Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Public Market

I often think about government operations by comparing them to market operations and I have come to the conclusion that they are the same thing, with only a single differing quality. The way I see it, the government, and especially representative democracies, look an awful lot like the free-market, except that private property and freedom of association is not protected in the former.

The government representatives seem to act as "businesses" or "suppliers" that sell bundles of goods to their "customers", government service beneficiaries, in return for payment in votes. Productive taxpayers act as "employees" of the government. And the other states, both foreign and domestic, act as business partners to the federal government. The only difference that I can clearly see is that all of these people often lack the freedom of association and private property that is protected in the free market. The "customers" can some times exercise (1 day out of every 700 or so) their freedom of association by choosing a different supplier (representative) of goods, though realistically in the US this only means they have 1 one option to choose from and often not even that. The employees never get the freedom to not work for that "supplier" (And they can't truly choose their employer through their voting powers because the nature of concentrated benefits and dispersed costs gives rational voters no choice but to use their single vote for the sake of maximizing their benefits not minimizing their costs), and their property rights certainly aren't being protected when they are coerced into giving away large portions of their income in taxes. Even the business partners of the federal government are often abused due to their inability to exercise any from of freedom of association.

But the whole reason why the private market benefits society is that it allows people to interact in only mutually beneficial forms by preventing people from interacting with others in net-negative ways by securing private property rights and freedom of association.

For this reason, I assert that the highest priority of government reform should be to implement a democratic reform that will work to protect private property and freedom of association to the greatest extent possible without denying the government the necessary power it requires to provide for the services that only a publicly accountable institution can be entrusted with.

I'd like to hear what people have to think about my comparison between the government and the market, as well as my conclusion on what should be the highest priority for government reform.

Funded Mandates

Most of you have undoubtedly heard complaints about unfunded mandates by the federal government to the states. But I would pose to you that funded mandates are at least as bad, if not worse then their less popular brethren.

This is because, when the federal government offers money to the states, it can much more thoroughly, even if not directly, leech away the independence of the states. In order to offer these states funds the federal government must first tax the citizens of those states to collect the revenue that it plans on doling out to the states. The federal government then "offers" this money, that the states could have collected on their own if they wished to, back to the states on the condition that they spend it as the federal government wishes, and so long as they do whatever else the federal government wants them to do as well. For example, the federal government did exactly this with road construction and maintenance funds and speed limits. If states refused to post speed limits (which is understood in Constitutional law to be well within the sole jurisdiction of the states) in accordance to the "request" of the federal government they would not be given the funding that all the rest of the states were given. This would, in effect, would force that state to subsidize the road construction of the rest of the sates if they refused to give up their independence, and this would be very likely to greatly rile the voting populace of this state who don't appreciate having to bear that burden. This makes preserving state independence political suicide and pragmatically, impossible to go though with.

Further, if the states were left on their own, they very well might decide that they don't NEED so many roads, or to spend so much on any other particular program that the federal government funds for them. States, without federal government funding programs, would compete to give their constituents the most efficient amount of services for the cost. They wouldn't want to waste money building too many unnecessary roads or performing too much maintenance on them, but they also wouldn't want to spend too little, doing either would be likely to cost them precious votes. But when the federal government is doing out the cash the states have no incentive to limit their spending. They will always spend as much of those federal tax dollars as possible in order to maximize the amount of money flowing into their state and then they'll cry out for their state to get more afterwards.

For these reasons, it seems to me that it is funded federal programs that are pushed on the states, rather then the unfunded mandates, that pose the larger of the two problems to American society.

Special Economic Zones

Last Wednesday Mark Frazier gave us a very interesting talk and part of it was about special economic zones in which taxes and regulations are greatly reduced and where the increase in the land values of the area, which inevitably follow from the decrease in taxes and regulations, could be used in order to build up what the area needs to help it prosper. This would occur through community ownership of the land which they would lease out to businesses, and which they would lease out for higher amounts as business flourished further and demand for land rises. This is a very intriguing and unique idea, one which I, for one, had never heard until then. Now that at least some of us have had a chance to digest it a bit more I'd like to hear what people have to say on the subject.

The above link sends you to a website that describes the concept and how it might work.

I would especially like to hear thoughts on how this might work in first world nations such as the United States.

Tendency Towards Forms of Authority

Stefan Molyneux recently pointed out a recent observation of his that most people tend to gravitate towards one of two types of supreme authority. These are the State and Religion.

This curious observation looks particularly distinct when looking at world wide national cultures. It often seems that the less religious a nation tends to be, the more socialist it tends to be, as how the communist nations were some of the most atheistic nations that have ever been, and how mostly secular Europe is much more socialist then the United States. But the United States tends to be a much more religious nation then the rest of the western world.

What I would like to discuss is actually two things. First, is this a true tendency. Do people largely tend towards following one of these two very powerful, very inhuman sources of authority. And second, I would like to ask why this might be. Why, if they do this, do people seem to need these very high and out of reach authoritarian regime to give them commands from above?

As a final note, this also reminds me of how Ayn Rand often mentions the warlords and the witch doctors who often rule, and work together to rule over the people.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Public Parks and Government Owning the Land

A lot of libertarians, at least as far as I've encountered, seem to think the government should have public parks or forests, or that these public parks and forests are outside the realm of what government should be involved in. However, as Sam points out with his idea of how government should possibly run - the government owns all the land and people sort of rent/buy the rights to its use - and as Ian points out with his idea - the government's job is to protect natural resources and perpetrate people who violate other people's property and who pollute, and thus in order to be able to distribute rights to these natural resources, the government must, in some sense, own them. So it seems to me that most people agree that government owns the land and it is the government's job to protect the land. So then why shouldn't the government have public parks and forests? I'm talking National Parks here - like Yosemite, Old Faithful Geyser in Yellowstone, the Sierra Nevada, etc - are important National Resources, ecologically, aesthetically, etc. While National Forests, the government keeps in the public domain but won't sell or lease the land to the public, but will sell rights to companies to log, ranch, mine the land, etc. Should the government create National Parks? Do they have a right to? Or should this be part of the private sector? And if it should be part of the private sector, should this be because the private sector would be more efficient, or the government just really shouldn't be in this business at all.

Compassion and the Market

I thought this was a really interesting TED talk because the talk showed how being compassionate can be somewhat self-serving (selfish?) but it's still a good thing generally overall. This reminded me a lot of the points Ayn Rand made about selfishness and some of the arguments many Free-Marketeers make. Also, many academics seem to make the argument that markets are unnatural and even antagonistic to human nature. One professor even has a class which "such arguments as those which theorize on the "rationality" of the market and the "naturalness" of competition will be debunked". So if compassion has evolved selfishly, would this maybe change the discourse about Markets?

Friday, April 15, 2011

Balanced Budget Amendment +

Freshman Senator Mike lee of Utah has introduced an amendment to the Constitution that would, if passed, ban federal deficit spending unless 2/3 of both the Senate and the House voted to over rule. This amendment is even more ambitious then previous balanced budget amendments because it also limits federal spending to 20% of GDP. Senator lee claims to be a tea partier and he was one of 3 US Senators to vote against extending the Patriot Act.

To be ratified this bill would have to be supported by 2/3 of the House and Senate, and then 3/4 of the states. Does it stand any chance? If not, then is this just a political stunt to make Senator lee look fiscally responsible, when he knows that this wan't happen?

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Ending the Death Penalty Saves Money

While it might not be the most important reason to end the death penalty, one good reason is money. Since ending the death penalty last month, Illinois has already saved millions.

SFL, Stossel, and UVa!

If you haven't already watched this, you definitely should! You know why? Because it's all about Liberty, has the Stossel 'stache, and most importantly, people from SIL/CLR/YAL from UVa are in it!

"The Nation's Wealth"

A. Barton Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch explains that there's no such thing as "the nation's wealth." Many of the points he makes in the article are probably obvious to most libertarians, but I'm more interested in the best way to explain to someone why redistribution of wealth is so fundamentally unjust.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Money and voting

What role should the government play in campaign contributions, if any? A law which Arizona just tried to enact would have chilling consequences for free speech because government aid in campaign contributions.

Pregnant Woman who Attempted to Take Her Own Life Charged with Murder after Fetus Dies

In a strange a disturbing story, a pregnant woman in Indiana is being charged with murder after her fetus days six days after a suicide attempt. What exactly is the state hoping to accomplish with such a charge, and what implications does this have for the rights of pregnant women?

Scientific Rigor

How would scientific rigor be handled in a civil society, free market, or privately?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Drug War and Black America

How can we solve some of the biggest race issues in America? According to John McWhorter, a former Berkeley linguistics professor and now senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, we must end the war on drugs.

"Legalize Methamphetamine!"

This is one of the first articles I read about legalizing all drugs. This article is also one of the first articles which seemed to actually begin to convince me about the idea of legalizing all drugs. I think the author does a really good job of laying out both the economic and moral arguments for legalizing not just marijuana, but all drugs. The article is also written fairly simply. The author does not get caught up in semantics or trying to sound so smart that everyone should just agree with him, but these are the kind of simple, basic arguments which one could use with anyone or everyone because of the two arguments the author makes.

"5 Years After: Portugal's Drug Decriminalization Policy Shows Positive Results"

This is a brief article about how in Portugal decriminalization has worked really well. The article discusses how Lisbon - the capital of Portugal - has not become a "drug mecca" and how all of Portugal hasn't turned into a bunch of raving drug addicts. Glenn Greenwald also wrote a good article at Cato about this same topic, but this one is a bit briefer if you don't have the time to read Greenwald's article.

"The Drug War's Collateral Damage"

Here's another article by Radley Balko. I think this article does a particularly good job of covering all the collateral damages of the U.S.'s War on Drugs, so even if someone won't accept the moral argument, surely the massive list of all the collateral damages should convince people. Here are the things discussed in the article: Police militarization, foreign policy, rule of law, crime, violence and prison, and medical treatments. The only thing I wish this article did is to go more in depth about each subject, but as an overview of all the collateral damage, I think this article does a fantastic job.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What you can and can't buy

I hadn't heard about this issue in a while, so when it came up again, I thought it would be interesting to discuss. In 2007, Bush signed a bill which pretty much mandates beginning next January you can't buy incandescent light bulbs anymore, so people will be pushed to either CFLs (which may not be as efficient as people believe?) or LEDs. I always find it interesting, albeit a little disturbing, when the government mandates you can not buy or do something for the, supposed, greater good. Is this something the government should be involved in? Is it even right for the government to be involved in this? Who decides the greater good? What if one just doesn't want to care? And these sorts of "greater good" issues spawn a whole slew of other questions and issues.

Internet Piracy and Copyright Law

I saw two articles on this week that caught my eye. One said that Obama administration wants to make unauthorized internet streaming of copyrighted material a felony, and the other was about a report saying that internet piracy is really just a pricing problem. So, who's right? Is more regulation or lower prices the answer to internet piracy?

Declaring War

When does the president have the right to declare war without Congressional approval? Glenn Greenwald explores this issue in the context of the escalating situation in Libya.