Archive for February, 2012

Your Tax Dollars, Hard at Work

Dave Killion — February 29, 2012

Over at Reason.com, Shikha Dalmia writes about a recently-leaked memo revealing that the British government’s aid establishment has responded to a request from India to stop sending aid by pleading that India reconsider on the grounds that the British government has expended significant political capital selling aid to the voters, and that cancellation would cause grave political embarrassment. Dalmia points out that India currently accepts development assistance from only five countries. Is Canada one of those countries? Apparently –

“After 55 years of bilateral programming in India totalling C$2.39 billion, Canada’s bilateral development assistance program came to an end in 2006 following a change in Indian government policy regarding aid.   However, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) continues to provide assistance to India through partnerships between Indian and Canadian NGOs and multilateral programs. In addition, the Canadian High Commission in New Delhi manages the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives, to support local projects in India focusing on gender equality, human rights, and good governance. “

I think it is noxious that Canadian tax dollars are being shipped off to a country wealthy enough to have an arsenal of atomic weapons. But it gets worse. From Dalmia’s article –

“Buoyed by its post-liberalization economic growth, (India) has decided to emulate its Western benefactors and dole out money to other poor countries…”

In essence, the Canadian establishment is using your hard-earned money to look good by giving it to the Indian establishment to use to make themselves look good. This is no surprise to libertarians, of course, because we know this sort of thing is a perfectly predictable consequence of putting charity in the hands of the state.

Defending the Indefensible

Dave Killion — February 28, 2012

In the Washington Post, US federal bureaucrat Jason Ullner wants us to stop picking on him and his peers

“It seems that all I hear these days are the once and future leaders of our country tripping over themselves to denigrate the work we do. I’m tired of it, and I’m fed up. I don’t claim to represent anyone other than myself, but I would bet that a fair number of federal employees feel as I do. We are lawyers, doctors, PhD students, economists, writers, electricians, construction workers, security officers and technology specialists. We are not a drain on the national economy; rather, we are a primary reason why the United States remains as great as it is.”

Mr. Ullner goes on; first, to complain about the sacrifices he’s made and the stress he’s endured, second, to assure us he isn’t complaining. In fact, he quite enjoys his job because of the various “chills”, “thrills”, and excitement that comes from serving his country. But not because of the money –

“We don’t do our jobs for glory, or money or power. We do them — and do them well — because we take pride in our work and pride in representing the United States of America.”

But here is the problem – I don’t care what the motivations of Mr. Ullner and his colleagues are. I don’t even care if they are working hard. I only care if they are producing value. And no matter how well they do their jobs, I think most of those jobs produce less value than they consume. People are right to complain, and I hope they don’t stop just because some bureaucrats get their feelings hurt.

 

via The Cato Institute

I, Fish

Dave Killion — February 27, 2012

Researchers have invented a robot whose fish-like qualities appear capable of persuading other fish to follow them. Such a device could have some environmental benefits –

“Outside of animal behavior laboratories, remote-controlled robofish might be used to help mitigate the damage of human-caused ecological disasters.

“If accepted by the animals, robotic fish may act as leaders and drive them away from human-induced ecological disasters that are affecting life in aquatic environments, such as oil spills, and man-made structures, such as dams…”

You were probably envisioning something slightly more sophisticated.

 

My first thought was that the device may one day provide a means to ‘ranch’ fish in the open ocean, rather than farming them in tanks and pens. I imagine robot fish traveling with schools of live fish, monitoring their movements, protecting them from predators, and then guiding them back to areas from which they could be harvested. Just another wonder of the market!

Economic Feeding Frenzy!

Dave Killion — February 26, 2012

 

This clip features Kevin O’Leary from the ABC show Shark Tank. I first heard of the program from a post at the Mises blog back in July, but never watched it until EconLog’s David Henderson discussed the show last week. I have since been watching one episode after another, and enjoying it very much. The premise is that entrepreneurs get to pitch their ideas to a panel of five wealthy investors, who then grill the candidate for relevant details. The results range from rejection and ridicule to bidding wars between the investors. The show is a gripping demonstration of capitalism in action, and to call the format a success would be an understatement – there is some version of Shark Tank in each of 22 different countries, including Canada.

Watching the show, it struck me that all the investors give much less weight to potential than I would expect. Several times I have seen what I think a brilliant idea, only to see the Sharks reject it based on what they perceive as inadequate performance to date. I suppose experience has taught them to calculate the risks they take very carefully. But I calculate the risk that you will not enjoy Shark Tank to be very small, so by all means, invest a little time.

Hollow Words

Dave Killion — February 25, 2012

While searching police headquarters and all police vehicles for equipment which has gone missing, detectives found the Victoria Police chief’s loaded and holstered service pistol under the driver’s seat of his unmarked police vehicle

“Victoria Police Department policy dictates firearms stored at headquarters “must be unloaded, placed inside a locking drawer within a locked locker, and not be left unattended,” according to the statement.

Police say Graham came forward to Mayor Dean Fortin, head of the police board, and “took full responsibility” for the error, which is characterized as “neglect of duty” under the Police Act.

“Just as I expect every member of this department to take full responsibility for their actions, I take responsibility for this incident and I accept the discipline authority’s findings,” Graham said in a statement.”

For commoners, to be responsible for such an incident is to face the loss of one’s firearms license, the loss of one’s firearms, and likely the loss of some of one’s property and freedom. For a police chief, to be responsible for such an incident is to face a written reprimand. The chief may think himself noble for owning up to his transgression, and there may be some who admire his forthrightness, but in my opinion any virtue he salvages out of this incident is cheap.

Surrounded by Anarchy

Dave Killion — February 24, 2012

This clip is a compilation of the notoriously frank Chef Gordon Ramsay being rude to some unhappy customers. Please don’t mistake it for being merely entertaining, because it is also a reminder that anarchy (that is, the absence of government) is actually the prevailing condition of many, if not most, of our interactions.

In each each incident, Ramsay is confronted by customers with whom there is an assumed contract. The contract is that in exchange for payment and for conducting themselves appropriately, diners will receive some expected level of quality and service. In each case the customer complains about the breach of contract (food is no good, wait is too long, etc.), and Ramsay fails to deliver satisfaction. The infractions are arguably criminal, yet not even the victims themselves would entertain the notion of taking Ramsay to court. Doing so would be expensive and time-consuming. Ramsay has nothing to fear from the state, and yet his conduct is sufficiently distanced from the norm that most of us are amazed to see it. In the absence of state involvement, why is it that the overwhelming majority of restauranteurs never tell their customers to f*** off?

The answer of course is that when contracts are broken, there are many ways in which the aggrieved can punish the offender without having to resort to the state. In the case of unsatisfactory restaurant service, the client will simply raise complain to everyone who will listen, costing the restaurant future business. Likewise, if a client misbehaves, then they will be banned from returning to the restaurant. Note that this state of affairs is absolutely unaffected by the existence of coercive state power. Ramsay’s conduct is the exception that proves the rule, and this video suggests to me that we live predominantly in a world of anarchy, and we are all the better for it.

Hoppe on Abortion

Antony — February 22, 2012

Dave’s post from yesterday reminded me of an interesting video that I’ve been meaning to share. In it, Hans-Hermann Hoppe addresses a few difficult issues from a libertarian perspective, including abortion, parent-child obligations, and lifeboat scenarios. He also brings up a topic that came up in our last book club meeting: whether children are the “product” of their parents, and thus owned by them.

I think his arguments are reasonable. Basically, libertarian theory does not necessarily provide clear answers to many of these difficult issues, but it does guide us in how to deal with them. And I think that is the important point. Regardless of how we feel about the ethics of specific issues, we should try to solve problems through voluntary means, and without recourse to state power.

Questioning Mr. Libertarian on Abortion

Dave Killion — February 21, 2012

The late, great political philosopher Murray Rothbard has been an integral player in the formation of libertarian thinking. Reading his works has helped clarify many issues for me, but I am not certain he has arrived at the right conclusions concerning abortion. From his monumental work “The Ethics of Liberty” –

” The proper groundwork for analysis of abortion is in every man’s absolute right of self-ownership. This implies immediately that every woman has the absolute right to her own body, that she has absolute dominion over her body and everything within it. This includes the fetus. Most fetuses are in the mother’s womb because the mother consents to this situation, but the fetus is there by the mother’s freely-granted consent. But should the mother decide that she does not want the fetus there any longer, then the fetus becomes a parasitic “invader” of her person, and the mother has the perfect right to expel this invader from her domain. Abortion should be looked upon, not as “murder” of a living person, but as the expulsion of an unwanted invader from the mother’s body. Any laws restricting or prohibiting abortion are therefore invasions of the rights of mothers.”

Imagine a plane owner freely grants a passenger consent to ride across the ocean in the owner’s plane. Midway through, the owner decides the passenger is no longer wanted and is therefore a parasitic “invader” that the owner has a perfect right to expel. Expulsion will be fatal to the passenger. What is there that makes expulsion ‘okay’ in the abortion example but not in the plane example? Nothing that I can see.

I have not met many people who are so pro-choice that they feel abortion is a mother’s right at any and all points in a pregnancy even up to the moment of delivery. What this suggests to me is that there is some point during the pregnancy when a fetus becomes a human being with the right not to be killed. I have no idea where that line is, and I don’t know how that line should be determined. I doubt libertarianism has an answer for that, either. This goes a long way in explaining why there is no libertarian position on abortion. I don’t like that, but I can derive some comfort from being able to demonstrate that in a libertarian society, abortion would greatly decrease as a result of market forces. That’s not much, but for now it will have to do.

If Not a Bubble, Then What?

JMaddock — February 20, 2012

I recently came across this article, arguing that there is no bubble in Canada’s real estate market, yet concluding with a very telling prediction:

“Apart from some overheated niches in the market … we’ll more likely see home prices that simply go sideways for several years, allowing incomes to catch up.”

It seems that even though real estate prices were pushed into a bubble by too much easy credit over the last several years, politicians, central bankers, and establishment analysts still aren’t willing to admit it. Instead, they’ll keep interest rates tantalizingly low and provide even more easy credit, just to deliberately jack up other prices and make sure house prices “go sideways for several years,” rather than experiencing a correction.

But as house prices “go sideways for several years, allowing incomes to catch up,” the real value of real estate will, by definition, be going down. Thus, whichever way you look at it, Canada’s housing market is in a bubble. The government and central bank just don’t want to admit it. They’d rather transform the whole economy into a bubble to match.

One Step Forward…

Dave Killion — February 20, 2012

I’ve got mixed feelings about this

“The announcement Saturday that Foxconn Technology — one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturers — will sharply raise salaries and reduce overtime at its Chinese factories signals that pressure from workers, international markets and concerns among Western consumers about working conditions is driving a fundamental shift that could accelerate an already rapidly changing Chinese economy.”

To the extent that Foxconn is raising wages and improving working conditions because Chinese labour is increasingly valuable, I think this is great. But to the extent that these changes are coming about to appease Western hysteria, we can expect some unfortunate consequences. Why? Because Westerners talk the talk, but don’t walk the walk –

“…for that change to be permanent, consumers have to be willing to bear the consequences. When people read about bad Chinese factories in the paper, they might have a moment of outrage. But then they go to Amazon and are as ruthless as ever about paying the lowest prices.”

When wages rise, automation becomes increasingly competitive. This is fine when the market drives wages up, because workers are moving in to better jobs. But when wages are artificially driven up by things like minimum wage laws or western consumers who don’t put their money where their mouth is, less productive workers simply get pushed out of employment. To some degree, that just might be the case here –

“… Foxconn has announced plans to invest in millions of robots and automate aspects of production.” 

Perhaps someone can explain to me how creating more hungry Chinese soothes Western unease, because I don’t get it.