Category Archives: Liberty

Short blurb on Murray Rothbard

Murray Rothbard (1926-1995) was an economist at UNLV and is considered to be one of the most important figures of the post-war libertarian movement. Rothbard earned his BA and PhD from Columbia (his dissertation on the banking panic of 1819 is still cited by economic historians), so it’s not like he was some hack with an unwarranted vendetta against the government. His contributions to a more libertarian world can be felt in numerous ways, from think tanks to economics graduate programs to the presidential campaigns of Ron Paul in 2008 and 2012. His daring foray into anarchy is, of course, his most important contribution to the scholarly world. However, I don’t see why this man has such a cult classic following within the libertarian movement. Could somebody explain this to me?

My best guess is that Rothbard’s strategy of appealing to the intelligent layman with well-disguised fallacies instead of discussing his research with the scholarly community has something to do with it, but this is only a guess.

His work just has “Cold War” written all over it. For instance, the first book of Rothbard’s that I cracked open, Conceived in Liberty Volume 1, read like a 1970s Marxist diatribe on economic development (by the way: see Dr Delacroix’s “The Export of Raw Materials and Economic Growth: A Cross-National Study” in the American Sociological Review for an excellent rebuttal of Marxist development theory). Again, I think part of this can be blamed on the time period he was writing in (mid-1970s), but even though it must have really sucked to be a scholar during the Cold War era there is really no good excuse for Rothbard’s present-day status as a saint within libertarian circles.

Not only has his scholarship become a stepping stone rather than a shrine (as all scholarship inevitably becomes), but the cult-like attitudes of some of his fans makes me cringe as a libertarian. At any rate, I’d really like to know why he has such a devoted following, and why his followers seem to think that their devotion to him is a good thing for the movement.

War criminal Watch: Condoleezza Rice now on dropbox’s board of directors.

Yesterday the company that specializes in remote file sharing announced that former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is now on their board of directors.  This is troubling news for a number of reasons.  The first, more pedantic reason, is simply that she played no small role in the deaths of several hundred thousand people throughout the middle east as well as the unnecessary deaths of thousands of US soldiers.  More practically though she was a member of the presidency that pushed the PATRIOT Act and is now working intimately with a company that has access to millions of personal files.

For those of you who do not know the dropbox software essentially allows you to put files in a folder on your PC where they are synced to the “cloud”.  You, or anyone else, are then free to download those files from anywhere in the world as long as you know the link to said file.   It is a handy way to transfer files that may be too large for an E-Mail attachment or that you simply do not trust google having access to.  From this point forward I would question the security of any file transferred with dropbox.

Oh and by the way. Snowden documents from last year state “that it is planning to add Dropbox as a PRISM provider.”  

PRISM, of course, being an NSA program “which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats,”   

How many more “coincidences” that just happen to violate rights, privacy, security and safety are we going to sweep under the rug?

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.

The Knowledge P…

The Knowledge Problem

Comprehensive planning, the classic doctrine of planning advocates, seeks to achieve economic coordination without relying on the contention of separate decisionmakers with one another; it thereby deprives itself of access to one of the most important sources of knowledge exhibited by these kinds of orders. Just as in biological competition, there is the “information bearer” function of DNA, so in the society of Tradition, this function is further served by such developments as language and culturally acquired techniques and habits. In the society of Market, profit and loss signals are added to this array. In the society of Planning, there is no new information bearer and those of the Market are discarded. It is this lack that gives the knowledge problem argument its force.

From National Economic Planning: What is Left? by Don Lavoie

School Choice for Lunch

School is not just for learning any more. Schools now provide breakfast and lunch for students. In the past, students and their parents had the option to either eat lunch at the school cafeteria or else bring their home-made lunch to school. But now, some schools are banning home-made meals. For example, Chicago’s Little Village Academy ruled that children had to eat only a school-provided lunch.

As reported by AOL News on 11 April 2011, Susan Rubin, a nutritionist and founder of the Better School Food program, stated that the lunches offered by the schools’ food providers are not necessarily more nutritious than those made at home.

“It’s rare that I see a school, especially a public school, that actually serves food that’s good,” she told AOL News. “It makes me sick that kids are eating this processed crap.”

A Chicago Tribune newspaper reporter spoke to students and parents who opposed the ban. They told the reporter that some children don’t like the cafeteria food, and much of it gets thrown away.

According to Medical Daily (16 Nov. 2013), a preschool in Richmond, Virginia also banned homemade lunches. The school blamed the Federal Programs Preschool rules on lunches from home, which state that students may bring lunches from home only if there is a medical condition requiring a specific diet, along with a note from a physician.

Such bans have been reported at other schools. The “Healthy Home Economist” reported that a preschooler at the West Hoke Elementary School in North Carolina had to eat a cafeteria lunch containing pink slime chicken nuggets when the school decided that the turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice her mother packed was not nutritious enough.

About 32 million American children eat breakfast and lunch at school under the National School Lunch Program. Of these, 21 million students participate in free or reduced-price meals. Children in poor families that cannot afford to feed their children adequately may well need to be helped, but that does not provide any reason to ban nutritious homemade meals.

Food tyranny is not confined to the USA. Canada has a national Food Guide, and if a student’s homemade lunch does not follow it, the parent is fined. For example, the Manitoba Government’s Early Learning and Child Care lunch regulations require a child’s lunch to be “balanced.” A mother who packed a lunch was slapped with a $10 fine. Her meal was unbalanced because she did not include crackers.

Nutrition is a controversial subject. Some people think cow milk is healthy, while others disagree. Some think that moderate amounts of sugar do not harm, while others think that any artificial sugar is bad. Some believe that meat provides good nutrition, while others believe it is healthier to be vegetarians or vegans. The experts disagree among themselves. Also, of course, children have individual tastes and dietary needs. Government policy forces most of the children to consume the same meal or a narrow range of choices. Much of the food then gets thrown out.

Any decision about school lunches in government-run schools is inevitably political. The federal government is now in charge of what children eat, and policy is influenced by the special interests which finance political campaigns and lobby for legislation.

Thus, the U.S. Department of Agriculture subsidizes poultry production, and then provides schools with free chicken. Many schools do not cook the chicken themselves; they send the chicken to food processors that turn the meat into chicken nuggets and sell them back to the schools. Rather than cook pizza themselves, many schools buy pizzas from food sellers. Schools get potatoes from the government and send them to food makers that sell them back to the school as French Fries.

The cafeteria management companies save money by not having to hire cooks, and they often receive rebates from the food processors. The schools pay the full price for the processed food, which includes rebates that are not disclosed. Since homemade food competes with cafeteria food, it is in the financial interest of the big food producers and cafeteria management firms to stop competition from home production.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has declared that such sending of food out to be processed results in food high in saturated fat and salt. A 2008 study, “Impact of Federal Commodity Programs on School Meal Nutrition,” by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, concluded that what starts as healthy food gets processed into products whose nutritional value is the same as junk food. The study found that California school districts used more than 82 percent of their food commodity funds to buy meat and cheese, spending only 13 percent on fruits and vegetables.

One problem with homemade lunches is that some parents give their children junk food. In that case, the school lunch would be better. But some parents provide a superior lunch, so a ban prevents both better and worse lunches. A sensible approach is to hire a nutritionist who would inform and council parents about better food choices. Few parents seek to deliberately harm their child with unhealthy food. For better nutrition, persuasion is a better policy than force.

Regulation doesn’t have to mean licensure!

In my effort to become more misinformed I’ve started listening to the news. On PBS Newshour I learned that the National Taxpayer Advocate is pushing to restrict who can professionally prepare tax returns. It turns out the Institute for Justice is (so far) successfully beating back these efforts.

So why is anyone concerned? Surely because it’s poor people going to (potentially unqualified) preparers. Why not just go to H.R. Block? They’re cheap and trustworthy, but poor people probably make their decision of where to go the same way they decide how to bank. They want someone local and personal. That’s not going to change. Back to Newshour:

If you have someone who’s– who’s not ethical or doesn’t know what they’re doing, they’d have even more incentive to not sign a tax return and kind of just operate in the shadows.

I think that’s the correct prediction. Create licensure, and poor people will be less protected. Frankly, I doubt that even certification will make a difference; I think Joe Blow’s decision of who to get to prepare his return won’t be likely to change. What I think would help is a simplified tax code, and especially as it treats poor people.

Quer menos jornalistas assassinados?

Hoje um blogueiro (jornalista) publicou uma estatística aterradora para os brasileiros: o número de jornalistas assassinados no Brasil, em 2014, é comparável ao número de mortes no Iraque.

Infelizmente, ele não explora a notícia em detalhes. Bem, para ajudar no debate, ofereço algumas observações sobre a liberdade de imprensa, a liberdade econômica e outras coisinhas. Aqui.

Let’s leave the fairy tales behind

Freedom-loving people are almost always nice and genial. I count them among my best friends, and in fact, I think of myself as one. Some of them have sharp intellects, publish great stuff, are brilliant discussants and all of them are prepared to take on the left-leaning, social liberal (for American readers: liberal) majority anytime. They never tire of pointing at the mistaken views of others. Yet at the same time, most libertarians (for sake of brevity I shall not go into the possible subdivisions and other definitional options when using this term) fail to recognize their own weird ideas about international relations. To quote Murray Rothbard: ‘thinking about international affairs is a weak point of libertarians’.

While I am not particularly impressed by Rothbard’s own ideas on international relations, he did make a valid point here. When searching for a particular quaint idea among libertarians, what comes up first is the idea that trade fosters peace. There are variations and the related idea that democracies allegedly do not fight each other will be left aside [which is hardly more convincing though, when closely scrutinizing the methodology and data used in this type of research], the basic idea is that international trade relations promote a peaceful world. There are several main mechanisms behind this. First, at the level of the individual, increasing numbers of international contacts lead to more international friendship and understanding, and consequently a diminishing wish to fight the trading partners . Second, businessmen and other citizens benefitting from trade (e.g. everybody) will act as domestic pressure groups, if need be forcing their leaders to refrain from international military action. Third, economic ties between countries mean these countries become interdependent. War between them would destroy this economic entanglement, therefore it is not the interest of leaders of states to initiate or maintain such destructive conflicts. The overall conclusion is: the more trade, the more peaceful the world becomes.

This is a fairy tale. Even though most libertarians do not go as far as to claim that trade has the capacity to eradicate all international conflict, it is nonsensical to claim that it fosters peace in any consistent way. A few objections. At the individual level, trade does not change human nature. While the rationality needed to preserve peace (acknowledging that war making is sometimes perfectly rational from an individual stance) may dominate the emotions once in a while, it cannot do so perpetually. Let alone in all people, everywhere at the globe. At the collective level, history shows that ‘citizen coalitions for peace’ hardly ever make a difference. Public opinion is often war prone, as for example free trade star Richard Cobden, who strongly argued trade would make public opinion more peaceful, painfully found out during the previous Crimea crisis in the 1850’s. At the political level economic interests are just one factor among many others (geopolitical, religious, domestic, personal, et cetera) when considering international military action. So perhaps sometimes a vital economic interest is too important to risk a war, yet at other times it does not count for much. Take the current Crimea crisis, where President Putin clearly prioritized the strategic objective of ensured naval capacity and access in the Black Sea above possible detrimental effects of economic sanctions.

There are also a number of other counter-arguments against the ‘trade-leads-to peace-hypothesis’. As for example David Hume and Adam Smith acknowledged and emphasized, trade also has the side-effect of promoting conflict. After all free trade make people and countries wealthier. Often this leads to increased defense expenditure, which may then lead to international belligerence, because previously poor states can for example make (renewed) territorial claims. Currently, China is a good example of this. Also, there is the completely neglected question of the nature and volume of trade. Does any amount of trade have peaceful effects, or is there some minimum? Also, does it matter what is traded? Does trade in oil and gas have more or less peaceful effects, compared to say textiles or fruit? Just to claim that ‘trade’ has peace enhancing effects is again unconvincing.  

It is perhaps relatively harmless to foster fairy tale ideas in the study, at universities or to write them down in books and blogs. Yet in my mind these kind of ideas seriously hamper the appeal of libertarianism to other people. In a globalized world, people expect the ideas that guide their political behavior to have serious ideas about world politics. As is the case in for example economics or philosophy, libertarian ideas need to offer serious alternatives to make a difference and have the capacity to convince others. The idea that trade fosters peace is not a serious contribution to international relations discourse. It is high time the liberty loving people leave their fairy tale ideas on international affairs behind.

3,278 Americans Are Serving Life Sentences for Nonviolent Crimes, Report Says

Around 79 percent of the nonviolent life sentences without parole are drug-related, according to the ACLU, and around 20 percent are for property crimes. The remaining 1 percent are for traffic and other infractions in Alabama and Florida”

This seems like as good an opportunity as any to talk about libertarian law.  First of all, to the libertarian, there is no such thing as non-violent or “victimless” crime.  There can be no “crime against the state” or “crime against society” since there would be no state and “society” is an abstract concept that cannot be a victim.  Crime can only occur when there is a clear perpetrator and a clear victim.

This is the logic used to deduce that there can be no punishment for consuming or selling drugs for example.

Second, libertarian punishment is confined to the concept of “proportionality”.  Proportionality is described by Murray Rothbard as:

“…the criminal, or invader, loses his own right to the extent that he has deprived another man of his. If a man deprives another man of some of his self-ownership or its extension in physical property, to that extent does he lose his own rights.  From this principle immediately derives the proportionality theory of punishment-best summed up in the old adage: “let the punishment fit the crime.””

Walter Block famously expanded on this concept with his “Two Teeth for a Tooth” rule saying:

“In encapsulated form, it calls for two teeth for a tooth, plus costs of capture and a
premium for scaring. How does this work?

Suppose I steal a TV set from you. Surely, the first thing that should occur when I am captured is that I be forced to return to you my ill-gotten gains.

So, based on the first of two “teeth,” I must return this appliance to you.

But this is hardly enough. Merely returning the TV to you its rightful owner is certainly no punishment to me the criminal.

All I have been forced to do is not give up my
own TV to you, but to return yours to you.

Thus enters the second tooth: what I did (tried to do) to you should instead be done to me. I took your TV set;
therefore, as punishment, you should be able to get mine (or some monetary equivalent). This is the second tooth.2″

The claim is often made that a libertarian society would be less just for the poor and disadvantaged but take this list of crimes that caused human beings to be sent to prison for the rest of their lives and compare it to the logical corresponding punishment called for by the proportionality rule and tell me which is more just.

“Among the most obscure offenses – mostly from Louisiana and Mississippi – documented in the report as the impetus for life sentences:

  • Possessing stolen wrenches
  • Siphoning gasoline from a truck
  • Shoplifting a computer from WalMart
  • Shoplifting three belts from a department store
  • Shoplifting digital cameras from WalMart
  • Shoplifting two jerseys from an athletics store
  • Breaking into a parked car and stealing a bag containing a woman’s lunch
  • Stealing a 16-year-old car’s radio
  • Drunkenly threatening a police officer while handcuffed in a patrol car”

A very illuminating comment over on Reddit.com

User “Three_Letter_Agency” put the current NSA issue in very clear focus today with the following:

We know the NSA and their UK buddy GHCQ can:

  • Collect the domestic meta-data of both parties in a phone-call. Source[1]
  • Set up fake internet cafes to steal data. Source[2]
  • Has intercepted the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders, including allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Source[3]
  • Can tap into the underwater fiber-optic cables that carry a majority of the world’s internet traffic. Source[4]
  • Tracks communications within media institutions such as Al Jazeera. Source[5]
  • Has ‘bugged’ the United Nations headquarters. Source[6]
  • Has set up a financial database to track international banking and credit card transactions. Source[7]
  • Collects and stores over 200 million domestic and foreign text messages each day. Source[8]
  • Collects and has real-time access to browsing history, email, and social media activity. To gain access, an analyst simply needs to fill out an on-screen form with a broad justification for the search that is not reviewed by any court or NSA personnel. Source[9]

“I, sitting at my desk, could wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge or even the president, if I had a personal email”. – Edward Snowden

  • Creates maps of the social networks of United States citizens. Source[10]
  • Has access to smartphone app data. Source[11]
  • Uses spies in embassies to collect data, often by setting up ‘listening stations’ on the roofs of buildings.Source[12]
  • Uses fake LinkedIn profiles and other doctored web pages to secretly install surveillance software in unwitting companies and individuals. Source[13]
  • Tracks reservations at upscale hotels. Source[14]
  • Has intercepted the talking-points of world leaders before meetings with Barack Obama. Source[15]
  • Can crack encryption codes on cellphones. Source[16]
  • Has implanted software on over 100,000 computers worldwide allowing them to hack data without internet connection, using radio waves. Source[17]
  • Has access to computers through fake wireless connections. Source[18]
  • Monitors communications in online games such as World of Warcraft. Source[19]
  • Intercepts shipping deliveries and install back-door devices allowing access. Source[20]
  • Has direct access to the data centers of Google, Yahoo and other major companies. Source[21]
  • Covertly and overtly infiltrate United States and foreign IT industries to weaken or gain access to encryption, often by collaborating with software companies and internet service providers themselves. They are also, according to an internal document, “responsible for identifying, recruiting and running covert agents in the global telecommunications industry.” Source[22]
  • The use of “honey traps”, luring targets into compromising positions using sex. Source[23]
  • The sharing of raw intelligence data with Israel. Only official U.S. communications are affected, and there are no legal limits on the use of the data from Israel. Source[24]
  • Spies on porn habits of activists to discredit them. Source[25]

Possibly the most shocking revelation was made on February 24, 2014. Internal documents show that the security state is attempting to manipulate and control online discourse with “extreme tactics of deception and reputation-destruction.” The documents revealed a top-secret unit known as the Joint Threat Research Intelligence Unit, or JTRIG. Two of the core self-identified purposes of JTRIG are to inject all sorts of false material onto the internet in an effort to discredit a target, and to use social sciences such as psychology to manipulate online discourse and activism in order to generate a desirable outcome. The unit posts false information on the internet and falsely attributes it to someone else, pretend to be a ‘victim’ of a target they want to discredit, and posts negative information on various forums. In some instances, to discredit a target, JTRIG sends out ‘false flag’ emails to family and friends.

A revealing slide from the JTRIG presentation.[26]  

Read the whole JTRIG presentation by Greenwald, just do it. Here[27]

Now, consider the words of former NSA employee turned whistleblower Russ Tice:

“Okay. They went after–and I know this because I had my hands literally on the paperwork for these sort of things–they went after high-ranking military officers; they went after members of Congress, both Senate and the House, especially on the intelligence committees and on the armed services committees and some of the–and judicial.

But they went after other ones, too. They went after lawyers and law firms. All kinds of–heaps of lawyers and law firms. They went after judges. One of the judges is now sitting on the Supreme Court that I had his wiretap information in my hand. Two are former FISA court judges. They went after State Department officials.

They went after people in the executive service that were part of the White House–their own people. They went after antiwar groups. They went after U.S. international–U.S. companies that that do international business, you know, business around the world. They went after U.S. banking firms and financial firms that do international business. They went after NGOs that–like the Red Cross, people like that that go overseas and do humanitarian work. They went after a few antiwar civil rights groups.

So, you know, don’t tell me that there’s no abuse, because I’ve had this stuff in my hand and looked at it. And in some cases, I literally was involved in the technology that was going after this stuff. And you know, when I said to [former MSNBC show host Keith] Olbermann, I said, my particular thing is high tech and you know, what’s going on is the other thing, which is the dragnet. The dragnet is what Mark Klein is talking about, the terrestrial dragnet. Well my specialty is outer space. I deal with satellites, and everything that goes in and out of space. I did my spying via space. So that’s how I found out about this… And remember we talked about that before, that I was worried that the intelligence community now has sway over what is going on.

Now here’s the big one. I haven’t given you any names. This was is summer of 2004. One of the papers that I held in my hand was to wiretap a bunch of numbers associated with, with a 40-something-year-old wannabe senator from Illinois. You wouldn’t happen to know where that guy lives right now, would you? It’s a big white house in Washington, DC. That’s who they went after. And that’s the president of the United States now.” Russ Tice, NSA Whistleblower

Chilling.

Towards a Free-Market Global Climate Treaty

An article in the 19 March 2014 “NewScientist” featured Catherine Brahic’s interview of Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. She is leading a project to create a Global Climate Treaty in December 2015. A draft agreement is scheduled to be delivered to all country governments in May 2015.

A previous U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen in 2009 failed to achieve an agreement. Christiana Figueres points out that while in 2009 there was doubt that countries would adopt policies to curb emissions, more than 60 countries now have climate legislation that apply to 90 percent of global emissions. There has been more investment in renewable energy. But this progress is much less than what is needed to reduce air pollution to a sustainable optimal level.

A major technological obstacle to the use of renewable energy is the expense of storing electricity in batteries in order to have a steady supply of power on grids. Another technology that is needed for emission reduction is carbon capture and storage.

Unfortunately this interview did not delve into the economics of climate policy. Economists are in wide agreement that the most effective policy to reduce widespread pollution is full-cost pricing, to make the polluters pay the social cost of the damage. The charge is passed on to the buyers of the products, who buy less. The firm either installs methods of reducing the emissions or else pays the fee and reduces pollution by producing less of the product.

A pollution charge or tax is more efficient than command-and-control restrictions, because the tax lets the polluter respond according to its particular costs. In contrast, when government dictates particular methods such as gasoline additives and engine technologies, these may not be the most effective means, and the mandates and restrictions may not encourage innovations.

There is much talk about carbon taxes, but carbon exists in both the inputs and outputs. A tax on the gasoline input does not create an incentive to capture the carbon and other emission outputs, and the tax imposes an excess burden on cars that have already reduced their pollution. A tax on the emission output does induce technology to capture the carbon, and avoids the excess burden.

The executive secretary talked about carbon neutrality, such that each factory, building, city, and vehicle has very low or zero carbon outputs. But the most effective policy is not to regulate and micro-manage, but to set an overall goal and an emission charge per ton of pollutant, and then let each person, enterprise, and facility adjust according to its own costs and benefits. If the cost of carbon neutrality is greater than the social benefit, then such neutrality is bad for the environment, because it wastes resources.

Unfortunately, governments are moving towards regulations rather than pollution taxes. The government of Australia is seeking to replace the carbon tax, enacted by a coalition of the Green and Labor parties in 2012, with a subsidy to industry and an emission permit trading scheme. On 20 March 2014 the Australian Senate voted against repealing the carbon tax, but the prime minister continues to seek repeal on July 1.

While emission permit exchanges are more efficient than regulations, the increase in the price of permits is a gain only to the permit holders, and the price of the permits may be different from the social cost of the pollution. A pollution fine, charge, or tax, however it’s called, enables the government to enact a “green tax shift” to replace market-hampering taxes on income, sales, and value added, with payment for emissions that not only reduce pollution, but also prevent what would otherwise be a subsidy to polluters by not having them pay the full social costs.

Economists and their journalist followers should be in the forefront of promoting a green tax shift as the best policy both for the environment and the economy. Even the skeptics of global warming should embrace the green tax shift, as pollution is harmful trespass regardless of climate change, and the shift promotes greater economic freedom along with productivity.

If the 2015 Global Climate Treaty is based on pollution levies, it will succeed. If instead the Treaty calls for “command and control,” it will doom the planet to yet another failure of central planning, and the result will be both a worsening global economy and a backlash against the tyranny of regulation strangulation.

More regions contemplating independence?

The historically great city-state of Venice is contemplating independence from Italy. “Over two million residents,” nearly half of the total population, “of the Veneto region took part in the week-long survey, with 89 percent voting in favour of independence from Italy.” The  Indipendenza Veneta party believes that the centralized Italian government is unable “to stamp out corruption, protect its citizens from a damaging recession and plug waste in the poorer south.” Venice joins Catalonia and, for better or worse, Crimea this year in considering breaking away from it’s central government. Catalonia’s request for an independence referendum denied by the Spanish prime minister while we all know how long Crimean independence lasted.  All is not lost however.

These types of referendum must be celebrated by libertarians throughout the world. The further decentralization of governments is a goal that can directly lead to a freer, more libertarian society and will serve as a siphon weakening governments worldwide. To quote, as I do so often, the great Murray Rothbard:

“Once one concedes that a single world government is not necessary, then where does one logically stop at the permissibility of separate states? If Canada and the United States can be separate nations without being denounced as in a state of impermissible ‘anarchy’, why may not the South secede from the United States? New York State from the Union? New York City from the state? Why may not Manhattan secede? Each neighbourhood? Each block? Each house? Each person?”

Why not indeed.

Ideology and the Alliance for Progress: Charting the Boundaries of the Welfare State

This Fall I took a course on the history of the Welfare State at Penn. I also used to work “in the system,” teaching English and job skills to Spanish-speaking TANF recipients at an NPO in North Philadelphia, so it was a nice complement to that experience. Overall the course was great given the volatility of the subject and the difficulty of understanding an abstraction like “welfare.”  I thought the course fell short in contextualizing the welfare state within the broader scope of government, so I wrote a paper about how the welfare state and foreign aid interacted in Kennedy’s policy and rhetoric.

The perils of globalization and modernization have largely been attributed to “neoliberalism” and neoliberal American global hegemony, which I think has some merit. The American welfare state has historically been such a strange beast that it’s really difficult to point fingers–few nations have seen a clash between principles of general welfare/security and personal liberty on the scale of the USA. Yet today it seems that “foreign development” (generally taking place under neoconservative, globalist institutions) and “domestic” or “community development” (generally taking place from the American “left”) are at odds with one another. The consensus on foreign aid at best rests on our duty to help the global have-nots and at worst is a less-risky way to build global security in the post-911 world. But both of these reflect a Bismarckian idea of State building to me… So is there a historical link?

My paper looks for answers in JFK and his Alliance for Progress. This project was a foreign analogue of the New Frontier that got Kennedy elected and seemed to be the future of the American Welfare State until his untimely assassination. Due to resistance at home, the Alliance for Progress was much further along than any New Frontier domestic reforms, despite complementary rhetoric and Kennedy’s constant comparison of the two. The Alliance provided millions in aid to Latin America in the name of developing economy and–as many historians neglect to mention–society. It died out by the mid-70s (largely due to neoliberal push-back and underfunding, or so the story goes) but what was the ideological basis of the reform? What did Kennedy want out of the millions he was lobbying to send abroad?

Overall, the Alliance was multifaceted: It sought to strengthen perceptions of America, grow international political ties, and generally create a buffer against the Cold War Communist threat. But these aspects were presented as international extensions of domestic policy by both outward rhetoric and by internal Congressional and diplomatic correspondence. Agrarian reform (ie, away from communal landholding, especially in Mexico), income redistribution, and a more just hemispherical society were also included as benchmarks.

The program eventually aimed to directly map Tennessee Valley Authority river basin development on top of Colombian valleys, hoping to make a Tupelo or Knoxville out of Cali or Buenaventura. The founder of the TVA, David Lilienthal, won a contract to develop Colombia under the Alliance for Progress after abortive plans to similarly shape the Mekong Delta and the Nile. And while big business was the engine running the machine, rubber met road with promises of social reform, workforce development, and increased social equality for the poor, uncivilized masses susceptible to Communist dogma.

While globalization’s detractors cry capitalist overreach, authoritarian power grab, or something in between, proponents of foreign aid still need to explain why hunger, malaria, and TB are so prevalent given global wealth–and be honest about the beginnings of these international institutions. I can’t make prescriptive calls to action, but I can say that the foundation of the current international aid regime was laid by the example of domestic welfare state-building, by ideals of a strong state guiding a “free” market to achieve affirmative social outcomes

If you want to read the paper: Here’s a full (18 pp. with references) and 10-page version.

Polystate – book 3

This is my nth response to Polystate and covers the third and final portion of the book (for the 1st through n-1th responses see here, here, and here).

As a quick reminder, the purpose of this book is to consider a possible political structure where individuals choose their own government (“anthrostate”) and these governments operate in the same geographic area (under a “polystate”). This is in contrast to the current system of geographical monopolies on coercion (“geostates”).

Book three attempts to identify insoluble problems with the idea of a polystate. The first problem is the potential for bureaucracy explosion (no, not that kind). A greater (which is to say any) degree of customized service in our current government would surely come with increased costs. There may be technological solutions to this problem, and competition between anthrostates would surely add pressure to get around these costs. In any event, the administrative questions are actually quite interesting. I suspect that many government services would end up moving back into civil society and private markets and the result would be lower monitoring costs in the case of civil society (e.g. for social security through mutual aid societies), and greater use of specialization and innovation in the case of market goods (e.g. for safety standards).

Another big one is the importance of “sacred locations.” If we had always lived in a polystate, Jerusalem might be considered a state of mind. But in the world we live in, it’s a geographical location, and different groups want it for themselves. A market with private property allows these groups to express the importance of this location by outbidding others for its purchase, but such a system is likely not good enough for some members of the relevant groups, and it’s plausible that violence could be resorted to. At the risk of sounding like an insensitive social Darwinist… maybe that’s not the worst possible outcome?… But certainly still a bad, though the root problem is the beliefs of those people; determining which political structure (all of which have costs and benefits) is “best” is an interesting question.

I think the biggest area of potential contention (by non-libertarians) is demonstrated by the issue of gun control. One anthrostate’s gun control is meaningless if it coexists with another that doesn’t have gun control. In other words, a polystate is less polycentric confederacy and more anarchist default plus an odd contract structure for particular firms. This leads to the final problem: transition.

The epilogue discusses the “issue” that the proposal is for a minimal polystate. We can think of this as a contemplation of federalism. This is a thought experiment in radical federalism that is so far down the spectrum of possibilities that it puts the onus of governance on the individual. In many ways, discussions by libertarian political economists can be thought of more as discussions of federalism than discussions of liberty; I think it’s worth thinking about the connection between federalism and freedom, as well as different potential forms of federalism.

Here are my overall thoughts: The book presents an interesting thought experiment and the author does an excellent job of providing well thought out analysis without going overboard. There is plenty to think about, and plenty more discussion to be had (note: read this book with friends and discuss it over beers). ZW had a choice of going into more detail and making a stronger case, or going into less detail and leaving more of the thought experiment to the reader. I think he perfectly balanced these two goals.

Note: an ungated version of that last link is available here. The article is “Afraid to be free: Dependency as desideratum” by James Buchanan.

Great Adaptation of Harrison Bergeron

Youtube video Located Here.

For those of you who don’t know Harrison Bergeron is  a fantastic short story by Kurt Vonnegut, an author near and dear to most upstate New Yorkers.  How many other authors set anything in the city of Schenectady?  The general plot of the story is a description of a world where everyone has been made equal, both physically and mentally, by the “Handicapper General” of the United States.  Full text available here.