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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

This Is the Wall Street Journal on Drugs

Something's happening at the Wall Street Journal ($ site). For the longest time the editorial page there showed zero tolerance for anyone who believes that government repression of unapproved-drug makers, vendors, and consumers should cease. An editorial once suggested that Milton Friedman must have been stoned when he wrote in favor of drug freedom.

But now there are signs of cracks in the wall. The latest came on May 25 in an editorial-page column by Theordore Dalrymple called "Poppycock." None of its content will be new to those familiar with Thomas Szasz's writings (see Ceremonial Chemistry and Our Right to Drugs, but you don't often see in a mainstream newspaper what Dalyrymple did: He debunked the myths surrounding heroin. Here's a taste:

In 1822, Thomas De Quincey published a short book, "The Confessions of an English Opium Eater." The nature of addiction to opiates has been misunderstood ever since.

De Quincey took opiates in the form of laudanum, which was tincture of opium in alcohol. He claimed that special philosophical insights and emotional states were available to opium-eaters, as they were then called, that were not available to abstainers; but he also claimed that the effort to stop taking opium involved a titanic struggle of almost superhuman misery. Thus, those who wanted to know the heights had also to plumb the depths.

This romantic nonsense has been accepted wholesale by doctors and litterateurs for nearly two centuries. It has given rise to an orthodoxy about opiate addiction, including heroin addiction, that the general public likewise takes for granted: To wit, a person takes a little of a drug, and is hooked; the drug renders him incapable of work, but since withdrawal from the drug is such a terrible experience, and since the drug is expensive, the addict is virtually forced into criminal activity to fund his habit. He cannot abandon the habit except under medical supervision, often by means of a substitute drug.

In each and every particular, this picture is not only mistaken, but obviously mistaken. It actually takes some considerable effort to addict oneself to opiates: The average heroin addict has been taking it for a year before he develops an addiction. Like many people who are able to take opiates intermittently, De Quincey took opium every week for several years before becoming habituated to it. William Burroughs, who lied about many things, admitted truthfully that you may take heroin many times, and for quite a long period, before becoming addicted.

Heroin doesn't hook people; rather, people hook heroin.
I would go on, but I don't want to abuse the fair-use doctrine. The significance of the placement of this article can't be overstated. Most people support the government's repression of drug makers, vendors, and consumers because they hold a disease model of addiction. It's as though a demon jumps out of an alley and seizes control of unsuspecting people, when in fact, as one drug user put it, "You have to really work at being an addict." I agree with Szasz: we should go back to thinking about habits, rather than addictions. We'll be less likely to go wrong.

Addendum: As a commenter so graciously pointed out, the full article is here.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Happy Revisionist History Day

Since, as Paddy Chayefsky has his main character say in his movie The Americanization of Emily, " We...perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices" (see this and this), I've long thought that what is called Memorial Day would be better recast as Revisionist History Day. The state inculcates an unquestioning faith in its war-making by associating it with patriotism, heroism, and the defense of "our freedoms." This strategy builds in its own defense against any criticism of the government's policies. Anyone who questions the morality of a war is automatically suspected of being unpatriotic, unappreciative of the bravery that had kept us free, and disrespectful of "our troops."

To counter this we should do what we can to teach others that the government's version of its wars is always self-serving and threatening to life, liberty, and decency. A good way to spend part of the day would be to pick a war and read a high-quality revisionist account of it. Here are some books (in no particular order) you might use as a guide:

Emancipating Slaves, Enslaving Free Men: A History of the American Civil War, by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel
The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, by William Appleman Williams
The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition, by Arthur Ekirch
The Politics of War: The Story of Two Wars which Altered Forever the Political Life of the American Republic, 1890-1920, by Walter Karp
The Costs of War, edited by John Denson
Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, by Stephen Kinzer
All the Shah's Men: An American Coup and the Roots of Middle East Terror, by Stephen Kinzer
Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire, by Chalmers Johnson
The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic, by Chalmers Johnson
War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, by Chris Hedges
A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East, by David Fromkin
The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, by David Hirst

A good place to start is this article by Robert Higgs: "How U.S. Economic Warfare Provoked Japan's Attack on Pearl Harbor" (The Freeman, May 2006).

Many other books and articles could be added to the list. The point is this: if we are to prevent wars in the future, we must self-educate and then, when opportune, teach others.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Independent Migrant

I hereby propose that in lieu of the term illegal alien all lovers of liberty use independent migrant.

Natural, Not National, Rights

Somewhere in my reading about immigration, someone made the deceptively simple point that it's not immigration we should be talking about but migration. That's another way of saying the focus has been on "us," when it should be on the people coming to the United States. The discussion has proceeded as if they have no rights in the matter but we do. We will let them come here if and only if we have a use for them. And "we" doesn't refer to a group of free individuals, but rather to a collective Borg-like entity with rights superior to any held by its constituents. The collectivist, and therefore statist, nature of the discussion indicates how far we've drifted from our individualist and voluntarist moorings.
Read the rest of my article at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

No Freedom without Responsibility

Do you wish forever to be swaddled children in the national orphanage? If freedom is to be reclaimed and, as logically required, the state rolled back, we must defend liberty on the grounds that living is indeed worth the trouble.
Read the rest of my article here at the FEE website.

More Gore

Patrick Michaels has a column in the Washington Times about Al Gore's new documentary on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth." I haven't seen the film, but I heard parts of it on NPR yesterday. The NPR person said it's Gore speaking, but I think it's the guy who imitates Gore on "South Park." The reviewers were gaga ("Where was this Gore during the election of 2000?") but to me it sounded like the old sanctimonious Al trafficking in half-truths -- if that much.

Here's a snippet from Michaels's column:
So here's what Al told Grist Magazine about global warming: "I believe it is appropriate to have an overrepresentation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience."

It would be nice to think he came up with this de novo. But exaggeration of global warming has long been considered virtuous.
"Overrepresentation of factual presentations"? There's a graceful euphemism for lies. I guess he can get away with this because no controlling legal authority has said he can't.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Cory Maye News

Radley Balko continues to monitor the case of Cory Maye, who is on death row in Mississippi after fatally shooting a policeman when his home was raided by a drug SWAT team a few years ago. Radley reports that the brief (pdf) in Maye's appeal to the state Supreme Court is now online. He writes, "To my untrained legal eye, the brief is absolutely devastating. I don't know how anyone could possibly read it and still believe this guy deserves to die in Mississippi's death chamber."

See the update here.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mutual-Aid Societies, Private Schools, and Salted Peanuts

I'm back home after a weekend FEE seminar in Houston, where I lectured on mutual-aid societies as a proper alternative to a government safety net and why the state should not school our children. The first lecture also contained a section on the revisionist history of the Progressive Era, pointing out that far from its being an imposition by left-wing intellecutals, it was in fact the result of the business elite's seeking shelter from the bracing winds of competition.

Flying home on Southwest Airlines, I got another lesson in this country's crazy product-liability laws. I know some people have a peanut allegery, but this is ridiculous. The package of peanuts given out by the airline contains this important information:
Ingredients: Peanuts, Dry Roasted with Salt.

Produced in a facility that processes peanuts and other nuts.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The Neo-Monarchy of George W. Bush

The Bush administration, without court authorization, collects our telephone records and eavesdrops on calls involving U.S. residents to and from foreigners. It refuses to rule out wiretapping of fully domestic calls. Meanwhile, the administration is building military bases in Iraq and throughout the Persian Gulf. And now the president is about to formally militarize the southern border, the better to keep out Mexicans seeking economic opportunity.

To underscore grounds for concern, the administration has pronounced a theory of presidential power that should alarm anyone who wants government power limited. Under the Unitary Executive doctrine of the Bush Justice Department and many conservative legal theorists, the executive branch has enough implied and inherent powers during wartime to negate the checks and balances ordinarily provided by Congress and the courts. Considering that the Bush administration’s “war on terror” is vague enough to last indefinitely and assumes a global battlefield, the Unitary Executive doctrine is a blueprint for despotism that Napoleon would have envied.

Read the rest of my latest op-ed at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Scene of the Next Blowback?

In today's Washington Post:

More than a decade after U.S. troops withdrew from Somalia following a disastrous military intervention, officials of Somalia's interim government and some U.S. analysts of Africa policy say the United States has returned to the African country, secretly supporting secular warlords who have been waging fierce battles against Islamic groups for control of the capital, Mogadishu.

The latest clashes, last week and over the weekend, were some of the most violent in Mogadishu since the end of the American intervention in 1994, and left 150 dead and hundreds more wounded. Leaders of the interim government blamed U.S. support of the militias for provoking the clashes.

U.S. officials have declined to directly address on the record the question of backing Somali warlords, who have styled themselves as a counterterrorism coalition in an open bid for American support.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Who Owns Baseball Statistics?

The New York Times reports that Major League Baseball claims to own the commercial use of baseball statistics. If MLB prevails, unlicensed commercial fantasy-baseball operations would have to cease operation. Says the Times:
The dispute is between a company in St. Louis that operates fantasy sports leagues over the Internet and the Internet arm of Major League Baseball, which says that anyone using players' names and performance statistics to operate a fantasy league commercially must purchase a license. The St. Louis company counters that it does not need a license because the players are public figures whose statistics are in the public domain.... The case is scheduled for jury trial in United States District Court in St. Louis beginning Sept. 5. CBC and Major League Baseball Advanced Media filed motions for summary judgment that the court could rule on in July.
MLB already licenses operations that use player photos and team logos. But according to the Times:
Major League Baseball Advanced Media, which runs its own array of fantasy games on the league's portal, MLB.com, has decreased its number of licensees from dozens in 2004 to 19 last season to 7 this year, focusing on large multimedia outlets like CBS SportsLine and cutting out many of the four-figure licenses that had covered smaller operators' use of only names and statistics. CBC, which had a license from 1995 to 2004, filed suit to confirm that it has the right to use those limited materials freely.
Interestingly, baseball once took a different position:
When several major leaguers from the 1940's and 50's sued Major League Baseball over use of their names and statistics in materials like promotional videos and game programs, baseball argued that such use was protected by the First Amendment.
Is any comment necessary?

Cross-posted at Against Monopoly.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Beware State-Directed Globalization

Kevin Carson's latest Vulgar Libertarianism Watch is a definite a must-read. It's another badly needed warning that globalization in the context of corporativism (state capitalism) is not what it seems. I'm reminded of something (who else?) Richard Cobden wrote:
[T]hey who propose to influence by force the traffic of the world, forget that affairs of trade, like matters of conscience, change their very nature if touched by the hand of violence; for as faith, if forced, would no longer be religion, but hypocrisy, so commerce becomes robbery if coerced by warlike armaments. ["Protection of Commerce"]

More Cobden Quotes

No one is more quotable on issues that plague us today than Richard Cobden, the great nineteenth-century British free-trade, anti-imperialist, and anti-war activist. He was a true middle-class radical. Here are two quotations I just came across:
Depend upon it, peace must ever be insecure so long as you have armed ships and armed men, prowling about parts of the globe many thousands of miles away from the immediate control of the Government, and from those who pay taxes to support them.

Like the Romans at the Amphitheater, or the French populace in the first Revolution, we acquire the habit of enjoying scenes of carnage, the only difference being that we look at them through the columns of the newspaper. And hence "our own correspondent" is sent to the seat of war to deck out in pictorial phrase, for the amusement of the reader, the scenes of slaughter and wounds and agony which we peruse with precisely the same zest as if we were witnessing a mimic battlefield at Astley's [Royal Amphitheater]. Observe the eager levity with which The Times correspondent at Hong Kong is urging on the fray, calling for "the opening of the ball", and threatening Lord Elgin with recall if he does not execute his behests.

From Oliver MacDonagh, "The Anti-Imperialism of Free Trade," The Economic History Review, 2nd series, vol. 14, no. 3, 1962 (489-501)

Hat tip: Kevin Carson for bringing this article to my attention.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

World to U.S.: Butt Out!

Drop everything and read Stephen Kinzer's op-ed in the L.A. Times from yesterday, "U.S. History Lesson: Stop Meddling." Kinzer is author of the new book Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Here are some choice excepts from the op-ed:
Overthrowing a government is like releasing a wheel at the top of a hill — you have no idea exactly what will happen next. Iranians are not the only ones who know this. In slightly more than a century, the United States has overthrown the governments of at least 14 countries, beginning with the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, and forcibly intervened in dozens more. Long before Afghanistan and Iraq, there were the Philippines, Panama, South Vietnam and Chile, among others.

Most of these interventions not only have brought great pain to the target countries but also, in the long run, weakened American security. . . .

Today, Latin America and the Middle East are the regions of the world in the most open political rebellion against U.S. policies. It is no coincidence that these are the regions where the U.S. has intervened most often. Resentment over intervention festers. It passes from generation to generation. Ultimately it produces a backlash.
Iran is a powerful example of the blowback from intervention. Kinzer goes into some detail about the 1953 CIA overthrow of an elected nationalist prime minister and re-installation of the brutal but pro-U.S.-government Shah Reza Pahlavi. (Kinzer wrote a book on this: All The Shah's Men.) In the op-ed he neglects to mention that when Iraq invaded Iran in 1980, setting off an eight-year bloody war, the Reagan administration sided with Saddam Hussein, providing him satellite intelligence and other help. The U.S. even shot down an Iranian civilian airliner over the Persian Gulf, claiming, incredibly, that it was thought to be a hostile military aircraft.

Do you think the Iranians might have a good reason to want the ability to deter the U.S. government?

When will the American people come out of their self-induced blissful ignorance and realize that "their" government is their biggest security threat? World to the U.S. rogue state: Butt out!

Hat tip: Jacob Hornberger of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Nothing Unlawful

George II defended whatever eavesdropping he might be doing (he wouldn't say), by stating: "The intelligence activities I authorized are lawful."

In other words, in his view, "no controlling legal authority" has said otherwise. (Of course, he doesn't recognize that the courts have any role in overseeing his Unitary Executive.)

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Republic versus Empire

Here is my favorite single line on how empire changes the domestic population:
[T]he difference between republic and empire might be restated as the difference between taking the girl next door to the Sadie Hawkins Dance and paying a Saigon whore in chocolate bars and the Yankee dollar.
It's from Bill Kauffman's "My America vs. the Empire."

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Rush to Fallacy

Rush "Jail All Drug Users But Me" Limbaugh did it again yesterday. His Blowhardedness, ever striving to be George II's No. 1 brownnoser, condemned the Democratic critics of the NSA's mass collection of our telephone records and showed he is either a demagogue or is actually unable to tell a sound argument from a fallacy. (I guess he could be both.) Here's his standard pitch: The Democrats oppose something George II's men are doing even though they have done or approved of the same thing in the past. Therefore their criticism is baseless.

Wrong. Hypocrisy doesn't invalidate a criticism; it just undermines the standing of the person making it. If Democrats condemn something the Bush administration does that they praised when Clinton did it, that's hypocrisy. But it doesn't mean the Bush administration is right to do it. It may mean Clinton was wrong to do it. What about princpled critics who condemn both administrations for their misconduct? Doesn't Limbaugh have to concede that criticism from a principled person is valid? That sounds like relativism to me: For Limbaugh, an argument is valid or invalid depending on who makes it.

Limbaugh has used this bogus line of attack many times. He once introduced something of a twist to the argument. When he got caught using more painkillers than the state's attorney thought he should be using, Drug Warrior Limbaugh said he wasn't a hypocrite because his prohibitionist stance is still valid. If you spend too much time trying to make sense of that, you'll give yourself a headache.

What should we expect? Intelligent discourse? The Doctor of Democracy heads the Limbaugh Institute for Advanced Conservative Studies for gosh sakes. (Remember when conservatives said, "This is a republic not a democracy?")

In his contortions to defend the NSA, he said that to be consistent, critics should demand that the agency get a warrant before looking in the telephone book, which contains all our phone numbers. Yep, that sounds like advanced conservative thinking to me.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Another Psychiatric Political Prisoner

Anyone who values liberty should read about this travesty of justice over at Rad Geek People's Daily. Here's a taste:
Cleveland antiwar activist Carol Fischer is being held incommunicado in the psychiatric [section] of the Cuyahoga County jail in on the orders of Judge Timothy McGinty. Fischer, who at 53 years old stands 5'4" and weighs 130 pounds, was convicted of a "felonious assault" she allegedly committed against two Cleveland Heights police officers last year. The cops claim that Fischer bit and tried to hit them when they arrested her for posting "Bush Step Down" posters in violation of the city sign ordinance.
Locking up political dissidents in psychiatric wards is what they used to do in the Soviet Union. Free Carol!

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

They Think We're Morons

Rule #1 in the Bush administration: When you get caught, insult the America people's intelligence.

USA Today learned that the NSA, with the cooperation of most of the big phone companies, is collecting phone records of Americans who are not suspected of wrongdoing. (Can we sue our phone company for breach of privacy?) So what does George II do? What he always does -- treats us like morons. He assures us of something (we are not being listened in on) that we have no reason to believe (he once said there was no warrantless eavesdropping), and he condemns the revelation as a threat to national security. That latter card is getting a bit worn. If bin Laden didn't think the U.S. government was eavesdropping in every possible way, he'd have been caught by now. The president thinks bin Laden is a moron too.

P.S.: Here's a laugher. George II's Justice Dept. was supposed to "investigate" George II's NSA's warrantless wiretapping of people in the U.S. suspected of talking to presumed terrorists abroad. The "investigation" came to a screeching halt, however, because the NSA refused to give the "investigators" the required security clearances. Earlier, when Congress asked about the NSA program, Atty. Gen. Alberto "Quaint" Gonzales said that warrantless wiretapping of purely domestic phone calls may not be illegal. This just gets better all the time, doesn't it?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Hillary vs. McCain? I'll take Hillary

George Will reports today that Sen. John McCain, a presidential aspirant, recently told radio guy Don Imus:
I would rather have a clean government than one where quote First Amendment rights are being respected that has become corrupt. If I had my choice, I'd rather have the clean government.
In other words, his conception of "clean" government takes precedence over free political speech. As Will asks, if McCain ever takes the oath to defend the Constitution, "what would he mean?" It is amazing that McCain is seen as a refreshing political personality. He's as reactionary and as power-lusting as they get. (And a sanctimonious warmonger to boot.) Will correctly notes that people like McCain, obsessed with campaign finance, hold two propositions at the same time:
Proof that incumbent politicians are highly susceptible to corruption is the fact that the government they control is shot through with it. Yet that government should be regarded as a disinterested arbiter, untainted by politics and therefore qualified to regulate the content, quantity and timing of speech in campaigns that determine who controls the government. In the language of McCain's Imus appearance, the government is very much not "clean," but it is so clean it can be trusted to regulate speech about itself.
If in 2008 it's Hillary versus McCain, I'm for Hillary, for two reasons: It'll keep McCain out of office, and the congressional Republicans will act more like an opposition party. Yeah, anybody but McCain.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Free or Not Free? Make Up Your Mind, WSJ

The Wall Street Journal ($ site), in an otherwise good editorial today about price gouging for gasoline, commits an act of what Kevin Carson calls "vulgar libertarianism":
But in the marketplace with prices set free of government intervention, the sales price is established through a transaction of a willing buyer and a willing seller.
Isn't the Journal most days telling us that the U.S. economy is not free of government intervention? As the editorial says later on:
The irony here is that if there is any extortion or swindling going on in the oil marketplace, Congress is the guilty party. It is Congress that ordered service stations across America to switch last month to ethanol additives that have both raised prices at the pump and exacerbated shortages in recent weeks. It is Congress and state governments that take 59 cents a gallon on average of fuel taxes at the pump -- almost six times the average of 10 cents per gallon profit that the oil companies make.
Then there are all those cartelizing regs, taxes, and subsidies, which constitute legal barriers to entry to any new competitor. You get the idea. It's hardly a free market. But, obviously, that doesn't mean the solution is more regs, taxes, and subsidies.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Squaring the Circle

I'm glad I watched "The Daily Show" the other day, or I wouldn't have seen George II praise the CIA as an organization "known for its secrecy and its accountability."

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Habits Good and Bad

Better to be addicted to energy than to power.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Awe-Inspiring Jasay

Lately I've been reading Anthony de Jasay. I stand in awe of his ability to mount a clear and devastating argument. Why I took so long to pick up The State I cannot say, but now I have done it, and I am better for it. It's a masterpiece. I have moved on to Against Politics. Awe-inspiring.Jasay's mission is to say to almost 400 years of political philosophy: Whoa, not so fast. Western politics is premised on the twin notions that society's ordered existence requires the enforcement of contracts and that the enforcement of contracts requires the state. The first, as I see it, is a tautology -- a "society" in which contracts are not by and large honored is not a society at all, assuming there's a difference between a society and a mob. The second notion, Jasay shows, is either logically absurd or circular. Of course, no social-contractarian worth his salt actually believes that any real group of people took time out from their war of all against all or from grappling with Lockean inconveniences, sat under a tree, and hammered out a social contract. Rather, a good contractarian simply maintains that rational people in either the Hobbesian or Lockean state of nature could not help but see the prudence in forming a state to ensure the enforcement of contracts.

Jasay questions this facile assumption and presents abundant evidence to rule it dubious in the first degree. For example, in Against Politics (29) he writes, "[I]t takes courage to affirm that rational people could unanimously wish to have a sovereign contract enforcer bound by no contract." This suggests the logical problem entailed in the concept state. As he says elsewhere, profferers of the contractarian argument are in the same position as someone who tries to jump over his own shadow. The argument "is either self-contradictory (contract can remedy the impossibility of contract) or circular (cooperation requires contract which requires cooperation)" (29).

I'll be returning to this subject often.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Life, Not Death, for Moussaoui

Regarding the life sentence imposed on Zacarias Moussaoui, I would like to associate myself with this post at Rad Geek People's Daily. I have nothing to add except that I can't figure out how people who claim to be against government power can also want the state to have the ultimate power -- to kill.

Postscript: I notice that the newspapers gave very short shrift to Moussaoui's statement in court. ("Maybe one day she [a 9/11 victim's survivor] can think how many people the C.I.A. have destroyed their life." "Your humanity is a very selected humanity -- only you suffer, only you feel.") Obviously, there is no possible excuse for the monstrous crimes this man had some hand in. But that doesn't mean there is nothing to learn from his reasons. Have no fear, the Fourth Estate will make sure the fragile American people are well protected from anything but the official version of U.S. foreign policy.

Good riddance to Moussaoui, but maybe it's time we woke up to what's really happening in the world.

Getting Out

Should we leave Iraq right now? Retired Lt. General William Odom says yes. His Foreign Policy article, "Cut and Run? You Bet," is worth reading. He rebuts the most popular arguments for staying the course. For example:

Withdrawal will encourage the terrorists. True, but that is the price we are doomed to pay. Our continued occupation of Iraq also encourages the killers—precisely because our invasion made Iraq safe for them. Our occupation also left the surviving Baathists with one choice: Surrender, or ally with al Qaeda. They chose the latter. Staying the course will not change this fact. Pulling out will most likely result in Sunni groups’ turning against al Qaeda and its sympathizers, driving them out of Iraq entirely.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Creative Thought and Ownership

The maker of the BlackBerry wireless e-mail service, Research in Motion (R.I.M), has more patent troubles, and it's fighting back. I don't want to go over the full case against patents, or intellectual property (IP) rights in general, but I do want to restate a powerful argument made by others, such as N. Stephan Kinsella. Some pro-IP folks think it is self-evident that if someone originates an idea he has a natural right to control the manufacture and sale of devices that instantiate that idea. After all, he thought it up. He exerted creative effort. Property rights are said to flow from that creative exertion.

It can't be. No ownership rights flow from thinking, regardless of how important thinking is to production. Ownership flows from other factors, and there are no gaps in the emergence of property rights that have to be filled in by creative thinking. Using Occam's Razor, we just don't need mental effort to justify property rights.

To see this, imagine that Howard Roark's evil twin enters your land without permission and uses your building materials and tools to create an acclaimed and original architectural marvel never seen before. Does this Roark have any rights whatsoever to the building? Of course not. Not even a scintilla of a claim. Why not? Because he didn't own the land or the materials. No degree of creative genius could transfer ownership to him. (And he could not gain ownership by mixing his labor with already owned things.) The real owner has every right to destroy the building without paying Roark a penny.

On the other hand, if Roark had legitimately owned the land and materials, the creation would clearly be his. His prior ownership of the elements of his creation would be sufficient to justify his ownership of the building. Thinking up the ideas embodied in the product adds nothing as far as his property rights are concerned. Prior ownership or original appropriation of unowned resources is not merely necessary to property rights in a product, it is sufficient.

The point is not that thinking is unimportant, only that it is irrelevant to the generation of property rights.

Cross-posted at Against Monopoly.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May Day Plus Two

I didn't know much about May Day until I read this at Rad Geek People's Daily: "One of the (many) crimes of the state socialists in the 20th century was their wholesale theft of May Day; what had been and properly remains a day for celebrating the free actions of ordinary workers became, in the bloody talons of the so-called workers’ states, a day for celebrating socialist God-Kings and hideous parades of military power."

In a linked post, Kevin Carson quotes Benjamin Tucker:
It is not enough, however true, to say that, "if a man has labor to sell, he must find some one with money to buy it"; it is necessary to add the much more important truth that, if a man has labor to sell, he has a right to a free market in which to sell it, - a market in which no one shall be prevented by restrictive laws from honestly obtaining the money to buy it. If the man with labor to sell has not this free market, then his liberty is violated and his property virtually taken from him. Now, such a market has constantly been denied, not only to the laborers at Homestead, but to the laborers of the entire civilized world. And the men who have denied it are the Andrew Carnegies. Capitalists of whom this Pittsburgh forge-master is a typical representative have placed and kept upon the statute-books all sorts of prohibitions and taxes (of which the customs tariff is among the least harmful) designed to limit and effective in limiting the number of bidders for the labor of those who have labor to sell....
Check it out. And follow Rad Geek's and Carson's links.

Galbraith, Again

It occurred to me that I was too easy on the recently late John Kenneth Galbraith the other day. In the Wall Street Journal Tuesday, David Henderson reminded us:
He was also Kennedy's ambassador to India in the early 1960s. While there, Galbraith gave a series of speeches on economic development in which he hailed the role of government planning as opposed to economic freedom. In one speech, Galbraith stated, "The market cannot reach forward to take great strides when these are called for. . . . To trust to the market is to take an unacceptable risk that nothing, or too little, will happen." As is well known, the Indian government did not take the "risk" of relying on the market but, instead, stuck with its system of detailed controls over every industry. As is also well known, nothing, or too little, happened. India was mired in poverty which only began to lift after some decontrol started in 1991.
Where Galbraith says "the market" substitute "the ingenuity of free individuals." So, Galbraith is one of the people responsible for untold death, starvation, and misery -- and not just in India. Not bad for an arrogant elitist (and a collectivist moralizer masquerading as an economic "scientist") who probably never got his hands dirty.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Oh Say, Can You. . .

... explain why, with all that's going on in the world, conservatives are worrying about people singing the national anthem in Spanish? What is it about the national anthem anyway? It's a song. About a flag.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Frightening Unitary Executive Doctrine


George II and his people have made frightening claims about the scope of the allegedly inherent and implied powers of the presidency. Under this doctrine, a president may do anything in the name of fighting a war. Since in the administration's view the current and implicitly permanent "war on terror" includes the U.S. in the battlefield, the president can pretty much ignore the Bill of Rights even for citizens. Bye-bye Fourth Amendment protections. See ya, habeas corpus. Laws and treaties, forbidding torture, for example, can be ignored. Etc. Etc. Etc.

From my reading so far, opponents of Bush's "unitary executive" doctrine seem to have the better constitutional argument. But if he turns out to be right, then it only goes to show you what's wrong with the Constitution. As Spooner said, either it authorized the government we have or it was powerless to prevent it. In either case, who needs it?

On the subject of the "unitary executive," and federal power in general under George II, see the new Cato Institute publication "Power Surge: The Constitutional Record of George W. Bush," by my old friends and former colleagues Gene Healy and Timothy Lynch. From the executive summary:
Unfortunately, far from defending the Constitution, President Bush has repeatedly sought to strip out the limits the document places on federal power. In its official legal briefs and public actions, the Bush administration has advanced a view of federal power that is astonishingly broad, a view that includes

* a federal government empowered to regulate core political speech -- and restrict it greatly when it counts the most: in the days before a federal election;

* a president who cannot be restrained, through validly enacted statutes, from pursuing any tactic he believes to be effective in the war on terror;

* a president who has the inherent constitutional authority to designate American citizens suspected of terrorist activity as "enemy combatants," strip them of any constitutional protection, and lock them up without charges for the duration of the war on terror -- in other words, perhaps forever; and

* a federal government with the power to supervise virtually every aspect of American life, from kindergarten, to marriage, to the grave.

President Bush's constitutional vision is, in short, sharply at odds with the text, history, and structure of our Constitution, which authorizes a government of limited powers.
Also, see this Boston Globe article by Charlie Savage. It begins:
President Bush has quietly claimed the authority to disobey more than 750 laws enacted since he took office, asserting that he has the power to set aside any statute passed by Congress when it conflicts with his interpretation of the Constitution. . . . Legal scholars say the scope and aggression of Bush's assertions that he can bypass laws represent a concerted effort to expand his power at the expense of Congress, upsetting the balance between the branches of government. The Constitution is clear in assigning to Congress the power to write the laws and to the president a duty "to take care that the laws be faithfully executed." Bush, however, has repeatedly declared that he does not need to "execute" a law he believes is unconstitutional.
The president's strategy has been pointed out about by several commentators (see the article linked above). In five and a half years he has vetoed no bills. Yet he claims the power to ignore any and all provisions of bills passed by Congress, thus giving himself, de facto, the line-item veto, but without an opportunity for Congress to override it. In several cases he has negotiated compromises in a bill in order win passage, only to say later in a "signing letter" that he has no intention of enforcing those sections. Members of his own party have complained about this treachery. According to Bruce Fein, a conservative constitutional scholar with integrity, "This is an attempt by the president to have the final word on his own constitutional powers, which eliminates the checks and balances that keep the country a democracy. There is no way for an independent judiciary to check his assertions of power, and Congress isn't doing it, either. So this is moving us toward an unlimited executive power."

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

John Kenneth Galbraith

John Kenneth Galbraith died at age 97 over the weekend. The nicest thing I can say about him is that he spent his long career trying to subjugate the individual to an all-powerful state administered by him and people like him. His answer to concentrated corporate power was concentrated political power, which is the source of corporate power in the first place.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.