A Servitude Of Convenience

Quite often while I’m explaining the meaning of Libertarianism to friends or acquaintances, I’m met with a response which runs along the lines of but Ozboy, government can do so many things for us more efficiently than we can do them for ourselves. I have been pondering the truth of this for some time and thought I might start a discussion on the issue.

Apologies in advance for not writing more, and sooner; there are about half a dozen threads in various stages of completion, and my health is currently a work in progress as well. But anyway: surely it’s true that such things as national defence, law courts, local roads and sewerage systems are better approached as a collective enterprise. I’m using the word collective here, carefully and deliberately: something to which all members of society must contribute through taxes, even those opposed to them. If there were no dissenting or unwilling contributors, it would be elevated from a collective exercise to a co-operative one.

Now, it’s fairly obvious in any society more populous than the desert-island scenario often used by Libertarians to illustrate its principles, you’re never going get 100% agreement on anything. A truly co-operative government is impossible, which is why most Libertarians—myself included—admit the necessity of at least some degree of collectivism for society to function at all. It’s also why the representative model of democracy has stood the test of time, whereas the truly plebiscite democracies (such as ancient Athens) failed.

Last week Luton Ian pointed us to this excellent article over at the von Mises Institute, on the meaning of political representation; or more accurately, the lack of meaning. If you haven’t read it yet, I encourage you to do so. I countered with the point that there really isn’t a viable alternative system of democracy that has been tried and proven. We elect our representatives, partially on the basis of how they say they will vote, partly because of their party affiliation, and partly on the basis of personality. But once elected, that “representative” does not consult with the electors on specific issues, and has no accountability for his voting record save at the next election. On that basis, our political representatives in parliament are our trustees rather than our delegates. We trust them to use their good judgement as each bill comes before the parliament or congress.

I made the point then, that if you don’t like this, then you should at least be aware of the number and complexity of bills on which your representative votes. They are far more numerous than the few “hot-button” issues that attract virtually all the media attention on politics. To actually think all these issues through is beyond the scope of most individuals, and if out of convenience we have out-sourced our duty to think—to a bunch of politicians, of all people! people whose skill lies in conning the public, rather than in governing justly—then, well, we really have only ourselves to blame.

Of course, if the scope of government was reduced to that of a traditional liberal democracy, rather than that of a modern social democracy, then there would only be a fraction of the bills currently required for consideration. Citizens could then more meaningfully take an active part in a functioning democracy. But realistically, that isn’t going to happen any time soon.

Modern technology, however, opens the way to the possibility of greater participation of the citizenry in the democratic process. Here in Australia, the political party Senator Online has thought this issue right through, and offers an intriguing model of how it could be achieved. Do go take a look at their website, as I predict more movements like this are likely to spring up in other “democratic” nations where the elected leaders so often appear to be acting against the express wishes of those who put them in power. SOL’s model calls for optional voting in the upper house only, with their elected senators abstaining from all bills except those receiving a minimum quota of on-line votes from registered voters under a secure digital ballot box. SOL senators, in effect, become mere ciphers, and do not exercise any judgement or discretion whatsoever. As an interim measure, it’s a brilliant idea, as well as wonderfully subversive of the current “democracy”, but it’s precursory to the abolition of the Upper House as a chamber of parliament; after all, if every senator acted thus, the entire Senate could be replaced with a secure server, with no loss of efficiency—a rather large saving, I daresay! The one thing missing in the model, as far as I can see, is the possibility of citizen-initiated bills or referenda, as occurs in some states in the U.S.A. SOL is concerned primarily with citizen’s oversight and power of veto, rather than direct governance.

That’ll do for the moment. How involved in governance do we want to be? If we don’t like the people in power now, nor their alternatives in the next election, and we aren’t prepared to run for office ourselves, then are we at least prepared to take the time and effort to study the issues and vote on them personally? Because if we aren’t, we really do have little cause to complain about the mob we’ve got as it is.

This entry was posted in Libertarianism. Bookmark the permalink.

63 Responses to A Servitude Of Convenience

  1. izen says:

    Although the idea of the online senator is neat, it makes two errors.
    First, making a vote available to the wider population does not make it any more likely that any significant number will have the time or inclination to investigate WHAT they are voting on. Voting on party lines becomes the easy default position.
    Second, voting is not the way government does things. That is by writing the legislation that is then presented for our trustees to vote on.

    Inevitably government becomes a competitive arena for special interests to encourage/remove legislation they are affected by. Much of modern governance is establishing or defending a rentier advantage that a group, or business want. There is often a complaint that regulation stifles the free market, but much of that regulation is designed to preserve the business advantage of the existing players in a market as it is intended to be for the greater public good.

    I don’t think that easy voting on every issue really makes much difference. It is certainly possible for all the population to get a text message for every parliamentary/senate/congress vote on their phone so that everyone votes (who bothers to reply) rather than just a few hundred representatives. But that leaves the crux of government untouched. The drafting of legislation.
    You mention-
    “The one thing missing in the model, as far as I can see, is the possibility of citizen-initiated bills or referenda, as occurs in some states in the U.S.A. ”
    Which exposes the problem. We all know that it is not just individuals that attempt to shape government legislation at national or local levels, the money and effort expended by business is also a major influence. In the US where transparency for this sort of thing is given a greater value you can find the main spenders on lobbying government to shape the legislative process-
    But there is another initiative to enable more outside involvement in the design of legislation. Unfortunately it is not intended to make it easier for a citizen to initiate a bill. At least not unless you ascribe to the recent US decision to regard a corporation as an individual for some purposes.
    ALEC is intended to allow business to design and write state legislation directly. No brown envelopes stuffed full of cash required, just pay a fee and business gets a direct say in drafting legislation. They claim to be ‘non-partisan’, as if pro-business conservatism was an entirely apolitical enterprise….
    I am sure that it is unnecessary to detail just what sort of rentier advantage this system has already made possible for the participating corporations.
    But if you want details….
    Here is the rabid left-wing activist site recounting all the horrors they have committed, with lots of primary colours and radical graphics -grin-

    Just for balance, here the ALEC site where they boast about their achievements in rather more muted and conventional ‘business design’ style…

    I particularly like the changing top image banner graphic, a wonderful exercise in emotional manipulation by image, and so much more subtle than the red and yellow logos of the radicals…-GRIN-

  2. Amanda says:

    Hi Ozboy. Thanks for that, interesting stuff.

    Taking the other side here (if we were at a debate and I were on the other team), I can see two long-term problems or else limitations with the SOL ‘solution’.

    One is that a polity requires politicians, which is to say, leaders, or people that have ideas about governance and also some capacity of persuasion. In return for leading, politicians want prestige, and a sense that they are more than glorified trash collectors filling a necessary but essentially dull and servile role. In short, politics is inherently an arena of ambition — and the more one moves away from town councils, the more important ambition becomes. Ambition is not necessarily a bad thing, either: Lincoln had it, as did Churchill and name your other favourite pols right here. Scope for ambition is important because unfortunately peoples *do* find themselves in various kinds of crisis, and something more than household economy is required: certain knotty questions of justice, for instance, can’t be answered by placing an X in a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ box, but need a statesman of a high order to lay out for the people a clear picture of what really is at stake. Pericles is the first statesman of history known to have climbed to the pinnacle of his society precisely because he could do this.

    The second problem lies is abolishing an upper house. The American Founders were very careful to establish an upper house, which they named very purposefully ‘the Senate’, on the classical model (it could not, of course, have been a ‘house of lords’). The reason for that is that pure democracy can — especially in times of crisis such as I have just mentioned — devolve into the rule of the mob, where demagogues prosper and true statesman are first doubted, then ridiculed, then cast out or cut down. An upper house functions as a break on the worst excesses of popular rule. The very fact that, in America, Senators serve for three times as long per term as Representatives, and represent their entire state (the ‘longer view’, the ‘higher horizon’) shows that the upper house must be a soberer, more visionary house. The fact that it doesn’t always succeed in this is not really the point: the point is that we need something to counteract the short-term vision and hot temper of the moment.

    How’s that as a salvo from the opposition team? ;^)

  3. Amanda says:

    I think I meant ‘brake’ actually.

  4. Mark says:

    Before addressing the substantive issue, I just want to cover something that really bristles with me, being the assertion ..”whereas the truly plebiscite democracies (such as ancient Athens) failed”. I accept that it is conventional knowledge that the Athenian experiment failed but I have to disagree. On what basis did it fail? Sure it ceased to exist but that was only after two centuries and its ultimate extinction had more to do with supercedence of the city-state rather than the short-comings of any particular political system. If Athens failed on that basis then we can also say that the Czech democracy failed in 1938.
    Failure is subjective. The Athenian experiment lasted 2 centuries, gave us Marathon and Salamis, Aristophanes and Sophocles, Socrates and Plato, Thucydides and Herodatus, the Parthenon and the statue of Athena. Sure, it also gave us the ‘murder’ of Socrates and the Sicilian expedition…but then modern democracies have given us McCarthism and Dreyfus. The assertion that it failed really comes from those authors of the time who either opposed the idea of the demos having any power or were unhappy with the way that power was used. So they equated military loss to systemic inadequacies. These people were of or from the aristocracy and I wonder whether the demos shared their views on the system.
    So just a little bug-bear of mine. That the city-state couldn’t exist in the world of the late 4th century BC doesn’t mean that democracy failed. For two centuries Athens gave liberty to its people unheard of in history to that time and in the process created the western world. Not a failure in my eyes.
    On the other hand, if Athenian direct democracy failed because it was direct, that immediately and fatally invalidates SOL.

  5. Amanda says:

    Hi Mark, nice to meet you. I wasn’t going to touch this but, regarding the point you raise about the ‘failure’ of Greek democracy, I’ll say: The Peloponnesian War. I speak as a non-expert, but I’m fairly certain that if anything ‘did for’ the Greek world, it was that. Democracy was killed by the war and the subsequent losses that democracy voted for.

    Your last sentence is bang on, unless I’m missing some salient factor.

  6. Mark says:

    It seems to me that there is no real option to the notion that we elect representatives not delegates. Given that, for simple efficiency purposes, we need to elect people who are going to have terms stretching over several years at least, neither we, nor they, can know what will transpire in the period between elections and therefore we cannot know how they will respond to unforeseen circumstances. All we are doing is, hopefully, electing people who we suppose will act and vote in ways that reflect our own values. Whether we get that or not is another issue and one to be resolved at the next election. To be sure, we can know some things that those we elect will do and must expect them to implement specific promises. This is why the ‘no carbon tax’ backflip is so debilitating for the government. The electorate don’t want to be treated as mugs.

    The real problem is that the stakes are so high in regards to elections. Governments are now so heavily imbedded in the ordinary individual’s life that elections have meaning and consequences way beyond what I as a libertarian would like.

    I can certainly sympathise with your problems convincing others that it is possible to conceive of a system with less government. We now have several generations of folk who have known nothing other than an ever-expanding government sector and have become used to governmental intervention in our lives. The current US furore over government mandated sexual mores is but one of myriad instances where government goes that one step further than would have been accepted even a decade ago.

    The issue or solution (IMHO) is not so much to work out how to make our masters more representative but instead to make their inevitable unrepresentativeness less consequential. Currently there are a series of adverts running in my neck of the woods where the education lobby is trying to convince people to contact their rep to get them to vote for more ‘investment’ in education. But what if government wasn’t involved in education or more precisely limited its involvement to just ensuring equitable access to education (via a voucher system) and to providing some overarching guidelines or standards? Then whether our reps were indeed representative or not, wouldn’t have the same meaning. Sans Obamacare, the state couldn’t intervene in matters of conscience.

    So I’m not really concerned about making our political masters more amenable to our wishes. I want a system where their powers are so reduced that their trustworthiness doesn’t matter. Let government do what it should do – defence, law enforcement, providing minimal social safety nets and minimal standards in education and health. Other than that, get ’em out of lives and then I won’t greatly care when they fail to fully represent my views.

  7. Amanda says:

    Mark: Forgot to mention: With respect to the ‘murder’ of Socrates — I note that you put that in quotation marks — you have an ironic view of that, I suspect. Nothing like dying to ensure adherence and reverence. Someone else was also given a murderous death and for the same reasons, but that’s another (and much more controversial) subject.

  8. Mark says:

    Hi Amanda: thanks for the welcome….still feeling my way in the group.

    Its very true that the Athenian defeat in the Peloponnesian War is the main evidence used to show the failure of that democracy. This notion is primarily based on the views of contemporary historians – mainly Thucydides and Xenophon. But both these and other writers were not disposed toward democracy anyway and so their conclusions are somewhat self-serving. For example Thucydides (the main source) was badly treated by the democrats and indeed spent most of his later life in exile. Remember that although the Athenians were defeated it took an unholy alliance between the premier military power (Sparta) and the wealthiest power (Persia) to finally overcome the Athenians. Remember also that, despite the defeat and subsequent imposition of tyranny, the Athenians re-established their democracy within a few years and retained it for another 80 years or so, until it was extinguished by Alexander’s successors.
    As to Socrates, I used the form ‘murder’ to indicate that it wasn’t quite a murder but equally it was much more than judical execution. Yes, dying does provide some reverence. But more importantly you need to be succeeded by those who’ll ensure your name lives….people like Plato, Aristotle or, to use your example, Saul/Paul. Otherwise you just become a footnote.

  9. Kitler says:

    Well the current system is definitely broken here in the USA where the professional politicians do not bother to read the legislation they enact. A President that ignores the laws and rules by decree. I think it’s too late to think about replacing them with servers that could never be secure.
    The USA is doomed unfortunately either a quick slide into banana republic status at best or it will split in four maybe 6 states. Even if everyone suddenly votes them all out tomorrow which is unlikely considering the gerrymandering and vote rigging, the debt of 15 trillion dollars is not payable and will cause massive economic collapse. Plus the people have such a privileged mind set that until the USA is broken and their wealth gone and they have experienced some true humility will something good arise from the ashes. Most of them march to the beat of the Frankfurt school of cultural Marxism and have been brainwashed and the rot is too deep and the people accept it willingly. Oh there are people who have rejected this but unfortunately they are not enough to turn the tide even they do not realize how much they accept the Frankfurt school agenda, the acceptance of homosexuality, decriminalizing drug use, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and a host of other things even they accept as the new normal. So like I say doomed.

  10. Dr. Dave says:

    I have to credit izen for causing me to consider more closely collectivism in the context of “civilized society.” I recently wrote a little treatise about modern sanitation that I emailed to my circle of email buddies who like to discuss and debate such things. Improved food safety and preservation, vaccines and modern medicine have contributed greatly to expanded life expectancy in the western world, but perhaps the single greatest innovation was modern sanitation (i.e. a reliable source of potable water and sewer and septic systems). Separating humans from human waste makes a tremendous impact on human health.

    izen frequently cites municipal water and sewer systems as a triumph of collectivism. To a great extent he is correct. But sometimes collectivism “solves” non-existent problems. My parents bought the house in which I grew up in 1958. Every house in that neighborhood had its own well and septic system. This posed a couple of problems. Periodically septic tanks have to be pumped out [that’s how you make Americans, right Ozboy} and residential water pressure is limited by the capacity of the water pump and pressure tank. Still, I don’t remember my family having any significant problems other than my Dad couldn’t water the lawn while my Mom was doing laundry. And we had GREAT tasting well water. I don’t recall this all too clearly because I was in my early teens at the time and paying more attention to girls and music, but I believe the idea to tap in to the city water and sewer system was put to public referendum vote. The majority “won” and city water & sewer was to be. Now…here’s the rub. After two years of torn up roads and potholes and huge pipes being strewn across your lawn, homeowners were offer “such a deal.” They could either pay a plumbing company about $4,000 (at the time) to connect the house to city water and sewer (and pay for such service indefinitely) OR they could pay the city $4,000 for the privilege of having city water and sewer service run past their house. At this point the collectivism became coercive.

    Here’s an interesting little side story. In the summer of 2005 I traveled back to Michigan to visit my parents. I chose a bad week. Most of my old friends were either busy or out of town, it was unusually hot and it hadn’t rained for weeks (which is unusual for SW Michigan). Because my body ran on Mountain time rather than Eastern time I would take long walks late at night. My Dad had spent thousands installing an underground automated watering system for his lawn. He couldn’t use it. Apparently the city water utility had contracted with several communities further inland. to provide municipal water. The city water facility was right smack dab on the shore of Lake Michigan, just a few miles from my folks’ house. Lake Michigan is one of the largest reservoirs of fresh water on the planet. But although they had a virtually limitless supply of fresh water, demand outstripped their capacity to pump, filter and treat enough water. So all those folks who paid through the nose via tax levies and imposed fines for “city water” were not even able to water their own lawns and gardens. In my walks around the old neighborhood I noticed EVERY lawn was burnt to a crisp except one…that of my old buddy Wayne. I hooked up with Wayne and his wife the evening before I had to fly home (they had been sailboat racing all week). I asked about his lawn. He and his wife ran the numbers and decided they would sink a new well. He could water all he wanted and the water Nazis had no jurisdiction over him. The city charges him a penalty for connection to the sewer system but his water costs him nothing more than the electricity to pump it.

    So back to collectivism and the “greater good for society.” I agree with izen that some degree of collectivism must exist for a civilized society to function. In the olden days (like when I attended public schools), local property taxes funded the school system. There may have been some monies from the state but there was nothing coming in from the Federal level. Local governments ran schools, build roads and sewer and water systems as well as maintained parks, etc. County government built and maintained roads and bridges and jails. State governments built and maintained roads, bridges, prisons, universities and other vital infrastructure. The problem in the US is the overreach of the federal government.

    One of the great triumphs of collectivism lauded by the Left in the US is our (admittedly impressive) interstate highway system. Ironically this was developed and implemented by squishy Republican Eisenhower. The problem at the time was that there is no provision in the US Constitution for the federal government to be in the business of road building (of course none of this stopped Hoover or FDR from their grand federally funded projects). Eisenhower sold the interstate highway system on the basis of national security – a means to rapidly move military materiel across the country. In reality is was just a sop to Detroit and the oil companies to get more people buying and driving cars. But I have to admit, the results were good.

    I really don’t have a problem with collectivism on the local or even state level, but when you get to the federal level it quickly gets out of hand. The US Constitution places very clear limits on what the federal government can do. The Progressives (i.e. Democrats) have simply ignored this for almost 100 years. Our federal government has no right to meddle with education, energy, or housing. It has no Constitutional right to offer Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid or any of the other of a host of “entitlements.” Most of this bullshit was invented out of whole cloth by FDR and LBJ…and now Obama. Subsidies, welfare and other giveaways buy political allegiance. It is the road to perdition.

    Now, as to Ozboy’s latest flirtation with SOL I first have to say that SOL has an entirely different meaning in the US (and I’m not talking about “Statute of Limitations”). My Congressional district representative is a dolt. He is a simple minded man whose claim to fame is that he is the son of a State Senator…indeed, the President of the State Senate until he recently resigned due to lung cancer. He has, at best, an average education in a not too challenging field of study (something like sociology or home economics) from one of the lesser known state universities. He has a 100% voting record of voting in lock-step with the Democrat party and Obama. I don’t begrudge him for this one bit. MOST of his constituency in northern NM are brain dead liberals and he is voting their will. That’s how it should be. Elected representatives SHOULD vote in accordance with the will of their constituency. In our case it doesn’t really matter that our elected official is an idiot.

    It DOES matter in other districts, however. ObamaCare was fiercely opposed by MOST of the nation (like over 60%) yet the damn legislation slipped through Congress (by a very narrow margin and using some parliamentary tricks). Many Democrats voted strictly along party lines rather than according to the will of their constituencies. In November of 2010 it cost 63 of them their House seats. The SOL system sounds interesting but I don’t know how effective it would be.

  11. Dr. Dave says:

    Oh yeah…I wanted to extend a warm welcome to Mark. Interesting comments.

  12. Dr. Dave says:

    Dang it! I wanted to address this statement by Ozboy. “…but Ozboy, government can do so many things for us more efficiently than we can do them for ourselves.” For probably as long as a decade John Stossel has made an open bet of $1,000 to ANYONE who can provide a single example of ANYTHING government can do more efficiently than the private sector. To date NO ONE has been able to claim the prize. Don’t be too quick to point to the military. Private mercenary groups are employed by the US military and given the same resources could probably do just as good a job. I’ll leave y’all with this wisdom from Bill Whittle:

  13. Amanda says:

    Mark — your reply to me: Nicely said, great stuff, nice to have you with us!

  14. Amanda says:

    I think I’d get in trouble with Jane Austen for using ‘nice’ too much. Substitute ‘jolly good’, ‘groovy’, or ‘great’, if you like.

  15. izen says:

    @- Mark
    “I accept that it is conventional knowledge that the Athenian experiment failed but I have to disagree. On what basis did it fail? Sure it ceased to exist but that was only after two centuries and its ultimate extinction had more to do with supercedence of the city-state rather than the short-comings of any particular political system. If Athens failed on that basis then we can also say that the Czech democracy failed in 1938.”

    Thats an interesting perspective on the history and supposed failure of ‘Classical’ Greece. One I think I agree with along with the comparison to fall of a modern democracy in Czechoslovakia with the annexation.
    Given the present abundance of Cassandras warning of a multitude of imminent collapses the issue of just what IS a collapse, what is a sustainable, or stable civilisation and what is a civilisation that is progressing or growing I find an interesting question. A historian I am reading spotlights complexity. Or more precisely diversity and organisation. As cultures go from village agrarian to city-state they vastly expand in the number of possible jobs there are for people to have. Trade expands and the number of goods and services that people can buy and sell increase. Thats the increase in diversity, of goods, services and roles. But it doesn’t make a functioning society unless it is organised. Links lengthen in distance, and interconnections.Society stratifies and hierachies emerge Complex systems evolve to facilitate the trade, not least the coining of money. Cities also need to control clean and waste water, cue for more collectivist solutions to emerge.

    I dont think that central government is the only way for these things to be organised, or that it must reside in some variant of political power. Trade systems can be relatively a-political while organising the standards and financial regulations required for efficient business operations. Perhaps the Hanseatic league would be an example…

    The sudden collapse of complexity within a society is what can be taken as the signal of its demise. Where once there were many different jobs, many different levels/classes in society, many different trades and business, that network falls apart and (often far fewer) people are left with a much narrower choice of goods, services and roles available to them.

    Successful, expanding or progressing societies have increasing complexity. They have more goods, services and types of jobs. Their populations are consuming more energy and sequestering more of the mineral ‘wealth’ into the human use cycle. knowledge,, rediscovered and newly coined grows and spreads. Literate populations further inflate the cultural complexity. Organisng that costs money and increases complexity of delivery and maintance of the systems educating and providing ‘Art & Culture’, which in turn needs more organisation…
    There is an old aphorism that –
    “The cause of problems are solutions.”
    Meaning that by devising an organisational solution to a problem which MUST be solved – (it threatens the collapse of society as we know it!) – you inevitably create ANOTHER problem, if only how to pay for the extra complexity of the solution you applied.

    In another post you call for minimal government, a reduction to a core set of organisational services with everything else left up to… well some sort of organsiation will emerge IF the diversity and complexity of what society has to offer is to be preserved. Perhaps Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand…’ -grin-
    I presume you are not suggesting a ‘roll-back’ to some mythic Golden age when there was the ‘Goldilocks’ government… not too little, not to much, JUST right!

    I truly don’t know if there is a viable way of stabilising the amount of government at any level. When historical cultures became static they succumbed to aggressive neighbours. This didn’t always require army boots on the ground…
    Or the failure to deal with problems by developing solutions which change the amount of organisation/government involved… generating a new round of problems… meant they disintigrated into civil war and that complexity – diversity and organisation – diminished precipitously with all the reduction in standard of living and population that results.
    I doubt stasis is an option. To remain the same with finite resources and a changing agricultural environment would require additional organisation even to maintain a standard of living and cultural complexity.

    The collapse of a civilisation is constrained now by a new global collectivism. There are only a few nations that have suffered the full impact of a civilisational collapse over the last century where that massive loss of goods, services and roles happens. Links become regional, then local, central authority/finance breaks down. Somalia is the obvious example. But more often neighbouring states, and the superpowers have intervened to maintain or improve the levels of societal complexity, preventing a return to local agrarianism and establishing a client state, or new polity and culture like Cuba and Japan.

    @-“….still feeling my way in the group.”

    You are most welcome, I’m not sure we are a group,… our host, Ozboy charaterises it as a friendly bar where people can knock around ideas or… stuff I think …
    I’m the eccentric bore in the corner telling everyone they are wrong! -GRIN-
    The only reason they don’t kick me out I think is because as Dr Dave was so gracious to acknowledge I sometimes say something not entirely wrong!!!

  16. izen says:

    @- Kitler
    “Oh there are people who have rejected this but unfortunately they are not enough to turn the tide even they do not realize how much they accept the Frankfurt school agenda, the acceptance of homosexuality, decriminalizing drug use, abortion, euthanasia, eugenics and a host of other things even they accept as the new normal. So like I say doomed.”

    You aren’t suggesting any of these things should be controlled by government regulation I suppose…-grin-

  17. Luton Ian says:

    The usual fleeting visit, I broke through the ice on a peat bog with the pickup this evening, and had a few miles to walk home. That’s my excuse for not having read all the comments yet…

    There is a rather nice tractor with a winch on it which I’ve got the offer of tomorrow, which should be fun.

    Getting onto topic, I’m seriously doubting that there is anything which government can either provide better, or must provide.

    My time in Ireland and in Angola really opened my eyes to the deceit which government provision is.

    Dr Dave’s example of water and sewerage services is a good illustration. One which is usually given as a “natural monopoly”.

    The Irish public supplies were frequently on boil notices, usually due to crypto spiridia contamination. There was a big problem in County Galway a few years back, as the council’s sewerage works were inadequate and the same lake (Lough Corrib) was the source for drinking water and the destination for untreated or poorly treated sewerage.

    Galway city swapped to an emergency supply (after several months) but the change in pH, mobilised the lead from the old piping in some of the local authority housing estates – not usually recommended as part of a balanced diet.

    For the last few years I was in Ireland, I was on my own well (with mice nesting in the lagging on the pressure tank) and a sewerage treatment plant, which had all sorts of fancy aeration and stirring going on .

    I’m currently on a spring and septic tank, and the water is so aggressive to the plumbing, that I get a green ring of copper salts of fatty acids around the bath each time, but it doesn’t fur the kettle up.

    Can you imagine any competitive private provider (rather than one in a cosy state backed cartel or monopoly position – I follow Rothbard’s analysis that a monopoly can not exist without violence – and the state is that monopolist of violence) telling you to use less and making you pay more for it? and can you imagine a private provider surviving several months of crypto spiridia contamination? can you imagine one blaming it’s customers for a shortage?

    Private sewerage and water for all? why not?

    If it gets scarce, the price goes up and supply and demand find their new equilibrium, if you want to water your lawn, you can choose to pay for it, I’m sure your supplier would be glad to provide. If you think you can provide water cheaper, go ahead, if you are right you’ll be rewarded.

    Sewerage treatment plant is improving at a tremendous rate – in my geotech site investigation days, I used to make frequent visits to big municipal sewerage works (have you ever seen a 1,000 ton stockpile of second hand sweetcorn? I have, and on very windy days every time I opened my mouth to speak, the essence of the place would blow in on the wind…)

    the engineers reckoned that the required plant size was halving about every three to five years.

    Micro tunneling and directional drilling avoid the need to dig vast trench systems for piping, and tanker trucks can supply and collect (different trucks – unless you really want to save money 😉 ) in more sparsely populated areas, and efficient combinations of domestic and remote treatment can be arrived at.

    I know that the US was different, with 15 mile land grants either side of rail lines as a subsidy…

    Britain managed to build its rail, canal and turnpike network without state interference. piped gas, water and electric power were often provided competitively, until municipalities muscled in, with stolen money.

    My internet connection in Ireland was apalling, but was provided by the state’s chosen “private” partner, using stolen money…

    The British government auctioned five 3G licenses, and boasted about how much money we all made from that. When Skype came along, I found that I could call a mobile phone in Malaysia for about 1/3 the price I could call a British mobile for, five licences to screw the customer with, and no risk of new entrants to the market.

    Let’s look a Somalia, it was a war torn shit hole twenty years ago, when it had a government, now, without one, it has 17 competing mobile phone companies, full national mobile phone coverage, and almost full coverage for mobile internet – which is more than I have here in Britain, for mobile phone! It also has no government price regulator, but (no surprise) has the lowest call charges on the continent – Angola had the highest, Unitel, the monopoly mobile provider was owned by the president’s daughter – there’s Marxists for you.


    To sum up,

    The more I think about it, the more I believe that government provision is an example of Bastiat’s “what is seen and what is not seen”

    We see what the government does with stolen money, we don’t see what that money would have been spent on, had it not been stolen.

  18. Ozboy says:

    G’day everyone,

    I’ve been disconnected from the net for the last 48 hours, but I’m gratified to see such an interesting discussion above.

    Rather than append everyone’s comments, I’ll group a few observations together here:

    @Izen February 18, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Your first paragraph is a neat summary of the question my article poses, plus your own answer. I wonder though, if afforded the opportunity, people would become less apathetic than you believe and actually participate in their own democracy, particularly when the results could clearly affect their hip pocket? I suspect they just might. It also segues with my previous article on the franchise. That way, electors would be less inclined to, as Benjamin Franklin put it, “vote themselves monies from the public treasury” – something I admit direct democracy, particularly in a universal franchise, would make it dangerously easy to do.

    BTW Daniel Hannan’s currently in Australia on a speaking tour, and made some relevant points on representation in a brief interview yesterday with Andrew Bolt:

    @Amanda February 19, 2012 at 1:04 pm

    Your point seems to be, the people need to be lead, or we will have mob rule. Hence we need statesmen, to direct us, rather than advise us. I disagree, and the Athenian experience (about which you and Mark know much more than me) becomes crucial here. In stating that Athenian society “failed”, I was merely repeating the view expressed in most historical accounts I have read, and am open to correction. Mark’s alternative analysis is a fascinating one, and quite promising to our present discussion if accurate.

    @Mark February 19, 2012 at 2:12 pm

    The issue or solution (IMHO) is not so much to work out how to make our masters more representative but instead to make their inevitable unrepresentativeness less consequential.

    Exactly. By reducing the scope of government, as I indicated at the top.

    Then there’s this: that less and less do we have “citizen representatives” in parliament (Ted Mack is the last one down here that springs to mind) than party hacks: career politicians who, having never held down an honest private-sector job in their entire lives, are mentally completely divorced from the society and economy they aspire to rule. Just look at the Punch and Judy farce going on in Canberra at the moment. Bloody ridiculous.

    @Dr. Dave February 19, 2012 at 6:00 pm

    I’ll have a look at the Bill Whittle clip later today. And I promise, no “seppo” jokes 😉

    See you all a bit later – Oz

  19. izen says:

    @- Luton Ian

    There are good – well contingent – historical reasons why water supply (and most other stuff) gets regulated and governed. Look up the history of medieval cities – and why they re-adopted Roman methods and organisation. You are complaining about problems caused by past solutions…. Going back to the old problems is not viable, the new, hi-tech improvements and solutions will have their own unforeseen consequences and flaws.
    Some other enterprises got regulated largely in the interests of the businesses involved. The regulation, governance and collective organisation that arises is probably an inevitable component of the total system that provides these goods and services

    @-“Let’s look a Somalia, it was a war torn shit hole twenty years ago, when it had a government, now, without one, it has 17 competing mobile phone companies, full national mobile phone coverage, and almost full coverage for mobile internet – which is more than I have here in Britain, for mobile phone! It also has no government price regulator, but (no surprise) has the lowest call charges on the continent – ”

    I considered asking in a previous post for any possible example where this ideal of small government could be given to show that it could work, that it wasn’t a Utopian pipe-dream.
    I never considered that Somalia would be advanced as such a paradigm!
    Calls may be cheap, but would such a society ever have developed the technology of mobile phones?!

  20. Amanda says:

    Oz: ‘Direct’ us: well, persuade us. Through force of argument, through seeing farther and with greater clarity than we have done up to now. I am thinking in part of Professor Clifford Orwin’s formulation that in the worst of times, the best of men are delivered gift-wrapped to the worst of men, unless there is some strong constitution to prevent that from happening. Strong leaders uphold strong (meaning in this case vital, liberty-protecting) constitutions.

    Are politicians servants or masters of the citizenry? They proclaim publicly it is the former (hearing them speak brazenly about “public service” invariably triggers my gag reflex). But they would not be in the game, displaying such naked lusts, unless they knew in their hearts it was the latter. Because it satisfies their deepest, dysfunctional, psychological needs. And the nature of representative democracy as it exists today makes it only too possible – Oz

  21. meltemian says:

    Morning All,
    I’m sitting here waiting for the result of the ‘Greek Bail-out’ and hoping against hope that it will fail. I expect there to be a patial bail-out in order to “kick-the-can” a bit further down the road. It’s time Greece started running itself without relying on everyone else to fund the lifestyle and the sooner we face up to it the better! Let’s face it, when your credit card is maxed out and you have no income you don’t borrow even more and expect it to solve the problem.
    As to government control and politicians I am reminded that “Anyone actually wanting to become a politician should be banned for life from becoming one” (Billy Connolly I think)
    I don’t know how you solve the problem of career politicians who have never held down jobs in the real world. In the distant past the country was run by people of independant means who weren’t attracted by money, not sure whether that made the government better or not but at least you could believe they were doing it for altruistic reasons and not attracted by power or perks. Also gone are the days when MPs actually represented their constituencies, politicians have become a breed apart, living in a prosperous bubble, and just doing what keeps them in power.
    Government has become all-encompassing, it takes on itself far more than is either useful or practical, but I don’t know how we can get it back to where it should be.
    Richard North reckons “Referism” could bring governments back in check.

  22. Luton Ian says:

    Izen wrote:
    I considered asking in a previous post for any possible example where this ideal of small government could be given to show that it could work, that it wasn’t a Utopian pipe-dream.
    I never considered that Somalia would be advanced as such a paradigm!


    If there were a better example, then I would use it, however, it is about as good as we’ve got, for the moment anyway.

    So, what lessons to draw from it?

    First, I think is to compare Somalia to it’s Archist neighbours;

    Kenya, one of Africa’s show case examples of a “success”, however my last work there (in an area where the local ethnically Bantu people had fought a war against marauding, ethnically Somali “Shifta” (nomads) in the 1990s) was cut short by the post election violence which threatened to turn into a civil war. I also did some work near Mount Elgon, on the Ugandan border, where a series of uprisings and insurgencies are underway. One of my colleagues did some work actually on the border, where the Kenyan army, with UN funding and propaganda cover, are burning villages and torturing and murdering people, in pursuit of “Gun Control”. Colleague said that the locals were very friendly and helpful when they found out he wasn’t either UN or Kenyan army, and when they’d retrieved their AKs from the long grass. He did encounter the Kenyan army, and thought for a short while that he was going to get a beating, or worse.

    Kenya, then, is no haven of peace and lawful coexistence.


    OK, I rest my case. The neighbourhood is not a pleasant one, with or without a government, and the Somalis (both in Somalia and in the neighbouring countries) could perhaps be described as a “clamarous” sort of people 😉 The Bantu people I worked with generally had a very low opinion of Somalis, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s writings, suggest that many Somalis reciprocate that opinion.

    Given the comparison with its neighbours, one of them supposedly an African success story, Somalia’s increases in life expectancy, literacy, income, and declines in infant mortality, at far higher rates than other African countries (where the trends are often going the opposite direction), are a startling success.

    The decline in access to clean water is not good, but my experience in Angola, where the generals control the trucks bringing water into Luanda, suggests that a government can equally well (or may indeed be more likely to) act to defend a small clique’s monopoly interest, as to better the lot of its wider population.

    In summary, when we look at Somalia in absolute terms, it is a shit hole, but relative to its shit hole neighbours, it is a shit hole heading in the right direction, and I do believe that part of that is because of the absence of a central government – which in Africa roughly equates to a central thugocracy.

    Izen also wrote:
    Calls may be cheap, but would such a society ever have developed the technology of mobile phones?!

    My reply to that is;

    Are there many other cultures in the World which could have ? – with a government or without?

    We’d better not list the many which could not – or I’ll be getting another sucker punch accusation of being a neonazi from a certain sociopath…

  23. Luton Ian says:

    Oz, Help!

    I’ve just spotted a really bad typo in my last comment. the word should be “Countries” 😦

    Fixed – Oz 😉

  24. Amanda says:

    Oz: Your response gets back to what I said before, that one of the problems with the Senator Online idea is that it discounts, or allows no place for, the powerful motivation of political ambition. But that doesn’t negate the fact that some leaders truly are patriots of freedom etc., and they do want to lead their nations to a better dispensation. It’s not a question of either/or: they have ambition, and they also want to do good. In short, even the most ambitious are concerned with justice; even tyrants must find ways, in their own eyes and others’, to legitimize their rule in accordance with some notion of justice.

    This also gets me back to a previous point, which is that in democracy, there is a tendency to become over-skeptical or cynical about politicians. You sound, for instance, as though you really don’t think politicians do act from moral conviction or from a desire to do good: justice doesn’t matter. But as I have just said, justice matters very much. Obama, for instance, *thinks* he is acting in not only the nation’s interest but also (and this from our perspective is worrying) in the interests of a higher, non-national justice. In fact it is often those most concerned with justice who need to moderate their idealism in the service of good (which is a major theme of certain Platonic dialogues).

    Some leaders do give good advice; and we should open to such advice as citizens; and we should not be unable to distinguish between the bad advice of self-seeking, power-lusting demagogues, whose view of justice is truly faulty, and the good advice of statesmen, whose ambition serves their capacity to do justice and do good, rather than defeating it.

    You really believe your current POTUS spent a lifetime climbing the greasy pole, simply out of a desire to… offer good advice? And do good? You’re right Amanda – I am more cynical than you – Oz

  25. Luton Ian says:

    Thanks Oz, that one was nasty!

    I finally got the pickup winched out. I pulled it out downhill which meant me pulling about 100 yards of 1″ steel rope off the winch drum and uphill accross a now less frozen peat bog. The pickup was actually touching hard ground at the uphill end, but there was nothing at the front to fasten the winch cable to. That needs remedying.

    I left the pickup in neutal with the steering lock on, and it came out really easily. I don’t know what the rating of the winch is, probably about 5 tons, and the pickup is under 2 tons. Once out, I was able to drive it forward safely, within a couple of yards of where it had found the soft hole. I also found out that the tractor needs its brakes fixing and a new thermostat. One wasted evening and a wasted morning…

    Yes Ian, I’m sure your detractors would have labelled it a “Freudian slip” – Oz

  26. Luton Ian says:

    Count me as a cynic too.

    Mrs Ian, doubts whether all politicians would be diagnosed as psychopaths, but she does think that they share an amazing number of characteristics.

    I think that the precautionary principal should be applied to anything coming from them.

  27. Amanda says:

    NO, Oz: Obama is one of those with the bad advice! I’m trying to point out that it’s not true in politics that ‘they’re all the same’. A healthy respect for democracy depends on the acknowledgement that some men are not greasy-polers but instead are statesmen.

    Some – OK. But IMHO they are becoming exceedingly rare; the party system today is designed to weed them out before they get anywhere near real power – Oz

  28. izen says:

    The idea that political governance can be reduced or eliminated while still keeping the goods, services and systems that provide the basis and trappings of modern civilisation seems based on the mistaken belief they are independent. Remove political power and other (corperate? theocratic ?!) actors will fill the gap.
    Nature may not abhor a vacumm, but power does.


    I think you’re falsely conflating extreme over-governance with “the basis and trappings of modern civilisation”. The latter can be provided only highly inefficiently by the former. Hence the John Stossel bet mentioned by Dave above. The “vacuum” you propose would be filled by private enterprise in a free market. If that appears to you as “corporate power”, well… – Oz

  29. izen says:

    @- Ozboy/Dave
    The Stossel challenge is a rigged game.
    ‘Efficiency’ in this context is restricted to a purely financial measure, and as the reference to mercenry services makes clear the concept of ‘provision’ of goods and services is a constrained definition making an element of the total process of provision the criteria.
    Although in the case of mercenry and logistical provision in military situations Halliburton/KBR brought an added level of ‘efficiency’ to their provision….


    To show how entry to this challenge is shaped to select the ‘winners’ consider how the first two counter examples that occur to me would fare.
    National transport infrastructure and childhood vaccination.
    ‘Stosselites’ would accurately claim that certain aspects of the provision of those two features of civilisation ARE more ‘efficiently’ provided by private enterprise. The construction of the physical infrastructure and the largescale manufacture of vaccines are clearly done most cheaply by private business. But the historical record is clear, neither of these have ever been established as a private provision. Eisenhower imposed interstates on the US after seeing their benefits, both military and economic, in Germany. Many childhood vaccines were developed not by private enterprise, or even government research, but because of the efforts of one man with an ethical motivation. Look up the work of Maurice Hillman.

    The Stossel challenge does illustrate the circularity and restricted applicability of the ‘free market’ advocates’ definition of success. If you restrict efficiency and provision to only those definitions that involve financial expenditure and limited aspects of the total system that enables provision then private enterprise is the only candiate that can ‘compete’ in such a caucus race.

  30. Luton Ian says:

    Rudd’s jumped ship!

    How long do you think Julia has left as leader (de facto and / or de jure)?

  31. farmerbraun says:

    Whaddaya reckon Ozboy? Is she gone-burger? Maybe not just yet.

    G’day FB, Ian,

    This leadership soap opera has been going on now for weeks now in the MSM down here. Basically, Rudd is a prima donna whom few, if any, of his cabinet colleagues could work with the first time round. On the other hand, he’s far more popular with the electorate than Gillard, and Rudd as PM is now Labor’s only (slim) hope of victory at the next election.

    The number of scenarios now which emerge include:

    1. Gillard successfully holding off the spill motion on Monday (but only just) – most commentators say this is the most likely scenario. Rudd then goes to the back bench and in a few months, with Labor’s panic growing, challenges again successfully
    2. Gillard overwhelmingly defeats Rudd. Rudd then resigns from parliament, triggering a by-election and bringing parliament closer to a no-confidence motion and a general election.
    3. Rudd prevails on Monday. Two Labor MPs then resign in protest (as they have threatened). Immediate election.
    4, 5, 6, blah, blah, blah.

    I’m not interrupting a perfectly good discussion here with a new thread on this paff. I’ll say something next week when events become clearer – Oz

  32. Luton Ian says:


    The Stossel challenge is a rigged game.
    ‘Efficiency’ in this context is restricted to a purely financial measure…

    A market free of government thugs does not exclude volountary actions.

    Homo Economicus is part straw man and part remnant from the inability of classical economists to deal with human actions outside of the market in reproduceable goods, and whole classes of goods at that, for example all the bread in the world verses all the iron in the world.

    Once; Carl Menger, Leon Walras and Stanley Jevons had re-established the subjective marginal utility theory of value, over the classical’s labour theory of value, in the 1860s and 1870s, it became possible to extend economics to a far wider study of human action and human choices.

    We don’t choose to act based on monetary price alone, it is one of many factors which an individual weighs in their mind as they rank their own individual priorities, and their own means to achieve those ends.

    There are many things which money cannot buy, personal reputation for example, although money can buy the silence of someone who has knowledge of some indescretion which you may have committed (and why should such knowledge not be marketable? – or the service of keeping one’s gob shut not be saleable? no one is holding a gun to your head to pay for such a service).

    A free market is often falsely characterised as a race to the bottom, which seems to assume that there is presently someone with a gun, employed to coerce people into buying, let’s say, the more prestigious brands of car, rather than the cheapest on the market (whatever brand it is these days).

    True, the bottom end of the vehicle market is artificially truncated by needlessly tight emissions regs (at least in Europe and the US), but I do not foresee a sudden rush to buy whatever Asian or South American brand of cheap car, or any other cheapest good or service available on the market, if the state; with its theiving, cronieism, corruption and bossing about is taken out of the way.

    Simillarly, people with “higher” motivations are not suddenly going to be forced to tighten a single nut and bolt on a production line all day every day, Charlie Chaplin style. They may have to seek a patron, if they cannot fund their projects themselves, but that is true now -except that the present day “patron” is robbed at gunpoint by the gangsters in government, who then claim the glory for their largesse.

    In a free market, the consumer decides, in a coerced market, the hegemonic coercer decides.

    Pulling this back onto topic,

    To my mind, the idea of “representation”, is a sly cover for the exercise of coercive and expropriating privilage.

    It is a little like J M Keynes’ comments about national debt: “We owe it to ourselves”

    The “We” being different to the “Ourselves”

    If I choose not to be “Represented”, a clique will still be demanding my money, for them to spend “for me” but without my consent, and ordering me around, determining what I can say, where I can work, who I can seek various services, for example medical services from, what I can read and view, whom I can associate with, where I can live, what I can live in, what I can consume and where I can travel.

    They can also, pretty much at will, forciblly expropriate me, and take away my family members, or press them into their forced service.

    Take away the illusion that this is “Us” doing these things to “Ourselves”, and the minority who parasitise the much larger number of hosts, will have to begin pleasing customers, who can vote with their pennies – one penny at a time.

    as the Rev Jesse Jackson says;
    “I want to see economic democracy”

    Though I think my version is a little different to his 😉

  33. Dr. Dave says:

    @Ian. Very well stated, Sir. I have experienced “economic democracy” first hand. About a year after I got out of school and had a pretty good paying job (“good” for those days) outside of Chicago. I took about a week of vacation and my future ex-wife and I drove down to SE Kentucky to meet up with some old friends from home and go camping. Unanimous vote decided that ol’ Dave should buy the beer. That’s how an “economic democracy” operates.

    @izen. A Libertarian minor hero in the US is Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana. Northern Indiana is a major East-West corridor and they have a bunch of toll roads. The State was losing its ass on the toll road system. Tolls kept increasing while road maintenance suffered. Gov. Daniels privatized the toll road system. The State saved a fortune, tolls did not increase and road maintenance vastly improved. Stossel uses this as one of many examples he presents of government privatizing certain functions and services where everybody (except perhaps some government parasite employees) came out the winner. The customer ends up paying less in taxes, less (or the same) for services, usually get better services and the employees are now in the private sector so the taxes on the income they earn are actual new tax revenue and not simply recycled tax payments from the private sector to the public sector.

    But you’re right, it’s not always quite so simple or straight forward. As an example I will offer the development of new military materiel (everything from jets and missiles to boots and bullets). The US military doesn’t engineer or develop any of this stuff. They formulate design and performance parameters and put the projects out to bid to the private sector (e.g. Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, Colt, Remington, etc.). Ideally this system should work but it has been hopelessly corrupted by crony capitalism and the political clout the military wields. The military develops weapon systems they neither want nor need but the jobs for these projects are located in the Congressional districts of powerful politicians. Military contractors have been buying off politicians since WWI. The private sector develops this stuff but the US military foots the bill (i.e. taxpayer dollars). Neither the military nor the private sector contractors really care about the costs once they win the bid. Invariably these projects come in far behind schedule and way over budget because none of the concerned parties really care about the costs because “somebody else” i spaying the bills. This is a corruption of the free market system. If the military held the contractors feet to the fire costs would drop. The problem is there is intense political interference in this process.

    I would suggest you go to YouTube and watch some of Stossel’s programs. He started out his career as a consumer advocate reporter. Later in life he had an epiphany and became a Libertarian. Another one of his favorite examples is comparing private schools to public schools. In virtually every case he cites, the private schools produced better results at a lesser cost than public schools. I seriously doubt that you shall ever be able to convince me that there is ANYTHING government does that can’t be done cheaper and better by the public sector in an unencumbered free market economy. But your argument is not with me. Take it up with John Stossel if you’re that convinced of your position. He’s relatively easy to contact. He has his own website as well as another on the FOX Business Channel website. Go for the $1,000 prize. See if you can out-debate John Stossel. He welcomes it.

  34. Luton Ian says:

    There are a pile of wheezes which military contractors use.

    Historic costing; where the ten fold over-run of the last contract becomes the basis for estimating the next contract.

    Front loading; promising fantastic features at minimal cost, what is developed has few if any of the features, and many times the cost.

    I forget the exact term, something like political engineering, which consists of having plants in as many key congressional districts as possible. If a congress critter starts talking about cuts, then the companies parade those plants in the key districts to the media, as the ones to be cut.

    The military gets under performing equipment, delivered years late, and the tax payer gets fleeced.

    I think it was Mark Thornton, who gave an excellent talk, which I can’t find now. He covered the stuff above, and also spoke about a friend who was researching state education in NYC.

    It took about 40 calls before the guy could get someone who both knew how many bureaucrats the education board had, and who was allowed to tell him the number. It was of the order of 6,000

    One sixth of the kids in NYC are educated in Catholic schools, and a single call to their office got a lady who didn’t know the number – but she would count up: 27

    The education budget is of course cut to the bone and any further cut would result in kids being sent home…

  35. Luton Ian says:

    Oh, I forgot “Cost plus” research, which naturally favours really complex stuff which takes years to de-bug, rather than something simple, reliable and effective, which could be delivered in a fraction of the time.

    You need 500 engineers in Kalifornicated?

    of course they do, and they can add the recruitment costs to the invoice.

  36. Luton Ian says:

    Okay, that little lot should have me down on several lists as now “Threatening US national security” and “sympathizing” or better yet “Supporting” goodness knows what groups, for having questioned how the OPM and how much of it, gets to the military-industrial complex.

    I have a friend who does B&B near a defense contractor’s plant. You know when you’re near one, as the accomodation is twice the usual price.

  37. Dr. Dave says:


    I think you’re right on the money with regard to military spending (or squandering). But I have to disagree with you regarding education. I grew up in a relatively small town. The school system served the city and the township (which today is considerably larger than the city). We had about a half dozen elementary schools (grades K-6), two middle schools (grades 7-9) and one high school with a total enrollment of about 1,200 back in those days. There was also a Catholic school system for grades K-9 and a Lutheran school system for grades K-6. I attended public schools from grades K-12 and technically even two years at a community college. Back in those days the school system was entirely funded by local property millage taxes (perhaps some funds from the state, but nothing from the federal government). The teachers were not unionized and there was amazingly low turnover. The local school board governed the management of the school system and determined the curricula. Though I’m quite sure I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the school system had a decades long record of academic excellence in the state.

    I don’t have children so I never paid much attention to public schools once I was out of them. Only in recent years have I started paying attention because I can’t believe how damn stupid high school graduates are. I have no idea what the situation is in the UK but it’s pretty dismal here in the US. Public school teachers now days are educated in “education programs” in colleges (i.e. your “C” students). They get tenure after about three years on the job. Why in the world does a public school teacher need tenure? They are mostly unionized and between that and tenure are nearly impossible to fire. They are grossly overpaid relative to what they do. Many can retire in their 50s with pensions and paid healthcare worth over a million dollars. Schools now employ a host of additional administrators that never existed when I went to school and their compensation is astronomical. As a result we’re spending many billions more on education with no demonstrable results.

  38. Luton Ian says:

    The state school system in Britain, used to be divided on the basis of an exam at age 11, into “Grammar Schools” for the academically bright kids, and “Secondary Modern Schools” for the less academic, preparing them respectively for university, or a trade. Unless your parents could afford private schooling, your career was decided by that one exam.

    Some counties have retained this split, others combined the schools into “comprehensive” secondary schools, which were supposed to allow late developers to take the exams at 16 and 18 to prepare them for higher education (the unspoken corollary of that is, early developers, whose development also plateaued early, would drop down the class).

    The political parent of the “Comprehensive” system was the Labour education minister in the early 1970s, Barbara Castle (after the crushing election defeat to Thatcher in 1979, she was one of the big figures who quit labour to set up the Social Democratic Party, leaving the rump Labour Party to the Trotskyites and the wilderness, until Blair’s election win in 1997). Barbara Castle, sent her children to private schools…

    Although the theoretical conception appeared to be good, the implementation, frequently failed to live up to expectations. The secondary schools which I was due to attend, merged into a comprehensive (“Comp” for short) a year before I reached age 11. This meant lessons on 2 sites about a mile apart, and excellent opportunities for playing truant. Fortunately, both my parents were working, and my father stopped drawing a salary and put it towards school fees for my Brother an me to go to boarding school.

    (that later landed him with a very unpleasant tax investigation, which went on for several years, during which they found no evidence of wrong doing, but threatened to ramp up the investigation and continue it for as many years as it took to find something. The threatened investigation was to include home searches and interrogations of my brother and me – unless he paid them to go away. That was not my first introduction to abuses of power in the name of the state).

    Crown, grew up in the same county as me, but in a less industrial area, and his local comprehensive had retained good standards. My class mates, including several whom I consider to be much more academically able than I am, achieved the national average achievement. 2 grade 4 CSEs

    I’d better explain,

    At age 16, the kids in the higher stream would take 7 to 9 subjects at “ordinary” (“O”) Level, which was graded A to C for passes.

    in order that kids in the lower streams didn’t leave school without any examined qualifications, the “Certificate of Secondary Education” was invented. This was graded 1 to 5, with grade 1 being equivalent to a C grade at O level, grade 2, equivalent to a D grade, and so on. I hated both maths and french, and was entered for both CSE and O level in those subjects, but knew that I was going to achieve a poor grade in French and did not want it to appear on my certificate, so I tried to achieve a U (unclassified grade), which would not appear.

    I failed to fail, and can personally attest, that if you put your name on the paper and put the ticks all in one column of the multiple choice, you will get a grade 5 or better.

    My former class mates averaged 2 subjects at grade 4.

    In England and Wales, 3 subjects (more if you were bright) were taken from 16 to 18, for the “Advanced (“A”) Level”. English bachelors degree courses are 3 years.

    In Scotland and Ireland, five subjects are usually taken, giving a broader base, but with less specialization, Scottish bachelors degree courses are 4 years. Just for interest, continental European first degree courses are 5 years and result in a Masters equivalent.

    The exams at age 16 are now combined into the “GCSE” in which grades run, A to C and 2 to 5, in sequence.

    Due to the feeling that kids were specializing too early, they now take 5 subjects from age 16 to 17, and are examined on them, at 17, and continue 3 subjects for more exams at 18.

    Over the past 25 years or more, the proportion of students taking A level has increased (more kids with lower academic ability are therefore taking the exam) and the proportion achieving A grade has gone from around 5% of those taking it, to around 50% of those taking it.

    This is celebrated in the media, in the same way as the average wage now being say £26k /year instead of say £4.00 / year in say 1900, is touted as us all being so much richer (ok, I know those income figures are probably wrong, but the illustration still stands)

    The reason for the increases is much the same – inflation.

    I think that if anything the local schools have declined further – not helped by England and Wales following France and introducing a highly prescriptive national curriculum ( we libertarians celebrate the diversity of human beings (although not in the same way as the lefties); different likes and dislikes, different abilities, different aims, ambitions and successes in them) which fits all kids into a one size fits all, procrustean bed, whatever the mutilations necessary to get them into it.

    Nowadays, even the girl who cleans for my father, ships her kids over the county boundary to avoid the failing schools in this County.

  39. izen says:

    @- Luton Ian
    “In a free market, the consumer decides, in a coerced market, the hegemonic coercer decides.”

    Idealistic dogma.
    In a free market the consumer decides… between the available options provided by the hegemonic providers.
    Very little of the goods and services provided by a modern civilisation are provided by an individual.
    And the ‘free market’ providers are working within an infrastructure provided by some sort of organised system that provides the material and procedural systems they use.

    Whether that organised infrastructure is a ‘representative’ political government or an ad-hoc collusion by the main economic players may matter little. It is still required to get the complexity with its vast range of goods and services that is the fingerprint of modern civilisation.

  40. Luton Ian says:

    Hi Izen,
    In a free market, if you want something which is not being made – goods or services – you are at liberty to provide it.

    If you are efficient in using the scarce goods required

    (all goods are scarce – hence they have prices, something like air is a universal – it is not scarce, and hence has no price – chill it in a hot and humid climate, and you can perhaps charge for it, as you have produced a good)

    Such as land and labour, time, saved capital, metals plastics and fuel, and sufficient other people, subjectively value what you are producing at a price higher than you had to bid to obtain your inputs

    (other potential users of those scarce inputs also bid for them – ensuring that they go to the most highly valued uses, for example gold would make an excellent plating for bean tins – but it doesn’t get used for that, as others who value it more highly, bid it out of the price range of bean tin makers. Town centre land may make an excellent site for a donkey sanctuary – but…)

    then profit will show you that you have put those scarce inputs to a use more highly valued by society, than society values the inputs themselves, or their alternative uses.

    On the contrary, a loss would rapidly show you that you are wasting scarce goods and resources on something which society values less highly than the alternative uses of those goods and resources.

    Society is full of critics; perhaps Britain should produce more electric powered cars, perhaps we should have more charging points for them, perhaps…

    They are free to bid for the scarce capital and the other scarce inputs to right those supposed deficits. If they are correct, they will reap the rewards, they will become as wealthy, in return for their correct interpretation and correction of market failures, as others who successfully serve society’s wants. Potentially as wealthy as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, The Carnegies, the Vanderbilts, or even J.K. Rowling.

    If they are incorrect – and the equal partner of success is failure, then their profit and loss accounting will soon tell them that they have not corrected a market failure, but created or added to one. They can then either adjust what they are doing, or, leave the market, and the remaining capital and inputs which can be salvaged, will go to those best able to use them.

    There is no hegemony on the free market. Goods, labour, time, land, saved capital – they are all scarce. That is a fact of the world we live in.

    No politician can transport us to the Garden of Eden, we can not desire a cold beer, snap our fingers and it magically appears, Introducing socialism will not as one proponent pronounced, turn the sea from salt water to lemonade…

    I’ll continue with what coercion can and does do, in the next comment.

  41. Luton Ian says:

    Coercion is the use of force.

    Followed to its conclusion, a law – any and every law – is backed by the threat that you will be killed if you disobey.

    I know that in most jurisdictions, there are a lot of stages at which you can surrender and comply before it gets to that, but ultimately that is what it comes to – a death threat, otherwise it is not a law, it is advice, or a recommendation which can be ignored if you wish.

    One of the justifications used for the introduction of coercion into the free exercise of our choices of what to do with those means which we have either made, found, been given, or traded goods and services with others to get, is the idea of:

    Combating economic power.

    Rothbard gives a very good illustration of this, in ME&S. I’ll try to paraphrase.

    Imagine a production line worker in a Ford car plant, receiving his notice of dismissal.

    It appears that Ford has used his “economic power” to deprive this poor individual of his liveliehood. Surely it would be just for the state to intervene to combat this clearly inequitable abuse?

    Now imagine that you are in a shop, let’s say a fruit shop. The shop keeper asks you if you would like to buy a pound of Granny Smiths (got to get an Ozzy flavour to it 🙂 ), for let’s say, 50 pence, and you decline.

    If he then pulls a gun on you and says “Buy them”

    What would the police say?

    Is he correct in using the threat of violence (ultimately deadly violence if it gets that far) to counter your exercise of “economic power” (your power to choose not to purchase)?

    Next Comment…

  42. Luton Ian says:

    State enters the scene; stage left…

    State, brings with it a thug with a gun, a tazer and CS spray, a big club… you get the idea. It comes in with a death threat.

    I have “State” played by an individual in this scene.

    You can choose to see that individual as a collective of all of us, if you really want to. It is sort of like the little man behind the curtain, whom the rest of the cast in the wizard of oz are supposed to disregard.

    I don’t see a collective, I see an individual, throwing his or her weight around, backed up by thugs.

    The individual (behind the curtain, if you like), says:

    “the evil market has failed to provide…”

    The thugs with their fashionable accessories, then proceed to empty the audience’s pockets, to provide.

    This may of course have been dressed up in utilitarian clothes, a cost benefit analysis may have been carried out, in which the ordinal numbers (order ranking, and therefore not capable of use in mathematics) of subjective cost and subjective benefit are each added up… totally fallacious.

    This of course disregards why no entrepreneur sought to provide, and why, if the politician (singular) thought there was a need, he didn’t set about doing it without recourse to armed robbery – and then reap the (potentially vast) entrepreneurial rewards if he was right.

    I think you can begin to see already, that if threats of death have to be used to do it, then society did not value it enough – compared to other uses of those scarce resources – to do it.

    So, money is being taken – with threat of deadly violence – away from what the individuals in society rated more highly, and which therefore attracts many competitive entrepreneurs, to provide efficiently…

    Into something which they did not value sufficiently highly, for any entrepreneur at all to try to satisfy the need.

    This money is then spent by a monopoly, which is not subject to profit or loss calculation, as it can steal the money.

    There is therefore no way to calculate whether the scarce resources are going to their most societally important uses. Like socialism (which it is) it cannot calculate.

    State interference – with its inevitable violence – thus introduces points of chaotic incalculability into the delicate spacial and temporal network of connections, which form the functioning free market.

    The result, we are all made poorer

    Cui bono?
    (Who Gains? – I know the regulars knew that, it’s just in case it gets read by someone just beginning their personal journey into libertarian thought)

  43. Luton Ian says:

    “Spatial” 😦

  44. Kitler says:

    In reply to Luton Ian yes at the time my local State school was good basically because we came from the fancy posh bit of the county ie that bit not on the coal field and has a heritage dating back to Roman times they even had one of their roads go through it. Wealthy people used to call it the Switzerland of the North and came to drink it’s healthy spring water and clean drier air and moderate climate. We can thank the Lord that the retreating ice sheets decided to make a long stop and built up a very large terminal moraine.
    Actually the reason we ended up with a good state school was that the people with money in the county tended to live there so we got the better teachers. We also practiced elitism by streaming the pupils into bright not so bright fast food workers and people lassie could outsmart.

  45. Kitler says:

    Izen I think you are why serfdom was introduced by my ancestors might is right and do as you are told it’s for your own benefit. The perfect economic model. Having two ancestors on the winning team at Hastings makes me kinda smug.

  46. Luton Ian says:

    Oh dear,

    Looks like I’ve killed it.

  47. Luton Ian says:

    I’ve just found this, and experienced several “Wow” moments, where a few fuzzy and confused thoughts have come together in clarity.

    Jeffery Tucker is interviewing Daniel D’Amico, about his research into prisons, from the time of their inception in anceint Athens, to their drastic overabuse in the present day US. In a way, he is expanding (vastly) on the idea that a law is accompanied by a death threat.

    One of the “Wow” moments was something which I had sort of grasped previously, is the gerrymander effect of excluding those whom the leaders disapprove of from any future participation in the processes of society.

    I’d grasped something of that, with British Judges complaining that the 16,000 new crimminal offences (introduced by the last Labour Government) relating to business matters, had effectively excluded anyone with business experience from jury service. D’Amico, points out that the gerrymander applies to virtually the whole of society.

    Another of the “Wow” moments is his insight into how crimminals and black marketeers cooperate, not only to evade the state, but to minimise dangerous conflicts between themselves. Given the types of characters, and the situations involved, the achievement really puts our politician lead “Democracies” to shame for their violence – against each other and against us…

    To my mind, it’s well worth the 26 minutes or so that it takes to watch 🙂

    Watched it, and it’s a fascinating perspective – thanks for posting. I’ll try and get round to a Libertarian perspective on crime and punishment sometime this year – Oz

  48. Kitler says:

    Oh you didn’t kill it some of us have been busy at work, why they make me do the work they pay me for I will never know been learning more about Cisco switches, Apache servers and load balancers than i care to.

  49. izen says:

    @- Luton Ian
    “Another of the “Wow” moments is his insight into how crimminals and black marketeers cooperate, not only to evade the state, but to minimise dangerous conflicts between themselves. Given the types of characters, and the situations involved, the achievement really puts our politician lead “Democracies” to shame for their violence – against each other and against us…”

    I remain unconvinced that narco-capitalism is any more attractive as a model for small government than Somalia…

    The comments near the end of the interview about the problem of criminalising behavior as a means of social exclusion and the rise of legislation over intellectual property rights was intriguing. The inhibitory effects of such regulation on the access and use of the ‘human body of knowledge’ as the speaker described it can be seen in aall its Byzantine toxicity in the present conflicts over the patent rights to the ‘slide to turn on’ switch.
    Although its unlikely that anyone will be incarcerated for those legal transgressions.

    One of the things about incarceration I always find intriguing is the immense variation in how many people different societies put in prison. It seems unlikely that the inherent criminality of the individual varies by a factor of ten.


    Does the fact that New Zealand puts twice as many people in prison per head than Australia really reflect the relative criminality of the individuals? -grin- The UK is about half way between the two… While the US puts around 7x as many inside per head as NZ. An expansion of the government in direct control over the individual at the most basic level. It seems unlikely that is motivated by left-wing appetites for authoritarianism given the skewed application of this massive incarceration rate.

  50. izen says:

    Correction – that should be – the US puts around 7x as many inside per head as Australia.
    By comparison with NZ you are ‘only’ about three times more likely to be imprisoned in the US.

  51. Luton Ian says:

    Hi Izen,

    ’tis an interesting one, and a very unwelcome thought for “conservatives”, who are just as willing to employ state violence as the socialists (the cons are far more willing than socialists to use state violence, when it comes to bombing and invading other countries, and sending people to rot in prison).

    I do believe that prisons serve a purpose, but that they are far and away over used. I think that I commented a few months back, that I’d had my hair cut by a barber, who’d just got out of prison. He’d spent several months on a “Drugs free wing”, getting the crap kicked out of him daily, by a druggy cell mate, who crapped his supply of stuff out stashed in kinder eggs the first night he was in there… poor bloke should never have been there.

    I gather he had also (un-knowingly) told his story to a senior prison officer… you never know for sure who you’re talking to…

    Anyway, there are some predatory and some psychopathic individuals (a lot like politicians) who are better locked up, than at liberty (I think I’d said that a guy I know in Ireland’s daughter was rescued by a couple of guys out poaching deer, who’d stumbled across a psychopath trying to kill her after he’d abducted, beaten and multiply raped her – he got out last summer, and is suspected to be a serial killer – so much for the present system protecting us http://irishobserver.hubpages.com/hub/Why-Suspected-Serial-Killer-Will-Roam-Free-In-Ireland)

    The questions I’ll be thinking of for Oz Boy’s thread, are, where and when should detention be invoked (there’s a very wide gradational boundary there, and ample scope to abuse the sorites paradox http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/sorites-paradox/ ) what form the penetentiaries take, who can send people there, who runs them and who can free people from them, how and why.

    I take your point about Somalia and drug dealers hardly being inspirational examples, however, even on those fringes, we see cooperation and conflict resolution mechanisms developing and working (I’m not a Hayekian, so I won’t cop out and invoke “spontaneous order”, rather than trying to analyse why).

    These mechanisms are coming from the least promising of origins, and are empirically out doing the systems which involve politicians. So although they are hardly going to convince the mate of your mate Burt, in the pub on Friday night, they still point a way to what might be achieved from a more promising starting point.

    As the Kerry man said “Now, if I was going to Dublin, to be sure, I wouldn’t be starting from here”

  52. Dr. Dave says:

    I have to agree that the incarceration rate in the US is WAY too high. Incarceration (even for as little as 30 days) is an exceptionally harsh punishment and most people don’t realize that. I have a friend who is a criminal defense attorney. He’s a flaming liberal. Oddly he attended the same university as conservative talk radio host Mark Levin. They’re both lawyers, they’re both Jewish, They’re both from Philadelphia, but couldn’t be more polar opposites. But my liberal friend and I agree on incarceration and drug laws. Almost 50% of those incarcerated in US jails and prisons (two very different institutions) are there for drug offenses or crimes related to the illicit drug trade.

    During the Prohibition years of the 1920s the US had bloody gangster wars over the illicit booze trade. People didn’t stop drinking even though it was illegal. This is the same situation we have today with illicit drugs only the illicit drug trade and subsequent violence is now much greater with much greater profits at stake. The fact that these drugs are illegal causes more societal harm than the drugs themselves. Another nasty problem is that over the years, politicians in their zeal to appear to fighting the “war on drugs”, have enacted minimum sentencing guidelines. As a result a lot of drug offenders spend a disproportionate amount of time incarcerated. In California a guy selling a gram of cocaine to an undercover cop will spend more time in jail than a guy who beats the living crap out of another guy in a bar fight (depending, of course, on the extent of the injuries).

    I don’t buy into the “racial bias” theory to explain incarceration rates. The US is a very large, diverse and racially and ethnically heterogeneous population. For instance, we have more Negros in the US than the entire population of Australia…just over half the entire population of the UK, and roughly equal to the entire population of Canada. Statistically Blacks & Hispanics have a higher rate of per capita of incarceration because statistically they commit crimes at a greater rate. Much of this also goes back to the drug trade and gangs.

    I’ll leave you with one idiotic law which has recently been overturned which might be able to be construed as “racist.” The cocaine that people snort or inject is the hydrochloride salt (i.e. cocaine HCl). Cocaine must be in its free base form in order to be smoked (a means of ingestion that pharmacologically differs little from direct intravenous injection of the hydrochloride salt). When cocaine growers and processors make cocaine they end up with the free base alkaloid which they must then turn into the HCl salt. This is an expensive additional step for them. Well, “free basing” caught on in the US. Users would drop their cocaine HCl powder into a glass of water with baking soda. This would react with the HCl component of the cocaine powder and free base cocaine would float to the top. They could then skim it off and smoke it. Why smoke it? Well, the drug effect is much more intense (and far more likely to be deadly than sniffing the powder). Powdered cocaine HCl is rarely deadly when snorted largely because of its pharmacological properties. In addition to being a potent topical analgesic it is a very potent vasoconstrictor. So once snorted into the nasal sinuses, it immediately constricts all the vasculature thereby limiting its own absorbtion. Subsequent doses by this route produce successively smaller serum blood concentrations. Users learned to get aroud this by either injecting a solution of cocaine (e.g. Sherlock Holmes) or converting it to free base and smoking it. Thus was born “crack” cocaine. The drug producers realized they could enjoy an even larger market and larger profits by just selling the free base. So they did. Powdered cocaine HCl was the favor drug of the wealthy elite in the 80s. Then came crack and crack pipes into the neighborhoods of the lower socioeconomic classes. It was much cheaper and far more addictive. The South American cocaine cartels made a blinding fortune. So our government enacted legislation that treated free base cocaine as a different drug as opposed to cocaine HCl in an effort “stem the tide of crack cocaine.” Much stiffer penalties were proscribed for use, possession or sale of “crack” cocaine as opposed to cocaine HCl powder. As a result we had people convicted of selling 5 grams of crack cocaine doing twice as much time in prison as those convicted of selling 5 grams of cocaine HCl. Here’s the rub…they’re both the same damn drug with the same active ingredient, but crack cocaine became far more popular in Black communities (mostly a price issue I presume).

    Well, the federal government recently changed this ludicrous law and let a whole bunch of crack dealers out of prison. You should hear the howls from the hard-core conservatives! WTF? They were essentially selling SAME illegal drug. It’s like making a distinction between buying beer or whiskey for minors.

    Incarceration is WAY over-utilized in the US. Of course we need it in cases of murder, rape, various forms of assault, etc. But we seem to utilize it when other more cost-effective options could be utilized.

  53. Dr. Dave says:


    Everybody should love this one. Plus it fits so nicely into the discussion:

  54. G’Day Ozboy.

    Gillard re-elected: trust that is fine with you as it means she will be the one accountable for her actions at the next general election?

    G’day CSM,

    At this point, it makes not a tinker’s cuss worth of difference. A silly clash of childish egos, which is why I haven’t bothered reporting on it at LibertyGibbert. Both are in favour of a carbon tax, and Labor, largely as a consequence, face annihilation at the next election; whenever that may be – Oz

  55. thx Oz, quite amusing how some lamestream media outlets are trying to spin an apparent 4% improvement in polls over the last month when the approval rating is still ~35% 🙂

  56. Luton Ian says:

    Dr Dave,
    Many thanks for the Stossel link.

    One of the people on there was saying 3 felonies a day

    Only 3?

    I thought that for a healthy lifestyle, the World Health Organization was recommending that we all enjoy at least 5 a day, of which, felonious fellatio (I think it still is in some states) could make up two…

  57. Luton Ian says:

    Continuing about the Stossel link, and drug de-criminalization.

    I notice on the Portugal section that they were not making the oft heard claim of reduced consumption.

    I’ve heard that claim and repeated it a few times, without thinking too much about it. Now that I’ve had a good think about it, I realize that if it is true, then there’s something interesting going on.

    I’m assuming that there must be some, probably slight elasticity of drug demand as prices change. I’m saying slight, because an addict will do almost anything to get enough stuff to make them normal again, whatever the price. That said, a junkie will likely prefer to have a comfortable supply if they can afford it, rather than getting desperate.

    One of the rules of economics is, ceteris paribus, if price increases, then, demand for a good (with an elastic demand) will decrease, and if the price decreases, the amount demanded by the market will increase.

    De-criminalization lowers price, and increases availability, yet it is claimed to reduce consumption.

    My first guess is, the figures have been fudged. There are obvious incentives for this to happen. In an environment where drugs are prohibited, the cops have an incentive to overplay the drug “problem” as a means to get more budget. The figures during prohibition are necessarily vague, as the junkies aren’t willingly going to fill in questionnaires for the cops, at least, the sane ones aren’t. Even with that caveat, I would still favour conspiracy rather than cockup.

    Conversely, the sponsors of de-criminalization have an incentive to fudge figures showing an “improvement”. Their figures should actually be easier to validate.

    What id the figures are real and not fudged or inaccurate? and there really is a decrease in consumption?

    Then, we would be left with the rather unusual assumption that the consumers regard the now de-criminalized, cheaper and more readily available drugs as a different and less desirable good, than the more scarce, more expensive and less available same physical substance, when it was prohibited.

    The now more available material being considered a different good is not without precedent. Think of a cult band escaping their niche to become mainstream, and being abandoned by their niche followers – however in that example, the band’s total sales will have increased (even if they don’t stay high for very long before the novelty wears off with the new listeners as well).

    With the prohibited substances, alcohol and drugs, the claim is that consumption falls following de-criminalization.

    Actually, thinking about this further as I’m typing – it may be evidence that the substance looses novelty value with its occasional and purely recreational users.

    I’d been thinking in terms of addicts being the main market, but they’re not, are they? They certainly aren’t with alcohol (even if a serious alcoholic can usually have their first bottle of spirits of the day, finished by ten in the morning – we buried a relative before Christmas who’d been doing that for about 15 years).

    That would appear to explain the de-criminalized substance being seen as a different good, but by the casual users.

    I’d be interested in your thoughts on that.

  58. Dr. Dave says:


    Good comments. Let’s see here…where do I start? Let’s look at Prohibition as an example. The 18th amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1919 (the same year my father was born). The idea was that the consumption of alcohol was immoral and led to drunkenness and societal decay. The “Puritans” managed to convince enough in Congress and 2/3 of the States to agree. But people didn’t stop drinking just because it was illegal. In fact, illicit use of alcohol actually increased during the Prohibition years. It was hip, fashionable. People who might not otherwise have any interest in drinking found it irresistible. In fact, a culture grew up around it in the “roaring 20s.” After the 18th Amendment was overturned in 1933 alcohol use did, indeed, spike, but within a few years the alcohol use per capita returned to where it was before Prohibition.

    Prohibition didn’t result in any town sobering up their town drunk (i.e. supply and demand). It did, however result in 13 years of extreme gang violence (e.g. Al Capone). It made organized crime very wealthy and powerful. It made Joe Kennedy extremely rich. But it didn’t solve the problem of alcoholism because people who are determined to drink will do so irrespective of the law of the land. Prohibition destroyed many lives, careers and businesses, but it didn’t solve any problems.

    But I have to give credit to Prohibition as being the ONLY substance prohibition that was ever legally enacted in this country. There is NOTHING in the US Constitution that allows the state to deny a citizen the right to ingest any substance they want. Most of America’s drug prohibition laws in the early part of the 20th century were racially motivated. Nixon codified drug prohibition in 1970 with passage of the Controlled Substance Act.. Interestingly the US didn’t have a very serious drug abuse problem in 1970, but we sure as hell did just a decade later.

    Before I dive into ALL illicit drugs, let’s just stick a toe into the marijuana issue. I used to smoke a little pot many decades ago. One day it occurred to me that I didn’t like it. You go from zero to stupid very quickly and once the novelty has worn off, it’s not really all that pleasant (at least to me). So I haven’t smoked any pot in many, many years. But apparently a LOT of Americans still smoke pot even though it is (usually) illegal. It is the #1 most imported illicit drug by both bulk and dollar volume. We also produce tons of the stuff domestically. California even exports a lot of its product to Europe. Pharmacologically I would equate alcohol with marijuana with a couple of caveats. Alcohol is far more addictive and destructive but you can consume it without necessarily becoming drunk. With marijuana, on the other hand, the whole point in ingesting it is to get stoned.

    I would like to see the legalization of marijuana used as a test case. My guess is that, like when Prohibition was repealed, there would be a transient spike in marijuana use. But I suspect that within a year or two marijuana use would settle back to the current rate. If it were sold and regulated like we do alcohol, I believe we could keep a lot of it out the hands of minors. Kids can procure illegal drugs much more easily than alcohol. I’m not sure the price would drop if marijuana were legalized. But its sale would be regulated and taxed (just like alcohol). Such a change would, however, devastate a LOT of the illegal drug trade and create legitimate domestic businesses.

    I actually don’t think lower prices or decriminalization of marijuana would result in expanded use in the the long run. We learned this lesson from Prohibition. Where I get squishy is when the discussion shifts to cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Perhaps I lack the requisite objectivity. The latter drugs are associated with quite significant physical and psychological addiction. This is troubling to me. But there was an excellent book I read by Dr. Arthur Benavie entitled, “DRUGS: America’s Holy War”. I highly recommend it. Benavie presents some rather astounding statistics, like the huge number of Americans who have tried or used to use heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine relative to the comparatively few addicts there are today. It’s actually analogous to alcohol use and the number of true alcoholics.

    I truly have no idea if lower cost would spur more drug usage. You could make marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine OTC legal tomorrow and I still would have no interest in partaking in them. I’m pretty confident it would destroy drug empires and significantly shrink the police-judicial-corrections complex in this country.

  59. Kitler says:

    Dr Dave….”I’m pretty confident it would destroy drug empires and significantly shrink the police-judicial-corrections complex in this country.”
    This will not happen they will find a new war to fight just as all the people who used to enforce prohibition were transferred to the new drug war.

    Sigh… you, Dave and Ian have just reminded me of all the fun we stirred up last time we visited this issue. You’ll see why next thread, out within 48 hours or so – Oz

  60. Luton Ian says:


    They became the ATFast & furious, with the new brief to collect prohibitive taxes on certain types of gun, and anything which reduced the noise a gun makes. Gunwalking is a more recent addition to the brief.

    However the point has long since passed when both cop numbers and the degree of militarization became unsustainable – from the point of view of sustainable use of that eminently none renewable resource:

    Public consent.

  61. Luton Ian says:

    OT from the abortion thread.

    There is a review by David Gordon, of a book exploring the Leo Straussians’ influence on neoconservatism, here: http://mises.org/daily/5635

    I don’t know the authors of the book, but I am a fan of David Gordon. David is himself a particularly good philosophy lecturer, and he regards book reviewing as something of a bloodsport:

    “if you can’t say something bad about a book, why say it at all?”

    – Is one of his maxims.

    All the more surprising that he does not find significant fault with Thompson & Brook, and particularly recommends it for its coverage of Strauss himself.

Comments are closed.