Live Free Without Changing a Single Mind

Live Free Without Changing a Single Mind

One of the most frustrating things about understanding how important freedom is lies in actually obtaining it; we go through the process of unlearning what we were taught to believe about how the government makes us better off and then ask, “Ok, so how do we go about changing things?” The problem is, unlike in a free market where we are able to improve our situation and succeed by our own efforts, political change requires that enough other people desire change as well. Even worse, there are so many institutional barriers that stand in the way of change happening. So many people benefit (if only in the short run) or perceive themselves to benefit from the status quo. These include Social Security and Medicare recipients, farmers who receive subsidies, defense contractors, state and federal employees, non-profits who receive government grants, people who receive more in income tax returns than they pay, as well as many other groups that I’m sure you can list ad nauseam.

The fact that so many people perceive themselves as benefiting from the government’s shuffling around of resources from one person to another is bad for freedom. Many people suggest that the changing of the prevalent collectivist mentalities will require multiple generations, and collapse is likely to happen before then. At least in the short run, collapses are also bad for freedom. Those of us who understand the eventual outcomes of the massive expansion of credit by central banks and the undertaking of unprecedented levels of debt by nation-states and have prepared accordingly will be targeted by those who didn’t and tax collectors ready to meet their demands. When people take a hit in their living standards, they will have little sympathy for those who do not.

Fortunately, though, there is a way to avoid the assaults on your liberty and wealth (or your quest to build it) that doesn’t require running political campaigns, voting the bums out, filing lawsuits in federal court, writing letters to your congressional “representative,” or any of the other activities people believe might change the political landscape. And you don’t need to change a single mind (except perhaps your own and anyone else you might want to take with you). It’s called internationalization.

Internationalization entails the concept of “planting multiple flags,” where one diversifies his or her sovereign risk by spreading out their activities over multiple jurisdictions. This can include living in one country, being a citizen of another, owning a business in another, and banking in yet another country. This is to make sure all of your eggs aren’t in one basket. But even more than that, it recognizes the fact that there is no one country that is the best for all of these things. The best places to live (based on your preferences) may not be the best place to own a business or bank.

A resource I have found invaluable in helping me research these topics is NomadCapitalist.com. It is run by Andrew Henderson, a man who is the real deal when it comes to being an expert in internationalization. He is a perpetual traveler who is constantly looking for the best places to live, do business, and invest. What I especially like about Andrew is how dedicated he is to helping others benefit from the knowledge that he gains during his worldly travels. He has recently started a new club called The Nomad Society, which provides information from a variety of experts on how to internationalize your life. I would highly recommend checking this club out for anyone who has any interest in internationalization.

Finally, I want to close by saying how glad I am that the option of expatriation exists. As long as it does, we have the opportunity to go where we’re treated best and say goodbye to any government that claims to own us. I admire all of you who take this route to better your lives. I hope to join you soon.

Are Organ Shortages Artificial?

Are Organ Shortages Artificial?

Though perhaps it shouldn’t have, my mind was partially blown a few years ago when I read the book written by Cato Institute health policy experts Michael Cannon and Michael Tanner, Healthy Competition. In it, there is a section describing the economics of organ donations and how organ shortages are entirely created by the government. How?

Well, it’s not the case that the government is keeping us all so safe that there aren’t any available organ donors. Rather, it is because there is a price ceiling for organs: $0. That is,  there is no legal way to accept something of monetary value in exchange for organs. Cannon and Tanner’s argument is that, but for such price controls, there would be no shortages.

This recent video from Reason provides support for such a contention:

If it’s the case that the most needed organ transplant is kidneys, an organ most people can give up and still survive, then it’s not the case that most organ donors have to be waiting around, reluctantly hoping that someone has a fatal accident that leaves their precious organs intact. Thus, it’s more plausible to believe that organ shortages are, indeed, artificial.

Cannon and Tanner also address the rationale behind the prohibition of monetary exchanges for organs. It is supposedly the case that allowing such wealth transfers would deny the dignity of individual life. Furthermore, it would be another way to exploit the poor if organs could be exchanged for money (and that only the rich would have access to organs).

In regards to the first contention, one ought to ask, which alternative shows more respect for the dignity of life? The one that allows life to be extended through the transfer of money or the one that forces people to die in the name of making sure money isn’t being exchanged for life-sustaining organs? The answer seems obvious to me.

Secondly, are the poor more exploited by receiving money for organs that they voluntarily give or when they are forced to receive nothing in return for such tremendous value? And I’m not sure it’s much of a consolation to know that the rich bastard behind you on the organ waiting list is going to die too. Here we have yet another case where human well being is sacrificed upon the altar of egalitarianism. But I don’t think it’s a foregone conclusion that under such a free market health care system that the poor would be worse off (really, how could they be?). Health insurance provided on the free market would likely be specifically for such catastrophic medical emergencies, rather than routine procedures, and would therefore be much more affordable than under the current regime. Furthermore, plans would more likely be purchased by individuals rather than by employers, making it so that one’s insurance is not dependent upon one’s job.

Lastly, I don’t think allowing markets in organ transfers would increase black market organ activity but do just the opposite. Wouldn’t it be nice to say goodbye to waking up in bathtubs full of ice?

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Go Team Venture!

Do Libertarians Necessarily Hate Tradition?

Do Libertarians Necessarily Hate Tradition?

On the Center for a Stateless Society blog, Natasha Petrova attempted to explain some differences between conservatives and libertarians, arguing that libertarianism and tradition are incompatible:

As for defenses of tradition being compatible with libertarianism; I disagree with this. The essence of libertarianism is individualism and individual rights. This conflicts with obedience to inherited collectivist traditional social norms. Independent judgment and reason tend to undermine traditionalism.

The conservative’s tendency to favor the preservation of established institutions will also come into conflict with the libertarian. All institutions are subject to rational examination and change in a free society. This can’t be reconciled with a conservative defense of tradition or inherited institutions. Tradition also tends to require coercion or ostracism to maintain. Both of which are tools for controlling people. This is not to say that coercion and ostracism are always unjustified, but they are preferably used for something other than the continuation of existing social norms.

It would have been quite nice if Ms. Petrova provided some examples to illustrate her contention. Surely we can think of some “collectivist social norms” that are worth tossing by the wayside, but Ms. Petrova seems to be making a blanket statement regarding any tradition whatsoever. The fact that “all institutions are subject to rational examination and change in a free society” does not imply that ALL inherited institutions ought to abandoned. Indeed, she contradicts herself: disregarding something simply because it is an established tradition demonstrates a lack of rational examination.

She also requires us to take her word that “tradition also tends to require coercion or ostracism to maintain.” I don’t believe this is an obvious or self-evident statement, but rather just an unbacked assertion. Similarly, her preference that coercion be used for some other purpose “than the continuation of existing social norms,” seems unimaginative. One can easily think of some much more nefarious uses for coercion than preserving existing social norms. What were left with by Ms. Petrova in her blog post is not so much an argument for why tradition is bad, but simply her repeated assertions that it is bad.

Another way in which tradition and libertarianism are at odds is historical. History is replete with examples of tyranny and unfree societies. There is a dearth of relative freedom throughout history, so it’s strange to look to what has come before for inspiration.

To me, this statement is downright silly, but consistent with what she has said above. If we are to assume that what was in the past is always bad (or at least worse than what currently exists) then it would follow that all current institutions are preferable to what came before. But just because no libertarian utopia existed in the past does not mean we cannot look to the past for inspiration. We can look at the Anglo-Saxon tithes and hundreds for examples of justice systems that operated without the state. We can look at the history of turnpikes in the UK and US for proof that roads can be provided through private initiative. We can look to history to show that Americans could be relatively prosperous without a central bank, an income tax, a fascist health care system, and many other state enterprises. It’s not to say that all of these institutions (or lack thereof) were ideal, but that they present a picture of an alternative to the state. In terms of liberty, some things have gotten better, some worse. It’s ignorant to dismiss all of the past as some type of perennial Dark Age.

 

Join the OffNow Coalition

Join the OffNow Coalition

Today, I would like to tip my hat to Michael Boldin, The Tenth Amendment Center, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, and all those who have joined the OffNow Coaltion. If you’re visiting this page on Tuesday, February 11,  you’ll notice “The Day We Fight Back” banner covering the bottom half of the page (and if you’re visiting this page after February 11, I trust that you probably visited a website that was displaying a banner). Efforts like these are great at uniting people and getting a boatload of messages to Congress all in a single day. But I don’t want the enthusiasm to all be spent in that one day.

Michael Boldin OffNow Coaltion

Michael Boldin

This is why I highly encourage those who desire to stop NSA spying to join the OffNow Coalition. I did and now I am constantly updated on the efforts around the country to nullify unconstitutional data gathering (of course, you don’t have to get every update if you don’t want to). It is coalitions such as these that overcome the coordination problem facing any political movement and the bigger it is the more effective it is in stopping the spying.

The OffNow Coalition has already helped to get the 4th Amendment Protection Act bills to get proposed in several states, including Maryland, where a data center is located. While writing and calling Congress is important (at least in the sense that our consent was expressly denied, thus decreasing the federal government’s claim to legitimacy), I think the effective political means of stopping the spying is through state nullification. In fact, while others are rightfully sour on using political means to change things, I think the nullification movement can be a game changer and indeed already has when it comes to things like the REAL ID Act and marijuana criminalization.

Thus,  I would ask you to consider joining the coalition and letting me know your decision.

Snowden OffNow Coalition

Another Reason You Should Have No Faith in Federal Judges

Another Reason You Should Have No Faith in Federal Judges

Please check out this story by Ben Swann about how U.S. District Court Judge William Pauley rejected the ACLU’s lawsuit accusing the NSA of violating the 4th Amendment’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures. To be honest, I am a bit disappointed; I try to look for the humanity remaining in those who occupy high level government positions. One of those was U.S. Circuit Court Judge Leon, who less than two weeks prior had ruled that the NSA’s Prism program of indiscriminate data collection was unlawful.

Judge William Pauley III

Judge William Pauley III

Hearing this prior ruling was a bit of a relief to me as surely no reasonable person could possibly decide what the NSA is doing is legal. Even if one wanted to argue that this massive spying program is, in fact, keeping Americans safe (or whatever), that is entirely different from it being legal. A federal judge denying the illegality of this program would most certainly signify that there is NOTHING the government can do that won’t receive the approval of the judicial branch.

As Swann states, Pauley gave no legal or Constitutional reason for his decision. He argues on the NSA’s behalf that they will not abuse this information and that 9/11 justifies such spying. Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, SCOTUS has ruled that the federal government can force us to buy health insurance because of the taxing power, can steal medical marijuana where it is legal under state law under the interstate commerce clause (even though it is not interstate and not being sold), and that not participating in interstate commerce affects interstate commerce and therefore can be regulated.

The answer for Americans (at least those who aren’t yet ready to expatriate), might just be nullification, and eventually secession.

Just a reminder that Nomad Capitalist is hosting an event in Las Vegas this month where one can learn how to protect their wealth from increasingly despotic western governments. Please come and meet me there!

Reserve your seat at Passport to Freedom

Paying for Choo Choos is Expensive

Paying for Choo Choos is Expensive

I like trains. I’m not sure exactly why. It has been suggested to me that it could be nostalgia, but I don’t think it can be nostalgia from personal experience. The only trains I’ve ridden were in Thailand, and while that is a cheap mode of intercity travel and isn’t too bad for trips that are only a few hours, I was pretty miserable riding overnight in 3rd class. The odor of diesel exhaust and the water closet were constant companions, as was the cold air coming through the windows overnight, as I tried to get some sleep on a hard plastic seat sitting upright. I don’t think it’s nostalgia from personal experience.

Part of it could be that I enjoy the board game Ticket to Ride. It’s highly recommended, as is Hell on Wheels, which not only features the construction of the Union Pacific Railroad but is also sympathetic to a Southron.

However, it just doesn’t seem to be the case that many passenger trains are profitable; most have to be heavily subsidized by the government. I certainly wish this wasn’t the case given my enthusiasm for trains, but I would rather not see huge amounts of money be wasted constructing totally unnecessary rail lines.

Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for California’s High Speed Rail Authority. According to MyGovCost.org, one end of the line is to be in a remote area of San Joaquin Valley, clearly showing that politicians push for these trains, not because they believe that they will act as efficient means of transportation, but because they can then claim they are creating jobs. We recognize that such claims are erroneous, of course, knowing the lesson that Henry Hazlitt taught us. What is seen is all the people working to create these rail lines, but what is unseen are all the jobs that now aren’t going to be created because of the money spent building this rail line, jobs that are far more likely to be sustainable.

It is surprising that the politicians’ handling of finance of the project is considered legal. According to K. Lloyd Billingsley, the voters approved bonds for the project back in 2008 for $43 billion. Now the cost is projected to be $100 billion (and not to be completed until 2033)! CA voters don’t get to vote on the higher price tag. How is this not fraud?

The politicians also care not for either the environment nor property rights. Billingsley: “…one thing stands between the state rail bosses and the property they need: the rightful owners. They are not eager for a train to displace productive farmland. The project would also be environmentally destructive but supporters such as California governor Jerry Brown want to suspend environmental regulations for high-speed rail.”

Thus, the whole thing seems to be a loser all around, except for the politicians and contractors who get to take the money away from taxpayers, who are left with an extremely expensive rail line that few of them are likely to use and will probably have to be subsidized just to operate. It is the boondoggle that keeps on taking.

Private Prisons Are Guaranteed Inmates by the State

Private Prisons Are Guaranteed Inmates by the State

When I was studying criminal justice, the concept of the “prison-industrial complex” was brought up in comparison to the military-industrial complex warned about by Dwight Eisenhower. As the military-industrial complex describes the system of a collection of suppliers to the US military, as well as all who financially benefit from the waging of war, the prison-industrial complex are those who financially benefit from the warehousing of people who are convicted of crimes by the state.

This article from StoryLeak describes an effect of the latter. Apparently state and local governments have made contracts with privately run prisons that guarantee a steady supply of inmates, specifying financial penalties for those governments if they fail to supply enough inmates. There is a lot of money to be fleeced from taxpayers in this industry. Indeed, I think this presents an interesting challenge for minarchists, who typically believe that military defense and prison operations are legitimate functions of government: even at its most basic and accepted functions, governments find a way to be wasteful and benefit special interests at the expense of the rest of us. Read the rest of this entry

Help Spread Liberty in Africa

Help Spread Liberty in Africa

A friend of mine recently exposed me to what I now find to be a wonderful group: Africa Youth Peace Call. From their website:

We are dedicated to the study and advancement of classical liberalism (libertarianism) in Africa. We try to change peoples’ ideas, opinions, and mode of thinking by research, seminars and publications. AYPC wants to become the leading libertarian organisation in freedom education of young people in Africa.

They conduct a variety of programs that you can see here. You can also donate to their cause here.

It is my contention that any help you can provide them with will benefit Africa far better than any billion spent on foreign aid ever has. Recently, I finished an older, but still relevant book called, “The Revolution in Development Economics,” that was given to me at the Northwest Regional Students for Liberty conference. I think the “revolution” can be summarized as follows:

The field of development economics didn’t really pick up until after World War II, when a bunch of countries that didn’t previously exist now did. Many economists, even Nobel Prize-winning ones such as Paul Samuelson, were confused as to how an economy grows (it is quite astounding that Samuelson believed that third world countries could not lift themselves out of poverty because they produced so little and therefore couldn’t save anything to invest in capital production. But if that’s the case, how could any country have become rich? The ancestors of the wealthiest people at one time had the same amount of capital as third world countries do and yet somehow they were able to save enough to invest in capital production). Many of these economists prescribed a large dose of government planning, including tariffs, import substitution (where favors are given to domestic industry to produce goods that foreign producers clearly have a comparative advantage), forced industrialization, capital controls, and the like. None of this accomplished what it was meant to do. It wasn’t until the collapse of the Soviet Union that it became clear to most economists that central planning was inefficient. Today, most economists accept the idea that free trade leads to economic growth and well-defined property rights tend to lead to resources finding their way to their most highly valued uses (but, of course, not everyone is a full laissez faire-ist yet. Far from it).

Of the papers that were published in the book, one sticks with me in particular: Indigenous African Institutions and Economic Development by Emily Chamlee-Wright. In it she tells the story of women street vendors in Ghana, who established among themselves elaborate methods of mutual aid, including credit associations, mutual protection from police (since vending on the street is officially illegal), and running each other’s stands when one was sick (even direct competitors would do this for each other). The especially frustrating part of the story is how the city council seemed to do everything it could do disrupt the well-being of these women, including the city police taking their cut of these women’s small profits, making it nearly impossible for them to save enough money to lease a shop to store their wares and conduct business legally. But still, these women are able to coordinate their collective actions and oppose some of the worse measures planned by the city council, and seem to thrive considering the conditions under which they are put.

I highly recommend reading Chamlee-Wright’s paper; within it you’ll see why entrepreneurs in Africa could succeed if only they could conduct their business without the undue burden that government currently forces upon them. To further this end, I think giving support to Africa Youth Peace Call is laudatory. Below is a video showing one of their programs, an entrepreneurship camp.

The Limitations of Thought Experiments

The Limitations of Thought Experiments

Steve McQueenThis seems to be a thought experiment that is engaged in quite often at the Bleeding Heart Libertarians blog: imagine markets result in less preferable outcomes; would you still support them? The answer that they typically arrive at is “No,” and therefore the justification for markets rests at least partially on consequentialist considerations.

But imaginary scenarios presented to discredit some theory of ethics have never really sat well with me, particularly when I find them to be unrealistic. A ready example of this David Friedman’s critique of Murray Rothbard’s theory of natural rights in The Machinery of Freedom. Friedman is a utilitarian and thus attacks natural rights on such grounds.

One scenario he has us imagine is a gunman opening fire on a crowd in the street. However, there is a rifle sitting in the middle of the street with a sign put there by the strangely sadistic owner of the firearm saying that in the event of an emergency to not touch his rifle. Should his property rights be respected? A second scenario is even more ridiculous, where there is an asteroid heading towards the Earth and the only way to save the world is to steal a man’s briefcase which has a button inside that will destroy the asteroid.

I feel that under such wide latitude in creating objections that are extremely unlikely to ever happen, one can discredit any ethical theory whatsoever. This is why Rothbard rightfully has a chapter in his Ethics of Liberty objecting to lifeboat scenario criticisms. The real test is how an ethical system performs under normal conditions that exist the majority of the time. Read the rest of this entry

Senator James Risch on Drugs

Senator James Risch on Drugs

1015_steve-mcqueen-dead-celebs_485x340Perhaps the above title is ambiguous. Today’s post involves an email I received from Senator Risch regarding the Drug War. Personally, I find the War on Drugs to be an extremely bad policy. Drug criminalization, along with “Get Tough on Crime” measures such as mandatory minimum sentencing and three strikes laws, can explain over 90% of the explosive increase in US incarceration rates over the last four decades (please contact me if you are interested in getting a copy of the research paper I wrote on this).

This is very expensive, and I feel comfortable guaranteeing that people would be far more willing to end the Drug War if they knew how much it cost them, or at least reduce it by a dramatic extent. It costs around $20,000 per year to incarcerate a man (a figure provided to me by a criminal justice professor of corrections), and more for women (because there are fewer incarcerated women, economies of scale don’t apply as much). This is in addition to the money spent by the DEA and other law enforcement on actually catching drug users (rather than solving or preventing crimes with identifiable victims), as well as the court costs of prosecuting the huge numbers of drug offenders.

Also important to consider are the extreme costs to our civil liberties. Even though I have never used drugs, I consider myself a victim of the Drug War because of the fact that my car has twice been searched by the police using a drug sniffing dog. (It is my belief that the dog was not faulty, but that these officers lied about the dog alerting; there is no way I can prove that the dog didn’t alert, and there is no penalty to them for finding nothing. Thus, they are able to illegally search any vehicle at will.) Other than the War on Terror, nothing has eroded our civil liberties to the extent that the Drug War has.

And, ultimately, I don’t think it’s any business of the government what adults choose to put in their own bodies. As long as they are not harming anyone else, they should be left alone. There is a lot more one could say about the evils of the War on Drugs, but we’ll get into what James Risch has to say:

Thank you for taking the time to contact me regarding drug legalization.  I really appreciate hearing from you.

I oppose the legalization of illicit drugs.  Legalization could encourage experimentation among those who currently do not use illegal substances and could lead to addiction and criminal activity.

It is ironic that Risch believes legalization could lead to criminal activity, as it is the nature of black markets that encourages criminal activity to surround drugs. We can see this in several ways:

  • It is because they are illegal that the prices of drugs are so high. Without these high prices, drug users would have less of an incentive to engage in criminal activity to support their habits.
  • Generally, businesses in competition with one another will tend to provide lower prices or higher quality of service. Due to the black market in drugs, cartels have a greater incentive to engage in violence to increase market share and less of an ability to resolve disputes peaceably (you can’t take a dealer to court for ripping you off).
  • The threat of imprisonment, all else equal, incentivizes violence against law enforcement where there would otherwise be none.

I generally support a reduction in government authority, but in the case of drug legalization it is important dangerous drugs are prohibited or regulated to ensure their safe use for the intended purposes for which they were developed as well as for general public safety.

Again, it is ironic that Risch would point to prohibition as a measure that would ensure safe use. It is because of alcohol prohibition that we have such unsavory terms such as “rot gut.” Again, if there is no tort system available, the costs of selling unsafe substances decreases because of lower accountability.

Drunken driving is a serious problem in this country.

His fellow senator from Idaho should know!

If more illicit drugs were legalized, the problem of impaired motorists would increase significantly—which can have devastating impacts far beyond just the individual who used the drug.

Of course, this is a bald assertion rather than a rigorously supported claim. But even if this is accurate, how could it possibly be the case that public safety would be decreased on net? It is highly doubtful that drug-related violence (how many have died in Mexico’s civil war?) would be outweighed by any increase in impaired driving.

The economic benefit that could be derived from additional drug-related taxes cannot justify the risks associated with legalizing dangerous substances.

The economic ignorance of James Risch is concerning. If he thinks the only economic benefit of drug legalization is more tax revenue, he is grossly misinformed. As mentioned above, a huge amount of money spent on law enforcement is spent in pursuit of the Drug War. Furthermore, it is quite a statist notion to think of increased tax revenue as being an economic benefit. Indeed, in many situations it would be far better if tax revenues were burned rather than allowed to distort the economy as they do (examples include farm subsidies, student loans, bank bailouts, the military-industrial complex, etc.).

Again, I really value your effort to get in touch with me to share your thoughts, as many Idahoans do.  Please do not hesitate to contact me in the future on this or other issues.
Very Truly Yours

James E. Risch
United States Senator

Website: Risch.senate.gov

My offices:

Boise – 208.342.7985
Coeur d’Alene – 208.667.6130
Idaho Falls – 208.523.5541
Lewiston – 208.743.0792
Pocatello – 208.236.6817
Twin Falls – 208.734.6780
Washington, D.C. – 202.224.2752