Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ron Paul on Realtime

Ron Paul appeared as a guest on Bill Maher's HBO show Realtime this past Friday. He is absolutely right to point out that the time to end the "War on Drugs" is now. Even if you somehow believed in this fictitious war, spending hundreds of millions of dollars on this in the midst of what's going to be a protracted economic downturn is simply foolish. Check it out:


Thursday, February 19, 2009

Oh, Canada...

Interesting bit of news from our northern neighbors. Seems like a Canadian transit committee is preparing to ban a Humanist Association ad from running on the public buses. The ad goes: 
On what grounds? Apparently they committee felt that:
"...the language of the ads was specific enough to attract religious debate and polarize members of the community."
Let's simply ignore the cultural debate about the merits of religion in public life. Politically, this just reveals the arbitrary nature of what is allowed and disallowed whenever we have "public" institutions and boards claiming to represent all of "society". Inevitably, they end up discriminating against certain minority points of view, views which may not be able to otherwise be heard due to the monopolistic nature of many of these public services. If it were easier for private companies and institutions to emerge, I'd venture to say that there would be ample opportunities for nearly all viewpoints to be heard - without having to ban certain others.   

"Pro-freedom Coalition on Fox"

The Judge, Andrew Napolitano, has launched a weekly show on Fox News titled "Freedom Watch". I wrote him an e-mail and said we might as well call it "Tyranny Today" or "Socialist Watch", since all we've been observing is tyranny and socialism nowadays. Who's watching freedom? I'm watching freedom fall.



Judge Andrew Napolitano is a staunch Constitutionalist, free marketeer of the Austrian tradition (I recall him expressing his views, meeting him briefly at the Ludwig von Mises Institute's Gold Supporter's Summit this past October) and a talented lawyer in every sense. A few free-market advocates from Wall Street, Peter Schiff, Lew Rockwell and Congressman Ron Paul are also featured.

Monday, February 16, 2009

TUESDAY @ 8 PM: Dr. Nigel Ashford of IHS to speak on "Changing the World for Liberty"

*******************************************************
"Changing the World for Liberty"
Dr. Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies
Tuesday (2/17), 8 PM, 303 Hamilton
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Join us for a special meeting this Tuesday with Dr. Nigel Ashford of the Institute for Humane Studies. Dr. Ashford will speak for about 30 minutes on "Changing the World for Liberty," and will then open up for questions and discussion.

A professor of politics, Dr. Ashford has written widely on the subject of liberty, and has worked for a number of libertarian and free-market think tanks. This is an excellent opportunity to learn from a respected political expert within the libertarian movement. A more detailed biography can be found here.

This week's meeting will be earlier than usual, at 8 PM in 303 Hamilton. Please come on time so as to not interrupt Dr. Ashford's talk, and bring your liberty-minded friends!

If you would be interested in joining us for dinner with Dr. Ashford before the event, let me know; we have room for a few more people. Shoot us an email at libertarians@columbia.edu

See you Tuesday!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smoot-Hawley 2.0

On his blog, Greg Mankiw quotes a Canadian news source:
Two of Canada's largest unions are urging the federal government to adopt a Buy Canadian policy similar to the proposal that has been criticized in the United States.

At a joint press conference on Tuesday morning, the Canadian Auto Workers and the United Steelworkers said Ottawa should adopt a procurement policy that ensures the majority of public funds are spent on goods and services made in Canada.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Thank you, Steve Wozniak

I'm currently reading Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's autobiography, iWoz. I expected to find stories of entrepreneurial genius. I did not expect to find libertarian undertones.

Describing a scheme the government used to try to get him drafted for the Vietnam War, Woz writes,
From that point on, I saw that the government would do whatever it could to beat a citizen, that it was just a game. And this was the exact opposite of the way I had thought of government my whole life. That episode taught me an important lesson about government, authority, even the police. You couldn't trust them to do the right thing...I can't even describe to you the shock and disgust I felt at our government: that they would play this kind of game with my life, that they didn't care about people the way that my dad had taught me. I'd thought the government was here to protect us, but that turned out to be wrong. I now believed the government was just out to do what was good for the government and would lie about anything they could get away with. They were not there to do sensible things, and they played with my life in the worst possible way. (79, 80)

Sunday, February 08, 2009

"Democrats Piss Me Off"

I find myself in rare agreement with Eric Cartman. On his blog, Greg Mankiw posted a list of Senators who voted against the "Buy American" provision of the stimulus bill. The closest thing to a Democrat on the list was Joe Lieberman.

I'm no fan of Republicans, but it always seems like whichever party is out of power at the moment seems more principled. I was happy to see many Republicans from protectionist states on the list.

Democrats, please start thinking about what you are doing. I'm not talking to the politicians...they know exactly what they are doing: exchanging votes for campaign contributions from powerful American manufacturing interests. I'm talking to the people who support these corrupt politicians. "Buying American" is a stupid, reckless concept. You might think you are helping out the struggling American factory worker. What you are really doing is telling American citizens, "you are not allowed to buy products overseas." Blocking the beneficial forces of competition and comparative advantage, you are raising prices for manufactured goods across the board. So maybe your factory worker will keep his job for another few years, but every American will have to pay much higher prices for manufactured goods, which means they won't have as much money to spend on food, health care, hybrid cars, and all those other things liberals pretend to love.

Stop destroying America! No one cares about your intentions! Start thinking about the damage you are actually causing.

And please, read this interview with Steven Landsburg entitled "Is Buying American Racist?" (Don't let it's connection with Fox News dissuade you...it's just an interview, and a very good one.)

Libertarian wisdom from Jeffrey Miron

can be found here. He mentions many policy changes the government can make to help fix the current situation (or at least stop causing more problems), involving taxes, trade policy, and immigration. Here's his conclusion:

It is tempting to believe that every problem has a solution, but the reality is not so nice. It is possible, even likely, that the best we can do is fix things we know how to fix, and then get out of the way. This may not ameliorate the current situation, but it avoids making things worse. In economics as in medicine -- first, do no harm.

CNN added a nice little addendum to the article.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jeffrey Miron.
Not true, CNN!

Meltdown.

Buy this.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Stossel Floss

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Reforming the Rockefeller Drug Laws

Tuesday, March 10 has been designated as Rockefeller Drug Laws Advocacy Day 2009. For those of you non-native New York state residents or for those of you living under a rock, the Rockefeller Drug Laws were a set of laws established under Governor  Nelson Rockefeller in 1973. These laws gave New York the harshest drug laws code in the nation. Despite the reforms made in 2004 and 2005, the Rockefeller Drug Laws are still absolutely ridiculous laws that are often enforced under extreme racial bias while putting away the least violent of criminals for carrying extremely small quantities of narcotics. The Laws cost the state huge sums of money and divert police attention from real crimes, i.e. crimes that actually negatively effect others. The state's money would be much better spent in apprehending murderers and rapists than sending small-time drug offenders to the clink for life.

There are lots of interesting occurrences, all thanks to the Rockefeller Drug Laws. For example, though all studies show the vast majority of people selling and using drugs in the U.S. to be white, somehow 90% of all drug offenders being held in New York prisons are African-American or Latino. Another fun fact is that, in the prisons that cost $1.5 billion to construct and $500 million to run annually, 40% of the drug offenders being held are in jail for non-violent drug possession charges. So we're spending literally billions of dollars as a state to keep first-time "criminals," found guilty of having small quantities of drugs for personal use with no intent of selling, off the streets. God knows doing a line of coke is equal in prison sentence to violent assault and battery. Sending these same people to mandatory drug rehab, or making them do community service and attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings would be infinitely more responsible and more economically viable. Oh, also, there's no difference if you are a first-time offender or a multiple-time convicted offender with a record as long as the the bill for locking up these so-called criminals – your sentence is going to be exactly the same. Judges have no say; the Rockefeller Drug Laws effectively abolish any semblance of a case-by-case trial.

Our fine Governor Patterson has said, "...I think the Rockefeller Drug Laws have unfairly put people behind bars and destroyed their lives over, sometimes, one evening's mistake in which no one else got hurt." Keeping that in mind, there is a protest for a reform, perhaps even a repeal, of these bogus laws. Buses are leaving from all over the New York City area to go protest in Albany on March 10; if you aren't able to make it up, sign a petition against the Laws on http://www.DroptheRock.org, an initiative of the Correctional Association of New York. They have some great facts and alternative proposals listed on the site. Let's stop wasting our state's money and our law enforcers' time, not to mention stop wasting lives with these insane laws.

Highlights from Reason

February's edition of Reason magazine had a lot of interesting stuff in it.

From Ronald Bailey,
Marcia Angell, former editor of The New England Journal of Medicine, has argued that Americans spend so much money on pharmaceuticals partly because many of the drugs people now take “are more likely to be expensive new ones instead of older, cheaper ones.” But a new study from the Manhattan Institute suggests the extra money is well spent.
Columbia University economist Frank Lichtenberg analyzed patterns in the dispensing of prescription drugs in 49 states between 1995 and 2004...States that adopted new drugs more rapidly, Lichtenberg found, had the smallest increases in disability rates. And those newer drugs kept 418,000 additional people off the disability rolls in 2004, saving Social Security $4.5 billion.
People blame all sorts of things for rising medical costs--from government regulations to HMOs to a lack of socialism. But couldn't part of it just be that we are paying for better products? If medicines work better, and don't kill as many people as they used to, why shouldn't they cost more?

The "Citings" feature has many more interesting snippets, on topics including drugs, immigration, surveillance, and intellectual property rights. I found Nick Gillespie's response to calls for a "Newer Deal" most interesting.
A 2004 study[*] by two UCLA economists, Harold L. Cole and Lee E. Ohanian, argues that far from speeding along recovery, such interventions actually prolonged the Great Depression by about seven years.

Using data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and other sources, Cole and Ohanian zero in on the effects of the 1933 National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA), which exempted industrial sectors from antitrust prosecution if they agreed to collective bargaining agreements that raised workers’ wages. Roosevelt believed that “excessive competition” was responsible for economic volatility and that by stabilizing labor costs he could stabilize the economy. At the act’s peak, about 80 percent of nonagricultural industry was covered by NIRA, resulting in higher than market wages and prices and, ultimately, lower demand. NIRA eventually was declared unconstitutional, but not before the country felt its impact.

Without NIRA-style interventions rigidifying the economy, Cole and Ohanian believe, the Depression would have been a recession ending in 1936, rather than a prolonged slump that technically ended only in 1943. Roosevelt “came up with a recovery package that would be unimaginable today, allowing businesses in every industry to collude without the threat of antitrust prosecution and workers to demand salaries about 25 percent above where they ought to have been, given market forces,” Cole said when the study was released. “The economy was poised for a beautiful recovery, but that recovery was stalled by…misguided policies.”

I guess it's the thought that counts.

Reason's first article is a scathing criticism of the governator. Given his messianic status as some sort of savior of the Republican party, it should be of interest to more than just fellow Californians.
Schwarzenegger blew into office decrying California’s bloated budget, vowing to “blow up the boxes” of Sacramento’s bureaucracy, and promising to never again let the Golden State go near Gray Davis’ record-setting $38 billion deficit. Five years into the Schwarzenegger era, the budget has ballooned from $100 billion to $145 billion, and the state’s legislative analyst announced in November that California was facing a deficit of $28 billion. Bond market ratings assess the state as a bigger lending risk than Slovakia. And those bureaucratic boxes have remained largely intact...

What are some of these “necessary programs”? How about a $9.9 billion bond for a long-dreamed-of high-speed rail project between Los Angeles and San Francisco that is expected to cost at least $45 billion, which even supporters such as the Los Angeles Times editorial board think will require “many billions more” in subsidies? Then there’s the $3 billion bond from 2004 to put California bureaucrats in the stem cell research business, mostly as a poke in the eye of George W. Bush.

How to pay for all this during what the governor has declared a “financial emergency”? Partly by rattling the tin cup outside the White House. Schwarzenegger was one of the first governors to hit up Washington for some of that fat bailout money gushing from the Oval Office.

But the spending splurge also requires new taxes, according to the governor: a “temporary” 1.5-percentage-point increase in the 7.25 percent sales tax, an increase in the number of services covered by the sales tax, higher taxes for alcohol and oil production, and so on...

Even on social issues, where Schwarzenegger’s more libertarian approach was supposed to avoid the Republican trap of freedom constricting politics, the governor instead has embraced the freedom-constricting policies of the left. To cite one particularly ironic example, in 2004 he signed a law requiring every California employer with more than 50 workers to force upon its managers state-approved sexual harassment training...

Back when he was taping testimonials for Milton Friedman’s Free to Choose, Arnold Schwarzenegger looked like the kind of person who would indeed choose freedom if given a chance to govern. Instead, he punted on the radical, government-reducing reforms offered to him by his own box-exploding California Performance Review and learned to love—or at least perpetuate—the very bureaucracy he was elected to confront. That’s not a blueprint for 21st-century Republicanism. It’s just George W. Bush’s big-government conservatism with a Hollywood face.
If there's anything to be learned from Schwarzenegger, it's that politicians ALWAYS abandon their principles and succumb to pressure when elected to office. Look at the Republicans after 1994. Look at the Democrats now! It's been two years since they took over Congress, and now they have control of the White House too, and as far as I can tell, earmark spending is at record levels, and our soldiers are still fighting in Iraq.

I don't put the blame on the politicians...I'm guessing they run for office with their ideals intact, hoping to create real change. But they're only human, and once they get to Washington, Sacramento, or wherever, they realize that their change isn't wanted. So they can either play the game and help the ruling corporations and interest groups, or they can hang on to their ideals and start collecting unemployment benefits. Our government should not put people in this position to begin with.

Until then, I'll be reading Reason. We'll have free copies at future meetings...come get one!