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Take More Pictures

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Take More Pictures

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” - attributed to Frederick R. Barnard

As libertarians, we have a lot to say. Often, it is presented as a wall of text… Page after page of words pieced together in a mess without any formatting and filled with footnotes.

We assume that those we convince to read it will see how much time and effort we put into it, as well as how smart we are, and BOOM! they’ll be convinced. While that may work with our fellow libertarians who generally value substance over style and presentation, those who are not libertarian yet are unlikely to be impressed.

taking picturesSo, what does this have to do with taking more pictures?

First, taking and sharing pictures require that you do something worthwhile or interesting to memorialize. Hopefully, we snap a photo of our hard work, highlighting our best examples of living a libertarian life. By sharing them, we show that we understand not only the words, but also the actions, necessary to bring about the change we advocate.

Next, due to our increased activity, we’ll have less time to write those walls of text that inspired TL;DR (Too long; didn’t read). Can you imagine how many thousands of words on the page or screen we can replace with pictures?

Also, as social media continues to evolve, we see the impact that images have to make a “story” go viral. A picture of you speaking to a crowd at a rally or working at a soup kitchen not only exemplifies your commitment to your ideals; it can be inspiring to others to “get off the couch” and do something.

Finally, we can inspire others as we Walk the Walk. As we take and share pictures, we’ll inevitably be asked why we’re taking them. It will open the door to a conversation that we did not have to seek out, and we can share that we are looking to make a change in the world in which we live.

If you’re creating new libertarians passively by setting your example, all of those you persuade actively will have others to associate with. As we continue to grow the libertarian movement, we need more perspectives and routes to it to consider.

The “Most Important Election of Our Lifetime” Fallacy

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The “Most Important Election of Our Lifetime” Fallacy

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As libertarians, we’ve no doubt heard with every election that THIS one is the “most important election of our lifetime.” Even those who’ve decided to no longer participate in voting and elections are not immune.

Typically, it’s a hyper-partisan individual who is heavily invested in one side of the “horse race” for President, Governor, or Congress making the statement, and they have a litany of reasons why their candidate is “The One.”

To many of us, it’s a broken record. Whether it’s the appointment of Supreme Court justices, ending pointless wars, staving off economic collapse, or fighting back socialism, the refrain from both sides is essentially the same each time it’s shared. It’s been the same since I started paying attention to elections in 1992 and neither George H.W. Bush nor Bill Clinton really spoke to me as they campaigned for President.

The idea that THIS YEAR will be what changes everything is an extension of a societal desire for immediate gratification…like the J. G. Wentworth commercials: “I WANT IT NOW!”

While a sense of urgency is necessary, things do not change overnight, nor will they even over a politician’s term. Patience and hard work bring the change we seek.

The slogan and rhetoric from the 2008 Obama campaign, “Change We Can Believe In,” tapped into the desire for immediate overhaul. What we saw over the last eight years wasn’t much change. It was a continuation of the same. The wars didn’t end. The cronies still got their goodies. Even Guantanamo Bay remains open and operational today.

Actual, sustainable change takes time. It is the result of many in their efforts to win over hearts and minds. It is not achieved in a single election, a new law, or a Supreme Court decision.

slow and steadyAs in the story I recounted in the Tell More Stories article a couple of weeks ago, slow and steady wins the race. That goes for growth as well, whether for an entire philosophy or certain aspects.

I’ve been on the inside as an elected official, and bureaucracy does move with the speed of molasses. In the winter. Uphill. Unless there is a manufactured urgency to DO SOMETHING, when a the square peg will be shoved into a round hole.

We haven’t won over the hearts and minds yet though. We have a long way to go in that regard. When large numbers of people begin to value freedom the same way that you and I do, we can focus our conversations there and on our path to electoral successes, if they are even necessary.

There is no silver bullet. We are building a movement for Liberty, and that growth doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s happening faster with each passing day.

Remember, politicians and laws don’t change hearts and minds, and we don’t win anything without those.

ACA’s Bureaucratic Requirements Force Patients to Lose Access to Care

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 ACA’s Bureaucratic Requirements Force Patients to Lose Access to Care

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The Affordable Care Act has become a joke among conservatives and libertarians.

Since the passing of the law, mandates concerning enrollment requirements pushed the cost of health care up, forcing countless to not only find themselves uncovered, but also unable to have access to the care they had before Obamacare.

DoctorWhile the overregulation of health care in America is nothing new, ACA accelerated a process that was well under way before President Barack Obama took office. Unfortunately, officials didn’t pay attention to the market signals. What the current administration decided to do instead was to focus on pushing laws based on hopes and aspirations, ignoring the potential consequences.

The story of Walt Whitlow is the perfect example of why politicians should always consider the short and long-term consequences of their policies.

According to the Associated Press, Whitlow was under treatment for cancer when he learned that his financial assistance had gotten slashed under ACA. With a premium costing four times what it cost prior to the passing of the new health care law, his deductible went from $900 to $4,600.

Patient Ana Granado also suffered due to the bureaucratic nature of the law.

Granado had undergone a breast cancer surgery and was waiting to undergo breast reconstruction procedures when she was notified that her coverage had been canceled. Under ACA’s new rules, her immigration status became an issue, which forced her insurer to drop her. While lawyers were able to resolve the issue promptly, her financial assistance for premiums were suspended.

Under ACA, Lynn Herrin’s tax credits for premiums were also questioned by the IRS, forcing her to pay $700 to the taxman. Having issues to find a doctor, Herrin decided to cancel her plan, which left her without any assistance when she later found out she had oral and neck cancer.

As countless Americans and residents ditch their plans or pay more for their previously affordable plans because of complex paperwork requirements, many believe that the law was never written to make health care access affordable.

By adding more roadblocks and mandates, ACA forced many Americans to rely on the government for subsidies so they can afford health care. Under a free market system, they would be dealing directly with insurers and providers instead.

By making the cost of insurance an issue, the federal government created a monster that costs the taxpayers and leaves millions of patients without access to quality care when they need it the most.

Currently, 12.7 million people are covered thanks to subsidies created by ACA. But about 470,000 people had their coverage terminated through September 30, 2015 because of complex paperwork requirements. Another 1 million of households had their financial assistance “adjusted” due to what the government calls “income discrepancies.”

By making the process more bureaucratic than it should be, ACA forced countless of consumers to rely on the government for health care. Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities says people have been panicking when they “get that bill for a full-price plan.” This issue is undermining ACA’s insurance markets, simply because the cost to obtain coverage through the government is too high.

As more and more Americans look for alternative ways to have access to health care, the future of ACA is uncertain. Will the next administration take these matters into account when thinking about reforming US health care law?

Show Before Tell

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Show Before Tell

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Show and tellIn my elementary school years, we participated in Show & Tell, an opportunity to share with the class something neat or unique and lead a discussion about it. The concept was a simple, yet effective way to prepare young people to speak in front of groups.

Even as adults, this provides us with a lesson in effective outreach to non-libertarians. We need to show that libertarians live their lives in a peaceful, voluntary way…The libertarian lifestyle.

What makes this outreach effective is that, when you live your life like you would in a libertarian society, it never turns off. There are no booths to shut down. There are no hours of operation. It’s a constant, effective outreach that can easily attract others to libertarianism.

How can you do it?

  1. Before you speak about Liberty, show it with how you live your life.
    Are you using force or fraud as a means to an end? Or are you someone who offers only honest, voluntary cooperation in your dealings in business and relationships? The latter is very libertarian, while the former is the antithesis of libertarian thought. In a situation where force or fraud is used, it’s unlikely that all parties will be better off. When every interaction is agreed to by all parties, everyone benefits. <– That’s a libertarian interaction. Let’s strive to live that way.
  2. Before you tell me how much libertarianism means to you, show me that you understand what it means.
    Are you constantly dictating to others how they “should” do things or live their life? Or are you setting a positive example and persuading those who seek your counsel? A positive example goes much further than unsolicited advice on a single area of concern. It also brings you to the forefront of those to ask when advice is necessary.
  3. Before you preach the principles of Liberty, teach me about it with your actions.
    Being a shining example of what a libertarian is gives those who have little to no exposure to libertarians a very positive impression of who we are. I know libertarians to be very caring, friendly, and generous, despite the societal meme depicting us as selfish, heartless loners. Let’s break that meme!

 

Are you ready to show what it means to be a libertarian? Once you’ve committed to that, your words about libertarianism will carry far more weight, and you will attract more people to the beauty that is Liberty.

Increasing Costs Tied to Obamacare Make Healthcare Ministries More Appealing Than Insurance Providers

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Increasing Costs Tied to Obamacare Make Healthcare Ministries More Appealing Than Insurance Providers

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As the country is distracted by the presidential election, issues that aren’t getting as much air time as Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton become a side show.

With reports concerning the ineffectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, hitting the news but being ignored by major news channels, crusaders take it to the Internet to discredit Obamacare critics. As new reports argue that Americans are fed up, smaller publications seek to downplay some of the fears brought up by conservatives and libertarians all along. When faced with evidence that shows ACA is making healthcare less affordable, will these pro-Obamacare crusaders back down?

Health Care

Exactly two days before Christmas, the New York Magazine ran an article tailored to take conservative-leaning Americans to task. The subject? One of the left’s most adored achievements (and one of the right’s biggest, and most disputed, creations): Obamacare.

According to Jonathan Chait, the author, the NY Mag piece was conceived in order to debunk arguments presented by Ross Douthat, who wrote a column on Obamacare for New York Times earlier that same week.

While the piece discusses the number of covered Americans before and after the enactment of Obamacare and other points made by Douthat, it’s when Chait focuses on the cost of healthcare before and after the enactment of ACA that things get interesting.

In the NY Mag piece, Chait introduces a seemingly detailed blueprint of how ACA has bent the overall healthcare cost to the average consumer. Yet he ignores actual evidence proving that no, Obamacare hasn’t helped to keep the cost of healthcare low. As a matter of fact, the constant meddling with the insurance business and the healthcare industry in the past has done nothing but to increase the overall cost of health care. Now, those who lost their previous plans and who are unable to sign up for insurance after Obamacare went into full force are being cornered. As a result, they are choosing to pay the IRS fee instead of getting coverage.

Even those who supported President Barack Obama’s signature law are getting desperate.

But as a number of consumers lose their hope, a report recently published by the Wall Street Journal shows that things might have just gotten worse.

According to the WSJ, the cost of health insurance is such a heavy burden for those who lost their insurance plans after ACA became the law of the land that many consumers are now turning to healthcare ministries to cover their medical expenses.

That’s right. Health insurance costs are so out of control that consumers are turning to ministries, which operate outside the insurance system, in order to get access to the health care they need.

Instead of functioning as an insurance provider, these ministries provide health care cost-sharing arrangements to those who share the same religious beliefs.

Ministries now count with about 500,000 members nationwide thanks to ACA. Previous to the law, there were about 200,000 members enrolled in the system. But things could get crowded soon, making it hard for ministries to take in more members.

While ACA gives these ministries an exception to the law, only groups that have operated continuously since at least December 31, 1999 are eligible. Without the possibility of expanding the number of participating ministries, helping those in need could become too heavy of a burden.

When the exception was added to the law, it hoped to satisfy a relatively small number of groups that argued that nonparticipation was a matter of religious freedom. Now, ministries are being sought after as a matter of survival. And as ministries become crowded, insurance commissioners begin to complain, claiming these groups operating outside ACA are hurting consumers.

But with ministries costing about 30 percent less than private insurance, consumers who choose the more affordable path can’t be blamed for taking the easier way out.

Claiming to have the consumer’s best interest at heart, insurance commissioners from Kentucky, Washington, and Oklahoma have, in the past, decided to take action against ministries in their states. Thankfully, legislatures blocked the efforts. But as the cost of care continues to grow and the number of uninsured only shrinks because of the threat associated with non-compliance, other states may attempt to put an end to faith-based healthcare providers again, hurting thousands of consumers if they succeed.

In light of this report, will NY Mag’s Chait finally agree that Obamacare is making healthcare less affordable? Probably not. Nevertheless, ministries may have to fight yet another battle to stay open if membership growth remains steady.

Charles Koch Blasts Corporate Welfare

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Charles Koch Blasts Corporate Welfare

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It’s amazing how Charles and David Koch have become the boogeymen of progressives. Democratic politicians, in their class warfare messaging, often reference the multi-billionaire brothers, who frequently contribute to free market causes and Republican candidates.

In reality, the Koch brothers, both of whom are libertarians, hold views that are overlap with progressive thought. They’re skeptical of the United States’ foreign policy, support same-sex marriage, and are critical of corporate welfare.

Free-Market

Writing in Time on Wednesday, Charles Koch repeated his criticism of corporate welfare. “According to a New York Times poll released earlier this year, most Americans believe only the wealthy and well-connected can get ahead these days, leaving everyone else to fall farther behind,” Koch wrote. “I find this very disturbing – because they are right.”

The difference between Koch and progressives is that he doesn’t see government regulation and mandates as the answer to this problem; he sees the government as the problem.

“I have devoted most of my life to this cause. For more than 50 years, I have sought to understand the principles that make free societies the most successful at enabling widespread well-being for everyone – especially the least advantaged. These principles include dignity, respect, tolerance, equality before the law, free speech and free markets, and individual rights,” Koch explained. “If we want to create greater well-being and opportunity for all Americans, we must re-establish these principles. The benefits will be incalculable, flowing to people at every level of society – not just the politically connected.”

“To achieve this vision,” he continued, “we must undo decades of misguided policies that tend to fall into two broad categories: barriers to opportunity for the many and special treatment for the few.”

Koch said, “[T]he role of business is to provide products and services that make people’s lives better.” But, he notes, businesses often bring “harm” on people by taking handouts from the government. What Koch said may shock some.

“The tax code alone contains $1.5 trillion in exemptions and special-interest carve-outs. The federal government also uses direct subsidies, grants, loans, mandates, bailouts, loan guarantees, no-bid contracts and more to help the lucky few with the most lobbyists,” he wrote. “Overall, according to George Mason University’s Mercatus Center, corporate welfare in Washington, D.C. costs more than $11,000 per person in lost gross domestic product every year—$3.6 trillion lost to special favors for special interests.” He added that this doesn’t include regulations promulgated to benefit certain special interests.

Whether progressives like it or not, the Koch brothers are much more than they’ve been made out to be. Of course, as noted, they don’t believe government is the answer and, let’s be honest, it’s not. The problem is, far too few in Washington, including many self-identified progressives, aren’t interested in taking on special interests, largely because they’ve been bought and paid for by them.

Big Government is Our Best Persuader

in From Me To You, Liberator Online by Brett Bittner Comments are off

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Do you recall your last encounter with Big Government?

Was it the DMV? The post office? The IRS? A police officer? Code Enforcement?

Was that experience pleasant? Did it cause you to run out and tell others about your love for government, like Butters from South Park?

Chances are, your experience was similar to mine.

I went to the post office to apply for a new passport. As you’re likely aware, not every location handles the applications. In my experience, they set certain hours for accepting the paperwork as a subset of the regular operating hours. In previous visits to the post office, I learned that passport hours are 10 AM until 4 PM on weekdays. If you work a traditional schedule, that is not particularly convenient, so I took a day off work to run some errands, and this task was among them.

Arriving at the post office at 2:10 PM, I felt confident that my business would conclude before the 4 PM window. Upon reaching the counter, after waiting in line to be served with all of the requisite paperwork, the clerk informs me that I will have to come back “in about 45 minutes,” because the person who handles passport applications left for lunch about 15 minutes prior. Let’s say that I was less than enthused.

I don’t begrudge a person taking a break. I totally understand that. My issue was with a system that would allow a floating, unannounced hour to be removed from what is already a small window for those of us gainfully employed. Can no one else at that location process these applications?

Rather than fight the “just following orders” mindset of most government workers, I left and came back about an hour later. Upon my return, I found I was not the only person who arrived during the lunch break and returned to encounter others with the same need. We commiserated about the inconvenience, and some of the others shared their “It’s the government. What do you expect?” attitude.

Being me, I engaged them in conversation about how this isn’t how things ought to be, and our mutual disdain for Big Government led us to a productive conversation about liberty and how libertarians think. As I often do, I shared the World’s Smallest Political Quiz with them, and gave them each my card. Today, one of them called to find out more about libertarianism, and we’re having lunch next week.

Thanks, Big Government!

We’ve Got to DO SOMETHING!

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We’ve Got to DO SOMETHING!

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It’s almost formulaic at this point.

DO SOMETHINGSomething tragic or disastrous occurs, emotions run high, policymakers see an opportunity to raise their profile, and BOOM! WE HAVE TO DO SOMETHING!

As libertarians, we are slow to embrace the populist messaging in the wake of a disaster or tragedy. Statistically, these events have a occurrence frequency near zero. With natural disasters like hurricanes, there is even be a significant warning ahead of the disaster. Yet the call for action, to DO SOMETHING, to do ANYTHING grows louder with occurrence.

Libertarians tend to examine potential outcomes rather than the intent of an action. With the initial “feel good” sentiment, an idea floated to address the recent tragedy or disaster gains traction among the masses, despite no real evidence of need or effectiveness.

So, how do we combat the desire to DO SOMETHING?

What I do:

  1. Keep calm. In my experience, the worst time to act is in an immediate response to something that does not pose an immediate threat. By calmly and rationally examining a situation, its effects, the likely consequences (intended and unintended) of proposals, and the actual outcomes of similar actions elsewhere and in other facets of humanity. Usually, cooler heads prevail, so it’s in our best interest to remain the coolest and calmest in a discussion.
  2. Focus on the facts. Despite the efforts of others to make an issue or proposed action emotional, keep your focus on the rarity of the situation, the likely consequences of a proposed solution, and that laws and ordinances only affect the rational and law-abiding. 
  3. Listen to the concerns of others. If you aren’t listening, how can you really address the concerns of those interested in the topic?
  4. Talk WITH others. This is a accompaniment to #3, as we are often quick to give our ideas without having an actual discussion to reach consensus.
  5. Have a solution. In last week’s column, I pointed to the importance of having a solution. In short, I discussed how having a solution or alternative will remind others that your continued inclusion in the conversation is vital to solving the issue at hand. You don’t need an immediate reaction to solve a problem. In fact, patience and focusing on root causes will earn your seat at the table. One key here is to keep your comments within the Overton Window for the issue at hand.

So, when those who are motivated for someone to DO SOMETHING, you have a few things to help you mitigate that emotional response to drive the conversation toward your libertarian solution.

What’s Your Solution?

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What’s Your Solution?

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As libertarians, it’s pretty easy to point out the flaws and holes in solutions pitched to address the issues we face. It’s also very easy to just say no to everything, because the answer doesn’t pass muster with a libertarian worldview.

The hard part, yet the one that helps you be taken seriously as a part of the conversation, is to have your solution, a libertarian solution, ready to share when you oppose the option(s) presented.

solutionIn my experience, we are quick to oppose a politician’s proposal because it increases spending and/or taxes. Or we see that it isn’t authorized by the Constitution. Or we have examined the likely outcomes, and find fault with those outcomes.

Even in cases of strict opposition, like a new tax, build a case to present about why the proposal is bad and offer a libertarian solution to reduce or eliminate the perceived need for increased spending.

When I worked against the continuation of a sales tax, our “Ax the Tax!” campaign focused on the wasteful spending that accompanied the tax.

We pointed out:

  • that additional spending on new capital projects increased the liability for future budgets for operations and maintenance of those projects, likely leading to future tax increases.
  • the projects were wasteful and unnecessary, designed to get the support of small constituencies to support the “whole pie” in order to get their “piece.”
  • several projects duplicated and directly competed with existing private sector businesses or replaced something that failed in the eyes of the market.
  • the regular budgeting process planned for the tax’s continuation to make the spending appear necessary. In this case, road “improvements” (paving and intersection changes) were 98% dependent on the continuation of the sales tax.

We were also involved early in the process, showing up to events and meetings to discuss why the ideas proposed were not acceptable. By being involved early, we won a small victory by reducing the size (and cost) of the proposed project list by a third before it was even presented to voters for the referendum. By showing these faults and offering that there were ways to address them all without the tax, we nearly defeated it, despite being outspent 100:1.

We built a coalition of like-minded and some unlikely allies, and our unified messaging that addressed our solutions received MULTIPLE positive news stories about our opposition to spending $600 million in taxpayer money.

Regardless of why you oppose a proposal, no ready solution negates your inclusion in the conversation, which limits your exposure outside your immediate allies. Those allies already have your support, so you end up “preaching to the choir” rather than getting more people on your side.

Libertarians cannot always be a force of opposition. Inclusion in the discussion gives us a way to share a libertarian solution and offer some common sense guidance to the outcome.

Freedom Is Indivisible

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Freedom Is Indivisible

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Economic freedom. Civil freedom. Religious freedom. Sexual freedom. Personal freedom. Political freedom.

Freedom is popular.

freedomAs such, some attempt to position themselves as its champions, by defining which carefully-worded sliver of freedom they feel comfortable permitting you to exercise.

Libertarians believe that freedom, while formed from many components, is indivisible. 

While some may value their economic freedom over their political or civil freedom, without the political freedom to choose between candidates and ideas and civil liberties to ensure that government has not improperly imprisoned the dissidents, economic freedom cannot exist.

The freedom to live your religious convictions cannot survive in an environment without the freedom to choose your mate or to have the ability to support your church financially.

Essentially, each aspect of freedom is interdependent on the others, and when you try to dissect and distribute only parts of the whole, freedom does not really exist. When only slivers are permitted, none of us live free.

As documented in the Declaration of Independence, rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness were paramount in the founding of America. Our freedom engenders our ability live our lives as we see fit without the force or coercion of others.

This week, our friends at The CATO Institute and the Fraser Institute released the Human Freedom Index, which “presents the state of human freedom in the world based on a broad measure that encompasses personal, civil, and economic freedom.”

As you will note, the United States is no longer the leading bastion of liberty we once were, falling to 20th out of 152 countries measured in the index. Expansion of the regulatory state, multiple “wars” (terror, drugs, poverty, etc.), and the victories of eminent domain and civil asset forfeiture over property rights all contribute to our loss of freedom. None of those factors is exclusively detrimental to one aspect of freedom, yet they all undermine our overall freedom.

So, the next time you hear someone espouse their love for their preferred aspect, remind them that freedom is indivisible, and that without all of it, none of us are truly free.

Why Are Libertarians Different? Intent Vs. Outcome

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Why Are Libertarians Different? Intent Vs. Outcome

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Libertarians… We are certainly a different breed.

We may look the same. We may use the same language. We put our pants on one leg at a time… Most of us, anyway.

We certainly have a unique way of thinking though.

Of course, our first instinct is not to suggest that “there ought to be a law.” That is the beginning of how we differ from non-libertarians.

The basis of not defaulting to government intervention lies a bit deeper than instinct. We want a lot of the same results: a well-educated society, an end to homelessness, peace with our neighbors, and the freedom to live our lives.

unintended consequencesWe also like to point out unintended consequences of policy decisions. Inevitably, every government policy idea devised sought to solve a problem, but not everyone follows where that policy idea takes us beyond the policymaker’s intent.

Libertarians recognize intent for what it is. We recognize that someone, somewhere intended their idea to fix an existing problem, prevent a future problem, or make lives better. We also see past intent to look at what happens when this intended solution gets implemented. We see whether it, or something similar, worked in the past. We also examine what we describe as unintended consequences that are likely to occur if the policymakers enact the proposed solution.

We focus on outcome.

We look at policies beyond intent, by focusing looking deeper than the surface, talking points, and smooth sales pitches. We look at people individually, rather than as statistics and metrics that can be manipulated. We examine individual decisions on their own, rather than as part of the aggregate. Put simply, we are looking out for the smallest minority there is… The individual.

Central planners will never be able to do so, because people are just data points. To them, they believe that they can predict what MOST of us will do when faced with a specific decision. The rest do not matter. Those individuals are statistically insignificant.

Are you insignificant?

Libertarians do not believe that you are, and we look at the unintended consequences, incentives, and individual decision-making to fully examine the outcome of a proposed policy or idea, rather than sweeping you, the individual, aside because you do not fit the model they prepared.

Today, ideas are judged by their intent, rather than their outcome. All too often, that means that the “solution” makes a larger or different problem.

To whom is that insignificant?

When Should ID Be Required?

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When Should ID Be Required?

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QUESTION: What is your position on requiring ID to buy firearms? What about voting?

MY SHORT ANSWER:

IDMost libertarians don’t believe that ID should be required for purchase of firearms. Recording a person’s ID or making them register a handgun allows the government to easily confiscate weapons if it wants to disarm part of the population.

Some libertarians believe that a background check, which would require ID, is a reasonable way to keep violent criminals from easy access to firearms. However, people who are willing to murder and assault others typically steal the guns used during a burglary or purchase them on the black market, so that the gun cannot be connected to them. Thus, laws that require those purchasing a gun to show an ID probably do not deter much gun-related crime.

With regard to the second half of your question, there are some libertarians do not believe in the validity and structure of government as we have it today. Consequently, they believe that voting isn’t appropriate and may constitute force. For these libertarians, your question would likely be met with “Why does it matter?”

However, as long as we have voting—and some libertarians believe that we always will—it would seem reasonable to make sure that only those “qualified” to do so are marking ballots. Showing ID helps, but it isn’t foolproof, as ID can be counterfeited.

Use the Ruler as a Ruler

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Use the Ruler as a Ruler

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

I talk with a LOT of people, libertarians and non-libertarians alike. If you are not doing the same, you are really missing out on finding new friends and learning about others and their lives.

Often, my job as Executive Director of the Advocates comes up in conversation. With the vast popularity of World’s Smallest Political Quiz, it’s often a connection I make with my new conversation partner.

rulerAfter all, it’s been taken over 22 million times online, as well as millions more at festivals, rallies, and campuses throughout the country. As happens with everyone with a connection to something as popular as the Quiz, people often have suggestions about how to improve it. They mean well, but I don’t know that that fully realize how much work goes into making this terrific outreach tool as effective as it is.

In a conversation this week with someone familiar with the Quiz, it was suggested that we replace this question with another and to remove one question in particular. “It’ll make it easier for you to persuade people to be more libertarian,” they said. “If you just don’t talk about that, you will get more people to identify as libertarian.”

A highlight of my day is to discover a new libertarian, so I’m certainly interested in what is effective. In this instance, it seems my friend didn’t quite gather what the purpose of the Quiz is.

Thinking on it further after our conversation, I realized that he didn’t see that, like a ruler, the Quiz is a tool to measure political tendency. We use it to objectively measure a very subjective topic, political philosophy. The Quiz itself holds no preference, as it is a ruler by which we can measure a pretty accurate picture of one’s political philosophy. By seeing where someone falls on the Diamond Chart, we know where to start the journey of persuasion.

We carefully crafted the statements to identify the tendencies of each Quiz taker on a diverse set of issues, centered on issues of freedom. The beauty of the Quiz is that liberals find themselves in the “Liberal” area, conservatives end up in the “Conservative” area, and libertarians fall in the “Libertarian” area.

Do you use the Quiz as a ruler?

By knowing someone’s political tendencies, you know where to begin what I like to call “The Freedom Conversation.” You wouldn’t try to persuade a conservative on economic freedom issues where we agree, would you? Likewise, you wouldn’t try to convince a liberal to adopt a belief that they already hold on personal freedom issues, would you?

Where do you start “The Freedom Conversation”?

After giving the Quiz over 3000 times in person (and 1 “in panda”), that conversation starts with the measurements that the ruler indicates.

Are you ready to use that ruler like a ruler?

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 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!

They Said It… With John Kerry and Rand Paul

in Liberator Online by James W. Harris Comments are off

(From the They Said It section in Volume 20, No. 8 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

LIBERTARIANS HELP WIN LEGAL POT IN ALASKA: “Smoking, growing and possessing marijuana becomes legal in America’s wildest state Tuesday, thanks to a voter initiative aimed at clearing away 40 years of conflicting laws and court rulings. Making Alaska the third state to legalize recreational marijuana was the goal of a coalition including libertarians, rugged individualists and small-government Republicans who prize the privacy rights enshrined in the state’s constitution.” — journalist Molly Dischner, Associated Press, “Alaska Becomes 3rd State With Legal Marijuana,” Feb. 23, 2015.

HOW GOV’T SPIES HACKED VIRTUALLY EVERY CELL PHONE IN THE WORLD: “With the help of the NSA, British intelligence broke into the world’s leading manufacturer of SIM cards and stole millions of keys that encrypt cell phone communications, including what you say. … U.S. and British spies hacked into Gemalto, which makes SIM cards for AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint, and hundreds of other wireless networks. With Gemalto’s encryption keys in hand, the intelligence agencies gained ‘the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data’ without having to get a single warrant or tell a telephone company.” — the Daily Beast website, summarizing “The Great SIM Heist: How Spies Stole the Keys to the Encryption Castle” by Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley (based on files from Edward Snowden), The Intercept, Feb. 19, 2014. Ajit Pai

GOV’T AT WORK: “[Net Neutrality] is a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.” — Ajit Pai, a commissioner at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

UBER REDUCES DRUNK DRIVING, SAVES LIVES: “In May 2014, Uber set out to answer a simple but important question: what, if any, effect did the availability of safe, reliable rides on the Uber ridesharing platform have on drunk driving in Seattle, where prior to Uber’s arrival in 2013, approximately 7.6 people per day — or 2,750 per year — were arrested for driving under the influence. Using publicly available data and a simple econometric model, we discovered Uber’s entry into the Emerald City was associated with a 10% decrease in DUI arrests. The results were robust and statistically significant, providing meaningful evidence of the power Uber’s network of safe, reliable rides has on drunk driving in major metropolitan cities. … And the pattern is the same in cities across America. … [W]e believe there is a direct relationship between the presence of uberX in a city and the amount of drunk driving crashes involving younger populations.” —Uber and Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) from their new study, “More Options. Shifting Mindsets. Driving Better Choices.”

FOOLS:
“American foreign policy is controlled by fools. What else can one conclude from the Doug Bandowbipartisan demand that the U.S. intervene everywhere all the time, irrespective of consequence? … Not only has virtually every bombing, invasion, occupation, and other interference made problems worse. Almost every new intervention is an attempt to redress problems created by previous U.S. actions. And every new military step is likely, indeed, almost guaranteed, to create even bigger problems.” —Doug Bandow, Cato Institute, “Washington’s Foolish Foreign Policy: American People Must Say No to More Wars,” Forbes.com, Feb. 21, 2015.

WAR, WHAT IS IT GOOD FOR: “So just what did several thousand dead Americans, and at least tens of thousands of civilian casualties, plus a couple of trillion dollars get us? … Are we living in a safer world with a more peaceful and prosperous Iraq, Afghanistan or Libya? Isn’t there, as some experts have posited, a possible casual link between the way we prosecuted the war on terror so far, and the proliferation of violence so much of the world is still living with today? … We are on a ‘wars of the future’ conveyor belt where we will keep spending mindlessly, without pausing to see what the trillions we have already spent have actually bought us and the planet.” — Robert Hennelly, “What did thousands of dead Americans get us? Before granting war powers, let’s see where the last two got us,” Slate.com, Feb 22, 2015.

EXCELLENT QUESTION: “Remember there was this [federal government] shutdown about a year ago, and in Washington everyone was clamoring, everyone was worried. I went home to Kentucky and you know what they said: ‘Why in the hell did you open it back up?’” — Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaking in Montgomery, Alabama, Feb. 20, 2015, quoted by Breitbart.com.

John KerryKERRY SWIFTBOATS NETANYAHU: “The prime minister was profoundly forward-leaning and outspoken about the importance of invading Iraq under George W. Bush. We all know what happened with that decision.” — U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Feb. 25, 2015, attacking Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the grounds that Netanyahu’s support for the U.S. invasion of Iraq shows his judgment on Iran can’t be trusted. Yes, this is the same John Kerry who himself voted for the war in Iraq in 2002 and touted that support while running for president in 2004.

RULE OF THUMB: “Here’s a good rule of thumb: Any time a president says new tech laws are to protect ‘our kids,’ you know something bad is on the way.” — tech culture journalist Xeni Jardin on anti-privacy laws being considered by the Obama administration, “President Obama’s tech-centered State of the Union,” Boing Boing, Jan. 20, 2015.

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. 

Libertarians Are Actually Less “Isolationist” Than Other Political Views

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. 2 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

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

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

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

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

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

1. International trade.

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

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

2. Diplomacy and the military. 

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

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

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

3. International institutions. 

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

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

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

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

Read Lester’s complete argument at Townhall.com

The Eyeball Lottery: A Powerful Argument for Self-Ownership

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which brings me to… the Eyeball Lottery. fake eyeball

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

Here’s what Rand wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then ask: “But why not?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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