Archive for March, 2011

A Modest Proposal

Dave Killion — March 18, 2011

As a libertarian, I can’t support this proposal… but I am sometimes sorely tempted.

Recently Read

Dave Killion — March 17, 2011

I have been a fan of Rudyard Kipling’s work since I was a child. Having seen animated versions of “The Jungle Book” and “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi”, I came across “The Elephant’s Child” in one of my elementary school textbooks, and that led me to check out “Just So Stories” from the school library. I forgot about Kipling until my early twenties, and then rediscovered him when I picked up a copy of “Kim” that was laying around a school dorm in which I was staying. Lucky me.

Since that time, I have read and reread much of his work. Because Kipling wrote in the vernacular and because his work is very much set in the current events of his time, the first readings can be very challenging. Happily, not only are his writings freely available all over the internet, so are explanatory notes. Read the story with the notes once, and then again later without. I find it well worth the effort.

Although Kipling wrote with apparent sympathy for some elements of imperialism, I have never found him to be the cheerleader for empire that his critics claim. It is true that many of his characters are colonial politicians and soldiers depicted acting in beneficent and principled ways, but Kipling warns constantly against the costs of empire, war, and democracy, which resonates strongly within the libertarian soul.

In that spirit, let me recommend to you “Little Foxes“, a short story which not only entertains, but also gives a little peek into the way informal property rights are established and protected. You can find the notes here.

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What’s Wrong With This Picture?

Dave Killion — March 16, 2011

Over at The Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan has posted this –


He adds, “You don’t have to be a flaming Marxist to see that there’s something askew here.

Well, there is something askew here, and it’s not just that the social safety net is being starved for the benefit of the wealthy. It’s that so many people don’t realize that whenever they try to provide a safety net by empowering politicians to redistribute wealth, politicians will use that power to advance the interests of themselves and the rest of the elite.

Earthshaking Economics, Part 3

Dave Killion — March 15, 2011

There is nothing like an earthquake to stimulate interest in building codes. When a seismic event knocks down buildings in poor places like China or Haiti, media sages note that many of the deaths could have been prevented if only there had been a vigorously enforced building code. When tremors destroy buildings in rich countries like New Zealand or Japan, these insightful journalists can be counted on to remind us that no matter how many die, things would have been worse were it not for building codes. Well, thanks guys, but while you’re pointing out the obvious, how about mentioning some of the subtleties?

Perhaps you could point out that safer buildings are more expensive buildings, which means they force poor people to dedicate more of their limited incomes to shelter, and less to food, medicine, and education. You may wish to let us know that the lives saved by building codes may not outnumber the increase in lives lost to malnourishment and disease.  Maybe you could explain that politicians use the building code as a signalling device, by adding ever increasing requirements that are alleged to increase things like safety and energy conservation, but often simply raise the cost of building.

Finally, you might like to consider pointing out that people aren’t ignorant children who need nanny to look after them. Builders, consumers, lenders, and insurers have the knowledge and self-interest they need to guide them in developing building codes that strike their preferred balance between cost and benefit. And if you don’t think that’s the case, perhaps you’d like to tell us why.

Earthshaking Economics, Part 2

Dave Killion — March 14, 2011

When a natural disaster occurs there is always a concern over ‘price-gouging’. One can always count on consumer anger when there is a post-disaster rise in prices for things like plywood, fuel, bottled water, or potassium iodide tablets and personal radiation detectors. Retailers are vilified by people who don’t understand that those higher prices provide an incentive for entrepreneurs to rush needed supplies to the area. And as Mike Munger explains, these same people also fail to realize that if limited supplies of ice are sold for $8 a bag instead of $2, then people who need ice to preserve their prescriptions and baby formula are less likely to lose that ice to folks who just prefer their bottled water chilled.

I suppose it’s possible that some retailers are just greedy, but since higher post-disaster prices are beneficial, why should that make any difference? And why is it that politicians denounce higher prices as akin to looting, and promise to ‘name and shame‘ offenders?  Could it be they are no more economically savvy than the rest of us, or is it perhaps more likely vendors aren’t the only ones willing to exploit a disaster for their own benefit?

Earthshaking Economics, Part 1

Dave Killion — March 13, 2011

Natural disasters, such as the recent earthquakes in Japan and New Zealand, will almost always prompt comments displaying poor understanding of economics. One such comment takes the form of someone saying the disaster has a silver lining, because it will spur growth, while new construction and infrastructure will increase productivity and economic competitiveness.

I could explain why that’s wrong, but I could never hope to do better than Frédéric Bastiat did when he he explained the the difference between what is seen and unseen (The first 20 paragraphs are all you need to read for now). I will, however, ask this: if those people think earthquakes, hurricanes, and tornadoes bring prosperity, then why aren’t they burning down their own houses?

Bonus – I will award 10 Libertaripoints to the first person who can cite for me an example of  this fallacy  in recent news reports. Collect 100 Libertaripoints, and win a free drink!

The Subtlety of Bias

Dave Killion — March 12, 2011

The Guardian has a recent opinion article on the costs of eliminating a rise in Britain’s fuel tax, written by Caroline Lucas. Given that Lucas is a Green Party MP, I expect her view to lean in a particular direction, and it is well that the guardian should give her a voice. What I find less to my liking is the Guardian’s description of this politician as “THE UK’S FIRST GREEN MP”. Lucas is, in fact, the UK’s ONLY Green MP. So why would an allegedly objective news source describe her as the former, while omitting the latter?

Libertarian Llama

Dave Killion — March 11, 2011

Not a libertarian yet? Well, maybe that’s because you don’t know about the Non-Aggression Principle!

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Recently Read

Dave Killion — March 10, 2011

Tonight, the Victoria Libertarian Book Club is finishing up its discussion of our current title – “Democracy : The God That Failed“. The focus of author Hans-Hermann Hoppe is a comparison between the outcomes of states headed by monarchies versus those headed by democracies. People unfamiliar with Hoppe’s arguments will likely be surprised to find that he comes down in favour of monarchy, arguing that the monarch is rather like a private property owner who has a long-term interest in the well-being of the nation. This is in contrast to the short-term interest of elected officials who have control over national resources for a relatively brief time, and for whom the long haul is of no consequence. However, Hoppe is not to be mistaken for monarchist, and makes it clear that he makes this comparison only as a means of demonstrating that democracy is a particularly dangerous type of tyranny.

My principal concern with Hoppe’s position is that I don’t see how a king differs from any other tyrant. North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il ‘inherited’ his power and position from his father, and is likely to determine his own successor, yet outcomes for North Koreans don’t strike me as superior to those of Canada. This suggests that Hoppe’s theory doesn’t mesh with reality. However, Hoppe strikes me as such an impressive intellect that I can’t help feeling that I have overlooked something, and wish someone could tell me what it is.

“Democracy : TGTF” is a book that should be read more than once, and is ideally suited for re-reading. Hoppe has written so that each chapter can be read independently, so it is easy to pick up for short intervals. Even better are the prodigious number of footnotes, many of which are as fascinating as the main text, while others will send you scrambling for the referenced titles. A great deal of what Hoppe writes about race, culture, sex, and religion is potentially inflammatory, so readers should read carefully and beware against attributing positions to Hoppe that he neither holds nor advocates. That aside, I think this is an important work that thoughtful citizens will benefit from reading.

No News is Good News

Dave Killion — March 8, 2011

Of all the libertarian thinkers I read, none challenge me as much as Bryan Caplan. This post is typical –

“By and large, I think news is a waste of time.  If I want to increase my factual knowledge, I read history – or Wikipedia.  News, I like to say, is the lie that something important happens every day.”

Read the article and see if Bryan doesn’t have you scratching your head, wondering if he just might have a point.