Hockey Riot, or Prison Riot?

 | 

June 15, downtown Vancouver. This was not a hockey riot. And the lessons that are being learned from it are exactly the wrong ones.

I live in Vancouver, and I watched the last game of the Stanley Cup playoffs — and the postgame bonfire — from the corner of Georgia and Hamilton Streets. That intersection was the center of both the cheering and the chaos. But I’ve been in real riots: Prague when the Iron Curtain fell, an ethnic riot in southern Egypt in my teens, Kathmandu when the king was killed, East Jerusalem during the first intifada. What happened in Vancouver was different. It was a soft, gentle riot. The police were kinder and gentler than any I’ve ever seen at a riot. The rioters — using the term loosely to encompass all Vancouverites, since the rioters reflect poorly on the whole city — quickly mobilized thousands of volunteers to clean up the downtown core, many taking a day off work to do so. I went back the next afternoon, and by 2 p.m. it was nearly impossible to tell that a riot had occurred.

This was a riot in a fundamentally “nice” city, often too nice. People don’t even jaywalk here. After Game 5 I saw police get angry at someone for jaywalking. If you spend your life being told what to do, if taking a bike on the West Vancouver Seawall during the week when it’s nearly empty gets a dozen good Samaritans telling you “it’s against the rules,” and if you combine that with the high energy and low brain function of a Surrey suburban teenager — I have no idea whether the “anarchists” were from Surrey (a blue-collar suburb of Vancouver), but it’s standard practice during riots to blame foreign subversive elements and I just can’t imagine soft-and-gentle Vancouverites rioting, whereas the Ford F-150 culture in Surrey I can — then no wonder people riot when, once every 17 years, they’re suddenly unshackled.

But that will not be the lesson here. The result of this riot will be more rules and constraints on freedom — even though the energy at the corner of Georgia and Hamilton didn’t really come from hockey; it came from people living in a virtual prison of rules and regulations. When people habituated to living under rules and computerized consequences, which follow them their entire lives — people who have never had to learn self-control, internal restraint — suddenly find themselves without external restraints, they go crazy.

Yes, I’m sure that some people were there for precisely that reason, for the opportunity of temporary madness. The media had been going on for weeks about the 1994 riots, the last time Vancouver lost the Stanley Cup in Game 7. So what did they expect? You remind people relentlessly, get them thinking “riots,” and then those few people who think that riots may be fun gather from the whole city to attend. The 2011 riot was a near-perfect replica of its 1994 inspiration, though whereas the older event had a trigger — a man falling from a lamp standard into the crowd below — this year’s version didn’t need one. Or, rather, revived memory of the 1994 riots was itself the trigger, with crowds chanting “Let’s go riot!” by the end of the first period.

But the photo of the kiss in the middle of the riot shows better than any number of words that this was not about hockey. Nor even about destruction. It was about damning the consequences, about a momentary break in our mechanized, almost mineralized society. The power of that photo in telling a different narrative from that of either “hockey fans” or “destructive anarchists” is evident in the energy the mainstream media has devoted to deflating the photo, repeating remarks from the kissing boy’s mother that he was just helping the girl get up — though he’s clearly both kissing and groping her — and that he probably didn’t even know there was a riot going on. I’ve been in tear gas. It’s hard not to notice.

This wasn’t about hockey. It was an outlet. Hockey just happens to be a cultural trump card here in Canada, an excuse to let go, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio. You cure this sort of insanity with fewer rules, more bacchanal outlets — just as prison wardens have slowly learned that you can decrease riots by allowing prisoners to rearrange their own furniture, and forest rangers know that frequent controlled fires prevent major conflagrations. But the lesson learned by the powers that be is the opposite. That’s the truly sad consequence of all this stupidity.

Both the mainstream and the social media are full of outrage right now, from moral to economic. Morally, sure, it’s hard to justify smashing things. But the references to economic harm are a bit too simple. All those cars and shops are insured, and most of the insurance companies are owned by people outside Vancouver, with the costs spread out across either the shareholders or the pool of the insured, depending on your view of how elastic the insurance markets are. Either way, the result will be a net transfer of wealth in Vancouverites' favor. They won't end up being damaged.

But the real beneficiaries will be police budgets and politicians seeking reelection by promising to clamp down on “crime” with new laws, which only the law-abiding will obey, thus decreasing the freedom of the productive members of society without influencing the actions of the law-breakers in any way.

Laws are always a one-way ratchet. That’s why the ability to riot is important. But it’s like pulling out a gun. Stupid to do so without a clearly achievable agenda — whether it’s the elimination of a tax or a law or all the way to some sort of revolution. Still, there is something appealing about all this. In America, the people are scared of the government. In Europe, the governments are scared of the people, precisely because the people haven’t forgotten how to riot. This is why workers have healthcare, a minimum five weeks of paid vacation, and generally far more power vis-à-vis their employers than workers have in the United States. (I’m not debating the economic consequences of that worker power, just the fact that it exists.) I always assumed that Canada was more like the US, but maybe we still have a little life left. The problem is that the act of taking the pulse in this way will itself weaken it.

And sure enough, exactly one week after the riots, British Columbia’s privacy commissioner approved the Vancouver Police Department’s use of an administrative driver’s license database together with facial-recognition software to identify and catch rioters. Big Brother never hesitates to use these sorts of things to get a foot in the door. And what’s perhaps even more frightening, the police have admitted to being overwhelmed with the amount of evidence provided by all the Little Brothers looking on, photographing, filming.

So, yes, I’m upset at the stupidity of the rioters. But not for all the proper moral reasons. Nor for the economic ones. Rather, for the improper, immoral ones. The right ones. What happened on June 15 in downtown Vancouver should upset all self-respecting anarchists and libertarians far more than it upsets the law-and-order types. The latter are strengthened by it. The former are weakened.




Share This


We See Through You, Mr. President

 | 

Reverend Obama, when he was running for the office he now decorates, preached the need for transparency and honesty in government. In particular, he derided “the cynics, the lobbyists, the special interests" who held sway in the District of Columbia. He promised to stop the practice of rewarding donors with political favors.

Well, scratch another promise. As iWatch News has reported, about 200 of Obama’s biggest contributors (each raising anywhere from 50 to 500 grand) have gotten top jobs in his holy administration, big contracts for their businesses, or various other payoffs.

Interestingly, iWatch News is a news outfit supported by the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit organization whose avowed goal is to produce nonpartisan investigative journalism that will help achieve transparency in government.

And here’s the stinger. The Center for Public Integrity is funded by a number of primarily left-liberal donors, most notoriously one George Soros, the leftist billionaire and Obama booster.

That’s worth a chuckle, no?




Share This


We're Still Here

 | 

I’m writing this in June, about a month after the world was supposed to end, according to Family Radio’s Harold Camping.

Though I read Stephen Cox’s excellent articles on this topic, I did not listen to Family Radio on May 21. I was already experiencing an irritating weekend. The last thing I needed to hear about was the apocalypse.

I am a libertarian and a Christian. I am quite familiar with the passages in Revelation and the gospels, dealing with the end of the world. The only definite message to derive from these passages is that no one knows when the end will come. In the gospel according to Matthew, Jesus says “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but my Father only"; “watch, therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 36:42).

In March of last year, I talked with my Dad (himself a Christian) about this. (As Stephen wrote in his December 2010 article, Camping had pushed his prophecy about May 21, 2011 for well over a year. And it was not his first prediction of the end.) We were watching television together one evening before walking the dogs. I started changing channels. My Dad said, “I don’t want to watch any more of that end of the world shit.” At the time, quite a few cable channels were airing an unusually large number of shows about Nostradamus, the Mayan calendar, and the Apocalypse. I said, “Dad, Harold Camping says the world is going to end in May 2011.” He said, “Harold Camping is full of shit.” After a few moments he added, “Every day the world ends for somebody.”

Indeed.

But today, we are still here. The popular attention paid to this incident, or non-incident, has begun to fade, as new natural disasters occur and celebrity and political scandals continue to break. Most of us go on as we did before, simply trying to get through the day. And, like Stephen, I believe that Family Radio will also go on, airing hymns, Bible readings, and inspirational segments. There’s nothing wrong with that.

But the whole episode can serve a greater purpose than simply mocking an old fellow who, despite making this mistake before, still succumbed to hubris.

As my father said, every day the world ends for somebody. It could end for you or me. The gist of the New Testament, in that regard, is to live according to God’s word as if each day were going to be your last. But what does that mean for libertarians, whether Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, atheist, or anything else?

Well, let’s each ask ourselves, "What have I done for liberty lately? If I were to die today, would I be able to say that I did all I could do to champion liberty in these dark times? Or that every day, even in a little way, I took a stand for economic or social freedom?” Most of us can probably do more than we have done so far.

What can we do? Attend a local zoning board meeting, a township committee meeting, a local school board meeting, a “town hall,” a legislative hearing, a Tea Party rally, a Libertarian Party meeting. Not happy with any of those? Start your own gathering of citizens concerned for liberty. Protest inane local laws, regulations, taxes, and fees. Talk to your families, friends, coworkers, someone sitting next to you on a plane — I'll bet that he or she will be particularly open to discussing liberty after dealing with the TSA. Run for office as a Libertarian or independent.

And we can still do more. If we look at the body of Reflections amassed by Liberty over its publishing history, it chronicles a relentless creep of the state into every aspect of our lives. Some Reflections concern local infringements on liberty, some concern giant bureaucracies brazenly seizing formerly ungoverned or unregulated spaces, some concern misguided progressive do-gooding, some concern surreptitious theft, such as legislative pay raises passed in the middle of the night. But the process has gone on for too long, and we have watched for too long. We need to draw a line in the sand and start pushing back.

Stephen recently wrote that Harold Camping has backtracked, adjusting his timeline to October 21, 2011. We can’t afford to backtrack. Liberty is at stake. When it comes to defending liberty and economic and social freedom, we must act as if each day is known to be our last.

Do not let this year be the end of the world for liberty.




Share This


On Our Way Down

 | 

While our nation remains mired in economic uncertainty, sluggish growth, high unemployment, and even higher underemployment — in short, Obamalaise — other nations continue to move ahead. A recent report brings this point home.

Citigroup projects that the pattern of world trade is going to shift dramatically over the next 40years, and not in our favor. Citi’s research indicates that Developing Asia’s share of total world trade, which in 2010 was 24%, will grow to 42% in 2030 and 46% by 2050. Conversely, Western Europe, which had the largest share of total world trade in1990 (48%) dropped to 34% in 2010. That's still the largest share. But by 2030, that will dwindle to only 19%, and by 2050 it will be a meager 15%. North America will see similar declines.

Citi projects that China will become the biggest-trading country by 2015, surpassing the U.S. — the current leader — within only four years, and will stay on top for the foreseeable future. But even more remarkable is the forecast that the US will also be overtaken by — India. Even though India was not even in the top 10 largest trading countries in 2010, by 2050 it will become the second largest.

Now, research projections can be wrong — for one thing, they cannot for see exogenous events (e.g., what if China and India get into a major war?). But the trends are pretty clear.

And the causes of these trends are also clear. One cause of trade growth (among others) is the willingness to trade freely with other nations. Asia has embraced free trade with a vengeance, while Obama has done his best to block all progress on the issue, even going so far as to reverse the free trade agreements we have, simply to please his union bosses. For Obama, it is as if Adam Smith never existed. This is taking its toll.

p




Share This


Two Big Surprises

 | 

Well, now, you can knock me over with a feather! Two stories just out are amazing in their a priori improbability. They tell us a lot about the growing awareness of our looming national financial crisis.

The first is the news that the U.S. Senate has voted to end federal subsidies for ethanol, which this year hit a high of $6 billion from taxpayer dollars.

This is surprising for a number of reasons. The ethanol lobby (i.e., the group of rentseekers who derive much of their income from this screwy subsidy) is powerful, consisting of many players in key political states. Moreover, it has been around for more than 30 years — an unhappy product of the Carter presidency. Also, it has been a darling of the environmentalist movement, which has consistently opposed fossil fuel and nuclear power, favoring instead so-called “renewable” sources of power (biofuels, wind power, and solar power).

Even more surprising is that the vote was bipartisan and wasn’t even close: 73 for, and only 27 against, with Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) joining Tom Coburn (R-OK) in sponsoring the bill. In the end, 33 Republicans and 40 Democrats joined to kill the subsidy program.

I suspect that a number of facts helped the Senate reach this epiphany. One is that despite over 30 years (and untold billions of taxpayer dollars) invested in research and development, the energy output that you get for the required input still keeps the fuel from being economically attractive — a point that even Mr. Green himself, Al Gore, mentioned when he came out against corn-based ethanol earlier this year. In part, the problem is that we are making ethanol out of corn, which is far less efficient than making it out of sugarcane — and this is why, besides giving the domestic producers of the stuff a hefty tax credit of 45 cents per gallon of ethanol blended with gasoline, the feds have had to impose a whopping 54 cents per gallon tax on ethanol imported from abroad (mainly Brazil).

Another senatorial eye-opener may have been the recent, massive discoveries in domestic sources for oil and natural gas that can be produced by new technology such as fracking. These discoveries make the case for subsidizing domestic ethanol even more dubious.

Besides, politicians are finally beginning to see the obvious, deleterious impact that diverting 40% of our corn crop to make ethanol (which, again, we could buy more cheaply from Brazil) has on food prices both here and abroad. The rapid inflation of food prices has caused riots abroad and is beginning to cause real discomfort here.

Finally, there is the sense that this subsidy program has just gone on too long. As Senator McCain put it, “Enough is enough. The industry has been collecting corporate welfare for far, far too long.” Exactly so. There is demand for ethanol, but the industry needs to supply it in the free market.

The ethanol industry has been angling to replace tariffs and subsidies with federal spending for special pumps and tanks to hold higher concentrations of ethanol. But the House just voted against that by a margin of 283-128.

So it may be that the governmental subsidies for ethanol will end soon.

Now, the second surprising story is that the AARP, the liberal advocacy group that purports to represent the elderly, and was so crucial in helping President Obama ram through Obamacare, has changed its position on reducing benefits for Social Security. John Rother, the AARP’s policy head, has said that the AARP now views change in Social Security’s benefits structure as inevitable, and wants to have an influence on the process. This is a big change from AARP’s earlier stance, which was that all we needed to do was increase payroll taxes to cover the deficits. As Rother put it, “The ship was sailing. I wanted to be at the wheel when that happens.” Of course, the question is, why would we want this toad and his leftist organization — who did all they could to block reform and increase the depth of the problem — to be “at the wheel” of reform?

It is all so richly ironic. The AARP was viciously instrumental in killing President Bush’s attempt to reform Social Security. It claimed that Bush was going to shortchange the elderly. Now the AARP itself will face the same charges.

Indeed, the AARP immediately aroused the antipathy of a coalition of leftist groups calling itself (in pure Alinsky style) “Strengthen Social Security.” It has already accused AARP of becoming elitists disconnected from their base.

The AARP is approaching this cautiously. It lost about 300,000 members by helping push through Obamacare. To cover its tail, it wants to make sure that the Social Security revision process is bipartisan. Its own polls match public polls that show the elderly deeply oppose changes to the program. One recent poll shows that 84% of all Americans 65 and older oppose any and all cuts in benefits.

But the AARP and members of Congress are finally coming to see the iceberg of fiscal insolvency toward which the economy is headed. Visions of Greece, currently in the throes of riots by dependents of the state and facing the prospect of defaulting on its debts, are concentrating minds wonderfully.

In fact, it is all rather like watching a Greek tragedy. The blind AARP finally has to face its fatal flaw — the mess it helped create and maintain.




Share This


Free Phones!

 | 

Every so often, I entertain myself during my lunch break by listening to conservative talk radio. The other day I tuned in just as the news at the top of the hour was finishing. It was followed by the usual commercials — Lifelock, Goldline. Then a commercial aired that I was shocked to hear.

I can’t remember it word for word, but the main part went like this:

Attention, state residents on welfare or other public assistance! You may be eligible for free cellphone service. You can even keep your existing number. Call Safelink.

A couple of questions entered my mind. Since when do welfare recipients make up any part of the conservative talk radio audience? More important, if this is an actual offer, who is paying for it?

I did some cursory research.

This free cellphone program has its origins in the “lifeline” program created by the Telecommunications Act of 1996. It was intended to ensure that quality telecommunications services were available to low-income customers at just, reasonable, and affordable rates. Basically, it was a discount on a low-income person’s landline bill. The act requires telecommunications service providers to contribute to federal universal service in some equitable and nondiscriminatory manner. In other words, they pay. In 1997, the Federal Communications Commission created the Universal Service Fund to collect, manage, and distribute these funds.

The Universal Service Fund is administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. Its webpage provides a little information about where the money comes from: “Generally, companies that provide interstate telecommunications contribute to the fund. These providers are required to submit revenue data to USAC using the Telecommunications Reporting Worksheet (Form 499).”

The site states that the USAC invoices providers for the required contributions, and that the FCC extended universal service obligations to providers of interconnected Voice-Over-Internet Protocol services in 2006. Finally, it says, “Consumers may notice a ‘Universal Service’ line item on their telephone bills. This occurs when a provider chooses to recover its contributions directly from its customers through a line-item charge on its bills. The FCC does not require this. Each company makes a business decision about whether to directly assess its customers to recover its Universal Service Fund costs.”

So, who pays? We do. Through an underhanded tax on consumers.

No justification, to the effect that telecom companies simply make a business decision to pass these costs on, changes the fact that this is an additional tax on consumers. Personally, I am not a fan of big business and I believe that all business endeavors entail costs and risks, not all of which can or should be passed on to consumers. But the faux ignorance of the explanation is obnoxious. We in the government are just trying to get these companies to do good. So don’t blame us — we’re just trying to do the right thing. Blame the telecom companies that weasel out of paying their fair share under the guise of a business decision.

The result is that you and I are again stuck with a surreptitious tax. You and I are paying for someone else (and not a family member or friend, or even a designee of our choosing) to have a cellphone.  I am all for low-income people having access to phone services, but I’d like to see that access come through greater competition among telecommunications companies to reduce costs and increase service quality and convenience. Or through the work of private charitable institutions. There are ways to address low-income people’s needs for phone service other than a federal government program funded by an underhanded tax.

I looked at my phone bill and found a Universal Service Fee of $4.20. I’m calling and disputing it. I am taxed enough already. I’ll let you know AT&T’s response.




Share This


Electrical Fairy Tales

 | 

The marketing hype behind new electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf makes me think of the title of the 1901 children's novel by L. Frank Baum, The Master Key. Promotions and testimonials designate the EV as the "master key" to environmental harmony, evoking the vision of a green economy in which zero-carbon-footprint EVs shuttle us to sustainable clean energy jobs as our dependence on foreign oil is whisked away in the contaminant-free breeze. But it's the novel's subtitle, "An Electrical Fairy Tale, Founded Upon the Mysteries of Electricity and the Optimism of Its Devotees,"that I chiefly have in mind. It exquisitely captures the substance of the unfolding EV hoax.

The optimism of EV devotees is manifested by the expectation that simpleton consumers will see the absence of tailpipe fumes as the absence of emissions and pollution; that EVs are worth their exorbitant cost, particularly if they eliminate our reliance on OPEC; and that, in EV-world, we will all live happily ever after.The support of simpleton politicians guarantees fairy tales.

The scientifically illiterate media (also devotees) never mention the pollution and carbon emissions created at electrical power plants when EV batteries are being charged. Odd that these distant plants are now electrical mysteries, when not that long ago shrill environmentalists frequently reminded us that they were mostly coal- and gas-fired monsters, belching forth devastating fumes as they generate 44.46% and 23.21%, respectively, of our electrical power. Apart from toxic particulates, they release a national average of 1.2 lbs of CO2 for each kWh generated.

The Chevy Volt, to cite one example, can travel 35 miles on its fully charged 16 kWhbattery. Thus, charging the battery by means of the average US power plant creates 19.2 pounds of CO2; in effect, 0.55 pounds of CO2 per mile. The EPA rates the Volt's gas-only fuel economy as 37 mpg. Since a gallon of gasoline produces about 19.6 pounds of CO2 , the Volt produces 0.53 pounds of CO2 per mile. Incredibly, the Volt's carbon footprint is 0.02 pounds per mile larger when powered by its battery — another electrical mystery.

An optimistic devotee might argue that carbon footprints can vary. But an average of 0.55 pounds of CO2 per mile is a long way from clean, and fraudulently far from zero. As to footprint variation: charge an EV in a state such as West Virginia, where coal generates 96% of the electrical energy. There, the Volt will emit 0.95 pounds of CO2 per mile. — almost twice the emission of a gasoline engine.

Wherever you live, if you use your EV for anything much more than occasional errands, battery charging will be a big part of your life. It makes one wonder why charging requirements are trivialized, if mentioned at all — unless it's because of the mysterious nature of electrons. Their activity while the battery charges throughout the night is invisible, as is the charging cost, at least until the utility bill arrives. If you drive an EV, say, 700 miles a month, it must be fully charged at least 21 times each month. In a recent thousand-mile Edmunds road test, the Volt averaged 33 miles on a fully charged battery. In the Northeast, where electricity is 16.09 cents per kilowatt hour, the monthly charging cost would be $54.61; in the Southeast (at 9.57 cents per kilowatt hour), it would be $30.24.

Born of political expediency and founded on bad economics and science, the electric vehicle is a colossal burden for taxpayers, an expensive fantasy for buyers, and a cruel joke on planet savers.

According to the Edmunds review, charging an EV battery by using a standard 120V socket "is like filling a swimming pool with a syringe." Optimistic devotees cite charging times of 12 hours. But charging from 0% to 100% (typical of electric mode only drivers) takes about 20 hours. Edmunds expects that most buyers will need the 240V Level II charging stations, which can complete the charge in less than half the time. They are available for $490, with an additional cost of about $1,500 for home installation — in addition to the $33,000 to $109,000 you paid for your electrified transportation pod. But what's another $2,000 or so when you're saving the planet?

Electrical utilities also anticipate Level II chargers, salivating over the revenues they will produce. But they worry because turning one on is equivalent to adding three homes, all with air conditioning, lights, and laundry running at the same time. Two or three of them running simultaneously in a grid sector is likely to burn out the transformer, blacking out service to the entire sector. Ironically, safety experts want EV manufacturers to add a simulated "vroom" sound alerting pedestrians to the presence of EVs on the street. The added cost of bumper-integrated speakers is a small price to pay for the warning. Presumably, there will be no extra charge for the sound of transformers mysteriously popping as they burn out, alerting sleepers to the presence of EV chargers in the neighborhood.

Our taxes pay for a $7,500 credit to entice less optimistic buyers, and huge subsidies to help EV manufacturers stay in business. Lithium battery companies must be salivating as much as electrical utilities. Last year, for example, a Michigan company was awarded $251 million in federal and state stimulus money. Its plant is expected to employ 400 workers, costing taxpayers $625,000 each. And it is owned by a Korean firm. But imagine the graft that American "entrepreneurs" are getting. Companies are also lining up at the trough for EV battery research and development subsidies. Despite over a century of technological advancement, battery performance is economically inadequate for EVs. Maybe battery designers will have better luck in the next 100 years.

President Obama is among the most optimistic of EV devotees. His test drive last July was ominous. Steering a Volt for about 10 feet at about 2 mph appeared to reaffirm his green economy concept and his campaign pledge to put one million EVs on the road by 2015. He is working diligently behind the curtain of political favoritism and crony capitalism to promote the EV as an integral part of his green economy.

But the EV is a hoax. Born of political expediency and founded on bad economics and science, it is a colossal burden for taxpayers, an expensive fantasy for EV buyers (converted, coerced, or bribed), and a cruel joke on planet savers. Everyone will pay higher taxes, EV buyers will pay at least twice the cost of comparable gasoline powered cars, and their electricity bills will, as President Obama has famously said, "necessarily skyrocket." The fact that the EV actually violates the clean-energy justification for its purchase demonstrates the fraudulence of Obama's plan. EVs result in little or no net reduction in pollution or greenhouse gas emissions. This is equally true for a $109,000 Tesla and a $41,000 Volt. And it would be true if there were a $10,000 model.

It would also be true if a million US drivers bought such a car by 2015, or if enough millions more were thereafter coerced to bring us to the day when we could say goodbye to OPEC. The problem is that this would also be the day we would say hello to Chile, Argentina, and Bolivia, the Saudi Arabias of lithium. Will OLEC (the Organization of Lithium Exporters) treat us any better than OPEC has?

President Obama's plan for the EV is unfolding like an electrical fairy tale of unprecedented magnitude. It calls for millions of Americans to buy uncompetitive, exorbitantly priced, high-maintenance EVs that are not meaningfully cleaner than the vehicles they are supposed to replace — all the while paying higher taxes and electricity rates to finance a scheme that, even if wildly successful, would accomplish nothing beyond enriching electrical utilities and battery manufacturers instead of oil companies and refineries and making us dependent on lithium instead of oil.

This plan is a costly, inane indulgence in fantasy. If the curtain were pulled back, it would reveal a fatuous illusionist, feverishly operating the levers of subsidies, tax credits, and regulatory mandates to orchestrate the scam. Did I mention that Baum also wrote The Wizard of Oz? It is an excellent book to read by candlelight, during EV-induced blackouts.




Share This


John Hospers, R.I.P.

 | 

John Hospers, distinguished author and philosopher, first presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, and a senior editor of Liberty, died in Los Angeles on June 12. He was 93 and had been in fragile health for over a year.

John was a modest and self-skeptical man, but his accomplishments were legion. Born in provincial Iowa of Dutch immigrant stock, he became an internationally recognized philosopher, editor of The Personalist and later of The Monist — two of the most important academic journals of philosophy — and chairman of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Southern California. An early organizer of the Libertarian Party, he was its standard bearer in the election of 1972, in which he and his running mate, Tonie Nathan, achieved a vote in the Electoral College, making Tonie the only woman who had ever done so.

John used to laugh about his encounter with one of his academic colleagues in the hallways of USC during the presidential campaign:

“Hello, John. What are you doing these days?”

“I’m running for president.”

“I didn’t know that. President of the APA!” (APA stands for the American Philosophical Association.)

“Oh no. President of the United States.”

John ran a vigorous campaign (and enjoyed it). Many years later, I got him to write the inside story of this episode, exclusive to Liberty. It’s in our June 2007 issue, and includes a good picture of the candidate.

Before the election, John had published a thoughtful book about the idea of liberty, Libertarianism (1971). As editor of The Personalist, he gave many young libertarians, such as Robert Nozick, their first chance to publish. John was an early and regular contributor to Reason, and starting in the early 1990s he contributed many important articles to Liberty. Usually it worked like this: John would make a comment about a topic that appealed to him. Bill Bradford or I would suggest that he write something about it. “Oh,” John would say, “do you really think people would be interested?” “Yes, John,” we’d reply, “they certainly would be.” Then we’d give him our reasons for saying so. “Well, I don’t know,” he’d say. He’d think it over for a while, and about half the time he would write the article.

Bill and I were right: our readers were always interested in what John had to say. It wasn’t just that he was John Hospers and had a historic importance for libertarians. It was that John had a way of combining the provocative with the calmly, steadily rational — a rare intellectual achievement.

From 1960 to 1962, John was an intimate friend of Ayn Rand, the novelist and philosopher who was one of the greatest influences on modern American libertarianism. John met her not as a disciple (at a time when she engaged with few people who were not disciples) but as a person of independent intellectual development and ideas. Indeed, with the exception of Isabel Paterson in the early 1940s, he was probably the only person who ever debated both amicably and determinedly with Rand. On many occasions, he and Rand stayed up all night, discussing everything in the world, without pretense or intimidation, like Athena and Odysseus sitting together on the shores of Ithaka, plotting the institution of a just society.

John told the story of their relationship, and of its eventual sundering, in an important two-part article in Liberty(July and Sept. 1990). He added another chapter in our August 2006 issue. I think you’ll enjoy those articles.

John’s relationship with Rand ended in one of those disasters that were inevitable with her. I used to wonder how anyone, even she, could quarrel with someone so intelligent, so gentle, so transparently sincere, so sweet as John — or with someone who loved her as much as he did. I’m sorry I never asked him that question, in just that way. Of Rand he told me, with tears in his eyes, “She had so few friends.”

John was a quiet, meditative person, who could sit listening for hours while other people talked, not feeling that the right note had yet been struck for his own intervention. But if you drew him aside, and made just a little effort to draw him out, he was a warm and delightful conversationalist. Personal warmth was important for him. He had it banked up inside him, in his private feelings: his memories of his family, especially of his immigrant great-grandmother, who lived to be a hundred years old, who was kind to him, and talkative about important things; his feelings of disappointment when the Libertarian Party no longer sought his advice, when it failed even to notice him anymore; his concerns about the future of the country, regarding which he was very pessimistic, fearing that the public demand for welfare had become so insistent and so chronic that a truly liberal social order could never be reachieved. He was particularly fearful about the political effects of open immigration, against which he argued with a logic that had been endorsed by every earlier libertarian leader, but that many current leaders of the movement had since repudiated.

I sometimes argued with John. I argued against his pessimism, and he always said, smiling, “Well, I hope you are right.” I argued against his religious agnosticism, and John, who had been brought up in very pious surroundings, always said, “What people don’t understand is that before we argue about God’s existence, we must first define what we mean by God.” My attempts to address the topic by using standard, operative definitions of God — “the creator of the world, who has sometimes intervened in its affairs” — got me precisely nowhere. For Hospers the analytical philosopher, that wasn’t nearly good enough. But I did get him to publish a riposte to my own theism in Liberty’s Jan.-Feb. 2008 issue.

I believe that was, very unfortunately, the last essay John ever wrote. His response to my frequent entreaties to publish something more about his many interests were unavailing. He would say, “I’m not sure I have anything to add. If I do, of course, I’ll send it.” When I suggested that if everyone took that approach, scholarly publication would cease, he enjoyed the joke, but his severe judgment of what it means to “add” to intellectual conversation prevailed. He was, indeed, a modest man.

John could occasionally be acerbic, when he felt that proper definitions, proper philosophic standards, were not in place — although he was never that way in conversing with me, or other people I know. Smiles, and carefully considered comments, and graceful encouragement to continue the conversation, whether he agreed with you or not — those were John’s hallmarks. In his later years, he was the center of a group of friends — including people of all ages, from his own down to the early twenties — who met for regular viewing and discussion of classic films. Enviable group! John had an encyclopedic knowledge of the movies, and his own taste was not only catholic but insightful and . . . here’s that word again: warm. Beneath the modest, judicious, (not unduly) professorial exterior was a heart full of feeling for any real human accomplishment, for anything that made life pleasant, graceful, witty, noble, or courageous. And John was all those things, himself.




Share This


What Is "Fair"?

 | 

When taxes are under discussion, we often hear a call for rich people to “pay their fair share.” The message is that tax rates on those with higher incomes should be raised to make sure that fairness is achieved. However, if we look at this honestly, as a real-life ethical issue, we will have to conclude that people with higher incomes are already paying more than their fair share. Let’s try a thought experiment.

Suppose we are part of a group of friends from work who decide to go out to dinner together. “We” includes the owner of the business, the new person in the mailroom, and two of us in between. We choose a nice restaurant and enjoy our meal together. For some reason we cannot get separate checks and are given one large bill. What are some fair ways to pay for this meal — and what are some unfair ways?

Normally what happens is this: each person puts money into the kitty based on what he or she ordered. Often after the check goes around the table it isn’t quite enough because people forget to add in enough money to cover the tip or their second drink or the taxes or something. So the check goes around again while everyone refigures the cost and puts in a little more. So each pays based on what each received. That is what we ordinarily regard as fair.

Now suppose the bill isn’t itemized and we can’t find out what each person received and therefore what each person owes. People might try to guess, but generally we feel that one fair way is for each to pay the same amount. If we do that, we recognize that people who ordered a more lavish dinner or an extra bottle of wine will be getting more than their fair share, but still the same amount for each person seems close to fair. So each person paying the same amount without regard to any other criterion looks fair to us. This is equivalent to a per capita or per person tax. But that is not how we do taxes in America. We don’t all pay the same amount or the same amount per person, do we, despite the fact that it’s impossible to construct an itemized list of each taxpayer’s liability for government services received?

So let’s go back to the arrival of the unitemized bill for the group’s dinner. How should we divide it up fairly?

When the check came, the boss could offer to pay for everyone’s dinner. That would be voluntary, private charity. But imagine if, when that happened, the new mail oom guy said, “Wow. This is great. I got this fabulous meal for free. I propose we do this every night! How many people are in favor?” Perhaps most of us who received the boss’ charity would vote to make him give it more often, but that would be clearly unfair.

No one would dream that three people should “vote” to make the fourth person pay for them. Why does it become right when we do it through the government?

The boss would be well within his rights to say, “You guys can do this again if you want, but count me out. I’m not interested in paying for everyone’s meal night after night.” Would it be fair or right to claim that he must do so because it was a “majority vote?” People shouldn’t just be able to vote to oblige others to give them things, should they? In normal, face-to-face interactions, in a small group of four people no one would dream that three people should “vote” to make the fourth person pay for them. Why does it become right when we do it through the government?

Now imagine this. Imagine that someone in the group said, “Let’s take a vote. Who thinks we should base what we pay on how much income each of us has? Wouldn’t that be fair?” Several things come to mind right away. First, it’s extremely rude to require people to tell you what they earn. It is simply not anyone else’s business. But we do it as a country when we make people fill out their income tax returns so that a progressive tax can be levied. We intrude in a way we ordinarily don’t think is right or fair — because we do it through the government. Does that make it fair?

Second, voting on this proposition doesn’t seem right, because the boss makes more than any of the rest of the group, and will always have to pay more, yet he has only one vote. So of course, voting for this proposition is self-serving for everyone else. It is the same as the other case, when the boss was made to pay the whole tab: we are voting to force the boss to subsidize us.

Charity performed voluntarily is one thing. It is common for people who are better off to pay a bit more than their equal share, voluntarily. But where do the lower paid people get the right to vote to force the higher paid person to pay more? Does that strike you as fair? Again, what if we voted to regularize it by law, so that he had to do it every night? Would that make it fair?

This unfair situation is equivalent to the flat income tax that people propose from time to time. The flat tax would have everyone pay the same percentage. If you made more money, you would therefore pay more, whether you received more from the government or not. When we take this down to the personal level in our thought experiment, basing the fair share calculation on someone’s income level is embarrassingly unfair, yet it is criticized as being not fair enough. They aren’t paying their fair share, that’s true. They are paying more than their fair share.

But instead of having a flat tax, which requires people to pay more if they earn more, we have a tax system in which the percentage goes up as they earn more. The harder they work, the more money they make, the higher the percentage of their income is taken. The federal income tax percentage goes up to 35% for some people, while others, with lower incomes, pay 10%, and many pay nothing at all. Yet people are calling for the top tax brackets to go even higher, so that wealthy people will be required to “pay their fair share.”

Well, how will we know when fairness is achieved? How will we establish the “fair share”? We will take a vote, of course — because that’s really the fair way to decide.




Share This


Just Super

 | 

Super 8 is the best Steven Spielberg movie to come along in years.

And it isn't even a Spielberg film.

Spielberg's name is on the project as executive producer, just as George Lucas' name is on Spielberg's Indiana Jones movies as producer. But Super 8 was written and directed by J.J. Abrams, who is better known for his work as a producer of "Lost," "Alias," and a variety of other television shows. Nevertheless, it is the most Spielbergian film to come along in many years,a veritable homage to the master of blockbuster films inhabited by preadolescent protagonists. Among the Spielberg effects that Abrams incorporates in this science-fiction coming-of-age thriller are the trademark bicycles spinning into getaway mode, the classic suburban settings, the snappy potty-mouthed dialogue among kids, and the Orwellian military bad guys, reminiscent of E.T.

Abrams creates the best kind of suspense, chilling us with the terror of what we don't see, rather than grossing us out with what we do see — thus doing what Spielberg did so effectively in the first half of Jaws. We know something scary is out there, but it is always obscured by the likes of train cars, bushes, or gas station signs. Our hearts pound and our imaginations run wild as we endure long moments of eerie silence while the camera takes us down paths we would rather not tread. Fearing the unknown is always more terrifying than facing a concrete enemy.

Best of all, Abrams employs the particular kind of coming-of-age storyline for which Spielberg is known. Yes, there's a monster out there, but the real monster is at home, in the form of an unnamed tension between parent and child that has to be resolved. In this story, the tension begins with a mother's funeral. Her son Joe (Joel Courtney) is not allowed to associate with Alice (Elle Fanning) because Alice's father (Ron Eldard), the town loser, was somehow involved in his mother’s death. Joe likes Alice — he likes her a lot! — and that creates tension between the two of them, as well as between Joe and his father (Kyle Chandler), who forbids Joe to see Alice. This iconic conflict between father and child, set against the backdrop of an unknown monstrous intruder, gives this film a satisfying heft.

The story centers on a group of middle-schoolers who have been friends since toddlerhood. Abrams' kids ring true. They're precocious and nerdy in a believable, unassuming way. Their dialogue also rings true, throughout. Charlie (Riley Griffiths) has been the leader of the gang. Like Spielberg, who began making movies with his super 8 camera at the age of 10, Charlie wants to make a movie to enter in a local film festival. He enlists his friends as actors, cinematographers, script consultants, and makeup technicians, and he barks at them throughout rehearsals and filming with the commanding voice of an artistic perfectionist. Charlie is a young Spielberg himself.

One evening Charlie takes his cast "on location" to an isolated train depot to film a scene as the train goes by. He's looking for a dramatic backdrop for his characters' climactic "hill of beans" speech. (This amounts to an homage within an homage, and it works.) But the train suddenly derails — in the most spectacular wreck ever created on film. Ever. The audience in the screening I attended erupted in spontaneous applause as the final piece of wreckage plopped to the ground.

Then, as another homage to Spielberg, Abrams focuses our attention down to a small piece of bloody wreckage, creates a sense of terror as we suspect what might be underneath it, and follows with a gotcha laugh that releases the pent-up tension that the train wreck built so skillfully. Pure genius. Pure Spielberg. In reality, collaborated Abrams.

The rest of the film becomes a typical kids-versus-the world story as these young people try to figure out what the government is trying to hide about the train and its contents. What isn't typical, however, is the quality of the dialogue and the acting of the kids. They are stunningly natural and believable. One of my favorite lines: Charlie says, "We need to develop this film right away. I'm gonna go steal some money from my mom." No hesitation over a moral dilemma. He's a director. He needs money. And he's a kid. He gets it.

With the exception of Elle Fanning (whose career has been active, though overshadowed by that of her older sister, Dakota) these are virtually unknown actors, fresh and new and ready to be molded by their director. I expect to see a lot more of them in the near future. The parents, also, are believable and natural. They are too caught up in their own grownup worlds to recognize what is going on with their children. As a result, their kids are free to roam the town, think for themselves, and learn how to make things happen.

The film has a message, and it's a good one. It argues for overcoming grudges and learning to understand one another. At one point a soldier is lifted by his rifle high into the air. If he holds on, he will die. If he lets go, he will live. Such a simple, subtle message: Let go of the guns. Let go of the grudges. One of Charlie's characters says, "You do have a choice. We all do!" That's an important truth to remember, the truth of individual responsibility and freedom.

Super 8 has it all: great entertainment, great characters, great special effects, great story, and a great message portrayed subtly at the micro and macro level. What more can you ask from a movie?


Editor's Note: Review of "Super 8," directed by J.J. Abrams. Paramount, 2011, 112 minutes.



Share This

© Copyright 2013 Liberty Foundation. All rights reserved.



Opinions expressed in Liberty are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the Liberty Foundation.

All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless otherwise indicated.