I just finished listening to a podcast of Episode One from the new CBC Radio One program “The Invisible Hand“. The topic is so-called price gouging, and I have to give credit to the show’s producers for taking on such a tricky and tough topic right out of the gate. Opposition to gouging is widespread, given the concern we all have for fairness coupled with the misperception that raising prices during an emergency is harmful and unfair. Despite this, ‘The Invisible Hand’ presents evidence that leaving the market to function free of government controls will produce good results.
Although libertarians will likely learn very little from this episode, CBC Radio speaks to an audience that often works hard not to hear good economic reasoning, and for that reason alone it is important for us to lend our support to this show. Please visit the site, recommend it to others, leave a favourable comment, and best of all, go through the existing comments and down-vote the economic ignoramuses and anti-social naifs. It’s an easy way to do a little good for the cause of freedom.
I continue to follow Jody Paterson’s blog, which mostly concerns her new life working with an NGO in Honduras. She recently posted about Angelitos Felices, a foster home where, in addition to the regular volunteer work she does, she does EXTRA volunteer work –
“At first glance, the place is awful. It’s dark and strangely damp, a big empty space stuffed with children and smelling like a mix of musty clothes, garbage and a whiff of excrement. I’ve started dabbing patchouli oil under my nose to help me hang in through a couple hours of being inside the place. The room where the kids sleep would be ridiculously overcrowded even if the bunks were all functional and there were enough mattresses for every bed. But that’s not the case, and I have to presume a lot of them sleep on the floor in the dank and empty space on the second floor adjacent to the bedroom.”
I am full of admiration for the way Paterson puts her money where her mouth is, but I give her a hard time on this blog because I think she typifies a peculiar and all-too-common type of blindness particular to supporters of government aid and the welfare state. In this instance, Angelitos Felices sounds like the kind of place that many folks would like to support, but the amount of money people are willing to voluntarily donate to charity is strictly curtailed by the amount of money they are compelled to donate to charity. So instead of giving voluntarily to provide food, shelter, and medicine to Honduran orphans, we are forced to give involuntarily to provide clean needles to Canadian IV drug addicts, and to subsidize food and shelter to people whose behaviour has exhausted the charitable goodwill of their own friends and family. And this is due in great part to people who, like Paterson, have pressed the government to do more and more and more. They may think that they are doing good deeds, but really, all they are doing is making it harder for us to support the truly needy.
Although I am not happy to learn that the US Supreme Court has upheld the bulk of President Barack Obama’s health care law, it pleases me no end to see that the deciding vote was not the dependably pro-freedom Anthony Kennedy, but Chief Justice (and Bush nominee) John Roberts. The Republican outrage at Roberts for adhering to his understanding of the law, rather than adhering to the Team Red playbook, is extremely satisfying.
As I wrote in yesterday’s post, there are legitimate concerns surrounding the contracting out of public services. My chief apprehension is that what governments like Sandy Springs are doing is not actually ‘privatization’, despite liberal (and often pejorative) misuse of the word. In order for a government to privatize a service, it must remove itself entirely from the provision of that service. For example, if a municipality decides to privatize rubbish removal, it simply announces that it will be out of the trash business by a certain date. It then arranges to auction off all its garbage trucks, and whatever equipment that was used for running the waste management system. After that, the only state involvement will be enforcing prohibitions against the use of force and fraud by waste removal companies and their customers.
Contracting out, on the other hand, is a form of public-private partnership (PPP or P3s) in which the government is still involved up to its elbows. When done badly, P3s can wind up merely replacing an expensive and inefficient service staffed by government employees with an expensive and inefficient service staffed by private sector employees. The consumer still has limited choice, and the supplier is protected from the market forces which would drive innovation and thrift.
Although a well-done PPP can go a long way towards easing the damage government does to taxpayers, I don’t consider ‘contracting out’ to be very libertarian. I defend them when I need to, and I’m happy to see them succeed, but I prefer to use my limited time and resources to advocate for taking services out of the inefficient and corrupt hands of the state, and handing them over to the private sector. Why settle for less?
The New York Times has a very interesting and reasonably fair article up about Sandy Springs, Georgia, an Atlanta suburb (pop.94,000) which has contracted out virtually every public service this side of the police and fire departments –
“To grasp how unusual this is, consider what Sandy Springs does not have. It does not have a fleet of vehicles for road repair, or a yard where the fleet is parked. It does not have long-term debt. It has no pension obligations. It does not have a city hall, for that matter, if your idea of a city hall is a building owned by the city. Sandy Springs rents.”
Residents of Sandy Springs seem very pleased with the way everything has worked out, which suggests that perhaps more local governments should consider a similar path. Naturally, there are those who think ‘we’ should consider whether we’re going to permit that –
“The prospect of more Sandy Springs-style incorporations concerns people like Evan McKenzie, author of “Privatopia: Homeowner Associations and the Rise of Residential Private Government.” He worries that rich enclaves may decide to become gated communities writ large, walling themselves off from areas that are economically distressed.
“You could get into a ‘two Americas’ scenario here,” he says. “If we allow the more affluent to institutionally isolate themselves, then the poor are supposed to do — what? They’re supposed to have all the poverty and all the social problems and deal with them?”
I can’t say I really understand McKenzie’s worry. It seems to me that a poor area would benefit even more so from this kind of contracting out than a rich area. Provided it is executed properly, a community would realize better services at lower costs, thus increasing the desirability of the neighbourhood. Businesses and the better-off would see good value, and their investments would spur further improvements. The next thing you know, you’ve got a virtuous cycle going on. There are legitimate concerns, and I’ll discuss them in the next day or so, but if you share McKenzie’s anxieties, you can rest easy. They won’t be happening.
I think everyone has had a holiday where they caught a cold from someone on the plane, or suffered from a few days of traveler’s diarrhea, and wound up ‘wasting’ some or all of those holidays. Wouldn’t it be nice if those days ‘didn’t count’? Well, if you fall under the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, they don’t –
“For most Europeans, almost nothing is more prized than their four to six weeks of guaranteed annual vacation leave. But it was not clear just how sacrosanct that time off was until Thursday, when Europe’s highest court ruled that workers who happened to get sick on vacation were legally entitled to take another vacation.”
I don’t know what the details of the ruling are, so I don’t want to overstate how damaging this could be to the European economy. In the least disastrous scenario I can imagine, a person who has to spend a couple days of a Mexican holiday sitting on a toilet will simply have those days counted against whatever sick time allotment that person has. The worker can then take a couple days off later on. Since the number of sick days and vacation days allotted is fixed, it should all come out even. But it won’t. I know plenty of people who almost never use their sick time, and I expect at least some of them would claim sick time lost while on vacation. That means an increase in the number of non-working days for which an employer must pay, and a loss of productivity for European employers.
Worst of all, it also means that more Spaniards are going to get long, lazy “vacations” soon. Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, and French, too. And when the rioting starts, those people will have plenty of time on their hands and nothing better to do.
I have made the case over, and over, and over again that you should get a firearm. You should get one, and learn how to use it, and then you should get one each for every person in your family, and then everybody should learn how to use each one of them. And I am repeating this advice not only because it is wise, but because it gives me an opportunity to post this –
Yes. It is exactly what it looks like: a fully functional Glock Model 21 .45 made to look like a Dewalt cordless drill. Words fail me.
Although I am the libertarianist libertarian that ever libertarianed, even I get bored reading about nothing but government’s non-stop shenanigans. When that happens, I like to see what’s new in the private sector. And here it is: the backpack vacuum –
Riddle me this: What does this device have in common with big government?
“Worn like a backpack, this is the lightweight vacuum that turns a physically demanding chore into an activity that’s as effortless as walking. Unlike traditional canister vacuums that are heavy and awkward to maneuver around floors and furniture, the backpack vacuum’s compact 7 1/2-pound canister stays flush against the user’s body, providing optimal mobility to slip into tight corners and access all spaces that need cleaning. Soft padding provides extra cushioning on the back and adjustable shoulder straps, while the unit¿s power button is conveniently located on the hose, eliminating the need to stoop to reach a switch.”
Too bad all my spare money is going towards prosecuting harmless drug users, subsidizing upper-middle class farmers, and fattening the Swiss bank accounts of third-world kleptocrats, because after having pushed an upright, pulled a canister, and dragged the hose of a built-in, I’d like to give one of these a go.
Robert Wenzel of Economic Policy Journal recently compiled a 30-day reading list designed to give anyone a good understanding of libertarian principles and Austrian economics. Each article is short enough that it can be read, understood and absorbed in a single day. The list is not designed to provide exhaustive coverage of all of libertarianism, but more of an overview of the philosophical underpinnings of libertarianism and how libertarians approach various issues. I intend to go through the list, and report on interesting articles in this blog. You can also follow along with another fellow covering the reading list on Youtube: