Government-Supremacist Assumptions

You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes with a magnifying glass. Government-supremacists are easy to spot by the bad assumptions they naturally make and wave around in public.

They’ve always argued over how to spend “tax” money; they won’t consider the fact that “taxation” is theft.

They’ve argued over what should be taught in government schools, but never questioned government control over (and destruction of) education.

And now they argue over whether it was the right move to issue stay-at-home orders and cripple the economy, but they never consider that no one has the right to do so.

It’s not government’s place to decide to shutter the economy to “save” lives from coronavirus or anything else. They don’t have that right and they shouldn’t be allowed to have the power.

It’s never an “adult decision” to govern other people (the political means) rather than letting them work it out for themselves (the economic means/the market). It’s the most childish thing anyone can do. No one should be allowed to make those decisions and decide for you what you will be permitted to do with your own life.

They also substitute government-supremacism for thinking in other ways.

If you are making the dishonest argument that to fail to sufficiently cripple the economy on account of the coronapocalypse is going to kill 50,000 additional people (or whatever your number might be), without taking into account those who will die because the economy is being destroyed, you aren’t contributing anything useful.

You can’t know how many the virus will kill, nor do you know how many will die from the effects of a shut-down. The number of dead from the shut-down could well vastly outnumber those who die from the virus, making the “net deaths from coronavirus” being tossed around a completely fake number. Any discussion of “net deaths from coronavirus” without taking those a shut-down will kill into account is– as of now– a lie calculated to limit the discussion to government-supremacist answers.

To pretend that someone has sufficient information to make such a decision, or the right to impose it, is to be dishonest. It’s what makes one a government-supremacist.

Government edicts and orders are the opposite of responsibility. You have the responsibility to not violate the life, liberty, or property of anyone else. Government-supremacy is explicit irresponsibility and is shameful. No matter who exhibits it or what excuse they grasp at to justify their violations. I have no respect for government-supremacists; they deserve none. They’ve worked hard to prove that.

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Panic Not a Good Survival Strategy

Here comes Coronavirus; the threat of the month.

How scared are you? How scared should I be? I’m not scared or even worried.

When Coronavirus hit the news I did some research on it at some reputable, non-sensationalist medical websites and decided it wasn’t anything to hyperventilate over. In fact, they classified it not as influenza, but as a cold virus. A virus everyone will come down with at some point during our lives. This variety may be worse than the usual strains, but I’m not going to freak out.

I’ve been around long enough to see scare after scare come to nothing.

The Y2K thing fizzled, Ebola dropped from the news, and Hillary wasn’t elected president. Life on planet Earth goes on pretty much the way it has — but with more robots, rockets, and batteries.

There are still looming shadows on the horizon: human-caused climate disaster, failure of the power grid, a robot apocalypse, and more. These are all things people can panic over. Then they can make foolish decisions because of the panic. Foolish decisions such as saying “There ought to be a law.” Decisions that will have worse consequences for more people than the original threat — a threat that may be real or may be a figment of the imagination.

Someday a real pandemic or widespread disaster will happen … and be worse than we were warned it would be. Won’t I look silly, then? But so far, not allowing myself to be panicked has worked out well.

Do you really want to spend your life bouncing from one threat of disaster to the next, or are you willing to learn from the past?

Sure, there are occasional school shootings, impaired drivers, disease, and other human tragedies. That’s life. But the track record of global doom and gloom scenarios should inspire optimism if you’re paying attention.

It can be fun and exciting to prepare for the worst-case scenario. I do it, too — in ways more fun than frightening. Panic is not a good survival strategy, even if something bad is going to happen. A panicked person doesn’t think straight or behave rationally. They are more likely to make fatal mistakes.

Don’t let anyone cause you to panic … unless panicking is what you want to do.

In that case, I won’t try to stop you, but please don’t allow your panic to affect my life, liberty, or property, or that of my friends and family.

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Reflections on Guatemala

I first journeyed to Guatemala 20 years ago, hosted by Universidad Francisco Marroquín.  Two weeks ago, I returned for a delightful extended visit, accompanied by my Spanish-speaking elder sons and former EconLog blogger Jim Schneider.  I spent over a week doing guest lectures at UFM, then gave Friday’s keynote talk for the Reason Foundation’s “Reason in Guatemala” conference.  During our trip, we were also able to visit the awesome Mayan ruins of Tikal and Yaxha.  Here are my reflections on the experience.

1. Guatemala has dramatically improved over the last two decades.  Multinational businesses are now all over Guatemala City.  Restaurants and luxury products are all over, but so are businesses that cater to average Guatemalans.  Local grocery stores are packed with familiar international brands and products.  There are multiple Walmarts.  Even Costco is there, doing business as Pricesmart.  We argued about whether the Oakland Mall was more impressive than Tyson’s I, but it was definitely a tough call.  Smartphones are naturally ubiquitous.  Whenever we strayed from the tourist areas, we saw ordinary citizens enjoying simple material pleasures like Pollo Campero.

2. When I last visited Guatemala, the high-end businesses seemed grossly overbuilt; the shiny malls were almost empty.  Now, however, Guatemalans actually seem to be consuming the fruits of progress.  The cavernous Oakland Mall was packed at lunchtime on a weekday – and the pedestrianized streets near the National Palace were full of locals.  La Aurora Zoo was world-class, but we saw no other foreign tourists.

3. Our sponsors at UFM strove to keep us perfectly safe.  For the first few days, they drove us everywhere.  Yet almost every local assured us that four guys walking around Zone 10 in broad daylight were extremely safe.  By the end, we were walking comfortably through a wide range of neighborhoods, though only by day.  Crime is clearly down, thanks in no small part to massive private security.  Even small stores often have heavily-armed guards, and razor wire is almost always in your field of vision.

5. The greatest danger to pedestrians is probably the poor sidewalks; there are many dangerous pits even in elite neighborhoods.  The problem is so dire and the cost of fixing it is so small that I’m surprised that local businesses haven’t raised money to solve it.  I know Latin America’s philanthropic tradition is weak.  Yet good publicity aside, wouldn’t the Oakland Mall soon recoup a $50-100k investment in the surrounding sidewalks?  Would local government really block this public-spirited initiative?

6. We didn’t have to walk far to see absolute poverty.  No one looked malnourished, and even kids living in shacks and huts usually wore new, store-bought clothes.  Still, we saw families living in shacks (in Guatemala City, especially near the airport) and huts (especially on the drive to Yaxha).  During one severe traffic jam, we saw kids under ten washing car windows.  We also witnessed several families of clowns busking in the streets.

7. By official measures, Guatemala is dramatically poorer than any of the Caribbean islands we recently toured, with per capita GDP of $3200 nominal and $7600 PPP.  Yet this is mightily difficult to reconcile with what we saw with our own eyes.  Overall, the Caribbean islands looked a lot like the road from Flores to Yaxha – a mixture of modest modern houses and primitive shacks and huts.  Everything else in Guatemala looked vastly better than St. Maarten or St. Kitts.  While this partly reflects higher population, the biggest contrast is that almost every Guatemalan looks like he has useful work to do.  The Caribbean islanders, in contrast, have high levels of desperate peddling and outright idleness.

8. Guatemalan prices confused not only us, but local economists as well.  Grocery prices are very high.  Guatemala’s Pricesmart and my local Costco sell many identical goods, so I can confidently say that the former’s prices were roughly twice as high as I normally pay.  Local chains were even pricier.  One prominent local businessman blamed Guatemala’s low port capacity – and impishly shared his thrilling plans to build a big new port in the near future.  Restaurant meals aren’t cheap either; everything from fast food to premium steaks costs about the same as it would in Virginia.  The only product that was blatantly cheaper than usual was Uber – about one-third of the U.S. rate.  (Since gas prices were a bit higher than in Virginia, drivers’ take-home pay must be low indeed).  Other services, such as tour guides, were also big bargains.

9. As I toured Guatemala, I couldn’t help but notice how happy the people looked, especially the women.  I wondered if my impression could just be confirmation bias, but now that I’m back home I’m confident that the contrast is stark.  Guatemalan men look at least marginally happier than American men.  Guatemalan women look much happier than American women.  You could say that this merely reflects cultural differences in expressiveness, but that strikes me as sheer stubborn denial.

10. UFM was the jewel of our visit.  UFM could well be the most beautiful of the hundred-odd universities I’ve toured in my life.   Built in a ravine, it elegantly blends distinctive architecture with gorgeous tropical flora.  UFM also hosts two stunning museums – Popol Vuh (archaeology) and Ixchel (textiles).  Best of all, UFM is an academic libertarian paradise.  The ideas and imagery of my intellectual heroes adorn the whole campus – Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand, and Ludwig von Mises are only the beginning.  Yet there is no sign of dogmatic orthodoxy.  Good manners prevail; faculty and students are eager to hear new ideas and debate old ones.   Unlike most other institutions, UFM administrators are especially intellectually engaged.  UFM President Gabriel Calzada Alvarez was overjoyed to talk ideas with my sons for hours.

11.  The students of UFM look even happier than the rest of their countrymen.  You could say this is because they’re drawn from Guatemala’s richest families, but so are Americans in the Ivy League – and those kids are hardly pictures of good cheer.  The gender gap was so big that I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own ideas; female UFM students appear extraordinarily happy.  UFM econ’s male/female ratio is also strangely low; several of the classes I taught were virtually all-female.

12. My Guatemalan audiences took to Open Borders like fish to water.  The cultural and political threat of Muslim immigration was the sole recurring objection.  In Guatemalan eyes, Latin America and the U.S. share a common Judeo-Christian culture, so many were surprised to hear how many U.S. citizens view Latin Americans as culturally alien or even unassimilable.

13. On the latter issue, the Guatemalans are plainly correct.  Pre-assimilation to the North American way of life is prevalent and intense.  Virtually everyone at UFM speaks and understands English well.  About a fifth of the public signs in Guatemala City are entirely in English, and an additional third are in Spanglish.  The Guatemalan elite already lives the American dream, más o menos.  The average Guatemalan struggles to do the same.  A dozen different people emphatically described Guatemalans as “deeply conservative,” but Tarantino was on t.v. every time I flipped the channels.

14. Even Guatemalan libertarians rarely complained about specific domestic government policies, but if you look at their Economic Freedom of the World ranking, there is plenty to decry.  Guatemala gets great scores on Size on Government and Sound Money, and a good score on Freedom to Trade Internationally.  Yet it gets an awful score for Legal System & Property Rights, and an even worse score for Regulation.  New construction projects are all over Guatemala City, but one of the locals told me it takes 2-3 years to obtain permission to build.  Imagine how much construction there’d be if you cut the delay down to 2-3 months or 2-3 weeks!

15. So what do Guatemalans complain about?  I asked one of my classes to tell me what most bothered the average Guatemalan; then I proposed workable policy responses for each problem.  Their first answer was “corruption.”  I suggested hiring a team of Swiss or Singaporeans to take over Guatemala’s internal affairs department.  They saw the logic of importing trustworthiness, but told me that Guatemalans wouldn’t accept it.  Their next answer was “traffic.”  I proposed electronic road pricing.  They again saw the logic, and again told me that Guatemalans wouldn’t accept it – even if the gas tax were abolished at the same time.  My students also saw crime – especially kidnapping – as a grave problem.  They were almost dumbstruck when I suggested a big switch from incarceration to flogging, even though Guatemala’s indigenous peoples already heavily rely on corporal punishment.  In a poor country with heavy corruption and high crime, the case for flogging is mighty indeed.  Just ask criminal-justice reformer Jason Brennan!

16. If I had to move to another country, Guatemala would be high on my list.  First and foremost, I love the UFM community.  American liberalism and conservatism are intellectual dead-ends, and I would enjoy forever escaping from both.  I also prefer to be around very happy people, and on that score Guatemala handily beats the U.S.A.  Guatemala does have some scary features, but the longer I stayed, the more I relaxed.  Yet for now, I continue to prefer the U.S.  Wages are obviously much higher here, and PPP measures notwithstanding, a dollar goes further in the U.S. than in Guatemala.

17. The Mayan archaeological sites we visited deserve all the hyperbolic adjectives people apply to them.  The contrast between the pyramids and the palaces, however, is vast.  The pyramids you leave thinking, “Human beings made these?!  Without wheels?!”  (As well as, “They performed human sacrifices here?!  What the hell was wrong with these Mayans?!”)  The “palaces” of the Mayan leaders, in contrast, look smaller than many apartments in Fairfax.  To reverse Galbraith, the Mayan elite lived lives of public affluence and private squalor.

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Stalking with Intent to Steal, or Worse

Say you were a UPS or FedEx driver and were being followed by a car. You stop and ask the occupant of the car what he’s doing, and he says he’s waiting for you to drop a package on a porch so he could take it. Would you have to wait until he took the package to act against this self-proclaimed future thief?

Would it be any different if you see a cop on the road while you are puttering around in your car?

The threat and intention are the same, even if you ignore the fact that the cop wouldn’t even exist (as a “job”) without theft already having occurred.

Not only that, but to wear the gang colors of the Blue Line Gang is to advertise a willingness to murder during the enforcement of legislation.

To see a police officer of any faction is to see a credible, lethal threat to the life, liberty, and property of everyone in the vicinity. How many are intentionally blind to this threat? How many actively deny there is a threat and support this vile gang?

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Gun Rights are Decent Political X-ray

Whether or not you vote or otherwise pay attention to politicians, do you wish you had a way to see inside their minds to know what they think of you?

Libertarian science fiction and nonfiction author L. Neil Smith has pointed out that you can know what a politician thinks of you and your rights by examining his or her opinions on gun rights. Smith says it’s as good as an X-ray into politicians’ minds.

It works whether the politician is a Republican, a Democrat, a Libertarian, or something else.

Don’t make the common mistake and assume the “R” by a politician’s name on the ballot means they are a supporter of your rights and liberty — most aren’t.

Smith observes that any politician who is uncomfortable with the idea of you or anyone else walking into a store, plopping down the cash and walking out with any gun you want without showing a scrap of identification or signing even one form, is not pro-gun rights.

If a politician doesn’t recognize your right to own and to carry, openly or concealed, any type of firearm you wish — handgun, rifle, single-shot, “high-capacity” or fully automatic — everywhere you go without asking permission, this politician is not a supporter of your gun rights and probably isn’t a fan of your other rights, either.

Politicians may talk a good game about supporting rights, yet cling to the belief that rights can come with government-approved limits, licenses, and legislation.

They are wrong.

A right doesn’t come with any such requirements, and anyone claiming they do is not respecting your rights. They’re probably hoping you’ll be fooled into confusing rights for privileges as people often do.

Any politician who doesn’t fully respect your gun rights is likely to also believe you need permission or a license to marry, to drive a car, to open a business, to travel the world, or to consume certain plants. Such a politician will probably believe you owe a portion of your property to government. They may quibble over how much you owe, but they won’t doubt you owe something.

I understand the argument for voting in self-defense. I don’t believe it works, and I think there are better ways to defend yourself from politicians and their opinions. It’s still good to know which politicians are worse than the others. Using their stance on gun rights is a convenient and accurate shortcut to find your sworn enemies. I suggest you use it.

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On Airplane Reclining Seats

The one thing that makes flying just a tiny bit more comfortable is the reclining seat. If I were perusing airlines and prices and saw the offering of a ticket without a reclining seat, I would refuse to purchase that ticket! The fact that the airline offers and that I expect a reclining seat means that you can be damn sure I am going to use it. I will not ask permission from any other customer to use my product as I see fit. If you don’t like it, then you may offer to pay me a sum of money to stop using it. I always entertain such offers. What you may not due is attack me or my contracted property for doing so. And that’s today’s two cents.

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