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Uber Revolution Shows How “Competition Breeds Competence”

in Business and Economy, Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Activist Ammunition section in Volume 20, No. 4 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

UberThe reaction of taxi companies to the sudden new competition from Uber and Lyft is revolutionizing the stuck-in-its-ways taxi industry — and it offers an excellent demonstration of how strong competition enormously benefits consumers, says economist Mark Perry at his blog Carpe Diem.

Writes Perry:

“When government agencies or heavily regulated industries are insulated from market competition, the incentives to offer better service and lower prices, along with the incentives to innovate, upgrade and improve are either significantly weakened or non-existent. But when faced unexpectedly with some market competition, it’s amazing how the normally sclerotic, anti-consumer and unresponsive government agencies or protected industries can suddenly become responsive and consumer-friendly.”

Perry quotes an article from the Los Angeles Times:

“All taxicab drivers in Los Angeles will be required to use mobile apps similar to Uber and Lyft by this summer, according to a measure passed by the Los Angeles Taxicab Commission this week.

“The order, passed on a 5-0 vote, requires every driver and cab to sign onto a city-certified ‘e-hail’ app by Aug. 20 or face a $200-a-day fine. The move is seen as a way to make taxicab companies more competitive with rideshare apps such as Uber and Lyft.

“Los Angeles cab companies reported a 21% drop in taxi trips in the first half of 2014 compared with the same period the previous year, the steepest drop on record. Cab companies largely attribute the drop to the popularity of app-based ride services.

“William Rouse, general manager of Yellow Cab of Los Angeles, says his company has utilized a mobile app for several years. The app, Curb, allows riders to hail and track a cab, provide payment and rate drivers. ‘If our industry is ever going to get a chance to move passengers from Uber back to taxis, each one of these companies should have an app,’ Rouse told The Times. ‘It’s a shame that the city had to mandate it in order for this to happen.’”

And this stunner, from ABC News last summer:

“Meet the new secret weapon to get a leg up in the cutthroat competition among cabbies — charm school. Taxi drivers in Washington state are getting lessons that they hope will give them an edge against startups such as Lyft and Uber. About 170 taxicab operators paid $60 out of their pockets for a four-hour training session to learn about topics including customer satisfaction and developing relationships with institutional clients.”

Taxi drivers going to charm school to learn how to better please customers? Talk about an economic miracle!

It all demonstrates what Perry calls Perry’s Law: “competition breeds competence.” It’s a perfect example, he says, of how “direct, ruthless, even cutthroat competition is often the most effective form of regulation, and provides the intense discipline that forces firms to maximize their responsiveness to consumers. … Government regulation typically reduces competition, which then reduces the competence of producers, and reduces their willingness to serve consumers and the public interest, which make us worse off. I say the more market competition the better, for consumers and for the human race.”

America’s Real Welfare Queens: Fortune 100 Companies

in Liberator Online, Welfare by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

Welfare QueensEarlier this year Open the Books, a non-partisan watchdog group advocating transparency in public spending, issued a genuinely shocking report that added up all federal grants, loans, direct payments, and insurance subsidies going to private companies.

Among its findings: corporate-welfare payments from the federal government to the Fortune 100 companies, from 2000 to 2012, amounted to more than $1.2 trillion.

The bulk of this was in the form of contracts between government agencies and private firms, with the largest going to the military-industrial complex. While these provide some services to taxpayers, such spending is difficult to control because the huge sums also fund a massive lobbying industry busily working for more such spending.

But contracts aside, staggering amounts of money were just given away as outright subsidies — taxpayer-funded handouts to the biggest businesses in America.

Writing in National Review Online, economist Stephen Moore summarizes: “$21.3 billion… was doled out in the form of outright income-transfer subsidies to corporate America. On average, each Fortune 100 company received about $200 million in such [taxpayer-funded] handouts.

“So who are the major corporate-welfare queens? The biggest grant recipients were General Electric ($380 million), followed by General Motors ($370 million), Boeing ($264 million), Archer Daniels Midland ($174 million), and United Technologies ($160 million).

“About $8.5 billion of this largesse came in the form of taxpayer-subsidized loans. The big winners here were Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Ford Motor Company, and other multibillion-dollar corporations whose franchisees received Small Business Administration loans.

“Archer Daniels Midland got just under $1 billion for USDA farm-program loans, and this doesn’t include ethanol subsidies. Another $10 billion was doled out through federal insurance…”

And the problem goes beyond even these staggering sums. Says Moore:

“That $1.2 trillion number does not include the hundreds of billions of dollars in housing, bank, and auto-company bailouts in 2008 and 2009, because those payments are kept mostly invisible in the federal-agency books. It also doesn’t include the asset purchases of the Federal Reserve, indirect subsidies such as the ethanol mandate that enriches large agribusinesses like Archer Daniels Midland…

“Amazingly, all but one of the Fortune 100 stood in the federal soup line to take at least some form of corporate-welfare benefit.”

Sums up Moore: “Imagine for a moment that you are sitting on your couch watching TV and there is a knock on the door. There in a corporate suit is an employee of General Dynamics with a tin cup and he asks if you would contribute a dollar for a research project. You would slam the door in his face. But somehow when the government collects a dollar from each of us and gives the money to General Dynamics, this is considered in Washington a wise ‘investment.’”

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Are You on the Fed’s Terrorist Watchlist?

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

You can be pulled into the NSA’s database, put on a terrorist watchlist, and receive discriminatory treatment from local, state, and national law enforcement agents — without warning or notice, and for something as innocent as a Facebook or Twitter post.

So reports journalist Arjun Sethi in a shocking story in The Guardian, August 30, entitled, appropriately enough, “The US government can brand you a terrorist based on a Facebook post.”

“Through ICREACH, a Google-style search engine created for the intelligence community, the NSA provides data on private communications to 23 government agencies. More than 1,000 analysts had access to that information. …

“It was confirmed earlier this month that the FBI shares its master watchlist, the Terrorist Screening Database, with at least 22 foreign governments, countless federal agencies, state and local law enforcement, plus private contractors…

“The Terrorist Screening Database watchlist tracks ‘known’ and ‘suspected’ terrorists and includes both foreigners and Americans. It’s also based on loose standards and secret evidence, which ensnares innocent people. Indeed, the standards are so low that the U.S. government’s guidelines specifically allow for a single, uncorroborated source of information — including a Facebook or Twitter post — to serve as the basis for placing you on its master watchlist.”

Indeed, according to the investigative journalism website The Intercept, the Terrorist Screening Database has about 680,000 people on it — and more than 40 percent are described by the government itself as having “no recognized terrorist group affiliation.” That’s a whopping 280,000 people.

Continues the Guardian: “These eye-popping numbers are largely the result of the US government’s use of a loose standard — so-called ‘reasonable suspicion’ — in determining who, exactly, can be watchlisted.

“Reasonable suspicion is such a low standard because it requires neither ‘concrete evidence’ nor ‘irrefutable evidence.’ Instead, an official is permitted to consider ‘reasonable inferences’ and ‘to draw from the facts in light of his/her experience.’”

Further, the loose rules allow watchlisting without even the minimum standard of  reasonable suspicion. Non-citizens can be watchlisted just for being associated with a watchlisted person, even if the relationship is totally innocent. If a source or tipster describes a non-citizen as an “extremist,” a “militant,” or some similar term, and the FBI can make some vague connection, this could be enough to watchlist a person. The watchlist designation is secret, so no one is able to challenge these allegations.

But being on the watchlist can bring terrible consequences, notes the Guardian:

“Life on the master watchlist can trigger enhanced screening at borders and airports; being on the No Fly List, which is a subset of the larger terrorist watchlist, can prevent airline travel altogether. The watchlist can separate family members for months or years, isolate individuals from friends and associates, and ruin employment prospects.

“Being branded a terrorism suspect also has far-reaching privacy implications. The watchlist is widely accessible, and government officials routinely collect the biometric data of watchlisted individuals, including their fingerprints and DNA strands. Law enforcement has likewise been directed to gather any and all available evidence when encountering watchlisted individuals, including receipts, business cards, health information and bank statements. …

“A watchlist based on poor standards and secret processes raises major constitutional concerns, including the right to travel freely and not to be deprived of liberty without due process of law.”

Hina Shamsi, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Security Project, agrees: “We’re getting into Minority Report territory when being friends with the wrong person can mean the government puts you in a database and adds DMV photos, iris scans, and face recognition technology to track you secretly and without your knowledge. The fact that this information can be shared with agencies from the CIA to the NYPD, which are not known for protecting civil liberties, brings us closer to an invasive and rights-violating government surveillance society at home and abroad.”

The Guardian concludes with a question you’re probably already asking yourself:

“Indeed, you can’t help but wonder: are you already on the watchlist?”

Read the next article from this issue here.

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What 10 Federal Laws, Agencies or Rulings Would You Abolish?

in Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues, Libertarianism by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 14 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: If you could repeal 10 federal laws, reverse 10 Supreme Court rulings or dismantle 10 federal agencies, which laws, rulings or agencies would you do away with? I guess what I’m looking for is the libertarian “hit list.”

TargetMY SHORT ANSWER: Each libertarian might answer this differently, so I can only give you my personal favorites. If I could magically change our government ten ways, I would end all taxation (1), confiscation (2), and eminent domain (3), effectively cutting off the government’s revenue. The borrowing powers of the government would be rescinded to prevent it from deficit spending in retaliation (4). Any outstanding obligations would be retired (5), as much as possible, from sales of government property (including about 42% of our country’s land mass).

Without the means to compel payment for government services, all government agencies would have to operate like any business by voluntary exchange with its customers. Agencies that failed to provide satisfactory service would have to shut their doors. Since some people would undoubtedly be willing to support a government that regulated in their favor, any initiation of force, by government or individuals, would be outlawed (6).

Sovereign immunity would be eliminated (7), making government officials subject to direct prosecution by their victims. For example, bureaucrats in the FDA, if they managed to survive the above reforms, could be held liable for deaths that they caused by denying the American consumer access to drugs of their choice or information about them.

Gold and silver would likely become legal tender, by simply ending the Federal Reserve’s monopoly on currency issue (8). I’d make a declaration of war by Congress necessary for sending troops overseas (9), taking away the president’s power to wage war by naming it something else.

Finally, I’d save my last “wish”‘ for something critical that I may have missed!

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SWAT Teams: We’re Above the Law

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the Intellectual Ammunition section in Volume 19, No. 11 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

From a recent Washington Post column by libertarian Randy Balko, entitled “Massachusetts SWAT teams claim they’re private corporations, immune from open records laws”:


“[A] number of SWAT teams in the Bay State are operated by what are called law enforcement councils, or LECs. These LECs are funded by several police agencies in a given geographic area and overseen by an executive board ….

“Some of these LECs have also apparently incorporated as 501(c)(3) organizations. And it’s here that we run into problems. According to the ACLU, the LECs are claiming that the 501(c)(3) status means that they’re private corporations, not government agencies. And therefore, they say they’re immune from open records requests.

“Let’s be clear. These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences.

“And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.”