Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good Strategy for Promoting Liberty

I think Radley Balko is onto a great strategy to promote liberty. It's basically the same strategy non-libertarians (statists, alarmists, public healthists, public safetyists, etc.) have been using for years. The strategy? Focus on the personal victims of whatever evil you're trying to expose. Think about it...for smoking ban advocates, it's stories about the poor single-mom waitress who has lung cancer despite never smoking a day in her life after working at a restaurant (where smoking is allowed) for 30 years. For the MADD crowd, nothing's more effective than the infamous "Happy Birthday" commercials where a home video of a child's birthday party is shown while a narrator informs viewers that the child was killed by a drunk driver. For food safety alarmists, it's not the fact that 15 out of 300 million people got sick from eating bad spinach, it's that the old man is in critical condition at a local hospital after eating a salad.

Libertarians and free market advocates know they're right in the grand scheme of things. It's not even close. Look at things like global standards of living, then look at levels of economic, social, and press freedom. On the macro level, it's clear that greater liberty equals a better society for all. On the macro level, the few people who actually care enough to objectively consider the macro-level generally accept this idea.

But on the micro level, where most of the people (most of the voters!!) make their decisions, the non-libertarians dominate. When was the last time you saw a local (or even national) news story that focused on the abuse of power by government and/or how government hurts people's lives. Rarely. And if there is such a story, it's usually couched in terms that make the government's co-conspirators (such as a money-hungry corporation) look worse than the government. What's far more likely is a story about how some business or landlord is ripping people off, how someone died because of "gun violence," or some victim-laden story about the "digital divide" or the growing gap between rich and poor. And almost inevitably the stated or implied solution to such problems is more government action.

Anyway, back to the lecture at hand. "If it bleeds, it leads." That's the de facto axiom of news broadcasts. Why? Because people sympathize with personal stories. It doesn't even really matter what the story is; if there's a personal story with a likable person as a victim, it's perfect for the news.

And I think that libertarians are finally realizing this. Radley Balko is leading the charge at using personal stories to illustrate how government policies and government corruption can ruin the life of a real, actual person with a face and a name. Finally libertarians are understanding that what sells are personal stories on the micro level. You can talk all you want about how increased economic liberty will lead to a better society for all, but that point gets lost on most of the audience. What really gets people are real-world examples of individual victims.

Friday, December 1, 2006

Design For Not Needing To Be Fixed

I finally fixed the door knob for the door going between the garage and my house (for the last couple of months I had just taped the latching mechanism opened so that I wouldn't have to deal with it), and I discovered that the door knob has a really obvious design flaw. But first some background.

A couple of months ago, I attempted to open the door going to the garage from inside the house. To my surprise, the knob turned, but the door didn't open. I kept turning the knob, and nothing happened...I quickly deduced that the knob wasn't mechanically coupled to the latching mechanism, so turning the knob would do no good. Since the only other way into the garage was through the garage door openers inside the cars that were parked inside the garage, the only way I could get into the garage would be to somehow open the door. Luckily, after a couple of attempts, I was able to pry the latch open by wedging a butter knife in-between the latch and the slot in the door frame into which the latch moves, and I got the door open. Since I was in a hurry, I simply put a piece of tape over the latch to prevent it from going back into the slot when the door closed.

Later, when I removed the entire door knob assembly, I figured out that the way the knob was coupled to the latch was with a simple square (square in cross-section) bar. As the diagram below shows, the Square Slot (in which the Square Bar resides) in the Internal Door Knob has an extra little feature that the Square Bar press-fits into. The square bar travels through the Door, through the Latching Mechanism, and into the External Door Knob. Turn either knob, and the square bar to which the knob is rigidly fixed turns the latching mechanism and just like that, the door unlatches.

Figure 1 - How it's supposed to work

After looking at all the parts of the door knob assembly, I realized that to fix it, I'd simply have to re-rigidly-fix the square bar to one of the door knobs. This was easy enough, and in just a couple of minutes the door knob was back on the door, fully functional.

The design flaw
So what's the big deal? Well, this whole charade could easily have been avoided if the door knob were better designed. The following diagram shows what the door knob system looked like when it was broken.

Figure 2 - How it broke

As stated above, the problem is that the Square Bar had become de-coupled from the Press-fit Insert in the Square Slot in the Internal Door Knob. But what really made matters worse is the fact that the Square Bar was too short! As the above diagram shows, since the Square Bar was so short, once it became detached from the Press-fit Insert it was able to float freely, and eventually it moved such that turning the Internal Door Knob would no longer actuate the Square Bar. Plus, the fact that the only way the Square Bar can be coupled to the Internal Door Knob end of the Square Slot is via a press-fit, there's no way the Square Bar, once loose, would ever incidentally fall back into the Internal Door Knob.

The solution
The solution to all of this madness would simply be to make the Square Bar longer. In fact, it should be almost as long as the entire Square Slot. This would alleviate the need for the extra Press-fit Insert, plus there would be no way for the Square Bar to become decoupled from either the Internal or External Door Knobs. The following diagram shows the proposed solution.

Figure 3 - How to really solve the problem

Simple is better.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Nice rant

Mark Frauenfelder, the "small l libertarian" contributor to Boing Boing, has a nice rant about the incidental War on Allergy Sufferers, an unlikely child of the War on Terrorism and the War on Drugs:

For one thing, I'm one of those crazy (small l) libertarians who thinks drug laws, on the whole, hurt society more than they help society, so I don't like this law. It's a shame that some people ruin their lives and their families' lives by using meth and other drugs, but the innocent people killed by muggers who need money to buy expensive drugs, the enrichment of street gangs and organized crime rings that sell illegal drugs, the corruption of government officials who take bribes from smugglers, the people who are falsely arrested on trumped up drug charges, the people who are killed by crazed bounty hunters and police raiding the wrong houses, the seizure of property belonging to people who didn't know there were drugs on their property, and the imprisonment of non-violent drug users amount to a bigger problem, I think. I am in favor of abolishing all drug laws.
Well said.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

New Market for the Liberty Dollar?

I thought of something the other day. How might the recent ban on financial transactions for internet gambling affect using Liberty Dollars to pay for such services? After all, if the Liberty Dollar is not legal tender (PDF), can it really be covered under a ban on financial transactions? Isn't it just a fancy form of bartering?

Imagine...Liberty Dollars becoming the de facto standard currency for a fun activity that adults choose to participate in but that busybody politicians seek to prohibit...It's a perfect match!

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.


In case anyone has looked at this blog in the past couple months, I'd like to provide three reasons excuses for the dearth of posts:

1.) I got married in July, and that took up a lot of time
2.) I got a puppy in August, and that took up a lot of time
3.) I got a new car in September, and that took up a lot of time

Es tut mir leid.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The usability of buttons

There's a new bad design up at In this case, Mike criticizes the use of poor icons on buttons used to control something (I still can't figure it out) in a car.

Indeed, the icons are useless. But I think another criticism of the buttons could be made. Any buttons placed within reach of the driver should require minimal visual attention, as the driver should be paying maximum attention to the task of driving (a task that is of course, highly visual). So not only should the buttons not be marked with confusing icons, they also shouldn't all be shaped and/or textured the same way.

The shape/texture of the buttons needn't necessarily map to their function, as the seat adjustment control in a Mercedes-Benz (pictured to the right) does; simply making them easily distinguishable to the touch and laying them out in a reasonable (perhaps naturally-mapped) configuration would do the trick. It's easy to remember that the square button does this, the circular button, does that, etc. Far easier, then remembering that the top-middle button, which feels like all the other buttons, does something.

Sources of images: Button image from here. Seat-adjustment image from Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (2002)

Promoting Corporate Success vs. Promoting Consumer Choice

There are two ways to promote deregulation/privatization/marketization, which I'll refer to in this post simply as DPM. The first is to focus on the benefits to the economy, specifically the benefits that would come to "business." For example, someone might suggest that DPM will "be good for business," which to the average person that isn't already convince of the benefits of DPM sound like "allow big corporations that take advantage of the 'little guys' to make more money."

Of course, this couldn't be further from the truth, but that doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is the public's perception. It's frustrating, but it's true.

So what's the other way to promote DPM? By focusing on the increased choice ("consumer choice" is the most favorable way to phrase it) that will result from instituting DPM or, even better, never even enacting regulations in the first place. Tim Lee has done a great job of doing this in this op-ed, which argues against enacting legislation that would attempt to preserve "net neutrality."

Tim's op-ed sounds very positive to me. Even though he's arguing against the populist position (which says that we need net neutrality to maintain equal access to the internet), his argument comes off to me as slightly populist (i.e. it has popular appeal).

To sum up:
  1. more profits = bad public perception
  2. more consumer choice = good public perception
Both arguments are valide reasons for supporting DPM, but argument #2 won't instantly alienate half of the electorate.

Deregulation vs. Privatiziation vs. Marketization

In general, libertarians (and some conservatives) favor reducing regulations. A term that was once popular but that now seems to carry negative connotations is "deregulation." For many, this term essentially means selling out to big corporate interests, usually at the expense of the public.

Whether such a perception is right or wrong is irrelevant--if people think that deregulation is bad, then it is bad.

An even nastier term than dergulation is "privatization." This term reeks of the corrupt sale of big Soviet industries to seedy businessmean and profiteers.

A better term (for now, at least) is marketization, which sounds better when it's used as a verb: "Energy rates would decrease if we were to marketize the power distribution system."

This term has two things going for it: (1) it hasn't been used a lot (at least recently) and (2) its root word is generally more positive and more accurately characterizes the goal of the concept.

"Deregulation" is inherently a negative word (with the prefix "de"), and simply "deregulating" something doesn't address what will happen to that something after it is no longer regulated.

"Privatiziation's" root word is "private," which connotes selfishness. Again, what will happen to something once it is "privatized?" Will those who had access to it in the past continue to have access to it in the future?

"Marketization's" root word, however, is "market." "Market" is the term that pretentious people use for "stores," as in, "I'm going to pick some celery up at the market." Plus, if something is "marketized," we know what the outcome will be. It will be transformed from its non-market state to a market state. That's all. Nothing to worry about.

But for me the post positive thing about "marketization" is that its root word implies consumer choice. What kind of "market" has only one option?

I'm sure there are technical differences between the three terms discussed above, but that doesn't really matter to me because I'm not an economist. And it doesn't really matter to a majority of Americans (who also aren't economists), because all that's important for them (and especially for the people trying to reach them!) is what they perceive.

Sunday, July 9, 2006

Libertarians run some of the hottest "green" companies

Two well know libertarians, T.J. Rodgers and John Mackey, who participated in a famous debate about the social responsibility of businees with none other than Milton Friedman, run two of the hottest "green" companies--SunPower Corporation and Whole Foods, respectively. SunPower Corporation is a member of the Wired 40, where it is lauded for its "photovoltaic silicon [that] puts out 50 percent more juice per square inch." Whole Foods, of course, is the most successful chain of supermarkets offering "natural and organic"food.

See liberals? Libertarians are your friends.

Images from here.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

I hope this guy's not a libertarian

I found out about this from here.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Popular Science summary of new enegery technologies

This Popular Science site has some great summaries of future "alternative" energy ideas.

I found out about this site from this post.

Saturday, June 3, 2006

Another reason to abolish the FDA

From here:
The report, requested and funded by the Food and Drug Administration, lays out ways to help people manage their intake of calories from the growing number of meals prepared away from home, including at the nation's nearly 900,000 restaurants and other establishments that serve food.

The report encourages restaurants to shift the emphasis of their marketing to lower-calorie choices, and include more such options on menus. In addition, restaurants could jigger portion sizes and the variety of foods available in mixed dishes to reduce the overall number of calories taken in by diners.
What if a government agency "encouraged" media companies to show more "good news" and human interest stories, because, gee whiz, that stuff makes people feel better? What if a government agency recommended that atheists take a fresh look at Christianity, because Christians tend to be happier?

Such government intrusion into our media and our spirituality would be almost universally seen as wrong.

Why should it be any different with a government agency like the FDA? While the FDA and the healthists wear a public face of "serving the public good," it now seems like they're intentionally trying to usurp responsibility from individuals.

I don't want to be "encouraged" to eat more or less of anything, and I certainly don't want restaurants to be "urged" to serve smaller portions and more fruits and vegetables. 1.) Restaurants already serve a lot of fruits and vegetables...they're called salads! Almost every restaurant (including the Great Satan McDonald's) sells them. 2.) If you want a smaller portion, eat half of what you order and take the other half home.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Immigration Stupidness

Cap on high-tech visas for 2007 already met
WASHINGTON - The government has already reached the limit on high-tech worker visas for 2007 even though the fiscal year does not start until Oct. 1, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services said Thursday.

High-tech companies said that underscores the need to increase the 65,000 annual cap on the popular H-1B visas used to bring in engineers, computer programmers and others.
Why do we have this stupid cap in the first place? Oh, that's right, to protect high-tech jobs for American scientists and engineers.

(1) I bet every immigrant working as a scientist or engineer creates >1 high tech jobs for some American (probably someone with a business degree, which we have too many of).

(2) There aren't enough American scientists and engineers the way it is...everyone's majoring in business!

There's talk of increasing the cap to 115,000. I'm sure all of those would be filled just as quickly. We should get rid of the cap entirely and let all the Indians, Chinese, Korean, Russian, Nigerian, etc. scientists and engineers come to America. With any luck, they'll stay here and create millions of new jobs with the technologies they invent and companies they found.

Republicans are scared of libertarians

Sue Jeffers, who is a libertarian and is endorsed by the Minnesota LP, is prohibited from speaking at the Minnesota Republican Convention.

Bill Weld, a New York Republican endorsed by the New York LP, loses his party's endorsement.

Republicans in office at the federal level barely even bother to pay lip service to liberty anymore.

George Bush is touted for his big government conservatism.

Someone in Minneapolis gets it

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," he said. "The whole country seems to be going to the Soviet Union, I'll tell you that."
This comment was made by Minneapolis resident (and good honest American!) Gordon Anderson in regards to a proposal by Minneapolis City Council member Robert Lilligren that would make it illegal to walk down an alley on a block you (or someone you're visiting) don't live on.

This proposal is a classic government "solution." First, from a practical standpoint, it's unenforceable. Second, for the few instances it might be enforced, the only logical tactic of enforcement--asking someone where they live--is incredibly unconstitutional (4th Amendment). Are black people walking down alleys in southwest Minneapolis (which is predominantly white) going to be stopped and questioned (for their residency papers?!?!) by cops?

I found out about this story from this post at the Agitator.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Keeping the undesirables out by keeping prices high

As I discoverd in this post at Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Blog, Hercules, California is using eminent domain to keep Wal-Mart out of their precious city.
"It's the quality of living in Hercules that we're dealing with," said Steve Kirby, a Hercules resident since 1988. "One thing that we don't want is a regional-type business in there that brings in a lot of traffic."
In other words, we don't want anyone that doesn't fit the profile of our ideal citizen. In other words, we only want certain people to shop in our town....we don't want, ahem, those people in our city.

Sounds like Hercules has a Pleasantville complex.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Great libertarian quote

"Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms" should be the name of a store, not a government agency.
[corrected for punctuation and grammar from a post by Chris Marshall here]

Saturday, May 27, 2006


Some kids pulled off a clever prank and made marijuana-laced muffins for their teachers.

Give 'em the chair!!!!

The FBI was involved? The prosecutor wants to give the kids 20 years in prison because "illegal drugs" were involved? 20 years? The kids aren't criminals now (yes their actions were criminal (because marijuana is currently illegal) and unethical (whether or not drugs should be illegal, tricking someone into taking them is wrong), but they're not *criminals*. But they'll probably become criminals if they go to prison. If nothing else, they won't be productive members of society (which they otherwise would be...I don't think they're going to spend the rest of their life tricking people into eating pot muffins).

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Nerd Alert

Libertarians are nerds.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Is this product usable or not?

The USB drive in the image to the left literally inflates as it fills up with data. At first glance, this seems like a very intuitive way to give feedback to the user. It fits with our cultural sensitivities (when things get full they get bigger--think water balloons, basketballs, even our own stomachs) and doesn't rely on text or icons. That which is conveyed through the interface is obvious.

Yet, I can't help but think that while this device might be psychologically usable, it probably isn't very ergonomically useful. That is, it does a good job of cleverly conveying information, but the fact that its size increases might make it uncomfortable to carry. My pockets are already too full with a simple key chain and a regular USB drive (well, I actually have 2 USB drives)--I'm not sure I want to carry something around that, as the day progresses, will get bulkier.

What's more, while I applaud the design for the slickness with which it informs the user through a channel not currently exploited, I don't think the information represented by its changing size is all that useful. Unless I have to pick out a USB drive from a pile of five or six similar devices, I don't really need to know how full the drive is. And, once I plug it into a computer, which I'll inevitably do, I'll know just how full it is then. I guess one situation where the inflated state might come in handy is if I'm in a rush in the morning and know that sometime later that day, I'll need to put stuff on my USB drive. If I pick up the drive and see/feel that it's fairly full, I'll know I have to take a couple of minutes and empty the current contents of the drive on my computer.

But still, after I fill the drive up with data, it's going to be big and bulky.

I think a more effective (although admittedly less playful) design would be to add a decibel-like meter, a la the wrist meter used by Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible, sort of like the image to the right.

Or even cooler, an classic analog needle shrunk down to the size of a USB drive.

I heard about this device here. The images are from here: image 1, image 2, and image 3.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

This symbol used to represent liberty...

Boing Boing mentions how a protestor in France (presumably protesting the would-have-been repeal of a law that protects workers under 26 from getting fired; here's a good summary) looks like a famous painting by Eugene Delacroix entitled "Liberty Leading the People." Sure, the images look similar, but the spirit of the protest couldn't be more opposite than "liberty leading the people." Protesting to maintain the status quo which has left youth unempolyment in France at over 20% hardly smacks of liberty. Besides, the lady in the painting looks better than the lady in the photograph.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Free-market solutions for parentalism

This passage from a Crispin Sartwell article has been cited by several libertarian heavy hitters (TheAgitator, Hammer of Truth, and Reason to name a few), so since I'm a libertarian heavy hitter (ha!), I'll cite it too.
We want the government to guarantee our health, deflect hurricanes, educate our children and license us to drive; we want to be told what to eat, what to smoke and whom to marry. We are justly proud of the fact that no enduring society has ever incarcerated more of its people. Noting that the policeman has a pistol, a club, a stun gun, a can of pepper spray and a database that includes us, we feel happy and secure.

Our submission is absolute: We want to be operated like puppets and provided for like pets.

The terrorists hate our freedom. But we should be comfortable with that. We hate our freedom, too.
Radley Balko (The Agitator) coined this idea of fearing freedom as "parentalism." While frustrating, this realization isn't super surprising. Think of how resistant some people are to move out of their parents' home. Or even how afraid people (myself included) are to try new things. We're fraught with worry when posed with new options...what if I don't like it, what if I can't undo things (like I can on the computer!), what if I lose money?

Clearly, parentalism is not a concept resulting from living in a somewhat free society; it's just basic human nature. Being afraid of new things probably kept our ancestors alive while our would-have-been ancestors perished along with their DNA.

So instead of trying to fight the problem, as Radley implies must be done with his treadmill analogy, why not acknowledge the reality of parentalism and apply some libertarian wisdom to the problem? If people want to have their decisions made for them, why can't private companies do this? They can, and they can [of course] do it better than the government!

In a way, I think this is already occurring, especially through the Internet. A big part of decision making is having information. Google and Wikipedia do this like nobody else. Blogs do it, too. The "main-stream media" does it as well, although with a bit more alarmism than is necessary.

On being controlled, we already get a lot of that from employers (especially if you work for a big company). Dress codes, facial hair codes, speech codes, relationship rules, etc...corporations have it all!

I think there's a market opportunity (which is to say there's currently a defiency) for a business that provides "protection." Not like the mafia or the government, which provide you with coerced protection (we're going to protect you, like it or not!), but a business that provides "peace of mind." That sounds like an insurance company slogan, and I guess insurance companies do this to some degree, but nobody likes insurance companies. There is an opportunity for a business that goes one step beyond advice.

Instead of paying a company for advice (which you're doing indirectly by visiting a website with ads), maybe the next step is to pay a company (voluntarily, remember) to actually make decisions for you. Maybe you'll pay a company to do all your grocery shopping for you but they will decide what's healthy and what's not. Or maybe your favorite internet news site will be customized to report to you the things that make you the most comfortable. Like, if you're paranoid about violent crimes, the site will pepper you with facts about how many people are in prison or how much money is spent on fighting crime. Or maybe it's just the opposite--the site will only inform you of good news and leave you blissfully unaware of the stuff you fear.

I don't know exactly. The market will have to figure this out. But clearly there is a desire for some people to be (or at least feel) more controlled. Let's create free market solutions for this before the government creates its so-called "solutions." As Harry Browne has said, "Whatever the problem in a free market, it will be a profitable opportunity for someone who knows how to fix it." Indeed!

Sunday, March 26, 2006


Cue the Dashboard Confessional song...I've been vindicated. Last June, I expressed my support for pay-per-mile road financing schemes. Of course, there are obvious privacy concerns that other libertarians (someone actually left a comment!) have a knee-jerk reaction against. Fortunately, Alex Tabarrok agrees with me.

I wonder how many other regulatory agencies are completely useless...

Via this post, I discovered this post, which contains this:
My column barely mentions one important part of the story--the regulatory environment. At first, containerization grew through cracks in the rigid regulatory structure of the 1960s. But today's fully integrated systems became possible only after trucking and rail were deregulated in the 1970s and maritime rates were deregulated (to very little fanfare) in 1984. Assumptions about transportation regulation have changed so radically that reading about the bad old days seems like science fiction.
As Levinson said in our interview, "Nobody even remembers what the Interstate Commerce Commission used to do. But you’ve probably been in the old ICC building on Constitution Avenue in Washington. It had a choice spot in Washington. Important agency, important location, big building. This was a key federal agency. And it spent its time hearing arguments about whether this truck line ought to be able to carry cigarettes in the same trucks as it carried textiles or whether the rates that were being charged to carry pretzels were adequate. People have trouble remembering that today."
So back in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the ICC had a bunch of people in suits deciding how trucking companies could operate, and they all felt important, like they were looking out for the American consumer. I wonder how many other similar regulatory agencies exist that, upon ceasing to exist, would result in a noticeable increase in liberty and prosperity. I'm guessing there are dozens, if not hundreds (especially if you go state-by-state!).

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

That town in Florida the Dominos guy wants to build

I've heard worries from some of my liberal, Democrat-leaning friends about Ave Maria, the town in Florida that the founder of Domino's Pizza (Thomas S. Monaghan) wants to build. From a CNN article:
The town of Ave Maria is being constructed around Ave Maria University, the first Catholic university to be built in the United States in about 40 years. Both are set to open next year about 25 miles east of Naples in southwestern Florida.
Homebuyers in Ave Maria will own their property outright. But Monaghan and Barron Collier will control all commercial real estate in the town, meaning they could insert provisions in leases to restrict the sale of certain items.
This is basically a large real estate development...not really a "town" in the way that I think a lot of people are assuming. There won't be any abortion or birth control in the "town," which means nothing since the development is only 25 miles away from Naples. There are numerous small towns around the country that are further than 25 miles away from abortion and birth control, so the fact that the development won't offer these things isn't anything to write home about.

But what really struck me when I first heard about this was how, if the developers really want to turn this whole thing into a town, it's not going to work. Why won't it work? It's too centrally planned. Central planning doesn't work. Ask the Soviet Union, East Germany, Cuba, North Korea, etc.

The planned university will probably succeed, but the town won't end up being some American version of the Vatican, as alarmists in the media would want you to believe. If the developers are overly oppressive towards businesses locating within their "town," developers will simply build just outside of the town.

Drug Prices

I like this little rant by Ronald Bailey.
The economically ignorant Times notes, "[P]eople who analyze drug pricing say they see the Mustargen situation as emblematic of an industry trend of basing drug prices on something other than the underlying costs."
Ahem. Prices are not based on costs; they are based on what people are willing to pay for something. Think of it this way.Your parents probably paid less than $25,000 for their first house. Fortunately, let's say they bought in Chevy Chase, Maryland and stayed there all their lives. Now the average home price is $600,000. If one only took inflation from 1960 into account, the house would only be worth $160,000. Unfortunately, your parents were run over by a Presidential motorcade. As their heir, would you be willing to sell their house for the equivalent of what they paid for it? Would that be fair to you?
Of course, the response by many well-meaing people is something like "Drugs are different. Sick people need drugs; how dare someone profit off their misery!" However, there will be few new drugs if you take the profit out of discovering and producing them. Then sick people will simply suffer and die as they always have, but at least no one will have made a dime off of their misery. And while I'm thinking about it; how dare those grocers and homebuilders profit off of people's hunger and need for shelter!

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Loser pays

I'm currently reading John Stossel's book "Give Me A Break." It's very easy to read, probably because I already know about and agree with almost everything Stossel discusses. But one thing I wasn't aware of was the idea of "loser pays." Here's an article by Stossel that hits the main points he covers in the book.

"Loser pays" would impose penalties on the plaintiff if they bring a case to court and lose. An example Stossel uses in his book is Instant Replay in the NFL. When it first debuted, there was no cost to making a challenge to a call and the system was abused, slowing down the game. Fans revolted and Instant Replay got thrown out. Of course, the system has been brought back, but now teams that challenge a ruling get charged a time out if they lose the challenge. Big surprise...this system works better now.

In America, we're still operating under the old Instant Replay system. If a plaintiff loses a lawsuit, they rarely, if ever, get penalized. This makes it really easy for frivolous liability lawsuits to be brought. The practice of champerty (think venture capitalism funding of lawsuits) may even be used. As Stossel points out in his article, since the American system lacks "loser pays," determined lawyers can file an unlimited amount of lawsuits until they finally reach the desired outcome.
This is what happened with the lawsuits against the tobacco companies.
They just keep suing until they do; they lost 700 lawsuits before they started winning against the cigarette makers.
With deep pockets and a battery of lawyers hoping to cash-in on a mega settlement, it's easy to see why liability lawsuits are they're own little cottage industry in America.

Almost every other country (England, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Canada, etc.) has "loser pays." And it helps deter frivolous lawsuits. As Walter Olson points out:
European courts also come down hard on the Yankee practice of blowing up routine injuries into whopping cash demands. The litigant who claims a million marks or francs in damages but proves only a hundred thousand is deemed to have lost at least in part, and some lump of fees will be deducted from his award. (Various rules deal with the special cases where damages cannot be precisely calculated.) England's "pay into court" rule serves a similar function: If a plaintiff turns down a settlement offer and does worse at trial, the plaintiff has by definition not prevailed for purposes of fees incurred after the offer.

Thus (a Swiss law professor explained to me) when a Zurich or Frankfurt accident victim walks into the office with a good case, the first order of business after establishing the case's merit is to figure out what is a reasonable amount of money to request, based on what the courts have given for similar injuries. Asking for more could risk a fee penalty. An American lawyer who handled a case that way would probably be sued for malpractice or disbarred on grounds of insanity.
America needs to institute "loser pays" now. Oh, and Stossel's awesome.

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


Is the New York City Council made up of, as Napolean Dynamite would say, "Iiidiots!?!"

Some entrepreneurial individuals from New York City have found a partial solution to the city's traffic problems (link):
Known as pedicabs, these vehicles look like giant tricycles with a passenger carriage in the back. Some tourists and New Yorkers see them as an affordable, pollution-free way to see the city and sail through gridlock.
Of course, as Alex Tabarrok points out, the almighty New York City Council (peace be upon them), in their omniscient way, have decided that to save the ignorant and stupid masses (particulary tourists), they must impose regulations on the innovative pedicab operators.
"It is disconcerting that New Yorkers and tourists are riding in these devices without oversight in place -- non-inspected devices that may not have proper safety equipment or insurance," said Iris Weinshall, New York's transportation commissioner. "We simply cannot wait for a tragic accident involving a pedicab to occur."
Yeah, I bet you're losing a lot of sleep over it, Iris. And your solution sounds like a great idea. Subject small business owners to so much red tape that they go out of busineess. Then the people that would have ridden in a pedicab--which so far has never been involved in a fatal accident--will instead ride in regular taxis. And of course, New York taxis never crash (PDF).

Image from here.

Monday, March 6, 2006

Vote for Sue Jeffers!

You have to be a Minnesota resident to vote for Sue Jeffers (running for governor under the Libertarian Party) this November, but you can vote for her online right now. Do it!

As of this post, she's in second place. Help move her into first!

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Meme for me...why not?

Wow, despite an approximately three month drought of posts (I've since picked things back up), someone memed me. I have no choice but to comply.

Four jobs I've had:

1.) Grocery bagger at 29 Super in Weston, WI - I was good.
2.) Surveyor's assistant - While only working there for 1 1/2 months, I learned how hard surveying is.
3.) "Consultative sales representative, technology" at Office Depot in downtown Minneapolis - I learned how much I don't want to work in a retail environment
4.) Independent distributor for Amp beverage promotion - I handed out free cans of Amp energy drink to drunk people in downtown Minneapolis when the bars closed...this was an awesome job.

Four movies I can watch over and over:

1.) Star Wars
2.) Ferris Bueller's Day Off
3.) The Bourne Identity
4.) Mission Impossible

Four places I've lived:

1.) Milwaukee, WI
2.) Brooklyn Park, MN
3.) Fairfield, IA
4.) Kronenwetter, WI

Four TV shows I love:

1.) The Office (British version and American version)
2.) Seinfeld
3.) 24
4.) Saturday Night Live

Four highly regarded and recommended TV shows I haven't seen much of:

1.) Arrested Development
2.) CSI: anything
3.) The Sopranos
4.) Everybody Hates Chris (I saw this on someone else's list, but it fits for me, too)

Four places I've vacationed:

1.) Lausanne, Switzerland
2.) Düsseldorf, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany
3.) Colorado (Vail, Breckenridge, Aspen - all on college ski trips)
4.) Milwaukee, WI (Brewers games and German Fest!)

Four of my favorite foods:

1.) Baby-back ribs
2.) Peel-and-eat shrimp
3.) Cajun mix from Office Depot and/or Rainbox Foods (the generic brand)
4.) Angel food cake with strawberries

Four sites I visit daily:

1.) The Agitator
2.) Hammer of Truth
3.) Marginal Revolution
4.) Google News

Four places I'd rather be right now:

1.) Europe (Germany, Switzerland, or France)
2.) Somewhere luxurious and tropical but not crowded
3.) A clean house
4.) Somewhere cool creating really good graffitti

Four new bloggers I'm tagging

1.) I'm so low on the internet food chain...everybody's already been tagged. Next time, next time.

Saturday, March 4, 2006

What a surprise...socialism doesn't work

This article at Reason discusses some California legislator's plan to force Canadian-style socialized medicine upon all Californians. It links to this New York Times article.
VANCOUVER, British Columbia, Feb. 23 — The Cambie Surgery Center, Canada's most prominent private hospital, may be considered a rogue enterprise.
Accepting money from patients for operations they would otherwise receive free of charge in a public hospital is technically prohibited in this country, even in cases where patients would wait months or even years before receiving treatment.
But no one is about to arrest Dr. Brian Day, who is president and medical director of the center, or any of the 120 doctors who work there. Public hospitals are sending him growing numbers of patients they are too busy to treat, and his center is advertising that patients do not have to wait to replace their aching knees.
One thing that wasn't mentioned in the Reason article is this bit from the New York Times story.
While proponents of private clinics say they will shorten waiting lists and quicken service at public institutions, critics warn that they will drain the public system of doctors and nurses. Canada has a national doctor shortage already, with 1.4 million people in the province of Ontario alone without the services of a family doctor.
If health care is a right, will Canada start forcing young people to go to medical school (and stay and work in the draconian Candadian system)?

UPDATE: For comments, see the original blog post here.

Hurry up...let's take their land before it's illegal

Minnetonka, MN wants to take land using eminent domain so that it can sell it to a developer. But they have to hurry, because Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform are working to ban such practices (the governmental powers resulting from the Kelo ruling were already explicitly legal in Minnesota). From this story:
Minnetonka will use a process called a "quick take" to seize the properties for the Glen Lake project. If it can get a judge to agree, it can take the land in about three months, before prices are set or legal appeals are completed.
The redevelopment plan for Glen Lake, one of Minnetonka's oldest neighborhoods, consists of about 180 condominiums and 20,000 square feet of retail space at Excelsior Boulevard and Woodhill Road. If the two lots are acquired, they would be turned over to developer Tom Wartman, the owner of the Glenhaven shopping center. He would reimburse the city for its costs.

Minnesota legislators have proposed laws sharply limiting cities' eminent domain powers. Minnetonka officials said they needed to act quickly to start proceedings now, before the Legislature goes into session, because changes to the law could be made retroactive to the beginning of the session March 1. They also want to have the property available for summer construction.
Maybe I'm being too harsh, though. Do the Minnetonka public officials have lofty goals?
The city cites three public purposes for its use of eminent domain: cleaning up blighted property and building affordable housing in the project as a whole, and building a public path on the Zachman property.
Whatever. Minnetonka is one of the wealthiest suburbs in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, especially the part west of Interstate 494. Does this look like a blighted area to you?

UPDATE: For comments, see the original post here.

Occupational licensing makes the rich richer

I don't like occupational licensing. Industries and trade groups should be free to limit the labor supply as much as they want, but they should not be able to use the force of government to do so. Using government to preserve a limited pool of labor in a given industry so that wages in that industry increase is nothing more than clever wealthfare.

It's not a tax if it's a private company

Boing Boing is wrong. In this story, the headline is, "AOL: Screw you, we're taxing email anyway."

Now, I know that what America Online is doing sounds like a tax, but it's not a tax because America Online is a private company. Unlike true taxes, which are imposed by governments and backed by the [if necessary, deadly] use of force, America Online's so-called "tax" is nothing more than a business decision.

I could see calling it a "tax" for practical reasons, even if it technically wasn't, if America Online had monopoly control over email. However, thisn is defiitely not the case. Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, universities, ISPs, etc. all offer free email that is as good if not better than America Online's. Moreover, one could take their destiny into their own hands and get setup their own email service by starting their own website (for which the options are literally infinite). If America Online thinks this is a good business decision and it turns out not to be, they'll suffer the consequences and lose customers to their myriad competitors.

America Online cannot [legally] use force to make people comply with this new program. Therefore, this is not a tax. This guy agrees.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Free Market vs. Corporate Tax Breaks

Tax breaks are anti-liberty, anti-free market, and here's why.

Take two states, areas, X and Y. GenericCorp is located in X. Lately, the cost of business for GenericCorp in X has increased, and unless something changes, GenericCorp will start losing money. While X has a tight labor market, Y has a fast-growing population and a weaker labor market. If GenericCorp moves to Y, the lower labor costs will allow GenericCorp to actually make money, plus they can afford to expand their operations and hire even more people than they employ in X.

But the people in fancy hats in X don't want their sugardaddy GenericCorp to move out of town, especially on their watch. So they offer a big tax break to GenericCorp to stay in X. The tax break is more than enough to keep GenericCorp profitable, so GenericCorp stays in X.

Who wins in this scenario? The people that live in X that work at GenericCorp, the fancy-hat-wearing incumbents of X, and maybe some auxillary businesses near GenericCorp (like restaurants and gas stations).

Who loses? The taxpayers of X that don't work at GenericCorp (who far outnumber those who work at GenericCorp) and the people in Y that would have worked at GenericCorp if they would have moved. And how do you think the smaller businesses in X feel? Together, they employ far more people than GenericCorp, but they have to pay a higher tax rate.

What's the end result? To use a clichet, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. GenericCorp stays in X, continuing to pay inflated wages to the people that work there, while the people in Y struggle to find jobs that meet their skill level. Moreover, X has now become, to put it bluntly, GenericCorp's b*tch. What do you think's going to happen when the original tax break given to GenericCorp expires? Do you think GenericCorp is going to suddenly start paying the regular tax rate? Fat chance. GenericCorp will threten the fancy-hats of X, and they'll capitulate. And the spiral continues...

Look, tax breaks are a de facto tool of discrimination. Those that can afford to curry political favor get advantages the rest of society doesn't get. A free market doesn't discrminate. Unfair as it may seem, a free market lets jobs flow to wherever they're most valued, both by the empolyer and the employee. The free market allows society to trend toward an equilibrium. Tax breaks, along with other evil market-distorting twin public subsidies, delay that equilibrium from being reached.

What if metropolitan areas had "traffic breaks?" Imagine if the rich and powerful lobbied the government to limit access to the freeway they use during rush hour so that their commute could be swift and stress-free? Sounds great if you're rich and powerful. But what if you're part of the 98% of society that's not? Well, since access to the freeway of the rich is restricted, all the other freeways back up. Everybody else's commute gets way worse because the system is not allowed to reach equilibrium.

Anyway, the whole reason for this convoluted story is that later this year, the Supreme Court is going to rule on a case from Ohio, wherein an everyday taxpayers challenged the state's authority to grant a huge tax break to Daimler-Chrysler to keep a Jeep factory near Toledo. Here's a good article about it. This case is interesting because it's one in which the commerce clause could actually be used to increase liberty.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Municipal wireless

Okay, so municipal wireless. On the surface, it sounds like a great thing. Decently-fast access to the internet anywhere within a city...why not?

Of course, I'm naturally skeptical of government involvement in anything (as we all should be; after all, it's our money being spent), and municipal wireless is no different. What I'm absolutely opposed to are city-run projects, such as the one in Chaska, MN. Philadelphia was going to set up their municipal wireless like this; however, they've since decided to work with Earthlink.

Such arrangements, where a city contracts with some private company to build a wireless network, don't really seem all that bad. The Philadelphia plan is intriguing because Earthlink will provide wholesale service that will be resold to [I assume a variety of] ISPs that then offer retail service. That's the idea, at least.

At first, the Philadelphia plan, which seems pretty similar to ones conceptualized for Minneapolis and Chicago, reminded me of local cable TV monopolies. For cable TV, a city grants local monopoly powers to some cable company (like Charter, Time Warner, Comcast, etc.) for some fee, and then the residents of that city can only get cable through that one company. The justification for this monopoly-grant system is, presumably, that it's unreasonable and inefficient for competing companies to build physically duplicate cable networks. Interestingly, Barry Goldwater is responsible for the federal legislation that made this possible. (Sidenote: apparently there was a bill in Congress to reform this monopoly system. I don't think it passed, and it was opposed by the National League of Cities presumably because cities get revenues from cable company monopolies)

Anyway, at first, this is what I thought cities like Philadelphia were going to do. But upon further contemplation, I don't think the Philadelphia plan is all that bad.

In the Philadelphia plan, Earthlink will get right-of-way access to city streetlights and electricity for mounting and powering their equipment. This appears to be the only favor Earthlink is getting from the city. There's more to the relationship then that, but some of it involves Earthlink offering discounted prices for the city and poor residents. According to the Earthlink press release:
Under the terms of the proposal, no City or taxpayer dollars will be used to fund the project. EarthLink will finance, build and manage the wireless network, and provide Wireless Philadelphia with revenue sharing fees to help support the Wireless Philadelphia Non-Profit Corporation.
So, from what I gather, there's no reason some other company couldn't build their own wireless network (Wi-Fi or otherwise). The use of city streetlights and power is not a negligible benefit, but it's not as bad as a cable TV monopoly. Plus, the fact that retail service will be provided competitively should mean that consumers will have choices, something consumers don't have with cable TV monopolies.

The big question for me is this: If a company like Verizon wanted to buid an independent, duplicate citywide network in Philadelphia, would the city prohibit it? If they would, then the Philadelphia plan is too much like the cable TV monopoly system that gouges people today and I don't like it.

However, if the city wouldn't prohibit an independent competitor, then I guess I support the plan, despite the fact that government is involved on some level. But since wireless internet access increases mobility (socially and physically) and will likely expose more people to the information of the internet, I think the net benefit is more liberty, which is good.

I sent an email to and, somewhat to my surprise, actually got a response. Here's what I wrote to them:
Me (2/18/06)
I'm interested in citywide wireless systems (Minneapolis, where I live, will be getting one soon), and I have a question about the Philadelphia system.

If a competing company (say for example, Verizon) wanted to build a duplicate, independent citywide network in Philadelphia to compete with Wireless Philadelphia/Earthlink's network, could they? In other words, has Earthlink been granted any sort of local monopoly with Philadelphia?
and here's their response:

Them (3/9/06)
Thank you for your interest. EarthLink has not been given a monopoly. Please see the contacts on
Well, it looks like Earthlink doesn't have a monopoly. That's great!

UPDATE: For comments, see the original post here.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Where do they get all the flags?

This post is a little late, but the issue has remain unresolved. How do protestors in the Middle East get all the flags? Seriously, Danish flags? I wouldn't know where to get one of those in the US. I bet they're hard to find in Denmark.

I mean, do stores in the Middle East keep stockpiles of flags, just in case? Sure, I can see keeping a healthy stack of Ol' Glory around. I mean, hardly a week goes by when you don't see footage of an American flag being burned. But Danish flags? Is there some flag maker in the Middle East that can switch patterns at a moment's notice? Have sales of Danish flags in the Middle East surged over the past couple weeks? Maybe there'll be price-gouging hearings by Middle Eastern governments on the sudden increase in the price of Danish flags.

Sensible solution to open internet debate

At Hammer of Truth, Stephen Gordon's post about the open internet debate does a good job of summarizing the various positions on the issue.

My take on the issue is that overall, a so-called open internet is extremely good. The behind-the-scenes network should be invisible to end-users, and anyone anywhere should be able to access any website.

But instead of making a whole new set of laws that require companies to do this, why not just say this: Companies that restrict their end-users' ability to access website from another ISP lose their government-enshrined monopoly protection.

What a waste...

Government drug agents arrest government terror agents for smuggling drugs outlawed by government.

Seems like things might be a lot simpler without one of the above ingredients.