Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Thanksgiving Day GUEST COLUMN

Thank You

by Dr. Michael J. Hurd of

Most are thankful to God. I am thankful to man -- specifically, to those individuals who (over the centuries) have created the countless things I need for survival and enjoyment: automobiles, plumbing, mass produced food, medicine, electricity, computers, televisions … the list is endless. I know who many of those inventors are, and I can see, feel and enjoy the benefits of their inventions in my daily life. There are many inventors whom I don't know about -- some of them unsung heroes who never obtained the credit they deserve -- but whose contributions to the wealth and comfort around me are evident all the same.

Most feel that the proper expression of thanks is faith -- in what is not exactly clear, just "faith" in some unknown and never-named source or entity. My expression of thanks is expressed through something entirely different: reverence for reason.

Reason represents the best of the human spirit. It is a capacity that virtually all human beings possess to one degree or another. Yet it can only be exercised through choice. The computer I type on now, the lights which illuminate my office, the health I enjoy -- all of these came into existence because of countless choices made by different individuals at different times in history (coupled with many of my own choices, and the choices of those close to me). From Thomas Edison to the less well-known heroes (in business) who market and distribute products in our (semi-) capitalistic system -- I am grateful and thankful to them all. I am thankful not that they exercised faith or went to church or worshipped a mystical entity -- or spent a few hours at a soup kitchen, feeding the homeless -- but rather that they chose to use their intellects in a way from which I (and many others) could benefit.

Life -- and all that life has to offer -- is the ultimate reward of goodness. Goodness enhances life; it does not destroy or take away from it. Anything or anyone who contributes to life -- my life, your life, or life in general -- deserves thanks. I understand that my benefit was not their goal -- instead, their work and its rewards were their goals. Their quest for financial and/or intellectual profit was, quite properly, their goal. I like it when people are selfish in this sense. The more selfishness people possess, the more (in the exercise of that self-interest) they create and produce. That's the means through which the world becomes a better place.

I look around my office, around the country, around the world, and I see the best and the worst of mankind. I wonder if at any time in history we have seen the presence of such heroic genius and unspeakable evil on one and the same planet. I feel love and gratitude when I look at the benefits of rational, productive, and capitalistic civilization. I despise only those who seek to destroy it. My enemy is the last person I would ever love; I only seek his annihilation -- from my presence, if he's not violent, and from existence, if he is.

I don't want to live in a world with more humility, more "compassion," or more faith. The platitudes most of us will hear today are unbearable. I will not turn on the television and listen to the Pope, the President, or the local homeless shelter manager preach them. This is why I offer you the opposite message: I want to live in a world with much less faith, humility and selflessness, and much more reason, productivity, and quest for profit (material, intellectual, or both). Let reason, freedom, and material prosperity flourish -- and the rest will follow.

If only others shared these ideals, how different the world would be. How much our enemies would fear us, rather than spit upon and seek to destroy us.

Nevertheless, I am delighted and grateful that I live in a world where reason and capitalism and rational self-interest have gained as much ground as they have. For this I am indeed thankful -- though only to those who, through their own choices, helped make it possible.

Re-posted by permission.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Hands Off Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds, the former San Francisco Giants slugger who has hit more home runs than any other professional baseball player in history, faces jail time for lying to federal prosecutors about his alleged use of steroids. The use of steroids to build up one's muscles and thereby become a more powerful athlete is illegal. Many would argue that steroid use invalidates the achievements of Bonds and the other athletes who have used them. That is not the point here. Whether steroid use invalidates a sporting achievement is strictly a matter between the sports associations, team owners, the players, and their fans. It is a private matter for these parties to sort out themselves, not a criminal governmental matter. (It may involve the government if Bonds violated a contract and there are lawsuits among the affected parties. However, that would be a private dispute being adjudicated by the courts, not a criminal matter.)

The Bonds prosecution is just one more instance of the government assuming de facto ownership of our bodies. Can I ingest a drug of my choosing that my doctor and I believe can treat a rare cancer? No, unless the drug manufacturer invests many tens of millions of dollars to pass bureaucratic hurdles set by the Food and Drug Administration. Can I choose my own medicines, including antibiotics, to treat myself? No, under the prescription laws I must first pay a doctor to make that decision for me. Can I eat foods containing "trans fats" at a restaurant in New York City? No, because the city has banned such foods on the premise that I am incapable of making such choices for myself.

As government officials now make many of the basic decisions affecting our health and well-being, Americans have become infantilized. No longer are we sovereign adults who exercise self-reliance and self-responsibility to govern our own lives. The government makes such choices for us. We now live as children, not free adults.

Every person owns his own body by right. If you own your own body, this includes the right to put any substance you choose into it. If it is illegal for Bonds to make such decisions regarding his body, then his body is no longer his; it now belongs to the government.

If the government owns our bodies, by implication not only can it tell us what we can and cannot put into them, but also what we can do with them, such as whether we can have abortions.

Our freedom will only be restored if each of us individually, fully and without limitation, owns his own body and such ownership right is fully and completely recognized by the government. True ownership of our own bodies means we can do what we want with them, so long as we do not harm another person.

Barry Bonds has hurt no one, except possibly himself, by allegedly taking steroids. That is his right. It is true that Bonds is technically being prosecuted for lying to federal investigators, not steroid use as such. However, he should not have been questioned about steroid use in the first place. Morally, ingesting steroids or any other substance is not a crime.

I say to the government: hands off Barry Bonds. Hands off his body, and hands off mine. I own my own body and have a right to use it as I please.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Frozen Faces and Frozen Minds

The facades of New York's buildings are like faces. Behind those faces are the minds of the architects and engineers who built them and the minds of the businessmen and residents who work and live in them. Those facades -- the face of the city -- have changed remarkably over the past 125 years. Before the first steel skyscrapers were built around the turn of the last century, building heights were practically limited to not much more than ten stories, and typically much less. Four to six stories was most common.

Despite the emergence of skyscrapers, walk around many streets of New York and, apart from the sight of cars parked on the street and people dressed in modern clothes and talking on their cell phones, you could still swear you were in the 1880s.

That 1880s vista has been frozen in place throughout much of Manhattan by New York City's "landmarking" laws. Those laws ban nearly all construction in the large and growing landmarked zones of the city. If any building is to be allowed, it must be a clone of existing building styles. Although some construction ends up getting built on a vacant lot or at the site of a building that must be razed because it is ready to collapse, no new tall buildings are ever permitted. The rare new building in these landmarked zones, as a rule, must be short and blend in with its ancient surroundings.

The city's landmarked neighborhoods often possess a certain charm. In fact, the Landmarks Commission seeks out the charming neighborhoods to landmark. As of this writing, there are 45 landmarked zones in Manhattan. In addition to the landmarked zones, 1100 individual buildings have been landmarked. While it is difficult to say what percentage of Manhattan's 23 square miles is now essentially off-limits to development, one can get a sense of this number by looking at the sheer size of some of these landmark districts:

The Greenwich Village Historic District (established 1969) covers 86 city blocks.

The Upper East Side Historic District covers 57 city blocks.

The Upper West Side Historic District covers 51 city blocks.

The Tribeca Historic Districts cover 49 city blocks.

The Ladies Mile Historic District covers 19 city blocks.

The Noho Historic District covers 14 city blocks.

These are some of the larger districts. 45 of them now encompass much of Manhattan. New districts and buildings are being added every year.

Interestingly, the formation of these districts tends to coincide with a rise in property values of the frozen regions. Each new landmarked building or neighborhood in New York diminishes the potential supply of new places to live and work. As a result, the value of existing property tends to go up.

New Yorkers who already own property feel wealthier because the value of their property has gone up. Moreover, they marvel at the charming neighborhoods of the city that have been preserved seemingly in perpetuity for their enjoyment.

All of this comes at a price. That price is the violation of their property rights. What of the New Yorker who wants to sell his building to a developer who wants to put up a skyscraper on that land? It is forbidden. What if the owner of a crumbling 1880s-era building wants to replace it with a modern, comfortable building with central air, well-insulated walls and skylights? He can't do it, unless the building he lives in is in imminent danger of collapse. In fact, city officials may require him to install expensive bracing to keep his ancient brickpile aloft. If even expensive retrofitting can keep his building standing, he must employ those methods before he will ever get permission to tear it down or simply let it collapse. If one looks closely, you can see these teetering braced, nearly-ready-to-collapse buildings around the city.

One person's beautiful historic landmark is an uncomfortable, expensive to cool and heat, dreary building to another. Some find 1880s row houses beautiful. Others prefer a gleaming 100-story skyscraper. Regardless, the real debate is not about building esthetics. It is about rights. By what right does one person forbid another the disposition of his property as he sees fit?

Economically, as one would expect, violations of property rights are not without consequences. In the case of New York, as its neighborhoods become expensive "Disneylands for adults" as an unknown commentator described it, businesses and people are being priced out of the city. As the city becomes an uneconomic place to live and work, businesses and people leave the city, or simply do not move here in the first place.

This is not a new trend in New York. The rise of landmarking parallels the rise of other destructive policies that have made New York an expensive place to be for businesses and people. Rent control, imposed at the end of World War II, has made New York's housing the most expensive in the country. Clever and grasping taxes such as taxes on commuters and city taxes on the global earnings of corporations have led most of the Fortune 500 companies that were headquartered here as late as the 1960s to flee the city long ago. To pay for a city-run welfare program including the largest program of free and subsidized municipal public housing in the country, New Yorkers pay the highest taxes in the country, including a combined city and state top marginal income tax rate of 13%. The city's top rate kicks in at incomes that would be considered "middle class."

Like all actions, these actions have consequences, even if they are not obvious to some right now. Eventually, a tipping point will be reached, when the costs of being here become too great. When that day arrives, the owners of their landmarked residences in their charming neighborhoods may find that their property values are falling, instead of rising. They will find that their charming neighborhoods have become less so, now that graffitti is spraypainted on walls and gangs of unemployed hooligans (who live in city housing projects) terrorize them with crime.

New York is, or should be, a city of skyscrapers. Freeze it with landmarking laws and eventually the faces behind those frozen facades will begin to have one expression on them. That expression will be terror.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

"We Are Fighting for the Rule of Law"

On the evening news last night, a Pakistani lawyer spoke these words as explanation for why hundreds of Pakistani lawyers were fighting policemen on the streets of Lahore and other cities in Pakistan. Conservatively dressed, black suited and tied lawyers threw rocks at policemen armed in riot gear who fought back with tear gas and truncheons.

The lawyers were outgunned. Lawyers do not make good soldiers. Used to fighting with words, their rocks were paltry weapons against modern riot gear. Armed in their proper suits and ties to battle in a courtroom, their uniforms were no match for the shields and handcuffs of the riot police. Scores of attorneys were arrested.

The riot was prompted by the actions of General Musharraf, the ruler of Pakistan, to assume dictatorial powers by dissolving the Supreme Court and Parliament, and closing private newspapers. The general also proceeded to install his puppets on the Supreme Court. So far, he has only found enough sycophants for just 5 of the 17 Supreme Court seats. One way the lawyers have said they will fight is by not participating in sham court proceedings headed by cronies appointed by the general.

A lawyer is the essential agent of a society of laws and not men. A lawyer and the courtroom he works in is a forum dedicated to the principle that force shall be governed by reason. Yesterday, we saw the supreme example of the inversion of this principle. Lawyers themselves are being bludgeoned by unrestrained force.

There is some hope for even an Islamic-infused society like Pakistan when scores of its lawyers, some of them trained at top British universities such as Cambridge, will fight for the rule of law. In the long run, reason and the rule of law that is its application in civil society, will always win. However, in the many years between now and that long run in Pakistan, we will see who wins the battle of the streets in Pakistan: the lawyers, the dictator, or the Muslim radicals at their doorstep.

Monday, October 29, 2007

A Shotgun Blast for Competition

The chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Kevin J. Martin, has announced that all contracts between owners of apartment buildings and cable providers for exclusive service in their buildings will be nullified. The chairman's blast of his regulatory shotgun, if upheld by the courts, will shred thousands of contracts across the land.

The justification for this assault on the sanctity of contract and property rights is "competition." Somehow, by denying apartment owners the right to negotiate terms with cable companies for service in their buildings, the chairman will be enhancing competition among cable companies. Exactly how this will transpire is not clearly stated. He doesn't have to explain it, since the real justification for his action becomes clear when he says, "cable prices have risen about 93% in ten years," and adds that high cable prices disproportionately affect low income people, particularly Hispanics and blacks, who more often live in apartment buildings.

So, the real reason for this contract shredding has nothing to do with promoting an undefined "competition," but with a desire to forcefully transfer wealth from apartment owners and cable companies to politically favored pressure groups.

The doctrine of altruism states that the purpose of a man is to live for others. He does not have a right to his own life. The shredding of these cable contracts is altruism enforced by the cruel hand of regulation. To hell with property rights if it means providing HBO for less to poor people. The appeal to "competition" is an afterthought thrown in as a meager attempt to justify this action.

Unsurprisingly, not only is the FCC chairman's action immoral, but it will not "help" the poor or anyone else. The key to understanding this is the observation of the cable industry association that "cable companies were often granted exclusive rights to buildings after agreeing to make major capital investments in upgrading systems." Thus, a principal reason for these exclusive deals is so that apartment owners can negotiate with cable companies to pay for the wiring of their buildings. A wiring upgrade means higher bandwidth, and therefore more channels, faster Internet service, and enhanced telecommunications service. Strike down the exclusive deals and you cut out future wiring upgrades and the enhanced services it brings.

Unfortunately, in a literal sense the FCC chairman is correct. His action will reduce the cost of cable service, but the apartment residents will be getting exactly what they pay for: slow Internet speeds, fewer channels, fewer telecommunications options. In other words, they will get cheap service that is lousy.

In direct opposition to fostering "choice" or "competition," the FCC's action will be taking away the free choices of customers and cable companies to get the level of service that they mutually agree to and want. Instead, the FCC chairman singlehandedly interposes himself between these thousands of voluntary agreements and declares, wittingly or not, that no one shall have relatively expensive and high quality cable service.

Competition is an anti-concept. Used by the FCC chairman, it only refers to competition on price, but in an unfettered market competition exists on more dimensions than just price. There is competition in innovation, competition in quality and variety, and competition in price. The chairman of the FCC, by allegedly promoting price competition, is actually destroying competition, if that term has any meaning at all.

He does all this to hand out the goods, goods that aren't his to hand out. Such is the nature of pressure group warfare and the thinly veneered legalized lawlessness it spawns in a mixed economy.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Man Versus Mussels

The city of Atlanta, Georgia, is running out of water. Despite this, the Army Corps of Engineers has ordered that sufficient water flows be drained out of Lake Lanier, the city's main reservoir, to keep alive the fat threeridge mussel located in Florida's Apalachicola River, some 350 miles away.

While the water level of Lake Lanier is poised to fall below the lowest level it set in 1981, a mandatory 3.2 billion gallons of water are drained each day from the lake to meet the requirement of the Endangered Species Act to keep the endangered mussel alive.

Officials estimate that Atlanta will run out of water in three months unless man takes precedence over mussels, and the water flows are stopped.

To place man above the mussel is illegal under the law. The Endangered Species Act is clear. All species are to be protected at any cost. Only one species is dispensable: man.

The citizens of Atlanta (and all men) only need one idea to protect them from this deadly mussel: man's right to his own life. If man has rights, animals cannot. If man has rights, his interests always come first and this absurd battle of man versus mussel could never arise. This incident illustrates very clearly that for man to survive, he must be completely free to alter nature for his own benefit.

When man's needs conflict with nature, as it must, man must always win: for man to drink, the mussels must die. Man's life depends on his right to his own life being inviolable.

There is a secondary, albeit crucially important idea that the citizens of Atlanta also need: property rights. If profit-seeking, private companies had owned the lakes and rivers and had been supplying water to Atlanta all along, instead of the government, it is unlikely that such a large, fast-growing city would have become so dependent on the smallest watershed in Georgia for its water supply. Even without the deadly mussel, Atlanta was probably vulnerable all along to drought simply because its water supply is so small relative to the city's size. A private company makes money by supplying water and has every incentive to actively develop and maintain adequate water supplies. City politicians do not have the same incentive, thus Atlanta's precarious position.

In conclusion, remember these lessons, Atlantans (and all Americans): your right to life and your right to property are the weapons you need to protect yourselves from all external threats, foreign and domestic. Without those rights, even a tiny, inedible mussel can crush you out of existence.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

On Doctors and Veterinarians

Several months ago, my beloved cat started vomiting frequently and losing weight. I took him to our vet, who recommended a sonogram at the nearby animal hospital. I brought him there the next day and got the bad news. The sonogram showed that he had an enlarged small intestine. The most likely cause was lymphoma. Further tests revealed the bad and (relatively) good news. It was lymphoma, but it was the least virulent form and should respond well to treatment.

The first step was surgery to remove the tumorous mass centered on the lymph nodes in his small intestine. That was done the next day. Unfortunately, complications ensued and a second surgery was required three days later. Our cat is 12 years old, and the two surgeries back-to-back on his intestinal tract nearly killed him. His entire digestive tract shut down and it was touch and go whether he would make it. All told, he spent 13 days in the hospital.

Today our cat is doing fine. He is gaining weight, his old adorable behaviors have returned, and he looks cute as hell wearing little red sweaters that my girlfriend made for him from old T-shirts to hold his feeding tube in place. (He'll have that tube for a while longer to easily administer medicines, even though he is getting all his food by mouth now.) He now sees the hospital's oncologist every three weeks, and those visits should stretch out further if he continues to respond well to chemotherapy, as he is doing now.

We are hopeful that our cat will be with us for several more years. If he had not gotten treatment, the prognosis for survival was a few weeks.

I am very thankful to our veterinarians, and tell them that frequently. Our cat not only got top-flight care every step of the way from them, but also from all the hospital nurses who drew his blood, administered medicines, cleaned and petted our cat, and gave him toys and treats during his stay in the hospital. Even the receptionists were kind and thoughtful, hustling to bring our cat his special fuzzy bed that we brought him when he was in the hospital. On two occasions, our veterinarians gave us their personal cell numbers to call them if we needed help with the cat's care after he came back home.

We are so thankful to our vets and gladly paid their bill. We wanted to send them a thank you and acknowledge everyone who cared for our cat, and asked for a list of everyone who worked on our cat in some capacity. Over 50 people were on the list.

Contrast this with my visits to my personal physician. I have a great personal doctor. He is always on time, and demands that his patients show up on time. His father was a doctor. As an avid runner, he is in excellent physical shape himself. He is serious, extremely knowledgeable, thoroughly competent.

His practice is closed. No one who is not already a patient can get in to see him. It has been closed for some years. I have been seeing him for ten years.

When I see him, I pay a $10 or $20 copay (I can't remember which). It is chump change compared with the value of the services he provides. After all, it is my life.

When I see him for my annual exam, I get about ten minutes of his time. He has a pleasant office where he will briefly consult with me after he briefly gives me my examination. I am thankful for those ten minutes.

One time, my insurer screwed up its payments to him. My doctor blamed me, and I caught myself blaming the insurance company. Later, even though it was clear that the insurance company was at fault, I apologized for the mix-up. After all, I am the one responsible for paying my doctor's bills. Am I not?

I have a great doctor. I feel lucky. I value his ten minutes. Out of pocket, he is a hell of a lot cheaper than my veterinarian. He is a bargain, isn't he?

Come to think of it, he has never given me his cell number.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Convenient Falsehoods

A British judge ruled that Al Gore's film, "An Inconvenient Truth," could not be presented as factual in British public schools because it contained nine material falsehoods. (In an interim ruling, he had identified eleven falsehoods, but combined several in his final decision.) Here they are:

  • The film claims that melting snows on Mount Kilimanjaro evidence global warming. The Government’s expert was forced to concede that this is not correct.
  • The film suggests that evidence from ice cores proves that rising CO2 causes temperature increases over 650,000 years. The Court found that the film was misleading: over that period the rises in CO2 lagged behind the temperature rises by 800-2000 years.
  • The film uses emotive images of Hurricane Katrina and suggests that this has been caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that it was “not possible” to attribute one-off events to global warming.
  • The film shows the drying up of Lake Chad and claims that this was caused by global warming. The Government’s expert had to accept that this was not the case.
  • The film claims that a study showed that polar bears had drowned due to disappearing arctic ice. It turned out that Mr Gore had misread the study: in fact four polar bears drowned and this was because of a particularly violent storm.
  • The film threatens that global warming could stop the Gulf Stream throwing Europe into an ice age. The Claimant’s evidence was that this was a scientific impossibility.
  • The film blames global warming for species losses including coral reef bleaching. The Government could not find any evidence to support this claim.
  • The film suggests that sea levels could rise by 7m causing the displacement of millions of people. In fact the evidence is that sea levels are expected to rise by about 40cm over the next hundred years and that there is no such threat of massive migration.
  • The film claims that rising sea levels has caused the evacuation of certain Pacific islands to New Zealand. The Government are unable to substantiate this and the Court observed that this appears to be a false claim.

A judge is not a scientific expert and a courtroom is not the proper place to resolve scientific disputes. However, it just takes an educated person and a little bit of research to see through Gore's propaganda. Thankfully, British standards call for checking the veracity of teaching materials used in their public schools if those materials are represented as factual. I doubt that has ever happened in the United States.

Children and adults everywhere are exposed to the blatant lies of Gore and other supporters of the view that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide must be stopped in order to "save the planet." The only danger the planet needs saving from are the global warming fear-mongers who seek to throttle man by hamstringing the industrial civilization our lives depend on.

I suggest that the Nobel Committee carefully review the judge's full decision. If the committee members have integrity, they cannot award Gore the Nobel Peace Prize unless they are able to convincingly refute with evidence the conclusion of the British High Court.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Anti-Immigrant Jackboots

The sounds of anti-immigrant jackboots can be heard in different parts of the land. In Long Island, immigration cops kick in doors and arrest 186 Hispanics. Ostensibly to look for gang members, the raids also nabbed American citizens who were forced to defend the authenticity of their citizenship papers. One woman, who is a legal resident, said that "having people burst into her home and breaking doors reminded her of when she lived in El Salvador. 'There, it's the Death Squads and here it's immigration', she said."

Earlier this year, immigration cops arrested and deported 1,297 workers at meat processing plants who were here illegally.

In Los Angeles, again partially to nab gang members, 1,327 were arrested in the largest raids of its kind, and 600 of them have already been deported.

Workers and long-term residents are being lumped in with gang members, herded off to jail, and imprisoned while they await deportation.

When a state rounds up people in mass sweeps, the innocent and "guilty" alike, it has moved closer to statism. I am not Hispanic, so the day when I have to defend my right to be here to a skeptical, orders-following immigration cop who questions the authenticity of the documents I am compelled to show him, is further away. But how much further? And what will it be like to live in a country where fellow residents, Hispanic or not, are rounded up in raids to be processed for deportation, or simply humiliated for living here?

The rights of immigrants to live in this country is parcel of the individual human right to life that all of us possesses, whether we are immigrants ourselves or merely the son or daughter or descendant further removed of immigrants. When we violate the rights of immigrants to live here peaceably who have committed no crimes other than to violate the unjust laws against immigration, we are cutting away at the right to be left alone that all of us possesses. We are empowering the state to become ever more the police state.

Respecting an immigrant's right to live here is respecting our own right to life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Grids

Airplanes are stuck on the tarmac, waiting to take off. The weather is clear and open, but the invisible traffic lanes in the sky are improbably congested. Planes wait for hours, passengers get frustrated, they call their congressmen, and the airlines get blamed.

An overloaded electric transmission line sags and touches a tree in Ohio. It shorts out and a cascade of overloaded lines radiates eastward, across into Canada, and down into New York City, blacking out everything in its path. First Energy, the utility in Ohio who owned the power line that triggered the blackout gets blamed. Fifty million people are without power.

What is the connection between millions of man-hours of air traffic delays and millions of people suffering power blackouts? The answer is an ossified grid.

The air traffic control system and the transmission grid are both stuck in the 1950s. Very little innovation or new investment has improved these systems, while the other parts of these industries, the airplanes and the power plants, have grown apace to keep up with demand that has doubled and re-doubled since then. As people travel more by air and use electricity ever more widely, the grids have became increasingly overburdened until breakdowns – massive delays and blackouts – are now commonplace.

A common element ties these two grids together, and it is not strictly government ownership. The air traffic control system does belong to the federal government; it is operated by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, the long distance transmission grid is largely owned and operated by private electric utilities. The common element is not government ownership as such, but government control. Both grids, whether nominally owned by the government or not, in all essential decisions are operated by the government. Both are effectively government-controlled and operated.

The air traffic control system is stuck with ancient technology. As recently as the 1990s (and possibly still true today), key systems such as the TRACON radar in Long Island that controls the majority of international traffic entering the Northeastern United States, still used vacuum tubes. The invisible air traffic lanes that get congested in clear skies are air traffic routes that were devised in the 1950s and never updated. Air traffic controllers operate as members of a surly union that went on strike in the 1980s and had to be fired.

Satellites using global-positioning satellite (GPS) technology that could permit air traffic to go anywhere, using the entire sky as its "road,” have not been tried. An integrated system that ties airplanes' onboard radars into a central grid, permitting planes to travel closer together, has not been tried.

Government ownership of the airports complicates the problem. Airports are not managed to efficiently optimize takeoffs and landings and to integrate the schedules of all of the airlines. This can be accomplished very simply, and without any form of centralized control, through pricing. If airports were operated by private owners, those owners could set fees for landing slots that bring supply and demand into equilibrium at every point in the day. High landing fees during peak times will ensure that airlines do not over-schedule flights. They will schedule as many flights as the airport can handle, and no more, with the market price for those slots guiding their decisions.

When the airlines were ostensibly deregulated in the late 1970s, only the owners and operators of the planes themselves were freed from government controls on the pricing of airfares and on the scheduling of their routes. The rest of the infrastructure that makes the airline industry work, including the air traffic control system and the airports, remained in the hands of government. The government operators of this vital infrastructure have not kept up with the growth of the deregulated airlines. The government run air traffic control system and the airports have ossified. Growing delays on the tarmac have been the inevitable result.

The power grid suffers from similar problems. Although the transmission grid remains nominally in private hands, every important decision concerning the operation of that grid is dictated by government officials. All important decisions of pricing, construction of new lines, and even the permissible level of profit, are dictated by government boards that require many years of expensive hearings for the utilities to make any significant changes. The expense of such bureaucratic sclerosis and the lack of the opportunity to make a free market profit – in other words, the lack of an incentive to innovate – have conspired to stall grid construction. As a result, expansion of the grid has not kept up with the growth in electricity demand. It also means technological ossification, as the grid fails to use modern computerized technologies to operate more efficiently.

The grid today operates largely as a mechanical system using 1950s-era technology. In the same manner that water flows downhill, electricity travels solely down the path of least resistance. New technologies, such as solid state electronic control circuits to regulate power flows, are very seldom employed on the grid. These technologies can make the grid work more efficiently, driving more power through existing lines, more reliably, preventing problems in one area from cascading into large-scale blackouts. Such control circuits would have prevented a transmission line failure in Ohio from cascading until it became the 2003 Northeast Blackout.

A private owner competing to maximize profits does not run his business in such a lazy, slipshod manner as today’s utilities. The utilities in Ohio and elsewhere are legal monopolies, insulated from competition by law. For every one of their major operating decisions, they must ask permission from a dis-interested bureaucrat.

Like slaves, the regulated utility monopolies move slowly and at every opportunity look to shirk responsibility.

When slaves were freed, they could use their minds to pursue their self-interest. For the first time, they could aggressively and eagerly advance their own lives in a manner that they alone determined.

The only answer to air traffic delays and power blackouts is a similar abolition. It is the abolition of the shackles of government control. It is the freeing of the human mind to creatively come up with better ways of managing the grids. Government should simply get out of the business of air traffic control and the operation of the airports. Let private, profit-seeking individuals enter this business and watch them aggressively build out and innovate this infrastructure to keep up with the growth of the airlines.

Government should also simply get out of the business of managing the electric transmission grid. Recognize the true ownership right of the utilities that today ostensibly own the grid, and then get out of the way. Profit-seeking individuals will build new lines, run existing lines more efficiently with new technology, and the whole grid will more reliably and cheaply transmit power. Blackouts will not completely go away, just like airplane crashes and delays will not completely end. Human errors and natural disasters will happen, but human ingenuity will be free for the first time to make the system work at its best in reality.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The caption says,

When you love strangers so much that you're willing to have government steal money from another stranger to help them out.

I can't say it any better.

Thank you, Truth, Justice, and the American Way for capturing the essence of welfare.

Friday, September 21, 2007

What Is Religion For?

Dr. Michael Hurd in his Daily Dose of Reason quotes actress Kathy Griffin at the recent Emmy Awards:

"A lot of people come up here and thank Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with this award than Jesus."
Dr. Hurd then comments:
People are frightened by much more than Griffin's seeming snideness about Jesus. I think they're much more terrified at the possibility that she's right: That people are the authors of their own destiny, for better or worse. Let's be honest. Wasn't it this idea that religion was designed to extinguish?
My answer to Dr. Hurd's question is: that is exactly what religion was designed for.

Observe how cheaters, drunks, liars and crooks of every stripe are drawn to religion, Christianity in particular. Of course, those are the obvious ones. The less obvious ones are those who just don't try too hard to pursue their values. They seek out Christianity for the moral anesthesia it provides. Numb to the full reality of their abnegation of self, like a stuporous drunk they stumble through life in mediocrity until they die.

They raise their arms to praise Jesus. Indeed.

On one occasion many years ago I was dragged to a fundamentalist Christian service. What a motley crew they were who sold their souls to the two-bit preacher. Now I know why the church and everyone in it looked so cheap. Afraid of the responsibility of living, they eagerly sold their souls for chump change to the first con artist who came along who told them that everything really would be okay.

Grim Reaper to Descend on Manhattan

On Tuesday, "President" Ahmadinejad of Iran will again enter U.S. territory, ascend to a podium paid for more by the United States than any other country, part of an institution protected by New York City police officers and New York City taxpayers, and insinuate his Holocaust-denying, Jew-hating, Western-civilization denouncing ghoul-of-Hades voice from beyond the grave to an audience of pampered bureaucrats in a light, air conditioned auditorium on a prime piece of Manhattan real estate, overlooking a vista of green gardens and inspiring river and city views.

The obstacles against his entry into the heart of capitalist, individualist, selfish America were cleared two millennia ago by the peace-loving "philosopher" who teaches us to love our enemies and sacrifice ourselves to our tormentors.

While we endure our spiritual sacrifice on Tuesday, I will look away from Turtle Bay and towards the Empire State Building, the tallest building left standing in Manhattan.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Greenspan Argues Against the Fed

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has not explicitly argued against the Federal Reserve Bank or any other central bank, except in his long-ago essay on gold in the collection of essays entitled Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal. As Chairman of the Fed for 18 years, I find it unlikely he has contemporaneously and explicitly disavowed the institution he helmed for such a long period of time.

Nevertheless, he did make quite an effective, albeit unintentional, argument against the Fed on his 60 Minutes interview Sunday night. The interviewer asked whether he was to blame for the sub-prime mortgage crisis by making credit too easy. Greenspan said that he was aware at the time that questionable mortgage credit was being extended by banks, but he admitted he was unaware how pervasive it was or how impactful on the economy. He just didn't see the problem as it was developing.

That is his argument against the Fed, whether he realizes it or not. No central banker, no matter how good, can possibly hold in his mind all relevant information to centrally manage the money supply and credit of an economy. Such is the fallacy of central planning. It doesn't work in banking, just as it has never worked in any other area of an economy. The collapse of Communism is proof of that. So is the failure of the centrally managed parts of our mixed economy, such as public schooling and public housing.

Greenspan is smart, but no single man or woman is smart enough to be a central planner.

Musings on Taxation

I posted a version of this post in answer to a question about the "Fair Tax" on Dr. Hurd's blog. The questioner asked whether voluntary taxation is feasible. If not, is the Fair Tax a good alternative?

A cultural sea-change must occur first that will make limited government politically feasible. Then, voluntary financing of government could emerge. It is a worthy topic to consider now, but it is a backburner topic given that it will be many decades before it could even be attempted.

Regarding the idea of a Fair Tax, it is a contradiction in terms. No tax is fair because it involves the forcible taking of one person's property to give to another. Moreover, a more efficient or "fair" form of taxation (if it were possible) will not make government smaller. Quite the opposite is likely. It will be viewed simply as another source of revenue by government officials. Currently, there is no federal consumption or sales tax. Impose one as the Fair Tax would do, and the other taxes will not go away. Government will simply have obtained a new method of extracting money from us, with the result that they will find it easier to spend more of our money.

Government will get bigger, not smaller. I think it is important to resist any new mechanism of taxation. If our current system of income taxation is inefficient, great. That inefficiency in collecting taxes will limit the size of government. I would rather government were truly limited on a principled basis. Until that is possible, even a crude check on government from an inefficient form of taxation is desirable.

Getting back to the idea of voluntary financing of government (I hesitate to use the word "taxation" since it implies coercion), there are two important points to remember:

(1) A small government that focuses on protecting our rights -- i.e., the police, the courts, the jails and the military, and nothing else -- would be very small indeed. Even in today's messed up world where our military and prison systems are unnecessarily large, all of these functions probably consume under 5% of GDP. If we had no irrational laws such as the drug laws that account for more than half of our prison population, and if we had an assertive defense that vanquished our enemies instead of appeased them in endless, expensive wars, these expenditures in a laissez faire society would be much less. I suspect that all of this apparatus of government would consume less than 2% of GDP. This is a very tractable amount to be voluntarily financed by Americans.

(2) Without coercive taxation, destructive regulations, and the theft of our incomes for welfare payments, Americans in the future will be far, far wealthier than they are today. Just as today's technological achievements, such as antibiotics, the internet and jet travel, would be barely believable science fiction to an American of the 19th century, America of the laissez faire capitalist future would be even more highly unimaginable science fiction to Americans today. (Note that all of the achievements I mentioned happened despite a high level of government intervention in the economy. Imagine the unleashing of human ingenuity that would occur if government stayed out of the economy.)

Financing the essential functions of government for such wealthy people of the future would be an afterthought that Americans would voluntarily and easily do, without any sacrifice to themselves.

Finally, I will add a third point. Voluntary financing of government does not necessarily or exclusively mean donations of money to government. Most, if not all, of the expenses of government could be financed through the payment of fees for certain services where that would be practical. In particular, I could imagine a fee paid if parties to a contract want government to stand behind it with their enforcement powers. For example, if you sign a contract to buy a house and you want access to the courts for enforcement, you pay a 2% fee on the transaction. This is a voluntary payment for an essential government service. This principle can be extended to cover many other activities and functions of government.

Also, in a free, entrepreneurial society, imagine the ingenuity that could be applied to solving the problem of financing the (small) government. One idea I particularly like is corporate or individual sponsorship of pieces of government. Sponsor a jail, and you get to name it. Better yet, sponsor a battleship or a missile and you get to put your name on it. Heck, if I knew our missiles would be used to defeat the Muslim terrorists, I would love to have my name on that missile (assuming I could afford it!). I would be a good Dr. Strangelove. I would not be on the missile, but my name would be, as it arced across the sky on its way to Tehran or a terrorist training camp...

Okay, enough dreaming for now, but today's dreams are the beginnings of tomorrow's reality.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Nuclear Fun

This is the new television advertisement from Areva, the French maker of nuclear power plants. This is great pro-capitalist, pro-business, pro-technology, and pro-cheap energy propaganda. It quickly and effectively makes the connection between production and enjoyment. You start with the uranium mine, process the uranium, and produce electricity from it in a nuclear reactor which, in turn, powers the dancing floor and the cool music the couple is dancing to.

Most (ignorant) people think electricity comes from a wall outlet, and know nothing more about what makes it possible. This ad, in a few seconds, connects the electricity in the wall outlet all the way back to the nuclear reactor and the uranium mines that make it possible. It also reminds us that electricity powers the good life that we all enjoy.

Truthful, clever propaganda that validates a complicated technology feared by many. Every time I see this ad on TV I want to dance.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Christian Warfare

To visualize the principle of "turn the other cheek" in practice, in warfare, read this article (link below) from the Washington Times. It describes a first-hand account of American soldiers in Afghanistan, sent on a mission behind enemy lines, and confronted by rules of engagement that are based on the Christian principles of "turn the other cheek" and "love thy enemy." Our Christian President has imposed these rules on our soldiers. "Killed by the Rules" could be more broadly stated as "Killed by Altruism." Altruism is the philosophical belief that you must sacrifice yourself to others. It is the philosophical root of Christianity, and the root of this policy.

Our political leaders extol the virtue of sacrifice. See its results on the battlefield.

The alternative to altruist-Christian suicide is Objectivism, the philosophy that validates the morality of rational self-interest. We have the strongest military in human history. If we do not learn that it is moral to defend ourselves, we will never use that military properly. We will keep turning the other cheek until we can no longer do so.


Hat tip for article.

Monday, August 27, 2007

To Ban It or Subsidize It

The Wall Street Journal today had another excellent editorial piece entitled "Canada's Shooting Gallery" by the Americas columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady. In it, she describes how the city of Vancouver, Canada, pays for a center that will inject the addicts' drugs into them free of charge. Here is my letter to her:

Dear Mary,

I want to concur in your assessment of Vancouver’s shooting gallery. I traveled to Vancouver recently for the first time, and happened upon East Hastings Street. I have lived in New York for over 20 years, through some rough times such as the crack epidemic of the early 1990s. Yet that left me unprepared for what I saw. Human zombies were wandering everywhere in the middle of the day. People appeared to be inhaling crack from a many-tubed “hookah” that looked like an octopus. Zombies congregated in alleys. It was incredible. I thought of the place as the center of a vortex of whirling bums, drug addicts and prostitutes sucked in from all corners of North America. It was a Mecca of self-imposed human misery, and it was paid for by Canadian taxpayers.

I am completely for legalization of all drugs. If people want to destroy themselves (or enhance themselves with safe mood-altering substances such as alcohol and caffeine which, thankfully, remain legal), it is their right. But the alternative to banning drugs is not to subsidize them. That is the statist solution. A vice is either banned or subsidized. What kind of choice is that? Both answers are wrong. We either lose our liberties, or pay for others’ vices. Lost in this false alternative is individual liberty, where people are simply left alone to live their own lives, productively or not, as they see fit. Reality is punishment enough for drug addicts. Only a minority of people will choose that lifestyle because it is so self-destructive; their numbers are further reduced through early death. Subsidize that? It’s insane.

By the way, apart from East Hastings Street, I really enjoyed Vancouver. Its harbor area full of skyscraper condominiums was gorgeous, if only a little bit too indicative of “zoned perfectionism.” In fact, the flip-side of areas zoned solely for beautiful, stylish skyscrapers is squalid areas that excel in squalor. Making housing of a particular form exclusive through zoning pushes other people into ever more marginal areas, such as E. Hastings.

But that is another discussion...



Edited 8/30/07: Changed title. Original title: "Canada's Shooting Gallery."

Published on 8/30/07 as letter to editor in Wall Street Journal by the non-pseudonymous me.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Technology-Based Future

Have you ever wondered what Man can achieve? Take a look at these Predictions for a Technological Future. Futurist Brian Wang makes plausible predictions based on technological trends in computing, nanotechnology, materials science, energy, communications and space flight. He provides timelines for each of them.

There is nothing to hold man back from achieving these or similar inventions. Today's world would be barely conceivable science fiction to the 18th century Founding Fathers of our country. Yet, the unleashing of the human mind that was their political achievement has made a fantasy world real. If the philosophic foundation of our country can be re-built, there will be no limits to man's achievement.

I am optimistic. Even if Man must endure another Dark Ages first (which will not happen; that is my prediction), man will:

  • Use gene therapy to enhance human intelligence
  • Use the earth's magnetic field to cheaply catapult ships into space
  • Artificially grow human organs
  • Double his lifespan
  • Develop an economy off-earth larger than the economy of Japan
  • Fly scramjets that will carry cargo 10-20 times the speed of sound
These are a few of the new technologies Brian Wang predicts, all of them achievable before the year 2030. He is right, if man's mind is free to build them.

Philosophers, win the battle for reason, and the world of the future will be ours.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Helicopter Ben

"Helicopter Ben" is the nickname Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reportedly got for a comment he once made regarding how the government should aggressively use monetary policy to prevent a recession. Emphasizing that the key point is to inflate quickly to avert a crisis, he said the government could simply drop money from a helicopter to stimulate the economy.

Federal Reserve chairmen like to fly around in helicopters. Maybe that's their problem. By attempting to manage the money supply from their helicopter vantage, the Federal Reserve fails to see the real action of the economy on the ground. As a result, they make bad decisions. They add too much money or too little. They act too early or too late. The result is an exacerbation of booms and busts in the economy. The booms become unreal, and the busts too severe.

In 2003, the Federal Reserve lowered the interest rate at which it facilitates bank loans to an unprecedented low of 1%. In those years, we saw tremendous investment in real estate and a boom in real estate prices. The excess investment was stoked by cheap credit for mortgages available from banks. Variable interest and interest-only loans keyed to the artificially low federal funds rate enabled homebuyers to bid ever more for larger houses. Easy 100% or more financing enabled those who hadn't saved for a down payment to buy houses on the bank's credit.

Artificially cheap money had led to a flood of financial capital becoming available for mortgage lending by the banks. Lend they did, at terms that did not reflect the true financial risk they were undertaking. Such artificially supplied cheap money is inflation. When the Fed realized that its inflation of the money supply led to inflated asset prices, it tried to limit the damage by tightening credit, eventually raising the bank interest rate to a recent high of 5 1/4%. Now, the reverse process is happening. Over-extended borrowers are defaulting, credit is tightening, and the economy is poised for a slow-down.

All of this is the result of managing monetary policy from way up high in helicopters. How do we bring monetary policy down to earth? The only way to do this is to privatize money. Instead of the Federal Reserve, a sole, legal monopoly issuer of money and credit, all money should be issued by private banks. Private banks do not operate in helicopters. They operate on the ground. They understand the specific financing needs of particular borrowers. They assess their ability to extend credit based on the creditworthiness of the borrower, and on their own availability of funds.

The supply and demand conditions of money and credit that the banks respond to
are the real economy. If a new technology creates promising new business opportunities, the banks lend to those businesses. If a regional downturn reduces creditworthiness, they extend less credit. All the time, the banks lend with a view to protecting their own balance sheets and maximizing their own profit. This grounded action by private banks will result in the most efficient deployment of financial capital possible.

Does it mean the end of booms and busts? That is a question I am not sure of, but I think it may not. Nevertheless, the booms and busts that will occur will be shorter in duration and less severe. More importantly, they will reflect real economic events, not artificial changes of the money supply by the helicopter money monopolists.

Monday, August 13, 2007



The face of reason confronts Dark Age primitiveness. That summarizes Infidel, the autobiography of Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The face of reason is hers, the beautiful, intransigent face that appears on the cover of her book.

Ms. Ali was born in Somalia. She grew up in that country, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Her father fought for a better government in Somalia but he, along with all of the people close to her, were Muslims. Primitivism meant female genital circumcision, which she endured without anesthesia at age 6. Primitivism meant Muslim Brotherhood imams preaching fundamentalism. Primitivism meant women wearing restrictive hidjabs. Primitivism meant having to endure forced marriages and beatings from your husband, if he so chose. Primitivism meant an oppressive clan network that reached all the way into European countries.

Rejecting the primitiveness of her background, Infidel is the story of Ms. Ali’s personal unfolding, and her discovery of the Western values of free speech, the right to one’s own life, and religious freedom. By the end of the book, Ms. Ali declares herself an infidel, since she rejects the Islamic faith that she grew up with. She rejects all religious faith. Step by step over the course of her life, Infidel shows her make the conclusions that brought reason into her life.

For that, for the ideas she publicly stated as a member of Parliament in Holland, for a movie she made, and ultimately for this book, Ayaan Hirsi Ali has had a death sentence placed on her. Like Salman Rushdie, a fatwa is on her life. The director of her movie, Theo Van Gogh, was already murdered in cold blood on the streets of Amsterdam.

Today, Ms. Ali lives in the freest country on earth, the United States. Her book is a warning to us of the nature of the Muslim enemy we fight. Islam is not a religion of peace; it is a religion of unspeakable evil.

UPDATE OCTOBER 2007: Ms. Ali has left the United States after the Dutch government, which had been paying for her protection, stopped doing so. Apparently because Ms. Ali is a Dutch citizen, the U.S. did not take up the slack and offer her protection. By returning to Holland, Ms. Ali can presumably once again be protected by her country.

Question: Has the U.S. government ever spent taxpayer money to provide security protection to this foreign citizen? You can see him on the right side of the picture holding hands with our President. That man is Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. If a double-standard does exist, could it be that the U.S. government is unwilling to protect someone like Ms. Ali, who is an "infidel" and denounces Islam, while offering protection to our "ally" who financially and morally sponsors terrorism against us? Ms. Ali is our ally and the man walking with the President is not. Until we learn that, and it becomes the basis of official government policy, we are gravely at risk. Islam's persecution of Ms. Ali and her flight from this country is a metaphor for what we all face until we gain the wisdom and courage to defend our values.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Businessman's Hall of Fame

The New York Times, without intending it, has published the businessman's hall of fame. By ranking these great business figures in order of the wealth they created, the NYT has allowed us to honor the greatest businessmen of the past 200 years, ranked by the measure of their achievement.

Wealth is the measure of the businessman, for what is wealth than the measure of the value of the products he has made? Wealth comes from profit, which is the difference between value received for a product less the cost of manufacturing it. If consumers everywhere pay more for the personal computer or the Model T Ford then it cost to make it, that difference is an objective measure of the value created. If the product is so popular that millions of PC's and Model T's are sold, then millions of customers have benefited from the entrepreneurial ingenuity of the businessmen.

I honor the wealthiest businessmen. They are those who have created the most beneficial, useful, enjoyable products that all of us enjoy. Hats off to Bill Gates (the 5th wealthiest) and Warren Buffett (the 16th wealthiest), for making the software for the fabulously useful personal computer on which I am writing this, and for providing capital to America's most efficient companies, respectively. Hats off to John D. Rockefeller, the leader of the Hall of Fame, who created the modern oil industry, the seminal industry that continues to fuel our industrial economy.

Hats off to all of the Hall of Famers. In a future world, we will see sculptures of your figures in a real world Hall of Fame. Schoolchildren will learn your stories, and emulate you, and some of them will add themselves to your august glory.

[Hat tip to NoodleFood for the link to the New York Times article.]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

What Should We Do About Global Warming?

[The following was my reply to this interesting post. I am re-posting it here.]

The big problem with the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) argument is that it is used by those who hate capitalism to attack capitalism. Whether it is true or not, the argument has been seized upon by those who want to throttle industrial activity by restricting the most fundamental underpinning of our standard of living: the combustion of fossil fuels.

The combustion of fossil fuels provides most of our electricity, heats our homes, and powers our planes, trains and automobiles. Restricting the burning of fossil fuels (by whatever mechanism, such as a "carbon tax") means that all of these activities will be more costly, and will happen less. Our standard of living will fall. That is undeniable.

Now, whether it is moral to sacrifice our standard of living to prevent AGW is not a scientific issue to be addressed by atmospheric scientists or geophysicists or any other "hard" scientists. It is a philosophical, economic and legal issue. That is where Objectivism comes in.

If we assume that AGW is a reality (and a serious one, at that), I contend that it is not a governmental matter. However, "we" should absolutely do something about it. This means that each of us, if we live in a coastal region, should absolutely gradually build up seawalls and embankments to handle the projected 2 foot increase in sea levels that will occur over the next century. It means that "we" should make sure our air conditioners are in working order to handle the couple degree increase in temperatures we will gradually experience over the next 100 years. It means that those of us who are investors and farmers should consider, sometime over the next century, buying valueless land in Canada and Siberia that could become arable over the next 100 years.

It means that we should continue using our free time -- a consequence of our high standard of living, which itself is a consequence in part of having cheap energy that comes from burning fossil fuels -- to research cheaper and better ways to make electricity, air condition our homes, grow crops, develop new medicines and forms of entertainment. In other words, each of us -- using cheap energy and the high standard of living it makes possible -- should use our minds to enjoy our lives, and in so doing, create new technologies that propel our standard of living ever higher.

This ascent of man is itself in part a function of cheap energy. Such ascent is hamstrung by restrictions on that energy that make it more expensive, in order to prevent our atmosphere getting hotter by a couple of degrees and our sea levels from rising by a couple of feet over many decades.

This is the context of the AGW argument, and why those who hate capitalism have gravitated so enthusiastically to it. They see the AGW argument not so much as an "environmental" issue, but rather as a way of attacking man and industrial civilization.

They are right. The AGW argument *is* being used to attack man and industrial civilization. This is not to say that scientifically understanding whether AGW is true, and how severe it is, is not important. Getting a handle on the concretes is important, and does bear on what we should do about it. However, it is unlikely that any scientific understanding of the problem will show that it is of such a magnitude that it merits *governmental* intervention, and the concomitant reduction in our freedom and standard of living.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Blogging Semi-Hiatus

I will appear less frequently on this blog for awhile. Not gone, just on semi-hiatus. Thank you for your visits - past, present and future.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fears of Global Climate Change, Past and Present


There are ominous signs that the earth's weather patterns have begun to change dramatically...
[T]hese changes may portend a drastic drop in food production...
The drop in food production could begin quite soon, perhaps only ten years from now.
The evidence in support of these predictions has now begun to accumulate so massively that meteorologists are hard pressed to keep up with it.
"A major climatic change would force economic and social adjustments on a worldwide scale," warns a report by the National Academy of Sciences.
"The world's food producing system," warns Dr. James D. McQuigg of NOAA's Center for Climatic and Environmental Assessment, "is much more sensitive to the weather variable than it was even five years ago."
This was written in 1975 in a Newsweek piece heralding the new consensus among scientists over an impending disastrous climatic change.

What was the feared climatic change? Global cooling.

Okay, so they got it wrong back then. But a commentator today is truly afraid of global climate change. However, his fear is not of global warming (or cooling), but of the destruction of our liberty and prosperity that will ensue in an attempt to end it. That person is Vaclav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic. Here are a few selected quotes from his recent editorial and interview in the Financial Times.

The environmentalists ask for immediate political action because they do not believe in the long-term positive impact of economic growth and ignore both the technological progress that future generations will undoubtedly enjoy, and the proven fact that the higher the wealth of society, the higher is the quality of the environment. They are Malthusian pessimists.
The global warming propaganda is, I agree, similar to the Avian flu propaganda, the Y2K propaganda, the end of resources propaganda, the overpopulation propaganda, etc

There are huge material (very pecuniary) and even bigger psychological incentives for politicians and their bureaucratic fellow-travellers to support environmentalism. It gives them power.

Read both pieces. It is worth it. It takes only one person of courage to change the world. Dissidents such as Klaus who opposed the Soviet domination of their country (from 1945-1989) were such people. They are such people today.

Continue to speak out, President Klaus.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Bible Lessons

I have been studying the Bible lately. I highly recommend these tools:

(1) The Brick Testament

This is my primary source. It is an illustrated compendium of Bible passages from both the Old and New Testaments. All quotes are 100% accurate Bible quotes.

There is much to enjoy in the Brick Testament, so it is difficult to select favorites. I have much to study. I am a neophyte. Here is my sampler:

Understand Christian ethics in The Teachings of Jesus.

Understand Old Testament principles of living in The Law.

(2) The teachings and wisdom of Mister Swig.

Mr. Swig [or Rev. Swig as I call him] is embarked on a project of summarizing the Bible, book by book. Here it is, so far, as it has appeared on the Web forum Objectivism Online. I will endeavor to update this post as the Rev. Swig completes new books.

(3) Bible Gateway

To look up and verify Bible quotes, I cannot recommend a better resource than the Bible Gateway. You can look up individual passages or entire chapters, just by typing in the name.

I applaud the Rev. Brendan Powell Smith and William Swig (Rev. Swig) who have worked so hard to make the Bible intelligible. What do I think of the Bible? Well, I think the Bible can speak for itself. Everyone should study it, and those of you who are Christians or Jews should carefully consider that what you read here is what you claim to believe in.

As for me, I have stated my thoughts on religion elsewhere.

Keep reading the Bible. Better yet, if you have already formed your opinion, skip the Bible, and work hard at applying reason to understanding this wonderful earth we live in.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Organ Futures

Why shouldn't people be able to sell their organs in advance, before they die? A company that procures organs could pay you today for the right to harvest your organs when you die. In exchange, say, for $200 or $1000 or whatever the market price determines, you would put your name in a database and carry an organ donor card with you so that when you die, all your usable body parts are harvested and sold to those who need the organs.

This would solve nearly instantaneously the organ shortage in this country. Economics tells us that shortages are caused by price controls. Well, in the case of organs, the legal price is zero. Unfetter the market and sufficient organs will be humanely supplied. The price mechanism will ensure that, with the price of organs rising to make supply and demand meet.

A market for human organs harvested after death would eliminate such gruesome practices as body parts being harvested from Chinese convicts, or living poor people selling their organs. (It should be legal for living people to sell kidneys and other organs; see this editorial arguing for same from the Ayn Rand Institute. However, a legalized market for advance sales of organs to be harvested after death would likely eliminate such a practice. It would be cheaper to buy organs in advance that are harvested from corpses than it would be to pay a living donor, who requires sophisticated medical care and compensation for pain. Living donors also cannot supply many specific organs such as hearts.)

Legalize advance organ sales and what is likely to emerge naturally is a market for organ futures. An organ future is the right to receive a specific donor’s organs after that person dies. Packages of organ futures could be sold in standardized blocks, and traded on exchanges like any other futures. After all, pork bellies, corn and oil are sold on futures markets. Why not markets for human kidney, lung and heart futures? Investors could buy packages of these securities.

The big benefit of organ futures is their liquidity. The existence of a futures market provides a ready pool of capital available to buy future organ rights from donors, and to sell them to harvesting companies. In turn, when the organs are ready for harvesting, after the donor dies, the harvesting companies would sell organs to recipients. Insurance companies would be active participants in this market, since they could sell organ insurance policies and then hedge them by buying futures.

The futures market benefits both parties to an organ donation, the donor who gets cash today while he is alive, and the organ recipient who would otherwise die if the organ futures market did not exist.

The time for legalized organ sales and an organ futures market is now, not the future. Thousands of people suffer excruciatingly while they wait for organs. Many of them die before they ever get them.

Speaking personally, if I could get paid cash today to carry an organ donation card in my wallet, I'd do it. Look in my wallet now, and there is no organ donation card. How many millions of other Americans like me would gladly sell the future right to their organs if only it were legal for them to do so? Legalize organ sales and an organ futures market will ensure that virtually no one will ever again die while waiting for a heart or kidney.


How many people are suffering and dying due to the ban on organ sales?

  • Over 95,000 U.S. patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant; nearly 4,000 new patients are added to the waiting list each month.
  • In 2006, 3,916 kidney patients, 1,570 liver patients, 356 heart patients and 245 lung patients died while awaiting organs. Total deaths: 6,087.

Source: National Kidney Foundation