Archive for December, 2012

Random Thought

Dave Killion — December 17, 2012

Intellectually responsible people have been pointing out for some time that the environmental benefits attributed to electric vehicles are overstated, given that the lack of pollutants resulting from running the vehicle are offset by the pollution produced by the coal-fired power plants that generate the electricity to begin with. However, after posting about the astonishing decrease in greenhouse gas emissions that has occurred in the U.S. (due, in large part, to fracking), I recall that much of the decrease is the result of coal-fired electrical plants being converted to run on natural gas. I think it’s quite likely that some recalculations will soon show that although electric cars are still not quite so benign as boosters claim, they are significantly better than they used to be.

Gun Control Advocates Making Careless Accusations

Dave Killion — December 16, 2012

My Facebook page has lit up with pain and rage since the Connecticut school massacre Friday morning, a great deal of it incoherent and contradictory. One particularly livid fellow insists it is time my fellow Americans have a serious dialogue concerning gun control in the U.S. He is also encouraging his like-minded fellows to join him in ‘shouting down the idiots’. Presumably ‘the idiots’ consist of people who don’t think what he thinks, and I’m not clear how he intends to reconcile his desire to shout them down whilst having a serious dialogue with them. Doesn’t matter, though.  We have been having a serious dialogue about guns for many decades, and the arguments for reason and morality increasingly carry the day. And if shouting down the opposition worked, the anti-gun crowd would have prevailed long ago.

To further uglify the matter, there are plenty of accusations against people defending gun rights, the 2nd amendment, the NRA… people like me. It seems we have blood on our hands… that we are partly to blame for the death of these children. Myself, I only blame the shooter, but if some of the teachers or administrators had been armed, it’s not a stretch to conclude this tragedy would have been at least marginally less tragic. And it wasn’t libertarians that kept those teachers and administrators defenceless.

The State

Antony — December 14, 2012

How about some Murray Rothbard with your Dubstep?

But Killing Them Is Still Cool, Right?

Dave Killion — December 14, 2012

Upcoming U.S. Manual orders  soldiers not to criticize Taliban –

“Here is a strong indicator that the Obama Administration’s crusade to appease Islam has gone too far; a  new U.S. military handbook for troops deployed to the Middle East orders soldiers not to make derogatory comments about the Taliban or criticize pedophilia, among other outrageous things.

It gets better; the new manual, which is around 75 pages, suggests that Western ignorance of Afghan culture— not Taliban infiltration—is responsible for the increase in deadly attacks by Afghan soldiers against the coalition forces.”

I find this only slightly less staggering than the fact that there are people taking part in this tragedy voluntarily.

Time Will Run Back

Antony — December 13, 2012

Book Review: Time Will Run Back, by Henry Hazlitt

Henry Hazlitt’s novel Time Will Run Back explores the subjects of capitalism and free society from first principles, by looking at them from the naive perspective of a world in which they are unknown concepts.

The novel is set about 100 years in the future, in a world in which the Soviets won the cold war. The entire world is run as a communist dictatorship with a centrally planned economy. Through a series of chance events, a young man named Peter comes to lead the nation. Peter, unlike everyone else in the society, has been raised without being indoctrinated into the communist ideology, and thus is able to approach the problems he faces as leader without any preconceptions.

The novel describes how Peter tries various methods of organizing the production and distribution of goods in society. In trying to solve his immediate problems, he keeps running into new problems as unintended consequences of his different economic interventions. These problems include both calculation problems, where the central planners are unable to obtain the information necessary to properly allocate resources, and motivation problems where the workers have no incentive to be productive. Through a series of trial and error steps, Peter comes to discover that a system of private property ownership with free exchange is the only way to properly organize an economy.

Although the book does an excellent job in its treatment of economic principles, it overreaches a bit when Peter goes on to sort out the political setup of the country. He basically ends up re-creating a democratic republic similar to the United States, but the reasoning for for this setup is not convincing. It seems contrived, and influenced by the author’s preconceptions, in contrast to the parts dealing with economic reform, in which the reasoning was logical, and various pitfalls with non-free market arrangements were well explained.

Overall, this book is well worth reading. The premise of a person naively trying to solve economic problems is an excellent thought experiment to explain the pitfalls of various forms of central economic planning. The novel was apparently inspired by Hazlitt’s reading of Socialism by Ludwig von Mises, and it does a good job of outlining the socialist calculation problem in a fun and accessible manner.

Good News That You Aren’t Hearing About

Dave Killion — December 12, 2012

If you follow the libertarian news media, you have probably already heard about this

 “In a welcome development almost no one saw coming, America’s greenhouse gas emissions have fallen to 1992 levels and are expected to continue to decline, according to the U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA)”…. “In addition to a sluggish economy and more fuel efficient cars, “fracking” has been a big driver of this trend. “Fracking” is shorthand for hydraulic fracturing, the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock. The EIA projects U.S. greenhouse emissions will fall below 2005 levels by 2040″….”The boom in domestic natural gas production has really been the biggest macro economic development of 2012 — even if the election, the fiscal cliff and various other concerns have overshadowed it.”

The U.S. was the only advanced nation not to  sign on to the Kyoto Protocol, and yet while other nations (such as Canada) have either dropped out of the Protocol or admitted that they will not meet its objectives, the U.S. will match those targets without having resorted to destructive taxes or cap-and-trade schemes.

This is a remarkable achievement, yet the media have been largely silent on the matter. There is no doubt in my mind that if the U.S. was a Kyoto Protocol signatory, and emissions were at the levels they are now, politicians (and their journalist lackeys) would be bringing the topic up at every opportunity.

Libertarians: When Might You Abandon The Non-Aggression Principle?

Dave Killion — December 11, 2012

I neglected to mention in yesterday’s post that Frederick Douglass was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Like me, you might be startled to find that the Underground Railroad still exists. No, not here in North America… but in China

“North Korea is #22 on the 2012 Failed State Index and it’s generally regarded as the world’s most repressive state. So it’s no surprise that inhabitants wish to leave. That’s easier said than done, though, as it’s a crime to leave the country without permission — and the most common way out is via the neighboring, but unwelcoming, country of China (which rejects North Koreans as criminals and doesn’t hesitate to repatriate refugees). Those individuals who make the choice to flee North Korea travel along an underground railroad — not unlike the one that brought fugitive slaves north in pre-Civil War America. It’s a harrowing and dangerous journey, one that typically requires help from human traffickers and members of Christian relief organizations, who work clandestinely and at great risk to their own lives.”

The risks faced by those who flee is tremendous, and the choices they face are harrowing to contemplate –

“Occasionally someone gets out by going across the DMZ. There have been two examples of that this fall — both North Korean soldiers who saw a chance and took it. In one case a soldier was at his guard post and shot two superior officers and ran across to the South Korean side.”

Could it be that these superior officers were themselves conscripts? Or were they more like prison guards, whose murder is justified? If they were the former, their murder by the escapee is a clear violation of the non-aggression principle. Or perhaps they fell somewhere else on the continuum between victim and perpetrator. My happiness over this one man’s freedom is tempered by the thought that he might have done something terrible to achieve it, and by my unsettling certainty that under the same circumstances, I might have done the same.

Quotation Of The Day

Dave Killion — December 10, 2012

“Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

Frederick Douglass, “If There Is No Struggle, There Is No Progress” (1857)

Thanks to the wonders of the market, you can purchase the kindle version of “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave” for $1.00, and you don’t even need a Kindle to read it. Amazon makes available (for free!) Kindle reading apps for your computer or mobile device, right here. This may be one of the most important American autobiographies, and you oughtn’t miss it.

Investment Club

David — December 7, 2012

A few months ago we added another pillar to the Victoria Libertarian Book Club by creating an investment club. The turnout has been small so far but the new group has housed many interesting conversations and facilitated a ton of learning. The group is lead by Gordon, a member of the Libertarian Book Club, and he is very knowledgable in the area of investing and the markets.

The first book we read is called How Buffet Does It (24 Simple Investing Strategies from the World’s Greatest Value Investor) by Warren Buffett. It is an excellent introduction to Warren Buffett’s investing style which is known as value investing. The chapters are bite sized and can be read in a short sitting. Packed with wisdom I can’t imagine that their are many other books out their with this much good advice on the subject. More than once I stopped while reading this and thought to myself how much sense this book makes. Its truths are simple but powerful. Here are a few of Buffett’s suggestions for long term value investing: a) Don’t own any stock for 10 minutes that you wouldn’t own for 10 years. b) Do your own research. c) Be patient. d) By business, not stock.

Moving on from value investing Gordon decided to pick Reminiscences of a Stock Operator as our next book. Although we haven’t finished this book yet I can tell it is fantastic so far. Praise has been heaped on this book from many corners and for good reason. After twenty years and many re-reads Kenneth L. Fisher of Forbes says it is still one of his favourite reads. It is a classic and well worth reading whether you are interested studying investing or not. It is about the life of Jesse Livermore, a man who began investing at a very young age in New England bucket shops. He ends up on Wall Street where he makes and loses fortunes several times over.

The Trees

Antony — December 7, 2012

This Rush song is an excellent commentary on egalitarianism.

“The Trees”

There is unrest in the forest
There is trouble with the trees
For the maples want more sunlight
And the oaks ignore their pleas

The trouble with the maples
(And they’re quite convinced they’re right)
They say the oaks are just too lofty
And they grab up all the light
But the oaks can’t help their feelings
If they like the way they’re made
And they wonder why the maples
Can’t be happy in their shade

There is trouble in the forest
And the creatures all have fled
As the maples scream ‘Oppression!’
And the oaks just shake their heads

So the maples formed a union
And demanded equal rights
‘The oaks are just too greedy
We will make them give us light’
Now there’s no more oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe and saw