Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Over the Fiscal Cliff with Us!

The most sensible piece on the fiscal cliff I've seen is this perceptive analysis by Ed Dolan.  (Read it!)  He makes three points that are right on target.  I concur with all.

The fiscal cliff is an artifact of the bizarre and ridiculous fight in 2011 over the debt ceiling, as well as the complete failure by politicians of both parties to give serious attention to our long run budget problem, or even to speak coherently on taxation and spending issues.  Here are two of my own points:

1. In an important sense it is impossible to cut taxes while engaging in deficit spending.  One can only transform the way in which the spending is paid for.  If it is not via formal taxation, then it's either by borrowing or creating money.  In the case of borrowing, it's ultimately then paid by future taxes, or default, or monetizing the debt (and we're back to creating money).  That's why the "starve the beast" strategy never made any sense at all, and why the fight over the debt ceiling was absurd.  Buchanan and Wagner's term, "fiscal illusion," makes the point nicely.  And conversely you cannot increase taxes either -- tax increases are again a shifting of the tax burden among potential payers.  Arguments over taxes ought to be about minimizing the distortion and harm of taxes.  Arguments about the size of the budget should be about spending and the role of government.

2. Fixing the long term structural debt problem is crucial.  Serious analysis shows that the fundamental problems are entitlement programs and service on the debt.  There are a number of reasons to think CBO understates the seriousness of the problem; for one thing, the alternative fiscal scenario may well be optimistic.  And the fiscal gap -- the present value of the difference between projected spending and revenue -- is even greater.  But even the optimistic alternative fiscal scenario is dangerous.

What to do?  Pfffttt!  I suspect 100% of what Congress and the President are doing is political maneuvering for the next election.  Most of what I've read suggests that at the last minute Congress will cobble together another short term fix, e.g. extensions of the various temporary tax cuts and AMT relief.  I suppose so, this makes sense.  But how about this for an alternative fiscal scenario: Suppose the Democrats don't budge on the offer to extend the Bush tax cuts except for income earners over $250,000, and let us go over the cliff when Republicans refuse.  What then?  Well, besides a recession, I mean.  How about next they offer the following deal: a new set of "Bush" tax cuts applicable only to those earning under 250K, retroactive to 1 January.  It would be hard to imagine how Republicans could refuse, and also how they'd avoid taking public blame for the recession.  (BTW, I didn't think up with this strategy.  It was in an op-ed I read and have now misplaced, in NYT or WaPo as I recall.)

The GOP has painted itself into a corner by adopting indefensible positions on taxation -- insisting, for example, that cuts in marginal tax rates necessarily generate economic growth, that tax cuts "pay for themselves," and similar nonsense.  Making full use of this will likely require more sense and discipline from the Democrats than they are capable of, so I suppose we'll indeed see another brilliant "fix" that delays things another year or two.

Quick update

Less blogging, more slogging.

Unforeseen Contingencies is in something of a holding pattern since the election, but not dormant... "we're" still around. I've been trying to complete first draft of a project or two before I head to the Rockies for Christmas, and on top of that training for the Beast of Burden 100 in January. Still in the works are posts on a number of topics -- the need for immigration reform, analyses of topics political and economic, and of course "our" continuing series on reclaiming libertarianism.

Unlike past years, I won't be attending the AEA meetings, but will be blogging from our hidden compound in Montana. (San Diego in winter? When I could be enjoying a subzero blizzard? Hah!)

Stay tuned.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Skeptical Libertarian

Cranking out the previous post necessitated that I read a lot of dreadful nonsense written by self-proclaimed "libertarians;" pretty depressing.  But in the course of things I stumbled across a website and blog that reminded me there are still some sane people in the world: The Skeptical Libertarian.  I'm now including them in the links to the right.

I especially recommend their piece "Why Libertarians Should Support Science Based Medicine."  It's a brilliant little piece, more eloquent than mine, and you should read it!

Reclaiming Libertarianism, Part 3 (cont.): Science works, conspiracy theory doesn't

The electoral shenanigans are over – back to serious matters. I am going to move from anti-science to less embarrassing ways in which libertarians have gone awry, but before I do there’s at least a bit more that needs to be addressed. Here are four propositions. Each of them is nonsense.

"Vaccines don’t prevent disease but rather cause disease, especially autism."

"HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) doesn’t cause AIDS and anti-retroviral medications are useless if not downright harmful."

Note that these first two statements are assertions about the field of medicine. But if they are true, they imply that the vast majority of medical researchers, physicians, pharmaceutical makers, and government officials are either deeply confused or lying. It’s only a short step to concluding they are all conspiring, for reasons of profit or something worse. Conspiracy and pseudo-science are close bedfellows. Our next two propositions:

"9-11 was an inside job."

"We never went to the moon."

Most readers likely have heard all four of these odd assertions. Again, all of them are nonsense. But all four have been promoted by organizations that claim to be libertarian. There’s some truly crazy pseudo-science being hawked under the libertarian label. I’ve documented some of this nonsense previously – Mark Skousen has had an anti-vaccine nut speak at his Freedom Fest. I’d hoped it was a one-off, just some cranky guy who happens to speak at Skousen’s gig? But no, anti-vaccine, anti-germ-theory, and all sorts of “alternative medicine” are festering among the libertoonists, along with, of course, conspiracy theories galore. And why not conspiracy theory? After all, if you really believe it’s possible to get the vast majority of research scientists, private foundations, universities, and medical professionals are utterly, systematically, repeatedly wrong, then either they must be organized into a vast conspiracy, or duped into following the conspiracy’s disinformation.  And if so, then what can’t the conspiracy do? Why not believe the moon landings were faked, the CIA (or Mossad, or Bilderbergers, or Illuminati) put TNT in the Trade Centers, and on and on and on?

I didn’t pay that much attention to this idiocy until I encountered PL and his “transcend the madness” campaign, and initially I supposed he was overstating the problem. But he’s not. There’s a real sewer of libertoonistic anti-science. If libertarianism is to be taken seriously as a political philosophy for the future, the anti-science insanity must stop.

I’ve already given libertoonists grief over climate denialism, but I can understand why one might be a climate skeptic and even, to some degree, a denialist. Climate change is a relatively new hypothesis, and it’s not something one can easily observe. In fact, personal direct observation is useless in this matter because hypothesized climate change is a global phenomenon, while personal experience is always local. Anything one personally observes is consonant with AGW and also with absence of AGW. To follow the arguments for AGW one must follow some fairly difficult and specialized science.

But some kinds of skepticism are more reasonable than others. Denying, say, the germ theory of disease would be, at this point in history, stupid. Similarly, denying other obvious achievements of modern medicine, such as the eradication of smallpox and the imminent eradication of polio would be stupid. Denying the moon landing would be incredibly stupid.

Most Unforeseen Contingency readers are likely aware that there is an extremely vocal anti-vaccine movement claiming vaccines cause autism, shaken baby syndrome, cancer, MS, paralysis, and heaven knows what else. Furthermore, the anti-vaccine crowd claims vaccination is part of an enormous conspiracy by modern medical practitioners, medical researchers, pharmaceutical makers ("big pharma"), and government. Once you’ve gone that far, it’s a short step to blaming the New World Order, the Bilderbergers, the Illuminati, and the rest of the “usual suspects.” And sure, the anti-vaccine crowd often takes that step.

But isn’t this just a lot of parents desperate for any explanation at all of their children’s problems, plus medical Luddites and con men who are scamming them? Libertarianism, on the other hand, is a philosophy of reason, and libertarians celebrate the great advances of science, technology, medicine, etc. that have occurred under capitalism, don’t they? Yes. At least real libertarians do. Unfortunately, today’s “libertoonists” are well represented among the medical Luddites.

Needless to say, Lew Rockwell and his band of loons turn out to be important purveyors of alternative medicine pseudo-science. But they aren’t the only ones. There’s a professional organization, the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons, that opposes government intervention in the health care sector, and publishes its own journal. Its writers frequently adopt libertarian viewpoints.  For example, in a recent message AAPS president Julie Madrigal-Dersch, M.D. includes a quote from Atlas Shrugged in a sidebar. Wonderful – Rand is eloquent and underappreciated, and the promotion of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government is a good thing. So is working to promote the rights and abilities of health care workers to serve patients without bureaucratic interference (AAPS opposes both government interference and interference from bureaucrats in the private sector e.g. HMO and hospital administrators). 

Unfortunately, AAPS also promotes stupid things; the organization appears to be friendly ground for a number of “alternative” medicine viewpoints. For example, here’s the TOC of one issue of JAPandS, the journal of the AAPS. Six of the seven main articles address, favorably, some aspect of “alternative” medicine. And they tend to be bad papers – mostly anti-vaccine nonsense. JAPandS is even willing to publish pieces skeptical of peer review of research and randomized experiments. It’s difficult to be more unscientific than this. Promoting freedom is important. But what the hell do opposing randomized experiments, vaccinations, peer review, and science based medicine have to do with promoting freedom?

Here’s why this stuff is so destructive. Surgical oncologist and researcher David Gorski, M.D. exposes AAPS in this post on Science Based Medicine. Read the whole thing. It’s horrific how crazy some of these AAPS people can be, and how much damage they do by claiming libertarian roots. I don’t think Gorski is always fair – so what if AAPS quotes Ayn Rand, believes federal intervention in health care is unconstitutional, and opposes Medicare, those are political positions. I likely side with AAPS and disagree with Gorski on matters political and economic, and no, evidence-based medicine can’t tell us a damn thing about them. But mostly Gorski is quite fair in his analysis and quite measured in his conclusions. AAPS presents nonsense as science, and then links it with libertarianism. Keep in mind that most readers of SBM are not libertarians but are intelligent, thoughtful, decent people, fairly well-informed on scientific matters. This is what libertarianism means, in their eyes, because it is the face that libertoonists present to the world.

Given that the AAPS also takes conservative positions on abortion, immigration, and climate change, their credentials as libertarians aren’t very good (Gorski notes this) – but that’s the problem. What’s being marketed as “libertarian” is not libertarian in any meaningful sense. Frederic Bastiat observed “The worst thing that can happen to a good cause is, not to be skillfully attacked, but to be ineptly defended.” This isn’t inept defense, but outright destruction of a good idea.

But Lew Rockwell and his LvMI boys are not to be outdone. As always, they set the standards for insanity masquerading as libertarian thought, and it is a very high bar they set: anti-vaccine propaganda (from a “natural health expert” who can also “cancer-proof” you!), HIV does not cause AIDS but an infected person might cure AIDS simply by refusing to take her/his retrovirals, bad diet won’t increase the risk of heart disease and genetic mutation can’t cause cancer (I’m not sure what this latter is about, but it is all from an M.D. who has also determined that AGW is a hoax), and, and,

Oh, while we’re at it: 9-11 was an inside job, and we never went to the moon, either. Yes, it’s the Illuminati, and they’ve been conspiring since at least the 1700s to bring about today’s New World Order, as we suspected all along.

OK, this is idiocy. Most of it has no connection at all to political philosophy and can’t possibly be an inherent part of libertarian political philosophy. Political philosophies do not include stances on the effectiveness of particular medical interventions. Political philosophies do not take positions of what does and does not increase the risk of particular diseases. And if anyone is worried that maybe Neil Armstrong didn’t walk on the moon, well, that’s a matter of history, not political philosophy. And Wikipedia can set ‘em straight.

Regular readers of Unforeseen Contingencies (there are a few of you out there, aren’t there?) no doubt share my aversion to this craziness, and I won’t waste time with refutations of all this stupidity. If you’re interested in vaccine and other medical issues, Science Based Medicine is the place to start – it features excellent posts that include citations to actual medical literature and serious scientific research (albeit peer-reviewed randomized trials, shudder). If you’re seriously wondering about conspiracies, the two things to read are The Illuminatus Trilogy by Shea and Wilson, and Foucault’s Pendulum by Umberto Eco. If you are convinced that 9-11 was an inside job, well, all I can say is good for you. You have a remarkable ability to combine creative imagination with unusually shallow thought.

There are two kinds of harm in all this: First, it discredits libertarianism in the eyes of well-informed, intelligent people. Half-baked “refutations” of scientific work on vaccines, HIV, climate change, etc. are utterly unconvincing to anyone familiar with science. The more one knows, the more ridiculous these things become. And if ridiculous things are presented as being what libertarianism is, then libertarianism becomes ridiculous.

Second, it also misleads the gullible. No doubt the gullible should be more critical, but a large share of people falling for the stuff spewed by LvMI et al. seem to be well-meaning college aged kids and laypeople who have sensible concerns about the growth of state power but not-so-well-developed critical thinking skills. Linking these crazy doctrines to the ethic of liberty makes a nicely comprehensive story, but teaches dreadful thinking skills. People who fall for this nonsense are frequently young people on their own for the first time in their lives, perhaps developing their own distinct viewpoints also for the first time in their lives. Instead of teaching them careful reasoning, self-reliance, and strict respect for others rights, the libertooninsts inspire incredibly sloppy reasoning, a paranoid worldview, and contempt for all of us sheeple who fail to see how it “all fits together” and instead fall for "the official version of events."

Here’s an example of what I mean. One of LvMI’s finest, Tom Woods, laments libertarians who are skeptical of pseudo-science and conspiracy theories. His post is not worth reading, but the comment section illustrates what I am talking about – there’s hardly a conspiracy theory his followers won’t defend. A line in one of the comments says it all:

“Being a libertarian almost requires rethinking nearly everything that you were taught throughout the course of your life.”

No it doesn’t! You don’t have to rethink mathematics. You don’t have to rethink biology, or physics, or medical science, or epidemiology, or engineering. You don’t have to rethink historical facts. You don’t have to rethink economics.

Sure, you might have to rethink economic policy or how you evaluate historical events, but not all of medicine, science, and reality.  Libertarianism is a political philosophy, it’s an “ought,” a set of values, not a complete worldview. Reality is reality. Let’s stop the madness.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Express Your Enthusiasm for President Obama's Reelection!

Politics should always be fun, shouldn't it?  While the administration and the left are rejoicing at their overwhelming mandate (almost 20% of Americans voted for Obama, while only about 19% voted for Romney! -- overwhelming support!), pro-liberty readers of Unforeseen Contingencies are encouraged to let the Whitehouse know how excited they feel about another four years of "hope and change," or "forward," or whatever the heck it is they have planned for us.

And there's an easy way you can do that.  The Whitehouse itself has established We the People, an online petition generator, and promises to give a response to any petition receiving at least 25,000 signatures within a stated time window.  Since the election, petitions have been filed asking that at least nineteen different states be allowed to peacefully secede from the Union.  The Louisiana and Texas petitions are already well over halfway to the 25,000 threshold.  Please, feel free to let Obama and co. know how much you appreciate all they do for you: sign these, plus the one for your home state if there is one.

Sure, nothing will actually come of these petitions (unless signing them gets us on a list we'd rather not be on*), but it is always nice to let our "civil servants" know how much they are loved.  Sign away!

(Note: More blogging and responses to comments upcoming, after I catch up with work.)

*The petition asking the President to create a "Do Not Kill" list that Americans could join to avoid summary execution failed to get 25,000 signatures.

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Election Analysis: Something I Missed

"Show me your papers!"

In my haste to let the religious right have it, I missed something important that suggests the GOP problem is deeper than just religious nuttery: the GOP has systematically refused to address immigration issues seriously.  Worse, they've adopted nativist hostility to immigrants and treat immigration as purely a law enforcement issue, one in which "suspicious looking people" need to be ready to show their papers at any point.

Hispanics voted almost 3 to 1 for Obama over Romney.  Anyone surprised by this wasn't paying attention.  In a number of Republican forums this past year Hispanic politicians and party activists -- all GOP members -- voiced frustration that the primary campaigns were making it difficult for them to feel they had a place in the party.  Recall that the one and only intelligent thing Rick Perry said in his entire campaign was that children of illegal immigrants ought to be able to attend college at in-state tuition rates, since it was better that they be educated and productive rather than welfare cases.  It's also the only thing for which conservatives raked him over the coals.

Hispanics are about one sixth of the U.S. population and account for more than 50% of population growth.  Good luck selling them on the idea that Spanish accents and not-quite-white skin are cause for further police inquiries.

In fact, illegal immigration ought to be something conservatives support.  The primary reason people enter the country illegally is to work. Serious academic work dating at least to Julian Simon's excellent book (available here for free!) have found that immigration, including illegal immigration, is on net beneficial for an economy.  Immigrants work harder and take less in government benefits.  Their work raises wages for non-immigrants.  They have higher rates of entrepreneurial activity.  In the recent financial crisis, illegal immigrants who were subprime borrowers had far lower rates of mortgage default than citizen subprime borrowers.  One would suppose that these would be the sort of people one would want to welcome, not drive away.  One would think these people would be prime constituents for a free market message.

Certainly there are problems of crime, of crowding of public services, etc. associated with immigration, but many of these are at heart problems of the welfare state, rather than immigration.  Fixing these makes sense; fixating on immigration doesn't.

If the nativists got everything they wanted on immigration -- iron control over impervious borders, strict limits on who can enter, and deportation of 100% of all illegals -- no important economic or social problem would be solved and the economic situation would be worse, not better.  But this wish list is impossible; economic forces cannot be legislated away, and neither can the human spirit.  The current Republican position on this issue is best described as stupidity, and one more reason they drove away potential voters.

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Good news from the elections!

Yes, there's the bad news of a second term for Obama, but a Romney victory would only have been marginally better.  On the other hand, there is some genuinely good news for liberty.  In every state in which a same sex marriage issue was on the ballot, the cause of individual rights for gay people won.  In Maine, Maryland, and Washington, ballot initiatives were passed that permit same sex marriage.  In Minnesota, an initiative to ban such marriages was voted down.

This is great news for three reasons.  First, gays and lesbians have the same rights as anyone, and ought to be free to choose their marriage partners.  This is something deeply personal and neither the state nor "society" has any authority to interfere.  Besides, the legal prohibitions on same sex marriage are based on religious doctrines rather than individual rights, and have no place in a free society.  Social conservatives pretend to care about social stability, but do not -- they try to prevent gay people from forming stable and permanent relationships and in reality are simply attempting to mandate their religious ideas.

Second, this takes away the whiny argument from conservatives that recognition of the rights of gay people is just a lot of liberal judicial activism and contrary to the will of the people.  In four very different states, the overwhelming will of the majority is to recognize the rights of everyone, regardless of sexual orientation.  Most Americans have no interest in the culture wars, or if they do, they are against those lunatics who want to reform the law to match the Old Testament.  The religious right has a built-in tendency to be oblivious to reality, but hopefully other sorts of conservatives will catch on and start shedding the religious right.  We could use a sane opposition to progressivism and the Democratic Party in America.

Third, this outcome has a broader implication -- social conservatism is a dying doctrine and an electoral dead end.  This is further corroborated by the overwhelming defeats of Republicans Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin in U.S. Senate races in the red states of Indiana and Missouri.  Both were expected to win handily.  But their radical anti-abortion stances, the callous, dangerous, and crazy way they regarded rape, turned the majority of voters -- and most of the country -- against them.  The radical anti-abortion crowd should take note.  (I've not blogged on abortion, but the idea that human life begins at conception is silly from the standpoint of biology, arbitrary from the standpoint of philosophy, and dangerously insane from the standpoint of law.  And it's unbiblical besides.)

I argued this past March that social conservatism would cost Romney the race, and I think I'm right.  I also argued that social conservatives would not learn a thing from this, and that's already proving to be right.  I'm hoping that conservatives who are actually interested in smaller government and freer markets (there must a few somewhere) will kick the religious right out.  Let 'em go off to the Constitution Party or some similar nuthouse.

I can't help but think that conservative Republican Barry Goldwater would have been relatively happy with this election.  He certainly would have opposed the Democrats' continued expansion of the welfare state, but as he also argued:

"It’s time America realized that there is no gay exemption in the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence."

That's now happening.  Goldwater also said:

"Today's so-called 'conservatives' don’t even know what the word means. They think I’ve turned liberal because I believe a woman has a right to an abortion. That’s a decision that’s up to the pregnant woman, not up to the pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right. It’s not a conservative issue at all."


"Religious factions will go on imposing their will on others unless the decent people connected to them recognize that religion has no place in public policy. They must learn to make their views known without trying to make their views the only alternatives."

Maybe at some point these will happen too, and the GOP will kick the Taliban from their midst and return to some semblance of reality.  In the interrim, anyone interested in individual liberty does have something to be happy about in this election.

Unforeseen Contingencies Calls It! Some Analysis...

In December of last year "we" predicted that Barack Obama would narrowly defeat Mitt Romney in the race for president.  Our guess scientific econometric forecast that Romney would be the Republican candidate was based on some extremely sophisticated data analysis and modeling.  We also noted that Romney was the only one with organization and money, and that he was the only one left in the race who wasn't an overt kook.

That Obama would win narrowly was a harder piece of the prediction, but given his position as incumbent, the relative peace within the Democratic Party, the boringness of Mitt Romney, and the ability of Republican social conservatives to scare the hell out of the rest of us, plus a lot of extremely sophisticated data analysis and modeling, we concluded Obama would have the edge.  We were right.

(I should note that so far we are batting 100% on our end-of-year predictions!)

Further analysis: I think it's obvious that Republican social conservatives were instrumental in Obama's victory.  The race was extremely close; Washington Post lists Obama as having a bare majority of the vote at 50.4%.  Obama appears to have done much better among women voters, despite Romney's apparent earlier gains with women, and more women voted than men.  Religious maniacs like Richard Mourdock and Todd Akin, with their talk of "legitimate rape" and how it's God's will if a woman is raped and becomes pregnant, well, they are simply scary.  In a tight race, it only takes a small number of people to react to such madmen to make a difference.  (BTW, the nutty Ron Paul was the one to get this idiocy started with his "honest rape.")

I'll cover the destructiveness of social conservatives further in another post, but for now I'll simply note with delight that now we are assured it's God's will for Obama to have been reelected, and hence it also appears God is on the side of Unforeseen Contingencies' predictions.  Now it's off to the stock market!

Photo: a rare shot of Unforeseen Contingencies chief blogger Charles N. Steele hard at work in the Unforeseen Contingencies econometric forecasting lab.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Election 2012 in Pictures

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Election Endorsements

So far as I know, the parts of McCain-Feingold that tried to criminalize the making of election endorsements on blogs and other unauthorized venues have long since been struck down or repealed, taking most of the point and all of the fun out of making such endorsements.  It's mostly inertia that's driving me to make any endorsements at all; that, plus it's a good opportunity to post my favorite bumper sticker of the election (right).

OK, here are some endorsements:

President: Gary Johnson (L) is far and away the best candidate in the running for president.  He's running with the Libertarian Party, which unfortunately entirely abandoned libertarianism four years ago with the cranky Barr-Root conservative ticket.  I have no particular love for the LP, but Johnson actually is a libertarian, and seems to sane as well.  (These days, you have to check.)

Of course, voting for Johnson is "throwing your vote away" because he won't win.  But then, voting for any losing candidate is "throwing your vote away," because it didn't matter.  Of course, voting for a winning candidate is also "throwing your vote away," unless the margin was so close your vote mattered.  So if you prefer literally to throw your vote away by not voting, I endorse that too.    But if you must participate in the battle of the two evils, Mitt Romney is definitely the lesser evil; while neither Romney nor Obama is any good, Obama and his party are far more likely to make fundamental changes in our political system that will speed our decline into totalitarianism than are Romney and his Republicans.  I won't make that case here, but if you are interested, I've laid it out fairly carefully in an debate with Gennady Stolyarov in his Rational Argumentator.  Here is Stolyarov's initial challenge, next my two part response (part one here)  (part two here).  Then Stolyarov's rebuttal part one and part two, and my final shot.

In the end, it doesn't matter that much, because the only votes that matter are those of a handful of voters in swing districts in swing states, and of course the Electors of the Electoral College.

But there are other races.  As is my habit, I'll continue to Montana politics.

U.S. Senate: Dennis Rehberg (R) gets the UC endorsement.  Six years ago I predicted and then celebrated the victory of John Tester (D) over corrupt incumbent Conrad Burns (R).  Of all the arguments I heard for Tester in that campaign, my favorite was, "might as well vote for Tester, it will take him at least a full term to become as corrupt as Burns."  Prescient words.  Tester is ranked as the number 1 recipient of lobbyist funds in the U.S. Senate, and number 2 among all politicians, even beating out Barack Obama.  Only Mitt Romney beat him out ("yay, GOP, we're number 1!")... but Romney isn't an elected official in this go-around.  Tester's opponent, Denny Rehberg (R), has been in the House for some time, and has been pretty good.  He's unfailingly opposed gun controls, introduced legislation to block the NDAA authorization of permanent detention without trial, and seems to be about as good as we'll get.  There is a candidate from LP, Dan Cox, who appears to be a constitutionalist rather than a libertarian, so far as I can tell.  That's fine, but he has no chance of winning, and Rehberg is much more likely to oppose Obama's second term plans than Tester is.

OK, I have no Montana readers, so I'll not belabor the rest of the races.

Montana does have a number of citizen ballot initiatives.  Most of them this time around are ill-considered, but one deserves special attention: Initiative No. 166.  The core of this initiative is that "corporations are not entitled to constitutional rights because they are not human beings..."

Wow!  Insane?  Evil? Stupid?  Heck, it's all three!  And potentially terrifically destructive besides!

Montana law carefully distinguishes between individuals (human beings) and legal persons (individuals plus other entities such as corporations.  Individuals are a subset of persons, of course.  Not all individual rights pertain to persons; this is all laid out in law and in decisions by the Montana Supreme Court.  Corporations, which include nearly 100% of family farms, 100% of private medical practices, 100% of small businesses, 100% of churches, 100% of nonprofits, 100% of political organizations, and 100% of news outlets, do have rights under current law.  Their property cannot be confiscated without due process of law.  Laws can't be passed forbidding them from free expression.  Their property cannot be searched without a warrant.  They cannot be prevented from petitioning for redress of grievances.

This initiative would strip them of these rights.  The initiative language includes a statement that the purpose is to end corporate campaign funding, but the language explicitly strips all rights form corporations and directs government officials to implement that policy, i.e. state officials would be required to remove protections against search and seizure of property without warrant, corporations would be denied due process of law when property was seized, and there'd be no legal barriers to government censorship of the media (all TV, radio, and newspapers in Montana are corporations) or internet (most likely all ISP's are corporations).

The people behind this -- a motley collection of Democrat populists and leftists -- entirely ignored the arguments of critics in the Initiative Guide sent out by the MT Secretary of State (it contains arguments from proponents and critics, plus a rebuttal from each side).  I gather that they do understand what they are proposing but are loathe to admit it in public.  At the national level, Democrats have introduced a similarly totalitarian constitutional amendment, the People's Rights Amendment; the Montana initiative isn't just a one-off.  (I've written a blog piece on this that I'll post after the election -- it isn't time sensitive.)

When I suggested earlier that currently Democrats are more likely to push for fundamental institutional changes that will be destructive of liberty than are Republicans, this is the kind of thing I meant.

It's clear that nothing extremely good can come out of this election, but some results are far scarier than others.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

Breaking News! It's Still October!

Since October is "Reclaiming Libertarianism" month, and "we've" barely begun posting everything we're planning, Unforeseen Contingencies announce adoption of the Julian calendar, which makes today 19 October Julian, and gives us through 13 November Gregorian to finish.

We'll never make that deadline either, but it will give us time to think up another excuse (and more time for PL to get us his long-promised "Farewell to Harms").

Next up in "Reclaiming Libertarianism" will be more on science and pseudo-science, followed by a look at "libertarian history." We'll get Rothbard to roll in his grave yet!

Surviving Sandy in Philadelphia

I wrote a longish post on my experiences with Hurricane Sandy here in Philadelphia, then realized it was so boring I couldn't stand reading it, and no one loves my writing as much as I do.  Suffice it to say that nothing happened here, the few photos I took were lame (a car totaled by tree was the highlight), and the most exciting news was that I did a 15 mile run after the bad weather passed.

I'll get back to blogging soon; plenty more to post of "Reclaiming Libertarianism," plus the election and similar shenanigans.

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