Category Archives: The Nanny State

Quote of the Day: Unlearned Lessons of Failed Experiments Edition

Peter Suderman writing for The Wall Street Journal has written an excellent article about the (apparent) unlearned lessons of government run healthcare. But unlike many others who use Canada and the UK as examples, Suderman insists that we only need to look at states like New York, Massachusetts, Washington, and Tennessee for their respective failed experiments with some of the very reforms being proposed by Obama and the Democrat controlled congress.

Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis famously envisioned the states serving as laboratories, trying “novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.” And on health care, that’s just what they’ve done.

[…]

Despite these state-level failures, President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are pushing forward a slate of similar reforms. Unlike most high-school science fair participants, they seem unaware that the point of doing experiments is to identify what actually works. Instead, they’ve identified what doesn’t—and decided to do it again.

Of course if government did learn lessons of failed government policy…it wouldn’t be government.

Read the whole article to learn what future all Americans have in store should President Obama and the Democrats have their way.

The Brits Have Finally Lost It

…why don’t they just make stabbing illegal?

Plans to replace the traditional pint glass with one made of shatter-proof plastic will not be accepted by drinkers, the pub industry has warned.

The Home Office has commissioned a new design, in an attempt to stop glasses being used as weapons.

Official figures show 5,500 people are attacked with glasses and bottles every year in England and Wales.

“There’s going to be quite a push behind this in terms of the Home Office.”

The Home Office Minister, Alan Campbell, said the redesign could make a significant difference to the number of revellers who are injured.

He said: “Innovative design has played an important role in driving down overall crime, including theft, fraud and burglary.

“This project will see those same skills applied to the dangerous and costly issue of alcohol-related crime and I am confident that it will lead to similar successes.”

When I first came across this on Lowering The Bar, I thought it must be false. I thought even the Brits would avoid pushing themselves into a reductio ad absurdum. They were warned about the slippery slope, and responded by saying that slippery slopes are dangerous and it’s a lot safer to be all the way down at the bottom!

Stories like this almost make me feel like my home, California, is free!

The Nanny State In Action — School District Bars Kids From Riding Bikes To School

I wouldn’t be able to do it anymore because district boundaries in my hometown changed a long time ago, but when I was a kid I used to ride my bike to school nearly every day that weather permitted it.

It’s a good thing I didn’t live in Saratoga Springs, New York:

SARATOGA SPRINGS — The first day of school, already a happy and trying event for any student, saw a little additional stress for Maple Avenue Middle School student Adam Marino.

Marino and his mother, Janette Kaddo Marino, left for school by bicycle on Wednesday morning, as they often do in good weather, despite a phone call placed to students’ homes by school officials, asking parents not to allow students to walk or ride bikes to school.

(…)

One section of the school policy states: “The Board of Education forbids the riding of bicycles by students to and from Maple Avenue Middle School.” Another section also prohibits riding to elementary schools.

In an apparent contradiction, a third section states: “Secondary school pupils may ride their bicycles to school and shall park them in the racks provided.”

The policy was written when the Maple Avenue school opened in 1994, and has never before been reviewed, Superintendent of Schools Janice White said.

Remember, they’re from the government and they’re here to help you.

Are Health Insurance Mandates Constitutional ?

After a piece last month in the Washington Post, which I wrote about here, lawyers David Rivkin and Lee Casey are back with a piece in the Wall Street Journal expanding on their argument that a requirement that every American buy health insurance would be unconstitutional. This time, they argue that, even under current commerce clause precedent, there is no Constitutional authority for a Federal health insurance mandate:

The Supreme Court construes the commerce power broadly. In the most recent Commerce Clause case, Gonzales v. Raich (2005) , the court ruled that Congress can even regulate the cultivation of marijuana for personal use so long as there is a rational basis to believe that such “activities, taken in the aggregate, substantially affect interstate commerce.”

But there are important limits. In United States v. Lopez (1995), for example, the Court invalidated the Gun Free School Zones Act because that law made it a crime simply to possess a gun near a school. It did not “regulate any economic activity and did not contain any requirement that the possession of a gun have any connection to past interstate activity or a predictable impact on future commercial activity.” Of course, a health-care mandate would not regulate any “activity,” such as employment or growing pot in the bathroom, at all. Simply being an American would trigger it.

Article 1, Section 8, Clause 3 of the Constitution sets forth Congresses commerce power:

To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes;

Strictly construed the Commerce Clause would not seem to be that broad of a grant of power. After all, the chief ill that it was aimed at was to allow goods and business to flow easily between the respective states, something that was not possible under the Articles of Confederation. However, the Supreme Court has interpreted the clause so loosely that it has gone far beyond the point where it actually imposed any limits on Congressional authority. For example, in 1942, in Wickard v. Filburn, the Supreme Court ruled that a farmer who grew wheat on his own land for his own consumption affected interstate commerce and was therefore subject to the regulations of Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1938. Once that happened, the door was open to allow Congress to use the Commerce Clause to justify extensions of Federal power into areas that the Founding Fathers would never have conceived it would be exercised.

The post-Wickard history of the Commerce Clause has been one of expanding federal power and increasing regulation of activities that have only a tangential relationship to interstate commerce. But there have been some bright spots recently.

As the article notes, in 1995, the Supreme Court ruled in United States v. Lopez that the commerce clause could not be used to justify a Federal Law that made it a crime to carry a gun with a certain distance from a school. In 1996, it ruled in Seminole Tribe v. Florida, that the Commerce Clause did not give the Federal Government the right to abrogate the soverign immunity of the state. And, most notably, in a dissent in Gonzalez v. Raich, the 2005 case that upheld the supremacy of Federal drug laws over state medical marijuana laws, Justice Thomas said the following:

Respondent’s local cultivation and consumption of marijuana is not “Commerce … among the several States.”
Certainly no evidence from the founding suggests that “commerce” included the mere possession of a good or some personal activity that did not involve trade or exchange for value. In the early days of the Republic, it would have been unthinkable that Congress could prohibit the local cultivation, possession, and consumption of marijuana.

Given this trend, the a Constitutional challenge to an individual mandate would seem to be a potentially successful argument. However, as Eugene Volokh pointed out in a post responding to the original WaPo article, that isn’t necessarily the case:

As much as I oppose the various health care reforms promoted by the Obama Administration and current Congressional leadership (and as much as I would like to see a more restrictive commerce clause jurisprudence), I do not find this argument particularly convincing. While I agree that the recent commerce clause cases hold that Congress may not regulate noneconomic activity, as such, they also state that Congress may reach otherwise unregulable conduct as part of an overarching regulatory scheme, where the regulation of such conduct is necessary and proper to the success of such scheme. In this case, the overall scheme would involve the regulation of “commerce” as the Supreme Court has defined it for several decades, as it would involve the regulation of health care markets. And the success of such a regulatory scheme would depend upon requiring all to participate. (Among other things, if health care reform requires insurers to issue insurance to all comers, and prohibits refusals for pre-existing conditions, then a mandate is necessary to prevent opportunistic behavior by individuals who simply wait to purchase insurance until they get sick.)

At best then, this would seem to be a very close call and, given almost 200 years of Supreme Court precedent it seems unlikely that a Court would overturn something as far reaching as a health care reform plan — although as the National Recovery Administration learned in 1935, it’s not impossible.

Hey Ezra, Strawman Much?

Ahh, the infamous strawman. Take one aspect of an argument, assume it is not part of a cohesive whole, and argue against it as if it negates everything else at hand. I.e. libertarians and conservatives argue that capping drug prices just MIGHT reduce drug innovation, and Ezra Klein acts as if we’d keep everything else equal in the system:

For a long time, I took questions about stifling innovation very seriously. So did a lot of liberals. But then I realized that the people making those arguments wanted to do things like means-test Medicare, or increase cost-sharing across the system, and generally reduce costs in this or that way, which would cut innovation in exactly the same way that single-payer would hypothetically cut innovation: by reducing profits.

I also found that I couldn’t get an answer to a very simple question: What level of spending on health care was optimal for innovation? Should we double spending? Triple it? Cut it by 10 percent? Simply give a larger portion of it to drug and device manufacturers? I’d be interested in a proposal meant to maximize medical innovation. I’ve not yet seen one.

It turned out that concerns about innovation weren’t really about innovation at all. They were just about attacking universal health care ideas of a certain sort. Which is why I stopped taking them seriously.

No libertarian in the world will argue that government spending can’t achieve certain goals. After all, government spending got us to the moon. If you set the goal of American society, as Kennedy did, as getting to the moon within a decade, then you forcibly take the money to pay for the goal [since Americans weren’t exactly going there of their own accord], you can probably get there.

Likewise, if government really put its mind to drastically advancing medical innovation, and threw out, say, $50B a year for drug research to stem the growth of most types of cancer, I’ll bet within two decades they might have results. While money doesn’t exactly solve everything, government subsidies can certainly accelerate development. Granted, that cancer research might be at the expense of heart disease research, and AIDS research, and diabetes research, and just about everything else [excepting penis enlargement research, of course, because that’s always a growth industry].

But now I’m getting away from the point. Why is this a strawman? Because opponents to gov’t healthcare view the death of medical innovation as one bad side effect of a wider bad policy, not the most important argument against gov’t healthcare.

Look at it this way. We don’t argue that there is no innovation in the digital music player industry because gov’t doesn’t spend enough. After all, we’ve got all different flavors of iPods, the new Zune, all manner of knockoff players and tiny upstarts, not to mention the fact that just about every new cellphone or car stereo can play MP3’s. Ten years ago, when I was in college, MP3’s were limited to those of us savvy enough to navigate Napster, hook our computers up to our stereos, and had a fast enough internet connection to make the whole deal worthwhile. Today MP3 players are ubiquitous and digital music threatens to destroy the entire existing business model of music production.

I’m not going to address the conservative rebuttals, but I’ll take a look at this from a libertarian perspective. Libertarians aren’t opposed to profits. We are not opposed to competition. We are not opposed to market-based prices that may, in some cases, not cover the costs of drug development. We don’t view medical innovation as a simple question of “should WE spend X or 2X or 3X?” Not because we don’t have an opinion on optimal spending — we may or may not — but because we oppose to the WE. We implies collective action, and usually implies forced collective action.

The WE, of course, has a lot of unintended consequences to it. If the WE becomes too large [cough]medicare[/cough], it tends to crowd out private spending. When private spending is crowded out, prices become opaque. They cease to be a clear sign of market value and cease to be a proper incentive for producers. As I said above, $50B a year in research money would entice quite a few drugmakers to focus R&D onto cancer. But is that the optimal amount to spend? Would that be useful or wasteful? What is the opportunity cost of pulling that money out of the economy through taxation and redistributing it through the government? All these questions distort the free market, and when you try to distort the free market you end up with problems.

There are two SIGNIFICANT government distortions specifically into drugs: the patent scheme and the FDA.

The FDA:

Simply put, the FDA’s job is to restrict access to medicine until in meets very stringent guidelines. The doctrinaire libertarian position on the FDA is that it needlessly delays medicine that has some efficacy and takes away freedom of choice from individuals who may wish to take personal risks by purchasing that medicine despite the FDA’s lack of recognition.

The doctrinaire libertarian position is a moral position on individual choice, but the economic case is much simpler and stronger. FDA regulation artificially raises the cost of creating new medicines. If your R&D division knows that of all the medicines they research, only 40% will be effective, and only 10% will be approved through FDA trials, you know that 75% of effective drugs they create cannot be purchased. This means that they must more than double the price of drugs to cover R&D on those which wouldn’t be effective, and then quadruple the price beyond that for those which would have been effective but not meet FDA approval. Prices charged for drugs are dependent as much on covering the cost of failure as the cost of success.

Patents:

From a doctrinaire libertarian perspective, you can go two ways on patents. First is that intellectual property isn’t property, and patents are simply government distortion into the market that should be distorted. I like the argument, but even as a doctrinaire libertarian, I’m not far enough behind the anti-IP program to defend it (see mises.org for that one). The opposite (yet still doctrinaire libertarian) argument is that intellectual property should not be arbitrarily time-limited by the government, and that the patent protection time is too short.

The second argument is an explanation for the price of drugs. When you develop a new drug, have to recoup the development & testing costs of that drug, need to recoup all the development costs of the failed drugs, you need to forecast the expected use of that drug between the time it launches and the time your patent expires. Once that patent expires, you’re fighting generics for market share. If you think that 10,000 people per year might need your drug, and you have patent protection for 5 years, you know what price you need to set to recoup your investment and make a profit. If your patent protection extends for 10 years, though, you can set the price at roughly 1/2 the level and still make your profit.

Either way, from an economic standpoint the extension of patent protection might reduce costs and improve pharmaceutical innovation. Reducing patent protection might increase short-term costs (reducing them long-term) but at the expense of pharmaceutical innovation. There are trade-offs and issues no matter what you do.

The solution:

Frankly, the solution isn’t to ask what WE should spend on health care or medicine, just as WE don’t ask what WE should spend for iPods, HDTV’s, heads of lettuce or pickup trucks. The difference is that in those products, we have a functional market. In a functional market, competition and choice lead to efficiency and an optimal mix of innovation vs. price.

The solution is NOT price controls. Economic history shows that price controls lead to shortages.

The solution is NOT rationing. Rationing doesn’t control prices but controls expenditures (unit volume). Rationing increases prices and/or leads to shortages.

The doctrinaire libertarian solution is to reduce the role of the FDA and put more responsibility on the individual to choose health care options, and to ensure that intellectual property laws are set optimally to protect innovation. The free market is known for reducing prices and increasing innovation. Perhaps we should have more of this “free market” thing.
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AARP Ad: Opponents of ObamaCare Oppose “Health Care Reform”

The “Ambulance Commercial” from AARP claims that the “special interest groups” are “trying to derail” the healthcare debate. Those who oppose “reform” are “spreading myths” about rationing of care. In case you’ve missed it, here’s the ad:

One of the things that really makes me angry about this debate is the way groups like AARP, the Obama Administration, and the Democrat Party use straw man arguments to characterize those of us who oppose government run healthcare are “anti-reform” or happy with the system the way it is. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I’m sure there are some who are GOP political hacks out there who oppose ObamaCare but would have no problem supporting RomneyCare or whatever variation of government healthcare McCain would have been pushing had he won the presidency. I get that. But despite what Rachel Maddow, Kieth Oberman, or any of these other Left-wing talking heads would have you believe, there actually are legitimate reasons to fear ObamaCare and not everyone who opposes it is not some sort of Right-wing lunatic.

So who is really spreading the “myths” about ObamaCare?

To be fair, I’m pretty sure it’s not the intention of Democrats to create healthcare rationing. Maybe proponents of the bill claim such things as “death panels” to be myths because such panels of bureaucrats are not part of the plan per se. Perhaps what the fans of big government do not understand is that rationing is inevitable, whether or not rationing is intended. If Red Lobster decided to serve steak and lobster for “free” to the general public every Saturday, one would imagine that there would be lines around the block and Red Lobster would run out of steak and lobster very quickly on Saturdays (and not everyone who stood in line would receive their free food).

The same is true for healthcare or any other product. If suddenly some 50 million uninsured individuals suddenly have access to “free” healthcare along with the remaining 250 million with no increase in the supply of healthcare providers, there will be shortages. Whenever there is a shortage of a product or service in a government controlled program, rationing is the only way to meet the needs for the greatest number. In other words, bureaucrats make the decision regarding who receives healthcare and who does not. The most likely choice will be that the elderly will be asked to sacrifice themselves for the good of “more productive” individuals (i.e. tax payers). This very phenomenon is already happening with vital organ transplants in the U.S. and around the world (with the notable exception of Iran of all places!).

But what is even more galling about the AARP ad than the complete ignorance regarding supply and demand is the notion that those who oppose ObamaCare are anti-reform. Just because some of us oppose ObamaCare does not make us anti-reform but simply anti-government healthcare. There are good free market approaches to health care reform; Cato Institute has an entire website dedicated to such approaches . I’m sure Dr. Ron Paul has some ideas and many other free market individuals as well but AARP, the Democrat Congress, nor the Obama Administration want to consider these approaches.

Couldn’t we just as easily say that they are anti-healthcare reform? If anyone is “derailing” the debate it would be AARP and their special interests.

If AARP believes “special interests” are obstacles to a quality healthcare system, just wait until they get their wish and politicians get between the patients and their doctors.

For those who would like to see the free market reforms Cato proposes, click on the banner below.

Regulation. It’s About Eliminating The Competition

This follows quite a few themes I’ve discussed at length here:

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) requires third-party testing of nearly every object intended for a child’s use, and was passed in response to several toy recalls in 2007 for lead and other chemicals. Six of those recalls were on toys made by Mattel, or its subsidiary Fisher Price.

Small toymakers were blindsided by the expensive requirement, which made no exception for small domestic companies working with materials that posed no threat.

So while most small toymakers had no idea this law was coming down the pike until it was too late, Mattel spent $1 million lobbying for a little provision to be included in the CPSIA permitting companies to test their own toys in “firewalled” labs that have won Consumer Product Safety Commission approval.

The million bucks was well spent, as Mattel gained approval late last week to test its own toys in the sites listed above—just as the window for delayed enforcement closed.

Instead of winding up hurting, Mattel now has a cost advantage on mandatory testing, and a handy new government-sponsored barrier to entry for its competitors.

I’m of two minds on this. First of all, I find it revolting that, as the headline of the above-quoted post @ Reason points out, it was Mattel’s toys that got everyone riled up and now it’s Mattel getting the exemption. I know exactly how government regulation works, and it’s nearly universal that regulation protects incumbents by increasing the cost of doing business for small competitors.

At the same time, though, I understand a bit about the advantages of economies of scale. There are simply times where it makes more sense for large companies to have this testing in-house. They have enough products to be designed and tested that they’re going to save money by keeping it in-house.

Working in the electronics industry (and having worked for small startups as well as major corporations), I know that in some cases the burden of third-party testing is large enough that you can’t test products iteratively during the design process, when you’d like to. Every time you send the product for testing, you’re talking about thousands of dollars at a start, going up to very high numbers if you want to test to very stringent standards.

Large companies have the resources to test to a wide range of standards, because they sell enough product to amortize that cost. Small companies simply can’t do this, so they opt for the minimum required testing (by law or by their customer, depending on which is applicable), and often turn down business they can profitably produce to spec but can’t afford to profitably test to the requirements.

Mattel has both the economies of scale to afford outside testing, but further the economies of scale to bring that testing job in-house. In fact, they likely are using existing in-house labs for much of the new testing requirements. So yes, this requirement and exemption cost Mattel very little on an incremental basis, and costs their small competitors dearly.

This, however, is not an argument against Mattel — it’s an argument against unnecessary and expensive mandatory testing. It’s an argument against regulatory capture and for individual freedom. It’s an argument towards the inherent goodness of man (i.e. they don’t want to make products that’ll hurt their customers) rather than considering companies by nature wicked and more concerned with profit than customer needs.

Mattel, being the company that produced bad product and who is now benefiting from the regulation makes for a great whipping boy. They certainly deserve some scorn for both supporting this regulation with lobbying dollars and subsequently ensuring that it will affect their competitors more than themselves. But at the end of the day, Mattel has no more desire to poison your kids with lead than mom & pop toymakers — one might remember that THEY discovered their problems in-house and THEY issued the recall of their products rather than wait for someone to be hurt.

The CPSIA is bad law. Mattel, like most major corporations, uses the government to try to influence bad laws for their own benefit. For that, do we have Mattel to blame, or do we point the finger at Washington?

Coming To A Garage Sale Near You: Big Brother

Proving yet again that there is no limit to the extent to which the Federal Government will intrude upon our lives, the Feds are now turning their attention to that staple of American Suburbia, the garage sale:

WASHINGTON — If you’re planning a garage sale or organizing a church bazaar, you’d best beware: You could be breaking a new federal law. As part of a campaign called Resale Roundup, the federal government is cracking down on the secondhand sales of dangerous and defective products.

The initiative, which targets toys and other products for children, enforces a new provision that makes it a crime to resell anything that’s been recalled by its manufacturer.

“Those who resell recalled children’s products are not only breaking the law, they are putting children’s lives at risk,” said Inez Tenenbaum, the recently confirmed chairwoman of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The crackdown affects sellers ranging from major thrift-store operators such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army to everyday Americans cleaning out their attics for yard sales, church bazaars or — increasingly — digital hawking on eBay, Craigslist and other Web sites.

Secondhand sellers now must keep abreast of recalls for thousands of products, some of them stretching back more than a decade, to stay within the bounds of the law.

Staffers for the federal agency are fanning out across the country to conduct training seminars on the regulations at dozens of thrift shops.

I could come up with a lengthy response about this, but I think Chris’s wife summed up my feelings quite well — Leave Us The Hell Alone.

Kevin Drum Astonished That People Disproportionately Like Subsidized Stuff

Satisfaction levels of Medicare beneficiaries are pretty high. This surprises Kevin Drum:

There’s a pretty obvious political dynamic that’s responsible for this. Seniors, who actually use Medicare, know perfectly well that it’s a good program. They can see any doctor they want, they get care when they need it, and the quality of service is high. So why do younger Americans have such a negative attitude toward Medicare?

Answer: because conservative politicians have been bellowing for years about what a terrible program it is. And since younger workers don’t actually use it themselves, the bellowing works. They figure it must suck.

In reality, Medicare works fine. Not perfectly, but fine. It offers service at least as good as private insurance despite serving the highest-risk population there is, and it does at least as good a job of reining in costs — slightly better, in fact. Sure, it could be improved, but it’s already probably better than the employer insurance that you have right now. I’d switch in a second if I could.

Medicare isn’t a bad system at providing medical care. Most doctors/hospitals accept it, as they typically know that they’re not going to get into fights with the government over whether or not they’ll get paid. Seniors thus don’t have a lot to worry about — they can go to the doctor whenever they need and get the care they require.

All that, for a Medicare Part B premium of a mere $96.40 per month. That’s roughly 1/10th of the premium my [large multinational] employer pays for my healthcare, and smaller than the additional portion I pay out-of-pocket for coverage of my wife and kids.

Does anyone think that the $96.40 premium covers the cost of insuring the average senior? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t be calling it an “entitlement” or worrying about the unfunded liabilities of Medicare going out over the next few decades. We wouldn’t be getting hit as workers with 2.9% of our incomes taken in taxes to pay for the Medicare system.

So are seniors pleased with the system they have? They get cheap premiums and adequate care, all on the backs of the taxpayers. Who wouldn’t be pleased?

Control Without Responsibility

At Cafe Hayek, a letter to the editor by Andy Morriss to the Wall Street Journal is posted:

Holman Jenkins asks “Does Obama Want to Own the Airlines?” (Business World, July 8). I am sure he does not. Rather than own them, the president and his congressional allies want to control the airlines — a crucial difference as ownership implies taking responsibility.

As Mr. Jenkins notes, the Justice Department’s belated intervention against Continental’s efforts to join the Star Alliance appears aimed at extorting concessions for the Democrats’ union allies. That is not the action of an owner of airline assets but of someone determined to redistribute wealth from airline passengers and shareholders to favored special interests.

One of the many benefits of free markets is that the people who own something are the ones who experience the benefits or losses accruing from their use of it. When considering how some property is going to be used, an owner and non-owner may have very strong opinions. The non-owner, who has less to lose, will be less careful and prudent in their decisionmaking. Moreover, often the non-owner will gain more from the misuse of the item than from its prudent use.

One does not have to look to hard to see this phenomenon in action. The attempt by GM to close dealerships, and thus reduce its losses was overridden by Congressmen interested in using GM’s wealth to buy votes by keeping the dealerships open. And that is one example of literally millions of instances that take place every year from all levels of government.

Obama, leading democrats and some very influential economists have repeatedly expressed the idea that increased government control of the medical industry would reduce costs without sacrificing quality. In their vision selfless government officials will ensure that people receive high quality treatment regardless of the cost, while the market power of government as a customer will ensure that costs will stay low. Against this charming vision stands a great body of evidence from public choice theory; government officials – or their private counterparts in the private-public partnerships in vogue today – will be able to exert control without any consequences. Just as medicare and medicaid administrators proved willing to authorize higher and higher treatment prices – to the point where it threatens the budget of the federal and nearly every state government – the administrators of any new government program will behave in similar uneconomic ways.

Control without responsibility is a very bad idea.

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.

Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do

THIS BOOK IS BASED on a single idea: You should be allowed to do whatever you want with your own person and property, as long as you don’t physically harm the person or property of a nonconsenting other.

Thus begins a book that everyone interested in politics should read; Ain’t Nobody’s Business If You Do: The Absurdity of Consensual Crimes in a Free Country by Peter McWilliams.  Published in 1998, it is a damning survey of how the United States had become a state composed of “clergymen with billy-clubs”.  It analyzes the consequences of punishing so-called victimless crimes from numerous viewpoints, demonstrating that regardless of what you think is the most important organizing principle or purpose of society the investigation, prosecution and punishment of these non-crimes is harmful to society.

This remarkable book is now posted online, and if one can bear to wade through the awful website design, one will find lots of thought-provoking worthwhile commentary, analysis, theory and history.

His final chapter, on how to change the system, while consisting mainly of pie-in-the-sky, ineffective suggestions of working within the system, starts of with an extremely good bit of advice that I urge all our readers to try:

The single most effective form of change is one-on-one interaction with the people you come into contact with day-by-day. The next time someone condemns a consensual activity in your presence, you can ask the simple question, “Well, isn’t that their own business?” Asking this, of course, may be like hitting a beehive with a baseball bat, and it may seem—after the commotion (and emotion) has died down—that attitudes have not changed. If, however, a beehive is hit often enough, the bees move somewhere else. Of course, you don’t have to hit the same hive every time. If all the people who agree that the laws against consensual crimes should be repealed post haste would go around whacking (or at least firmly tapping) every beehive that presented itself, the bees would buzz less often.

I highly recommend this book.  Even though I have some pretty fundamental disagreements with some of his proposals, I think that this book is a fine addition to the bookshelf of any advocate of freedom and civilization.

Hat Tip: J.D. Tuccille of Disloyal Opposition.

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.

Mother Jones Takes on the War on (Some) Drugs

The July/August 2009 issue of the Left-leaning Mother Jones dedicates several articles to the asinine War on (some) Drugs.
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The title of the magazine’s cover story states it best – “Totally Wasted: We’ve blown $300 billion. Death squads roam Mexico. Cartels operate in 259 cities. This is your War on Drugs. Any Questions?”

Reason’s Nick Gillespie points out that there are many areas that libertarians would disagree with (like I said, MoJo is a Left-leaning publication) but I think it’s good to expose a new audience to the failure that is this nation’s drug policy. From there we can debate the best way to bring the War on (some) Drugs to a conclusion.

California’s problem is taxation

Instapundit links to a NYT Magazine propaganda piece about governing California, and the part about taxation reads as if it were written by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, right down to euphemistically renaming taxes “revenue”:

In the view of many, the origins of the mud slog began with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978, the landmark referendum that capped property taxes. “Over 50 percent of our revenue is dependent on personal income tax, and that’s a very important part of explaining the boom-and-bust cycle,” according to another Republican candidate for governor, Tom Campbell, an immaculately credentialed policy marvel who graduated from Harvard Law School magna cum laude and who later studied under the conservative economist Milton Friedman before going on to represent Silicon Valley for five terms in the United States Congress.

This dependence on income tax was the first thing Dianne Feinstein mentioned when I asked her to assess California’s problems. “In most states, it’s one-third property tax, one-third sales tax and one-third income tax,” Feinstein said. “It’s 55 percent income tax in California. And 45 percent of that comes from the top brackets.”

When the economy is booming, the stock market soaring and jobs abundant, relying on income taxes is not a problem. That was the case in the years after Schwarzenegger first became governor in 2003, and he was hailed as a “postpartisan” leader who cut taxes and appealed to Democrats by aggressively tackling issues like global warming. But in today’s cratering economy — in which California faces a decline in personal income for the first time since 1938 and unemployment sits at 11.5 percent — the state’s coffers have shriveled up quickly, along with the governor’s popularity.

Passing a budget or increasing revenues in California is dicey in the best of times. The state constitution requires that two-thirds of the Legislature agree on a budget or higher taxes — the kind of overwhelming political consensus, in other words, usually reserved for amendments to the federal Constitution. (California is one of just a handful states that require a two-thirds vote to pass a budget.)

These words were written not by Speaker Bass, but rather by the Times’ own Mark Leibovich. He gets some of the facts right, but draws from them a woefully wrong conclusion. Where Liebovich sees a state that would be better off if only politicians could increase property taxes without limit or one party had total control of the budgeting process, I see a state that manages to overtax its citizens despite some pretty robust taxpayer protections in the state constitution. What’s the difference between me and Mark Leibovich? I actually have to pay for the excesses of Sacramento.

Let me list out for you the taxes and fees I remember having to pay in the last year:

  • Income tax
  • Sales tax
  • Property tax
  • Gas tax
  • Vehicle License fee

This doesn’t include the various line items about government surcharges and fees on every utility bill I pay, some of which I’m sure is attributable to the state. Even so, the taxes and fees I listed above still amount to about 25% of my income. On top of the 30% of my income that goes to Washington D.C., that’s more than half my income.

You might think that such a fate could only happen to someone who was rich enough not to worry about only having 55% of his income go to Washington and Sacramento. You’d be wrong. I’m very solidly in the middle class, and it would be even harder making ends meet if California’s political class could force me to surrender even more of my hard-earned income. I hear the same from nearly everyone I know.

I’m a Californian, and I pay more for government than I do for anything else. From the perspective of a citizen, California’s problem is taxation–too much, not too little.

Hackers interpret idiotic government restrictions as damage…

…and route around them

By the by, for those who don’t get the reference, it’s a paraphrase of a quote from John Gilmore – “The internet interprets censorship as damage, and routes around it”

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

Charles Lynch Sentenced to 1 Year and 1 Day in Prison

Read the news story here and reason‘s coverage here. The video below is Lynch’s response:

While I’m not happy that Mr. Lynch is doing time for legally dispensing marijuana under California’s compassionate use law, he certainly could have received a much harsher sentence (up to 100 years). U.S. District Judge George Wu should be commended for finding an exception to the 5 year mandatory minimum sentence and reducing it to a relatively reasonable sentence of 1 year. That’s probably the best he could do under the circumstances.

There is however, one person who can correct this injustice perpetrated by the Bush Justice Department: President Obama. I urge all those who support the Tenth Amendment to join me in calling on President Obama to pardon Charles Lynch. Federalism is a much larger principle in this case than medical marijuana or even the war on (some) drugs. The State of California (whether one agrees or not with using marijuana for medicinal purposes), passed a law the federal government did not like. This law does not violate the U.S. Constitution and is, therefore, beyond the reach of the federal government according to the Tenth Amendment.*

Furthermore, President Obama and his Attorney General Holder have both said on several occasions that the federal raids on these dispensaries would end provided the operators are not violating both state and federal law. A full pardon of Charles Lynch would go a long way toward reversing a bad policy from the previous administration.

» Read more

Is The “Public Plan” True Market Competition?

I’m not sure if this is a case of drinking too early in the day or willful dishonesty, but I can’t quite understand why Ezra Klein would misrepresent his opposition this badly:

I’ve been trying to figure out how to make this sound like more than a cute argument, because I think it’s actually a point my conservative friends should seriously consider.

In general, there are two ways for firms to adopt an idea. The government solution — the socialist solution — is to impose it on them by legislative fiat. An example would be Congress passing a law that makes selling New Coke illegal. The other path is through market competition. Plummeting revenue and rising market share for Pepsi convince the Coca Cola company that selling New Coke is a bad plan and they should cut it out.

It is perhaps evidence of the triumph of market-based ideas that the public plan falls pretty decisively on the right edge of that spectrum. The idea here is that the public plan will adopt effective reforms that will then lower its costs and improve its quality. In response, the private market will follow suit.

The conservative argument against a public plan is NOT that the plan will be too effective, too efficient, and too low cost for private insurers to compete.

The argument is that government will unfairly stack the deck against private insurers through outright subsidies or disparate regulatory regimes, while artificially presenting a lower end-user cost to the insured. Essentially we think they’ll keep premiums low by subsidizing the program on the back end through tax dollars.

The government has proven time and time again that it doesn’t like to compete on fair terms. When you can tax your competitors and take revenues out of their profits to subsidize your costs, you don’t have to compete on fair terms.

Menu Planning With CSPI

It must be getting close to lunchtime… I want to go eat ALL OF THIS!

South Beach Diet Friendly!

This is a Cheeseburger in Paradise!

Take Applebee’s Quesadilla Burger.

Heaven knows, it’s tough to put a new spin on burgers. And quesadillas—two largetortillas stuffed with cheese—have made it big on appetizer menus.

Mix them together and you’ve got the Quesadilla Burger—a beef patty plus cheddar cheese, pepper-Jack cheese, bacon, Mexi-ranch sauce, pico de gallo, and shredded lettuce tucked into two white-flour tortillas.

With fries (440 calories), your platter comes to 1,820 calories and 46 grams of saturated fat. (“Add chili & cheese to your fries for $1.49,” says the menu. Let’s not even go there.)

Now, as you might expect, I’ve got some ideological differences with the folks at CSPI. They’d probably prefer to outlaw food like this, while folks like me — genetically blessed with low cholesterol — understand that eating this type of meal once in a blue moon is not that bad. I certainly don’t blame them for highlighting just how unhealthy this meal truly is, disagreeing with them, though, on their proposed menu labeling laws. But when it goes to the inevitable next step (the “fat tax”), we’re going to have major issues.

But I have to give CSPI some credit. They sure know how to make a guy hungry!

Hat Tip: Ezra Klein

The Nanny State vs. The Family, 2009 Edition

Out in Minnesota, there’s a case pending that tests the limits of individual rights, religious liberty, and the state’s role in “protecting” children.

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A Minnesota judge is expected to decide whether a family can refuse chemotherapy for a 13-year-boy’s cancer and treat him with natural medicine, even though doctors say it’s effectively a death sentence.

With chemotherapy, Daniel Hauser has a 90 percent chance of surviving his Hodgkin’s lymphoma, according to his cancer doctor. And without it?

“It is almost certain that he will die,” said Dr. Bruce Bostrom, a pediatric oncologist at Children’s Hospital and Clinics of Minnesota. Bostrom, who diagnosed the disease, is an ally of the legal effort in southwestern Minnesota’s Brown County to make Hauser submit to chemotherapy even though he and his parents believe it’s potentially more harmful than the cancer itself.

District Judge John Rodenberg was expected to rule Friday on Brown County’s motion.

Bostrom said Daniel’s chance of survival without chemotherapy is about 5 percent. Nevertheless, parents Colleen and Anthony Hauser are supporting what they say is their son’s decision to instead treat the disease with nutritional supplements and other alternative treatments favored by the Nemenhah Band. The Missouri-based religious group believes in natural healing methods advocated by some American Indians.

This case is similar to one that made headlines here in Virginia, and around the country three years ago when a Chesapeake County Judge was faced with deciding whether then 16 year-old Abraham Cherrix, who was suffering form the same form of cancer as Daniel Hauser, should be forced to undergo chemotherapy. After a Court fight that lasted nearly two months, the case was settled and Cherrix was ultimately permitted to refuse the undergo chemotherapy. His case, however, led to a change in Virginia law which gives children the right to refuse to undergo medical treatment after they reach the age of 14.

Of course, Abraham’s Law, as it came to be called as it made it’s way through the Virginia Legislature, wouldn’t really apply in Hauser’s case since he’s under 14, and it’s age that is one of the major factors that distinguishes this case from the Cherrix case. Is a 13 year old really mature enough to understand the implications of a decisions that could very well result in his death ? Is he really making the decision on his own, or is he being influenced by his parent’s rather unorthodox religious beliefs:

The Hausers, who are Roman Catholic, have eight children. Colleen Hauser told the New Ulm Journal newspaper that the family’s Catholicism and adherence to the Nemenhah Band are not in conflict, and said she has treated illness with natural remedies her entire life.

Nemenhah was founded in the 1990s by Philip Cloudpiler Landis, who said Thursday that he was one-fourth American Indian. Nemenhah adherents are asked to pay $250 to be members. “We’re non-dogmatic, a very universal faith,” Landis said.

Landis said he founded the faith after facing his diagnosis of a cancer similar to Daniel Hauser. He said he treated it with diet choices, visits to a sweat lodge and other natural remedies. Landis also once served four months in prison in Idaho for fraud related to advocating natural remedies.

So, the Hauser case seems to be a much closer call that the Cherrix case was, but I think the default position should be the same as the one I stated when I first heard the name Abraham Cherrix:

It seems pretty clear to me, though, that the state has little, if any, right to interfere in what is essentially a private decision for the Cherrix family, and specifically for Abraham. Who is the state social worker to say that his decision is wrong ? As someone who has witnessed first-hand what happens to someone on chemotherapy, its pretty clear that modern cancer therapy is often based on the hope that the chemicals being pumped into the patient will kill the cancer cells before killing the patient. The side effects are visible, painful, and often permanent. Abraham has been through one round of chemotherapy already and, apparently it didn’t work. If he chooses not to subject himself to that again, and his parents support that, that decision should be respected.

Yes, Abraham is 16 and technically a minor, but if its clear that his decision is really his, then what right does the government have to stick a needle in his arm and pump toxic chemicals into his body ? None that I can see.

Replace Abraham’s name with Danie’ls, and I think those words apply just as strongly in this case. The state has no right to force someone to put chemicals in their body, not even a child.

And what ever happened to Abraham Cherrix ? Well, after initially appearing to suffer a setback in 2007, he turned 18 in June of last year showing no signs of the Hodgkin’s Disease that had been ravaging his body for years.

Update @ 4:15pm: The judge hearing Daniel’s case has issued his decision and has ruled that Daniel must undergo the chemotherapy treatments.

C/P: Below The Beltway

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