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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Leave the Browns Alone!

Ed and Elaine Brown's constitutional argument against the income tax is balderdash. But the tax violates their -- and everyone's -- rights. The government should leave them alone.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Labor's "Right to a Free Market"

No issue is more contentious in labor relations than the Employee Free Choice Act. This bill, now pending in Congress, would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to recognize a union when "a majority of the employees in a unit appropriate for bargaining has signed valid authorizations." Under current federal law, an NLRB-supervised election must be held and a majority must vote by secret ballot for the union before it becomes government-certified. The union-backed EFCA would presumably make it easier to establish a union in a company, but opponents say worker intimidation would be encouraged with an open card-signing process versus a secret-ballot election. What should free-market advocates say about this controversy?
The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Labor's 'Right to a Free Market,'" is at the website of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Single-Entry Bookkeeping

The Economist magazine has joined most everyone else in at least partly blaming the Virginia Tech massacre on easy access to guns: "Had powerful guns not been available to him, the deranged Cho [Seung-hui] would have killed fewer people, and perhaps none at all." That sentiment is typical.

But it's flawed. If Cho had been unable to obtain handguns (doubtful given black-market sources), he might have bought shotguns and a hacksaw and produced far-more deadly sawed-off shotguns. Or he might have gone the Timothy McVeigh route and rigged up a bomb.

But let's assume Cho was not as determined to kill lots of people as he seems to have been. Let's say he could do no better than a knife or his fists. Let's say he was unable to kill anyone because guns were not easily available. Where does that leave us? It leaves us with a trail of dead bodies nonetheless.

Why? Because each year far more than 32 people save their own or other innocent lives with handguns. (See this.) So while the VT students might still be alive, many others might be dead who today are not.

I am not weighing one life against another, or saying that X lives are not as valuable as 2X lives. I am saying that when one does accounting, one should count everything.

Op-ed: The Lesson of Virginia Tech

The idea that one’s security can be ensured by an external authority underlies ridiculous ideas such as gun-free zones, which end up being free-crime zones. When the innocent have access to guns and take responsibility for security, things turn out differently — crime is stopped cold. In 2002 a suspended Appalachian School of Law student with a poor academic record entered the Virginia campus and opened fire, killing the dean, a professor, and a student. The gunman also wounded three others. When the shots rang out, two students, independently of each other, headed to their cars to retrieve their handguns. Those students confronted the killer, at which point he dropped his gun and was restrained by other students. Three deaths — not 32 killed.
Read the rest of this week's op-ed, "The Lesson of Virginia Tech," at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"Dangerousness Is Not a Disease"

Thomas Szasz's take on the Virginia Tech shooting is here at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

The Lesson of Virginia Tech

It's the same lesson we should have learned long ago: in practical terms, you cannot really delegate your right of self-defense. Whoever your agent is, he, she, or it cannot guarantee to be with you every moment. If you are threatened by someone, there is only one other person who is sure to be there: you. So you ultimately are responsible for your own self-defense. Gun-free zones are free-crime zones.

See Alexander Cockburn's "Bring Back the Posse."

Saturday, April 21, 2007


Why should troop morale be the controlling consideration in what we do and say about the war in Iraq? People are being killed and maimed. That's far more important than how American soldiers feel about their mission. We can address their self-esteem issues when they come home.

What's to Lose?

What would an American defeat in Iraq mean? Would evil Iraqis conquer the United States, force us all to speak Arabic, and convert us to Islam? Hardly. There is no threat whatsoever to the American people from the sectarian fighters in Baghdad or elsewhere in that country. Even the Iraqis who form the local al-Qaeda chapter have no designs on the United States. Indeed, they have their hands full in their own country. And their hands would be even fuller if the United States should withdraw. Even most Sunnis in Iraq despise the al-Qaeda types and their brutal methods. If anything holds the disparate Sunni factions together, it’s their common animosity to the U.S. occupation.

So in what sense would “we” lose? From the standpoint of the American people, it would be no loss at all. Rather, it would be a victory.

Read the rest of my latest op-ed, "What's to Lose?" at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Progressive Illiberalism

"The Progressive movement, which dominated the American scene in the years from the turn of the century to United State entrance in World War I, was not primarily a liberal movement," writes Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. in his magisterial work The Decline of American Liberalism. "[I]n contrast to former American efforts at reform, progressivism was based on a new philosophy, partly borrowed from Europe, which emphasized collective action through the instrumentality of government."
Read the rest of my latest TGIF column, "Progressive Illiberalism," at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Why did Cho Seung Hui kill all those people at Virginia Tech? Everyone is asking this. When I hear such a question, I sense that people want an expert to give a scientific cause-and-effect answer. Then I'm reminded of Thomas Szasz's insightful aphorism: There is no psychology. There is only biography and autobiography.

Actions have reasons not causes.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

On the Road Again

I'm on the Bolivar Peninsula, near Galveston, Texas, to attend Hayes Carll's first annual Stingaree Music Festival. It's been a blast.

I'm blogging on my Treo, so I don't have all the comforts of home. Still I have some things to plug. First my latest diatribe on the war is here.

Second, my full account of the Georgia and Armenia trip is here.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Yo-Yo Ma on Globalization

"[N]othing great was ever produced in isolation. Even something as basic as our Western major and minor keys may have originally come from the amazingly complex modes of classical Persian music."

The great cellist went to point out that the cultures of East and West have been cross-fertilizing from Alexander the Great's time, if not earlier.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Home, Sweet Home

I made it home this morning, after an unscheduled overnight stay in a Chicago hotel. (The FAA made me miss my connection.) It was fantastic to see my friends in Georgia and Armenia, but it's great to be home after the long trip to the southern Caucuses. I'll try to record some further impressions in the next day or so.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Georgia on My Mind

We arrived back in Georgia at 4:30 p.m. Friday after a memorable trip to Tsakhkadzor, Armenia, not far from the capital, Yerevan. I gave two lectures -- one on the nature of taxation, the other on privatizing schools -- but just barely. A bad head cold nearly deprived me of my voice. But I managed to get through. The entire traveling party was hit with one malady or another, the price of a wearying journey that surely suppresses one's immunity. Anyway, we are all on the mend. This journey included a trek by foot across the border and through the bureaucracies between Georgia and Armenia.

During my tax lecture, one student denounced the inheritance tax, which is alway music to the ears. Another student asked whether taxes were necessary at all, and I referred the class to Gustave de Molinari's "The Production of Security" in order to pursue this interesting inquiry.

I should point out that at each of the seminars we hosted students who normally are unable to get together. In Georgia we had students from Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. None of these countries has good relations with the others. Armenians may not travel to Azerbaijan and vice versa. The countries are in a state of war over disputed territory. Wikipedia's account of the dispute is here. I am no expert, so I can't vouch for the Wikipedia article. But it probably explains the basics.

At the Armenian seminar we had Georgians and Azeris, but also students from Abkhazia. This is an area claimed by Georgia but Abkhazians are seeking independence, and Georgians have had to leave their homes in the conflict. An account is here. The point is that these students rarely deal with each other, and FEE helped bring them together. They were appreciative and everyone got along. During the final banquet, several toasts were made to liberalism and its principle of all people getting along through trade and peace.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Armenia, Armenia

We arrived in Armenia, outside the capital, Yerevan. We begin a FEE seminar tomorrow where I'll be lecturing on the welfare state and the nature of taxation. Stay tuned.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Taxation in Georgia

Shindisi, Georgia -- I lectured this morning on taxation. After pointing out that taxation is not dues or the price paid for services, but rather a forced exaction that creates two classes -- taxpayers and tax-consumers -- I explained that government cannot "efficiently" use taxation for social engineering (even if were desirable) because people are ingenious at adjusting their conduct in response to the incentives and disincentives created by the particular system. Thus government's targeting taxes at particular groups or activities is like an archer trying to hit a target in a dark room while blindfolded. As long as there are taxes, I told the students, the objective should be to keep them (and government spending ) as low as possible and taxation highly visible.

That's my good friend Gia Jandieri and me during a break in the action.