Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Original Liberalism

Here is a short, slick video presentation of the original Liberalism®.

Gun control, critical thinking and history

Let's say gun control advocates are right: guns kill people and more guns means more people getting killed. After all, this is not completely unreasonable, guns do kill things (including people) and we might surmise that the more there are, the more people will get killed. But let's assume the evidence is on the gun-control side of the debate. Does it then follow that we should trust the government to control guns?

Enter critical thinking. The part of critical thinking that I did not learn in school, college, from family or friends is that of incorporating motive into understanding the things that other people say. Henry Hazlitt says in the opening paragraph of his famous book Economics in One Lesson
"The inherent difficulties of [economics] would be great enough in any case, but they are multiplied a thousandfold by a factor that is insignificant in, say, physics, mathematics or medicine - the special pleading of selfish interests. While every group has certain economic interests identical with those of all groups, every group has also, as we shall see, interests antagonistic to those of all other groups. While certain public policies would in the long run benefit everybody, other policies would benefit one group only at the expense of all other groups. The group that would benefit by such policies, having such a direct interest in them, will argue for them plausibly and persistently. It will hire the best buyable minds to devote their whole time to presenting its case. And it will finally either convince the general public that its case is sound, or so befuddle it that clear thinking on the subject becomes next to impossible."
And remember that the government itself comprises a special interest (contrast public employees' retirement benefits with taxpayer interests, and so on).


- Special interests will, predictably, argue "plausibly and persistently" the case for policies which benefit themselves even at the expense of all other social interests

- The government itself, and its employees, comprise a special interest

With this in mind, let's go back to the question of whether gun control is a good idea, even if advocates of gun control are correct that more guns = more deaths. One of the foremost proponents of gun control is the government itself. State police agencies spend large amounts of money in buyback programs to "get guns off the street", a lot of money is spent on the ATF and similar agencies and taskforces whose job is to investigate "gun crimes", and so on.

The state has an interest in maintaining a monopoly on the legitimate use of force. If it maintains such a monopoly, then its will cannot be opposed since it alone possesses the means to kill without consequence. Combined with a monopoly on decision making, the will of the government is nearly omnipotent. Together, these monopoly powers enable the government to maintain a system of unopposed property confiscation (taxation) with which to perpetually fund its dual monopolies on force and decision-making. A lot of you may find such a cynical view of government to be repulsive but is this emotion or reason? Does the government not have an interest in maintaining these monopoly powers? If so, on what evidence or reason do you base your argument?

Given that the state is a foremost proponent of gun control and given that the state has a vested interest in gun control (elimination of competition with its monopoly on force), we should view its arguments - whether delivered directly through officials or through political proxies - with a heavy dose of skepticism. In addition, we should view any proposal that attempts to solve the problem of "more weapons = more deaths"* by increasing government monopolization of the means of force (weapons) with skepticism.

Assuming gun control advocates are right, I don't have an alternative solution to the "more weapons = more deaths" problem, but I am skeptical that increased government control of weapons really results in less deaths. This does not mean I cannot be convinced on clear and persuasive evidence, but pointing to random statistics that show a correlation between this or that guns vs. deaths statistic doesn't make the case, in my view. Something approaching a hypothesis establishing cause and effect needs to be shown - I'm willing to grant that more weapons = more deaths for the sake of argument, but I need to see a rational hypothesis on why I should believe that more government monopolization of weapons = less deaths.

Now, for some history. We speak of "gun control" today, but that's only because firearms are the "state of the art" in personal combat and defense. In times past, it was swords, bows, knives and other personal combat weapons that the government sought to control. Some locales are more serious than others about controlling non-firearms weapons but, today, we largely regard such weapons with a measure of amusement more than anything. Not so 1500 years ago when - as discussed in this LRC article - Byzantine Emperor Justinian I imposed severe weapons controls:
It was January 13, 532 AD when the anger of Justinian’s subjects reached a fevered pitch in what is known as the Nika riots. When it was all over Justinian was still in power but some 30,000 who had opposed him were dead; leaving Justinian free to enforce his brand of law.

Among Justinian’s laws, is Title XIV, Concerning Arms, Eighty-Fifth New Constitution (P.313) in which we find the following:

Chapter I

"Therefore, desiring to prevent men from killing each other, We have thought it proper to decree that no private person shall engage in the manufacture of weapons, and that only those shall be authorized to do so who are employed in the public arsenals, or are called armorers; and also that manufacturers of arms should not sell them to any private individual…"

Chapter III

"Therefore, God directing Our thoughts, We decree by the present law that no private individual, or anyone else whosoever shall, in any province or city of Our Empire, have the right to make or sell arms, or deal in them in any way, but only such as are authorized to manufacture them can do so, and deposit them in Our armory…"

Chapter IV

"But in order that what has been forbidden by Us to private persons and all others may become clear, We have taken pains to enumerate in this law the different kinds of weapons whose manufacture is forbidden. Therefore We prohibit private individuals from either making or buying bows, arrows, double-edged swords, ordinary swords, weapons usually called hunting knives, those styled zabes, breast-plates, javelins, lances and spears of every shape whatever, arms called by the Isaurians monocopia, others called sitinnes, or missiles, shields, and helmets; for We do not permit anything of this kind to be manufactured, except by those who are appointed for that purpose in Our arsenals, and only small knives which no one uses in fighting shall be allowed to be made and sold by private persons…"
Sound familiar? Why does anyone need anything other than .22 rifles for target practice or sports competition? Or maybe farmers can have some .223s for rodent control. "... only small knives which no one uses in fighting shall be allowed to be made and sold by private persons." Only weapons which no one uses for fighting... Assault Weapons Ban. I find the prohibition on the private manufacture and sale of breastplates particularly striking in its resemblance to the regulations on the manufacture and sale of body-armor. How are breast-plates (or body armor) a danger to anyone? Why does the state have an interest in not only disarming us, but leaving us unable to protect ourselves - even by purely defensive means - from armed criminals (including itself)?

The state is always seeking to solidify its monopoly on force. When viewed through this lens, it is clear that gun control has nothing to do with saving lives, unless you accept the very dubious hypothesis that "government monopoly on guns = saving lives". The horrific stories of berserk individuals shooting up malls or places of employment with guns are truly heart-breaking, but does solidifying the state monopoly on force actuallyprevent or reduce the occurrence of such incidents while not increasing the occurrence of other incidents (such as police shootings of innocents, etc.)?

The question of whether gun control is a net benefit to society is a difficult one to answer and the gun control advocate had better do due diligence to demonstrate it. Just citing some random statistics that purport to show a correlation between availability of firearms and firearms-related deaths doesn't cut the mustard. You need to explain to us why we should look past the obvious self-interest of the government in monopolizing the means of force (weapons) and how exactly the long-term effects of gun control laws on all groups results in a reduction of the incidence of violence and/or death.

Why do we have to pay taxes?

There are many tax-avoidance/protest/evasion/honesty/whatever-you-want-to-call-it movements out there. Most of them argue that there is some legal loophole to the payment of taxes and Americans are not really required to pay taxes, by law. The whole thing is a scam, they claim, and you are being duped into paying your taxes when all you need to do is just not pay them and not be intimidated by the investigations, threats of prosecution, etc.

Of course, any person with half their wits about them knows that there is no mistake, there is a de facto and de jure requirement by the government to pay taxes. But this whole argument opens up, in my opinion, a far more interesting question: why do we have to pay taxes at all? So what if there's no legal loophole? By what right does the government require me to pay them? There are four possibilities, all of which present glaring ethical problems:

1) Might makes right. The government can make me pay, therefore, I have to pay.

2) Legislative/regulatory requirement. Congress (elected representatives) has passed a law requiring US citizens to pay taxes.

3) Court order. The courts will find, on the basis of the law, that I am required by the law to pay the government taxes.

4) Services already rendered. The government has built roads, educated children, fought wars against foreign enemies and these services - past, present and future - must be paid for.

Everyone understands that might does not make right. So, even if it is true that the government can make us pay, that doesn't mean we can be forced to agree that this is just.

Everyone understands that a contract to which one party is not signatory cannot be binding on that party. If I write a contract and specify some obligation you have to me, that contract is invalid unless you have agreed to the terms in the contract and indicated this by verbal agreement (with witnesses) or signed it or in some other way veritably indicated your assent.

Everyone understands that a dispute cannot be justly decided by one of the parties to the dispute. When a state court rules on the obligation to pay taxes from whence it receives its paycheck, the state is deciding a dispute to which it is party. This cannot be just.

Everyone understands that someone who has received a service which they (individually) did not agree to receive is not obligated to pay for that service. When a bum at an intersection washes your windshield then asks for payment, he is not entitled to receive payment (you might freely agree to pay, but you are not obligated to pay). The fact that the government has presumed to take upon itself the performance of useful services or building of useful infrastructure does not obligate me, as an individual, to pay for those services and infrastructure. This goes back to the issue of contract and voluntary agreement.

So, it doesn't matter whether the 16th amendment was or was not passed. It doesn't matter whether you can invent some argument that you believe excepts your property and income from taxation under the law. Every argument by which the state claims you and I owe them our own money requires at least toleration of hypocrisy and a double-standard, or a complete abandonment of ethics.

Give me a good reason why I have to pay taxes.

Tim Masters, boy genius: The government is evil

Becky Akers documents the life of a promising young man, Tim Masters, destroyed by agents of the state - for ego's sake. I challenge you to read the article from beginning to end, and check her links to background materials. When you finish, if you do not believe that the government is evil, I want to understand how you come to this conclusion. Is it because you believe we need to break a few eggs in order to make the omelet? What is it that you think justifies empowering a special class of men - "employees of the state" - to make false accusations and imprison a man, without any evidence against him, for two decades?

Of course, I'm sure the apologists for the state will be quick to point to the twelve jurors. But it is becoming more and more clear that 12 jurors are no longer sufficient protection from the wiles of the state. Our prisons are swollen with people convicted of non-crimes and many wrongfully convicted innocents. 1 in 100 Americans are in jail or prison. The police investigators and state prosecutors have perfected the art of using cheap tricks like the prisoner's dilemma and the plea bargain to turn the whole process into little more than a traveling circus.

It's time to wake up people. Your fond memories of the friendly small-town cop who even helped change a flat tire on occasion are incongruent with the emerging SWAT-team police-state. We must end the state monopoly on the provision of law and justice before we destroy our social fabric with injustice and state crimes. 

Socialized Medicine and Wine

Here is a neat article on something I've been thinking about lately. Very old, famous, scarce and/or reputed wines can fetch staggering prices per bottle, in the 10's of thousands. Many of these wines attain their lofty prices by careful storage and studious refusal of their present owners to consume them over a period of many decades.

Prices, in the wine market, serve the function of rationing. By virtue of the higher future prices expected on certain wines, potential consumers and investors bid up the present price and squeeze out the more causal consumers who cannot or will not spend the requisite amount of money on such high-priced wines. The net result is that those who desire to consume such old or scarce wines are able to - with a hefty price tag.

Let us choose some other means of rationing wine consumption. We could issue coupons, or allocate certain bottles to be released for consumption at some future time, or we could establish first-come-first-serve queues or any of the myriad non-price rationing methods which people have invented. What all of these non-price rationing methods share in common is that the best wines will be consumed first because future gains cannot be realized by resale. This means that very old, famous, scarce or reputed wines simply would not exist or would only exist until the next opportunity their lucky owners had to pull the cork and enjoy them.

The missing element in non-price rationing is exchange, in particular, voluntary exchange. If we took every bottle of wine in existence today and assigned each of them to people via random lottery, many people would be holding what is to them nothing more than an obnoxious paperweight but to others is worth more than its weight in gold. As the old phrase goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." Those who desire to hold the very valuable bottles of wine will be willing to part with a great deal of their property in order to get hold of them. Those who are holding the valuable bottles of wine will, naturally, hold onto them waiting for the best offer they can get. By virtue of voluntary exchange, the random distribution of wine bottles is "corrected" until those who value the wine the most are holding it and those holding the most valuable wines are rewarded the most.

Now, a common objection to price-rationing is that the wealthy are more able to get what they desire than are the poor. This is undeniably true (why else do people desire to become wealthy?) On the face of it, this seems to be an injustice. Why should one man, by virtue of luck or inheritance, be rewarded with anything he desires, while another man, no matter how hard he works, is barely able to keep himself and his family alive?

I think there are several facts that have to be accounted for, in order to responsibly answer this objection:

- Justice pertains to human actions, not natural events. It is not "unjust" that the congenitally blind are born without one of the most useful senses. It is unfair, it is inequitable, but it is not unjust.

- In a free market, no human plans or controls who is wealthy. No one - not even Bill Gates himself - planned for Bill Gates to become the wealthiest man alive (for the time that he was). This means that fabulous wealth is more like a natural event than an act of human will.

- The alternatives can be expected to have worse outcomes by virtue of the fact that none of them alter human nature. The many solutions to the problem of economic inequality propose some system or other that still suffers from the limitation of existing within the framework of human nature. What's worse, the inequalities of planned or centrally-controlled economic systems are not the result of natural events but are - by design - inequitable by act of human will. In this sense, the inequities in centrally planned economies are unjust.

- In a free market, class mobility is the rule, not the exception. The wealthy investor who loses everything in a bad business bet becomes a pauper. The small businessman who finds just the right recipe can see his small-town company transformed into an international, multi-billion dollar corporate juggernaut. Thomas Sowell notes in his excellent book Basic Economics that the Old World conception of those who are born wealthy and die wealthy (the "upper class") and those who are born poor and die poor are tiny minorities (he gives the percentages in the book, I'm just going from memory). Most people start out below average wealth when they are young and attain above average wealth as they age. Static wealth inequalities simply don't exist.

What does this all have to do with socialized medicine? Well, the debate over how and to what extent we should socialize our health care is simply a debate over the extent to which health care products and services should be rationed by price or non-price means. I think there are two things the proponents of non-price rationing of health-care need to confront:

- Rationing still occurs because health products and services are still scarce resources.

- Inequalities in the system persist and these inequalities are unjust since they are the result of human choice, not the result of natural events.

- In particular, the wealthy still get what they want more than do the poor. What changes is the means by which the wealthy go about getting what they want: influential contacts, special favors and bribes.

So, to the extent we exchange price rationing in favor of non-price rationing, we are not changing the fact of inequality, we are not changing the fact that the wealthy get what they want more than do the poor, and we are changing the inequities in the system from impartial, natural events to partial, human choices - that is, we are introducing injustice into the system.

Just like fine wines would not exist in a world without exchange and price-rationing, so high quality medical products and services will also be devastated by non-price rationing. While only the very wealthy can afford the $10,000 bottles of wine, those of us with more modest means can still pay $100 to get that wine bottle the less ambitious wine aficionado (or casual wine-drinker who spends all his money on other things) would love to drink but can't consume, leaving the bottle for us as a reward for our productivity and foregone consumption of other things.

Health-care, like wine, varies significantly in type and quality. Some people prefer this or that doctor, some people prefer herbal methods and naturopathy while others prefer standard pharmacological medicine. The most highly reputed brain surgeons command the highest fees. It is the very fact of price-rationing and exchange that makes this possible. The more violence we do to voluntary exchange and price competition in the health-care industry, the more we detriment health-care itself.

End the Federal Reserve (again)

Do you know what the Federal Reserve is? Are you sure? Please watch this informative interview of G. Edward Griffin discussing his book, The Creature from Jekyll Island. He explains, in plain, simple English, what the Federal Reserve is - a quasi-private banking cartel - how it came into being under the shroud of absolute secrecy, what its function is, how government and bankers benefit from the system and the consequences to the American public of its existence.

When you understand these basic facts about this troubling institution, I believe you will see that this is the issue of our time. The US government in cooperation with the private banks of the Federal Reserve have been devaluing the US dollar at an exponential pace that cannot be indefinitely sustained - sooner or later, the system will collapse. What will replace the dollar once the Federal Reserve has destroyed it? World Bank notes? What checks and balances would there be on such a money existing outside the limitations of even a constitutional framework?

Note that Griffin makes one (and only one) technical error in his discussion. He claims that the real price of goods and services when measured in terms of something of intrinsic value (e.g. gold or silver) does not change. This really isn't true but it's a forgivable mistake. Other than that, this video is 100% accurate and very approachable, informative and even entertaining. You owe it to yourself to be informed of how your government, in cooperation with the private commercial banks, is secretly taxing you far and above the on-the-books income taxes it takes from your weekly paycheck.

Check out my blog post What is Inflation? for a more detailed description of what inflation is and how the Federal Reserve causes it.