Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part Four (24m) – Episode 347

Episode 334 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A businessman calls himself boss, but his goal is to serve others. A politician calls himself servant, but his goal is to boss others.”; “A collectivist in a libertarian society may be an odd duck, but an individualist in a statist society can only be a milk cow.”; “A fool complains about the lack of equality of opportunity. A person of reason appreciates the abundance of diversity of opportunity.”; “Fulfillment: the frame of mind in which success is neither a process nor an event, but a state of being.”; “A libertarian boor is a possibility, but a statist gentleman is a contradiction.”; “A scientist believes that science is a source of knowledge. A pseudoscientist believes that science is the source of knowledge.”

Listen to Episode 347 (24m, mp3, 64kbps)

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Misplaced Hate Regarding Healthcare

Democrats and others who advocate Government healthcare often accuse market advocates of being cold and heartless. They say we want the poor to die in the streets. I’m reminded of Bastiat’s The Law, wherein he observed:

We disapprove of state education. Then the socialists say that we are opposed to any education. We object to a state religion. Then the socialists say that we want no religion at all. We object to a state-enforced equality. Then they say that we are against equality. And so on, and so on. It is as if the socialists were to accuse us of not wanting persons to eat because we do not want the state to raise grain.

It’s as though they think that without their particular healthcare policy, there would be no healthcare whatsoever, or that the private sector would contain no voluntary “welfare” programs (even though many already exist toward this end), they would be insufficient, or their callousness and inefficiency would reach apocalyptic levels.

Of course, this hatred is misplaced. We don’t want people dying in the streets. We want people to get the best, most affordable healthcare they can, and we contend that the free enterprise system is the best way to work toward that goal.

Despite the fact that the private sector does indeed provide substantial amounts of resources with the intent of helping the poor, the accusation that we are cold and heartless is still fairly popular. But such citations, while valuable and compelling, are offered in response to what I think is likewise a misplaced focus regarding the elements of the argument.

The argument against Government healthcare isn’t necessarily based on efficiency or quality, it’s also based on the problem of “taxation.” Libertarians and anarchists obviously have no qualms about the democrats giving more of their money to (hopefully private) programs to help the poor. I suspect many of us are sympathetic to such causes and are willing to help as well, if possible. The problem, which is so often overlooked, is that all Government programs are predicated on the idea of forcing other people to fund them. When we argue against Government healthcare, we are arguing against the fundamental nature of its funding (which is tied to the efficiency and quality arguments), not against the availability of quality, affordable healthcare for the poor. We too want the best services available for the lowest price, but we’re not willing to use the violence of the State to get them. The economic consequences will be grave, and the ethical implications are abhorrent.

I imagine most government healthcare advocates have the best of intentions, but it’s hard to view such individuals as noble and caring when their main (and often only) proposition to help the poor is to force other people to do it.

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Give Thanks to Fossil Fuels

Was the power on in your house this morning?

If so, thank fossil fuels!

A few parts of America do get energy from other sources. Washington state has fast-flowing rivers that allow Washingtonians to get most of their electricity from hydroelectric power. Iowa now gets about 40 percent of its electricity from wind.

But most of us get power from the much-hated fossil fuels, primarily natural gas and coal.

Burning them does pollute, although government-mandated (yes, government has done some useful things) controls like scrubbers in smokestacks have nearly eliminated the dangerous pollutants, such as sulfur dioxide.

But fossil fuels do still emit greenhouse gasses, and that probably increases global warming. Yes, I know some scientists doubt that man’s activities contribute much, but I’ll go with the large group that says we do.

Now, Black Lives Matter protesters say fossil fuels create “environmental racism” because black neighborhoods are often located in low-lying floodplains or are close to refineries and other energy infrastructure. Activist Jane Fonda recently joined them to say, “The fossil fuel industry will have to pay!”

But I suspect Fonda and other anti-fossil fuel protesters have no clue about where the electricity that powers their electric cars comes from.

Today, Americans still get 81 percent of our energy and 62.7 percent of our electricity from fossil fuels. Oil fuels about 91 percent of all transportation.

Without fossil fuels, much of the world would freeze in the dark. We just don’t yet have enough alternatives.

One country almost does: Iceland.

Iceland has hot springs, so geothermal power provides 25 percent of its juice, and hydropower provides most of the rest.

But even in Iceland, that’s not enough. Iceland still burns oil.

The protesters ought to watch the new documentary, Juice: How Electricity Explains the World. My new video this week is a short (4 minute) version of it.

“Electricity doesn’t guarantee wealth,” says energy journalist Robert Bryce, “but not having it almost always means poverty. The defining inequality in the world today is the disparity between the electricity-rich and the electricity-poor. Three billion people in the world today use less electricity than what’s used by my kitchen refrigerator. To empower the low-watt world, we’re going to need a lot more juice.”

Hate coal all you want, but it still accounts for about 38 percent of global electricity production. Even Japan, home to the Kyoto Protocol, plans to build 22 new coal-fired power plants.

Pitiful and expensive American “green” mandates won’t dent the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Americans take electric light for granted, but Bryce’s film reminds us: “Electricity allowed us to conquer our oldest foe: darkness. For millennia, the cost of having well-lit spaces at night was so high, only the very rich could afford it.”

That’s still true in much of the world. About 300 million people in India have no access to electricity.

Many cook and heat their homes by burning cow dung. It’s why about 1.3 million Indians die from indoor air pollution each year. Cooking with cow dung, Bryce says, “is akin to burning 400 cigarettes an hour in your kitchen.”

Pollution like that is a much bigger threat to disadvantaged people than greenhouse gasses American activists complain about.

“Darkness kills human potential. Electricity nourishes it,” says Bryce.

But what about climate change? I’m told that’s why we must move to renewable energy.

Renewables, Bryce replies, simply cannot supply “the enormous amount of electricity the world needs at prices consumers can afford.”

Environmental activist Michael Shellenberger points out that he hears environmentalists say: “People must reduce energy consumption! (But) the only people in the world who say that are rich people.”

“Energy poverty vs climate change. There is no easy, one-size-fits-all solution,” concludes Bryce. “But there are about three billion people in the world without adequate access to electricity…and they will do whatever they have to do to get the electricity they need.”

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Government Makes Crisis Worse

America is in crisis. Nearly everyone agrees on this point; they only disagree over what the crisis is.

Fewer still agree over what caused the crisis they can’t agree on, so they can’t agree on how to solve it.

Whatever the crisis is, and whether it was caused by a virus, police callousness, racism, inequality, or something else, governments love the excuse to crack down on liberty. This is often among their first responses — regardless of what the crisis is, what caused the crisis, or how it might be solved. It’s as though they don’t even care about those trivial details.

A crisis is when your right to life, liberty, and property is most important. When things are going well, are more robust and stable, a small disruption probably won’t cause ruin. When things are already on the edge, one little push in the wrong place, at the wrong time, can spell disaster.

Deciding to treat liberty as if it’s negotiable is a big jackbooted shove to civil society.

To respect the liberty of every human being is the civilized thing to do, even if some people aren’t respecting the liberty of others. This is why self-defense remains an important human right.

No crisis justifies additional government power; instead, it’s a time for less government meddling. Especially when the path forward is unclear.

The result of restricting liberty is to limit the number of individual solutions that can be tried. When there’s disagreement, it’s important to let people take different paths. If enough things are tried, someone will get it right. If you force everyone to follow the same path, the chances are nearly 100 percent that the wrong path will be imposed.

This is why the Constitution doesn’t allow itself, or human rights, to be suspended during any emergency and thus doesn’t permit martial law.

To pretend martial law is constitutional the Supreme Court was forced to concoct political “theories” to justify it. They made up, out of thin air, things the Constitution didn’t say and that it was explicitly designed to prevent.

It seems the Constitution has never stopped government from committing any action it really wanted to commit. Someone, somewhere, will rubber-stamp almost anything.

If the Constitution did permit the suspension of rights for the duration of an emergency, this would invalidate the document. That it doesn’t, yet government goes ahead and does it anyway, invalidates government.

Government “help” makes any crisis worse.

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Democrats & Jim Crow: A Century of Racist History the Democratic Party Prefers You’d Forget

In the last Presidential electionDonald Trump was lauded for his performance among black voters – he scored 4 percent of female black voters and a whopping 13 percent of black male voters, the highest since Richard Nixon. This isn’t shocking. Black voters have voted en masse for the Democratic Party since the mid-60s and the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Actthe Voting Rights Act and the social welfare programs of the Great Society. This solidified black voters behind the Democratic Party, but they had been moving there since the New Deal.

However, it’s a historical anomaly in the United States. The traditional home of the black voter was the Republican Party, due to its historical role in ending slavery and introducing Reconstruction Acts and Amendments to the Constitution. It also did not help that the Democratic Party was the party of Jim Crow, a system of legally enforced segregation present throughout the American South in the aftermath of the Civil War.

What Do We Mean When We Say “Jim Crow?”

Before delving further into the topic, it is important to define precisely what we mean by Jim Crow and why it is a distinct form of legal codes in United States history. While Northern and Western cities were by no means integrated, this integration was de facto, not de jure. In many cases, the discrimination in the North was a discrimination of custom and preference, discrimination that could not be removed without a highly intrusive government action ensuring equality of outcome. Northerners and Westerners were not required to discriminate, but nor were they forbidden from doing so.

Compare this to the series of laws in the American South known for mandating segregation at everything from public schools to water fountains.

No one is entirely sure where the term “Jim Crow” came from, but it’s suspected that it comes from an old minstrel show song and dance routine called “Jump Jim Crow.” Curiously, the first political application of the term “Jim Crow” was applied to the white populist supporters of President Andrew Jackson. The history of the Jim Crow phenomenon we are discussing here goes back to the end of Reconstruction in the United States.

The Reconstruction Era

Briefly, Reconstruction was the means by which the federal government reasserted control over the Southern states that had previously seceded to form the Confederate States of America. This involved military occupation and the disenfranchisement of the bulk of the white population of the states. The results of the Reconstruction Era were mixed. Ultimately, Reconstruction ended as part of a bargain to put President Rutherford B. Hayes into the White House after the 1876 election. The lasting results of Reconstruction are best enumerated for our purposes as the Reconstruction Amendments:

  • The 13th Amendment abolished involuntary servitude for anyone other than criminals. It was once voted down and passed only through the extensive political maneuvering on behalf of President Abraham Lincoln himself and the approval of dubious Reconstruction state governments in the South. It became law in December 1865.
  • The 14th Amendment includes a number of provisions often thought to be part of the Bill of Rights, such as the Equal Protection Clause and the Due Process Clause, which are, in fact, later innovations. Birthright citizenship’s advocates claim that the Constitutional justification can be found in this sprawling Amendment, which also includes Amendments barring former Confederate officials from office and addresses Confederate war debts. This Amendment became law in July 1868.
  • The 15th Amendment prevents discrimination against voters on the basis of race or skin color. This law was quickly circumvented by a number of laws discriminating against all voters on the basis of income (poll tax) or education (literacy tests). The Southern states eventually figured out how to prevent black citizens from voting while allowing white ones through grandfather clauses.

The Reconstruction Amendments were the first amendments to the Constitution passed in almost 60 years, and represented a significant expansion of federal power.

Perhaps the most important thing to know about the Reconstruction Amendments is that they were largely ineffective. Ranking public officials of the Confederacy were elected to federal government, blacks were disenfranchised as quickly as they were elected to the Senate, and Jim Crow, an entire system of legal discrimination, was erected to return black Americans to their subservient status. With the exception of citizenship for blacks and an end to involuntary servitude, the substance of the rest of the Amendments were largely discarded.

Continue reading “Democrats & Jim Crow: A Century of Racist History the Democratic Party Prefers You’d Forget” at Ammo.com.

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Thought Experiments

I was just discussing with a friend a thought experiment I put together years ago during a debate on whether or not inequality is a prerequisite to economic exchange.

The claim I heard from some economists was that you can’t have trade without inequality. While I believe inequality is inescapable, natural, not undesirable, and an inevitable outcome of freedom and prosperity, I don’t think it is logically necessary in order for mutually beneficial trade to occur.

I emphasize logical, because thought experiments can be useful for finding errors in reasoning, but they are almost never useful for finding better explanations for the real world. I think I can construct a thought experiment that reveals that inequality is not logically necessary for win-win trade, but that doesn’t do much to improve understanding of the world. In the real world, everyone is unequal, period. We differ in taste, preference, ability, biology, etc. Even small divergence leads to different subjective valuations which is the major driver in gains from trade.

The point of the claim the inequality is needed for trade is to reveal that, for from being a danger to be feared, it’s a necessary part of human flourishing. That is true. Still, I don’t think it is logically required for trade to occur.

Here’s my thought experiment:

Two perfectly identical people live on an island. To survive, they need both fish and berries in their diet. Both have identical preferences for types of work, and identical abilities at fishing and berry picking.

In 1/2 a day, one can collect 100 berries, and in 1/2 a day one can catch 2 fish. So each individual splitting the day between berries and fish will end up with 100 berries and 2 fish, for a combined total of 200 berries and 4 fish.

But there are more abundant berries high up on the mountain. The catch is it takes an entire day to get there and back, leaving no time for fishing. And there are more fish deeper in the ocean, but it takes an entire day to paddle there and back leaving no time for berries.

The two identical people could specialize. One spends the whole day fishing in more abundant waters and catches 6 fish. One day one spends all day in more abundant berry bushes and picks 300 berries. They can trade and end up with 150 berries and 3 fish each. Both individuals have gained (50%!) from the trade due to the division of labor.

This does not require either individual to become more skilled than the other at one task. They could alternate each day who does which and still win. Division of labor and specialization coupled with trade is a better outcome than self-sufficiency even for two completely equal individuals because of the uneven nature of production itself. Each unit of time does not produce an identical outcome, and duration spent at a task may affect the marginal productivity, even without new skills gained or new capital employed.

See, trade is beneficial even in a world of perfect equality!

The problem is every assumption in the thought experiment is far fetched beyond belief. It can reveal an error in the logic of the original claim, but not its reality. Trade always arises between unequal partners because no two people are equal in the real world. Even identical twins stranded on an island aren’t. Even engineered clones under my scenario wouldn’t be, because in reality they would enhance their skill with more time invested in one task than another.

Thought experiments are not “gotcha” moments for real world claims. They may be mild rebukes of the certainty of the logical necessity, but they are so divorced from the real world, and so stripped down of variables that they allow the real world to contradict them all the time.

Just ask those economists who couldn’t discover any logical way lighthouses could be funded without government so they declared it an impossible wish, even while the very lighthouses outside their window were currently funded without government. Thought experiments are fun and occasionally useful, but more often arrogant, blinding, and dangerous.

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