Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Political Irrationality

Are you politically irrational? In the TED video below, Michael Huemer points out two of the more glaring politically irrational policies that exist in the present day United States. These policies exist in most Western societies to some degree, Canada is no exception. Libertarians will agree that BOTH of the examples that Huemer uses are indeed irrational. Conservatives will agree with one of them, Socialists will likely agree with the other one.

I know generalizations are dangerous, but Huemer does suggest that a different group of people may agree with one or the other. For those of you that don't understand libertarianism, maybe those examples will help?

Huemer goes on to suggest that the reason policies are often irrational, is because most people are politically ignorant. In my experience that is a fundamental truth of politics. I think Huemer gives a good explanation and then he surveys his audience to validate his explanation.

Huemer then goes on to explain why people are irrational. Being rational is costly, his first point. People will be rational if they believe the rewards exceed the cost, but most people understand that they have just one vote to affect change. So why bother thinking rationally? At this point, Huemer suggests that its easy to persuade most people, that most people are irrational about politics, absolutely true.

So why do we need people to be rational about politics? Well, you should watch the video, he seems to spend the least time on that, but it's the most important point in the story. 

Friday, February 24, 2012

Stossel at Students for Liberty

In this video clip, John Stossel explains that he has discovered that liberal progressives are closed minded and impossible to talk to, with respect to liberty compared to social conservatives. I happen to agree, having experienced the same thing.
Nick Gillespie offers hope.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Gay marriage, soon to be everywhere.

Maybe they are? Whose business is it?

North American Public Transit still sucks

In Toronto, the "transit wars" are ongoing.
Once upon a time ago, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC), was the envy of North America, clean, efficient, and accident free by comparison with American cities. That was back in the 1970's, American cities were rotting, from racial strife, urban flight, and other things. The rot had not yet reached Canada. That kind of rot still has not affected Canadian cities, the rot in Canada, is caused by other things, almost all of them to do with government at some level.

Most urban dwellers in Canada see public transit as strictly a government responsibility. Of course it should not be so, I have written about this before, for example here. The issue of public transit has become wrapped up in environmental issues like, urban sprawl, greenhouse gas emissions etc. Both politicians and the voters they pander to, believe that there are too many cars, or rather too many people using cars. So they go out of there way to make it more and more difficult to use cars and therefore encourage the use of public transit. Unfortunately most people, myself included, would rather avoid the deteriorating transit system. I have no need to be treated like a herd animal in a subway car, thats a common view. If transit were better, I and others might change that view, but for now the car is my preferred choice.

Add all that together in Toronto, and the result is a city with one of the worst commute times in the world. A recently elected Mayor in Toronto believes that the answer is subways, lots of them. To put it bluntly this Mayor suffers from tunnel vision. Unfortunately subways are very costly in a time of austerity everywhere, and in Toronto the population densities do not warrant the expense. it's a bad idea all-round, and additional government debt or yet more taxes will not make things better.

So what to do? Here is an American look at the same problem, and something we should think about:

Monday, February 20, 2012

What if it was all true?

In a recent posting I commented on the abrupt cancellation of Andrew Napolitano's Freedom Watch. There may have been many reasons, or just one, it doesn't really matter.

FOX NEWS owns the broadcast facilities that carried Freedom Watch, so I won't argue that they have the right to assert their ownership. Of course they do.  

Andrew Napolitano deserves credit for having huge cojones, as you can see and hear in his rant below.

Do I wish there was a Canadian equivalent? Everyday!

You may be one of the 900,000 plus viewers to watch the following YouTube clip which may be why Napolitano was fired, but certainly shows a man with the courage of his convictions, and I believe what he says IS all true.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Junk food Jury *COMING SOON*

It's an Orwellian world when food can be redefined as being pathogenic - causing disease. But that's exactly what three experts from Alberta (of all places) advocate. They are redefining what we normally consider as "junk food" and calling it disease causing, not unlike having the action of viruses or bacteria.

Here is a quote from the story in the National Post: "It's really just a nomenclature to attract attention to the fact we have a problem here and something needs to be done about it," said Dr. Norm Campbell, a University of Calgary cardiologist and co-author of the paper. "It will hopefully ... result in an evolution of our food so it's again a source of health, not a source of disease."

Dr. Campbell thinks that government should be regulating the kind of food Canadians eat. He compares this to regulating highway speed limits or air traffic which he says are government interventions that Canadians tolerate. Campbell goes on: "Why regulate crime? 'Oh, it's a murder, they shouldn't be allowed a second chance.' Well, the food industry kills many thousands more than that murderer ever had a hope of doing." 

I know, there are still many weeks until April 1st, but this is true, no kidding. I guess Dr. Campbell did not consider how many more people might die IF, there was no food industry. It's a broad and unfair accusation. It's exactly the same as saying the manufacturers of military equipment are guilty of the deaths caused by their products. Wait, don't bother writing to argue that one, I won't print it. It's simply not true.

Campbell's statement is just inflammatory, and amounts to posturing for the media. Driving on a highway and flying in an airplane are voluntary activities and regulation is required and accepted by the owners of cars, highways, and airplanes. Eating is not voluntary, it must be done to live. How is this similar? Who owns your body?

The Post story goes on to recall an article in last year's Journal of the American Medical Association that suggested some obese children be taken from their parents temporarily by child-welfare officials, and a more recent article in Nature that suggested age limits be required for the purchase of sugary soft drinks. Maybe a license should be required for having children? Oh, sorry, you say don't give them ideas, right.

Of course eating any kind of heavily processed food ALL the time, is probably not a good idea, though I have never seen compelling evidence that shows a direct correlation between 'hamburger - fries' consumption and longevity.

The scientific paper by the Albertans published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology does "not make clear" the role of junk food "in diseases ranging from heart disease to high blood pressure and diabetes." But the paper "recommends labelling ingredients such as saturated and trans fats, sodium and simple sugars as pathogens when their volume exceeds what the body needs."  Hmmmm, volume exceeds the bodies needs, eh? I recall this horrible chemical, known to kill thousands, either alone or in groups. It's the volume of this stuff that does the killing, maybe it too should be labelled. I'm talking about the dread chemical, dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO), better known as water, definitely a killer.

All kidding aside, knowledge of proper food consumption does not spring into our minds at birth. It must be taught and learned.

Our primitive ancestors ate what was available to them. If it grew from the soil, or crawled, walked, flew or swam, and was edible, it was eaten. It mattered little what was eaten, just that it was. Humans are omnivores, their diets are functions of their environment and as diverse. Our primitive ancestors adapted to what was available and so did their bodies. They needed no knowledge, and no labelling, to advise them. What regulated their diet? Was it tribal rules, pronouncements by the experts? No, their diet was controlled by scarcity.

Abundance, the lack of scarcity, is the problem today and that's only true in parts of the world. Here in North America, abundance, convenience, laziness, and marketing have conspired on our population to create the so-called obesity epidemic. Do you really think someone biting into a Krispy Kreme donut is starving, or are they doing it just for the momentary bliss? That person might have chosen an apple, a carrot, but did not. It was choice. Do you think advising people of the fat and salt content of the donut will discourage the choice? Maybe, but must Big Brother supervise this, or can it be done with education? Should we also build barricades to keep people from jumping into road traffic, and nets to keep them from falling out of building windows? No, these things are taught and learned, and so to can proper diet be taught and learned. Even medical people will agree that a diet of junk food is tolerable if not desirable for an extended time. It's the AMOUNT of food consumed that is the problem. Should government also be regulating caloric intake? Is food rationing next?

Each expert that benignly suggests a new government regulation, forgets that a new bureaucracy needs to be created to enforce it. An on going expense is assured that creates a divot on the turf of the Canadian economy, sucking from the general treasury. This is how government grows and responsibilities are shifted from individuals to the collective. The end does not justify the means.

There are plenty of voluntary organizations that can and should use their resources to help educate the masses. Much as Lung Associations and Cancer Societies have and still are, railing against smoking, Heart and Stroke organizations can fight poor diet. Let people be responsible for themselves as much as possible.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Family sinking in debt? We told you so.

Suppose that nine years ago your family began a spending spree. There was no pressing need to do this, in fact, your family already had significant debt, but interest rates were low and you expected them to remain so. Your income was stable, and you expected it to grow over time, that way your debt would be manageable and your family would enjoy a better lifestyle.

Year after year, family spending increased and debt accumulated, your income was stable but economic conditions actually worsened. Your hopes for increased income did not materialize, but interest rates were even lower now, so debt was still manageable, though rising quickly.

Even with historically low interest rates, payments on the debt were becoming a significant portion of your monthly expenses and that was a worry. Family spending had almost doubled, so had the debt compared to nine years earlier. You needed help, so you hired a financial expert, to point out where cuts in spending could be made.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately that story is not that uncommon among Canadian families, many don't know better, and were/are enticed by the low interest rate environment. But when that story can be superimposed over the government of the Province of Ontario, which has expertise, and smart people who should know better, you begin to wonder.

This week the long awaited Commission on the Reform of Ontario's Public Services, tabled its 540 page report. The very size of the report of course, is directly related to the size of the public service, its big, way too big. The comments in the next day's newspapers about tough medicine, drastic cuts, and grim diagnosis, makes it sound like spending restraint itself is the evil. 

No, what is evil is reckless spending, that's what the Liberals in Ontario have been guilty of since coming to power in 2003. They have steered the Province into a rock and the ship of state is sinking in debt, unless spending is curtailed now. Essentially that is the message of Don Drummond who chaired the creation of the aforementioned report.

This issue of reckless spending was not a concern of the major opposition parties or the government during the General Election less than five months ago. Why not? Was it not clear as day that the course set by the government would lead to trouble? Where were the supposed fiscally responsible Conservatives? Did they not see the rocks ahead? Hard to believe. 

There was one party that made this issue, the issue of spending and debt, the central theme of its campaign last October, the Ontario Libertarian Party. For example, the video that can be seen here, points directly to the problem and asks the important question: how much better off are citizens today with all the additional spending? Obviously not better off, in fact there is a problem and it's getting worse.

Mr. Drummond's report is barely a first step, but at least it's an acknowledgement of the problem, so that is a positive. The document itself contains 362 recommendations, almost one a day for a year. In the report, Drummond suggests that it needs to be enacted in its entirety, not just selecting some items and leaving others. The Liberals have already pronounced on that, they won't do it.

Drummond's mandate was to find a way to balance the budget. I repeat balance the budget. That does not mean reduce the debt, no sir. That means, just stop making the debt BIGGER. In government jargon that means eliminate the deficit by the 2017-18 year. That also means the debt continues to grow for the next 5 years. Citizens will continue to service the debt, which is now a significant portion of the annual budget, and everyone hopes interest rates stay at historic lows (not likely). The Drummond Report is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end, of what the Ontario government needs to do (apologies to Churchill) in order to create the conditions for a prosperous future Ontario.        


Saturday, February 11, 2012

How to win libertarian converts and influence voters

There is an old saying, something to do with catching flies with either honey or vinegar; honey works better. Of course people aren't flies, but like flies they are attracted if they are treated "sweetly." By that I mean, if they are treated like individuals, listened to, respected, and made to feel that they matter; they will be more apt to listen to you. People don't like being lectured to, admonished and frightened. I am as guilty as any one of doing just those things with respect to my libertarian beliefs. So, when I came across this blog post by accident, I knew I had to repost it.
Josiah Schmidt was the writer, an American, wise beyond his years and generous enough to allow me to repost it. It has been translated into a couple of European languages. Its long, and it's not a panacea, but if it gets you thinking on how to be a better communicator, it was time well spent.

We are at a crossroads in history. People are increasingly unhappy with the State and are losing faith in its ability to solve major problems. Yet, at the same time, those Americans who say they want limited government are also the ones who want Social Security and Medicare to be untouchable. Support for government spending on defense, health care, anti-poverty measures, and pork for the home district is just as high as it was ten years ago, and in some cases even higher.[1]

Libertarians have a real opening here, but we need to acknowledge that our current strategies are just not cutting it. The liberty movement has made great strides in the past decade, thanks largely to Ron Paul and the Ludwig von Mises Institute. However, when we look at the unrestrained growth of government over the past century, what do we as libertarians have to show for ourselves? We have more Austrian economists around today than ever before, but can we name one government program that we have been able to get curtailed or abolished? One significant liberty that we have fought for and won?

We have a marketing problem.

The first step to improving our strategy is by admitting that our present tactics really aren't working.

We've become very good at engaging in high-minded academic debates and writing wordy articles and treatises, but we have utterly failed in making the ideas of liberty popular and accessible to the average person.

I'll be offering some suggestions in this article, and much of what I have to say takes inspiration from a classic book entitled How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie. I've come to the conclusion that this book may be the single most important piece of literature for the liberty movement.

I believe this is one of the fundamental paradigm shifts the liberty movement requires: we need to view everyone--and I mean everyone, including the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world--as a potential friend. Rather than being an angry, cynical, disgruntled movement, we need to be a movement that reaches out to people and makes people want to be a libertarian.

1. Let's understand people, not criticize

We libertarians have a nasty habit of talking down to people and scolding them. But all this does is put people on the defensive and cause them to strive even harder to justify themselves. At the end of the day, we only incur resentment because of it.

Instead of calling people taking government assistance "welfare queens," or calling people working for the government "bureaucratic leeches," we need to understand that these individuals are people, just like us. They genuinely feel like they're doing the best they can. People on unemployment or food stamps are fathers and mothers trying to provide for their children on a limited income--an income that they might scrounge up after working long hours at multiple jobs.

We can recognize the fact that the welfare state is a totally counterproductive mechanism for helping those who are struggling to provide for their families, but we can recognize this fact without treating these people like scum.

When we encounter people with whom we disagree, instead of calling them "shills" or "sheeple", let's understand why they think the way they do. The vast majority of people who support the War in Iraq or think Social Security was a good idea don't do it because they just love destroying other people's lives. They do it because they honestly believe they're doing the right thing and looking out for the best interests of others. Instead of being angry with them, let's make a sincere effort to truly understand where they're coming from before we offer them our take on the issues.

We libertarians pride ourselves on being a smart bunch, but it takes a lot more intelligence to understand and sympathize with people than it does to look down our noses at them and scold them. We need to brand ourselves as the political clan that hears people and understands them, not as the one that sits in ivory towers and merely preaches to them.

2. We need a message that makes people feel good about themselves

Instead of making people feel stupid or lazy or evil, let's appeal to their sense of self-respect. Instead of trying to goad people into doing what we want them to do by pointing out their every flaw, let's find where people are going in the right direction and heap praise upon them where praise is due.

All too often, I'll come across someone who calls themselves a "conservative," and when I ask them to explain their political philosophy, it will go something like this: "I'm tired of all the pork and welfare spending, and we need to have a strong, well-funded military, and we need to make sure the politicians don't cut our Social Security or Medicare, and we need to stop trading with cheap goods producers like China." Of course, the last three things they support (an expensive military-industrial complex, loads of entitlements, and trade protectionism) are all forms of "welfare," which they claim to oppose.

But instead of snarkily pointing this out, we should strengthen our common ground with them and pat them on the back for understanding that so much of the money that Congress spends on various projects is all about winning re-election and not about really benefiting taxpayers, and for understanding that programs like unemployment insurance only serve to incentivize poverty and that what people really need is a hand up, not a hand out. These are important principles that not everyone understands, and rather than angrily inquiring why this person is too "retarded" to apply these same principles to other areas, we should lavishly praise the fact that they adhere to these principles in the areas where they do, and encourage them to continue to apply these principles consistently in all areas.

3. Make people WANT to be libertarians

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie makes the point that although strawberries and cream may be his favorite food, he doesn't put strawberries on the hook when he goes fishing. He attracts fish by putting worms on the hook, because that's what fish like. We as libertarians must take this lesson to heart. Instead of talking about the issues that we think are most important, we must practice speaking in terms of what the listener wants.

Often, we libertarians will rant to people about the Federal Reserve and inflation and bond bubbles and what-have-you. But the average person doesn't normally care about things like that. And can we blame them? Most people probably don't even understand what we're talking about. But what everyone understands is the rising prices at the gas pump, or the rising price of food at the grocery store, or the fact that something you could get for a quarter as a kid may now cost five or ten bucks. These are things that people can relate to, in terms that real people can understand.

One person who is an absolute master at talking to people in their own terms is Judge Andrew Napolitano. One of the most famous examples is when the Judge brought Sarah Palin on the June 12th, 2010 episode of his FOX Business show, Freedom Watch. He spent the whole show building up common ground with Gov. Palin on issues like personal responsibility and fiscal discipline and lean government.

He then recounted to Gov. Palin the experience she had during the 2008 campaign, when a hacker infiltrated her email account and exposed all sorts of personal messages, without her knowledge or permission. He sympathized with her and agreed how terrible it feels to have one's privacy compromised, and then asked her if she thought the Patriot Act should allow the federal government to do the same thing. "No, of course not," she answered. Bam. By simply making the issue applicable to her personally, Judge Napolitano had gotten Sarah Palin to criticize a key component of the Patriot Act--a sacred cow for Republican politicians. (He also did the same thing with the marijuana prohibition, getting her to call for de-facto decriminalization!) [2]

Judge Napolitano could have criticized Gov. Palin and argued with her all day about the Patriot Act, and she probably would have never budged from the standard neo-conservative line. In fact, she probably would have gone even farther into the neo-conservative corner in an attempt to defend herself, and likely would have left the show full of resentment for Judge Napolitano and his annoying questions. Yet, instead, he called attention to her inconsistent views indirectly, and got her to take stances far more in the direction of libertarianism than many other major Republican figures would be willing to go.

By spending the whole first half of the interview praising her commitment to individual liberty and fiscal responsibility, he gave her a good name to live up to--and she preferred to try to live up to that good reputation he had built up for her, even if it meant going out on a limb and saying things a normal Republican politician might not be expected to say.

Another aspect of making people want to be libertarians is being enthusiastic. Why should people want to be libertarians when they see us constantly moping around, making snide remarks, wailing about the dismal future of the country? Regardless of the truth of our statements, no one wants to believe things that are going to make them miserable. Nobody wants to get involved with a group of cynical mopers.

If you were a non-libertarian, which of the following approaches would make you more likely to investigate Austrian economics and libertarianism:

A). "Leviathan is out of control, the country is headed down the tubes, and if you want to have any chance at surviving hyperinflation, you need to pick up some Rothbard and buy some gold. Watch this video of Peter Schiff's terrifying predictions if you want to know just how screwed we are."


B). "Do you want to know how to prosper and provide for your family, even during rough times? Check out the amazing track record of this financial analyst named Peter Schiff! He thinks that East Asia is a new land of opportunity, and he's been saying for decades that storing your savings by buying gold would be a great way to hedge against rising prices. Boy, was he ever right on the money!"

Yeah, my wording of B isn't perfect, but wouldn't you be far more interested in learning Austrian economics if someone approached you with B, rather than A?

4. Become interested in other people as human beings

When I was helping drum up support for Ron Paul's HR 1207 bill to audit the Federal Reserve, I called my Representative's office a few times over the course of a couple months. The first time, I made a point to sound serious and stern. I was an upset constituent and my Congressman needed to listen to me! The voice of an older woman was on the other end. She sounded tired and weary. "Good!" I thought. She must be getting lots of angry calls from people like me! I told her I supported Ron Paul's Audit the Fed bill and wanted to make sure my Congressman did also. She said she wasn't sure and that she'd let the Congressman know how I felt. I rolled my eyes, certain that my message would never really get to my Congressman, thanked her, and hung up.

After a few weeks and no news from my Congressman, I called back again, this time angry. The same older, tired woman picked up. I demanded to know where my Congressman stood on the issue. She sensed the anger in my voice and got snippy as well, telling me curtly that he hadn't taken a position on it.

Another few weeks later, still with no news from my Congressman as to his stance on the Audit the Fed bill, I decided to call again. But this time, a different voice picked up. Tired and weary, but a slightly younger sounding woman. I decided I would try something different. She began with the standard office greeting. I introduced myself, told her I was calling about HR 1207, but then asked "How are you?" There was an immediate change in her voice. After presumably listening to hundreds of angry calls all day, she sounded relieved to hear someone who treated her like a human being.

"Oh, you know," she said. "About what you'd expect."

I chuckled a little and teased, "Yeah, I bet you've been dealing with angry citizens like me all day."

"You have no idea," she said, and began to relate to me a couple of the more ridiculous calls she had taken earlier that day. I laughed with her and empathized with her and listened to her. I treated her like a real person. Our little tangent conversation only lasted for a minute, but by the end of it, her voice sounded lighter.

"You were calling about the Audit the Fed bill?" she asked.

I responded in the affirmative, and asked if she could pass along a message of my support to the Congressman.

"Of course!" she responded, as though I were an old friend of hers, asking for a small favor. She took down my name, address, and email, and asked me again to make sure she was writing down the bill number correctly. "I'll write him a note and personally hand deliver it to his desk."

I thanked her enthusiastically, wished her a nice evening, and hung up. I didn't really think much of the conversation. The next day, I was astonished to receive a personal email from my Congressman. And not just one of those generic form emails, thanking Constituent's-name-here for expressing their concerns and blah-blah-blah, either! It was an actual, personal email from my Congressman, stating that he had decided not only to support Ron Paul's Audit the Fed bill, but to become a cosponsor. I was thrilled!

I don't know how much influence I personally had on my Congressman's decision to cosponsor that legislation, but it's clear to me that it's much easier to get somebody to do something if you treat them like a real human being.

5. How to argue with people

We libertarians are typically of the opinion that all we have to do is argue with everyone and headbutt them with our impeccable logic over and over again, and surely they will eventually agree with us, because, well, we're right. Unfortunately, the vast majority of arguments end with both parties more convinced than ever that they are correct. The person with whom you are arguing will probably never be swayed by your arguments, and even if he is, his pride and his fear of losing face will prevent him from admitting it.

The best way to start out an argument is by not arguing. Instead, ask the other person what they think--and be genuinely interested in it. Try to see things from their point of view...honestly. Be respectful of their opinions and hold your tongue for just a little while, even if they say things you think are just flat-out wrong or idiotic. Let the other person do the majority of the talking and choose your words wisely. Don't say much, but when you do say something, make sure it's very well thought out and full of humility.

When it's your turn to talk, don't immediately draw attention to the idealogical conflict(s). Rather, start out by finding the common ground you share with your opponent. The most helpful tool is one that the famed libertarian interviewer Jan Helfeld is known for using: the "Socratic method."

This can begin by getting the other person to say "Yes" to something, and then leading them on a trail of "Yesses," and letting them arrive at the correct conclusion on their own. They won't always allow themselves to come to agree with you. They may very likely realize where it is going half-way through, and end the conversation prematurely. But you will certainly have more success this way than you will be simply yelling your positions at each other over and over again, and more importantly, you will have made the other person think through your argument and see how you came to arrive at your conclusion. Your position will not seem quite so crazy or outlandish to them anymore, and if you're really tactful, you might even get them to adopt your position (often with them believing that it was their own idea to begin with--but hey, who cares, right?).

For instance: You could pontificate all day about how it's not an economic benefit when a war strikes a country and all the houses are bombed and must then be rebuilt. The person you're arguing with might simply respond by repeating a line like, "World War II got us out of the Great Depression! Just look at the statistics!"

Well, wouldn't it be more effective if, perhaps, you started out by asking, "If you're on a desert island, and you spend a whole lot of time building nets and spears and a hut, you would be poorer if a strong wind came along and knocked down your hut, wouldn't you?"

The other person will more than likely respond, "Well... yes."

"And if there happened to be another person beside yourself on this island, who was good at building huts? Let's say you catch the fish to feed the two of you, and in exchange he builds the huts to house the two of you. If a strong wind came along and knocked down your huts, you guys would be poorer. You'd be poorer because your friend has to work extra to rebuild the huts and you have to work extra to catch more fish so that he has the extra energy needed to accomplish this difficult task. Correct?"

"Yes. Sure."

"Well, what if the huts were destroyed by a bomb rather than a strong wind? That would make no difference, right?"

"Yes, okay."

"And what if instead of 2 people on the island, there were a different number of people on the island? Perhaps 3 people, or 10 people, or 1 million people? That would be irrelevant to the fundamental nature of the issue, correct?"

"Yes, I suppose that's correct. I see your point now."

Now, the dialogue might not go that smoothly, but by helping the other person along in a friendly and respectful manner, aren't you more likely to get the other person to truly understand where you're coming from, rather than if you just stand there and pontificate to them? And a word of caution: if you should succeed in converting someone to your point of view, don't gloat: "Nya nya nya I told you so" or "Ugh, why couldn't you recognize something that simple in the first place?" Let the other person save face.

6. The best way to sell something is to give it away for free

This has come to be known in libertarian circles as "Tucker's Law," named after Jeffrey Tucker, the editor of Mises.org. Mr. Tucker took a page out of Leonard Read's playbook. When most other libertarian theorists were struggling to sell their books and literature, Leonard Read decided to just give his away for free. It is no surprise, therefore, that Read's literature spread like wildfire and he became one of the most well-known and respected libertarian writers of his time. Likewise, Jeff Tucker has been getting a hold of classic libertarian and Austrian School texts, putting them into the public domain, and posting them on the Internet for anyone to download for free.

To this I owe everything I know about Austrian economics. It is because of Mises.org's loads of free literature that I was able to go from knowing nothing about anything about economics, to having devoured literally hundreds of books on economics and political theory, including Ludwig von Mises's Human Actionand Murray Rothbard's Man, Economy, and State.

One of my most inspiring memories from the Ron Paul 2008 campaign was when a group of Ron Paul supporters stood outside a local Republican gathering on a blistering cold night and offered free hot chocolate to attendees as they exited. They also offered Ron Paul for President leaflets. Warmed by the generosity of these Ron Paul supporters, Republicans who might have otherwise quickened their pace to avoid being proselytized by one of those crazy libertarian people actually stopped to chat friendly politics with these Paulites. That group of Paul supporters ended up making tons of connections and doing a world of good for the Paul campaign that night. Let's face it: people love free stuff. Especially when it's honest-to-goodness free stuff, with no strings attached.

If you want someone to read Economics In One Lesson or America's Great Depression, don't just hector them into buying it. Lend them your copy, or better yet, give them your copy. Don't worry about when they'll return it, just be happy they've agreed to read it, even if they don't get around to cracking it open right away.


We libertarians need to come to terms with the fact that the cards are stacked against us. The tentacles of the State reach everywhere, and the nature of the State is to constantly seek more power and glory for itself. Trying to convince people that the State is not the solution but the problem pits us in direct opposition to many of the most powerful organizations in the world. We are going to have to use better tactics than other schools of political philosophy.

We've been at work for a long time now, and to be brutally honest, we have little to show for it. It's not that we haven't been putting forth enough effort. We don't have a quantity issue; we have a quality issue. Our efforts don't just need to be increased. Our efforts need to be of an entirely different nature than they currently are.

We need, in effect, a compassionate libertarianism. Not a libertarianism that compromises our principles, but a libertarianism that makes a better effort to understand other points of view, that makes it clear that we see people as real, good-intentioned human beings, that builds bridges rather than creates enemies, that makes people enthusiastic to be a libertarian, that--instead of just arguing with people all the time--helps people understand libertarian theory on their own, and a libertarianism that is approachable and down-to-earth.

There's no easy way forward in our battle against the State, but with a major attitude readjustment and a more emotionally intelligent presentation, we can be a lot more successful at winning libertarian converts and influencing voters. We only need to be brave enough to first admit that a change in strategy is long overdue.


1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/09/AR2010100903308.html
2. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoiwXJCdX_A

Friday, February 10, 2012

Enemy of the State? FOX caves in.

"Does the Government work for you or do you work for the Government?"
That is typical of sound-bytes that one would hear watching Freedom Watch. Judge Andrew Napolitano was host of Freedom Watch until it was abruptly cancelled by FOX News late yesterday. Rating were not an issue, what was? Well, one can speculate about many things. Complaints from disaffected Republicans, I can see that. How about this story from Reuters?

Is FOX News trying to cover their ass by dumping some of the more rabid adherents to the US Constitution? Napolitano is a Constitutionalist, not unlike Ron Paul. 

A new law came into effect recently, adding to the alphabetical morass that makes up much of the American government and legal system. The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) gives the government and the President sweeping powers that cast such a wide net, it might include libertarians. At least thats what a writer on LewRockwell.com thinks:
"Those who refuse to pay or even those who oppose taxation, those who defy government environmental regulations, and those who believe the United States went bankrupt by going off the gold standard, are now all considered to be extremists!" 
The article goes on:
  ".....any real libertarian is opposed to forced government taxation, is opposed to government mandated environmental regulations, and all real libertarians fully understand that the creation of the Federal Reserve and the destruction of the gold standard have bankrupted this country. Or is losing 97% of the value on our money not considered bankruptcy?"

So, here we have this new law (NDAA) AND the blatant freedom monger Andrew Napolitano, railing against big government everything, cancelled unceremoniously by FOX. Coincidence? 
"Truth is treason in the empire of lies."

Superbowl 2012: not seen at half-time.......

If you haven't seen this parody of the Clint Eastwood Chrysler ad, have a look, its closer to the truth:

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Religion for Atheists - Guidance for the Godless

Always interesting scrolling through Planet Atheism because its populated by idiosyncratic individuals that share some of my beliefs. It's a global aggregator, so I see viewpoints from everywhere, unfortunately many are just rants against religion, and that becomes tiresome - in the 'preaching to the choir' sense.

Religion certainly deserves to be ranted against, but it's not going away, because it obviously fulfils a basic human need. So I was impressed by an article in my morning paper about Alain de Botton (AdB) and his new book (see photo).
The article says that AdB is critical of the so called new atheists, Dawkins, Dennett, Harris, and the late Hitchens, because they have allowed their militant aggression toward religion, to cloud their imaginations.
“So opposed have many atheists been to the content of religious belief that they have omitted to appreciate its inspiring and still valid overall object: to provide us with well-structured advice on how to lead our lives,” Botton writes in Religion for Atheists.

Thats right, religions, as practiced worldwide have a purpose and its time to admit that fact. If they had no purpose, added nothing to peoples lives, they would have disappeared long ago.

In a clever turn of phrase the author of the Post article says that one thing that Botton suggests is "to save the baby of ritual from the bathwater of supernatural belief." That's part of the structure that religion offers automatically and that atheists sometimes dismiss too lightly. Marriage, birth, death, and other life events are covered by all religions, and atheists are left to fend for themselves with impromptu ceremonies that may or may not satisfy them or their families.

So, AdB suggests that atheists cherry-pick the faiths, choose what works from the buffet of religious practices available, incorporating those that are appropriate into the new atheism. Through millennia of trial and error, the major religions know how to keep their flocks faithful, and, like children we humans need authority, our knowledge needs to be re-enforced with frequent formal repetition like the major religions do, and our deepest emotions need external validation. That is the insight on which Botton bases the entire notion of religion for atheists. It's not as crazy as you might be thinking right now. He explains some of those ideas in the video you should watch below.

The problem of course is much of what is taught in the major religions, deals with affirming belief in the existence of, and praying to, the particular non-existant deity in question(no contradiction there). Not exactly helpful and well-structured advice on how atheists should lead their lives. If one searches around the major atheist groups, I don't think there is much help there either.

Take the Center for Inquiry (CFI) in both Canada and the US. They think society should be based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. Well, science is a process, not a way to live ones life, it's a way of determining truth.....eventually. Science cannot tell us the way to live our lives in a moral or rational way. Science is mute (or should be) on ethics, values, and politics. There is much more to disagree with at CFI. Humanist values tend to be Judeo-Christian values (the default position) with a Marxist collectivist twist added. Using science, reason, and evidence, one sees that collectivism is failing everywhere it has been attempted. From the former Soviet Union, to China, to all of the so-called "free market" economies in Western Europe and here in North America. To the extent that collectivist ideas have been adopted, that is the extent these economies and their peoples are in trouble, economically, morally, spiritually, and by any measure.
How about the Bright's (see the name of this blog), what do they offer? They offer a worldview free of mystical and supernatural elements, not much help there. Richard Dawkins is a Bright, I share similar views on evolution with him, not much else.

Are there other places to look? Maybe, but most atheist groups are not significantly different from the aforementioned. But there is one other, its Objectivism.

Now I don't know what Alain de Botton had in mind for well-structured advice on how atheists should lead their lives. Maybe he would suggest many forms of atheism, each with its own structure and different advice on how to live, different philosophies. But why reinvent the wheel? Objectivism, in my view satisfies all the requirements of AdB's idea. It's a coherent, consistent philosophy that gives instruction on the proper way people should live, and interact with others. It even goes further than most religions in suggesting proper economic and political views. Now I may not agree with every detail, but it is very good, and has served me well for most of my life. A bit of ritual and repetition to help me, and others like me, keep on the straight, and narrow path of objectivist virtues, would not be a bad thing if it were done properly. Ayn Rand's birthday was Feb. 2, wouldn't it be better to celebrate that fact, then whether a groundhog sees its shadow? I think so.

Of course I am sensitive to the idea that Objectivists don't like it to be called a religion. It's the opposite of a religion though. I know Ayn Rand is often referred to as a high priestess in the popular press, and that is wrong too. Objectivism uses most of the ideas espoused by the major atheist groups above MINUS the collectivism.
Now all we need is someone to organize some structure and ritual. Volunteers?    

Friday, February 3, 2012

Signs of Freedom

Entering a court building these days is not unlike boarding an airplane, similar security, but you get to keep your shoes on. It was the Ontario Court of Appeal at Osgoode Hall in Toronto, and Courtroom 10 was crowded with supporters of Jean-Serge Brisson and Howard Galganov.

We were there to listen to opposing lawyers slug it out orally in front of a tribunal of judges. At issue was the appeal of a business owner and his right to post a sign in the language of his choice, or, submit to a town bylaw that dictates language. The bylaw requires new signs to be bilingual French and English, with equal font size for both.

Mr. Brisson is the business owner with the new unilingual sign, and Mr. Galganov is a Quebecer and former talk show host, providing moral and financial support.

Lawyers for these appellants spoke first arguing that: "language is content," thus, dictating language, contravenes Section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms "freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression." Furthermore, forcing business owners to have bilingual signs implies that two languages are spoken within the business, often not true.

Of course the broader question is, what are the responsibilities of the municipal (or any level) government to its citizenry? The lawyer for the Township of Russell that created this bylaw, argued that the protection of linguistic minorities is one of the major challenges of our time, and that municipalities should have the leeway to pass laws like this. Further, anyone who disagrees with such laws can rectify the situation at the next municipal election. The lawyer used the hackneyed argument that French is vulnerable in Canada, and without such legal protections Francophones will be assimilated. It's a weak argument, and not supported legally in Ontario.

But I thought the lawyer for Russell Township was the best presenter of the day. He used his voice and his mannerisms in an almost theatrical way to present his position. I hope the judges see past that, to his weak and sometimes humorous arguments. Humorous? For example, he argued that this hearing and the entire legal process is a financial burden on the municipality (no kidding), and that if this challenge to the bylaw stands, it will dissuade other municipalities from passing future bylaws for fear of challenges. Well, I glanced over at my colleagues in the courtroom and almost chuckled. Later one of them whispered to me "oh dear, how will they rule?" How indeed?

Do we really need laws for everything that politicians can conjure? The lawyer of course viewed the possibility of fewer bylaws as a negative, on the contrary, silly laws such as this one may be nullified by the threat of challenge.

Another young lawyer from the Canadian Constitution Foundation (CCF) that had intervener status at the hearing, made a brief presentation that got to the heart of the entire day. He asked why the Township wouldn't just allow free choice for business signs? The fact is, 71% of the signs in the town are already bilingual, no law was required, its just good business sense. Some 28% of the signs are unilingual English, and 1% are unilingual French, is that really a problem?

The lawyer for the Russell Township stressed that "deference" is owed to municipalities, and that freedom of expression is not jeopardized because you can say whatever you want on the signs, BUT, you must say it in two languages. No coercion there, right?

The decision of the court will be weeks or months off. Whatever happens it is likely this case goes to the Supreme Court of Canada. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

A self defence test - call the police? Think again.

You are roused in the early morning by men shouting death threats outside. They hurl firebombs onto your home injuring a pet dog and setting part of your property ablaze.
You happen to be a trained firearms instructor, so you retrieve a properly registered .38-calibre handgun from storage, load it, and fire three warning shots causing the men to flee without injury to anyone.

You hurry to douse the flames, see to your dog, then get another loaded handgun to put by your bedside, in case the men return. You call the police.
Police arrive, survey the scene, take your testimony, then they charge and arrest you.

What did you do wrong?

a) pointed and fired a gun as a warning.
b) defended your life and property.
c) were in possession of an improperly stored and loaded weapon.
d) did all of the above.
e) called the police.

The answer depends on who you are. If you are the police in this situation, the answer is "d". From my point of view the answer is "e". Unfortunately this story is true. It happened in Port Colborne Ontario in August of 2010, and the trial of the man that was attacked began on January 30, 2012. Ian Thomson, the accused "defender," may be wishing he didn't call the police.

One would think that the right of self defence is fundamental in a free society, I think it is, so does this column in the National Post. This is not the first time that the victim of a crime has been charged by police. This story in Toronto's China Town less than two years ago, did not involve guns but the police felt somehow that the victim needed to be charged. It boggles the mind, as does the story in Port Colborne.

Just a few days ago a fellow blogger wrote this regarding respect for the law. It cut right to the point. When was the last time you had an encounter with "the law," where you felt justice was done? When was the last time that you thought the police were serving and protecting you? When?

I can't recall being helped by the law in the form of the police.....in years, maybe never. Encounters with police have always been adversarial, a ticket, a warning. I just know that they watch that I and others obey the rules, like no speeding on empty roads where they hide themselves to entrap the unwary. I always get nervous when a police car pulls up behind me while I'm driving. Shouldn't I feel safer, protected somehow, because I'm paying part of their salary (whether I want to or not)? I think so. It seems the police are best at harassing and entrapping. I won't even talk about the G20 debacle in Toronto, or the tasering incident in Vancouver.

In my neighbourhood the local bank has been robbed several times this year. It's a quiet suburban neighbourhood, thats why the crooks like it - easy to hide and get away. Rarely do I see police in the neighbourhood, except of course on the main road, hiding, with a radar trap. That local bank branch has hired a security company to allay the fears of its customers, the guard wanders around all day. Where are the police?

Police are a microcosm of government, often unrestrained in power and too often irresponsible in its use. Just like government, the people prefer to give them the benefit of the doubt, because they mean well.

As for Mr. Thomson's trial, after two days it has been adjourned until early May. It seems the lawyers need to figure out what is entailed in the proper storage of ammunition. Lawyers!