I Was Wrong

Those of you that have followed this website for a while will know that I have been off the radar for quite some time. So before going into what I was wrong about, an explanation seems to be in place.

A lot has happened over the past two years or so: I moved from Europe to South America (where I ended up both penniless and jobless before climbing my way out of that rut), I developed an intimate, personal relationship with my Savior Jesus Christ, I met the love of my life and married her 11 months later, and we ended up moving back to the place I thought I had left for good. In the midst of all this writing articles has, shall we say, not been my priority.

In my first article since a long time, however, I want to do something unusual and rebuke my own article. Specifically this relates to a position I took publicly on this very site about four years ago, and it was something I firmly believed in. But hey, sometimes one comes to new insights and, as they say, if you never changed your mind, you never learned a thing! So here we go.

stockvault-white-house139532In this article in the run-up to the U.S. presidential elections of 2012, I made the emphatic case (or so I thought) that Gary Johnson should be the next president of the United States. I was wrong.

The reason I now feel slightly embarrassed for having written that piece, is not because of Johnson’s infamous “Aleppo moment”, or the other gaffe about which foreign leader he looks up to. Far be it from me to let those incidents, or even his running mate Bill Weld sticking up for Hillary Clinton, surprise or disappoint me anymore! (Although admittedly that last one was particularly appalling). The problem with not just this libertarian ticket but the general idea of “voting yourself free” goes much deeper than that.

As unimaginative as I find my viewpoint looking back on it four years later, the subject of my writing was and is even more unimaginative – and indeed utterly uninspiring and downright boring. Now I realize the odds of my ranting ever reaching his desk or that of anyone close to him are infinitesimal, but I feel compelled to take this stance nonetheless. Not only because my argumentation had as many holes as Swiss cheese, but also because I am frankly disgusted with the “libertarian” standpoints the Libertarian Party takes and the terrible job it does of representing the best ideas mankind has ever known. While I am not personally involved with the U.S. Libertarian Party in any way, shape, or form, as a freedom advocate I am disgusted with the way the principles and values I hold near and dear to my heart with are being bent and twisted everywhere Gary Johnson shows his face.

For starters, what kind of a signal does the slogan “fiscally conservative and socially liberal”, send? That is like saying, “Well, you know, both the Republicans and the Democrats have some really great ideas, and if you don’t know which to choose, you can always vote Libertarian!”. People like Johnson can certainly debate how and to what extent the government should rob people of the fruits of their labor through taxation, but let’s not get extreme and entertain the thought that stealing people’s belongings is the definition of theft and therefore immoral in the first place!

In my 2012 article I also write that the Libertarian candidate “wants to audit and reform the Federal Reserve”. Yawn. Why not take (economic) freedom right to its logical and rightful conclusion and take a stance against legal tender laws and central banks’ monopoly on the issuance of money? Why can’t the two parties in a transaction decide for themselves what monetary instrument they want to use to compensate one another?

I then state that Johnson “wants to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana” before claiming that he “believes in civil liberties”. Yet one who truly believes in civil liberties would not dare argue in favor of the government’s authority to tell us when, how, and where to consume a plant – let alone try to make a buck off of our voluntary choices while at the same time attempting to manipulate those choices by way of taxation.

In response to the above, some will tell me I am just a hopeless ideologue and that my utopian vision of a libertarian paradise is just as unlikely to come about by not voting than by voting. However my advocacy is only partially concerned with voting, whereas sticking to the libertarian principles of non-aggression and self-ownership is absolutely non-negotiable, period. By now it has become more than obvious that Gary Johnson is not a good example of a principled libertarian, and as such I take offense at his claiming to be so. In that respect the above only scratches the surface, but then again he is just another politician that we should not waste much time or effort thinking or talking about.

How Many Lies Does “The Good Lie” Tell?

In today’s Western society, with the overwhelming majority of us products of at least twelve years of mandatory government schooling, free market advocates are vastly outnumbered by defenders of the status quo. After all, what use does the state have for critical thinkers who are able to think things out for themselves and come to their own conclusions? A population full of such people could come to all sorts of outlandish ideas such as that the use of force and coercion is always reprehensible, even when committed by “officials”. We can’t have that!

Instead, state-run schools cultivate the sort of hive mind of which we see many expressions in popular culture, perhaps most notably in Hollywood. The basic plot of many a popular movie or TV show has the good guys brandishing uniforms and badges while the bad guys are shady criminals out to destroy the peaceful lives we so happily live thanks to government. Other Hollywood productions, however, include Sudanmore subtle references to the advancements supposedly made possible by – if not exclusively attributable to – state intervention. One recent example of the latter is the 2014 movie by the title “The Good Lie“.

The film follows a group of orphaned Sudanese refugees lucky enough to escape their war-torn homeland to resettle in the United States. After finding a new home in Kansas City, Missouri, the three brothers Mamere, Jeremiah, and Paul have to start at the bottom of the societal totem pole. While Jeremiah and Paul start working a low-wage job at a local grocery store, the more ambitous Mamere decides to hit the books and study to become a doctor. Naturally the men experience quite the culture shock trying to adapt to life in the U.S. both in the personal and professional sphere.

One scene has the store manager asking Jeremiah and Paul to trash two shopping carts full of expired food. Considering their background the brothers are perplexed at the notion of so-called old food, but to their objection that there may be hungry mouths out there to feed, the manager responds: “I don’t sell the food inside to give it away outside, I’m a businessman!”. He then goes on to cite “a big headache with the Health Department” as another reason for trashing the food. Later on there is a confrontation where the manager gets upset with Jeremiah for giving away food to a homeless woman, causing him to quit his job on the spot.

The false dichotomy being set up here is that of a store’s choice between giving food away at a loss or selling it at a profit. Rather, the choice is between avoiding any risk of potential lawsuits by throwing something in the garbage or potentially running afoul of onerous health regulations by giving that food away to people in need. While it may not be an efficient use of resources to go out into the streets to find those people, surely it makes perfect business sense to give away food that can no longer be sold. Just imagine how quick that news would spread on modern communication platforms and the subsequent outpour of support for the business. As the manager points out though, he could get sued for selling food that in the brothers’ minds is perfectly fit for consumption. Clearly such overregulation is a major contributor to the mountains of food that simply go to waste in the U.S. every day.

In another scene one of the refugees, after being fired from his job, is told about “this thing we have in America called bosses”. Basically he is told that although these people can be incredible jerks, employees are powerless to do anything “because you need money to live, and to eat, and to go to school”! To call this a gross oversimplification would be an understatement. Are there people in managerial positions that don’t know how to treat their subordinates with dignity? Sure. Is that likely to affect people in low-skilled jobs more than those with more options on the labor market? Most probably.

The important distinction to be made here, though, is that no employee can be forced to work somewhere against his or her will. While the fry cook at McDonald’s is unlikely to want to stay in his job until retirement, the very fact that he is there in the first place indicates he perceives it to be the best alternative at that particular point in time. After all, had a better, more lucrative job been available surely he would have taken that over flipping burgers. And if he performs well on the job, the fry cook may soon be promoted to a more interesting position or use his experience and professional reference to obtain a better job elsewhere.

Resenting low-paid jobs and the businesses that provide them for not offering a so-called living wage is a great way for populists to score points in the public debate. At the same time it reveals their complete ignorance of basic economics and lack of common sense. Like so many before them the Sudanese brothers featured in The Good Lie come to a developed country in search for opportunities to build a new and better life. It just so happens that building something up takes time and hard work. Only in a fantasy world do well-paying jobs defy the unwritten laws of life and economics and just fall in one’s lap because of some words scribbled on pieces of paper by politicians. And only in a fantasy world does government schooling lead to an educated populace.

Equal Freedom For Men and Women!

In Chile this year’s International Women’s Day was marked by president Michelle Bachelet’s announcement of a new Ministry of Women and Gender Equality to be installed this year. Aimed at ending gender inequality and violence and discrimination towards women, the ministry will propose and implement public policies to combat the perceived gender gap as part of a National Program of Equality. Other measures that have been passed recently include the obligation for political parties to have at least 40 percent of their candidates be female. Female participation in the Chilean labor force has historically been below that of comparable countries, although it has been on the rise in the last decade.

BacheletOn the surface Bachelet may seem like a brave crusader for justice on this issue, and perhaps she even perceives herself as such. Yet it is worth examining what she is really advocating for. After all, no matter how noble one’s goals, the specific actions taken to achieve that end should themselves stand up to ethical scrutiny, even aside from the question of their effectiveness. In fact the nobler the goals the more important choosing the right steps toward them becomes. What is that old saying about the road to hell?

Being a Socialist Party president it is easy to identify the ideological bias upon which Bachelet’s actions are based. At the root of this ideology lies the utopian idea that society can be molded and formed into perfection from the top down. This basic premise has many ramifications, all founded on the idea that paradise can simply be legislated into existence by the stroke of a pen. In short it is the sort of thinking that leads to 40,000 new laws taking effect in a single country in a single year.

After any initiatives aimed at the aforementioned are implemented the resulting statistics will undoubtedly be employed to tout the policies’ alleged benefits, as if there is any honor in changing human behavior by way of coercion. You got someone to do X after threatening him or his property? You must be a master persuader!

In the case of Chile there is ample evidence to suggest that cultural factors have much to do with lower female participation. If there is a little to no discrimination, then, and if it is by women’s own volition that they are underrepresented in the job market, how can government force be morally justified? One of the most well-known reasons for women to choose to work less or not at all, for instance, is having a partner. Does that mean the State should forcibly insert itself into family relationships in the name of gender equality?

Anyone who has written anything on this controversial topic has likely upset at least a few sensitive souls. This article will probably be no different, even if the intention has merely been to trigger critical examination of one’s viewpoints in lieu of the usual discourse replete with name-calling and populist rhetoric invoked by those with a political axe to grind.

As freedom advocates in the midst of debates about the rights of one group or another, let’s never lose sight of what ought to be central in these discussions: the protection and advancement of those individual liberties that are innate within each and every one of us. If that leads many women to pursue professional careers, more power to them. If they prefer to focus their attention elsewhere, however, that should be equally respected. Other women – even those that happen to occupy some political office – have no business telling them how to live their lives.

The State of Freedom in Chile

Perhaps one would not know it for some of the articles that have appeared on this website, but libertarians have plenty of reason to be optimistic about Chile. The country’s economy consistently ranks as by far the freest in Latin America, reaching tenth place in the world in the most recent ranking. Free market type policies have lifted millions of Chileans out of poverty over a time span of mere decades while making its capital city a major hub for international business. And despite recent allegations of large-scale corruption regarding political campaign contributions, on the whole corruption is virtually unheard of.

FreedomSuch a success story literally sets Chile apart from every other nation on the continent, as evidenced by the fact that it is set to become its first developed country by the end of this decade. Yet its unrivaled success has all but silenced critics. On the contrary, it seems like the very prosperity that made Chile the envy of Latin America has lulled some would-be free market advocates to sleep, while proponents of state intervention are running on all cylinders. “Free” education and healthcare and Keynesian economic stimulus – read: more wealth confiscation – are just some of the talking points among those aiming to perfect society by way of scribbling words on pieces of paper.

Last March an OECD report made the headlines in Chile for categorizing the country as among the most unequal in terms of income distribution. Such reports provide the kind of ammunition used by interventionists to beat the drum for all manner of reforms, including the recently approved educational reforms. Given the relative lack of government meddling in daily Chilean life – at least on the scale people in most developed nations have become accustomed to – some are eager to seize every opportunity to promote the supposed virtues of government planning.

To be fair, much of this sentiment stems from resentment against the iron first with which economic reforms were implemented by Augusto Pinochet’s military junta. Looking to break with the socialist policies pursued by his predecessor Salvador Allende and its disastrous consequences, the commander and his ilk considered “the Chicago Boys” to be the only group of economists worthy of their trust. Taking his cues from them, the policies subsequently introduced succeeded in reversing the downward trend and revived an economy previously characterized by soaring inflation and deficits coupled with plummeting saving and investment rates.

Since its return to democracy in 1990 Chile has almost exclusively seen left-wing administrations. For the better part of this era, however, economic policies have generally favored the free market over central planning. It is precisely this trend that is a thorn in the side of those who wish to see more top-down decision making, their main spokesperson being Michelle Bachelet. Fortunately their rhetoric does not go so far as to demonize international trade or private property, but it does tend to blame the free market for inequality in just about every aspect of life. This flawed line of thinking is most prominently and frequently used to justify more state control of healthcare, education and the labor market.

The latter, of course, can hardly be said to be a uniquely Chilean phenomenon. Still, it is imperative to the cause of freedom to promote this understanding of the philosophy of liberty; that rather than foster inequality, voluntary trade has historically been – and still is – the most powerful force against it. Not to mention the fact that trade, not coercion, is simply the morally preferable thing to do.

Brazil: Time For a Property Rights Revolution!

During the Language of Liberty Institute’s Liberty Seminars in the south of Brazil last May, the attendees were treated to a talk about freedom and human prosperity. Using the Economic Freedom of the World report CATO’s Latin America expert Juan Carlos Hidalgo made a convincing case for (economic) freedom as a prerequisite for human progress. One of the points he made about underdeveloped countries relates to how poor protection of property rights stifles economic growth.

In Brazil this lack of recognition of property rights is most pronounced in the infamous favelas. In the years and months leading up to the World Cup the evictions generated some press, but now that the international spotlight has shifted elsewhere it is business as usual. While major sporting events in third world countries have become somewhat notorious for leading to these practices, they certainly are not a requirement.ForcedEvictions

One state over from Rio de Janeiro is Minas Gerais, epicenter of Brazilian coffee and milk production. Its capital and largest city Belo Horizonte boasts the third largest metropolitan area in the country after Rio and São Paulo and is a major financial hub in South America. Consequently it has attracted swaths of lower-class jobseekers who, lacking the financial resources necessary to buy a home in the city, opted to build their own communities on the outskirts of town. Now, local authorities are threatening to forcibly evict the 8,000 families who have taken up residence there.

Leaflets spread over the region announced military police would – absent a court decision – follow their orders to repossess the land “in accordance with the constitution and the fundamental principles of human rights”. Residents of the three communities, however, have unanimously decided to stay in their homes after the state government pulled the plug on negotiations with them. The land is said to be wanted for development and projected to be worth $6.5 billion, providing plenty of incentive to evict the locals even if it means rendering them homeless. Without any legal recourse they are left with two choices: leave, or face the jackboot of the state.

Reports from human rights organizations confirm the situation in Belo Horizonte is hardly the exception. Since the 1970s many people from Brazil’s poorer north have been migrating to the south and southeast in search of opportunity. Needless to say, the majority ended up in much the same situation as the aforementioned 8,000 families. For decades the issue was of no importance but as we know, multi-billion dollar deals have the power to make politicians dance to a completely different beat. The poor they always profess to care so much about cannot be allowed to obstruct lucrative projects that can be used to one’s political advantage.

Ending the current situation of legal ambiguity with regard to property rights is paramount both to the lot of the poorest in society and to the cause of liberty. Left-leaning critics of libertarian thinking often accuse proponents of the free market of being mere shills for corporate interests. While many Brazilians are still unfamiliar with libertarianism injecting issues like these into the public debate can do a lot to take the wind out of the sails of those detractors. After all, if there is one thing that makes our attitude towards the poor unique it is our focus on empowerment rather than dependence. If the most down-trodden can be reached with that message real change can be made.

Privatize Water!

In recent days reports have been coming out about authorities’ struggle to battle a water shortage in Brazil’s two major cities of Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. Ostensibly caused by a severe drought, the crisis has even sparked fears of an impending “water war”. Measures taken earlier this month to reduce the water flow at a major dam were unsuccessful to say the least, cutting off running water to families in some neighborhoods for as long as 12 hours a day.

Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of the water system is government-run without much debate. After all, for all its ubiquity, government incompetence does not always overtly affect people’s daily lives. Now that it does, it might bOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAe an opportune time for Brazilian freedom advocates to voice their opinions.

While some market reform has taken place in recent years, the process has been severely stifled by jurisdictional conflicts fueled by Constitutional as well as other regulations. Besides establishing a national system of water resources management the Constitution also defines criteria for granting rights of use, and it regards surface water and groundwater as property of the states. The National Water Resources Policy even specifies many uses of water that require government permission.

A World Bank publication analyzing market reform in urban water supplies in Santiago de Chile found “surprisingly large” net benefits in economic welfare despite significant price hikes. After years of losses largely imposed by regulatory obstacles the Santiago Metropolitan Works Enterprise had become so underfunded it could no longer perform basic maintenance on its systems. Some of the positive results included almost 100 percent coverage of expanding demand, better water pressure, fewer interruptions of service and higher wages for employees. The outcomes were so positive, in fact, that full privatization of the entire urban water supply and sanitation sector was eventually implemented.

Studies on market reform of the water sector in other South American countries have also found positive results. In Argentina the privatization of local water companies – covering approximately 30 percent of the country’s municipalities – reduced child mortality on average 5 to 7 percent, preventing 375 child deaths per year. It is worth noting also that the effect was most pronounced (24 percent) in the poorest areas, offering empirical evidence that runs contrary to oft-heard claims about increased inequality. Overall the number of households connected to the water network increased by nearly 12 percent.

In Bolivia privatization was shown to increase water access relative to both the existing trend and the non-privatized areas. The results also concurred with the aforementioned that the relative benefits of were larger for the poorest segments of the population, who gained from the largest increases in access. Some of the same findings have been reported in Brazil, if only on a small scale.

Notwithstanding those positive results generated by market reform, the current legal framework is a severe impediment. These obstacles will have to be dealt with if Brazilians are to reap the full benefits of voluntary – rather than compulsory – human action in the provision of such a basic need as water. Empirical evidence clearly confirms it can be done, giving liberals and libertarians plenty of arrows in their quiver to build a convincing case for liberty and against statists’ fear mongering. If successful that could be a big step toward a freer Brazil.






The State of Firearm Freedom in Brazil

Walking down the street here in Brazil it quickly becomes apparent political campaigns are in full swing. Signs displaying the slick smiles and hollow rhetoric of (would-be) politicians abound, and the same rhetoric emanates from megaphones on small vans driving around town. But besides the more high-profile presidential elections there will also be state elections injecting more specific issues into the public debate.

Recently one such sign immediately caught my eye. With an image of a firearm and the text “contra o desarmamento” (against disarmament) it was impossible to miss. A firm believer in the right to self-defense, I felt compelled to find out more about a gun debate I was unaware even existed here. Having found out that gun laws are very much like the ones in my native country of the Netherlands I figured the issue would not even be on the table. Fortunately I was wrong.

StateofGunRightsIn 2003 the Brazilian government passed a law dramatically restricting gun sales while all but outlawing their carrying by civilians. Termed the Disarmament Statute it forces potential legal gun owners to go through a litany of paperwork, checks, and tests just to own a firearm and keep it at home. A carry permit can still be denied if it authorities determine “genuine reason” was not provided. Yet in terms of bringing down crime rates the Statute has been a dismal failure; a decade after its adoption Brazil has 50 percent more gun deaths than the United States despite having110 million fewer citizens.

Undeterred, Brasilia put forth another initiative to further clamp down on gun ownership in 2005. Luckily this time lawmakers at least had the decency to call a referendum – the first of its kind in the world. The proposed law was meant to entirely ban the sale of firearms and ammunition to anyone except security firms, sports clubs, and the government. Much to the surprise and chagrin of its proponents, however, it was met with a resounding no. Based on early polls ostensibly indicating overwhelming support for the ban they were expecting a win, but equal time on television in the final weeks prior to the referendum resulted in more than 60 percent of voters opposing it.

Now it seems the debate has come full circle and gun rights advocates have the upper hand. It will be interesting to see how this plays out during the campaigns and subsequent elections early October. If fought well this battle might go a long way toward winning the victim disarmament war. Then again, leave it to politicians to talk a good game about something on the campaign trail and then suffer from acute memory loss after taking office. Perhaps a grassroots campaign focused on educating people about natural rights would help keep their feet to the fire.

Given the corrupt reputation and consequent distrust of the police it goes without saying that Brazilians don’t feel protected by uniformed gunmen. Rather than further the case for gun control, the 2005 referendum might well have backfired. Anti self-defense groups were forced to begrudgingly admit that the other side had successfully linked owning a firearm with freedom, using images of Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall. Furthermore, current restrictions are (predictably) leading to much different outcomes than predicted. Residents of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro can attest to that.