Monday, December 31, 2007

Wishes for A Happy, Safe, and Free New Year

I'd like to wish all the readers of Yearning to Breathe Free the best possible as we close out this year, and turn the page into the next.

If you are celebrating in proper fashion, please be responsible tonight, so as to avoid filling our jails (or hospitals) with more unneccesary visitors.

An Idle Thought

What I wonder about such warmongering mouthpieces like Sean "Conservatives Believe in Welfare" Hannity, Michael Savage, and Neal Boortz is what they would do in the event that Ron Paul pulls off a victory in the GOP nomination process. Let’s imagine for a moment that it’s a Ron Paul vs. Hillary Clinton Superbowl – Clinton, of course, being very much in favor of continuing the adventures of the Imperial War Machine, which is what these Chickenhawks thirst for.

Could you imagine their consternation at having to actually speak favorably about Hillary? Or would they eat their own words and get on board to promote Paul’s desire to end the war and bring the troops home?

I have this picture in my head of a scene from the movie, "It's A Wonderful Life", where George Bailey is being offered a very lucrative job by Mr. Potter in the latter's attempt to buy him off. His uncertainty is apparent, but when he shakes hands with Potter, his better sense asserts itself and he rejects the offer outright, becoming indignant and horrified at what he had come very close to doing.

I wonder if Hannity, Boortz, and Co. would shake hands with Hillary Potter, and if so, would they react the same way as George Bailey? Or will they become known as "Clinton Conservatives"?

Connie Williams, RIP

Reposted from the Lew blog.

From Professor Walter Williams: "It is with great sadness that I inform you that Connie, my friend of 50 years and my wife of nearly 48 years, died peacefully yesterday, December 29th. The day after Christmas she had a very minor fall. After the fall she said that she felt okay and we proceeded to eat dinner which went normally. After dinner she felt a bit strange and made an effort to get up from the chair. That was when the effect of the fall started taking place. Within a few minutes, she became totally verbally unresponsive. I called 911. The paramedics arrived quickly and she was helicoptered to University of Pennsylvania trauma center. It turned out that the fall was enough to cause a severe subdural hematoma. She underwent emergency surgery. The neurosurgeon’s prognosis both before and after the surgery was not promising at all. Devyn, who had just left to return to Los Angeles, where she now lives, returned the next day. Connie made me promise there would be no funeral or memorial services for her and I intend to abide by those wishes. She always said that our 35 years in our home in Devon, Pennsylvania, have been the happiest of her life. Therefore, her wish was to be cremated and her remains scattered about our property so that she will always be here. I have lost a dear wife and friend and the person whose partnership with me accounts for much of our success. Devyn has lost a loving mother. And you’ve lost a delightful friend." (Thanks to Brian Wilson.)


I'd like to extend my condolensces to Professor Williams for his loss.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Thoughts on Ron Paul and Liberty

Brewrunner, over at Against the State, wrote recently about the waxing and waning and rewaxing of his support for the Ron Paul campaign. It brought to mind some of the intellectual struggles I have had, and the thoughts I have on his candidacy for the GOP nomination.

I know I’ve blogged a lot about Paul here, almost exclusively in a favorable light. But am I supporter? For the most part, yes, I think so, but not to any major degree. I’ve not gone out and petitioned for him, nor gone to any "Meetups", and I haven’t donated any money to his campaign. I don't have a Ron Paul sticker on my car, nor a sign in my yard. My voter registration may be out of date due to a move last year, so I do not know if I will be able to vote for him, if I even decide to go that far. Admittedly, I have trouble with some of his positions, but I have been able to set aside my differences because of their comparatively low priority to things like war, foreign policy, and sound money. However, I have expressed my qualified support for him by discussing and emailing news of the Paul campaign with people who I know will be voting in the Republican primary. (Hey…it’d be better than letting them vote for Tax Hike Mike Huckabee, Mitt "Socialized Medicine" Romney, or Rudolf the Red-Nosed Mayor.)

The whole question of whether or not to engage in practical politics has long been debated in libertarian circles. At one point in the not-too-distant past, I thought it self-evident that EVERYONE should be as politically active as possible, specifically within the Libertarian Party. (Non-LPers, and non-voting libs were just irrational!) These days, however, I can see the merit behind other options, either by working within the Big Two (gasp!), or opting out of politics and focusing on education and philosophy. These days, if asked my opinion on whether or not to get involved in the Paul campaign, I’m more likely to respond with a firm encouragement to "follow your conscience!"

Bottom line...I really do wish Paul the best of luck. I think he will impact the national political discussion, the only question being to what degree. I will continue to talk about and promote his ideas, just as I would any other libertarian (leaning) person who is getting/should be getting popular attention. I’m sure I will waver back and forth with how much support I give him at any given moment (from total enthusiasm to luke-warm enthusiasm), but this is more a reflection of my own "soul searching" in regards to my evolving views on the optimal strategy for achieving liberty.

Friday, December 21, 2007

THINKFuture, A Revised Opinion

A while back, I posted a blog entry discussing a "libertarian" podcast series I had been listening to, and indicated that I was about ready to write it off for being too mediocre, and slightly boring. To my surprise, the host of that show somehow stumbled across my blog entry and posted a comment encouraging me to continue listening.

Of course, how could I turn down an appeal like that?

So, I continued to listen for a while, figuring I'd give the show another chance to shine. What did I have to lose. And what happened?

Wouldn't you know, the show actually showed a marked improvement in its quality!

Mea culpa. I may have cast judgement a bit too soon.

So, I'd like to encourage everyone to head over to the THINKFuture webpage and give listen to this podcast series. If you are like me and have iTunes, you can subscribe to it for free through the iTunes store. Personally, I think "new media" sources like podcasts and blogs need all the encouragement and support that they can get. The THINKFuture series is a pretty good one, and Chris Future, its host, does a pretty good job throwing up ideas to think and talk about.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Bill of Rights Day!

December 15th, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the Constitution were ratified, and became known as the Bill of Rights. Today, we celebrate the 216th anniversary of that event, which served to provide additional clarification on the extact purpose of, and further limitation on the power of, the Federal Government. Sadly, many of those restrictions are routinely ignored by those in power, and the Bill of Rights is simply a historical curiosity written on a piece of paper. But on a day like today, one can hope that people might pause to reflect on the meaning of these amendments, what the Founding Father were attempting to establish, and how we honor that vision (or not).

Which is your favorite amendment? Would it be the one that prohibits government meddling in religious affairs? Perhaps you value the ability to own the weapon of your choice to protect yourself against violence? How about the one that mandates an open, speedy and public trial by a jury of ones peers? All of them are great, I admit.

My favorites are the 9th and 10th amendments. These two amendments are probably the least appreciated of them all. In fact, I would bet most people couldn't even tell you what they say. But, in my opinion, they are the most critical parts of the Constitution. What do they say?
Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

The purpose of the 9th amendment was to clarify that just because some rights have been listed out here, that doesn't mean that other rights not explicitly named don't exist. During the debates over the Constitution, one objection to the inclusion of a Bill of Rights was that as all of the rights that exist are virtually limitless, trying to spell out all of the various rights of individuals might provide ground for trampling other rights that may have been overlooked. We see this today when we hear people like Supreme Cort Justice Scalia say, "there is no right to privacy in the Constitution". What Scalia, and others, think is that the ONLY rights people have are the ones that are listed out. The 9th Amendment makes it clear that Scalia is wrong.

The 10th Amendment clarifies that it is the powers of the Federal government that are limited and clearly identified. Unless the Constitution authorizes the Feds to do something, they aren't allowed. That means no federal involvement in health care, education, the arts, scientific research, the economy, the environment, and so on and so forth. We see this today when we hear somebody trying his best to be witty say, in response to the claim, "the Constitution doesn't authorize the Feds to do (fill in the blank)", in a Teddy Roosevelt-like response, "well...where does it say they can't?" As a matter of fact, Virginia, the 10th Amendment.

So there you have it. My favorite two Amendments. Which is yours?

Here is the Bill of Rights in its entirety:

The Conventions of a number of the States having, at the time of adopting the Constitution, expressed a desire, in order to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers, that further declaratory and restrictive clauses should be added, and as extending the ground of public confidence in the Government will best insure the beneficent ends of its institution;

Resolved, by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress assembled, two-thirds of both Houses concurring, that the following articles be proposed to the Legislatures of the several States, as amendments to the Constitution of the United States; all or any of which articles, when ratified by three-fourths of the said Legislatures, to be valid to all intents and purposes as part of the said Constitution, namely:

Amendment I
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people
peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II
A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III
No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V
No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI
In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII
In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX
The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Monday, December 03, 2007

How to Think Like A Statist

I tell you, being an advocate for sound economics is not easy. Despite the fact that the free market can provide a million billion empirical examples that it is a superior engine of progress for civilization – generating wealth, improving technology, and promoting peaceful interaction among otherwise opposing groups of the human family – its really shocking to see the tenacity with which Statists will cling to their fantasies that we need the State to provide a firm foundation for society.

The State is a contradiction. It is violence. It is theft. It claims it exists to protect ordinary people from violence and theft, but fundamentally, it exists by these two things. But I digress.

As I’ve thought about it, I’ve come to realize that there are two bedrock principles upon which Statists will base 99% of their arguments. They are as follows:

First…As an economic principle, monopoly is more efficient than competition. Free competition among different suppliers of goods and services does NOT lead to innovation, greater output, higher quality, and lower prices. Instead, a competitive marketplace leads to a severe restriction of goods, affordable only to the super-rich, while ordinary people, "the poor", go without.

Empirically, this is laughable. Yet, it’s the argument they like to use when arguing that without a State, people on the lowest rung of the economic ladder would then be vulnerable to predation by robbers, murderers, rapists, and other thugs. They fail to explain what exactly is so magical about the provision of security that it is exempt from the basic laws of economics. Yet, that is what they believe. And their solution to protecting these people from theft and violence is to establish a monopoly organization for these services which derives its revenues by theft and threats of violence for not paying extortionary "protection money".

The second principle of Statists is that they believe – really, truly believe – that nobody (except for the Statist who happens to be speaking) actually WANTS roads…but it takes far-seeing politicians to force us to have them. If we all had our way, we’d run outside right now, rip up the pavement in front of our homes and businesses and throw the rubble in a ditch somewhere. We’d all prefer to ride horses to work through 10 foot high snowdrifts, because…well…. I’m not sure why. But we need politicians who know better than us that it would be better to have roads and cars, because ordinary people just don’t get it.

So, the argument goes, because roads lead to improved logistical possibilities for an economy, we need the State to steal half our incomes, tell us where we can smoke, interfere with our medical decisions, and wage war on dark-skinner non-Christians in third world countries halfway around the world. Without the State doing these things, we’ll all be trapped in our homes, unable to get food and supplies to live. To question the need for the State because it promotes some of the most horrendous things humankind is capable of, is to advocate the abolition of all material prosperity and return to living in caves or mud huts.

This, too, is completely absurd. The intellectual failing here is that, like the monopoly argument above, they fail to understand the most basic mechanics of how markets work. They ask, "who will pay to have a road built?", or some variant on the question about how scarce resources get allocated in an economy. It never occurs to them to rephrase the question and substitute something else for "roads". Who pays for that McDonald’s to be built? Who pays to have those cell phone towers built? The entrepreneur, that’s who. Someone who surveys the current structure of the economy, and assesses a need for certain goods or services in a certain area, and then marshals the needed resources to implement his vision.

In both cases, the Statist fails to grasp basic economic principles, and his entire worldview is informed by the outmoded and false assumptions of socialism. It is an error made by many people, so it’s not completely unexpected. But it can be tiring sometimes having to run over the same old, worn out arguments.