More Timely Than Ever!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

German Physicists Reject Greenhouse Effect

I'm not a climate scientist. I don't even play one on TV. There do seem to be serious problems with the catastrophic anthropogenic global-warming (AGW) thesis, but I remain an agnostic, and I refuse to use political-economic criteria to judge scientific credibility.

Nevertheless, this interesting article about German physicists who insist that AGW is bunk is worth reading.

From the physicists' paper:

(a) there are no common physical laws between the warming phenomenon in glass houses and the fictitious atmospheric greenhouse effects, (b) there are no calculations to determine an average surface temperature of a planet, (c) the frequently mentioned difference of 33 degrees Celsius is a meaningless number calculated wrongly, (d) the formulas of cavity radiation are used inappropriately, (e) the assumption of a radiative balance is unphysical, (f) thermal conductivity and friction must not be set to zero, the atmospheric greenhouse conjecture is falsified.

HT: Brad Spangler

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hoist by His Own Petard

Tibor Machan takes John Stossel to task for not espousing the pure libertarian position during his recent Fox Business Network show on the health-insurance overhaul. A proponent of Obamacare, Russel Mokhiber, challenged Stossel, an opponent of government-run medicine, by asking if he also opposes government parks and schools. Machan is unhappy with how Stossel responded, because instead of invoking the libertarian principle against government parks and schools, Stossel said "the issue is big versus limited government."
[S]o that in the last analysis [Machan writes] John Stossel and [guest] John Mackey were trapped in a dilemma: they either embrace a pure libertarian position in which there is no room for any wealth redistribution and public works--everything must be privatized apart from the judicial system and the military--or they have to accept the socialist health-care proposals of the liberal Democrats, better known as Obamacare, as just another task the government can take over.
But hold on. Machan is stuck in his own dilemma. If he opposes socialist health care, why does he favor a socialist judicial system and military? As he says, "It isn't the size of government, really, that is of concern but its proper scope." He's right. But why does he want a government whose scope includes the judiciary and military?

He responds, "Matters pertaining to the protection of the basic and derivative rights of the citizenry are the government's purview but nothing else, including parks, forests, lakes, roads and so forth."

This seems wholly arbitrary. What does it mean to say that protecting rights is the government's purview? Historically that has not been the case; government has been the greater killer of liberty. Rulers may have claimed they were protecting people, but that doesn't make it true or proper, since it routinely coerced innocents in the process. More fundamentally, who says that rights protection is government's--and only government's--purview? Is that carved on a tablet somewhere?

Machan might say that everything but judicial and military (by which I presume he means bona fide defense) functions can be provided in the competitive market. But that's mere assertion, belied by theory and history.

Enforced monopoly is bad for everything--except the production of security? Why?

Gustave de Molinari thought this through more clearly:
It offends reason to believe that a well established natural law can admit of exceptions. A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the universal law of gravitation, which governs the physical world, is ever suspended in any instance or at any point of the universe. Now I consider economic laws comparable to natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principle of the division of labor as I have in the universal law of gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be disturbed, they admit of no exceptions.

But, if this is the case, the production of security should not be removed from the jurisdiction of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole suffers a loss.

Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid...

In the entire world, there is not a single establishment of the security industry that is not based on monopoly or on communism.

In this connection, we add, in passing, a simple remark.

Political economy has disapproved equally of monopoly and communism in the various branches of human activity, wherever it has found them. Is it not then strange and unreasonable that it accepts them in the security industry?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kindle DRM Cracked

A blow for freedom...

From BBC News:

Hacker cracks Kindle's copyright

An Israeli hacker claims to have broken the copyright protection on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, reports say.

The hack will allow the ebooks stored on the reader to be transferred as pdf files to any other device.

The hacker, known as Labba, responded to a challenge posted on Israeli hacking forum,

It is the latest in a series of Digital Rights Management hacks, the most famous being the reverse engineering of iTunes.

The Kindle e-book reader has been very successful since it was launched in the US in 2007.

Amazon hopes to have sold a million devices by the end of the year.

It leaves it to individual publishers whether they want to apply DRM but books in its main proprietary format .azw, cannot be transferred to other devices.

It did not immediately respond to the news but it is likely it will attempt to patch its DRM software.

DRM has long divided opinion. While rights holders regard it as a crucial tool to protect copyright, consumers tend to hate it because it limits what can be done with content.

"DRM is not an effective way of preventing copying nor is it a good way of making sales. There isn't a customer out there saying 'what I need is an electronic book that does less," novelist and co-editor of the Boing Boing blog Cory Doctorow told the BBC when the Kindle was launched.

As soon as a new DRM system is active, hackers begin to try and break it.

Most famously Jon Lech Johansen, known as DVD Jon, cracked the copy protection on DVDs in 1999.

He went on to break the copyright protection on iTunes, leading Apple to offer DRM-free music.

DVD Jon now runs a company with an application to take the pain out of moving different types of content between devices.

Karl Hess -- Just Because

Karl Hess -- friend, mentor, libertarian folk hero

Click photo for bio. And don't forget "The Death of Politics."

Do You Really Want to Know?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On DDT, Global Warming, Junk Science, and Libertarians

Kevin Carson has some interesting things to say about DDT, global warming, junk science, and libertarians: here. (I'm more skeptical about anthropogenic catastrophic global warming than he is -- but I'm not climate scientist and I refuse to choose which scientists to believe on the basis of their political-economic convictions.)

Check out the comments section, too, if you have the stomach for it. Hang in there, Kevin!

Curiously Missing Words

Compare this sentence from Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.
with how it was posted at MSNBC's website:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.
So-called progressives couldn't stand the thought that George W. Bush was commander-in-chief of the country -- neither could I -- but they have no problem with Obama's filling that position. "We're awaiting our orders, sir!" Of course Obama had it right. The Constitution says the president runs the military not the country.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leave the "Left" Behind?

In the comments section of my recent post on Kevin Carson's new book, the value of the "left" prefix in "left libertarian" was questioned. I responded that there are historical reasons that makes the prefix valid. The terms left and right come from the French National Assembly after the 1789 revolution. The right side was populated with defenders of mercantilism and aristocracy, while the left, where Bastiat and Proudhon sat, were liberals and republicans (loosely defined, of course; it was a disparate group, including state socialists). Thus radical liberals were among the original leftists.

There are also good strategic reasons for associating libertarianism with the left and not with the right. The modern movement has, despite futile protests that we are "neither left nor right," been placed on the right as sort of a hip variant of conservatism. Some of this comes from the observers' lack of perceptiveness, but much of it is the movement's own fault. A good deal of libertarian commentary sounds like corporate apologetics. Kevin Carson's term "vulgar libertarianism" -- the attitude that despite government intervention, business today is essentially what it would be in a free market -- is valuable because it identifies a serious and alarming phenomenon.

Being tagged "right-wing" has not helped the libertarian movement. It's hurt. How so? By making libertarians appear indifferent to real misery. We need not deny that general living standards have certainly increased over the decades when we acknowledge that corporatist intervention in the economy has real, not just theoretical, victims. Many people in the United States still live and work in crappy conditions -- and it's not always their fault. Government creates unemployment, abominable "schools," and unlivable inner cities. It erects barriers to self-employment and unorthodox forms of enterprise. It inflates what Charles Johnson calls the fixed costs of subsistence -- the minimum price of decent housing and food is artificially high, and various interventions (zoning and other land-use controls, artificial land scarcity, government economic development, road subsidies) make owning a car nearly indispensable. Let's not forget building codes, patents, trade restrictions, licensing, ubiquitous taxes, and the rest of the weights that government imposes on people.

In sum, the State cuts off the lower rungs of the ladder and pushes people into an oligopsonistic labor market, subjecting many to ugly conditions and arbitrary authority that likely could not endure in a truly free and competitive economy where alternative self-employment and small-scale farming would be unburdened by government.

When libertarians mimic conservatives and address this hardship by saying in effect, "Tough shit," they stifle the growth of the libertarian movement. It's as if they were saying: This is an upper-middle-class college-educated corporate-oriented white movement. No others need apply.

I want no part of that libertarian movement. I prefer the one envisioned by Richard Cobden, John Bright, Frederic Bastiat, Thomas Hodgskin, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, Karl Hess, Murray Rothbard (at times), and others who saw true liberalism as a movement for working people and the disfranchised as well.

Lots of people feel pushed around by big institutions, government and otherwise. They should! We need to speak to those people. What's to lose? There's so much to gain.

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Empires Crumble

From the "Sign of the Times" Dept., courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
The U.S. government says it will fix the problem, but my money would be on the leap-frogging hackers scattered around the world.

By the way, we should stop the equating enemies of the U.S. occupation forces with enemies of the American people.

TGIF: Workers of the World Unite for a Free Market

People typically become libertarians because they favor individualism and abhor seeing themselves and others abused. Unfortunately, nonlibertarians don’t know this. They think libertarians are simply pro-business (and anti-labor). We can set the record straight by acknowledging that government-business collusion hurts working people.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Carson: Good Reading!

I'm reading Kevin Carson's Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about it. I'll have more to report in the coming weeks, but for now let me leave it at this: When I read Carson I get have the same positive reaction I used to get when reading or listening to my libertarian hero and friend the late Karl Hess.

P.S. I can't resist saying a bit more. I'm not far into the hefty book yet, but what I have covered confirms through massive evidence what my previous reading led me to believe: that the modern American economy is far more the product of government-business collusion than of free markets. Contrary to the way free-marketeers tend to talk, we don't have an essentially free economy except for a thin interventionist crust that needs to be scraped away. Instead, intervention is woven deeply throughout the economic fabric. Thus our economy would have looked very different had laissez faire been the rule. We can't undo what has been done, of course, but if all privilege and intervention were abolished, the economy would evolve in a radically different direction than if the State's favors stay in place.

Libertarians really need to come to grips with this if we are to make a contribution to the continuing debate over political economy. If we keep sounding like Lawrence Kudlow and Ben Stein, we will be irrelevant. And we should be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama in Oslo

Roderick Long's commentary on Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize is not to be missed. Here it is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TGIF: Perverse Health Care Incentives

The common impulse for “health care reform” is entirely honorable. It is distressing to know that so many people are vulnerable to bankruptcy-threatening medical bills or to raw deals from State-cartelized insurance companies. Who wouldn’t change that if he could? The question is: Which approach has a better chance of changing it? Centralized bureaucratic decision-making by self-serving politicians and their “private sector” patrons? Or decentralized, cooperative, entrepreneurial efforts to satisfy cost-conscious, freely choosing consumers?
The full TGIF is here.

Op-ed: There's No Such Thing as a Free Mammogram

Read my latest FFF op-ed here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Patents: End Them. Don't Mend Them

Freeman authors David Levine and Michele Boldrin call for an end to patents in this Christian Science Monitor article. A taste:

[I]ntellectual property does not increase innovation and creation. Extending IP rights may modestly boost the incentive for innovation, but this positive effect is wiped away by the negative effect of creating monopolies. There is simply no evidence that strengthening patent regimes increases innovation or economic productivity. In fact, some evidence shows that increased protection even decreases innovation. The main finding is that making it easier to get patents increases … patenting!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Scott Horton Interview

I was Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio guest recently to talk about libertarian class analysis. You can listen to or download the show here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Proudhonian Corollary

Government is the mother, not the daughter, of disorder.

Friday, December 04, 2009

TGIF: Snow Job Summit

What are the odds that yesterday’s White House jobs summit will lead to the creation of any real jobs? The summit was based on the magic theory of government: Say the right incantations and reality will be reshaped according to one’s desires. There are no economic laws. There is only will. If we all think good thoughts and exude the spirit of cooperation, we’ll end these hard times and get the economy moving again.

This is the sign of a primitive mentality. In reality economic laws exist, reality sets limits, and good feelings can’t create prosperity out of nothing, especially when government stubbornly stands in the way.

The rest of this week's TGIF is here.

Op-ed: Kill the Insurance Mandate

Everyone who believes he lives in a free country should be asking himself, By what authority do the Congress and the president force me to buy insurance?
My latest FFF op-ed is here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Civil War President

Barack Obama's intensification of the occupation of Afghanistan is nothing less than a full commitment to one side in the civil war raging there. What he calls a threat of a Taliban takeover is actually a Pashtun resistance to the U.S. occupation and the corrupt Karzai government it backs. Obama's and Hillary Clinton's spin cannot change those facts.

Obama's story isn't even coherent. Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, he says, not Afghanistan. (Obama's speech said nothing about the continuing "secret" drone assault that the U.S. military is conducting there. See this and this.) Yet he insists that we must see Afghanistan through because that's where the 9/11 attacks were planned. Well, not actually. You can just as easily say they were planned in Germany and Florida. Why are those terrorist sanctuaries not feeling the wrath of the U.S. military?

Obama vows to defeat al-Qaeda, but what does that mean in the case of a highly decentralized "organization" under whose banner anyone anywhere may claim to be operating? How do you defeat an idea?

Obama promises that U.S. forces will begin leaving in July 2011--maybe, depending on conditions on the ground.

Our only hope is that opposition will keep growing--where is that antiwar movement anyway?--and that the looming 2012 presidential election will prompt Obama to get out.

But in the meantime, Afghan people, expect more U.S.-sponsored violence, more maimed and dead babies and children, compliments of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

I don't know about you, but I don't regard someone as my enemy merely because he refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Karzai's gang.