Don’t Vote

stop talking about the election

“The strong are always free by virtue of their superior strength. So long as government is a mere contest as to which of two parties shall rule the other, the weaker must always succumb. And whether the contest be carried on with ballots or bullets, the principle is the same; for under the theory of government now prevailing, the ballot either signifies a bullet, or it signifies nothing. And no one can consistently use a ballot, unless he intends to use a bullet, if the latter should be needed to insure submission to the former.” – Lysander Spooner, No Treason No. 1 Vol. 1, 1867

If there is one silver lining to the 2016 presidential election, it’s that it should make abundantly clear to many more individuals that politics is a sham, merely a clownish show where the biggest liars on Earth compete to see who can be the most deceitful while making less of an ass out of themselves than their opponents.

I mean, come on. For a while, it seemed like there might be a battle royale between the House of Clinton and the House of Bush – luckily for us, Jeb Bush had the good sense to drop out early. If only the rest of them had. At the time that I write this, the remaining (noteworthy) candidates are Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton for the Democrats, and Donald Trump and Ted Cruz for the Republicans (Note: This article was written in February 2016).

If anyone but Trump ends up winning, the first Jewish, woman, or Hispanic president will have, at long last, been elected. What a triumph for social justice! And if Trump wins, then we’ll be blessed with the first president who is basically a cartoon character; in fact, back in 2000, The Simpsons predicted that Trump would become president and ruin the country.

It’s incredible that any of these people have made it this far. Bernie Sanders is 74 years old, so perhaps dementia is preventing this self-described socialist from remembering the abject failure of socialist nations around the world, and getting in the way of an understanding of basic economics.

Ted Cruz has been accused of enjoying the music of Nickelback, and he failed to renounce this position when asked. Somehow, this has not derailed his campaign.

Hillary Clinton is actively under investigation by the FBI for running her own private email server from home while head of the State Department – an immense security issue, if there ever was one. That’s just one of the many controversies surrounding her. Oddly enough, she’s the biggest warmonger of the lot, substantially more interested in military adventures abroad than the Republican front-runners. And she near single-handedly destroyed the country of Libya – the same Libya that has become the major “home away from home” for the Islamic State.

Donald Trump (aka Tronald Dump) has said so many boneheaded things that he hardly requires introduction. If anyone were to bring back internment camps, such as those used to house Japanese-Americans during World War 2, it’d be him. Don’t think it won’t happen again.

One of these dipshits will almost certainly become the next POTUS. And unlike many of you, I will have nothing to do with it. For you see, I have elected not to vote. In this post, I hope to convince you to do the same.

 

Your Vote Is Meaningless

I hate to break it to you, but your vote is meaningless. This is simply the reality, and there is no use in trying to deny it.

First of all, your vote has a truly negligible chance of swaying an election (and as the population increases, this chance becomes worse and worse with every election). But even if, mathematically speaking, your vote were to be the “deciding” one, the election would ultimately be decided in some shady, back-room deals. Worse still, that doesn’t even matter, since you elect politicians who have no obligation to abide by their campaign promises, and are far more likely to be swayed by their corporate cronies than by “the will of the people.” Besides, the candidates are nearly identical in most important ways, so it’s as though you had no choice at all.

This narrative conflicts with most peoples’ utopian views of democracy and its value. This doesn’t make it any less true. Your vote simply will not decide an election, as I’ve said before:

“In order for your vote to determine anything, the outcome of the election (excluding yourself) would need to either be a tie, or have a one vote difference, with your vote being for the candidate who was losing (thus making it a tie).

The chances of this happening in a national election are negligible, and for other elections, still miniscule. For instance, take a look at this list of close elections throughout the world. There were a handful of ties or elections determined by a single vote, but nearly all of these were more local elections within sparsely populated Canadian territories. Every one of these elections had less than 40,000 total votes cast, most with well under 10,000.”

Even the most optimistic of academic estimates that your vote will be the deciding factor in a national election are between 1 in 10 million and 1 in 100 million depending on the state you live in. The mathematics of voting are so clear that it is hardly worth belaboring the point, but I do want to say that you are literally more likely to die on your way to the polling station on election day than to have your vote matter (and for more on the math, see this).

But even in the unlikely event that your vote almost makes a difference, it still simply won’t matter. There’s no need for “kooky” conspiracy theories to see this. Consider the close call in Florida in 2000. Multiple recounts occurred, none of which ended in a tie. And the process, of course, got shadier and shadier as the counting went on. And now that we have electronic voting machines, there are many reasons to be skeptical of the integrity of elections. Voting machines that have been used in real life elections are highly susceptible to hacking and having votes changed. There is statistical evidence that voting machines have been tampered with and had vote counts changed across numerous election cycles. For more on how crappy electronic voting is, see Ross Anderson’s “Security Engineering”, section 23.5 (free PDF). Among many examples provided in that section:

“Many problems were reported in the 2002 elections [551]; then, the following summer, the leading voting-machine supplier Diebold left its voting system files on an open web site, a stunning security lapse. Avi Rubin and colleagues at Johns Hopkins trawled through them found that the equipment was far below even minimal standards of security expected in other contexts. Voters could cast unlimited votes, insiders could identify voters, and outsiders could also hack the system [731]. Almost on cue, Diebold CEO Walden O’Dell, who was active in the campaign to re-elect President Bush, and wrote ‘I am committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year’ [1320].”

It’s not as though voting fraud is unheard of; it became significant under Lincoln and during the “Reconstruction”.

“Lincoln was known to instruct his military commanders to furlough registered Republicans while keeping Democrats (and any others) in the field, where they could not vote. In border states like Maryland, where there was powerful opposition to the war, federal soldiers flooded the cities on election days and were instructed to vote, even though they were not residents of those states.”

“Almost all Southern males were disenfranchised, while virtually all of the male ex-slaves were registered to vote (Republican). No Southern male could vote who participated in the war effort in any way, including contributing food or clothing to the Confederate army. Voter registration required one to publicly proclaim that one was on the side of the federal armies during the war, something that no sane southerner who valued his life would do.”

Today, a well-known problem is gerrymandering, or creating odd borders for districts to sway elections based on known voter demographics. This stuff is common. Plus, as Robert Epstein showed in a brilliant essay, big tech companies like Google and Facebook have the power to sway elections by changing what we are exposed to, and we would never know. Do you think these big companies are looking out for the “public interest” or their bottom lines? Research shows that big business and special interests are the real factor that influences government policy, as I’ve stated in the past:

“…the most robust of modern research on the topic has concluded that even mass groups of voters have a minimal effect on public policy. Rather, it is interest groups and powerful business interests that control policy outcomes. How else would incumbents win in Congressional elections over 90% of the time, even in a year like 2010 where people were particularly unsatisfied with their representatives?”

no difference between democrats and republicans

Whoever wins the election – even in the off chance that they are truly public spirited, Leslie Knope-esque individuals – will be forced by their position to adjust their policies to conform to the whims of those powerful interests. Perhaps this is part of the reason why the two major candidates are nearly identical on most major issues, making the whole election an absurd political circus. As Jesse Ventura said of our two-party system,

“[W]hat you have today is like walking into the grocery store and you go to the soft drink department, and there is only Pepsi and Coke. Those are the two you get to choose from. There is no Mountain Dew, no Root Beer, no Orange. They’re both Colas; one is slightly sweeter than the other, depending on which side of the aisle you are on.”

 

Why Politicians Act Like Scumbags

“What is any political campaign save a concerted effort to turn out a set of politicians who are admittedly bad and put in a set who are thought to be better. The former assumption, I believe is always sound; the latter is just as certainly false. For if experience teaches us anything at all it teaches us this: that a good politician, under democracy, is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.” – H.L. Mencken

Your vote is meaningless, and politicians know this. And voting is a fundamentally different process than that of market forces, which leads to predictable behavior on the part of politicians, as documented by Mark Brandly.

Consider how the free market works: in the market, consumers decide exactly what they want to buy. Each consumer can buy completely different things and there is no reason for conflict, because my buying a blue shirt doesn’t impose the blue shirt on you, and you buying a red shirt doesn’t impose that red shirt on me. Each consumer can get whatever he wants, and doesn’t get anything he would prefer not to have. Each consumer has an incentive to be informed about the products he is buying, because he is spending his own money on them. Researching the possible items, particularly big ticket items, makes an actual difference in a consumer’s life. None of this is true in the political “market”.

“Choosing between two candidates is analogous going to Walmart and being presented with two shopping carts already filled with items. Everyone will leave the store with the same cart of goods. Each cart contains products that a person may want and products that one wouldn’t choose to have, but the voter is not able to take anything out of either cart.”

Also…the two carts are very similar. They contain many of the same items, the items that are different are still similar (e.g., both carts contain a shirt — one red and one blue), and the two carts cost about the same amount. In addition, each taxpayer will end up paying for one of the carts even though he wouldn’t voluntarily purchase this basket of items.

…when you are presented with the two carts, you are allowed to vote on which cart you want. However, you vote infrequently, say, once every four years, and your vote doesn’t matter. You will end up with the same cart regardless of your vote. In fact, even if you don’t vote, this will not affect the bundle that you receive in your cart.”

Democracy is even worse than this analogy suggests. A candidate can promise certain policies and completely renege on them when elected. With the shopping cart, you at least know that if something is in there, it’s in there. So how does the structure of political democracy encourage politicians to misbehave?

“The point, so far, is that in an election voters are faced with bundled choices, they vote infrequently, no individual’s vote will affect the election, voters have little incentive to be highly informed about the candidates’ policy positions, and the winning candidate is not obliged to deliver on his promises. Candidates who understand these simple facts about an election will have an advantage over political opponents who do not understand the nature of elections.

Realizing this, candidates need to make two important decisions. First, a candidate must consider which bundle of policies will give him the best chance of winning the election, and second, a candidate must devise a strategy that will give his supporters an incentive to vote in spite of the fact that no individual vote matters.”

First, candidates will tend to pick positions that are more centrist in order to appeal to the bulk of voters, who cluster around less “extreme” views. This means that both candidates will have very similar policies.

“The last two presidential administrations demonstrate this point. Even though they represent different political parties, many of the foreign-policy and financial advisors of the Bush administration would be comfortable in the Obama administration and in some cases the same individuals are in both administrations. Bush and Obama both support the welfare state and the military empire. They both have proposed budgets greatly expanding the budgetary size and legal reach of our federal government.”

This means that candidates are inclined to deceive the public about their positions in order to appeal to this median voter. But it’s a little bit more complicated than that.

“In order to gain political power in our system, a candidate must win two elections, the primary election and the general election. The difficulty for a candidate is that he needs to appeal to a different set of voters in each election. In order to win the primary election, a candidate must attract the median voter of his party’s primary voters. Then the candidate must change his position to gain the support of the median voter in the general election.”

This is tricky, but there are some strategies that politicians can employ to make this easier. Two keys to winning include being the first to accuse your opponent of flip-flopping, and buying favors with government power. These favors should have the costs dispersed among as many people as possible, but the benefits accruing to smaller groups of rent seekers who are more likely to organize on your behalf. You can also hide the costs, as in the Social Security system, where half of the tax is paid by the employer, even though that cost is ultimately borne by the employee anyways. Basically, candidates have strong incentives to lie to the voters. Candidates who are averse to being deceitful are at a huge disadvantage in an election.

“…a candidate will never claim that his main goal is to acquire political power so that he can enrich himself. He will use pet phrases that hide the true nature of his policies. No matter what policy he is defending, he may claim that the program is “for the children,” or that it will “strengthen the family.” Other possibilities include asserting that the policies will “grow the economy” or “help the environment.” In the current political atmosphere, saying that you are “fighting terrorism” will blind many people to your actual intent. The point is that simple platitudes will fool many people.

Another lie we hear is candidates’ assertion that (even though they would take similar positions when in office) there are major differences between them. Each will claim that their policies will lead to prosperity and security, and that their opponent’s positions will result in impoverishment and ruin. Convincing supporters that there is a major difference between the candidates will make it more likely that they will vote. A candidate needs to continually push his supporters to go to the polls.

A common tactic for gaining support is fear mongering. Fear often trumps logic. Voters can be scared into believing that there will be dire consequences if their candidate loses the election. A candidate can appeal to his followers by claiming that if the other candidate wins the election we will be attacked by terrorists, or our taxes will be raised, or we may lose our jobs, or our children will not get a good education, or we will run out of oil, or we may not get adequate health care, or the environment will be destroyed. While some of these claims may be correct, they are true regardless of which candidate wins the election, because either winning candidate will implement policies that will do us much harm. In making such claims, candidates rely on the fact that voters will not recognize that the candidates largely agree on the major issues regarding government policy.”

This also explains why politics tends to be so negative, and attack ads are used so frequently despite people generally being “against” them. Ultimately, this just leads to divisiveness and conflict.

“Selling your product in the private sector requires a customer to cast an affirmative vote to buy it. Just convincing a potential customer that a rival product should not be purchased does not mean a sale for you.

This is because a sales prospect can choose from among several sellers, or he can choose to not buy at all. But those options are unavailable in an election with only two major parties, where customers are effectively forced to “buy” from one of them.

In an essentially two-party election, convincing an uncommitted voter to vote against the “other guy” by tearing the opponent’s position down is as valuable to a candidate as convincing that voter of positive reasons to vote for him; either brings him a vote closer to a majority. That is not true in the private sector, as only votes for you–purchases–help you.

Similarly, talking a voter committed to a rival to switch to your side is worth two votes, since it adds one to your vote column and subtracts one from your rival’s. But you would only benefit from the single additional purchase/vote for you in the private sector. Further, in an election, finding a way to get someone who would have voted for your rival to not vote at all is as valuable as getting one more voter to vote for you.

This is why negative campaigns that turn voters off from political participation altogether are acceptable in politics, as long as a candidate thinks he will keep more of his competitor’s voters away from the polls than he will his own. In the private sector, such an approach would not be taken, as it would reduce, rather than increase, sales.“

I suspect that most people intuitively understand how messed up this all is, but have resigned that this is simply the way things are.

““Well, that’s the way the game is played,” I sometimes hear. “If you don’t fight dirty, you aren’t going to win, so even the good ones have to fight dirty. An honest candidate couldn’t win.” But if you have accidentally (let us hope) established a political system that excels at elevating psychopaths to positions of power and authority, maybe the answer is not to hope for a flock of honorable people who can impersonate psychopaths long enough to climb into power, but to stop propping up a process that installs psychopaths as your rulers, and, once these psychopaths have been successfully identified by their success in the electoral process, to stop giving them so much power to do evil.” – David Gross

 

The Ethics of Voting

“The state — or, to make the matter more concrete, the government — consists of a gang of men exactly like you and me. They have, taking one with another, no special talent for the business of government; they have only a talent for getting and holding office. Their principal device to that end is to search out groups who pant and pine for something they can’t get and to promise to give it to them. Nine times out of ten that promise is worth nothing. The tenth time is made good by looting A to satisfy B. In other words, government is a broker in pillage, and every election is sort of an advance auction sale of stolen goods.” – H.L. Mencken

You may or may not believe that voting is a decision in the realm of ethics, but there are serious moral considerations involved with the decision to vote or not. Most people do not fully consider the moral ramifications of the act of voting.

It helps to first consider what government is in the first place. A commonly accepted definition offered by famed sociologist Max Weber is that government is an institution that holds a monopoly on the legitimated use of force in a geographic area. While I would dispute the notion that governments’ use of force is in fact morally legitimate, I cannot deny that the force of government at least seems legitimate to most people. What this means is that, while you or I are not allowed to steal from each other, the government can steal from us (“taxation”). And while you and I are not allowed to kidnap people for behaving in ways that we don’t agree with, the government can imprison people for engaging in officially prohibited behaviors.

This is important. When a new law is created, that means a new instance of institutionalized violence has been born. Real people will be stolen from (“fined”, “taxed”) or sent to jail because of it. Even if nobody is directly stolen from or imprisoned, the law creates a threat of violence, which isn’t that much better.

When seen in this light – whether you view the law or government as legitimate or not – the moral implications of voting become somewhat more clear. If you vote for a political candidate and that person then helps to create or enforce laws, then you are in part responsible for the violence that ensues. Stated differently (emphasis mine):

“Voting is an act of consent…When you vote you agree to abide by the rules of the game and accept the outcome. By voting, the voter endorses the governmental system under which he or she lives and those in control of it. Each voter is saying: It is right and proper for some people, acting in the name of the State, to pass laws and to use violence to compel obedience to those laws if they are not obeyed regardless of the morality of those laws.

Note the crucially important clause “regardless of the morality of those laws.” If you vote, and then your government starts aggressive foreign wars, kills people without due process in drone strikes, imprisons nonviolent drug users, etc., then you have consented to and encouraged this needless violence. You are in part morally responsible for acts of violence done by an agent operating on your behalf (government) despite almost certainly never being willing to commit comparable acts of violence directly.

In this way, and many others, politics turns us into worse human beings.

“…politics doesn’t just make the world around us worse. It makes us worse, as well. When we participate in politics—by seeking office, by voting—we take part in a system where we attempt to decide for others while they attempt to decide for us, and where those decisions, whoever makes them, are backed by violence or, at the very least, the threat of violence. It’s a system where the participants say to each other, “I know what’s best for you, you need to do what I say, and if you don’t, these men with guns will threaten you or take your money or lock you in a cage or kill you.” Such a system encourages us to deal with each other in ways beneath the standards of behavior we ought to reach for, and it encourages us to see each other not as friends and companions and fellow seekers of the good life, but as enemies and rivals and obstacles in the way of finding happiness.

Politics inculcates pettiness, short-sightedness, Manichean thinking, tribal feuds, selfishness, and rage. It discourages reason and respect and a basic appreciation of the dignity of others, especially those who seek lives different from our own. It makes us less likely to find virtuous mentors or learn from the virtuous actions of others, because everyone we encounter will themselves suffer from its corrosive influence. Politics encourages extreme reactions instead of careful seeking of the proper, measured response. Politics distances decisions from local knowledge and so limits moral wisdom by making it less likely we will act to bring about virtuous outcomes even when motivated by virtuous impulses.”

The violence of government and the nature of democracy do bring up an interesting question though: can we vote in self-defense? After all, while we don’t normally condone shooting innocents, most people agree that it is okay to shoot someone who is shooting at you. In the same way, can we vote in order to counteract people who are voting “at” us?

Reasonable people can disagree on this question. For specific referendums on political questions, I believe the answer is yes, you can vote in self-defense. Usually, this means voting “no” to prevent some sort of aggression, but in rare circumstances, you may be able to vote “yes” to remove an existing aggression. For instance, I believe that you can vote to decriminalize drugs, prostitution, or other victimless crimes.

But what about elections for politicians? Is it self-defense to vote for “the lesser of two evils”? Libertarian Wendy McElroy tackles this question:

“But a libertarian senator would be a lesser evil, it is argued. He would be a good politician. Nonsense. It is not the particular man that is objectionable; it is the position of power itself. Moreover, a successful libertarian politician would take an oath to uphold massively unjust laws. Either he would be lying then or he would have been lying beforehand when he claimed to be libertarian. In either case, he is another lying politician.”

More theoretically,

“Voters defend themselves against a politician who would be more draconian than the candidate they favor. Instead of firing a bullet in self-defense, they fire a ballot to knock out worst alternatives. The problem is that a defensive bullet can be narrowly aimed at a deserving target. A ballot attacks innocent third parties who must endure the consequences of whichever politician is assisted into a position of unjust power. Innocent people will bear the brunt not only of government actions but also of being robbed to pay for them. Every voter bears moral responsibility for this injustice.”

Voting, therefore, is not analogous to other instances of self-defense. If someone were shooting at you, voting would be like shooting back at them – and all of the other people in the room. Obviously, voting does not have the same moral intensity as shooting people, but it is still immoral.

 

Reasons To Vote, Debunked

Despite the moral and practical reasons not to vote, countless platitudes are trotted out each election season in order to encourage people to vote. Most are just ridiculous appeals to “patriotism”. Some are mentioned so frequently and yet are so patently absurd that they need to be addressed individually.

 “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain.”

This is one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard, and it should only take a moment of thought to understand why. George Carlin does a great job of explaining it at around 2:10 into this video:

I hope that when people use this excuse for voting, they do not quite mean it literally – after all, everyone has a right to complain. That’s freedom of speech. Perhaps they mean that those who participate in some enterprise have a more legitimate grievance when things aren’t going well.

“In his 1851 book Social Statics, the English radical Herbert Spencer neatly describes the rhetorical jujitsu surrounding voting, consent, and complaint, then demolishes the argument. Say a man votes and his candidate wins. The voter is then “understood to have assented” to the acts of his representative. But what if he voted for the other guy? Well, then, the argument goes, “by taking part in such an election, he tacitly agreed to abide by the decision of the majority.” And what if he abstained? “Why then he cannot justly complain…seeing that he made no protest.” Spencer tidily sums up: “Curiously enough, it seems that he gave his consent in whatever way he acted—whether he said yes, whether he said no, or whether he remained neuter! A rather awkward doctrine this.””

By making the argument that not voting waives your right to complain, you essentially argue that nobody has a right to complain in the political realm! If anything, it is far more intuitive to assert that the act of voting forfeits your right to complain in the way that both George Carlin and Herbert Spencer mentioned above – you have provided consent to the system by voting. Don’t get me wrong though, everyone has a right to complain and should complain about politicians at every available opportunity. But the act of voting makes your opinion matter just a little bit less.

“People have sacrificed their lives for your right to vote!”

This is another curious one, considering how no major war was ever fought defending your right to vote. America has even lost some wars, but this hasn’t stopped voters. After Saigon fell in 1975, how have we managed to elect politicians since?

It’s even sillier to make this claim in light of the defeats during the 1930s of the Ludlow Amendment, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have required a national referendum in order to declare war, except when attacked first. Despite massive public support (75% of the population supported it), it was unable to gain traction in Congress and died in committee. I suspect that if enacted, this amendment would have made little difference (for instance, the US would still have entered Vietnam despite the Gulf of Tonkin incident being completely fabricated). That being said, how can we say that people have fought for our right to vote when we don’t even have a right to vote on the wars that they fight in?

And surely, even if people had died defending the right to vote, they would have supported the right to abstain as well. Especially if all of the options for who to support are evil.

 “Vote for the lesser of two evils.”

There is so much that is wrong with this “advice” that it makes me recoil a little bit when people recommend to “vote for the lesser of the two evils.” Imagine you are confronted with the following choice:

  • Endorse murder
  • Endorse rape
  • Abstain from endorsing either.

Clearly, we ought to abstain. But the person who suggests voting for the lesser evil may respond in this absurd, self-righteous way: “Oh, you don’t vote? Well I guess that means you would let murder win! I, on the other hand, support rape, the lesser of the two evils!”

When you vote for any evil, you are in part responsible for the evils that are then committed on your behalf. And if being evil doesn’t stop politicians from being elected by voters, then the quality of candidates will continuously degrade as they realize that they can get away with whatever they want.

I love the way Frank Chodorov frames this in his book Out of Step.

“Particularly was I impressed by the candidates’ evaluations of one another. Neither one had a good word to say of his opponent, and each was of the opinion that the other fellow was not the kind of man to whom the affairs of state could be safely entrusted. Now, I reasoned, these fellows were politicians, and as such should be better acquainted with their respective qualifications for office than I could be; it was their business to know such things. Therefore, I had to believe candidate A when he said that candidate B was untrustworthy, as I had to believe candidate B when he said the same of candidate A. In the circumstances, how could I vote for either? Judging by their respective evaluations of each other’s qualifications I was bound to make the wrong decision whichever way I voted.

Admitting that there is no difference in the political philosophies of the contending candidates, should I not choose the “lesser of two evils?” But, which of the two qualifies? If my man prevails, then those who voted against him are loaded down with the “greater evil,” while if my man loses, then it is they who have chosen the “lesser evil.” Voting for the “lesser of two evils” makes no sense, for it is only a matter of opinion as to which is the lesser. Usually, such a decision is based on prejudice, not on principle. Besides, why should I compromise with evil?

If I were to vote for the “lesser of two evils” I would in fact be subscribing to whatever that “evil” does in office. He could claim a mandate for his official acts, a sort of blank check, with my signature, into which he could enter his performances. My vote is indeed a moral sanction, upon which the official depends for support of his acts, and without which he would feel rather naked.”

Again, voting has ethical ramifications. When you vote for a candidate, you are not voting for a reduction of evil, but rather a continuation of it.

“Vote! It’s your civic duty.”

To be honest, I’m not exactly sure what this means. I suspect that most people who use this platitude do not understand what they are saying either. Presumably, we must vote in order to be considered a “good citizen.” Unfortunately, elevating the importance of elections in this way tends to encourage people to conceive of these elected offices as ones that ought to hold great power.

“Those who exaggerate the importance of elections (usually as part of their campaign pitch about how important it is for you to vote, and in a particular way) also tend to exaggerate the power of office-holders and the abilities (and propensities) of the politicians who hold office. This has the unfortunate effect of getting people accustomed to the idea that these offices ought to have great powers concentrated in them, and ought to be looked on to solve our problems, create miracles, provide for our needs, and so forth. This in turn makes the psychopaths in power more dangerous.”

It not only makes those in power more dangerous, but it also makes your fellow citizens into dangerous enemies to be vanquished, rather than merely individuals with whom we have a difference of opinion. Politics and voting are not your “civic duty” – rather, they are an institutionalized mechanism which causes social chaos and divisiveness among good people.

“It’s not difficult to understand why politics plays such a central role in our lives: political decision-making increasingly determines so much of what we do and how we’re permitted to do it. We vote on what our children will learn in school and how they will be taught. We vote on what people are allowed to drink, smoke, and eat. We vote on which people are allowed to marry those they love. In such crucial life decisions, as well as countless others, we have given politics a substantial impact on the direction of our lives. No wonder it’s so important to so many people.

Politics takes a continuum of possibilities and turns it into a small group of discrete outcomes, often just two. Either this guy gets elected, or that guy does. Either a given policy becomes law or it doesn’t. As a result, political choices matter greatly to those most affected. An electoral loss is the loss of a possibility. These black and white choices mean politics will often manufacture problems that previously didn’t exist, such as the “problem” of whether we—as a community, as a nation—will teach children creation or evolution.”

These disagreements are a waste of time, and could easily be resolved by allowing voluntary communities to determine their own rules on such matters. Instead, these disagreements are elevated to a battle between Good and Evil, Virtue and Vice.

“What’s troubling about politics from a moral perspective is not that it encourages group mentalities, for a great many other activities encourage similar group thinking without raising significant moral concerns. Rather, it’s the way politics interacts with group mentalities, creating negative feedback leading directly to viciousness. Politics, all too often, makes us hate each other. Politics encourages us to behave toward each other in ways that, were they to occur in a different context, would repel us. No truly virtuous person ought to behave as politics so often makes us act.”

So no, voting is not your civic duty. No reasonable definition of a civic duty can require us to engage in behaviors that create a social war of all against all. If anything, you have a duty to abstain from voting in order to avoid fostering additional conflict.

“Voting is a way to speak your mind and let your voice be heard!”

“Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” – H.L. Mencken

“When a candidate for public office faces the voters he does not face men of sense; he faces a mob of men whose chief distinguishing mark is the fact that they are quite incapable of weighing ideas, or even of comprehending any save the most elemental — men whose whole thinking is done in terms of emotion, and whose dominant emotion is dread of what they cannot understand. So confronted, the candidate must either bark with the pack or be lost… All the odds are on the man who is, intrinsically, the most devious and mediocre — the man who can most adeptly disperse the notion that his mind is a virtual vacuum. The Presidency tends, year by year, to go to such men. As democracy is perfected, the office represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” – H.L. Mencken

Or, a closely related slogan: “vote for change!” For some reason, this last one seems to work best on the young and ignorant; I recall the 2008 election where the majority of this demographic almost religiously got in line behind Obama, leading to creepy things like this song, “I believe in Barack Obama” by the Hush Sound.

Despite Obama doing things just about the same as Bush did, this same demographic has overwhelmingly been supporting Bernie Sanders with the same vigor. I suspect that if Bernie is elected, we’ll have about the same amount of “change”.

But by far the “best” variant on the “let your voice be heard!” argument is one that I read on this handout from an organization called the Partnership for Safety and Justice (emphasis in original):

“Last but not least, because it gives you credibility! Often times, we voice our concerns to elected officials, but if we aren’t voting, our concerns may not matter at all to them. Voting can actually give you the credibility to make your concerns a top priority for legislators.”

Read that again. Apparently, your vote captures your opinions about how the country should be run and the politicians are listening to you! Oh, come on now. As discussed above, your vote is meaningless, your concerns actually don’t matter at all to politicians – not when there are special interests to please.

In the market, there are ways to “let your voice be heard” that do not involve forcing your opinions on others. Voting can even be a decent method for this, such as members of an organization voting on proposed rules, or a group of friends voting on where to go for dinner. Voting in political elections is nothing like this.

“So what do I mean by “politics?” I mean the act of deciding for others via the mechanisms of the state. Choosing for others, and then getting government to make them go along with our choices. Granted, when we make decisions via those mechanisms—by, say, voting—we expect the outcome will apply to ourselves and not just to other people. But it’s misleading to say we are “deciding for ourselves” when we vote, because if what we vote for is something we would’ve done anyway, we could always choose to do it independent of a vote. If I think contributing money to a cause is worthwhile, I don’t need the state to make me do it. I can cut a check any time. By voting, by shifting from the personal and voluntary to the political and compulsory, we call for the application of force. A vote is the majority compelling the minority to comply with the majority’s wishes. Thus politics is a method of decision-making where choices are moved from individuals choosing privately to groups choosing collectively, and where the decisions those groups arrive at are backed by law and regulation. It’s this last aspect—the backing by the force of law—that distinguishes politics from, say, five friends voting on where to go for dinner.”

Contrary to what many say, voting is not a way to voice your opinion. It is a way to legitimize the rule of others. Two brief stories will help drive this point home. First, consider Wendy McElroy’s recitation of a parable by Larken Rose:

“The anarchist Larken Rose presented a realistic view of slaves voting in his parable, “The Jones Plantation.” Slave-owner Jones laments to slave-owner Smith about risking the disobedience of his slaves by pressing them to work harder. Smith offers a solution. He gathers the slaves and declares them to be free men who will work for themselves henceforth. He advises them to stay on the plantation, however, as slave-owning neighbors would recapture them immediately. He adds: Since only Jones has experience in running a plantation, Jones will remain as administrator. The ‘former’ slaves go to work in the cotton fields with the renewed vigor of free men.

The next day, a handful of ‘former’ slaves become supervisors to ensure the rules are followed in order “to benefit all equally.” The rest work with renewed vigor.

On day three, a man named Samuel is whipped for holding back some cotton for his own use; this is called “stealing” from everyone else. When Samuel complains there is no difference between freedom and slavery as long as Jones makes all the rules, Smith gathers the ‘former’ slaves and tells them there will be an election every three months in which either Jones or Jones’s cousin will be voted administrator; the ‘former’ slaves are in control. Moreover, everyone now has two minutes in which to speak out at each gathering.

Eventually, Samuel uses his two minutes to say that nothing has changed. Jones and his cousin are exactly the same; they take the wealth and leave next to nothing for the ‘former’ slaves. The other workers turn against Samuel.

Rose presents some of the key elements of voting, especially in the context of slavery. Voting provides an illusion of freedom, a delusion of control to which the slaves cling. It turns them against each other both as supervisors and as workers who are either pro-Jones or pro-cousin. It turns the slaves against the one man who speaks the truth in protest. And nothing, nothing about the conditions of slavery change…except the words describing it. Voting is called “freedom,” “democracy,” “civic responsibility,” or “self-defense.”“

Voting gives the masses a sense as though they have some control or freedom, but this is just an illusion.

A similar parable is Robert Nozick’s “Tale of the Slave”, from his award winning book Anarchy, State, and Utopia.

“Consider the following sequence of cases… and imagine it is about you.

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules (not fulfilling the work quota, and so on). He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on nice grounds, taking into account their needs, merit, and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slaves to go off and work in the city (or anywhere they wish) for wages. He requires only that they send back to him three-sevenths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if some emergency threatens his land; and to raise or lower the three-sevenths amount required to be turned over to him. He further retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return, for example, mountain climbing, cigarette smoking.
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves, except you, to vote, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussions of the 10,000, to try to persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked; they commit themselves to this procedure. After the discussion you mark your vote on a slip of paper, and they go off and vote. In the eventuality that they divide evenly on some issue, 5,000 for and 5,000 against, they look at your ballot and count it in. This has never yet happened; they have never yet had occasion to open your ballot. (A single master also might commit himself to letting his slave decide any issue concerning him about which he, the master, was absolutely indifferent.)
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied your vote carries the issue. Otherwise it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

The question is: which transition from case 1 to case 9 made it no longer the tale of a slave?”

 

Conclusion

I don’t expect this essay to convince many. Those who believe that one “should” vote are unlikely to be pursuaded by reason. But hopefully I have at least planted the seed of understanding in some readers, such that one day, upon becoming fed up with the political process, they will awaken to the idea that perhaps participating in this charade is a waste of time.

The politicians and the democratic process that legitimizes their power will chug along just fine without you. As Frank Chodorov remarked,

“All in all, I see no good reason for voting and have refrained from doing so for about a half-century. During that time, my more conscientious compatriots (including, principally, the professional politicians and their ward heelers) have conveniently provided me with presidents and with governments, all of whom have run the political affairs of the country as they should be run — that is, for the benefit of the politicians.

Why should any self-respecting citizen endorse an institution grounded on thievery? For that is what one does when one votes. If it be argued that we must let bygones be bygones, see what can be done toward cleaning up the institution of the State so that it might be useful in the maintenance of orderly existence, the answer is that it cannot be done; you cannot clean up a brothel and yet leave the business intact. We have been voting for one “good government” after another, and what have we got?”

For those of you who vote despite this, I agree with George Carlin’s sarcastic quip: I’m sure that the country will improve dramatically after your guy gets elected.

Environmental Issues: An Anarchist Perspective, Part 2 – Global Warming

This piece is continued from part 1, which argued that the environment would be better protected in an anarchist society due to respect for private property rights. Read that post here.

 

global warming did it

By far, the most talked about environmental issue of our time is climate change, or global warming. It is critically important to separate the political and the scientific elements of the global warming hypothesis. Unfortunately, almost nobody does this. Instead, the typical narrative is something along the lines of:

  1. Anthropogenic (man-made) global warming (AGW) is happening due to carbon emissions, and the science is settled.
  2. Therefore, the government must act to curb carbon emissions, thereby saving humanity.

That’s roughly what the majority of leftists think. Here’s what most conservatives would say:

  1. AGW is false.
  2. Therefore, government need not do anything.

In other words, the political debate is mostly about the science – is the AGW hypothesis true or not? Consider that none of the politicians who actually have some sway over environmental policy are experts in climate science. Consider that very few of the random people who claim that “the science is settled” know even the basics of how science works. On what basis are these people determining that AGW is true or false?

The answer, of course, is that there is no basis. Conservatives think the science has a different conclusion than liberals do. This is a huge red flag; science ought to be non-partisan.

But here’s the rub: for both sides of the debate, if AGW is true, this automatically implies that government action is necessary to mitigate its effects. This is logically fallacious. There are many reasons why government action would not be appropriate in this situation, which I will detail in the remainder of this post.

I am not a climate science expert myself. However, I am a nerd, and have done significant amounts of research on the subject. I will remain agnostic on the science of AGW – it’s certainly possible and plausible, but it is not certain. My argument for anarchy being superior for the environment does not hinge on any scientific arguments. However, since the majority of people who I would be attempting to persuade with this post are most likely those who believe AGW to be true, I will present some of the arguments for why scientists do not believe humans are causing catastrophic global warming.

The climate narrative presented above is very far from complete. Liberals say AGW is true, so government must act. But here are a few things that must be demonstrated in order to complete this narrative, most of which have yet to be shown conclusively:

  • It must be proven that global warming is occurring.
  • This global warming must be caused by human action.
  • If AGW is true, it must still be shown that this will definitively lead to particular changes in climate over the next 100 years or so.
  • These changes must be drastic rather than “lukewarm.” In other words, the climate must change to a degree that matters in a practical rather than just academic sense.
  • It must be shown that global warming is a bad thing. In other words, the effects of global warming must on the whole be destructive rather than helpful. The economic costs of this harm would then need to be estimated with some precision.
  • It must be shown that it is not too late to stop the destructive global warming; human action must be capable of slowing or stopping it. The cost of stopping/slowing global warming must be estimated with some precision.
  • It must be shown that the costs of attempting to stop or slow global warming are less than that of trying to adapt to it.
  • It must be shown that the (cost-effective) method used to attempt to stop or slow global warming is feasible and politically workable. In other words, it must be possible to actually implement whatever reforms would be necessary.

As you can see, the mainstream narrative is sorely lacking. Each of the above points needs to be studied and verified before drawing the conclusion that government action is necessary. For the remainder of this article, I will attempt to pick these points apart in order to demonstrate that AGW is not a sufficient reason to justify government action.

 

The Alleged “Consensus”

The first thing that nearly any layperson will say about anthropogenic global warming is that “the science is settled.” It boggles my mind that even scientists who ostensibly are familiar with the scientific method can say this. What matters in science isn’t how many people believe a theory, but rather how successful that theory is in predicting real life events. If that weren’t the relevant metric, then the Earth would still be flat and the sun would still be revolving around us.

The idea of a scientific theory being “settled” is anathema to the scientific process itself. In any empirical science, climate science included, our knowledge is always just a theory subject to being disproven. Some theories are far more established than others; for instance, the theory of gravitation is pretty damn well-established. But even gravity has its challengers (see this and this). AGW is a theory that is only a few decades old, and runs counter to climate science’s global cooling orthodoxy during the 1970s. To claim that the science is “settled” is to have incredible hubris, particularly given the numerous scientists who would argue otherwise.

I have no doubt that many climate scientists today support the idea that humans are causing global warming. A commonly cited study claims that 97% of scientists agree that humans are causing global warming, but the study says no such thing. However, peer-reviewed research has shown that the majority of geoscientists and meteorologists do not think that there is catastrophic, man-made global warming. The Petition Project also has the signatures of nearly 32,000 scientists in relevant disciplines who disagree with the hypothesis. You can find here over 1300 peer-reviewed papers that are skeptical of AGW. Even the founder of Greenpeace, the radical environmental organization, thinks that carbon dioxide emissions are more likely to save humanity than to doom it!

Richard Lindzen, former MIT professor and contributor to IPCC reports on climate change, is one of the more prominent climate skeptics. He questions the odd attempts to characterize climate scientists as universally agreeing on AGW.

“Why, one might wonder, is there such insistence on scientific unanimity on the warming issue? After all, unanimity in science is virtually nonexistent on far less complex matters. Unanimity on an issue as uncertain as “global warming” would be surprising and suspicious. Moreover, why are the opinions of scientists sought regardless of their field of expertise? Biologists and physicians are rarely asked to endorse some theory in high energy physics. Apparently, when one comes to “global warming,” any scientist’s agreement will do.

…The answer almost certainly lies in politics. For example, at the Earth Summit in Rio, attempts were made to negotiate international carbon emission agreements. The potential costs and implications of such agreements are likely to be profound for both industrial and developing countries. Under the circumstances, it would be very risky for politicians to undertake such agreements unless scientists “insisted.””

It is political realities that make the supposed “consensus” so critically important. Few things would give the government such power and supposed “legitimacy” as saving the world from destruction by controlling nearly all human behavior. And then there is the big money involved.

“U.S. companies and interest groups involved with climate change hired 2,430 lobbyists just last year, up 300% from five years ago. Fifty of the biggest U.S. electric utilities…spent $51 million on lobbyists in just six months.”

Climate skeptics are routinely vilified for not disclosing their funding sources, but climate alarmists seem to be held to a different standard. The reality is that there is a lot of money on both sides corrupting the narrative, making it difficult to know what to believe.

But for most people, it does seem that the choice of what to believe is primarily partisan and has nothing to do with science. That might be why people seem to care so much about this issue (some even advocate that climate skeptics be thrown in jail). As Lindzen said, “Rarely has such meager science provoked such an outpouring of popularization by individuals who do not understand the subject in the first place.”

The supposed consensus is purely a political concept, not a reality.

 

There’s Reason To Be Skeptical

Despite what many ignorant people will tell you, there are many reasons why one might be skeptical of the idea of man-made global warming. Unfortunately, I cannot speak to the climate science itself, but there are enough questions about the theory to at least make it worth, well, questioning. More importantly, there are theoretical reasons why one ought to be skeptical of the claims made by AGW supporters.

Scientists generally agree that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere directly increases the temperature. Most of the climate models’ predicted increase in temperature is due to feedback mechanisms. Those who believe in AGW think that there is a positive feedback loop that will exacerbate that temperature increase. But there are also some reasons to believe that there would be negative feedback that might dampen the effects of global warming. There are thousands of feedback mechanisms, most that are not well-understood or even known, each with its own positive or negative effects. The only way to check is through gathering data and testing the hypothesis – and climate change models have almost universally overstated the effects of global warming thus far.

For a more thorough defense of global warming skepticism, I suggest reading this paper by William Irwin and Brian Williams. Among other arguments, they bring up the fact that

  • The increase in global temperature from 1980 to 2010 is similar to that of the increase in 1910-1940, which is typically not attributed to human activity. And from 1940-1980, temperatures did not increase the way AGW climate models would predict.
  • Recent changes in global temperature are insignificant compared to historical changes that were not caused by humans, such as the Medieval Warm Period and the Little Ice Age. In fact, we’re just coming out of the Little Ice Age now, which could explain the warming.

They also call attention to what appears to be a flaw in climate alarmists’ reasoning.

“Everyone acknowledges that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Skeptics, however, believe that human contributions will likely not result in catastrophic warming, since combinations of other forces play a larger role in heating and cooling the planet. When proponents of AGW theory assert that the warming may be occurring beneath the cooling, this amounts to admitting the skeptic‘s position that there are other, more powerful factors that affect temperature and control the climate. It is inconsistent to say that anthropogenic infusions of CO2 will control the climate and cause catastrophic warming one minute and the next minute to say that the influence of this same CO2 is masked beneath larger factors.”

Despite far lower CO2 levels, it was significantly hotter during the Middle Ages than it is today. And there are historical periods with vastly higher CO2 levels where the Earth was covered in glaciers.

temperature fluctuations

For those of you interested in an overview of the scientific arguments, I suggest spending some time reading this article, written by David Siegel, an environmentalist who formerly believed in AGW but has since then done his research and changed his mind. I particularly suggest you read this if you are a liberal or consider yourself an environmentalist, because this is the perspective that he is coming from.

It’s certainly possible that supporters of AGW have answers to each of these. Again, I’m not a scientist and I don’t want to debate the merits of the specific scientific positions of each side. My point here is to show that there are reasons why the claims of AGW supporters shouldn’t be accepted uncritically. More importantly, there are structural and institutional reasons to question the climate orthodoxy, which will be covered in the next sections.

Chaos Theory, Or Why We Can’t Trust Climate Models

“In climate research and modelling, we should recognize that we are dealing with a coupled non-linear chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible.” – IPCC 2007

What makes a scientific theory a theory? There are three conditions, and AGW fails them:

Is the theory testable? Can we formulate hypotheses grounded in the theory, then figure out a way to test the hypotheses?

Is the theory falsifiable? Is there evidence that could call the theory into question? What evidence would exclude the theory?

Does the theory unify? Does the theory unify seemingly unrelated phenomena under a single explanatory framework?”

Many natural phenomena are not testable, so I will not consider this as a strike against AGW. However, AGW is not falsifiable; when the evidence doesn’t match the conclusion, climate alarmists can simply say that the time scale of the investigation is not wide enough. This is telling, because the predictions of AGW supporters and their climate models are routinely wrong and overstate the observed warming effects. AGW purportedly explains all sorts of environmental phenomena in a unifying way – except that again, most of these phenomena (ocean acidification, melting ice) either have not occurred as predicted, or there are alternative explanations that are also plausible.

The primary reason why these models are failing at prediction and should be dismissed is due to the nonlinear dynamics of climate systems. Nonlinear dynamics, or “complex” or “chaotic” systems show sensitive dependence on initial conditions. This means that the data used as inputs in any model, if even trivially different from the “real” values, could potentially lead to huge changes in the behavior that would be predicted by the model. Given the issues with data collection in climate science (placement of temperature sensors, changes in the microenvironment near the sensors, deliberate fudging of data), this is a huge limitation.

But that assumes that we know the appropriate model for the climate in the first place. If we did know the complete model, then in order to accurately predict future climate, we would need to be able to measure present conditions of every variable precisely. Rounding off a single piece of data could result in wildly different predictions. We don’t have the means to precisely measure our environment, and we most likely never will.

The reality is that we don’t know the correct model of the climate. These models are developed by looking at real-world (imprecise) data, and don’t reflect all determinants of the climate. In other words, we are using imprecise data to formulate imprecise models to feed that imprecise data back into. Mathematical modeling is certainly valuable as a tool for comprehending the climate, but it is simply unsuitable for making predictions, which is exactly what the debate over what to do about climate change is about!

Policy makers and the more wonky among us routinely misuse mathematics this way when dealing with chaotic systems, as Ralph Abraham documents in a fascinating paper. Even qualitative predictions are unreliable, making climate forecasts practically useless.

“The interpretation of nearly all dynamical models has to be carried out cautiously due to the likelihood of structural instability. This means that the behavior of the model might change drastically due to a small change in the model. It would be nice if a given model could be simply tested for structural stability, but there is no such test. Thus, the goal of modeling is pedagogic, not predictive in the long term. For example, global climate models cannot tell us how much sea level will rise, nor how long a given rise will take, and not even, if the current rise will be followed by an ice age, or a permanent interglacial climate.

“In summary, we have this conundrum: yes, climate is warming, as it periodically does. Even if this warming tops all prior warmings due to human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, we still cannot predict, on the basis of a mathematical model, whether the climate will stay warm, or rather, cool down again in a new ice age, as it has eight times in the past 650,000 years.”

I don’t doubt that the models that climate scientists have come up with have valuable lessons to teach us. These models can help clarify our understanding of how the climate works and to formulate more hypotheses about it. But there are very real uncertainties regarding these models, which the more honest among AGW supporters will acknowledge. For a look at some of these uncertainties from someone sympathetic to AGW, see this paper. An even better paper written by an AGW supporter describing sources of uncertainty concludes:

“The severity of model inadequacy suggests a more qualitative interpretation than one might wish. In particular, it is not at all clear that weighted combinations of results from today’s complex climate models based on their ability to reproduce a set of observations can provide decision-relevant probabilities. Furthermore, they are liable to be misleading because the conclusions, usually in the form of PDFs [probability density functions], imply much greater confidence than the underlying assumptions justify; we know our current models are inadequate and we know many of the reasons why they are so.”

Even if the weight of the evidence from modeling the climate suggests that AGW is true, this doesn’t imply anything about our ability to predict how much warming we will see or what its effects will be. This means that it is impossible for governments to rationally determine how to respond to climate change.

Politics And Science Don’t Mix

An additional reason to be skeptical of AGW is the institutional framework that much of the relevant research is being conducted in and influenced by. This is largely due to the influence of government funding, but the structure of our scientific institutions is also a factor. The most notorious example (dubbed “Climategate”) can be read about here and here, where pro-AGW insiders at the IPCC were caught manipulating the scientific process to suit their agenda.

Richard Lindzen discusses numerous reasons why climate science today is ill-suited to answer scientific questions. Here are a few:

  • Prominent members of the environmentalist movement hold important positions within scientific administration organizations, despite oftentimes not being scientists themselves.
  • Small executive councils speak on behalf of thousands of scientists who don’t necessarily agree. These councils control access to funding and can sanction those who don’t get in line behind the official opinion.
  • Global warming has become a core issue of political correctness. Questioning the orthodoxy often leads to ostracism.
  • Data is regularly manipulated in order to more adequately fit with models that support the AGW hypothesis. For examples, see this and this.
  • To get published or supported in peer review, many papers are adding irrelevant comments in support of AGW, despite being unrelated to the point of the paper.
  • Climate skeptics are being depicted as having retracted their beliefs on their deathbeds in obituaries, which is a disturbing development.

Environmentalists will manipulate the public into thinking that their information is scientific, even though they are just activist organizations (I wouldn’t be surprised if this is true for some skeptical organizations as well).

“For example, the environmental movement often cloaks its propaganda in scientific garb without the aid of any existing scientific body. One technique is simply to give a name to an environmental advocacy group that will suggest to the public, that the group is a scientific rather than an environmental group. Two obvious examples are the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Woods Hole Research Center. The former conducted an intensive advertising campaign about ten years ago in which they urged people to look to them for authoritative information on global warming.”

Papers that are skeptical of AGW are routinely attacked in unfair ways, creating a double-standard for scientists studying climate change.

“Even in the present unhealthy state of science, papers that are overtly contradictory to the catastrophic warming scenario do get published (though not without generally being substantially watered down during the review process). They are then often subject to the remarkable process of ‘discreditation.’ This process consists in immediately soliciting attack papers that are published quickly as independent articles rather than comments. The importance of this procedure is as follows. Normally such criticisms are published as comments, and the original authors are able to respond immediately following the comment. Both the comment and reply are published together. By publishing the criticism as an article, the reply is published as a correspondence, which is usually delayed by several months, and the critics are permitted an immediate reply. As a rule, the reply of the original authors is ignored in subsequent references.”

In addition, the most highly respected organizations discussing climate change are political bodies rather than scientific ones. These political organizations have their own agendas.

“The charge to the IPCC is not simply to summarize, but rather to provide the science with which to support the negotiating process whose aim is to control greenhouse gas levels. This is a political rather than a scientific charge. That said, the participating scientists have some leeway in which to reasonably describe matters, since the primary document that the public associates with the IPCC is not the extensive report prepared by the scientists, but rather the Summary for Policymakers which is written by an assemblage of representative from governments and NGO’s, with only a small scientific representation.”

Another way in which the scientific deck is stacked in favor of AGW is the influence of government funding. State-funded scientific research tends to corrupt the conclusions. A working paper by David Wojick and Patrick Michaels describes ways in which this corruption might occur. Government funding introduces biases (commercial funding does as well, of course) which can alter results, even without any dishonesty being involved. These biases are then amplified when, for instance, the hype present in a press release is then further exaggerated in the media, often without including the qualifications that the researchers included.

“1) An agency receives biased funding for research from Congress. 2) They issue multiple biased Requests for Proposals (RFPs), and 3) multiple biased projects are selected for each RFP. 4) Many projects produce multiple biased articles, press releases, etc, 5) many of these articles and releases generate multiple biased news stories, and 6) the resulting amplified bias is communicated to the public on a large scale.”

But what are these biases in the first place? Funding for scientific projects is often directed towards research related to an existing policy or developing a specific new policy. In other words, the mission of the funding agency may result in asking the wrong questions.

“In the climate debate an example of this sort of bias might be the heavy funding of carbon cycle research compared to sun-climate research in the USGCRP budget. The government’s policy on climate change is based on the hypothesis that carbon dioxide emissions are the principal driver. That climate change is driven by solar activity is a competing hypothesis.”

Biased peer review of research proposals may lead to rejecting research that doesn’t fit with the reigning paradigm. Similarly, there could be biases in the actual peer review of the articles themselves. Funding agencies may choose reviewers who will be more inclined to favor the government’s interest.

There may be biased preferences for models that support the reigning paradigm or have biased assumptions. Meta-analyses can be biased. For instance, the selection of articles used by the IPCC in their meta-analyses is based on political goals rather than scientific objectivity. Bias can also be introduced from the failure to report negative results.

“Journals are not normally federally funded, but they may well be involved in or sensitive to Federal policies. This is likely to be especially true in the applied fields. An example might be renewable energy research. There is also the case of open access or hybrid journals where author publication charges are paid out of Federal grants.”

Data can be manipulated to bias results (and as mentioned earlier, it often has been). Climate data is routinely adjusted, and seems to be regularly adjusted in ways that support the AGW hypothesis. Similarly, there can be a tendency to refuse to share data with potential critics.

“There are several prominent examples of researchers refusing to share important climate data with skeptics. One of the best known involves the University of East Anglia.”

Federal funding can lead to false confidence in tentative findings.

“A more recent example might be the numerous studies (or reports thereof) which claim to have explained why there has been no statistically significant warming for over two decades. This is sometimes called the problem of the pause, or the hiatus in global warming. Various inconsistent explanations have been offered, so it is likely that most are incorrect, yet each is often presented as though it solved the problem.”

Finally, the importance of findings by researchers and funding agencies is often exaggerated.

“Researcher and agency press releases sometimes claim that results are very important when they merely suggest an important possibility, which may actually turn out to be a dead end. Such claims may tend to bias the science in question, including future funding decisions.”

None of this is to disprove AGW – however, it should be clear by now that there is reason to be critical of the hypothesis. At the very least, we should not just assume that AGW is the case and that “the science is settled.” Some degree of skepticism is warranted.

 

Would Proposed Policies Even Work?

Let’s assume AGW is completely true, and that there will be a significant temperature rise in the next century or so. Most people at this point would say that clearly the government must “do something” to stop global warming. But why should this be the case?

Some scientists think that no matter what we do, it’s too late to stop global warming. Oddly enough, some of them continue to advocate for governments to act; clearly, these people are not economists. If it is too late to stop global warming, then why would we want to destroy industrial civilization? If we’re all going to die fiery deaths anyways, I think I can speak for most people when I say that it would be preferable to do so with the amenities that western civilization has provided.

But let’s say we could stop global warming. Would we even want to? Perhaps rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere might even be beneficial. In fact, global warming has thus far been beneficial to mankind, and it likely will continue to be. Research by Richard Tol, reported on by respected science writer Matt Ridley, suggests that the benefits of global warming thus far have amounted to about 1.4% of global economic output, and that this reflects the scientific consensus of today.

“There are many likely effects of climate change: positive and negative, economic and ecological, humanitarian and financial. And if you aggregate them all, the overall effect is positive today — and likely to stay positive until around 2080. That was the conclusion of Professor Richard Tol of Sussex University after he reviewed 14 different studies of the effects of future climate trends.

To be precise, Prof Tol calculated that climate change would be beneficial up to 2.2˚C of warming from 2009 (when he wrote his paper). This means approximately 3˚C from pre-industrial levels, since about 0.8˚C of warming has happened in the last 150 years. The latest estimates of climate sensitivity suggest that such temperatures may not be reached till the end of the century — if at all. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose reports define the consensis [sic], is sticking to older assumptions, however, which would mean net benefits till about 2080. Either way, it’s a long way off.“

The benefits of global warming include lower energy costs, better agricultural yields, increased biodiversity, fewer droughts, and fewer winter deaths. Research by Indur Goklany corroborates this (it’s a very interesting paper, and I strongly recommend reading it if you are so inclined).

“Carbon dioxide levels have risen inexorably since the 1700s. Yet despite this, climate sensitive indicators of human and environmental wellbeing that carbon dioxide affects directly, such as crop yields, food production, prevalence of hunger, access to cleaner water and biological productivity, and those that it affects indirectly, such as living standards and life expectancies, have improved virtually everywhere. In most areas they have never been higher, nor do they show any sustained signs of reversing.”

To summarize his perspective,

“…the benefits of increasing carbon dioxide have been underestimated, that the risks from increasing carbon dioxide have been overestimated, and that carbon dioxide emission reduction policies will start to reduce the benefits of higher carbon dioxide concentrations immediately, without reducing climate change and its associated costs until much later, if at all.”

If anything, global warming ought to be welcomed, according to the bulk of the research out there.

But let’s say even that is wrong, and that the alarmist position is correct. Let’s assume that AGW is real, it will have negative consequences, and it is theoretically possible to stop it. Shouldn’t government act to stop global warming under these conditions?

Not necessarily. For that to make sense, the benefits of government action must outweigh the costs, and this is an analysis that most environmentalists completely ignore.

William Nordhaus, a leading researcher on the carbon tax, has calculated that the benefits of implementing this tax would outweigh the costs…under certain assumed conditions which are very unlikely to hold. There are reasons to believe that future greenhouse gas concentrations may be overstated, climate sensitivity to GHGs are overstated, and economic damages from a given temperature increase may be overstated. But even Nordhaus calculated that certain climate plans, like that proposed by Al Gore, would have a net loss of over $20 trillion. Yeah, let’s not do that.

Robert Murphy, Patrick Michaels, and Paul Knappenberger make a definitive case against a carbon tax from an economic perspective. Carbon taxes that have been implemented in Australia and British Columbia have not been nearly as successful as proponents claim, both in terms of emission reductions and economic harms.

“Ironically, the latest U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicated that a popular climate target cannot be justified in cost/benefit terms. Specifically, in the middle‐of‐the‐road scenarios, the economic compliance costs of limiting global warming to 2 degrees Celsius would likely be higher than the climate change damages that such a cap would avoid. In other words, the U.N.’s own report shows that aggressive emission cutbacks—even if achieved through an “efficient” carbon tax—would probably cause more harm than good.”

Again, the reason the carbon tax doesn’t work out economically is because of many of the assumptions built into the climate models. For instance, choice of parameter values in these models has a huge impact on the results. Reasonable people can disagree on what these parameters should be. For instance, and perhaps most importantly, the discount rate is an economic variable that changes the social cost of carbon (SCC) dramatically.

“To see just how significant some of the apparently innocuous assumptions can be, consider the latest estimates of the SCC put out by the Obama Administration’s Working Group. For an additional ton of emissions in the year 2015, using a 3% discount rate the SCC is $36. However, if we use a 2.5% discount rate, the SCC rises to $56/ton, while a 5% discount rate yields a SCC of only $11/ton. Note that this huge swing in the estimated “social cost” of carbon relies on the same underlying models of climate change and economic growth; the only change is in adjustments of the discount rate which are quite plausible. Indeed, the Administration’s Working Group came under harsh criticism because it ignored explicit OMB guidance to include a 7 percent discount rate in all federal cost/benefit analyses, presumably because the SCC at such a discount rate would be close to $0/ton or even negative.”

And, as argued by Graham Dawson,

“…a carbon tax will be effective only if it is internationally harmonised. Otherwise, firms in high-tax countries will be placed at a competitive disadvantage and might relocate to low-tax countries. This would reduce the effectiveness of the tax, which is intended to reduce carbon intensive activities rather than redistribute them across countries. Unfortunately, the four Scandinavian countries that introduced carbon taxes in the early 1990s ‘have not been able to harmonise their approaches— demonstrating the difficulty of co-ordinating tax policy internationally, even among a relatively small group of countries’. The US policy stance is not sympathetic to taxes, while the developing countries are unwilling to take action because they see climate change as the product of carbon emitted by industrial countries in the past. Harmonising a carbon tax on a global scale is achievable only in the very long term, if at all.”

In other words, not only is a carbon tax ineffective and destructive, but it is politically unfeasible as well. To see just how useless a carbon tax would be, use this calculator to see how minuscule an effect that a massive cut in carbon dioxide output would have on global temperature.

An alternative to a carbon tax is the so-called “cap and trade” scheme, where an emissions target is chosen and then a market in tradeable “pollution rights” is created. But this scheme would be highly regressive, harming the poor for the benefits of special interests.

“The combination of baseline and credit approach and free distribution of permits can have unwelcome effects on the distribution of income. For example, firms such as electricity generators may increase prices in anticipation of receiving insufficient permits and having to purchase extra permits at the predicted market price. If the quota is sufficient to cover actual emissions for most firms, the carbon price (the price of permits) will collapse and the funds raised for purchasing will become windfall profits. The distributive effects on society as a whole are likely to be regressive, with money being redistributed from electricity customers, many of whom will be on low incomes, to shareholders who may be expected on average to be more affluent.”

And, as with the carbon tax, this kind of scheme would require global collaboration on a scale that is inconceivable.

Finally, neither of these proposed policies mean much if the wrong climate “goal” is chosen by policy makers. There can be enormous net costs if policies reduce emissions by too much or too little. If the goal is too drastic, the world will be made massively poorer unnecessarily. If the goal isn’t drastic enough, the economy will be weakened and we might still see runaway global warming and the alleged catastrophes that would result.

There’s got to be a better solution.

 

The Solution To Global Warming

“Although climate change can lead to a deterioration of many human health and environmental metrics, that does not tell us what we really want to know. What we want to know is this: Will human health and environmental quality be better under richer but warmer scenarios than under poorer but cooler scenarios? That’s primarily because wealth creation, human capital, and new or improved technologies often reduce the extent of the human health and environmental “bads” associated with climate change more than temperature increases exacerbate them.” – Indur Goklany

The best way to deal with global warming is to allow economic growth to help humanity adapt. Once again, anarchism and free markets are a viable solution to this environmental problem. Having governments attempt to mitigate global warming, as we have already seen, would be fraught with difficulty, the benefits wouldn’t be noticeable until decades in the future, the costs would be immediate and enormous, and there’s no guarantees that it would even be effective. In fact, mitigation would prevent humanity from reaping the benefits of global warming and increased CO2, whereas adapting will allow us to experience those benefits and selectively reduce the harms.

A fantastic paper written by Indur Goklany in 2008 compares the costs and benefits of mitigation vs adaptation to climate change under assumptions generous to the global warming alarmists. He brings up a crucial point: climate change is hardly the most significant environmental issue of today.

“Data from the WHO…indicates that climate change doesn’t even make the top 10 global health risk factors related to food, nutrition, and environmental and occupational exposure. Specifically, the WHO attributes

  • 1.12 million deaths in 2001 to malaria;
  • 3.24 million deaths to malnutrition;
  • 1.73 million deaths to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation, and hygiene;
  • 1.62 million deaths to indoor air pollution from indoor heating and cooking with wood, coal, and dung; • 0.8 million deaths to urban air pollution; and
  • 0.23 million deaths to lead exposure.

Climate change is clearly not the most important environmental, let alone public health, problem facing the world today.”

Would it not make more sense to address these immediate environmental issues with significant human costs than to address the speculative issues caused by climate change? But even this is too generous to those who would suggest destroying industrial civilization to attempt to save humanity, since addressing environmental problems that are unrelated to climate change would subsequently resolve those same issues when caused by climate change. For example, developing a malaria vaccine would help reduce malaria cases in general, whether they would have been caused by global warming or something else.

In addition, adapting to climate change does not require knowledge of the impact of climate change. This is important considering the massive uncertainties with regards to whatever effects climate change might have.

“Significantly, work on focused adaptation measures can commence, and in some areas has already begun, without detailed knowledge of the impacts of climate change. Cases in point are the development of malaria vaccines, transferable property rights for water resources, development of early warning systems for climate-sensitive events ranging from storms to potential epidemics of various kinds, and elucidation of mechanisms that confer resistance in crops to drought, water logging, or saline soils. To the extent that such measures do not rely on the location-specific details of impacts analyses, focused adaptation reduces the risk of having wasted resources by pouring them into problems that may or may not occur at specific locations.”

As our understanding of global warming improves, we can then work on adapting to the specific threats that we uncover. But in the meantime, there are many ways that we can adapt to the risks that most global warming alarmists expect, all at a drastically lower cost than mitigation.

“…at a cost of less than $34 billion per year (for 2010–2015), focused adaptation would deliver far greater benefits than would even halting climate change. Moreover, it would do so at one fifth the cost of the ineffectual Kyoto Protocol.”

Not bad, huh? Let’s dive into the specifics, including rough costs and the kinds of adaptations that can be developed over the coming years and decades. Malaria:

“The UN Millennium project reports that the global death toll from malaria could be reduced by 75 percent at a cost of $3 billion per year. Adaptations focused on reducing current vulnerabilities to malaria include measures targeted specifically at malaria as well as measures that would generally enhance the capacity to respond to public health problems and deliver public health services more effectively and efficiently. Malaria-specific measures include indoor residual (home) spraying with insecticides, insecticide-treated bed nets, improved case management, more comprehensive antenatal care, and development of safe, effective, and cheap vaccines and therapies.”

Focusing on economic growth and adaptation would also be the appropriate strategy to counter world hunger:

“An additional $5 billion annual investment in agricultural R&D—approximately 15 percent of global funding of agricultural research and development during the 1990s—should raise productivity sufficiently to more than compensate for the estimated 0.02 percent annual shortfall in productivity caused by climate change…Current agricultural problems that could be exacerbated by warming and should be the focus of vulnerability-reduction measures include growing crops in poor climatic or soil conditions (e.g., low-soil moisture in some areas, too much water in others, or soils with high salinity, alkalinity, or acidity). Because of warming, such conditions could become more prevalent and agriculture might have to expand into areas with poorer soils, or both. Actions focused on increasing agricultural productivity under current marginal conditions would alleviate hunger in the future whether or not the climate changes.”

Another common fear is that global warming will cause the sea level to rise and threaten coastal communities with flooding.

“According to estimates in the latest IPCC (2007) report, the annual cost of protecting against a sea level rise of about 0.66 meters in 2100—equivalent to about 0.52 meters in 2085 compared with 0.34 meters under the warmest (A1FI) scenario—would vary from $2.6 to $10 billion during the 21st century. I will assume $10 billion for the purposes of this paper. Governments could, moreover, discourage maladaptation by refusing to subsidize insurance and/or protective measures that allow individuals to offload private risks to the broader public.”

Finally, proponents of AGW fear that global warming will lead to stress on water resources. Yet again, there are free-market ways to adapt to this threat.

“…there are many measures that would help societies cope with present and future water stress regardless of their cause. Among them are institutional reforms to treat water as an economic commodity by allowing market pricing and transferable property rights to water. Such reforms should stimulate widespread adoption of existing but underused conservation technologies and lead to more private-sector investment in R&D, which would reduce the demand for water by all sectors. For example, new or improved crops and techniques for more efficient use of water in agriculture could enhance agricultural productivity. That would provide numerous ancillary benefits, including reductions in the risk of hunger and pressures on freshwater biodiversity while also enhancing the opportunity for other in-stream uses (e.g., recreation). Notably, diversion of water to agricultural uses might be the largest current threat to freshwater biodiversity.”

Goklany’s research found that, even under assumptions very generous to AGW alarmists, humanity would be better off in warmer-but-wealthier scenarios than ones in which we attempt to mitigate global warming.

“If future well-being is measured by per capita income adjusted for welfare losses due to climate change, the surprising conclusion using the Stern Review’s own estimates is that future generations will be better off in the richest but warmest world (A1FI). This suggests that, if protecting future well-being is the objective of public policy, governmental intervention to address climate change ought to be aimed at maximizing wealth creation, not minimizing CO2 emissions.”

And the best way to maximize wealth creation is to let the market do its thing, rather than having significant government intervention. Let’s discuss a few of the ways that market anarchism would address the potential threat of climate change in a far superior way to that of government efforts.

For starters, the government has historically supported and continues to subsidize fossil fuel usage. Gene Callahan writes:

“The U.S. government has subsidized many activities that burn carbon: it has seized land through eminent domain to build highways, funded rural electrification projects, and fought wars to ensure Americans’ access to oil. After World War II it played a key role in the mass exodus of the middle class from urban centers to the suburbs, chiefly through encouraging mortgage lending.”

In addition, the government has gotten in the way of preventing emissions.

“While myriad government policies have thus encouraged carbon emissions, at the same time the government has restricted activities that would have reduced them. For example, there would probably be far more reliance on nuclear power were it not for the overblown regulations of this energy source. For a different example, imagine the reduction in emissions if the government would merely allow market-clearing pricing for the nation’s major roads, thereby eliminating traffic jams! The pollution from vehicles in major urban areas could be drastically cut overnight if the government set tolls to whatever the market could bear—or better yet, sold bridges and highways to private owners.”

In other words, without government, we could have had far fewer emissions than we have thus far, and would likely have fewer in the future as well. Under an anarchist system with private roadways, driving cars that cause pollution would no longer be subsidized.

The anarchist system would also address the issues relating to coastal flooding more directly than government action. Insurers would have to take the threat of global warming into account when setting prices for policies. If the threat of flooding is legitimate, then the areas most threatened would also be the most costly to live, naturally reducing the issue of mass migration that global warming might cause. And since global warming would also make some locations more hospitable, people will naturally migrate from the least hospitable to most hospitable areas.

“Private insurers have a strong incentive to assess the potential effects of global warming without bias in order to price their policies optimally—if they overestimate the risk, they will lose business to lower-priced rivals; if they are too sanguine about the dangers, they will lose money once the claims start rolling in. Individuals finding their homes or businesses threatened by rising sea levels will find it easier to relocate to the extent that unfettered markets have made them wealthier.”

In fact, markets would generally allow a superior way of aggregating information about global warming and how to respond to it through the development of various financial products.

“For example, the financial industry, by creating new securities and derivative markets, could crystallize the “dispersed knowledge” that many different experts held in order to coordinate and mobilize mankind’s total response to global warming. For instance, weather futures can serve to spread the risk of bad weather beyond the local area affected. Perhaps there could arise a market betting on the areas most likely to be permanently flooded. That may seem ghoulish, but by betting on their own area, inhabitants could offset the cost of relocating should the flooding occur.”

This would provide a vastly more fair response to the costs of global warming.

Let’s say that, despite the many reasons to suspect that things will be fine, the global warming alarmists are correct. Then we can use the extra wealth that humanity has accumulated in the next several decades to come up with exotic “geoengineering” solutions to climate change. Maybe we’ll place mirrors in space, fill the atmosphere with aerosols that reflect sunlight, develop technologies to suck carbon out of the atmosphere, or even colonize outer space!

None of this requires government involvement in any way. If AGW is true, then insurance companies in an anarchist system will have a strong incentive to mitigate it or adapt to it – just as described earlier in the “mass collective pollution” section above. In addition, social pressures can effectively address the negative externalities of global warming without resorting to coercion by the state. Large companies and wealthy individuals are rather sensitive to these types of campaigns, as evidenced by the PR successes of the global warming alarmists and the “green” movement today.

What do you think would be better: destroying civilization in the name of what is only an uncertain threat, or continuing to lift billions out of poverty while addressing that threat anyways?

“The alternative offered by the proponents of global warming regulation – pushing much of the developing world back into abject poverty – would be sure to bring something far worse, such as endless civil wars among populations where had a middle-class lifestyle within sight, but was then ripped away by the global elites in the name of saving the world. So, if global warming is indeed on our horizon, it would appear that perfecting technologies like water desalinization, aqueducts, improved agricultural practices, and lowering the costs of basic staples such as housing and labor-saving appliances would be essential. Much of the world has already been working on these problems, and global warming has had nothing to do with it. The Israelis have been developing better and better water and agriculture systems for decades. Many desert countries (including the western United States) have been working on better water filtration and delivery systems. Many societies, such as The Netherlands and Singapore already deal with various issues related to dense populations.”

 

Conclusion

The modern environmentalist movement is almost universally made up of collectivists who support central planning. However, as we have seen, it need not be this way. In fact, people who truly want to protect the environment ought to be supporters of private property, free markets, and anarchy.

Environmental Issues: An Anarchist Perspective, Part 1

We humans live on planet Earth (for the time being), and utilize resources that have existed long before we came around. Many of these resources are scarce – due to their finite supply and importance to our well-being, the way these resources are managed is of highly related to our ability to survive and thrive.

As such, there is a very strong prima facie case for protecting the environment. The modern environmentalist movement considers itself the vanguard attempting to save the environment from greedy, ruthless capitalists, who are more than happy to destroy the environment in the pursuit of profit. To do so, they suggest assorted government policies, ranging from simple regulations to the intentional extermination of billions of humans.

No doubt, the institutional structure that we live under today, with giant corporations protected by big government, has led to significant environmental distress. Nevertheless, the effect of capitalism and market-based economies has been among the greatest boons for environmental protection.

This may at first seem like a contradiction, but in this article, I intend to argue that it is in fact private property rights that, as an institutional structure, are necessary for the protection of our environment. The political system that fully embodies a respect for private property is called “anarchy,” “anarcho-capitalism,” or “voluntaryism.”

As an anarchist, I often hear people object to my beliefs on the basis that pollution would run rampant and the environment would be destroyed if anarchy were put into practice. This is the most common concern people have, second only to how security and law would work in an anarchist society. For some reason, it is very difficult for most people to envision how the environment might survive without the protection of the government. In reality, however, the government is the greatest enemy of the environment, and markets are the most effective way of preventing environmental devastation largely caused by the state and its crony-capitalist cronies.

Since this is an extremely long post (over 22,000 words), I will present a brief outline of the content to follow, which is divided into two separate posts. First, I describe the modern environmentalist movement and the fallacies underlying their dogma, particularly the idea that nature has some kind of “intrinsic value.” Next, I document how governments are far and away the worst polluters on the planet. I then walk through multiple cases in the US where government policies have led to environmental catastrophe, and thoroughly document the extreme environmental destruction that socialism has caused in the world. Then I will present an alternative paradigm: respect for private property rights. I provide some historical background on how the legal climate for environmental issues has changed, and then describe the way that issues surrounding environmental damage ought to be handled. Using this private property paradigm, I discuss numerous environmental issues that could be more easily resolved under anarchy as opposed to resorting to state coercion. In the second post, I describe what is generally considered the biggest and most challenging environmental issue of our time: global warming. I discuss why the narrative surrounding global warming is heavily warped and politicized, why it is valid to be skeptical of the mainstream position, and how global warming could be addressed far more adequately under anarchy than via government.

 

Environmentalism: How Much Does “The Environment” Really Matter?

remember to shower

As alluded to before, environmentalists differ in terms of how extreme their proposals and intentions are. The majority of people who consider themselves environmentalists are moderate – they are outdoorsy-types who want to ensure that there are still green spaces for their children, for instance. But then there are environmental extremists, who think that humanity is a great scourge on this world, and that the planet would be better off without us. They go as far as to recommend the intentional extinction of humanity. In fact, Australian government-funded environmentalist propaganda is telling children that they should die at the age of 9 so that they don’t use more than their “fair share” of resources!

Surely, most of the people reading this are not in the latter category. That being said, both rely on the same fallacy to arrive at their policy conclusions – it’s just that the more extreme take this fallacy further. Modern environmentalists all believe that nature has intrinsic value, a notion that I will soon demonstrate is absurd.

But the alleged intrinsic value of nature is just one tenet of the environmentalist religion. Consider the narrative of environmentalism, which claims that there was an initial Eden, a sacred environment that was pure until humanity destroyed it in a fall from grace. Supposedly, native people lived happy lives in perfect peace with the environment before capitalism came along. Of course, this ignores the terrible record of indigenous people as stewards of the environment, and the horrid conditions in which most of them lived. As the late author Michael Crichton said:

“In short, the romantic view of the natural world as a blissful Eden is only held by people who have no actual experience of nature. People who live in nature are not romantic about it at all. They may hold spiritual beliefs about the world around them, they may have a sense of the unity of nature or the aliveness of all things, but they still kill the animals and uproot the plants in order to eat, to live. If they don’t, they will die.”

And then there are the doomsday predictions that are repeatedly proven wrong. This happens time and again, but like a religious cultist whose doomsday date passed without incident, the environmentalist will just pick a new date and push their prediction further down the line. Consider the mass starvation that was predicted due to population pressures, the resource depletion that always seems right around the corner, and global cooling in the 1970s which has now morphed into global warming. Another example:

“Near the end of the 19th Century…city planners warned of the impending danger of the streets being covered with dozens of feet of horse manure as the population of humans and animals would surely grow in those imperiled cities. The reviled automobile, it turns out, saved us from that horrible fate.”

Ironic, right? But the most important of the tenets of environmentalism is the sacredness of nature, the value that nature possesses in and of itself. But if nature has intrinsic value, what does this imply? It isn’t only humans who act in some way to “harm” nature or the environment, yet it seems only humans are held responsible. As George Reisman argues (emphasis mine):

“The doctrine of intrinsic value is itself only a rationalization for a preexisting hatred of man. It is invoked not because one attaches any actual value to what is alleged to have intrinsic value, but simply to serve as a pretext for denying values to man. For example, caribou feed upon vegetation, wolves eat caribou, and microbes attack wolves. Each of these, the vegetation, the caribou, the wolves, and the microbes, is alleged by the environmentalists to possess intrinsic value. Yet absolutely no course of action is indicated for man. Should man act to protect the intrinsic value of the vegetation from destruction by the caribou? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the caribou from destruction by the wolves? Should he act to protect the intrinsic value of the wolves from destruction by the microbes? Even though each of these alleged intrinsic values is at stake, man is not called upon to do anything. When does the doctrine of intrinsic value serve as a guide to what man should do? Only when man comes to attach value to something. Then it is invoked to deny him the value he seeks. For example, the intrinsic value of the vegetation et al. is invoked as a guide to man’s action only when there is something man wants, such as oil, and then, as in the case of Northern Alaska, its invocation serves to stop him from having it. In other words, the doctrine of intrinsic value is nothing but a doctrine of the negation of human values. It is pure nihilism.”

It is often held that man is an agent of destruction of nature, but isn’t man a part of nature? If a beaver is allowed to chop down trees, why should I not be allowed to?

Beyond the nonsense inherent in this doctrine, considering nature to have intrinsic value makes it impossible to rationally guide ourselves with respect to how to treat the environment. How are we supposed to behave if we cannot use nature for our own ends? And if we are allowed to use nature to further goals of man, then – if nature has intrinsic value and we can’t discriminate between various elements of nature – how are we to determine which environment-altering behaviors are kosher and which are not? We live in a world of scarcity, so some means of determining priorities is necessary.

Nature does not have intrinsic value. This doesn’t imply that the natural world doesn’t have value, of course, but rather that its value is related to the ends that nature can be used to achieve. I don’t intend to belabor this point philosophically; I just mean to point out that there is nothing immoral about man manipulating his natural environment to achieve his goals.

In fact, it seems that this is an inevitable result of existing. Humans act in order to achieve desired aims, and we use existing means, including that of the surrounding environment, in order to do so.

Despite this, an environmentalist might argue, it is still in man’s best interest to preserve the natural environment and avoid depleting the resources that we need in order to improve our lives. It’s certainly true that wasting resources is, well, wasteful. At any given moment, it is no doubt the case that there are only so many resources available for human use. But this static view ignores the fact that as human knowledge of the physical world increases (and as capital accumulates, allowing us to take advantage of this knowledge), the amount of resources available for our use increases….arguably, without a practical limit. George Reisman spells this out explicitly:

“And this brings me to what I consider to be the revolutionary view of natural resources that is implied in Menger’s theory of goods. Namely, not only does man create the goods-character of natural resources—by obtaining knowledge of their useful properties and then creating their useability and accessibility by virtue of establishing the necessary command over them—but he also has the ability to go on indefinitely increasing the supply of natural resources possessing goods-character. He enlarges the supply of useable, accessible natural resources—that is, natural resources possessing goods-character—as he expands his knowledge of and physical power over nature.

The prevailing view, that dominates the thinking of the environmentalists and the conservationists, that there is a scarce, precious stock of natural resources that man’s productive activity serves merely to deplete is wrong. Seen in its full context, man’s productive activity serves to enlarge the supply of useable, accessible natural resources by converting a larger, though still tiny, fraction of nature into natural resources possessing goods-character. The essential question concerning natural resources is what fraction of the virtual infinity that is nature does man possess sufficient knowledge concerning and sufficient physical command over to be able to direct it to the satisfaction of his needs. This fraction will always be very small indeed and will always be capable of vastly greater further enlargement.

“Nature presents the earth as an immense solidly packed ball of chemical elements. It has also provided comparably incredible amounts of energy in connection with this mass of chemical elements. If, over and against this massive contribution from nature stands motivated human intelligence—the kind of motivated human intelligence that a free, capitalist society so greatly encourages, with its prospect of earning a substantial personal fortune as the result of almost every significant advance, there can be little doubt as to the outcome: Man will succeed in progressively enlarging the fraction of nature’s contribution that constitutes goods; that is, he will succeed in progressively enlarging the supply of useable, accessible natural resources.”

Consider the many resources we use today that wouldn’t have necessarily been considered resources many years ago. Petroleum wasn’t a natural resource until humanity made it one. The same is true of iron, aluminum, copper, bronze, zinc, gold, silver, and uranium. But even after discovering the goods-character of these resources, advances in technology have allowed us to mine with less effort or at greater depth, find more of the resource where it wasn’t previously visible, access the resource from previously inaccessible locations (offshore oil drilling, for instance), and so on.

The solution to the “problem” of limited resources is to increase the amount of resources, by improving the state of human knowledge and through capital accumulation to allow us to take advantage of this knowledge. Contrast this with the “solution” presented by environmentalists: use less stuff. How about instead of impoverishing us all, we invent ways to adapt to environmental change and the use of resources?

“If we destroy the energy base needed to produce and operate the construction equipment required to build strong, well-made, comfortable houses for hundreds of millions of people, we shall be safer from the wind and rain, the environmental movement alleges, than if we retain and enlarge that energy base. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate refrigerators and air conditioners, we shall be better protected from hot weather than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement claims. If we destroy our capacity to produce and operate tractors and harvesters, to can and freeze food, to build and operate hospitals and produce medicines, we shall secure our food supply and our health better than if we retain and enlarge that capacity, the environmental movement asserts.”

If global warming is happening, we should develop more and better air conditioners. Instead, the environmentalists would have us destroying industrial civilization, condemning millions or billions to starvation and death.

As alluded to earlier, environmentalists have a habit of catastrophizing the impact of environmental issues, and of ignoring the consequences of their proposed policy fixes.

“Consider, for example, the recent case of Alar, a chemical spray used for many years on apples in order to preserve their color and freshness. Here, it turned out that even if the environmentalists’ claims had actually been true, and the use of Alar would result in 4.2 deaths per million over a seventy-year lifetime, all that would have been signified was that eating apples sprayed with Alar would then have been less dangerous than driving to the supermarket to buy the apples! (Consider: 4.2 deaths per million over a seventy year period means that in any one year in the United States, with its population of roughly two hundred and fifty million people, approximately fifteen deaths would be attributable to Alar! This is the result obtained by multiplying 4.2 per million times 250 million and then dividing by 70. In the same one-year period of time, approximately fifty thousand deaths occur in motor vehicle accidents in the United States, most of them within a few miles of the victims’ homes, and undoubtedly far more than fifteen of them on trips to or from supermarkets.) Nevertheless, a panic ensued, followed by a plunge in the sale of apples, the financial ruin of an untold number of apple growers, and the virtual disappearance of Alar.”

Contrast this with the miracle of the market.

“Famine has been ended, because the industrial civilization so hated by the environmentalists has produced the greatest abundance and variety of food in the history of the world, and created the transportation system required to bring it to everyone. This same hated civilization has produced the iron and steel pipe, and the chemical purification and pumping systems that enable everyone to have instant access to safe drinking water, hot or cold, every minute of the day. It has produced the sewage systems and the automobiles that have removed the filth of human and animal waste from the streets of cities and towns.”

 

Governments Are The Largest Polluters

One of the great ironies of environmentalism is that its proponents’ solutions always seem to involve government action. And yet they routinely ignore the god-awful record that governments have as stewards of the environment.

In fact, the US federal government is the largest polluter on the planet, but state governments are pretty bad too. The US Department of Defense is the largest contributor to this pollution. Military bases, of which there are a gazillion, pollute their locations heavily, which causes serious health issues among soldiers and their families. During wars, the government has leveled forests using chemicals and big machines. The US government is also the 4th largest greenhouse gas emitter in America, trailing only behind energy companies. But the environmental impact of the government goes beyond directly polluting:

“The federal government provides subsidies to many activities through direct transfers as well as through the provision of free or below-cost access. For example, recreational activities in the national forests and parks are heavily subsidized; most users pay low (or no) fees. Such subsidies encourage people to “consume” more of those public resources than they would be likely to in a market system. In addition, subsidies for favored providers of environmental amenities tend to squeeze out private alternatives. Other well-known subsidies that can unintentionally degrade the environment include agricultural subsidies, grazing subsidies, and water and hydropower project subsidies, among others. Unfortunately, the political process finds it almost impossible to deal honestly with the issue of subsidies. Only free markets are able to assess the full costs of resource use. Until property rights-based policies are instituted, environmental issues – from waste disposal to wetlands protection – will be poorly managed.”

There are also massive subsidies to Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs), which leads to environmental issues with excess manure. The government botches the management of forest fires by letting deadwood accumulate, leading to massive blazes.

Just recently, the EPA, which is supposed to be protecting the environment, dumped millions of gallons of toxic waste into the Animus River in Colorado, which may have been done intentionally for money! Predictably, leading environmentalist groups have been covering for the EPA on this one, even though they vehemently attack private companies for far less.

Some additional examples would be instructive. Take Seattle’s Ravenna Park. It was once privately owned and well-preserved. But the local government was afraid that it wouldn’t continue to be preserved, so they took over and then proceeded to let it fall into disrepair.

“At the turn of the twentieth century it [Ravenna Park] was a privately owned park that contained magnificent Douglas firs. A husband and wife, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Beck, had developed it into a family recreation area that, in good weather, brought in thousands of people a day. Concern that a future owner might not take proper care of it, however, caused the local government to “preserve” this beautiful place. The owners did not want to part with it, but the city initiated condemnation proceedings and bought the park.

But since they had no personal property or income at stake, local officials allowed the park to deteriorate. In fact, the tall trees began to disappear soon after the city bought it in 1911. A group of concerned citizens brought the theft of the trees to officials’ attention, but the logging continued. Gradually, the park became unattractive. By 1972 it was an ugly, dangerous hangout for drug users. The Becks, operating privately at no cost to taxpayers, but supported instead by user fees, had done a far better job of managing the park they had created.”

The BP Gulf Oil Spill

In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico began gushing oil into the ocean, and wasn’t successfully capped for 87 days, with about 5 million barrels of oil discharged in total. The company that owned this rig, BP, was trashed by environmentalists and the media in the aftermath of this tragedy. What they ignore is the crucial role of government regulations that made this spill so much more likely. Of course, much of this legislation was likely the result of oil industry lobbying, so the corporate-state nexus is really the blameworthy institution here, not merely the government.

How did regulation help lead to the worst accidental oil spill in history? The Oil Pollution Act of 1990 established a measly $75 million liability cap on oil spills, which created an immense moral hazard by reducing the risk to oil companies while drilling, and reducing their incentive to ensure the safety of their actions. Without a cap like this, oil companies would be responsible for the full cost of the damages that they cause, which would make them far more cautious and safety-prone.

It gets worse. Why was BP drilling in such a deep area to begin with? Wouldn’t it be far safer to drill closer to the surface? Unfortunately, oil companies are often barred from exploring less risky oil-rich areas.

“Because most private lands have been explored, public lands offer the most potential for oil and gas development. However, the NIMBY [“not in my back yard”] principle has significantly restricted development on those lands. According to 2008 Energy Department figures, nearly 80% of potentially oil-rich offshore lands are off limits to oil and gas development, and 60% of onshore lands are.”

You see, politicians don’t like those unsightly oil rigs near their territory, so they explicitly disallow it.

“I’ve seen the total number of platforms estimated at around 4,000, with up to 100 drilling rigs operating at a time. One of the interesting things to me about this map is that it shows no rigs in the eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. It turns out this is due to a moratorium on drilling first put in place by President Bush in 1990. In 1998, President Clinton extended the moratorium until 2012. So, one government intervention has resulted in a situation in which drilling operations are constrained west of the border between Alabama and Mississippi, with a concentration of drilling off the coast of Louisiana.”

And then there are the federal subsidies (“royalty relief”) for drilling in deep waters rather than water closer to shore. These subsidies result in a five-fold increase in the incentive for companies to drill in deep water rather than shallow water.

It’s not just in America where mismanagement of land and regulation causes issues with oil spills. In Nigeria, for instance, state ownership of oil assets has led to repeated spills.

Love Canal

My favorite example that demonstrates the ineptitude of governments with respect to the environment is the infamous Love Canal fiasco. Investigative reporter Eric Zuesse documented the whole story here, but I’ll provide a summary.

The Love Canal was a site in upstate New York that was owned by Hooker Chemical Co., which they used as a dumping site for toxic chemicals (the Army was also dumping toxic waste at Love Canal, but for some reason people only blame Hooker). The Niagara Falls Board of Education desperately wanted to own this land to build a school on, but Hooker did not want to sell it. Nevertheless, the BoE used their power of eminent domain to threaten Hooker with seizing the land, so it was ultimately sold to the government for one dollar. The sell was done specifically so that there would be a contractual record where Hooker could spell out the dangers of building on this land for all future owners (if the land were seized by eminent domain, Hooker would have been free of liability for the chemicals anyways, so it was with the public good in mind that they sold instead). Hooker made it very clear to the BoE that there were chemicals underground and that no building should take place on that site beyond mere surface construction (like a park). When the BoE tried to sell the site to real estate developers in 1957, Hooker came to those meetings and forcefully advised against it. Ultimately, Niagara Falls ended up building a school on this land anyways, disturbing the chemicals and letting the seep into the community that was soon built there.

“Practically every level of government has been involved over the years in violating either the Canal’s walls or the protective clay cover that Hooker says it had laid four feet thick on top of its wastes. Even the New York State Department of Transportation, which now shares major responsibility for remedial work on the Canal with New York’s Department of Health and the federal Environmental Protection Agency, ripped into the Canal in 1968, at the southern end where Hooker had done most of its dumping. In the construction of an expressway and the moving of Frontier Boulevard northward, chemicals were contacted, and Hooker was requested to, and did, cart away 40 truckloads of chemical wastes. Just as Hooker had worried in 1957, as time passed the possible hazards of construction on the property had been put totally out of mind.”

Such ineptitude! But the narrative about what occurred at Love Canal was that a greedy corporation took advantage of and poisoned a community.

“Despite the popular myth that Love Canal is the result of a single corporation’s greed and heartlessness, the actual explanation is far more complex. It’s clear to anyone who digs into this matter that Hooker may well have been the only party to the affair to behave responsibly. Hooker chose an exceptionally fine chemical dumpsite; it ceded the dump to the School Board under circumstances in which the threat of condemnation was real and the reality of condemnation was already under way for adjoining properties; it warned the School Board that the chemicals could kill and insisted that the Board pass this warning on to any subsequent owner of the property; it urged the Board not to construct the school or any other buildings directly over the Canal; it protested the prospect of any subsurface construction on the Canal.

These warnings were repeatedly ignored, however, by the governmental bodies involved in desecrating this chemical tomb: the School Board itself, the City Planning Board, the city engineer, and the state Department of Transportation. In addition, other governmental agencies have been busy spreading misinformation about the Canal: the Niagara County Health Department, the state Department of Health, the US Environmental Protection Agency, and the US Department of Justice.”

And the icing on the cake is that the EPA has since then positioned private industry as blameworthy and the government as the savior. They need to justify their existence somehow.

Socialism And The Environment

Environmentalists, as I said before, always seem to think that environmental protection requires an expansion of government. If this were true, one might expect that socialist countries would have a sterling record of environmental stewardship, right? Luckily, since the fall of the Soviet Union, we have plenty of case studies to verify that this is not the case.

Before diving into these examples, let’s reflect for a moment on why socialism might prove to be a poor economic system from an environmental perspective. In the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, there were explicit protections for the environment both at the legal and ideological level. However, without a profit motive operating, industrial managers were not sensitive to economic incentives to protect the environment. Ed Dolan describes several ways in which the socialist system leads to economic harm:

“Where there are property rights, there is always an owner to resist trespass, whether by people on foot or noxious chemicals wafting through the air. True, the legal system doesn’t work perfectly. Sometimes owners can’t adequately protect their rights, but the rights are there. Furthermore, where there is widespread ownership of at least small scraps of property, respect for the property rights of others also becomes widespread, although, alas, not universal.”

Private property is central to the reason why markets protect the environment better than government, but there are also political realities that make socialist countries ignore environmental concerns.

“In a socialist system, producers have a stronger grip on the levers of political power. After all, as state enterprises, they are not mere lobbyists—they are themselves a part of the government structure. For example…there were protests in the Soviet Union when paper mills first started dumping waste into Lake Baikal. However, the protesters themselves were always one government institution, say, the Limnological Institute of the Academy of Sciences, working against another, in that case the Ministry of Timber, Paper, and Woodworking. Sometimes the protesters were able to exploit personal rivalries within the government in order to plant articles in government newspapers, but in the end, they always lost. The whole incentive system of the Soviet economy, from the Politburo down to the local plant manager, was focused on just one thing: meeting the impossibly demanding production targets of the Five Year Plan. The environment always lost.”

For a thorough account of why socialism tends to destroy the environment, I recommend reading this paper by Peter Hill (1992). Under socialism, there is no incentive to prevent waste, which leads to excess consumption of resources.

“The general inefficiency of production under socialism is another indicator of the lack of incentives to prevent waste. Czechoslovakia consumes about three times the energy of the average western nation per unit of output. In the former Soviet Republics manufacturing uses four times as much energy per unit of GNP as in the United States. Chemical plants in the Soviet Union for many years emitted large amounts of a potent pollutant, fluorine, into the atmosphere. Despite numerous studies by engineers that showed that the fluorine could be recovered at a profit and sold to other enterprises, the plant managers found it easier to continue to pollute. There was no effective system in place whereby a manager was rewarded for taking such cost reducing and environment improving actions.”

While free markets certainly would not have a perfect record with respect to preventing waste and protecting the environment, they would be far superior to socialist incentives. If the theoretical account of socialism’s environment failings is damning, the real life experience is catastrophic. Thomas DiLorenzo (1992) has done research on this, which I will now draw upon.

Soviet Union

In the Soviet Union (which, again, had extensive legal protections for the environment), central planning proved devastating for the natural world. The Aral and Caspian seas were destroyed, as Soviet authorities diverted water away from them for other projects, and hundreds of factories dumped untreated chemical wastes into them. This sort of industrial prioritization was common.

“A typical example of the environmental damage caused by the Soviet economic system is the exploitation of the Black Sea. To comply with five-year plans for housing and building construction, gravel, sand, and trees around the beaches were used for decades as construction materials. Because there is no private property, “no value is attached to the gravel along the seashore. Since, in effect, it is free, the contractors haul it away. This practice caused massive beach erosion which reduced the Black Sea coast by 50 percent between 1920 and 1960. Eventually, hotels, hospitals, and of all things, a military sanitarium collapsed into the sea as the shoreline gave way. Frequent landslides–as many as 300 per year–have been reported.”

Toxic waste was dumped into rivers and destroyed these ecosystems because there was no private property.

“Effluent from a chemical plant killed almost all the fish in the Oka River in 1965, and similar fish kills have occurred in the Volga, Ob, Yenesei, Ural, and Northern Dvina rivers. Most Russian factories discharge their waste without cleaning it at all. Mines, oil wells, and ships freely dump waste and ballast into any available body of water, since it is all one big (and tragic) “commons.”

“Islands of alkaline sewage have been observed floating on the lake, including one that was 18 miles long and three miles wide. These “islands” have polluted the air around the lake as well as the water in it. Thousands of acres of forest surrounding the lake have been denuded, causing such erosion that dust storms have been reported. So much forest land in the Lake Baikal region has been destroyed that some observers reported shifting sands that link up with the Gobi Desert; there are fears that the desert may sweep into Siberia and destroy the lake.”

Arguably the worst of these cases was the Volga River. So much oil was dumped into this river that smoking had to be banned for sailors on ships traversing it – not for paternalistic health reasons, as in the West, but because throwing spent cigarette butts overboard would cause raging fires.

Of course, let’s not forget the Chernobyl disaster.

“The 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, the world’s worst, caused not just by operating errors but by a reckless design that provided no containment vessel in case of accident. The nuclear accident that had been considered the world’s worst up to that time also occurred in the Soviet Union, the 1957 explosion of a waste storage pond at the Mayak nuclear weapons complex.”

The Soviets also killed at least 45,000 humpback whales between 1946 and 1986. Why? To satisfy obscure line items in five year plans. Barely 30% of these whales were actually used, and the remainder were left to rot.

China

Chinese cities are well-known to have a thick layer of smog covering them.

“The Chinese state’s arrogation of all pollution litigation to its own courts is a clear collectivization of environmental property rights — most notably rights to air and property surfaces, most of which are covered in soot after a few years of operation.

The state’s subsequent, systematic refusal to enforce property owners’ claims against pollution damages to the serviceability of their air and the appearances of their structures’ outward surfaces, then, constitutes a redistribution of these collectivized rights to “dirty” industries and other heavy polluters.”

Massive industrial projects initiated by the socialist government in China also led to serious environmental issues.

“China’s current Three Gorges Dam has displaced over a million people and flooded 13 cities, 140 towns and 1,350 villages. There’s no way the capitalists of Wall Street could compete with that flooding.”

Water pollution is another serious issue:

“An official report showed that 90% of all environmental protests in 2012 were linked to water pollution. It found that 57.3% of the groundwater in 198 cities in 2012 was ‘bad’ or ‘extremely bad’. One third of rivers and 75% of lakes are seriously polluted, and around 1,000 lakes have disappeared. Unsafe drinking water is being used by 320 million people, and 190 million are sick every year due to water pollution.”

Central planning has led to massive environmental destruction of forests and waterways in China.

“According to the Worldwatch Institute, more than 90 percent of the trees in the pine forests in China’s Sichuan province have died because of air pollution. In Chungking, the biggest city in southwest China, a 4, 500-acre forest has been reduced by half. Acid rain has reportedly caused massive crop losses.

There also have been reports of waterworks and landfill projects severely hampering fish migration. Fish breeding was so seriously neglected that fish has largely vanished from the national diet. Depletion of government-owned forests has turned them into deserts, and millions of acres of grazing and farm land in the northern Chinese plains were made alkaline and unproductive during the “Great Leap Forward.””

Poland

The Polish people under communism did not fare much better.

“According to the Polish Academy of Sciences, “a third of the nation’s 38 million people live in areas of ecological disaster.” In the heavily industrialized Katowice region of Poland, the people suffer 15 percent more circulatory disease, 30 percent more tumors, and 47 percent more respiratory disease than other Poles. Physicians and scientists believe pollution is a major contributor to these health problems.

“Half of Poland’s cities, including Warsaw, don’t even treat their wastes, and 41 animal species have reportedly become extinct in Poland in recent years. While health statistics are spotty — they were not a priority of the Communist government–available data are alarming. A recent study of the Katowice region found that 21 percent of the children up to 4 years old are sick almost constantly, while 41 percent of the children under 6 have serious health problems.”

Coal mining caused major issues because property rights were not respected, and the health of the land did not need to be taken into account by the socialist planners.

“Continuous pumping of water from coal mines has caused so much land to subside that over 300,000 apartments were destroyed as buildings collapsed. The mine sludge has been pumped into rivers and streams along with untreated sewage which has made 95 percent of the water unfit for human consumption. More than 65 percent of the nation’s water is even unfit for industrial use because it is so toxic that it would destroy heavy metals used by industry.”

Czechoslovakia

Here’s a summary of the environmental devastation that occurred in communist Czechoslovakia:

“Because of the overuse of fertilizers, farmland in some areas of Czechoslovakia is toxic to more than one foot in depth. In Bohemia, in northwestern Czechoslovakia, hills stand bare because their vegetation has died in air so foul it can be tasted. One report describes the Czech countryside as a place where “barren plateaus stretch for miles, studded with the stumps and skeletons of pine trees. Under the snow lie thousands of acres of poisoned ground, where for centuries thick forests had grown.” There is a stretch of over 350 miles where more than 300,000 acres of forest have disappeared and the remaining trees are dying. A thick, brown haze hangs over much of northern Czechoslovakia for about eight months of the year. Sometimes it takes on the sting of tear gas, according to local officials. There are environmental laws, but they aren’t enforced. Sulfur in the air has been reported at 20 times the permissible level. Soil in some regions is so acidic that aluminum trapped in the clay is released. Scientists discovered that the aluminum has poisoned groundwater, killing tree and plant roots and filtering into the drinking water.”

East Germany

East Germany is a classic case of socialism, and particularly, the issues that socialism has wrought for the environment. Note that West Germany did not have nearly so egregious exploitation of the environment.

“Much of the East German landscape has been devastated. Fifteen to 20 percent of its forests are dead, and another 40 percent are said to be dying. Between 1960 and 1980 at least 70 villages were destroyed and their inhabitants uprooted by the government, which wanted to mine high-sulfur brown coal. The countryside is now “pitted with moon-like craters” and “laced with the remains of what were once spruce and pine trees, nestled amid clouds of rancid smog.” The air in some cities is so polluted that residents use their car headlights during the day, and visitors have been known to vomit from breathing the air.

Nearly identical problems exist in Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, and Yugoslavia.

Visiting scientists have concluded that pollution in Central and Eastern Europe “is more dangerous and widespread than anything they have seen in the Western industrial nations.””

Colin Grabow adds:

“An estimated 44 percent of East German forests were damaged by acid rain — little surprise given that the country produced proportionally more sulphur dioxide, carbon dioxide, and coal dust than any other in the world. In some areas of East Germany the level of air pollution was between eight and twelve times greater than that found in West Germany, and 40 percent of East Germany’s population lived in conditions that would have justified a smog warning across the border. Only one power station in East Germany had the necessary equipment to clean sulphur from emissions.”

Even the greatest excesses of the Western world and capitalism can’t compare with the extreme environmental devastation brought on by socialism. So why do environmentalists continue to promote big government policies? And why are so many environmentalists also socialists?

 

Private Property As A Solution

“[Those] who wonder what all the fuss is about when environmentalists raise alarms about the effects of acid rain on the forests react with outrage when the neighbour’s dog performs squatus smellibus on their own front lawns. It may be said that this is different—after all, the front lawn is private property— but this is precisely the point.

If the same dog-owning neighbour happens to own an industrial plant that dumps a chemical effluent on some remote forest land, we have little reaction, even if we know about it. After all, the forest land isn’t our private property. It’s government land. The question is, how do we ensure that the protective reactions of private property ownership will leap to the aid of the forest in the same way that they protect front lawns? The answer is that as long as we persist in the myth of public ownership, it will be very difficult.” – Walter Block

The United States doesn’t have a great record as an environmental steward, and many environmentalists will seize upon this to argue that privatization and free markets are to blame. Environmental costs of business are externalities – companies that pollute are not required to pay the cost of their pollution, so the pollution is subsidized.

Without a doubt, this is true today. However, it was not always like this in America. There used to be legal ways to internalize those externalities and to make polluters responsible for the damage they caused. This was the case when private property rights were more respected and legally protected in America, a reality that changed in the mid-1800s. Walter Block discusses the old system:

“Up to the 1820s and 1830s, the legal jurisprudence in Great Britain and the U.S. was more or less predicated upon the libertarian vision of non-invasiveness. Typically, a farmer would complain that a railroad engine had emitted sparks which set ablaze his haystacks or other crops. Or a woman would accuse a factory of sending airborne pollutants to her property, which would dirty her clean laundry hanging on a clothesline. Or someone would object to the foreign matter imposed in one’s lungs without permission. Almost invariably, the courts would take cognizance of this violation of plaintiff’s rights. The usual result during this epoch was injunctive relief, plus an award of damages.”

This respect for private property had positive effects from an environmental standpoint. In fact, these positive effects are essentially the flip-side of the negative impact of socialism.

“First of all, there was an incentive to use clean burning, but slightly more expensive anthracite coal rather than the cheaper but dirtier high sulfur content variety; less risk of lawsuits. Second, it paid to install scrubbers, and other techniques for reducing pollution output. Third there was an impetus to engage in research and development of new and better methods for the internalization of externalities: keeping one’s pollutants to oneself. Fourth, there was a movement toward the use better chimneys and other smoke prevention devices. Fifth, an incipient forensic pollution industry was in the process of being developed. Sixth, the locational decisions of manufacturing firms was intimately effected. The law implied that it would be more profitable to establish a plant in an area with very few people, or none at all; setting up shop in a residential area, for example, would subject the firm to debilitating lawsuits.”

Clearly, these incentives would lead to far superior environmental outcomes. Unfortunately, the legal climate in America soon changed.

“But then in the 1840s and 1850s a new legal philosophy took hold. No longer were private property rights upheld. Now, there was an even more important consideration: the public good. And of what did the public good consist in this new dispensation? The growth and progress of the U.S. economy. Toward this end it was decided that the jurisprudence of the 1820s and 1830s was a needless indulgence. Accordingly, when an environmental plaintiff came to court under this new system, he was given short shrift. He was told, in effect, that of course his private property rights were being violated; but that this was entirely proper, since there is something even more important than selfish, individualistic property rights. And this was the “public good” of encouraging manufacturing.”

Since then, America has never turned back. Legal protections for victims of pollution have not been reinstated, and unfortunately, it doesn’t look like they will be anytime soon. Nevertheless, a regime of private property rights that includes consistent enforcement is the solution to the environmental problem. Environmentalists, unfortunately, do not have a good understanding of how private property rights work, as evidenced by their rhetoric surrounding environmental issues:

“Even when the term “rights” is employed by ecologists in what is seemingly its more traditional, negative sense, as, for example, when environmentalists write of “the right to live free from pollutants” it is often so used without any regard to the context in which these rights are situated. When one refers to “the right to a smoke-free environment,” as numerous spokesmen of the anti-smoking campaign often do, surely it makes sense to ask “of just whose environment are we speaking?” While I might indeed have such a right to demand of others that they not smoke on my property, have I the same right when it comes to the property of others? But even put in such bald form, the majority of environmentalists would argue that, in most cases, I would indeed have such a right. Such rights obtain, they argue (and in this they are by no means alone), because most private property is not, in reality, private at all, since members of the public (either all members of the public, as is the case with, say, a department store, or certain specific members of the public, as is the case with a business office) are invited onto the property. By virtue of this fact, nominal private property is transmuted into commonly owned property, the disposal of which can justifiably be determined by political means. Indeed, most environmentalists have extended this notion of public ownership to the whole of the natural world. They write of the “common heritage of all humanity” and of “sharing the world’s resources equitably.” It is as if each of us, when born, inherits our pro rata share of all the wealth of the world, the land and the oceans of the earth, and all that is on, above, or below it, without regard to the prevailing ownership of these resources.”

Because today’s system is so far removed from a system of private property rights, thinking about environmental issues this way requires a paradigm shift. Instead of thinking about pollution as a crime against “the environment,” we need to think of it as a conflict between human beings.

“Pollution is…not about harming the environment but about human conflict over the use of physical resources. Generally formulated, a pollution or environmental problem arises when individual or group A and individual or group B are simultaneously attempting or planning to use resource X for conflicting purposes. Unless emissions into the air, discharge into a river, or the extraction of fish from the ocean give rise to such a conflict then there is no economic, i.e., efficiency problem. Humans cannot harm the environment. Instead, they can change the environment in such a way that it harms others who might be planning to use it for conflicting purposes.”

Conflict, in this sense, is essentially a dispute over the rights to use a given resource. The conflict arises when peoples’ plans regarding the use of resources differ. This requires well-defined property rights in order to determine the proper solution.

“In a setting where rights are clearly defined and strictly enforced, plans may conflict but the resolution to that conflict is embedded in the exchange process. In other words, conflict may arise at the planning stages but is resolved before the actors proceed with implementation of those plans. For example, persons A and B may have conflicting plans with respect to resource X, but if ownership to X is clearly defined as being in the hands of A, B, or a third party C, then there will not be a conflict over the actual use of X. It will be understood by A or B that before proceeding with their plan they must gain rights to X.”

In this paradigm, pollution issues take on a very different character than they do in today’s system. Ray Cordato describes a hypothetical conflict and resolution in this way:

“There is a conflict over the use of a resource. The source of that conflict is the generation of a production byproduct that crosses from property that is owned and controlled by the generator of the byproduct to property that is owned and therefore should be controlled by a nonconsenting party. The responsibility for ending the conflict lies with the polluter who should be responsible for truly internalizing the costs of the conflict generating activity. In this case, internalizing the costs of the pollution does not simply mean facing a new supply curve that has shifted to the left by the right amount. For the polluter it instead means eliminating the costs of his polluting activities to those whose property usage is being curtailed. This might be done by eliminating the emissions, confining them to his own property, or by compensating the victims of the polluting activity by an amount that fully addresses the grievance.”

Obviously, this new paradigm requires some kind of legal system. By far, the best explication of libertarian legal theory with respect to environmental issues comes from Murray Rothbard’s brilliant paper “Law, Property Rights, and Air Pollution.” If you are interested in this, I suggest reading that essay in full, but I will provide the most important insights here. The most fundamental aspect of this legal system is a commitment to nonviolent interaction.

“No action should be considered illicit or illegal unless it invades, or aggresses against, the person or just property of another. Only invasive actions should be declared illegal, and combated with the full power of the law. The invasion must be concrete and physical. There are degrees of seriousness of such invasion, and hence, different proper degrees of restitution or punishment.”

Note that the key thing here is not whether or not someone is “harmed” by a given action, but rather that a physical invasion happened. In other words, I have no legal claim against you if you call me names or offend me, but I would have a claim if you, say, punched me in the face.

“Legal and political theory have committed much mischief by failing to pinpoint physical invasion as the only human action that should be illegal and that justifies the use of physical violence to combat it. The vague concept of “harm” is substituted for the precise one of physical violence…Jim is courting Susan and is just about to win her hand in marriage, when suddenly Bob appears on the scene and wins her away. Surely Bob has done great “harm” to Jim. Once a nonphysical-invasion sense of harm is adopted, almost any outlaw act might be justified. Should Jim be able to “enjoin” Bob’s very existence?”

An obvious prerequisite for determining whether a physical invasion has occurred is to establish who owns what. Rothbard’s solution is the application of Lockean homesteading principles to determine ownership, and the homesteader can establish an easement of pollution rights for the surrounding area. This is best demonstrated through an example.

“Suppose…that an airport is established with a great deal of empty land around it. The airport exudes a noise level of, say, X decibels, with the sound waves traveling over the empty land. A housing development then buys land near the airport. Some time later, the homeowners sue the airport for excessive noise interfering with the use and quiet enjoyment of the houses.

Excessive noise can be considered a form of aggression but in this case the airport has already homesteaded X decibels worth of noise. By its prior claim, the airport now “owns the right” to emit X decibels of noise in the surrounding area. In legal terms, we can then say that the airport, through homesteading, has earned an easement right to creating X decibels of noise. This homesteaded easement is an example of the ancient legal concept of “prescription,” in which a certain activity earns a prescriptive property right to the person engaging in the action.

On the other hand, if the airport starts to increase noise levels, then the homeowners could sue or enjoin the airport from its noise aggression for the extra decibels, which had not been homesteaded. Of course if a new airport is built and begins to send out noise of X decibels onto the existing surrounding homes, the airport becomes fully liable for the noise invasion.”

The next question this leads to is how much of a resource becomes owned when someone is the first user. How would this be determined?

“If A uses a certain amount of a resource, how much of that resource is to accrue to his ownership? Our answer is that he owns the technological unit of the resource. The size of that unit depends on the type of good or resource in question, and must be determined by judges, juries, or arbitrators who are expert in the particular resource or industry in question. If resource X is owned by A, then A must own enough of it so as to include necessary appurtenances. For example, in the courts’ determination of radio frequency ownership in the 1920s, the extent of ownership depended on the technological unit of the radio wave — its width on the electromagnetic spectrum so that another wave would not interfere with the signal, and its length over space. The ownership of the frequency then was determined by width, length, and location.”

In other words, there is no cut and dry answer. This is the kind of thing that needs to be determined by relevant case law and by experts. Expectations set by custom will play an important role here. For specifics regarding the establishment of a legal order under anarchy, see my earlier post on the subject. With or without government, disputes will arise and can be settled via arbitration, and pollution lawsuits (and other environmental damage issues) would be considered torts.

“Air pollution is a private nuisance generated from one person’s landed property onto another and is an invasion of the airspace appurtenant to land and, often, of the person of the landowner. Basic to libertarian theory of property rights is the concept of homesteading, in which the first occupier and user of a resource thereby makes it his property. Therefore, where a “polluter” has come first to the pollution and has preceded the landowner in emitting air pollution or excessive noise onto empty land, he has thereby homesteaded a pollution or excessive noise easement. Such an easement becomes his legitimate property right rather than that of the later, adjacent landowner. Air pollution, then, is not a tort but only the ineluctable right of the polluter if he is simply acting on a homestead easement. But where there is no easement and air pollution is evident to the senses, pollution is a tort per se because it interferes with the possession and use of another’s air. Boundary crossing — say by radio waves or low-level radiation — cannot be considered aggression because it does not interfere with the owner’s use or enjoyment of his person or property. Only if such a boundary crossing commits provable harm — according to principles of strict causality and beyond a reasonable doubt — can it be considered a tort and subject to liability and injunction.”

Rothbard summarizes the conditions necessary for a pollution-related claim to be considered a violation of property rights:

“We have established that everyone may do as he wishes provided he does not initiate an overt act of aggression against the person or property of anyone else. Anyone who initiates such aggression must be strictly liable for damages against the victim, even if the action is “reasonable” or accidental. Finally, such aggression may take the form of pollution of someone else’s air, including his owned effective airspace, injury against his person, or a nuisance interfering with his possession or use of his land.

This is the case, provided that:

  1. the polluter has not previously established a homestead easement;

  2. while visible pollutants or noxious odors are per se aggression, in the case of invisible and insensible pollutants the plaintiff must prove actual harm;

  3. the burden of proof of such aggression rests upon the plaintiff;

  4. the plaintiff must prove strict causality from the actions of the defendant to the victimization of the plaintiff;

  5. the plaintiff must prove such causality and aggression beyond a reasonable doubt; and

  6. there is no vicarious liability, but only liability for those who actually commit the deed.”

 

Environmental Problems and Private Property Solutions

plastic bags are beautiful

This is all actually quite simple and obvious, but is not the way pollution claims work in court today. Polluters are unfairly given legal sanction to harm others. When the law no longer considers private property rights sacrosanct, even public-spirited factory owners have a difficult time protecting the environment. By implementing expensive technologies or processes that would reduce pollution, they create a more expensive product that has a harder time competing on the market.

Consider the issue of waste management. Because the government controls waste management, for instance, it is unclear how to act in the most environmentally friendly way. As Walter Block argues in his essay “Environmental Problems, Private Property Rights Solutions”,

“We cannot calculate the economic cost to society of disposing of a non-biodegradable diaper because government has perverted market signals through its programme of ownership and management of waste disposal. Nor can we calculate the ecological cost of washing dirty cloth diapers or recycling plastic ones. Given the absence of the relevant markets, we certainly cannot compare these costs, whether financial or ecological, but no less is required to determine which of these items, cloth or disposable diapers, is the least harmful to the environment.”

Mark Pennington elaborates on and generalizes this concept.

“Suppose that an individual is altruistically motivated as a concerned citizen to reduce his water consumption to a “socially responsible” amount. In the absence of property rights and market prices for water, the individual has no way to ascertain how much to adjust his consumption to take the interests of others properly into account….even the most altruistically inclined person faced with this situation is likely to consume as much water as he personally requires because at least he knows what that amount is, whereas the “socially responsible” amount of consumption is shrouded in a fog of ignorance. Such problems will be multiplied many times over, of course, when the choice is between the vast array of production and consumption possibilities that make up an advanced economy and the complex environmental consequences of these possibilities. In short, without the information provided by market-generated relative prices, citizens will find it impossible to communicate their values to one another and to adjust their behavior accordingly.”

In order to make sound judgments regarding the use of resources, we need a market-generated price system. With the government controlling environmental policy in a centralized way, solutions to environmental problems are less likely to be found. A decentralized, dispersed system with private property rights and which provides freedom to go against the majority opinion will find solutions that a government simply cannot.

“As Michael Polanyi has shown, the spread of knowledge in markets, the arts, and academia does not proceed by collective deliberation, but rather advances best when individuals and groups have a private sphere that secures the freedom to experiment with projects that do not conform to majority opinions. Then, as a result, the prevailing wisdom changes incrementally over time. With regard to “green” consumption, for example, it is doubtful whether the massive growth in the organic food market that has occurred in recent years would ever have developed if production decisions in the agricultural sector had been subject to collectivist procedures. For years, organic food was viewed as the concern of hapless eccentrics. Precisely because private property affords minorities the space to try out experimental ideas (the merits of which may be indiscernible) rather than simply talking about them, more and more people are now able to emulate such role models as the benefits become more visible.”

The market system may be imperfect, but it provides the best opportunity to resolve those imperfections. Governments suffer from the same kinds of issues with externalities and transaction costs as markets do with respect to environmental protection, but at least the market provides clear-cut incentives to fix or reduce those problems.

“Although proponents of free-market environmentalism recognize that environmental markets have limits owing to the prevalence of transaction costs, they contend that these problems are more likely to be overcome within an institutional framework supportive of private contractual arrangements. In this perspective, all environmental externalities represent potential profit opportunities for entrepreneurs who can devise ways of defining private-property rights and arranging contracts (via technological innovations, for example) so that those currently free riding on collective goods or imposing negative external effects (for example, water pollution) on their neighbors are required to bear the full costs of their actions. A land owner, for example, may introduce fences and install entrance points to the grounds of a park in order to exclude nonpayers from the park’s aesthetic benefits. Likewise, if technologies develop in the future that enable the “fencing” of the atmosphere, then entrepreneurs will have incentives to define property rights to the air and to charge those who are currently polluting without compensating those injured by their action. In the market economy, therefore, if people are imposing costs on others or are benefiting from the provision of certain goods without payment, entrepreneurs have incentives to find ways of eliminating such involuntary transfers over time.”

Let’s consider another example, oil spills, which I briefly discussed in an earlier section on the state’s failure to protect the environment. Changing the regulatory structure (reducing subsidies for deep sea drilling, ending limited liability for oil companies, etc.) would go a long way towards reducing the risk of oil spills. Additionally, privatizing the oceans would create an incentive for owners to use their ocean property responsibly, unlike the unowned state of oceans today. Walter Block explains:

“If people owned various patches of the ocean, they would have an economic incentive to protect their holdings. For example, they might well insist that any ship passing through their property with a cargo of oil be double-hulled. Additionally, they would have more of a selfish interest not only in demanding that inebriated sailors be prohibited access to their property but in actually ensuring that this policy is enforced.”

Of course, there are some difficulties with privatizing the oceans. The technology to implement this effectively might not exist yet. But that’s the thing: until the ocean is privatized, there will be no incentive for entrepreneurs to tackle these problems. Perhaps someone can implement some sort of EZ Pass buoy system to delineate property lines and charge ships passing through.

Now, let’s talk about how pollution might be handled in an anarchist society. Stefan Molyneux has a good discussion of this problem here. In his account, there are companies (“Dispute Resolution Organizations” or DROs) that play the role of crime insurance. I heavily elaborate on the concept here.

Let’s say Sally owns land that she wants to convert into a factory, and there are a group of homeowners downwind, including Ahmed. Naturally, any concerned homeowners will purchase pollution insurance from their DRO. Ahmed takes out a policy that will pay him $2 million if a certain predefined type of and amount of pollution is found on his property.

When Sally begins preparations to build her factory, Ahmed’s DRO takes notice – if this factory is going to cause pollution, they might be on the hook for $2 million in claims! The DRO can spend some amount less than $2 million to either buy up Sally’s land and sell it to a non-polluter or get legal assurances from Sally that she will not pollute. If the DRO succeeds, great! If not, they have a $2 million budget to encourage Sally to install chemical scrubbers or other technologies that may reduce the pollution to a low enough level. Now, if this isn’t good enough to solve the issue, the DRO will pay Ahmed his $2 million, which he can use to move to a less polluted neighborhood if he so chooses. And it likely won’t just be Ahmed; we could be talking about vastly higher sums of money as hundreds or thousands of individuals get pollution insurance.

Similarly, Sally, fearing potential pollution claims against her, will need a DRO to represent her and reduce her risk. Her DRO won’t like her polluting activities, since that opens them up to significant claims payouts from pollution damages downwind. Chances are good that she won’t even be able to contract for services with a reputable DRO unless she can prove that pollution activities will be below a certain threshold. And without a DRO backing her, it is highly doubtful that she’ll be able to get the capital to build and maintain her factory anyways!

What about a situation where the pollution is more complicated?

“Imagine that Sally’s smokestacks are so high that her air pollution sails over Achmed’s house and lands on Reginald’s house, a hundred miles away. Reginald then complains to his DRO that his property is being damaged. His DRO will examine the air contents and wind currents, then trace the pollution back to its source and resolve the dispute with Sally’s DRO. If the air pollution is particularly complicated, then Reginald’s DRO will place non-volatile compounds into Sally’s smokestacks and follow them to where they land. This can be used in a situation where a number of different factories may be contributing pollutants.”

And again, as private property rights are reestablished, the incentive to develop these kinds of compounds and other solutions to problems of this nature increases.

Before moving on to a couple of the larger applications of the private property solution to environmental issues, I’d like to again contrast market solutions with that of government. Consider certain massive government (or government sponsored) projects, including the interstate highways, airports, stadiums, railways, etc. Under a regime of private property and anarchy, then each of these environmentally destructive projects would have required the consent of all landowners in order to be built, making them far less likely. But the state can simply use eminent domain to seize the land, and then subsidize its development. Can you imagine how much less pollution there would be today if the interstate highway system didn’t exist (at least not in its current form)?

Conservation And The Tragedy of The Commons

When governments attempt to solve environmental issues, the solutions are at best temporary. The government can always change its mind, and is particularly likely to do so in the face of moneyed interests. Any pro-conservation bill is liable to be overturned. What the government provides, it can also take away. Private property provides a solution to this problem.

“The environment in the United States does not stand a chance for long term preservation in its current direction. If a group of people can democratically decide what to do with the land you are trying to save, then the land is not protected. The reality is that the land “preserved” is actually just a lease from the government. The earth is “secure” until the whims of rulers find a better use than appeasing a few disgruntled environmentalist voters.

“A simple question for environmentalists using political action: “If the price of gas goes up to $5/gallon, what are you going to do in order to convince a voter making $8/hour at Wal-Mart to vote in favor of preserving caribou over drilling for oil?”

“Environmentalism is based entirely on thinking about the future of the planet. In the present, supporters do the exact opposite. Their policies are temporary patch jobs at best without consideration that the same country that voted for preservation this time can change its mind. Political action conservationists showing the benefits of their lobbying are exercising a performative contradiction. They are attempting to solve the problems of the long term by only considering the short term.”

Political realities are likely to preclude any environmental policy from being truly successful over longer time scales. But private property rights can resolve conservation related issues for the long term. Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club can buy up tracts of land that they believe require some kind of protection, and then can own and administer that land forever. The Land Trust Alliance, for instance, has already been doing this. If you want land (or some endangered species on that land) protected, who would you trust more: a fickle government or a group of dedicated environmentalists?

There is a well-known issue related to land and resource conservation dubbed “the tragedy of the commons.” When a resource is collectively owned, it tends to be depleted much more quickly because there is no incentive to preserve the resource if someone else will simply take advantage of what you fail to harvest. If a forest is collectively owned, everyone has an incentive to log as quickly as possible before everyone else does the same. Quickly, the forest ends up destroyed. If the forest were privately owned, however, the owner would have every incentive to maximize the present value of his property by logging in a sustainable way, which would leave him a source of income for years to come.

Robert Smith studied this issue, and provides examples of the tragedy of the commons. Consider the wild eider, the bird that produces the most valuable down in the world.

“Iceland’s management of the wild eider as a private property resource has been a great success. The private eider farms have benefited both the property owners and the eider population. The farmers have protected the birds from overexploitation, from poachers, and from natural predators. They have also created artificial nesting sites in which the female will nest. The combined provision of protected nesting areas and artificial nesting sites has served to maintain a thriving population.

“If the eider had been treated as a common property resource, the only way the Icelanders could have captured any economic value from the resource would have been to take all they could before other users did the same. It would not have been profitable to wait for the eider to line their nests with down; someone else might have collected it first. The rational course of action for each user would have been to kill the eider and immediately appropriate all of the down. It also would not have been in anyone’s self-interest to invest in conservation programs, such as nest site construction or predator control. All of the other down collectors would have benefited from the actions of the conservationist.”

This principle seems obvious, yet in America, there are a huge number of national parks that continue to fall victim to the tragedy of the commons.

“Many of the most beautiful national parks are suffering from severe overuse and a near destruction of their recreational values, but most private parks are maintained in far better condition. The National Audubon Society does a better job of preserving its wildlife refuges and protecting wildlife than do many federal wildlife refuges. The public grazing lands have been repeatedly over-grazed, while lush private grazing lands are maintained by private ranchers. National forests are carelessly logged and overharvested, but private forests are carefully managed and cut on a sustained-yield basis, and costly nursery tree farms have been developed. In addition, the basic concept of self-interest explains why people don’t litter their own yards but do litter public parks and streets, and why people don’t dump old refrigerators and tires in their own farm ponds or swimming pools, but repeatedly dump them in the unowned streams, rivers, and swamps.” (emphasis mine)

To protect and preserve wildlife would be as easy as privatizing the land that this wildlife lives on. In some cases, environmental groups can purchase the land and leave it exactly as it is, but they can also charge fees for people to go into these parks and view the scenery. Some might do this ideologically as a form of charity, but others may protect the environment because it is good business.

One highly controversial example of conservation-based businesses would be game ranches or hunting preserves. Environmentalists don’t like them because….well, I’m not sure exactly. Something about profits being evil. Nevertheless, they work.

“Another example of how private ownership can successfully preserve wildlife is found on game ranches, hunting preserves, safari parks, and animal and bird farms…Many of the animals they stock are rapidly disappearing in their native countries because of pressures resulting from a rapidly expanding human population. Native habitats are disappearing through the encroachment of agriculture, cattle grazing, timber harvesting, and desertification arising from overexploitation of common property water resources, overgrazing of grasslands, and overutilization of brush, scrub, and trees for firewood and shelter. So serious are these problems and so insoluble under a common property system that there is little hope of saving many species of wildlife in the developing countries. Indeed, some of the more spectacular and most sought-after big-game mammals may now have healthier and more stable populations on some of the game ranches than in their native countries.

“If the profits gained by giving hunters access to exotic game can provide the economic incentive for these landowners to manage the animals on a sustained-yield basis, some species will be saved. The same holds for the profits to be derived from visitors to game parks and preserves. In fact, the protection provided at some of the parks, preserves, and gardens has actually produced a glut of some animals. There have been well-publicized efforts by some preserves to return their surplus animals to Africa, Lions from America have even been taken to Africa to appear in movies that were filmed there. While we read of zoological parks attempting to discover reversible birth control techniques in order to control their tiger populations, we continue to read about the never-ending difficulties of preserving the remaining tigers in the wild.”

In some cases, species were discovered living only on private land and have been rescued because of this. In addition, privately owned animals in captive breeding programs can reduce potential pressures on wild populations.

“The familiar budgerigar, or budgie, is commonly kept as a pet in the United States and is bred in enormous numbers by thousands of breeders. Practically the entire trade is supplied by captive-bred birds. This demonstrates another conservation aspect of extending private property rights to wildlife, as captive breeding can supply the market demand for the birds and reduce or eliminate the demand on wild populations.”

As much as limousine liberals and environmentalists bloviate about the environmental horrors of private property and their moral outrage (outrage!) that animals can be hunted for profit, the system obviously works better than anything they’ve come up with. And it’s not as though private conservation needs to be done out of a desire for profit – surely, in an anarchist society, environmental protection organizations could work together to preserve wildlife for its own sake.

“Under private property ownership, others were prevented from exploiting the resource, and there were incentives for the owners to preserve them. Furthermore, these incentives were not solely motivated by the possibility of economic gain. With the exception of game ranches, economic gain has seldom been the primary motivation behind most captive breeding projects. Many of these examples were fostered for the pleasure of owning and breeding attractive or rare wildlife, as well as for more “altruistic” reasons, such as a deep commitment to the preservation of vanishing wildlife. Private ownership includes not only hunting preserves, commercial bird breeders, parrot jungles, and safari parks, it also includes wildlife sanctuaries, Audubon Society refuges, World Wildlife Fund preserves, and a multitude of private, nonprofit conservation and preservation projects.”

But what is important here is that private conservation efforts could be done without appealing to any particular environmental values – it would just be good business. Surely, people would be willing to pay to go on a safari and watch three lions and a leopard compete over a dead impala. Commercializing trade in certain animals or animal parts (or hunting them) will lead to an increase in animal farms which will breed more and more of these endangered species. And of course, private game reserves do everything they can to stop poachers. Having rare and difficult to replace animals killed does not serve their business interests. Contrast this with national parks, where this incentive no longer exists. In fact, there is a stronger incentive for park rangers to get involved with poaching themselves for personal gain!

Consider the recent uproar over the hunting and killing of the beloved Cecil the Lion. Cecil was a huge attraction to the park he lived in, and was not supposed to be killed – it was an illegal poaching group that set up the hunt. But the outrage over this hunt has led to various airlines disallowing hunting trophies to be flown back to the US or EU, and activists working to ban or restrict hunting. This approach is completely backwards – and can be contrasted with a legitimate hunt.

“American Corey Knowlton paid $350,000 for a permit to hunt a black rhino in Namibia under the auspices of the Dallas Safari Club back in January 2014. Black rhinos are critically endangered, and Knowlton received death threats after the permit auction, but the details of his hunt are likely to win over all but the most ardent hunting opponents.

For starters, the money will go to fight poaching. (That’s right: this pay-to-play hunt will help fund efforts to prevent exactly the kind of crappy practices used by Palmer’s team) The permit from the Namibian government authorized only the killing of one of 18 elderly male black rhinos, which are actually considered a net negative for overall species survival, since they are past their breeding years but remain territorial and are therefore a threat to the younger males. Knowlton and his well-vetted team whittled that list to just four animals and were obsessively carefully about finding the right rhino to kill.”

Clearly, this type of hunt could be a huge boon to conservation efforts. A great example of private property protecting endangered species where government action failed is with the American bison. Originally, the bison lived on territory that white people had not ventured into yet, and the population of Native Americans was too small to reduce their numbers significantly. But as white people started closing in on this land, the bison was subject to the tragedy of the commons, as the property was considered unowned. The US government forced Native Americans off of this land and into “reservations”, slaughtering the bison in the process of waging scorched-earth warfare. Eventually, the government tried to save the species, did a crappy job, and private individuals had to save the bison from extinction with their “greed”.

“Although Idaho, Texas, New Mexico and other states passed laws similar to the Endangered Species Act, they often failed to do so before it was too late and the buffalo were already gone. In 1872 Yellowstone National Park was opened as a safe haven, but poaching still remained a substantial problem. Henry Yount, remembered for his time at Yellowstone as the first national park ranger, resigned after only 14 months on the job because he knew his efforts alone were hopeless.

Thankfully for the bison, Charles Goodnight, James McKay, William and Charles Alloway, as well as a host of other private ranchers began to scoop up wild buffalo throughout the 1860s and 70’s. From 1884 to 1902, the bison population in Yellowstone actually decreased from 25 to 23, but also by 1902, an estimated 700 were privately owned. This trend has continued for more than a century, as by the 1990s the ratio was 25,000 publicly-owned to 250,000 privately-owned bison.”

The principle of private property as a solution to the tragedy of the commons and environmental issues affects not just animals but other kinds of resources as well. Private ownership is why there is no shortage of trees in the American south, and yet there are tree shortages in the west, where the forests are publicly owned. Similarly, a functioning free market in water would solve the shortage that has recently plagued Californians.

Mass Collective Pollution

A slightly trickier problem is that of mass pollution. A classic example of this would be climate change, which will be addressed in the next section. More generally, I define mass pollution as the kind where an individual contributor does not have any appreciable impact on the pollution that is occurring, but there are negative externalities created by the collective pollution of each contributor. For instance, each car driver contributes a negligible amount to the smog in an urban area, but that smog still exists and has a negative effect. How can free market anarchism address this kind of issue?

Let’s start by noting that the most obvious example of this kind of pollution, that which comes from cars, is heavily subsidized by government (publicly owned/built roads, etc.). The government can reduce this kind of pollution via regulation, but markets can provide this kind of regulation in an even more responsive way, which I will demonstrate in a moment.

Legally speaking, collective pollution like this is a different problem from the torts described in other pollution cases. With mass pollution, it is impossible to prove that a specific defendant directly aggressed against a particular plaintiff. This means that a simple appeal to respecting private property does not as clearly resolve this issue.

But that doesn’t mean there are no free market solutions to the problem of mass collective pollution! Mass pollution can lead to specific real risks – risks which can be insured against. For instance, the pollution from cars may increase the risk of asthma. People can insure themselves against the risk of developing asthma, and then insurance companies will have to pay out claims when this occurs. This gives the insurers an incentive to reduce the pollution that increases their liabilities.

Let’s say that insurers that are giving policies to people in a given geographic area expect to pay out $100 million in claims for asthma cases due to pollution (they have the incentive to study issues like this and come to that conclusion). These insurance companies then collectively have an interest in reducing pollution and could spend up to $99 million on these efforts while still coming out ahead. That money can go towards research on exhaust filters, alternative energy sources, etc. They can pay local car dealerships to implement these pollution reducing technologies. They can implement technologies that reduce pollution in an area – maybe there are ways to suck the smog out of the air. And if not, there is certainly a strong incentive to develop them; insurers could invest in companies hoping to solve this problem. Where there are problems to be solved, there is money to be made.

In addition, insurers would be able to charge those directly responsible for pollution – say, car manufacturers, drivers, road owners, etc. – in order to help internalize the externality.

On top of this, there are always social pressures. Stefan Molyneux provides an example of how this could work:

“Let’s say that for some reason DROs didn’t care about the rising costs of air pollution. The first thing I would do is start a Clean Air Company, which would, for a fee, guarantee air quality in certain neighborhoods. How would I achieve this lofty end? Simple: emotional advertising and social pressure. First, I would start running ads showing kids and grandmothers keeling over from asthma. Then I would offer bright yellow “clean air” stickers to anyone who signed up for my program – and for cars which met certain low-pollution guidelines. That way, anyone in a neighborhood who didn’t sign up for my clean air program would be highly visible – all their neighbors would know, and social pressure would do the rest.”

The combination of these incentives would help an anarchist society reach an optimal level of collective pollution. Make no mistake – zero pollution is not optimal, as it would completely destroy industrial civilization. But pollution can be reduced significantly this way, because the incentives in an anarchist system would be properly aligned.

 

For a discussion of global warming, continue on to part 2.

War Is Evil

Injured child

Image courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org

If in some smothering dreams you too could pace

Behind the wagon that we flung him in,

And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,

His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;

If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood

Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,

Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues –

My friend, you would not tell with such high zest

To children ardent for some desperate glory

The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est

Pro patria mori.

(The Latin phrase is roughly translated as “It is sweet and honorable to die for one’s country”) – William Owen, a British soldier who died in the trenches just seven days before the Armistice was signed on November 11, 1918

Of all the things that I find frustrating and despicable about modern American society, it is the cavalier attitude towards war exhibited by the vast majority of Americans. There are some pockets of genuine anti-war sentiment on the fringe left and the “isolationist” Old Right and libertarians. But there is a bipartisan agreement, in deed if not in word, that war is tolerable, acceptable, good, or even morally required in an increasing number of cases.

I wasn’t always the whack-job libertarian that I am now; up until about my junior year in high school, I looked at the world as though it was a chess board, with America and her allies being “the good guys.” At the time, war had merely seemed like a means to an end. To make the world safe, America needed to be the dominant power at all costs. And since we were America – the “indispensable” nation, the “exceptional” nation, and the clear occupants of the moral high ground – we could do no wrong. Sure, innocent people will die in war, but it’s for The Greater Good. The Iraqi people may not believe it right now, but once we’ve dealt with some bad apples and established a functioning democracy there, surely they will come around and appreciate the favor we have done for them.

It’s hard for me to believe now that this is the way I felt back then. I was probably even more pro-war than the average American. But it does give me some perspective on why people are so deluded about war, and reinforces my belief that ending foreign aggression in all its forms is the single most important thing that we as activists must be working toward.

 

America – Reluctant Fighter Of “Just Wars”

It is very difficult to garner support for wars of conquest in a modern, liberal democracy. In the past, religion was often used to justify war (“Kill the heathens!”), but this justification has lost much of its appeal.

But while that justification is no longer so effective, the need for the elite to wage war and line their pockets with the proceeds hasn’t ceased. A new way of deluding the public was necessary.

Westerners love to think of themselves as advanced, progressive, humanitarian, and morally righteous. This is true all across the political spectrum (that’s right, liberals. Even the neocons believe that they are doing a good thing, as silly as that sounds). In order to get your average American to support war, you just need to convince them that it is for humanitarian reasons: the enemy is evil, slaughtering his own people, and a new “Hitler.” We can use our military might to change the enemy, to liberate the people who are victims of some monster, and to bring them democracy and responsible governance.

I can do no better than to cite David Swanson from his book War Is A Lie here (you can read chapter 1 here, and I strongly suggest you do):

“The long-standing tradition of making war on foreigners and converting those not killed to the proper religion “for their own good” is similar to the current practice of killing hated foreigners for the stated reason that their governments ignore women’s rights. From among the rights of women encompassed by such an approach, one is missing: the right to life, as women’s groups in Afghanistan have tried to explain to those who use their plight to justify the war. The believed evil of our opponents allows us to avoid counting the non-American women or men or children killed. Western media reinforce our skewed perspective with endless images of women in burqas, but they never risk offending us with pictures of women and children killed by our troops and air strikes.”

If there is a positive intention behind any given war, many Americans will support it almost unquestioningly. Invading Afghanistan = Liberating women and catching Osama. Bombing Libya and/or Syria = saving the people from a ruthless dictator. These justifications are even used to revise the past; many people consider World War 2 to be a paradigmatic example of a just war because it ended the holocaust. Of course, there were many opportunities to save the Jews without going to war, and saving the Jews was never used as a part of World War 2 propaganda at the time (which was mostly focused on dehumanizing the Japanese).

On a slightly more academic level, pundits and philosophers have tried to ascertain what conditions can be used to determine whether a potential war is, in fact, a just war. Damon Linker elaborates:

“[There are] six criteria just war theorists…use to determine when a war is morally justified. The war must be undertaken with the intention of establishing a just peace. It must be defensive. It must be aimed at protecting the innocent against unjust aggression. It must have a reasonable chance of success. It must be declared and waged by a competent governing authority. And it must be undertaken as a last resort. If the war meets these six criteria, it can be considered morally justified.”

In theory, this would sound highly limiting. Very few, if any, wars would actually fulfill each of these criteria. And yet Americans can justify practically every single war based on these criteria.

“We always have a moral rationale for undertaking military action. We always consider our actions defensive (even if the aggression hasn’t happened yet) and aimed at protecting the innocent. We always think we have a reasonable chance of success. We always consider ourselves to be a competent authority. And we always claim to have waited as long as possible to act.”

We delude ourselves into believing we have great reasons to act, that if we don’t act now, something horrible will happen, and that we are just protecting ourselves and the helpless, downtrodden victims of whoever the enemy-of-the-day is. If anything, “just war” theory simply provides a self-righteous justification for whatever war the elite are planning. Not only that, but it grants the United States government and her allies the moral “authority” to play judge, jury, and executioner as the world’s policeman (incidentally, this seems to be the way actual police in America are behaving as well).

Americans fail to realize that their government is not acting defensively, and certainly does not have a moral rationale for much of the military adventurism that is obediently and unquestioningly supported.

In fact, most Americans are likely unaware of how militarily aggressive their government truly is. Since America’s founding, there have been hundreds of instances of military use in foreign lands. There are only a handful of years throughout American history where America has not been at war abroad.

In addition, William Blum counts at least 55 instances since World War 2 where the United States has attempted to overthrow a foreign government (often a democratically elected one), many times successfully.

Interventions Map

And while the United States has often attempted to take down truly evil people, this is a red herring. For every petty dictator the US tries to overthrow, there are more who the US emphatically supports. The US is even backing the fascist, neo-Nazi government in Ukraine, and supporting the use of child soldiers in South Sudan. For all the railing against ISIS and how barbaric they are to behead people, the United States stands firmly behind Saudi Arabia, which beheads far more people for such “crimes” as sorcery and pleading not guilty of a crime. Better yet, the US government itself has been supporting ISIS, I kid you not.

Of course, America can do no wrong, so Americans routinely ignore these inconvenient facts. The illusion must be maintained that it is only the enemy who commits atrocities. David Swanson provides this example:

“It is as important, in selling a war, to deny or excuse one’s own atrocities as to highlight or invent the enemy’s. President Theodore Roosevelt alleged atrocities by the Filipinos, while dismissing those committed by U.S. troops in the Philippines as of no consequence and no worse than what had been done at the massacre of the Sioux at Wounded Knee, as if mere mass murder were the standard of acceptability. One U.S. atrocity in the Philippines involved slaughtering over 600, mostly unarmed, men, women, and children trapped in the crater of a dormant volcano. The General in command of that operation openly favored the extermination of all Filipinos.”

This type of hypocrisy, buttressed by massive propaganda efforts, is so standard that it boggles the mind. Once you begin to recognize it, you see it everywhere. You see it in so many places that you wish you did not. Occasionally I question my own sanity when I observe the absurdity of Americans continuing to believe the same lies and ignore the same hypocrisies over and over and over again.

Take the 2003 invasion of Iraq, for instance. To justify this war, we were repeatedly told that Saddam Hussein had been using chemical weapons on his own people. This is certainly true. What is universally ignored is the fact that the United States supplied Saddam with chemicals weapons during the 80s in order to use against Iran (and supplied him with intelligence so he could use them more effectively). Just one of many reasons why the Iranian government doesn’t trust us.

That’s a sin of omission. How about a sin of commission?

“On October 9, 1990, a 15-year-old Kuwaiti girl told a U.S. congressional committee that she’d seen Iraqi soldiers take 15 babies out of an incubator in a Kuwaiti hospital and leave them on the cold floor to die. Some congress members, including the late Tom Lantos (D., Calif.), knew but did not tell the U.S. public that the girl was the daughter of the Kuwaiti ambassador to the United States, that she’d been coached by a major U.S. public relations company paid by the Kuwaiti government, and that there was no other evidence for the story.  President George H. W. Bush used the dead babies story 10 times in the next 40 days, and seven senators used it in the Senate debate on whether to approve military action. The Kuwaiti disinformation campaign for the Gulf War would be successfully reprised by Iraqi groups favoring Iraqi regime change twelve years later.”

These kinds of lies are so routine that even providing that single example may do my argument a disservice. I can’t possibly list even a miniscule fraction of them, and any attempt to do so would inevitably result in important omissions.

Nevertheless, it is clear that, for war to have public support, the government must convince its subjects that they are acting on the side of righteousness, that they are The Good Guys who must defeat The Bad Guys. And most Americans will go along, because we want to believe that “we” are the good guys. As the great George W. Bush once said:

“We’re taking action against evil people. Because this great nation of many religions understands, our war is not against Islam, or against faith practiced by the Muslim people. Our war is a war against evil. This is clearly a case of good versus evil, and make no mistake about it – good will prevail.”

In every war, the enemy is made out to be pure evil – it makes it far easier to get your soldiers to kill those people and your civilians to cheer them on or buy war bonds. But while the manipulation may serve elite interests, it makes no logical sense.

“But just as the supposedly irredeemable heathen were converted to the correct religion when the screaming and dying stopped, so too do our wars eventually come to an end, or at least a permanent occupation of a pacified puppet state. At that point, the irredeemably evil opponents become admirable or at least tolerable allies. Were they evil to begin with or did saying so just make it easier to take a nation to war and persuade its soldiers to aim and fire? Did the people of Germany become subhuman monsters each time we had to make war on them, and then revert to being full humans when peace came? How did our Russian allies become an evil empire the moment they stopped doing the good humanitarian work of killing Germans? Or were we only pretending they were good, when actually they were evil all along? Or were we pretending they were evil when they were only somewhat confused human beings, just like us? How did Afghans and Iraqis all become demonic when a group of Saudis flew airplanes into buildings in the United States, and how did the Saudi people stay human? Don’t look for logic.” – David Swanson

 

Ignoring The Costs Of War

What war really looks like

This is what war really looks like, courtesy of AfterDowningStreet.org

For Americans to fully support a war, it often isn’t enough to whip them into a frenzy of fear and jingoistic sentiment. War is expensive in terms of blood, treasure, and its toll on society, so it is important that the impact of these costs of war be minimized.

Americans happen to be very lucky when it comes to war. Surrounded by two oceans and two far weaker allies, it is very unlikely that any war the United States gets involved in would have drastic consequences for American civilians. Other than a couple of Japanese weather balloon experiments during World War 2, Americans haven’t experienced attacks at home since the Civil War ended.

War is also very expensive from a strictly financial perspective. But Americans don’t pay for war directly – the United States simply goes into huge amounts of debt and prints massive quantities of money in order to fund the war effort. This helps mask the true cost of war; instead of actually paying for it directly, Americans pay via higher prices and enslaving their children with debt.

Consider this: the total cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars will likely amount to somewhere between $4 and $6 trillion dollars. This comes out to between $35,000 and $52,000 per household in the United States. According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income in 2013 was just under $52,000. Here’s a thought experiment: if Americans were told at the outset that they would have to sacrifice a full year of income to pay for these wars, how many people would have supported them? To ask the question is to answer it.

The result of all of this is that for the average American, war is simply no big deal. It happens “over there” and has no immediate effect on our lives (other than expanded mass surveillance and loss of liberties, a concession it seems most Americans are quite willing to make). This makes it easy for many Americans to forget what a horrendous thing war is – and to come up with some twisted justifications for it. War means little to the majority of Americans, but to the neoconservatives and the “humanitarian” interventionists with their “responsibility to protect” (R2P) doctrine, it provides a cheap excuse to feel good about themselves.

Even if using the military to intervene in foreign affairs were likely to help people – and there are many reasons to believe that regional interventions are misguided and counterproductive – this hardly makes war morally justified.

Think of it this way: nearly everyone would agree that it is morally wrong to murder a random person and harvest their organs in order to save five other peoples’ lives. Many might put the ratio far higher than five to one. This means that for a war to be justified as “humanitarian,” at least five innocent lives would need to be saved for every one innocent life lost, and this is ignoring the massive uncertainty inherent in the actual decision-making process, the propensity to underestimate casualties, etc. As we will see later, it is highly unlikely that this would ever be the case.

And yet, in large part because Americans are so far removed from the costs of war, they can come up with all kinds of utilitarian justifications for it. It is a “necessary evil.” “We’ve got to crack a few eggs to make an omelet.” And so on. Tolstoy’s words ring true here: war, he said, “is not a polite recreation, but the vilest thing in life, and we ought to understand that and not play at war.”

How can wars be used to fight against evil when there is nothing more evil than war?

 

Forgetting The Human Element

The ultimate result of everything covered thus far – the propaganda, the hypocrisy, the remoteness of war – leads to the failure to look at people as individuals and as real human beings.

Stalin famously said that a single death was a tragedy, but a million deaths was just a statistic. The reality is that a million deaths are a million tragedies; unfortunately, people choose not to see it that way. There are many reasons to be against war, but ultimately it comes down to the sheer scale of the human cost, the million individual tragedies.

Napalm girl

A victim of napalm, after it has already burned off all her clothes.

It is not easy to count the dead in war, but people have done their best to compile estimates. World War 1 resulted in approximately 15 million deaths. World War 2 resulted in about 66 million dead, primarily civilians. Approximately 3 million died in the Korean War, and another several million in Vietnam. Over a million people, almost entirely civilians, have died as a result of the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan (despite the Pentagon’s attempts to fudge the numbers), which is only one part of the incredible human cost of these wars.

And those figures ignore the particular atrocities of war: massacres, rapes, displacement of people. In fact, 90% of all war deaths are civilians. Take Vietnam:

“According to study by Harvard Medical School and the University of Washington, there were 3.8 million violent war deaths, of which two million were civilian, with similar estimates reached by the Vietnamese government and Robert McNamara himself. Up to 500,000 Vietnamese women turned to sex work. 14,000 South Vietnamese civilians were killed, mostly by U.S. firepower, during the Tet Offensive. 70 million liters of herbicidal agents, notably Agent Orange, were dumped across the countryside. (“Only you can prevent forests” was the travestied Smokey the Bear slogan.) 3.4 million combat sorties were launched by the U.S. and South Vietnam between 1965 and 1972. The amount of ammunition fired per soldier was 26 times higher than in World War II. In the northernmost province of South Vietnam, Quang Tri, only 11 out of 35,000 villages were not damaged by bombing or artillery. A survey found that 96 percent of Marine Corps second lieutenants said they would torture prisoners to obtain information.”

Another inconvenient truth that most Americans don’t hear about is that due to American sanctions, up to half a million Iraqi children starved to death during the 1990s.

“There are disputes over the exact number of children who died as result of the sanctions, but most everyone agrees that the number ranges between 225,000 and 500,000…Let that sink in: Our own government — the U.S. government — knowingly and deliberately implemented and maintained a cruel and brutal policy with the intent to target the civilian population of Iraq, with the full knowledge that it would cost the lives of countless innocent people, including innocent children.

Even worse, year after year, knowing full well that economic privation, near-starvation, and death were the actual results of the embargo — and that it was not producing the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power — U.S. officials nonetheless steadfastly continued it.”

When asked about the effects of these sanctions, US Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright said they were “worth it.”

Worth it for whom?

Oh yeah, and the United States is the only nation to ever use nuclear weapons. In particular, they were used on civilian populations, resulting in hundreds of thousands of innocent deaths.

I’m afraid that, in the spirit of Stalin’s words, the magnitude of these atrocities can get lost in the minds of most people. Many people claim they cannot “understand” or “believe” or “comprehend” these kinds of atrocities.

Let me try to help you understand.

Each one of those dead is a parent who will never see their child grow up, leaving behind a kid who must grow up without them. Each one of those dead is a child who could have lived a full life. Instead, they are the cause of the greatest sadness that a parent can experience.

Each one of those dead is a brother, sister, husband, wife, cousin, or friend. They are a human being.

When our politicians talk about the sacrifices that “we” make to “liberate” another country, they are not talking about their own sacrifices. Their “sacrifice” is to collect more money for their next campaign cycle and ensure that they have lucrative jobs in the military-industrial complex when they leave office.

No, it is everyone else who had no say in the decision to go to war who must sacrifice. More accurately, they are sacrificed on the altar of power. These people did not sign up for war. They did not ask to be murdered. They did nothing to deserve being murdered.

But these people are dead. That means no more life, no more learning, no more career, no more sharing happy moments with each other, no more music, no more friendship, no more love.

These people will never get to taste delicious food, watch a sunset, feel a cool breeze on their skin, smell freshly cut grass, or hear a beautiful melody.

Each and every one of these people meant something. They had family and friends who loved them, they had jobs and contributed to their communities, and they had hopes and dreams and aspirations. Just like you, me, or anyone else.

Iraqi burned alive in jeep

Attempting to escape his jeep, this Iraqi was burnt alive while struggling to survive.

These lives have been stolen by the elite political and corporate warmongers, and they can never be brought back. The last memory a child will have of his parents is of them being burned alive by a drone strike so badly that their skin is indistinguishable from cattle. The last memory a parent will have of their child is of them screaming in pain and terror, confused as to what they have done to deserve their fate.

These people are dead. Barack Obama murdered them. George Bush murdered them. As Harry Browne said, they murdered these people “as certainly as though [they] personally had fired a rocket launcher at their homes.”

All this death is meaningless. The only purpose of war is so that psychopathic politicians can enjoy their little power trips, and so that big defense and energy companies can make a few extra billion dollars. War is a racket, pure and simple.

Many will euphemistically and irresponsibly talk of “collateral damage.” They will say these deaths are unintended, as though somehow that implies that they don’t count. But innocent people WILL die in war. If you support war, you support innocent people dying, being maimed for life, and losing everything they have. You cannot simply separate war from the tragedies that it spawns. Those who launch wars do so knowing full well that they are causing innocent people to die, and those who support them are advocating for death and destruction.

Under normal circumstances, this is called mass murder. War turns otherwise normal people into sociopaths. What the average war supporter is advocating others to do on their behalf, they would never do on their own. War supporters would not go out and shoot innocent people, but they will happily delegate that task to someone else. Meanwhile, they feel proud of themselves and may even put a bumper sticker on their car saying as much.

This all stems from the failure of people to look at others as individuals, as fellow human beings. It is far easier to cheer on the deaths of some ambiguous, generic Iraqis than to cheer on the death of a person who is real to you. As Lucy Steigerwald said:

“Being anti-war requires a faith in people of a different religion who live in places most of us will never visit. It demands empathy and recognizing their humanity, regardless of culture clashes.”

This may require putting yourself in their shoes. Imagine how you would feel if the roles were reversed – if bombs were raining down on your city, your family and friends were getting maimed and murdered. It is this kind of empathy that is required to stop people from worshipping cowardly monsters like Chris Kyle, the famed “American Sniper.” Imagine what would happen if some Middle Eastern country really did try to take over America, and Americans fought back. Enter an Arabian Sniper:

“A guy named Abdul is hiding on a roof top in Wichita, using a scoped rifle to shoot people he believes are intending to kill other members of his army of invaders. If the person in his scope looks American- in other words, if the person obviously isn’t one of his guys- and is armed, he shoots. Man, woman, child- it makes no difference. After all, he tells himself, these dogs deserve it because they are all the same, and they want to kill him and his guys.”

When Abdul returns to his home country, his people consider him a hero. As an American, do you?

Such is the irrationality that must be overcome. If it is not okay for them to kill us, then it is not okay for us to kill them. War is just mass hypnotic psychosis. It is always wrong. But powerful interests will always be pushing for more war and more death. It is the job of each and every one of us to have empathy for others and to refuse to resolve our disputes through violence.

Those who make the wars never have to fight the wars.  The Great Deciders will never be in a night ambush, where the fear is so overpowering that their bodily control abandons them, and they shit themselves.  And the defense contractors, engorged on obscene profits, will never have to kick open a mud hut door after strafing it with automatic weapons fire, and discover a heap of dead children beneath a wounded mother, who is so traumatized that she cannot even scream.  And the media tycoons cheerleading for more carnage, will never rush to the flag-draped coffin of a dead son or daughter and wrap themselves around it in fury as the military band tries to sound heroic.”

A Modest Proposal To End Dating Anarchy And Regulate The Dating Market

Dating is cool

Dating and sex, as the means to procreate, are our biological imperative. How can we leave something so critically important to the very future of humanity up to the free market? How can we stand by while so many people are unhappy with the quality and quantity of romance in their lives? How can we justify the veritable anarchy that is the dating world when we accept government regulation in so many other areas of our lives that are deeply personal and important?

We all recognize the importance of, for example, occupational safety regulations, food safety regulations, and regulation over the substances that people choose to put in their bodies. And we all acknowledge that without these regulations, suffering would be far more widespread.

That’s why government regulation of the dating market is long overdue. Few “industries” have been as responsible for such a massive scale of suffering as the anarchy that is the dating world. Chances are, you’ve experienced some of it yourself.

It would be impossible to calculate the full cost of dating anarchy, because the damages that come from it are often long-standing and can have wide-ranging social effects. Let’s look at just a few of the problems that are a direct consequence of this unconscionable lack of regulation.

Emotional pain. No one reading this can say with a straight face that dating hasn’t caused them significant emotional pain at some point in their lives, and often several times. Nasty breakups, unrequited love, shyness and anxiety, lovesickness, embarrassment, and self-esteem issues are all common features of the current dating anarchy.

Poor matches. Between 40% and 50% of married couples end up getting divorced in America. This does not include the countless unhappy couples who choose not to get divorced for whatever reason (kids, religion, etc.). And this is just marriages – think about how many more unmarried couples are also not right for each other! This isn’t just bad for the couple; oftentimes, children can be the victims. Consider all the kids growing up with single parents or who witness discord and even nasty divorces in their home lives. The negative psychological impact of this can affect the child well into adulthood or even for their entire life – and potentially get passed on down to their own children one day.

Compare this with arranged marriages, which have only a 4% divorce rate; the divorce rate in India, where most marriages are arranged, is the world’s lowest at 1.1%. If this isn’t proof that central planning works, I don’t know what is.

Ugly man or pretty girl

False advertising. There is a lot of lying, misrepresentation, and general attempts to mislead others under dating anarchy. It is nearly a universal phenomenon that people will attempt to portray themselves in as positive a light as they can when dating, and to hide their negative qualities. This is true for both men and women. Consider men who will claim they are making significantly more money than they actually are, and women who wear makeup and dress in such ways to cover up their faults while accentuating their positive qualities.

And now, with the advent of online dating, things have gotten a whole lot worse. According to the Huffington Post, a full 54% of online daters found someone who “seriously misrepresented themselves.” The numbers may be even worse than that. According to an article in the New York Times citing various studies of online dating,

  • 81% of people misrepresent their height, weight, or age in their profiles
  • Women described themselves as 8.5 pounds thinner in their profile than they really are, while men were generous to themselves by about 2 pounds
  • Men rounded up their height by half an inch
  • Women’s profile pictures were on average a year and a half old, while men’s were six months old.

With all of this lying going on, people cannot make informed decisions about whom they should date. This results in immense amounts of wasted time and heartache, and surely contributes to the problem of poor matchups. And it could largely be prevented with a suitable regulatory regime.

Because we have laws that prevent it, it is far less frequent for people to lie about, say, what ingredients are contained in foods (and those who do lie can be prosecuted). It’s time we extend this into the realm of dating.

Inequality. This is another big one. Some people have lots of sexual partners, yet others remain virgins. Some people, due to factors beyond their control, are simply at an unfair disadvantage under dating anarchy. You can think of this as just like a problem of unequal market power – the same way that large corporations have their pick of job candidates and can enforce their will on those they employ, extremely rich or good looking people command an unfair advantage over their poor and ugly counterparts.

Unsurprisingly, research has shown that attractive men and women have a serious advantage in choice of sexual partner – they get their pick of the litter far more easily than less attractive people. Men have a strong preference for dating beautiful women, and women have a strong preference for dating wealthy men. This just further exacerbates other forms of inequality; men who are already wealthy get the most dating success – the rich get richer.

Physically unsafe. Perhaps the most serious issue with modern anarchic dating is that it is physically unsafe. The dangers are manifold, well-known, and have caused irreparable damage to millions of people. A national survey found that 57% of rapes happened on dates. Similarly, domestic abuse is incredibly common. One out of every three female homicide victims every year are killed by their current or former partner. This is clear, irrefutable evidence that people cannot be left to their own devices in choosing a partner.

Besides violence, there are other dramatically life-altering consequences of an unfettered dating “market.” The CDC reports that 20 million new sexually transmitted infections occur every year, half of which occur in the 15-24 age group. On top of that, half of all pregnancies in this country are unintended. How long will we allow this to go on?

 

A Modest Proposal For Dating Regulations

Based on the above arguments, it is clear that regulations regarding dating are well past due. This is fairly new territory for the government, and legal minds better than mine will be far more capable of hammering out the details and plugging the loopholes. Nevertheless, I would like to propose a framework for some of the regulations that can go a long way towards remedying the ills of anarchic dating.

For starters, there will need to be a new office created under the Department of Health and Human Services tasked with writing and enforcing the relevant rules. This office (let’s call it the National Dating Bureau, or NDB) will be responsible for maintaining a database of all those Americans who are registered to date in this country.

All Americans who wish to date must register with the NDB and receive a permit before they can do so. I recognize that there is some ambiguity in what constitutes a “date”, but most of us have a fairly intuitive grasp of what this means (and legal scholars, in tandem with relationship experts, will come up with a suitable definition).

Of course, the process of obtaining a dating permit must remain as frictionless as possible, while still ensuring improved safety and quality of dates, as well as a more equitable dating system. I propose that we borrow from the already successful Drivers’ Education model for teaching teenagers how to drive. For one quarter of all students’ freshman year of high school, pupils will complete the Dating Education program in lieu of Phys. Ed. For parents who do not want their children dating so early for religious reasons, there will be an exemption.

Experts will design the curriculum, of course, but I have a few suggestions for topics that should be covered. Courses about the qualities of successful relationships, what to look for in a partner, sexual health, tolerance, compromise and conflict resolution, honesty and transparency, and self-respect. With this background, youngsters will be far more prepared for the challenges of dating. Upon the successful completion of an exam on these materials, students will be granted their dating permits, which will be issued by the individual states.

That works for the next generation, but what about those of us who are already out of school? I acknowledge how busy most adult Americans are, and the government will respect this with a lighter touch of regulations. Rather than a full course of study, centers will be set up in each state where adults can sign up to take an abridged version of the class with only twenty hours of class time (this can be done over a single intensive weekend). In addition to passing the exam, adults will also need an STD screening and a background check before permits are issued.

Just like the many other areas in which occupational licensure and safety regulations help deal with market failure, dating permits will ensure that those in the dating pool are qualified to be there.

Additional regulations will be necessary to ensure that those authorized to date have equal access to quality dates, regardless of their privilege. There are numerous ways that this could be implemented, and policymakers should consider the pros and cons of each before deciding which is ultimately best. Two specific ideas come to mind:

  • Strict dating quotas
  • A “cap and trade”-like system for dates, analogous to the proposed carbon emissions scheme.

In the first case, anyone with a dating permit is free to go on two dates per week, and perhaps after an advanced dating class, a third. This is the ideal way to prevent the 1% from rigging the dating market and exploiting everyone else.

Under a cap and trade scheme, dates become a commodity with dollar value. This is a more flexible system than the first case, because it allows people to sell off dates on weeks where they don’t feel like dating as much, and gives people leeway to date more if they are feeling particularly amorous. As a side benefit, by taxing trade in dates, the government will have a huge new revenue source. Based on the most recent models, this could lead to an incredible $200 billion per year in tax revenue, making the NDB arguably the most efficient government agency to date. The problem with cap and trade is that it still allows those with greater means to potentially exploit the system and go on more than their fair share of dates.

Cat dating profile

In an effort to improve transparency in dating while simultaneously making it more equitable, the government will support efforts to facilitate information sharing among prospective daters. The NDB will work with states to set up their own dating sites (match.gov), so that everyone has access to an online dating profile. Naturally, it won’t be mandatory that people use the state’s site; other approved online dating sites will be available as well. In order to obtain a license to operate a private dating site, site administrators will be required to observe relevant “know your customer” laws, so that people cannot date anonymously in order to hide their faults and commit fraud. In addition, new information sharing laws will need to be implemented in order to prevent the hacking and theft of peoples’ private information that is so prevalent these days. It is a priority of this new legislation that as much information be made available to daters in order to prevent wasted time on dates that never would have worked out, and to generally make the process more honest. It is also a safety measure, so that bad apples can be more easily removed from the dating system.

In order to make this process as equitable as possible, we must recognize that many individuals have more limited means than others. To combat the effects of this inequality, the government will provide date stipends to be used only at approved venues (specific restaurants, movie theaters, and so on, after they have applied and been approved by the NDB). This Supplemental Courtship Assistance Program (SCAP) will issue its payouts discretely, so as not to subconsciously influence partners’ perceptions of each other.

Once an aspiring couple has gone on sufficient dates and gotten to know each other well enough, they must apply to the NDB and receive approval before being considered in an official relationship. Since the vast majority of relationships end in failure, this is a critical step to help minimize the consequences of the poor decisions that we all so often make! The application will include providing the NDB access to the prospective partners’ medical records to ensure genetic compatibility as well as a full psychiatric evaluation in order to determine that both partners are truly ready for a relationship. A writing sample, answering the question “For what reasons would ___ and I make a great couple?” will also be required. The NDB will work with Facebook to make sure that nobody changes their relationship status without prior approval. Finally, the relationship will undergo an annual review process involving an STD screening and personal interviews with the NDB’s licensed relationship experts. If the NDB determines that a relationship is unhealthy, it has the authority to nullify an existing relationship, subject to an appeals process for these couples.

I don't have ex's

Possibly the biggest emotional minefield under dating anarchy is the issue of breakups. Too often, the reasons one person breaks up with another are simply unjust. This isn’t merely a waste of time and resources; it is inherently unfair. As such, a panel of experts will determine which reasons for breakup are appropriate. Breaking up with someone for reasons related to race, gender, or sexual orientation is unethical and should already be considered illegal discrimination under the Civil Rights Act. Approved breakup reasons will center on issues of gross incompetence or neglect. A party to an official relationship can upload a Termination of Relationship form through a secure portal on the match.gov site, including sufficient documentary evidence to demonstrate that their breakup is for an approved reason. If a breakup is approved, there will of course be an appeals process for breakup victims in order to further protect their rights.

In order to implement these proposals, the cooperation of law enforcement at the local and national level will be paramount. Expanded surveillance will be necessary in order to catch those who are dating without a permit. In addition, there is a very real possibility that unlicensed daters will callously forego their social responsibility and attempt to avoid this regulatory system by bringing dates into international waters via cruise ships or across the border into Mexico or Canada. To prevent this, undercover agents will be placed on every cruise ship, and will make arrests when the ship is back in American territory. A Fugitive American Dating Control Act (FADCA) will require all foreign hotels to report to the NDB pertinent data on Americans who lodge with them. Failure to satisfactorily report this information will result in sanctions.

While I anticipate some controversy over these proposals from the more conservative and reactionary segments of America, their fears and complaints are ungrounded. There is precedent for every aspect of these proposals. To quote directly from the United States Constitution:

“The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defence and general Welfare of the United States” [emphasis mine]

The very same Constitution that conservatives so often use to justify their hate-spewing and exploitation-loving policies clearly grants Congress the power to legislate on behalf of the general welfare of the United States. Tell me: in what way does fixing one of the greatest problems known to man not serve the general welfare?

In the same way that no one would ever want to go back to the days of the robber barons in terms of how society regulates employment relations, 100 years from now people will think the same thing about romantic relationships.

 

Just Kidding – Propaganda Techniques I’ve Used In This Proposal

In case you have not figured it out by now, the preceding was purely satire. Unfortunately, I cannot assume that everyone reading this would recognize it as such. I suspect that there may even be a few people out there who would read this and conclude that I’ve had a brilliant idea. Sometimes, real life imitates the absurd and can be indistinguishable from parody. Oh well.

In any case, other than the handful of jabs that I couldn’t resist throwing into the above, I tried to write it as though this were a legitimate proposal. In doing so, I employed a handful of misleading and propagandistic techniques and logical fallacies to “bolster” my argument. Going through these would be instructive, because I have found that similar methods of argument are often used when discussing other existing and proposed regulations. Discerning readers can likely find many more, but I want to draw attention to at least a handful of them here.

  • All of the problems with dating were ascribed to anarchy, with the implicit assumption that regulation would cure these ills – even though no evidence was cited to back that up. This is easy to get away with, because the proposed solutions have the intent of fixing the problems. So long as the intent is positive and the proposal seems like it could plausibly work, most people will be convinced.
  • In describing the current dating anarchy, only the negative aspects were mentioned, and positives were completely ignored. There is simply no acknowledgement that, for the most part, dating “anarchy” works great.
  • The biological importance of dating and reproduction was cited as a reason for regulation. But the importance of any given industry or issue is irrelevant to whether regulation is good policy or not. The effects of the proposed policy are what matters.
  • I argued that arranged marriages were equivalent to central planning. It is incredibly common for statists to argue that because libertarians don’t think something should be regulated by the government, it must therefore not be regulated at all. It is beyond the scope of this article to delve deeply into this; nevertheless, it should be clear that there is a huge difference between having your parents decide who you marry and having a bureaucrat make the decision. Government central planning is backed up by force; presumably, arranged marriage is a cultural phenomenon enforced by social norms rather than violence.
  • I have employed the “won’t somebody PLEASE think of the children!” argument. You can justify nearly anything by even attempting to show that it is “good for our children.”

  • I’ve created “bad guys” or enemies whom a large percentage of the population are naturally envious of. People who, for whatever reason, get the most dates…well, this must be either because of some unwarranted “privilege” that they have (wealth, status, good looks), or because they cheated the system by lying and misrepresenting themselves.
  • A lot more was made of the fact that people misrepresent themselves while dating than is deserved. Sometimes the misrepresentations people make are truly bad (think catfishing), or are bad idea because communicating your values honestly is important in a relationship. But girls wearing makeup or certain kinds of clothing, for instance, is something that men appreciate. And saying that you are an inch taller than you are is hardly consequential; if it means anything to someone, they can figure that out on the first date and not go on a second one. But here, I have turned the whole thing into an issue of asymmetric information causing power imbalances and other problems. Then I mention that you don’t see as much lying in the food industry because of relevant food labeling laws – but this is not an empirical fact, and it is unsubstantiated.
  • I’ve taken completely natural subjective preferences (women prefer wealth and men prefer beauty) and used them to argue about inequality. Completely ignored is the fact that regulations can’t possibly change these preferences, even if they could force people to act outside their preferences. Also ignored is the evolutionary and/or rational basis for these preferences.
  • Statistics were used misleadingly (big surprise!). First, I said that 57% of rapes occurred on dates, and then I claimed that this is clear evidence that people choose partners poorly. But the two have no connection whatsoever. An appropriate statistic would be what percentage of people are raped on dates, not how often rapes occur on dates. The STD/pregnancy statistics were just fear-mongering. For that to be evidence that regulation is warranted, we need to assume that regulation would solve those problems, precisely what the proposal is trying to show. Circular logic.
  • I mention that information sharing agreements are necessary for dating sites to operate legally in order to prevent hackers from stealing private information. Completely ignored is how this is simply giving the government access to this information, and it is assumed that it won’t be used maliciously by actors from within the government. It also assumes that the government has some kind of right to this personal information that others do not. Finally, it assumes that this kind of information sharing somehow increases information security, which is most certainly not the case.
  • I mention that transparency and honesty is critical between partners, but then the SCAP program (subsidized dates) involves hiding peoples’ wealth from each other. Similarly, requiring pre-approved reasons to break up fosters dishonesty – both between partners and certainly toward the government. These kinds of ironies and unintended consequences are rather common components of regulations.
  • Approval is required to start a relationship because people so often make mistakes. But then it follows that bureaucrats are equally liable to make mistakes, and arguably more liable because they are not intimately familiar with our individual thoughts and feelings. This type of faulty reasoning is so prevalent in arguments for regulation, it makes me sick. How often do you hear that “people need to be protected from themselves.”?
  • Precedent is used to justify the entire thing. These regulations are morally acceptable because comparable regulations have been implemented in the past. But what if the rationale for those precedents is equally as mistaken as it is for arguments to regulate dating?

It’s very easy to write a convincing argument for just about anything.

 

The Moral Absurdity Of Regulation

While I’m certain there are some people who would read the above proposal and nod approvingly, I believe (or at least I hope) that most people would reject it as absurd. Unfortunately, most people don’t seem to recognize that ALL regulation is absurd, and for the same reasons.

What is it specifically that makes regulating the dating market so repulsive and unjust? Before answering that question myself, I’d like to consider what answers a statist might give.

Many would likely argue that dating regulations would never work. This is certainly correct. But that would imply that regulations are only just if they do work (also correct, but in my opinion, an insufficient condition). Given that other existing health and safety regulations (and all regulations, really) don’t achieve their desired social benefits (more on this later), then these other regulations ought to also be abandoned on consequentialist grounds. I suspect that most liberals would be quite unhappy with this result.

A related argument is that personal relationships are too complex to regulate, as opposed to far more straightforward work and commercial relationships. But this isn’t true at all. Consider how nobody wants to work with someone who has a “bad attitude,” however difficult that is to define. How can you possibly regulate around that type of consideration? Is a “bad attitude” a “just” cause to fire someone? What if the person with a “bad attitude” was black or disabled?

Perhaps it is the personal and private nature of romantic relationships that make them immoral to regulate. But again, this does not stand up to scrutiny. What makes a romantic relationship more private than any other kind? It is completely subjective and arbitrary to make this claim. Many people are downright vocal about their sex lives (sometimes to the chagrin of those near them), and many people are quite reserved about telling others how much money they make.

alderaan places

I submit that the reason why these proposed dating regulations are repulsive is that they involve the use of unprovoked coercion in order to prevent people from interacting in a way that would be voluntary for all involved parties. In other words, a regulation is a threat of violence against innocent people. Behind every law there is a gun – if you do not comply, state goons will resort to violence against you. Sometimes, that means murdering innocent people because they were selling loose cigarettes. Sometimes, that means molesting someone for walking the streets of New York while black, or because they needed to fly somewhere. Sometimes, that means shutting down a little girl’s lemonade stand because they didn’t have a permit. But at least that helped keep us healthy and safe, right?

 

Regulations Don’t Work

As stated in the previous section, a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for a regulation to be morally just would be for it to actually succeed in whatever its positive intentions are. Generally, this means improving safety and quality.

In fact, it must not only be shown that the regulations would work, but also that the benefits outweigh the costs. And given that, according to a report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, regulations have cost the US economy $1.806 trillion per year (more than half of the federal budget, and more than 10% of total US GDP!), a very substantial safety benefit would need to be demonstrated. Keep in mind, also, that the brunt of this cost is borne by the poor, who are forced to pay higher prices and are excluded from competing in markets with higher regulatory barriers.

The costs are not merely financial, however; regulations have negative implications in other domains. For instance, were we to allow the government to regulate dating, there could be substantial repercussions in terms of individual freedom. In fact, the government already does this to some extent – that’s why gay marriage is still, ridiculously enough, illegal in some places. But it’s easy to envision other costs of further dating regulations – any sexual taboo could be regulated. Not only that, but well-connected individuals might get access to the most attractive people or otherwise flaunt the rules. This is exactly the way regulation already works in other areas.

The total costs of regulation are impossible to measure. Without going into too much detail, this is because our valuations of things are subjective. How can you possibly quantify the cost of lost liberty? You can’t, of course, and this has implications in all regulations, not just the romantic kind:

““There’s no accounting for taste” isn’t just something one can say to shrug off his buddy’s dating someone he finds unattractive. It’s an explanation of our individuality. In dating, there are millions of unique tastes and subjective valuations. This range of valuations makes regulation inherently unjust, because the perceived value of another person as a romantic partner cannot be quantified.

But the same may be said of most any government regulation. What government agent should have the authority to say that a certain job pays “too little” or is “too dangerous” to be legal? Such decisions must be left up to the people applying for those jobs, who are more familiar with their own situations than a bureaucrat in Washington could ever be. If Cathy badly needs work experience, that job that pays $5 per hour may be perfect for her, even though it would be a poor fit for someone else who is looking to pay his mortgage.”

But even though we can’t do a fully accurate cost-benefit analysis on regulations, we can try to look at the effects that regulations have had in terms of their stated goal: improving quality and safety. I do not have space to go into great detail here, but will provide links for further study if you are interested.

Occupational licensure, ostensibly aimed at making sure practitioners (any job, but health care is specifically what comes to mind) are qualified, has substantially increased costs for services without a substantial improvement in quality. This is because licensing requirements decrease the quantity of practitioners available, leading people to use lower quality substitutes and generally decreasing their access. The link above shows that this has led to reduced quality in electrical work, dentistry, plumbing, real estate, and animal care, though it should be generally true as well.

Then there was the 1906 Meat Inspection Act, which was supposed to protect consumers from the evils of the unregulated meat packing industry (and everyone knows that Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle” proved this was necessary, right?). Government inspectors would go to the meat packing plant, poke meat with a rod, smell it, and deem the meat safe if the rod smelled fine. Then they’d repeat the process over and over with the same rod. The (predictable) result? Pathogens would be spread from bad meat to good meat, potentially infecting entire plants. Here’s the best part: this ridiculous method was continued through the late 1990s! The FDA can be very slow in approving new food safety processes for commercial use, the implications of which are difficult to measure. Not to be outdone, the Agriculture Department has prevented small meat packers from testing their own animals for Mad Cow Disease at the behest of larger companies that are afraid that market forces will force them to do their own expensive testing as well.

Worst of all is the FDA regulating the entire drug safety process. Dr. Mary Ruwart estimates that 4.7 million people have died needlessly over a 40 year period because they were denied access to potentially lifesaving drugs that the FDA had not yet deemed safe. Aspirin and penicillin would likely flunk the FDA approval process today.

Feeling safer yet?

Here’s a few more. Houses built under FEMA guidelines suffer more damage than houses that weren’t. The Federal Railroad Administration makes us less safe by mandating antiquated safety standards from the 1910s. Air bags were known to kill children, but were mandated for many years anyways. Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards led to smaller, less safe cars, resulting in 2500 needless deaths per year. In general, regulatory overload makes Americans less safe.

What about labor regulations and workplace safety? Free markets didn’t create child labor; they ended it. Had children not worked prior to the Industrial Revolution, they would have starved to death. If ending child labor was as easy as pushing a button/writing a law, every legislator would have done so, and far sooner. Similarly, improvements in occupational safety and shorter workweeks are a consequence of capital accumulation under market competition, not unions. For a good explanation of how markets improve workplace safety, see this.

And that brings us to our next subject: if the government is not enforcing safety regulations, then who would? How can we be kept safe? The answer, in short, is that the market process itself fosters safety improvements.

Let’s use dating as an example. Julian Adorney, whose insightful articles inspired this post in the first place, writes:

“No doubt there’s potential for abuse in the dating market. Sleazy men can treat women poorly; dishonest women can cheat on men. Some people get too drunk and do things they regret. Break-ups can cause immense emotional distress. We as a society recognize this, but we do not believe that this danger calls for government intervention. Instead, individuals take action to mitigate the damages above. A girl who dates a sleazy man will tell her friends about him, essentially giving him a negative review to steer others clear. People who drink too much and engage in behavior they later regret will learn from their mistakes and avoid similar behavior in the future. They make the similar mistakes again, but on the whole, the dating market contains a variety of complex mechanisms through which social pressure is applied to discriminate against those who break the rules of dating while favoring those who function within the established rules.”

online dating fail

An example of suggested self-regulation.

Markets are self-regulating. If safety is what consumers want, then that is what the market provides. I will not go into too much detail here, but things like Consumer Reports, the Better Business Bureau, product reviews, feedback mechanisms such as that of eBay, escrow services, insurance, and so on, can all be used to make life safer and products of higher quality. And they do this without resorting to violence, unlike government regulation.

Consider the Jewish practice of eating kosher. An entire industry of kosher certifications has evolved in a purely bottom-up process. There are several competing organizations that provide food labeling services and certify that the product is kosher. Read more about how kosher labeling is a model of private regulation here.

My previous job was at a healthcare IT firm. A private company, KLAS, did research and analytics on healthcare technology, and my company (and surely our competitors) was constantly striving to improve how we scored with them. The result was better information for hospitals deciding what type of medical record software to use – and ultimately, a better experience for hospital patients.

And you’ve probably never heard of Underwriters Laboratories (UL), but they do safety and quality tests on tens of thousands of products every year, likely including several in your home right now. They largely solve the problem of how you can trust that products which are purchased infrequently (and thus it is harder to “vote with your dollars” in future purchases) are safe and effective. It is truly a remarkable organization, and you can and should read more about it here. More:

“The Lab was the first to set standards for certifying the safety of pilots and planes before the government intervened. It set the standards for building materials, fire-fighting equipment, air conditioners, and household chemicals. It employs safecrackers and pyrotechnicians to test safes, and a variety of unique machines and devices to test thousands of other products each year. It has been testing multicolored Christmas lights since 1905, and entered the building-code business right after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.”

Voluntary organizations can be (and have been) established in many other fields in order to promote consumer safety. For an interesting discussion of self-regulation, particularly in the context of privacy, see this.

Ultimately, we must conclude that regulations in general are equally as absurd as my ridiculous proposal about regulating dating.

 

Conclusion

To finish off this article, I can do no better than to quote Mr. Adorney at length:

“This dating market is almost pure anarchy. No government bureaucrat tells you who to date. Straight white women aren’t legally obligated to only date straight white men. While sexual conduct with minors is forbidden, anyone over age eighteen can date anyone else over age eighteen.

And once you begin dating someone, no government agent steps in to tell you how the relationship must progress. There are no laws around what restaurants are “appropriate” for a first date; no burdensome rules around how many hours a date can last or how many drinks one party can imbibe.

And in the absence of government rules, unofficial codes of behavior spring up. Social norms emerge, crowd-sourced and shaped by society as a whole. It’s appropriate for a guy to buy the girl dinner. Getting drunk on a first date is frowned upon. Dating someone else on the side — cheating — is immoral and is generally cause for break-up.

No government official made these rules. No Department of Safe and Responsible Dating set these codes down in law. Instead, they form organically. Culture, from television shows like Friends to love songs, shape our social mores. How our friends behave when they date impacts how we behave. If your friends say that it’s wrong to cheat on a boy you’re seeing, you’ll probably absorb that as a rule of romance.

The result is anarchy: not an absence of rules, but an absence of rulers dictating how we behave and throwing those in jail who do not comply.”

How The US Government Fuels Terrorism All Over The World

Death to America Online

If a family member of yours was murdered, I think it is safe to say you would be very upset, and would want to see the murderer punished and justice to be served.

Depending on the circumstances, you might even take justice into your own hands – pursuing and getting revenge on the perpetrator yourself. In most cases, however, you would likely leave it up to the justice system. But what if the murderer were rich and powerful, and could easily pull the right strings and use their influence to prevent justice from being served?

I’d venture to guess that in this case, you would be beyond pissed. Someone was evil enough to murder your family member, and then they were able to use their power in a massive perversion of justice in order to get away with it. You would almost certainly desire revenge, and would likely take it at any chance you got. There’s really nothing odd at all about this psychological predilection, and I take it that it would hold true for a large segment of humanity.

It’s only natural to hate those who harm you and your loved ones. In fact, even if your family member were a bad person – perhaps an evil person himself – most still would not take kindly to their murder.

Nothing I’ve said thus far is particularly controversial, or even informative. People generally would accept it at its face. And yet somehow, as soon as the word “terrorism” becomes involved, the majority of people throw this obvious logic out the window!

Terrorism

Since September 11th, 2001, the United States government has been leading what has since been dubbed the Global War on Terror (GWOT). Let’s put aside for the moment the extreme ambiguity in what this actually means. For most people, terrorism is defined at the “I know it when I see it” level.

I’ve previously discussed the propagandistic use of the term “terrorism.” In this post, I’m more interested in exploring the question of whether the actions of the US government and her allies are successfully fighting this ambiguous enemy. The very clear, undeniable answer is that American government policies are doing far more to fuel terrorism than to stop it.

 

The United States Helped Create Al-Qaeda

It’s amazing how short the political memory of most Americans is. It was less than forty years ago that the US was actively funding and arming the mujahedeen, including Osama bin Laden, to counter the Soviets in Afghanistan. Ever since 9/11, the US government has vehemently denied this.

However, reputable sources have confirmed that this is true. For instance, in 1999, The Guardian reported:

“American officials estimate that, from 1985 to 1992, 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb-making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in Afghan camps the CIA helped to set up.

Since the fall of the Soviet puppet government in 1992, another 2,500 are believed to have passed through the camps. They are now run by an assortment of Islamic extremists, including Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted terrorist.”

Similarly, a 2004 article from the BBC states:

“During the anti-Soviet jihad Bin Laden and his fighters received American and Saudi funding. Some analysts believe Bin Laden himself had security training from the CIA.”

Robin Cook, ex-Home Secretary in the UK, had this to say in an op-ed he penned for The Guardian after the London bombings:

“Bin Laden was, though, a product of a monumental miscalculation by western security agencies. Throughout the 80s he was armed by the CIA and funded by the Saudis to wage jihad against the Russian occupation of Afghanistan. Al-Qaida, literally “the database”, was originally the computer file of the thousands of mujahideen who were recruited and trained with help from the CIA to defeat the Russians. Inexplicably, and with disastrous consequences, it never appears to have occurred to Washington that once Russia was out of the way, Bin Laden’s organisation would turn its attention to the west.”

Former Director of the CIA Robert Gates, in his memoirs From the Shadows, claims that the US began funding the mujahedeen in 1979, six months before the Soviet invasion. And Zbigniew Brzezinski, National Security Advisor under President Carter, confirmed in an interview that they knowingly worked to aid these Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan.

All this is not to say that the funding and aid wasn’t justified at the time, given the relevant geopolitical concerns. The intent was to draw the Soviet Union into their own version of Vietnam. Arguably a decent strategy. Nevertheless, we must accept the history and understand the consequences, or blowback, from the actions of the US government.

There’s quite a bit more to the story than that, but this should suffice for now. For more info on the implications of this sordid history (for instance, that this relationship with bin Laden and al-Qaeda continued throughout the 90s), see this, this, and this.

While al-Qaeda is the most high profile of the Islamic fundamentalist organizations that were largely incubated by western funds and support years ago, it is not the only one. Off and on since the 50s, the US government has been supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. And in order to counterbalance the secular PLO, the Israeli government was formerly a major backer of Hamas.

Were it not for American aid (as well as aid from America’s Gulf allies), it is plausible that there would be no substantial Islamic fundamentalist terror movement, and quite probably no September 11th.

 

More Wars, More Terrorism

It was the United States that helped initially spawn the militant Islamist movement in the 1980s. And early on, the ire of these movements was not immediately directed at the US. What really got the Islamists angry was the many years of militarism by America in Muslim countries.

The US military has been heavily involved in the Middle East since far back in the 20th century, but it has been rapidly accelerating. Since 1980, the US has bombed 14 predominately Muslim countries:

“Let’s tick them off: Iran (1980, 1987-1988), Libya (1981, 1986, 1989, 2011), Lebanon (1983), Kuwait (1991), Iraq (1991-2011, 2014-), Somalia (1992-1993, 2007-), Bosnia (1995), Saudi Arabia (1991, 1996), Afghanistan (1998, 2001-), Sudan (1998), Kosovo (1999), Yemen (2000, 2002-), Pakistan (2004-) and now Syria.”

And as Glenn Greenwald notes, Syria marks the seventh predominately Muslim country that the US has bombed since Obama came to power:

“When Obama began bombing targets inside Syria in September, I noted that it was the seventh predominantly Muslim country that had been bombed by the U.S. during his presidency (that did not count Obama’s bombing of the Muslim minority in the Philippines). I also previously noted that this new bombing campaign meant that Obama had become the fourth consecutive U.S. President to order bombs dropped on Iraq. Standing alone, those are both amazingly revealing facts. American violence is so ongoing and continuous that we barely notice it any more.”

It is surely true that the immense death and destruction caused by these many military campaigns are major recruiting tools for terrorists. If your house were destroyed, your family members and friends were killed, and your country occupied, surely you would harbor ill will towards those directly responsible.

 

Hate America's Army

By far, the most influential of all these military adventures in terms of its effects on the Islamic terrorist movement was the war in Iraq that began in 2003. You may recall the allegations that Saddam Hussein was allied with and supporting al-Qaeda, one of the major justifications for going to war in the first place. In fact, a Pentagon study released in 2008, which involved combing through 600,000 documents seized in Iraq, found no evidence that Saddam had dealings with al-Qaeda. Same with the September 11th commission. Given the claims from top Bush administration officials that the evidence linking Saddam to al-Qaeda was “bulletproof” and “overwhelming,” it is clear that they simply lied.

You may also recall that soon after the invasion of Iraq, Islamic terrorism became almost synonymous with the country. Despite no evidence of al-Qaeda presence beforehand, the new al-Qaeda in Iraq became a force to be reckoned with. In fact, a study by Mother Jones in 2007 concluded:

“Our study shows that the Iraq War has generated a stunning sevenfold increase in the yearly rate of fatal jihadist attacks, amounting to literally hundreds of additional terrorist attacks and thousands of civilian lives lost; even when terrorism in Iraq and Afghanistan is excluded, fatal attacks in the rest of the world have increased by more than one-third.”

Since that study only includes attacks that had at least one casualty and were confirmed to be from a known jihadist organization, it likely understates the results. A National Intelligence Estimate, reflecting the combined opinion of all US intelligence agencies, also concluded that the Iraq war substantially increased terrorism. Basically, Iraq became a training grounds for jihadists from all over the world, who were able to then take their skills and use them back in their home countries – or anywhere else.

Much of the same can be said about the war in Afghanistan, though to a lesser degree. If current tactics were working, there wouldn’t be continued violence and terrorist attacks there after more than a dozen years…but alas, more terrorists are being created than killed. This should be unsurprising in Afghanistan, where the US Army is capturing, beating, killing, and torturing the wrong people and creating enemies on behalf of disreputable Afghan cronies.

While there were many new militant Islamists created as a consequence of America’s wars, quite a few have received massive financial and military support over the past few years. You may recall the western attack against Libya that toppled Muammar Gadhafi in 2011. The war was sold to Americans as a humanitarian intervention; Gadhafi is such a horrible person, so we must support the democracy-loving rebels! Of course, those rebels were primarily – you guessed it – al-Qaeda. And what happens when you support Muslim extremists and give them weapons? Well, you end up with a US-backed general becoming a major player in ISIS! The Libya that America and her allies destroyed is now a safe haven for all sorts of jihadist organizations, and instability and terrorism have proliferated throughout Africa as a result.

If you are generous, you could argue that the US government simply didn’t know who it was arming. Were that true, it would mean that our intelligence services are so incredibly incompetent that anyone could see that they ought to be disbanded immediately. But for better or for worse, we know that America and her allies knowingly supported Islamic terrorists. The Libyan rebel leader even admitted that his fighters had links to al-Qaeda:

“Mr al-Hasidi insisted his fighters “are patriots and good Muslims, not terrorists,” but added that the “members of al-Qaeda are also good Muslims and are fighting against the invader”.”

This is certainly the conclusion that the Citizens’ Commission on Benghazi came to:

“The Citizen’s Commission on Benghazi’s interim report, in a paragraph titled “Changing sides in the War on Terror,” alleges “the U.S. was fully aware of and facilitating the delivery of weapons to the Al Qaeda-dominated rebel militias throughout the 2011 rebellion.”

The report asserted the jihadist agenda of AQIM, the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group and other Islamic terror groups represented among the rebel forces was well known to U.S. officials responsible for Libya policy.

“The rebels made no secret of their Al Qaeda affiliation, openly flying and speaking in front of the black flag of Islamic jihad, according to author John Rosenthal and multiple media reports,” the interim report said. “And yet, the White House and senior Congressional members deliberately and knowingly pursued a policy that provided material support to terrorist organizations in order to topple a ruler who had been working closely with the West actively to suppress Al Qaeda.””

Leaked recordings also verify this account.

But that’s not all! It turns out that the Libyan terrorists that the west had been financing were starting to migrate over to Syria to fight with the (also) terrorist rebels, aided by the CIA, specifically on behalf of the US government.

Ahhh yes, and then we get to Syria. Here’s where things get really sketchy. For the sake of brevity, I cannot provide a full treatment of the ways in which the US has been backing fundamentalist Islamic terrorists in Syria, but I can at least provide a brief outline.

Obama has been, and continues to arm what the US government has been calling “moderate” rebels in Syria. This is a complete farce; everyone and their mother knows that the only substantial rebel forces fighting against Assad’s government have been Islamic fundamentalists such as ISIS. This had been widely reported in the media, even as far back as 2013:

“The New York Times, (and here and here) , Wall Street JournalUSA TodayCNNMcClatchy (and here), APTimeReutersBBC, the Independent, the TelegraphAgence France-PresseAsia Times, and the Star (and here) confirm that  supporting the rebels means supporting Al Qaeda and two other terrorist groups.

Indeed, the New York Times has reported that virtually all of the rebel fighters are Al Qaeda terrorists.”

So far, the United States has given $400 million in aid to the Syrian opposition (aka, the terrorists). Just the other day, the Pentagon declared its intention to train, fund, and arm an additional 15,000 “carefully vetted” Syrian rebels to fight against Assad. Despite the fact that previous groups of “moderates” who’ve received US training have joined the al-Qaeda affiliated al-Nusra Front. Hey, maybe this time it will work out differently, right?

What about ISIS, the new bad guys in the Middle East who just about everyone can agree are about as evil as it gets? Turns out they owe quite a bit to the United States as well.

The geopolitical situation in the Middle East right now is very convoluted, and any sensible country would have no part in that mess. In Syria, the dictator Assad is a longtime enemy of the US. But the only credible fighting force against his government are the maniacal terrorists of ISIS and al-Qaeda. In some twisted sense, this means that the US government’s “best interest” could involve letting the slaughter that is going on in Syria continue for as long as possible.

This means that there is, at the very least, some sort of “unholy alliance” between the US and ISIS. I must be very careful here to distinguish between what is speculation, and what is heavily substantiated.

I strongly suggest you read this piece from Nafeez Ahmed, which details how the West both directly and indirectly promoted the success of ISIS, from securing passage for militants to cross into Syria to helping train them in camps along the Syria-Jordan border. For our purposes, I intend to focus primarily on how the US and her Gulf allies have been funding radical Islamic terror. As Ahmed states:

“…the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficially financing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret.”

But for those who somehow find this too difficult to believe, Vice President Joe Biden admitted that they had been funding ISIS all along. Speaking about Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates, Biden said:

“They were so determined to take down Assad and essentially have a proxy Sunni-Shia war, what did they do? They poured hundreds of millions of dollars and tens, thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against Assad—except that the people who were being supplied were al Nusra and al Qaeda and the extremist elements of jihadis coming from other parts of the world.”

And the Daily Beast reports that ISIS has been getting funding from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar – all American allies. Daniel Lazare provides some additional details:

“After years of hemming and hawing, the Obama administration has finally come clean about its goals in Syria.  In the battle to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, it is siding with Al Qaeda. This has become evident ever since Jisr Ash-Shughur, a small town in the northeastern part of the country, fell on April 25 to a Saudi and Turkish-backed coalition consisting of the Al-Nusra Front, Ahrar al Sham, and an array of smaller, more “moderate” factions as well.

Al Nusra, which is backed by Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, is Al Qaeda’s official Syrian affiliate. Ahrar al Sham, which is heavily favored by Qatar, is also linked with Al Qaeda and has also cooperated with ISIS. The other groups, which sport such monikers as the Coastal Division and the Sukur Al Ghab Brigades, are part of the U.S.-backed Free Syrian Army and are supposedly as anti-terrorist as they are anti-Assad.  Yet they nonetheless “piggybacked” on the offensive, to use The Wall Street Journal’s term, doing everything they could to further the Al-Nusra-led advance.”

The funding of Islamic extremism by America and her Gulf allies is nothing new. In fact, it has been going on for decades. For example:

“…in Pakistan, where the aid program (known as Operation Cyclone) was organized, the Reagan administration was supporting a brutal dictator known as Zia-ul-Haq, an Islamic extremist who had come to a power in a coup in 1978, overthrowing a secular government. Zia carried out an Islamization project in Pakistan, with the building of hundreds of madrassas that preached intolerant variants of Islam and declaring judicial decisions must be based on Sharia law. The Reagan administration funded Zia’s government with $5 billion ($2 billion of which was military aid), as well as a further $3 billion to fund the mujahideen in Afghanistan. The stalwart US ally, Saudi Arabia, agreed to fund the mujahideen dollar for dollar for whatever the United States spent.”

And Wahhabism, one of the more extreme forms of Islam (the extremist subset of the already extreme Salafist movement) that tends to breed the most terrorists, is largely centered in and funded by Saudi Arabia:

“It would be troublesome but perhaps acceptable for the House of Saud to promote the intolerant and extremist Wahhabi creed just domestically. But, unfortunately, for decades the Saudis have also lavishly financed its propagation abroad. Exact numbers are not known, but it is thought that more than $100 billion have been spent on exporting fanatical Wahhabism to various much poorer Muslim nations worldwide over the past three decades. It might well be twice that number. By comparison, the Soviets spent about $7 billion spreading communism worldwide in the 70 years from 1921 and 1991.

The money goes to constructing and operating mosques and madrassas that preach radical Wahhabism. The money also goes to training imams; media outreach and publishing; distribution of Wahhabi textbooks, and endowments to universities and cultural centers.”

Secret cables from WikiLeaks confirm these claims, as well as implicate other Gulf states in the funding of fundamentalist Islam and terrorism. Remember, these are US “allies.” These are the countries that are supposed to be “on our side” in the “War on Terror.” Much of this is implicitly backed by the CIA. For a timeline of American/CIA flirtations with extremist Islam, see this.

Jihad me at hello

Given this history, it is hard not to ask the obvious question: is the United States really trying to fight against Islamic terror, or is it trying to foster it? Here we get more into the realm of speculation, but the facts as presented thus far strongly suggest this is the case. Despite government rhetoric, there are some who believe that the United States is intentionally supporting ISIS as a part of its Middle East strategy to counter Syria and Iran. In other words, the US could be the main driver of the success of ISIS, the despicable organization that is beheading journalists, slaughtering children, eating human hearts, and burning people alive in cages.

It’s hard to stomach, and difficult to prove for certain. But when mainstream, establishment publications like Foreign Affairs are actively endorsing the idea of supporting al-Qaeda (in this case, to curb the rise of ISIS, a very convoluted strategy), it is absolutely worth asking the question.

It seems like this is in fact what many Iraqis, including senior military figures, believe: the United States is deliberately supporting ISIS in order to oust Assad in Syria, and perhaps to gain some leverage over the weak Iraqi government as well. Of course, the mainstream media has dismissed this all as some crackpot conspiracy theory. And perhaps it is. But this is the view of Iraqi intelligence, which has noted that many US airdrops have been finding their way into ISIS’s hands. Perhaps that is why Iraq shot down two British planes that were allegedly carrying weapons for ISIS.

Whether these Iraqi accusations are true or not, it is certainly clear that the mess we face in the Middle East right now is largely the fault of the United States and the rest of the West. And where it isn’t directly the fault of the US, it is most certainly exacerbated by the US policy of “watching the world burn.” Any way you spin it, American involvement in the Middle East has been a huge driver of radical Islamic terrorism. And given the sprawling infrastructure of American military bases all across the Middle East, it is likely that these self-destructive policies will continue for the foreseeable future.

UPDATE: Newly declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents show that the United States and the Western world have intentionally supported radical Islamists with the goal of forming a “Salafist principality in Eastern Syria” in order to counter Assad’s government. These documents were dated August 2012, long before ISIS became a household name.

This is no longer speculation. The United States, the Gulf states, Turkey, and other western nations specifically foresaw the rise of ISIS and deliberately supported it anyways. For more information and analysis, see this.

 

Drone Warfare And Torture – Losing Hearts And Minds

It’s not just America’s Mideast wars and occupations that are creating terrorists – specific tactics are also fueling this rise in terrorism. Two of them specifically come to mind: drone strikes and torture.

For the purpose of this article, we can mostly ignore the human rights implications and clear violation of international (and even American) law that these tactics involve. While these issues are certainly important – a lack of due process, the profligate use of cruel and unusual punishment, etc. – we are primarily concerned here with their practical impact. Of course, blatantly disregarding peoples’ human rights as well as international law does tend to have a practical impact…

Drone Strikes

I’ve tried to explain to several people that even when drone strikes do hit their target, they tend to create more terrorists than they kill. I struggle to understand why people don’t seem to understand this.

Perhaps most Americans believe that “targeted killings” actually succeed in hitting their desired target and no one else. The government and its propagandistic media do everything in their power to facilitate this perception. It is standard practice to have unknown drone victims reported as “militants”. Of course, the reality is that the vast majority of drone victims are innocent civilians, including many women and children.

In fact, only 12% of the victims of US drone strikes in Pakistan have been identified as militants. According to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism:

“…out of the 2,379 known victims of drone strikes between June 2004 and October 2014, 704 have been identified. Only 295 of these were reported to be members of some kind of armed group.”

Drone strikes kill far more people than are actually targeted, despite official government rhetoric. And each of these victims is another reason to be pissed off at the United States.

“A new analysis of the data available to the public about drone strikes, conducted by the human-rights group Reprieve, indicates that even when operators target specific individuals – the most focused effort of what Barack Obama calls “targeted killing” – they kill vastly more people than their targets, often needing to strike multiple times. Attempts to kill 41 men resulted in the deaths of an estimated 1,147 people, as of 24 November.”

 

terrorists hate us for our freedom

If your family and friends were being murdered out of nowhere, you would (unless you are a complete pacifist, but very few people are) want to fight back against whoever did this. If you are an American reading this, think back to how you felt immediately after September 11th. And now consider that practically the entire justification for the Global War on Terror (including multiple real wars, thousands of deaths at the hands of drones, torture, overthrowing governments, and massively intrusive domestic surveillance) stems from this single event, resulting in the death of 3000 civilians. Many Americans continue to justify an incredibly aggressive foreign policy simply based on the very little terrorism that Americans are victims of. And most of those who use 9/11 as a justification for war don’t even know anyone who died in that attack!

I also want to bring up Israel, a country that I believe has vastly more justification for military aggressiveness. Israelis have actually had to deal with significant and persistent terrorist threats. Israelis continue to live in fear of rocket attacks. And in the minds of many Israelis, this provides sufficient justification for Israel’s wars and assassination attempts. What these Israelis fail to see is that – regardless of whether it is justified or not – launching counterstrikes only exacerbates the problem. It’s very easy to understand why Palestinians tend to hate Israel, even if Israel isn’t acting out of line.

The use of drones is simply a gold mine for terrorist recruiting. It’s not just the civilian deaths; the ever present threat of drone strikes is enough to cause psychological damage to those who live underneath them. According to a report by Living Under Drones:

“Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning. Their presence terrorizes men, women, and children, giving rise to anxiety and psychological trauma among civilian communities. Those living under drones have to face the constant worry that a deadly strike may be fired at any moment, and the knowledge that they are powerless to protect themselves. These fears have affected behavior. The US practice of striking one area multiple times, and evidence that it has killed rescuers, makes both community members and humanitarian workers afraid or unwilling to assist injured victims. Some community members shy away from gathering in groups, including important tribal dispute-resolution bodies, out of fear that they may attract the attention of drone operators. Some parents choose to keep their children home, and children injured or traumatized by strikes have dropped out of school. Waziris told our researchers that the strikes have undermined cultural and religious practices related to burial, and made family members afraid to attend funerals. In addition, families who lost loved ones or their homes in drone strikes now struggle to support themselves.”

Drone strikes also alienate potential allies against terrorist organizations. From the same report:

“Drone strikes have also soured many Pakistanis on cooperation with the US and undermined US-Pakistani rel­ations. One major study shows that 74% of Pakistanis now consider the US an enemy.”

Ordinary Pakistanis are highly unlikely to help out the US in her counterterrorism efforts. Not only that, but these drone strikes potentially destabilize the government of Pakistan. Either their government can vigorously oppose drone strikes to appease their citizens and maintain stability (but then the US loses an ally), or they can help the US and find far more serious domestic opposition. Neither is particularly beneficial if the goal is to prevent terrorism.

Drones kill children

This is all well and good, but is there any empirical evidence that the use of drone strikes increases terrorism? This is difficult to measure, but limited evidence suggests that this is likely the case.

Using propaganda output as a proxy for terrorist activity, research has shown that the use of drone strikes has not been able to diminish this output. While the creation and dissemination of propaganda may not be the best metric, unlike many others, it is at least objective and quantifiable.

A study from the National Bureau of Economics Research found that civilian casualties in Afghanistan significantly increased terrorism because of “revenge” effects.

“In Afghanistan we find strong evidence that local exposure to civilian casualties caused by international forces leads to increased insurgent violence over the long-run, what we term the ‘revenge’ effect. Matching districts with similar past trends in violence shows that counterinsurgent-generated civilian casualties from a typical incident are responsible for 1 additional violent incident in an average sized district in the following 6 weeks and lead to increased violence over the next 6 months.”

This is not the least bit surprising, given our discussion up to this point. But the most damning evidence of all is documented by Andrew Cockburn, and is in reference to the strategy of targeting “high value individuals” (HVI) in a terrorist organization. The same strategy was employed in the 1990s against drug cartels, with the same counterproductive effect – more and cheaper drugs.

“Hitting HVIs did not reduce attacks and save American lives; it increased them. Each killing quickly prompted mayhem. Within three kilometers of the target’s base of operation, attacks over the following 30 days shot up by 40%. Within a radius of five kilometers, a typical area of operations for an insurgent cell, they were still up 20%. Summarizing his findings for Odierno, Rivolo [a Pentagon analyst] added an emphatic punch line: “Conclusion: HVI Strategy, our principal strategy in Iraq, is counter-productive and needs to be re-evaluated.””

In short: drone strikes, at least in part due to being a humanitarian disaster, are a major aspect of terrorist recruitment.

Torture

Neoconservative pundits like to say that torture, or “enhanced interrogation” as it is euphemistically called, helps save American lives by preventing terrorist attacks. Many Americans instinctively agree with this assessment, perhaps in part due to how torture is portrayed in popular media like Zero-Dark Thirty. The reality is the opposite.

In fact, leading experts, including Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair, former counter-terrorism czar Richard Clarke, top military interrogators, counter-terrorism experts, top intelligence agents and officials (including an FBI agent who interrogated al-Qaeda prisoners), and the Senate Armed Services Committee agree that torture is ineffective at stopping terror attacks and increases risk of terrorism.

Torture is physical therapy

While that proves nothing on its own, it should make you give pause before writing the government a blank check to torture whoever they want for “national security” reasons, but this is exactly what many Americans have done. Perhaps people should put more thought into allowing their government to waterboard, rectally feed/hydrate, sleep deprive, expose to cold and loud music, hold in stress positions for up to 180 straight hours, sexually abuse and humiliate, and threaten to abuse and rape family members of prisoners held without charge, many whom are later found to be innocent of any crime. Particularly when, as stated in the Senate’s own torture report, this did not stop a single attack on America or her allies.

Torture is completely unjustified for many reasons, both moral and practical. Torture can be and has been effective in a handful of individual cases, but it is unreliable and unpredictable (for more, read “Is Coercive Interrogation of Terrorist Suspects Effective? A Response to Bagaric and Clarke” by Philip Rumney). Since it is impossible to know when torture might actually be effective, it is bad policy. People often justify torture in “ticking time bomb” scenarios, where a terrorist attack is going to be happening imminently and authorities may be able to get information that can stop the attack from a captive. Besides the fact that those who argue in favor of torture can’t point to a single situation where this would have been this case, it fails on theoretical grounds. As Rumney argues:

“…one of the ironies of the entire debate surrounding coercive interrogation is that its use in the context of the paradigmatic “ticking bomb” terrorist may also be where it is of the least utility. Where a decision to use coercion is made in order to avoid an imminent catastrophe, the suspect, assuming he or she possesses relevant knowledge and is prepared to divulge information, could easily give false or misleading information simply to stop the infliction of pain. Once found to be false, there may be little time for the authorities to gain truthful information.”

Duh. Does nobody else think about these things? But even that ignores the very important problem of knowing whether or not you are even torturing the right people with the right information, a very important consideration when it comes to whether the use of torture tends to increase or decrease terrorism. Rumney describes the problem well:

“…in the midst of conflicts with terrorists and insurgents, attempts to control the use of coercion fail and the techniques escalate, as do the range of persons subjected to those techniques. This is directly linked to the issue of effectiveness because intelligence gathering requires the use of interrogation techniques that produce reliable information, along with the accurate identification of those who possess relevant knowledge. The problem of slippage also creates difficulties in terms of predictability as non-coercive interrogation is cast aside to be replaced by a range of coercive techniques that have not been proven to be more effective. Indeed, as the earlier analysis suggests, such techniques might actually have a range of predictable consequences that hinder, rather than assist, intelligence gathering.”

In other words, when torture is allowed, it begins to replace non-coercive methods of intelligence gathering. It starts to develop a kind of “mission creep,” which means that more innocent people (or even “guilty” people who don’t have the necessary information) will be tortured. If they didn’t hate America before, how do you think they’ll feel after being tortured without cause?

Indeed, without due process or even basic evidentiary requirements, it becomes likely that innocent people become victims of a “legalized” system of torture, like the one we have in the United States. Rumney again:

“It has become increasingly apparent that many individuals detained by the United States as part of the “war on terror” have no connection to terrorism and do not possess the specific knowledge that is being sought. This is a result of a range of factors including the selling of supposed “terrorists” to United States forces and the poor quality assessment of individuals when they are first screened by inexperienced military intelligence officers. Indeed, early internal intelligence assessments at Guantanamo Bay suggested that fifty-nine detainees (nearly 10% of the total number of detainees at the camp) did not meet screening criteria for deciding which prisoners should have been sent to Guantanamo Bay. A report in the Los Angeles Times claimed that an operational commander at Guantanamo Bay had gone to Afghanistan and complained “that too many ‘Mickey Mouse’ detainees were being sent to the already crowded facility.””

We’ve spent a lot of time thus far discussing why torture is ineffective. But it isn’t merely ineffective – it is counterproductive and weakens America’s position in the “war on terror.”

Think Progress has a short report (I highly recommend looking at it if you’re interested in this stuff) outlining just a few of the reasons why torture is counterproductive:

  • Enhanced Interrogations Recruits Terrorists
  • Enhanced Interrogations Puts American Soldiers At Risk
  • Enhanced Interrogations Ruin Credibility Of Intelligence Agencies
  • Enhanced Interrogations Strain Alliances
  • Interrogations Ruined America’s Moral Authority
  • Enhanced Interrogations Makes Terrorists Unprosecutable

I’m not going to discuss each of these points, since most of them don’t require too much straining to understand. What I specifically want to focus on is how torture breeds more terrorists and makes it more difficult to fight against already existing ones.

Two political scientists have found that countries that used torture suffered from more terrorist attacks and were more likely to lose wars. It is theoretically plausible that the causation could run in the other direction (ie, that terrorist attacks cause countries to use torture), but their statistical methods make that conclusion unlikely. These researchers write:

“They hypothesize that abuse of the subset of rights known as physical integrity rights fuels terrorism by making it more difficult for government authorities to collect intelligence on terrorists and by undermining domestic and international support for their counterterrorism efforts. They test this hypothesis using a data set that includes measures of both domestic and transnational terrorist attacks and find that respect for physical integrity rights is consistently associated with fewer terrorist attacks. This suggests that those interested in curtailing terrorism should press governments to more carefully respect physical integrity rights.”

Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been used as recruiting tools by terrorists, and have driven hundreds (probably thousands) of people to join terrorist organizations (see here, here, and here).

Not only have new terrorists been created because of the United States’ use of torture, but the information gleaned from torture has also caused problems including false leads and terror alerts with serious consequences, including “evidence” linking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to al-Qaeda. To the extent that this information helped influence the decision to invade Iraq, torture has created innumerable new terrorists.

 

Conclusion

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the US has a well-documented history of supporting Islamic fundamentalist terrorists when it suits her geopolitical aims. Not only that, but the specific behaviors and tactical responses to terrorism have created legions of new America-hating, violent terrorists.

Even so, America continues to arm and support terrorists in the Middle East, and continues to use the same tactics that have proven so counterproductive. Meanwhile, the Western world continues to marginalize its Muslim population. In fact, it was the UK’s MI5 that turned ISIS’s “Jihadi John” from a nonviolent, normal guy who opposed the 9/11 attack to the violent terrorist he ultimately became.

I did 9/11

All of this inevitably leads one to wonder – why? Why would our government continue to pursue such terrible policies? I don’t have a surefire answer to this question. Perhaps members of the government are simply incompetent. Maybe the neoconservative movement is so hell-bent on world domination that they don’t even consider the moral or pragmatic consequences of their actions. Or perhaps there is a connection running through America’s initial support for al-Qaeda, 9/11, Saudi Arabia, and the current support for Islamic terror.

Regardless of the reasons, however, it is clear that there is a divide between rhetoric and reality. And for our part, we need to spread the word about the failures of the “war on terror” so that hopefully, someday soon, this needless bloodshed can be stopped.

Case Study In Media Deception: Dietary Supplement Regulation

Dietary supplements

One of my pet interests is in nutrition, health, personal development, and the like (I’ve actually been blogging about this stuff for three years now over here). A subsection of that interest is in nutritional supplements, which I know far too much about. Some of my friends consider me like a pharmacist of sorts.

My dad, familiar with my interests, sent me this article on Yahoo about how GNC will be making changes to their quality control procedures. Here’s the gist of it:

Earlier this year, the New York State attorney general’s office accused GNC, Target, Walmart and Walgreens of selling fraudulent herbal supplements, devoid of the ingredients touted on the label and containing potentially harmful contaminants. Now, at least one of the retailers is responding by tightening up their quality control.

Today, GNC will announce that it will be implementing major new testing procedures to make sure its supplements far exceed the standards currently set by the federal government.

“This should be a standard across the entire industry,” Dr. Pieter Cohen, a professor who studies supplements at Harvard Medical School, tells the New York Times. “Today we finally have one first step taken by one retailer, and only after the very aggressive intervention by the New York attorney general’s office.”

In the past, I’ve discussed how the media is used to promote memes that the elite want spread, and this is a perfect demonstration of the principle. Supplements are regulated more like the way food is regulated in America, as opposed to the far more heavily regulated pharmaceutical industry. As such, dietary supplements are vastly cheaper – and Americans are using them in huge numbers. In 2012, the industry took home $32 billion in revenue, and this is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2021.

It is quite clear that the intention of this article is to promote the idea of further regulation of dietary supplements. Feel free to read the article yourself, but the excerpt above is obviously an attempt to make a connection between supplements being unsafe and the government needing to step in to address this. A casual reader of the article will immediately make that connection in their mind: “Uh oh, I take dietary supplements [nearly 70% of Americans do]. I don’t want them to be unsafe – there ought to be a law!”

But the connection is entirely spurious, as one heavily propagandistic statement in the middle of the article should make clear:

Supplements are required to state the name and amount of each and every ingredient they contain — but this practice is more of an “honor code,”and not always abided by.

Supplements are currently regulated under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA). Under this law, supplements are in fact required to state the name of every ingredient they contain and the total quantity of ingredients. This is the law. The only reason why the article would say it is “more of an honor code” is to mislead; technically, all laws go by the “honor code” in the sense mentioned here – that they are sometimes broken. Nobody would claim that laws against murder go by the “honor code.” If you murder someone and are caught, the force of the law comes down upon you. Just like for every law.

The article is arguing that because supplement companies have committed fraud, they need tighter regulations. But fraud is already illegal, and there is already a procedure in place for this. From the FDA website linked to above:

FDA is responsible for taking action against any adulterated or misbranded dietary supplement product after it reaches the market.

In other words, current regulations already prohibit fraud. The current regulations have failed to protect consumers, despite their intent.

I am not trying to dispute here that there are problems within the supplement industry. Fraud may very well be rampant, as the article claims. In that case, the fraudsters ought to be punished, and those who were victimized ought to be made whole again.

In addition to fraud, many supplements make bold claims about their potential health benefits, even if there isn’t much credible science to back it up. But it is the responsibility of consumers to separate the good from the bad. No one is coerced into purchasing these supplements. It is easy to do research on these things. Personally, I suggest checking examine.com to find quality scientific research on supplements for free. And by and large, dietary supplements are quite safe (but you should ALWAYS do your own research beforehand).

But I digress. The main point I want to get across in this post is that the media is used as a means of establishing trends on behalf of the elite. Who is it that stands to benefit most from promoting the meme that dietary supplements require stronger regulations? Answer: the pharmaceutical companies, of course!

Dietary supplements are viewed by many Americans as a cheaper alternative to expensive pharmaceuticals. But if they were more heavily regulated, the cost of supplements would skyrocket, and people would no longer have access to cheap substitutes. So that is the first point: eliminating competition. Complying with regulations is expensive, and this makes it vastly more difficult for upstart companies to get a foothold in the industry.

Perhaps even more important is the fact that much of the supplement industry is already owned by the big pharmaceutical companies! In an article on Al Jazeera arguing in favor of supplement regulation, this is confirmed:

Supplement promoters sell themselves as an alternative to big pharma, but giant pharmaceutical firms actually own the bulk of the industry. Pfizer owns Centrum, Bayer owns One a Day, and Procter & Gamble owns supplement maker New Chapter. Even Wall Street is getting in on the action. The Carlyle Group, a private-equity giant, owns NBTY (formerly Nature’s Bounty), and hedge funds are trading on industry players like the Vitamin Shoppe, betting that health-conscious baby boomers and other promising demographics will keep buying.

A 2009 article on Fox News corroborates this:

There are hundreds of small firms, including niche players with only a few products. But they account for a slim slice of total sales, industry experts say.

The Pharma giant Wyeth, for example, makes Centrum and other supplements, and Bayer HealthCare of aspirin fame makes the One A Day line. Unilever, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline and other big pharmaceutical firms also make or sell supplements.

Not only will dietary supplement regulation squeeze out the smaller players in the market, but it will allow the pharmaceutical companies to sell their own supplements for oligopoly prices. And since these giant companies already have the majority share in these sales, you can expect that they will be by far the biggest winners if any new supplement regulations are signed into law.

This whole idea is most surely a promotion by the pharmaceutical industry, which has a massive lobby. In the 2014 election cycle, the industry spent nearly $14.8 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. And in the combined election cycles between 1990 and 2014, they spent over $163 million. Contrast this with the lobbying for the nutritional supplement industry. In 2014, they spent just over $1 million. And since 1990, they have spent a paltry $15.3 million.

And pharmaceutical companies are known to be aggressive marketers. In particular, they are shifting to a more heavy online advertising presence, as you can see in the graph.

pharmaceutical-advertising-spending

If my powers of deduction and knowledge of how the world works are correct, you can expect to see many more articles published in major online news sources calling for increased regulation of the dietary supplement industry.

Crony capitalism at its finest!

is..

photo by:

The Fallacy Of “Creating Jobs”

Help Wanted

If you read the financial news or listen to anyone talk about the state of the economy, you almost certainly have heard about the virtues of “job creation”. Politicians are always talking about how many jobs this or that program they’ve spearheaded has created. The Bureau of Labor Statistics will release data saying that the economy added several hundred thousand jobs in the past month.

The way the term “job” is bandied around these days creates the impression that a job is a product, like a car or a computer. There is a perception that by pushing the right levers and dials, government policy can “create jobs” – the same way that a car company can produce a car. This ridiculous and false perception is responsible for numerous popular economic fallacies.

 

What Is A Job?

While it may seem like a silly question, it is important to pin down what exactly a job is. More importantly, why do we even want jobs?

A job is any arrangement where an employer agrees to provide some remuneration for a service provided by an employee. In other words, a job is just an interpersonal relation where someone is paying someone else to perform a task. In the case of entrepreneurs or the self-employed, the employee and employer can be the same person. Here is a definition provided by Adam Stover:

“A job is a voluntary contract between two parties, a capitalist and a laborer, to perform a service for an agreed-upon wage. This allows the capitalist or entrepreneur to take the risk of fronting the money to develop and make a product while the laborer assumes no risk and is paid regardless of profit or loss. A capitalist is a slave to the price structure in the economy, and these dictate whether she can turn a profit. The capitalist is speculating that his or her product will fetch a profit on the free market by satisfying consumer wants.”

This definition is important. From an individual perspective, the employee doesn’t care so much what they are doing so long as they get paid. Obviously people have preferences, such as preferring to work in one industry over another. What I mean is that the individual employee doesn’t determine what aspect of their work is important. It is up to the employer to decide where their employees’ efforts should be put to use on task X or task Y.

Let’s say a construction company hires some employees to do some digging. From the employees’ perspectives, it doesn’t matter whether they are directed to dig holes and fill them back up, or whether they should dig out a foundation for a building. They are paid to perform a task, and they are still doing their job.

But from the employer’s perspective, there is a very big difference between telling their employees to dig holes to fill back up or to perform meaningful work towards constructing a building. The goal of the employer is to maximize profits, and chances are good that their clients are interested in having them make a building, not to spin their wheels digging holes.

There is another critically important thing to consider in this analysis. Imagine that instead of a construction company in a complex, modern economy, we have an individual who has washed ashore on a deserted island. This Robinson Crusoe needs to “get a job” on the island. But he doesn’t work just in order to fill his time; he needs to transform the resources around him into things he can use to survive. For instance, he needs to build a shelter, catch fish, and so on.

In this case, you can see how the “employee” would in fact care about what he was doing for his job. He could still just dig holes and fill them back up, but what would that accomplish? It would be a waste of time and energy. It is important that Crusoe’s time and energy be used as efficiently as possible so that he can survive and perhaps even live comfortably.

And that’s the key point that is missing from the mainstream discussion of jobs. Reducing unemployment and “creating jobs” for as many people as possible is entirely beside the point. Hell, the Soviet Union boasted of having an unemployment rate of 0%! Clearly, the hullabaloo about jobs is at least partially misplaced.

What would happen if everyone were “employed” without actually producing? Keynes (in a different context) and his followers have legitimately suggested burying money in the ground and employing people by having them dig for it (or worse, digging holes and filling them back up; or worse than that, Paul Krugman’s suggestion of responding to a fake alien invasion). But obviously, if this were what people were doing, they wouldn’t be producing anything meaningful, and it isn’t economically justified.

Jobs are not what matter; the production of real wealth is. Jobs are a means to an end, not an end in and of themselves.

 

Unemployment And Unemployment Statistics

In a pure free market, there could be 0% involuntary unemployment. Other than people who choose to leave their jobs or to hold out working for higher pay, everyone would have a job.

There is always work to be done. So long as we live in a world of scarcity (certainly for the foreseeable future!), there will always be steps that people can take to improve their lives and reduce any perceived uneasiness. Therefore, were it not for some tiny percentage of people who are voluntarily unemployed, the unemployment rate in a free market should be zero.

As such, we can reasonably view the unemployment rate as a kind of measure of government failure – due to various policies instituted by government (which we will go into in more detail below), people who would otherwise be gainfully employed are now unable to find work. There is a disconnect between those offering jobs and those seeking them, and somehow government policy is getting in the way. The government and their statisticians have a very strong incentive to keep this number as low as possible.

Unfortunately, that means that the unemployment rate is a number that is used more for propaganda purposes than to convey accurate information about the state of the market. Bold claim, yes, but hear me out. Even Jim Clifton, CEO of Gallup, agrees.

There are a couple of ways the unemployment numbers and employment numbers/job reports are doctored or used in order to make the economic picture look rosier than reality. The two most important ways these numbers are misleading are:

  • The reported unemployment number does not include workers who are “discouraged”, in that they have given up looking for a job for whatever reason.
  • The number of jobs reported are aggregated, and thus the composition of the jobs is not emphasized despite being equally if not more important.

We’ll look at each of these in turn, but let’s start with the methodology for computing the unemployment rate. The rate that is normally reported is called the U-3 rate, but there are other measures as well, including the far more relevant U-6, which includes discouraged and marginally attached workers. This means that the U-6 is both a better representation of the actual state of the economy and it is significantly less optimistic.

John Williams of ShadowStats has a good overview of the methodology used in these job reports. He says:

“Up until the Clinton administration, a discouraged worker was one who was willing, able and ready to work but had given up looking because there were no jobs to be had. The Clinton administration dismissed to the non-reporting netherworld about five million discouraged workers who had been so categorized for more than a year.”

In other words, huge numbers of people who had previously been considered unemployed suddenly disappeared. As soon as you’ve given up and haven’t actively looked for work in the previous four weeks, you are no longer considered unemployed based on the U-3 measure.

If you work at least one hour per week and collect at least $20, you are no longer considered unemployed. Even if you would like to work more – and I think most people would – you would be considered employed from the perspective of the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Not only that, but even people who are severely underemployed do not count as unemployed. If you have a PhD in chemical engineering but work ten hours a week at McDonalds, you are not unemployed.

Take a look at this graph of the labor force participation rate:

labor force participation rate

This number has clearly been plummeting for a while now. The unemployment rate has been steadily decreasing not because more people are working, but because more people aren’t working.

Take the December 2014 jobs report. The reported unemployment rate for that month was 5.6%. Only counting short term discouraged workers (those who haven’t looked for a job in the past four weeks), the unemployment rate was 11.2%. But if you include all discouraged workers (including those who stopped looking for work for over a year), the actual unemployment rate is 23%. Remember – this is how the unemployment rate was calculated prior to 1994. These are almost Great Depression level numbers!

To further demonstrate the absurdity of the current propagandistic unemployment numbers, let’s look at the most recent jobs report. As ZeroHedge reports:

“According to the most recent Bureau of Labor Statistics release, the UE (unemployment) rate fell to 5.5% as of February.  The last time the UE rate was this low was May of 2008.

What I’m fascinated by is the fact that the US population grew from February 2008 to February 2015 by 16.8 million persons, or a 5.5% increase in total population, and on a net basis, not a single one of those 16.8 million persons got a FT (full time) job… while a net 2.7 million were lucky enough to get a (or multiple) PT (part time) job.

This means that 14.3 million persons, or 4.4% of the current US population, were added without a single job among them (chart below).  This makes for fascinating math when a 4.4% increase of the total US population without jobs can nearly halve the UE rate down to 5.5%, equal to 2008’s UE rates?!?” [emphasis in original]

Also see more here and here.

Besides the outright manipulation and fudging of the numbers, the aggregation of the jobs numbers is incredibly misleading. By saying “X new jobs were added to the economy in February,” they are able to obscure the distribution of those jobs. If most newly “created” jobs are as part time waitresses and bartenders, this is very different from adding jobs as engineers or manufacturers.

So, how does this play out for the most recent jobs report, which claims that the US economy added 295,000 new jobs in February? Paul Craig Roberts brings up several inconsistencies in the jobs reporting numbers, but also has this to say about how the jobs are distributed:

“All of the goods producing jobs are accounted for by the 29,000 claimed construction jobs. The remaining 259,000 new jobs–90%–of the total–are service sector jobs. Three categories account for 70% of these jobs. Wholesale and retail trade, transportation and utilities account for 62,000 of the jobs. Education and health services account for 54,000 of which ambulatory health care services accounts for 19,900. Leisure and hospitality account for 66,000 jobs of which waitresses and bartenders account for 58,700 jobs.

These are the domestic service jobs of a third world country. ”

This aggregation creates the perception that certain actions reduce unemployment in a meaningful way when they do not. The government can institute some policy or “stimulus” package and then say “look how many jobs we’ve created for you!” This is all just a blatant lie.

Speaking of blatant lies, I only just recently learned that not only are the numbers themselves fudged in a highly misleading way, but the actual methodology used to find the unemployment numbers has serious problems as well. Now, the stated methodology used in the Household Survey (one of the ways that data is collected for finding the unemployment rate) is fine; the problem is that they don’t follow it. As the New York Post reports:

“Rather than collect fresh data each month as they are supposed to do, Census workers have been filling in the blanks with past months’ data. This helps them meet the strict quota of successful interviews set by Labor.”

And later on in the article:

“This whole controversy began when a Philadelphia Census worker, Julius Buckmon, was caught falsifying surveys and — most important — his wrongdoing was covered up.

Worse, Buckmon alleged that supervisors told him to cheat.

Other Census sources have also told me that data is falsified all the time. And since Census polls for lots of different government agencies, including the Justice Department, the problem could be bigger than anyone can imagine.”

Don’t trust the unemployment numbers. They have zero basis in reality.

 

Government Can’t Create Jobs

Politicians regularly try to convince the public that this or that policy initiative that they supported has created gazillions of new jobs, and that we should all be eternally grateful for the prosperity that their programs have brought us.

We’ve already gone over this on a more theoretical level in an earlier section; production is more critical than the number of “jobs” that exist, and a healthy economy ought to have people employed in the ways that best help satisfy consumer wants.

Government actions can certainly “create jobs” in the sense that policies can lead to people being employed in a way such that they would not have been absent government intervention. Think about all the jobs as Congressmen that wouldn’t have existed if it weren’t for government action!

This is all fairly obvious stuff, but extensive propaganda peddled by the likes of Paul Krugman has managed to convince most Americans otherwise. People think that government spending via “stimulus packages”, public works spending, and so on, can actually work to improve the economy and “create jobs”. But people fail to see that any newly created job that is due to government action is just a job that was taken away from someone else, somewhere else in the economy.

Think of it this way. Government can acquire the funds that they would use for any kind of “stimulus” in only three ways: increasing tax revenue, debasing the currency, or through deficits.

If the money is raised via taxation, then it is obvious how funds are simply being moved from one part of the economy to another. Rather than people getting to spend their money satisfying their own wants and leading to employment in those sectors, it is the government that gets to decide where this employment should be. Since the people get less choice, the economy is worse off.

If the funds are acquired via debasing the currency by printing money, there is a similar result, though it is more sneaky and hidden. Printing money does not cause new production to magically pop into existence, so again, all the government is doing is redistributing jobs and income – generally from the poor to the rich. Government prints money and then gets to decide where that money is spent, which will often include things like the military-industrial complex and huge bank bailouts. Jobs are being taken from those who are worst off and given to favored sectors of the economy.

The last way that government can raise revenue for its projects is via deficit spending. “We owe it to ourselves,” they say. But government borrowing increases the price of loanable funds by increasing demand for them, which then reduces the amount of investment done by the private sector. With less private investment, economic growth will be slowed, and there will be additional unemployment in those industries where loanable funds have been displaced from. Sorry Keynesians, but there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.

No matter what the government does in an effort to “create jobs”, it will be a horribly inefficient failure. To take a recent example, let’s consider the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, Obama’s “stimulus” bill. According to a study from the NBER, each new job “created” by the ARRA came at a cost of $170,000. Do you really think that’s how much these new jobs are paying?

 

How Government Creates Unemployment

As I mentioned earlier on, without government, there would be no involuntary unemployment. There are quite a few ways that governments get in the way of people successfully coming together in some kind of employment relation, and I’m surely missing a few. Nevertheless, abolishing all of the following would go a long way towards allowing as many people as possible to have some form of gainful employment.

Minimum wage. Somehow, the idea of the minimum wage simply refuses to die. Despite whatever many leftists may say, the minimum wage creates unemployment. It can be no other way. A minimum wage of $7.25 is like saying: “If you are willing to work for a wage lower than $7.25/hour, too bad, you’re not allowed.” People who would have been able to find a job for only, say, $5/hour (perhaps because they are disabled or completely inexperienced and not particularly productive) are no longer able to. I wrote an extensive post railing against the minimum wage here.

Unemployment “Insurance” (UI). I put the term insurance in quotes, because employment status isn’t something that is actually insurable. One can only insure against events that one has no control over…but I digress. Unlike the minimum wage, UI doesn’t directly eliminate the opportunity to find jobs. What it does do, however, is subsidize unemployment. If you lose your job, it creates an incentive for you to delay accepting a new one. Whether UI is a good policy or not is a separate question (I say bad), but it is certainly true that it increases unemployment.

Payroll taxes. Social Security and Medicare taxes that are deducted from your paycheck are another serious impediment to employment. Some people don’t realize that while they see a certain amount deducted from their pay, the employer is paying more as well. Of course, the entire burden of this taxation falls on the employee – whatever the employer pays the government is taken out of the employee’s wage. By taxing employment, the government creates less of it, just like any other tax.

Mandated employee benefits. When an employer is legally obligated to provide certain benefits to employees, this automatically raises the cost of hiring them. This would include things like worker’s comp, unemployment insurance (the employer must contribute to this), disability insurance, and leave benefits. The laws for these do tend to vary by state, but to the degree that these benefits are required, either wages decrease or hiring does.

Child labor laws. People under the age of 16 cannot work more than a certain number of hours, and they are forbidden from working in certain occupations. In general, youths under the age of 14 are forbidden from working in general (except in some agricultural jobs). While it is not politically correct to want to repeal child labor laws, it is a fact that child labor was decreasing rapidly before these laws came into effect. Many families depended on child labor in order to get by, but as prosperity increased, the need for children to work decreased. As with the minimum wage, it was the unions that lobbied most passionately for child labor laws; cheap child labor was competition which drove down wages.

Pro-union legislation. There is nothing inherently wrong with unions, but giving them powers that they wouldn’t otherwise have in a voluntary society is problematic. These laws transform what ought to be a simple matter of free association into the creation of what are effectively labor cartels. Labor unions do raise wages…but only for those who are members of the unions. But by raising wages for union members, labor unions reduce the number of employees that can be hired in general. In other words, it is a simple matter of rent-seeking behavior.

Comparable worth laws. These laws are based on the idea that men and women should receive equal pay when they perform work that involves comparable skills and responsibility or that is of “comparable worth” to the employer. Women often work in jobs that pay less than jobs that men take, and these are efforts to equalize this. Wage rates would get set not by market forces, but by a “scientific” analysis of what jobs are inherently “worth”. But by determining wages in this way, there are reduced employment opportunities for the women who people are attempting to help with these laws.

Mandated working conditions. This would include things like occupational safety regulations. Like other policies on this list, laws that require certain working conditions be met increase the cost of hiring employees. While everyone wants to be working in pleasant, healthy conditions, ceteris paribus, mandating that everyone get these conditions either leads to reduced wages or unemployment. The market itself was improving workplace safety before any of these laws were passed, so their negative effects were surely masked.

Laws that regulate firing employees. There are certain things that you cannot legally fire an employee for. Regardless of the positive intent behind these laws (not being able to be fired for discrimination, for instance), they create additional unemployment. These laws create an extra consideration before hiring any employees – there is a risk of being sued if you fire them. Consider laws against firing based on discrimination. If you fire a black man for any reason, you are at risk of being sued and having the employee claim it was discrimination. That risk makes you less likely to hire black people.

Occupational licensing. There are all kinds of occupations which you are not legally allowed to partake in without specific permission from government. Oftentimes this is done with the stated intention of improving consumer safety (say, by having doctors licensed). It is highly debatable whether licensing requirements actually make people safer (they don’t, and perhaps even reduce quality/safety), but it is clear that the real intent behind these regulations is rent seeking. After all, why are there licensing requirements for hairdressers, massage therapists, teachers, interior designers, or florists? If people could simply take a job or start a business without needing to pay a gazillion dollars for a taxi medallion or spend hundreds of hours in “official” cosmetology trainings classes, it would be significantly easier for many to find jobs.

The Federal Reserve. This one is a bit different from the others on this list, but no less important. The Fed, by inflating the money supply and setting interest rates below their market price, causes investors to think that there are more real resources available for investment than there actually are. As such, they sink their money into longer-term investments that there aren’t enough real resources available to complete. As such, there is eventually a crash, and resources need to get moved around to areas where they would be used more efficiently. This boom-bust process leads to workers moving into industries that they otherwise would not have, and then being forcibly dislocated from those jobs when it turns out they were economically unjustified. For instance, during the fracking boom, tons of people went into the energy industry and moved up to Minnesota for work – but as it comes crashing down, these jobs disappear. The same is true for, say, the housing boom. Or the dot-com bubble.

 

Conclusion

It is clear that almost every time you hear a politician or pundit utter the word “jobs”, you are being swindled or lied to.

Governments simply do not have the power to “create jobs”, no matter what anyone may tell you. The only thing governments can do is to destroy them by getting in the way of peoples’ own mutually beneficial relationships. And then lie to you about it.

Private Cities: Does Honduras Prove That Libertarianism Doesn’t Work?

Private cities

I recently came across this article on Salon, which argues that a libertarian experiment that is going on in Honduras proves that libertarianism does not work. Frankly, I was only vaguely familiar with whatever is going on in Honduras, but the line of reasoning sounded to me a lot like the “well why don’t you go live in Somalia, then?” kind of argument.

Typically, arguments like this are just absurd straw men, like when liberals will point to the problems in the US health care system and say “See? Look how terrible the free market is!” So I began to do some research on the situation on Honduras to see if this is just another case of completely misunderstanding what libertarianism is or what free markets are.

So, what is actually going on in Honduras? In July 2011, the Honduran government amended their constitution to allow for the establishment of ZEDEs (Zones for Employment and Economic Development) with the intention of tackling poverty and improving the economy. There has been all sorts of legal drama with getting the project rolling, including an October 18, 2012 decision by the Honduran Supreme Court that the prior amendment was unconstitutional (on May 26, 2014, the new Supreme Court gave the ZEDE project their blessing). I’m sure there was some corruption and shady dealings involved in making this all happen, but here we are. It is not my intention to go through a complete history of how this idea is playing out in Honduras, but Brian Doherty at Reason has done a good job covering this here. As stated in an editorial in Honduras Weekly:

“It’s very important for all of us to understand, especially libertarians, that the new Honduran jurisdictions haven’t been designed to please the libertarian taste. The ZEDEs (or LEAP zones) are an experiment that aims to solve an [sic] social and economic crisis, to help Honduras overcome underdevelopment and fast-track the path to prosperity. If everything goes well, they will also serve as an example for the rest of the world, making Honduras a pioneer and reference point for an idea with huge development potential.”

It is critically important to note that these ZEDEs are semi-autonomous zones, sort of like Hong Kong is to China. They will still be considered a part of Honduras, but will have differing legal and economic systems. Basically, Honduras sells land to some investors, and then that land is no longer subject to the laws of Honduras or “protected” by Honduran police. The investors must establish their own government, contract out for their own police forces, and decide on whatever other laws the area will have. Note that other than the decentralized nature of the scheme, there is nothing inherently libertarian about it; some wealthy communists would be more than welcome to buy up land and set up their own communist utopia there. In addition, none of these ZEDEs have actually been implemented yet.

Enter Edwin Lyngar, author of the Salon article in question. If you actually read through his piece (and it is fairly short), you’ll see that he is speaking as though Honduras (all of it) is some kind of libertarian dream world. Never mind the fact that the actual ZEDEs have yet to exist, and never mind the fact that Honduras is one of the less economically free countries on the planet, as evidenced by their ranking 116th out of 178 nations in Heritage’s Index of Economic Freedom.

In other words, the entire basis of his critique rests on a complete lie.

Nevertheless, I think it is worth delving into Honduras a bit more deeply and to respond to a few of Mr. Lyngar’s specific points.

 

Critique Of The Critique: A Comedy Of Errors

Mr. Lyngar’s article is full of ridiculous inconsistencies and a clear lack of understanding of what libertarianism actually means. Consider his description of libertarianism, which he claims to have been an adherent of not long ago:

“In America, libertarian ideas are attractive to mostly young, white men with high ideals and no life experience that live off of the previous generation’s investments and sacrifice.  I know this because as a young, white idiot, I subscribed to this system of discredited ideas:  Selfishness is good, government is bad. Take what you want, when you want and however you can.  Poor people deserve what they get, and the smartest, hardworking people always win.  So get yours before someone else does.”

Most libertarians wouldn’t claim that “selfishness is good”, except in the context of the invisible hand. In that case, peoples’ selfishness does in fact lead to better outcomes. Even most liberals will agree with this to some extent.

The number of libertarians who would tell you to “take what you want, when you want and however you can” is zero. Not a one. If a “libertarian” were to say this, then by definition they would not be a libertarian. You see, stealing stuff is one of those little things that libertarians are in fact against. Gasp!

Unfortunately, some libertarians may say that “poor people deserve what they get,” but they are misguided. In my experience, it tends to be conservatives who would say things like this, and some of the more libertarian-leaning Republicans, but rarely libertarians. In the case of libertarians who say this, they usually would retract it within a couple months, when they become an anarchist and better understand the idea of crony capitalism.

No libertarian would say that the smartest or hardest working people (or most other adjectives) will always win. Those are certainly advantages, but it tends to be those who are most “alert” in the Kirznerian sense who we would say are most likely to “win” in business.

And libertarians don’t believe that the economy is a zero-sum game. You need not “get yours before someone else does.” Those who are most successful in a free market are those who create the most value for others, so “getting yours” means helping as many other people as possible.

Despite claiming to have been a libertarian, it is clear that Mr. Lyngar hasn’t the slightest clue what he’s talking about. Either that, or he is being deliberately misleading, which is far worse. Moving on…

“In Honduras, the police ride around in pickup trucks with machine guns, but they aren’t there to protect most people.  They are scary to locals and travelers alike.  For individual protection there’s an army of private, armed security guards who are found in front of not only banks, but also restaurants, ATM machines, grocery stores and at any building that holds anything of value whatsoever.  Some guards have uniforms and long guns but just as many are dressed in street clothes with cheap pistols thrust into waistbands.”

Let me get this straight: people find the government police scary and useless in protecting people, but private security is taking up the role of protecting things of value…and somehow, this is supposed to reflect poorly on libertarian ideas?

“The country has a handful of really rich people, a small group of middle-class, some security guards who seem to be getting by and a massive group of people who are starving to death and living in slums.  You can see the evidence of previous decades of infrastructure investment in roads and bridges, but it’s all in slow-motion decay.”

Bob Wenzel did a good job tearing this down. What are some major causes of income inequality? High minimum wages and oppressive regulations.

“Honduras has the most complex minimum wage laws I have ever seen. Take a look for yourself. As far as starting a business, the World Bank lists it as extremely difficult to do so in Honduras, with a rank of 138 out of 189 countries. Which is to say nothing about its ranking for Enforcing Contracts  (166).”

And Mark Lutter says:

“The basic problem is that Honduras, along with many other third-world countries, does not have functioning courts or police. Nor do they have basic rights to engage in commerce with others. If a Honduran wants to start a business, he must pay 39 percent of his per capita income, and he must wait 82 days to get the requisite construction permits. Economic growth is not possible without the creative destruction that comes with new businesses.”

And I’d like to add that the decaying infrastructure reflects the weaknesses of government, not of private industry. While on the subject of infrastructure, Mr. Lyngar effectively brings up the question that every libertarian knows all too well: but wut about muh roads?!?! Here he is describing his drive along some Honduran roads:

“The word “treacherous” is inadequate—a better description is “post-apocalyptic.”  We did not see one speed limit sign in hundreds of kilometers.  Not one.  People drive around each other on the right and left and in every manner possible.  The road was clogged with horses, scooters and bicycles.  People traveled in every conceivable manner along the crumbling arterial.  Few cars have license plates, and one taxi driver told me that the private company responsible for making them went bankrupt.  Instead of traffic stops, there are military check points every so often.  The roads seemed more dangerous to me than the gang violence.”

Yet again, as is so often the case in anti-libertarian polemics, Mr. Lyngar conflates government failure with market failure. This “post-apocalyptic” picture of the roads in Honduras is yet another demonstration of the failure of government to maintain adequate infrastructure. He continues:

“The greatest examples of libertarianism in action are the hundreds of men, women and children standing alongside the roads all over Honduras.  The government won’t fix the roads, so these desperate entrepreneurs fill in potholes with shovels of dirt or debris.  They then stand next to the filled-in pothole soliciting tips from grateful motorists.  That is the wet dream of libertarian private sector innovation.”

When the government fails, the private sector needs to pick up the pieces. While I’ve personally never had a wet dream about entrepreneurs filling in pot holes (although I’m sure there would be some great Freudian dream analysis of this), I do respect these instances where people who are clearly victims of government go out and try to make the best of a bad situation.

“A member of the small, dwindling middle class, Alberto objects to his city being labeled the most dangerous in the Western Hemisphere.  He showed me a few places in the city that could have been almost anywhere, a hipster bar, a great seafood place (all guarded by armed men, of course).  Alberto took me on a small hike to a spot overlooking the city and pointed out new construction and nice buildings.  There are new buildings and construction but it is funded exclusively by private industry.  He pointed out a place for a new airport that could be the biggest in Central America, he said, if only it could get built, but there is no private sector upside.” [emphasis mine]

Are you noticing a theme here? Time and again, the author is lambasting libertarians and their free market beliefs, yet pointing to evidence of how the government has been an utter failure and that the private sector is the only bright spot in the country. With regards to the airport, he seems to be ignoring the reasons why one might choose to undergo or withhold a huge investment project. Why is there no upside? Perhaps it would be too dangerous, and gangs would shoot down planes or destroy the infrastructure. If that is the case, then building an airport is clearly an idiotic idea, whether done by the private sector or through government investment.

Later on in the post, Mr. Lyngar begins to get more abstract and attempt to find some fatal flaw in libertarianism.

“One can dismiss the core of near-sociopathic libertarian ideas with one simple question: What kind of society maximizes freedom while providing the best outcomes for the greatest number of human beings?  You cannot start with the assumption that a Russian novel writer from the ’50s is a genius, so therefore all ideas about government and society must fit between the pages of “Atlas Shrugged.”  That concept is stupid, and sends you on the opposite course of “good outcomes for human beings.”  The closer you get to totally untamed, uncontrolled privatization, the nearer you approach “Lord of the Flies.””

There is very little substance here outside of the question he brings up. That being said, his question about how to devise an ideal yet practical society is seriously flawed. For starters, libertarians believe that a more libertarian society would be the answer to his question, so it is unconvincing. But more fundamentally, he is appealing both to maximizing freedom AND a utilitarian goal, and it is not clear that the two are compatible. What criteria is used to determine which of those two values wins out when they conflict? By definition, there must be an appeal to some third value which goes unmentioned. If not, then it would appear that he is just saying that utilitarianism wins (or maximizing freedom wins, but clearly this is not his point). And if that is the case, then we must dispense with the idea that maximizing freedom is relevant at all to his analysis. By the way, the “third value” I refer to above is in almost all cases “what I think is best” for any non-libertarian.

“Society should not exist to make a few people fabulously wealthy while others starve.  Almost all humanity used to live this way, and we called it feudalism.  Many people want to go back to that sort of system, this time under the label of libertarian or “the untrammeled free market.”  The name is irrelevant because the results are the same.  In Honduras, I did not meet one person who had nice things to say about the government or how the country is run.  My takeaway from the trip is that living in a libertarian paradise satisfies only a few of the wealthiest citizens, while everyone else thinks it sucks.”

Actually, Mr. Lyngar, the name is highly relevant, because feudalism and “the untrammeled free market” are entirely different things. Feudalism is one of those terms that doesn’t have a precise definition, not unlike “terrorism“. Here is one of the most popular definitions of the term, according to Wikipedia:

“The classic François-Louis Ganshof version of feudalism describes a set of reciprocal legal and military obligations among the warrior nobility, revolving around the three key concepts of lords, vassals and fiefs. A lord was in broad terms a noble who held land, a vassal was a person who was granted possession of the land by the lord, and the land was known as a fief. In exchange for the use of the fief and the protection of the lord, the vassal would provide some sort of service to the lord. There were many varieties of feudal land tenure, consisting of military and non-military service. The obligations and corresponding rights between lord and vassal concerning the fief form the basis of the feudal relationship.”

The vassal performs military service in exchange for a piece of land, and the peasant/serf worked the land in exchange for protection. In what way does this have any relation to the free market? The free market is just the absence of restrictions upon trade and production. Mr. Lyngar is comparing apples and oranges.

He also claims that no one had positive things to say about the government, as if this somehow is an argument against libertarianism. Typical. In the final paragraph of an otherwise incoherent mess of an article, Mr. Lyngar says something that is on the money:

“There can be no such thing as freedom, safety or progress of any kind, when an entire society is run for the benefit of a handful of rich assholes and global conglomerates.”

Maybe the author is a libertarian after all!

 

Can Private Cities (ZEDEs) Save Honduras?

Now that I’ve thoroughly rebutted Mr. Lyngar’s childish critique of libertarianism, it is time to turn to the actual (and far more interesting!) political changes that Honduras is in the process of implementing. Before demonstrating why the idea of private cities would be incredibly beneficial, let us first set the scene of modern Honduras. According to Brian Doherty:

“The small Central American nation, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, is the murder capital of the world, with the U.N. reporting over 80 homicides per 100,000 people in 2011, compared to slightly over 30 in Colombia and under 10 in the United States. Its average annual income of $4,300 per capita is below that of the Congo. According to the U.S. Agency for International Development, 65 percent of its people are living in poverty. The World Bank ranks Honduras 125 out of 185 on its “ease of doing business” list, below Uganda.”

This data is from a couple years ago, but not much has changed. According to the CIA World Factbook, Honduras:

  • is the 2nd poorest country in Central America
  • had a per capita GDP (purchasing power parity) of only $4800 in 2013
  • under-employs about one third of the population
  • has a poverty rate of 65%
  • has a life-expectancy at birth ranked 147th in the world

Furthermore, Honduras has been ravaged by the US government’s War on Drugs, which is largely responsible for the absurdly high murder rate and drug cartel power. It has also been a major factor in the endemic corruption within the Honduran government.

In other words, modern Honduras is not a pretty picture (other than the beautiful landscapes, of course). This is the environment that the ZEDE experiment is entering. There is no guarantee that the experiment will be a success; it is not unreasonable to think that, considering the rampant corruption, it is possible that the ZEDEs will be used to enrich the already wealthy politicians and their friends. Only time will tell if the ZEDEs will actually help lift the masses of Hondurans out of poverty; a poor implementation of this experiment is likely to fail.

But if the ZEDE experiment is implemented properly, we have every reason to believe that it could be just as successful as Hong Kong was at lifting huge numbers of people out of grinding poverty, even in a fairly short period of time. And considering how Honduras is already so poor and in such bad shape, there really is very little to lose by trying.

The Advantages Of Private Cities

I have already described the moral reasons why the freedom of association that private cities can bring would be massively beneficial (see: Do You Have Opinions About Things? Then You Should Be An Anarchist). If you want a more theoretical justification for the morality of this type of arrangement, that article is the place to be. For our purposes here, I will be focusing on the more utilitarian, material benefits of private cities.

There are three primary advantages that private cities have over government owned cities:

  1. Privatizing cities will help “internalize” externalities and provide “public goods” in a superior fashion,
  2. Private cities are less at the whim of interest groups, and
  3. Private cities are more likely to serve the poor

Most non-libertarians would find each of these advantages surprising, so I will explain each of them in turn.

Internalize Externalities And Superior Provision Of “Public Goods”

Externalities are one example of something that many consider a “market failure“. They occur when the total social cost of some action is not contained within the monetary cost of the action. The most common example would be pollution; when a factory pollutes, they do not bear the cost of the pollution – it is disbursed over the people who are harmed by the pollution. As such, as the theory goes, the factory will end up producing more than the socially optimal level, because the cost of pollution isn’t factored into their production process.

Without going into too much detail about this theory, I claim that this externality is the result of a lack of private property. The pollution is actually a violation of the property rights of the victims of the pollution. If these people could make a legal claim that the factory has infringed on their property rights, the externality would be internalized. A more thorough discussion of this will need to be saved for another time; for now, let us restrict this discussion to the benefit of private cities in this regard.

Similarly, a “public good” is one that, as the theory goes, would not be produced in optimal levels by the free market. These include things like utilities, national defense, police, and so on. When you get down to it, both so-called public goods and externalities are very similar “problems”. In both cases, private property is the solution.

Consider a mall, which is typically owned by a someone who rents out space as their source of income. The mall owner has a very strong incentive to increase the value of the space in this mall and thus collect a larger income. How can they do this? By providing “public goods” such as security, parking, and nice open spaces within the mall. Each individual store owner may not have much of an incentive on their own to provide security, but the owner of the mall may find it necessary in order to get people to rent out space.

Private cities can do something very similar. If a private company is tasked with developing a profitable private city, they have an incentive to provide quality schooling, security, parks, roads, waste disposal, etc. All of these services will increase the value of the land that this company owns, and will thus increase its own revenue.

But publicly owned cities have no comparable incentive. Yes, a government that does a poor job could potentially get voted out of office, but this is still far less responsive than that of competing private cities. This is why roads tend to be shitty almost everywhere (not just in Honduras!), and why police can get away with murder and abuse fairly easily.

It’s hard for people to imagine what private cities would look like, which is understandable. Probably the closest examples of this kind of arrangement are Letchworth and Welwyn, which were small cities founded on Georgist principles. They were nationalized after World War 2. You can also kind of consider Disney World in the same vein. Another approximation of a private city would be that of Sandy Springs, Georgia, which outsourced most of its public services to private companies after going bankrupt, which improved these services at a lower cost. Note that this is still a far cry from actual private cities, which would provide public services even better than mere outsourcing would.

Less Influence From Interest Groups

Public cities are basically tools of interest groups.

There is a huge incentive to lobby the local government to enact rules that would help certain businesses at the expense of others, and of the common welfare in general. It is also far more likely to lead to policies that are simply dumb and self-destructive.

Rent control is a perfect example of a horrible policy that nearly all economists agree will basically destroy a local economy, but many cities will implement rent control laws because they sound nice. Zoning laws can be used by certain businesses in order to harm their competition by making their rent more expensive, forcing them to move, and preventing them from existing in the first place.

The most obvious case of interest group domination is the current battle between Uber and various local taxi cartels all over the world. Many cities are banning Uber, which generally provides superior service at much lower cost, in order to appease the powerful local taxi services.

In private cities, while anything is possible, there is a strong incentive not to implement stupid policies. If there are two competing cities, one with rent control and one without, the city without rent control will almost certainly be more successful (i.e. profitable). Similarly, zoning laws could be implemented, but the city owner will need to pay for whatever cost this imposes upon him, unlike the public city, which can rob the taxpayers to pay for it. So if one private city implements zoning laws that ban strip clubs, for instance, the owner will pay the cost of this decision (residents who like strip clubs won’t want to live there, etc.) as well as reap the benefits (more socially conservative people will want to live there, etc.).

Private Cities Help Serve The Poor

This is surely the one that would most surprise readers. Most people imagine that private cities will become tyrannical little enclaves of the rich trying to escape or take advantage of the poor. And most certainly, some would in fact be like this.

But when you consider how terribly American cities are treating their homeless people, it amazes me how this idea persists. Capitalism is about mass production; while there is certainly a market for serving the wealthy, there is a much larger market and plenty of profit to be made serving the middle and lower classes.

Wealthy communities tend to already have high property values and quality provision of public goods. But the potential for profit from serving lower income communities is drastically higher. Land value is cheap in poor communities, and has much more room for growth.

How could private cities better serve the poor? For one thing, a regime of several competing private cities will drive the cost of living down as the cities compete for residents and investment. This benefit cannot be overstated, because the amount of fraud, waste, and abuse in many cities is extraordinary, particularly in the third world.

It’s also highly unlikely that private cities would “exploit” the poor, considering the fact that in most proposals, the land that forms the city is largely uninhabited. Poor people aren’t going to be forced to move there and be exploited (unless, of course, the government forces them). On the contrary, a major benefit of private cities is that they will have better rule of law than the more corrupt areas of the country, which gives poor people a more safe and stable place to migrate to.

And private cities need not be run by “evil corporations”. They can experiment with social and legal rules. Some of them could mimic the Israeli kibbutzim, if socialism is more your cup of tea.

 

Conclusion

In short, the experience of Honduras in no way proves that libertarianism doesn’t work. The proper lessons to be learned from the Honduran experience are primarily about the incredible failure of some governments to provide good institutions that create a healthy economy and social system.

Honduras is in the process of implementing a project that is akin to the formation of competing private cities, and if implemented well, should lift many poor Hondurans out of poverty. Hopefully corruption and cronyism doesn’t ruin the experiment. Ultimately, only time will tell.

“Never Again”: Why Is The Western World Supporting Neo-Nazis?

The Holocaust is a historical event that occupies a significant part of the collective memory of the Western world, as it ought to. There are many lessons to learn from that period, including the dangers of unbridled state power, the consequences of racism inflamed by propaganda, and the terrifying things that otherwise reasonable people will do when encouraged by “authority”.

The scale of sheer horror that the Nazis wrought upon Europe are well recognized by almost everyone in the Western world, and has spawned the phrases “never again” and “never forget” to represent the eternal vigilance we must possess in order to ensure that such evil does not rise to power again.

Unfortunately, Americans seem to have let their vigilance slip precipitously, as the events over the past year or so in Ukraine have proven.

Particularly as a Jew, but more generally as a human being, I am deeply disturbed by the complete lack of attention there has been to the rise of neo-Nazism in Ukraine. Even more disturbing is how this rise has been actively encouraged by the US government, and how the government and media have been actively suppressing this information.

The Obama administration and its lapdog media have dismissed the claims about neo-Nazi presence in Ukraine as Russian propaganda, but spending a minute or two looking at the facts reveals this to be a blatant and dangerous lie. While it is certainly true that the government in Kiev is not solely controlled by Nazis, they do have a significant presence and influence.

My intention here is to demonstrate, for those in the Western world who are unfamiliar with the situation, the significance of the role played by neo-Nazis in Ukraine and document at least some of the direct support that the US has provided to them.

The Jews of America and the Western world need to condemn US actions in Ukraine or else be hypocrites of the highest order.

 

Neo-Nazis In The Ukrainian Government

Russian leader Vladimir Putin has repeatedly called the government in Kiev a bunch of “neo-Nazis, Nazis, and anti-Semites.” We could dismiss his accusations as pure propaganda, and certainly he is exaggerating. But the inclination in American media and policy circles now seems to have swung in the exact opposite direction, alleging that the extreme nationalist and neo-Nazi segments of the new government are virtually non-existent.

Enter Svoboda, formerly the Social-National Party of Ukraine (compare to the Nazis, otherwise known as the National Socialists), and Ukraine’s preeminent far-right party. Less than a year before the Western-backed coup that toppled the democratically elected pro-Russian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the World Jewish Council called upon the EU to ban several neo-Nazi parties in Europe, including Svoboda. If you do a Google search on Svoboda, neo-Nazis in Ukraine, or the like, you will see plenty of articles from around 2012 condemning them.

Now, they are a powerful force in Ukraine, one that the US government is staunchly supporting, and the EU is doing nothing about. According to investigative journalist Robert Parry (who broke the Iran-Contra scandal, by the way):

“In December 2012, barely a year before the coup, the European Parliament expressed concern about “the rising nationalistic sentiment in Ukraine” represented by Svoboda, whose founders included admirers of World War II Nazi collaborators, such as Stepan Bandera and Adolf Hitler’s Ukrainian auxiliary, the Galician SS.

parliamentary statement from Brussels noted “that racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic views go against the EU’s fundamental values and principles” and urged “pro-democratic parties” in Ukraine’s parliament “not to associate with, endorse or form coalitions with” Svoboda.

After the coup, which was strongly supported by Svoboda and spearheaded by its associated neo-Nazi militias from the west, Svoboda and other far-right political groups were given several ministries in recognition of their crucial role in the anti-Yanukovych putsch.

Now with Svoboda at the center of power in Kiev, the EU has muted its alarm, all the better to maintain the white hat/black hat scenario favored by Official Washington and the mainstream U.S. media. That narrative portrays the Kiev regime as the blameless white hats and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and the ethnic Russian rebels in the east as the evil black hats.”

Whether you agree with the narrative presented in the last paragraph or not, it is indisputable that neo-Nazis were able to procure for themselves significant power in Ukraine after the coup. In fact, some of the first actions by the interim government were to make Ukrainian the only official language of the nation (and people wonder why the Russian-speaking Ukrainians in the East were upset…) and making moves to remove a law on the books which forbids “excusing the crimes of fascism.”

Known neo-Nazis have also taken prominent positions in Ukraine’s government:

  • Andriy Parubiy, co-founder of Svoboda, is the secretary of Ukraine’s security council. He is in charge of everything related to national defense in Ukraine.
  • Dmytry Yarosh, leader of the ultra-nationalist Right Sector (which, according to historian Timothy Stanley, “flies the old flag of the Ukrainian Nazi collaborators at its rallies”), is his deputy.
  • Oleksandr Sych, a Svoboda parliamentarian who tried to ban all abortions in Ukraine, including those resulting from rape, was made deputy prime minister for economic affairs.
  • Oleh Makhnitsky, a prominent member of Svoboda, was named prosecutor-general of Ukraine.
  • Serhiy Kvit, also of Svoboda, was put in charge of the Education Ministry.
  • Andriy Makhnyk of Svoboda was put in charge of the Ecology Ministry.
  • Ihor Shyaiko of Svoboda became the head of the Agriculture Ministry.
  • Tetyana Chernovol, previously involved in the anti-Semitic Ukrainian National Assembly – Ukrainian National Self Defense (UNA-UNSO), was named chair of the government’s anti-corruption committee.
  • Dmytro Bulatov, also with UNA-UNSO connections, was appointed minister of youth and sports.

In other words, neo-Nazis were given control over Ukraine’s military and security apparatus, their justice system, the economy, the education system, and other areas. This is not something that can be simply written off as an irrelevant, lunatic fringe – these people have real power.

On October 26th, 2014, there was a parliamentary election in Ukraine. The US government and its media have seized upon the results of this election to argue that, in fact, the neo-Nazis are marginalized, and to reaffirm that these concerns are all just “Russian propaganda”.

The far right, ultra-nationalist parties did not do well in the elections, true. But the views of many of the major parties are similar, and neo-Nazis have won seats as members of the more “mainstream” parties. As Roger Annis reports:

“Much has been written about the seemingly poor electoral outcomes of two of the largest extreme-right parties — Svoboda and Right Sector. Both failed to reach five per cent. Svoboda received 742,000 votes (4.7 per cent, compared to 10.4 per cent in 2012) while Right Sector received 250,000. But the numbers alone understate the situation with the extreme right.

Svoboda elected at least six candidates. Party distinctions were blurred by a field crowded with neo-conservative and extreme-right candidacies and by cooperation agreements between the parties. Thus, a leader of the fascist Social-National Assembly–Andriy Biletsky (an Azov Battalion commander) — won direct election as an “independent” when no candidate of the Poroshenko or Yatsenyuk blocs ran in his district in Kyiv. Some extreme rightists ran as candidates of the two large blocs.

Yatsenyuk’s bloc stood aside in the district in Dnipropetrovsk where Right Sector leader Dmitry Yarosh won. Two other Right Sector candidates were elected in the city, Ukraine’s fourth-largest.”

There’s more. While Svoboda and Right Sector are likely the most high profile of the neo-Nazis, there are other extreme nationalists with questionable associations that get less attention. For instance:

“The third place finisher was another, new electoral bloc, “Samopomich” (Self Reliance). It won 1.7 million votes (11 per cent) and 34 seats. It is headed by the strongly pro-Europe mayor of the city of Lviv in the west of Ukraine, Andrii Sadovyi. Sadovyi’s Lviv is a stronghold of the extreme right.

Another Samopomich leader newly elected to the Rada is Semen Semenchevo. He is a commander of the Donbas Battalion, one of the dozen or so rightist and fascist paramilitary battalions that have sprung up this year to fight alongside the conscript Ukraine army in the east of the country.”

Then there is the Radical Party, which got 1.7 million votes and 22 seats. The leader of this party, Oleh Lyashko, is a paramilitary commander who Amnesty International has called out for kidnapping and brutalizing important supporters of political autonomy in eastern Ukraine. Take a look at one of his campaign posters:Ukraine campaign poster

Last I checked, impaling a caricature of some rich Jewish oligarch with a trident seems…well, a little bit anti-Semitic. Reminder: this party received 1.7 million votes.

While the US media is severely downplaying the role that neo-Nazis are playing in Ukraine by only considering a small slice of the neo-Nazi pie, all the major parties are fairly similar, according to an investigation by VoxUkraine. Consider the current president of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko, who is fully backed by the US. In December, he granted Ukrainian citizenship to a Belarusian neo-Nazi who is a prominent member of the neo-Nazi National Socialist Society, an organization whose primary goal “is to prepare for a race war.” Why was he granted citizenship? Because of his valiant service fighting with the neo-Nazi Azov battalion, of which we will be investigating next.

 

The Nazi Presence In Ukrainian Militias And Police

The Ukrainian government since the US-backed coup on February 22, 2014 is the first government to dispatch neo-Nazi storm troopers (aka death squads) since the fall of the Third Reich. Most prominent among the various death squads (in the western media: “volunteers”) is the Azov battalion.

Take a look at the helmets that these Azov soldiers are wearing:

Azov helmets

On the left, you can clearly see a swastika. That lightning-bolt-looking-thingy on the right? That was the symbol of the German SS, the organization tasked with carrying out the Holocaust.

Azov logo

You would think that if the media caught wind of this, it would be a huge story. A moral outrage! There would be investigations, firings, and so on. But when the Washington Post covered this, they buried that detail in the bottom few paragraphs, and dismissed the use of Nazi symbols as “romantic”:

“A former school here is now a training ground and barracks for the men of the Azov, who receive a $70 a month salary as well as minimal training and aging firearms from the government. One platoon leader, who called himself Kirt, conceded that the group’s far right views had attracted about two dozen foreign fighters from around Europe.

In one room, a recruit had emblazoned a swastika above his bed. But Kirt, a former hospitality worker, dismissed questions of ideology, saying that the volunteers — many of them still teenagers — embrace symbols and espouse extremist notions as part of some kind of “romantic” idea.

He insisted the group’s primary goal is defending its country against Russian aggression.

“It’s like 1924,” he said. “Putin is the new Stalin.””

Do you see that? It’s basically a big “who cares?” followed immediately by changing the subject and demonizing Putin. This is simply unacceptable. It isn’t just some “romantic” idea, but a known part of their ideology. Here is Robert Parry paraphrasing some of the Telegraph’s coverage of the Azov battalion:

“Based on interviews with militia members, the Telegraph reported that some of the fighters doubted the Holocaust, expressed admiration for Adolf Hitler and acknowledged that they are indeed Nazis.

Andriy Biletsky, the Azov commander, “is also head of an extremist Ukrainian group called the Social National Assembly,” according to the Telegraph article which quoted a recent commentary by Biletsky as declaring: “The historic mission of our nation in this critical moment is to lead the White Races of the world in a final crusade for their survival. A crusade against the Semite-led Untermenschen.”

The Telegraph questioned Ukrainian authorities in Kiev who acknowledged that they were aware of the extremist ideologies of some militias but insisted that the higher priority was having troops who were strongly motivated to fight.”

We need not just rely on the more anecdotal evidence by Azov members. What about their actual printed materials? According to the BBC, an online publication of the Social National Assembly (remember, the head of Azov, Andriy Biletsky, is the head of this umbrella organization as well) states its aims: “To prepare Ukraine for further expansion and to struggle for the liberation of the entire White Race from the domination of the internationalist speculative capital,” and “to punish severely sexual perversions and any interracial contacts that lead to the extinction of the white man.”

And this guy Biletsky was given an “Order For Courage” award by (US backed) president Poroshenko.

The Azov battalion has been very successful in their military campaign in eastern Ukraine. Perhaps as a result of this success, Vadim Troyan, former deputy commander of Azov, was appointed Kiev’s chief of police. In other words, the guy who is ostensibly supposed to be keeping Ukraine’s capitol city safe from crime is in fact an avowed neo-Nazi.

Next, let’s meet the appointed head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) “Department of Propaganda”, Yuri Michalchyhyn. As reported by Justin Raimondo:

“Michalchyhyn is a real piece of work: as the former head of the “Joseph Goebbels Political Research Center,” he isn’t shy about his advocacy of National Socialism. “We are against diversity,” he told the Guardian. “Ukraine is for Ukrainians.” Among his political activities: organizing a torchlight parade replete with Nazi symbolism. Michalhyhyn considers the Holocaust “a bright episode in European civilization.”

One can only imagine what kind of propaganda Michalchyhyn will be turning out on behalf of the Ukrainian SBU – paid for with American tax dollars.”

 

Neo-Nazi War Crimes

Of course, actions speak louder than words, and we ought not to rush to conclusions merely because of copious amounts of written and spoken evidence that these monsters are, in fact, monsters. In a chilling article by Chris Ernesto, we learn some more about the kinds of things these scumbags support:

“In October of 2014, Azov Battalion servicemen took part in a march organized by Right Sector to commemorate the anniversary of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army who infamously undertook to ethnically cleanse western Ukraine of Poles in 1943 and 1944.”

But the neo-Nazis of the Ukrainian government don’t merely support extreme violence and ethnic cleansing; they practice what they preach, and have been doing so in eastern Ukraine for the past year with the full support of the United States government.

For instance, the Ukrainian government has been indiscriminately firebombing parts of eastern Ukraine that have no military value, including with the use of illegal white phosphorous (click the link to see images and videos of the carnage). Actually, it’s not indiscriminate; artillery target maps show that the Ukrainian army, including the neo-Nazi “volunteers”, are specifically targeting civilians.

The atrocities committed by these Nazis are not isolated occurrences. They have been happening consistently for the past year. Taking a page out of ISIS’s book, the Ukrainian nationalists are even beheading some of their victims. As Vox reports, the neo-Nazis are blocking off roads and preventing humanitarian aid (food, medicine, etc.) from entering eastern Ukraine:

“These groups pose a serious threat to Ukrainian civilians as well. In December 2014, pro-Kiev militias blocked humanitarian aid from reaching rebel-held areas of eastern Ukraine. Amnesty International researcher Denis Krivosheev said in a statement that the militias were starving civilians as a weapon of warfare, calling the tactic a war crime.

Another militia, the Aydar Battalion, has kidnapped and tortured civilians in eastern Ukraine. On dozens of occasions, militia members abducted civilians, tortured and interrogated them, and stole their money and valuables before either releasing them or handing them over to the Security Service, Amnesty International reported in 2014. The battalion was also reportedly running a secret detention center in the city of Severodonetsk, in which “detainees were forced to recite the Ukrainian national anthem and beaten if they failed.””

But if you get your information from western media sources, you would only be hearing about the atrocities committed by the “pro-Russian separatists” or “terrorists” in eastern Ukraine, and nothing about the vastly more prevalent war crimes coming from the pro-Kiev side. This is an incredible double standard, and one which is intolerable given the stakes in this war.

Maidan Square – Sniper Massacre

On February 20th, 2014, during protests against the democratically elected, pro-Russian leader of Ukraine, snipers shot and killed well over 100 people from both the police side and the protestor side.

In nearly all reporting on this massacre in the west, it was simply assumed that the snipers were from the government side. As such, the coup that occurred two days later was hailed, somehow, as a “victory for democracy”, despite the overthrow of a constitutionally elected leader (say what you will about Yanukovych, but at least he was actually elected).

But this was all incredibly premature, even though it was wrapped up nicely for western consumption by the media. People failed to ask the all-important question when it comes to these kinds of things: cui bono? Who benefits? Without even taking a look at the evidence, it is clear that the government had far more to lose by ordering this massacre than, say, neo-Nazi elements among the protestors.

According to a leaked phone conversation on February 26th, 2014, between foreign-affairs chief of the EU, Catherine Ashton, and her investigator, Urmas Paet, it was in fact elements from the protestors’ side who were responsible for the massacre. This call was largely ignored by the mainstream media.

But most damning of all is an incredibly thorough study done by Ivan Katchanovski at the University of Ottowa, taking into account all the available evidence, which concluded that the massacre was in fact perpetrated by members of the protestors’ side, and that the post-coup government covered the whole thing up. Here is a summary of the findings:

“The analysis and the evidence presented in this academic investigation put the Euromaidan and the conflict in Ukraine into a new perspective. The seemingly irrational mass shooting and killing of the protesters and the police on February 20 appear to be rational from self-interest based perspectives of rational choice and Weberian theories of instrumentally-rational action. This includes the following: the Maidan leaders gaining power as a result of the massacre, President Yanukovych and his other top government officials fleeing on February 21, 2014 from Kyiv and then from Ukraine, and the retreat by the police. The same concerns Maidan protesters being sent under deadly fire into positions of no important value and then being killed wave by wave from unexpected directions. Similarly, snipers killing unarmed protesters and targeting foreign journalists but not Maidan leaders, the Maidan Self-Defense and the Right Sector headquarters, the Maidan stage, and pro-Maidan photographs become rational. While such actions are rational from a rational choice or instrumentally-rational theoretical perspective, the massacre not only ended many human lives but also undermined democracy, human rights, and the rule of law in Ukraine.”

In other words, the United States has been supporting a government that came to power through a false flag attack that involved slaughtering over 100 of their own people. Echos of the Reichstag fire, anyone?

Odessa Massacre

On May 2nd, 2014, clashes between pro-Ukrainian and pro-Russian groups broke out on the streets of Odessa. This culminated in a large skirmish outside the Trade Unions House, which was then set on fire, resulting in the deaths of 42 pro-Russian activists and six more on the streets outside.

Unsurprisingly, the western media reported this as though the details were murky, but that evidence strongly supported the idea that it was in fact pro-Russian elements that were behind this.

And unsurprisingly, they were (and continue to be) wrong; Right Sector thugs were the responsible party, and it almost seems as though the western media’s false coverage was deliberate. From an insightful article on Alternet, here is a description of the carnage:

“On May 2, 2014, following a match between two football teams, radical football fans along with Right Sector neo-Nazis brought in from outside Odessa joined forces. According to various testimonies and videos, the pro-Kiev protesters set on fire the tent of federalization-supporters of citizens who want to ensure that their rights will be protected in a federal Ukraine. The pro-Federation activists rushed into the historical trade union building hoping to find a refuge and barricaded themselves. The perpetrators ran into the building and beat people. They attempted to break into one of the rooms, but failed. They then left the building only to continue to throw Molotov cocktails (prepared by Ukrainian nationalist girls), shot at survivors who attempted to jump out from the windows, and beat to death those who managed to make their way out. Ambulances did not arrive to treat the survivors for hours and Israeli medical students offered first aid. The Odessa police did not stop shooters from firing at those trapped in the building. Some of the police were wearing the same red bands worn by Right Sector members and were seen talking to them. At the same time, however,Reuters and BBC falsely portrayed fascists who shot at pro-Federation activists inside the Trade Union building as “pro-Russian militants”.”

And as described by Robert Parry:

“This brutal Nazism surfaced again on Friday when right-wing toughs in Odessa attacked an encampment of ethnic Russian protesters driving them into a trade union building which was then set on fire with Molotov cocktails. As the building was engulfed in flames, some people who tried to flee were chased and beaten, while those trapped inside heard the Ukrainian nationalists liken them to black-and-red-striped potato beetles called Colorados, because those colors are used in pro-Russian ribbons.

“Burn, Colorado, burn” went the chant.

As the fire worsened, those dying inside were serenaded with the taunting singing of the Ukrainian national anthem. The building also was spray-painted with Swastika-like symbols and graffiti reading “Galician SS,” a reference to the Ukrainian nationalist army that fought alongside the German Nazi SS in World War II, killing Russians on the eastern front.”

For more evidence, including grisly photographs and videos of the massacre, see this and this. The content of those pages is truly horrific, so do not open them if you are uncomfortable with the grotesque.

One week later (May 9th), there was a similar massacre in Mariupol. This event received far less attention, but is worthy of mention as long as we are discussing neo-Nazi atrocities in Ukraine. More from Robert Parry:

“This tactic of torching an occupied building occurred again on May 9 in Mariupol, another port city, as neo-Nazi paramilitaries – organized now as the regime’s “National Guard” – were dispatched to a police station that had been seized by dissidents, possibly including police officers who rejected a new Kiev-appointed chief. Again, the deployment of the “National Guard” was followed by burning the building and killing a significant but still-undetermined number of people inside. (Early estimates of the dead range from seven to 20.)

In the U.S. press, Ukraine’s “National Guard” is usually described as a new force derived from the Maidan’s “self-defense” units that spearheaded the Feb. 22 revolt in Kiev overthrowing elected President Viktor Yanukovych. But the Maidan’s “self-defense” units were drawn primarily from well-organized bands of neo-Nazi extremists from western Ukraine who hurled firebombs at police and fired weapons as the anti-Yanukovych protests turned increasingly violent.

But the mainstream U.S. press – in line with State Department guidance – has sought to minimize or dismiss the key role played by neo-Nazis in these “self-defense” forces as well as in the new government. At most, you’ll see references to these neo-Nazis as “Ukrainian nationalists.””

The point I’m trying to make here is that these are bad guys. Evil human beings, who are willing to brutalize others, largely for racial reasons, in order to attain power. And, despicably, the west is actively supporting this.

 

The Western World Is Supporting These Neo-Nazi Thugs

Many of the people behind the events in Ukraine are neo-Nazis willing to murder anyone who gets in their way. The US and EU are giving them full support. The corporate media is whitewashing their crimes and manipulating the public into believing that Putin is responsible.

Anyone who is paying any attention to the news knows that the US is openly backing the government of Ukraine against those who want autonomy in eastern Ukraine. For instance, the US government has already sent heavy weaponry to Ukraine and has earmarked $19 million to help build up the Ukrainian military. Andriy Parubiy, the avowed neo-Nazi and co-founder of Svoboda discussed above, has just come to Washington in order to ask for even more weapons assistance. The fact that a neo-Nazi was even allowed to speak in front of Congress is terrifying.

But it isn’t just weapons. The Pentagon has confirmed recently that US troops will be deploying to Ukraine this spring in order to help build up the Ukrainian National Guard (which has been heavily infiltrated by these neo-Nazi militants). They will be stationed in Lviv, well known as a stronghold of neo-Nazi sentiments.

In case I haven’t made myself clear: the United States is both training and providing weapons to people who are unabashed neo-Nazis so that they can fight a war against nuclear armed Russians.

This is not an exaggeration, nor am I falsely conflating the current government in Kiev with neo-Nazis. While there are certainly many people in the current Ukrainian government who are not Nazis, they are not even close to a fringe group, as I’ve shown above. And in fact, the US is specifically being extra kind to the more extreme elements within the Ukrainian establishment. Consider Oleh Tyahnybok, the leader of Svoboda, who has called for the liberation of his country from the “Muscovite-Jewish Mafia”. Here is a picture of him doing his party’s salute, eerily reminiscent of the sieg heil:

Oleh Nazi Salute

And here he is with US Senator John McCain:

McCain with Nazi

Dec. 15, 2013: U.S. Senator John McCain, center, speaks as Democratic senator from the state of Connecticut, Chris Murphy, second left, and Opposition leader Oleh Tyahnybok, right, stand around him during a Pro-European Union rally in Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine. (AP)

 

McCain with Nazis again

And here is Oleh with US Assistant Secretary of State, Victoria Nuland, of “Fuck the EU” fame (for those of you who don’t know, this is a reference to her intercepted phone call where she was caught discussing who ought to lead Ukraine, just a few weeks before the coup which put her top choice in power. Listen to the recording here and read the transcript here):

Nuland with Nazis

The US’s Historical Support Of Nazis

The current events in Ukraine are far and away the most blatant example of US support for Nazism, but this is not the only instance (and not even the only incidence of supporting Ukrainian Nazis, specifically).

During the tail end of World War 2 and its immediate aftermath, US intelligence agencies helped exfiltrate over 1000 Nazi scientists from Europe and brought them to America in order to aid in the cold war against the Soviet Union. This was codenamed “Operation Paperclip”. Among these scientists were monsters who performed tortuous experiments on living humans.

The US government went to great lengths to hide this, and prevented many of these Nazis from being prosecuted. Information was deliberately withheld about these people so that Nazi-hunters wouldn’t be able to find them.

Some of these scientists did in fact contribute to meaningful scientific advances (like Wernher von Braun), but many also turned out to be liars, useless to US intelligence, or even Soviet double agents.

The Jewish Response

One would expect the US and the western world to condemn the goings-on in Ukraine, and to do everything possible to stop the menace of a resurgent Nazism in Europe. Of course, if you are a cynic/libertarian like me, then you would understand that these things are more about politics and power, and less about doing what’s right.

But even I would have expected the response from the Jewish world to be more appropriate to the seriousness of the situation. Was there not a collective agreement among world Jewry to ensure that never again would we allow the horrors of something like the Holocaust to happen? A part of this agreement means preventing the ideologies that would breed genocide or ethnic cleansing from gaining any kind of foothold or traction.

Somehow, however, world Jewry is failing in this regard. The rest of the world may not speak out against Nazism, but this just makes the need for Jews to stand up and protest ever stronger. Instead of trying to prevent the Nazi power grab in Ukraine, the Jewish world is ignoring it at best, and supporting it at worst.

For Ukraine’s Jews, this is a somewhat challenging issue. Many of them are more western leaning, and thus were a part of the opposition that overthrew Yanukovych a year ago. Of course, the opposition at that time was made up of a diverse cross-section of Ukrainian society. As such, many of these Jews were on the same side as the neo-Nazis, though they of course did not support them in any way. For Ukrainians, the question is more complicated than it should be for the rest of world Jewry; they have their own political concerns, whereas the rest of us are far removed from the political battles of a foreign country. As people with no stake in and no business participating in Ukrainian politics, our focus ought to be on anti-Semitism, not whether the government of Ukraine is “pro-Western” or “pro-Russian”.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Despite world Jewry condemning the rise of Nazism in Ukraine in the years before the coup, Jews have been fairly silent in the year since. Considering how the danger to Jews is now orders of magnitude higher, this is absurd.

While the Jewish response has mostly been muted or somewhat indifferent, some Jewish organizations have actually worked against Jewish interests and safety in Ukraine. Representative John Conyers had written an amendment to the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which was intended to prohibit US assistance, training, and weapons to neo-Nazis in Ukraine.

But the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center didn’t support blocking funding for neo-Nazis, and they should be held accountable for their stance on this issue. As AlterNet reports:

“If passed, Conyers’ amendment would have explicitly barred those found to have offered “praise or glorification of Nazism or its collaborators, including through the use of white supremacist, neo-Nazi, or other similar symbols” from receiving any form of support from the US Department of Defense.

The amendment was presented by congressional staffers to lobbyists from Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, two of the country’s largest established Jewish pressure groups. Despite their stated mission to combat anti-Semitism and violent extremism, the ADL and Wiesenthal Center refused to support Jeffries and Conyers’ proposal.

According to Democratic sources in Congress, staffers from the ADL’s Washington office and the Simon Wiesenthal Center rejected the amendment on the grounds that right-wing Ukrainian parties like Svoboda with documented records of racist extremism had “moderated their rhetoric.” An ADL lobbyist insisted that “the focus should be on Russia,” while the Wiesenthal Center pointed to meetings between far-right political leaders in Ukraine and the Israeli embassy as evidence that groups like Svoboda and Right Sector had shed their extremism.”

Why are Jewish organizations which are intended to combat anti-Semitism taking a political stance on the Ukrainian conflict rather than acting to combat anti-Semitism?

Israel has been largely silent on the Ukraine issue, which is also disturbing. Does not Israel consider itself the defender of world Jewry? To be fair, Israel did vote for the UN resolution that condemned racist fascism and Nazism, but you would think that to be something obvious to vote for, something to take for granted. I suppose it wasn’t actually so obvious, since the US, Canada, and Ukraine all voted against it. What the hell?

 

Conclusion

What I’ve outlined in this article is disturbing to say the least. But I do want to temper my comments with a caveat or two. The fact is, there are many different organizations operating in Ukraine right now, and they may have differing ideologies. In addition, these groups are made up of individuals, and not every individual believes the same thing that their group affiliation might suggest.

As such, I apologize for any errors that may result for having conflated certain organizations with each other. For instance, Right Sector and Svoboda are different organizations and may have different goals or philosophies, though both are clearly ultra-nationalist and possess elements of racism and anti-Semitism. I’m sure there are some subtle differences between these organizations, and surely some individuals within these groups are not as virulently anti-Semitic as this article may have suggested. But there is no doubt that the neo-Nazi threat in Ukraine is real and significant.

In addition, I want to make clear that the current national government of Ukraine is NOT committing state-sanctioned acts of anti-Semitism. It seems as though the government is actually trying, to some extent at least, to counter anti-Semitism in the country. And as I alluded to in the previous section, many Jews in Ukraine support the government and say that it is not sanctioning anti-Semitic action.

But while there may not be state-sanctioned anti-Semitism now, this should not lull the Jewish people into a false sense of security. What do you think would happen if the fascist neo-Nazis actually took complete control of the government? They already have significant political power, significant grassroots support, and are the most battle-hardened segment of Ukrainian society. We must listen to their rhetoric. Perhaps once they’ve taken care of the separatists in eastern Ukraine (using American weapons and training), they will then turn on the more moderate elements and begin to execute the more racist and anti-Semitic aspects of their political program.

Many Jews that I know voice the opinion that countries like Israel and America help to ensure that world Jewry is safe. They believe that without these benevolent nations, Jews somewhere may fall prey to the kinds of dangerous anti-Semitism that fueled Hitler’s Germany.

Well…perhaps that isn’t enough. If anything, it seems that, at least on some level, many Jews may be worse off because of America. While that may not be a generally true statement, it is clear that right now, the United States government is deliberately aiding and abetting Nazism in Europe.

You may wonder why this is the case. It may sound too absurd to be true. But this is politics, and in the realm of the political, morality flies out the window. Anything goes. That’s how John Kerry could accuse the pro-Russian rebels in Donetsk of making Jews register with authority figures there or face deportation based on a rumor which turned out to be a complete hoax. You see, the White House felt no need to do any fact checking on something that proves useful for their own propaganda purposes. Accusing the other side of anti-Semitism is politically beneficial, but supporting Nazis can be as well, particularly if they can keep Americans in the dark about it.

Fellow Jews, please do not become complacent. Even countries that have historically been good to Jews, such as the US (despite some exceptions, like not allowing Jews to come to America during the 30s and 40s), are not permanent bulwarks against the horrors of Nazism and anti-Semitism. We ought to appreciate that our lives are far better as Jews than they have been in many other times and places. But if we are to take the slogans “never again” and “never forget” seriously, we must be eternally vigilant; unfortunately, we are currently failing in this regard.

Happy Purim.

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