Friday, March 25, 2011

A Union Argument

Although it is abundantly clear that libertarians are not anti-union, and actually have no problem with unions in general, there still exists the belief that libertarians are against unions. It is because libertarians do not support special favors for unions that libertarians are accused of being anti-union. In order to prove this point, a peculiar argument is made.

In the past, there have been incidents of violence by the employers against striking union members. As a result Union leadership has sought special protection by the government against businesses that would commit such acts of violence. Libertarians oppose any special legislation for or against unions, so therefore libertarians oppose this special legislation as well, so therefore libertarians support when businessmen inflict violence against union members.

There are problems with that argument. The first of them is that union members have been known to use violence against scabs. While that is not an argument for or against special legislation, when an argument used in favor of a proposition can also be used against it that is a pretty good sign that the argument is not very sound.

The major flaw is that libertarians are against the violent crime of battery. If violence is used by employers against union members, that means violence is being used against individuals. Any libertarian that recognizes a purpose for government would insist that government use its power to defend the rights of individuals, especially the right to life and the sanctity of the body of the individual.

In such a minarchist system, a businessman who hires people to assault union workers, and any thugs who are employed by that businessman for that purpose, are all criminals. The government should therefore enforce the laws that already exist, and laws already exist to protect striking union members from being assaulted by the hired thugs.

If the laws are not being enforced in the first place, there seems a strange futility in calling for more laws to do what existing laws already cover. That is why it also seems strange that libertarians, who do not believe in assaulting union workers when they go on strike, are considered to be anti-union.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


In the past ten years many people have learned a very hard lesson about military entanglements in the Middle East. An increasing number of people want to end the wars there, and for a variety of reasons. Some are opposed to the financial cost, some are swayed by Just War theory, some because the two major wars (as well as the minor ones) have had too great a cost in human life, some because the war was never actually declared, and some for a combination of reasons. Some people who were initially in favor of invading Afghanistan and Iraq have even turned against those wars.

On the other hand, since January 19, 2009, some who had taken an opposition position on the war turned out to be in favor, provided that the right people were in charge.

For the political leadership of the United States, nothing has been learned in the 10 years that the United States has been in an undeclared war against various countries that just happen to be key countries in the oil and gas industry. They still believe that a simple invasion to support some side will quickly achieve favorable results.

Of course there are some differences from the earlier wars of a decade ago. Obama, unlike Bush, is careful to get as many approvals from as many different international bodies as he can, in order to give proper window dressing to yet another intervention in another country that just happens to be an oil producing country. But like Bush, Obama failed to get the one approval mandated by the constitution.

True, Libya produces far less than Saudi Arabia or Iraq, as defenders of this conflict will point out, but as all economists know all activity takes place on the margin and any change in Libya’s output impacts prices throughout the entire oil market.

At this point, in proper Democratic Party militarism form, the initial intervention will be in the form of No-Fly zones, air patrols. It was the same pattern for Clinton in both Iraq and in the former Yugoslavia. Eventually ground troops were sent in to both, with Clinton sending troops in to Bosnia and Bush sending troops in to Iraq.

If Obama holds true to the pattern of other pro-war Democrats, ground troops are only a matter of time. Then the US will be embroiled in yet another war of occupation. In ten years the people have learned, but the political class that claims to represent them haven’t.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wayne Root and Julian Assange

Although Wayne Root has a multitude of media appearances, and has his own blog, and publishes articles through the Libertarian Party Website, he appears reluctant to respond to feedback.

The only place where negative comments are allowed is when Independent Political Report reposts one of his articles.

He deserves credit for replying to some comments on IPR when they are directed at him, but some questions are rather consistently ducked.

Perhaps it is because he markets himself with the rather contradictory title "Reagan Libertarian" and had positioned himself as the most pro-war of libertarian presidential candidates until he discovered that libertarians are anti-war. But given that he is attempting to become the Libertarian Party presidential candidate for 2012, perhaps he should consider answering the really hard questions.

Such as "What is your position on Wikileaks, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, et al?"

For libertarians it would be easy to answer to the point where there is no point in asking the question. Support for Bradley Manning is unequivocal. Support for Julian Assange and Wikileaks is very strong. No libertarian would have anything negative to say about the posting of the Collateral Damage video.

Why then is Wayne Root not giving his opinion on this issue?

If he treats reporters the way he treats Libertarians when they start asking the difficult questions they will be far less forgiving, and while he will still get more press than any other Libertarian it will not be the press he desires since not all press is good press.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Economic Power

In Behavior Psychology, there are four options available for modifying behavior: apply reward, withhold reward, apply punishment, and withhold punishment. To promote desired behaviors, one can either reward the behavior or punish the lack. To deter undesired behaviors, one can either punish the behavior or fail to punish the lack.

These are understood in analogy with the "carrot and stick" analogy, wherein one can get a donkey to pull a cart either by offering a carrot or beating it with a stick. One is considered a positive motivator while the other is a negative motivator. The driver can either offer or withhold a carrot, and can either apply or withhold the stick.

Although both reward and punishment can be used to bring out a desired behavior, and both reward and punishment can be used to suppress an undesired behavior, the difference between them is crucial.

Since people insist on equivocating between public employee unions and real unions, the protests in Wisconsin have people discussing the power of corporations and why this country needs unions to protect the workers from corporations. This always accompanies an argument about the dangers of economic power. Then there is an appeal for the government to protect the people from corporations.

But what exactly is economic power and how is it different from political power? Economic power is entirely the power of reward, the "carrot." A multi-billionaire, no matter how much economic power he has, cannot force anyone to do anything. All he can do is keep offering more money, more incentive, until people agree to do what it is the multi-billionaire wants.

This stands in stark contrast to political power which is entirely the power of punishment, the "stick." When a political official wants something done, the form it takes is a command with the threat of punishment to back it up. It is true that sometimes the government offers subsidies, which appear like gifts or bribes, but the only time the government has "carrots" to offer is when it has taken "carrots" from others first.

This is illustrated best by Rockefeller Center and by Phizer Corporation in New London, Connecticut. When Rockefeller wanted to build his center, he purchased the property to do so. This was done in 1930, which although after the "gilded age" was still before the modern regulatory state and according to modern conventional wisdom there was nothing to restrain the wealthy from doing whatever they wanted.

There were two holdouts. One property owner wanted far more than John Rockefeller was willing to pay, and the other simply didn't want to sell. For all his wealth he was not able to force the two property owners to sell him for the price he offered.

In the modern age, where the government acts to protect people from the rapacious rich, Pfizer simply bribed the city council of New London to seize the property of the homeowners and deliver it to Pfizer. It is true that modern corporations do have some stick power, but only because some sticks are given to them by the government.

The abuses of modern corporations are a direct result, instead of a cause of, government intervention. Anyone who is arguing that government intervention is needed to protect the people from the power of the corporations is either equivocating economic and political power, or is reversing cause and effect.