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Lawson and Price debate

October 9, 2010 Leave a comment

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The Worst-Case Scenario had its second three-man mission last night. David Westbrook, David Hilburger, and I traveled to the Durham Transit Station in downtown Durham, NC to cover the debate between Democratic Congressman David Price of NC’s 4th district and his Republican challenger Dr. B.J. Lawson. The debate was hosted by the Independent Weekly, who organized the event carefully and ran it fairly. David Westbrook was able to film the entire debate and upload the video in four segments. I asked a question in the fourth video beginning at 0:50, which neither of the candidates was willing or able to directly, concisely, and completely answer. Over-all, though, the consensus is that the night was a smashing success for BJ, at least among the crowd of overwhelmingly Tea Party and FairTax supporters.

The four videos are embedded below along with the list of questions asked in each video and the time at which the questions are asked.

4:02 Price Opening Statement
6:08 Lawson Opening Statement

8:36 Question 1: “America has for over a decade, spent more per capita on healthcare intervention than any nation in the world yet has miserable comparative health outcomes, longevity, and quality of life scores. What impact will this years healthcare reform legislation have on this fundamental disparity, and what more if anything do we need to do as a nation to address gaps in coverage, availability, and outcomes?”

12:46 Question 2: “If you are elected during your term, America will likely enter its second decade of war in Afghanistan. Do you believe our nation and our current administration is on the right track or on the wrong track relative to the war, and what leadership would you bring as our US representative on this matter?”

Question 2 is continued in part 2.

2:25 Question 3: “As our nation tries to emerge from the deepest economic downturn since the great depression, what should the federal government do through spending incentives, and or tax policies to induce job creation, and to encourage a return to normalcy and growth, and has the additional national debt from the stimulus package been an appropriate price, or too high a price according to the results you have seen?”

6:59 Question 4: “More than 70% of the governments 30 billion dollars in farm subsidies goes to the largest 10% of farm businesses. Would you support cutting or revising federal farm subsidies?”

10:49 Question 5: “The Triangle has been blessed, or cursed, with rapid growth. The projections show more than a million new residents of Durham, Wake, Orange, and surrounding counties in the coming decade. What is working in our federal transportation policy, and what needs to change? What do you see as the relative roles of and funding for highway and roads, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian systems in our transportation future?”

00:04 Question 6: “Immigration and citizenship have become a new battleground in American Politics and the culture wars. Some argue that residency and eventual citizenship should come through only currently legal channels. Others not that immigration quotas are far more restrictive than under historic norms. Please let us know your views on the key components of immigration reform.”

TOWN HALL QUESTIONS BEGIN AFTER QUESTION 6

5:08 Town Hall Question 1: “With entitlements representing 57% percent of the total federal budget, what would you do to reduce such entitlements or generate revenue to offset them?”

9:29 Town Hall Question 2: “I would like to know your thoughts on offshore oil drilling.”

12:33 Town Hall Question 3: “In lieu of the recent supreme court decision to treat corporations like a person and the flood of campaign ads paid with money that doesn’t come from individuals and doesn’t disclose where it comes from. Would you be in favor of a law that makes requirements for clarifying the donors for such ads and from where the money comes?”

00:51 Town Hall Question 4: “The chair of the joint chiefs of staff has said that the greatest threat to national security is not Iraq, Iran or Afghanistan, but the federal debt. By 2013 the interest alone will exceed the entire defense budget. 100 trillion dollars in unfunded liabilities loom on the horizon for my generation over the next century. How will you, item by item, eliminate the 1.3 trillion dollar deficit that we had in 2010 to prevent federal default, troop defection, and severe social unrest in my future?”

5:44 Question 7: “Biotechnology is a major driver in the regions growth. One recent steady comparing six southern regions found that the triangle mustered 2031 university research dollars per regional worker. More than 75 times the equivalent figure for Charlotte and tops in the southeast. In 2005 the federal government spent less than 100 dollars per capita on NIH funding versus 1600 dollars on defense spending. Where do you stand on the desirability and appropriateness of today’s federal research investment?”

9:22 Closing Statements


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Cultures, rights, and burqas

September 27, 2010 5 comments

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Being that I am a pure voluntaryist and ardent objectivist, my moral code and sense of life is based on the conceptualization of man as a choosing agent advancing himself in a natural universe. As such, I hold it as objectively morally wrong, which is to say, anti-life, to forcibly control another individual for one’s own purposes. I further maintain that to a rational person there can be no pity for the guilty. This is to say, legitimate defense is not limited strictly to self-defense, but rather every righteous individual has the authority to forcibly intervene in defense of the innocent when a violation of rights is committed. It might, then, seem odd to suppose that defensive intervention is often not the best course of action for combating crime, but in fact I believe exactly that. Furthermore, I believe that intervention to combat the particular acts of violence and destruction which have become accepted to a certain degree as cultural norms is frequently harmful and wrong, and that those who combat social order with violent uprising often inflict collateral damage so as to incriminate themselves just like the demons they seek to eliminate.

There are many examples of violence and control which have been accepted in one culture or another throughout history. In many cultures, women are expected to be subservient to their husbands and can suffer beatings or worse if they behave as independents in public. Fear of such abuses of women has been used as a rationalization for a number of government policies, such as the recent burqa ban in France and the upcoming ban in Australia. Obviously, such a ban ignores the possibility that women wear burqas voluntarily, which is certainly the case for many Muslim women. Worse than that, though, is that it necessarily fails to accomplish the intended purpose of preventing men from beating their wives. After all, wife-beating is already illegal. Men who continue to do it are able to get away with it either because no one sees it happen, or because no one cares. Outlawing the burqa won’t stop that, and it won’t change the violent tendencies in anyone savage enough to beat an innocent person for religious reasons. What it will do, though, is convince leaders in local communities with high immigrant Muslim populations that Western governments represent a threat to their way of life. As such, they (especially the men) will feel an increased need to culturally distance themselves from Western natives and will enforce this on their wives and children. The burqa bans, like any other attempt to politicize behavior associated with race, culture, and religion, will have precisely one long-term effect: Incentivizing people to turn against one another violently, where before it was economical and rational to move towards tolerance. Donations to racist political demagogues will increase; the freedom of women will not.

So what makes women being forced to wear burqas in heavily Islamic communities in Western Europe different than, say, a grown man getting murdered on the street? In principle, these are both instances of aggression, and so they are both morally wrong. The difference comes into play in considering how effective various strategies for prevention can be. Murder of a grown man in a Western nation is extremely rare, and almost everyone recognizes that it is an egregious crime. As such, those who wish to foricbly intervene in defense of a murder victim can rely on the local community to support them and ensure justice. The opposite is often true of Islamic law. Suppose it is discovered that one particular woman in a Muslim community is wearing a burqa against her will on her husband’s orders. A squad of armed men come to her house to arrest her husband and give her a good lecture on her rights as an individual. Then what? The thirty other extremist Muslim households in the surrounding neighborhood ostracize her or potentially kill her. Now one might rightly say that not all or even most Muslims are so vicious and oppressive. This is surely so, yet in a community of moderate and tolerant Muslims, it is much less likely that there would be an oppressed woman in the first place. Violence is common in violent areas. In a community where aggression is accepted as normal, force to stop it is unsuccessful and provokes racial and cultural hatred and conflict.

What, then, can be done? The first step is always to depoliticize. Those who seek reform must accept the limitations of their abilities and not attempt to force a change for which society is not yet ready. Top-down government planning never achieves its desired goals and always causes collateral damage to innocents. After depoliticizing comes educating. The strongest weapon against bad ideas is and always will be good ideas. So to end oppression around the world, we must start by establishing a broad base of literature and other media promoting freedom, then spread that message in our daily lives. Anyone who wants to promote an idea needs to get onboard with the first-hand idea manufacturers – authors, philosophers, scientists. These intellectual leaders must be resolute in their commitment to both the theory of liberty and the specific goals such as ending oppression of women. Without a firm intellectual base, a movement cannot prosper. Attempts to skip the ideology and proceed straight to enforcing the results always fail for the reasons explained above.

After educating comes disincentivizing. Bad ideas will not be replaced by good ideas unless the latter are actually shown to be superior to the former. The second-hand dealers in ideas can make this happen. We can voluntarily put pressure on talk show hosts, newspaper columnists, bloggers, restaurant and store owners, and other important members of society to reject violence and oppression as a way of life. For example, a person who is passionate about ridding the world of burqas can openly refuse to watch any television show which depicts a burqa-clad character in a positive light. If this is demonstrated to be a good philosophy, the cultural free market will adapt. Moreover, due to the purely voluntary nature of the pressure applied, those who resist have no moral ground on which to stand. Remember when some bigoted Muslim extremists claimed that a comical and negative depiction of the prophet Muhammad was grounds for violent opposition? Yeah, they became the laughing stock of the whole world, triggering a voluntary reaction called Everybody Draw Muhammad Day. Had the artists who initially sketched Muhammad taken violent actions, and had the Muslim response been peaceful but firm, the results might have been quite different. By choosing to take the higher ground – to avoid engaging in threats of violence and instead protest peacefully – freedom-lovers and all of Western civilization won a huge victory.

Thousands of years of cultural custom cannot be overcome by a sudden decision on the part of the government, or you, or anyone, to punish a certain action, even if that action truly is a violent crime. Spontaneous decisions to attempt to effect social change quickly and forcefully usually trigger a backlash that is much larger, much more severe, and much longer-lasting than the proponents of change ever anticipate. Effective laws develop slowly out of long-observed traditions of peaceful behavior. Just as the United States suffered for its decision to invade the Confederacy and was ultimately powerless to prevent a century of violent oppression of blacks until the South’s very culture naturally changed, so the other Western nations will pay dearly if they attempt to push laws onto Muslim communities where they will not be respected. To fight for the betterment of society requires long-term thinking and peaceful methods. If you would like to see a world without burqas, my suggestion is to start by writing a book.


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Top Five Songs of Freedom

September 20, 2010 22 comments

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I have often heard complaints from true patriots and freedom advocates about the difficulty of finding pleasant, powerful, and lyrically compelling music that examines the world from a libertarian or even just individualist perspective. Indeed, statism is rampant in contemporary songs on the radio, despite shallow claims by many artists that they are anti-authority. Celebrities are notoriously leftist, and their idea of being anti-authority typically has more to do with spewing hatred for nameless cultural enemies than addressing the real, coercive institution of politics. The only genre of music that has remained largely immune to leftist childishness is country, but that has all its own problems. Very few country singers dare to confront the authority of the state for what it truly is. Moreover, a sizable portion of them happily and fiercely wave the flag of imperialism for Uncle Sam whenever he calls upon them to denounce war skeptics as anti-patriotic and anti-freedom. Indeed, for those of us who can envision a truly voluntary society and understand that freedom does not come from preemptive violence and collectivist class warfare, appropriate entertainment options are limited.

What’s particularly bothersome, though, is that there doesn’t appear to be any good reason why this is so. The power of individual choice and the beautiful achievements of free people are among the most awe-inspiring of potential song topics. The oppressive instruments used by the state and its sympathizers to obstruct individual creativity and prosperity are angering in the extreme – and they affect everyone! Libertarian music ought to invoke at least as much emotional response as any class warfare or false patriotism. Why, then, is there frustratingly little of it?

I don’t know, but I’m not willing to give this one to the Man. So in the interest of promoting the great, if few, artists of our time who have taken a stand for freedom in their music, I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite contemporary songs that portray a mature and explicit pro-freedom message, along with links to lyrics and recordings.

1. Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It

lyrics || video

This song is a classic among anti-state and anti-authority types across the board due to its motivating, revolutionary tone. Poetically, it was released in 1984 (haha) and goes a step beyond the played-out and dull expression of teen angst about controlling parents and controlling schools and controlling what-have-you. From the start, the use of the phrase “right to choose” reveals that Twisted Sister is concerned specifically with political freedom. The enemy whose abuses “we’re not gonna take” appears to be governmental, not cultural. Then, in a second verse that sounds suspiciously like a rejection of cradle-to-grave nanny-statism, the song accuses authority figures: “You’re so condescending; your gall is never-ending; we don’t want nothing, not a thing from you.” That might still be open to a little interpretation, but the deal is sealed immediately afterward when the enemy’s “life” is called “confiscated.” It’s hard to imagine that refers to anything except the state, whose existence is based on confiscating from others only to give (less) back again.

Twisted Sister’s not-so-subtle rebuking of abusive state control worked, too. At least, it made the statists angry and scared enough that one year later the United States Senate called the lead vocalist, Dee Snider, in to testify on behalf of heavy metal and explain why it shouldn’t be banned from America. That was a mistake, as this video shows. Snider harshly criticized the Senate for its attempts at censorship and even said a few beautifully derisive words about Al Gore’s wife when the Senator himself accused metal music of harming her poor, sensitive mind.

2. Linkin Park – No More Sorrow

lyrics || video

Released in the anti-war fury of the late Bush administration, “No More Sorrow” is among the most vicious attacks on statism I’ve heard. After a musical opening with a clear marching beat reminiscent of revolutionary soldiers preparing for battle, the song’s incendiary lyrics denounce all aspects of the rise of fascism in America. Every single word is intensely political, from identifying the Terror Wars with, “your crusade’s a disguise,” to summarily rejecting the whole administration as “liars and thieves,” and the sentiment to which we can perhaps most directly relate, “I’ve paid for your mistakes.” Linkin Park promises that “you will pay for what you’ve done” and chants “thieves and hypocrites” in a shouting tone that is angry to the point of being disturbing. In spite of its obvious connections to George Bush, the message of the song is essentially timeless. As long as there is a state, it will consist of liars and thieves who will wage false crusades at the people’s expense. The solution is clearly stated at the end: “Your time has come to be erased.”

3. Hank Williams, Jr. – A Country Boy Can Survive

lyrics || video

Well, what to say? This country classic is just basically one of my favorite songs of all time. Written and performed by Hank Williams, Jr., it shows a truly independent country spirit – not blind, flag-waving nationalism, but simple, individualistic Americanism. Hank opens by describing a national crisis – a decline in the economy which has resulted in rising crime rates and civil unrest. But Hank is not too worried, because he has “a shotgun, rifle, and a four-wheel drive, and a country boy can survive.” He goes on to describe the pragmatic independence which allows him to live apart from industrialism and the larger national economy – eating, of course, good old “organic” food as the environmentalists tell us is proper.

Then, Hank tells a story about his friend from New York, whom he clearly respects, being killed on the city streets by a common thief looking for some cash. In a stroke of pure, unadulterated Americanism, Hank says outright, “I’d love to spit some beach nut in that dude’s eye and shoot him with my old .45!” (Wow!) There’s no political correctness to be found here. In fact, there’s no politics at all. There’s only justice, delivered by a concerned and well-armed citizen with no reference whatsoever to any permission from an authority figure. Hank’s simple lack of regard for unnecessary institutions of all forms is rare and refreshing.

4. Econ Stories – Fear the Boom and Bust

lyrics || video

If you want explicit libertarianism in a song, this is as good as it gets. Russel Roberts, an economist from the Institute for Humane Studies, worked with media director John Papola to try to bring a knowledge of economics to the general public, and the Ke$ha-endorsed rap “Fear the Boom and Bust” was the result. It tells a fictional story of world-renowned economists John Maynard Keynes, who advocated heavy government interventionism, and Friedrich Hayek, who favored freer markets, meeting in New York city during the financial crisis of 2007-2010. Using real quotations from their most famous books, Roberts constructs an argument between the two over what caused the crisis and how it can be fixed. Topics include the on-going collapse of the American housing market, the worldwide credit crunch which has proven to be immune to quantitative easing, and the chronically depressed aggregate demand by consumers which persists in spite of Keynes’s prescribed stimulus spending. That Hayek wins the argument is as clear as it is inevitable. His ground-up constructed philosophy triumphs over the flawed Keynesian model of aggregate variables and interventionist dogma.

5. System of a Down – Cigaro

lyrics || video

I must give fair warning here: By the standards of my blog’s usual content, “Cigaro” is quite obscene, so click the links at your own peril. I’ll avoid commenting too much on the gruesome details in text, but let it suffice to say that this song ridicules the immaturity of state rulers in a most overt way, accusing them of engaging in useless power struggles that harm innocents around them. The video, especially, depicts a group of arrogant buffoons – the governors of the world, of course – trying to force activity in their countries and comparing their relative strengths in a scene reminiscent of the build-up to the World Wars. System of Down condemns this crowd as “cruel regulators” and “the propagators of all genocide,” continuing with the World War theme. An explicit identification of the close historical ties between heavy economic regulation and mass murder is quite rare these days, as public schools have taught us that national socialism is good, but National Socialism is terrible. Perhaps there is hope for the future after all.


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Mandated spending is pushing on thread.

August 31, 2010 8 comments

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The folks over at Econ Stories made history in January of this year when they released Fear the Boom and Bust, the first popular, Ke$ha-endorsed rap video about economics. The video depicts world-renowned economists John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich August Hayek arguing about how the federal government’s fiscal and monetary policies affect the “Boom and Bust” business cycle, focusing on the parallels between the Great Depression and the housing and lending collapse which began near the end of the Bush administration and has continued throughout the Obama administration.

As with any rap, the main feature of the video is its lyrics, which contain the topic of today’s discussion: “Your focus on spending is pushing on thread.” This line is a rather esoteric reference, by way of clever metaphor, to monetary asymmetry. These are daunting words, but they actually refer to a very intuitive concept which has eluded policy-makers and even many economists for over a century. The aim of this post is to help the average observer understand just what is meant by the phrase “pushing on thread,” as well as to provide a conceptual base for further investigation of how ignorance of economics has had grave consequences for nations around the world.

The best way to discover economic principles is through thought experiments that investigate cause-and-effect relationships. Suppose, for example, that the average individual eats out at restaurants or bars about twice a week. If the government were to impose a law mandating that no person may eat out more than once a week, it would obviously have a negative impact on economic activity. In fact just about everyone can guess this if asked. Unfortunately, not so many of us can really explain precisely what is meant by “economic activity” or how the government’s new rule reduces it. Nevertheless, we understand instinctively that economic activity must be depressed by forbidding people from eating at restaurants.

What actually happens in a situation like this is as follows: Consumers, who at any given time have only a certain amount of liquid assets (money) they can spend, are willing to spend some of their assets at restaurants. However it may be that they decided to eat out twice a week, that’s what they’re willing to do. When the government declares that they may not do this, it prevents economic transactions from occurring. This is “bad” for one simple reason – people wanted those transactions to occur. Specifically, restaurant owners and restaurant customers wanted to make an exchange of money for food. They wanted to do this because each of them valued what the other had more than what they were giving. The customer would rather have a meal, and the owner would rather have cash. If the transaction occurs (the customers eat at the restaurant), everyone feels better off than before. If the government prevents this, economic activity – specifically, the exchange of assets in a beneficial way – is diminished.

Such a law won’t cause all of the consumers’ wealth to go to waste, of course. By preventing people from patronizing restaurants, the government induces them to do something else with their money. However, whatever it is that they decide to do, it is important to remember that it will always be their second choice. They would rather have spent their money on eating at a restaurant than whatever they spend it on instead. Therefore, the value of what they buy with the money they would have used at restaurants will be less to them. They will be worse off. Similarly, the restaurant owners will be worse off, even if they leave the restaurant industry and take up another profession. This is their second choice profession – it was not the most appealing and profitable venture for them. The transactions that people wanted to make to increase their lot in life have been prevented by the government, and whatever is substituted is by definition less beneficial.

Thus it is now clear precisely how a government mandate against eating out more than once per week reduces economic activity, in the sense of forcing a real reduction in beneficial transactions. The concept of pushing on thread enters if the government attempts to employ the reverse idea. Suppose, now, that a law is passed which requires each person to eat out at least three times per week. Remember the assumption that the average individual eats out twice per week. If limiting the amount that people can eat out has the effect of reducing economic activity, perhaps mandating that people eat out more often will increase economic activity. Certainly, restaurant owners might tend to think so. As there will be more transactions in the restaurant industry, revenue will go up for restaurant owners, some of which will be passed on to their employees. Indeed, more restaurants will be built, and that will create jobs in construction, cooking, and waiting. Consumers will have more meals, and probably better ones, too.

It would be great – right? Not at all. Mandating more consumption of products and services does not have the opposite effect as mandating less. If anything, it actually has the same effect, as total per-capita product still declines. This is the essence of the “pushing on thread” metaphor. If the government’s policies impacted the economy in a manner that were so easily manipulable and reversible as, say, a door – pull to open, push to close – then it is doubtful such highly educated experts would be hired to determine the government’s policies. Instead, though, the effects of policy are complicated, and the more they are analyzed, the more depressing the conclusions become. Mandates and regulations pull down, but can not push up, on the health of the economy.

To see how this is so, recall that consumers have only a certain amount of money to spend at a time. They must budget this money somehow; spending infinitely is not an option. Therefore, as people are forced to spend more and more at restaurants, they must by definition make sacrifices elsewhere. Perhaps before a person went out to eat twice a week and went to the theater once. Now he goes out to eat three times, but stops going to the theater to compensate. This, again, is not an even trade-off. He is actually worse than before, because he has stopped doing something he wanted to do – going to the theater – in favor of a second choice option. He didn’t want to spend all that money at a restaurant, so he is by definition worse off if he is required to do so.

Similarly, the business owners also take a hit in productivity. Obviously the owners of pre-existing restaurants will see a rise in profits if a law were passed requiring more visits to restaurants. Yet what is also true is that the owners of theaters must see a decline in profits, as well. As restaurants are built in the weeks and months after the law is passed, so also theaters are closed. Small business owners and their employees will shift industry. People will quit their jobs as theater directors and go to work in food service. Again, this is a second choice. Again, it is by definition worse than what was in place before. The converts from other industries to the food industry are taking jobs they weren’t trained to do in order to satisfy a fabricated demand that doesn’t really exist except that the government requires that it does.

Economists and politicians may preach about the stimulus effects of increased spending in the restaurant business. The newspapers scream headlines about the new jobs created by constructing more restaurants to meet the growing demand. Yet all of this is in the spirit of the broken window fallacy, commenting on the visible benefits of a transaction while ignoring the unseen opportunity costs. The idea put forth is that any economic transaction is by definition a good one, when in fact only a voluntary exchange benefits both parties involved. When praising the activity generated from a mandate to consume, it is necessary to ignore or dismiss the activity which would have occurred in the absence of the mandate – and that activity would have been preferable to both consumers and producers.

One might imagine that policymakers and politicians had by now come to understand the lesson in this simple parable of restaurants. At the very least, they certainly have hired economists and analysts who are too educated to fall for the basic fallacy of pushing on thread – of assuming that the opposite of an action which produces a result will produce the opposite result. Since elected officials tend to be of above average intelligence and education level, and since the federal government has many panels of experts with decades of experience in economics, it is to be expected that, although government policies may not always be perfect, they aren’t as utterly naive as requiring people to eat at restaurants and then declaring an improvement in the economy.

Aren’t they? It seems not, as the past three years have revealed an ever-increasing role of government spending and government-supported consumer spending in the name of “stimulating” the economy, without much consideration for the fact that it is impossible for such policies to increase total productivity at all. Remember the Bush package, when you and your significant other got mailed a check for six hundred dollars in order to stimulate the economy? The stated goal of this policy decision was to prevent an economic collapse and help boost GDP in the face of an expected moderate decline.

Well, it didn’t work at all. GDP ended up dropping far more than predicted, not in spite of the stimulus, but because of it. In fact, Bush’s idea failed so completely that Obama expanded upon it and extended it to affect more people. At every turn, with every new stimulus program, of which there have been about a half dozen since the housing crisis began three years ago, the federal government has sworn that there would be a demonstrable increase in GDP as a result, and every time real GDP (adjusted for inflation) has actually fallen.

This is by no means the extent of the damage – examples of government destruction rationalized as construction abound. It turns out that Barack Obama actually pulled the “mandate that people eat out” trick, only he did so with cars. The infamous Cash for Clunkers program, which one might argue is better termed “the General Motors bailout,” required Americans to buy new cars – with their own money, funneled through the federal government by taxes. Essentially, Obama offered a subsidy, funded out of tax-payer money, for people to scrap old cars and buy new ones. The program was sold on the claim that the act of buying new cars would spur economic growth.

It did not accomplish this, and it could not have under even the most generous interpretation. The philosophy of the program was flawed at its core, because it presumed that the activity generated by purchasing new cars must be good activity – ignoring the fact that, if it were beneficial to buy a new car, people would simply do that on their own. By taking tax dollars, which are of course collected by force, and demanding that they be applied to the purchase of automobiles, the government incentivized allocating resources to one particular sector of the economy, but by definition took resources away from other sectors where consumers would rather have used them. Requiring that people spend their money on a new car is no different from requiring that they spend it at a restaurant, and the damage done is exactly the same. Whatever else people would have spent their money on instead if given the choice, that was better for them than the purchase they were forced into. Ultimately, though, this was lost on policymakers, because they rationalized their decisions by observing the economic activity of buying cars and ignored everything else that money could have been used for.

When the government gets worried by how much of people’s money it is taking to fund purchases they didn’t choose to make, it has another card to play, which is monetary inflation and deficit spending. For a hundred years, Keynesian economists and federal-level politicians have struggled to convince the world – both the people in it and physics itself – that monetary policy allows the government to spend money it doesn’t actually have, if it’s careful enough. All manner of nuanced methods have arisen towards this aim. From the esoteric quantitative easing to tried-and-true manipulation of bonds and printing presses, an academic field and a sector of industry has grown up around selling the notion of the free lunch. The government, it is claimed, can fund programs with other methods besides simply taking money from individuals.

This, unfortunately, is not true. The government cannot create wealth out of thin air, no matter what elaborate practices its banks may employ. Whatever government money is not taken from individuals expressly through taxation is ultimately taken through inflation, the devaluation of savings accounts. When the government bails out banks with trillions of dollars of unofficial spending, this money is taken from the savings accounts of all Americans, especially the middle class, whose combined liquid assets represent the bulk of non-industrial capital. Literally, dollar bills and other written representations of money are created by the government, which the elites call “injecting money into the economy,” and the result is that the value of the dollar declines.

As the dollar is weakened, the ability of savings to buy real products and services decreases proportionally. That means that a person who used to be within a month of having enough money saved up to buy a boat, or who had savings to support his family for a year in case he lost his job, or who was preparing to send his children off to college, is now able to buy less than he otherwise would have with the same amount of dollars. This, then, is the cost of the bailout, and fits the exact same model as the fabled restaurant mandate. The government forces individuals to forgo purchases they otherwise would have made voluntarily in order to pay for a mandated bailout of corporations whose unwanted products and services failed to produce profits – all in the name of stimulating the economy.

The economic crisis has lead to the government fully doubling the monetary base in just a few short years. The long-term consequences of this will be the establishment of recession conditions as the “new normal.” The economy will not improve – it cannot improve – so long as the government continues its policy of mandating spending at levels above what would naturally occur. The American middle class individuals do not want to dig into their savings to bail out enormous banking corporations that have mismanaged their money. They do not want to buy new cars at a time when their income level is uncertain and the bare necessities are of immediate concern. When the government disrespects their decisions in managing their finances, it is only destroying any hope of recovery. Policies that focus on spending are pushing on thread, trying to create a stimulus but ultimately just allocating precious resources where they don’t belong. If Americans want a better future for themselves, the only option is less spending, less mandating, and less government.


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I will buy a billboard for Ron Paul

August 13, 2010 3 comments

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It’s simple, really. Ron Paul philosophically opposes the expanding American empire because it is killing our troops, wasting our taxpayer money, and destroying our reputation around the world. He knew that Barack Obama lied about wanting to end the war in Iraq and gave America an opportunity for a fundamentally different foreign policy.

Ron Paul knows that the War on Drugs is constitutionally unauthorized, morally obscene, and pragmatically a complete failure, and that is why he completely opposes all drug legislation and has voted against it every time.

Ron Paul also understands that the Federal Reserve has caused the boom and bust cycle and must be stopped so that the market can heal before the middle class is wiped out entirely. He stood staunchly against the Obamacare bill and was one of the few Congressmen who demonstrated philosophical justification for his belief that the market, not the government, could provide people with healthcare most effectively. He knows that Barack Obama is allied with corporations just as Bush was, and fears that government interference in trade inherently favors monopolies and corporate bullying instead of fair competition and prosperity.

At a time when even the allegedly anti-war Democrats were screaming for more government control, Ron Paul knew that the Department of Homeland Security was dangerous and evil at its outset, not years later when it was exposed for the damage that it has caused. In fact, Ron Paul was one of the very few Congressmen who attacked the PATRIOT Act upon its inception.

Ron Paul knows that the United States Constitution is the best defense of freedom that has ever been implemented in recorded history. He has always performed his Congressional duties with absolute respect for the Constitution and is one of the last remaining Congressmen who still believe that the Constitution was meant to radically limit the power of government to interfere in people’s lives.

Ron Paul predicted and understood the financial collapse years before it occurred and tried his best to prevent it, but was overwhelmed by a huge majority in Congress who favored more government control and blindness to economic realities over freedom and sensible policies. For many years he has been telling this country that the federal banks and their lobbying potential are dangerous and destructive to the economy and the freedoms of the American people. He stands alone as a stalwart voice of reason and liberty in a sea of Orwellian anti-humanism on Capitol Hill.

It is for this reason that I am proud to announce my personal commitment.

If Ron Paul runs in 2012, I will buy a billboard out of pocket.

I am, of course, willing to accept help. If you are interested in making a donation when the time comes, subscribe to my blog by clicking on the button in the upper right, or reply below. If you plan to donate or, even better, if you plan to buy your own billboard, feel free to save this image and upload it as your profile picture on Facebook. The more visibility this image gets, the more hope we have for America.


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Symbols of Freedom: Gadsden flag, circled “V” on Facebook, and more

August 12, 2010 15 comments

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A topic that comes up quite frequently in discussion of libertarianism, market anarchism, and other pro-freedom circles is the symbolism associated with the movement against socialism, tyranny, and government as a concept. What kinds of symbols do libertarians use? Where do they come from? How do I get that “V” in a circle on my Facebook page? These are all legitimate – and important – questions. To help shed some light, I’ve compiled a number of popular symbols of freedom on this blog and explained their origin, meaning, and use today. I will not focus so much on the classical depictions of liberty such as the cuneiform amagi or the lady Liberty herself but rather on the more recent images and characters which circulate the internet today, such as the gadsden flag, the circle v, etc.

The Gadsden Flag


What is its significance?

This flag has a rich history dating all the way back to Benjamin Franklin who in 1751 suggested the symbol of the rattlesnake to represent American resistance against the British crown. Franklin was explicit in his revolutionary beliefs long before revolution itself seemed a realistic possibility, and chose the rattlesnake for the contrast between its generally non-aggressive nature and its ability to be extremely, violently forceful when stepped upon. When the myriad personal and trading vessels that formed much of the U.S. navy began intercepting British warships, they flew a flag designed by Colonel Gadsden which depicted a rattlesnake and the words “DONT TREAD ON ME” to indicate their defiance of government control. This formed the basis for the modern day Gadsden flag which has seen huge popularity during the Tea Party protests of the late Bush administration and the Obama administration. It is in some sense a patriotic symbol by association with the the American revolution, but it also serves as an alternative for the many Tea Partiers who refuse to fly the Stars and Stripes for the appeasement of tyrants.

Should I use it?

Probably so! In terms of recognition and historical significance, nothing beats the Gadsden flag. By choosing to fly an American flag which is not, and has never been, a flag of any government, nor ever been used as a symbol of conquest and imperialism, you can send a clear message that you are not proud to be ruled by an institution of regulation, control, and abuse. The only negative to flying this flag is that, due to its extreme popularity, not everyone who has adopted it is actually consistent with the original message behind the flag. It is at its core a symbol of defense and defense alone.

What are some uses and variations?

The Gadsden flag’s primary use is as a physical flag displayed at Tea Party protests. It has also become very popular as a Facebook profile picture and a bumper sticker. It is frequently combined with the conventional anarcho-capitalist flag to produce the Gadsden anarchist flag. One of the most interesting variations I’ve seen is the three-dimensional Gadsden flag. Finally, there are an increasing number of tattoos depicting just the rattlesnake and the words “DONT TREAD ON ME.”

The Anarcho-Capitalist Flag


What is its significance?

This flag is really quite simple. All of the anarchist flags are split diagonally, black on one half and another color on the other. This descends from the pure black flag of anarchy – since black is the absence of any color, it follows that a black flag represents the absence of any government. Gold is the color of anarcho-capitalism as a symbol of the prosperity which invariably results when governments do not interfere with the voluntary exchange of goods. Due to its simple elegance and very well-defined message, the anarcho-capitalist flag is extremely popular.

Should I use it?

Definitely. This symbol is free of any ambiguity, as it has never been understood to represent anything other than total non-consent to all government control and an absolute respect for the rights of individuals to retain or trade their private property at will. However, there is one drawback. It lacks somewhat in recognition due to the fact that there are no out-of-the-closet anarchists in high public office or on mainstream networks.

What are some uses and variations?

It’s not too common to see this flag actually printed and flown, because anarchists typically do not see a need to fly flags. However, the image has been very popular on the internet as a base for all kinds of creative expansion. It’s so very simple, each anarchist wants to add an idea or message that he or she feels needs to be declared.

V for Vendetta


What is its significance?

Perhaps one of the most hotly-contested anarchist symbols, the circled “V” drawn in blood red against a black backdrop originates from the 1980’s series of comic books V for Vendetta. The symbol became wildly popular shortly after the release of the 2006 film by the same name. In both, the protagonist identifies by the name “V” and draws the circled letter to represent his anarchist cause in resistance against a fascist state. However, the message carried by V goes beyond one of vindication and as far as vindictiveness. He is frequently depicted using aggressive force against people who seem at most incidentally related to the fascist regime, especially in the movie. Nonetheless, V does express regret for the collateral damage he causes and states that he believed it to be necessary to achieve a freer society.

Should I use it?

That depends on how revolutionary you are. If you are a pure voluntaryist who objects on moral grounds to all aggressive force, you probably should not use this symbol, because the “Vendetta” part of “V for Vendetta” clearly refers to a violent revolution with collateral damage. On the other hand, if you see freeing society from its tyrannical government to be a paramount goal towards which all feasible methods must be employed, this may be the best symbol for you. It certainly does have very high recognition and an umbrella of coverage due to including both anarcho-capitalists anarcho-socialists.

What are some uses and variations?

The circled “V” is sometimes drawn on protest signs along with the anarchist clenched fist to stand out from a crowd as opposing both “sides” of a political issue. The Guy Fawkes mask worn by V is also popular to wear to protests because it protects the identity of the anarchist. This, however, can lead to police becoming agitated for no good reason.

V for Voluntary


What is its significance?

This image was created just a few short years ago by a passionate libertarian after the “V for Vendetta” film was released, and it has taken off like a rocket. Its success can be attributed to the elaborate amount of thought and attention to detail in what appears at first to be a remarkably simple design. The “V” is split into half gold and half black with the anarcho-capitalist flag in mind. However, instead of simply depicting a split or divison as both the letter “V” and the anarcho-capitalist flag do, V for Voluntary actually joins back together at the top to complete a circle, representing the unity and cohesion that follows from a non-violent society. Most impressively, the joining of prosperity with anarchy is actually a handshake – the gold side folds over the black side as two hands gripping one another, which draws attention to the literal contract theory of a capitalist society and also to the brotherly harmony of voluntaryist thought. Thus the ultimate message conveyed by V for Voluntary is “In freedom, people become united and prosperous.”

Should I use it?

I can’t think of any good reason not to. It does not have extremely widespread recognition due to having been created just a few years ago, but voluntarism is a growing philosophy and you can help it along.

What are some uses and variations?

Profile pictures! Probably the best way to help others understand the message of freedom is to utilize social networking, both in the literal sense of sharing content with friends and also by highlighting similarities between libertarian thought and people’s personal views. Voluntarism is the perfect path for this because the right to make choices without being forcibly controlled is valued by many people who are not politically active. The purity of this message also makes V for Voluntary tattoos a good choice for the long run.

Circled “V” and circled “A” characters


What is its significance?

This topic amuses me because it draws the plurality of all searches to my blog. The presence of circled “V” and circled “A” on Facebook names recently has caused quite a stir. They are gaining rapid popularity as more and more young people have come to realize that the government cannot be trusted to give them happy lives. The “V” stands for “voluntary” and the “A” for anarchy, with all the usual implications of those words.

Should I use it?

As long as you are comfortable sharing your political views on Facebook, go for it. It will probably get some attention from your friends and will allow other freedom advocates to identify you on community pages. You may get some random friend requests from people you don’t know who also bear the symbols, but that can be fun and informative.

How do I get the circled “V” or circled “A” on my Facebook page?

These characters are Unicode 9398 and 9419. In case you don’t know what that means, just copy and paste them from here: Ⓥ Ⓐ

From your Facebook home page, click on “Account” and select “Account Settings.” Find where it says “Name” and click “change.” Add the character of your choice to the end of your name and click “Change Name.” Voila! You are now a certified freedom advocate.

So which ones do you use?

I use the Gadsden flag and the circled “V” symbol on Facebook. I haven’t found anything creative to do with any of the others yet, but I may eventually get a V for Voluntary tattoo when I have way too much time and money.


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Open borders, no excuses.

July 23, 2010 7 comments

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The first major lesson taught to a child in any American history class is the timeless story of the explorers, craftsmen, and pilgrims who left the European mainland to settle the New World centuries ago. Their motivations are known universally: They sought freedom from persecution, a new environment and culture to call their home, and, of course, an opportunity for very large profit. We remember their story as one of great heroism and moral triumph. Even though some chose the path of violence when interacting with the natives, still, overall, they worked hard, planned wisely, and eventually rose to achieve a higher standard of living and a more beautiful society through the productive actions of individuals. It is their struggle that formed the basis for the concept now known as the American Dream – the idea that America is a place where any motivated, industrious individual who will stay focused on his own life can ultimately fulfill his highest ambitions. Through the successes of the first immigrants, America became the land where nobody says, “That’s enough success.”

In modern America, though, this hallowed ideal has been flipped straight upon its head by many members of an intellectually lazy society and the careful obfuscaters of moral truth who guide them. Indeed, it shows great cunning and foresight on the part of the useless, parasitic busy-bodies who run the upper machinations of America’s legal system that they managed to turn the largest association of proud Americans and government skeptics – the religious right – against itself with regard to immigrants in the modern age. The Christian conservatives, who value a lifestyle of independence from government operatives and generally don’t feel that they need the government’s so-called “services”, cling to the border patrol and any macho-man politician who will break with politically-correct tradition by insulting Mexican immigrants as if their very lives depended on it. In some cases, they may even literally believe that this is the case. The problem with this perspective is quite simple to identify: There is simply and unequivocally no reason whatsoever that the government should control immigration in any way.

Every argument – or, “argument” – that has ever been raised in favor of immigration control is easily identifiable as deeply fallacious. At the outset, government action, which occurs by definition through the initiation of force against individuals, is unjustifiable when used preventatively against crimes that are imagined to occur. For the exact same reason that the government has no authority to confiscate a portion of every working man’s paycheck in the name of “social security”, so also border controls are just as evil. Immigration law is not law used to block, punish, or deter actual criminal activity, where there exists an assailant and a victim. It is an arbitrary prohibition, the punishment of a victimless crime. It is as unsubstantiated and subjective as asserting that a man has a right to drink alcohol in the privacy of his own home, but cannot also smoke marijuana, because that would be too dangerous.

After all, if walking across an imaginary line in the ground is something that requires the government’s permission, the government may just as well not allow any of it. Legal immigration could be capped at a quota of half a million people per year, or even zero people per year. Either way would be equally appropriate and morally valid, if the government had the authority to prohibit people from relocating. One cannot avoid the conclusion that the underlying assumption behind immigration law – the idea that borders represent a moral imperative in their own right, independent of any other justification – is deeply flawed and can straightaway be reduced to total absurdity.

With that assumption summarily destroyed, what remains in the void is a burning question: “Under what circumstances can there be a legitimate reason to enforce border control?” Indeed, a closer look reveals that there are no such circumstances. There is no violence, no infringement upon the rights of individuals, inherent in the action of traveling across a border. No assault is conducted; no person or property is harmed. Nor is immigration regulation necessary for the implementation of the more defensive functions of government. The FairTax and other taxes on final consumption do not require a list of citizens and permanent residents. The police are already available to protect everyone when necessary. The American courts can and should have a precedent of hearing any cases directly related to an action that transpired within the country. So the only government institutions left unaccounted for are, of course, the obviously illegitimate ones. An enumeration of the citizenry is reserved for functions such as welfare, income tax, espionage, and other corrupt and inexcusable violations of liberty. Lists of legal citizens and documentation of residences serve only to allow the imposition of property taxes, give the IRS too much authority to audit, and tempt demagogues to create terrorist lists in the name of national security. The government would have a much harder time invading the privacy of civilians if a certificate was not legally required for the simple fact of existing. If, for example, allowing uncontrolled immigration made enforcing the income tax so cumbersome and flawed that it had to be abandoned, that would truly be a wonderful day in American history.

Even with the victimless nature of the “crime” of illegal immigration identified, though, some authors and citizens continue to rebel against the obvious logical conclusion that the borders must be opened. This is where the brilliance and power of the social architects who oppose freedom and prosperity really shines. They argue distractions and obfuscations long after the core principles are elucidated. For example, one oft-repeated mantra is that opening the borders would violate the Rule of Law and thus expose society to any number of horrific effects. Amnesty for illegal immigrants is predicated on motives which could just as easily be used to justify amnesty for murderers, it is said. Columnists emphasize that illegal immigration is wrong because it is illegal, and therefore must be stopped. This argument, though, is self-defeating and evil. One cannot overstate the destructive capacity of deriving morality from legality. If breaking the law is morally wrong simply because it is breaking the law, then no form of dissent can ever be justified. If the government imposes a 99% income tax, or outlaws the possession of all weapons down to thumbtacks, surely the citizenry must obey, for that is the law. Clearly, laws which violently punish innocent individuals must be disregarded. In fact, the Rule of Law is a doctrine originally conceived for limiting governments, not civilians.

The aggravators frequently distract from the principles at stake by accusing illegal immigrants of harming the economy. Surely the enormous welfare benefits which are paid to illegals, in spite of the liberals’ frantic cries that this does not occur, must represent a significant portion of the national debt. Add to this the fact that it is all too easy for an undocumented immigrant to avoid the income tax while simultaneously outcompeting unskilled American citizens for the precious few remaining jobs in this depressed economy, and the sum of it all is one heck of a powerful argument … against government interventionism. This is the ultimate crux of the distractors’ and racketeers’ fallacious logic. They are unwilling to acknowledge that, in the most literal sense, all of the problems they attribute to illegal immigrants are actually caused by the government itself. The massive national debt occurs, not because illegal immigrants happen to be receiving welfare payouts, but because the government is willing and quite eager to tax and spend money from the working class in the first place. The unenforceability of the income tax is not a consequence of the population of undocumented immigrants, but rather of the illegitimate and frankly quite ridiculous nature of the tax itself. Finally, the jobs argument really attacks the government-imposed price floor on labor, which all economists agree will create shortages and reduce economic productivity. The logical position for any freedom-lover to take is that of opposition to the government interference that has rendered immigrants a resented class. The immigrants themselves are at worst guilty of being caught in the crossfire between middle class and bureaucracy.

Immigrants do not and cannot cause the federal debt to rise. Only government controls government spending. Uncovering this self-evident truth gives great insight into why illegal immigration is such a hot-button issue among the news media and liberal and conservative politicians alike. Establishment officials naturally fear authors and philosophers from the right wing, because the right’s opposition to government spending and waste puts the various government-corporate complexes and bureaucracies at risk. If the conservatives got their way, politicians and lawyers might have to find useful jobs instead of pushing papers at other people’s expense. Similarly, the establishment fears the left’s thinkers, as well. If any of a number of different liberal activists achieved real political pull, the government would not be able to arbitrarily outlaw simple personal behaviors. People could not be arrested and fined for harmless decisions. This, too, threatens to leave bullies of law enforcement out on the streets looking for work.

A simple solution to the government’s major problem is for the law enforcement and the bureaucracies to adopt a mutually beneficial stance of misdirection. Allegedly conservative officials dodge anger over government from real conservative voters by decrying those awful illegal immigrants for making the debt so high. Then, of course, it is not the fault of the Republican Congressmen that the debt keeps rising all the time. It must be blamed on the crazy liberals with their destructive love of illegals that somehow magically makes it impossible for Republicans in Congress to just vote “No” on spending bills. The liberals join in lock-step, demonizing the conservatives for ostracizing illegals, but not actually promoting a message even remotely related to true freedom. The two parties ultimately work together to increase border patrols, shoot innocent people, and not actually put any significant dent in the flow of illegal immigrants. A naive observer might wonder why so much effort is spent stopping illegal immigration when so little results are achieved. A libertarian observer, however, would note that the effort and expense was the goal all along. The government is simply generating more government activity. Stopping illegal immigration is one of hundreds of imagined causes the bureaucrats from the right and the left created to rationalize that. A few thousand people die, a few hundred thousand have their lives uprooted, but millions still make it through, because succeeding was never the object. Conservatives are mad at illegals instead of at the government that is wasting money, liberals have jobs and a way to buy votes by pretending to sympathize with illegals yet not taking any real action to open the borders, and the cycle continues.

If it should now be supposed that advocating for amnesty is the correct path toward freedom, let that idea be put to rest immediately. To use the word “amnesty” would imply that traversing an unseen line in the desert was ever a real crime at all. What would be appropriate at present is for lawmakers to agree that preemptive regulation against victimless crimes has not ever been a morally legitimate or practically feasible government scheme, that all who have been imprisoned by border patrol were thus mistreated, and, most astonishingly of all, that projects, codes, fences, arms, and soldiers dedicated to controlling the natural migration of human populations are and always have been a big-government racketeering project, that they are a waste of money designed to create work for talentless bureaucrats who otherwise would be incapable of competing in the job market, and that every working American would enjoy a much better quality of life without them.

The economic damage caused by the desire to prosecute against the victimless crime of traversing borders is difficult to estimate. Right off, it can be guaranteed that the entire cost of all border patrol officials as well as all the bureaucrats that handle paperwork for legal immigrants is entirely wasted money. Furthermore, had those workers not been employed in a destructive task, they could have sought jobs elsewhere, so their entire productive capacity over the span of their careers is potential profit and innovation which has not been brought to fruition. Finally, the tangible expenses of border patrol includes all the armaments and buildings used in the racketeering project. These expenses in total number in the trillions when considered over the past few decades. Then there are intangible and almost inestimable costs such as the productive power of more and cheaper labor as well as the interest accumulated on all the past expenses. Immigration control has been a continuous and severe blight on the United States economy for as long as anyone can remember. The accumulated cost with interest now exceeds that of the war in Iraq, the TARP bailouts, and the amount of money necessary to feed the entire continent of Africa for several years.

The unavoidable conclusion finally surfaces. Immigration laws are a racket and an excuse. They provide liberals with a moral crusade and demonizing talking points to draw attention away from confronting the economic sensibilities of the conservatives. Conservatives use them as a cover-up to hide their own unwillingness to actually cut government spending and repeal unnecessary laws. Ultimately, the dichotomy reveals itself to be just like all others – not one of left versus right, but of ordinary, freedom-loving individuals versus busy-bodies, elitists, and bigots. To employ a phrase that has recently become very popular in Washington, we need real solutions. Those real solutions are straightforward and obvious. The government can solve spending problems by just not spending. The abundance and frequency of illegal immigration can be solved by not outlawing non-violent behavior. As for what will be done with the new-found problem of massive unemployment among legislative paper-shufflers, department big-wigs, and bullying border gun-toters with badges, true American patriots neither know nor care.


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