Friday, December 6, 2013

A Libertarian Look at Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela was everything people have said about him—and yet nothing like the man they claimed he was. He was saint and sinner, a miracle for the nation, and just a man, flaws and all.

I was in line at McDonalds in Cresta, a northern suburb of Johannesburg, when suddenly the order clerk glazed over and stopped paying any attention to my order or me. I kept trying to finish the order with no response. My partner whispered in my ear: “Mandela just walked in.”

I turned to my left and, sure enough, there was Madiba, shuffling toward the back where his grandchild was celebrating a birthday. We got our food and sat down, watching Mandela and the children in the back of the restaurant. People stopped eating to stare. The mostly white crowd had cell phones out telling everyone they knew that they were in the presence of Mandela.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Dumpster Diving and Libertarianism

The Left-of-center website, Demos, has a somewhat dishonest attack on libertarianism by a Mr. Matt Bruenig. Bruenig is happy to announce that a libertarian from the Cato Institute has agreed to discuss the nature of libertarianism with him. He then pulls one of the more dishonest stunts that one can pull in a debate or discussion—he set up an extreme, minority position as if it is the mainstream and then demanded his opponent justify it.

This is similar to conflating left progressives with the Communist Party USA. It was a shameful stunt when pulled by McCarthyites, Birchers and others on the extreme Right and it is just as shameful when pulled by left progressives, such as Mr. Bruenig.

Bruenig demands that his Cato discussant defend the antics of Han-Hermann Hoppe, who is absurdly described as “a very prominent libertarian academic.” In truth, Mr. Hoppe is hardly “prominent,” though he and his small band of followers would rush to agree with Bruenig—which makes Bruenig the one keeping odd company.

Bruenig notes Hoppe’s affiliation with the paleolibertarian Ludwig von Mises Institute—formed by a former staffer from the Conservative Book Club, well after Mises died. Now, if you were to take the budgets of the various libertarian-oriented think tanks and combine them together, you would probably find that this organization represents less than 1% of libertarian funding of ideas in any one year.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Ten Commandments for Libertarians

It was once said: “I have met the enemy and he is us.”

Truer words were never said.

I think the libertarian vision is a noble one. It respects people. It sees each individual as an end in themselves and not the means to the ends of others.

With any such set of ideas there is the message and there is the messenger. Rationally it behooves us to keep the two separate. In reality though people often judge the message by the messenger.

And the libertarian movement worldwide has some really decent, hardworking, caring individuals at it’s helm. It also has some kooks, nuts, weirdos, cultists and certifiable lunatics out there as well. In other words it’s pretty much like the rest of the world.

Libertarianism is a set of ideas for sure. It is also a collection of people. Ideas don’t exist outside of people. Ideas require on people for their existence. Ideas only reside in the mind. They may correspond with things we see in reality but they themselves are a mental construct. To separate the message from the messenger becomes very difficult.

This movement we have chosen is filled with unique individuals. All of whom pretty much assert that they want to see libertarian ideas spread around the world and adopted. They mostly claim to be inspired by high ideals. Yet often they commit some deadly sins when it comes to promoting the fundamentals of liberty.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Latest Loans from Adam Smith Benevolent Fund

The Moorfield Storey Institute regularly makes small loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations. We believe that the best way to solve social ills in the world is with economic development. The greater the income the more health care, education, food, etc., that individuals are able to provide themselves.

These entrepreneurs often create jobs that benefit the entire community. Profit-seeking on their part encourages the kind of values necessary for a free society to flourish. A portion of income from book sales made at our site goes to benevolent purposes that encourage individuals to better their lives through self-initiative.

We have added
two loans to our list today:

Ester is 64 and a single woman. She has run a general store in Tanjay, Philippines for the last 9 years. She is using her loan to expand the business by purchasing additional goods that she can sell.

Angel sells electrical supplies in San Ignacio, Paraguay. He wishes to expand his business with more supplies so customers can always find what they need in his business. He is also hoping to expand into home improvement goods.

By purchasing books from Fr33minds you not only help the Storey Institute in promoting the values of a free society, but a portion is used to encourage the growth of market-based solutions in the developing world. Economic prosperity not only betters the lives of individuals but it leads to a more peaceful, interconnected world, something in the self-interest of everyone. Donations may be made to the Storey Institute here.

Friday, August 2, 2013

The Role of Fiction in Promoting a Free Society

Note: Some video links we had have disappeared leaving blank spaces. Continue below the blank spaces to finish reading. We shall try to repair this shortly.

A woman sat down with some paper, pen in hand, and started to write. Line by line she wrote out in longhand the plot she had devised. The characters she would invent would become known to a large percentage of the public.

She had a message, something she wanted to say. And, when she was finished, she had written a novel that helped spawn a political movement that changed the face of America.

Many viciously attacked her. The literary elite would pan the novel, claiming it was too melodramatic, yet in the century it was written its influence was only second to the Bible. The novel created a firestorm, with many praising it highly, while others seemed obsessed with attacking it. In the first years it sold some 300,000 copies. Some years later, during a time of national crisis, it suddenly became a best seller once again.

The woman was Harriet Beecher Stowe, and the novel was Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe was appalled at the existence of slavery, and wrote in a white heat, trying to show the world the evil of this thing called slavery.

Many antislavery books had previously been written. Serious books discussing the detrimental effects of slavery were not uncommon. Theological treatises, for and against, were published and barely read. But, within one year of publication, Stowe’s little book had sold 300,000 copies. Although, only published in book form in 1852, no other book, except the Bible, sold more copies during the entire 19th century.

Monday, June 24, 2013

At Their Own Liberty: Individual Initiative and Destruction

Visitors from around the world flock to San Francisco and often find the city too cold. Residents laugh at that. The tourists come at the height of summer. Yet San Francisco seems warmest in the autumn.  That October day was no different; perfect weather for game three of the World Series. The Series was entirely a Bay area event that year with San Francisco’s Giants playing their rivals, the Oakland Athletics. The A’s had won the first two games, but game three was being played in San Francisco’s Candlestick Park and the Giants were hoping for a home-team advantage.
I was sitting at my desk in my bookstore when the computer screen flickered briefly. I tried to hit the two keys on the keyboard that would save my document, but the keyboard wouldn’t hold still long enough. The screen went dark and the lights inside the bookstore went out.
A roar drowned out the sound of the rush-hour traffic. At four minutes past five the afternoon traffic was always heavy, but this wasn’t traffic; it was the city itself—the entire city—groaning as it was lurched from side to side. Waves moved under my feet, I was surfing on land. The waves clearly came from the south hitting the front of the shop and flowing through it. Books on the shelves lurched first toward me, sprang back and then jerked in the opposite direction.
How many more minutes would go by before it would stop? What seemed so endless at the time was just 15 seconds in duration.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Logical Contradictions of Left and Right.

Some people still fall for the idea that conservatives are for "limited government." I've been arguing for years that they are not. My view is that they are socialists of the soul to remake man morally. In this sense they are like our socialist comrades who want to use the state to achieve the goals they lay out. They only differ on the ends, not on the means.
We classical liberals talk about the means. We argue that the means must be considered and that it wrong to use force against peaceful individuals who are not violating the rights of others. We might disagree over times when such use might be necessary but our assumption, at the beginning of the debate, is that such a thing is wrong on the face of it, and if done must be justified by reams of evidence.
The conservative and the progressive doesn't have this problem. They don't worry about the means, only about the ends.
Many people have assumed that conservatives actually do support small, limited government. They make that mistake because some people identified as conservatives actually had a liberal streak and supported such ideas. Goldwater and Reagan were two prominent examples. Both men understood the basic liberal principles and were liberals to varying degrees’ though I think they were convinced too easily on when to make the exceptions.
The Libertarian wants small government across the board—at least the real libertarians do (I exclude the racists, the nationalists, and such from this category). The Socialists, both of the Conservative stripe and the Progressive one, sometimes want limited government and sometimes don't. They appear inconsistent. They are inconsistent if you look at the means only. If you look at the ends they usually aren't inconsistent. Where the libertarian differs is that he is not only consistent when it comes to ends, but to means as well.
Michael Medved, who used to write mediocre film reviews, and now writes bad conservative columns, realizes that conservatives look inconsistent. At the rabies-infested site he writes:

And how do we resolve some of the apparent conservative contradictions? -We want smaller government and fewer public employees at the same time we want to hire more soldiers, cops and border patrol agents. -We favor choice in education, but oppose choice in abortion policy. -We emphatically support the institution of marriage, but don't want government backing for gays and lesbians who seek to get married.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Marriage Equality Does Expand Liberty

The Foundation for Economic Education presented a debate on marriage equality. Richard Lorenc, from FEE, argued that marriage equality expands liberty. His opponent, Richard Esposito spends a lot of time spewing out "facts" that are half-truths and often out of context. FEE asks people to vote for the best one at the cost of $1 each, which says nothing about quality of arguments, only intensity of feelings about gay marriage.

Gay people and their supporters are passionate about this and so are anti-gay people. Most fall into neither camp and don't feel strongly. Those at the extreme "anti" side of the spectrum tend to be religious and obsessed with this. They outnumber gay people by about 4 to 1. In that sense, the FEE debate asking for $1.00 per vote is more likely to favor the anti-gay marriage side of the debate.

Let me first comment on Mr. Lorenc's case. His arguments are sound in theory, though short on fact, choosing to focus on the principles alone. Esposito, however, makes a lot of factual claims, but is weak on theory and his factual claims are often taken out of context, or are at best half truths.

Lorenc notices the argument for same-sex marriage has "distinct Hayekian undertones." He is correct about this and we present a more-in depth Hayekian analysis at the link.

Lorenc says "legalizing gay marriage simply expands the number of potential marriage licenses, removing the arbitrary limit that an opposite-sex definition creates." It does expand the number of people who may marry, but does much more than that as well. Currently, the state can deny marriage contracts—at least those of legal consequence—from gay couples. When we pass marriage equality, we remove that power from the state. Marriage, when one looks at what it does, also reduces the amount of control the state has over a couple. The amount of revenue it can extract from them is significantly reduced. In fact, anti-gay conservatives actually raised this issue before the Iowa Supreme Court, complaining that allowing gays to marry would reduce tax collections, and thus reduce their subsidies to straight couples. The Court mentioned this argument in their ruling in Varnum v. Brien: "due to our laws granting tax benefits to married couples the State of Iowa would reap less tax revenue if individual taxpaying gay and lesbian people were allowed to obtain a civil marriage." (p. 60.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

First Account for Me: Libertarianism and Facts

There is a monologue toward the end of Peter Schaffer’s play Equus which I find fascinating. Dr. Martin Dysart is a psychologist dealing with a case he finds particularly disturbing. It forces him to rethink the entire foundation of his life’s work. He says of the case:

“It asks questions I've avoided all my professional life. A child is born into a world of phenomena, all equal in their power to enslave. It sniffs, it sucks, it strokes its eyes over the whole, uncountable range. Suddenly, one strikes. Then another. Then another. Why? Moments snap together,like magnets forging a chain of shackles. Why? I can trace them. I can, with time, pull them apart again. But why, at the start, they were ever magnetized at all...just those particular moments of experience and no others—I do not know. And nor does anybody else! If I don't know—if I can never know -what am I doing here? I don't mean clinically or socially doing, but fundamentally. These whys, these questions, are fundamental. Yet they have no place in a consulting room. So then, do I? Do any of us? This is the feeling, more and more within me—No Place. Displacement. ‘Account for me’...says staring Equus. ‘First, account for me!’"

I use this as an introduction to a particular kind of libertarian. Libertarians like to think in terms of principles—which is important. Some assume, however, that once a principle is adopted it is immune to facts and they need not consider them. I had one libertarian argue that “principles” exist so we don’t have to think about facts. I’m sorry, but they seem to have confused fundamentalist Christianity with libertarianism.

First, it is damn difficult to get principles right if facts are wrong. Principles are derived from facts. Add wrong facts together and the principle is not just in error, but could be damn lethal. There are many principles that are deadly and being a libertarian doesn’t make your principles automatically beneficial.

Second, all principles are tested by facts. If new facts seem to contradict your principles, you have to consider whether the principle needs adjusting. Facts test theories. If the theories don’t hold up against the facts, the rational conclusion is that the theories are wrong. Fundamentalists just dismiss inconvenient facts.

The “fact” ought to be inside your head screaming, “Account for me! First account for me!”

It is fine to use principles to make decisions when existing facts are consistent with them. Adding new facts changes nothing unless they contradict the principle. A principle, once accepted, is not set in cement, it is always open to question if new evidence contradicts it.

Fundamentalist libertarians go wrong when they think their principles are set in cement and ignore facts to their beliefs. They have ceased to be rational libertarians and have become faith-based libertarians.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Day Ayn Rand Died

This original Rand photo is for sale.

Ayn Rand was dead.
 My heart sank. I was living in the small town of Willimantic, Connecticut, not far from New York City. The newspaper said that the funeral would be at the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home.
 I knew that I had to be there. I needed to say good bye and to say thank you.
In high school I was ashamed of my intellect and abilities. Throughout junior high I was pretty much a straight A student. I was the youngest member of the National Honour Society at the school, all the others were finishing their studies while I had barely just begun.
At my 8th grade graduation I listened to a millionaire motivational speaker tell us about possibility thinking. I always knew that more was possible but it was the “more” that frightened me.
 Each year the school gave an award to a student who exemplified intellect and maturity. The thought of winning terrified me. As we approached the moment that the award winner would be announced my heart raced. There was a horrid terror gripping my emotions.
The last thing I wanted was to win. The last thing I wanted was to be ridiculed for achieving something. The ethos of the other students was one that despised intelligence and accomplishment except that which was achieved by brute force. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Playing God & Why Somebody Has To Do It

Prince Charles warned of the “disastrous consequences” of biotechnology. The precise dangers were never revealed. But according to Reuters he said, “tampering with nature is an affront to God.”

Conservative historian Paul Johnson called biotechnology a “new, infant monster.” Gertrude Himmelfarb has written that such research is contra naturn (against nature) and laments that this alone is not longer sufficient to put the fear of God into scientists.

But throughout human history each new scientific discovery was subjected to the same assault.