On Labor Unions

There’s nothing wrong with collective bargaining from the voluntaryist perspective. Where labor unions go wrong is in their use of coercion. When collective bargaining breaks down and employers wish to hire competing labor, that is well within their liberty to do so. When labor unions employ threats and violence against so-called “scabs” (those who break away from the union or come from outside the union to work), they are engaging in criminal behavior. When governments protect unions from liability for this, they are aiding and abetting criminals. (But what’s new?) Nobody has the right to use coercion against their competition, not businesses and not workers. If you can’t collective bargain without coercion, then you aren’t collective bargaining. You’re bullying, and you’re a criminal. And that’s today’s two cents.

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Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part One (20m) – Episode 309

Episode 309 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A bad economist believes that he knows what to do to make the world prosperous. A good economist believes that he knows what to do to let the world make itself prosperous.”; “A barbarian believes in coercion as a means to establish cooperation. A civilized person believes in cooperation as a means to eliminate coercion.”; “A civilized person believes that what matters is not whether wealth is equally distributed, but whether it is justly acquired. A barbarian believes that the latter depends on the former.”; “Achieving peace of mind is the dual process of maximizing self-awareness and minimizing self-consciousness.”; “A commercial culture is a tautology. A political culture is an oxymoron.”; and “A civilized person uses reason to evaluate his instincts. A barbarian uses reason to justify his instincts.” (Please excuse the audio anomalies that occur a few times throughout.)

Listen to Episode 309 (20m, mp3, 64kbps)

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On Riotous Looting

One of the many foundational reasons for the strong possibility of police brutality is the fact that people have either willingly or under coercion outsourced their own security to a group of people who claim not to have any duty to provide it. In actuality, security is the prerogative of each and every individual, not some legal mafia who are more interested in enforcing their prohibitions over peaceful and nonviolent activities in order to fill their bank accounts. The sooner society realizes this, the sooner it will do something to curtail, among other things, the possibility of riotous looting as a result of police brutality. And that’s today’s two cents.

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How Lockdowns Matter

How much do lockdowns really matter?  Researchers recently noticed that behavior drastically changed before regulations did.  Malone and Bourassa offer a provocative comparison in 538:

This sort of mass behavioral change in such a short time is significant. It took over 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in prevention efforts to lower the percentage of people who smoke in the U.S. from 42 percent in 1965 to 13 percent in 2018. Americans reacted to the threat of COVID-19 in a relative blink of an eye.

A reasonable point, but multiple caveats are in order.

1. Lockdowns can easily prolong behavior they did not initially cause.  If the government stopped discouraging smoking, few people think it would mount a major resurgence in a year or a decade.  But almost everyone thinks that people would start returning to normal life in a few months… unless draconian enforcement stops them.

2. Lockdowns clearly amplify behavioral changes.  Look at Florida beaches: lots of people return the day the law changes.

3. The welfare cost of prohibition is much greater than the welfare cost of large behavior changes.  Why?  Because the suppliers and demanders most reluctant to change their behavior have the highest consumer and producer surplus!  Thus, if only 20% of people would eat in restaurants if it were legal, the value of those few meals could easily be half the value in the market.  Check out this textbook graph:

The triangle between the red “tax wedge” bar and the intersection of supply and demand shows the welfare loss of shrinking the market.  Double the quantity reduction, and you multiply the welfare loss four-fold.  In the real world, of course, the curves are rarely straight lines; instead, enthusiasts’ consumer surplus normally soars into the stratosphere.

4. The massive expansion of unemployment benefits and coverage greatly increases the sustainability of the lockdown; new limits on evictions and foreclosures do the same.  So if the question is, “How much do emergency policies matter?” rather than “How much do lockdowns matter?” there can be little doubt that the answer is “a lot.”  Most people simply don’t have enough personal savings to stop working for months without massive help from the government.  And even many people who do have such savings wouldn’t want to burn through their assets for a marginal increase in safety.

What this means is that crisis policies make a big difference – for good or ill.  People are taking many precautions voluntarily; but many other behavioral changes hinge on coercion and subsidies, especially after a few weeks of going corona-crazy.

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Even Anarchists Need Mayors

“Mayor ____ welcomes you to Atlanta.”

This sign greeted me as I left the airport for home. I kind of liked it.

Now as an anarchist, I don’t want any city governments, and I don’t give a damn about Mayor What’s-Their-Name, but I do give a damn about Atlanta. And like all cities I love, Atlanta has its own unique culture with unique values and customs.

Even if, God-willing, we managed to make Atlanta a city free from bureaucracies and governments, it would still help to have a figurehead for those values and customs.

We need someone who can cut ribbons, welcome people to town, organize volunteer events, and talk on important holidays. We need someone who can get up and say some nice things that more or less honor the shared values of a place. And we need them to have no constitutional or governing power over anyone whatsoever. Their power must derive from influence, respect, and earned authority from reputation and service, not coercion.

Look at the Queen: she doesn’t hold all that much constitutional power in England, but she traditionally has played a useful role in embodying Englishness – and serving as a role model for behavior, speech, dress, etc.

Mayors in a free society could do the same – and heck, we could even have mayors at other scales: whole regions. Mayor of Appalachia? Mayor of the Lowcountry? Mayor of New England? Heck, there are some folks who were destructive as politicians who would be fine as mayors of America.

Abstract values sometimes need a human face, and most humans want someone to look up to and to represent the best we have to offer. There are natural hierarchies, and there are some people worthy of honor and suited to serving (not ruling) large groups of people. So why not keep mayors around?

Originally published at JamesWalpole.com.

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The Answer is Always Individualism

I just saw an article by venture capitalist Marc Andreessen called “It’s Time to Build.”

I’m both encouraged and troubled by it.

I’m encouraged to see anything promoting and celebrating human achievement, instead of just shitting on wealth and promoting envy.

I’m troubled because it begins with the premise that “We” have failed to do really big giant things. It’s a small step from “We need to build bold things” to a technocracy where everyone is forced to put their resources to uses dictated by scientistic managers with grand plans.

I’m troubled because Silicon Valley sometimes seems to long for any kind of “Big” effort, no matter how much of a boondoggle, or whether it’s backed by force or funded against citizens will via taxation.

It mentions how “We” need to overcome regulatory capture. Well that only happens if the state shrinks, and big, unified, central visions imposed on the populace die with it. You can’t reduce capture and also increase state-run Hoover Dam type projects. Silicon Valley is naive about Public Choice Theory and the way real-world political incentives play out predictably.

I am ALL for big, massive, bold visions.

I want to terraform other planets. I want flying personal vehicles. I want limitless energy. But I know that such visions are only beneficial and not dystopian in a world where individual freedom trumps the desires of any small group of people. Those efforts and advances will only be wonderful if visionaries can persuade individuals to embrace and engage them voluntarily, and part with their resources to fund them without threat of force or artificial incentive.

Absent freedom, none of these big bold builder visions are inherently good and can quickly turn evil.

Some Silicon Valley types seem to want a world of endless tech innovation whether the market demands it or not and whether individuals choose it or not. A world controlled by the nerds. I am not accusing Andreessen of promoting this. But I do see an easy shift from his progress promotion to progress coercion, animated by the collectivist spirit of the age.

Anti-Silicon Valley types seem to want to steal all the money from the successful and prohibit people from progress. A self-defeating and soul-sick approach.

While I agree that anti-progress is awful, pro-“big ambitious projects” is not by itself a less scary ideology. Only individual freedom is. Progress nested in choice.

I once wrote about how Virginia Postrel’s Stasist vs Dynamist dichotomy (progress vs. tradition) is usefully paired with Thomas Sowell’s Constrained vs. Unconstrained vision (reality vs. utopia). I think it’s very applicable here.

Dynamism is only a force for good when nested in a constrained vision. Otherwise it becomes technocracy.

Article here. Chart below.

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