Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Challenge to Rothbardians Everywhere

Oh boy, a contest!  Current events are too depressing these days.  Let's shift gears for a bit and move to more enjoyable matters, like one of our occasional contests (which are, admittedly, strained efforts to see if we actually have any readers).  I just happened to notice today that someone ("purplearcanist") commented on an old and infamous post of mine, one of the ones in which I critiqued some of the economics promoted by Murray Rothbard and his LvMI acolytes.  I've gone ahead and responded, probably a few years late, to purpleacrcanist's comments; I appreciate that s/he thought it sufficiently important to respond, even if I do find the responses weak at best.

One of the points purplearcanist raises is the objection that the neoclassical conditions for utility maximization are hopelessly confused because of the "incommensurate units" problem. Marginal utilities and prices are measured in different units, so MUX/MUY = PX/Pis incoherent.  I dispense with this confusion (for the umpteenth time, and I'm hardly the first.)  But this reminds me of an amusing puzzle that's vaguely related to the "incommensurate units" problem.

Suppose the following.  In your left pocket you have 10 cents.  In your right pocket you have 1/10 of a dollar.  Square each amount.  Now how much do you have in each pocket?

Readers are invited to post their answers in the comments section.  There are two categories in which answers can compete.  1. The best answer using Hulsmann's theory of units (see pp. 9-10, "Cardinality") to circumvent the apparent anomaly in the problem wins.  "Best" will be the one I find most consistent, creative, and entertaining.  My decision will be unassailable and final. 2. The first correct answer posted also wins.  I suppose that, as in the past, we'll award some sort of prizes to winners.  (Yes, real prizes actually have been awarded!)

Contest deadline: 29 July 2012, 22:00 MDT.

I suspect you'll have to be a true believer in Rothbard/Hulsmann theory to pull off a win in category 1.

Update: 1. I am heading into the mountains for a week; when I return I will judge entries, if any.  2. Someone asked me if the contest is open to anyone. Yes.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The War on Gunowners

Something I've been planning on blogging on for a while, and what better time than now, since the media, feds, and other assorted opponents of our rights to self defense and firearm ownership have their campaign in high gear after the Colorado shooting.  As I emailed a friend earlier this week, "you will never, ever, ever see in national media a news story about American civilians using firearms to defend themselves successfully, even though there are roughly 2 million such incidents a year.  It doesn't fit the agenda, which is invariably to report *only* misuse and demonize firearms owners."

The Kleck studies suggest there are are thousands of instances daily of American civilians using firearms in self defense; in most cases it isn't necessary to even fire a shot.  But when it is, note that civilians have a higher rate of stopping criminals with gunfire than the police do, and a much lower rate of accidentally shooting non-criminals.  (A citizen being directly threatened by a criminal has little chance of misidentifying who is the criminal, for one thing.)

But you'll never find any of this mentioned in the mainstream media, nor by our civil "servants" and politicians.

We're now faced with a crescendo of voices attacking -- not the criminal responsible for the murders in CO -- but law-abiding gunowers (like me), the NRA and its members (like me), and advocates of an armed citizenry (like me).  The story is that "we need and could have gun control, but the evil NRA blocks it, to our detriment."  See if you can find any other message in this AP "news" story.

I've pointed out here previously that we, not the police, are by law responsible for our own defense,  and that gun control does not work, and that armed citizens are quite effective at reducing crime.  I could belabor these points, but will not.  Instead, I'll ask the following questions of gun control advocates: why would the fact that a criminal committed a viscous vicious action make me and my fellow law-abiding gunowners the target of a hate campaign?  And why are we expected to give up our natural rights because of a criminal's actions?  And while it's the least fundamental of these questions, I might as well also ask, what do you think is going to happen when you try to enslave us?  Do you really suppose we'll submit quietly?

A number of us understand very well what this war on gunowners is about.  As Jeffrey Snyder once put it eloquently,

"Gun control is a moral crusade against a benighted, barbaric citizenry. This is demonstrated not only by the ineffectualness of gun control in preventing crime, and by the fact that it focuses on restricting the behavior of the law-abiding rather than apprehending and punishing the guilty, but also by the execration that gun control proponents heap on gun owners and their evil instrumentality, the NRA...the antipathy many liberals have for gun owners arises in good measure from their statist utopianism...."

"...The private ownership of firearms is a rebuke to this utopian zeal. To own firearms is to affirm that freedom and liberty are not gifts from the state. It is to reserve final judgment about whether the state is encroaching on freedom and liberty, to stand ready to defend that freedom with more than mere words, and to stand outside the state's totalitarian reach."

Barack Obama's administration has been pursuing a "hidden" (i.e. largely ignored in the New York Times, CNN, ABC, and similar outlets) war on firearm ownership by America civilians.  The "Fast and Furious" operation and the support for the U.N. Small Arms Treaty are notable examples.  I expect that war to become overt, with the mainstream media taking a major role -- perhaps the major role -- as anti-gun propagandists.  I wonder how they think this can end?  Compromise?  Maybe we'll agree to only give up half of our rights today (and the remainder next year).  Many advocates of gun control are simply ignorant and in need of some teaching.  But those who demonize honest gunowners are enemies of freedom, and let's be plain: they're evil.  I don't think I will be compromising with them any time soon.

Here are two more questions for gun control advocates:  According to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, 24 June of this year, two strangers, a man and woman, broke into a home in Phoenix where a 14 year old boy was babysitting his three younger siblings. The boy managed to get his siblings upstairs, and when the armed man came after them he took his father's handgun and shot the man, seriously wounding him.  The man was arrested and taken to the hospital, the woman escaped, and the children were unharmed.  So my question for gun control advocates: why do you think you are justified in proposing laws that would have left the criminals free to rob, rape and kill these children?  Or for that matter, since the theatre in the Colorado shooting was a "gun free zone," how do you feel now that your rules have contributed to a bloodbath?

Photo: Rock River Arms LAR 15 Coyote model, one of our favorites here at Unforeseen Contingencies.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Libertarian food?

And other matters.

What is the libertarian position on the truth or falsity of anthropogenic global warming (AGW)?  Here's the answer: there isn't one.

Libertarianism is a political philosophy, and as such independent from hypotheses from sciences such as climatology, biology, geology, etc.  If you Google "libertarian climate change," as you'll find more than enough climate change denial, sometimes expressed as being the "libertarian" position.  But you'll also find libertarians who believe in AGW, and discuss how it might be addressed.  It's an important point, because to suppose libertarianism is a complete worldview undercuts the one important point that libertarianism offers and nothing else does -- an argument for the protection of every human being from being coerced, enslaved, and generally treated like prey.  No other philosophical position offers a consistent defense of individual rights.  Confusing libertarianism with claims about other matters, e.g scientific issues, is wrong and undercuts the arguments libertarians make for liberty.  A similar argument applies to economics and AGW, of course.  As an economist, I have no professional opinion at all on the truth status of AGW; it's not my field.

I mention this because I've just encountered two quite separate instances of the conflation of libertarianism with scientific issues.  The first appeared on the Science-Based Medicine (SBM) blog.  During the 2012 edition of James Randi's TAM (The Amazing Meeting) in Las Vegas, one of the TAM conference speakers, Dr. Steve Novella, debated an anti-vaccinationist...not at TAM, but at Mark Skousen's Freedomfest, going on simultaneously at another conference venue.  (Wow, I considered attending both of these...had I realized i could have done it with one trip, I'd likely have gone!)

I'll state upfront that the anti-vaccine campaign is one of the craziest and most dangerous of the pseudo-scientific "health" movements.  The Freedomfest debate is covered quite nicely on SBM; suffice it to say the anti-vaccinationist loon was crushed and publicly humiliated.  But to the point here... why would a debate about the efficacy of medical treatments be a libertarian issue?  It is decidedly not!  Why would Mark Skousen include, multiple times, a kook whose shtick is that vaccines are harmful in a conference devoted to exploring liberty and free markets?  (Disclaimer: I know Skousen and consider him a friend.  He even guest lectured in several of my History of Economic Thought classes this past spring at [Dilorenzo Rule redaction] College; great lectures, btw.  I may have a word with him on this.)

Only a day after I saw the SBM post, FEE's Freeman Online featured an article telling the harrowing story of a man who has been threatened with criminal prosecution by the State of North Carolina for blogging about his successful experiences with the paleo diet -- after all, he does not have a state certification in dietetics.  He's even been commanded not to discuss diet in private phone conversations.  The first half of the article does a lovely job exposing this outrageous violation of free speech, but midstream it becomes bogged down "explaining" why the "conventional wisdom" is wrong and the paleo diet and other low carbohydrate diets are healthy.  The arguments are quite weak, IMO, but more to the point, why is this relevant?  Suppose the individual in question were promoting utter nonsense, a la breatharianism.  The political issues would be the same.  

As I suggested in a comment, the validity of the paleo diet is irrelevant; there should be complete freedom to express ideas, whether they are sense or nonsense.  Furthermore, there’s no reason to think government regulators are capable of distinguishing between the two, nor that they have an incentive to do so.  The argument for liberty is independent of the scientific truth content of the paleo hypothesis, and it is a grave error for libertarians qua libertarians to adopt extraneous baggage such as positions on AGW, vaccination, and diet.

It's important that defenders of liberty make consistent, rational defenses of liberty and avoid extraneous arguments.  The case for liberty is independent of hypotheses in climatology, medicine, physiology, etc.

(BTW, I pass no judgment on the merits of the paleo diet.  The concept is interesting, I've discussed it with an important practitioner -- even helped arrange for him to speak at  [Dilorenzo Rule redaction] College -- and experimented with it myself.  In my experience, it works almost as well as the Pritikin diet, its near opposite, and both are superior to the nonsense I've heard dietitians endorse, which is in turn superior to what I see people buy in checkout lines.  But perhaps this is a subject for another post. Photo: the noble hamburger, which fails by the paleo, Pritikin, and nearly ever other diet criterion, yet may be the finest food ever invented.)

Monday, July 09, 2012

Repeal Obamacare? Here's how...

As Chief Justice John Roberts put it in NFIB v. Sebelius, "We do not consider whether the Act embodies sound policies. That judgment is entrusted to the Nation’s elected leaders." Now that PPACA/Obamacare has passed its SCOTUS hurdle (well, it's first one at least), we're back to their judgement. Presumably the Republicans are serious that they would like to repeal the monstrosity -- but could they? Yes, and here's how.

It will first require that the GOP wins the House, Senate, and presidency. All three of these are achievable. It's likely that the GOP will keep control of the House, and they are in close races for the Senate and presidency.

Second, the Republican Senate will have to pass the "nuclear option" to end a Democrat filibuster. Lefties will howl, but they've been advocating this themselves for some time. Even former-economist-turned-political-hack Paul Krugman has called for an end to it. A.k.a. the "constitutional option," changing the rules on filibuster is perfectly within the purview of the Senate.

Third, both houses of Congress will need to repeal the act and pass it to President Romney, who would sign it.

How likely is any of this? "We"Unforeseen Contingencies estimate the chances as reasonable. A Republican sweep in the fall is possible. Whether a GOP Senate would be able (i.e. have enough guts) to change the filibuster seems less sure. But if those two things came to pass, the rest -- the actual repeal -- should be simple.

However, the chances of all this occurring are probably under 50%, which means the people of the United States will be stuck with this convoluted Rube Goldberg mass of red tape and regulation. And contrary to what PPACA advocates in the political class keep repeating, the more the bill takes effect and the more the public sees of it, the less popular it will be; it will become increasingly obvious that the thing is a poorly thought-out shambles.  But most unfortunately, the longer it is in place, the more difficult it will be to repeal it, in part because vested interest groups will become increasingly dependent on it, and in part because of the amount of auxiliary regulation and procedures that will develop around it -- two basic sources of institutional lock-in.

This would be quite bad news for the American economy in general (PPACA will prove to be fiscally irresponsible) and for the health care sector in particular, where entrepreneurial solutions and innovation will have to overcome greatly increasing regulation and political intervention. So here's hoping the repeal scenario comes to pass.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Thoughts on the Fourth of July

Happy American Independence Day!

As "we" at Unforeseen Contingencies have pointed out in the past, this is a day to be celebrated by people everywhere who love liberty, not just Americans. It's the only holiday anywhere, to my knowledge, dedicated to the proposition that individuals are superior to governments, and that individual rights trump all other political goals. Or as America's Founders put it:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed..."

This must seem a strange foreign philosophy to today's political class and their groupies, what with today's secret kill lists, economic czars, "tax" mandates to "nudge" us to conform to whatever the brilliant scheme of the day might be, fast furious attempts to demonize civilian firearm ownership, regulations upon regulations, promises of more and more government-granted "benefits" etc. The idea that today our government governs only by our consent is absurd on the face of it.

We're at the point now where it's a victory just to be able to say "when the government comes and takes your property" via a compliance order, "you have your right to your day in court to contest what government has done." That weak victory, Sackett v. EPA, is one of the bright notes from the recent SCOTUS decisions...and one of the Obama administration's 9-0 losses, incidentally. (Enjoy the Reason TV video below if you're unfamiliar with the case.)

Happily the EPA and Obama administration lost, but the doctrine that "civil servant is semantically equal to civil master" did not, and is still thriving.

Independence Day is a good day, then, to remind ourselves of the next lines of the Declaration... "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."

Happy Fourth of July, 2012!

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