Friday, April 24, 2009

Two faces of liberalism

Although five factions of liberalism were explored in Liberalism, Conservatism, and Libertarianism and the relationship between liberals and libertarians was explored in Liberals versus the Nolan Chart, sometimes it is useful to re-examine a subject, to look at it from a new perspective.

One way to consider the problem of liberalism and the relationship between liberals and libertarians is to consider two distinct types of liberals. These types are very difficult to distinguish because they have the same goals and the same proposals to accomplish these goals.

In Liberals versus the Nolan Chart, it was considered that liberals and libertarians have the same end goals of economic fairness and civil liberty but take exactly the opposite approach to reach these goals. Since unlike the conservative to either camp the goals are the same, this could produce sympathy between liberals and libertarians. Since the methods are so diametrically opposed this more often produces friction between the two groups.

Theoretically it should be possible to open up a dialogue to discuss which method would achieve the goal. This seldom works, and one of the reasons it doesn’t work is because of the two types of liberals.

The difference between the two types is very fine. For all intents and purposes they are indistinguishable. What separates them is that one chooses the means in order to reach the goal, while the other chooses the goal in order to reach the means. For instance, while one supports unionization in order to achieve economic fairness for workers, one supports economic fairness for workers in order to achieve unionization. For one the primary purpose is economic fairness. For the other the primary purpose is unionization.

The two types are what makes it so difficult to engage in that dialogue. When a libertarian says "Universal Health Care is not the way to ensure everyone gets health care" one type may be willing to listen. Does the libertarian perhaps have a better proposal? The other type is completely unwilling to listen because any proposal the libertarian might have conflicts with the higher goal of implementing UHC for the sake of implementing UHC.

With that type there can actually be no compromise. While too many liberals are trying socialism in an effort to achieve the same goals of libertarians, these don’t actually care at all about the shared goals of libertarians and liberals but only use the words in an effort to advance an agenda of government power.

In other words, they are conservatives using different rhetoric.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Who would be hurt by ending the drug war

A friend actually requested this article. The economic dislocations of ending the drug war is one reason that she cannot yet back doing so. She wanted this issue explored farther.

Momentum is growing to legalize some drugs, which is good. So what will it mean if drugs are legalized?

In terms of abuse, it is unlikely that matters will change significantly in terms of general usage. The ending of prohibition provides an object lesson in that as consumption of alcohol changed very little once prohibition was repealed. If anything the damage will be lessened the way the damage of alcohol was lessened due to the introduction of quality and price competition.

But the real area of focus is in how the economy will be impacted by the ending of drug prohibition.

Government statistics show that a significant portion of the prison population is "non-violent drug offenders." It's not the best indicator, as the best is "victimless drug offenders." A victimless drug offender only includes those involved in purchase, sale, possession, or use of drugs, and conspiracy to purchase, sell, possess, or use drugs. Non-violent drug offender can include those who steal without hurting anyone. "Victimless" also includes money launderers from the drug sales.

It's also often reported that the prisons are overcrowded. Releasing the victimless drug offenders will reduce overcrowding by a significant amount. This will bring a recession into the prison construction industry, but those in that industry can apply their talents to constructing other buildings.

This will also significantly reduce the role of any police involved in drug enforcement, from city and county level up to the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Those on the city and county level, where most laws are enforced, will be able to turn their attention to crimes that actually have victims. In an ideal world police reports about drug enforcement mean that all other crimes have been solved. In this world those reports mean that time is being taken away from all other crimes.

It is at the level of the Drug Enforcement Agency where real changes will be seen. Taking just marijuana off the enforcement list alone will reduce the need for their operations enough to cut both budget and jobs.

This could result in unemployment among drug enforcement agents. Many of them could transfer to other departments within law enforcement. Given that all of them are already tax consumers instead of wealth producers, switching them from drug enforcement to welfare recipient merely switches numbers from one column to another.

Plus it enriches everyone else because even if their welfare exactly equals their salary they cannot impoverish anyone through the activities of their job any more.

Due to a decline in crime, including violent crime, law enforcement will find they have less to do. As a result, slowly, the police may start to reduce their numbers. That is actually unlikely as government agencies exist to expand their budgets instead of achieving efficiency. More likely the police will claim that budgets need to be maintained or expanded to continue the downward trend in crime.

Cities will no longer need to pay reparations for wrong house no knock raids (sometimes ending in the death of the house occupant and always ending in death of their dogs). Lawsuits will decline as a result. The cities will be richer by the amount of those lawsuits. Those who live at the places that may be raided are not impoverished by the raids anymore. (And the dogs are all safe.)

The biggest losers of drug legalization are the criminal syndicates that currently supply illegal drugs. They will lose their market share, their standard of living will rapidly plummet – and they will not be able to wage war on their competition.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The war on home-based businesses

In the entry Home Business Opportunities, various endeavors one could invest in with low startup costs were investigated, endeavors that could operate out of the home. These could function as home based businesses as well as sidelines to primary employment.

Many potential businesses are already forbidden to entrants without extensive resources due to prohibitive licensing requirements, a subject much examined by the Institute for Justice as they try to remedy the various laws that prohibit people from working their way out of poverty.

But it is impossible to license every single field. It is impossible to prohibit home businesses. While certain fields can be forbidden or strictly regulated, the realm of human endeavor is too broad for piece-meal laws to restrict.

In order to inhibit home based businesses it is necessary for there to be very broad laws to catch any endeavor not already covered by existing licensure laws.

Two such bills have recently been in the congress. One has been signed into law and one is in committee.

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act is one of those laws.

Anyone who makes any home crafts, from furniture to clothing, has to spend exorbitant sums of money to test the product and ensure that the amount of lead in it is safely under the legal limit, even if there was no lead involved at any stage of manufacture. Buying yarn, knitting a scarf, and selling that scarf is now restricted unless the scarf is tested – even though the yarn has theoretically been tested.

An exception to that rule is that it may be theoretically possible to say that the product is not primarily intended for children, requiring extensive market research to determine if that is the case, extensive market research that (like the testing) is something large corporations can afford but home based enterprises cannot.

The other is the Food Safety Modernization Act which will do for the family farm what the CPSIA did to the family firm.

It is officially target at organic farms, requiring them to use commercial fertilizers and pesticides that organic farmers currently do not use. But that is not the full scope of the law. Anyone who sells any excess produce (as family farms often do) are subject to this law as those family farms are now commercial farms. This bill also includes standard for feed of livestock

Also this creates a Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services that tracks the DNA of food products, which would be of great benefit to the primary lobbyist in favor of the bill, Monsanto. Given how bees are spreading genetically modified crop pollen to organic farms and family farms, Monsanto feels entitled to payment whenever a farmer has contaminated seed.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with genetically modified crops, billing innocent farmers is a dirty tactic. Pushing a bill through congress to make it easier is even dirtier. That this will ultimately undermine the family farm when excess produce is produced is a terrible idea in the middle of a recession or at the beginning of a depression.

Two very broad sweeping bills, they essentially cover any product you can sell that is edible (FSMA) or inedible (CPISA). A home based business either sells products or services, and these bills restrict products. Since most services are either licensed or are illegal, these bills finish the destruction of the home business.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Analysis of the California Ballot Propositions for May 2009

Generally analysis of ballot propositions is quite simple. Any ballot proposition that advances liberty is supported, any that diminishes it is opposed, and any lateral movement is abstained. But sometimes special circumstances around a ballot proposition can force one to think tactically instead of strategically and take a position outside the normal rule. Some of the ballot propositions are clearly anti-liberty, some have the potential to be mixed, and some of them are lateral movements. Only one of them is good.

Proposition 1A is the worst that will be on the May ballot. If it is approved there will be a budget cap, but there will also be two additional years of higher taxes. The budget cap contains loopholes so that voter approved initiatives could divert money from the “rainy day fund” and any tax increase raises the budget limit. The arguments against were carefully chosen from friendly sources to ensure that they do not mention the extended taxes. If Proposition 1A fails the voters get two years of higher taxes. If Proposition 1A passes the voters get four years of higher taxes. This measure must be opposed.

Proposition 1B is simply additional spending. In the best of times libertarians oppose additional spending, and these are not the best of times. It diverts money from the rainy day fund and gives it to the schools. The catch is that Proposition 1B only passes if Proposition 1A passes, making this a bribe to the teachers to not oppose Proposition 1A. Normally the teacher’s union would oppose even a phony budget cap as offered by Proposition 1A, but if they oppose Proposition 1A they lose proposition 1B. This measure also must be opposed.

Proposition 1C allows the state to sell the proceeds from future lottery earnings. Essentially this allows the state to go into debt by borrowing against the lottery. It is by going into debt that California got into the current mess it is in. It would be simpler to just divert money from the lottery. In some respects this is a lateral move that would simply be ignored, and in some respects this is more debt that should be opposed, but if it is treated as a lateral move this is one of those exceptions about ignoring lateral moves. If this is considered lateral, it should be opposed for the tactical reason of solving the budget crisis on the backs of the taxpayers. This would nullify part of the horrendous budget deal and force the legislators back to work. Whether considered as a diminishing of liberty or a lateral movement, this measure should be opposed.

Propositions 1D and 1E are both clearly lateral movements. They divert money from special funds that libertarians opposed in the first place. Proposition 1D allows the state to divert money from a special children and families fund created in 1998 by raising taxes on cigarettes. Proposition 1E allows the state to divert money from a special mental health fund created in 2004 by raising taxes on millionares. Both of these take special fund monies and put them in the general fund. There may be a libertarian argument in favor of doing that, but because approval of these propositions would facilitate the horrible budget deal they should be opposed.

Proposition 1F is the only good measure on the ballot. It prohibits pay raises for the legislature and they governor if the budget has not passed. This one should be supported.