Thursday, March 28, 2013

A Grown Up Gun Control Discussion

Once again, the gun control debate flames on in the US. Unfortunately for US citizens (and my Facebook friends), no one seems to be able to discuss gun control in an adult manner. That's why I'm here, to free your mind.

There are three main branches of the gun control debate:
  1. All American citizens have the right to own any kind of weapon that they want; based on the 2nd  Amendment to the Constitution
  2. There needs to be some sort of limiting factors on gun purchases: background checks, waiting periods, etc...
  3. The only people who should be allowed access to guns are specific government employees
These are all incorrect, for different reasons. 

Judge Andrew Napolitano is fond of saying that the most important word in the 1st and 2nd amendments is the word 'the.' The use of the word 'the' by the founders indicates that _the_ right to bear arms precedes the Constitution. It is a natural progression from our right to defend ourselves. When the Constitution was being drafted, the authors did not believe that they were giving any rights to the people, merely defending those natural rights endowed by our creator (whatever you believe that to be). This is why the first argument fails. Our right to bear arms is not derived from the Constitution. The government did not give us the right and it is not theirs to take. The 2nd Amendment merely recognizes that our right to self-defense exists and prohibits the federal government from interfering with that right. This might seem like a minor technicality, but I think it's important that we remain philosophically consistent when discussing possible limitations on our rights.

Many people buy into the idea that some limits on gun ownership is a happy middle ground. Those that want to purchase guns are still able and the people who want increased 'safety' are satisfied. At first blush, this seems reasonable and even if the gun control measures are largely ineffective at accomplishing their intended goals, what's the harm? At the very least, we've made gun ownership a little safer.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. It's true that law abiding citizens will have a more difficult time obtaining a weapon, a criminal will not bother to check the new regulations to insure that their purchase was legal. In effect, citizens wanting to purchase firearms for legitimate purposes are further hindered, while criminals continue to enjoy the same level of access as under previous legislative attempts. This causes yet another effect, law abiding citizens have a more difficult time defending themselves from the criminal element.

In Lincoln, NE (where I live) the average response time of the Lincoln Police Department in 2011 (the last available year's worth of data) to a priority one or priority two dispatch was 4.5 minutes. Their goal is to maintain a dispatch time average of under 5 minutes. A lot of damage can be inflicted in 5 minutes. Either on a person or their property. By inhibiting law abiding citizens from purchasing guns, we reduce their ability to defend themselves from an enemy free of the same constraints.

In addition to being ineffective, gun control laws are costly. This is a cost that is accomplishing nothing. Literally, it is throwing away money. Normally, when we expend resources, we expect an equal exchange of value. $4 for a gallon of milk, for instance. With gun control laws, no value has been created to account for the spent resources. In the US there are currently more than 300 gun control laws in effect, each one championed as the end to gun violence. *

The last argument is to make any and all firearms illegal for civilians, with the possible exception of hunting. In this way, legally purchased guns won't be able to become illegal guns. Therefore, gun crime and thus, violent crime, would be reduced. This idea is most unreasonable. If we think of gun control legislation in terms of economics, we can see that the trade of guns would not be substantially reduced even if we made all guns illegal. Making guns illegal does not diminish the value that people place on them. There will always be a demand for that value. So long as there is a demand, there will always be a supplier. We see the same idea in the enforcement of drug laws. There is no shortage of legislation, some of which carry severe consequences, banning illicit drugs. Neither is there a shortage of illicit drugs. Prohibitive legislation only forces the cost of the resource up, without a corresponding increase in value.

When they affirmed our right as human beings to defend ourselves, the framer's intent was to insure that we could defend ourselves from the government. They knew all to well the advantage an overly powerful government would take if left unchecked by the citizens. Both the Federalists and the Anti-federalist (whose Papers I hope you will read if you haven't already) expressed their fear of an out of control government vs. an unarmed citizenry.

"Those who hammer their guns into plows will plow for those who do not." -- Thomas Jefferson

* If local laws are accounted for, there are quite a few more, but we will only consider the most commonly applied state and federal laws.

** I need to look up how to do footnotes on Blogger.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Marriage Debate

As a society, we've been talking about marriage a lot lately. Specifically, should the government allow homosexuals to get married? But this is an incomplete context, heterosexuals must also ask permission to marry.

Anyone who has been married knows that a marriage certificate must be presented to the priest/reverend/preacher/justice of the peace (whatever...) before that person will perform the marriage ceremony. To get this certificate, you must meet a list of requirements and pay a fee. Let me rephrase into something more inflammatory, I had to pay the government in order to get permission to marry my wife. Is this what the homosexual community wants? To ask the government for permission to label a relationship as a marriage?

The discussion we should be having about marriage is "why is the government involved at all?" The normal response to this question is to list the benefits the government extends to married couples: tax breaks, immigration status, legal protections, etc... This is like arguing that the government needs to be involved in marriage because the government is involved in marriage. It's arguing for the status quo because the status quo exists

The original intent of tying marriage to government favors was to promote a specific morality, but the government is very poor at this sort of social function. Whenever a government promotes an exclusionary set of mores (e.g. Christianity) it must necessarily violate the rights of anyone who does not believe in that particular concept of morality. Though there are several things that all cultures can agree are immoral, the scope and breadth of social mores make it impossible for us all to agree on what is socially "right."

Where does that leave us? The simplest answer is to remove the government from our personal relationships. Let us, as individuals, define what a marriage is. The tax breaks can be moved to other taxable actions and Lord knows we need to reform the immigration process. The legal protections currently offered to married couples can be replicated with power of attorney contracts. 

The base argument for freedom is that we (as individuals) have no right to tell another individual what constitutes a 'marriage.' By using government to enforce a specific concept of marriage, the rights of anyone with a dissenting opinion are violated. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Taxing Economics

    One of the things that government planners tend to ignore (when devising new ways to take our money) is human action. Rather, they ignore it when reporting the projected consequences of their tax plans. For every new tax there is a corresponding report detailing how much extra 'revenue' the government is going to take in and how it will avert certain disaster. These reports are built on certain assumptions that the politicians craft to insure said reports are filled with favorable results.
    Unfortunately, these assumptions are generally erroneous. Erroneous might be a bit tame; blatantly false is probably a better term. If the plan is to tax a certain product, e.g. soda, the assumption is made that people will continue to purchase soda in the same volumes. Obviously this is a poor assumption. Levying taxes on soda will raise the price and that higher price will result in decreased consumption. If the consumption of soda decreases the actual revenue generated by the new tax can't match the amount projected using false assumptions about that consumption. Taxes themselves are a form of consumption. The product of taxes is government. The obvious difference between soda and government: you can choose not to buy soda.
    Another dangerous assumption used by politicians (particularly Progressive politicians) is that income taxes don't affect the behavior of citizens. For the middle class, income taxes reduce the amount that can be saved or spent on consumption. For the oft maligned rich, the taxes will alter investment and saving behavior. If the taxes become too onerous, those in the upper brackets will either move their money out of the country or stop producing as much and drop into a lower tax bracket. None of these results are good for anyone. Decreased consumption and saving leads to decreased demand which, in turn, leads to decreased production of goods. The rich moving their money results in less investment, which will also lead to decreased production.
    The safest assumption we can make as citizens is that the government isn't telling us the whole story or, in some cases, is flagrantly lying to us. Politicians get away with travesties like this because we let them. We continue to elect people who deliberately lie to us. If we want to end the dishonesty we must question everything. We must force politicians to tell the truth. It isn't in their nature to do so otherwise.

Monday, March 12, 2012

The Legality of Secession

    Though many of us tend to see the Constitution as a mythical artifact, in reality it's just a contract between the states. This particular contract details which rights the states will cede to the federal government. These rights include signing treaties with foreign nations, national defense, regulating interstate trade, etc...
    In the private sector it's perfectly legal for an entity to withdraw from a contract if the terms of the contract are not being upheld. Why is a state in the Union any different? If the people of Nebraska believe that the federal government is violating the terms of the Constitution and have exhausted every available recourse, why shouldn't the state be allowed to leave the contract which was voluntarily entered?

    Note: I'm going to flesh this out into a more complete column at some point. I just wanted to get the main ideas down.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The fallacy of "Buy American!"

“Outsourcing is evil. Buying foreign made products is unpatriotic!” This line of economic reasoning leads us to protectionism, the idea that government intervention is required to ‘protect’ American businesses from the ravages of cheap labor overseas. American businesses certainly profit from protectionist policies, they are able to keep prices artificially inflated once outside competition is neutralized. The American consumer, however, suffers from this particular economic idea.
As consumers, we suffer higher prices. Higher prices that are the deliberate result of protectionist policies. An excellent example of this is the American steel industry. The US government enforces tariffs on foreign steel in order to protect American steel companies. Who benefits from this policy? Well, the steel manufacturers certainly do, with the neutralization of price differences of foreign steel, American producers are spared the trouble of improving their processes to match the productivity of foreign producers. The government also benefits, they are taking in money via the tariffs as well as votes for any elected officials involved with the tariffs. Absent the tariffs, steel would be cheaper and so would any product that makes use of that steel. In effect, the concept of ‘Buy American’ is one that benefits the few at the expense of the many. Additionally, artificially high prices retard economic growth by tying up resources that could be utilized for other ventures.
Many will argue that lower wage rates in foreign countries offer an unfair advantage for the producers in those countries and that protectionist policies are a way of counterbalancing said advantage for American business. The interesting subtlety about this notion is that outsourcing actually makes us more productive as a whole. Due to the remarkable economic growth in America, American workers are generally more productive than our foreign counterparts. This means that American workers earn a higher wage rate due to a larger, or more refined, set of skills. However, while wage rates rise, the value of menial labor does not. A product is not magically made more valuable because the worker was paid more for producing it. By outsourcing the particular labor that nets negative revenue to lower wage labor in other countries, the higher productivity labor in the US is freed up for other endeavors that will make more efficient use of the effort. In addition, outsourcing gives us consumer goods at a lower price, which frees up more of our resources, as consumers, towards achieving our individual desires. Outsourcing is an important concept for economic development. It enables further division of labor, which is the only way we, as a society, advance economically.
The American consumer is not the only one to benefit from outsourcing. The workers hired to complete the outsourced work benefit as well. You and I might scoff at anything less than minimum wage, but for many people around the world even $2.00/hr is a significant amount of money that will greatly improve their standard of living.

Inherent corruption is another problem with the idea of protectionism. Lobbyists spend billions every year trying to get government protection for their particular industry. Always, of course, for the good of the consumer. The centralized power to decide what products should cost will inevitably lead to corruption. The person making the decision has interests and lobbyists will leverage those interests to gain an advantage for their industry, almost always at the expense of the consumer.
Let’s assume, for a minute, that the protectionist idea is a good one. If that’s the case, why don’t we enforce tariffs between the States? Using protectionist logic we see that it’s detrimental to allow other states to purchase agricultural goods from Nebraska at their current price levels. It’s also not fair to the agricultural businesses in said states! What if they don’t have the available land or soil quality necessary to produce the goods at a decent price? Obviously, the federal government should impose a tariff that raises the price of all agricultural exports from Nebraska. With those tariffs in place, we can expect economic prosperity and a level playing field; with the exception of the consumer who now has to pay more for food.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Violent 99

I wrote this a while ago as a possible column for the Lincoln Journal-Star, but it didn't make the cut. So I am posting it here now: (Addendum: copy & paste leaves much to be desired in formatting)

Though generally ambiguous, the Occupy movement seems to have coalesced around two central points. 1. Capitalism is evil. 2. They have a right to other people’s money. This column will focus on the occupiers’ belief that they have a right to someone else’s property, with violence as an acceptable method for acquiring it.
In modern society there are three ways to acquire property. The first is for the property to be handed over to you willingly, via inheritance, employment, barter, etc... Second, you can utilize property that you have, add labor, and produce a new piece of property. The third is to take the property by force, normally referred to as theft. When a right to property is claimed on property not belonging to the claimant, force is implicit in the realization of that right. The owner of the claimed property won’t give it up willingly, particularly since there would be no remuneration. If you manage to find property without any prior claims (very, very rare in a society as developed as ours) you can ‘homestead’ it, or lay the first claim upon that particular unclaimed property.
Very few of us are willing to personally initiate the force necessary to realize a right to another’s property, especially if there are possible negative consequences associated with the action. Negative consequences can include incurring bodily harm (if the original owner responds with force in an attempt to protect his property), or possible criminal charges. As a society, we find it much more palatable to have a third party do our dirty work, particularly if that third party is able to legalize its theft, as is the case with government.
Thus, we see the inherent violence in the Occupy movement. The movement demands that government take action to equalize what it sees as a great wrong, that someone has more money than they do. The only avenues available to government to correct this perceived wrong are violent ones. “Pay more in taxes, or else.” they tell the rich. That stolen money will then be redistributed as the government sees fit. Normally, “as the government sees fit”, means whomever is going to provide votes for the controlling party in the next election cycle. This scenario is common throughout history. The violent end of the scenario is currently playing out in Europe.
In addition to being violent, the Occupy movement suffers from a weak grip on reality. The theory is that if the rich just paid more in taxes, all of the country’s financial woes would cease. This could not be further from the truth. It would take approximately six times Bill Gates’ total wealth to cover the yearly deficit of the federal government. After that, Gates has no more money to give and the government is still running a deficit. The same is true for the idea of taxing the rich at even higher rates. At some point, the rich won’t have any more money to give, or they will stop producing so much wealth and drop into a lower tax bracket.

The grievance that the Occupy movement has with the bail outs is legitimate. It’s both immoral and illogical to prop up failing enterprises with other people’s money. The movement however, is protesting the wrong institutions. It was government that handed that money over. Private business cannot take your money by force, not without legal repercussions anyway. Private businesses can only get your money by offering a product/service of equal value. Only the government has the power to separate you from your money with no guarantee of value in return. The safest way to insure that bail outs of the kind that took place during the housing bust never happen again is to keep money out of the hands of the government.

The solutions offered by the Occupy movement will only make things worse. The path to economic prosperity is through voluntary cooperation in an environment free from coercion. Especially freedom from economic coercion by government, because government does not suffer when its policies fail. Just look at the Solyndra fiasco. Without the risk, there is no incentive to make correct economic choices, only correct political choices.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

More Letters to the editor

Yet another letter to the editor. I need to be better about posting these in a timely manner.

The offending piece.

My response:
Michael Baker's summation of the Occupy Wall Street movement is just as ambiguous as the movement itself. No mention of a purpose for protesting, or how not showering is going to change the status quo.  
While I sympathize with the OWS movement when they disparage the bail outs, I feel their ire is misplaced. None of the bail outs would have been possible without the government. Bear-Sterns can't legally take your money without your consent, but they can petition the government to do it for them in the form of taxes.  
Only the State can legally separate you from your money using force. Any private business (not on the government dole) has to convince you to willingly part with your resources, usually in exchange for a product of equal value. The best defense against another bail out situation is to insure that the State can't use your money to do something you disagree with. In other words, keep your money out of the hands of the State. By limiting the power the government has to take and disburse private income, we also limit the ability of 'Big Business' to use those assets without our consent.
So, which is a more effective protest in this case, Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy D.C?