Available Now!

Available Now!
What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, February 22, 2013

Latest scribblings

Op-ed: "The Minimum Wage Harms the Most Vulnerable"
TGIF: "What Support for the Minimum Wage Reveals"
Op-ed: "The American People Need Real Spending Cuts"

Unintended Consequence of the Minimum Wage?

"Ironically, the minimum wage creates a reserve army of the unemployed. That in turn allows employers to be less thoughtful, helpful, and kind. It destroys the civilizing effect of competition by muting it. That encourages exploitation. It reduces the cost to employers of racism or cruelty. Before the increase, being obnoxious or racist made it much harder to find employees. A minimum wage makes it easier to indulge in bad behavior. The costs are lower. Before the minimum wage, a cruel, selfish employer might have had to mentor his employees or train them or be nice to them despite his nature. Now he won’t have to. He can still get workers to work for him. Even more cruelly, the minimum wage encourages workers to exploit themselves. They work harder and put up with more abuse from the boss because the minimum wage reduces the alternatives that are available." --Russ Roberts

Thursday, February 14, 2013

TGIF: Does the Market Exhibit Cooperation

Last week's TGIF rebutted a challenge to the view that the market does not embody literal social cooperation. I think it does. Read it here.

Op-ed: Drone Trust the Government

My latest op-ed, "Drone Trust the Government," discusses the basic reason to reject the government's policy of drone warfare.

My Appearance on Speaking on Liberty

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Podcast on the 16th Amendment

Steve Stanek of the Heartland Institute interviewed me recently about the Constitution, the 16th Amendment, and the income tax. Listen here.

Monday, February 04, 2013

About Universal Background Checks

Proponents of government-mandated “universal” background checks on gun buyers make a bad counterargument to those who oppose the popular proposal. Opponents correctly point out that people with criminal intent can reasonably be expected to find gun-buying channels that require no background check. Gun-running is among the oldest professions, and the black market will always be with us. Just ask anyone who wants to buy illegal drugs. So it is valid to point out that the promise of universal background checks—even if that were a legitimate government activity—is chimerical because universality can’t possibly be achieved.

Supporters, however, challenge this argument by contending that it proves too much: If legislating background checks is futile as a crime-fighting measure, they ask, why have laws any against criminal activity, such as the prohibition of murder? Those laws will never stop everyone from a committing crime, so what’s the point?

I find this argument flawed. Let’s remember that the background-check requirement is intended, prophylactically, to keep guns out of the hands of those who would do harm. In contrast, the state’s prohibition against murder is intended, retrospectively, to authorize government agents to apprehend, prosecute, and imprison people who commit unjustifiable homicide. Yes, there may be some deterrent intent (and effect), but the main objective is to permit action against those suspected of murder, etc.

Supporters of background checks may respond that a “universal” law would permit the state to go after those who have used guns aggressively. But this argument is of no force simply because if someone uses a gun aggressively, the state already has grounds to apprehend and prosecute. What value is there in being able to also charge a suspected mass murderer with illegal possession of a gun?

In my view, this practical criticism of legislated universal background checks withstands scrutiny. The law would give a false sense of security by promising what it cannot deliver, but meanwhile could impede persons without criminal intent from obtaining firearms for self-defense. Someone determined to commit a mass shooting or other crime can reasonably be expected to buy his or her guns through channels that do not require background checks, and that won’t be too difficult. But people without criminal intent will be reluctant buy guns outside the law, even if they aren’t able to get one legally. (Someone with a felony drug conviction, for instance, may not legally possess a gun.)

Of course this criticism, although valid, is not specifically a libertarian criticism. A more specifically libertarian criticism is that mere possession of a firearm involves no aggression, regardless of a person’s background, and therefore should not be prohibited. (Property owners of course should be free to manage their property with respect to guns as they like.)

But isn’t the law worth it if it might save one innocent life? And what if the law might cost one innocent life? Why is one innocent life regarded as more valuable than another?

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Misunderstood 16th Amendment Is 100 Years Old

Today is the 100th anniversary of ratification of the 16th Amendment, the so-called income-tax amendment. Contrary to popular myth, it did not legalize taxes on wages and salaries, because such taxes had never been ruled unconstitutional. For details see my series "Beware Income-Tax Casuistry."

Saturday, February 02, 2013

You Can’t Be for Freedom and Border Control

Conservatives who lie awake nights worrying about “illegal immigration” reveal something unflattering about themselves. Isn’t it odd for people who claim to favor individual liberty and limited government to at the same time fret that people “cross our border” without government permission? Why would anyone need the government’s permission to cross an arbitrary political boundary?  What happened to natural rights? And why would self-proclaimed champions of the free market demand harsh penalties for employers who dare to hire people who haven’t first gotten permission from the government to live and work here? Employment is peaceful exchange. Where does the government get the moral authority to regulate exchange?

If one favors freedom, one favors freedom of movement. Does that mean I favor amnesty? No, it doesn’t. I oppose amnesty on two grounds.

First, amnesty presupposes wrongdoing and “illegal immigrants” have done nothing wrong; they are merely people without government papers—big deal. There is no duty to obey a “law” that conflicts with natural law.

Second, I do not think government officials should be forgiven for the injustice committed against people without government papers. Thus I oppose amnesty for those officials.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Hagelian Synthesis

Much is being made of former senator Chuck Hagel's seeming lack of preparation for his Senate confirmation hearing yesterday and his rough handling by Republican senators about statements he made about Israel, the "Jewish Lobby," Iran, Iraq, and more. However, something important has been missed in the post-hearing analysis, namely, that Hagel couldn't candidly answer the questions about his past statements because he wants to be secretary of defense [sic].

I'm quite sure Hagel could cite at least one instance in which the Lobby intimidated a member of Congress. Anyone who says this doesn't happen is lying or willfully ignorant. Nor would he have trouble naming something "dumb" Congress has done under pressure from the Lobby. A good place to start would be the enabling of Israel's subjugation of the Palestinians and its building of illegal Jewish-only settlements on land owned by Palestinians, a policy that alienates Muslims and gives them reason to despise America.

There's only one reason that Hagel disavowed his earlier statements and played coy with the Republican senators: He wants to run the Pentagon.

Recent Scribblings

TGIF: "Economy or Catallaxy?
Op-ed: "The Ominous U.S. Presence in Northwest Africa"
Op-ed: "Mali: Here We Go Again"
TGIF: "Government Undermines Social Cooperation"
"World War II Spending Did Not End the Great Depression"
"No More Corporate Welfare"
"Against Government Debt"