Friday, April 29, 2005

How can they not understand?

(courtesy MSNBC)

These protest signs baffle me. They say things like, "HANDS OFF MY SOCIAL SECURITY!" and "Don't Privatize Social Security."

Okay, sure. I agree. I'll leave my hands off your social security. Just let me put MY HANDS ON MY *OWN* SOCIAL SECURITY! Comfortable with the government managing your retirement?? Fine with me...stay in the system, I don't care.

If you're so "hands off," then why don't you take your hands off MY MONEY? Don't privatize social security??? Why not? Let me have control over my money, and you can have control over your money (and subsequently hand that control over to the government, if you so desire).

Just let me make my own decisions. I am not a child!

Giving Americans What They Want

(The following is a response to a comments thread of this post at Liberty For Sale discussing whether libertarian candidates can succeed in winning office.)

The libertarian position on issues is often too nuanced that people don't agree with us. But I think this is all too often due in the way that the issue is framed in the eyes of the average American.

I think the average American's desire that something exist is confused with whether they want the government to provide that something. Many Americans (the media included!) simply assume that a service that could be used by many people should be provided by the government. That will take a long time to change.

But in the end, who provides the service is, to the average American, just details. While we libertarians make a big fuss over whether the government owns something or provides a service or regulates something, the average American could care less. They see taxes, health insurance, car insurance, mortgage payments, etc. all as the same type of thing.

An excellent example is publicly-funded sports stadiums. Some people are against them because they don't think the goverment should be involved, but many people (most people?) end up supporting them. All they know is that if the stadium doesn't get built, the team will leave town. They don't care if the government does it or if the team does it. They just want it done!

This is why I think libertarians still have a chance. We can put forward positive ideas (and say that we're *for* something) and still take on a populist position. As I said above, whether the government provides the solution is irrelevant to many Americans; they just want a solution. We can push for solutions without insisting (or even discussing) that the government provide those solutions and still maintain our ideological integrity.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Taxpayers' Stadium

The Agitator has a good idea for naming taxpayer-funded stadiums--calling them "Taxpayers' Field." Aside from the sure-to-arise grammatical objections over the use and placement of the apostrophe, I think it's a great idea. I'd choose the new Washington, D.C. stadium over the new Indianapolis stadium, just because Washington, D.C. would hardly even exist were it not for the "benevolence" of American taxpayers.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Government "Commissioning" Things

In this post, Tim West talks about supporting government-funded things that will yield more in benefits than in projected costs.

Okay, that's a sensible approach, and one that most Americans would agree with. The problem though, is that lobbyists for almost any program can "prove" how their pet program is cost effective. Harry Browne has already addressed this, however (see #4 and #6).

But, back to the real world. People want to vote for candidates that support things, not candidates that simply don't not support things. In other words, people running for office have to be able to talk about something constructive while campaigning.

So what's wrong with the government commissioning things to be built, owned, and managed by private companies? This is [surprisingly] what the City of Minneapolis has decided to do with a city-wide wireless internet network (I discuss this here). Instead of wishing that they'd discovered the key to making socialism successful, Minneapolis is saying, "Look, it's in the city's best interest for people to have internet access at any point in the city. It just makes sense. But we don't know the first thing about setting up such a system. So we'll call for bids from a company or many companies who have something to offer, and we'll help steer the city-wide network in the direction that's best for the city."

If private companies haven't stepped up to fulfill a need (which is the ideal situation, but doesn't always happen quickly enough), I think it's acceptable for the government to lead by "pushing." Not forcing; pushing. Governments (particularly local) can push society in the right direction by commissioning private companies to create things that will satisfy some community-wide need. Governments shouldn't own the businesses or industries whose growth they seek to stimulate; instead they can help in the development and planning of such businesses (but not with an overwhelming amount of control), and perhaps offer temporary advantages as part of the award of the commission.

For example, a city government could offer a one year, protected monopoly to the first company that builds a city-wide wireless network. After they year is up, the market is opened to competition. It's almost like a offers temporary protection from competition in exchange for an advance in technology. Sure, it's not ideal, but it gets the job done and is minimally socialistic.

Trains vs. Highways

Tim West defends the interstate highway system here.

I concede that the interstate highway system was a net positive for the US. So, in hindsight, I guess it makes sense to say that it was a "good move."

But, doesn't a government-funded system of roads essentially equal a de facto subsidization of the automobile industry? The prevalence of good roads to travel on resulted in (1) the development of a massive trucking industry, and (2) the development of "sprawled" cities, where cars are a necessity for even basic provisions. In other words, more interstates = more car sales.

What if interstates had not been developed? What would have happened to the US? Would we be a third world country? Would we not be a superpower?

Or would we be even more powerful because we weren't dependent on foreign oil to power our now-necessary automobiles? Sure, there would always be cars in America, but maybe trains would have been much bigger players in long distance commercial and personal transportation. Imagine how much more advanced rail technology would be if US companies had gone full speed ahead on train technology development for the last 50 years...

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Effective Environmentalism

Yeah, yeah, we've all heard the typical criticism of Wal-Mart. But what about this:
Bolstered by a $1 million grant from retail giant Wal-Mart, conservation groups plan to protect almost 900,000 acres of wilderness, including land stretching along 125 miles of the Grand Canyon's North Rim.

There's more:
Wal-Mart pledged $35 million to buy land equal to all the land its stores, parking lots and distribution centers use over the next 10 years. That would conserve at least 138,000 acres in the United States as "priority" wildlife habitat.

The article is here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

ISP Realism

Oooh, was I mad...I saw the headlines last night on Aaron Brown's CNN show, at the end of which he previews the front pages of newspapers. Last night, he showed the Star Tribune (the big newspaper in Minneapolis), and pointed out the headline, "Minneapolis going wireless." Ahhhhh!! Not another socialist pipedream.

But then I read the article online, and was relieved. The Minneapolis plan is very agreeable, and I think it approaches the problem of creating a citywide wireless network with a pragmatic, cost effective solution. From the article:

No tax money would be used for the Minneapolis wireless network, which would be paid for, built, owned and operated by the winning bidder on the city's proposal. That is a markedly different approach than in Philadelphia, where the city will own and operate a new Wi-Fi network.

Well, that's a relief. Now, I know government contracts are not the same as the free market, but the Minneapolis plan is a realistic way of accomplishing something that, once established, will help the city. In a way, it is sort of a market-based approach--the city needs the service, and whoever can do it for the cheapest will provide the service.

In addition to the political pressures, the city also needed an improved network that could speed up data traffic in its 47 main buildings and extend high-speed access to 300 other buildings...

The city also wanted to replace expensive cellular radio communications used by police cars with a cheaper and faster wireless data network. There also was a desire to provide broadband to an estimated 10 to 15 percent of the city's population that either isn't served by high-speed Internet access or can't afford it.

Okay, so the city's goals are two-fold:
  1. Provide more efficient communications between government buildings and organizations.
  2. Provide decently high speed internet access to those who "can't afford it."

Obviously, in a libertarian utopia, neither of the above two goals would be necessary. But, realistically, I think both of the above are acceptable...especially #1--I'm all for more government efficiency. Goal #2 is admirable, but government almost always does a bad job at charity, so I'm a bit more skeptical. Due to the nature of wireless internet, however, goal #2 can be accomplished essentially as a convenient byproduct of goal #1. So, why not?

All in all, the idea's not that bad--tax dollars won't be used to fund it (at least for never know about the future) and it won't be owned or operated by the city. This seems like a pragmatic solution, and one that's not necessarily, in my opinion, in disagreement with libertarian principles.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

ISP Socialism

Apparently, the bureaucratic busybodies in charge of Philadelphia think they can make socialism work. You see, all the other attempts at socialism that failed (Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, Cuba, China before economic reforms, basically ANY POOR COUNTRY IN THE WORLD)...they just got it wrong. All those people combined just couldn't get it right. But Philadelphia can.

You see, the City of Philadelphia has decided to get into the ISP business. Sure, the idea sounds great...high speed internet access for all at only $20 per month! No more annoying corporations to deal with. No more annoying *competition*. No, now you can just trust the government to provide with you with all the internet you need.

I mean, why do we need those nasty corporations, anyway? They only invent the technology and then market it so effectively that it becomes widely avaialable. They only wade through the morass of government regulations to still provide at worst decent service that steadily improves over time.

You don't need to be Harry Browne to realize that this Philadelphia plan is just another pie-in-the-sky socialist pipe dream fraught with unforeseen consequences and expenses that will inevitably doom the program. At its best, the Philadelphia plan will only stagnate the decrease in price of internet access, as it will essentially control the market more powerfully than any monopolistic corporation could ever dream of.

And, since the City of Philadelphia has comparatively no expertise in such technology, I'm sure the costs borne unto the city will steadily increase. When this happens, some realists will try to raise fees, and this will work for a while. But then the citizens, addicted to their below-market rate internet access, will demand a price freeze. The desperate, power-hungry bureaucrats will capitulate, and start subsidizing the service.

Meanwhile, in locales where the city hasn't decided that it's figured out what neither Karl Marx nor Fidel Castro ever could, the price of internet access will steadily drop. Ultimately, those areas without government-sponsored internet access will enjoy cheaper, higher quality service, while Philadelphia will be stuck with an aging system whose quality will be reminiscient of the abundance (or lack thereof) of toilet paper on the shelves of Soviet grocery stores during the 1980s (you remember those news reports, right?)

Tuesday, April 05, 2005


I'm all for more non-English influence on our modern English. Non-English words help make English more diverse, which I think is a good thing. I won't get into it now, but I think common languages are extremely important when it comes to international relations. So the more people speaking the same language, the less divided our society will be. Of course, I would *never* want the government to impose an official language (or even several official languages).

Anyway, there are some non-English phrases that I'm starting to get sick of. The current phrase of most annoyance for me is "vis-a-vis." I heard Bill O'Reilly use it twice last night, and today on NPR I heard an Iranian-American journalist (I can't remember her name, so I'm pointing out her ethnicity simply because she was giving a talk about Iranian and American cultures) use it at least twice. That's four times in two days. just sounds so pretentious. Why not just say, "With respect to," or, sometimes, "compared to?"

"Well, Chauncy, you know,I think the European position vis-a-vis Turkish immigration leaves much to be desired, don't you darling? Yes, of course..."

Plus, Vis-a-vis is a brand of markers for writing on transparencies.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Libertarian party still alienating would-have-been libertarians

Have you been to the Libertarian Party's website, recently?

They proudly tout editorials condemning government-sponsored aid to tsunami victims and defeating proposals to build new schools. And why do they have a prominent link in the upper left corner of the site that urges people to boycott the census? Sure, they make some valid points, but come on...think about how that sounds to non-libertarians (or even non-Libertarians)?

Boycotting the census!?!? The average American thinks, "What has the census ever done to me? Why is it so bad? Why would I want to boycott it?"

The average American might go to the Democratic Party website and see a prominent statement honoring the pope. They'll also see a cleverly-titled link that brings users to a page that argues against social security privatization.

People care about social security, and they care about the Pope.

The average American might go to the Republican Party website and see a fancy Flash ad highlighting the president's agenda, a nice podcasting link, and a link (albeit less prominent than the Democrats') to a statement by the president on the death of Pope John Paul II.

Again, they discuss issues people care about.

To summarize:
  • Democrats - preserve Social Security, honor the Pope, ...
  • Republicans - lower taxes, more homeland security, podcasting, ...
  • Libertarians - boycott the census, don't give money to tsunami victims, ...
Which party would you support?