Wednesday, May 28, 2008


The Libertarian Party has nominated as the presidential ticket Bob Barr and Wayne Allen Root. This is not news to any libertarians, but what does it mean to the Libertarian Party?

That’s a good question, because of all the issues that Bob Barr refuses to discuss. Perhaps indications of his positions can be inferred by some of his most vocal advocates. That is a rather risky assumption to make, but given a lack of contraindicating evidence, and given the determined silence by candidate Barr, that assumption is all there is to work with.

Barr and WAR were most heavily supported by the Reform Caucus of the Libertarian Party. Among the positions advocated by the Reform Caucus is a support for continued occupation of Iraq. WAR originally was a supporter of the occupation until he realized he could never get the nomination that way and switched position. Barr voted for the war in Iraq, but now supports pulling the troops out of Iraq. The problem is he described it as reducing America’s Military Footprint in Iraq. He opposes a massive footprint, but is remarkably silent of how little of a footprint he is discussing. Has the anti-war LP just chosen pro-war candidates?

Now that the nomination is secured, will the ticket remain as non-interventionist as the majority of the Libertarian Party or will the ticket become as interventionist as the Reform Caucus? What if Barr actively campaigns on issues at variance to the platform of the Libertarian Party?

Also given that before the candidates entered the race they both endorsed Republicans this is a problematic ticket. This isn’t comparable to Barr voting in anti-libertarian ways several years ago, because these are current events. WAR endorsed McCain before WAR became a candidate. Barr’s PAC contributed to a Republican instead of a competing Libertarian while Barr was on the Exec-Comm. Barr has since given a bigger donation to the Libertarian candidate, but how could any Libertarian (or libertarian) ever support McCain unless the issue that mattered most was continuing the imperialist wars in the Middle East?

Then there are issues he has refused to discuss, and mention of those issues earns the sneering scorn of the Reform Caucus. What is his position on freedom of religion? Those who ask are derided as pandering to pagans, but if the lesser known religions aren’t protected then are any religions protected? Given recent events with the CPS in Texas this is a valid concern.

Given the polarization that occurred in the Libertarian Party in the lead-up to the convention between the Reform Caucus and the Libertarian Caucus, it might have been a good idea to have a unity ticket with a member of the Libertarian Caucus as the vice presidential candidate. A Barr/Kubby ticket would have gone far to allay worries among those in the Libertarian Caucus. A Barr/WAR ticket is the Reform Caucus telling the Libertarian Caucus how much their input is actively wanted.

On the other hand, the Libertarian Caucus did gain seats on the Executive Committee of the Libertarian Party, which could help the LP ride this election no matter how disastrous it is to the cause of advancing liberty and enable a shoring of the weaknesses.

The hope is that the two sides can make amends and try to reconcile to each other. Given that Christine Smith and Robert Milnes are leaving the party (and maybe drawing support with them), and given that Bob Barr refuses to answer some of the difficult questions that causes the Libertarian Caucus to be hesitant about embracing him even after he won the nomination this will be a difficult thing to achieve. Steve Kubby has taken the first critical step by urging support of Barr/WAR, but no reciprocal steps have been taken yet.

This could result in the strongest LP ticket ever with Barr reaching beyond the LP and bringing in new LP voters. This could also result in the weakest LP ticket ever with Barr alienating a significant portion of the LP base who will resort to either writing in a more palatable candidate, voting for a different party’s candidate (such as the Constitution Party), or simply not voting for president while voting for down-ticket libertarians. It is not only the job of the Libertarian Caucus to unite; it is the job of the Candidate to unite the party and the job of the Reform Caucus to unite the party. Thus far there have been no indications that the candidates are willing to do so, if their supporters are any measure.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Why the ACLU-SC should immediately reverse its position on Proposition 98

Notice, as a result of this article my membership in the ACLU has been revoked effective approximately June 16, 2008.

Support of proposition 98 is the pro-liberty position. Opposing 98 is an anti-liberty position. The ACLU-SC (ACLU of Southern California) has taken a position against the people in favor of the government with regards to proposition 98, for three distinct reasons: Eminent Domain, Environmentalism, and Rent Control.

Starting with the easiest, the ACLU-SC’s argument about environmentalism is flawed. It is said that this is bad for the environment. There are no environmental provisions anywhere in proposition 98. It does not mention any environmental regulations anywhere in the text. The only impact this measure could possibly have on the environment is by limiting the ability of the cities and counties to seize property for the sake of environmentalism. That is an exceedingly unusual usage of eminent domain in the first place, given that the overwhelming usage is either to steal the property for public works or to steal the property to give to favored and politically connected businesses. No environmental regulations relating to the use of property are impacted in any way.

It is said that this "hurts California cities" by making planning more difficult. Well, that’s exactly why it is good for everyone else. Too often cities simply take what they want without regards for the wishes of the owners. Too often the victims of Eminent Domain are the poor and the minority populations of the city who lack the resources to get fair hearings to retain their property and, at the least, force a fair settlement.

Eminent Domain is stealing from the poor to give to the rich. There is no way a person can be an advocate for the poor and allow the government the continued ability to steal property. The ACLU itself has come out against Eminent Domain, citing Kelo versus New London as a travesty of a Supreme Court decision detrimental to the poor.

Few protested the Kelo ruling more ardently than the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In an amicus brief filed in the case, it argued that "[t]he burden of eminent domain has and will continue to fall disproportionately upon racial and ethnic minorities, the elderly, and economically disadvantaged." Unfettered eminent domain authority, the NAACP concluded, is a "license for government to coerce individuals on behalf of society's strongest interests."

One cannot have civil liberty without sound property rights. It is not possible. All that is necessary to punish someone for behaving within the law but in ways that annoy the local government is for that local government to concoct a rationale to steal the property, and the nuisance person who embarrasses the city council no longer lives in the city. Eminent Domain is a weapon in the hands of those who desire greater government control over the public and to limit the rights of all.

All of those reasons take a back seat to the big reason the ACLU-SC opposes Proposition 98, and that is because Proposition 98 also attacks rent control.

It is said that if Proposition 98 passes, rent control will disappear and that will hurt the poor.

Anyone who has read the actual text of Proposition 98 knows that there is no merit to that argument.

First of all, rent control will not disappear. As long as the resident lives in the property, it will still be rent controlled. Someone who secures a rent controlled apartment the day before Proposition 98 goes into effect will still have a rent controlled apartment the day after it goes into effect. Every single rent controlled property is grandfathered out, not eliminated out right. This does not do a thing to weaken the situation of those in rent controlled properties.

Second, it is argued that this will eliminate federal fair housing laws. Nothing in the state government can touch a federal law.

Third, it is argued that this will make it impossible for a working or poor family to find available housing. That is the biggest fallacy of them all, as the entire history of rent control from the first time it was implemented shows that it has made housing less available and less affordable in every city that it has been tried in.

It is argued that without rent control nobody would be able to afford housing, which argues that landlords would rather allow property to sit idle than make a profit by renting out the property.

It is argued that without rent control housing landlords will throw people out of their dwellings without warning, an argument that can only be made by one who has never managed a business of any sort.

The truth is that rent control increases the cost of renting.

First, those who have rent controlled dwellings hold onto them for a very long time. If effect, they are hoarding the housing. This includes people who are middle class who secured the properties in their youth when their need for affordable housing was greater, but can easily afford better lodgings now. They remain in the properties because the cost is much lower, keeping out any and all new entrants into the housing market.

Since it is never the case that all of the housing in any city is rent controlled, this increases the demand for housing in the uncontrolled sector, pushing up the prices there. This amounts to a subsidy paid by the poor to those middle class who do not leave their dwellings.

Second, there is little incentive for investors to create more rental properties. Investors have a wide range of options to choose from when deciding where to invest. They could invest in rental properties, knowing that their returns will be low and will diminish in time. They could invest in other areas with much better returns. New rental properties are therefore not built.

Third, because rent control creates shortages, it creates the situation where poor and working families must crown into inferior sizes of housing, sometimes with two or more families in one unit, and it also exacerbates the homeless problem in the city.

The whole argument boils down to two basic economic misunderstandings. First there is ignorance of the laws of supply and demand, and the mistaken and misguided belief that the government can legislate against natural law. Just as it would be impossible for a city council to pass a law repealing the law of gravity, a city council cannot pass a law repealing the laws of supply and demand. When in an open market situation the equilibrium is close to the intersection of supply and demand. When the price is held artificially low by rent control laws, demand increases beyond the natural market state and supply drops similarly. Failure to account for such basic principles is the reasoning behind support of rent control.

Then there is the belief in market failures, that without the guiding hand of government the market is unable to function. People making this argument often say “yes, I believe in the free market, but there must be some controls.” That argument is untenable given the effectiveness record of rent control, as every control has made the situation worse, but that argument is still used all the time. Economic controls always backfire because it is impossible to repeal a natural law. Market failures are always the result government intervention, and using failures as an excuse for further interventions is recommending more poison as the cure for previous poison.

There is also the emotionally laded (but not rational in any sense) argument that by opposing rent control a person is siding with landlords against tenants, but the truth is that by opposing rent control one siding with both landlords and tenants against the government. Every time someone opposes rent control the argument is made that opposing rent control means that the person opposed to rent control hates the poor and loves the rich and wants the rich to profit off of the poor. It has to be an emotional argument because as has been demonstrated rent control actually hurts the poor. The motive for such an economically ignorant argument is "burn the rich."

Yes, proposition 98 is supported by wealthy land owners. They are looking out for their own best interests, just like everyone else. Somehow it is imagined that they should not have the right to look out for themselves. But in this case, their cause is also the cause of liberty. They have just as much of a right to security of property as everyone else. Hatred of the rich is a very base and undignified reason to support or oppose any measure. It is also supported by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer's Association, which should indicate how much this measure is for the benefit of all against the government.

Finally, this is primarily an Economic Liberty proposition, not a Civil Liberty proposition. Given the horrendous record the ACLU has on economics, and given that the focus of the ACLU is Civil Liberty, that alone should have been sufficient reason to take no position. But since the ACLU-SC decided to take action, it is imperative that economics be studied sufficiently to understand that support of Proposition 98 is the only position in line with the desire to increase liberty. It increases the liberty of the rich and the poor, it increases the opportunity of the rich and the poor, and not only does it fail to legislate against reality it instead opposes legislation that oppose reality.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Proper Standing

Accountability really is the biggest problem with any government. Some may say that in a despotic government other problems are bigger, but it is the lack of accountability that enables a government to grow to the levels necessary to become abusive.

The original design of the federal system of the United States had several checks put in place to assist in keeping the government accountable. In theory the branches of the government compete with each other, and the individual states jealously guard their power. In practice the various levels of government have learned game theory and have solved the prisoner’s dilemma and all branches play cooperate more often than they play defect.

In The police state cannot happen without the police the tendency of the police to fail to adequately police themselves was noted. In A Proposed Solution it was suggested that those outside the government be given authority to file criminal charges against government officials.

If breaking the civil-criminal wall were implemented, there are still several defenses the state has.

One major problem with this is the problem of standing. One can only file a lawsuit in any given case if one has been an injured party. An outside observer, witnessing a crime, cannot file charges against the criminal. The victim, directly involved in the crime, can file civil charges against the criminal. The government is the only third party actor with standing to file any charges. The government, not directly involved in the crime, can file criminal charges against the criminal.

Another problem is the Nuremberg Defense. While that defense is not allowed by agents of a conquered government in courts of the conquering government, it has been shown to be effective when the court trying the case is of the same government as the defendant.

But the standing issue really is not only a big hurdle, it’s a big opportunity if the law can be adjusted to allow for it. In addition to holding police accountable, an adjustment to the principles of standing can hold the entire government accountable. Currently the only way an individual can challenge the constitutionality of any given law that individual must be on trial for breaking said law or as a victim of said law.

This is the reason why the ACLU has had such a hard time suing over wiretapping performed by the U.S. Government in the name of the “War On Terror.” The ACLU needs to find an actual victim to represent, someone who was actually spied upon unconstitutionally or illegally. That person would have standing and therefore the ACLU could represent them. The problem is the U.S. Government won’t intentionally release the names of who they have been secretly spying on, and therefore the ACLU cannot act. Fortunately for the ACLU they were saved by government incompetence and a partial list of names was released and therefore there were identifiable victims.

If one is not accused of breaking the law in question, or if one is not a victim of the law in question, one does not have standing to question the validity of the law. That needs to be remedied, and would be another check on the power of the government. Given the bromide that “we are the government” then theoretically everyone should be considered to have standing to challenge any law

If anyone could, at any time, file a case (at their own expense) to challenge the validity of the law it would be a legal nightmare. Therefore there will need to be guidelines and restrictions put in place to winnow out the more spurious cases. The guidelines already in place would serve as a good starting point, although they are more restrictive than they need to be. The only modification to the guidelines advocated is to remove the need for proper standing with regards to challenging legislation. This would also have the advantage of cutting through the government solution to the prisoners dilemma.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Purist versus Pragmatists

Once again the battle within the Libertarian Party between the purists and the pragmatists is heating up. The case for the pragmatists is thus: what is the virtue of being pure if you cannot get elected to positions where your ideas can influence others? The case for the purists is thus: what is the virtue of getting elected when you have to sacrifice your beliefs to get elected?

There is a certain amount of logic to each position, but only to a certain extent, and the weaker case is that of the pragmatists. If sacrificing for the purpose of popularity is an effective tactic, how far should this be taken? Just how much should be sacrificed? The nether terminus of that line of questioning is to go back to the two major political parties because for the overwhelming majority of political offices the holder comes from one of those two parties.

For a long time the purists have been in control of the party, and the platform has reflected this, which is very fortunate. The platform is the end goal, the ultimate desired state, and therefore should never be watered down. The war in Iraq has given focus to the Pragmatists as many of them are also Interventionists. In 2006 the pragmatists managed to organize into a "Reform Caucus" and take control of the Libertarian Party convention and shred major portions of the platform.

Now that the task before the Libertarian Party is to pick a new presidential candidate, the rivalry is heating up again. Among the candidates favored by the purists are Mary Ruwart and Steve Kubby. Among the candidates favored by the pragmatists are Wayne Root and Bob Barr. Also this has been reflected in the Republican presidential primary as libertarians of the purist faction favored Ron Paul while prominent pragmatists have come out against him to the point where Reason Magazine actually published a hit piece in order to accuse Rep. Paul of racism.

The argument in favor of Mr. Barr is that while he’s not pure he is significantly libertarian. As was put at one point "He’s 80% but can get 4% of the vote. Ruwart is closer to 100% but will get less than 1%."

Is Mr. Barr at the estimated 80%? His detractors have asked many questions of him that would either confirm or disprove his conversion to libertarianism, but thus far there have been no answers forthcoming. His supporters say that by asking the questions in the first place that purists are sabotaging the party by insisting that a candidate be perfect.

Asking questions in not the same as insisting a candidate be perfect. All asking questions does is try to find out his positions on the issues. Has he changed his opinion on Pagans serving in the military? Has he changed his opinion on Faith Based Initiatives? Has he changed his opinion on No Child Left Behind or Prescription Drug Coverage for Seniors?

Asking those questions doesn’t mean he has to be 100% libertarian, it means that if he wants support he should come up with reasonable answers instead of non answers. Supporters of Barr, pragmatists all, insist that Mr. Barr shouldn’t have to pass a purity test of libertarianism. The truth is that while a perfect score should not necessarily be needed, taking the test in the first place is needed.

As an alternative, if Mr. Barr will not answer those questions, there is one potential running mate that could allay any worries about his deviation from the libertarian line, a candidate who while also impure deviates in precisely the opposite way and if paired could potentially create a ticket where the negatives balance each other out: Mike Gravel. Mr. Gravel could never pass a libertarian purity tests, and would never be the choice of the purists on his own. Strangely he is not the choice of the pragmatists either, even though he also has greater public name recognition than any of the other candidates (save Barr).

He isn’t thought of by them because perhaps there is some grain of truth to the suspicion that the pragmatists are hoping that Mr. Barr might be a stealth interventionist candidate, the was Mr. Root was before he discovered that being an advocate of war was the last position a potential libertarian candidate wanted if his goal is to win the nomination. Mr. Root had the potential to be pro-war after winning the nomination, and so does Mr. Barr. There is no such suspicion with Mr. Gravel.

Also many of the pragmatists, for all their dislike of Ron Paul, are often accused of being sympathetic or soft on the Republicans. If Mr. Barr isn’t pure libertarian, he is impure in a very Republican direction, which is sure to please the Republican-leaning pro-war "pragmatists". Mike Gravel is sure to displease for all the reasons they suspect Bob Barr will please.

Still, the best hope the "pragmatists" have of convincing the purists to support Barr with any degree of enthusiasm would be the precisely opposite candidate. While better candidates exist, such as Mary Ruwart, the best ticket may be Barr-Gravel.