Setting People at Each Other’s Throats

Anytime you politicize anything— by letting government dictates and legislation force a one-size-fits-all path on everyone– people get angry. And who can really blame them?

People on both sides are likely to flip out instead of being civil and letting people make their own choices.

Then you’ll have the clueless ask “why are people so partisan?

Well, if you didn’t threaten people with the guns of the state they wouldn’t feel they have to be partisan. It’s viewed as necessary for self-defense… by both sides.

If you have a good idea, talk people into going along. And if you can’t, let it go. Don’t demand “a law”. Don’t demand stronger enforcement. If your idea relies on either of those your idea is probably garbage and you– by insisting on government intervention– are a failure.

I have room in my Being to not try to control other people, even if I think they are doing something stupid. I may say something, but I won’t force them to adopt my path. If I think it might harm me, I step back to a safer distance, and I may warn others, as well. I won’t try to encourage others to molest you with “laws”.

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Changing Your Beliefs

I used to think people could change their beliefs.

I thought if people were presented with better information which showed the flaw in their belief, they would change their belief to fit the new information. I thought the process would be almost automatic.

After all, I’ve done it many times over the course of my life. I’ve also seen it happen in people I know. I know from personal experience that it can be done.

Sadly, it seems this isn’t as common as I had assumed.

In spite of overwhelming evidence, people still believe cops (and political government) are good and necessary– or, at least a “necessary evil” [sic]. They fear or hate anarchy without even understanding what it is. They imagine there’s such a thing as “too much liberty” and see it as a threat.

No amount of information, logic, or evidence to the contrary will budge them from their belief. They believe it, and that’s the end of it.

I realized the problem: even flawed beliefs based on bad information can still “work”. It’s not as dangerous to hold an erroneous belief as it seems it should be. So, as long as the belief isn’t causing them immediate agony or death, it’s less painful to hold onto it than to change it.

Therefore, I no longer expect better information to influence anyone, but I still put it out there so they’ll have no excuse. And I’ll still make fun of them for believing such ridiculous things.

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Billionaires, Freedom, Stoicism, & Police Brutality (28m) – Episode 323

Episode 323 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following topics: billionaires, what they do with their wealth and how to properly redistribute it through an increase to market competition; the difference between liberty and freedom and how unfree America really is; the value in his study and practice of Stoicism as it concerns driving around town for work; who the police are and why they aren’t your friend and protector; and more.

Listen to Episode 323 (28m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

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Aphorisms in Honor of Liberty, Part Two (26m) – Episode 320

Episode 320 has Skyler giving his commentary on the following aphorisms written by Jakub Bożydar Wiśniewski: “A bad economist believes that pay can be legislated. A good economist believes that legislation can be paid for.”; “A barbarian believes in the benevolence of power. A civilized person believes in the power of benevolence.”; “A fool believes that people are free when they are all equal. A person of reason believes that people are equal when they are all free.”; “Achieving peace of mind is the dual task of becoming aware of the extent of stupidity in the world and resolving not to contribute to it by refusing to dwell on it.”; “A fool believes that a ban can eliminate debauchery. A person of reason knows that it can increase its attraction.”; “A fool believes that uncertainty infects human life with the misery of fear. A person of reason knows that it imbues human life with the benefit of choice.”

Listen to Episode 320 (26m, mp3, 64kbps)

Subscribe via RSS here, or in any podcast app by searching for “everything voluntary”. Support the podcast at Patreon.com/evc.

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Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty: The New Republic

I’ve been waiting to read the fifth volume of Murray Rothbard’s Conceived in Liberty for over 30 years.  Now my former student Patrick Newman, professor at Florida Southern College, has miraculously undeleted this “lost work.”  Patrick’s quasi-archaeological efforts are nothing short of amazing, but how does the actual book hold up?

In the first four volumes of Conceived in Liberty, Rothbard tells the story of the American colonies’ rise, rebellion, and victory over the British.  In this final volume, he tells the story of America’s brief time under the Articles of the Confederation – abruptly  (and illegally!) ended by the revolution/coup/counterrevolution that we now know as the United States Constitution.  Rothbard, a vociferous detractor of the Constitution, could easily have subtitled this last book in his series “The Revolution Betrayed.”

Under the Articles of the Confederation, government was much more decentralized – and therefore much better:

Overall, it should be evident that the Constitution was a counterrevolutionary reaction to the libertarianism and decentralization embodied in the American Revolution. The Antifederalists, supporting states’ rights and critical of a strong national government, were decisively beaten by the Federalists, who wanted such a polity under the guise of democracy in order to enhance their own interests and institute a British-style mercantilism over the country.

Rothbard’s main focus, however, is not in persuading the reader that the Articles were superior, but simply chronicling the details of their demise.  As a result, the book is disappointing.  I expected to watch Rothbard debunk the standard civics case for the Constitution – to insist that the Articles fostered rapid economic growth, high individual liberty, and peace both between the U.S. states and between the U.S. and the world.  I expected him to enthusiastically defend the repudiation of war debt.  And I expected him to at least consider reconsidering his earlier support for the American Revolution and its many slave-holding philosophers of freedom.  Instead, Rothbard glosses over the Big Questions in favor of detailed multi-stage Constitutional vote analysis.

Admittedly, quantitatively comparing growth, freedom, and peace under the two colonial regimes would be difficult due to data limitations.  But there’s no excuse for ignoring the implications for revolutionary change.  In his engaging introduction, Newman depicts Rothbard as a dedicated supporter of the American Revolution:

Although the Revolution was enormously costly and resulted in the near destruction of the economy (through hyperinflation, military confiscation of goods, British pillaging of infrastructure and supplies, and the flight of British loyalists), the war was worth it since it led to the achievement of highly libertarian goals of inestimable value. Rothbard explains that the American Revolution was radical and led to the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.

Here’s the rub: How can the war (including the “near destruction of the economy”!) be “worth it” if the libertarian revolution gets cancelled a few short years later?  This is an astronomical price to pay for such a transient gain.  Sure, you could reply, “Well, the war would have been worth it if the Articles had endured.”  But that immediately raises a deeper question: Was the American Revolution even a prudent gamble?  The probability of victory aside, what is the probability of winning the war but losing the peace?  If your answer isn’t, “Very high,” I question your knowledge of the history of violent revolution.

Perhaps Rothbard would insist, “The Constitution was only a partial counterrevolution.  Many of the libertarian gains of the American Revolution endured.”  Then he could point to all the items in the preceding list: “the restriction of slavery in many areas, the end of feudalism, the emergence of religious freedom, democratic constitutions with increased suffrage, and revolutions in European nations.”  Given the hellish history of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic era, I’d say the latter “achievement” outweighs all the others.  In any case, Rothbard barely grapples with the counterfactuals.  How do we know slavery wouldn’t have been restricted anyway?  What’s the probability that the British would have restricted slavery earlier and more peacefully?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Rothbard also fails to grapple with the complex interaction between decentralization and mobility.  As I’ve explained before:

[D]oes decentralization alone really promote liberty or prosperity?  The mechanism is elusive at best. Imagine a world with a thousand sovereign countries of equal size.  This is far more decentralized than the status quo, right?  Suppose further, however, that there is zero mobility between these countries.  Labor can’t move; capital can’t move.  In this scenario, each country seems perfectly able to pursue its policies free of competitive pressure.  Why should we expect such policies to promote liberty, prosperity, or anything else?

The story would change, of course, if you combine decentralization with resource mobility.  In that case, each country’s government has to compete to retain labor and capital at home.  If you don’t make the customer happy, somebody else proverbially will.  But without this “universalist” mobility rule, decentralization leaves everyone under the rule of a preordained local monopolist.

Standard civics classes claim that under the Articles of the Confederation, interstate tariffs were a serious problem; they offered decentralized politics without free trade.  Rothbard only response is to downplay the severity of the regulation:

While Connecticut taxed imports from Massachusetts, and New York in 1787 moved to tax foreign goods imported from neighboring states, the specter of disunity and disrupting interstate tariff s was more of a bogey to sell the idea of a powerful national government than a real factor in the economy of the day.

Perhaps Rothbard’s right, but remember: interstate tariffs only had a few years to get online.  What would have happened to interstate tariffs in the long run if the Articles endured?  And doesn’t the question illustrate the critical insight that decentralization without resource mobility is no recipe for liberty?

To be clear, I enjoyed reading the final volume of Conceived in Liberty.  And to be fair, Rothbard probably would have greatly improved it before publication.  As it stands, though, Rothbard’s lost book dodges the fundamental questions that Mr. Libertarian famously relished.  If you want to read one of his posthumous works, you’d be better off with The Progressive Era – also beautifully edited and annotated by Patrick Newman.

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