01.13.15

Spying or a safe haven for terrorists?

Posted in , Liberty at 11:37 by RjZ

UK Prime Minister David Cameron recently said “In our country [the United Kingdom], do we want to allow a means of communication between people which, even in extremis with a signed warrant from the Home Secretary, that we cannot read? My answer to that question is no we must not.”

There is a fundamental difference between the UK and the US. In the UK cameras are everywhere and people like them because it makes them safer. Guns are banned, and David Cameron is continuing that theme in this quote about things like Apple’s FaceTime and iMessage systems which are encrypted.

A UK citizen recently said: if I have nothing to hide, this system is better.

The U.S. response typically goes something like ‘you have nothing to hide from today’s (benevolent) government. What if you had something to hide from a future government who has begun abusing that power and with whom you disagree.

If privacy and freedom increase risks and danger, is it worth it? Is it a good thing to live in a benevolent police state if it’s safer, crime is reduced, and the majority of people’s freedoms aren’t limited?

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12.17.12

Americans are mad!

Posted in Liberty, Society at 9:34 by RjZ

Yet another tragedy struck the United States and the rest of the world thinks we’re simply mad. Now, statistics and patently ridiculous statements from both sides of the debate are swirling around like flurries in a snowstorm.

Pro-gun politicians say “now is not the time to talk about gun control.” ‘Don’t play politics with people’s tragedy’ they suggest, but controlling the conversation is politics and it’s been very successful. Time heals wounds and the pro-gun side simply waits out the momentary anger that might motivate change. People’s positions rarely change. (If you didn’t feel like banning guns after the Columbine shooting, the Virginia Tech shooting, the Aurora shooting, well, the Newtown shooting isn’t likely to suddenly change your mind.)

Meanwhile, the gun-control advocates have been offering some pretty damning statistics around gun violence. The viral image comparing 10,728 gun deaths a year in the United states with a measly 8 in Great Britain is certainly disturbing. It wouldn’t be as impressive if population were taken into account. In that case, U.S. rate of gun deaths is only three times the rate U.K. rate. It’s still sad and disturbing but not nearly as frightening as ten thousand times as bad.

The most popular argument from gun supporters is that outlawing guns would do nothing to stop criminals from having guns. This specious claim doesn’t survive even the lightest scrutiny with respect to these tragedies. Each of attackers were law-abiding citizens who only became criminals after they finally used the guns. Just the same, taking guns away from people has does not have as much effect as you might imagine. Australia hasn’t had a gun massacre since it dramatically curtailed gun ownership, but gun deaths in that time have actually increased slightly. Gun massacres aren’t common occurrences and so we don’t really expect to get good statistics from rare events. Either way, countries with more liberal gun polices and gun ownership don’t always have more gun related deaths than countries where firearms are illegal. America just seems to be a particularly bad case. Maybe there is some other cause.

Now may be the time to do something, but let’s face it; for good or ill, Americans aren’t going move from gun-ownership being a constitutionally granted right and freedom to a complete repeal of the second amendment. The best gun control advocates ought to hope for might be some limitations of assault rifles or similar weapons. But would that be enough to really avoid these horrifying massacres?

Wait, that’s another embarrassing pro-gun argument: you don’t need a gun to kill people. Timothy McVeigh, they suggest, did his damage with fertilizer. Falling for this ploy would be a case of letting ‘perfect’ become the enemy of ‘good’. We will not ever be able to stop every person from inflicting violence on another and even attempting to do so would likely result in a world so devoid of freedom no one would want to live in it anyway. Yet somehow, we don’t give up and we try to fashion rules that straddle rights of the individual with harmony in society. It isn’t easy, and we often fail, simply because neither side will be able make a completely compelling argument isn’t a case for doing nothing.

So fine, maybe gun rights advocates will have to budge a bit and lose their freedom to easily buy assault rifles and high capacity magazines and gun-control supporters won’t manage to keep us safe by removing all guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens. Such a comprise might be sensible, but won’t likely accomplish much.

But there is one thing that’s different about the United States and other countries with nearly as liberal gun ownership policies, and it’s likely much closer to the root cause of the problem. What do each of the assailants in these recent cases appear to have in common? They were mentally ill. We don’t know that exactly, but frankly, isn’t it a good hypothesis that a person who decides shoot up a movie theater or elementary school has at least something undesirable going on in his brain?

The real path towards a solution might have nothing to do with gun control. Instead now is the time to increase access to mental health care. To work diligently to identify people who may later be capable of these acts and to offer them help, where possible, and, even detainment if proven impossible. Few industrialized nations have so little access to health care and particularly mental health care as the United States. Regardless of how you want to create the access, it’s clearly in the best interest of everyone that people can be identified and treated before they buy or borrow a gun. Mental health is part of health and if we’re going to guarantee life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, we’re going to have to help those people who otherwise will wind up slaughtering innocent citizens.

It’s true, guns don’t kill people, but mentally ill people do walk into shopping malls with guns blazing. Instead of arguing about how dangerous guns are, or suggesting armed teachers might have avoided this carnage, let’s invest time and money in changing people’s minds about mental illness, and working to identify people with those illnesses before a sick teacher brings a gun to class not for protection but to act out her own violent delusions.

The time to act is now, but please, let’s do something about the cause of these horrific acts, instead of bickering about the tools.

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11.21.12

Hobby Lobby wants employees to have babies, no matter what

Posted in Liberty at 13:27 by RjZ

Frankly, in my view, it’s rather silly to call the morning after pill a method of abortion, but Hobby Lobby’s CEO David Green thinks that it is and forcing him to cover the expenses of this form of birth control is against his faith.

Plan B morning after pill

Plan B morning after pills

I want to agree with him. Of course, I hope any employee of his who disagrees with his unscientific views ought to get the heck out of there, but the facts are, many people don’t have many choices where they can work. An exception to the law for his business puts them in danger of not being able to receive care that the health care law mandates.

Stories like this make me very uncomfortable with the Affordable Care Act. It is just the kind of unintended consequences that big laws result in. Maybe this is a weakly constructed slippery slope argument where people are opposed to “Obama-care” for all the things that ‘could’ maybe happen, but in this case, here they are; actually happening.

Mr. Green may have backwards beliefs and be so convinced of them that he’d like to deny care to his employees, even resulting in unwanted pregnancies, later term abortions (wouldn’t that be worse?), unwanted children, orphans, unemployment, increased crime, and on and on (hey, we can all play the slippery slope argument game, can’t we?) but is it really the role of the government to judge him? And couldn’t this all have been fixed if we just abandoned the annoying notion that employers should be responsible for health care decisions in the first place (I don’t want my boss in my business any more than I want someone in Washington in there).

So, yes, I want to agree with Mr. Green, but let’s not be too hasty. What if Mr. Green’s religion required him to ban infidels from working in his stores? What if infidels happen to be black? Is it still his right to have a different standard for whom he would hire simply because religious freedom says so? When 1960’s era store owners refused service to black people our government stepped in, limiting the owner’s freedom to forbid this.

I still want to agree with Mr. Green, in spite of the dark age foundation for his beliefs, but before we jump to his defense, we must also balance his freedom with that of his employees. Freedom and liberty while living in a society and community can be very complex and trade-offs must be weighed for everyone involved. The Affordable Care act does limit Mr. Green’s freedom, but, must his freedom trump everyone else’s?

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11.02.12

Tarnished gold standard

Posted in Liberty at 17:05 by RjZ

I think it’s great that politicians this year were talking about the gold standard. The gold standard is a pretty esoteric thing for a politician to bring up at a rally and expect anyone to even know what he’s talking about, let alone cheer him on. Unfortunately, I am not so convinced that people really do have an idea what impact reverting to the gold standard would have.

Since the libertarian party is generally for policies that return us to the this ultimate standard of fiscal conservatism, and I hope we’ll continue to hear more about it in the coming years, I’d like to share my non-economist views on just why returning to the gold standard is the kind of utterly non-pragmatic thing that libertarians need to stop screaming about if they ever expect to gain a foothold in U.S. politics.

Briefly, then, here’s how it works. If you’re on the gold standard, than, no matter what happens in your country, no matter what banks do with exotic, leveraged, financial instruments, you can’t ever print any money, unless, of course, you have gold in your treasury to back it up.

Right from the start, it’s silly, to imagine an actual gold standard. We’ve already printed so much money since we left the standard completely (in 1971!). The U.S. would have to so dramatically de-value its currency until it could justify each dollar’s percentage of gold in our treasuries; we’d have to rewrite decades of inflation all at once. Whatever you may have in the bank, would suddenly be nearly worthless, and your ability to buy foreign goods and services would fall through the floor.

Of course, we don’t have to return to the hard limit of gold in our coffers. Instead, we could simply not print any more and call the current amount of cash in our economy a hard limit.

All this is probably sounding pretty reasonable to my fiscally conservative readers. Rest assured, dear readers, I’m with you, but alas, the economy is more complex than we would like it to be. I get it. We libertarians don’t really trust our elected officials. We don’t want them to have any leeway to bail out parts of our economy by just printing money–what they’re really doing is borrowing against the future, and, alas, there is so little incentive for them not to do this.

And I agree with all this. The only practical problem is that, the ability to occasionally print money enables governments to at least soften the blow of a great many ills of our capitalist system. It’s commonly agreed that the Great Depression was made worse because we couldn’t print money. Please note, I am not ascribing to the Gold Standard causeing the Great Depression; over spending did. I am claiming that the inability to respond extended the impact. There was nothing the government could do to lessen the blow of failing banks which reduced trade an economic efficiency.

I disagree with the magnitude of the more recent bail-outs and how they were used during our current crisis, but I can’t deny that the Federal Reserve’s policy of “quantitative easing” (also known as QE, a new, fancy way to print money by simply adding it electronically to bank balance sheets) has eased the pain that this crisis would otherwise have caused.

Was it the government’s fault that they didn’t foresee the amount of leveraging that both banks and individuals had engaged in? Should they have passed laws to avoid this? Would a sensible libertarian policy suggest we ought to try to guess all the ways in which we can get screwed by people trying to game the system and pass laws to avoid it? Hardly.

We have borrowed from the future, because unexpected things happened in the past. Like abortions, this ability to print money should be safe, legal, and above all, rare. The alternative is a tossing and turning economy, now wildly up, now wildly down, with longer time spent in the painful doldrums, and politicians with no tools whatsoever to do anything about it. Do I trust politicians with this freedom to print money? Not much. But I know for sure what happens if there is no alternative.

Can you imagine a business trying to grow without any ability to borrow? Now scale that up to the size of a country. Argentina is a country which went bankrupt. They screwed creditors and are now unable to borrow for the future. The result is a country with resources and educated people struggling to get out of doldrums and no recourse to get there. Unlike the U.S., when they print money, no one actually believes them.

In fact, the U.S. can’t actually print money arbitrarily. We can only keep adding zeros to balance sheets as long as the rest of the world is willing to value our currency. During the recent financial crisis we’ve had three rounds of QE and billions and billions of dollars are added to our financial system (without us earning them!). The dollar, meanwhile, has held its own on international markets. Why? Because other countries are worse off than we are (for example, the Euro crisis), and, unlike Argentina, the financial markets still believe America is a good bet. When the U.S. was downgraded by the rating industries, financial markets barely reacted. Why? Same reason; we don’t have to be such a good bet, so long as we’re better than everyone else.

Returning to the gold standard needlessly removes a critical tool from our government’s ability to manage unforeseen problems with our modern capitalistic economy. Fortunately, we really can’t just print money arbitrarily, and without consequence, and the impact of such forced restraint would leave no way of reacting to more serious problems. If libertarians truly want to allow unfettered capitalism to explore all the ways in which we can enable everyone to reap benefits from our resources, we can’t afford to watch the world pass us by while we languish in our next recession or depression with no lifesaver in sight, just because of our distrust of politicians. There are better policies for libertarians to build their platform on, even if it is exciting to wonks and economists that everyday people are actually discussing such nuances of our economic system.

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10.19.12

Too many Mitts, but not too many choices

Posted in , Liberty at 15:22 by RjZ

The Utah Tribune, yes, Utah, has endorsed Obama. It’s not a ringing endorsement so much as an admission that Governor Romney just can’t seem to stay put. If I had to guess, I’d say that most folks aren’t voting for Romney, so much as voting against an Obama administration whom they believe has guided the country in the wrong direction for the past four years. The Utah Tribune offers a more measured view of Obama’s performance, but regardless, they reach the conclusion that I have about Governor Romney: we don’t know who he is or will be as president.

Utah should know him best. He went to college there and successfully brought much credit to the state by running the Winter Olympics (using, it must be noted, government funds….) But the editors of the paper find that his pandering first to the extreme right of his party and now to the middle, makes him predictable, only if you know who’s in the audience. Romney’s plan for the economy, the thing that he claims to really differentiate him from the failed policies of Obama is practically a secret. We’re being asked to vote for a plan which we haven’t seen because, well, he’s a good businessman and he’s run companies before. I believe Romney would be successful at executing his plan and I trust his credentials to do so, it’s just no one seems to be allowed to know what that plan is.

Fortunately, America, Governor Romney is offering you the fallacy of false choice. You don’t have to vote for Mitt, just because you don’t want the other guy. Sure, I know, voting Libertarian is just throwing away your vote; except it’s not. There is little practical difference between the two political parties today. Both will raise your taxes. Both will raise the deficit. Both will claim to create jobs, taking credit when the numbers go up and avoiding blame when they don’t. Any economist will tell you that a single vote does not, actually, change the election, but for these reasons and many more, voting your conscience, not just against a candidate is the only way to make things better. Not expressing your vision for who you really want to run the country is throwing away your vote.

Check out the libertarian party candidates.
Check out the green party candidates.
Check out the constitution party candidates.

Just remember, voting is about having a choice. This is your chance to make yours.

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05.19.12

Children of capitalists

Posted in Liberty, Society at 16:52 by RjZ

Ask your average American about communism and, after they’re done spitting on the ground, you’re likely to hear a smug: “Communism isn’t such a bad idea… it’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.” They may like the idea that everyone could benefit in a fair an equitable society, but they know human nature will throw a wrench in the works. Some will take more than their fair share without contributing themselves, or people won’t work if they’re not incentivized.

Ask your average American about U.S. politics and, after they’re done pulling out their hair in disgust, you’re likely to hear how “politicians are in the pocket of special interests. They care more about raising money and getting re-elected than doing what is right.” Folks are dissatisfied with politicians but, even after inadvertently hinting at the problem, and here I mean money, they miss the connection.

Society’s ills don’t stem, as some will claim, from elitists out of touch with average Americans. The Founding Fathers were absolutely elites of society. And it’s not just the wealthy. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, a few lucky individuals fell into success, but the majority of our historic captains of industry rose to prominence through sweat and savvy. Back then, the free market system naturally separated the wheat from the chaff; the cream from the milk.

No, elitism is part of what made this great country. Smart, hard working Founding Fathers went out of their way to install a system that protected the rights of people they would likely never meet let alone deign to associate with. Ruthless elitism, the notion that one’s ideas are better than everyone else’s, drove early industrialists to invent products and even whole business models that have (and often continue to have) vast, and usually positive, influence over our lives.

But lately, we’ve started to see a problem or two with “the system”. To see what it is, let’s look at an exception.

Peter Buffet describes himself as a “composer, author, and philanthropist” He’s also the son of one of the world’s richest men, Warren Buffet. Peter Buffet tried working in his father’s firm but it wasn’t for him. Like the rest of the Buffet children, he received Berkshire Hathaway stock valued at $90,000 when he was 18 years old. He decided to invest that tidy sum into his own happiness and pursue his career as a musician. Today, Peter Buffet is 53 years old and that $90,000 would have been worth $70 million had he simply left it where it was but, he says he “would much rather have invested in [himself]…as opposed to having a pile of money that essentially belongs to someone else’s success.”

Peter Buffet is happy and down to earth but almost as rare as his father. Warren Buffet describes the problem that results from what happens to the offspring of many wealthy, successful people as “the ovarian lottery.” “The odds of having a son or daughter, who is as passionate and excited and driven as the founder of a business was…are incredibly small.”

The odds of your daughter being the best person to run your successful company are tiny, but the list of companies run by children of founders is long and uninspiring. Successful people give their children every opportunity they can and often bequeath large amounts of money on them as well. The problem is that there is no reason to believe that these children will be the most efficient recipients of the capital. Paris Hilton is merely a celebrity example of wealth being squandered significantly less productive children, but she’s hardly alone.

It’s not only the kids of rich industrialists. Politicians do their best to pass influence and power on to their descendants. Just look at the George Bush Sr. and Junior, (not to mention brother Jeb), George and Mitt Romney, or the Kennedy’s. After the first generation, little has changed since the days of royalty; people pass power and influence on to their children who have done nothing to earn this opportunity beyond being born of powerful parents.

None of this is how capitalism is intended to function. The free market is about having a level playing field where the best will be rewarded for their genius and effort. (Note: even in this purest form, it’s still just an “ovarian lottery” where those fortunate enough to have been born smart and ambitious will be more successful. Few will likely have much problem with that, but I digress.) It’s just human nature to pass on the fruits of our labor to the most treasured people in our lives, our children. Unfortunately, it’s no good for capitalism. Remove this incentive to pass on our empires and you take away a critical motivator for success. Unfortunately, the power that wealth brings no longer remains in the hands of elites, born with skills and abilities beyond the masses. Instead, that power is handed down, to the next generation, regardless of worth, who may squander it, or worse, misguide our economy, even our democracy to despair.

Loyal readers will know I am a strong supporter of markets and individual freedoms. Capitalism may be the best of the flawed systems available to us. Still, I’d like to hear from readers if they agree and what they suggest as a solution to this problem.

Meanwhile. I find myself imagining a parallel universe where smug, successful, soviet intelligentsia are sitting around the kitchen table ticking off their thoughts about alternative economic systems. “Capitalism,” they opine, “isn’t such a bad idea. It’s just that it doesn’t account for human nature.”

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05.15.12

Losing North Carolina means losing the White House

Posted in , Liberty at 11:16 by RjZ

Forget what you think about homosexual marriage, Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage, is right. Obama may have sealed his fate as a one term president by admitting he is for equal rights for all citizens.

  • Votes in several states, not just fly-over states but California, have time and again gone against marriage-equality.
  • Evangelical voters weren’t motivated by Mitt Romney. Now they have a reason to be.
  • Conservatives can simultaneously claim to be more focused on the real issues facing Americans (the economy) and still claim to be the only reliable support of conservative social values.

All the posters about being on the wrong side of history won’t do much good if Obama wins by a landslide in liberal states and loses everywhere else.

Instead of being on the right side of history, perhaps we should be asking how to convince the religious conservatives that they, too, benefit from a country that is not a theocracy. That the government deciding who should and should not be married is exactly not the place to stick its nose.

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03.19.12

Dramatic license or fraud?

Posted in Liberty, Society at 13:58 by RjZ

Mike Daisy was outed last weekend by This American Life for his not-exactly-first-hand heart wrenching story about the plight of workers in China. It seems Mr. Daisy’s theatrical monologue is more based-on-a-true-story, than journalism. There’s nothing wrong with that; we’ve all seen dozens and dozens of movie depictions of real-life events that have been exaggerated. Dramatization is often more powerful. It helps us to connect with the true meaning behind the story and more is effective as an impetus for change. Mr. Daisy’s problem is that he was unwilling to let his version of events stand on their own, instead hoping to engender more response by implying his story was fact.

Pity. As other media outlets have reported, the gist of Mr. Daisy’s presentation on Apple’s sub-contractor Foxconn and the general plight of the Chinese worker today is true. Our shiny iDevices (and, mind you, most everything else made in China too) often come from factories where workers do not enjoy the same protections that workers we have come to expect in the West. Imagining Chinese workers whipping out their own iPhones to check in with friends on the way to happy hour would is woefully far from the truth. It took the U.S. and Europe decades to develop labor protections but we’ve exported jobs to China without the protections that we enjoy. A lack of pesky labor protections goes a long way to explain how these amazing little devices can be so inexpensive. Even if nobel prize winning, and notably liberal, economists agree that sweatshops may still be a step up from the otherwise horrible living conditions, Mike Daisy hopes to make us aware of these conditions and hopes we can put some pressure on U.S. based manufacturers so that the Chinese don’t have to wait as long as we did to get weekends off. If labor laws make it to China, the prices of our coveted electronic toys may increase. The good news is that more of us might be able to afford them if jobs here were competitive with our developing nation counterparts.

Of course, the simple omission of where his story comes from means Mr. Daisy may have done more damage to his cause than good. Most folks find a powerful dramatic story more convincing than a lie, even if they are actually the very same story, just with a different prologue. Mr. Daisy was lying, and he admits as much by contradicting his comments made on the initial This American Life episode with more recent remarks on his blog that “I stand by my work. My show is a theatrical piece whose goal is to create a human connection between our gorgeous devices and the brutal circumstances from which they emerge. It uses a combination of fact, memoir, and dramatic license to tell its story, and I believe it does so with integrity.” His work is dramatic, not journalistic. Why didn’t he mention any of this when asked, directly, by This American Life host Ira Glass during the original airing of his piece?

And what about This American Life? While not strictly journalism, it’s clear that listeners we’re mislead. Even journalists make mistakes from time to time, but this weekend’s apology for not thoroughly fact-checking the claims of one of its performers shows that the real quality of the show is not its flawlessness, but its respect for its listeners by vigorously addressing error when they are found. Mr. Daisy could learn much from the show that was kind enough to produce part of his monologue on the air.

It’s not the first time I’ve written about stretching the truth. James Frey’s million little lies caught my eye even before he was outed. For my part, if, sometimes, it takes me a while to write new posts, it’s because I am trying to think of a story I can make interesting, without making up details that didn’t exist. Reactions are yours, regardless of the facts. A good writer aspires to engage readers with his reactions, even if the real story is often mundane. This isn’t journalism, but rather a blog. Your expectations ought to measured accordingly, and yet, dear readers, if I’m lying or making stuff up, I promise to let you know. If you don’t think I have, don’t hesitate to let me know!

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03.07.12

Make laws not services

Posted in Liberty, Society at 17:16 by RjZ

Here’s how the argument usually goes. The right screams about how government has gotten too large and is sticking its nose in every corner of our business. The left responds that it’s easy to complain while merrily benefiting from all that government; “enjoy your safe food and roads,” they smirk. Conservatives could help their side of the debate quite a lot by reframing it just a bit more like libertarians. (Well, like libertarians theoretically would, if they weren’t so caught up in the same “government is too big, full stop” trope that the right usually takes up.)

Instead of relentlessly harping on small government we need to be clear on what the purpose of government is, and what it doesn’t have to be. We need and all benefit from laws that ensure fairness, equal opportunity, and a level playing field. We need laws which, for example, require companies making food to actually meet society’s minimal expectations about it, such as, you know, it’s actually OK to eat it, it won’t kill you (right away at least), the label is not an outright lie about what’s in it, that sort of thing. This legislated fair play allows companies to compete more effectively. If Acme Inc. is selling you high quality whole wheat bread, but filling it with much cheaper sawdust, how can the GoodBread.com, who is actually using more expensive ingredients, compete? In this case keeping a level playing field has the added advantage of encouraging safe a food supply. Few are sensibly arguing in favor of lifting such laws or their enforcement when they push for small government.

The same goes for all manner of government activities, nearly all of which have to do with ensuring a functioning infra-structure and system in which private enterprise can innovate and excel. That is, the real role of government, and it’d be hard to find a rational objection to that role, even from the smallest government aficionados.

The story isn’t so cut and dried for the services side of government. For each an every government service, somebody, maybe a liberal, just as likely a conservative, is certainly very happy to be receiving it. Whether we’re discussing corporate bail-outs or personal welfare, the happy recipient, even the ones demanding a smaller government, is usually referring to all those other services. But, as convenient and seemingly necessary as every service is to someone, there is nearly always an inherent downside, often, a limitation on individual freedom or privacy. We may all agree to accept this downside; it’s better for the greater good, for example, but we must at least acknowledge the limitation.

How can services limit freedom? For starters, they cost money. Everything we do for people, “necessary” or not, costs money and that’s money that you and me worked hard to earn, often giving up on our freedom to sit at home watching TV do something productive in order to earn it. Maybe it makes sense to spend this money in the long run, but that doesn’t make free. Furthermore, government services are rarely offered with no strings attached. Prospective recipients must qualify, provide personal information to prove it, and then engage in ongoing proscribed activities to make sure they still deserve it. Unemployment benefits are a good example. For money that was paid in by your employer and your own salary, you still have to jump through a range of hoops, week after week, to get it.

Services are almost never offered equally to everyone, and certainly not equally used by everyone. Invariably, that means you’re paying for something you don’t want and might not even agree with. Think about the current controversy in the United States about funding contraception. Ensuring young people have access to birth control is nearly a public good, yet Catholics are pretty sure that doing so forces them to pay for limitations on their cherished religious freedom.

Services that really are so-called public goods (the linked definition above is worth reading: true public goods must be non-exclusionary and non-rivalrous—not an easy test to satisfy) are the realm of government. The market really can manage the rest, provided the government is there to ensure a level playing field. Danger to this delicate balance comes when the government provides a service. It’s not only responsible for fair protection, but it is simultaneously competing in the market. That means we’re all paying for one of the competitors while the other is left to fend for itself, and how is that really a fair game?

Plenty remains to be debated in discovering which services remain as truly public goods. Do we all benefit from better health care, or public school education? Is it worth it to force others to pay for these services even though they don’t receive any direct benefit that they can see? The subtlety and quantity of these cases is endless. All the more surprising then, that we spend so much time over-simplifying this argument to big versus small government. Doing so makes hypocrites out of conservatives and naive dreamers out of liberals who can’t pay for it all. But it brings no one closer to a solution.

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10.17.11

It’s a tea party on Wall Street

Posted in Liberty, Society at 13:36 by RjZ

Is Occupy Wall Street (OWS) an antidote to the Tea Party? Really, they may want the same things. Both groups have formed out of dissatisfaction with the government action and interaction with a world economy in a shambles, while bankers and financial professionals grow richer and richer. Just as many of the fiscally conservative, small government core of the Tea Party have been shouted down by loony social conservatives who aren’t satisfied with the power they already wield in the U.S. republican party; it’s unclear exactly who OWS really is, and is not. For some, they are the latest crop of counter-culture hippies, and surely a great many are just that. As youth around the globe are faced with a world where they won’t likely make more money than their parents, even if they are lucky enough to find a job, it’s not surprising that idle hands have picked up signs in protest. Bill Buster claimed to speak for fellow protesters while he was a guest on the Charlie Rose show. He declared that the media is focusing on the youth, but that the movement comprises nearly anyone who feels disenfranchised by the economic situation.

Just as the independent Tea Party has seemingly been taken over by extremists, the OWS is in danger of being taken over by Guy Fawkes inspired unemployed. Their anti-capitalist née anarchistic ideals express more anger than alternatives to the government, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. Bill Maher and the Left perhaps shouldn’t have dispensed with “Tea Baggers” so quickly. Now, they’re faced with having to support anarchists, or poke fun at same, while they wave signs with slogans Maher’s writers could have written themselves.

It doesn’t take The Economist the wade through the issues to know what’s going on. People are angry and they no longer believe they can rely on the existing system to right their perceived wrongs without raising their voices. The Tea Party is unhappy with conservatives who failed to live up to their financial promises and OWS is made of people who feel their liberal leaders have failed to lead and solve their problems.

Libertarians can see how they’re both right. It’s too easy to ignore OWS as just unemployed anarchists, young people who’ve grown up feeling so entitled that when the government starts cutting down on handouts they’ve got nothing better to do than complain. Bill Buster claims OWS isn’t anti-capitalism, it’s anti-corruption and collusion. Hard to argue with that. Noted liberal Paul Krugman admits that it’s not really the 1% vs. the 99%, rather it’s closer to something like one tenth of one percent who haven’t earned their wealth in some John’s Galt ideal, but through legal loopholes and political connections. Meanwhile, the Tea Party’s extremists haven’t made any libertarian friends with their barely veiled desire for a U.S. theocracy, but the core message, forcing government to reign in spending and mis-guided control of economic policy is one that makes one wish they hadn’t been so derailed by the religious right.

OWS is finding fertile ground around the world, especially Europe, where their liberal anti-capitalism message can take easy root. Europeans, after all, are finding it hard to have faith in their politicians while they watch, and have to pay for, the failure of the Euro-experiment. That anti-capitalism Guy Fawkes stuff is a disappointing distraction, because if Bill Buster is correct, the Tea Party and OWS could get together, (kick out the religious extremists) and actually be a party for the rest of us. A political force that recognizes both the opportunity and the limitations of capitalism and holds politician’s feet to the fire when they cannot maintain system that is just and free of corruption.

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