Saturday, February 27, 2010

Libertarianism and Unions

The array of arguments against libertarianism that have no source is always impressive. Just as the traffic light argument comes from an argument that no libertarian ever made, there is also a belief that libertarians are anti-union.

Given that unions are covered under the right of free association, it should be obvious that libertarians are not anti-union. It is well known among opponents of libertarians that libertarianism supports free association, to the point where the fallacious argument is made that arguments in favor of free association are actually a cover, in the form of eloquent verbiage, for racism.

Yet for some reason a philosophy whose greatest pride is its consistency is expected to abrogate the right of free association if the association is called a union.

Unlike the traffic light argument there may be a somewhat reasonable source for the union argument. Given the current state of affairs, where the government is a club to be used against ones opponents, not wishing for one side to have the club is considered by default to want the other side to have the club.

A hypothetical scene from the Lord of the Rings may best describe it, the characters being familiar enough so that twisting them into slightly new roles is possible.

Sauron (representing big business) and Saruman (representing unions) are both trying to convince Frodo (representing libertarians) to hand over the Ring of Power (representing power).

Saruman: Frodo, you must give me the ring, otherwise Sauron will have it. I only have your best interests at heart.

Frodo: But I want to destroy the ring.

Saruman: No, since you don’t want to give it to me, it is proof that you actually want to give it to Sauron.

Frodo: What? No, I want to destroy it because I don’t want anyone to have it.

Saruman: No, that’s just fancy words you are using to cover up your true desires. I’m tired of your hobbit double talk. You really support Sauron. Look, by walking to the Cracks of Doom, you are walking to Mordor, which shows you want to give him the ring.

Given that many are incapable of imagining one actively not wanting either side to have power, and the Manichean outlook produced by the two party system, a person can be forgiven for initially thinking that since libertarians don't support special government favors for unions that they must support special government favors for businesses, but only until they actually meet their first libertarian.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The recovery is still elusive

A year after the stimulus packages were enacted, Barack Obama is still claiming that the stimulus worked, that it created or saved jobs, and that without it the country would still be in a recession, or perhaps even a depression. Most libertarians would laugh at the claim, but as Ayn Rand pointed out, if you want to know if something is right you have to ask "by what standard?"

What exactly did the stimulus do? The stimulus created temporary government jobs to mask unemployment. Since government spending is included in GDP calculations, it increased the GDP, and then later when the money cycled through the banks it enabled failing banks to show a profit and give bonuses, thus creating a secondary GDP boost. The true point of the stimulus was to make the numbers look good, and since the stimulus made the numbers look good the stimulus actually worked.

By the standard of creating an economic recovery the stimulus was a failure though. The money to pay for the stimulus was borrowed, creating an imminent threat of massive inflation, perhaps even hyper-inflation. While make-work jobs, supposedly shovel-ready, were created, those jobs were not jobs that add to the economy in the long run.

Since "recession" is defined by consecutive quarters of negative GDP growth, it is true that the stimulus put a hiccup in the recession. Some analysts will undoubtedly say that the recession ended and a new one began a quarter later. If the current method of calculating is to be believed, then yes, the stimulus ended the recession - but at the cost of exacerbating the depression.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

TSA follies

It has been a difficult season for the Transportation Security Agency.

December started with a leaked TSA screening manual, unredacted, appearing on Wikileaks. Following shortly after that was a particularly inept attempt at a home vasectomy which unfortunately took place on an airplane. The TSA tried to claim credit for the passengers stopping the bomber by saying that the fellow passengers are a "layer of security", even though these same passengers are the ones that the TSA considers to be terrorist suspects, guilty until proven innocent.

Even though the Whole Body Imaging would not have found these insufficient explosives, the move to install them at every airport was accelerated, along with additional proposed nonsensical rules such as having nothing on the lap and not leaving the seat for the entire last hour of the flight. Fast on the heels of the move to accelearate Whole Body Imaging, the news discovered two separate sexual improprieties involving the TSA.

First there was the TSO who was found to be a child molester, seeking a "sex slave" from a girl he had groped. Then there was the TSO who was arrested for posession of child pornography. While normally a persons criminal acts do not reflect on their employer, this is the employer who wants these deviants to perform virtual strip searches of travelers - including children.

So what of actually stopping actual threats? After all, one might actually forgive the TSA for these follies if they contributed to security, but that does not seem to be the case. It was discovered that yet another child was on the extra screening selectee list, a feeding tube was thrown away even though it was medically necessity, and someone who was so dangerous he studied his Arabic homework in an airport was subjected to extra screening. Not able to find actual criminals, they pretended to find one by planting drugs to find in the bag of an innocent traveler as part of a "training exercise." But they failed to stop a fake federal marshal who was allowed through security with his firearm in order to place an unwilling passenger on a plane to another country.

Perhaps it is time to replace the TSA with an actual security agency, before the move to unionize the screeners gains any momentum.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Top Two

Recently a political advertisement arrived in the mail from CAIVP - the California Independent Voter Project or California Independent Voter Network. They are an organization backing a "Top Two" initiative.

The proposal is to open the primaries to everyone, and then the two candidates who receive the most votes, regardless of party, will appear on the final election ballot. This means that in the final race the votes could be limited to just choosing between a Republican and a Democrat, or they could be limited to just choosing between two Republicans or between two Democrats.

CAIVP assures the voters that third parties will not be negatively impacted.

How will Top Two Candidates Open Primary impact third party candidates?

The Top Two Open Primary will level the playing field for third parties by allowing them to appeal to broader base of voters in the primary. Under the current election system, third parties have an extremely difficult time winning legislative, congressional and statewide elections. Only one third party candidate has served in the state legislature in modern California history. Under a Top Two Open Primary system, for example, a general election could conceivably pit a Democrat against a Green party candidate in San Francisco or a Republican and Libertarian candidate against each other in Orange County.

It is bad enough that this attacks free association, as the individuals in political parties have a right to say who they are and are not associated with, but the position put forth by CAIVP stands in stark contrast to reports by third parties in states where "top two" has been implemented. The effect has been to shut out Greens and Libertarians in the state of Washington except in races where there was no major party opposition to major party incumbents.

Even when someone claiming association with a third party did make it to the November ballot (as in the cases where there was no major party opposition) there really is a "purity of message" issue. A hard core libertarian could claim "Green" and thus dilute the message of the Green Party, and a hard core green could claim "Libertarian" and thus dilute the message of the Libertarian Party. It is bad enough that Libertarians have to deal with the No True Libertarian argument as well as other baseless accusations, this would truly make it impossible for third and minor parties to get their message out.

If reform is the goal, try attacking the obstacles to ballot access instead, or try attacking safe districts or campaign finance limits. Phony reform is not what is needed.