rose Wilder Lane could exclaim: “That is what Europeans meant when, after a few days in this country, they exclaimed, ‘You are so free here!’.”

Once, maybe, there was America. But what happened to that idea?

"Americans are now caught in the “network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform” that [Alexis de] Tocqueville forecasted. Virtually all activities -- even those protected by the Bill of Rights -- are regulated in some way, and most often in many ways. Just at the federal level, there are probably 4,000 statutes, although it’s hard to tell the exact number, notes a Wall Street Journal reporter, “because the statutes aren’t listed in one place.” And this does not include the regulations. “We continue to claim that nobody is supposed to ignore the law,” wrote French legal theorist Georges Ripert in 1949, “but those who know it are certainly to be commended.” In 2001, federal prosecutors brought more than 80,000 cases. To this must be added the laws, regulations and prosecutions at the State and local levels. It is stimated that 15 per cent of all Americans have an arrest record. France has come to America."

Read the monograph (for a second time, if you've read it already). Pass it on. It's the 4th of July weekend, and the idea of America is still worth fighting for.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on July 5, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (3)

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

Motorhome Diaries interview U.S. Libertarian Party founder David Nolan, and chat with Canadian libertarian Sean Morley

My good friends Jason Talley and Pete Eyre (both former Bureaucrash.com crashers-in-chief) are on the road spreading the message of liberty in a motorhome. With Adam Mueller, who they picked up along the way, they are in the midst of a trip across North America (including Mexico and, in the next few months, Canada). Their trip is being chronicled on MotorHomeDiaries.com.

They've been on the road for some time now, meeting with prominent libertarians, video camera always at-the-ready.

This past week, Jason, Pete, and Adam met up with Sean Morley (of World Wrestling Entertainment fame) in Arizona. Sean, a Canadian, moved from Ontario to Arizona after he'd had his fill of paying high taxes. Way back in my undergrad days, I found out that Sean was a libertarian and arranged an interview with him for my campus newspaper, The Queen's Journal (it was titled "The Val Venis School of Libertarianism"). Here's Jason chatting with Sean about liberty:

More recently, the crew of the Motorhome Diaries took an opportunity to talk with David Nolan, founder of the U.S. Libertarian Party. In the following interview, Nolan expresses some disappointment with the current direction of the Libertarian Party under former Congressman Bob Barr. The conversation is interesting and worth watching in full:

David Nolan was not only the founder of the Libertarian Party, but also the man behind what has come to be called the "Nolan chart." The Nolan chart is a two-dimensional test to see whether you're a libertarian, an authoritarian, a conservative, a liberal, or a centrist. You can take the test yourself, and see whether or not your political philosophy squares with how you describe yourself (apologies for the America-centric questions, I can't find one for Canadians). After taking the quiz, why not pop back here and tell us where you fall on the chart? I'm decidedly a libertarian.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on May 6, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (1)

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)

Happy 110th birthday Friedrich Hayek


UPDATE: Steve Horwitz has corrected folks that Hayek's birthday is, in fact, on the 8th of May, not on the 5th. I blame my trust in Ilya Somin. We'll celebrate Hayek's birthday twice this week!

Today marks the 110th birthday of Friedrich A. Hayek, libertarian, Nobel-prize winning economist.

The Volokh conspiracy has a short birthday post up by Ilya Somin. He's focusing on two articles by Hayek that, in his mind, are continuing to be relevant today. The first is "The Use of Knowledge in Society". The second is Hayek's explanation for why he does not consider himself a conservative.

CafeHayek is a bit slow to wish their namesake a happy birthday today, but Russel Roberts does have a wonderful post up that helps explain one of Hayek's key insights:

Civic order in the classical liberal vision is a bottom up emergent order that takes advantage of knowledge that the top down engineering approach misses. This is true in pecuniary activity such as buying and selling but it's also true in non-pecuniary activity--who I want to associate with religiously or in my hobbies or how much time I have for my children or my parents. Freedom doesn't just mean the right to be selfish. It's the right to associate with whom I choose. The classical liberal prescription for the good life isn't about making as much money as possible. It's about the freedom to choose. It's about voluntary rather than coercive solutions, decentralized rather than centralized solutions, bottom-up emergent solutions that are the result of many actions and actors rather than top-down solutions by experts.

In 1974, Hayek received the Nobel Prize in Economics, the first free market economist to receive it. Shortly thereafter in 1975, he met Margaret Thatcher thanks to the Institute of Economic Affairs. After meeting Hayek, Thatcher became a fan. Here's my favourite Thatcher anecdote, as explained by Wikipedia:

During Thatcher's only visit to the Conservative Research Department in the summer of 1975, a speaker had prepared a paper on why the "middle way" was the pragmatic path the Conservative Party should take, avoiding the extremes of left and right. Before he had finished, Thatcher "reached into her briefcase and took out a book. It was Friedrich von Hayek's The Constitution of Liberty. Interrupting our pragmatist, she held the book up for all of us to see. ‘This’, she said sternly, ‘is what we believe’, and banged Hayek down on the table".

Can you picture Brian Mulroney, George W. Bush, or Stephen Harper doing the same? No? Me neither...

Hayek is perhaps best known for his book The Road to Serfdom -- a cautionary tale about how slowly, step-by-step, we move from a free country all the way to socialism, a kind of serfdom. Each step along the way seems reasonable, and who could denounce sensible compromise? For example, if banks are failing, we need to nationalize them! If auto manufacturers are not making money, and are threatening to go bankrupt, why, we'll need to bail them out! All perfectly reasonable, sensible, and ultimately destructive, steps on that road to serfdom paved with good intentions and "temporary" solutions.

Hayek is probably my favourite "economist." I put "economist" in scare quotes for one simple reason -- in my mind, Hayek was first and foremost a philosopher, not an economist. His economic insights are the result of his comprehensive familiarity with the philosophy of science, political philosophy, and philosophy of law (Hayek completed two doctorates, one in law the other in political science. He never received a doctorate in economics). But receiving a Nobel Prize in economics sort of has a way of making everyone think that that's what you are. Still, he's a philosopher in my mind, and it is a great shame that philosophy departments do not spend as much time as they should on Hayek's explicit philosophy of mind, epistemological works, and his political philosophy.

While celebrating Hayek's birthday, why not help boost sales of his books. Glenn Reynolds is picking up on the fact that Obama's presidency is creating a surge in Amazon sales for people like Ayn Rand and Friedrich Hayek. Let's help out a bit, shall we?:

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on May 5, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (2)

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 28, 2009

The fear factor: Political philosophy based on what you're most afraid of

Maybe I'm suffering from confirmation bias, but I can't help but feel as though fear-mongering is the best way to grow the size and scope of government. I'm also completely convinced that both conservatives and liberals engage in the same thing, without sufficient self-awareness. See if this story doesn't fit:

If you think the world is coming to an end because of the super dangerous threat of ice glaciers melting, the sun blowing up, hurricanes, tidal waves and all the assorted outcomes of climate change in general, you might be a liberal. You might think that all of these disastrous outcomes are likely. And you might think that there is just one solution -- (much) bigger government.

I was listening to Rush Limbaugh the other day (as I do on many, many days), and he poked fun at this sort of fear-mongering. He said that liberals want you to be very scared, because they want to grow the government. Rush was on to something. If you're really terrified of climate change, you might be willing to either ignore or downgrade the importance of individual liberty. In the face of such a calamity, where our survival as a species hangs in the balance, how can you not ratchet up the state apparatus, and ratchet down our liberties?

Driving along, I thought it was wonderful to listen to someone put a pin to the fear balloon. There is all sorts of exaggeration going on. And people are feeding off of our fears, building them up with scary tales of a disastrous future, all the while pushing for greater encroachments on liberty by the government. Even if the fears turn out to be a pile of rubbish, the departments, ministries, and other government agencies will continue anyways. As Milton Friedman said, nothing is as permanent as a temporary government program.

A few days later, I was listening to the same Rush Limbaugh. With his baritone voice, he was beginning to make me feel a little nervous. He was telling me about the Islamist threat facing western civilization. These folks, he assured me, don't want to reason with us, they want to destroy us. They don't want accommodation, they are aiming for complete annihilation. Given this super-dangerous and super-urgent threat, he said, it is unconscionable that U.S. president Barack Obama doesn't want to spend more on the military, warfare apparatus of the state.

If you think modern civilization is going to come to an end because of Sharia law, women in burqas, suicide bombers, and radicals who really, really hate cartoon depictions of their holy people, you might be a conservative. You might think that this disastrous outcome is likely. And you might think that there is just one solution -- (much) bigger government.

Are there really Muslims with bombs waiting at all of our airports? Is the danger from terrorism really so pressing? I got online and found some pins to poke at this fear balloon. Is civilization coming to an end? Hardly. Should we be busy torturing people, spying on our neighbours, and ignoring protections against the encroachment of the state into our private lives? I don't think so. I'm more worried about a car crash than I am terrorism. Some good folks in New Zealand got my back on this issue.

If I were less charitable, I would think that conservatives are just doing what the liberals do -- using fear as an excuse to ratchet up their preferred part of government, and to either ignore or downgrade the importance of individual liberty.

For a while, I felt pleased with myself. I am, after all, a libertarian. I think economic liberties are important, and don't feel inclined to give up my liberties for the sake of a Kyoto Accord that probably isn't going to work anyways. I think civil liberties are important, and don't feel inclined to give up my liberties for the sake of security measures that probably aren't going to work anyways. And I'm just as unafraid of the possible climate change calamity as I am of the possible terrorist threat treachery.

So I thought, "libertarians are the most level-headed sorts of people. They don't go in for fear-mongering. They don't go in for the exaggerations of the left or the right. There are scary things out there, to be sure, but you can always count on the optimism, the rationality, and coolness of calculation from the liberty-lovers in Canada and the U.S." Then I looked up Ron Paul, and the TEA parties...

If you think we are on the brink of enslavement, are subject to a conspiracy of the wealthy elites (especially the bankers!), think there's a government camera on every corner, and think bureaucrats are monitoring your emails and digging through your garbage, you might be a libertarian. You might think that this is a disastrous calamity and the worst form of treachery. And you might think that there is just one solution -- (much) smaller government.

And there you have it. A psychological explanation of your political philosophy through seeing what you are most afraid of. Fear environmental havoc? You're probably a liberal. Fear a looming terrorist onslaught? You're probably a conservative. Fear the state itself? You're probably a libertarian.

Call this awareness-raising. No political philosophy is immune from fear mongering, and all of them have their Chicken Littles with placards declaring that we're witness to the end times. And the sky still hasn't fallen.

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on April 28, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (13)

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sunday philosophy of liberty: Is foreign interventionism consistent with libertarianism?

Internal emails between some Western Standard contributors and editorial staff have picked up of late, with an interesting discussion between those who think non-interventionism is the right policy, versus those who see no conflict between libertarianism and foreign interventionism, at least in principle.

This particular debate within libertarian circles has raged ever since the surprisingly spirited leadership campaign of Republican congressman Ron Paul. Paul's version of libertarianism (paleo-conservatism may be more fitting) leaves no room for an aggressive foreign policy.

One important distinction is this. All libertarians believe in self-defense, and believe that a proper function of government is to defend citizens from foreign threats. That is not the issue here. The question is not whether or not a government should defend citizens, it should. And it is not about whether or not the War in Iraq, for example, counts as an instance of foreign intervention for the sake of self-defense (this is an empirical question). The question is whether or not non-self-defense foreign intervention is ever justified according to libertarianism. (h/t Alain in the comments).

One argument in favour of non-interventionism on the part of the U.S. government is this. The Constitution does not explicitly specify that it is a function of the federal government to intervene abroad. The Constitution goes hand-in-hand with libertarianism (not because they are both grounded in the same reasons but, rather, like the overlapping bits in a Venn diagram). Libertarians, therefore, should not endorse adventures abroad.

A better argument is this:

The state has a territorial monopoly on force, and in exchange for the "right" to collect tribute they offer citizens security against outside invaders and domestic criminals. The state in this respect is like an insurance policy you never asked for and can't get rid of, but whose services you have to access given your lack of options.

Under this arrangement, I would be very unhappy to see my insurance provider pay-out on claims coming from non-policy holders or incur costs at my expense to provide these non-policy holders with "security" that they have never paid for. If my security is threatened, that would change things, but you are arguing for intervention to help someone else without the caveat that national security must be at risk.

This argument makes the case that intervention is in principle anti-libertarian.

Non-interventionist libertarians include Ron Paul and his supporters, the Austrian economists at the Mises Institute and the Lew Rockwell blog (Anthony Gregory, a Lew Rockwell contributor, has a nice archive of articles against what he calls "Liberventionism" here), the policy wonks at the Cato Institute, and the cosmotarians or liberaltarians at Reason magazine, amongst others.

Several libertarians, however, have tried to make the case that, at least in some circumstances, it would be right for a Canadian or American government to intervene abroad for the sake of greater individual liberty.

One argument is this. Each of us, regardless of where we were born, have individual rights to life, liberty and property. Sometimes, a government of another country violates these rights to such an extent that anyone is justified in doing what they can to help those whose rights are being violated. "Anyone" includes governments. Since we're lucky to have relatively liberal and free states like Canada and the U.S., it would be good for these countries to use their military to ensure at least a basic minimum amount of respect for these rights.

Another argument goes like this:

According to Locke, [apart from your right to self-defense] you also have a right to come to the defense of someone else who is being or has been victimized, on the grounds that a crime is a violation of the public peace, not simply a tort against the individual.

Applied at the international level: If a rogue State or Tyrant is oppressing and killing innocent people, then you -- or a higher-level organization of which you are a member -- has the right to step in and stop the crime, as long as doing so does not cause even more harm. It is an extremely complex question in most cases whether it is prudent or effective for one country to intervene to stop the crimes of another; but as a matter of libertarian principle, it is certainly prima facie permitted.

Libertarians who think that intervention is not in principle anti-libertarian include legal scholar Randy Barnett, our own Grant Brown, amongst others (I will update this list just as soon as a few others are brought to my attention).

Posted by P.M. Jaworski on April 26, 2009 in Libertarianism | Permalink | Comments (20)