Monthly Archives: May 2007

Why The Market Economy Works

John Stossel, who very well may be the best advocate for free markets since Adam Smith, has a great column at RealClearPolitics explaining just why the free market may be the greatest invention in human history:

How many times have you paid $1 for a cup of coffee and after the clerk said, “thank you,” you responded, “thank you“? There’s a wealth of economics wisdom in the weird double thank-you moment. Why does it happen? Because you want the coffee more than the buck, and the store wants the buck more than the coffee. Both of you win.

Economists have long understood that two people trade because each wants what the other has more than what he already has. In their respective eyes, the things traded are unequal in value. But this means each comes out ahead, having given up something he wants less for something he wants more. It’s just not true that one gains and the other loses. If that were the case, the loser wouldn’t have traded. It’s win-win, or as economists would say, positive-sum.

We experience this every time we have that double thank-you moment in a store or restaurant.

And the reason we experience moments like that is because of the simple fact that in a free market each side benefits from a transaction. You have something I want. I offer you a price and, after a little negotiation, you accept. And you give that something to me.

I don’t force you to buy what I’m selling. And you don’t use some outside authority (the government) to dictate to me the terms on which I have to sell it to you.

It’s worked for hundreds of years and, outside of the regulatory state, it works the same way on an everyday basis. If you happen to be lucky enough to live in an area where farmer’s markets are a common occurrence, you know what I mean. The posted price for produce is just the starting point most of the time. Depending on the time of day and the season, you can usually negotiate a much better deal.

And that’s what the free market is all about. Yes, it doesn’t work like a farmer’s market all the time. You can’t go into Crate & Barrel or Pottery Barn and negotiate the price of a high-end piece of furniture, but, then again, you don’t have to buy your furniture at a high-end store to begin with.

What matters is that you have a choice.

WHO Calls For World-Wide Nanny State

It’s days like today that I’m glad the UN has very little real power.

WHO urges smoking ban in public places

The U.N. health agency on Tuesday issued its strongest policy recommendations yet for controlling tobacco use, urging all countries to ban smoking at indoor workplaces and in public buildings.

“The evidence is clear. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization.

There’s no level of safe exposure to the UN, either. Every chance they get, they’re scrambling for more and more power over my life. I can choose whether or not to patronize a smoky establishment. Sometimes that might be a dangerous choice. I can also choose to ignore the government’s edicts. That may be another dangerous choice, as they’re more than willing to use jail cells and firearms to make sure I follow their rules. At least with smoking, I can choose to exclude cigarettes from my life. RJ Reynold’s doesn’t have policemen to come after me if I don’t buy their product.

“This is not about shaming the smoker. This is not even about banning smoking,” said Dr. Armando Peruga, who heads WHO’s anti-tobacco campaign. “This is about society taking decisions about where to smoke and where not to smoke.”

He cited Ireland and Uruguay as governments that have successfully tackled smoking by creating and enforcing smoke-free environments. Legislation of the kind has proved popular among both smokers and nonsmokers, according to WHO, whose policy recommendations set broad goals for its 193 member states but are not legally binding.

This is about society democratically trampling the private property rights of individuals. It may be popular, but that doesn’t necessarily make it legitimate. It’s not “society’s” role to make these decisions, it is the private property owner’s role to determine what is allowed on his land.

There is a threat in giving the UN power. They want to be a world government. But when a world government is wrong, we all suffer and there is no escape. Given the tendency for government of any kind to be wrong, and the further tendency for the UN to be flagrantly wrong, I really don’t want to see that day come. These recommendations aren’t legally binding, but believe me when I say that they hope to have that power one day.

Checking Out The Field

Reason’s June issue has an article looking over the major and minor contenders for the White House in 2008. And it’s not a pretty picture:

If the 2008 presidential election is a baseball season, we’re still in that early, delusional phase when even Tampa Bay Devil Rays fans can dream of a World Series ring. The race for the White House is chock full of hopeless players destined to be sent down to the minors before mid-season—and full of superstars who will unexpectedly bust a knee long before the All-Star break and spend the rest of the season muttering in the showers. At a time when candidates have already raised record amounts of money, the polls show tight bunching among upper-division candidates, and the Middle East shudders under daily car bomb attacks, it isn’t at all clear who will win the Democratic and Republican nominations, much less the general election in 2008.

Like another cellar-dwelling season for the Devil Rays, only this much is certain: Whoever comes out on top will give libertarians plenty of reasons to complain. Whether or not most Americans reflexively embrace “Free Minds and Free Markets,” various polls and analyses suggest that between 10 percent and 15 percent of voters reliably try to cast their ballots for candidates who are both fiscally conservative and socially liberal. In an era in which presidential elections are routinely decided by percentages smaller than the rounding errors in Barry Bonds’ monthly BALCO delivery bill, that creates a serious opening for candidates who recognize that being, say, both pro-gun and pro-gay might just grab more votes than trying to squeeze one more win out of the worn-out liberal and conservative playbooks.

Unfortunately, as the article poinits out, even some of the people that libertarians might have high hopes for come up wanting.

Take, for example, Bill Richardson:

Pros: The only governor in the Democratic race is also one of the country’s most fiscally tightfisted executives. Richardson cut New Mexico’s income tax from 8.2 percent to 4.9 percent, halved the capital gains tax, and eliminated the gross receipts tax. He frequently and explicitly draws a link between lower taxes and economic growth, something rare in a national Democratic politician. He not only supports the right to carry a concealed weapon but holds a concealed-carry permit himself. He sometimes skirts close to libertarianism on other issues, endorsing charter schools (but not vouchers) and medical marijuana (but not decriminalization).

Cons: Richardson has signed a smoking ban and is warming to the idea of a drug offender registry. There’s also the lingering issue of his behavior during the espionage investigation of Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, when he may have leaked damaging information about Lee, using his power as a cabinet secretary to try an innocent man in the press.

Bottom Line: Of all the Democratic candidates, Richardson would be most likely to cut taxes. And after Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), he’s the most open to reforming drug laws. If the party really wants to make a play for the “libertarian West,” it’ll nominate Richardson.

All in all, not bad for a Democrat. Unfortunately in order to get the nomination he would have to pander to the unions and special interest groups that make up the core of the Democratic Party. By the time it was over, a Richardson Administration probably wouldn’t amount to anything that would thrill libertarians that much.

But what, you might ask, about those guys who haven’t even announced their running yet ?

Like Newt Gingrich:

Pros: It’s a cliché now, but Speaker Gingrich revolutionized Washington, marshalling budget cuts, welfare reform, and still-extant congressional reforms through the House. Since leaving Congress he has been a frequent critic of the floundering, big-spending GOP majority (RIP).

Cons: Gingrich’s record in the House doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. His first term included some substantial successes, but he soon morphed into one of George Orwell’s Animal Farm swine. He frustrated GOP budget cutters by appeasing the party’s biggest earmarkers, preparing the ground for the corruption that would eventually bring down the Republican Revolution. What’s more, if he gets in the race, Gingrich would become the election’s biggest hawk. He considers America’s greatest challenge to be the “transformational war” against the “Irreconcilable Wing of Islam,” which he has dubbed “World War III.” And he has a closet packed with skeletons. If the Republicans nominate Gingrich, a Democratic victory, possibly a landslide, is highly likely.

Bottom Line: Gingrich is more interested in big ideas and multipoint plans than a coherent philosophy for government.

The highlighted sentence is my work and is, in the end, the reason I think that Gingrich would not make it through the Republican primaries intact. There are some people in the GOP who take things like cheating on your wife and serving her divorce papers while she’s sick in a hospital bed with cancer seriously. And even if you don’t, it’s just a little sleazy.

Okay, then how about Fred Thomspon ?

Pros: Watergate-era Thompson was a dogged investigator of a corrupt White House. Sen. Thompson was a term limits true believer who voted for tax cuts and passed a bill reforming Congress’s labor laws, making legislators follow the same rules private companies have to obey.

Cons: If you go by his second-most-prominent media appearances these days—filling in for Paul Harvey’s folksy radio commentary—Thompson’s worldview is a combination of tough-guy thuggishness and “bomb the bastards” foreign policy. He has taken Gandhi to the woodshed and is a big fan of that musty applause line, “It is the soldier, not the journalist, who has given us freedom of speech.” He has praised President Bush for refusing to negotiate with Iran and Syria and, instead, “taking them on.” In office he voted for all of John McCain’s campaign finance proposals. He also proudly raised money for the Scooter Libby Legal Defense Trust, surely the most ironic career move for a Law and Order prosecutor.

Bottom Line: If he runs, Thompson will be the most pro-Bush Republican in the race; he narrated Bush’s bio films at the 2004 Republican convention. If you liked the Bush era but wished the president’s voice had a little more bass, Thompson’s the one.

As for Ron Paul, I think Reason sums up the reality of his campaign quite nicely:

Bottom Line: It would be nice to live in a world where Ron Paul could actually win.

But that, quite frankly, isn’t the world we live in.

Chavez — RCTV Was Just An Appetizer

Ahh, the Chavez apologists said it was just RCTV, it was only because of their participation in the coup… But now he’s got Globovision in his sights:

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez resurfaced on Tuesday, two days after the end of broadcasts of private television station RCTV and, in a mandatory nationwide radio and TV broadcast, he warned the media, in particular news TV channel Globovisión, “to cool down” because he would not tolerate the media to create national chaos by staging a “show” aimed at “heating” the streets.

“You, brother, up there in the hills on Caracas, in (low-income areas) Petare, Catia, 23 de enero, and even here in (coastal) Vargas state, listen up! If we had to launch another April 13, I will command it myself to defend our revolution from this renewed fascist assault! I am warning the people and the enemies of the motherland -those who are behind the scenes-, and I want to say their full name: Globovisión!” the ruler added. Reference was made to April 13, 2002 -the day when he returned to power following a coup d’etat two days earlier.

Chávez also claimed that following his decision on RCTV, “some destabilizing players joined the game.”

“Greetings, Globovisión, you will see where you will go,” Chávez said during an event where he granted social security pensions to 50,000 housewives.

“You may move forward, and you may continue to call people to disobedience and encouraging my assassination, like you did openly late Sunday (May 27), if you want to. But I am warning you in front of the country, take my advice, take a sedative and cool down. Otherwise, I will take care of Globovisión myself.”

But no, this isn’t about free speech, is it?

Rudy Giuliani: Bad For Libertarians

In today’s New York Daily News, the Cato Institute’s David Boaz points out the many reasons those who value liberty should be wary of Rudy Giuliani:

Throughout his career, Giuliani has displayed an authoritarian streak that would be all the more problematic in a man who would assume executive powers vastly expanded by President Bush.

As a U.S. attorney in the 1980s, Giuliani conducted what University of Chicago Law Prof. Daniel Fischel called a “reign of terror” against Wall Street. He pioneered the use of the midday, televised “perp walk” for white-collar defendants who posed no threat to the community – precisely the sort of power play for which conservatives reviled former state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. And Giuliani’s use of federal racketeering statutes was so disturbing that the Justice Department changed its guidelines on the law.

As mayor, Giuliani had many successes. Crime came down. He cut taxes and held down spending. But his prosecutorial personality sometimes threatened personal freedoms. He cracked down on jaywalkers and street vendors. His street crime unit used aggressive tactics to confiscate guns from city residents, resulting in wholesale searches and detentions of citizens, especially young minority males, and occasional tragedies like the shooting of the unarmed Amadou Diallo.

When a police officer fatally shot another unarmed black man, Patrick Dorismond, Giuliani had police release Dorismond’s sealed juvenile arrest record. The city later settled with Dorismond’s family for $2.25 million.

And just in case you think he’s changed in the years since he’s been out of office, Boaz points out that he’s just as authoritarian as ever:

As a presidential hopeful, Giuliani’s authoritarian streak is as strong as ever. He defends the Bush administration’s domestic surveillance program. He endorses the President’s power to arrest American citizens, declare them enemy combatants and hold them without access to a lawyer or a judge. He thinks the President has “the inherent authority to support the troops” even if Congress were to cut off war funding, a claim of presidential authority so sweeping that even Bush and his supporters have not tried to make it.

Giuliani’s view of power would be dangerous at any time, but especially after two terms of relentless Bush efforts to weaken the constitutional checks and balances that safeguard our liberty.

In 1964, Barry Goldwater declared it “the cause of Republicanism to resist concentrations of power.” George W. Bush has forgotten that; Rudy Giuliani rejects it.

And so, I would submit, does anyone who claims to believe in freedom while supporting someone like Giuliani.

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