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Ammunition Against a Powerful Anti-Gun Rights Meme

in Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

You see and hear this phrase over and over again in the media: “the gun lobby.”

Frequently it is prefaced by the word “powerful” as in “the powerful gun lobby.”

gun controlIndeed, Google “powerful gun lobby” and you’ll find thousands of matches. Here are some examples from recent news stories:

“The powerful gun lobby has thwarted repeated attempts at firearm reforms, even after a host of horrific shootings…”

“However, the powerful gun lobby and its supporters in Congress have blocked the proposed measures…”

“His efforts to overhaul the nation’s gun laws have been thwarted time and time again by the powerful gun lobby…”

This is an extremely effective propaganda phrase that has worked its way into common and unthinking usage by journalists, politicians, and the public. One reason it is so effective is that many people don’t even realize that it is propaganda. Yet it is.

The phrase creates a potent meme. It instantly conjures up the image of a sinister, wealthy, scheming gun lobby constantly acting in opposition to the wishes and best interests of the vast majority of Americans. A small but extraordinarily effective lobby that controls politicians to prevent the rest of America from winning the popular, reasonable, workable, common-sense gun control measures that would save lives and make everyone safer.

This subtle, devastating phrase portrays most American citizens as standing helpless and endangered before this tiny but unstoppable lobby that cares more about guns and profits than human lives.

Yet this is an utterly false picture. First, polls show that the majority of Americans favor gun rights over gun control. Opposition to gun control has increased in recent decades. Polls vary on specific issues, but in general, and especially concerning the more draconian gun-rights restrictions, a majority or near-majority consistently favors gun liberty.

So the “powerful gun lobby,” far from being a small group of elites manipulating the political system, actually represents, generally speaking, theanti views of a majority or near-majority of Americans.

Second, the “powerful gun lobby” phrase conveniently ignores a crucial point: there exists a very powerful and highly influential anti-gun lobby in America. This anti-gun lobby is massive, well-funded, very active, and enjoys huge support from some of the most powerful people and institutions in America. The anti-gun lobby includes presidents, members of Congress, other office holders, billionaire supporters (Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, George Soros, Nick Hanauer, for example), journalists, celebrities, think tanks, advocacy groups… Indeed, most of the work of the “powerful gun lobby” is in response to the ceaseless efforts of this anti-gun-rights lobby to limit gun rights or abolish gun ownership outright.

Yet we seldom if ever hear anything about the “powerful anti-gun lobby.”

Which brings me to today’s communication tip. You can raise awareness of this — and begin refuting the ubiquitous and misleading “powerful gun lobby” meme — by simply using this phrase: “anti-gun lobby.” Or “the powerful anti-gun lobby.” Not in an argumentative or confrontational way, but in casual conversations about guns. Just drop it in:

“The anti-gun lobby is putting all their weight behind this new bill to outlaw private gun sales…”

“That’s the argument being made by the powerful anti-gun lobby. But as John Lott points out in his excellent book More Guns, Less Crime…”

I like the way “anti-gun lobby” parallels the familiar “gun lobby” phrase. This gets the attention of listeners.

Those who support gun freedom will find it refreshing to hear. Those who are undecided about the issue will find it intriguing. It will help cancel out the “powerful gun lobby” meme, help your listeners begin thinking outside the mental box that phrase creates, and open their minds to thinking further about other aspects of the gun issue.

Of course, use this along with the other rules of good libertarian communication, always remembering that our goal is opening minds and winning supporters, not engaging in fruitless arguments. (I discuss those rules, and many more ways to talk about gun rights, in my book How to Be A Super Communicator for Liberty.)

How to Prove the Drug War Is Futile and Self-Defeating

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

“The Iron Law of Prohibition” offers you a powerful argument to help persuade others of the dangers of the War on Drugs.

white lightning (moonshine)The term was first used by Richard Cowan, longtime libertarian activist and former director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). Cowan introduced the term and the concept behind it in a 1986 cover article for the conservative magazine National Review.

The idea is simple and powerful — and it undermines some of the major arguments for drug prohibition.

In a nutshell, the Iron Law of Prohibition says that the economics of black markets inevitably creates strong incentives for dealers to sell ever-stronger, ever-more-dangerous drugs. (I’ll explain that further in a moment.) So prohibition, rather than protecting the public, actually makes drugs ever more potent and ever more dangerous for drug users, the public, and law enforcement. Prohibition is thus extremely counterproductive — even by many of the stated goals of those who favor it.

As Cowan wrote in National Review: “The Iron Law of Drug Prohibition is that the more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the drugs will become.”

Why does this happen? It’s simple economics. When drugs are prohibited, they will continue to be produced and sold in black markets. And drug smugglers and drug sellers will invariably move to sell the drugs in the most concentrated and powerful forms possible. That’s because the more potent and concentrated forms use much less space to store and smuggle, and they sell for far more money, pound-for-pound.

It’s really just common sense. If alcohol is prohibited, bootleggers can smuggle bulky low potency beer, which sells for a low price, or high potency hard liquor, which takes up no more space than beer but sells for much more. Which do you think they will choose?

History confirms it. During alcohol Prohibition there was a huge shift from beer to hard liquor, as bootleggers began focusing on the higher profits of hard liquor — exactly as you would expect, given the Iron Law of Prohibition. Even hard liquor became “harder,” more potent. After Prohibition, consumers were again free to choose among competing products, and they resumed their pre-Prohibition move towards less potent (and less dangerous) drinks.

You can see The Iron Law of Prohibition at work in the War on Drugs. When bulky opium was made illegal around the turn of the century, refined high potency heroin quickly took its place. When marijuana was targeted, smugglers turned to other high-potency, less bulky, far easier to smuggle drugs like cocaine. Bulky bags of powder cocaine were in turn replaced by tiny pellets of highly addictive crack. The same process continues to bring such dubious innovations as crystal meth, dangerous and untested “designer drugs,” and other cheaper, more dangerous, more bang-for-the-buck drugs.

Cowan summarizes the Iron Law of Prohibition in bumper sticker form: “The harder the enforcement, the harder the drugs.”

It’s called “The Iron Law” because this effect is so predictable and invariable. It’s as rock-solid as the law of supply and demand. Or even the law of gravity.

Interestingly, the exact opposite tends to happen in legal markets. Consumers tend to prefer ever milder, less potent versions. Thus the popularity of beer over hard liquor.

The Iron Law of Prohibition means that the War on Drugs strategy is futile and fatally flawed. It will inevitably bring us ever stronger and more dangerous drugs, with the concurrent deaths, health problems, crime and so forth, until it is ended.

This argument can open minds. It may not by itself convince someone to turn against the Drug War, but it is a powerful and persuasive addition to your other arguments.

To learn more about The Iron Law of Prohibition, including other negative consequences of it, check out these resources from Mark Thornton, an economist who had done outstanding work in this field:


The Risky Business of Communicating Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip by Sharon Harris Comments are off

This article was featured in our weekly newsletter, the Liberator Online. To receive it in your inbox, sign up here.

Nobel Prize-winning libertarian economist Milton Friedman was one of the earliest prominent public advocates of ending the War on Drugs.

In a 1991 interview on “America’s Drug Forum,” a national PBS public affairs talk show, Friedman made this excellent point:

risky business“The case for prohibiting drugs is exactly as strong and as weak as the case for prohibiting people from overeating.

“We all know that overeating causes more deaths than drugs do. If it’s in principle OK for the government to say you must not consume drugs because they’ll do you harm, why isn’t it all right to say you must not eat too much because you’ll do harm?

“Why isn’t it all right to say you must not try to go in for skydiving because you’re likely to die? Why isn’t it all right to say, ‘Oh, skiing, that’s no good, that’s a very dangerous sport, you’ll hurt yourself’? Where do you draw the line?”

This is a powerful argument for persuading others of the unfairness of the War on Drugs.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Overweight and obesity are leading risks for global deaths. Around 3.4 million adults die each year as a result of being overweight or obese.”

According to the National Institutes of Health, being overweight or obese “substantially increase[s] the risk of morbidity from hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, coronary artery disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, and sleep apnea and respiratory problems, as well as cancers of the endometrium, breast, prostate, and colon. Higher body weights are also associated with an increase in mortality from all causes.”

Scary stuff! Yet no one — well, almost no one — would support a violent War on Eating Too Much Food, with armed Food Police breaking into fast food joints and homes to stop people from overeating. Few would support outlawing common foods associated with obesity, despite the documented dangers and huge social costs.

And what about swimming?

According to the Center for Disease Control, about 3,600 people — many of them children — die annually from accidental drowning, the fifth largest cause of accidental death in the United States. Yet we allow adults and children complete freedom to swim.

Disturbing research finds that football, boxing, hockey and other contact sports can cause severe and permanent brain damage. Yet millions of Americans still support and participate in these sports.

There are countless other risky activities we casually accept. Bungee jumping looks crazy to me, riding a motorcycle isn’t my thing, and I won’t be gazing down at the world from atop Mount Everest. But I strongly support and defend the right of others to engage in these things – along with the great majority of Americans.

Indeed, the freedom to make risky choices in such personal matters is a bedrock American value. Most people today make exceptions to this value only in certain narrow areas — most notably drugs. (And just some drugs, of course — not, for instance, liquor and tobacco, to bring up another wild inconsistency.)

When you use comparisons and concrete examples like the ones above, you help your listeners grasp the unfairness, injustice and inconsistency of the War on Drugs. It can be very effective to have specific numbers and reliable sources when making these comparisons, as I’ve done here, but just citing any risky but legal activity can open minds.

Try it — the risk is yours to take!

Thanks to Carpe Diem, Mark Perry’s outstanding economic blog, for recently mentioning Milton Friedman’s interview, which can be read in its entirety here.

That interview is also in the superb book Friedman & Szasz On Liberty and Drugs: Essays on the Free Market and Prohibition (1992), which features essays by Friedman and the great libertarian psychiatrist Thomas Szasz.

No One “Pays” Taxes

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“You don’t ”pay’ taxes. The government TAKES them.” — comedian Chris Rock.Chris Rock

Not only is this quote funny (especially when you hear Chris Rock say it), it makes a profound point — one well worth remembering when talking about taxes and politics.

The word “pay,” in connection with taxes, is just government propaganda. Using it — saying we “pay taxes” or “paid our taxes” — hides and distorts the true nature of taxation. And that’s something libertarians shouldn’t do.

Here’s what I mean.

In common usage, the word “pay” strongly implies some kind of consensual agreement. If you’re selling apples and I want one, I pay you for it. If I don’t want the apple, I don’t have to pay. If someone else has a better deal on apples, I’m free to trade with him instead. Or I can skip apples altogether.

Similarly, if I borrow money from a loan company, I agree to pay it back with interest. If a competing company offers lower interest rates, I’m free to trade with them instead. I also of course have the option of not borrowing money at all.

Those are payments, voluntarily agreed to.

However, the word “pay” is inappropriate for a coerced exchange — like taxation.

As the great Lysander Spooner famously pointed out, if a criminal points a gun at you and demands all the money in your pocket, you aren’t “paying” the robber when you hand over your money. You didn’t “pay” — you were robbed!

If burglars enter your home at night and steal your valuables, you didn’t “pay” the burglar. He TOOK your money! You were robbed.

Libertarians view taxes as a form of coercion, no different in essence from robbery or theft. (By the way, a startlingly large number of Americans now agree with us on this. See the story “New Poll: Millions of Voters Say They’re Libertarian” above.)

So we should never use language like “pay taxes” or “paid taxes.” Saying so legitimizes taxation. It implies that taxation is just another form of legitimate exchange, like paying for goods and services you voluntarily purchased.

PickpocketInstead, when someone else uses that term, we should, if appropriate, gently disagree. And respond with something like: “Actually, I didn’t ‘pay’ taxes. No one PAYS taxes. The government just seizes money from you. There’s a big difference. Payments are voluntary. Taxes are coercive. Like… theft.”

Your wording, of course, will depend on who you’re speaking with and where. But one thing’s certain — you’ll have trouble improving on Chris Rock’s monologue:

“The messed-up thing about taxes is you don’t ‘pay’ taxes. The government TAKES them. You get your check and money is GONE! It was not an option! That ain’t a payment — that’s a JACK! I been TAX JACKED!”

What Is the “Costberg” — and Why Should You Care?

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

The CostbergI’m always delighted to find colorful, eye-opening words and phrases that libertarians can use to help people understand and embrace the ideas of liberty.

Here are some very useful terms for bringing attention to the little-known but astounding cost of government regulations.

Wayne Crews of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) has been following this issue for years. A recent CEI report, “Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 114th Congress,” estimates that, just in 2014 alone, an astounding 3,541 new federal regulations were enacted.

Crews admits that estimating the costs of regulation is difficult. In fact, the subtitle of “Tip of the Costberg,” his ongoing effort to do that, is “On the Invalidity of All Cost of Regulation Estimates and the Need to Compile Them Anyway.”) Yet someone’s got to do it — the federal government certainly won’t. Crews deserves great praise for his pioneering efforts.

By Crew’s best estimate, the burden of these regulations on American prosperity is staggering: around $1.882 trillion. The federal government will spend about $3.5 trillion this year. But this extra $1.882 trillion in unseen regulatory costs is, Crews says, the equivalent of an invisible 65% surcharge on your federal taxes, or nearly 12% of GDP.

“Regulation today is a hidden tax equivalent at least to half the amount of the fiscal budget itself,” Crews notes. “If federal regulations were a country, their cost would amount to the world’s 10th largest economy.”

This is an incredible drag on our economy, lowering our standard of living and slowing progress. Though most of us aren’t aware of it, it constitutes a sort of hidden tax that each and every American pays. In fact, Crews wonders if, as more data on the costs of regulation are compiled, we “may find taxation the lesser of the two components of governmental costs.”

This is a little-understood — though crucial — issue. But the terms we generally use to discuss it, like “excessive government regulations,” are…  kind of boring. And confusing. Listeners’ attention tends to wander.

So I like it that Crews occasionally spices up his discussion with some colorful and provocative terms that libertarians can use to help bring the issue to life for our listeners.

As noted, Crews calls this huge, ugly, dangerous mass of regulations and hidden costs the “costberg.” That’s clever, and creates a strong mental image of this “costberg” threatening to collide with and sink our ship of state, just like the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

And here’s another great term: “red tapeworm.” Last year Crews titled a blog post “Red Tapeworm 2014: Reckoning the Dollar Cost of Federal Regulation.” Red Tapeworm (as in “red tape,” slang for worthless and costly government regulation), is very useful, with a populist appeal. For example: “The red tapeworm is chewing up $1.882 trillion from the American economy — that’s money out of your pocket every year.”

Finally, you can simply refer to “the huge hidden tax of government regulation.” People understand the nature of taxes more than they do unseen regulation and mandates. Just pointing out that such things amount to hidden taxes — and massive taxes — can be eye-opening for your audience.

Try using these terms — along with facts and figures from CEI’s excellent reports — to spice up your discussions of this extremely important, but largely unrecognized, problem.

And for more on this topic, check out CEI’s “Ten Thousand Commandments” website, which regularly updates these figures and arguments.

Two Phrases That Unmask Crony Capitalism and Corporate Welfare

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Chris Rufer is founder of The Morning Star Company, which employs approximately 2,500 people in food processing and agribusiness. He’s also an Advocates Board member.

Last week Chris had an excellent opinion piece published in the New York Times, explaining why the federally run Export-Import Bank is a rip-off and boondoggle that should be shut down.

The article is entitled “End This Corporate Welfare.” There’s a brief excerpt from it in this issue’s They Said It column, and you can read the full article here.

Chris does a great job of making this seemingly obscure and esoteric issue clear, interesting and important to the average reader.

One phrase in particular jumped out at me. Describing how corporate welfare works, Chris writes: “It’s private gain at the expense of public pain.”

That’s a great phrase! I love the populist feel of it, and how it makes the injustice of such things as the Export-Import Bank instantly clear. “Private gain at the expense of public pain” can be used to describe all kinds of corporate welfare and crony capitalism boondoggles: professional sports subsidies, licensing laws that protect politically connected businesses from competition, taxes on imported goods… and many more.

I also like another phrase Chris used. He notes that the Import-Export Bank gives huge private businesses taxpayer-backed loans, guarantees and insurance.

The results: “When a company profits from the bank’s support, it pockets the money. If it defaults, taxpayers’ pockets get picked.”

That, too, is a clever and catchy way to describe the essential unfairness of corporate welfare, how it protects politically connected companies from the risks and consequences of their actions — at the expense of the rest of us.

Consider adding these two phrases to your liberty communication vocabulary.

Liberty Language: Instead of “Sales Tax”

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 10 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

As Mark Twain famously observed, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is Lightning Wordsreally a large matter — ’tis the difference between the lightning-bug and the lightning.”

The political words and labels we use are vitally important. I’m always looking for new, more effective political wording — political “lightning words” that will open minds and stimulate thinking.

Here are a couple more excellent mind-opening word suggestions from economist Mark Perry, who writes the excellent blog Carpe Diem. (We looked at his thoughts on alternative wording for the minimum wage in my previous column.)

These suggestions concern the sales tax.

Most of us think of the sales tax as spare change, or a nuisance, most of the time — a few pennies or dollars per purchase, and the occasional more painful amount on big-ticket purchases. Yet the total amount Americans pay over the course of a year in sales taxes can be a significant percentage of their income. In California, for example, state and local sales taxes can hit a whopping 10%. And sales taxes on the necessities of life — food, clothing, transportation, etc. — can hit the poor and struggling especially hard.

The way the sales tax is collected, in daily small amounts, muddies and hides the impact of this tax and who pays it. So does the innocuous name “sales tax.”

Perry suggests two alternate terms to make people think. He suggests it’s more accurate to call the sales tax “the consumer tax” or “the buyers’ tax” so that “the ultimate payer of the tax is recognized.”

I like both of these, and I’m especially fond of “buyers’ tax.”

And here’s one of my own: “customer tax.”

Try them out. You may find they open minds and lead to fruitful discussions.

Word Choices: Re-Labeling the Minimum Wage

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Word ChoicePolitical word choice and labels are vitally important, and I’m always looking for new, more effective political wording. As I’ve noted in past columns, the name of a political proposal can often play a major role in whether it is accepted or rejected by the public and by your listeners.

The rebranding of the estate tax as the Death Tax is one of the most successful such examples. Similarly, the branding of government control of the Internet as “Net Neutrality” led to widespread support for this unfortunate idea.

That’s why I was pleased with some new labels and ways of discussing the minimum wage from economist Mark Perry, who writes the excellent blog Carpe Diem.

The minimum wage is one of the most pernicious economic ideas. It harms the very people it claims to help: the poor, the disadvantaged, the unskilled, the young. It tears out the bottom rung of the ladder to success. It has destroyed, by some estimates, millions of viable jobs in the U.S., including whole categories of jobs that, because of the minimum wage, were suddenly no longer viable.

Perry writes: “Words matter, and the terms ‘raising the minimum wage’ or ‘passing a living wage’ are easy to embrace because they sound so positive and well-meaning; but only because those terms only emphasize the potential, positive effects for some workers, while largely ignoring the potential, and very real, negative effects on small businesses, retailers and employers who bear the burden of the government mandate, and the inevitable adverse effects on workers who lose their jobs (or have their hours and benefits cut), or are unable to find a job at the ‘living wage.’ …

“Here’s a thought experiment: Ask people: a) if they would support a ‘$15,500 annual tax’ on small businesses, retailers, restaurants and employers for each full-time, entry-level worker employed, and alternatively b) if they would support a $15 per hour ‘living wage.’

“I’m pretty sure that at least some people who say they support a $15 per hour living wage would be slightly less enthusiastic about imposing a $15,500 per year ‘employer tax’ on small businesses, retailers and restaurants, even though those two proposals are roughly equivalent. …

“Let’s be very clear — going from the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour to a new $15 per hour minimum/living wage is equivalent to a $15,500 annual ‘tax’ (closer to $16,800 with additional payroll taxes) on employers for each full-time, minimum wage employee. …

“So I say to minimum wage advocates: would replacing the term ‘increase the minimum/living wage to $15 per hour’ with the equivalent term ‘raise the cost to businesses who employ or hire entry level workers by $15,500 per year ($16,800 with payroll taxes) for every full-time, entry-level employee’ curb your enthusiasm at all about government-mandated wage increases?”

There are some great ideas here. When discussing the minimum wage, try some of Perry’s suggestions:

* Instead of using the phrase “an increase in the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 (or $15) per hour” express your concern about “imposing a $2.85 (or $7.75) per hour, per employee, tax on employers who employ or hire unskilled workers. Won’t that discourage employers from hiring the very people who most need these jobs? Why should we punish employers who are offering entry-level jobs to low-skilled unemployed workers?”

* Instead of using the term “minimum wage,” try calling it “the $15,500 annual tax on small businesses, retailers, restaurants and employers for each full-time, entry-level worker they employ.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it “the $2.85 (or whatever sum applies) per hour, per employee, tax on employers who employ or hire unskilled workers.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it “the government-mandated wage floor for unskilled, jobless workers.”

* Instead of “minimum wage,” try calling it ” the government-mandated wage floor that guarantees reduced employment opportunities for America’s teenagers and low-skilled workers, especially minorities.”

Now that you’ve got the idea, try working these phrases into your own wordings and style. You may find it easier to open minds to the true nature of the minimum wage law.

Valentine’s Day: Uncle Sam Breaks Taxpayers’ Hearts

in Business and Economy, Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)


As I often point out, holidays can be a great time to share libertarian ideas with family and friends. It’s even more fun and effective if you’ve gathered liberty-themed facts, figures and stories specific for each holiday. We often share such information in the Liberator Online as a holiday nears.

With Valentine’s Day upon us, I’m pleased to present the following information from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) about how much government is adding to the cost of your Valentine’s Day celebration. It’s shocking stuff, sweetened just a bit by ATR’s trademark humor.

Government Versus Valentine’s Day
(from Hayley Robinson, Americans for Tax Reform)

This Saturday is Valentine’s Day. Romantics all over the nation have spent the week buying gifts and making dinner plans, all at a considerable price. Last year the National Retail Federation estimated consumers would spend a whopping $17.3 billion on Valentine’s Day — an average of $133.91 per person.

But that price is driven up enormously by an unexpected third wheel — Uncle Sam. Valentine lovers certainly won’t love discovering that, for almost every part of the day spent with that special someone, government taxes and fees send costs skyrocketing.


Roses and Valentine’s Cards: These are romantic must-haves for many people. An estimated 233 million roses are grown for Valentine’s Day, and consumers will spend $1.9 billion on flowers145 million Valentine’s cards will be purchased for the occasion. Over $1 billion of the money spent on cards and flowers goes to… you know who.

A Romantic Dinner for… Three? Yep, save a chair at the table for Uncle Sam. $3.5 billion is spent dining out on Valentine’s Day — and a hard-to-swallow 31% of the cost of your bill comes from government taxes.

Wine: If you’ve been saving a nice bottle of wine for the occasion, be sure to savor it — 33% of the cost is due to government. That’s enough to drive you to drink… if you could afford all the taxes.

Chocolate: Consumers will spend nearly $1.3 billion on chocolate. Of this, 31% will be paid to the government. Ugh — that dessert just got a little less sweet.

Jewelry: In 2013, 6 million people expected or planned a marriage proposal on Valentine’s Day. In 2014 it was projected that $3.9 billion would be spent on diamonds, gold, and silver. But beware, the government is standing right there beside you as you pledge your love — and taking a 36% cut of the cost of your glittering symbols of love.

Cell Phones: If you’re in a long-distance relationship and can’t travel to see your sweetheart, hopefully you’ll still be able to give them a call. You might want to keep it short, though: Uncle Sam will be on the line as well, and he’ll be responsible for 40% of the cost of your bill.

Travelling: Making a surprise visit to your long-distance loved one? Whether you’re driving or flying, you’re paying Uncle Sam for the privilege. Last year 45% of the cost of gasoline was due to government taxation, while other taxes and fees accounted for 44% of the cost of airfare. An annoying backseat driver or snoring seat mate would be much better than the travel companionship offered by Uncle Sam.

ATR sums it up this way: “Single or steady, taxpayers will remain heartbroken this Valentine’s Day — when it comes to the costs imposed by the government.”

A Libertarian Approach to Black History Month

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Black History MonthI’ve often noted — especially in my One Minute Liberty Tip columns — that holidays and annual observances offer a great opportunity to present the ideas of liberty to family and friends.

Libertarians should consider collecting facts and stories to share on such occasions, when appropriate. That’s why we offer such information frequently in the Liberator Online.

February is Black History Month. This event, observed annually since 1976, potentially opens the door for discussions on issues key to libertarians.

If anyone should be receptive to the message of libertarianism it should be black Americans, who as a group have suffered from government oppression more than any other ethnic group in America, and whose historical and ongoing struggle for freedom is arguably the most dramatic one in our history.

And that story — the story of a people savagely oppressed by government power for centuries and bravely fighting to overcome that oppression — is one that Americans of all races would benefit from pondering.

Black History Month is an excellent time to show how government coercion was and is the chief engine of the oppression of black Americans, as well as Americans in general. Libertarians have a unique angle to bring to that discussion.

The Law Perverted: A Libertarian Approach to Black History Month,” an article by James Padilioni, Jr. of Students For Liberty, is a great place to start. It will stimulate your thinking on this issue and provides a seldom-heard historical and theoretical background.

For specific issues relating to black Americans and liberty, here are some excellent resources.

More and more people are — at long last — questioning the War on Drugs, which has been horrible for all Americans and from which blacks suffer disproportionately. Liberty-minded U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) has won a lot of positive attention by taking a leadership role on this issue in Congress.

* “How the War on Drugs Is Destroying Black America,” by John McWhorter, a prescient 2011 Cato Institute essay, provides a short, powerful argument that the Drug War is the major source of racial hostility today. Excerpt: “If the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist.”

* “Race and Prison“ from provides some astonishing figures. Excerpt: “In the late 1990s, nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 were under criminal justice supervision, while more than two out of five had been incarcerated — orders of magnitudes higher than that for the general population. … In some areas, a large majority of African-American men — 55 percent in Chicago, for example — are labeled felons for life, and, as a result, may be prevented from voting…”

Strongly related to the War on Drugs’ disproportionate effect on black Americans is the militarization of police — another issue on which Rand Paul (“We Must Demilitarize the Police,” TIME magazine, Aug. 14, 2014) and libertarians have been leading the national debate.

* The best book on the subject is libertarian Randy Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.

* You can read a lengthy excerpt from Rise of the Warrior Cop for free, courtesy of the American Bar Association’s ABA Journal website.

A look at black champions of liberty is certainly appropriate for Black History Month. Here’s a great collection of videos of black libertarians and classical liberals, past and present, speaking on liberty. They’re suitable for any time of year, of course, but Black History Month is a perfect time to share them online.

There’s No Such Thing as an “Unregulated Market”

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 4 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Unregulated MarketMany people fear that, without government regulation, there would be no way to insure the safety and reliability of the goods and services they rely upon every day.

They fear that a free market would be an “unregulated market” where consumers would be blind and helpless before deceptive, dangerous marketers out to take advantage of them.

This is a major deal-killer that keeps many people from fully embracing free markets and libertarianism.

Happily, there’s a great answer to this concern. The truth is, there’s no such thing as an “unregulated market.” Instead, there are two kinds of regulation: regulation by government command, and far more efficient regulation by markets and consumers.

A recent article in The Freeman by economist Howard Baetjer Jr. does a great job of explaining this — and of telling why this distinction is so crucial for libertarians to make.

The article is entitled “There’s No Such Thing as an Unregulated Market: It’s a choice between regulation by legislators or by consumers.”

Says Baetjer:

“A big economic problem the world faces is semantic. That is, ‘regulation’ has come to mean ‘government regulation.’ We don’t seem to be aware of the alternative: regulation by market forces. That’s a problem because it leads us to accept so much government meddling that we would be better off without.

“We want the aims of regulation — regularity and predictability in markets, decent quality and reasonable prices for the goods and services we buy — and thinking that government regulation is the only way to get those, we accept a vast array of unnecessary, wrongheaded, and usually counterproductive mandates and restrictions.

“But government regulation is not the only kind of regulation.

“To regulate is to make regular and orderly, to hold to a standard, to control according to rule, as a thermostat regulates the temperature in a building. Market forces do this continually as competing businesses offer what they hope will be a good value, then customers choose among the various offerings, then the competing businesses react to customers’ choices. That process is the market’s regulator.”

Baetjer explains how markets and consumer feedback regulate the quality of the goods and services we buy and how market and consumer feedback forces regulate prices, thus protecting consumers from higher-than-necessary prices.

Baetjer also explains the flip side of this: how government regulations that consumers think protect them actually hamper this crucial market and consumer regulation. How market/consumer regulation is weakened as markets become less free.

Finally, Baetjer sums up the problem — and opportunity — this realization offers free market advocates:

“We never face a choice between regulation and no regulation. We face a choice between kinds of regulation: regulation by legislatures and bureaucracies, or regulation by market forces — regulation by restriction of choice, or regulation by the exercise of choice.

“Government regulation is not the only kind of regulation; market forces also regulate. Recognizing this, communicating it to others, and getting the awareness into public discourse are key steps toward greater economic liberty.

“The benefit of this semantic change — opening up the meaning of ‘regulation’ to include regulation by market forces — is to raise the question, which works better? Regulation by market forces works better, but that’s another argument. The first step is to recognize that market forces regulate, too.”

These are vital insights for those interested in spreading the ideas of liberty. Avoid the phrase “unregulated market” and others like it. Not only are such phrases scary to many people, it doesn’t at all accurately convey what we mean. Libertarians favor market and consumer regulation over inefficient, misleading, coercive and costly government regulation.

Learning to convince others that consumers and markets regulate — and do it marvelously well, and far better than government — will help you win people to libertarianism.

I highly recommend Baetjer’s article. Read it — and start sharing the good news about market and consumer regulation.

Libertarians Are Actually Less “Isolationist” Than Other Political Views

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 20, No. 2 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Libertarians who advocate a foreign policy of peaceful non-intervention in the internal affairs of other nations sometimes get labeled by critics as “isolationist.”

The words “isolationist” and “isolationism” are smears. Further, they inaccurately describe what libertarians believe. I’ve written in the past on ways to respond to this charge.

Libertarian InternationalismLast month Simon Lester, a trade policy analyst with Cato Institute, wrote an excellent column entitled “Libertarian Internationalism” at in which he debunks the notion.

“[T]he reality is that libertarianism is among the most internationally minded philosophies,” he writes. “Examining several key areas of international relations makes this clear: International trade, diplomacy and the military, and institutions.”

Here are some of his arguments, which are helpful to anyone in discussing this issue.

1. International trade.

“The most obvious place where libertarians are internationalists is economic relations. True libertarians advocate the free flow of trade and investment, without government restrictions. This is about as international as you can get. For libertarians, the origin of a product or service is irrelevant. People around the world should be able to buy and sell from each other without government interference. …

“Unfortunately, in most countries today, there is a strong sentiment for favoring domestic economic actors over foreign ones. This feeling manifests itself in various forms, such as tariffs and Buy National procurement policies. Libertarians stand almost completely united against this nationalist feeling, believing that trade and other economic interaction with foreign actors benefits us all.”

2. Diplomacy and the military. 

“Diplomacy and the military is a more complicated policy area, involving a number of instances of potential relations between domestic and foreign. Here, though, there is a strong case that libertarians are more internationalist than most others. Of course, in part this depends on what one means by internationalism.

“Libertarians are most frequently accused of isolationism when they object to military intervention in foreign territories. That libertarians usually object to these interventions is not in doubt. However, use of the military cannot always credibly be called internationalist. Colonialism and conquest, although they do require contact with foreigners, are not generally a positive form of international relations. …

“Thus, for libertarians, war and government aid do not reflect true internationalism. To some extent, they are really about government bullying and condescension towards foreigners, the idea that we are superior to them and can use our power to re-make them in our image. In contrast, libertarians believe in treating citizens of other countries with respect and acting with humility.”

3. International institutions. 

“This is the area where libertarians are most likely to reject what is conventionally thought of as the internationalist position, as they worry about the power of these institutions. In reality, libertarians are not rejecting the idea of international institutions, but rather the specific policies pursued by some of these institutions. … If there were international institutions that supported balanced budgets (or protected property rights), for example, libertarians would likely be supportive. There is no fundamental libertarian objection to international cooperation through institutions; the only concern is on specific issues of substance.”

Finally, Lester argues that libertarianism is inherently internationalist, not isolationist.

“At a more conceptual level, the idea of limited government inherently pushes us away from nationalism and towards internationalism. As things stand now, most power is in the hands of national governments, who often use this power in ways that conflict with the interests of other governments. In other words, putting power in the hands of nation-states leads naturally to national conflict. By contrast, devolving power to local governments more closely connected with the people reduces the role of national governments and nationalism. It makes power more disbursed, and allows communities to connect with each other, regardless of the nation in which they are located.”

These are excellent points, and sharing them with critics can help refute and perhaps eventually bury the tiresome “isolationist” smear.

Read Lester’s complete argument at

The Eyeball Lottery: A Powerful Argument for Self-Ownership

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 25 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

For many libertarians, self-ownership is the philosophical root of their support for liberty. Even many libertarians whose belief in liberty is based on other arguments often strongly support the fundamental idea of self-ownership.

The modern argument for self-ownership was formulated by John Locke, who famously wrote in his Second Treatise on Government (1689): “every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body, and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his.”

eyeball lotteryFrom there, the entire libertarian position can be deduced and defended: the right to do as you choose with your own life and property, so long as you don’t harm the lives and property of others.

From the standpoint of libertarian outreach, there’s another strong advantage of the self-ownership argument. When someone accepts it, they are accepting a baseline argument from which most or all other libertarian positions must also be accepted, or at least taken very seriously. So convince someone of the validity of self-ownership, and they will be allies on most other major issues as well.

Which brings me to… the Eyeball Lottery. fake eyeball

I first encountered this somewhat gruesome but powerful argument in Ayn Rand’s collection of essays The Virtue of Selfishness, Chapter 10, “Collectivized Ethics.”

Here’s what Rand wrote:

“It is medically possible to take the corneas of a man’s eyes immediately after his death and trans­plant them to the eyes of a living man who is blind, thus restoring his sight (in certain types of blindness). Now, according to collectivized ethics, this poses a social problem. Should we wait until a man’s death to cut out his eyes, when other men need them? Should we regard everybody’s eyes as public property and devise a ‘fair method of distribution’? Would you advocate cutting out a living man’s eye and giving it to a blind man, so as to ‘equalize’ them? No? Then don’t struggle any further with questions about ‘public projects’ in a free society. You know the answer. The principle is the same.”

Other writers have presented this idea in different ways. Here’s how you might present it in a conversation:

“As you know, there are millions of people in the world who, through no fault of their own, are blind. Meanwhile, most people, through sheer luck, are blessed with two functioning eyes.

“Would it be fair, then, for the government to force all two-eyed persons to register for an ‘eyeball lottery’ to remedy this imbalance? Those whose numbers are picked would have one of their eyes removed painlessly. That eye would then be given to the blind.

“The result: millions of blind people would now have the gift of sight. And those people who were forced to undergo the surgery would still have one good eye.

“Would you be in favor of that? Do you believe it would be right for the government to force someone to participate in this lottery? Would you willingly take part in such a lottery?”

The answer, of course is almost always… no. Indeed, most people shudder at the proposal.

Then ask: “But why not?”

Virtually everyone knows the answer: It’s just not right. The eyeballs belong to the person. They are his personal property. He owns them, in some definitive way that is universally realized — and, in the same way, he owns the rest of his body parts, and thus, his entire body.

While it might be wonderful if someone voluntarily donated an eyeball in this way, it would be wrong, immoral, unthinkable, monstrous, totalitarian to force people to submit to such an operation — even in the great cause of helping the blind see.

This thought experiment dramatically opens minds to consider the concept of self-ownership. From there, other questions can be asked. Is it right to conscript someone — to force him to face death, in a cause he may not even believe in, for some collective good?

And, if someone owns his body absolutely, doesn’t he then own the right to the fruits of his labor — created by the operation of his own body and mind? And doesn’t self-ownership demand the end of all so-called “victimless crime” laws?

Try it, perhaps with some philosophical or open-minded friends. Great discussions may follow!

An excellent discussion of The Eyeball Lottery is in “Taxation, Forced Labor, and Theft,” an essay by Edward Feser that appeared in the Independent Review published by the Independent Institute. Feser examines this and related self-ownership arguments from Robert Nozick and Murray Rothbard, and counters some arguments that have been raised against the Eyeball Lottery conclusion. Recommended.

December 15: Celebrate Bill of Rights Day!

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 23 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Bill of RightsA little-known but very important U.S. holiday is coming up — one far too many Americans are unaware of. It offers libertarians a great chance to inform Americans of our heritage of liberty and the urgent need today to defend that heritage.

December 15 is “Bill of Rights Day” — a day to celebrate, honor and renew support for our precious Bill of Rights.

It was on December 15, 1791 that the Bill of Rights  — the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution — went into effect.

One hundred and fifty years later, in 1941, December 15 was officially proclaimed Bill of Rights Day. States, cities, and counties across America have passed resolutions honoring Bill of Rights day. Some classrooms will hold special Bill of Rights Day classes, and some citizens and organizations will celebrate Bill of Rights Day.

Still, most Americans remain sadly unaware of the date’s significance.

The Bill of Rights is, of course, the great protector of American liberties. It boldly declares that people have certain inalienable rights that government cannot abridge — fundamental rights like freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to keep and bear arms, and more. It also provides procedures for defending those rights — such as fair trials and limits on federal power.

The Bill of Rights doesn’t belong just to America. It has inspired freedom fighters around the world. The Founders viewed their Revolution as the first blow in a struggle to win liberty for all the people of the world. So the Bill of Rights is truly a document for everyone.

Thomas Jefferson made this clear in a letter to James Madison, December 20, 1787: “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inference.”

Use Bill of Rights Day to teach family, friends, neighbors and others about our precious heritage.

It’s a great time for a letter to the editor discussing the vital importance of our Bill of Rights freedoms, and urging citizens to speak out against current calls to sacrifice liberty for (alleged) security.

With fundamental Bill of Rights freedom under unprecedented assault in recent years, this has never been more important.

To help with that, here’s a short summary of the Bill of Rights, prepared several years ago by students at Liberty Middle School in Ashley, Virginia. (I’ve added just a few words for clarification.) While this condensed version doesn’t have the majesty, depth and detail of the entire document, it is short and easy to understand, and may be useful to you in discussions and letters:


1. Freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, right to assemble peaceably, right to petition the government about grievances.
2. Right to keep and bear arms.
3. Citizens do not have to quarter soldiers during peacetime.
4. No unreasonable searches and seizures.
5. Rights of the accused.
6. Right to a fair trial.
7. Right to a trial by jury in civil cases also.
8. No cruel and unusual punishments.
9. Unenumerated rights go to the people.
10. Reserves all powers not given to the national government to the states or
the people.

All Americans should be familiar with their Bill of Rights freedoms. Sadly, numerous surveys indicate most are not. Indeed, as journalist James Bovard has pointed out, a 1991 poll commissioned by the American Bar Association found only 33 percent of Americans surveyed even knew what the Bill of Rights was. In one Gallup poll 70 percent did not know what the First Amendment was or what it dealt with.

As Adam Summers of the Reason Foundation observed in The Libertarian Perspective:

“The Founders must be spinning in their graves. Nearly everything the government does today is unconstitutional under the system they instituted. Governmental powers were expressly limited; individual liberties were not. Now it seems it is the other way around.

“If the Bill of Rights is to regain its meaning, we must rededicate ourselves to the principles it asserts and be mindful that a government powerful enough to give us all we want is powerful enough to take away everything we have.”

Let it begin with you. This December 15 is a great time to remind all Americans that we are, as the National Constitution Center puts it, a nation of “Bill”-ionaires.
Happy Bill of Rights Day!

Thanksgiving: Share Some Shocking Facts About Thanksgiving and Big Government

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 22 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Thanksgiving TurkeyHolidays can be a great time to share libertarian ideas with family and friends, so be sure to gather liberty-themed facts, figures and stories specific for each holiday. We often share such information in the Liberator Online as a holiday nears.

With Thanksgiving almost upon us, Americans for Tax Reform (ATR) warns that an uninvited guest is planning to crash your Turkey (or Tofurkey) Day celebration. Save a big seat at the table for… Uncle Sam.

ATR offers some genuinely shocking figures about how much government is adding to the cost of your family’s Thanksgiving celebration.

Share this information with your family and friends, if appropriate, and you’ll surely open minds and spark stimulating discussions. You can share it online, too, by sharing this link.

Maybe they’ll even give thanks that you and other libertarians are working hard to spare them from this kind of government plunder.

Following is ATR’s report. (Note: ATR first posted this fun and informative piece in 2011, and unfortunately they haven’t updated it as we go to press. It’s still very usable, though. Just point out the date by saying something like “as Americans for Tax Reform noted a few Thanksgivings back…”)

Hard to Be Thankful for Bigger Government this Thanksgiving
from Americans for Tax Reform (ATR)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful time for reuniting with friends and family. Unfortunately, the government wants in on your celebration too. Whether you stay home or travel for the holiday, government is a significant contributor to the costs of the celebration.

Of an identified $10 billion in spending that occurs during Thanksgiving weekend on the wine and beer, the gas and plane tickets, and the meal itself, government taxation composes 35.86 percent of those expenses — approximately $3.6 billion in revenues.

Many of these Thanksgiving items are subject to the increased costs of income taxes, payroll taxes, corporate income taxes, and other taxes on business activity. Government then includes additional fees and excise taxes that further increase the cost of providing specific items or services.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, a 2011 Thanksgiving meal for ten increased in cost by $5.73 to a total of $49.20 — and government taxation gobbles up $13.68 of that.

And this doesn’t include beer and wine consumption. Between football games and meals, nearly 53 million cases of beer are consumed. Government collects $219 million in taxes — 44.33 percent of the cost of each case. Thanksgiving attendees will also find it hard to be grateful for the 32.77 percent increase in the cost of each bottle of wine thanks to government.

Whether you fly or drive to be with your loved ones this Thanksgiving season, government heavily taxes your preferred mode of transportation. Of the 94 percent of travelers driving their cars, government will raise an estimated $1.1 billion in tax revenue — 45.33 percent of the gasoline price tag. Similarly, government also increases the cost of the average $376 Thanksgiving flight — making up 43.57 off each ticket’s price.

Government hits taxpayers particularly hard during the holiday season, filling its plate with these taxes and fees. As you gather with family and friends this Thanksgiving, remember that Uncle Sam is to thank… for your smaller slice of pumpkin pie.

Try This Brilliant Argument Against the War on Drugs

in Communicating Liberty, Drugs, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 16 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

One of the most powerful arguments I’ve ever heard against the very concept of Our Right to Drugsthe War on Drugs was made by Thomas Szasz, the great libertarian psychiatrist.

In the introduction to his wonderful book Our Right to Drugs, Szasz wrote:

“Casting a ballot is an important act, emblematic of our role as citizens. But eating and drinking are much more important acts. If given a choice between the freedom to choose what to ingest and what politician to vote for, few if any would pick the latter. Indeed, why would anyone be so foolish as to sell his natural birthright to consume what he chooses in return for the mess of pottage of being allowed to register his preference for a political candidate?”


“The right to chew or smoke a plant that grows wild in nature, such as hemp (marijuana), is anterior to and more basic than the right to vote.”

This contrast — between the right to vote and the right to choose what substances we ingest — is brilliant, powerful and mind-opening.

Americans treasure our right to vote as a symbol of our liberty and self-governance. Epic struggles have been fought to extend the vote to women and disenfranchised minorities. Fights still wage today over voting issues. In troubled countries around the world people are willing to risk their lives to vote. The right to vote is widely considered sacred.

Yet the right to choose what we put into our own bodies is obviously a more fundamental freedom, a freedom rooted in our very nature as self-controlling adult human beings. In comparison to this freedom, voting is abstract and distant. Voting gives us only one small voice among many. The right to decide what we ingest is far more personal and basic. Indeed, without the ability to exercise that right, the very idea of self-governance is meaningless.

When you think about it, what could be a more fundamental freedom than the right to decide what plants we can consume? How can we consider ourselves free at all if we can’t make this most basic of choices?

Shouldn’t we, then, argue strongly for this right — at least as strongly as we argue for the right to vote?

Thomas Szasz’s powerful analogy can open minds on this difficult subject.

Raising the Price of Milk: A Minimum Wage Metaphor

in Communicating Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 15 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

First, the bad news.

A strong majority of Americans favor increasing the minimum wage. A recent Reason-Rope poll asked Raising the Price of Milk1,003 American adults this question: “The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. Do you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour?”

Fully 67 percent supported raising the minimum wage.

But there’s more.

When the poll further asked: “What about if raising the minimum wage caused some employers to lay off workers or hire fewer workers? Would you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage?” the response changed dramatically. 58 percent opposed raising the minimum wage, and only 39 percent favored it.

And when asked: “What about if raising the minimum wage caused some employers to raise prices? Would you favor or oppose raising the minimum wage?” the vote was split almost evenly.

And that’s the good news. We can change minds and win the majority to our side on this issue — if we help people understand the true, terrible consequences of minimum wage laws.

How can we do that? It’s not easy. To many people, a higher minimum wage seems compassionate. It even seems to make economic sense. As one state representative said earlier this year: “Raising the minimum is a win-win. If you put an extra $700 or $800 in a worker’s pocket, that money is going to be spent. Everybody will benefit.”

One problem is that most people aren’t employers; they don’t “buy” labor. They don’t think in those terms.

But most people do buy milk. And that suggests a simple analogy that can cut through foggy thinking and help people understand why the minimum wage produces such bad results.

Ask your listeners: What if the government decided to mandate an increase in the retail price of milk? Suppose the price of a gallon of milk was doubled?

Would that help farmers, dairies, and grocery stores? Would it mean more money for them? After all, it would only be a small increase for most milk buyers, just a few dollars per week.

Ask your listener what they think would happen if the cost of milk doubled.

How would people react? Would people buy more milk, or less?

For some people, the price increase wouldn’t matter. They’d just keep on buying milk.

But for many consumers, the price increase would make a big difference. Struggling families would be hit especially hard.

Many people would start exploring milk substitutes. Instead of buying whole milk, they might switch to cheaper soy or almond or rice milk.

Others would simply cut back on the amount of milk they consume.

Still others might water down their milk after purchasing it, to make it stretch further.

Further, the cost of items that used milk — cheese, ice cream, butter, etc. — would also rise. Consumers would buy less of those items, too. And manufacturers, just like consumers, would switch to milk substitutes whenever possible, in order to keep the prices of their products as low as possible.

The bottom line? Consumers would buy less milk. And, ironically, many farmers — the very people the increase was supposed to help — would lose money or even go out of business.

Which brings us to the minimum wage.

Employers buy labor, not milk. But if you increase the cost of labor, employers will act in much the same way that our imaginary milk consumers did.

Some employers will no longer be able to afford to buy labor at the price mandated by the new minimum wage. As a result, some jobs will shrink (fewer bag boys, fewer check-out counters, fewer waiters, fewer warehouse workers, etc.). Some jobs will disappear altogether. (Remember movie ushers, and car attendants who pumped your gas and checked your oil for you?)

Further, as the price for labor is incorporated into the price of goods, prices will go up for some products, and others may simply disappear from store shelves.

Some employers will look for labor substitutes, just like our consumers above looked for milk substitutes. They will use technology. Check-yourself-out counters. Automation. Robots. When labor reaches a high enough price, substitutes suddenly become cost-effective. Even moving to a new country with cheaper labor costs may be feasible.

Still others will “water down” the work. They will hire fewer people, or fewer full time employees, and stretch the work out between them.

Most people understand that if you forcibly increase the cost of milk, less milk will be sold, and ultimately both consumers and farmers will be harmed.

This simple metaphor lets them see the same is true of labor, too. A mandated increase in the price of labor, via the minimum wage, brings fewer jobs, higher prices for goods and services, harder work loads, and other negative consequences.

That’s not what people want. When they learn such these things are consequences of the minimum wage, they will no longer support it.

(To learn more arguments against the minimum wage, see “Minimum Wage Maximum Damage” by economist Jim Cox, published by the Advocates. This short easy-to-understand booklet devastates every argument for the minimum wage.)

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Don’t Win the Debate by Losing Your Opponent: Walter Block on Debating

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

In a recent post at the blog, the great libertarian writer Walter Block — a superb defender Walter Blockof libertarian ideas both in print and in live debates — shares his views on debating:

“My goal, in debating, is, along with my opponent, to get that proverbial one millionth of an inch closer to the Truth. I know this sounds a bit mawkish, and in the heat of the event — I’m only human — I sometimes forget myself, but, at least, this is my goal. In order to do this, I find, it is good to be polite. Not try to hog the podium, not interrupt my debating partner, not engage in ad hominems, etc.

“There are two arguments in favor of this. If we Austro-libertarians approach debates in this manner, we are perhaps more likely to win over our opponents. And if not them, then, perhaps, members of the audience.

“Second, it is always easier to escalate than de-escalate. It is very difficult to start off in a hostile impolite manner and later change our tune than to begin on the note I advocate and then if it is not reciprocated, escalate the hostilities.”

Great advice, Dr. Block! Dale Carnegie made a similar argument in his classic How To Win Friends and Influence People:

“Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

I’m also reminded of this hilarious remark from libertarian humorist Dave Barry (hopefully he’s joking!): “I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this, and steer clear of me at parties. Often — as a sign of their great respect — they don’t even invite me.” Ouch!

Block’s own story of how he became a libertarian is a great illustration of the importance of polite debate linked with a genuine desire to discover truth. He tells it in “How I Became a Libertarian.“ I highly recommend it. Here’s a quick summary.

Block was raised in a liberal household, and never had his leftist views seriously challenged — until 1963, when he was a senior at Brooklyn College and Ayn Rand came to give a lecture.

Says Block: “I attended, along with about 3,000 of my fellow mainly leftish students, in order to boo and hiss her, since she was evil incarnate. Afterward, the president of the group that had invited her to campus announced there was to be a luncheon in her honor, and anyone was welcome to take part, whether or not they agreed with her ideas. Not having had enough booing and hissing at Ayn in her formal lecture, I decided to avail myself of this opportunity to further express my displeasure with her and her views.”

The young Block boldly walked up to Rand and Nathanial Brandon “and announced that there was a socialist here who wanted to debate someone on economic issues pertaining to capitalism. (I was a bit of a chutzpanick in those days.) They politely asked, Who was this socialist, and I replied that it was me.

“Nathan very graciously offered to come to the other end of the table with me for this purpose, but he imposed two preconditions: first, I would be honor bound not to allow this conversation to lapse with this one meeting, but would continue with it until we had achieved a resolution: either he would convince me of the error of my ways, or I would convince him of his.

“Second, I would read two books he would later recommend to me (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand and Economics in One Lesson by Henry Hazlitt). I agreed, and we spoke for an hour or so upon that occasion, followed up four or five times more for a similar duration at his apartment, where some of the other Randians took part, including Ayn, Leonard Piekoff, Barbara Branden and Alan Greenspan.

“At the end of this process I was converted to libertarianism.”

Block’s intellectual progress continued via spirited — but polite — debate and discussion with some leading libertarian intellectuals, most notably Murray Rothbard. (Again, you should read the whole story.)

Block’s story shows the importance — and the great pleasure — of friendly, spirited, and polite debate and discourse. Just imagine if Nathanial Brandon, instead of responding politely and helpfully, had simply dismissed Block or called him names. Would the liberty movement have lost the cocky young socialist — who went on to change his mind and become one of our finest writers and thinkers? (I shudder to think of the libertarian movement without the contributions of Walter Block!)

If you aren’t familiar with his work, Block is most famous for his groundbreaking classic Defending the Undefendable. Other books include The Privatization of Roads and Highways, Yes to Ron Paul and Liberty, Labor Economics from a Free Market Perspective, Building Blocks for Liberty, and Toward a Libertarian Society. Add to that countless essays and articles.

And here’s the best news of all: you can download them for FREE from the Mises Institute, along with a treasury of hundreds of other liberty classics. Take advantage of this wonderful gift from the Mises Institute and fill your e-reader with some of the world’s greatest libertarian writing — again, for free.

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“Intervene globally, lose freedom locally”

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“Intervene globally, lose freedom locally.” — Robert Higgs.

I’ve long written about the importance of soundbites and pithy sayings in getting people to consider libertarian ideas.

I saw this phrase at the Facebook page of the great libertarian writer and scholar Robert Higgs this week, and I think it is brilliant.

In just five words Higgs sums up arguments that many people have written whole books about.

An interventionist foreign policy leads to many domestic evils, as the Founders realized. Among them:

  • “Blowback” when angry residents of other countries retaliate
  • Restrictions on freedom of the press
  • Repression of public dissent
  • Government surveillance and loss of privacy
  • Loss of other civil liberties
  • The militarization of local police
  • Restrictions on travel, both internally and abroad
  • Domestic political strife
  • Massive taxes and subsequent loss of economic opportunities
  • Higher prices for domestic goods and services
  • Interruption of trade
  • A poorer country, as economic resources are diverted to war
  • Destruction of families, as more soldiers are sent overseas to police the empire
  • Expansion of domestic political power to deal with the consequences of interventionism

…and so on. You can no doubt add more to this list.

Higgs’ wonderful and insightful little phrase contains all that. It reworks a familiar phrase — “Think globally, act locally” — into a powerful mind-opener and conversation starter. It gets your listeners thinking.

“Intervene globally, lose freedom locally.” I love it.

It’s a great addition to your collection of soundbites on liberty. Use it in conversations. Be prepared, of course, to expand on the topics it raises, including those I’ve listed.

The Missing Ingredient in Your Fact-Based Arguments for Liberty

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Facts are essential to making the case for liberty. But you can make dry facts come alive to your listeners — by using the mind-changing power of stories.

Stories — both true and fictional — have a special power. The greatest teachers have Memorable Storiesalways used stories: think of the parables of Jesus, the fables of Aesop, the witty tales of the Taoist Chuang-Tzu. Nearly every culture uses stories both to entertain and to convey vital lessons.

Now we have scientific evidence that stories are extraordinarily effective. Bestselling author Carmine Gallo, in his book Talk Like TED, cites Princeton University research which used MRIs to study how the brains of audience members reacted to stories. The studies showed that stories actually activate all areas of the brain.

Says Gallo: “Brain scans reveal that stories stimulate and engage the human brain, helping the speaker connect with the audience and making it much more likely that the audience will agree with the speaker’s point of view.”

Obviously, if we want to successfully persuade others, we should be telling lots of stories.

When you can combine a story with your facts and figures, your audience listens. They identify. They are moved. They feel, as well as calculate. Further, while it’s hard to remember facts and figures, people remember stories — and eagerly share them.

Let’s take as an example the issue of medical marijuana. There are many logical, fact-based arguments that can — and should — be used in persuading others on this issue. But consider this story, a version of which was published in the Pittsburgh Press in the early 1990s, before liberty activists begin to have success in getting states to re-legalize marijuana for medical purposes:

James Burton, a former Kentuckian, is living literally in exile in the Netherlands. Burton, a Vietnam War vet and master electrical technician, suffers from a rare form of hereditary glaucoma. All males on his mother’s side of his family had the disease. Several of them are blind.

Burton found that marijuana could hold back, and perhaps halt, the glaucoma. So he began growing marijuana for his own use and smoking it.

Kentucky State Police raided his 90-acre farm and found 138 marijuana plants and two pounds of raw marijuana. At his 1988 trial, North Carolina ophthalmologist Dr. John Merrit — at that time the only physician in America allowed by the government to test marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma — testified that marijuana was “the only medication” that could keep Burton from going blind.

Nevertheless, Burton was found guilty of simple possession for personal use and was sentenced to one year in a federal maximum security prison, with no parole. The government also seized his house and his farm, valued at around $70,000. Under forfeiture laws, there was no defense he could raise against the seizure of his farm. No witnesses on behalf of the defense, not even a statement from the Burtons, were allowed at the hearing.

After release, Burton and his wife moved to the Netherlands, where he could legally purchase marijuana to stave off his blindness. Instead of a sprawling farm, they now live in a tiny apartment.

They say they would love to return to America — but not at the cost of Burton going blind.

See how that puts a human face on the medical marijuana issue?

There are equally moving, equally appalling stories about taxation, utility monopolies, First Amendment issues, gun rights, licensing laws, war… virtually any issue. Anywhere the government has committed aggression against individuals, there is a story to be told.

A great place to find such stories is the website of the Institute for Justice (IJ), a libertarian legal defense organization. IJ has done a wonderful job of collecting stories of heroic individuals fighting to defend their lives and property against oppressive government.

Whenever you come across heart-rending, powerful stories of victims of government, or people overcoming oppression, collect them for future use.

Most people decide what they believe not just on bare facts but also on feelings and emotions. Give them stories to hang your facts on, memorable stories that make your facts come alive, and you will be far more effective in your political persuasion.

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