One-Minute Liberty Tip

Home » One-Minute Liberty Tip

Raising the Price of Milk: A Minimum Wage Metaphor

in Communicating Liberty, Economics, Liberator Online Archives, 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.)

Click here to read the next article from this issue.

Click here to return to the newsletter.

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

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives 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 LewRockwell.com 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.

Go back to the full issue here.

“Intervene globally, lose freedom locally”

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online Archives 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 Archives 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.

Tip: Make Your OPH Booth a “Politically Homeless Shelter”

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

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

I’m always on the lookout for ways to make OPH even more fun and successful than it already is. Politically Homeless Shelter

(OPH is, of course, Operation Politically Homeless — the Advocates’ acclaimed “event in a kit,” which uses the World’s Smallest Political Quiz and other tools to transform an ordinary dull ho-hum outreach booth into a crowd-drawing, fun event.)

Danny Bedwell — Libertarian Party candidate for U.S. Congress and former Chair of the Libertarian Party of Mississippi — has a neat tip I’m pleased to share with you.

On hot summer days, make your OPH booth even more attractive to passers-by: turn it into a “Politically Homeless SHELTER.”

The idea is simple, clever and easy. Just put those words — “Politically Homeless Shelter” — on a sign near your OPH booth, and prominently show that you have free iced water or soft drinks, snacks, and perhaps a shady place to pause and rest a moment.

If you’re doing OPH outside on a hot day — at a fair, festival, concert, rally or other event — this is an easy way to make your OPH booth even more popular.

When your guests take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, they will discover where they fit on the political map. You’ll be turning the “politically homeless” into people who have a true political home!  And you’ll discover lots of people who are thirsty for liberty (as well as that cold drink).

Thanks, Danny!

Learn more about OPH here.

Students: We’re giving free OPH kits to student liberty groups! Learn morehere.

Word Choices: Pro-Market, Not Pro-Business

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

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 9 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Libertarians enormously appreciate the positive contributions so many businesses have made to our

world.

Because of this, libertarians are sometimes labeled “pro-business.”

But this is incorrect — and misleading.

Libertarians are not “pro-business.” We are “pro-market” — a very different thing.

The distinction is a vital one.

Libertarians support a free market where businesses are free to enter a field and offer their goods and services, in competition with any and all others who wish to do the same.

The resulting competition brings ever-better goods and services. Lower prices. Innovation. More convenience and more choice.

The companies that succeed in this free market competition do so by doing the best job of pleasing customers. Those that fail to sufficiently please consumers go out of business. The consumer is king.

This is the market process that libertarians strongly support.

But being “pro-business” is an entirely different thing. Politicians, lobbyists, economists, pundits and others who are pro-business — or who favor a particular business entity — may lobby for special favors for a particular business or area of commerce.

This may be pro-business. But it is anti-market.

Many who are pro-business want government to help particular businesses or industries that are unable to compete effectively. Sometimes they want government to use political power and tax dollars to entice a business to locate in a particular area.

Pro-business forces may want to prop up a favored business with bailouts of tax dollars or with other tax grants. They often call for punitive taxes on competition that challenges the favored business (especially if that competition is foreign). They may offer special zoning privileges to favored businesses. They may call on the government to seize private property through eminent domain and give it to a favored business.

Pro-business forces may endorse licensing, education requirements, regulations and other obstacles that protect favored businesses from competition. It often surprises people to learn that many large businesses love government regulation because it limits their competition. But as Nobel Prize winning economist George Stigler wrote: “…as a rule, regulation is acquired by the industry and is designed and operated primarily for its benefit.”

Governments may declare a business is “too big to fail” and thus deserves a huge taxpayer bailout. Or that a field is crucial to the “public interest,” and thus deserving of subsidies and special treatment; agriculture is a prime example.

You get the picture. All of this is done by pro-business people. And all of it is deeply, profoundly, anti-market.

In an excellent article on this topic, “‘Free Market’ Doesn’t Mean ‘Pro-Business“ economist Art Carden quotes a great passage from the book The Rational Optimist by Matt Ridley:

“I hold no brief for large corporations, whose inefficiencies, complacencies, and anti-competitive tendencies often drive me as crazy as the next man. Like Milton Friedman, I notice that ‘business corporations in general are not defenders of free enterprise. On the contrary, they are one of the chief sources of danger.’ They are addicted to corporate welfare, they love regulations that erect barriers to entry to their small competitors, they yearn for monopoly and they grow flabby and inefficient with age.”

The fruits of the pro-business mindset — taxes, unfairness, lack of competition and choice, over-priced goods and services, unemployment — are often the things that people hate most about our economic system. People naturally blame this on free enterprise, on the market system. Yet it is the pro-business mindset — not the market — that is responsible for these ills.

Let me give Art Carden the (almost) final word:

“In a free market, you are welcome, and indeed encouraged, to enter the mousetrap industry if you think you can build a better mousetrap or find a way to make similar mousetraps more efficiently. The other side of that coin is that you will be encouraged to leave the mousetrap industry if it turns out that your mousetraps are not better, but inferior.

“A ‘free market’ agenda is not the same thing as a ‘pro business’ agenda. Businesses should not be protected from competition, losses, and bankruptcy when they fail to deliver for the customer. All three are essential to truly free markets and free enterprise.”

Don’t use the label “pro-business.” And politely but firmly reject it if someone attempts to label you that way. Respond that you are pro-market, not pro-business. And explain the difference.

Grab Those Ideas — Before They Get Away!

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

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

I was enjoying a delightful lunch with Harry Browne and a few other libertarians. Harry was discussing an upcoming book project. As usual with Harry, it was fascinating, enlightening and fun listening.

Someone at the table commented on something Harry had said, adding a surprising fact and quote that backed up Harry’s argument.

Harry listened attentively to the first few words, and then — still listening carefully — he Write It Down!pulled out a pad and pen and jotted down the information. “What was the name of that congressman you quoted?” he asked. He wrote that down, too.

I was impressed. Harry — a prolific writer and New York Times bestselling author — had obviously learned to grab onto ideas and important information that came his way. And to write it down, not trust his memory.

It’s a great idea. Probably everyone has heard that advice. But, as author Chris Guillebeau — who writes several hundred thousand words a year —notes:

“You may have heard the advice about carrying a notebook everywhere and writing things down as you think of them. This advice falls into the category of ‘extremely helpful tips that almost no one follows.’ Trust me, it helps: I have my notebook when I ride my bike, when I go to a restaurant, and with me on the seat of two hundred airplanes a year. Never keep anything in your head — keep it in the notebook instead.”

Is this idea “simplistic?” Maybe. But sometimes when someone describes an idea as “simplistic,” that really means “something everyone knows is a great idea — but almost nobody actually does.”

What should you use?

Liberator Online editor James W. Harris uses 3 X 5 note cards, an idea suggested to him by a prominent journalist. He writes down one idea or thought or item per card, transfers them onto his computer or elsewhere later, and then tosses them. That keeps things organized — one card doesn’t get crammed with half a dozen unrelated notes. He carries a few dozen of these ridiculously inexpensive cards (a dollar or so for 300) in his pocket at all times, held together by a small black binder clip. (Several years ago this combination was given the unfortunate name of the Hipster PDA.)

Other people swear by small wirebound notebooks.

Write It Down!There are e-devices and apps that are useful, too, of course. You can speak into a recording device — a stand-alone recorder, or a pad or phone.

When the perfect blog post title, a few lines of poetry, the perfect wording for a letter to the editor… whatever it is, when the right wording or the right idea comes to mind, jot it down.

Ideas have a tendency to pop into your mind at odd, unexpected moments. It’s your job to catch them. And the more you do this, the more the ideas seem to come.

It’s not just brilliant literary brainstorms that you want to record, of course. If someone says “Hey, can I have your email address?” you can dash it off and hand it to them. And vice-versa.

If you’re preparing a political meeting and you suddenly have to run to the store to pick up some essential last-minute items, jot them down — don’t rely on memory.

If you need directions, pull out your notepad. When you hear the name of a book or movie you want to check out… a great song on the radio… a new restaurant… write it down.

Get the idea?

Keep something to write on by your bed, too. Perhaps also a lighted pen.

As blogger and web developer Glen Stansberry advises:

“It almost always never fails. I’ll have a great idea, I’ll think about it for a while, and never remember it again. Why? I didn’t write it down. Half of having a good idea is actually writing it down. Writing it down gives you freedom to let your mind explore it even more, because it doesn’t have to work on actually remembering it. If paper isn’t your thing, use a voice recorder, your cell phone’s voicemail, a pda, a rock and chisel… anything so that you can file it somewhere other than your brain.”

And remember the advice of one famous writer (whose name I can’t recall — I should have written it down!): When you get a great idea, and you think, “I’ll never forget that — I’ll write it down later” — that’s the Devil speaking!

Raising the Overton Window

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

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 7 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

In the 1990s I had the great pleasure of meeting the late Joseph P. Overton at a leadership seminar at the free-market Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Joe was senior vice president of Mackinac. He was brilliant, charismatic, inspiring and fun to be with. The liberty movement lost a great leader when he died in a plane crash on June 30, 2003.

One of Joe’s many contributions to liberty was the popularizing of a vital concept that now bears his name: the Overton Window.

Overton Window: A Model of Policy Change
The Overton Window is explained by Mackinac this way:

“Joseph Overton observed that in a given public policy area… only a relatively narrow range of potential policies will be considered politically acceptable.”

“This ‘window’ of politically acceptable options is primarily defined not by what politicians prefer, but rather by what they believe they can support and still win re-election.”

“In general, then, the window shifts to include different policy options not when ideas change among politicians, but when ideas change in the society that elects them.”

This is a powerful concept. You can see it clearly when you illustrate it, as Joe did, by lining up possible positions on a political issue in order from more free to less free.

Let’s do this with drug policy. Here are a few positions on this issue, lined up (starting from the bottom) from most oppressive to least oppressive:

All drugs are legal for adults to buy, sell, and consume
“Hard drugs” legal but only with doctor’s prescription
Some other drugs in addition to marijuana also legal; other still illegal
—————————————————————————
Marijuana legal to own, grow, sell with permission from government
Marijuana legal to buy but not sell
Marijuana legal for medical purposes only, with doctor’s prescription
Marijuana illegal but only minimal punishment
All drugs illegal with stiff penalties
—————————————————————————
Mandatory drug tests for all Americans
Harsh punishment for drug use
Death penalty for drug use, possession, sale

See the two lines I made in the middle of that list? Those lines show the area of today’s most politically-acceptable options. That’s an approximation of where we are right now.

Those lines show the top and the bottom of the Overton Window at this time.

Those policies inside the Overton Window are politically acceptable. It doesn’t mean they are right, universally agreed on, or that they are law. It just means that people holding or seeking political office can say they support them, and still get elected.

In contrast, the policies outside the Overton Window are not very politically acceptable. It is far harder to advocate them and get elected. Not impossible, but more difficult.

The Overton Window makes our goal as libertarians clear: to raise the window. To push it ever higher. To make currently unpopular libertarian positions acceptable. To bring those positions into the mainstream political debate.

As we do so, we also raise the bottom part of the window, so that previous authoritarian solutions are no longer acceptable.

How do we do this? Surprisingly, not by electing politicians, according to the Mackinac Center:

“Many believe that politicians move the window, but that’s actually rare. In our understanding, politicians typically don’t determine what is politically acceptable; more often they react to it and validate it. Generally speaking, policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change. The most durable policy changes are those that are undergirded by strong social movements.”

Politicians are lagging indicators; that is, they usually reflect what is acceptable, rather than making radical political change.

The Overton Window model gives us some major insights into how we can effectively change government policy. Rather than just hoping to elect the “right people” to office, it suggests that the most powerful way to changing government policy lies in changing the views of the public as to what is acceptable.

Do this, and the politicians will follow. Witness the growing popularity of the movement to relegalize marijuana. It’s not a movement that was brought about by politicians. Rather, politicians are reluctantly accepting it because of the years of work by liberty activists to educate the public to demand reform.

That means our job as libertarian communicators is to constantly be pushing the window up — gently but persuasively — in the direction of liberty. In our discussions with people, in our outreach efforts, in our casual conversations.

When, for example, relegalizing medical marijuana is politically possible, we support that — but we also argue that marijuana should be legal across the board, for everyone. And as that idea begins to win, our job is to push it further, until we reach the full libertarian ideal: adults are free to use whatever substances they wish.

Similarly, on taxation, our goal right now might be a particular tax cut or reducing the tax burden. But we also want to argue for something that’s now outside the Window — like ending the income tax, for example — in order to introduce that idea into the debate and thus raise the Overton Window. And as that idea gains traction, we discuss more seriously the libertarian ideal: ending all taxes.

Important: This does NOT mean that we should deliberately pursue gradualism or avoid discussing long-range and ultimate libertarian goals. We don’t have to move one small step up the Overton Window at a time. I strongly agree with the great abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison: “Gradualism in theory is perpetuity in practice.” I strongly believe we should be ready and happy to argue persuasively for the full libertarian position any time. Indeed, doing so is part of raising the Overton Window.

However, during a political discussion in which there is general agreement on a particular libertarian reform, there is often a great opportunity for us to push the discussion a bit further — to raise the Overton Window higher. Be alert for such opportunities.

This also suggests that, for most of us, using effective and persuasive communication methods, such as those taught by the Advocates, is crucial. While we need our Menckenish curmudgeons and pundits, most of us can’t do that well. We can be most effective by winning the trust of our neighbors and community members, bringing them to our side.

Ultimately it is public opinion, not political power, that changes society. Which means we have in our hands the ability to make bold political change. Which means the more successfully and persuasively we can communicate our ideas, the greater our chance for victory.

So let’s use that power to push the Overton Window up, up, up until it’s wide-open — and we welcome in the fresh air of liberty.

*  *  *

More on the Overton Window can be found at this website: The Overton Window, A Model of Policy Change by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. This web page has several short essays on the Overton Window, illustrations of the Window in action, videos, thoughts on how to move the Window up, and more. Essential.

Also of interest: Murray Rothbard challenges gradualism in his essay “The Case for Radical Idealism.

Before You Click “Share”

in Liberator Online Archives by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Oops! Was my face red!

Last week I saw a fascinating article on Facebook. It was entitled “Amazing things you didn’t know your cell phone could do.”

Wow! I had no idea cell phones could do all that. I immediately shared it with my Facebook friends.Don't Believe Everything You Read On the Internet - Abraham Lincoln

Bad move. I was quickly informed that the article was almost totally bogus. (I’m sorry to inform you that you can’t use your cell phone to unlock your car — unless, as a friend pointed out, you throw it through the window.)

Normally I check such things out before forwarding them. But this time my enthusiasm got the best of me — such amazing and useful information! — and I made the classic Internet mistake of forwarding info I hadn’t checked out. Ouch!

In this particular case, the consequences weren’t dire. I wasted a bit of my friends’ time and made myself look silly.

But sharing false political information can have much more serious consequences. Especially for libertarians.

When we send something around that turns out to be false, people may wonder: “Are libertarians just stupid — or are they trying to deceive me?”

They may think, “This libertarian has sent me something I know isn’t true. So I can’t trust anything he or other libertarians say.”

Those aren’t reactions we want from our social media outreach.

This is a serious problem. The web is clogged with fascinating facts, mesmerizing memes, compelling quotes and startling stories — that are not true.

So before you hit that “Share” button on Facebook or the “Forward” button in your email, take a moment confirm the validity of the material.

Note, this doesn’t mean you have to verify everything you share. Jokes, fables, cartoons, cat videos… fire away.

But before sending a quote or a fact, take a moment and fact-check it.

It’s easy. Type it wholly or in part into Google. See if it can be verified at a reliable source. Something like “funnytruequotes.com” (I just made that up) isn’t sufficient. A legitimate online thesaurus, book, scholarly site, or reputable newspaper or magazine source is needed.

You can also use Google Books to instantly search millions of books to see if the quote or fact shows up in a reputable book.

Does this sound like too much trouble? Do you just “know” your quote is accurate, because it just “sounds right”? I invite you to try it on a few anyway. You will be shocked how many false quotes are attributed to the Founders, to Ron Paul, to various presidents, and the like.

The more amazing the fact or quote, the more it confirms your prejudices… the more likely it needs to be vetted. “Eighty percent of U.S. tax dollars goes to foreign aid” might sound plausible to some people, but check it out and you might be surprised. If you can’t verify it at a legitimate source (newspaper, magazine, think tank, book, etc.) don’t send it out.

If a story sounds too good to be true, that’s a warning sign. Check out snopes.com or a similar site to see if it’s one of the thousands of phony tales mugging truth-seekers on the web. (I know, Snopes.com has its own biases, but it’s a great place to start.)

Once you’ve pushed the “Share” button, it’s hard to take it back. Some people will never see your retraction, and many of your friends will have already forwarded it to dozens or hundreds of others. In one irreversible moment, you’ve helped contribute to the ignorance of the human race. Not good.

As ambassadors for libertarian ideas, we need to make sure we always display integrity. As seekers of the truth, we must always be truthful in the information we share with others in making our case for liberty.

As Liberator Online columnist Michael Cloud is fond of saying, “The facts are friendly to freedom.”

We’ve got the truth on our side. Falsehoods and bad information only hurts our cause.

“Home to Their Families”

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

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 5 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Bring them homeIn a statement this week  — featured in the Intellectual Ammunition column in this issue — the Libertarian Party called for the U.S. to “immediately withdraw all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and bring them home to their families.”

“Bring them home to their families.” That’s very powerful wording.

Libertarians often use wording like “bring our troops home.” And that’s a very useful phrase.

But adding “back home to their families” makes that far, far Home to their familiesstronger.

“Bring our troops back home to their families.”

The use of “back home” and “to their families” creates a vivid and heartwarming picture of returning husbands and fathers, back from the wars at last, greeted and embraced by tearful, loving wives and children. Of sons and daughters welcomed by their happy and relieved moms and dads and brothers and sisters.

This phrasing has an emotional appeal, something we libertarians need to do more often.

“Bring our troops back home to their families.”

That’s exactly what we want to do. That’s where American soldiers belong — defending America, not carelessly flung abroad to fight in vague wars without constitutional legitimacy and without national defense purposes. It’s a great way libertarians can demonstrate they — to use an oft-heard phrase — truly “support our troops.”

And many Americans — especially those with friends, relatives and loved ones in the military — will respond positively to this wording.

Try it and see.

Word Choice: Blowback — Foreign and Domestic

in Communicating Liberty, Foreign Policy, Liberator Online Archives, National Defense, War by Sharon Harris Comments are off

(From the One-Minute Liberty Tip section in Volume 19, No. 4 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“Blowback” is a term that originated in the CIA in 1954. It originally referred to the unintended consequences of a covert foreign operation — consequences that are often suffered by the civilians of the nation whose government instigated the covert operation. This “blowback” may take the form of riots, demonstrations, hostage-taking, terrorist attacks, and similar hostile actions. The civilians on the receiving end of the blowback don’t realize that it was their own government’s secret activities that caused the anger and violence being directed against them.

Blowback is a term heard more and more when discussing foreign policy. And its definition is often expanded to include overt as well as covert foreign interventions that have negative consequences.

Ron Paul helped popularize the concept of blowback, as well as the word itself, during his GOP presidential campaign runs. For example, in the 2008 Republican presidential primary debates in South Carolina, he introduced it this way:

“I believe very sincerely that the CIA is correct when they teach and talk about ‘blowback.’ When we went into Iran in 1953 and installed the shah, yes, there was blowback. A reaction to that was the taking of our hostages, and that persists. And if we ignore [blowback], we ignore that at our own risk. If we think that we can do what we want around the world and not incite hatred, then we have a problem. They don’t come here to attack us because we’re rich and we’re free. They come and they attack us because we’re over there. I mean, what would we think… if other foreign countries were doing that to us?”

Scholar Chalmers Johnson also popularized the term in an influential trilogy of books: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2005); and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2006).

Johnson defines the term and tells about the operation that led the CIA to use it:

“’Blowback’ is a CIA term first used in March 1954 in a recently declassified report on the 1953 operation to overthrow the government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran. It is a metaphor for the unintended consequences of the U.S. government’s international activities that have been kept secret from the American people. The CIA’s fears that there might ultimately be some blowback from its egregious interference in the affairs of Iran were well founded. Installing the Shah in power brought twenty-five years of tyranny and repression to the Iranian people and elicited the Ayatollah Khomeini’s revolution. The staff of the American embassy in Teheran was held hostage for more than a year. This misguided ‘covert operation’ of the U.S. government helped convince many capable people throughout the Islamic world that the United States was an implacable enemy.”

Blowback is a useful word in describing the unintended, but often terrible,  consequences of foreign intervention.

But it is a very useful term for discussing domestic policy as well.

Just like foreign intervention, domestic government intervention has many unintended negative consequences. As the word “blowback” becomes a familiar, popular, colorful pejorative in foreign policy discussions, it is also beginning to be used to describe the unintended destructive consequences of domestic government activities.

Libertarians — who are very aware of the negative unintended consequences of government domestic policy — can use the word blowback to add power and color to our discussions of domestic issues.

Some examples:

“An increase in the minimum wage would lead to blowback in the form of the loss of hundreds of thousands of desperately needed entry level jobs. This blowback would hit the most vulnerable people in our economy: the low-paid, the unemployed, the under-educated, minorities, and the young.”

“Blowback from the War on Drugs includes crowded prisons and wasted law enforcement resources, overdoses from impure street drugs, the spread of AIDS and Hepatitis B and C from shared needles, drugs peddled to children, loss of fundamental Bill of Rights civil liberties, the enriching of violent criminal gangs, the funding of terrorism, drive-by shootings by warring drug gangs… and more.”

“The blowback from government welfare programs includes the break-up of families, multi-generational poverty, dependence on government, and a weakening of the vital role that voluntarily-funded charities play in our society.”

There are innumerable further possibilities.

Blowback is a powerful, provocative word that quickly and colorfully conveys a vital concept. Many people realize its significance in the foreign policy realm. Their ears will perk up, and they may reach new understanding, when you apply it to domestic policy as well.

The Surveillance Scandal: The Right — and the Wrong –Terms

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

“In the animal kingdom, the rule is, eat or be eaten; in the 

human kingdom, define or be defined.”

So wrote the great libertarian Thomas Szasz.

Define or be defined. That’s a key principle of effective communication.

You can see this at work right now, in the unfolding scandal concerning government surveillance and the resulting public debate.

Those who defend such programs are using specific words to attempt to redefine and change what is at stake in this debate.

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security, and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” President Obamasaid this month. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society.” Read more

One-Minute Liberty Tip – You’re on Candid Camera!

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

Here’s a surefire tool that will get you off to a great start in any conversation about the ideas of liberty.

Start off with a

Simple
Movement
Into
Libertarian
Engagement

…better known as a SMILE! (Check out the first letters of that phrase.) Read more

How NOT to Talk to People About Liberty

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

One of the best ways to learn how to better communicate the ideas of liberty is to see someone doing it… the wrong way.

How NOT to Talk to People About Liberty by The Libertarienne Show is a fun, funny, short video that shows you exactly that. Read more