No Coercion
31May/092

Boston Mayor Has Moment of Libertarianism

The mayor of Boston, Tom Menino, had a nice moment of libertarianism Friday when he said he would not be approving the police department's request to arm patrol officers with M-16 rifles given to them by the U.S. military. It's a basic libertarian tenet that giving the government's enforcement arm additional firepower is bad for the prospects of individual liberty. Militarization of the police is a hallmark of oppressive regimes and something we should oppose at every turn. Of course, he didn't rule out arming "specialized units" with such weapons, and he most certainly did not do a truly pro-liberty thing like pushing for the rifles to be sold on the free market to private buyers and sending the proceeds back to Uncle Sam with a demand for the money to be applied to the debt or somehow returned to the American tax payers. But it's a start.

Of course, the argument in favor of such enhanced armaments (an argument often put forth by well-meaning law-and-order conservatives) is undoubtedly that the police need those weapons to combat the well-armed gangs who thrive on illegal drug trafficking. Unfortunately for their position, that's like liberals who are arguing that the current government-regulation-induced financial crisis should be cured with more government regulation.

Rather than engage in an arms race with better-funded and more highly motivated drug gangs, resulting in innocent casualties and an ever more powerful and dangerous government, we should (thinking to ourselves, what would Sun Tzu do?) remove the traffickers' very raison d'etre by legalizing all currently illegal drugs. Then we'd be simultaneously ending an un-American policy of keeping people from putting certain things in their bodies and ending the violent drug black market over which the gangs are fighting (and bribing cops, lawyers, and judges). After all, since the end of the disastrous prohibition of alcohol, you don't see people battling in the streets over liquor turf, do you?

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28May/090

CNN fails to understand “pro-business”

Covering the nomination of Judge Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court, a CNN anchor today was attempting to enlighten her viewers regarding Sotomayor's judicial decisions regarding business issues. The anchor said that we could determine if the judge is "pro-business" by looking at how often she's ruled in favor of "huge corporations" (or something along those lines). Apparently, this anchor (and probably CNN in general) fails to grasp an extremely basic truth of reality: that government policies and rulings that favor large, powerful corporations are very often detrimental to business overall. The extensive taxation and regulatory powers of our government result in larger companies expending great resources to persuade politicians to write laws that favor established players (and sometimes even specific companies) and hinder smaller companies or newcomers to the market. That's why so many "safety" and "quality" rules for consumer goods are pushed by the big players in a given industry--they want to use the government to crush their competitors. And, ironically, the 'pro-consumer' Ralph Nader's of the world come out in force in support of these anti-competitive and anti-consumer regulations.

Since CNN seems to have trouble with such concepts, maybe they'd be less confused (and confusing) if they used more appropriate terminology. They should ask whether a judge's rulings are pro-free-market or pro-government-control.

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27May/092

Are Intellectual Property Rights Real?

 Here's a post on intellectual property (or monopoly) from Art Carden of the Independent Institute and reposted on the Mises blog:

Intellectual Monopoly is an Unnecessary Evil

There are some interesting points about whether things like patents and copyrights actually hinder technological progress and economic growth (rather than stimulate it, as their defenders claim).

But it seems to me that the fundamental problem with government-granted intellectual property rights (from a libertarian perspective) is that they're granted by government. The very fact that these rights can only exist through the workings of a coercive, monopoly government indicates that they are not true rights. It's the same as the socialists who say that there exists a 'right' to health care or a minimum wage or a certain level of housing. We know these are not true rights because they require initiation of force against someone else. Since the creation and enforcement of today's patents, copyrights, etc., also requires the initiation of force (at the very least in the form of taxes confiscated to fund that part of the government), it seems that those are not real rights.

However, I do imagine there could develop some form of market-based IP in the absence of the government system depending on how the costs and benefits play out in different situations.

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25May/090

Unhappy Memorial Day

Several times today I've heard someone (mostly just radio DJs) say, "Happy Memorial Day." That doesn't make sense to me. What could possibly EVER be happy about calling to memory our fallen troops? In addition to the obvious point that we should ruminate on this more than one day per year, on this Memorial Day we should remember those who have died in all our conflicts, but we should not think back on them as having died gloriously fighting for our country but rather as having been taken from us prematurely by acts of government aggression. There is nothing glorious about war, regardless of the inclinations toward which some of our baser instincts may lead us (especially after a devastating attack like 9/11). As I've pointed out before, few American conflicts aside from the original Revolution could really be considered defensive conflicts.

The fact is that large-scale war between nation-states is an artifact unique to (surprise!) nation-states. It's clearly sometimes unavoidable in the world we find ourselves in, but that doesn't make it any better. Many of our conflicts have been fought by people drafted into service by force, an unconscionable state of affairs wholly opposed to the idea of a free society on which this country was founded. Even many of those who choose to join the military end up fighting and dying in wars that they know are wrong and in which they would not have chosen to fight if they'd had the option. It's true that many people voluntarily join the armed forces and even approve of the conflicts in which they end up dying, but there's no avoiding the fact that, in the absence of the state's war-making, those individuals could have had much longer lives, engaging in valuable production, exchange, and personal fulfillment.

I was fortunate to not lose any of my fellow soldiers with whom I served overseas during the deployment of my National Guard unit, but we all still suffered by being there. Many endured a reduction in income, lost career opportunities, strained family lives, and some even missed the births of their children. Several even lost marriages over problems caused by the deployment. When the state makes war, it destroys not only the lives of enemies and innocent bystanders but also the lives of the very troops who do its bidding. We should memorialize the fallen not as glorious war heroes but as innocent victims of the state.

Randolph Bourne famously said, "war is the health of the state." Very true. It could equally be said that peace is the health of a free and prosperous society. Don't fall into the trap laid by the government, which wants us to continue the primitive tradition of glorifying military action (which in turn means glorifying government itself). It's all very clever and takes advantage of our inborn desire to see 'our side' beat the crap out of the 'other side.' But it's my view that, as a species, we're advanced enough now to not be taken in by such tricks and to not have to rely on involuntary coercion (the government) to solve our problems, either internal or external. It's high time we stopped allowing the government to manipulate us into continuing to support it through the mythos of the 'glorious sacrifice' in war.

So, unhappy Memorial Day to everyone.

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7May/092

Honoring Reason

No, not Reason Magazine...but they're pretty awesome, too.

I'm referring to the National Day of Reason. It's the day organized by groups and individuals (both non-religious and religious) who believe in bringing back the separation of church and state that was one of the founding principles of the United States. It's intended as an opposing force to the National Day of Prayer, which, like "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance and "In God We Trust" as our national motto, was legislated in the 1950s.

As a free society, we should not allow religion and government to become entangled for any reason or to any degree. The National Day of Reason is a reminder of that basic tenet of liberty.

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