Government Waste: Fighting Bad Programs with Easy Math

The common crux of the libertarian/anarcho-capitalist argument is the defunding of social programs. Counter to our platform, many scientists, educators, and social workers argue that while many government programs are wasteful and harmful, the programs that they support offer an irreplaceable benefit to humanity. These are genuine and charismatic public figures that I love and respect like Michio Kaku, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye. Let’s look at two common arguments.

Argument 1: An Educated Populace is a Great Boon for Society.
Most everyone can read. Because of this, we can have a thriving transportation sector warning drivers of upcoming landmarks or oncoming road hazards. So the argument makes sense (at least superficially). That premise is used to justify a behemoth of an education system to accommodate even the very poorest among us. I do not need to be convinced of the importance of a good education. I’ve learned that no matter what dire circumstances I find myself in, I will always have my brain  which always gives me a fighting chance against adversity. So education appears to be a great public safety net.

Argument 2: Some Goods and Services Benefit Society as a Whole
This is sometimes known as “Tragedy of the Commons.” Some goods provide a universal benefit and financial responsibility cannot be tied to only a few people. This is used as a justification for forceably collecting taxes to provide these things to the public. Common cited examples include environmental protection, medicine, and transportation. Personally I could cite NASA’s scientific research and its role in inspiring me to gaze upon the Universe and contemplate my place in it.

The Flustered, Knee-Jerk Libertarian Response:
All too often I see people shout out “private sector” and run through a tree of logic that, while sound, convinces no one of the practicality of privatizing any program. After that usually comes the laundry list of dysfunctional government programs that causes even some libertarians to glaze over in a TLDR (too long didn’t read) fashion. Even worse, it often evokes ad hominems like “rich,” “privileged,” or even “blue hair.” We need to remember that not everything government touches turns to ash, only an overwhelming majority of it. It’s critical to properly convey this fact as government’s successes tend to be short-lived while its failures seem to last forever. Speaking of failure, let’s talk about war for a second.

The Department of Defense’s annual budget is a whopping $700 billion. Meanwhile, the Voyager program cost us a mere $865 million to get the two most advanced space probes ever developed into space and all the way to Neptune. On the way, we gained priceless knowledge about our stellar neighborhood. The problem with comparing these two numbers directly is that they’re really big and the human brain is not well equipped to handle numbers that large. There is, however, a nifty little shortcut to help out with the math.

Order of Magnitude Estimates:
One order of magnitude is just one decimal place. For example, a dime is one order of magnitude greater than a penny. A dollar is one order of magnitude larger than a dime or two orders of magnitude greater than a penny. Let’s take a more visual/practical example. The average height of an adult is between 5 and 6 feet. We don’t need to be very precise because the numbers we’re dealing with are so far apart we really only need to know the number of digits. One order of magnitude greater than human height would be about the height of a highway overpass (usually 14 to 16 feet). From here, the numbers start growing quickly. One more order of magnitude brings us to the height of a sequoia (286 feet). Another step up would bring us to a difference of three orders of magnitude and would be something around the height of the Empire State Building (1250 feet).

Taking a look back at DoD versus Voyager our numbers are a whopping three orders of magnitude apart but we aren’t done yet! Our $865 million Voyager budget paid for the probes and their one-way ticket from Earth to Neptune. Voyagers 1 and 2 were launched in 1979 and did not arrive at Neptune until 1989 so the actual annual budget is about one tenth that figure or, you guessed it, one order of magnitude less. This means that the DoD budget is actually a whopping four orders of magnitude higher, not three. If the height of an adult is Voyagers’ annual budget then the DoD’s budget would be the height of Mount Everest! Next time you run into some well-intentioned government apologist just remember: when any government gets a bunch of money it’ll all be blown on war.


Also posted at Liberty.me.

Photograph: “Sunny Everest” by Anju SherpaOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

You May Already be an Anarchist: Auto Insurance

The topic of justice in an Anarcho-capitalist society often surfaces. Many people have told me that they are interested in the basic theory of justice in the absence of a government, but whenever they attempt any research anarchists are either unable or unwilling to respond adequately. Part of it is because a lot of these ideas are relatively new and it will require a lot of patience on both the behalf of the anarchist and the lay person them to fully percolate through society. I, myself have only considered myself an Anarcho-capitalist for three years at the time of this posting. This compounds our clarity problems because many Anarcho-capitalists are relatively new to the philosophy and have not fully internalized it but are unsatisfied enough with government and force as the only answers to law and order. Questions posed may seem straightforward but are often too broad for any concise, intuitive answer. Remember that our current solution to the problem of crime is complex legal code and reinforced concrete and while an Anarcho-capitalist solution may be simpler, it still remains as a dense topic that would take an especially long time to cover. Instead of trying to tackle the whole topic at once I will concentrate on a single facet of our legal system where property is routinely damaged and fraud can emerge in the most innocuous of places. It is a system we’re all familiar with, and while it can be burdensome, as is true with all things in the free market, it is better than the alternative.

The Interstate Commerce Act ensures that we, as a society, are over-invested in automobiles rather than cheaper and more efficient travel. With so many cars on the road, we end up in an inevitable legislative problem of what to do when two cars meet unexpectedly? There is a complex legal framework in place in case of property damage and negligence but your garden variety fender-bender usually doesn’t go deep enough into the legal system as an actual court hearing. Thankfully, we have insurance policies.

In a recent interview on WAL, Dr. Walter Block described how a basic civil case would work in a world of private courts. His thoughts summed up: two people have a dispute, each one hires an arbitrator to argue their case. These being professional arbitrators, they will have possibly worked together in the past but more importantly, there will come a time where they’ll have to work together in the future so there is a strong market force encouraging them to find an equitable solution. If arbitration fails, the two arbitrators can agree on a neutral third-party to rule on a decision.

What do people do on those occasions where they’re caught driving by braille? In a typical car accident, drivers photograph damage, swap insurance and driver’s license information, documents their own order of events, and while a police report may be filed, this is far from mandatory. Each driver calls their insurance company and gives a statement. The insurance companies determine fault, appraise damage, sends payments, and adjusts premiums accordingly. This is shockingly similar to the system that Dr. Walter Block described because usually the insurance companies can handle a collision without the need for a court system.

While most states require liability insurance, most people opt for more than minimum coverage. Those who have minimum coverage only due to state requirement generally suffer from financial problems that would cause them to choose a more affordable transportation method that would be otherwise available in a truly free market. Occasionally, the dispute is larger than what two insurance companies can handle so the court system will arbitrate in more extreme scenarios. I do admit. Bear in mind that this is not a full and complete explanation as the nature of crime, punishment, law, and order is extremely complex.

Peffers: Adam Vs Activism

KokeshAdamGunsHisGuns

On Independence Day, 2013, Adam Kokesh and, at the time of this writing, over four thousand potential accomplices plan to hold an open carry protest in Washington DC. That’s right, an open carry protest in Washington DC. One last time, an open carry (meaning handguns in outside the waistband holsters AND/OR long guns) protest in DC. Now I know what most of you are thinking, “ Isn’t that against federal law or even reckless?” The answer is yes, but many insist on sugarcoating this by calling it activism. That’s fine I suppose. The word “activism” itself has a sort of nebulous definition, as long as people make the distinction between what is prudent and what is nonsense.

It is often pointed out that the most common forms of activism are generally least effective. This becomes very apparent every time you get invited to a Facebook event telling you not to buy gas on Wednesday. Same goes with all those infernal petitions and information campaigns. I am already quite aware of the existence of breast cancer, thank you very much, as I am sure that everyone who can read is aware of breast cancer. But ineffective activism doesn’t end there. It is in the heart of every plan requiring excessive amounts of solidarity or lacking an end goal. This event requires an immense amount of solidarity as it asks that everyone commit a federal crime and stick with it through to the end. If you challenge some of the attendees about this they will inevitably go off on some rant about how people used to be brave in this country, unaware of how they’re making my point for me- that they are drawing from a pool of “cowards,” so how can they possibly expect such a level of solidarity?

For the sake of argument let’s say the protesters are able to hold ranks and make it to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial for a little dinner and dancing break. What is the end game? If the United States watches as an armed citizenry dances the night away with that special Glock or 1911, are they supposed to feel compelled to loosen firearm laws? In short, what is the point of all this? It isn’t an effort to lobby or to portray firearm owners as law-abiding people, as all of them have violated federal law. It is simply another awareness campaign. People are already aware of firearms and will still be as unaware of firearms laws after the fact as they were before. I would be inclined to support this event if I felt it did a good job of educating an otherwise woefully unaware audience.

I would also like to point out the two very different styles of activism of the successful Irwin Schiff and his son, Peter Schiff. Irwin is a tax protester who wrote several celebrated books on the corruption of the IRS. He and several people who accepted his tax advice were later prosecuted, fined, and put into federal prison for filing false tax returns. I’m not well versed in the subject so I don’t know the validity of the case against Irwin but I do know the end result; he is currently fighting in court so that he can spend his last years with his family instead of prison. In contrast, Peter Schiff is championing the same causes with his syndicated radio show, owns six businesses, is growing a family, has written a collection of successful books, and is paying for his dad’s legal bills. There is much to be said about living to fight another day.

True activism is about education to enact behavioral changes in large groups of people. True activism is about pressuring those with the power to change into making those changes. Grand gestures may get press but generally it harms the legitimacy of our movement.

For an opposing view on this particular story, see: wearelibertarians.com/miah-the-kokesh-march-is-peaceful/

 

 

Peffers: Marriage Equality and Contract Rights

Gay Marriage is back in the public eye with the US Supreme Court hearing opening arguments for two cases this week. The laws in question are Proposition 8 (Prop 8) from California and the Defense of Marriage Act (DMA) banning federal recognition of same-sex marriages. While the talking heads debate endlessly about this topic as a matter of policy, it is the job of libertarians to reroute the debate back to principles, natural law, and morality.

In regards to liberty, there are two notions of the word “law.”  The more familiar definition of law is the law of the land.  These include the Constitution, civil and criminal code, court precedents, and everything on the books at the federal, state, county, and city levels.  The second definition of law is more important to the libertarian.  It is often referred to as “natural law.” To go into the specifics of natural law is a different post entirely but John Locke sums it up best as life, liberty, and property. Property, in this sense, includes the ability to enter into a contract.

Marriage is a tricky notion politically due to pollution by red herrings such as the debate of whether it is natural or the role of states rights in marriage recognition.  These topics can be discussed ad nauseum but these debates only accomplish one thing, distraction from the issue at hand. The true debate is that of social control by the state versus contract rights.

Let’s look at marriage from a practical standpoint.  If children are sired, then it is understood that both parents have guardianship. There is an agreement to share resources and to contribute to a household. In the event of sickness or death, the partner is considered to be the closest family member and assumes the responsibilities as such.  Remove any religious connotations and it is simply a contract between two (or more) willing parties. To deny same-sex couples from entering such a contract is an intrusion of the state and an acknowledgement of the state’s authority to dictate the terms of private contracts.  To be blunt, it is a violation of every individual’s right to property.  What is worse is that any government who will tell you whom to love has no qualms to enact its tyranny when it comes to your money, your house, your health, and your business. It is a human rights violation and to assume that it stops with the marriage contract is naive at best.

Overwhelmingly, the stance that the Liberty Movement has chosen on same-sex marriage is simple and practical; give all consenting adults equal rights to enter into contracts and remove the word “marriage” from our legal code. This way, the first amendment are fully realized by keeping the state out of religious rights and sacraments. Additionally, by resolving the debate to an issue of contract rights sends a clear message that when we use the term “gay rights” we in-fact mean human rights in general, because make no mistake, a violation of gay rights IS a violation of human rights.

This stance on marriage is one of our great under-utilized assets in the Liberty Movement.  There is no reason why the average homosexual must be described by either the terms “leftist” or “log-cabin.”  Neither political party has championed the cause of marriage equality, even if individual politicians are in favor of it.  While people have to pull out Obama’s teeth to get meager soundbites of support for marriage equality, libertarians actively and publicly support it.  With the virulent nature of LGBT activism, this indicates to me that we should have a shift in strategy in our own activism techniques. We need to build coalitions with these groups to help get the message of liberty into the mainstream.  The arrangement would be mutually beneficial and we would be armed with both a winning logical argument and emotional appeal.

In many ways we are helpless as we wait for the Supreme Court’s decision on Prop 8 and the DMA. Our normal techniques in our activism kit lay dormant since the Supreme Court acts autonomously and cannot be overturned except by Constitutional Amendment.  In these situations, there is one thought that comforts me.  We are on the right side of history.  Our principles are superior and will win out in the free market of ideas while those who oppose us now will be remembered by footnotes in future history texts.