Archive for March, 2012

Third World Mass Transit? You Wish!

Dave Killion — March 21, 2012

 

Over at EconLog, David Henderson shares some of his impressions of the Thai economy from  his recent 10-day trip. I was particularly interested in this –

 

“The transportation system is highly efficient. The Song Tows get you from point A to B for, typically, 20 baht, which is about 67 cents. You hail a Song Tow by holding out your hand, he stops and you tell him where you want to go, he quickly assesses whether that works in light of the commitments he’s made to his current passengers, and, if he says yes (he typically did), you get in the back on one of two parallel benches facing each other. With the Tuk-Tuk, essentially a motorized tricycle, you are the only passengers. You tell the driver your destination and the price is typically 150 baht or $5. You can fit 3 passengers, or, in a pinch, 4 passengers in one Tuk-Tuk. 

If our local governments allowed such transportation, some people, especially young people, would probably do without cars.”

Agreed. Unfortunately, public transit here is dominated by those special interests created by BC Transit (a provincial crown agency, i.e. monopoly) and the local taxi cartel, so we won’t be seeing any innovation any time soon.

Also, as Henderson was a tourist, he might have been paying above the actual going rate for locals. If so, that would mean the system is even more efficient than it appears.

Quote of the Day

Dave Killion — March 20, 2012

Lawrence Reed, president of the Foundation for Economic Education, in a recent interview

“I’m happy to say that while FEE’s core principles have never wavered in our 65 years, we are placing a greater emphasis these days on the personal character component. We believe that for a free society to flourish, it’s not enough to understand economics. Practicing the virtues of character in our individual lives is just as indispensable. Any bum can live down to the standards of socialism; all that is required is that you demand something that doesn’t belong to you and be willing to support the use of force to get it. Our challenge, if we want to be free, is to live up to the lofty standards that liberty requires. That means we must be people of character, people who put a premium on honesty, patience, humility (in the sense that there will always be a universe of information we don’t yet know or understand), courage, responsibility, self-discipline, optimism and self-reliance.”

Like Reed, it is my view that our current culture suffers primarily as a result of bad character. I have long believed that there will have to be a cultural revolution before a libertarian society can be realized, a revolution in which envy, dependency, and short-term gratification are rejected in favour of ambition, independence, and patience. Although the erosion of good character is a predictable and rational response to the welfare state and public education, if we wait for circumstances to incentivize us to change our behaviour, it may be too late to prevent disasters like Greece from occurring on a global level. It is comforting to have read “A Renegade History of the United States“, because author Thaddeus Russell provides historical accounts of Italian and Irish immigrants to the US undertaking just such a revolution, and succeeding. So long as libertarians continue to make the case for respecting individual sovereignty, we can hope for a peaceful transition.

Then You’ll Learn to Like Them

Dave Killion — March 20, 2012

The Fracking Facts

Dave Killion — March 18, 2012

Having yesterday expressed my admiration for the ingenuity and creativity of humanity, I thought everyone might enjoy an example. Here is a very nice, clear explanation of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and horizontal drilling –

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LS2YHVLkxxA

I was recently horrified to find that many members of the book club had a dim view of fracking, having heard very little of it outside of the (largely misleading) material the mainstream media offers, and having seen the notorious scene from ‘Gasland‘ in which a Colorado resident ignites his flowing tap water. Kevin D. Williamson, of the National Review Online, has also seen it, and here’s what he has to say

“The weird true thing is that water has been catching fire for a long time — “long time” here meaning way back into the mists of obscure prehistory and the realm of legend. The temple of the Oracle of Delphi was built on the site of a burning spring said to have been discovered by a bewildered goatherd around 1000 b.c., and sundry antique heathens across the Near East had rituals related to burning bodies of water. The geographically minded among you will appreciate that there are several places in the United States named “Burning Springs,” including prominent ones in such energy-intensive locales as Kentucky and West Virginia. There’s a Burning Springs in New York, too, and 17th-century missionaries wrote in awe about Indians’ setting fire to the waters of Lake Erie and nearby streams. Water wells were catching fire in Pennsylvania as early as the 18th century, well before anybody was fracking for gas.”

If you read Williamson’s whole article (and you should) you will find out that people in that particular Colorado community have been able to light their water on fire since the 1930s, and that Colorado’s gas regulators have publicly debunked the assertion that fracking was responsible for the situation. Fracking has its costs, no question, but these are minute in comparison to the benefits it makes available to us.

Looking Behind Us to See the Future

Dave Killion — March 17, 2012

Human beings have always had to struggle to acquire resources to fulfill our wants, and the creativity and ingenuity individuals have displayed in the face of this challenge have allowed us not only to survive, but to prosper. This gives me what I consider a rationally derived confidence that so long as we embrace free markets and property rights, humanity will continue to enjoy higher standards of living while restoring the environment to a less and less degraded state.

To get some idea of what that might look like, I direct you to the blog ‘Things You Wouldn’t Know If We Didn’t Blog Intermittently’ (TYWKIWDBI) and a review of the book ‘Paradise Found: Nature in America at the Time of Discovery‘ –

“When the Vikings arrived at the New World, Atlantic salmon weighed 25-50#, were 4-5 feet long, and swam in 3000 rivers.

The waters off Labrador and Newfoundland were called the “Sea of Whales” because they were so abundant. By the end of the seventeenth century, they had been slaughtered in such abundance that their bones were piled on the shorelines. “there must have been in our estimate the remains of more than two or three thousand whales. In one place we counted ninety skulls of prodigious size.”

Oysters in Chesapeake Bay were a foot in length. In the early 1600s the sturgeon were harvested: “in one day within the space of two miles only, some gentlemen in canoes caught above six hundred.” All the rivers of the east coast were thick with sturgeon – “in some rivers so numerous, that it is hazardous for canoes and the like small vessels to pass to and again…”

Humanity has, literally and figuratively, barely scratched the surface of the earth in terms of resource development. There is still untold wealth for us to create and share, and who knows? If libertarians win the battle of ideas, perhaps one day we will return to Eden.

Welfare Air

Dave Killion — March 15, 2012

Via The Province

“The B.C. government announced a pilot project Wednesday that will fly, house and clothe B.C.’s welfare recipients and unemployed should they want “very high-paying” jobs in the province’s employee-starved rural communities.”

See what they’re doing? The government is going to provide social welfare in such a fashion as to dish out corporate welfare! Northern companies are already hard at work seeking out quality employees, and providing incentives to entice them to take on these high-paying jobs. If they think someone is worth flying up, housing, training, and paying, then you can bet your boots they’ll do so. But now they won’t have to. The government will pick up the tab, and these companies will get the people they would have hired in any case, but at reduced cost. And if the government sends up people that wouldn’t have been hired without this subsidy, you can also bet the bulk of them will wash out. End result? Money shifted from the pockets of provincial taxpayers into the bank accounts of wealthy business owners. How this is supposed to help the poor is a mystery to me.

Telecom Tweak

Antony — March 14, 2012

Canada’s federal government has taken a step in the right direction by allowing some more foreign ownership in the telecom sector. It is a small, incremental, timid, and underwhelming step, but a step nonetheless. Hopefully this can pave the way for more foreign competition in Canada’s telecom sector, which remains more expensive, and lower quality, than it should be thanks to excessive government meddling.

Unfortunately, the dialogue surrounding this issue is still imbued with statist mindsets and assumptions. It is taken for granted that government policy should interfere by “creating some competition”, and “breaking up the oligopoly”. Government regulators have a plan for how they want the industry to be structured, and are imposing regulations to force that outcome. Ownership restrictions remain on the existing companies. Mergers are restricted. The wireless spectrum auction is encumbered with rules and restrictions. Companies will be forced to offer high-speed service to rural customers.

As Murray Rothbard pointed out, it should not be government’s role to determine the structural organization of firms in the economy. Whether is is better to have many small competitors, a few larger companies, or even one large “monopoly”, cannot be known by a central authority. It is simply impossible to gather the required knowledge centrally. These are problems for entrepreneurs to solve, and should not be micro-managed by government economists and bureaucrats. Questions of optimal organization of industry cannot be determined in advance, and may end up in novel or innovative arrangements that government regulators never could have predicted. All we can predict is that in a free market, with predictable property rights and unhampered by government rules, profit-seeking firms will pursue actions that delight consumers, and achieve the most efficient and productive outcomes for society as a whole.

Good Advice, and Not Just for Americans

Dave Killion — March 13, 2012

Little Criminals

Dave Killion — March 12, 2012

Via The Agitator, I see the ACLU is helping a 12-year-old girl pursue justice

“A Minnesota middle school student, with the backing of the American Civil Liberties Union, is suing her school district over a search of her Facebook and e-mail accounts by school employees.

The 12-year-old sixth grade student, identified in court documents only as R.S., was on two occasions punished for statements she made on her Facebook account, and was also pressured to divulge her password to school officials, the complaint states.

“R.S. was intimidated, frightened, humiliated and sobbing while she was detained in the small school room” as she watched a counselor, a deputy, and another school employee pore over her private communications.”

I think this little lady doesn’t know how lightly she got off. Student arrests seem increasingly common to me these days, even for things like pranks or “big-talk” that would have previously merited nothing more than a suspension. I am so concerned about the phenomenon that I no longer feel it is sufficient to advise people that they should NEVER talk to the police without the advice of counsel. Now, it is my recommendation that parents instruct their children not to talk to teachers or staff about any non-academic matter without contacting the parent first. Failure to follow this recommendation can lead to assault charges in the event of a school-yard scrap, sexual harassment charges for a wayward comment, or a sex offender label for both juvenile participants in a consensual sexual act. This is particularly important advice for minorities. So long as the public school system continues to resort to the public legal system for matters it should tend to in house, your children are at risk of falling victim to unrestrained  bureaucrats in a ravenous bureaucracy. Make sure they’re prepared.

Total World Domination

Dave Killion — March 11, 2012

Last Thursday club members were talking about what legitimate functions a government has (if any), and it was put forward that a federal government is needed to restrain both state/provincial governments and local governments. Others responded that that argues in favour of a global government to restrain national governments. And you would think that if there’s anything libertarians would be universally opposed to, it would be One World Government!  But libertarians are only opposed to coercive government. A voluntary world government would be just fine. The only example we could think of was the Catholic Church, but we didn’t spend much time on the topic. I imagine just about every other major religion would also fit the bill, and international organizations like the International Olympic Committee. Any other ideas?