Category Archives: Democracy

Australia may ban [more] boycotts…

Australia has been in the news quite often in the last year for its new Prime Minister’s controversial legislation that protest groups say put vast areas of Australian nature in threat of destruction.  Environmental issues are one of the more complex issues facing libertarians today.  The vast entanglement of property rights can make explaining those issues to non-libertarians quickly and clearly quite difficult.  Luckily for me the Australian government is currently attempting to assault a far more basic set of rights.  The right to organize, the right to persuade, and the right to spend your money and time how you wish.  We are, as the title implies discussing the right to organize a boycott of a product or products.

The Australian secretary of agriculture Richard Colbeck wants to “remove an exemption for environmental groups from the consumer law ban on so-called “secondary boycotts”.  These secondary boycotts are also illegal in the UK and the United States.  For clarification a secondary action is industrial action by a trade union in support of a strike initiated by workers in another, separate enterprise”.  

Libertarians often find themselves on the wrong side of both environmental and union actions but it is important to remember that liberty also means the freedom to refuse to purchase a product for any reason you can imagine; whether it is because the company that makes the product is partaking in actions you disagree with or because their logo is yellow.

Even though libertarians disagree with the end goals of the hard-line environmentalist movements (namely government control of industry) we cannot forget to support situations like this on principle and also to remember that environmental issues are essentially property rights issues and thus core to libertarian ethics.

Demos sin cracia

democracia2

Las democracias modernas instituidas como “el gobierno de la mayoría” comenzaron a aparecer ya entrado el siglo XIX y se popularizaron velozmente.  Al lado de ella, la promoción de los ideales del sufragio universal, la igualdad de derechos y obligaciones entre hombre y mujer, la abolición de la esclavitud y del trabajo forzoso de curso legal, entre otros principios empezaron a dispersarse como un veloz germen en las sociedades occidentales y sus ex-colonias.  Han pasado ya 200 años desde que el germen democrático se dispersó por el mundo.  Sin embargo, los más recientes acontecimientos que han perturbado el flujo de las democracias de mayorías se ha visto afectado en Ucrania, Venezuela y desde hace dos días en El Salvador.

¿Por qué será que el ideal de la democracia ha “fallado” en estos países? 

Los argumentos a favor y en contra son muchos y muy complejos. Deben ser comprendidos desde distintas perspectivas y entender las posiciones tomadas por todos los actores que se han visto afectados de manera directa e indirecta por estos eventos.  Nosotros, el resto del mundo observador, podemos participar con ideas para ojalá descubrir más preguntas en nuestro camino. Hoy quiero compartirles una idea que cruzó por mi mente.

¿Acaso nuestro problema no ha sido que hemos tenído más “demos” que “cracia” en nuestro gobierno y en el desarrollo de nuestro rol ciudadano?

¿A qué me refiero con esto?

El término democracia es antiguo y complejo y se forma a partir de los vocablos “demos” traducido al castellano como -pueblo y/o poder- y “cracia” que indica un -gobierno o sistema-.  Así y actualizando el término desde la antigua Grecia a nuestros días, la democracia se refiere al gobierno del pueblo.

¿Pero acaso no ha sido el pueblo el que se ha volcado a la rebelión en Ucrania, Venezuela y El Salvador? Entonces, ¿la democracia reaccionó en estos países contra la democracia?

Quizás lo que ocurre en estos tres países (que son producto de la colonización y de la subyugación a los imperios durante la Guerra Fría) es que quizás no han pasado el suficiente tiempo en independencia institucional y maduración de sus gobiernos como para lanzarse desbocados a procesos democráticos que deben ir de la mano de una reforma educativa y cultural de la ciudadanía.  Pero, ¡alto! Que conste, que no me refiero a que estos países post-coloniales y post-guerra fría deban regresar bajo el control de un dictador o de una metrópoli.  Sino que, la participación del pueblo (demos) no debería avanzar cuando se ha descuidado o se ha impedido continuar el proceso de institucionalización de la democracia en la vida ciudadana.

Ucrania, Venezuela y El Salvador tienen como un común denominador la inmensa pobreza y la enorme desigualdad educativa y cultural entre la elite gobernante que heredó el poder de sus antiguos amos colonizadores y el grueso de la población. La mayoría de la población en estos países ha sido condicionada a servir como un “agente legitimador” al momento de ejercer su voto pero no se le ha permitido adquirir conciencia absoluta de su rol como “ciudadano legitimador empoderado”. Porque es su voto el que le permite exigir responsabilidad, honestidad y resultados en el equipo de gobierno que eligió en las urnas.

Titulo: 7 killed in post-election protests
Via: FoxNews

En Venezuela ha sido la población cansada y agotada de la corrupción la que ha tomado conciencia del poder de su voto al exigir la renuncia del gobierno revolucionario (aún a pesar de que recientemente había sido electo por el voto de las mayorías).  Es acá que el pueblo ha empezado a ilustrarse en su poder como votante y garante.

Titulo: Days of Protest in Ukraine
Via: The Atlantic

En Ucrania ha sido el pueblo el que también ha tomado conciencia del poder de su voto y de su derecho de autodeterminación pidiendo la anexión de Crimea y su mayoría étnica rusa a Rusia debido a sus distintos intereses económicos, políticos y culturales con el resto del país.

Titulo: El TSE pidió a los contendientes que respeten los resultados que el pueblo decida.
Via: http://www.lapagina.com.sv

Y en El Salvador desde el día lunes debido a que las elecciones presidenciales concluyeron con una cercana diferencia de votos entre los partidos ARENA y FMLN. ARENA rechazó el conteo de las elecciones luego del anuncio de su derrota. 6,000 votos marcaron la diferencia y el partido ARENA rechazó la legalidad del proceso democrático.

Espero que no sea aún tarde para extender una invitación a reflexionar a los ciudadanos salvadoreños sobre el funcionamiento del gobierno democrático y de la necesidad de estudiarlo a más profundidad y, quizás, comprender que el voto de la mayoría (aún si efectivamente ganará por 6mil votos de diferencia) no es garante suficiente de legitimidad.  Y que, es urgente que ambos partidos realicen un pacto serio, democrático y honesto antes de queso se derramé una sola gota de sangre.

En Venezuela, Ucrania y El Salvador es aún posible alcanzar acuerdo y pactos de concertación que partan del respeto al gobierno democrático y que busquen una inclusión de ideas, actores y modificaciones a los actuales procesos en los que el Pueblo (demos) colabore en la construcción y progreso del del Sistema de gobierno (cracia).

Esto evitará muertes y violaciones a los derechos individuales.  Pero más importante aún, permitirá la evolución y maduración de sistemas democráticos de gobierno en estos países que aún ahora se vieron afectados por la injerencia de los poderes imperiales en sus asuntos. Que envidia que en estos países quizás estén a las puertas de un desarrollo democrático del cual nuestros países vecinos podrían aprender mucho.

El legado de Hugo Chávez

Propuesta del Candidato de la Patria Comandante Hugo Chávez Para la gestión Bolivariana socialista 2013-2019. Via: http://forajidosdelanetwar.blogspot.com/2012/11/caricaturas-e-imaginarios-en-la.html

Hace un año el actual presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, anunció la muerte de Hugo Chávez.  Chávez fue el líder de la Revolución  Bolivariana en Venezuela y gobernó el país durante 14 años.  Maduro fue juramentado luego Presidente y recientemente ganó la reelección popular con una campaña que prometía continuar  con el legado de su mentor.

En el 2013, los datos del legado que dejaban los 14 años del gobierno socialista presentados por el Centre for Research on Globalization y por la Embajada Venezolana en los Estados Unidos son reveladores:

  • Venezuela cuenta con servicios de salud y educación universales gratuitos. Antes, 70% de los venezolanos no tenía acceso a servicios de salud.
  • Se eliminó el analfabetismo en el país.  Antes, 40% de los venezolanos eran analfabetos.
  • En los últimos 10 años, el PIB venezolano ha crecido al ubicarse en un nivel alrededor de los 300 mil millones de dólares. Esto representa un crecimiento sustancial frente a la década de los noventa cuando el PIB del país no llegaba a los 100 mil millones de dólares.
  • Se redujo en un 40% el costo de los productos de la canasta básica.
  • Aumentó el salario mínimo en más del 600%
  • Redujo el desempleo del 20% al 6%
  • El Índice de Desarrollo Humano (IDH) en Venezuela aumentó de 0,69 en  1998 a 0,84 en  2008, lo cual eleva a Venezuela a ser un país con rango de desarrollo humano medio a uno con rango alto.
  • De 2008 a 2012, el IDH descendió a 0,748 y alcanza el puesto 71 de 187 naciones y territorios que participaron de la medición.
  • Venezuela ocupa el puesto 71 entre los 179 países que figuran, según el informe anual del Programa de Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo (PNUD). El coeficiente de Gini, que mide la desigualdad de ingresos, alcanzaron en 0.390 en 2012, el nivel más bajo en la historia de Venezuela y el más bajo en el Continente latinoamericano. En 1998, era de 0,4865.
  • Desde 1999, Venezuela incrementó sus relaciones comerciales con otros países en el hemisferio, así como con otras regiones del mundo. La mayor parte del comercio de Venezuela continúa siendo llevado a cabo en la región, con alrededor del 70% de las exportaciones de petróleo con destino a los países de las Américas, y los mercados de América del Sur, América Central y el Caribe están ganando importancia.
  • En 2012, un año antes de la muerte de Chávez, Venezuela era el tercer socio comercial más grande de Estados Unidos en América Latina y el número 14 más grande en el mundo, además de ser el cuarto proveedor de petróleo a EE UU.

Pero no todo ha sido fácil de conseguir en esta bonanza de estadísticas sociales y los drásticos cambios en el nivel de vida del pueblo venezolano han sido el resultado de muchos sacrificios impuestos en la población venezolana.

Con el ascenso de Chávez y el éxito inmediato de los cambios socioeconómicos en la población, la élite política chavista se aseguró el poder absoluto al conseguir el voto mayoritario en elecciones democráticas gracias a millones de venezolanos beneficiados por las reformas socialistas.  Este poder absoluto (democrático) permitió al gobierno socialista continuar con su plan e imponer restricciones a la libertad de expresión de la oposición, expropió sin muchos problemas industrias, eliminó fácilmente y sin mucha oposición el derecho a la propiedad privada y capturó los ahorros de millones de venezolanos.

Para Maduro, Chávez y muchos otros ideólogos socialistas antes de ellos, cualquier medio era justificable para la consecución del ideal revolucionario socialista.  Latino América, que durante décadas sirvió de laboratorio para experimentos económicos y políticos de líderes del mundo desarrollado fue la arena idónea para regresar a la dulce tentación socialista que había sido lograda con relativo éxito en otros continentes.

La fórmula del legado de Chávez es simple y poderoso:

Populismo anti-imperialista

+

petróleo nacionalizado

=

Socialismo clientelista 

Titulo: Sembrar petróleo. Por Emiliano Teran Mantovani. via: http://forajidosdelanetwar.blogspot.com/2012/11/caricaturas-e-imaginarios-en-la.html

La movilización y apoyo de los votantes en una nación democrática es fácil de conseguir cuando se posee el capital económico, político y/o militar para ofrecer al pueblo una salida de los sistemas de economía mixta extractivos que durante el siglo XX fueron implementados por las naciones desarrolladas del Norte Global y que fueron apoyadas por elites patrimonialistas en los territorios del Sur. El éxito de la revolución Bolivariana aseguró para otros países interesados en este experimento una segura y jugosa fuente de donativos para facilitar el efecto domino socialista que tanto temieron los ideólogos realistas gringos durante la Guerra Fría.  Sin duda, el legado de Chávez sigue vivo un año después de su muerte.

En los últimos dos meses la movilización de un importante grupo de la población venezolana causó manifestaciones en las ciudades más importantes del país.  Los manifestantes tenían muchas peticiones que iban desde reclamos por la corrupción del partido gobernante, reclamos por los altos índices de inflación que afronta el país y solicitudes de renuncia de los líderes de la revolución bolivariana.

Independientemente de cuántos  años más dure el partido revolucionario en el poder es seguro que su legado fue la implementación de una exitosa revolución socialista clientelista sostenida en la venta de petróleo a las economías mixtas del resto del mundo que mejoro los índices de desarrollo humano como nunca antes habíamos visto.  Así es que mientras el mundo siga dependiendo del oro negro, el mundo seguirá escuchando del legado de Chávez.

Este caro legado ha costado la libertad y los derechos de propiedad de miles de individuos. Venezuela sigue y continuará enfrentando desafíos en materia de seguridad, pues la tasa de homicidios de la región es la más alta del mundo. El regimen chavista es diariamente acusado de corrupción, incompetencia y la probabilidad de que esto cambie no es del interés de nadie. El año pasado la inflación fue del 56% y la escasez de productos básicos continuó agudizándose hasta este año.  Caracas se ha convertido en una de las ciudades más caras del mundo ocupando el puesto #6 según datos del WSJ.

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My Thoughts on Marvin

Addendum: I’m sure Marvin is sick of Marvin the Martian references by this point in his life but I’m keeping the picture because Marvin the Martian my favorite WB character, and is apropos enough…

Other than that, please understand that this post is made with respect to Marvin, and made public in order to offer an organized presentation of some recent exchanges here on Notes on Liberty.

Man, things are really heating up on NoL!

The outsider…

It begins…

I suspect the totally free society is where all civilizations started. Then someone stole something from someone else, and the people got together to deal with the problem of theft. The consensus decided that there should be a right to property, and they reached an agreement with each other to respect that right for each other and to come to each other’s aid when necessary to defend that right.

… with Marvin contemplating Buchanan’s constitutional moment. He continues with an amusing story of a quasi-voluntary provision of police, and an ad hoc ideological opposition from the first hold-out. He continued with a near analogous argument by a would be thief.

But I’m not going to follow that argument. For me, the interesting thing here, the pivotal term that tells us something meaningful about Marvin is “totally free”.

For Marvin, freedom means a lack of punishment for a given action. Therefore total freedom means no socially sanctioned punishment for any action. That state of affairs is one lacking in governance. The only person who remotely approaches that is Kim Jong-Un, but even he is ultimately constrained by (the apparently unlikely) possibility of revolution, and his near-total freedom is only within his borders. This contrasts with Brandon’s idea of mutually consistent freedom which depends on individuals having the right to not be subject to coercion.

Following Marvin’s commentary has been confusion over the terms liberty, freedom, and rights. What we all think of when we hear the term “free society” would not have what Marvin calls total freedom. This in turn has lead to dispute over the term law. Let me offer my own clarifications, focusing on the issue of law and rules.

When Dr. Foldvary used the term “truly free” he had in mind a situation with governance, but without top-down intervention. Marvin, I suspect, has confused this for a situation entirely lacking governance, or at least effective governance. I think this has roots in his belief that competition for scarce resources, as directed through the profit and loss system, will lead to unchecked cheating (e.g. pollution) in the absence of some disinterested third-party to enforce rules that reasonable people, if they’re being honest, would agree to. There are two problems with this:

First, the unmentioned one, is that the government isn’t a disinterested third-party and rules aren’t set behind a veil of ignorance (ensuring honest agreement among reasonable people). Marvin starts with the Hobbesian Jungle and arrives at the position that there is something like a social contract whereby we all (implicitly) agree to rules (restrictions on our choice set) for our mutual betterment. I don’t disagree that rules restrict our choice set and can (can!) be for our mutual betterment. What’s missing is the appreciation for the distinction between constitutional and post-constitutional rules (but that a can of worms unto itself). Beyond issues of incompatible incentives, there are also significant information problems.

Second, the government isn’t the only source of governance. Brandon and Marvin both use the term “law” in an all-encompassing way. I prefer Hayek’s distinction between law and legislation. Law, is the set of informal institutions that underlie (we hope) formal legislation. Law is emergent, but legislation is static (although it does change, just in punctuated equilibria). When government is responsive legislation will simply codify law, but when the two diverge it sets the stage for upheaval.

With that in mind, let me briefly respond to Marvin’s question:

In response to the loss of lives in the mining and manufacturing industries, government regulation requires safety precautions and inspections, like under OSHA. Should this type of regulation be eliminated to make the market “truly free”?

First off, nobody here is advocating for an unbound choice set. “Truly free” should be understood to mean “free from external [i.e. government] coercion, rule-setting, and back-room politics that are enforced at gun point.” With that in mind, the basic regulatory framework will be based on property rights and voluntary choice. Mines that acquire a reputation for being unsafe will soon be unable to find workers, unless they increase their wages. If we see poor working conditions at low pay, it doesn’t mean an injustice is being done, it means that the people working there see it as their best available option.

Final thoughts:

I think Brandon and Marvin have been largely talking past each other, but despite that the conversation has been interesting. I would like to see them engage in a debate on some particular topic. I propose that we find a topic agreeable to both, they both respond to that topic, open comments ensue for a few days, then each writes their final thoughts in a second blog post. I will summarize their points here.

Plebiscito: la solución para los problemas de Nicolás Maduro

Foto: Reuters

El día de ayer el presidente de Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, envió  un duro mensaje a los opositores que desde hace mes y medio fueron a las calles a exigir cambios en el gobierno y los culpó de la crisis social que sufre el país. “Fascistas, uno por uno los voy a capturar, uno por uno voy por ustedes”, sentenció Maduro, y afirmó que todos estos grupos “le verán la cara a la ley”.

Pero en realidad no hay nada de “fascismo” en las ideas y reclamos de los líderes y en los cientos de opositores al gobierno bolivariano que hasta el día de hoy continúan protestando. El fascismo es una ideología política que busca instaurar el corporativismo estatal totalitario y una economía dirigista que regule la vida de los ciudadanos. El fascismo es también una ideología que propone la sumisión del individuo ante un ferviente interés nacionalista y universalista en el que no hay divisiones ideológicas y políticas de izquierda, derecha, etcetera y que condena a todos aquellos que se oponen al mismo. Pero, nada de lo anterior es parte de lo que han dicho en la televisión los manifestaste que aún están en las calles venezolanas.  Es más, ¿acaso la República Bolivariana de Venezuela no es todo lo anterior según lo han demostrado sus violentas acciones represivas?

Desde mi visión minarquista liberal sí lo es.  El interés individual de los ciudadanos venezolanos ha sido puesto en sumisión al interés bolivariano de la república que fundó el ya fallecido Hugo Chávez.  Además, el gobierno bolivariano de Chávez y de Maduro en repetidas ocasiones ha negado tener una posición específica en el espectro político de izquierda y derecha, y ha volcado esta discusión al espectro de la lucha constante que debe sufrir el nacionalismo bolivariano ante la amenaza imperialista de los Estados Unidos de América y de sus títeres en otros gobiernos latinoamericanos.  Maduro ha insistido que esta manifestación es producto de una campaña imperialista de parte de los Estados Unidos en contra de su gobierno democrático.

¿Cómo es entonces que Nicolás Maduro acusa de fascistas a los opositores del mismo sistema e ideología que me parece él y su partido han establecido en Venezuela?  y  ¿qué podría el liderazgo manifestante aprovechar de la postura del Presidente Maduro?

Al llamar a la oposición “fascista”, Maduro implica que su gobierno es el antónimo del fascismo y el antónimo del fascismo es la democracia.

Sin duda, el gobierno de Maduro fue electo con mecanismos democráticos y este mecanismo legitimó su gobierno. Sí, su gobierno fue electo mediante una democracia representativa nos guste o no.  Punto y final.

Pero también es uno de los principios de cualquier gobierno democrático y representativo que, en ocasiones, los mismos pueden ser criticados cuando los los líderes han estado en el poder por mucho tiempo.  Existen mecanismos democráticos para resolver estos problemas y Maduro insiste en ignorarlos mientras pone en riesgo la vida de los ciudadanos a quienes prometió defender cuando ganó las elecciones.  Maduro olvida o ignora que una característica que suele acompañar a las democracias es el derecho de sus ciudadanos a opinar distinto y sin temor de ser enviado a prisión por sus ideas.  Cuando un grupo amplio de la sociedad insiste en que es necesario confirmar la legitimidad de un gobierno se pueden tomar muchas acciones que no son necesariamente la represión y la amenaza del uso de la fuerza policial.  Así, una decisión consistente con la democracia de un líder democrático debería de ser utilizar uno de los mecanismos de la Democracia.  El mecanismo idóneo para esta situación de inestabilidad se llama Plebiscito o más específico, un referéndum consultivo.  Al realizar un referéndum, el Presidente Maduro podrá consultar a los venezolanos que lo eligieron si están de acuerdo con que el continúe gobernando y fortalecerá la legitimidad de su gobierno con el pueblo venezolano.

Al inicio de las manifestaciones que ya han costado la vida de varios ciudadanos venezolanos, los reclamos eran la escasez de productos básicos, los altos índices de criminalidad y los reportes de violaciones a los derechos humanos que han manchado el gobierno de Nicolás Maduro. El Presidente Maduro es la única persona con el poder de evitar que una sola gota más de sangre inocente sea derramada.

Si el Presidente Maduro es en realidad un líder democrático permitirá que cualquier opinión, por muy débil o pequeña que sea,  sea considerada no una amenaza fascista sino un sentimiento de inconformidad válido de discutir.  En las manos del Presidente Maduro está que su gobierno sea recordado como  el de un absolutista del corte “L’État, c’est moi” o como un demócrata forjador de la Libertad y la Democracia en imitación del gran líder Nelson Mandela. Ojalá y la palabra referéndum empiece a sonar más y más en las próximas semanas para que la paz regrese al vecino país sudamericano.

The Keystone Pipeline

You may have heard recently that the appropriate federal agency declared  the Keystone pipeline would pose no significant dangers to the environment. I doubt this will stop the green fanatics. Nor is the probability that oil no refined and used in this country will be mostly exported to China where environmental laws are lax and not often enforced. Rationality is not their forte, as a rule.

It appears that there may be a chance to influence the decision to build or not via an on-line petition. I don’t know what is the probability of its working is but the cost seems so low it would be a pity not to try a click. Besides, enough signatures may make Mr Obama squirm a little irrespective of the decision he makes.

Go to:   buildKXLnow.com [it's actually buildKXLnow.org - bc]

Go to: “Go to Make Your Voice Heard,” [it's  actually the 'Take Action Now' tab that you'll want to click on - bc]

A simple sign-up box will appear.

David Theroux’s latest on Secular Theocracy, Part 2

Duck Dynasty and the Secular Theocracy, Part 2

Part 1 can be found here. For more Secular Theocracy as a concept, start here. David founded the Independent Institute, a highly-regarded think tank in the San Francisco Bay Area. In the summer after my first semester of college (2009; I started college in Feb of 2009 after hanging out in Ghana – long story!) I had the opportunity to attend the Independent Institute’s summer seminar for students.

In fact, that summer I attended four seminars put on by various libertarian think tanks and the Institute’s was the first of the summer. I really, really enjoyed it and was able to make some lifelong connections. For example, Dr Foldvary – the co-founder of this blog – was one of the lecturers there. Here is the Institute’s main web site.

Has Nobel Laureate Gary Becker been reading NOL?

I would think so, especially after reading this:

The movement toward free trade agreements and globalization during the past 60 years has enormously reduced the economic advantages of having a larger domestic market to sell goods ands services. Small countries can sell their goods to other countries, both large and small, almost as easily as large countries can sell in their own domestic markets. For example, during the past 30 years the small country of Chile has had the fastest growing economy of Latin America, larger than Brazil and Mexico, the two largest nations of this region. This would not have been possible without the access of Chilean companies to markets in other countries, both in South America and elsewhere. As a result, Chile now exports around 40% of its GDP, compared to a ratio of exports to GDP in the United States of about 13%.

[...]

Small countries can do well with small domestic markets by taking advantage of a globalized economy by selling large fractions of its production to consumers and companies in other countries. That is why smaller countries usually export a considerably larger fraction of its production, and import a much bigger share of its consumption, than do larger countries. Size of country was much more important in the past when many countries had high tariffs, and transportation costs were much more important.

Political interest groups tend to be less able in smaller countries in distorting political decision in their favor. This is partly because smaller countries are more homogeneous, so it is harder for one group to exploit another group since the groups are similar. In addition, since smaller nations have less monopoly power in world markets, it is less efficent for them to subsidize domestic companies in order to give these companies an advantage over imports. The greater profits to domestic companies from these subsidies come at the expense of much larger declines in consumer well being.

The growth in the competitiveness of small countries on the global market is in good part responsible at a deeper level for the remarkable growth in the number of countries since 1950 from a little over 100 to almost 200 countries now. And the number of independent countries is still growing.

OMG! He has been reading us! How could he not be? Check out our thoughts on secession, decentralization, and devolution and tell me I’m wrong. Do it!

Heck, if we’re writing about the same stuff as a Nobel Laureate, and you’re reading us, what does that tell you about you? About us?

I’m curious. I also know Dr Becker doesn’t really read us. However, does the fact that we write about the same concepts and events as a Nobel Laureate have more to do with intelligence or ideological bias? Do prominent Left-wing scholars write about secession and globalization in the same way that we do?

From what I can tell, the answer to my second question is ‘no’ (the answer to my first is further below). Generally speaking, libertarians view more countries, more decentralization and more economic integration as a great thing, and we’ve got the data (increases in income, and longevity of life, and literacy rates, and…) to back it up. We’re the optimists.

Leftists and conservatives argue that all the good libertarian things happening in the world are bad, and they have some data to back it up (like Gross National Happiness). Leftists and conservatives are the pessimists.

Is this disagreement over globalization really a matter of intelligence? Of ideology? I think it’s probably a mixture of both, and also that intelligence levels affect ideological bias. You don’t hear many stupid people advocating for a more globalized world, much less for decentralized power structures and economic integration. It’s also hard to find smart people that will shun internationalism at the cultural or political level. The fact that many smart people, especially on the Left, shun economic internationalism is not so much troubling as it is amusing.

Watching intelligent people attempt to squirm out of answering questions about economic internationalism (“globalization”) can be quite the treat.

I think facts are squarely on the libertarian’s side, and that the main obstacle to attaining a more globalized, a more economically integrated, and a more politically decentralized world is rhetoric (and sheer numbers, of course). The benefits of globalization are usually seen by intelligent people very quickly (though not always thanks to clever rhetoric), but there are simply not that many intelligent people in the world (if there were, wouldn’t intelligence be rendered useless or morph into something else?).

I guess what I’m trying to say is that working towards a more libertarian world (thousands of political units with one world market) should be easy, so why isn’t it? I think the answer is ‘factions’. Farm subsidies in the West, for example, are unnecessary and can actually lead to hunger in poorer parts of the world. Getting rid of such subsidies would be a great benefit to mankind, but these subsidies persist. Why? Because of the political power of farm lobbies. If a politician representing a farm district in the West votes to eliminate subsidies, he’s gone in the next election. So unless the representatives of Western farmers somehow band together in defiance of their own interests and vote to eliminate farm subsidies, poor people will go hungry and Western citizens will pay too much for food.

Here is the real conundrum, though. If some factions gain political leverage over other factions, it does not necessarily follow that arbitrarily ending the hard-won privileges of the rent-capturing factions is the best option to take. In fact, it is often the worst option to take because of the dangers associated with arbitrary rule.

Think about it this way: Suppose a bunch of farmers in a democratic state band together and form a lobby for the purpose of protecting their interests. They gain influence (“capturing the rent”) and eventually become a nuisance to their countrymen but not a problem. Unfortunately, they are more than a nuisance to people in poor countries, but these poor people are unable to form a lobby that counters the lobbying efforts of the farmers.

The farm lobby in the rich country has followed all the rules. It has achieved its status as rent-capturer fairly, democratically and legally. What gives the government the right to suddenly change the rules on the farm lobby? Absolutely nothing. Furthermore, if the democratic government starts to ban lobbies it deems to be nuisances, it relinquishes its democratic moniker (and, more importantly, introduces arbitrary rule). Do you see the problem of ‘factions’?

Unfortunately, factions are built in to the policy-making process itself. One of the strengths of democracies is that they tend to give factions more of a voice than autocracies. In the United States, for example, Madison sought to combat the problem of factions by restricting the scope of the state to certain duties, and his system has done an excellent job (all things considered).

So I’ve got two questions I hope to be able to think about in the near term: 1) how can we make the Madisonian system better here in the United States, and 2) how can we “export” (for lack of a better term) Madisonian democracy abroad in a non-coercive manner?

California’s Neighborhood Legislature Initiative

In California, the voters are able to put proposed laws on the ballot if they gather enough signatures. This process is called an “initiative”. The legislature may also place propositions on the ballot, a process called a “referendum”.

One of the ballot propositions for 2014 is “The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act”, which would decentralize the election of representatives in order to reduce the political power of special interests such as corporations, labor unions, and trial lawyers. This reform would shift political power to the people of California. (For the text of the initiative, see this).

Like the US Congress, the California legislature has two houses, a Senate with 40 members and an Assembly with 80 members. The population of California is 38 million. The districts for the California Senate now have 950,000 persons, a greater number than for Congressional districts, while about 475,000 people live in each assembly district. It now takes a million dollars to win a California Senate seat.

The Neighborhood initiative would instead create Senate districts of 10,000 persons and Assembly districts of 5000. These neighborhood districts would form a greater association of 100 neighborhood districts within the current districts. The association council would elect a representative to the state legislature, thus keeping the same number of representatives in the state legislature. However, the final approval of a law would require a vote by all the neighborhood district representatives. That vote could be done on an Internet web site, as corporations now do for their elections of board members and propositions.

The Neighborhood Legislature proposition was initiated by John H. Cox, who has been a lawyer, real-estate management executive, and local office holder. The aim is to have the measure on the November 2014 ballot. That will require over 800,000 valid signatures, 8 percent of the votes cast for governor in the last election, by May 19. That is a high hurtle, which usually requires several million dollars to pay for signature gatherers. This initiative has already made a splash, with articles in the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and other media.

I have been writing for years on reforming democracy with tiny voting districts in a bottom-up structure. Back in 2007, I wrote an article, “Democracy Needs Reforming”, proposing that the political body be divided into cells of 1000 persons, each with a neighborhood council. A group of these would then elect a broader-area council, and so on up to the national congress or parliament. The state legislature would then only need one house, rather than a bicameral legislature that mimics the US Congress and British parliament. This “cellular democracy” would eliminate the inherent demand for campaign funds of mass democracy.

The Neighborhood Legislature Reform Act would not be quite as thorough a reform as a cellular democracy based on tiny districts, but it has the same basic concepts: smaller voting groups, and bottom-up multi-level representation. This initiative would indeed greatly reduce the demand for campaign funds that are needed in today’s huge California electoral districts.

It will be a great challenge to obtain the needed signatures. It could happen if the media provide editorial support and coverage. At any rate, the fact that this initiative is taking place will go a long ways to publicizing the gross corruption of democracy that is taking place, and the only effective remedy to the inherent dysfunction of mass democracy. Many reforms are needed in today’s governments, reforms in taxation, pensions, environmental protection, transit, criminal law, and economic deprivation. The main reason that useful reforms are not taking place is the subsidy-seeking and reform-blocking induced by mass democracy. The initiative process in California and other states is a way to circumvent the corrupt legislature, but in a large state like California, that process itself requires big money.

It will be interesting to watch the progress of the Neighborhood Legislature initiative, and to watch the special interests jump in with misleading negative ads. If this goes on the ballot and wins, it will be a victory for the people and a defeat for the moneyed special interests.

(Note: this article first appeared in The Progress Report)

The Almost Turk and the Jew

Note to my overseas readers: Recently a bright woman who has her own show on a television network reputed to be conservative stated in a sarcastic manner that Santa Claus is white and so is Jesus. “Live with it,” she added meanly. The liberal media have been in a rage ever since. They don’t quite know how to accuse others of racism toward a person (Santa ) who may not exist. Below is my own poisonous contribution.

I see no reason to compromise in the current culture war (“Kulturkampf“): Santa Claus is obviously white because he comes from pre-Turkish Asia Minor where everyone was white. Santa was almost a Turk, just a little too early, that’s all. Along the way, he got redesigned in Bavaria, white too. Jesus was also white although he looked suspiciously Jewish. I mean by “white” that both would have easily sat in the front of the bus in Alabama in 1950. Now, to be fair, one of the magi (so-called “wise men”) visiting the baby Jesus from Persia may have been black, as in “African.” Go figure!

And no, he was not depicted as a servant as a way to demean people with sub-Saharan African ancestry. Don’t even go there! He was one of the “rois-mages” in French; that means “king.” That’s all there is to it. In fact, I am pretty sure he brought baby Jesus gold as a gift. Not bad!

In my view, if other racial groups want to claim either a Santa or a Jesus, they will have to invent their own. I look forward to an Asian fat man who brings presents, for example. (But what will he ride?) And we could easily use another Savior, perhaps a girl with African features. They are all welcome to borrow both Santa and Jesus in the meantime but they may not (NOT) change their identity by force. (When your neighbor lends you his plate, you are not supposed to paint it over.)

The political Left and violence: An uncomfortable, subconscious symbiosis

I recently set up a Twitter account (you can follow me here; you can follow Notes On Liberty here) and after a couple of days of using its newsfeed I’ve decided to tally up the number of tweets from Leftists that either call for outright violence or allude to violence against their political enemies. Now obviously these guys are joking and I don’t think that any of them actually mean what they say, but the fact that this project even struck me as something to do is flabbergasting.

I think the fact that there are so many allusions to violence – against political enemies – in my newsfeed, combined with the recent labors of the media to rid the Colorado school shooter’s political leanings from the narrative of that particular story, has put me at unease* and made me particularly sensitive to the culture of ‘high’ media.

The allusions to violence harbor an authoritarian tendency that I think often goes unnoticed. I didn’t notice anything until a couple of days ago. Yet they are there, in plain sight. You can find these appeals and allusions to violence on the Right as well, but not from the people and organizations I follow on Twitter.

For example, I don’t follow rednecks or Party activists but rather professors, journalists, wonks and publication outlets that I think provide great, in-depth insights into the world around me. Most of these individuals and organizations are Left-leaning, and I have yet to ever (ever) see an appeal to violence coming from an intellectual conservative or libertarian organization. I see it from the intellectual Left so often that I am now going to start tallying such outbursts.

This is worrisome for a bunch of reasons, but three stand out to me:

  1. Joking about violence is not very funny; Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert don’t do it, and now we know why
  2. The hypocrisy coupled with the veiled and not-so-veiled threats against political enemies is nothing short of barbarism
  3. It convincingly shows just how shallow Leftist thought has become; resorting to violence in an argument is, as we all know, a sign of defeat

Added together, these three major reasons make a solid foundation for a fascistic political movement. Look at my most recent ‘favorited’ tweet, from an assistant editor for The New Republic:

“If I were running Bloomberg View…the thing I would most want would be for Bloomberg to get hit by a bus.”

Ha. Ha. This is hilarious, right?

These are the same people who, in the wake of many mass shootings, have claimed that one of Sarah Palin’s campaign websites was indirectly responsible for senseless acts of violence (because of animated target signs that hovered over a map).

Disgusting, and yet there is a definite silver lining in all of this. Reason #3, as outlined above, is largely responsible for the intellectual Left’s impotence and fetish for domestic political violence.

Violence and the lust for power have gone virtually hand-in-hand with Leftism since the mid-19th century, of course, and this is largely because their plans for humanity are simply not feasible. And these plans, in turn, are not feasible because they are not congruent with reality.

Let me see if I can illustrate my point by digressing for a moment. Benito Mussolini was a Leftist his entire life. National socialism for German workers was a child of the Left. Maoism and Leninism were Leftist to the core. All were violent. All failed miserably and yet I see the underpinnings of these philosophies – these worldviews – in the rhetoric of the present-day American Left.

Not good. Nor is it good that the present-day Left denies its own bloodlines. Conservatives and libertarians are often quick to fess up to any historical misdeeds done in the name of their ideologies. Not so with the Left. I think this may have to do with the fact that while Leftist regimes were responsible for hundreds of millions of unnecessary deaths in the 20th century alone there are very few historical misdeeds perpetrated in the name of classical liberalism.

At any rate, I’ll keep you all updated on my tally. In the name of justice I will also keep a tally on tweets of violent fantasies that go out in the name of libertarianism or conservatism. My sampling size is small, of course. I only follow intellectuals and publications that give voice to intellectuals. This will be interesting.

* The fact that an evil person’s political views have been marginalized is not what is important. I think such views (if any) should be, as there is obviously something other than a shooter’s political leanings that is responsible for the horrific violence. What is important is the fact that if this shooter had been a self-identified conservative or libertarian it would have been plastered all over the news and it would still be getting air time as you read this.

A (very) Quick Primer on Natural-Rights.

by Adam Magoon

The first step in understanding natural rights theory is to ask a simple but profound question.  Do you own yourself?

Well, let’s start with the definition of ownership.  Dictionary.com gives us “the act, state, or right of possessing something.” Digging deeper we find the definition of possession as “the state of having, owning, or controlling something.” The last part of that definition is key; controlling.  There is a modicum of truth in the old adage possession is 9/10ths of the law.  Nine times out of ten to own something is to control it.

Now getting back to our original question: Do you own yourself?  Well do you control your own body and mind?  We do not need to delve into psychology to answer this question.  I alone can move my arms up and down, I can choose to stand, walk, eat, think, write, create, or to do nothing at all.  I alone am in control over my body.    This is an indisputable fact.  The very act of questioning this fact proves it true; for if you do not have control over your thoughts and actions how could you possibly disagree?

Self-ownership is the cornerstone of libertarian natural rights philosophy and what the libertarian means when he uses the term “natural rights”.

To quote Murray Rothbard: “The fundamental axiom of libertarian theory is that each person must be a self-owner, and that no one has the right to interfere with such self-ownership”

Under this philosophy of self-ownership there are two important subcategories that I will just touch on for further elaboration at another time.

The Non-aggression Principle: is an ethical stance which asserts that “aggression” is inherently illegitimate. “Aggression” is defined as the “initiation” of physical force against persons or property, the threat of such, or fraud upon persons or their property.

This is why the threat of violence cannot be used to negate the concept of self-ownership.  Holding a gun to my head and telling me to raise my arm does not mean you own the right to raise my arm any more than a thief owns the jewelry he stole.  Ownership cannot be transferred through violent means.

And the concept of homesteading which is best explained by John Locke:

“[E]very man has a property in his own person. This nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his. Whatsoever then he removes out of the state that nature hath provided, and left it in, he hath mixed his labour with, and joined to it something that is his own, and thereby makes it his property. It being by him removed from the common state nature placed it in, it hath by this labour something annexed to it that excludes the common right of other men. For this labour being the unquestionable property of the labourer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to. . . .

He that is nourished by the acorns he picked up under an oak, or the apples he gathered from the trees in the wood, has certainly appropriated them to himself. Nobody can deny but the nourishment is his. I ask then when did they begin to be his? . . . And ‘tis plain, if the first gathering made them not his, nothing else could. That labour put a distinction between them and common. That added something to them more than nature, the common mother of all, had done: and so they become his private right. And will any one say he had no right to those acorns or apples he thus appropriated, because he had not the consent of all mankind to make them his? . . . If such a consent as that was necessary, man had starved, notwithstanding the plenty God had given him. We see in commons, which remain so by compact, that ‘tis the taking part of what is common, and removing it out of the state Nature leaves it in, whichbegins the property; without which the common is of no use”

Very quickly I will also mention a couple of the more common arguments that arise when natural rights are discussed.

First, natural rights do not extend from god or any other supernatural or theological forces.  They are based on rational and philosophical thought.  They are what is known as an “a priori”  argument.  To put it simply, natural rights are a logical deduction based on a number of easily recognized facts, primarily the concept of self-ownership.

Second, governments do not, and indeed cannot, grant any rights that natural rights have not already granted.  Let’s look at a current event that everyone always seems to think about backwards; the legalization of drugs for personal consumption.  Because of the right to self-ownership each and every individual already has the right to do whatever they choose with their own body as long as they do so with their own property and do not violently harm others in the process.   Even if the U.S. government “legalized” the use of drugs tomorrow, they are not granting anyone the right to do drugs, they are merely removing their own restrictions on something that is already a right.   The idea that law comes from the state is known as ‘legal positivism’  and proponents are hard pressed to defend actions such as slavery and extermination that were made legal by many nations throughout the course of human history.

 

Recommended Reading:

http://mises.org/rothbard/ethics/ethics.asp

Is the European Union “socialist”?

The short answer is ‘no’, but first, Justin Raimondo writes:

The EU is a failed socialist experiment that exists to fund a huge (and hugely arrogant) bureaucracy and impose a bloodless ideological abstraction over and above the authentic nationalisms it seems to subsume. It is deeply authoritarian in that it provides no mechanism for member states to withdraw, and its super-centralist model is a prescription for tyranny if ever there was one. When a referendum is held on EU membership, and the results aren’t to the pro-EU side’s liking, the election is simply ignored and the Eurocrats mount yet another campaign until the “right” result is achieved.

I thought I’d highlight this paragraph for a couple of reasons:

1. It explains the tensions inherent in the EU from a nationalist viewpoint (as opposed to the internationalist view most often espoused on this blog), and the tensions between defining the place of centralized and decentralized power in a society. Although Raimondo’s hyperbole might cause some of us to blush, I think it actually adds to the depth of the nationalist argument as it better captures the sentiments of these factions. That is to say, I think the nationalists in this debate are a bit more boorish than the internationalists and as such Raimondo exemplifies their arguments despite being an American.

2. It shows why facts are important and in the long run much more valuable. Socialism, by definition, is the state ownership of the means of production. Is there anything about the EU that suggests it wants to “nationalize” industry? Anything at all? Of course not, which is why you often find populists – even of the “libertarian” kind – to be hyperbolic, arbitrary and vague in their arguments (for a better treatment of populism, see this old piece here at NOL). In the long run getting these definitions right is important. Slandering a faction or an organization you don’t like as ‘socialist’ (or ‘bourgeois’) may earn you a couple of brownie points from the peanut gallery, but you are very likely to steadily lose influence in the arena of ideas by peddling such drivel.

The EU is a confederation of states (much like the pre-Civil War US) and entry and exit are entirely voluntary. The EU, more than any other institution save for perhaps the US military, is responsible for the unencumbered peace throughout Western Europe since the end of World War 2. To suggest that the EU is somehow ‘socialist’ not only confuses younger, more susceptible readers but it also weakens one’s own arguments. If, for example, Raimondo is going to label the EU as ‘socialist’ when it clearly is not, what should I think about his arguments when he labels Israel as ‘fascist’ or Russia as a ‘defender of national sovereignty’?

Foreign policy is an important component of libertarianism, and if we continually allow our arguments to be defined by populist organizations like Raimondo’s antiwar.com then I fear libertarians will continue to be (rightly) ignored in the more traditional venues of foreign policy discussion.

Lost Innocence.

One of the defining features of a “free society” is that the citizens in such a society are innocent of crimes unless proven otherwise by a body that can be trusted to be impartial in its deliberations. In other words, the right to a fair trial and the belief in innocence until guilt is proven. This natural right was guaranteed to United States citizens in the U.S. BIll of Rights under the 4th, 5th and 6th amendments of the Constitution.

Time and again in modern America that right is ignored by those whose job it is to protect it. Recently a particularly vile example took place near Houston, Texas. The article speaks for itself but to make a long story short police invaded the personal lives and property of two individuals under no legal pretense. The message is clear, we are not secure in our persons or our properties if the police decide we are of particular interest to them. These officers will likely go unpunished and even if disciplinary measures are taken they will not be the same measures as if, lets say, I removed two people from a car at gun point, bound them, and held them hostage for eleven hours. There are two sets of laws, one for the people and the other for the state.

Is there such thing as Conservative Liberalism?

A friend sent me an email expressing confusion at the idea of Conservative Liberalism, which is apt because it combines two frequently misused words in a confusing way. Let me offer my views/definitions of important political terms to shed some light on this. This post will almost certainly raise more questions than it answers so disagree with me in the comments!

Hayek contrasted conservatism with liberalism and socialism, though a restatement would replace socialism with interventionism. My views are roughly in line with Hayek’s on what these terms mean, with an important caveat (below).

Conservatism is a support for the status quo, and is inherently anti-radical. But that status quo is a historical phenomenon and so conservatism isn’t per se pro- or anti-liberalism. So Conservative Liberalism is possible, just not in America today.

Liberalism is almost synonymous with goodness. It’s a big concept and trying to describe it adequately requires a whole library. All forms of liberalism are essentially concerned with freedom (from the latin Liber, i.e. liberty).

Interventionism is a belief that the government can usefully intervene in society and/or the market. Be that outlawing homosexuality or regulating hotels, this view has a distinctly illiberal flavor, though it’s essentially an orthogonal concept.

Hayek describes these categories as though distinct ideal types and with good reason. There are recurrent divisions along these lines that support thinking of politics in three dimensions, and lead to the formation of three groups (libertarians, conservative Republicans, and liberal [though not classically so] Democrats in the U.S., and similar factions elsewhere). However, I think it makes more sense to think of these as dimensions than ideal types. This adds some vagueness and makes it more difficult to put people in boxes. There can be Conservative Liberals (just not following the last few increasingly illiberal decades), and modern liberals can be understood as being descendant from classical liberal. Ideally everyone would be happy with this vagueness and instead of using labels as short-hand we’d discuss these sorts of things in depth.

But alas, it’s not so easy and even three dimensions is too many for most people, so we’ve got Left and Right wings. Us versus them! Good and evil! Which puts libertarians in the awkward position of not quite fitting in with Democrats on the left or Republicans on the right. I think the Nolan Chart is a step in the right direction. It makes Libertarians (top of the chart!) equidistant from left and right, but not really centrist either. It strips out political labels and gets to the principles at hand. And it’s ahistorical so it leaves room for radicalism and conservatism.

But then we’re left with a tricky situation because we’ve just eliminated an important dimension! And that leads to confusion when we discuss left and right because the ideas aren’t quite as simple as just particular bundles of policies, and that’s especially obvious in a two dimensional graph. If someone asks a libertarian if they’re left or right they should respond “freedom top!” and a neo-con should respond “power bottom!” I view Leftism as being an approach that is radical (i.e. anti-status quo) and Rightism as being pro-established interests. But it isn’t as simple as that either because the historical origins of the terms, and every day practice involves self-identification. The Tea Party is definitely in the Right but their views are typically radical (either radically small-government-liberal, or radically socially-conservative). There are right-wingers who are pro-market (a liberal position) and those who are pro-business (a pro-established interest position)

So what’s the solution? Libertarians would probably like to see an accurate taxonomy that accounts for a wide variety of political and moral dimensions, but left/right has adequate for many for so long. I think the Nolan Chart is a good first step to breaking this false dichotomy, but I also think that using terms like classical liberal is a good choice when it invites conversation with people who aren’t familiar with these ideas. And Conservative Liberalism? It’s a paradoxical term that would also invite discussion, but it’s irrelevant since in the current historical context, the status quo is illiberal.