Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wisdom of the Acorn

A few weeks ago, this YouTube channel, called "Wisdom of the Acorn", was brought to my attention. It has produced quite a few amusing cartoons since then. I recommend watching all of them.

You may need to turn up your speakers a lot, though, since audio configuration is still improvable.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hollywood wants your vote

Every election cycle we're being bombarded with requests and encouragements to "do our civil duty", "let our voice be heard" or "make a change". We're talking, of course, about voting. And just as it happens to be, many of our favorite Hollywood stars have taken their time this year to inform us about the importance of playing the state game. Let's hear what they have to say:

"This is one of the biggest financial disasters in American history!" - "Why would you vote?"

Of course, they intend to be obviously ironic, but from a libertarian perspective, this is deadly serious. Voting out of the financial crisis won't work, no matter how flowery the promises. Politics in collusion with big banking and big business started the crisis, and politics in collusion with big banking and big business is ready to prolong it and bail out the unfortunate casualties of this financial war game. For more information on the details, see this by Roderick T. Long for a short overview and this by the Mises Institute for a really comprehensive understanding of what happened.

So, indeed - why would you vote if you really care about the economy?

"Because who cares about your children's eduation?" ... "Reading? Literacy? Really?"

Indeed, who among the ballot crooks cares about your children's education? What is government doing about literacy, except diverting funds inefficiently?

I'd really like to know where the idea originated that government should care for schooling. Government is just as apt to care for schooling than it is apt to handle indoor plumbing. Why would you entrust a bunch of tenured lawyers, carnival orators and general do-gooders with raising your children? What a strange idea in the light of facts.

"Who cares about global warming and the fact that our global ice caps are melting?"

Quite a lot of people. But as I pointed out in my last post, government is not able to "restore climate justice" because it has never existed. Every state of climate favors some at the expense of others. Furthermore, we cannot even exist without fueling this "injustice" since the need for breathing and other basic human activities contribute greenhouse gases to the climate equation.

What you can do is try to convince people why one state of climate might be more beneficial to them than another. But always keep in mind: you can be wrong. That's why you shouldn't employ government force to promote your world views.

"Who gives a shit about terrorism?"

I'd recommend a read on blowback and American military history to find out whether another "commander in chief" will "get us back on track", or rather not.

"The right to choose, the right to life, any right ..."

I wonder whether the excited woman stating this actually believes that I need to genuflect before government for my right to life, or my right to choose, or, indeed, any right.

If so, I'd recommend reading the Declaration of Independence to find out on what premises the American government ought to rest, and then a little pondering about the contradiction in forcefully expropriating citizens via taxation to "protect their rights and property".

"Who cares about the War on Drugs?"

Indeed, that should make you think whether you really want to vote: for 20 years now, heavily armed police troops have been kicking in doors of peaceful pot users to put them in filthy jails where they are likely to get raped by real criminals and often start a criminal career themselves, all on behalf of "morally conscious politicians", elected by the concerned people of this fine nation.

The War on Drugs - voting's finest brew.

"Who cares about Darfur?"

How often has governmental military interventionism in the absence of a previous aggression helped, and how often has it created bigger problems in the aftermath? Who says we need politicians to solve this?

"Nobody's listenin' to you, so you know what - fuck it."

That's actually a good statement.

"Don't vote unless you care about healthcare."

Governments have always played a key role in making treatment unaccessible for the needy so they could buy them with their control scheme later on.

If you care about healthcare, better avoid the ballot box.

"If you care about gun control ..."

Now this was to please your average liberal watcher, wasn't it?

"If you care about forcefully preventing people from buying means of self-defense, then VOTE !"

"Women's rights, civil rights ..."

... are individual rights or no rights at all, and thus violated by the very premise of government: taxation.

"Rising gas prices ..."

... are mostly rising due to an inflationary monetary policy and taxation. Even if this were not so, government could only cause production bottlenecks to occur because government doesn't produce oil.

I won't go on here, you get the picture. Famous people who have accommodated to the existing status quo, the all-powerful and all-regulating state, want you to join their happy ban-and-tax festivity so it can go on for quite another while. I don't assume bad intentions by any of them, but by luring people to the state apparatus, they're willingly supporting a system that gets more intolerable every day. Thus, take their ironic advice serious and "just don't vote".

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

A libertarian approach to climate change

This is a topic I've been pondering about for quite some time. Climate change, should it indeed be mainly caused by human emissions, challenges conventional libertarian doctrine and forces us to think in terms not directly related to life and property. Homesteading the atmosphere is hardly possible, and attributing "fair shares" would require a literal shutdown of privacy to be enforced, aside from the practical difficulties it bears.

So, what is to be done about climate change, granted that human emissions do have as much impact on it as is generally presumed?

First of all, to record a change, one must choose a starting point. Problems begin to arise here: which state of climate is to be considered the starting point that is to be maintained? If human emissions like carbon dioxide or methane are indeed a major driver behind climate change, then any point in the history of human civilization will show us a distorted, mutated state of climate. Even in a completely de-industrialized society of hunters and gatherers, emissions from human activities like breathing or stool will alter the world's climate. If the goal is to return to a state of climate completely untouched by human activity, then the only proper solution is to annihilate the human species. Any ethics that concerns itself with the arrangement of human affairs cannot support such a conclusion.

Thus, our first observation is that human activity alters the climate, no matter how sophisticated or simple the pursued lifestyle is. Any struggle against climate change must therefore limit itself to achieve gradual changes, no total abolition of human-caused distortion.

Which leads us to the question of justice. Every state of climate favors and disadvantages certain regions. One might guess that a warmer climate will defreeze certain areas around the poles, making them available for homesteading and productive use, while on the other hand causing some islands to be swallowed by the sea. Vice versa for a cooler climate, of course. As I've pointed out above, we need to determine a certain point in climate history that ought to be conserved as "good" or "fair", but in the presence of human activity, such a choice must be purely arbitrary.

Why, for example, should we aspire to conserve the climate of 1999 when in 2009 property distribution might already have adapted to new climate conditions? Wouldn't that victimize 2009 property owners for the benefit of 1999 property owners? Even if 2009 property owners benefitted at the expense of 1999 property owners in the first place, the same would also be true for 1999 POs compared to 1989 POs, 1989 POs compared to 1979 POs and so on. Again, any arrangement as to which state of climate ought to be preferred must be purely despotic.

Unfortunately, this distinction is never actually made when the issue of climate change is being discussed, at least I haven't noticed it. Part of the blame goes to environmentalist ideology which claims that more human activity, i.e. more human emissions and thus more climate change, means more harm. This is false. Changes in our global environment abet certain areas while at the same time victimizing others. Environmentalists attempt to find an "equilibrium" state of climate which grants the same amount of advantage to every party involved, and by doing so engage in the same Sisyphonian endeavor that has been plaguing economics since almost 200 years: the desire to centrally manage a volatile, highly complicated and spontaneous order, the commitment to do good by force. Has it ever really worked out?

Of course, this theory doesn't invalidate generally established rules on property and pollution. Neighborhood pollution is an avoidable nuisance and should be treated as such. Climate change is not avoidable and must therefore be subjected to more appropriate treatment.

Talking about treatment, there are ways to influence human emissions and thus, to an extent, maybe even climate change itself. Obviously, changing one's own living habits is the straightforward way to start, but discriminating carefully to promote "eco-friendly behavior" will also set incentives to pursue a more desirable lifestyle. Note that "more desirable" is a subjective choice, since, again, different states of climate bear different results concerning winners and losers.

One reason why we shouldn't leave it to government to discriminate is its inability to react to new discoveries. Take, for example, this "Dust to Dust" study on car energy consumption. As it turns out, hybrid cars consume a lot more energy than previously assumed due to costly production and recycling processes and comparably low durability, at least according to this source. On the other hand, small-size trucks appear on the eco-friendly end of the scale for their simple setup, fairly low repair rates and relatively high "life expectancy". Unsurprisingly, this discovery received little to no attention in the mainstream media. Some people tried to refute it, which is good. Struggle of ideas, thesis-antithesis-synthesis and so on. Government can't accomplish that; government says "so be it" and goes on to receive the money. Little room for innovation is granted.

While not regarding this as a final analysis of the topic, I would certainly urge governments to stop politicizing climate change. It is out of their reach, and every attempt to "preserve justice" by collecting more taxes or creating more regulations will only add to the existing arbitrariness.

More thoughts to come in the future, hopefully.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Paul Krugman's Nobel Prize

Knight_of_BAAWA on the Mises Institute forums has it right:
They should give the Nobel Prize in Biology to Kent Hovind.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Discrimination III

Yes, it's discrimination weeks at Road to Rothbard's. Today's special menu will be this fallacious argument:
If we repeal affirmative action legislation, people will be left free to give in to their bad prejudices and we could witness a renaissance of segregation of black people in the South, or a reawakening of systematic discrimination against other minorities in other parts of the country/world. Affirmative action is a check and balance against such behavior and should thus remain intact.
As is the case with many "right on first sight" arguments, this one starts out with a correct premise, but employs too little thought in drawing conclusions.

Indeed, a repeal of anti-discrimination legislation would restore property owners' rights to invite and refuse anyone to/from their property, just as they see fit. Theoretically, this means that these property owners could give in to their bad habits and act stupidly in denying people access for silly reasons.

It is, however, a noteworthy fact that whenever discrimination against a certain group of people occured on a wide scale, there was legislation backing it. Be it Jim Crow laws directed against black people or the infamous Nuremberg Laws, among many other pieces of legislation, to expel Jews from German society, methodic discrimination, as it seems to me, exclusively happened with the help of the state apparatus.

Why is this so? Why wouldn't racists or anti-Semites just keep on raving about their enemy of choice, refuse to trade with them, and leave everything else as it is?

You see, with every further discriminating employer/property owner/customer, the cost of discriminating for a "non-discriminator" increases. Suppose there are 3 employers, you and two competitors. These competitors suddenly decide to lay off all Jews they employ. The pool of Jewish workers seeking employment suddenly increases which enables you to hire Jewish workers at a lower price than before. This will grant a Jewish applicant a possible advantage compared to a non-Jewish contender. Furthermore, among those laid-off workers there might just be a number of potentially indispensable talents nobody would fire in their right mind. These geniuses will be glad to work for someone who judges them according to their abilities, not their religion, and will thus give your enterprise a head start.

The same principle applies for housing, restaurants, liquor stores and everything else. Every practicing hater will only increase revenue for open-minded and tolerant folks, thereby willingly disadvantaging himself.

It should also be mentioned that not only will the discriminated minority avoid doing business with a discriminating businessman, but sympathizers of the disadvantaged group might decide to spend their money elsewhere as well. Depending on how apparent and how devoted somebody discriminates, this may cost the discriminating person a business, workplace or social reputation in no time.

Employing legislation to force one's own discriminatory views on everyone else socializes the cost of discriminating. If hiring Jews is banned, nobody may take advantage of an anti-Semite's behavior. Overall revenue is likely to decrease due to this policy, but it decreases for everyone equally and thus makes discriminating parties better off than they would be on a free market.

Affirmative action legislation, however, grants the moral high ground to people who shouldn't be in charge of it. A practicing anti-semite or racist may now say: "Look, force is used against me to prevent me from living my convictions. This is highly immoral. Compared to this, my racism/anti-Semitism/whateverism isn't much of a problem, is it?" Instead of effectively targeting haters by ostracizing them and refusing to support their businesses and endeavors, we allow them to play the role of martyrs. Nothing short of undermining our own efforts if you ask me.

In conclusion, we might say that government power is the origin of, not the solution to widespread discrimination. Free markets provide huge incentives not to discriminate according to race, religion, gender or other personal characteristics, and punish those who do. However, banning such discriminatory practices by law allows those with despicable attitudes to play the victim. That shouldn't be our objective at all.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Discrimination II

I attempted to demonstrate in my last post why the practice of discrimination is not the infathomable evil that it is often being portrayed as, and how one can combat unjustified discriminatory practices without employing government force. Today I'll address an "anti-discrimination argument" I've been hearing a good many times lately:
Sure, people may discriminate against others in their own houses or flats. But if you open a business, you tie yourself to the general public by offering a service that everyone might want to enjoy. You're accepting a certain liability to further the general welfare (since this is what a national economy should be about), and thus can't just discriminate randomly as you please.
I'm not trying to water down this argument by making it appear strange or foolish. I was surprised myself that people would sputter this plethora of non-sequiturs. But they did, in different varieties, so I'll gladly comment.

The first sentence is most certainly correct. Property owners have a right, and even a responsibility, to discriminate. If property owners didn't discriminate carefully as to who they grant access to their property or who they entrust with taking care of it, they would effectively promote morally hazardous behavior. Noisy, shameless, violent and reckless behavior would become more common as there would be no incentive to temper these bad aspects of human nature. Civilization relies to a certain extent on the practice of discrimination.

However, the dichotomy between private-private and private-public property is false and philosophically unsustainable. Either you own a piece of land and act as sovereign, or you don't. It's irrelevant if you design this property to be specifically yours or a place for others to congregate.

One reason why this confusion occurs might be the somewhat subtle way of contracting in social environments such as restaurants, bars etc. When a restaurant owner opens the door to his property for everyone to step in, he's not automatically granting everyone access. He's signaling his willingness to enter negotiations as to whether he wants to serve a requesting customer or not. These negotiations are resolved by the first impression of the potential guest to avoid embarassing conversation. It is next to impossible for a restaurant owner to know the curriculum vitae of all potential customers, so he needs to discriminate according to superficial factors. This discrimination is necessary for two reasons:

1) The desire of other customers to dine in a quiet and relaxing atmosphere.
2) The desire of restaurant owners to serve the least troubling customers. It's a big relief if you don't have to watch the behavior of your clients all the time and may instead focus on doing your work.

Obviously, discrimination practices vary according to the setup of the business. A bikers' bar might have different demands when it comes to customer selection than a noble lounge. Some places may not discriminate at all. The point here is that it's not necessarily bigotry or hate that drives discrimination, but plain and simple business reasons or worries about general customer satisfaction.

Secondly, "social service businesses" like restaurants are not giving out general permissions to use their facilities when they open their doors. They merely express a desire to enter contract negotiations. The style of these negotiations may not resemble its general perception, but it is a negotiation nevertheless. No tie to the general public made, except the wish to enter contract negotiations with them.

To further the general welfare is indeed your objective as a restaurant owner, but probably not in the meaning that's most often talked about. You're supposed to offer goods and services in a manner which pleases potential customers so much that they are willing to trade certain amounts of money for it, which in turn lets you gain a profit. By that, you're contributing a whole new niche or segment to the local economy which, should it be making a profit, represents an achievement people value and may thus be described as your "fair share" of the great collective whole. The means to achieve this goal may involve discrimination as we've pointed out above.

Discrimination in privately owned places is therefore legitimate, no matter whether these places are private houses or private hang-out-places.

Thursday, October 2, 2008


Certain words in the English language are picked from time to time to completely distort their original meaning and make a negative buzz word out of them. "Climate" is one example. A couple of years ago, talking about climate meant describing certain weather conditions. Today, climate is some kind of code word for heralding the impending doom. "Climate deniers" are those who'd prefer not to drink the kool-aid, to be cast away and scorned. "Climate policy" means laws regulating the weather. You know, laws regulating the economy and people's personal lives worked so well that you might just try to wisely guide "the climate" as well.

But I'm digressing. Another famous example of restructuring the meaning of a word is "discrimination". A discriminating tradesman would denote a hard to please market participant in earlier times, today you'd rather think of a hypocritical white evangelical racist bigot who refuses to sell to homosexuals.

Of course, "discrimination" may legitimately be used in that sense as well. What bugs me is the automatically negative reaction connected to this meaning of discrimination.

Shockingly enough, you discriminate all the time every day of your life. Reading this blog instead of others discriminates against them. Using the internet browsers you do discriminates against all the other browsers available. Buying at the grocery store with that cute little blonde working at the counter discriminates against all the other grocery stores that decided to hire less attractive personnel.

No big deal, you say? That's discrimination based on quality as opposed to discrimination based on hypocritical white evangelical racist bigot factors? But where's the difference? Some people eat with spoons made by their kids in crafting class even though these might obviously lack quality compared to spoons created by professionals. Here you have discrimination based solely on emotion, still nobody would consider banning such behavior.

Let's take another step forward: Isaac Goldbaum (don't we all love stereotypes?) just migrated from Israel to the US where he opens a little bakery. He needs an assistant to do minor tasks for him. The only applicant is a muslim. Unfortunately, Mr. Goldbaum's family has been killed by a muslim suicide bomber which makes Mr. Goldbaum decide to refuse the applicant and do it all by himself instead. Would anyone want to force poor Isaac to act otherwise?

And now we put the icing on the cake. Rick Redneck runs a shooting range. Due to his personal preferences concerning people, he's put a big sign on the perimeter that reads "Only white evangelical bigots allowed".

If you consider that to be obnoxious behavior of Mr. Redneck, you're probably right. Still, you lack philosophical ground arguing for a ban of such actions if you didn't mind browser discrimination, shop discrimination, emotional discrimination or discrimination due to personal history. You yourself might want to discriminate against Redneck's shooting range so he'll run out of funds in due time. But using government force against Rick to bar him from using his property according to his wishes would grant him the moral high ground. You don't want this to happen, do you?