Monthly Archives: April 2008

Happy Capitalism Day

Don Boudreaux thinks we should forget about Earth Day and celebrate Capitalism
Day today:

Before refrigeration, people ran enormous risks of ingesting deadly bacteria whenever they ate meat or dairy products. Refrigeration has dramatically reduced the bacteria pollution that constantly haunted our pre-twentieth-century forebears.

We wear clean clothes; our ancestors wore foul clothes. Pre-industrial humans had no washers, dryers, or sanitary laundry detergent. Clothes were worn day after day without being washed. And when they were washed, the detergent was often made of urine.

Our bodies today are much cleaner. Sanitary soap is dirt cheap (so to speak), as is clean water from household taps. The result is that, unlike our ancestors, we moderns bathe frequently. Not only was soap a luxury until just a few generations ago, but because nearly all of our pre-industrial ancestors could afford nothing larger than minuscule cottages, there were no bathrooms (and certainly no running water). Baths, when taken, were taken in nearby streams, rivers, or ponds, often the same bodies of water used by the farm animals. Forget about shampoo, clean towels, toothpaste, mouthwash, and toilet tissue.

The interiors of our homes are immaculate compared to the squalid interiors of almost all pre-industrial dwellings. These dwellings’ floors were typically just dirt, which made the farm animals feel right at home when they wintered in the house with humans. Of course, there was no indoor plumbing. Nor were there household disinfectants, save sunlight. Unfortunately, because pre-industrial window panes were too expensive for ordinary families and because screens are an invention of the industrial age, sunlight and fresh air could be let into these cottages only by letting in insects too.

And all of that exists not because of the state, but because of the creative energies of free individuals.

The Earth is a Harsh Mistress, you might say, but capitalism has tamed it to the point where humanity, and human civilization can survive at something other than a subsistence level. For that, we should all be grateful.

Today In History — The Shot Heard `Round The World

Two Hundred Thirty Eight Years Ago today, the American Revolution began:

The Battles of Lexington and Concord were the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War.[1] They were fought on April 19, 1775, in Middlesex County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, within the towns of Lexington, Concord, Lincoln, Menotomy (present-day Arlington), and Cambridge, near Boston. The battles marked the outbreak of open armed conflict between the Kingdom of Great Britain and its thirteen colonies in the mainland of British North America.

About 700 British Army regulars, under Lieutenant Colonel Francis Smith, were ordered to capture and destroy military supplies that were reportedly stored by the Massachusetts militia at Concord. Dr. Joseph Warren alerted the colonists of this. The Patriot colonists had received intelligence weeks before the expedition which warned of an impending British search, and had moved much, but not all, of the supplies to safety. They had also received details about British plans on the night before the battle, and information was rapidly supplied to the militia.

The first shots were fired just as the sun was rising at Lexington. The militia were outnumbered and fell back. Other British colonists, hours later at the North Bridge in Concord, fought and defeated three companies of the king’s troops. The outnumbered soldiers of the British Army fell back from the Minutemen after a pitched battle in open territory.

More Minutemen arrived soon thereafter and inflicted heavy damage on the British regulars as they marched back towards Boston. Upon returning to Lexington, Smith’s expedition was rescued by reinforcements under Hugh, Earl Percy. A combined force of fewer than 1,700 men marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal and eventually reached the safety of Charlestown.

The British failed to maintain the secrecy and speed required to conduct a successful strike into hostile territory, yet they did destroy some weapons and supplies. Most British regulars returned to Boston. The occupation of surrounding areas by the Massachusetts Militia that evening marked the beginning of the Siege of Boston.

Sixty-three years later, the great Ralph Waldo Emerson memorialized the day in his poem, Concord Hymn:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, —
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

And, if you grew up in the 1970’s you’ll remember this:

Menino’s Homeopathic Solution to Gun Violence

This week Boston’s Mayor Menino testified before the Congressional Task Force on Illegal Guns. He had this to say:

We share a common disdain for what we have seen happen in our cities, to our residents and to our police officers as a result of illegal guns. So, we signed a statement of principles and agreed to work together to take illegal guns out of our cities.

….

Fighting crime is a top priority for all mayors – and fighting crime means fighting illegal guns. The stakes could not be higher. Fatal shootings of police officers increased 33 percent last year. I know that every mayor in this country will do whatever it takes to protect the men and women who put their lives on the line to keep our cities safe.

So now, the voices of mayors are echoed by elected leaders and law enforcement officials from every part of America – and we’re making progress. Our numbers are growing, our mission could not be more timely and our message couldn’t be more clear: We need to stem the flow of illegal guns in our cities now.
Together, we will continue to work for common sense measures to fight illegal gun trafficking

His testimony was awfully short on the specifics on what problems “illegal guns” pose, other than claiming that they are behind an increase in shootings of police officers. Instead he lovingly details the growing number of government officials who are in favor of making the population increasingly dependent on them for protection.

In fact, the main complaint contained within his testimony seems to be that the work of the police is made more difficult by the prevalence of black marketeers importing guns illegally from areas where they can be legally manufactured and sold to ones where they cannot be legally imported and sold. But, his conclusions, that a Fugitive-Slave-Law style crackdown by the federal Government would somehow make the city of Boston safer is unbelievably wrong headed.

Assumption 1: A police monopoly on guns will make people safer:

This is, of course ridiculous. The police can take minutes or hours to respond to an attack in progress. The police are also under no legal obligation to respond at all. Restricting the supply of firearms makes defense of property increasingly expensive. While the wealthy can afford to hire security guards licensed by the state, or can convince political leaders to assign them special police details, those who are too poor, or lack political connections are left increasingly vulnerable.

Assumption 2: A reduction in the availability of guns will make criminals significantly less dangerous:

This is, again, ridiculous. The bank robbers who unsuccessfully attempted to rob a bank in California using AK-47’s are very rare exceptions to the rule that most crimes can be as easily committed with a knife as with a gun. A criminal carrying out an attack has the initiative; he chooses when and where he attacks and who his victim is. He is quite capable of altering his plans should the tools he has to work with be limited only to knives or base-ball bats. The ban makes the criminal more dangerous; firearms historically have favored defenders over attackers. There is a great deal of truth behind the saying God may have created men equal, but it was Samuel Colt who made ’em equal.

Assumption 3: A meaningful reduction in the availability of guns is even possible:

Total bans on any good in wide demand, such as alcohol or cocaine or salt will result in smuggling. Nothing save setting up checkpoints on every road into Massachusetts and searching every car carefully will keep guns from flowing into the state. Unlike cocaine or whiskey, a gun gives off no chemical traces of its presence. Tape it to the underside of a car, and you can get it through any checkpoint.

Furthermore, any clever person can build simple yet effective weapons given a rudimentary machine shop. Even if a total ban on imports was possible, the measures required to prevent machine shops from producing firearms in quantities sufficient for a crime wave would be unenforceable.

Mayor Menino cited a figure of ~<500 illegal guns being associated by police with various crimes. 7 smuggling rings, smuggling in 15 guns a month each could easily supply this sort of demand. Hell 20 machine shops could easily make 10 guns a month to produce over 2000 guns a year if need be.

Nor will Mayor Menino ever be able to get rid of gun manufacture all-together. The demand for legal guns for his police force is sufficient to ensure that factories will be churning out a large quantity of fire-arms. Some of these will be diverted into the black market as surely as nuclear missile guidance systems ending up in Taiwan.

“What is not seen”

Mayor Menino does not want to outlaw guns. Rather what he wants to do is outlaw anyone but the police from having them. He views the guns as making violence in the city worse and as a hazard to the police. But by focusing on the firearms he is avoiding the questions he really should be asking:

Why are people resolving disputes by shooting at each other? Why are the police being threatened?

The answer to these questions is not a pleasant one to the politicians of Boston or Massachusetts, so they avoid asking them.

The short answer is that by writing and enforcing draconian economic and moral laws such as onerous labor laws, blue laws and drug laws, the politicians of Massachusetts are making it difficult for people to live their lives legally. The police are not seen as benefactors but as yet another street gang preying on the weak. The lack of legal business opportunities drive people to seek illegal occupations. While some of these illegal occupations are honorable (drug dealing, prostitution), many are dishonorable (burglary, mugging).

When people view the police as an enemy, and the courts as a predatory system, they naturally ignore them for resolving disputes. When business ventures are illegal, the participants are much more likely to settle disputes violently than via a system of arbitration.

What Mayor Menino seeks to do is to isolate the people of Boston from alternatives to dealing with the police. In effect he is behaving like an abusive boy-friend who tries to isolate his girlfriend from other people. Rather than improving the relationship between the citizenry and the government, these attempts will only increase the gulf between them. Any crackdown on the illegal gun trade will inevitably harm innocent people who are either in the wrong place at the wrong time, or who are deprived of a means to defend themselves. It will empower criminals to more brazen acts of thievery and mayhem. It will, in effect worsen most of the engines that drive criminality.

Until he recognizes that the political policies he and his circle support which are the root cause of the violence directed by the people subject to his rule towards each other and towards the police, nothing good will come of his advocacy and his actions.

It is time for the political classes of Massachusetts to stop treating the citizenry as children at best and as beasts to be exploited at worst. If they were serious about reducing the level of violence and the misery in Boston they would stop wasting time on trying to shore up a monopoly on defensive services on behalf of the police, give up their expensive hoplohobia-mongering propaganda campaigns, and would instead focus their attention to eliminating the laws purposed for economic and social engineering.

I am an anarcho-capitalist living just west of Boston Massachussetts. I am married, have two children, and am trying to start my own computer consulting company.

War Is Peace, Freedom Is Slavery, And We All Love Big Brother

George W. Bush rewrites the Declaration of Independence:

“We need your message to reject this dictatorship of relativism and embrace a culture of justice and truth,” Bush said in brief remarks welcoming Benedict to the White House. “In a world where some see freedom as simply the right to do as they wish, we need your message that true liberty requires us to live our freedom not just for ourselves, but in a spirit of mutual support.”

Sorry, Mr. President, you don’t get to define how I use my freedom, and neither does a foreign religious leader.

Belated H/T: Publius Endures

A Lesson In Unintended Consequences

Normally, we libertarians know enough about government to predict many unintended consequences of government regulation… But this one took me by surprise:

Although many countries have introduced national bans, America has taken a piecemeal approach. A number of states, counties and municipalities have introduced various types of bans, and have enforced them with varying degrees of rigour.

The problem with this, say Scott Adams and Chad Cotti, economists at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, is that smoking bans seem to have been followed by an increase in drunk-driving and in fatal accidents involving alcohol. In research published in the Journal of Public Economics, the authors find evidence that smokers are driving farther to places where smoking in bars is allowed.

The researchers analysed data from 120 American counties, 20 of which had banned smoking. They found a smoking ban increased fatal alcohol-related car accidents by 13% in a typical county containing 680,000 people. This is the equivalent of 2.5 fatal accidents (equivalent to approximately six deaths). Furthermore, drunk-driving smokers have not changed their ways over time. In areas where the ban has been in place for longer than 18 months, the increased accident rate is 19%.

Good thing we saved everyone from that secondhand smoke!

Now, I’m not going to defend the drunk drivers who are causing these accidents. The drunk drivers are the primary cause of these accidents; the smoking bans are only a contributing factor. But it’s a good lesson about how well-meaning regulations can quite often have disastrous unintended consequences. When politicians tell you about all the beneficial (and largely falsely-promised) effects of a proposed regulation, perhaps the negative effects– that which is unseen— should be anticipated as well.

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