Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

It’s not often that I disagree with the folks who put together the Wall Street Journal editorial page. For instance, they just published a great editorial on that cesspool of cronyism and corruption that is otherwise known as the Export-Import Bank.

Isn’t it great that the voice of capitalism actually supports genuine free markets!

That being said, a recent editorial rubs me the wrong way.

It’s about the presumably quixotic presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders. These excerpts will give you a flavor of what the WSJ wrote.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, an avowed independent Socialist, has decided to run for the Democratic presidential nomination… He thinks the American economy is fundamentally unfair, and that government must tax and spend even more heavily… He thinks Social Security should increase benefits, no matter that it is heading toward insolvency. Higher taxes can make up the difference. …He wants single-payer health care, though his own state gave up the experiment as too expensive.

So what’s my disagreement?

I realize I’m being a nit-picker, but I don’t like the fact that the WSJ editorial is entitled “An Honest Socialist.”

My gripe is that Sanders isn’t honest. A genuine socialist believes in government ownership of the means of production. In other words, nationalized factories, government-run businesses, and collective farms. If Sanders believes in these policies, he’s remarkably reluctant to share his perspective.

In reality, Sanders is like Obama. You can call him a statist, a corporatist, or even (as Tom Sowell correctly notes) a fascist.

In other words, lots of redistribution and lots of back-door government control of the private sector, but not a lot of People’s Factory #58 or People’s Farm #91.

Though it is true that Sanders wants the government to directly run the healthcare system (akin to the horrifying U.K. approach), but at most that means he’s a “partial socialist” (or, to modify the WSJ‘s title, a “mostly dishonest socialist”).

Moreover, he doesn’t bring anything new to the presidential race, at least from a policy perspective.

There’s only a trivially small difference, for instance, between Hillary Clinton’s lifetime rating of 10.6 from the National Taxpayers Union and Bernie Sanders’ lifetime rating of 9.4. They both earned their failing grades by spending other people’s money with reckless abandon.

Though it’s worth noting that both Clinton and Sanders are “more frugal” than Barack Obama, who earned a lifetime rating of 9.0. I guess this is why the phrase “damning with faint praise” was invented.

The only difference between Hillary, Obama, and Sanders is tone. Here’s some of what Charles Cooke wrote for National Review.

Sanders does not play games with words…he steadfastly refuses to pretend that he represents moderation. …Sanders is to public policy and professional politicking what Joe Biden is to personality. He is open, blunt, unapologetic, compelling, ready to debate.

Which is in stark contrast to Hillary Clinton’s pabulum.

…the Democratic primary is being dominated by a corrupt, controlling, soulless, cynical, entitled, and mostly synthetic avatar named Hillary Clinton, and, in consequence, it is almost entirely devoid of ideas. …Hillary and her team stick to meaningless and saccharine banalities, almost all of which, one presumes, have been poll-tested within a fraction of an inch. …At no time does she stake out a vision. At no time does she adopt a controversial or momentous position. Instead, she hides behind corporately assembled strings of mawkish, semi-literate tosh.

So the difference between Clinton and Sanders is that he’s proud of his statism and she wants to hide her radical agenda.

But it doesn’t matter what they say or what they call themselves, the bottom line is that their policies are destructive, both economically and morally.

P.S. Since Senator Sanders is from Vermont, it’s both amusing and ironic that the Green Mountain State’s government-run healthcare system self destructed.

P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of socialism, it’s worth pointing out that Jesus wasn’t in that camp. Though I’m not sure we can say the same thing about the Pope.

P.P.P.S. Heck, Jesus may have been a libertarian.

P.P.P.P.S. If you like socialism humor, click here, here, and here.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Switching to another topic (and one where there’s zero humor), you may remember that I wrote a few days ago about the horror of so-called civil asset forfeiture.

This happens when the government arbitrarily seizes your money and/or property without convicting you of a crime. Or even without charging you with a crime.

Well, here’s a video from the Institute for Justice about a new tragic example of theft by government.

If this doesn’t get you angry, you probably need counseling. This story reminds me of the Michigan family that was similarly victimized.

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This is the 6th Anniversary of my first post on International Liberty.

In honor of this moment (or at least to recognize a modest amount of endurance), let’s review some data on readership.

According to WordPress, there have been more than 8.7 million page views in that six-year period.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad, so let’s look at some data that’s more interesting.

There’s a site called Flag Counter that monitors the location of readers. I didn’t add it until the end of 2010, and it counts daily viewers rather than total page views, but that’s still plenty of data to see the degree to which people in various states and nations are interested (or disinterested) in my writings.

Far and away, the highest share of readers, relative to the population, can be found in Washington, DC.

I guess that’s no surprise with all the Capitol Hill staff, journalists, and policy wonks in town. And I bet, based on where many DC people live, that partially explains why Virginia is in 2nd place and Maryland in 7th place.

So maybe the most appropriate conclusion is that libertarians and small-government conservatives are most likely to be found in Colorado, Washington, New Hampshire, and Alaska, with honorable mention for New Mexico, Arizona, and Vermont (though the good people in the Green Mountain State are heavily out-numbered by moochers).

Now let’s look at states where I’m relatively unpopular. Southern states don’t seem to like me, though I wonder if that’s because of lower-than-average levels of Internet access (that being said, Georgia is in 15th place, perhaps out of Bulldawg loyalty).

Shifting to other parts of the nation, Hawaiians don’t seem to be big fans. Neither are people from the Dakotas, or folks in Rhode Island and Delaware.

What about if we look at viewership by nations?

You might think that I’m most widely read in the United States because that’s where I live and work, and the majority of my columns focus on American public policy.

But it turns out that people in the Cayman Islands and Anguilla are actually the most likely to read International Liberty.

I imagine that’s because folks in those places have a keen interest in some of the tax competition issues that I write about. And that also explains why Bermuda, Monaco, BVI, Jersey, and many other so-called tax havens rank so highly for readership.

I’m not quite sure why the U.S. Virgin Islands rank near the top, and I’m similarly perplexed that there are high levels of readership in Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands. Maybe readers from the military?

The high rankings for Canada and the United Kingdom are understandable, if for no other reason than common language.

If I had to pick nations with relatively high proportions of libertarian-leaning readers, then it’s worth noting that Iceland, Slovenia, the Faroe Islands, and Estonia are in the top 20 even though English is a second language.

Of course, just as there are nations that are likely to read International Liberty, there are also places where people don’t seem overly anxious to read my analysis.

By the way, I’ve been told that the Chinese government blocks my blog, perhaps because of this post.

Though China still ranks higher than North Korea. I’ve never had a single visitor from that horribly oppressed nation, or from 13 other jurisdictions.

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At my wedding

Very sad news from Vermont.

My dad passed away last night.

He lived a full life and good life, died peacefully, and was surrounded by his wife and seven of his kids at the end.

All things considered, a decent way for a bad thing to happen.

Although he didn’t seem very interested in politics and public policy as I was growing up, he was involved in the founding of the Conservative Party of New York.

So he must have given me some good genes. No wonder I don’t like RINOs.

And he definitely passed along being a Yankees fan. Some of my best memories include going to games at the old Yankee Stadium as a kid.

Many thanks to those who already have expressed condolences, as well as to those who will.

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The left wanted to get one thing from the Supercommittee, and that was to seduce gullible Republicans into a 1990-style tax increase deal in order to enable bigger government.

But I was pleasantly surprised when GOPers failed to surrender, which means that taxpayers didn’t get raped and pillaged. But winning a battle is not the same as winning a war.

The real fight is now whether the sequester is allowed to happen. In other words, will politicians preserve the provision that will automatically slow the growth of the federal budget so that spending over the next 10 years  grows by about $2.0 trillion rather than $2.1 trillion.

This may not seem like much of an achievement, but it is a very important indicator of what will happen in the future. If we want to protect against higher taxes in the long run, we need to figure out how to restrain government spending.

At the very least, this means following Mitchell’s Golden Rule so that the private sector grows faster than government. This would slowly but surely shrink the burden of federal spending as a share of economic output, though actual spending cuts would be preferable and they would more quickly get us where we need to be.

The main obstacle to the sequester, at least on the right, is that it would slow the growth of the defense budget. According to recent calculations, the Pentagon budget would increase by only about $100 billion over the next 10 years if the sequester is implemented.

That might not be enough to keep pace with inflation, and some are wondering whether this puts America’s national security at risk. But  this chart, which was developed by Cato Institute colleagues, shows that the United States dominates global defense spending.

Not only does the United States account for 48 percent of total defense spending, our allies in Europe and the Pacific Rim account for another 24 percent of military outlays.

And even if we use an absurdly expansive definition of possible enemies (Russia, China, all of Central/South Asia, and the entire Middle East and Africa), the military expenditures by those nations and regions don’t even amount to one-fourth of the world total.

More important, the combined spending by all potential adversaries is only about one-half of what the United States is spending, and only one-third of the combined spending of the United States and our allies.

This isn’t an argument for blindly slashing the defense budget. Nor is it an argument that says a sequester is the best way to prune military spending. But it certainly suggests that some modest restraint won’t put America in danger.

Moreover, perhaps the sequester will trigger some much-needed analysis of how best to protect America’s national security.

Maybe Mark Steyn and Steve Chapman are correct and it is time to revisit our spending on NATO, an alliance that was put together to fight the Warsaw Pact, an adversary that no longer exists.

Perhaps it means we shouldn’t spend huge sums of money to defend South Korea, which is far richer and stronger than its crazy northern neighbor.

Or maybe it means that the United States shouldn’t be engaged in nation-building exercises that exacerbate anti-American sentiment in other nations.

I’m not a defense/national security expert, so I don’t pretend to know the right approach to all of these issues.

But I have some familiarity with the way things get done in Washington. Politicians, lobbyists, interest groups, and bureaucracies will all act like the world is coming to an end if budgets are not endlessly expanded. That’s just as true for the Pentagon as it is for all other parts of the federal government.

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One of the sacrifices I make for liberty is traveling to foreign lands. Previous hardship duty includes trips to Monaco, Bermuda, Cayman IslandsSwitzerland, and Anguilla.

I’m currently in Antigua, which is a remarkably beautiful island. But nice places nonetheless have un-nice governments.

View from my window

When I arrived yesterday, I didn’t know the address where I was staying. That detail didn’t seem important since I was being picked up at the airport.

But there was a “residence in Antigua” slot on the immigration form and the bureaucrats refused to let me in the country without knowing that irrelevant piece of information.

This isn’t the first time this happened to me. I was once detained at Heathrow Airport in the U.K. because I didn’t know the address of my friend’s flat. After a couple of minutes, though, the bureaucrat was overcome by common sense and let me through.

That was not the case in Antigua. I had to wait an irritatingly long period of time before one of the bureaucrats accompanied me into the arrivals section to find the person who was picking me up. Then, after putting the address on the immigration form, I was finally allowed in the country.

I realize I’m whining a bit (just like I did with my personal stories about Amtrak, tax returns, traffic tickets, and air travel), but what possible purpose did it serve for the government of Antigua to create an unpleasant experience for me?

After all, there’s no welfare system in Antigua, so I wouldn’t be sneaking in the country to mooch off local taxpayers.

Unfortunately, the government did recently introduce an income tax after decades of independence without that burdensome levy. So perhaps it’s just a matter of time before politicians augment that mistake with a welfare state.

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In a perverse way (pun intended), I admire German politicians for their creativity. They will figure out ways to tax just about anything.

Their latest scheme is a plan that requires streetwalkers to put money in parking meters in exchange for a slip of paper that entitles them to…um…ply their trade for a specified period of time.

Here are some excerpts from the Daily Mail report.

German Parking and/or Prostitute Meter

Prostitutes working the streets of the former German capital are now having to pay £5.30 per night to a modified parking meter – to gain permission to ply their trade. Sex workers in Bonn face hefty fines for not forking out the new ‘income tax’ which has been brought in to try and regulate the outdoor aspect of the industry. It is to bring them into line with the country’s brothel workers who already pay out a percentage of their profits in tax, which varies depending on the region. …if caught without a valid ticket, offenders would be reprimanded. They would then face fines, and later a ban. The fee is a daily charge, and irrespective of how many punters are entertained. …specific quarters have been designated as sex work zones. City officials have created ‘consummation areas’, which are wooden parking garages where customers driving cars can retreat to with their prostitutes. Dortmund has a similar system where prostitutes buy tickets from petrol stations.

I suppose this is the point where I normally would make some snide comments about greedy politicians, or perhaps offer some analysis about the economic impact of taxation.

But this story is so bizarre that I can’t even get to that stage.

What happens if you’re just a regular motorist and you put money in the meter and press the wrong button?

And I know that most governments will put a boot on one of your tires to disable your car if you don’t pay your parking tickets. Does this mean hookers who don’t buy a street-walking pass will get a chastity belt?

Does the city government also charge for use of the garages in the “consummation areas”? And when did it become the responsibility of German taxpayers to finance something like that?!?

And for the hookers in Dortmund who get their passes at the petrol station, do the mechanics check “under the hood” if they use full service? (okay, pretty lame, but I couldn’t resist)

Most important, will the politicians take this idea to its logical conclusion and put prostitute meters in Parliament? In other words, require politicians to put money in a meter before  they try to buy support from interest groups by providing handouts and special preferences.

That’s one tax increase even I could support.

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I’d rather have 1,000,000 dollars. Or maybe even 1,000,000 airline miles.

But I suppose it’s worth a brief mention that International Liberty, as of this morning, has received more than 1,000,000 views.

I don’t know if that’s good or bad after two-plus years of blogging, but I’ve mentioned before that I’m encouraged to continue so long as there is a steady increase in the number of readers.

And that seems to be happening. Here’s a screen capture from my administrator page earlier today (click for larger image). In addition to breaking the one-million mark, last month was my first with more than 100,000 views.

I suppose this might be the time for a few additional observations about blogging. I’ve learned that Glenn Reynolds is the Top Dog of the Blogosphere. Nothing generates traffic like an Instapundit link. Indeed, traffic from his site is responsible for 9 of my top 10 posts and 22 percent of my total views. I owe him a steak dinner.

I’m also semi-gratified that International Liberty is at least somewhat international. It wasn’t until the end of last year that I learned to put up a “flag counter,” but in the past 7-plus months the blog has been visited by people from 193 jurisdictions, accounting for about 13 percent of total views.

I figured people from the Anglosphere would be most likely to visit the blog, but I’m surprised India is in 5th place. I also never would have guessed that Greece would be in 13th place and that I’d have more visitors from Portugal (18th place) than Spain (19th place).

I’d like to break the 200 mark, so the folks in places such as North Korea, Greenland, Chad, Niger, Turkmenistan, Pitcairn Island, Vatican City, and American Samoa need to join the parade.

Last but not least, I want to thank those of you who comment, as well as those who share blog posts with others, either via email, Facebook, or Twitter. You have played a role in whatever modest success this blog enjoys.

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