June 7, 2010

How 'CLICK-IT OR TICKET' Keeps You Safe

Hypothetical situation:

Q: What happens if I get pulled over and I am not wearing my seat belt?
A: They write you a ticket and ask you to sign it

Q: What happens if I refuse to sign?
A: They will ask you to get out of the car

Q: What happens if I don't get out of the car?
A: They will pull you out of the car and taser you

Q: What happens if I resist and try to get away?
A: They will taser you again

Q: What happens if I continue to struggle until they run out of taser shots?
A: They will wrestle you to the ground and handcuff you

Q: What happens if I break free before I am handcuffed?
A: They will chase you

Q: What happens if I get in my car and manage to get away?
A: They will get in their car and chase you down?

Q: What happens if I don't stop?
A: They will ram your car

Q: What happens if I try to defend myself?
A: They will shoot you

Q: So, what is the reasonable conclusion of not obeying the seat belt law?
A: Your car gets wrecked and you get shot

Q: Why does this law make me more safe?
A: Because obeying it means you don't get shot

May 29, 2010

Intellectual Property

I have been thinking a lot about intellectual property. No matter what your opinion is on the matter, or even if you have no opinion, I recommend a great piece by Stephan Kinsella. You can get an audio book version of it, as well as the pdf. There is no charge for this, since charging would almost be hypocritical, seeing as how the work is titled "Against Intellectual Property"

Here is a presentation given on IP as it relates to fashion. The conclusions she makes are very interesting.

May 23, 2010

Reductio Ad Absurdum: Immigration and Babies

They're Coming To America
by Gene Callahan

Many libertarians have been far too complacent in the face of a growing threat to our cultural cohesion, our way of life, and our liberty. I'm talking, of course, about the thousands of people who arrive in our country everyday, hoping to make it their new home.

Those arrivals present us with a myriad of social problems. For the most part, they do not speak our language. They are unfamiliar with our culture. It will take time to assimilate them all, and the government's effort to promote multi-culturalism through the public schools and other government institutions can only lengthen that assimilation time.

Few of these strangers arrive in America with job offers in hand. The odds are high that many of them will rely, at some point in their lives, on government handouts. And studies show that the longer new arrivals reside in the country, the more likely they are to receive welfare.

They will make use of public transportation, public roads, public utilities, public schools, and so on, further straining resources that are already stretched thin in many cases. Their arrival results in a "dumbing down" of the public education system, prompting politicians to throw even more money at it.

All of the above means an increased tax burden on the productive members of society, many of whom already work over half their day to pay their federal, state, and local income taxes, sales taxes, excise taxes, tariffs, and fees.

Because of the lure of government largesse dangled before them, the new arrivals represent a ready-made voting block for a bigger state. Unfamiliar with the American tradition of limited government, the arguments against expanded social programs seem remote and abstract to them, while the benefits appear immediate and tangible. The resultant swelling of the class of tax consumers portends an ominous increase in the scope of the welfare state.

As we have time to watch them adapting to our country, we find their customs strange. Whether it is their music, dress, dating, or manners, their distinct cultures present what appears to be an unbridgeable gulf between them and traditional American life. Americans find themselves longing, as Peter Brimelow put it, "for some degree of ethnic and cultural coherence."

It is true that many of them will become productive members of the workforce. But, so long as there are people already living in our country who are without work, or stuck in menial jobs, it ill-behooves us to bring in newcomers to grab the good jobs that the economy does create.

Libertarians are correctly suspicious of any increases in government power. In the case of these new Americans, however, it should be clear that the cause of liberty is advanced, not retarded, by limiting their influx. So great are their numbers, and so enormous is the difficulty in assimilating them, that the current situation amounts to little less than a foreign invasion of our shores. Libertarians should at least be able to agree that as long as we have any government, its most essential role is to protect the nation from foreign invasion!

Of course, in a purely libertarian society, it would be property owners who would have the right to accept or reject anyone wishing to live on or otherwise use their property. But we don't live in that society. Property owners today are limited by law from excluding individuals from their place of employment due to affirmative-action and anti-discrimination laws, and from their neighborhoods by civil-rights legislation.

Simply reducing the number of arrivals allowed in the country each year would be a step forward. But given the vast numbers who have already arrived in the past two decades, it would be wiser to place a several-year moratorium on all new…

What's that you say? Immigration?! You think I've been talking about immigrants?

I've been talking about babies. What we need is a several-year moratorium on births. Our battle cry should be, "Outlaw babies, for the sake of our liberty!"

May 18, 2010

A History of Iran

This is nearly ten minutes long, but definitely worth watching all the way through. Particularly watch for the part which imagines a reversal of American and Iranian situations and asks American viewers to consider what they would hope Iran would do in that scenario.

May 5, 2010

Lady Liberty

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

-----Emma Lazarus

At the risk of insulting the intelligence of anyone who already understands the allusions made by this poem, I will share a few thoughts about it. This is an inscription on display inside the Statue of Liberty. It first makes reference to the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the ancient wonders. The Colossus was built to celebrate military victory--in stark contrast to the Statue of Liberty, a symbol of peace. Thus, America was to be a land which didn't stretch its limbs to conquer other lands. The poem depicts a land which stands as a beacon and example to other nations. Of course this is a far cry from what modern foreign policy tells us about "making the world safe for democracy" through military conquest.

America does not care for the "pomp" of the old world. It does not care for the nationalism, the pride, and the arrogance that characterized the nations of that time. America does not seek the fame and glory of empires nor the grandeur of ancient kingdoms. It cares only to "breathe free". How different is this from statements of "no apology" or "the power of pride", or even the declaration "I'm proud to be an American!"?

What does America stand for? America stands ready to accept all who come to be free. All who are oppressed and worn down by tyranny are accepted here. They can be of any color, race, or creed. They can come from any nation and speak any language. They come here to experience liberty and to afford the same to their fellow man.

Is this the America we live in today? What are our responsibilities if we would reclaim it?

April 16, 2010

Economically Feasible Asteroid Mining: !!

According to the Interplanetary Superhighway concept, the gravity and movement of planets create a network of low-energy orbits which may be viable as efficient transit routes throughout the solar system. For her project, Erika DeBenedictis developed a software navigation system - based on an original optimizing search algorithm - that may help autonomous spacecraft better navigate these pathways.

Erika, a senior at Albuquerque Academy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, was a 2009 Davidson Fellow and first-place award winner in the New Mexico Supercomputing Challenge. The 18-year-old is also an accomplished pianist and vocalist, and hopes to attend Caltech or MIT.

March 6, 2010

A Note on Krugman

The following comes from Creighton Harrington on the YAL Blog. I was just about to post something along these lines, but he says it pretty well:

The Problem with the "Expert"

...by "expert" I mean Paul Krugman. Here is a guy who is, essentially, the economic authority in America. He teaches at Princeton, won the Nobel Prize in Economics (which is almost as insane as Obama winning the Nobel Prize for anything), and, worst of all, preaches his Keynesian blather all over the New York Times for every impressionable would-be scholar to read.

Now, what has Krugman said that perterbs me so? Well, honestly, its just that he was mentioned in an article and it got me thinking about it again, but soon enough I was back to fond memories of Krugman preaching how wonderful our economy is, how we need to offset the dot-com bubble with a housing bubble, how interest rates need to go lower and lower and government spending needs to go higher and higher. And while every “expert” on Wall Street, at the Fed, and on the Hill is crying the same thing (except Ron Paul of course) while simultaneously mocking legit economists like everyone at the Mises Institute, Peter Schiff, and, to some extent, Jim Rogers for their archaic outlook on economics.

Oh how the tides did turn, but, yet, instead of the status quo moving to sanity, in comes Krugman preaching the same exact stuff!! Lower interest rates, spend, print more money, bailout, OR WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!!!

One of his greatest feats, however, is to basically get people to believe in a false history. He always preaches about the laissez faire style of Hoover and the damage it did to the economy during the Great Depression, but everytime he is called out on how absolutely wrong that thought is, he, almost like a reflex, just adds, “he did too little too late.” That's why its so hard to convince people that Keynesians are wrong...they have academic credibility already, for one, and they also just fall back on the “if spending doesn't work then spend more and more and more ad infinitum.”

This guy is nothing more than a well respected con-artist who doesn't realize he is a con-artist, by which I mean he can promote extreme falsehoods everyday and when they fail, as they always do, it was not his advice that was insufficient, but some mistake by the other party. He has been wrong on nearly everything, a great example of which is Japan. If there is one historical example, outside of the Great Depression, that proves how Keynesian economics just fails miserably, it is Japan. This country tried every Keynsian trick there is to fix themselves, but to no avail. Even Krugman himself said they were doing the right thing when they tried to stimulate the economy via public works projects.

Over the past decade Japan has used enormous public works projects as a way to create jobs and pump money into the economy. The statistics are awesome. In 1996 Japan’s public works spending, as a share of G.D.P., was more than four times that of the United States. Japan poured as much concrete as we did, though it has a little less than half our population and 4 percent of our land area. One Japanese worker in 10 was employed in the construction industry, far more than in other advanced countries.

What baffles Krugman is how this failed miserably. Even as Japan nipped at the heels of “full employment,” interest rates were near zero, spending was running wild, and all the other Keynesian cures to the business cycle were being employed Japan still went nowhere.

And here we are. Another recession and more of the same old same old from Krugman. I don't think Krugman could ask for a more identical policy maker than Geithner and when healthcare finally blows over, they will have to answer for the failure they have had with the US economy. Hopefully when either the currency crisis occurs or the economy tanks again after whatever catalyst causes it it will be the final straw for Keynes, but I doubt it.

When Krugman finally opens his eyes and realizes how wrong Keynesian economics is and, instead, promotes sound fiscal policy where the Fed is gone, our money is backed with value not trust, fractional reserve banking is prohibited, and the government stays passive in spending, then we will never grow as a nation. Our economy will be plagued with cyclical depression after boom after depression until the world ends. People like Krugman are some of the most dangerous people to liberty because they are percieved as experts by everyone, yet they preach a doctrine that opposes liberty. I can only hope that this resurgence of interest in Austrian Economics stays strong and becomes the norm like it would have done had John Maynard Keynes not opened his mouth

February 18, 2010

Nuclear Weapons Reprise

I saw this video the other day and thought about the discussion on
Nuclear Weapons and Iran
a while back.

February 16, 2010

Health Care Competition

Stossel has actually done several pieces on health care competition, and all the ones I have seen are really good. But what is up with his hair in this one?

February 7, 2010

Profit, Wages, and Capitalists

Perhaps one of the most influential and popular economic theories over the past century has been the theory of exploitation. The theory, which found its footing, ironically, in the writings of Adam Smith, was mostly promoted by the writings of Karl Marx. The exploitation theory laid the groundwork for the more recent theories of Keynes and the overall prevalence of socialist economic policies in our society.
According to the exploitation theory, capitalism promotes a system of slavery wherein the labor of workers is exploited to attain profits on behalf of the relatively few businessman or capitalists. These capitalists are seen as parasites upon the masses. Never mind the steady increase in the standard of living and working conditions. If it weren't for government intervention and labor unions, we would all still be working for $1 per day and dying of black lung.
George Reisman* explains the framework of the labor theory of value, one of the main aspects of the exploitation theory:
This framework is the belief that wages are the original and primary form of income, from which profits and all other non-wage incomes emerge as a deduction with the coming of capitalism and businessmen and capitalists. The framework easily leads to the assertion of the wage earner’s right to the whole produce or to its full value. It itself is based on the further belief that all income which is due to the performance of labor is wages and that all who work are wage earners.
In order to illustrate this assertion, let us imagine a pre-capitalist economy, if there ever was such a thing. In this economy, each person is the sole producer of any given commodity. Thus, each person would sell his or her commodity for a price. According to this theory, all income received in this economy is supposed to be wages, not profit, because all income is received by workers. The conclusion Marx made from this theory is that profit did not exist before capitalism because all income was wages. Thus, the advent of capitalism brought profit, at the expense of the wages of the laborer.
Marx says that in this pre-capitalist economy, production follows the sequence C-M-C. That is, a worker produces a commodity (C), sells it for money (M), and then buys other commodities (C). Here there is no exploitation because there is no supposed profit; all income is wages. Profit, or surplus value, comes about with capitalism which follows the sequence M-C-M. The capitalist spends money to pay for materials, machinery, and wages, a commodity is produced, and the commodity is sold for a larger sum of money than it cost to produce. The difference is profit.
Many non-Marxist economists actually ascribe to this framework but reach differing conclusions about profit based on the law marginal utility and time preference. These arguments are valuable, but they miss the point: the framework itself is flawed and needs to be re-evaluated. The definitions of the terms profit, wages, and capitalist themselves serve in restructuring the idea of a proto-capitalist economy.
  • Profit is the surplus in money received from the sale of commodities over the money costs of producing them
  • A capitalist buys products in order to sell them at a profit
  • Wages are money received in exchange for the performance of labor--not the products of labor, but the labor itself
It follows from these definitions that if there were only workers who made and sold their commodities, the money received from the sale of their commodities is not wages, but profit. In buying commodities, one does not pay wages, and in selling them, one does not receive wages. These roles are performed by the capitalist. Now, in the strictest sense, the workers in this economy are not capitalists because they have incurred no money costs in the production of their goods. Still, they have acted as capitalists in that they sell their products, not their labor, for money. Thus, all income received is profit, not wages.
Reisman* explains again, better than I can:

Wages are not the primary form of income in production. Profits are. In order for wages to exist in production, it is first necessary that there be capitalists. The emergence of capitalists does not bring into existence the phenomenon of profit. Profit exists prior to their emergence. The emergence of capitalists brings into existence the phenomena of wages and money costs of production.

Accordingly, the profits which exist in a capitalist society are not a deduction from what was originally wages. On the contrary, the wages and the other money costs are a deduction from sales receipts—from what was originally all profit. The effect of capitalism is to create wages and to reduce profits relative to sales receipts. The more economically capitalistic the economy—the more the buying in order to sell relative to the sales receipts, the higher are wages and the lower are profits relative to sales receipts.

Thus, capitalists do not impoverish wage earners, but make it possible for people to be wage earners. For they are responsible not for the phenomenon of profits, but for the phenomenon of wages. They are responsible for the very existence of wages in the production of products for sale. Without capitalists, the only way in which one could survive would be by means of producing and selling one's own products, namely, as a profit earner. But to produce and sell one's own products, one would have to own one's own land, and produce or have inherited one's own tools and materials. Relatively few people could survive in this way. The existence of capitalists makes it possible for people to live by selling their labor rather than attempting to sell the products of their labor. Thus, between wage earners and capitalists there is in fact the closest possible harmony of interests, for capitalists create wages and the ability of people to survive and prosper as wage earners. And if wage earners want a larger relative share for wages and a smaller relative share for profits, they should want a higher economic degree of capitalism—they should want more and bigger capitalists.

*George Reisman's complete article on capital and the exploitation theory originally appeared in The Political Economy of Freedom Essays in Honor of F. A. Hayek, Edited by Kurt R. Leube and Albert H. Zlabinger (M√ľnchen and Wien: Philosophia Verlag, The International Carl Menger Library, 1985).
The article can be accessed in pdf form here

January 25, 2010

Some Points about Haiti

This post is probably overdue, but I wanted to make some observations and tackle some issues that have been brought up by the terrible earthquake that destroyed so much of Haiti. Please understand my comments in the context that they are meant to be understood. I am speaking from the stance of one concerned about the role of government and how it has increased in size and scope beyond what is both moral and necessary. I am actually quite optimistic about the capacity of the individual to act charitably toward another in need. I think this capacity is rather obvious and even overwhelming at times such as this.

1) The role of government is not to respond to natural disasters and provide humanitarian aid. The government is not a humanitarian aid organization. It is an entity of force established to provide equal protection of property rights under the law. All humanitarian and relief efforts are the responsibility of the individual who gives as he or she sees fit and how he or she sees fit. It thus follows that the military is NOT an organization designed to aid other countries after a natural disaster. The military was formed to defend against invasion and insurrection. That is all. Any performance of acts beyond this scope is an exercise of authority that simply has not been given to the government or the military. The Constitution does not authorize it. If we want government to perform these functions, we need to amend the Constitution to give it power to make the military a worldwide humanitarian aid organization. This would likely make our military the most ironic organization in the world, but at least we could say we weren't ignoring the Constitution because we felt like it.
As one blogger puts it:
Extreme cases like this have a certain educational value, in that they separate the libertarian wheat from the chaff. They separate those whose libertarianism is rooted in a philosophical adherence to the non-aggression axiom and those whose libertarianism is only an emotional predisposition toward less government.
Consider the words of Ron Paul, the only one who opposed government aid to Haiti, on this very issue:

Statement of Congressman Ron Paul

United States House of Representatives

Statement in Opposition to H Res 1021, Condolences to Haiti January 21, 2010

I rise in reluctant opposition to this resolution. Certainly I am moved by the horrific destruction in Haiti and would without hesitation express condolences to those who have suffered and continue to suffer. As a medical doctor, I have through my career worked to alleviate the pain and suffering of others. Unfortunately, however, this resolution does not simply express our condolences, but rather it commits the US government “to begin the reconstruction of Haiti” and affirms that “the recovery and long-term needs of Haiti will require a sustained commitment by the United States….” I do not believe that a resolution expressing our deep regret and sorrow over this tragedy should be used to commit the United States to a “long-term” occupation of Haiti during which time the US government will provide for the reconstruction of that country.
I am concerned over the possibility of an open-ended US military occupation of Haiti and this legislation does nothing to alleviate my concerns. On the contrary, when this resolution refers to the need for a long term US plan for Haiti, I see a return to the failed attempts by the Clinton and Bush Administrations to establish Haiti as an American protectorate. Already we are seeing many argue that this kind of humanitarian mission is a perfect fit for the US
Certainly I would support and encourage the efforts of the American people to help the people of Haiti at this tragic time. I believe that the American people are very generous on their own and fear that a US government commitment to reconstruct Haiti may actually discourage private contributions. Mr. Speaker, already we see private US citizens and corporations raising millions of dollars for relief and reconstruction of Haiti. I do not believe the US government should get in the way of these laudable efforts. I do express my condolences but I unfortunately must urge my colleagues to vote against this resolution committing the United States government to rebuild Haiti. military. I do not agree.

2) Haiti does not benefit economically from the natural disaster (though there may be arguments for it benefiting in other ways). This idea is commonly voiced after natural disasters of all kinds. The fallacy is known as the broken window fallacy and takes the following form in this case: Haiti will have to rebuild and that process will create jobs for Haitians and improve their economy.
I understand why one would come to this faulty conclusion, but it is wrong for the same reason that government cannot create real jobs. If it were true that destruction actually helped the economy, why are we not excited about hurricane or tornado season? Why don't we just blow up our own houses and then rebuild them? That would keep us all working and our economy would boom! Right?! The ridiculousness of this idea is clear. The resources that are used to rebuild could have been used otherwise to improve the economy without having to reconstruct buildings. Again, this is the same reason that the Cash For Clunkers program was one of the most ridiculous and economically wasteful programs ever.

3) Haiti is not poor because we don't send it enough money. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Haiti remains poor BECAUSE we send them money. The corrupt government uses that money to maintain power. Haiti is poor primarily for political purposes. Political oppression more often than not manifests itself as economic oppression. The political history of Haiti shows it to be an unstable country, which has discouraged investment, making it difficult, if not impossible, for anyone to raise capital and grow the economy. Some may argue that Haiti was first poor and that the poverty lead to political corruption and a vicious cycle. They may insist that the cycle of poverty must first be broken through foreign aid and then the political side will follow. Not only does this fly in the face of reason, but it ignores historical experience. If this were the case, no country would ever become prosperous. All countries were poorer than they are now, relatively speaking, and even the richest of countries was at some point poorer than the poorest country today. It is freedom that brings prosperity. Economic freedom and political freedom go hand in hand. You cannot truly have one without the other.

Now, all this aside, I believe it is the moral obligation of every person to seek ways to serve others and do it. I encourage those who can to give any way they can to help those who are suffering in Haiti.