Monthly Archives: February 2010

A Society of Criminals – by Ben O’Neill

From Mises Daily: Friday, February 26, 2010 by

Recently, a friend of mine complained about a spate of burglaries that had occurred near her newly bought home. A house down the street from hers had been burgled in the weeks before, and her next-door neighbor had been burgled not long afterward. In the latter case, the thieves had made off with a large-screen plasma television set and a laptop computer, apparently having walked out of the house with them in broad daylight.

My friend was evidently disgusted by this thievery — as well she should be — and seemed to have difficulty comprehending how the people responsible could bring themselves to break into a home and take what did not belong to them. “How dare they!” she said. “What makes them think they have the right to do this?”

That is a fair question. What does make them think they have a right to do this? Well, perhaps they know they have no right to do this, but they do it anyway because their desire for the unearned has more weight to them than their respect for the property rights of others. Perhaps they rationalized their crime on the basis of some purported need, brought about — no doubt — by having been “marginalized” by society.

On the attitude of these particular thieves we can only speculate. But more generally, we may ask, why is it that a criminal feels comfortable taking property that he has not earned?

After hearing my friend’s story, I reassured her that the burglars who had plundered her neighbors (there had to have been more than one of them to carry the large TV set) had no right to take this property that did not belong to them, and that she was right to be angry. However, being always on the lookout to spread libertarian good cheer, I also made it a point to inform her that the burglars’ conduct was not fundamentally any different from the conduct of most people in our society, who routinely advocate or acquiesce to the taking of property that is not theirs.

But surely not! Surely only a scoundrel of the lowest order could believe that they are entitled to steal the property of others! No “law-abiding” member of the public would accept such a thing! Would they?

Well, let’s see: Suppose a person makes the judicious insight that some people don’t have as much money as other people, and it would be nice if they had more money than they do. To remedy this problem they propose that a group of kind-hearted benefactors create an agency whose job is to forcibly take other people’s money without their permission (i.e., steal it), and give some of it to those they deem to be “in need.” The group would use the rest of the funds to stir up the recipients’ sense of entitlement to this stolen money, fund propaganda that tells the world what a great job their agency is doing, and gradually build a nice, profitable little business empire for the staff in charge, who make out like bandits — earning far beyond what they could in other jobs, all the while being lauded for their “public service.”

Are people outraged? Do they call the police to report this criminal racket? Do they flood the offices of their elected representatives with calls and letters, demanding that this abominable agency be shut down? No, they don’t. In fact, quite the opposite occurs: people fall over one another to voice their support for this system, being careful to drown any critiques of its excesses in reassurances that they really do “care” for “the poor” and that they are not “free-market extremists.”

The litany of examples of widespread criminality and the widespread support for — or at least acquiescence to — its programs is far too long to do justice to it here. But in this environment, it is hardly surprising that burglars feel few qualms about taking property that does not belong to them. The reason for their sentiment is probably very similar to the reason that the vast majority of people in our society feel entitled to the property of others: we live in a society of criminals.

But how could this be right? Don’t most people comply with the law? Don’t they fill in their tax returns and their driver’s license applications like good little “law-abiding” citizens? Don’t they comply with labor regulations, environmental regulations, tax rules, and all the other things that their elected representatives tell them to do?

Well, yes — to the extent that it is possible to comply with this enormous and often vague or contradictory litany of rules, most people generally do. But this is not compliance with law; it is compliance with legislation. It is merely compliance with the edicts of the powers that be.In fact, the only rules of conduct that can properly be called “laws” are the rules of natural law— those objective rules of conduct that are necessitated as morally proper by the nature of man.[1] These rules consist essentially of the nonaggression principle and the rules of homesteading and trade of property that underlie the libertarian theory of justice. In his discussion of natural law, the great legal theorist Lysander Spooner set out the conditions of this law:These conditions are simply these: viz., first, that each man shall do, towards every other, all that justice requires him to do; as, for example, that he shall pay his debts, that he shall return borrowed or stolen property to its owner, and that he shall make reparation for any injury he may have done to the person or property of another. The second condition is, that each man shall abstain from doing to another, anything which justice forbids him to do; as, for example, that he shall abstain from committing theft, robbery, arson, murder, or any other crime against the person or property of another.[2]How then, do people do when assessed in their conduct against this law — against the law? They do not do well. In fact, when assessed in this manner, the vast majority of people are supportive of criminal acts.

People are often surprised by the mentality of “common criminals” (i.e., criminals of the recognized-as-criminals variety) because they think that these criminals’ sense of entitlement for the unearned and disregard for the rights of others is a relatively scarce defect. But it is not. In fact, the vast majority of members of the public feel perfectly entitled to the property of others. They demand that the property of others be taken away through the tax system and other “public policies,” or forcibly interfered with through “regulation” as a matter of routine.

Even if they are not net beneficiaries in this system, even if they fork out much more in taxes than they ever get back from the racket, they are nonetheless likely to support many “public policies” that amount, in practice, to burglary or to other trespasses against person and property.

And how do they see those people who disagree with this entitlement mentality, who disagree with this lust for coercion and this mass criminality? Well those people are just downright uncharitable! They have no social conscience! They are dangerous ideologues and impractical extremists!

Heaven forbid that they should ever exert more than a marginal influence on “public policy.” Sure, such extremists may have a point here or there about certain excesses of the welfare state. They might get us to reign in some of the problems when the politicians and bureaucrats get really out of hand, but most of the time they just go too far! No taxes? No regulations? Inviolable property rights? Why, that is madness!

But in fact, it is not madness at all. For the only difference between the recognized-as-a-criminal burglar and the not-recognized-as-a-criminal member of the public is that the burglar does his own dirty work. He does not obtain his television sets, stereos and jewelry through that form of theft called “public policy.” Instead of recruiting his local politicians and bureaucrats to steal your property for his own use, he saves them the trouble and goes and gets it himself.

In doing so, he is not able to fall back on rationalizations for his crimes on the grounds of democratic process, political mandates, and other statist notions. He may of course have his own rationalizations, but they are far more half-hearted than the zealous lust for the unearned that is exhibited in the political realm by lobbyists, politicians, and statist media commentators. In any case, it is hardly surprising that he feels entitled to take property that does not belong to him. This is the least of his differences with ordinary, “law-abiding” members of society.

The most common rationalization for those crimes committed under “public policies” is the notion that these policies are the “will of the people” expressed through their elected representatives. But even if some aggregated expression of will could indeed be established by this process — and this is extremely dubious — there can be no such thing as the capacity of a group of people to change the content of law or vote away the rights of people. Here we can again turn to Spooner, who notes that

if justice be a natural principle, then it is necessarily an immutable one; and can no more be changed — by any power inferior to that which established it — than can the law of gravitation, the laws of light, the principles of mathematics, or any other natural law or principle whatever; and all attempts or assumptions, on the part of any man or body of men — whether calling themselves governments, or by any other name — to set up their own commands, wills, pleasure, or discretion, in the place of justice, as a rule of conduct for any human being, are as much an absurdity, an usurpation, and a tyranny, as would be their attempts to set up their own commands, wills, pleasure, or discretion, in the place of any and all the physical, mental, and moral laws of the universe.[3]What then do I mean when I say that we live in a society of criminals? I mean simply that the vast majority of people in our society are supportive of criminal acts committed against others. These so-called law-abiding citizens support robbery, assault, trespass, and sometimes even murder when these crimes are disguised in the respectable cloak of “public policy.” The scorn with which they view common criminals is truly laughable when one examines the mass criminality that they do support.

Of course, this is not to say that all members of the public are the moral equivalents of burglars and other criminals. Their moral culpability may be diminished to some degree because they are bamboozled by statist propaganda, which encourages them to see themselves as entitled to “a say” in how others use their property.

There may indeed be some members of the public who have not realized the connection between coercion and “public policy” and who are completely unaware that there are any parallels between these policies and the actions of “common criminals.” If this is an honest error, then it is an error of knowledge, not morality. However, it can scarcely be said that this error of knowledge is widespread — in most cases, members of the public are well aware of the coercive nature of the policies they support. Moreover, it is no caveat to their wrongdoing that they did not go out and take the loot themselves as would a common criminal — that it was merely “given” to them by their benevolent political masters. For it is this very bulk of members of the public who support the “redistribution” that is occurring.[4]

The attitude of the public toward the “common criminal” begs an obvious question. What possible reason do you have to complain of the actions of these criminals when you support or even advocate criminal actions on so much larger a scale?

There is a lesson in all of this for libertarians. If we are to successfully present our views to a large audience, we must learn from the fact that ordinary people routinely support robbery and other crimes committed by the state, but stand aghast when they observe the same crimes being committed by “common criminals” (who are actually the more uncommon kind). Advocates for a society of law must endeavor to draw attention to the contradiction inherent in this attitude.

We must draw attention to the parallels between the “public policies” of the state and the acts of “common criminals.” We must learn to present statist policies to the public for what they are — criminality writ large. And we must learn to convince people that their support for these policies is support for crime.

In doing this, it is not enough to talk about free-market this and deregulation that. To do so is to fight the battle on the statists’ turf, by presenting the issue as a clash of competing “public policies.” But the actual battle, the real issue at the root of the political debates, is not about choosing between this policy or that — it is about choosing between committing crimes and not committing crimes.

In fact, what is called “the free market” is just the absence of socially sanctioned theft, assault, robbery, etc., in the context of the relevant market. What is called “deregulation” is actually just the removal of policies allowing socially sanctioned trespasses against person and property. What is called “decentralization of power” is actually just the breaking down of one big criminal agency into lots of smaller competing criminal agencies, with the goal of ultimately making them small enough and competitive enough (with each other) for us to escape from their clutches altogether.

At root, the libertarian position is very simple and must be communicated in this way. It holds that people should not be allowed to commit crimes against one another. All of the talk about free markets versus market intervention, capitalism versus socialism, regulation versus deregulation, and so on, is just a disguised way of presenting the basic dichotomy between a society of criminals and a society of law. This is the essence of the battle.

A battle between the free market and its antipodes, when presented in the garb of political philosophy, is an esoteric battle. It is a battle that can be perverted and misrepresented. A straightforward battle between criminality and law is easier to understand and far more powerful. Libertarians should not shy away from presenting “policy issues” in terms of their actual meaning — in terms of criminality versus law.

Many have been cowed into avoiding this approach by the idea that this “strong language” will put people off, or make libertarians seem unreasonable. But it is precisely this confrontation with the basic fact — that libertarianism supports a society of law — that is the most powerful weapon for its advocates. There is nothing wrong with telling people that taxation is robbery, that regulation is trespass, that drug laws are assault and robbery, that politicians are criminals, and that the state is a monstrous criminal agency.

Ben O’Neill is a lecturer in statistics at the University of New South Wales (ADFA) in Canberra, Australia. He has formerly practiced as a lawyer and as a political adviser in Canberra. Dr O’Neill is a Templeton Fellow at The Independent Institute, where he won first prize in the 2009 Sir John Templeton Fellowship essay contest. Send him mail. See Ben O’Neill’s article archives.

Whose Body Is It? – John Stossel

Whose Body Is It?
By John Stossel

The government should “protect” us less and respect our liberty more.

John Stossel | February 25, 2010

People suffer and die because the government “protects” us. It should protect us less and respect our liberty more.

The most basic questions are: Who owns you, and who should control what you put into your body? In what sense are you free if you can’t decide what medicines you will take?

This will be the subject of my Fox Business program tonight.

We’ll hear from people like Bruce Tower. Tower has prostate cancer. He wanted to take a drug that showed promise against his cancer, but the Food and Drug Administration would not allow it. One bureaucrat told him the government was protecting him from dangerous side effects. Tower’s outraged response was: “Side effects—who cares? Every treatment I’ve had I’ve suffered from side effects. If I’m terminal, it should be my option to endure any side effects.”

Of course it should be his option. Why, in our “free” country, do Americans meekly stand aside and let the state limit our choices, even when we are dying?

Dr. Alan Chow invented a retinal implant that helps some blind people see (optobionics.com). Demonstrating that took seven years and cost $50 million dollars of FDA-approved tests. But now the FDA wants still more tests. That third stage will take another three years and cost $100 million. But Chow doesn’t have $100 million. He can’t raise the money from investors because the implant only helps some blind people. Potential investors fear there are too few customers to justify their $100 million risk.

So Stephen Lonegan, who has a degenerative eye disease that might be helped by the implant, can’t have it. Instead, he will go blind. The bureaucrats say their restrictions are for his own safety. “There’s nothing safe about going blind,” he says. “I don’t want to be made safe by the FDA. I want it to be up to me to go to Dr. Chow to make the decision myself.”

But it’s not up to Lonegan and his doctor. It’s up to the autocrats of the Nanny State. Tonight, I will show my confrontation with Terry Toigo of the FDA about that. She calmly and quietly explained that such restrictions are necessary to protect the integrity of the government’s safety review process until I shouted: “Why are you even involved? Let people try things!”

She replied, “We don’t think that’s the best system for patients, to enable people to just take whatever they want with little information available about a drug.”

So people suffer and die when they might have lived longer, more comfortable lives.

The FDA’s intrusion on our freedom is supplemented by another agent of the Nanny State. The Drug Enforcement Agency’s war on drug dealers has led them to watch pain-management doctors like hawks. Drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin provide wonderful pain relief. But because they are also taken by “recreational” drug users, doctors go to jail for prescribing quantities that the DEA considers “inappropriate.” As a result, pain specialists are scared into underprescribing painkillers. Sick people suffer horrible pain needlessly.

Think I exaggerate? Check out the website of the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS). It warns doctors not to go into pain management. “Drug agents now set medical standards. … There could be years of harassment and legal fees,” says the AAPS. Today, even nursing-home patients, hardly candidates for drug gangs, don’t get pain relief they need.

The DEA told us that good doctors have nothing to worry about. But Siobhan Reynolds, who started the Pain Relief Network (painreliefnetwork.org) after her late husband was unable to get sufficient pain medicine, says the DEA’s cherry-picked medical experts persuade juries that they should jail any doctor who administers higher doses of pain relief than the DEA’s zealots think appropriate. News of those jail terms spreads. Doctors learn to be stingy with pain meds.

All drugs involve risk. In a free country, it should be up to individuals, once we’re adults, to make our own choices about those risks. Patrick Henry didn’t say, “Give me absolute safety, or give me death.” He said “liberty.” That is what America is supposed to be about.

John Stossel is host of Stossel on the Fox Business Network. He’s the author of Give Me a Break and of Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity. To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at johnstossel.com.

COPYRIGHT 2010 BY JFS PRODUCTIONS, INC.
DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM

Economic Freedom Index – Top Ten Countries

Put out by the Heritage Foundation, here is the 2010 Index of Economic Freedom
Covers 183 countries across 10 specific freedoms such as trade freedom, business freedom, investment freedom, and property rights.

Top Ten:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Singapore
  3. Australia
  4. New Zealand
  5. Ireland
  6. Switzerland
  7. Canada
  8. United States
  9. Denmark
  10. Chile

Code Talk

The same kind of “code talk” must be used by freedom seekers under totalitarian rule:

How the Elite Talk In Code

The Incredible, Vanishing Greenback by Vic Suprynowicz

From LewRockwell.com:

The Incredible, Vanishing Greenback

by Vin Suprynowicz

The cyclical nature of life is reassuring. We are less afraid of the privations of winter because we’re assured the spring will come again.

Similarly, those who claim expertise in such matters – those currently encouraging us to buy stocks and government bonds, for example – insist that the market always comes back. Given a little time, everything will be the same as it was.

Because this is reassuring, we cross our fingers and hope they’re right. But they’re wrong. Not the assertion that some specific companies and stock issues will again prosper and that some people will again grow rich. Of course there will always be winners – especially when government bestows on itself the power to choose who shall (their rich friends) and who shall not (you) be bailed out. No, I refer to the part about “things being the same.”

A cartel of private bankers was given control over our money in 1913, in defiance of the wisdom of Andy Jackson and Martin Van Buren. Frank “Pal of Stalin” Roosevelt ended the convertibility – heck, the private ownership – of gold in 1933. But everything was fine again in the 1950s and ’60s, right? Then, after the ongoing devaluation of the dollar by the Federal Reserve forced Lyndon Johnson to also end the convertibility of paper dollars into silver in 1964, we had some tough times in the 1970s, but everything came roaring back in the ’80s and ’90s, right?

Actually, we were lucky that the development of new technologies like the cell phone and the personal computer generated new industries and new jobs, helping to replace (and disguise the eclipse of) the old industrial giants: coal, steel, railroads and automobiles. (Note that the failed industries were systematically crippled by the innovation-suppression teams known as “unions”; the fast-rising replacements were not.)

Still, everything was not the same. The vastly greater looting of our paychecks through taxation and regulation after 1964 meant that, where prior to 1960 a single blue-collar wage could support an American middle-class family in a freestanding house, after 1970 it took two incomes – husband and wife – to do that. The hidden but vast social cost of this new arrangement was that the schooling and nurturing of children was now turned over almost entirely to unionized government propaganda officers. The arrogance, the illiteracy and innumeracy, the knee-jerk collectivism and presumption that government can and must step in to solve every problem exhibited by the resulting generation-and-a-half has set the stage for the final decline not just of America, but of virtually all the remaining mighty nation states of the 19th and 20th centuries.

The ruling elite in Washington is going to try to inflate its way out of its debt conundrum, attempting to pay off the government’s foreign creditors with greenbacks that lose value right before your eyes, like an ice cream cone melting on a hot summer day. The process is already well under way. If you could once buy a silver dollar for one greenback, but it now costs 15 greenbacks, then the dollar is now worth seven 1960 cents. If gold once cost $35 an ounce and it now costs $1,100 an ounce, than the greenback is now worth about three 1940 pennies.

What are the new technologies that will spark the next American economic renaissance? Not those subsidized by government – they’re losers by definition. Rather, look precisely to those that can escape the stultifying mailed fist of government.

It’s already happening. In Las Vegas, it’s rarely necessary to call someone to haul away old furniture, old computers, anything else you want to be rid of. You simply set it out on the sidewalk. Long before the monopoly, government-franchised garbage men come around, the stuff is gone. Groups of men – often illegal Mexican immigrants – prowl the city in pickups, snatching this stuff up. They have to know where to haul it to make a quick sale. Do you think anyone involved in this trade applies for city and state business licenses, does business with traceable checks, collects and remits state sales taxes, gets a paycheck with “withholding” taken out?

The unemployed and the underemployed sell stuff online or at yard sales. The prices realized and the ratio of profit to labor may not be huge, but what do all these endeavors have in common? They avoid the “brick-and-mortar” store, which draws job-killing government tax men and code enforcement officers like a dead horse draws flies and maggots.

Historians can now look back and pick a specific week in the fifth century when the Roman empire can be said to have fallen, but it must not have seemed nearly so clear-cut to those watching the Caesars debase the currency and raise the tax rates till farmers were better off just picking up and abandoning their fertile lands than trying to grow enough to pay taxes that were essentially more than 100 percent.

We’re now living in a system hardly to be distinguished from the greed, corruption and arrogance of ancient Rome. A government of “limited powers, specifically designated”? Ha!

The great benefit of the election of Barack Obama as president is that he is such a pathetic, unqualified, teleprompter-bound clown. Not only has he left our foundering economy in the hands of greedy, crooked bankers, he’s left it in the hands of the same gang of greedy, crooked bankers, from Goldman Sachs and the New York Federal Reserve Bank. He speaks of the need for austerity and submits plans for the biggest spend-fest and deficit in history, for all the world like a little kid preaching the benefits of bean sprouts while barfing in the corner after eating his entire bag of Halloween candy.

Develop a second business or avocation – under the radar – even if you start small and part-time. Get used to buying and selling in non-regulated environments.

Hold greenbacks or securities denominated in greenbacks only for short-term commerce. Buy guns, gold and particularly 90 percent “junk” silver coins.

As for which other assets may hold their value over time: ammunition, primers, incandescent light bulbs, and Freon antifreeze remain viable. What’s most important is to deal in something you know and love – I wouldn’t attempt stockpiling and subsequent commerce in any collectible heavily dependent for its value on “grade” or “condition” unless you care enough about rare coins or collectible comic books to become an expert grader. Besides, collectibles are subject to bubbles: Take a warning from the current depressions in stamp collections and sports memorabilia.

February 23, 2010

Vin Suprynowicz is assistant editorial page editor of the daily Las Vegas Review-Journal and author of The Black Arrow. Visit his blog.

Copyright © 2010 Vin Suprynowicz

What to wear when politicians speak

Of course we all know they only speak the truth…

California-Amazon Tax War by Robert Wenzel

From Robert Wenzel:

Only in California.

Maybe you can attribute this to sunstroke by desperate California legislators whose minds aren’t functioning properly. They are about to introduce legislation that will do nothing but ruin part-time businesses for many of those residing in the state.

Here’s the play-by-play:

The state of California wants Amazon, a Seattle-based company, to collect sales taxes on California residents’ online purchases of books and other products made through Amazon. Currently, Amazon doesn’t do so. Technically, California residents are supposed to somehow pay the sales tax on their own, but no one does.

As far as Amazon collecting it, they don’t because they have no stores, warehouses, office buildings or other physical presence in California and a 1992 Supreme Court decision says that because they have no physical presence in the state they are not required to collect such sales taxes.

BUT, because Amazon allows web sites owners to act as affiliates (including some in California) and drive traffic to Amazon and receive a commission on products bought through such affiliate relationships, legislators in state of California views this as a “presence” in California by which they want to demand that Amazon collect the sales tax.

The state is facing a $20 billion deficit and it is projected that this tax, get this, would generate all of $150 million annually, IF it could actually be collected (which it won’t). Thus there is zero net monetary gain for California in this bizarre tax legislation. But many state officials want to carry on with the harassment of Amazon. LaTi reports:

The state Senate approved the legislation Thursday as part of a deficit-reduction package, and it is expected to pass the Assembly as well.

But Amazon says it will cancel all contracts it has with California companies and cancel it’s relationship with affiliates, if the legislation becomes law. Amazon has carried out this threat in the few other small states that have attempted such a forced tax collection.

If Amazon follows through on its threat, and it has every incentive to do so, it will allow Amazon to still ignore sales taxes in California. This is much more important to Amazon than the small amount of traffic that is driven to them by California affiliates that they will lose. Thus, California won’t even get the $150 million that they are expecting from the legislation.

The only thing the legislation will do is shut down the California-based part-time businesses of those that drive traffic to Amazon through their web sites.

In a state that faces a $20 billion deficit, this is what the state legislators spend their time and energy on. A non-productive bill that does nothing but harass Amazon and damages a bunch of small part-time businesses, during a time of a major economic downturn.

No wonder the Mamas & the Papas in California Dreamin’ sang about wearing flowers in your hair. The state is definitely not right brain functioning.

Yet, it has a mean streak in its legislators that will damage anyone around it, if it senses not every demanded penny of tribute is paid into its coffers.

When totalitarian rule crosses the 50% line in the United States, I contend it will happen in California first.