Audio Clips

30 June 2011

The Broken Window Fallacy

"That Which Is Seen and That Which Is Unseen" by Frederic Bastiat is one of my favorite economic essays. This video highlights one of the central analogies from that essay.

29 June 2011

Prison Politics

I happen to believe that we are over-criminalizing people in the US. I think we have done a poor job of deterring crime, but I could never articulate in what way. Mr. Kleiman does an excellent job of laying out what is wrong with our criminal justice system. I really liked this interview and think it would be a significant move forward if we followed his advice.

Economic Freedom = Greater Happiness

We Got Issues In the First World!

28 June 2011

Cameras and Cops

I heard a great line the other day on Armstrong and Getty in a segment on people videotaping cops in the line of their duty. They said "Cameras are the new guns in the war on tyranny". I thought that was dead-on. How much more of an impact does it have when you see camera footage from someone's phone on the streets of Egypt that just reading about it. It's one of the reasons that the Arab Spring has had such legs. Now we can see exactly what is happening. The more of this we can get the better. I hope that our courts find there way to throwing out the attempts by government to suppress people's rights to videotape government officials in action. I don't believe that we should be prohibited from broadcasting government agents' actions. That would be a dangerous road.

Spontaneous Order

John Stossel recently wrote a great article on spontaneous order, the libertarian principle that millions of human actions will create order without the need for a top-down centralized body making thousands of rules. I liked the article so much that I'm going to post the whole thing here.

You are our Ruler. An entrepreneur tells you he wants to create something he calls a “skating rink.” Young and old will strap blades to their feet and speed through an oval arena, weaving patterns as moods strike them.

You’d probably say, “We need regulation—skating stoplights, speed limits, turn signals—and a rink director to police the skaters. You can’t expect skaters to navigate the rink on their own.”

And yet they do. They spontaneously create their own order.

At last January’s State of the Union, President Obama said America needs more passenger trains. How does he know? For years, politicians have promised that more of us will want to commute by train, but it doesn’t happen. People like their cars. Some subsidized trains cost so much per commuter that it would be cheaper to buy them taxi rides.

The grand schemes of the politicians fail and fail again.

By contrast, the private sector, despite harassment from government, gives us better stuff for less money—without central planning. It’s called a spontaneous order.

Lawrence Reed, president of FEE, explains it this way:

“Spontaneous order is what happens when you leave people alone—when entrepreneurs . . . see the desires of people . . . and then provide for them.

“They respond to market signals, to prices. Prices tell them what’s needed and how urgently and where. And it’s infinitely better and more productive than relying on a handful of elites in some distant bureaucracy.”

This idea is not intuitive. Good things will happen if we leave people alone? Some of us are stupid—Obama and his advisers are smart. It’s intuitive to think they should make decisions for the wider group.

“No,” Reed responded. “In a market society, the bits of information that are needed to make things work—to result in the production of things that people want—are interspersed throughout the economy. What brings them together are forces of supply and demand, of changing prices.”

The personal-computer revolution is a great example of spontaneous order.

“No politician, no bureaucrat, no central planner, no academic sat behind a desk before that happened, before Silicon Valley emerged and planned it,” Reed added. “It happened because of private entrepreneurs responding to market opportunities. And one of the great virtues of that is if they don’t get it right, they lose their shirts. The market sends a signal to do something else. When politicians get it wrong, you and I pay the price.

“We have this ingrained habit of thinking that if somebody plans it, if somebody lays down the law and writes the rules, order will follow,” he continued.

“And the absence of those things will somehow lead to chaos. But what you often get when you try to enforce mandates and restrictions from a distant bureaucracy is planned chaos, as the great economist Ludwig on Mises once said. We have to rely more upon what emerges spontaneously because it represents individuals’ personal tastes and choices, not those of distant politicians.”

25 June 2011

Can We Move On To Some Topic Other Than Overpopulation Now?

This is a great representation of the world's population if the entire population were in one city with the same density as a few metropolitan areas in the world. Looks to me like there is still PLENTY of room to go around.

Is It Time To Press The Idea of Nullification?

I'm with former-Governor Gary Johnson, who says that the states should be 50 laboratories of innovation. For 100 years now the federal government has been trying to shove more and more one-size-fits-all solutions down our throats and they have brought us to the brink of bankruptcy and disaster. I think nullification is a legitimate option. Of course, it's going to take a lot of communicating in order for it to happen. This is a start.

Executive Powers to Make War

This is two presidents in a row that have largely disregarded the Constitutional limits on their power to make war. Libya is the most blatantly dictatorial over-reach yet though.

24 June 2011

The Amazing Superpowers That a Smile Bestows!

This was a great TED talk by Ron Gutman. I'm not sure I believe that smiling is more powerful than eating chocolate. I'm going to start an intensive personal study of that particular assertion.

Unseen Effects

Frederic Bastiat wrote a fantastic essay about 150 years ago called "That Which is Seen and That Which is Not Seen". If you haven't read it I highly recommend it. I've read it several times and I think every economist should have to read it to graduate. Barton Hinkle has written a great article about the unseen impact of the stimulus on jobs. The White House, of course, argues that the stimulus saved or created hundreds of thousands of jobs. Well, sure, but what about the jobs that weren't created because of the money that was taken from taxpayers to do the stimulus. Read the article here. This is an excerpt that might whet your appetite.

Analogy time. Consider a robber who steals a purse containing $500, who then uses the money to buy himself a new TV. It is categorically undeniable that the theft has created a sale for the TV store. Conservatives who pretend the stimulus has not created any jobs whatsoever stand in the position of an observer trying to deny the TV has been sold.
Yet the liberal analysis lacks any recognition that the purse owner now has $500 less to spend on the laptop computer she was going to buy. The theft has generated one sale only by destroying another.
The first effect is easily seen. The second is not. But only the economically illiterate would conclude that just the first effect occurred, and that therefore the way to increase consumption is to encourage more purse-stealing. So in addition to looking at the number of jobs created or saved by the stimulus, shouldn't we also consider the number of jobs destroyed or forestalled?

23 June 2011

The Libertarian Perspective on Religion

Sounds a lot like my own Church's policy: "We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."

19 June 2011

09 June 2011

Arrested for Dancing at Jefferson's Memorial

This kind of thing really gets me fired up. I would bet you huge sums of money that Thomas Jefferson would be furious if he knew that free speech was being denied in America like this. At his memorial, no less.

The Road to Hell

John Stossel recently wrote an article on the problem with policies that are made with good intentions, but fail to pay attention to the actual effects.  He highlights the minimum wage law in particular and the impact it has had on blacks in this country.

Government against blacks | black, people, wage - John Stossel - Freedom Politics

08 June 2011

Behavioral Psychology

I try not to post too many long videos because they're, well, long and I know you have other things to do with your day. However, this talk is fascinating. He goes over how we as humans value things and the psychology behind it. When you have 20 minutes you really should check this out.

07 June 2011

Sweatshops Are Just a Stepping Stone

I lived in Ecuador for a couple of years and upon my return to the States I was always amazed at how people would say things like: "They only pay $2/day in sweatshops in Thailand!" Well, yeah. $2/day is much better than the alternative. Ben Powell explains why:

It takes time for countries to create conditions that we are used to here in the US. That's okay. People 100 years from now are going to wonder how we could stand to live in these conditions today. What with no self-regenerating limbs, summer trips to the moon to relax, cybernetic implants that enhance physical performance. Of course, they still won't have the flying cars that we've been promised for the last 50 years.

06 June 2011

Highlighting MSNBC's Hypocrisy: Easier Than We Thought

Last week I posted a video of MSNBC's Martin Bashir saying the Sarah Palin was breaking federal law by having a flag on her bus. He pointed out that the American flag is not supposed to used for commercial purposes. ReasonTV went to the effort to show just how serious MSNBC is about obeying that particular law.

Serious About Cutting Expenses? You Have to Leave the Military on the Chopping Block

Because Jesus Said to Help the Poor Through Coercing the Taxpayer

I get irritated by religious folks who seem to think that because Jesus taught that we should be charitable to those in need then our government policies should compel that kind of behavior. Jesus didn't teach that we should force others to help the poor vis-a-vis the government. He said YOU go out and help the poor. This poor man hounding Rep. Paul Ryan doesn't seem to understand the difference. Maybe HE should go back and read the Gospel of Luke before he insinuates that Rep. Ryan is a hypocrite.

04 June 2011

Mission-Creep in Libya: Obama Flouts the Law

Imagine if George Bush had started bombing a country that had done absolutely nothing to put us in danger, ignoring the War Powers Act and refusing to go to Congress for authorization after the 60 day maximum was passed? The left would be up in arms, Code Pink would be mobilized with signs depicting Bush as Hitler, and the media would be calling for impeachment. Yet Obama does it and nary a sound. I tire of presidents who view themselves as imperial potentates above the restraints of the Constitution. Bush regularly ignored the Constitution and now Obama does. Why do we even bother giving the Constitution lip-service? Let's call it what it is now: wallpaper.

Enacted in 1973 over President Nixon’s veto, the WPR may or may not be wise. It is, however, unquestionably a law, and Barack Obama certainly is violating it. It stipulates that a president must terminate military action 60 days after initiating it (or 90, if the president “certifies” in writing an “unavoidable military necessity” respecting the safety of U.S. forces), unless Congress approves it. Congress has been supine and silent about this war, which began more than 70 days ago.

All presidents have resented the WPR but have taken care to act “consistent with” its 48-hour reporting requirement. So on March 21, two days after the administration took the nation to war in Libya, Obama notified Congress of this obvious fact, stressing that U.S. operations would be “limited in their nature, duration, and scope” in the service of a “limited and well-defined mission.” Months ago, before it metastasized into regime change, the “well-defined” mission was to protect civilians.

After 60 days, on May 20, Obama wrote to congressional leaders noting that since April 4, U.S. “participation” has involved “non-kinetic support” (intelligence, logistics, refueling) — but also decidedly kinetic attacks on Libyan air defenses and other targets of “the NATO-led” forces. He said U.S. support is “crucial” but “we are no longer in the lead.”

This is meretricious. We are not conspicuously leading this war by committee, a.k.a. NATO, but NATO would not act without us, and absent U.S. assets the Libyan campaign could not continue. (George Will, "Is Obama Above the Law?", May 28, 2011)

03 June 2011

There Is Hope

Stefano Mugnaini wrote a great article at the Mises Institute. I tend to be pretty cynical about the future of freedom and so I collect essays like this one because it offers me hope. They are particularly potent when they come from fellow cynics.

Like many liberty-minded people, I tend to be a bit pessimistic. I find myself doubting that the great mass of Americans can be convinced, awakened, or converted to a genuine love of human liberty. Every day that passes brings another outrage: a child molested by the TSA, a private business seized by regulators, or an innocent individual imprisoned for crimes defined by nothing more than the whim of this legislature or that. And the outcry, if present, is subdued and muted, except in a few pockets of protest.

My malaise risked transformation into something more severe as I watched the shameful celebrations and media gloating after the bin Laden assassination. Then comfort came from an unlikely source.

I found myself on a televised opinion panel for "likely Republican primary voters." The experience alternated between horribly frustrating and incredibly amusing, as you might expect it would. In the end, however, my adventure in Neocon Land was strangely enlightening, and even a little bit encouraging. If nothing else, it provided an opportunity to learn to tie, and to sport, my brand new Mises-crest bow tie.

I suppose I was chosen for the panel on account of being a member of some email list that I had signed up for on my journey toward libertarianism. (It took me some time, several wars, and a heavy dose of Austrian economics to realize that conservatism was not consistent with my beliefs or the nature of human freedom.)

This particular gathering was organized for the purpose of gauging reactions to the Republican presidential debate in Greenville, SC, on May 5th. As I anticipated, there was a tremendous level of ignorance in the room. These were not well-informed political junkies; they appeared to be jingoistic, anti-immigrant neoconservatives of the most stereotypical sort. I walked into a discussion about the brilliance of Donald Trump's imperialist and protectionist policy suggestions — which, shockingly, gave way to a conversation about the evil illegal immigrants who, apparently, are taking all the jobs and committing all the crimes. This set the tone for the night. The consensus was that the path to prosperity is simple: build a border fence, shoot anyone who approaches it, take all the oil in Iraq, and levy heavy tariffs on Chinese exports.

What about this was encouraging, you ask? Nothing so far. The rest of the night went similarly. The questions asked throughout the session were shallow and leading. The pollster told us when to respond to the Republican debate we were watching, and he implied strongly what form the responses should take.

Ron Paul was jeered by this committee of 29 because he suggested that the war on drugs was a waste of time; but everyone got a kick out of his rhetorical question: "How many people here would use heroin if it were legal?" Gary Johnson was similarly derided when he suggested that immigrants, even of the illegal type, put more into the economy than they extract. I think the woman behind me actually started hissing at that point. Trump was hailed as a genius for his 25 percent China-tariff idea, and as a bold, brave figure when he condemned them for manipulating their currency, as if the United States were a bastion of sound, legitimate monetary policy. When Paul brought up the crazy notion that the Federal Reserve might have something to do with the economic collapse of 2008 and the subsequent price inflation and stagnation, blank stares won the day. I innocently asked one of my neighbors if he had heard of the Austrian theory of the business cycle. He angrily responded, "I know what a business is!"

I left the event dejected and thoroughly disgusted. But after a few days in this state, a thought occurred to me, and my initial misgivings gave way to a ray of hope. The members of the group that gathered that night, though woefully uninformed and generically partisan, were also eminently teachable. They genuinely cared about the consequences of the course pursued by the federal government. They were impressionable and surprisingly receptive to ideas unlike their own.

The most vocal proponent of protectionism in the room eventually conceded that tariffs are destructive, rather than constructive. He accepted my rough paraphrase of Human Action: All that a tariff can achieve is to divert production from those locations in which the output per unit of input is higher to locations in which it is lower. A tariff does not increase production; it curtails it.

Our discussion of the immigrant question yielded similar fruit. There was universal agreement on the importance of a free market, but limited understanding of what that actually means. But therein is the source of my hope.

Statism and interventionism are not, for most, the result of careful consideration of all the alternatives. They are merely a knee-jerk reaction to events, arising more from herd instinct than careful analysis — simplistic patriotism from those who haven't the time or inclination to read Nock or Rothbard. This is why I see political action and involvement as essential, even to the most ardent anarchist. We probably won't win what we desire at the ballot box. But, as Jacob Huebert brilliantly pointed out, that is not the only result of the electoral process. There is a great multitude that honestly desires peace, freedom, and the preservation of individual rights. They are groping for the truth about the economy and the nature of the state; but they search in vain because they don't know where to look. We can show them.

Take, for example, the tea party. My experience with members of this movement is that they are not antiliberty, though some of their views would qualify as such. They are just at a different place in their journey. Fiscal issues have awakened many of them, if not yet fully. But, as Thoreau famously wrote in Walden,

The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life. To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake. How could I have looked him in the face?

I walked out of my adventure in Neocon Land as downhearted as I have been in a long time, but I have come to see the true import of the gathering in the lesson it taught me: most people tend to gravitate toward liberty — they just have not heard it properly defined.

01 June 2011

Martin Bashir: Palin is Breaking Federal Law

Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a huge Sarah Palin fan, as a politician. I'm sure she's a very nice person, but please, you can't even finish your governorship? In spite of that, I couldn't believe how stupid Martin Bashir sounded in this clip. In violation of the Federal Flag Code? Really? That's the best you've got Martin? That's pretty lame. And pathetic. You should maybe stop focusing on third-rate commentary and stick to something more substantive.