Author Archives: Chris Byrne

Just NOT at the Same Time Please

Sharing, as a service to our readers…

From Reason: http://reason.com/blog/2014/11/10/guns-and-pot-which-states-are-friendly-t

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Vote Cynically… The Politicians Certainly Do

So far, my co-contributors at The Liberty Papers have encouraged you to vote for Democrats, vote for Republicans, vote for Libertarians, not vote at all, and vote idealistically.

All are good arguments… or at least reasonable ones, with well argued rationales and logic behind them. I encourage you to take the time now to read all of them, and then come back here before continuing.

Done reading? Great…

Now, my position on how you should decide who to vote for is basically…

Screw all that… Vote Cynically

Presuming of course you’d prefer to optimize your voting pattern for reduction in the amount YOU… and most everyone else… gets screwed by the government that is.

I base this on one simple fact, that we all know (or at least should know) to be true:

Politicians are all liars

Of course, not all politicians lie about everything all the time, but generally assuming that all politicians are liars is a sensible optimization.

Though actually, there is a better… or at least more accurate and comprehensive…way of putting it.

Politicians, respond to their perceived incentives, to maximize their perceived advantages, and minimize their perceived disadvantages, for their own perceived benefit or interest (whether direct or indirect); often without regard for objective truth, facts, or “the greater good”; if these things are perceived to be in conflict with their interest.

Of course, so does everyone else.

Generally speaking, people respond to their perceived incentives and interests. Of course, they may misperceive or misunderstand what those are (very frequently), and they may respond in ways that are inefficient, ineffective, inappropriate, or counterproductive (in fact they most often do).

Even in the case of “pure altruism” (which yes, some deny the existence of), people do what they think is the “good thing”, or the “best thing” to do… which is still acting in according to a perceived interest or incentive, they just valued the “higher interest” greater than their own direct personal interest.

Most often, people do not intentionally act against against their own perceived interests

If you think politicians are better than everyone else, that somehow their motivations, intentions, or actions, are purer or more altruistic than those of any other person, you are wrong…

… and you know you are wrong… or at least you should.

If you think any politician is actually protecting your interests, or “standing up for you”, or “for the little guy”, or “the victim”, or  that they value or prioritize the principles, “values”, and issues, that they notionally “share” with you; over… or even equal to… their electoral calculation, you are wrong…

… and you know you’re wrong… or at least you should.

Sadly, most people seem to delude themselves into believing otherwise… or they wish it were, so strongly, that they simply choose act as if it was, against all evidence.

Some people just can’t, or won’t, let go of that hopeful, comfortable, delusion. Even when they know the truth, they keep voting for politicians thinking that somehow, “this one will be different”.

No… they won’t be different… 

Politicians are “different” , only in that they ACTIVELY seek direct personal power over others, and are willing to do what it takes to gain that power; including lying, cheating, stealing, and killing (even if it’s only at second hand).

This certainly does not make politicians better or more altruistic than anyone else, no matter how “good” or “beneficial” they, or you, or anyone else believes their ideas are, or how much “good” they claim to want to do (or you think they could do).

Yes, it’s possible that some politicians, at some point, will stick to their “values” or “principles”, or their honest position on issues, even if they know that doing so is against their own personal best interests.

It does happen… very rarely, but it does happen.

Most often though, no matter what they actually believe, or pretend to believe, or publicly claim to believe (sadly, often all three are different); what they actually DO, is vote cynically (or tactically, or strategically, or pragmatically, or corruptly, or with loyalty to their party and their financial supporters). They vote for what they believe to be optimal for advancing their true interests: perpetuating and increasing their own power, and enforcing their own preferences against others.

… After all… that’s why they become politicians (no matter what language they choose, or justification they claim, to pretty it up).

This is true of those who call themselves Democrats, and those who call themselves Republicans.

This is true of those who call themselves liberals, and those who call themselves conservatives.

What about Libertarian (or libertarian) politicians? 

There are so few who even CLAIM to be libertarians (or Libertarians), who are actually elected to national office (or  who in anything close to the real world, even stand a remote chance of ever being elected to a national office) that they are safe to ignore for the most part (and thus far almost all of them are actually Republicans).

Even if they were not however, libertarianism as a philosophy (and basic economics for that matter) would rather clearly show, that you shouldn’t trust “libertarian” politicians either.

You shouldn’t trust ANYONE who has, wants to have, or is trying to obtain, personal control over the coercive force of the state. Including those who claim to wish to reduce that control, use less of it, or to abolish it entirely.

It’s simply safer… and smarter, and more realistic… to assume that they are all lying; or that even if they are trying to be honest, once they have that power, they won’t want to reduce or release it (no matter what their justification may be).

… such an assumption has been proven by history, to nearly always be justified.

You have to understand, that most of the time what most politicians claim to believe, and their claimed goals and positions, are simply not what they actually believe… and very often even when they are, that’s a bad and dangerous thing.

The most dangerous thing in the world is a true believer, with the power, and the motive, to enforce their beliefs on others.

Most of what politicians claim to believe is actually about social signaling and fundraising

Allow me to repeat my frequent admonition, that many… perhaps most… of those who identify themselves as conservatives, are in fact no such thing; they are reactionary populists… or just cynical opportunists.

Many or most of those who claim to be liberals… or progressives… are ALSO reactionary populists, or cynical opportunists.

They claim what they claim, because it’s just about the easiest way for them to raise three things they need: Passion, Fear, and Money.

Politics runs on Passion, Fear, and Money

Importantly, any one, can be converted into any of the other two (with varying degrees of difficulty).

Real policy, is boring. It’s messy, and detailed, and complicated, and tedious, and most often unsatisfying.

“Doing nothing”, which frankly is most often what the government SHOULD do,  is even more boring.

Most people don’t have the time, the background, the information, or sufficient interest; in the complexities of the issues, the details of policies, of how real legislation actually ends up being written and passed into law… nevermind the infinitely more tedious and complex regulations that implement those laws.

Hell… even most politicians don’t… They staff it out, or just do and say what their party, their PR people, and their fundraisers, tell them.

I can only think of one president who was elected on a platform of doing as little as possible, and just trying not to screw up too much, Calvin Coolidge… and that was only because he was running for re-election on a successful record of having done so the previous two years, after being elevated to the presidency by accident (the death of Warren Harding). The only thing he ever actually actively did, was to increase tariffs dramatically… which as it happens, turned out very very badly.

Good government is boring. Bad government (or the idea of it) is what generates passion, fear, and money

Government is complicated and boring, and people for the most part don’t understand it… but they do understand narratives that conform to their sociocultural expectations, norms, and biases.

So that’s what politicians and the media give us (not because it’s a big conspiracy, simply in furtherance of their own interests).

We have shorthand. We have litmus tests, and shibboleths, and sacred cows, and “dog whistles”.

We have social signalling, and ingroup identification, and outgroup demonization.

We have “Barack Obama is a secret muslim socialist” and “The Republican war on women”, and “the Democrats will steal your 401k” and “the Republicans will ban abortion”.  Or to simplify “Democrats are evil and stupid” and “Republicans are stupid and evil”.

We have constructed narratives, that people can relate to, idealize, and project themselves into

There are a disconcerting number of people “on the right” who seem convinced that if we just wish hard enough, we can live forever in a magical time approximating 1957 through 1962 on continuous loop… But with iPhones.

For leftists, its the same kind of fantasy, except it’s 1962 through 1967, and Kennedy never dies (and is actually the “Progressive” fantasy they project onto him…).

So, these are the narrative preconceptions that “liberals” and “conservatives” attempt to pander to, and the narratives they attempt to construct.

Sociologists, psychologists, political scientists, PR people, political consultants, and the politicians themselves; figured something out a long time ago, which unfortunately many don’t understand, find disturbing, or simply refuse to believe…

For most people, most of the time, the facts, issues, positions, policies, and outcomes, don’t even really matter that much (though most don’t understand this about themselves, or believe it when it’s pointed out to them). Politics (or political issues) become a matter of social signaling;  ingroup selection, identification, and reinforcement; and outgroup exclusion and demonization.

Their sociopolitical identification becomes part of their identity, their self justification, and their ego.

It’s a team sport, and it’s about scoring points for “their side”, and avoiding having points scored on  “their side”. Their side has to be defended and error cannot be admitted, because the other side would score points, the “good guys” might lose the “bad guys” might win etc…

The way you “score points”, and raise passion, fear, and most importantly money; is to make people believe you’re like them (the good guy – ingroup identification), that the other guy isn’t like them (the bad guy – outgroup exclusion and “othering”), and that they are bad, and evil, and stupid, and wrong, and ruining everything in every way (outgroup demonization).

Once someones sociopolitical identification has become internalized as part of their sense of self, they generally cannot admit serious fault or error on the part of their sociopolitical ingroup, without causing themselves emotional and intellectual injury and pain, cognitive dissonance, even existential crises… most people try to avoid those things whenever possible (sometimes going to great or ridiculous extremes to do so).

There are two major parties, but one overriding interest is shared by both.

Some believe that there is effectively no difference between the major parties… that’s is JUST a team sport, or a horse race etc… That they’re the blue statist party and the red statist party, and the only difference is in the rhetoric.

This is false. There are plenty of very important differences. The devil is in the details, and there are so very many details… Particularly when you get into cabinet and subcabinet posts, executive appointments (and the impact on the executive agencies), and state and local government.

The great problem though (and the large element of truth in the concept), is that both major parties believe in using the coercive power of the state to “fix things” and “do good things” and “make things better”.

Both parties believe that to do so, they need to increase the power of the state in the areas that “need to be fixed” (…and between them, they believe EVERYTHING needs to be” fixed”).

Both parties believe that they (and the people who they agree with and identify with) are the “right people” to have that power, and make those changes, and “fix those problems”; and that in order to do so they need to stay in power, and in control of its mechanisms and institutions.

It’s just that the two major parties believe that different things are “wrong”, or “broken”, or need “improvement”… Or that they should be “corrected”, “fixed” or “improved”, in different ways, by different means.

That’s not “no difference at all”, or even a distinction without a difference… but it can certainly seem like that at times.

Let’s be clear about something though… 

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT CONSERVATIVE.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE NOT LIBERAL.

If you believe that an appropriate response to someone doing something you do not like, but which is not otherwise violating someone else’s rights, is to use the government to force them to stop, YOU ARE MOST CERTAINLY NOT LIBERTARIAN.

…Even if what they are doing is in fact, bad, and stupid, and wrong, and harmful.

Let me use the Republicans and “Conservatives” as my example for now…

One must draw the distinction between a political party (which must operate in the real world of electoral and legislative politics), and a political philosophy.

The Republican party is in no way “the” or even “a” conservative party, they are simply
generally more notionally and theoretically “conservative” in their rhetoric, than the Democratic party.

They officially profess to subscribe to some conservative principles and ideals, but they also have elements of their platform and policies which are in fact antithetical to truly conservative principles and ideals. That’s not even getting into what they actually DO… or sometimes more importantly, choose NOT to do.

There is no truly, explicitly, and consistently conservative political party in the United States… or at least none that have any national notice or significance. That includes the American Conservative party, and the Constitution Party; both of which are even more reactionary and populist than the Republican party.

This of course is how they attract and retain their adherents, and raise their money.

There is little money in true conservatism. There is often little passion as well, at least from the outside perspective. 

There is money (and power) in anger, and fear.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian reactionism.

There is money (and power) in authoritarian populism.

There is money (and power) in “there oughta be a law”.

These things are not conservative (nor are they liberal).

Actual  conservatives, are actually generally pretty “boring”… or at least they are more nuanced… subtle… or just muddled looking and feeling; than either media, or “the base” can get excited over, or even understand.

There is rarely any purely black and white, definitely good or unambiguously bad, in ACTUAL conservative policy; there is only “less bad” and “slightly better”, and balancing of interests, advantages, and disadvantages.

With truly conservative policies, without gross oversimplification, there is rarely a clear, compelling, and easily understood narrative for people to identify with, or for the media to  portray.

In an attempt to engage the public, sometimes conservatives or their supporters, attempt to use the techniques of narrative construction that reactionaries and populists use (beginning with the aforementioned gross oversimplification)… This generally results in less than positive outcomes. Often at best misunderstanding and misrepresentation (intentional or otherwise), at worst descending into parody and mockery, and buried under strawmen.

When there is a clear, factual, and truthful narrative, it is generally inconsistent with… or even explicitly contradicts, the activist, statist, idealist, or authoritarian narratives; that most people (both those who identify as “liberal” and those who identify as “conservative”) have internalized as their own map of “reality”, and as part of their own identities.

Rather than face this contradiction, most will ignore it,  oversimplify and distort the truth to sorta kinda almost fit an existing narrative they understand, or simply make one up that fits their preconceptions and biases.

Ironically, those who most loudly proclaim themselves to be conservative; who with great wailing and gnashing of teeth and rending of garments, decry the Republican party the loudest for being insufficiently so; are IN FACT  most often doing so, not for being insufficiently conservative, but in fact for being insufficiently reactionary, authoritarian, statist, or populist.

Of course… do a find and replace in this section on “conservative” and “Republican”, with “liberal” and “Democrat” , and it will also be accurate (… okay… you also have to replace “constitution” with “green”).

Most people want to be controlled… they simply want to believe they chose their own masters

It is sometimes said, there are three types of people:

  • Those who want to control others
  • Those who want to be controlled
  • Those who just want to be left alone

The core problem libertarians face, is that most people really do want “someone to be in charge of things”. Either themselves, or someone they agree with, or identify with, or think is “the right man”, or who will “do the right things”.

Even if they don’t want to be controlled themselves, they want “someone to be in charge” of  “the other people”… You know, the bad people… the ones they disagree with and don’t identify with. The ones who are “screwing everything up” or “getting in the way of things being improved”.

They see the many problems in the world, see the resources, reach, and power of government, and think “hey, we should SOLVE these problems… Fix these injustices. Right these wrongs… We can do it if we really try, we just have to really want to do it”.

Most people have internalized the idea, that if we just put people who are good enough, and smart enough, and “right” enough, in charge of everything, with the power to “make it right”, that everything will be better, or good, or right….

…or some other such fantasy.

Even if they know it’s a fantasy, most pretend it’s true anyway, because the alternative seems far worse… Far scarier.

The idea that no-one is in charge, and that no-one can “fix it”, is far more terrifying, than the notion that “the bad people are controlling everything and making it all bad”. At least then, there something you can do… some control you have.

Most people simply don’t want to face that there isn’t any such thing as “the right people”, and only very rarely is there a “right thing”.

Trying hard, and meaning well, don’t count.

“Ok… so what do you do then? Give up? Ignore politics? Don’t Vote? Does it really just encourage the bastards?”

Well… yes, voting DOES encourage the bastards, but that’s not ALL it does.

You may not like politics, but you can’t ignore it. To paraphrase… You may not be interested in politics, but politics is interested in you.

You are a participant, whether you want to be or not… just like everyone else.

Then only question is, are you going to be a passive participant, or are you doing to at least try to do something?

Is voting actually doing something? 

Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t… It is if you do it right.

Of course, it’s not the only thing you can or should do… but that’s a discussion for later.

“I hate this politics crap… it doesn’t work, it’s all wrong, it’s messy, it’s inefficient, it’s nasty, it’s corrupt… ”

Yes… it is. That’s life. Deal with it.

I’m a libertarian, not an ideologue.

For me, libertarianism is a matter of ethics, and morals,  and process improvement. It’s not really a matter of politics… or at least not just politics.

“Politics” is not an identity, or a moral system, or a philosophy, or a social belief system.

… or at least it shouldn’t be, because man… it’s pretty awful at being any of those things, never mind all of them.

Politics, is how economics, sociology, anthropology, biology, and psychology; all battle against each other (and often, against reality itself), in an absurd and perverse attempt, to agree on some way of not killing each other… or taking or breaking each others stuff… at least not without permission, or damn good reason.

More concretely, “Politics” is a set of frameworks for making collective decisions. Governments are one of the systems we have for managing these frameworks. States are one of the structures by which we can enable and execute on these decisions (there are several other options in all three categories, but what we’ve got now isn’t likely to be replaced by anything better any time soon).

They are just part of the toolsets needed to execute the mission of  maximizing human liberty, and minimizing the coercive restraint thereof.

note: For those of you who are actually strict or pure anarchists, who believe that human liberty can only be maximised in the absence of governance, or of a state… unfortunately you are wrong. Without government, the strong who desire power over others, will  gather power to themselves, and use that power to force their will upon the weak and the unpopular. 

…Of course they do that with government as well… the tyranny of the majority is the worst tyranny… The trick is to limit government power, and ability to grant itself more, as much as possible… and to periodically shoot them all and start over.

As a minarchist, I understand and accept that the state exists, likely always will exist, and for some things it is the best realistic option (meaning likely to be close to achievable in the world we actually live in) to get certain things done which need to be done.

Note: Or which are of such great benefit to all, at so little detriment, that doing so is an objective good, and not doing so is an objective negative (basic sanitation, public health, common defense, disinterested courts etc…) Exactly what things are absolutely necessary, vs. what is just acceptable for the state to do, vs. what it is NOT acceptable for the state to do…  is a much bigger argument… actually a centuries long series of much bigger arguments. 

There’s lots of things we COULD do using the power and force of government. I just think that most of the time we shouldn’t, because no one and certainly no collective, knows how to run my life better than I do… And I don’t know how to run anyone else’s life better than they do.

…Even if that means that stupid or evil people do stupid and harmful things, or that we don’t make things as good as we could possibly make them. 

We can’t ever know what all the consequences and effects of our decisions and actions may be, nor can we truly know if we made a correct or optimal decision, nor can we eliminate our own biases and prejudices, nor can we ever have perfect information or perfect reason.

No matter what we do, we will always be wrong, in some way, at some time, for some one. We can only make what we believe to be the  least wrong decision for ourselves, at the time  we have to make it, with the information we have at the time, and under the conditions we made it.

Since we cannot know these things, and can’t be right, only less wrong; we should only force on others that which is absolutely necessary (or which is of significant, unambiguous and compelling benefit to all, with minimal or inconsequential cost or detriment… and even that much, and what constitutes that… is up for major debate). 

We don’t have the moral or ethical right,  to violate other peoples rights for their own good, or for the collective good; even if they are doing stupid and harmful things with those rights… so, long as they are not actually violating anyone elses rights (and again, what that constitutes is vigorously debated). 

I believe it is a moral imperative to use the force of the state as little as possible. I believe it is a practical optimization to help achieve this imperative,  to reduce the power the state has whenever possible, as well as reducing both the opportunities it has to use it, and the ease in which it does so. 

Unfortunately, this ethical philosophy generally won’t get you elected anywhere I know of…

Politicians get elected, because people still believe “there oughta be a law”

There are NO elected or electable politicians who agree with me… or at least those who

None.

Even those who claim to be libertarians… They still believe (or at least claim to believe) in using the coercive force of the state to enforce their preferences.

…Because if they didn’t, they wouldn’t have a purpose or a job.

Politicians don’t get elected on the promise of doing nothing, they get elected by promising to “right wrongs” and “fix problems”.  They get elected because most people, no matter what they claim to believe, still think “there ought to be a law” when they see something they dislike enough.

There are plenty who CLAIM to agree with me, or who agree with me in part, or who will at least generally vote in a way that would advance (or not undermine) what I believe in… at least on some issues. Particularly when it comes to local politicians and local issues.

… but that’s an awful lot of caveats.

The Perfect is The Enemy of The Good… or the “Good Enough For Now”… or the “Best We’re Gonna Get”… or the “Least Bad” 

Since no one who is ever going to be elected, ever agrees with me completely… or generally in more than a few particulars… I have to work on a “least bad” decision making basis.

That’s almost always true of any complicated issue by the way… there’s rarely ever such thing as an unambiguously good or right decision… Only the “least bad” or “least wrong” decision.

So, whenever possible, I vote in the way that I believe will reduce the power of the state, the legitimate use of that power, and the ease with which the state may do so; unless doing so would be cripplingly wasteful, inefficient, or hindering, of the critical and legitimate missions of the state.

When, as is so often the case, I am unable to vote “well”, I try to vote in the way that will be “least bad” for that goal.

If that’s impossible, I will attempt to vote in a way that blocks the formation of overwhelming power blocks, or restrains the use of such power; for example voting for split government, bloc spoilers, effective opponents to dominant power concentrations etc…

Purity tests are not useful. They are in fact harmful. Trusting them is stupid, and applying them makes you miss out on things which might usefully advance your interests (or at least usefully aid in defend them)

If you could trust them, then MAYBE purity tests would be worthwhile, but you can’t.

As a libertarian, how can you vote for “them”?

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a Republican when the party is controlled by so called social conservatives, who are against drugs and gay marriage”

“As a libertarian, how can you vote for a democrat when the party is controlled by socialist nanny staters”

Because in the real world, politics and government are not about purity, or perfection, or ideals… They’re about calculation and optimization, of the possible. It’s simply a question of least bad decision making.

If I waited for a candidate who believed exactly what I did… Well, that’s never going to happen.

If I waited for a candidate I trusted completely…. Well, that’s never going to happen either.

So… if I want to have any impact or influence whatsoever, I need to act locally, and personally, and apply least bad decision making.

Why bother voting at all?

Because yes, least bad decision making actually works.

Is it great… no… but it’s better than nothing…

You CAN have an impact as an individual. You can influence local candidates, and local parties. Local parties write state level platform and legislative input, and select local candidates. Local candidates become state level candidates, and local party positions become state party positions. Then later, state candidates become national candidates, and state party positions become national party positions.

Hell… Robert Heinlein wrote a book about the process in 1949 called “Take Back Your Government”, and most of what he wrote then still applies today (at least in principle… obviously demographics, social issues, cultural tastes etc… have changed).

Decisions are made by those who show up

I go to local political events. I meet candidates and participate in conference calls, and round tables, and townhalls and debates. I have been active in my local political scene several places I have lived. Through county level involvement, I’ve helped write position papers  which became part of the state party platform, select candidates who were elected to statewide office, and even write legislation that was eventually passed on the state level (in north Idaho… we basically arranged a libertarian takeover of a county republican party).

… Perhaps more importantly, I’ve helped STOP legislation, and positions, and candidates, which would have been AWFUL for liberty.

If there is a competitive libertarian (no matter what party affiliation they claim), who isn’t a nutjob, or a 9/11 truther, or some form of involuntary collectivist, or authoritarian statist claiming to be a libertarian (Chomskyites… christ no… ) I’ll gladly vote for one. I have voted for libertarian local candidates in the past, a couple of whom even got elected.

If I live in a state or a county that’s going to go Democrat, or Republican, no matter who I vote, I’ll absolutely vote for a libertarian, because the higher the numbers libertarians get, the less they can be ignored,  the more negative press the major parties get, and the more people get exposed to libertarian ideas.

If both parties select absolutely awful candidates who I can’t see any advantage in voting for, or disadvantage in voting against, I will vote libertarian as well.

As I said above, I will vote to block concentration of power, or to counter existing concentrations or excesses, or to blunt their effectiveness.

Most often though, least bad decision making, means I vote Republican (and every once in a while, very rarely, and only on a local level, Democrat).

Why Republican? Why not Democrat?

There are a few “benchmark issues” that will GENERALLY give you a good idea about where a politician stands on rights, freedom, liberty as a whole, individualism and collectivism and the like.

  • Abortion
  • Gun control
  • Economic freedom
  • Drugs
  • Taxation
  • Wealth redistribution
  • Personal moral choices
  • Publicly funded and controlled education
  • Foreign policy
  • Freedom of speech

Sometimes an individual politicians positions on these issues will be inconsistent with each other, or with other members of their party, but they’re generally clustered into areas of agreement with their party which are generally roughly identified as “social issues’ and “economic issues”

I disagree with most major party candidates, about most of theses issues… “both” sides… in some fairly significant ways.

I disagree with both major parties, about social issues, and economic issues. I am not socially a Democrat and economically a Republican. That’s just pseudo-libertarian populism. My disagreements with the Republicans  are absolutely as strong, and as important to me, as my disagreements with democrats.

So why do I generally vote Republican (at least for national offices)?

Because I’m a cynic…

Well, that, and because I’m an engineer by both nature, and by education and training.

Engineers understand that the perfect is the enemy of the good, and that small incremental changes with testing, and iterative optimization over time (with evidence, data, and metrics); is the only way to actually be successful in complicated endeavors over the long term.

We got here by creeping incrementalism. We can roll SOME of it back through creeping decrementalism

Liberals, and conservatives, Democrats, and Republicans… All have stupid, harmful, and destructive notions about the use of the coercive force of the state. I would like to minimize the impact of these stupid, harmful, and destructive notions, to the extent I am able.

Very broadly, Democrats claim to believe (and generally vote for) one set of ideas in each category, and Republicans claim to believe pretty much the opposite set of ideas in each category.

As I said, I am not a Democrat on social issues, and a Republican on economic issues… HOWEVER, very broadly and generally speaking, Democrats claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “economic” category, and Republicans claim to believe stupider and more harmful things in the “social” category.

So, if both social and economic issues are equally important to me, why do I generally vote Republican?

I’m counting on incompetence, inefficiency, ineffectiveness, venality, malice, and deceit.

… and I’m rarely disappointed.

Now… the thing is… with liberals, or “progressives” or leftists of most stripes… most of them really sincerely believe in using the coercive force of the state to make changes in society.

Importantly, they often actually attempt to. and are depressingly successful in, passing legislation theoretically intended to implement and enforce their stupid, harmful, and destructive ideas (though generally speaking, not the changes they actually claimed they were trying to make, with the results they claimed to intend; since it seems liberals don’t believe in or understand the law of unintended consequences, or that results are more important than intent).

Critically for my optimization process (and most unfortunately) Democrats seem to be pretty good at passing stupid and harmful laws in both the social and the economic regimes.

Republicans for the most part, limit their efforts to… or at least focus the majority of their claimed efforts on… their harmful, stupid, and dangerous social ideas (yes, the majority of… not all, by a long shot).

In particular, with notionally socially conservative politicians… or at least the ones that actually manage to get elected… most of them don’t actually believe in the stupid ideas they claim to believe. They’re simply social signalling, or pandering to the less intelligent on “their side” (who unfortunately are also often the most motivated).

More importantly, they rarely make any kind of sincere or effective attempt to actually pass these idiotic and harmful laws (they’ll propose them, but they hardly ever actually even try to pass them). The few true social conservatives who actually manage to get elected, and who do sincerely believe their own idiocy, are mostly ineffective at passing legislation attempting to implement said idiocy

Basically I trust Republicans to generally be less competent and effective  at executing on their agenda than Democrats

Which, under this rationale, is exactly what I want.

So… it’s generally a cynical, but realistic, optimization to vote for Republicans, because the stupid and statist ideas from their side generally don’t actually get implemented or enforced (or they get overturned in court), while the Democrats stupid and statist ideas often do.

That’s what voting cynically really means.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Why Capitalism? Why Not Capitalism?

Reason has an interview in their November issue,  with Jason Brennan, professor of philosophy at Georgetown, and author of the recent book “Why Not Capitalism”, published here in the piece “Why Capitalism?”.

From the blurb:

Most economists believe capitalism is a compromise with selfish human nature. As Adam Smith put it, “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.” Capitalism works better than socialism, according to this thinking, only because we are not kind and generous enough to make socialism work. If we were saints, we would be socialists.

In Why Not Capitalism?, Jason Brennan attacks this widely held belief, arguing that capitalism would remain the best system even if we were morally perfect. Even in an ideal world, private property and free markets would be the best way to promote mutual cooperation, social justice, harmony, and prosperity. Socialists seek to capture the moral high ground by showing that ideal socialism is morally superior to realistic capitalism. But, Brennan responds, ideal capitalism is superior to ideal socialism, and so capitalism beats socialism at every level.

Clearly, engagingly, and at times provocatively written, Why Not Capitalism? will cause readers of all political persuasions to re-evaluate where they stand vis-à-vis economic priorities and systems—as they exist now and as they might be improved in the future.

I am in the midst of reading the book now, and if I think it’s warranted, I’ll post a review of it later this week. However, the thesis of the piece is that capitalism works, because it is in concordance with human nature. All other economic systems are dependent on humans denying or modifying their nature.

While I agree that the basic thesis is correct; my personal belief is that it’s even more basic than that.

Why Capitalism?

Because capitalism is not a system which has to be promulgated, enacted, imposed, or enforced.

Capitalism doesn’t depend on any government,  group, or single individual, deliberately controlling or changing anything. It’s the natural result of voluntary and rational response to economic incentive and feedback. If things are left alone to work out as people will, the result is capitalism.

What capitalism ISN’T, is the gross parody promulgated by socialists and other leftists. In real world terms, this misconception of capitalism is closest to 18th-19th century imperialist mercantilism… Which isn’t surprising, given that mercantilism was in fact the dominant economic system when Marx and Engels were writing.

Capitalism is simply the end result of spontaneous self organization of autonomous rational actors, and their response to changing conditions, intelligence, incentive, and feedback; including market conditions, and pricing.

We had capitalism, tens of thousands of years before we even had governments, never mind the invention of the term.

Capitalism is the default mode of economic interaction.

It’s basically gravity.

The video interview of Professor Brennan:

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Outside Looking In

mars-colony2

 

 

In 2003, on the occasion of the loss of space shuttle Columbia, I wrote an essay titled “Outside Looking In”. As it happens, I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever written, and possibly the most important.

Yesterday, we lost Virgin Galactic’s spaceship two (and at least one of its two crew. The other is in critical condition). Within minutes, the cries to end all manned space travel had resurfaced in full force. People are already gnashing teeth and rending garments, and wailing, that space isn’t worth dying for. 

Given this, I thought it would be appropriate to post the original essay here.

Nothing has changed substantially since I wrote it, except that even the desperately backward and hindering shuttle program has ended… and that now, it’s actually more than 42 years since we last set foot on the moon.

I should be clear… I’m not upset the shuttle is gone…

I’m angry that the shuttle is gone, and there’s no replacement.

I’m angry that we’re dependent on another country to lift our astronauts into space.

I’m ANGRY that the shuttle was over 30 years old, and we poured resources and energy into the shuttle program for 40 years, with basically no real development of an alternate solution.

Except that’s not PRECISELY true.

There has been LOTS of development on alternate solutions, none of which have been allowed to succeed (and only two have even been allowed to proceed to where NASA was in 1960).

We’ve spent tens of billions on alternate solutions, both public sector and private. Unfortunately, NASA has spent the entire time actively suppressing, delaying, or killing anything that would compete with or replace the shuttle; all as part of the bureaucratic funding fight.

I know this first hand, having been involved in several of the SSTO projects in the 90s (I was free labor, as an engineering student and intern. I’m a pilot, an aviation and space nut, my primary degree is in Aerospace engineering, and I’ve been a member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics since I was 18).

Now, people, and I’m sure organizations and interest groups, are already trying to use this crash to attempt to ban private manned space travel.

… which really means that most of them are trying to end all manned space travel period; since it’s not like the public sector has done much to advance the state of human space travel since 1972.

It has been 45 years since we first landed on the moon, and 42 since Eugene Cernan (the last man to walk on the moon) stepped back into his landing module, and we left it.

I’m angry, because we have willingly, even eagerly, become a frigate navy nation.

it’s 2014… We should have spacelines. We should have private spacecraft available for purchase to anyone. We should be living on the moon, living on mars… we should be out in the stars.

Instead, we’re still countering the nattering of cowards and fools, who only want to look inward.

I’m angry… I’m more than angry, I’m disgusted.

 

Outside Looking In — Chris Byrne, 2003

We have spent the last 30 years collectively contemplating our belly buttons.

Let me explain what I mean by that (this is gonna take a while so get comfortable).

Throughout most of history, humanity as a race has been outward looking. We strode out through the world around us to learn, to achieve, and to conquer.

From the earliest days of humanity we have looked outside ourselves for meaning.

First we had medicine men and shamans who looked to the spirits.

Then we had priests who looked to the gods.

Then we had philosophers who looked to the nature of the universe, and sought to find mans place within it.

Finally there came that extraordinary breed of men to whom Isaac Newton belonged to. They called themselves the natural philosophers, we now call them scientists.

Each of these groups of people sought to divine meaning, reason, purpose, from that which surrounded us.

We were on the inside looking out in wonder, and eventually, with some small degree of understanding.

This point of view was reflected in our societies as well.

We explored, and built, and grew. We strove for bigger, more, faster, better.

The expression of this has often been called “pioneer spirit”.
It’s the challenge to go forth and do that which has not been done.
It’s the desire to climb the mountain “because it’s there”.

This spirit quickly had us wee humans spread across this globe, living in almost every corner, no matter how hostile it seemed to our rather thin and frail skins.

This is the spirit that Americans inherited from the British, the Spanish, and the Portuguese; who it seems, have managed somehow to lose it over the past two hundred and fifty years.

This is the spirit that pushed us from sea to sea, the spirit that flung us up into the sky, the spirit that exploded us out into space.

This is the spirit best voiced by John F. Kennedy when he said “We do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

Over the past 100 or so years this spirit became focused primarily on science and technology.

We stopped exploring, not because we ran out of places to explore, but because we did not have the technology to explore them. So we built it, and we built it fast.

It took only us 44 years to make the headlong rush from the Wright brothers, to sustained supersonic flight.

It was only another ten years before we managed to stick something far enough up there that it wouldn’t come right back down again.

Three and a half years later we finally opened up the door and left the home of our birth; when on April 12th 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to see the earth, from the outside looking in.

Gene Roddenberry wouldn’t make the line famous for another 16 years, but Yuri Alekseyevich truly had, boldly gone where no man has gone before. One of us had finally made it off the rock.

Then, at 10:56 pm EDT , July 20, 1969 we managed the short hop to the next rock. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, had made it to the moon.

We only went back five more times over the next three years. 12 men spent a total of 170 hours on the moon, and left behind, not much really. A few scientific instruments, a few spacecraft bits and pieces, the worlds most expensive dune buggy, an American flag, and a plaque that reads:

“Here Man completed his first exploration of the Moon, December 1972 A.D. May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all mankind.”

And with these words, spoken by cmdr. Eugene Cernan on December 11th 1972:

“America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow”

…we turned out the lights and went home.

Unfortunately there has been no tomorrow.

As I was saying, we have spent the last 30 years contemplating our belly buttons.

After World War II most of the world stopped looking forward, and started looking inward. There were too many social problems. There was too much poverty and hunger and disease. There was far too much pain screaming out at us from the horrors of the preceding 10 years.

The spirit of exploration that had pervaded humanity since it’s earliest days was completely gone from Europe by the 1960’s. It had never really existed in east Asia, where culture and philosophy had been directed inward for thousands of years.
It had not existed in the middle east since the days before the ottoman empire.

The only explorers left by the 60’s were America, and Russia, and Russia was only really doing it to compete with America.

People all over the world started questioning the values that had formed previous generations’ assumptions.

The generation born between the end of the depression, and just after the war, KNEW that there were more important things than exploration.

They KNEW that this desire for exploration was just another form of conquest and exploitation and imperialism just like the ones that had brought about the worst conflict in human history.

They KNEW that exploring space was waste of time and money that could be better spent on ending hunger, or disease, or racism.

And so we began to turn inward.

With books like “the catcher in the rye”, “On the Road”, “One Flew Over the Cuckoos nest”, we started looking more at ourselves, and our neighbors, and less at the outside world, and the outside universe.

It took until 1972, but with the war in Vietnam, Richard Nixon and Watergate, price controls, inflation, the CIA and FBI, the Israeli situation, the Irish situation, and every other god damned miserable thing going on in this god damned miserable world…

they KNEW that they weren’t going to spend another dime going to the moon ‘til we had fixed things down here on earth.

In the broader culture things started changing even more.

We encouraged people to take a good long look at themselves.

To find themselves.

To say I’m Ok You’re Ok.

To be fair, a hell of a lot of good came out of this.

For the first time we started seriously exploring the WHY behind a lot of mental and emotional problems.

We started leaving bad marriages behind, and we started trying to be happier.

We started doing something about racism, sexism and pollution.

…But as usual, we went too far.

We started confusing confidence with arrogance.

We decided that power was bad.

We made aggression and competition synonymous with evil.

We started subverting science to ideology, and we decided that ideology was after all, a science.

In our most extreme moments, we decided that boys were bad and girls were good.

That white was bad and black was good.

That both old and new were bad, and only NOW, ME, and US, was good.

We stopped moving forward.

We stopped looking outward.

Instead, we are spending all of our time looking sideways, up, down, in, and increasingly backward.

Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad if we weren’t so bad at it.

It would be a good thing, if we were able to do so without damaging ourselves, and without halting progress.

…But so far, we aren’t.

We haven’t been out of high orbit since 1972.

It only took us 66 years to go from being earthbound, to setting foot on another planet.

In the past 30 years we have have gone no farther, no faster, no higher.

We have stopped going where no man has gone before.

Charles Krauthammer wrote in the weekly standard that “we have put ourselves into a low earth orbit holding pattern”.

Putting it a little more directly, we’re circling the parking lot looking for a space, instead of getting out of the damned shopping mall, and actually going some place and doing something.

The most significant technologies of the last thirty years have been global telecommunications; exemplified in the internet, and biotechnology.

Both of these are essentially focused inward.

The internet has the potential to be the single greatest advance in mass communication since the printing press.

It allows for true interactive communication on a global scale, but it is essentially inward facing.

Why?

Because it exists to exchange information we already have.

The internet spreads knowledge around better than anything we’ve ever come up with and that’s great.

It’s the greatest enabler of science history has ever known because it allows the freer and easier exchange of ideas, but the net in and of itself does little to advance the state of human knowledge.

The internet is not like the microscope or the telescope or the space craft. Completely new things are not discovered or created by the internet, though they have without doubt been enabled by it.

BioTechnology is by very definition focused inward.

At it’s deepest level BioTech is the study of what makes us what we are. It promises to unlock near limitless potential for our biological beings.

It opens the door to the possibility of ending old age, disease, hunger, even death itself. It offers potential dangers equal to it’spotential wonders.

BioTech is probably the second most important field of technology ever devised, but exploration is still by far the most important.

As no nation can be great without looking beyond its borders, no race can be great without looking beyond its planet.

Whether there are other races out there, or we are alone; if as a race we are ever to progress beyond our current state of semi civilized savagery, to progress beyond a planet full of petty squabbles between nations, that just might incidentally kill us all; we need to venture off this planet in the largest scale possible.

We need to live on, not just visit other planets.

This is a concrete lesson of history.

We started out as individuals.

We fought and died as individuals until we formed villages, clans, and tribes

With villages we had a larger purpose and organization, and the fighting between individuals lessened.

For thousands of years villages, clans, and tribes killed each other until we formed city-states. Then the fighting between tribes lessened.

We began to form principalities and petty kingdoms, and they repeated the pattern, lessening the conflicts between cities.

Finally we formed nations, and eventually ended most organized conflict between smaller groups.

But we created the nation about 10,000 years ago, and we haven’t really come very far since. Half of Europe was STILL in the city state or principality phase 250 years ago.

Germany is now by far the largest and most important nation in Europe (no matter what France and England may say), but it only became a true nation in 1872.

The United Nations is, at best, an ineffective organization with more politics than solutions.

At worst, it is an organization used to spread the ugliest prejudices of humans, while decrying the actions needed to stop them, and masking it all under cynical self righteousness.

It is clear that until we become an extraplanetary race, we will never achieve anything resembling a free society of all human beings.

It is similarly clear that once we do become truly extraplanetary, such a society is, if not inevitable, at least more likely.

Many would say that we need to solve our problems here on earth first.

They believe that we can’t afford space exploration while people starve, and die of disease, and are denied basic human rights.

They say that it costs too much, that it’s dangerous, that it has little benefit to the vast majority of humanity that has barely enough to eat.

They are right in many ways…

…but if as a people we don’t get the hell off this rock…

…what will it matter?

It will be a case of belly button contemplating on a racial scale.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

What’s that got to do with the price of whiskey in West Virginia

Sometimes it can be hard for people to grasp how government distortion of the free market actually impacts them, and why it’s such a corrosive and destructive force.

The whole issue is so big, and so pervasive, that people can’t relate to it, or focus on it, or see how it hurts them personally… at least until it does something like say, get them thrown in jail, or shuts down their business, or costs them their job; at which point the local news stories and the facebook posts and the buzzfeed and upworthy click bait flood out with sympathy for the individual story… but the larger issue is never addressed.

In this short post, consisting of nothing but some bare facts, Gizmodo illustrates the direct personal impact of the nanny state, rent seeking, regulatory capture, state sponsored monopolies, and regressive tax policies… all in one piece about whiskey:

GIZMODO: How Much a Bottle of Whiskey Costs in Every State

Alcoholic beverage sales in the United States are a nearly perfect example of government induced market distortion.

In many states (18 as of this writing), all liquor sales and pricing are exclusively controlled by the state. Some states (and many cities and towns) explicitly set the minimum price for which a bottle or a drink can be sold. In ALL states, there is relatively restrictive licensing to sell liquor (often extremely restrictive, and almost always politically controlled).

Additionally, most states require liquor retailers purchase their liquor either from the state directly, or from a strictly limited number of state licensed distributors.

This can extend to ridiculous extremes, such as Florida, where a recent reinterpretation of the law requires brew pubs to sell their product to a state licensed distributor, who then sell it back to them (both required to sell at a minimum price, and both paying taxes on the “sales” between each other, and THEN retail taxes on top) just so they can serve their own customers.

The states offer many rationales for these restrictive regulatory regimes, including reducing drinking, limited access to minors, reducing fraud and tax cheating…

…All of which have not only been ineffective, they have in fact generally had an impact opposite of their stated intent.

The REAL purpose behind this restrictive control, is of course the real purpose of most restrictive licensing and pricing schemes…

Power, Control, and Money

Retail, restaurant, and bar liquor licenses, in restrictive licensing areas; can sell for huge amounts of money, or can be subject to years of delays (or both); generally at the whim of politicians and bureaucrats .

These business owners, are mostly willing to play along with this scheme, because it limits their competition, and it increase the value of their business (which they can later sell for a very high price).

In fact, in some areas, local liquor license holders are allowed input (or even a veto) on whether a new business can obtain a liquor license, or whether (or to whom) a liquor license can be transferred.

Even if a license holder is opposed to restrictive licensing, they may have had to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars… even millions in some cities… to obtain their license (or to purchase a business that already had one, which is often the only way to get a license); so often they actively work against reform, because they don’t want to see the value of their investment plummet.

Liquor distribution can be even more lucrative, particularly with state granted near monopolies, and often state regulated minimum pricing; guaranteeing distributors little or no competition and huge profits.Some states go so far as to only license a handful of distributors for the entire state, or even license them exclusively within certain counties, municipalities or regions; giving them effective monopolies on all liquor sales in their areas.

Of course, as with anything of great value, the politicians and bureaucrats who control licensing, can get great benefit from granting them, allowing them to be transferred,  reducing the costs associated with obtaining them; or more destructively, for NOT granting a license to a potential competitor.

A few minutes talking with anyone in the hospitality trade, or anyone with an interest in government corruption, and you’ll hear endless stories of shakedowns, bribes, organized crime influence, naked influence peddling…

Liquor licensing is possibly the single most corrupt area of government in this country… and that’s really saying something.

And then there’s the taxes… oh the taxes…

Even if we ignore the inherently corrupt and corrupting issue of restrictive licensing,  the states (and for that matter federal government), derive considerable revenues from liquor sales.

In some states, there is both an excise tax on all alcohol sales, PLUS a “spirit tax” (charged per gallon of “spirituous liquor”), AND a separate (and much higher) sales tax on alcohol or spirits (beer, wine, and “spirituous liquors” are often taxed very differently).

In Washington state (the highest alcohol tax state, which has only recently decided to allow, in a very limited and restricted way, sales of liquor through some private retailers), the combined excise and spirit tax is $35.22 a gallon, PLUS a 20.5% sales tax on liquor (the national average is $5.33 per gallon, and most states do have a separate sales tax for spirits)

… But wait, there’s more… 

Washington, like many other states, also charges all liquor retailers and distributors an additional fee; which in their case, is 17% of gross revenues from alcohol sales.

Obviously, businesses are going to pass that fee onto consumers; so, in effect, Washington is adding a 37.5% sales tax, on top of the spirit tax, to every sale.

For a 750ml bottle of whiskey costing $18, that ends up being $6.98 in excise tax (hidden from the consumer), plus $6.75 in sales tax; a total of  $11.02 for the whiskey, and $13.73 in tax.

This map, from  http://www.Taxfoundation.org , shows the spirit taxes around the country (not including additional sales taxes on spirits):

State Spirit Tax Rates

 

All of this of course, is on top of the federal taxes on liquor manufacture, distribution, and sales; which for “spirituous liquors” (generally defined as alcohol for human consumption, packaged and sold above “50 proof” or 25% ethanol by volume) are $13.50 per proof gallon (a “proof gallon” is the amount of ethanol in one gallon of 100 proof liquor. If you are distilling and blending 80 proof liquor, the tax will be 80% of that rate per gallon. For an 80 proof 750ml bottle of whiskey, the federal spirit excise is $2.14).

These federal taxes are first paid directly by the producer to the ATF. Then more taxes are paid from the distributors, and finally, by the retailers.

So actually, that example above? It’s not really a total of  $11.02 for the whiskey, and $13.73 in tax… It’s really a total of…

…Well, if we tried to do a real total cost accounting for what the total tax burden, including all liquor taxes, sales taxes, and regulatory compliance costs… It’s probably more like $3 for the whiskey, $6 in federal taxes and other compliance and regulatory costs, and $16 in state taxes, and compliance and regulatory costs.

And then there’s the actual state monopolies…

Some states don’t bother taxing liquor separately, or they tax it at “normal” rates as they would any other product; they just hold a legal monopoly on all liquor sales.

The revenues available to the states through liquor sales are so great in fact, that in a rare example of a state government doing something that makes economic sense, and is even almost libertarian (as libertarian as any state controlled enterprise could be anyway); the state of New Hampshire (which has no income or sales tax) explicitly operates their state controlled liquor stores as a (relatively) efficient business, with good pricing and marketing designed to attract buyers from other states; helping them to keep tax burdens in the state otherwise among the lowest in the nation.

If you’ve ever driven into or out of New Hampshire on I-93 or I-95, those giant Costco sized buildings on both sides of the highway at the first rest stop after the tolls  (of course they’re after the tolls… have to capture that revenue), are state liquor stores; specifically designed and located to capture sales and revenue from Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, Maine, and New York residents, many of whom drive to New Hampshire specifically to buy liquor and avoid the high prices and taxes in their own states (appx. 50% of all liquor sales in NH are to out of state residents, about 50% of which come from the four state liquor stores on 93 and 95).

Just how much difference does this make to the price of whiskey? 

Like I said above, it’s all so big, so pervasive, it can be hard to get a handle on. Some of the costs you can see directly, like sales taxes. Some of them are partially hidden, like excise taxes. Some of them are completely hidden, like the costs of reduced competition, and the costs of regulatory compliance (in economics these are called hidden externalities).

How about we simplify, and just show you the money?

One product, compared across all 50 states, and just see how the regulatory and tax environments in each state effect the price…

Gizmodo chose the most common and popular American whiskey, in the most popular sized bottle: A 750ml bottle of Jack Daniels (which by the way sells for about $8 from the distiller to the distributors, which includes the $2.14 in tax paid by the distiller to the ATF).

What do you think the price difference might be?

On one 750ml bottle of Americas best selling whiskey, what do you think the price difference might be from state to state? (this is comparing the lowest advertised or verifiable price within a state, not cherrypicking a high price)

Oh and by the way, this includes the excise tax, but DOES NOT include sales tax (making the differences even higher).

$1… $2… $5… $10?

How about $20…

Well, actually, $19.

In New Mexico, you can get a bottle of Jack for $15.99. In Alaska, that same bottle costs $35…

Ok… well.. that’s Alaska… transportation costs and all that, right?

Jack Daniels is famously distilled in Lynchburg Tennessee, which by the way, is in a dry county, where all alcohol sales are banned (as is the case in appx 220 counties in 32 states, with another 250 or so counties having near bans or extremely tight restrictions). How much does a bottle of Jack cost in Tennessee?

$25…

Yes, Jack Daniels costs $10 more IN THE STATE THE STUFF IS ACTUALLY MADE, than it does 1300 miles away in New Mexico.

Even worse, is West Virginia, which almost shares a border with Tennessee (less than 30 miles of the extreme western edge of Virginia separate them… My wifes family is from there, it’s a very pretty drive, I highly recommend it), where a bottle of jack costs… wait for it… $32.99.

It’s not just the taxes… it’s all of the other effects of the regulatory burden…

The great part of this comparison is that it accounts for more than just the tax rates. It shows you the complete total cost impact of market distortions and differential burdens across the states; not just for alcohol, but for retail business in general.
Tennessee has one of the lowest spirit taxes in the country, at only $4.46 per gallon, but a bottle of Jack costs $32.99. Washington has the highest taxes in the country, at $35.22 per gallon, but a bottle of Jack costs $18.99 (again, both before sales tax).

Show me the numbers

From the Gizmodo piece:

Here’s the complete list, arranged by price:

  1. New Mexico: $15.99 (Quarter’s Discount Liquors, Albuquerque)
  2. Arizona: $16.99 (Total Wine and More, Phoenix)
  3. Florida: $17.99 (Wine and More, Daytona Beach)
  4. Texas: $17.99 (Wine and More, Dallas)
  5. California: $17.99 (BevMo, Culver City)
  6. Washington: $17.99 (BevMo, Bellingham)
  7. Oklahoma: $18.53 (Bryan’s Liquor Warehouse, Oklahoma City)
  8. Nevada: $19.99 (Lee’s Discount Liquor, Las Vegas)
  9. Louisiana: $19.99 (Prytania Liquor Store, New Orleans)
  10. Wisconsin: $19.99 (WI Discount Liquor, Milwaukee)
  11. Kansas: $19.99 (Lukas Liquor, Overland Park)
  12. Missouri: $19.99 (Lukas Liquor, Kansas City)
  13. Minnesota: $19.99 (Zipp’s Liquor, Minneapolis)
  14. Illinois: $19.99 (Binny’s, Chicago)
  15. Maine: $19.99 (Lou’s Beverage Barn, Augusta)
  16. Wyoming: $20.99 (Dell Range Liquor Store, Cheyenne)
  17. Delaware: $21.99 (Tri-State Liquors, Claymont)
  18. Georgia: $21.99 (Midtown Liquor, Atlanta)
  19. South Carolina: $22.90 (Burris Liquor Store, Charleston)
  20. Colorado: $22.99 (Colorado Liquor Mart, Denver)
  21. Pennsylvania: $22.99 (Wine and Spirits Store, Philadelphia)
  22. Mississippi: $23.32 (Stanley’s Liquor and Wine, Jackson)
  23. Idaho: $23.95 (State Run Liquor Store, 17th and State, Boise)
  24. South Dakota: $23.94 (Capital City Wine & Spirits, Pierre)
  25. Indiana: $23.99 (Nick’s Liquor Store, Hammond)
  26. Maryland: $23.99 (Eastport Liquors, Annapolis)
  27. Nebraska: $23.99 (The Still, Lincoln)
  28. Alabama: $23.99 (ABC Liquors, statewide)
  29. Vermont: $24.00 (Beverage Warehouse, Winooski)
  30. Ohio: $24.25 (Campus State Liquor Store, Columbus)
  31. Arkansas: $24.52 (Lake Liquors, Maumelle)
  32. Virginia: $24.90 (ABC Store, Richmond)
  33. Oregon: $24.95 (Northside Liquor Store, Eugene)
  34. Tennessee: $24.99 (Frugal MacDoogal Liquor Warehouse, Nashville)
  35. Connecticut: $24.99 (BevMax, Stamford)
  36. New Jersey: $24.99 (Super Buy Rite, Jersey City)
  37. North Dakota: $24.99 (Empire Liquors, Fargo)
  38. Utah: $25.49 (State Liquor Store, Salt Lake City)
  39. New Hampshire: $25.99 (Liquor and Wine Outlet, New London)
  40. Kentucky: $25.99 (Old Town Wine and Spirits, Louisville)
  41. Montana: $26.75 (Bottle and Shots West Liquor Store Billings)
  42. North Carolina: $26.95 (ABC Store, Raleigh)
  43. Rhode Island: $28.00 (City Liquors, Providence)
  44. Michigan: $28.62 (Calumet Market and Spirits, Detroit)
  45. New York: $28.99 (Warehouse Wine and Spirits, New York)
  46. Iowa: $28.99 (Liquor House, Iowa City)
  47. Massachusetts: Charles Street Liquors: $28.99
  48. Hawaii: $29.99 (The Liquor Collection, Honolulu)
  49. West Virginia: $32.99 (Liquor Co, Charleston)
  50. Alaska: $35.00 (Percy’s Liquor Store, Juneau)

Disclaimer: This is not a scientific survey, but I tried to call basic, non-fancy liquor stores for the price check. It’s not clear how much of the discrepancy from state to state is caused by cost of living, tax rates, regulations, or just good ole fashioned price gouging.

You can see, the majority of states are clustered around $20-25, only 7 states cheaper than that, and 12 states more expensive, even though the spirit taxes in those states vary widely. Again, this just shows you the overall burden… the effects of what is seen, and what is unseen… in a highly regulated market.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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