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It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

in Communicating Liberty, First Amendment, Liberator Online, Libertarianism, One Minute Liberty Tip, Philosophy by Sharon Harris Comments are off

It’s About Liberty, Not Technology

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

Last month actor Mark Hamill, an advocate of gun control, posted this tweet to his nearly one million followers:

“Don’t get me wrong, as a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment [sic]—I believe in every American’s right to own a musket.”

right-to-bear-musketsIn doing so, Hamill was repeating an anti-gun argument that’s frequently heard and is surprisingly widespread.

This argument says that the Second Amendment was written over two centuries ago, before today’s modern firearms had been invented. Therefore, the Second Amendment only protects a right to keep and bear muskets and other primitive firearms common at the time.

You might think that this is a satirical remark, more snarky than a real argument.

Yet many opponents of the right to keep and bear arms actually intend this as a serious argument. Even those who use it half-jokingly often believe it makes a legitimate point.

For example, journalist Piers Morgan tweeted this in 2012:

“The 2nd amendment was devised with muskets in mind, not high-powered handguns & assault rifles. Fact.”

I could cite many more. Versions of this argument are circulating on the Internet.

How might libertarians effectively respond to this? One obvious way is to apply the same logic to other amendments.

The First Amendment, which defends freedom of speech and freedom of the press, was written before the Internet, television, radio, DVDs, cell phones and other forms of personal and mass communication.

Yet most Americans, especially liberals and progressives who favor gun control, certainly recognize that the First Amendment protects such modern communication as well.

No First Amendment activist would argue that a newspaper must be printed on 18th century technology to have First Amendment protection. What could be sillier?

Similarly, most reasonable people see that the Fourth Amendment protection of privacy clearly applies to modern technology such as cellphones, laptops, and so on.

In some circumstances, it may also be useful to point out that this issue has already been settled — and quite forcefully — by the Supreme Court.

In fact, in the landmark 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller decision, the Court declared this argument was “bordering on the frivolous.”

Wrote the Court:

“Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications… and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search… the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.”

The Supreme Court drove the point home just last month in Caetano v. Massachusetts, which concerned a woman who carried a stun gun for self defense:

“While stun guns were not in existence at the end of the 18th century, the same is true for the weapons most commonly used today for self-defense, namely, revolvers and semiautomatic pistols. Revolvers were virtually unknown until well into the 19th century, and semiautomatic pistols were not invented until near the end of that century. Electronic stun guns are no more exempt from the Second Amendment’s protections, simply because they were unknown to the First Congress, than electronic communications are exempt from the First Amendment, or electronic imaging devices are exempt from the Fourth Amendment.”

These are powerful, even devastating, arguments from logic, history and authority that pretty much lay waste to the argument that the Second Amendment is limited to protecting our right to black powder muskets. But… there’s one more important point to make.

We should always remember our purpose as communicators. In most communications and conversations, we should seek to win others to our side, not just to win arguments.

So, rather than just responding with the powerful arguments above, take a moment first to listen to those making these arguments and try to uncover their genuine concerns. Are they worried about our society becoming more violent? Are they fearful of more children being victims of mass shootings? Are they advocates of nonviolence who have adopted an anti-gun position?

These are all legitimate, admirable, understandable concerns. Let your listeners know that you share their concerns (if you do) and then point out that there are libertarian answers — solutions — to all of them. By identifying and addressing the underlying concerns, you can try to win them to our side, or at least to a better and more sympathetic understanding of our views. That’s a lot better than merely winning an argument, but making a permanent enemy.

If the conversation allows it, you could go even further and point out that, to many libertarians, the right to keep and bear arms is rooted in the fundamental libertarian idea that people should be free to do anything they wish as long as they don’t harm others. A conversation that reaches this level can be very rewarding.

There are specific communication methods you can use to respond in such effective ways, and I have compiled many of the best of them in my book How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty: Successfully Sharing Libertarian Ideas.

Please check it out.

HAIL Yes! You Can Win Others to Libertarianism

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HAIL Yes! You Can Win Others to Libertarianism

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

It’s not enough to speak about liberty. You want to be heard. Understood. Remembered. Appreciated. And you want your ideas, whenever possible, to be accepted.

HandsIn his TED talk “How to Speak So People Want to Listen,” renowned communication expert Julian Treasure talks about four pillars of communication that are essential for powerful outreach – particularly when your goal is to change the world.

It’s marvelous for libertarians. Here are his four pillars, along with a brief discussion of how they apply to communicating libertarian ideas:

1. Honesty. Honesty, of course, means telling the truth. The importance of this when sharing libertarian ideas cannot be overemphasized.

Being honest includes being sure of your facts. It can be tempting to use a “factoid” or meme just because it sounds good or is funny. But check the sources and verify that the information is true. (Remember this wisdom from George Washington’s First Inaugural Address: “Just because something is on the Internet doesn’t mean it’s true.”) In addition, be aware that even if something is technically true, it can still be misleading – also a form of dishonesty.

Being honest also includes saying “I don’t know” instead of pretending you know something you don’t. Pretending knowledge can backfire badly. Admitting that you don’t know everything (in other words, that you’re a human being), and offering to follow up with additional information, wins friends and provides future opportunities for discussions.

Note that being honest doesn’t mean being cruel. You don’t need to share any negative feelings you may have about someone else’s ideas.

2. Authenticity. This is similar to honesty. The word means “being real or genuine, not copied or false.” To me, it means being yourself, being true to yourself. Authenticity is powerful.

In communicating your ideas, use your own words, ones that are comfortable and natural to you. This doesn’t mean you have to reinvent the wheel: in the libertarian movement there are invaluable resources for soundbites and well-written answers to questions. (For example, be sure to read Harry Browne’s Liberty A-Z and Mary Ruwart’s Short Answers to the Tough Questions.) Many of these soundbites can be easily used just as they are — that’s what they’re for. But if they don’t sound like something you would say, rewrite them to fit your own style.

Being authentic also means sharing yourself with others. Don’t hesitate, while discussing libertarianism, to add to your discussion other things that interest you. You will have better conversations, and other people are more likely to also share with you in turn – increasing rapport and giving you a better opportunity to directly address their concerns.

3. Integrity. To have integrity means to be consistent with your principles and values.

To me this means not supporting or advocating policies that are counter to libertarian principles. It also means continually practicing and learning to effectively share and communicate the full libertarian vision, rather than a watered-down version, in ways that are appealing and inspiring.

Having integrity also means being true to your word, keeping your promises, admitting your mistakes. It means being trustworthy. Reliable. Showing up on time. Be aware that when speaking to non-libertarians you represent the libertarian movement and other libertarians. Be a good ambassador for the movement.

4. Love. We all know what love is, but we may not always practice it in our political discourse. When we include love, we enhance the three traits above. We show respect for others, we practice the Golden Rule. Mr. Treasure puts it nicely when he says that in loving communication we truly, genuinely wish the other person well. When we do, the other person knows it, and this makes all the difference.

Each of these four pillars are powerful separately. Together they create an awesome synergy.

You’ll notice that the four words create an acronym: HAIL. As Mr. Treasure points out, the word “hail” means “to greet or acclaim enthusiastically.”

What a great way to treat people! And since most people tend to treat others the way they are treated, the reaction you will get will most likely be a very friendly one.

And in the current political culture of anger, screaming, attacking and all-round incivility, what better way to show a marked contrast between politics-as-usual and the glorious message we libertarians have of real market solutions, civil liberties, and peace for all.

P.S. I go into these ideas in more depth in my book, How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty.

Helping Others See Your Vision of Liberty

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

Helping Others See Your Vision of Liberty

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

Most of us were brought up to accept the need for government control of almost everything. And that idea is reinforced every day by journalists, educators and politicians.

SunriseHow, then, do we persuade people to open their minds enough to explore our vision of liberty?

One way is to share something like the following. It starts with a bold idea, elaborates on that idea with familiar examples everyone agrees with, and then invites your listeners to consider expanding the principle to issues they haven’t yet considered.

The history of the progress of the human race is largely the history of removing government control of our personal and economic lives.

When we separated church and state, both institutions became far more humane, and life became happier, safer, more peaceful.

When we lessened government control over the economy and began to embrace the ideas of economic freedom, the result was an incredible and unprecedented rise in living standards and a cornucopia of innovative new products and services.

When we ended the terrible experiment of alcohol Prohibition we ended the crime, the loss of civil liberties, and the terrible health threats that were created by that misguided policy.

When we ended literary and artistic censorship in America we saw a new flourishing of the arts.

Freeing a big chunk of telecommunications from government control led us in a few short years from a world where almost no one owned portable phones to today, when even children carry phones that can take photos and post them online, shoot and edit movies, play (and even record and mix) music, send texts — and even, when necessary, make phone calls.

The same principle holds true for innumerable smaller, more mundane but important services as well. To take just one example, replacing government-monopoly garbage pick-up with competition has resulted in huge savings and better service for millions of Americans.

Over and over again, allowing more personal and economic liberty by ending government control in a particular area of human endeavor has brought us new, wonderful harmony and abundance.

History shows us that liberty works, and the more liberty we have, the better off we will be. On every issue, big or small. Every time.

Does the Bill of Rights Guarantee the Right to…Own a Pet?

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

Does the Bill of Rights Guarantee the Right to…Own a Pet?

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

Thomas Jefferson once said, “If a nation expects to be ignorant & free… it expects what never was and never will be.”

One can only imagine Jefferson’s reaction to a recent national survey by the respected Annenberg Public Policy Center.

The Annenberg survey found that a terrifying large number of Americans are unfamiliar with even the most basic and most fundamental facts about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the structure of the U.S. government.

Rights And, in their ignorance, many are ready to toss out essential liberties and safeguards. Among the findings:

  • Only one in three Americans (31 percent) could name all three branches of the U.S. government. Thirty-two percent could not identify even one.
  • More than one in four Americans (28 percent) incorrectly thinks a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is sent back either to Congress for reconsideration or to the lower courts for a decision.
  • Fully 12 percent say the Bill of Rights includes… the right to own a pet.
  • One American in four thinks the Bill of Rights guarantees “equal pay for equal work.”

 
This ignorance, alas, is nothing new. Many surveys over the years have reported similarly depressing findings.

Perhaps this partially explains why the Annenberg survey also found that significant percentages of Americans support getting rid of some of our most fundamental liberties:

  • Thirty-one percent say the government should have the power to outlaw a religion if a majority of voters believe it holds “un-American views.” Another 13 percent don’t care one way or another. Less than half (46 percent) oppose this.
  • Twenty-seven percent say the government should be able to prohibit a peaceful march down a main street if the marchers’ views are offensive to the majority of a town’s residents. Another 15 percent don’t care. A little more than half (54 percent) oppose.
  • Twelve percent support giving the government the power to stop the press from publishing articles critical of the government (prior restraint). Another 9 percent don’t care one way or the other.
  • Nearly half (46 percent) oppose current prohibitions on “double jeopardy,” the practice of retrying a person for the same crime twice if new evidence emerges after a not-guilty verdict.
  • One-quarter of those surveyed (26 percent) favor requiring a person to testify against himself in court. Another 17 percent don’t care either way.
  • A quarter of the respondents (25 percent) agreed that “it might be better to do away with the Supreme Court altogether” if it starts making a lot of rulings most Americans disagreed with.

 
Whatever your beliefs about government, the Constitution — and especially the Bill of Rights — has historically been the greatest resource for the day-to-day peaceful protection of American liberties. Thoughtful people of all political persuasions — liberals, conservatives and libertarians alike — find much common ground in these documents.

The lack of knowledge the Annenberg survey found constitutes nothing less than a civil liberties emergency.

Can anything be done to change this? Can you personally do anything?

Yes. We have many tools available to us, and many opportunities.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Share with your inner circle. Most of us have our greatest influence over those closest to us: children, grandchildren, other family members, close friends, neighbors, business associates, and so on. Share with them the importance of understanding how the government is structured and why our Bill of Rights freedoms are so vital. Encourage them to share them with others, creating a ripple effect. If your children attend a school, ask what is being done to teach these issues.
  • Use social media. Most of us are in contact with a great variety of people through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and other social media. Share this crucial information via videos, memes, links to news stories and articles. (The Annenberg poll press release, linked at the start of this article, will shock and amaze many of your friends and followers.)
  • Use holidays.Bill of Rights Day, (December 15), Constitution Day (September 17), and Independence Day (July 4) offer especially good opportunities to discuss these issues with family, friends, social media followers, and so on. They are great times for letters to the editor discussing the vital importance of our Bill of Rights freedoms and the need to understand them. Such letters can reach thousands or even tens of thousands or more people. Just a few letters in large newspapers can reach millions. Put these holidays on your calendar!

 
(By the way, all publicly funded educational institutions — including any schools receiving federal funds of any kind — are required to provide educational programming on the history of the American Constitution on or near Constitution Day. So on Constitution Day these matters will definitely be on the minds of many people.)

That’s just a start. Doubtless you can think of other opportunities and forums. As always, use the effective communication skills taught by the Advocates to make your communication appealing and welcome. (You’ll find lots of them in my book How to Be a Super Communicator for Liberty: Successfully Sharing Libertarian Ideas. e-book here)

It’s up to you. Government schools have failed miserably at teaching basic civics. So has the media. (The more skeptical among us might even note that government benefits enormously from having the public ignorant about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.)

As the great libertarian writer Harry Browne pointed out: “If the American people are to learn the importance of limited, Constitutional government, we have to teach them ourselves.” We have the power to reach those closest to us, and to reach — via letters, speeches, social media and many other ways — millions more Americans as well. Are you ready?

Use “Venture Buyers” to Show the Hidden Dangers of Government Spending

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

Use “Venture Buyers” to Show the Hidden Dangers of Government Spending

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

You’re probably familiar with venture capitalists. But what about “venture buyers”?

I encountered that term this week in an excellent short article entitled “Federal Spending: Now for the Really Bad News” by Forbes Political Economy Editor John Tamny.

“Venture buyers” is a nifty phrase and concept that can be very helpful when you’re trying to persuade skeptics that government spending has terrible consequences.

Traian_vuia_flying_machine

In his article Tamny points out that government spending is not just ridiculously wasteful, bad as that is. It also deprives the people who earned that money of the ability to spend it themselves, on the things they consider most important. And this not only deprives them, it harms the rest of us — in unexpected ways.
One of those ways is that “venture buyers” don’t get to spend their money on new, innovative, risky, expensive and important items.
What are “venture buyers?”

“We sometimes hear them described as ‘first adopters,” Tamny explains. “These are the people with the means to experiment on what is new, frequently expensive, and possibly even life-threatening. Their buying habits tell businesses what consumers want, how they want it, and [by] doing that signal to entrepreneurs where the profits will be if they can turn what is frequently a rare luxury into a common good. But with government so aggressively spending the resources we’ve created… there’s much less ‘easy money’ in our pockets that would reveal our preferences for what is [currently] expensive and largely unknown.”

Venture buyers, then, are the people who are the first to buy new, promising, risky and costly goods and services, try them out, and bring them to the attention of the rest of us. As we watch them using and playing with their new products and toys and benefiting from exciting new services, the rest of us start clamoring for them as well. And businesses are motivated to discover how to quickly lower prices so the rest of us can enjoy them, too.
Venture buyers thus play a huge role in bringing life-changing new products and services to
society.

Think of all the things we commonly use today that began life as expensive and/or startlingly different products only used by those on the bleeding edge. Cars were once crazily expensive and dangerous, as were airplanes. Portable phones were luxuries for the rich. Home computers, VHS players, fax machines, Uber, Airbnb… it’s an endless list.

And an important note: it’s not just fun and seemingly frivolous products that venture buyers popularize. Take health and medicine.

Writes Tamny:

” [C]onsider the health implications of our free spending government. … Thinking about cancer, how much experimentation has never taken place over the last 80 years thanks to government spending having greatly shrunk the total availability of resources necessary for it? Was a cure (or many cures) lost as politicians falsely promised growth through spending on the proverbial bridges, grants, and yes, medical studies to nowhere?”

The more government spends, the less venture buyers have to spend. And that means far less experimenting with new and innovative products and services — including critical and life-saving ones. And that in turn means businesses and entrepreneurs receive far less information about society’s greatest needs and desires — and the best ways to fulfill them.

Of course, we never see the inventions, the cures, the innovations, the services that don’t come into being. We don’t know what we are missing. But we can understand that we are far poorer because of it.

This is a powerful and persuasive indictment of government spending. (There are many others, of course.) I love the catchy, intriguing phrase “venture buyers” and how using it helps explain the little-understood but crucial role early adopters play in raising living standards for everyone.
Share it, and open minds to overlooked dangers of massive government spending.

Run This Up the Flagpole…

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

Run This Up the Flagpole…

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

I have always loved the Gadsden Flag – the bold yellow banner featuring a rattlesnake and the defiant words “Don’t Tread on Me.”

Gadsen Flag

One of the first flags of the United States, it was designed by American general and statesman Christopher Gadsden in 1775 and was a renowned war flag during the American Revolution.

Because of its history, it connotes a deep patriotism. And “Don’t Tread on Me” powerfully conveys the fundamental libertarian message of nonaggression.

The Gadsden Flag truly is a classic symbol. But lately, I’ve come to much prefer a new evolution of this famous flag.

While “Don’t Tread on Me” is a great notion, it has a defensiveness and war-like nature (appropriately, since after all, it was originally a war flag). And to many viewers, it only speaks for the person carrying it: “Don’t tread on ME.” Do what you want, but don’t bother ME. This unfortunately can reinforce the false negative stereotype often used against libertarians: that libertarians are selfish, don’t care about others, etc.

Also, in recent years, the Gadsden flag has come to stand for political movements that don’t represent the kind of peaceful non-aggression and tolerance that libertarians stand for.

The main thing that makes libertarianism different from any other political philosophy is the fact that everything we advocate applies to EVERYONE. We want individual liberty – not just for ourselves, but for everyone. The Nonaggression Principle applies to all human beings – not just libertarians, not just Americans. Everyone.

That’s why I’ve fallen in love with the newer expression: “Don’t tread on ANYONE.” It looks great on the Gadsden Flag!

Porcupine

And it is especially powerful when the Gadsden Flag’s snake is replaced by a porcupine, as some clever libertarians have done. The porcupine is certainly very well equipped to defend itself, yet it does not aggress against other animals. (And besides, it’s cute!)

Another bonus: Turning an icon on its head, as this new meme does, creates an element of surprise. It makes people stop and think. It gives them an “ah-ha!” experience. As Chip and Dan Heath point out in their landmark book “Made to Stick,” ideas that are “sticky” (ideas that last, go viral, etc.) have some things in common, and one of those things is that those ideas are “unexpected, counter-intuitive, with surprise implications.”

(And hey, what’s more “sticky” than a porcupine?)

You can find variations of this new icon on T-shirts, bumper stickers, flags, and more online.

I hope more and more libertarians will begin to use this new reworking of a classic American symbol of independence. What a great way to present our glorious philosophy of liberty, peace, harmony, and goodwill toward ALL!

Success!

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

Success!

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

You’ve heard the sayings: “Success attracts success.” “Nothing succeeds like success.”

They’re true. People are attracted to success! They are impressed and intrigued by it, they respect it, and they want to be identified with it. Success is exciting and fun — and catching.

SuccessThis is as true for political movements as it is for sports teams, soft drinks, viral videos, and rock and roll bands.

To attract people to libertarianism, and to stimulate them to look closer at the ideas of liberty, be sure to share libertarian success stories and positive news about the libertarian movement.

Here are three examples of how to do this.

  • An April 2015 YouGov survey found that a whopping one-in-five Americans under thirty now describe themselves as libertarians. That is an astounding increase in just the past few years.
    Drop something like this into your conversation: “And libertarian ideas are rapidly gaining acceptance. In fact, fully 20% of Americans under thirty now describe themselves as libertarians.”
    Your listeners probably had no idea libertarianism was so popular!
  • Point out that the last three Republican presidential primaries have featured libertarian or libertarian-leaning candidates, each making strong libertarian points. They included a U.S. Congressman (Ron Paul, in 2008 and 2012), a popular two-term governor (Gary Johnson in 2012, former governor of New Mexico, who went on to become the Libertarian Party presidential candidate and win the largest-ever total for an LP candidate), and in the current primaries a high-profile U.S. Senator (Rand Paul, dubbed “The most interesting man in politics” by TIME magazine for his libertarian-ish proposals). That’s mainstream, real-world political success.
  • Point out, when appropriate, that lots of famous people are libertarians. Share the star-power of such world-famous names as Vince Vaughn, Clint Eastwood, Penn and Teller, Drew Carey, Dave Barry, John Stossel, Judge Andrew Napolitano, and many others.
    This instantly validates libertarianism as something that’s cool, respectable, and safely non-fringey.

Again, these are just examples. Keep your eyes open for others. And when you find them, share them whenever you can. Trumpet libertarian successes.

Of course, this is not an intellectual argument for liberty. And it’s not a way to convince someone to become a libertarian.

But it might well make someone take libertarianism more seriously, more respectfully – and help them think of it as something worth looking into further.

And that is… success!

 

Ammunition Against a Powerful Anti-Gun Rights Meme

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Ammunition Against a Powerful Anti-Gun Rights Meme

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

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

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

The Risky Business of Communicating Liberty

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, One Minute Liberty Tip 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!”

Classic “Bad Attitude” Anti-Tax Verse — and Hope for Ending the Income Tax

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

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

April 15, Tax Day, is nearly here.

It’s a grim subject — so how about some comic relief? And some inspiration, some hope, for change?

First, the comic relief.

I’ve had a lot of fun over the years with the following two classic anti-tax poems. The authors are unknown, but some versions seem to date from at least the 1930s.

It’s a good reminder that a lot of Americans have always had a “bad attitude” about taxes. (Just ask King George!)

Income TaxI hope they’ll give you a good laugh — and I hope you’ll keep working with the Advocates and other libertarians to create a movement that will make income taxes as much a thing of the past as slavery, alcohol Prohibition, and the Divine Right of Kings!

Don’t forget: following the poems, some inspiration and hope for change.

* * *

The Tax Collector’s Creed

Now he’s a common, common man
So tax him, tax him, all you can.
Tax his house, Tax his bed;
Tax the bald spot on his head.
Tax his drink, Tax his meat,
Tax the shoes right off his feet.
Tax his cow, Tax his goat;
Tax his pants, Tax his coat;
Tax his crop, Tax his work;
Tax his ties, Tax his shirt;
Tax his chew, Tax his smoke,
Teach him taxing is no joke.
Tax his tractor, Tax his mule;
Tell him: “Taxing is the rule!”
Tax his oil, Tax his gas,
Tax his notes, Tax his cash.
Tax him good and let him know
That after taxes, he has no dough.
If he hollers, Tax him more;
Tax him till he’s good and sore.
Tax his coffin, Tax his grave,
Tax the sod in which he’s laid.
Put these words upon his tomb,
“Taxes drove him to his doom.”
Even when he’s gone, we won’t relax —
We’ll still collect inheritance tax.

* * *

The Taxpayer’s Lament

Sit down my friends and just relax,
It’s time to pay your income tax.
For whether we are great or small,
They tax us one, they tax us all.
They tax the hobo and the queen,
They tax the bull and tax his ring.
They tax the gas that runs your car
And even tax the big cigar.
They tax your whiskey and home brew,
They tax the Bible and your pew.
They tax the wristwatch on your arm
And tax the rat trap on your farm.
They tax the baby in his crib, and
Tax his shirt and tax his bib.
They tax the crib that he sleeps in,
And don’t consider that a sin.
Then they go from bad to worse
And tax the doctor and tax the nurse.
They tax the dentist and his drill
And he just adds it to your bill.
Whenever you leave this world behind
They will be there to steal you blind.
Before you reach the Golden Gate
They’ll slap a tax on your estate.
They tax the hearse on your last ride,
And shed some tears because you died.
The reason for their deep distress?
You left them with no address.

* * *

Love ‘em!

And now the inspiration. Last year I wrote an article entitled “Making the Case for Ending the Income Tax.”

It suggests 11 ways to persuade others that abolishing the hated income tax — and replacing it with nothing — is not only extremely desirable, it is realistic and politically possible.

Check it out and consider using some (or all) of them. Recently we’ve seen once-radical libertarian ideas — for example, re-legalization of marijuana, marriage choice, and a non-interventionist foreign policy — leap into the mainstream. Let’s put ending the income tax —  and replacing it with… nothing — on that list!

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

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip 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.

The Most Powerful Way We Have to Change Things

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

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 13 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

“I have a friend who can always be counted on to have a great book recommendation handy,” writes marketing guru Seth Godin in a recent post at his always-insightful blog.

“Another who can not only tell you the best available movie currently in theatres, but confidently stand behind his recommendations.

“And some people are eager to share a link to an article or idea that’s worth reading.”

Such people, Godin says, are surprisingly rare. Many people are hesitant to recommend something. What if the person thinks my recommendation is stupid? Or not cool enough? Or that I’m being too pushy? Or…

Yet this kind of sharing is crucial, Godin says. It can affect lives, even change our culture and our world.

“Sharing an idea you care about is a generous way to change your world for the better,” Godin writes.

“The culture we will live in next month is a direct result of what people like us share today. The things we share and don’t share determine what happens next.”

Indeed, he says, “the recommendation from person to person is now the most powerful way we have to change things.”

Which brings me to… libertarianism.

You’re reading this because you want to change the world. To spread the blessings of liberty. To awaken more people to the joys, the benefits, the goodness of libertarian ideas.

You are, whether you realize it or not, a very influential person. You likely have Facebook friends who want to be in touch with you. Family members who are open to ideas. Co-workers, colleagues, neighbors, fitness partners, friends… a network, online and off. Probably bigger than you realize.

It’s never been easier and cheaper to share ideas online. A few clicks and you can share a great pro-liberty meme with your Facebook friends (we feature a lot of good ones at our Facebook page). A few clicks and you’ve linked to a great liberty video or article or website or candidate or free book.

Offline, opportunities abound. No tool is better than the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, a simple, intriguing, fun item you can keep in your pocket or purse and hand out to friends.

Good libertarian books make great gifts. T-shirts and bumper stickers easily raise awareness.

This may sound simple. So simple, in fact, that it’s easy to ignore.

Yet Godin — one of the world’s most respected marketing experts — insists that this is a crucial way of changing our culture, changing our world. Godin’s opinion is based on years of studying and writing about change.

If everyone reading this makes a habit of regularly doing some simple, sincere, easy sharing and recommending like this, we can make millions of positive contacts for liberty in a very short time. Collectively, these kinds of contacts will open minds, shift attitudes, affect opinions, and change lives.

It just takes a (very) little time and effort. And, Godin adds, courage:

“It takes guts to say, ‘I read this and you should too.’ The guts to care enough about our culture (and your friends) to move it forward and to stand for something.”

Will you have the courage to risk sharing — smartly, appropriately, and regularly? And thereby move your friends — and our culture — to a better place? To liberty?

Two Phrases That Unmask Crony Capitalism and Corporate Welfare

in Communicating Liberty, Liberator Online, One Minute Liberty Tip 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.

The Vast Graveyard

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

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Who’d have thought it?

In 2008, in order to deal with the problem of obesity, the Los Angeles city council banned the opening or expansion of “stand-alone fast-food restaurants” in low-income areas of the city, where about 700,000 people lived.

Now the results of that experiment in nanny-state tyranny are in. And according to a study by the RAND Corporation, financed by the National Institutes of Health, and published in the journal Social Science & Medicine, it has been… a total failure. Overweight and obesity rates actually increased in the area covered by the fast-food ban from 2007 to 2012 — and faster than the rest of the city or county.

Further, the consumption of fast food increased at the same rate as outside the area of the The Vast Graveyardban. And as an unintended consequence, desperately needed restaurant jobs in that area never came into being, thanks to the ban.

Libertarians aren’t surprised. We’ve watched, time after time, government attempts to control the peaceful lifestyle choices of adults crash, burn, and backfire.

  • Remember in 2002, when all illegal drug use in America ended, thanks to the efforts of 32 Republican congressmen? Oh wait… that didn’t happen. But that’s what House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s “Speaker’s Task Force for a Drug-Free America” boldly promised on March 24, 1998: a “drug-free America by 2002.” Yes, they said that with a straight face. What did happen, of course, was a continuation and escalation of military-style Drug War tactics that have gutted civil liberties, encouraged drug abuse, led to the creation of ever-worse drugs, made vicious gangsters rich, spread AIDS and other diseases, and produced many other negative consequences. Rumor has it that illegal drugs can still be found in America as of 2015.
  • The Bush administration’s 2001 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) program said that by 2014 every child in America was supposed to achieve grade level or higher in reading and math. Libertarian scholar Charles Murray memorably described the law: “The United States Congress, acting with large bipartisan majorities, at the urging of the President, enacted as the law of the land that all children are to be above average.” To make this happen, the federal government poured tens of billions of dollars into this (arguably unconstitutional) scheme. Of course, NCLB has been a failure, and government education remains a disaster.
  • Alcohol Prohibition began on January 16, 1920. America’s most famous evangelist, Dr. Billy Sunday, boldly proclaimed: “The reign of tears is over. The slums will soon be only a memory. We will turn our prisons into factories and our jails into storehouses and corncribs. Men will walk upright now, women will smile and the children will laugh. Hell will be forever for rent.” Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.


We could go on and on. No one ever 
summed this up quite as succinctly as the great libertarian writer and Libertarian Party presidential candidate Harry Browne: “Libertarians understand a very simple fact of life: Government doesn’t work. It can’t deliver the mail on time, it doesn’t keep our cities safe, it doesn’t educate our children properly.”

Libertarians also know what does work: liberty. Let people be free to live in any peaceful way they choose, to exchange goods and services as they see fit, and the results will be extraordinary: a flourishing of peace, harmony, creativity, and abundance. Over and over again, history shows this. Indeed, it is the story of the progress of the human race.

That’s why I call libertarianism “the great Cause that makes all other great causes possible.” One day people will look back at the vast graveyard of failed government programs… and wonder how anyone could have ever believed that bullying and coercion could possibly work better than liberty.

Thank you for your devotion to our great Cause!

Liberty Language: Instead of “Sales Tax”

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

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

Cupid

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.

Consider:

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 – Part 2

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

(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 20, No. 6 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Recently, we examined some resources for Black History Month, a time which opens the door for discussions on issues key to libertarians.

This week I’m concluding with some more issue-oriented Black History Month resources and talking points.

First, a look at state-created poverty and unemployment affecting black Americans.

  • Race and Economics,” a short column by economist Walter Williams, examines this often-ignored point. Excerpt: “Some might find it puzzling that during times of gross racial discrimination, black unemployment was lower and blacks were more active in the labor force than they are today. … During the 1930s, there were a number of federal government interventions that changed the black employment picture.”
  • Walter Williams looks at the racist outcomes of the minimum wage more closely in “Minimum Wage’s Discriminatory Effects.” Excerpt: “Minimum wage laws have massive political support, including that of black politicians. That means that many young black males will remain a part of America’s permanent underclass with crime, drugs and prison as their future.”
  • Walter Williams’ outstanding 1982 short book The State Against Blacks (long out of print — check your library) — shows how numerous government programs, supposedly enacted to help blacks and the poor, have caused enormous harm to blacks (and others). 
  • In his 2004 column “A Painful Anniversary“ economist Thomas Sowell argues that the 1960s Great Society / War on Poverty programs helped destroy black families. Excerpt: “The black family, which had survived centuries of slavery and discrimination, began rapidly disintegrating in the liberal welfare state that subsidized unwed pregnancy and changed welfare from an emergency rescue to a way of life.”

Government’s role in protecting slavery and enforcing Jim Crow laws is often ignored. Yet of course it was government that created and defended such abominable and unlibertarian practices.

Still another fascinating topic tailor-made for Black History Month is the little-known history of how gun rights helped protect civil rights activists and advance the civil rights movement.

  • For starters, check out “Yes, Guns Are Dangerous. But They Also Save Lives and Secure Civil Rights“ by Damon W. Root of Reason magazine.
  • Also see this excellent review of the 2004 book The Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement by Lance Hill, from The Nation magazine. This book tells the remarkable story of the Deacons for Defense, who at their peak had several hundred members and twenty-one chapters in the South. 
  • Black Open Carry: Why Gun Rights and Civil Rights Need Each Other” is a provocative new Reason TV video. It examines the little-known long, intertwined history of the gun rights and civil rights movements, from slave revolts to Reconstruction-era armed resistance to the Black Panther Party. “One of the great untold stories about the civil rights movement was that it required violent resistance from blacks to be effective,” says historian Thaddeus Russell. Seven eye-opening minutes in length. 
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