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.

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Pacification and Brazil’s War on Drugs


For decades, Brazilian favelas (slums) have been under the control of highly organized, well armed gangs. Financed by the drug trade and armed with weapons often bought from the police the gangs rule their territory, rivaled only by other gangs trying to win turf. Up until a few years ago even law enforcement officers dared not enter. But spurred by the pleas of a large voting bloc and especially this year’s World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games a change in policy was deemed necessary.

In an effort to polish up Brazil’s image abroad a new policy of pacification of the favelas was adopted in 2008. Aimed at Favelaeliminating the gangs’ control the policy can be divided into three phases: (1) reclaim territory formerly lost to drug gangs, (2) expel them from those areas and (3) integrate resident communities with the rest of the city. This last phase theoretically includes long-term government initiatives to improve quality of life in pacified favelas, although this has been called into question by residents. Besides, when being a bureaucrat becomes as lucrative as it is in Brazil, one should not be surprised to hear would-be politicians make any and all campaign promises necessary to win political office.

As mentioned in a previous article Brazilian police is notoriously corrupt and consequently distrusted by many people, particularly in the states and cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Perhaps that is why two special police departments were set up to establish closer ties between them and local residents: the Batalhão de Operações Policiais Especiais (BOPE) and Unidades de Polícia Pacificadora (UPP). Although often referred to as “community police” these forces can call for military support – as they did most recently in 2010 and 2011.

In select slums gang members were successfully chased out and life has returned to a relative normal. But returning peace to once crime-ridden slums has also had other, unforeseen consequences. Built on the outskirts of Rio overlooking the world famous bay, the areas are attracting interest from the upper classes. As a result real estate prices have skyrocketed to where poor residents can no longer afford to live there, and now it is not only the drug gangs that are having to relocate to other favelas. Yet even the pacified slums did not necessarily turn into thriving communities.

While sending armed forces into an area to arrest or kill drug dealers is easy enough; actually solving the underlying problem is another issue. Given conservatives’ stance on drug legalization or decriminalization the war on drugs in Brazil is unlikely to end anytime soon. Never mind the fact that stray bullets wound and kill many non-gang members including children, or that many drug traffickers would likely take a much different career path by their own volition if given the opportunity. Though the arbitrary outlawing of certain substances is directly responsible for the death and misery suffered on a daily basis by those least able to defend themselves, proponents of the war on (some) drugs seem unfazed.

With only a few dozen out of some one thousand favelas pacified so far, it could be argued the jury is still out on whether the policy has been effective. So far it has become clear that so long as law enforcement includes prosecuting people for meeting the demand for certain “dangerous” substances many lives are lost or ruined in the process. Meanwhile, a study conducted by Amnesty International found Brazil to be the country where people feel most unsafe in the hands of authorities. Or in the words of one resident to Smithsonian Magazine, “It’s the same thing as before – a group of different gunmen is taking care of this place.”

The Case Against the European Union (Part I)


This May the citizens of the European Union will be given the opportunity to choose their new overlords, in the only directly elected EU body known as the European Parliament. Voter turnout has consistently been on the decline since elections started in 1979, reaching a record low in 2009. Will this year see a new record?

In addition to being the only directly elected EU body, a few other things set Parliament apart from the rest of the Brussels bureaucracy. Seemingly unbeknownst to most, it does not propose new EU legislation; the best it can do is ask the Commission to submit a proposal. Furthermore, according to its own website the EP “may approve or reject a legislative proposal, or propose amendments to it”. The Council of the European Union, however, “is not legally obliged to take account of Parliament’s opinion but (..) must not take a decision without having received it”.

So while it may be true that the European Parliament’s influence has increased over time, it is still very much an empty shell. Besides, when a political body is created that has virtually no power to make policy at all it is bound to gain such power over time, or its very existence may be justifiably questioned. Considering the fact that it is only now that this process of EU “democratization” is coming to a head it is not unreasonable to be skeptical of the motives of those that started it.

Still, the above doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface as far as making the case against the European Union. Procedures can be changed, after all, as they’ll have to be if the project is to have any legitimacy in the eyes of those enduring it. ThEuropean Soviet Unione real case against the European leviathan goes much deeper than that.

First, for all the talk about economic prosperity enabled by European integration, little consideration or attention tends to be given to the high tariffs imposed on non-EU goods. Yet high tariffs for non-EU goods drive up prices for European consumers who now have to buy a more expensive and/or inferior version of the same product. But it doesn’t stop there; the lack of European demand will cause the decline if not disappearance of those industries and businesses, reducing demand for European products. This in turn ends up hurting if not eliminating European industries and businesses that rely on exports for their survival, causing a vicious cycle.

Moreover, EU tariffs disrupt international specialization and the most efficient (market) allocation of resources. It is likely that without the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies, which make up more than half the budget, far fewer agricultural goods would be produced even as prices for consumers fall. These low-value goods that deliver low-paying jobs could then be substituted for high-value goods that require skilled, well-paid labor. Surely Europe has a competitive advantage there.

Let it be crystal clear that I am a staunch proponent of free trade and the unrestricted flow of capital, goods, and human beings. As I have pointed out here previously though, this is not something we’re supposed to thank government for. Rather it is despite government that we still have some degree of freedom to trade voluntarily beyond borders.

Second, there is a legal case to be made; each member state joined the EU (or EC) in its character as a sovereign nation, entering into a contract or treaty with other nations which was understood to benefit all of them. These contracts were signed – according to conventional wisdom, anyway – by government officials in their capacity as representatives of the people of those nations. To the extent that it may be argued that the people were then in favor of the agreement this cannot be taken as proof of their approval of the events that have unfolded since. The few indications we do have of the will of the people, such as the various referenda that were held prior to the adoption of the European Constitution, suggest that the general attitude toward Brussels may not be as favorable as it is made out to be. The recent rise of so-called “euro-skepticism” in many different countries and across the political spectrum provides further credible evidence for this hypothesis.

Third, as anyone who has spent any time traveling the Old Continent can attest, Europe houses many different peoples with their own cultures and languages. It is this diversity that makes life and travel enriching and interesting; from Irish and English pubs, wooden shoes and schnitzels in the northern part of the continent to the art, architecture, and great food in Mediterranean countries. These are the things that make Europe unique and they should not be subject to the whims of faceless bureaucrats, threatening to ban traditional Danish pastries for containing “too much” cinnamon. The best safeguard against such absurdities is decentralization of power, not the establishment of a supranational government.

*Continued in Part II (see below).

 

The Case Against the European Union (Part II)


For all the talk about cooperation in the context of this grand European experiment, the system as it has been set up clearly was not designed to serve as a means for collaboration. It is, however, a perfect instrument for top-down decision making. After all, if this was all about collaboration why would Brussels have to impose its will on 500 million people? That very notion is fundamentally non-collaborative; it is in fact oppressive.

At the root of this, then, it’s worth doing a little thought experiment by asking yourself this question: what gives a European Soviet Unionbunch of bureaucrats the right to tell people what to do or not to do with their bodies and property? Accepting that state of affairs relegates your status to that of a slave with those paper pushers as your masters. As long as no aggression is committed against another individual or property you should be free to live life as one sees fit. This is, in short, the argument of natural rights or natural law; the understanding that rights are not gifts from government but have been here as long as humans have lived and are way older than governments.

So what are the practical ramifications of this line of thinking? Rather than wander off into a debate of “limited government” versus no government, which could add several thousands of words to this article, let’s focus here on the decentralization of power. As it turns out, historical examples of this phenomenon are rampant, whether it take the form of outright secession or something a little more mild. Just consider the U.S. War of Independence, or in more recent times, the Irish’ fight against the British just a few decades ago. In 1905 Norway peacefully seceded from Sweden.

This concept has not been confined to “the West” either; the Koreans and Chinese fought off imperial Japanese forces in different eras, and Singapore peacefully seceded from Malaysia in 1965. Consider also the breaking up of Latin-America into many different nation states after the Spanish were defeated, or the plight of the people in Georgia and Chechnya battling an army that way outnumbers them to defend or gain their independence.

Though perhaps easily overlooked, contemporary examples of decentralization abound, too; Belgium is divided into Flanders and Wallonia, Spain has Catalonia, Basque Country spans parts of Spain and France and four different countries make up the United Kingdom – at least for now, while we await the Scottish referendum on independence.

In the United States talk of secession has been going on in different states including Maryland, Colorado, and Texas in recent years. Just over the border in Canada, Quebec has a more autonomous status than other provinces and in Asia Hong Kong, Tibet, Taiwan, and Sri Lanka come to mind. It all goes to show that decentralization of power has stood the test of time and is supported in different cultures across national borders and continents; not just some pie-in-the-sky idea dreamed up by a bunch of idealists.

A favorite among tyrants and statists alike, EU apologists will undoubtedly use the perceived threat of foreign aggression as an excuse to keep supporting the beast that is devouring our liberties. This kind of attitude was especially prevalent in the wake of the NSA scandal, fueling the argument that “we need a European superstate to defend against other super powers” like the United States. Never mind the fact that Dutch, German, and British intelligence agencies were caught exchanging data with the National Security Agency! Who wouldn’t feel safer if those agencies merged to form one giant European surveillance system that could track our every move?

Another oft-heard argument in defense of the European Union that stems mostly from misinformation and fear-mongering is the idea that it has brought peace. In making this argument it is conveniently forgotten that one of the leading causes of many a war, including the two World Wars, is economic nationalism. While it is true that we have not seen military conflict inside EU borders, this observation is not nearly enough to establish a causal relationship. After all, not every century saw massive military conflicts that left millions dead, and a major reason for that is the free circulation of goods, free offering of services, free movement of financial capital, and free migration that prevailed before the dawn of economic nationalism and socialism. Europe’s most peaceful century, between the Napoleonic Wars and WWI, was one characterized by free trade and one in which passports as used today were virtually unheard of (they didn’t start circulating until the early 20th century).

Given the interdependence that naturally resulted from such (economic) ties that went beyond borders, it only made sense for people to want the kind of stability only peace can bring. Yet today’s EU apologists would declare this impossible on a continent so “divided” it would allow for many independent cities (in Flanders, Germany, Northern Italy), small kingdoms (Bavaria, Saxony) and republics (Venice)! Nonetheless, their lack of historical knowledge and understanding should not keep the rest of us from making the case against the European Union.

 

 

 

 

 

FTAs: Farcical Trade Agreements


With the advent of trading blocs such as the European Union, NAFTA and APEC, many so-called Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) have been agreed upon. Though these deals have undoubtedly done much good, many protectionist policies that hinder true free trade remain in place. So how free is “free trade”?

free_tradeFirst, let it be understood that free trade does not originate from government. It is the natural state of things as it arises spontaneously in a free society; a manifestation of the human tendency to cooperate and trade in ways that benefit all parties involved. Divisions related to such things as race, nationality, religion, political persuasion, and sexual orientation don’t naturally come into play until politicians and other control freaks create or emphasize them.
That said, if people in government were so inclined they could of course embody this natural state of affairs in some sort of statement, much like the Bill of Rights did. Still, this would merely represent the recognition of a natural right on the part of the signers – not the creation thereof – and would therefore ultimately be irrelevant to the veracity and universality of the principle itself.

Unfortunately, and in violation of one’s freedom of association, the current system does not recognize free trade as such. Governments even go so far as to actively hamper trade by imposing restrictions on people both within and outside of their jurisdictions. It is only when it is perceived to be to their benefit that government officials reduce trade barriers by way of FTAs. Consequently, economic opportunities take center stage in debates about free trade while natural rights are rarely brought up. Consider these recent examples:

– Last October the EU and Canada reached a free trade agreement dubbed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA. Contrary to what one might expect from an agreement purported to achieve free trade, CETA does not prohibit subsidies. Rather, it provides “additional transparency and consultation mechanisms for subsidies to enable parties to exchange information and to discuss subsidy programs that may be adversely affecting their interests”. With regard to agricultural the agreement promises a “consultative mechanism on all forms of government support”.
– The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed free trade agreement between the European Union and the United States. Despite being touted as “the world’s largest free-trade deal”, it remains to be seen how free EU-US trade will turn out to be. The odds of the EU throwing out Common Agricultural Policy subsidies, which constitutes almost 40 percent of its total budget, are basically zero. Similarly, TIPP is highly unlikely to signal the end of U.S. government subsidies to Boeing and Airbus or to its farmers. There is a reason why these billions are doled out every year – think special interest groups and lobbying power.

Needless to say, in the current system any and all agreements between governments that free up trade in one way or another constitute a step in the right direction, and FTAs do deliver on that front. Nonetheless, it is downright misleading to use the term “free trade” in referencing them. After all, a genuine free trade agreement literally would not have to be longer than a few lines, nor would such a deal require secret negotiations.

Understand that the above is not just an exercise in nitpicking. Rather, it reveals the lack of a principled pro-liberty standpoint based on natural rights. Free trade should exist not just for practical reasons, but because freedom of association is recognized as a basic human right.

In the current paradigm of imaginary lines drawn on maps with people in suits and uniforms claiming the right to rule over you, the legitimacy of trade restrictions is hardly ever questioned. Yet the right to trade freely is not a gift from government; it is an inherent right. That right has been violated for so long that most people don’t give it any second thought, but it’s really just common sense.

Free trade agreements are a farce. If you recognize that, you can help advance the cause of liberty by educating others. For restricted trade equals restricted freedom.

 

5 Ways Environmentalism Harms the Environment


Friends of the Earth, Earthwatch, Environmental Defense Fund, Green Cross International, The Climate Project, World Resources Institute, WWF, and of course the inevitable Greenpeace.

These are just some of tEnvironmentalismhe environmental organizations that have for decades been pushing for – and in many cases outright lobbying for – ever more stringent environmental regulations to save the Earth and humanity from supposed catastrophe. Undoubtedly the majority of the people involved with these and other organizations are well-intentioned individuals that sincerely believe in their cause. That is not to say, however, that they are absolved from scrutiny as to the consequences of their (political) actions; you judge a tree by its fruits.

As it turns out, it can be quite convincingly argued that the very people and organizations purportedly fighting for protection of the environment are achieving much different outcomes, and one does not have to dig very deep at all to discover what those outcomes really are. As you read this, understand that this is not a ringing endorsement of a throw-away society, but rather an honest attempt at dissecting the arguments made for increasingly strict environmental policies and examining the results thereof.

1. Tilting the balance in favor of large corporations
“Green” regulations, like any and all forms of regulation, disproportionally hurt small and medium-sized businesses. After all, large (multinational) corporations have the financial resources and manpower that their smaller competitors lack to deal with the regulatory burden. As such each and every new law passed further threatens the very existence of mom-and-pop stores in your neighborhood. And unlike multinationals they don’t have the lobbying power to turn the regulatory tide, either. The result? Fewer local stores in your area, forcing you to drive farther away for your groceries. True, you will likely plan ahead to avoid having to go to the store every day, but that means you now need a car to transport all those groceries in. You might not have needed that car to begin with if you could just stop by your local grocer that’s now gone out of business.

2. Increasing pollution with “green” energy
Wind turbines don’t come falling from the sky. They require vast amounts of steel produced in steel mills and the fiber composite that make up the blades is manufactured in a chemical plant. Then there is the issue of rare earth metals (or rare earths), used in everything from electric car batteries to wind turbines to solar panels. Nearly all production today takes place in China, where both people and the environment suffer due to the hazardous and radioactive byproducts released in the process. Mines and processing plants are struggling to keep up with the demand artificially pushed up by governments in the form of tax incentives and massive subsidies.

3. Impoverishing people
Speaking of subsidies, one of the major recipients has been the “green jobs” industry. In an attempt to appeal to a broader audience, the argument is that specific policies would lead not only to a better environment, but also boost the economy through the creation of “good jobs”. Though the proponents of green jobs have yet to find agreement on what defines such a job, what has become clear is that the net effect on employment is actually negative. In the UK 3.7 jobs are lost for every green job while in Spain the ratio stands at 2.2 jobs lost per green job. Poof!

To make matters worse, prominent green jobs reports such as the UNEP report even go so far as to rail against high-productivity jobs lest they “pose the dual challenge of environmental impact and unemployment”[1]. Apparently the report’s authors are totally oblivious to the fact that increased productivity is what makes a society wealthier, and that the inefficient use of resources for the sake of “spreading the work” will inevitably make everyone poorer.

It goes without saying that poor people will naturally care less about the environment and more about where their next meal is going to come from. While rich people have the luxury of worrying about the environment, poor people do not. So the wealthier a society, the more likely it is to take good care of the environment.

4. Wasting resources mandating recycling
I know this is going to sound counterintuitive – as it did to me – but recycling does not always save energy or money. The latter makes sense considering the top-down approach that has dominated environmental initiatives; if there was any money in recycling, force would not have been necessary to bring it about. New York City’s recycling program, for instance, costs the taxpayer almost double what it would cost to just throw glass, metal, and plastic away.

Still, it would be one thing to spend all that taxpayer money on recycling if it actually saved resources. Unfortunately even that is not necessarily the case. Trees are planted and grown on tree farms specifically to make paper and as such do not contribute to deforestation. Other materials such as glass and aluminum can be effectively recycled, benefitting both the environment and the economy. However, businesses involved with the production of these materials have an inherent incentive to recycle anyway, so there is no need for regulatory requirements there.

5. Carbon taxes
Carbon taxes help funnel money into wind and solar power, which also come with environmental problems even in addition to the aforementioned. Solar thermal technology, for instance, consumes huge quantities of water – you know, the substance that is generally already lacking in areas where solar panels are the preferred “renewable energy” source (e.g. California, southern Spain).

Solar panel fields and wind farms are also very land-intensive, and wind farms negatively impact animals in the form of habitat loss and fragmentation. Besides, few people find wind turbines scattered over the countryside to be of benefit to the landscape. Some even suffer negative health effects that have been linked to living near a wind farm.

Finally, carbon taxes aggravate the aforementioned problems of favoring large over small businesses and impoverishing people.

Given these issues it would behoove environmentalists to consider the unintended consequences of their push for continued “climate action”, even aside from the debate over whether or not climate change is man-made to begin with. Having blind faith in politicians and special interest groups that try to greenwash their agenda to appeal to your sense of justice may not be the best strategy if you really care about the environment.

[1] Green Jobs: Towards decent work in a sustainable, low-carbon world. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). (2008). p.6.