Mass Shootings and the Media

Why do we have mass shootings? What has changed? It isn’t the weapons. Americans have had guns for as long as there have been Americans. Kids too. Some people want to blame mental health, but that doesn’t explain it either. Even if we ignore the fact that the mentally ill are not typically violent (indeed, they are far more likely to harm themselves than others), there have always been crazy people.

“It’s racism!” some people insist. Really? If you graphed racist beliefs in this country, you would see a steady decline over the last century. If racism led to mass shootings, they would be declining. None of the typical reasons blamed for these crimes actually explain why someone would be more inclined to commit a mass shooting in 2019 than in 1959.

So, what has changed?

The answer, to me at least, is obvious. It’s the media. The media as it exists in 2019 is perhaps the most notable change from the world we inhabited half a century ago. Non-stop, politicized pronouncements of doom and gloom spill forth from every screen, every speaker, and every form of communication. Tales of death and crime terrify and titillate in turn.

Those who feel angry and want the world to know it now have an opportunity that never before existed. They can take control of the news cycle for days or even weeks simply by committing an act of mass violence. Regardless of if they live or die, their name and face will gain a level of exposure that rivals the most notable celebrity or politician. They can be famous, even achieve a certain type of perverse immortality. All they have to do is kill some random strangers.

A well-known politician has declared that “the media is the enemy of the people.” While his pronouncement may have been self-serving, it contained at least an element of truth. The media uses fear as a currency. It stokes controversy and creates enemies. It wants you to believe that it is doing a service, providing a public good. The truth is far more sinister. The media is creating the climate of hate and fear that inspires mass shooters. The media itself has become one of the most destructive forces in our society.

Instead of providing news and information, the media manufactures misinformation spun from opinion, conjecture, and political meddling. The media has constructed a world of danger and delusion to justify its own existence. And people just keep tuning in.

Unfortunately, there is no easy or obvious solution. I can advise you to turn off your T.V., cancel your cable subscription, and boycott your local newspaper, but until a majority does the same, the malevolence will continue to spread. All I can really suggest is that you recognize your real enemy. It isn’t your neighbors or the folks on the other side of town. It isn’t those who voted for that politician you hate. It isn’t immigrants or racists or whatever other hobgoblins the media has concocted for you to dread.

The media wants you fearful and suspicious, worried and angry. When you are, you are more controllable. You keep tuning in to learn who else you should hate. Stop allowing yourself to be controlled! Stop buying the bullshit that the media delivers by the dump truck load. Turn it off and tune it out. Talk to real people. You’ll probably find that you have a lot more in common than you have been led to believe, because—despite what the media tells you—it’s not actually a war zone out there.

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The History of Private Schools: How American Education Became a Political Battleground

“He alone, who owns the youth, gains the future.” – Adolf Hitler

Public schools are so ubiquitous and ingrained in American culture that one could easily be forgiven for thinking that we, as a nation, have always had them. However, public schools are a relatively recent invention. Federal funding for public schools is a recent anomaly, dating back to the days of President Jimmy Carter. His successor, President Ronald Reagan, famously tried to dismantle the Department of Education to no avail.

Public schools being an arm of the state are indoctrination centers. This becomes increasingly true as basic skills such as the old “three Rs” of “reading, writing and ‘rithmatic” are jettisoned in favor of climate changecritical race theory and gender ideology – all of which are now part and parcel of a public education in the United States. As if this weren’t troubling enough, public schools are largely funded by property taxes on housing. These taxes, which are paid generally on a bi-annual basis, are confiscated from people whose children do not even attend public schools. What’s more, these taxes require people to effectively pay rent on owned property under penalty of losing their homes.

We do not have to look far for an alternative to the world of public schools. Throughout most of American history, education has been the purview of parents, the church, and other private institutions. The rise of public education in the United States is a story of violence and coercion that is largely hidden from the public record. After reading this, you will never view public schools in the same light ever again.

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Reflections from Spain

I just got back from a five-week visit to Spain.  The first four weeks, I was teaching labor economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquín while my sons took Spanish-language classes on Islamism, Self-Government, and the Philosophy of Hayek.  Then we rented a van and saw Cordoba, Seville, Gibraltar, Fuengirola, Granada, and Cuenca.  During my stay, I also spoke to the Instituto von Mises in Barcelona, Effective Altruism Madrid, the Rafael del Pino Foundation, and the Juan de Mariana Institute.  I had ample time to share ideas with UFM Madrid Director Gonzalo Melián, UFM professor Eduardo Fernández, Juan Pina and Roxana Niculu of the Fundación para el Avance de la Libertad, and my Facebook friend Scott McLain.  Using my sons as interpreters, I also conversed with about 25 Uber drivers.  Hardly a scientific sample, but here are my reflections on the experience.

1. Overall, Spain was richer and more functional than I expected.  The grocery stores are very well-stocked; the worst grocery store I saw in Spain offered higher quality, more variety, and lower prices than the best grocery store I saw in Denmark, Sweden, or Norway.  Restaurants are cheap, even in the tourist areas.  Almost all workers I encountered did their jobs with a friendly and professional attitude.  There is near-zero violent crime, though many locals warned us about pickpockets.

2. The biggest surprise was the low level of English knowledge of the population.  Even in tourist areas, most people spoke virtually no English.  Without my sons, I would have been reduced to pantomiming (or Google translate) many times a day.  Movie theaters were nevertheless full of undubbed Hollywood movies, and signs in (broken) English were omnipresent.

3. I wasn’t surprised by the high level of immigration, but I was shocked by its distribution.  While there are many migrants from Spanish America, no single country has sent more than 15% of Spain’s migrantsThe biggest source country, to my surprise, is Romania; my wife chatted with fellow Romanians on a near-daily basis.  I was puzzled until a Romanian Uber driver told me that a Romanian can attain near-fluent Spanish in 3-4 months.  Morocco comes in at #2, but Muslims are less visible in Madrid than in any other European capital I’ve visited.

4. 75% of our Uber drivers were immigrants, so we heard many tales of the immigrant experience.  Romanians aside, we had drivers from Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Pakistan.  Even the Pakistanis seemed highly assimilated and almost overjoyed to reside in Spain.  By the way, Uber in Spain works even better than in the U.S.  The median wait time was 3 minutes, and the prices were about one-third less than in the U.S.

5. Refugees from Chavismo were prominent and vocal.  One Venezuelan Uber driver was vocally pro-Trump.  You might credit Trump’s opposition to Maduro, but the driver said she liked him because “He doesn’t talk like a regular politician.”  I wanted to ask, “Couldn’t you say the same about Chavez and Maduro?!” but I was in listening mode.

6. I’ve long been dumbfounded by Spain’s high unemployment rate, which peaked at around 27% during the Great Recession and currently stands at about 15%.  Could labor market regulation really be so much worse in Spain than in France or Italy?  My chats with local economists – and observation of the labor market – confirmed my skepticism.  According to these sources, a lot of officially “unemployed” workers are lying to collect unemployment insurance while they work in the black market.  Immigrants reported little trouble finding work, though they did gravitate toward “New Economy” jobs like Uber driving.  I still think that Spanish unemployment is a tragic problem, especially for the young.  Yet properly measured, finding a job in Spain is plausibly easier than finding a job in France or Italy.  (This obviously raises the question, “To what extent is unemployment in France and Italy inflated in the same way?”  If you know of good sources, please share in the comments).

7. If I didn’t know the history of the Spanish Civil War, I never would have guessed that Spain ever had a militant labor movement.  Tipping was even rarer than in France, but sincere devotion to customer service seems higher than in the U.S.  Perhaps my sons charmed them with their high-brow Spanish, but I doubt that explains more than a small share of what I saw.  A rental car worker apologized for charging me for returning my car with a 95% full tank, adding, “Sorry, but my boss will yell at me if I don’t.”

8. Catalan independence is a weighty issue for both Barcelona and Madrid libertarians.  Madrid libertarians say that an independent Catalonia would be very socialist; Barcelona libertarians say the opposite.  I found the madrileños slightly more compelling here, but thought both groups were wasting time on this distraction.  Libertarians around the world should downplay identity and focus on the policy trinity of deregulating immigration, employment, and housing.  (Plus austerity, of course).

9. UFM Madrid Director Gonzalo Melián was originally an architect.  We discussed Spanish housing regulation at length, and I walked away thinking that Spain is strangling construction about as severely as the U.S. does.

10. Spanish housing regulation is especially crazy, however, because the country is unbelievably empty.  You can see vast unused lands even ten miles from Madrid.  The train trip to Barcelona passes through hundreds of miles of desert.  Yes, the U.S. has even lower population density, but Spain is empty even in regions where many millions of people would plausibly like to live.

11. The quickest way to explain Spain to an American: Spain is the California of Europe.  I grew up in Los Angeles, and often found myself looking around and thinking, “This could easily be California.”  The parallel is most obvious for geography – the deserts, the mountains, the coasts.  But it’s also true architecturally; the typical building in Madrid looks like it was built in California in 1975.  And at least in summer, the climates of Spain and California match closely.  Spain’s left-wing politics would also resonate with Californians, but Spain doesn’t seem so leftist by European standards.  Indeed, Spaniards often told me that their parents remain staunch Franco supporters.

12. My biggest epiphany: Spain has more to gain from immigration than virtually any other country on Earth.  There are almost 500 million native Spanish speakers on Earth – and only 47 million people in Spain.  (Never mind all those non-Spanish speakers who can acquire fluency in less than a year!)  Nearly all of these Spanish speakers live in countries that are markedly poorer and more dangerous than Spain, so vast numbers would love to migrate.  And due to the low linguistic and cultural barriers, the migrants are ready to hit the ground running.  You can already see migration-fueled growth all over Spain, but that’s only a small fraction of Spain’s potential.

13. Won’t these migrants vote to ruin Spain?  I don’t see the slightest hint of this.  Migrants come to work, not to change Spain.  And it’s far from clear that natives’ political views are better than migrants’.  Podemos, the left-wing populist party, doesn’t particularly appeal to immigrant voters.  Vox, the right-wing populist party, seems to want more immigration from Spanish America, though they naturally want to slash Muslim immigration.

14. How can immigration to Spain be such a free lunch?  Simple: Expanding a well-functioning economy is far easier than fixing a poorly-functioning economy. The Romanian economy, for example, has low productivity.  Romanian people, however, produce far more in Spain than at home.  Give them four months to learn the language, and they’re ready to roll.

15. According to my sources, Spain’s immigration laws willfully defy this economic logic.  When illegal migrants register with the government, they immediately become eligible for many government benefits.  Before migrants can legally work, however, they must wait three years.  Unsurprisingly, then, you see many people who look like illegal immigrants working informally on the streets, peddling bottled water, sunglasses, purses, and the like.  I met one family that was sponsoring Venezuelan refugees.  Without their sponsorship, the refugees would basically be held as prisoners in a government camp – or even get deported to Venezuela.  Why not flip these policies, so migrants can work immediately, but wait three years to become eligible for government benefits?  Who really thinks that people have a right to the labor of others, but no right to labor themselves?

16. Our favorite day was actually spent in Gibraltar.  Highly recommended; you simply cannot overrate the apes.  I was astounded to learn that the border with Spain was totally closed until 1982, and only normalized in 1985.  In a rare triumph of the self-interested voter hypothesis, 96% of Gibraltarians voted against Brexit.  Crossing the border is already kind of a pain; pedestrians have to go through (cursory) Spanish and British passport checks both ways, and the car line is supposed to take an hour.  I’d hate to be living in Gibraltar if security gets any tighter.

17. Big question: Why is Spain so much richer now than almost any country in Spanish America?  Before you answer with great confidence, ponder this: According to Angus Maddison’s data on per-capita GDP in 1950, Spain was poorer than Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and roughly equal to Colombia, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, and Panama.  This is 11 years after the end of the Spanish Civil War, and Spain of course stayed out of World War II.

18. Related observation: Once you’ve seen Spain, the idea that underdevelopment and oppression are somehow “intrinsic to Islam” is ridiculous.  The monuments of eight centuries of Muslim civilization in Spain are all around you.  So are basic facts like: Muslim Cordoba was once the largest city in Europe – and plausibly the most tolerant as well.  While bad outcomes are somewhat persistent, dramatic turnarounds are also common.

19. Another example: In less than a century, Spain has gone from being a battleground between reactionary Catholicism and violent atheism to a land of extreme religious apathy.  Non-practicing Catholics now outnumber practicing Catholics 2:1.

20. After I visit a new country, Tyler Cowen always asks me, “Are you long or short?”  In terms of potential, I’m very long on Spain.  The trinity of “deregulate immigration, employment, and housing” is vital in almost every country, but this formula would do more for Spain than nearly any other country.  Wise policy would make Spain the biggest economy in Europe in twenty years flat.  Unfortunately, these policies are highly unlikely to be adopted anytime soon, so my actual forecast is only moderately positive.  At this point, I can picture Tyler aphorizing, “The very fact that a country has massive unrealized potential is a reason to be pessimistic about its future.”  But this goes too far.  All else equal, a higher upper bound is clearly a reason for optimism – and by European standards, the Spanish economy is now doing very well.

21. Overall, my visit has made me more optimistic about Spain.  Much of the measured unemployment is illusory, and immigrants are pouring in to profit from Spain’s combination of high productivity and linguistic accessibility.  Housing policy remains bad.  Since housing regulation is decentralized, however, some regions of Spain will be atypically tolerant of new construction.  Where is the Texas of Spain?  I don’t know, but that’s where the future is.

Correction: I originally stated that Spain had lower population density than the contiguous U.S., but I was mixing up population per square mile and population per square kilometer.

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The Fallacy Fallacy Redux

Nobody asked but …

Just because someone argues about a thing by using a logic fallacy does not make the thing itself untrue.  In fact, citing your antagonist’s logic slip, then claiming victory thereby is just another instance of the appeal to authority.  The authority in this case are the tandem of your fallacy guru and your argumentation guru.

Firstly, you cannot “win” an argument, since an argument is a process for testing fact, not a pissing match.

Secondly, it is impossible to make a sound argument by citing a fallacy.  Such would only get you and your debate partner to a logical starting point for addressing any remaining fallacies.

Here is an example: some will insist that global warming is climate change that will come true, because … science.  But an open-ended reference to science is no different than an appeal to magic practitioners.  It is an unsupported assertion in the form of an appeal to authority.

BUT — and this is a big “but” — the fallacy makes the original assertion, that global warming is coming, neither true nor false.  There are no authorities who can know the future.

— Kilgore Forelle


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Statists Want You to Believe You’re Stupid

Statists want you to believe you aren’t smart enough to know how to solve problems. They say you have to trust the president or congress or the city council to do what’s necessary because you can’t possibly understand the issues. You don’t see “The Big Picture”* and don’t understand “how these things work”.

How convenient for them.

Erich Fromm had something to say about this vulgar lie:

“One kind of smokescreen is that the problems are too complicated for the average individual to grasp. On the contrary it would seem that many of the basic issues of individual and social life are very simple, so simple. in fact, that everyone should be expected to understand them. To let them appear to be so enormously complicated that only a “specialist” can understand them, and he only in his limited field, actually– and often intentionally– tends to discourage people from trusting their own capacity to think about those problems that really matter. The individual feels hopelessly caught in a chaotic mass of data and with pathetic patience waits until the specialists have found out what to do and where to go.” — Escape from Freedom

I see statists use this tactic all the time.

  • You can’t understand why it’s not a good idea to get rid of all anti-gun “laws” because you don’t have the wisdom and experience of the police unions, the BATFEces, the FBI, or federal judges. It’s simplistic to believe you can be responsible for yourself and that an armed populace would deter archation.
  • You can’t understand the nuances of “border security” because you aren’t an expert. You can’t just respect all property rights (including ending all welfare) and respect the right of defense– it would be chaos.
  • You’re not a scientist so you can’t understand the data pointing to Climate Change. Trust the experts to tell you what you’ll have to do to avoid this disaster they say is coming.

Statists need to make you believe the world is too complicated for individuals to understand. Otherwise, you might realize you don’t need their god to save you. So they constantly order you to “leave it to the professionals who know best“. They constantly insult you and your intelligence. They get paternalistic and condescending as they assure you “government knows best”.

Don’t be so uppity as to notice that their “professionals” and “experts” are always on the side of violating YOUR natural human rights and imposing more control over YOUR life.

Yeah, the world is complex. But if the average human can’t understand it, clumping sub-average humans together in a gang you call “government” isn’t going to magically give them superhuman abilities. Quite the opposite. I’ll trust the spontaneous order arising from the self-interested actions of free individuals before I trust the “wisdom” of monopolistic government being imposed on everyone.


*I once worked for a business that I saw doing really dumb, self-destructive things on orders from the manager. Being a good employee who wanted to see the business thrive, I told this manager what I thought and his standard response was that I didn’t see “The Big Picture” that only he could see.

I swear I didn’t say “I told you so” every time the things I warned him of came to pass.

But I sure did think it a lot.

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Let People Find Their Own Solutions

It amazes me how often people create worse problems while trying to solve problems.

Most problems can be solved; some probably can’t. Don’t give up trying to solve the hard problems, though. You never know if the Elixir of Life is waiting for you to discover just around the next bend.

The best approach is to let people find their own solutions. Most of their ideas will fail; some will be spectacular failures, but as long as no one’s solution is forced on everyone else, people can keep trying different things. The more ideas that get tried, the more problems will be solved.

Often you won’t know if an idea is good until you let people try it for a while. Then, if it turns out badly, the people need to be free to drop it.

Even some of the bad ideas might have the seed of a real solution, just needing a little tweak to work. It’s only when you set a bad idea in stone — or in law — that it becomes hard to reverse.

When you force a one-size-fits-all “solution” on everyone, a bad idea can do lasting damage.

Most proposals for solving anthropogenic global climate change — “global warming” — are like this. Whether the crisis is real or not matters little. Let people try the ideas they believe will help, but don’t let them impose those solutions on anyone. This would limit what others can try and is almost guaranteed to prevent a real, lasting solution from being discovered. If one is needed.

The most tragic examples are when someone causes more of the social problems they imagine their ideas would address. Things like poverty and crime come to mind.

If your anti-poverty program hasn’t resulted in a measurable easing of poverty it’s time to drop it and try something else. Many times, doing nothing would be better than what is being done.

Crime is another topic where this applies. Of course, I’m referring to real crime — violations of life, liberty, and property — not acts that harm no one other than the feelings of politicians.

I believe, from personal experience and observation, that universal voluntary gun possession would prevent most crime. Others believe a total gun ban (exempting government employees) would be the fix. Only one of those doesn’t rely on forcing a rights-violating, one-size-fits-all approach on every individual in society, so only one is ethical.

If your idea isn’t ethical, I’ll pass, no matter how well it works. With this one limit, find your best ideas.

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