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Posts Tagged ‘Liberty’

I don’t understand why some people are hostile to libertarians.

After all, our philosophy is based on the notion that we want government to be limited so it is less likely to reach into your wallet or your bedroom.

At the risk of oversimplifying, libertarians think it’s okay for government to safeguard life, liberty, and property from force and fraud, but we’re very leery about giving additional powers to the government.

Seems like a reasonable governing philosophy to me, but some people object to being treated like adults and they lash out with very silly attacks on libertarianism.

Consider this article in Slate, which makes it seem as if libertarians are hypocrites if they accept – and express appreciation for – assistance from firefighters.

…an Okanogan, Washington man named Brad Craig thanks firefighters for saving his home. It’s a nice moment, though if you look closely you’ll notice that Craig happened to be wearing a t-shirt that given the circumstances is quite ironic… The shirt says “Lower Taxes + Less Government = More Freedom.” …10 different government organizations are mentioned in the AP story about the large-scale coordinated response that worked to Craig’s benefit.

Wow. I’m not sure whether the author is malicious or clueless, but this is remarkable. He’s basically saying that if you want less government, you must be a hypocrite if you support or benefit from any government.

Which is the same as me asserting that leftists are hypocritical to buy I-Phones because their support for more government means that they therefore must favor total government and no private sector.

There are, of course, some libertarians who persuasively argue that we don’t need government fire departments. And some who even argue that we don’t need any government.

But even if Brad Craig (the guy with the t-shirt) was in one of these categories, that doesn’t make him a hypocrite. Many poor and middle-class families would like a voucherized education system so they could afford to send their kids to private schools. In the absence of such a reform, are they hypocrites for sending their kids to government-run schools?

Obviously not.

Here’s another example. The government today takes money from just about all of us to prop up a poorly designed Social Security system. Are the workers who have been coerced into that system hypocrites if they take Social Security benefits when they retire?

Of course not.

Jim Treacher of the Daily Caller also weighed in on this topic. Here’s some of what he wrote.

I can express a desire for less government interference in my life without rejecting the need for firefighters. Or police, or roads, or Stop signs, or whatever. I understand that it’s actually possible to advocate individual liberty while still admitting the need for government. People have been saying such things for hundreds of years.

Well said.

Let’s close with this look at how libertarians are the reasonable middle ground between two types of statists. I don’t fully agree with all the characterizations (many leftists favor corporate welfare and are not tolerant of other people’s personal choices, for instance, while there are folks on the right who aren’t very committed to economic freedom), but it’s worth reviewing.

If you want to figure out where you belong, there is a short way, medium way, and long way of answering that question.

And while I don’t want put my thumb on the scale as you take these tests, I’ll simply note that decent and humane people tend to be libertarians.

P.S. Here’s a more scholarly look at the difference between libertarians and conservatives.

P.P.S. And here’s my take on why there aren’t any pure libertarian societies.

P.P.P.S. Here’s my collection of libertarian humor.

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I’m a huge fan of the Fraser Institute’s Economic Freedom of the World.

I always share the annual rankings when they’re released and I routinely cite EFW measures when writing about individual countries.

But even a wonky economist like me realizes that there is more to life than economic liberty. So I was very excited to see that Ian Vásquez of the Cato Institute and Tanja Porčnik of the Visio Institute have put together The Human Freedom Index.

Here’s their description of the Index and some of the key findings.

The Human Freedom Index… presents a broad measure of human freedom, understood as the absence of coercive constraint. It uses 76 distinct indicators of personal and economic freedom… The HFI covers 152 countries for 2012, the most recent year for which sufficient data is available. …The United States is ranked in 20th place. Other countries rank as follows: Germany (12), Chile (18), Japan (28), France (33), Singapore (43), South Africa (70), India (75), Brazil (82), Russia (111), China (132), Nigeria (139), Saudi Arabia (141), Venezuela (144), Zimbabwe (149), and Iran (152).

Hong Kong and Switzerland are the top jurisdictions.

Here’s the Freedom Index‘s top 20, including scores on both personal freedom and economic freedom.

The United States barely cracks the top 20. We rank #12 for economic freedom but only #31 for personal freedom.

It’s worth noting that overall freedom is strongly correlated with prosperity.

Countries in the top quartile of freedom enjoy a significantly higher per capita income ($30,006) than those in other quartiles; the per capita income in the least-free quartile is $2,615. The HFI finds a strong correlation between human freedom and democracy. Hong Kong is an outlier in this regard. The findings in the HFI suggest that freedom plays an important role in human well-being

And here are some notes on methodology.

The authors give equal weighting to both personal freedom and economic freedom.

One of the biggest challenges in constructing any index is the organization and weighting of the variables. Our guiding principle is that the structure should be simple and transparent. …The economic freedom index receives half the weight in the overall index, while safety and security and other personal freedoms that make up our personal freedom index receive the remaining weight.

Speaking of which, here are the top-20 nations based on personal freedom. You can also see how they scored for economic freedom and overall freedom.

To be succinct, Northern European nations dominate these rankings, with some Anglosphere jurisdictions also getting good scores.

It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that nations with economic freedom also tend to have personal freedom, but there are interesting exceptions.

Consider Singapore, with ranks second for economic freedom. That makes the country economically dynamic, but Singapore only ranks #75 for personal freedom.

Another anomaly is Slovenia, which is in the top 20 for personal freedom, but has a dismal ranking of #105 for economic freedom.

By the way, the only two nations in the top 10 for both economic freedom and personal freedom are Switzerland and Finland.

I’ve already explained why Switzerland is one of the world’s best (and most rational) nations. Given Finland’s high ranking, I may have to augment the nice things I write about that country, even though I’m sure it’s too cold for my reptilian temperature preferences.

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If you want to go to a Presbyterian church instead of a Baptist church, should the government be able to interfere with that choice? Even if, for some bizarre reason, 95 percent of the population doesn’t like Presbyterians?

If you want to march up and down the sidewalk in front of City Hall with a sign that says the Mayor is an idiot, should the government be able to throw you in jail? Even if 95 percent of the population somehow has decided the Mayor is a genius?

Most Americans instinctively understand that the answer to all these question is no. Not just no, a big emphatic NO!

That’s because certain rights are guaranteed by our Constitution, regardless of whether an overwhelming majority of our fellow citizens feel otherwise.

And that’s what makes us a republic rather than a democracy.

But the bad news is that many of our rights in the Constitution no longer are protected.

For instance, Article I, Section 8, specifically enumerates (what are supposed to be) the very limited powers of Congress.

Our Founding Fathers thought it was okay for Congress to have the power to create courts, to coin money, to fund an army, and to have the authority to do a few other things.

But here are some things that are not on that list of enumerated powers (and certainly not included in the list of presidential powers either):

And the list could go on for several pages. The point is that the entire modern Washington-based welfare state, with all its redistribution and so-called social insurance, is inconsistent with the limited-government republic created by America’s Founders.

These programs exist today because the Supreme Court put ideology above the Constitution during the New Deal and, at least in the economic sphere, turned the nation from a constitutional republic into a democracy based on unconstrained majoritarianism.

Here’s some of Walter Williams wrote on the topic.

Like the founders of our nation, I find democracy and majority rule a contemptible form of government. …James Madison, in Federalist Paper No. 10, said that in a pure democracy, “there is nothing to check the inducement to sacrifice the weaker party or the obnoxious individual.” …John Adams said, “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There was never a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.” …The word “democracy” appears nowhere in the two most fundamental documents of our nation — the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution. …the Constitution’s First Amendment doesn’t say Congress shall grant us freedom of speech, the press and religion. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” …In a democracy, the majority rules either directly or through its elected representatives. …Laws do not represent reason. They represent force. The restraint is upon the individual instead of government. Unlike that envisioned under a republican form of government, rights are seen as privileges and permissions that are granted by government and can be rescinded by government. …ask yourself how many decisions in your life would you like to be made democratically. How about what car you drive, where you live, whom you marry, whether you have turkey or ham for Thanksgiving dinner?

And click here for a video that explains in greater detail why majoritarianism is a bad idea.

But perhaps these cartoons will make it even easier to understand why 51 percent of the population shouldn’t be allowed to rape and pillage 49 percent of the population.

We’ll start with this depiction of modern elections, which was featured on a friend’s Facebook page.

And here’s one that I’ve shared before.

It highlights the dangers of majoritarianism, particularly if you happen to be a minority.

P.S. George Will has explained that the Supreme Court’s job is to protect Americans from democracy.

P.P.S. Here’s more analysis of the issue from Walter Williams.

P.P.P.S. Some leftists are totally oblivious about America’s system of government.

P.P.P.P.S. Though Republicans also don’t really understand what the Constitution requires.

P.P.P.P.P.S. Looking at the mess in the Middle East, I’ve argued we would be in much better shape if we promoted liberty instead of democracy.

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I work at the libertarian Cato Institute (aka, America’s most effective think tank), and I think libertarianism is the philosophy that best reflects human decency.

But I sometimes wonder why libertarians aren’t more persuasive and why there aren’t any libertarian societies.

However, maybe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve been asked by several readers to comment on the debate about whether America is enjoying a libertarian phase, particularly among the so-called millenials. This discussion was triggered by a feature article in the New York Times magazine.

You won’t be surprised to learn that I hope the answer is yes. So it goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyhow) that my fingers are crossed that Nick Gillespie of Reason is correct is his reaction to the NYT article.

Though I worry that the social capital of the American people (of all ages) has been sufficiently eroded that they won’t permit the entitlement reforms and program restructurings that are necessary to control – and hopefully reduce – the burden of government spending. So perhaps David Frum’s take in The Atlantic is more accurate, even if I hope he’s wrong.

For what it’s worth, I’m a bit more optimistic after reading Ben Domenech’s analysis for The Federalist.

I’m a fiscal policy wonk rather than a big-picture libertarian, so I’m not particularly qualified to assess who is right. That being said, you can sense a bit of my hopefulness in the post-post-postscript below.

P.S. Since we’re on the topic of libertarianism, let’s talk about Harry Reid’s favorite people, Charles Koch and David Koch.

If you get your news from the establishment media, you doubtlessly think these supposedly evil billionaire brothers are dictating political outcomes with their ostensibly lavish spending on campaigns.

Yet if you look at a list of the top 100 individual donors to political races, David Koch is #90 and Charles Koch isn’t even on the list.

Some of you may be thinking that they funnel their largesse through other vehicles, but even when you look at organizational giving, Koch Industries is only #36 on the list.

Paul Bedard of the Washington Examiner slices and dices the data.

…only two of the nation’s top 20 donors to federal campaigns favor the GOP, and a stunning 11 are labor unions including the AFL-CIO, and both teachers unions, according to a new report. The highly respected Center for Responsive Politics put the pro-Democratic fundraising group ActBlue at the top of the organization donor list, coughing up over $30 million, with 99 percent going to Democrats. Way down at No. 36 is Koch Industries, the conservatively run company Democrats claim control the GOP. …Among individuals, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg ranked second in donations, with $8,710,678 of his $9,495,798 going to Democrats and Democratic causes. …Among individual donors, the top three are also Democrats. The rest of the list is evenly split in who they give money to.

P.P.S. Since we’re talking about the Kochs, I find it laughable that conspiracy mongers on the left somehow thought I was worth including in this flowchart.

The other people are all donors, directors, or executives. I’m just a policy wonk. Heck, they didn’t even make the one connection that does exist, which is the fact that I used to be married to Nancy.

P.P.P.S. On the other hand, I feel honored but unworthy to have been subject of a profile by the folks at United Liberty.

According to the title, I’m the “guardian angel” of American taxpayers. Needless to say, I wish I had the power to protect folks from rapacious government. Here’s what the article actually says about my angelic qualities.

World renowned tax expert and Cato Institute scholar Dan Mitchell thinks of politicians as characters in old cartoons that, when faced with a decision, suddenly find they’ve an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, both handing out advice as to the right move. He sees himself, flashing a grin that signals you shouldn’t take him too seriously, as the angel. “My job is to convince [politicians] to do what’s right for the country, not what’s right for their own political aspirations,” he says.

The article also explains what got me involved in the fight for liberty.

Mitchell has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in economics from UGA, as well as a PhD in economics from George Mason University. But he got his start as a limited government conservative as a high school student who, like many others, found himself struck by the wisdom of Ronald Reagan. “I was drawn to his message that government was the problem, not the solution,” he says. “One thing that was definitely part of Regan’s philosophy that I got right away was that you shouldn’t punish success and you shouldn’t reward bad behavior.” Reagan, he says, accomplished more on spending than people give him credit for, and succeeded largely due to his policy of tax rate reductions, the taming of inflation, the slight reduction in all federal spending, and the massive shift away from domestic spending toward defense spending.

But regular readers already know I have a man-crush on The Gipper.

The final excerpt explains why I’m slightly optimistic, though I certainly don’t expect to put myself out of a job.

…he is a patriot who cares about the future of America.“What matters most is that somehow, in the next couple of years, Congress needs to approve, enact, and implement [Paul] Ryan’s entitlement reforms — block-granting medicaid and turning medicare into a premium support system,” he says. “It’s the only way to save the country.”Otherwise, we become “France at best, Greece at worst.”  …he notes that “if you want to be optimistic, progress comes rather quickly” once proper reforms are in place, and the transition is not terribly painful. But what happens if he gets his wish? Isn’t he working to put himself out of a job?“I’m sure there will be enough bad government policy to keep me occupied for the rest of my life,” he laughs. “As much as I would like to put myself out of a job, I have so far not demonstrated that level of competence.”

Simply stated, even if we get genuine entitlement reform and put the brakes on wasteful discretionary spending, it will still be a full-time job to keep the politicians from backsliding.

Anyhow, read the entire profile if you have a few minutes to kill.

P.P.P.P.S. Building on the superb image of bread, capitalism, and socialism, let’s close with something for our collection of pro-libertarian humor

…as well as something for our collection of anti-libertarian humor.

Reminds me of the libertarian lifeguard cartoon, at least in the sense that we supposedly are indifferent to children.

Though obviously an absurd caricature. After all, libertarians want school choice to help poor kids while the statists are the ones standing in the schoolhouse door.

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No, this post is not about that kind of fantasy.

Instead, we’re dealing strictly with public policy and specifically addressing whether the libertarian agenda is unrealistic.

This is because when I talk to people about libertarianism, they often will say something mildly supportive such as: “I like the idea of getting government out of my wallet and out of my bedroom.”

But then the other shoe drops and they say something skeptical such as: “But you folks are too idealistic in thinking the private sector can do everything.”

If you ask them to elaborate why libertarian ideas are fantasies, you’ll usually hear comments such as:

“Libertarians are crazy to think that we can replace Social Security with personal retirement accounts.” Apparently they’re unaware that dozens of nations including Australia and Chile have very successful private systems.

“Libertarians are silly to think that money could be handled by the private sector.” Apparently they’re unaware that paper money was a creation of the private marketplace and that competitive currencies worked very well in many nations until they were banned by governments.

“Libertarians are naive to think the mail could be delivered in the absence of a government monopoly.” Apparently they’re unaware that many nations such as the United Kingdom and Germany have shifted to competitive private mail delivery.

 “Libertarians are foolish to think that the private sector could build and maintain roads.” Apparently they’re unaware of what I’m going to write about today.

It turns out that the private sector can build roads. And a great example happened earlier this year on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Here are some passages from a story out of the United Kingdom.

A grandfather sick of roadworks near his home defied his council and built his own toll road allowing people to circumvent the disrupted section. Opened on Friday, it’s the first private toll road built since cars became a familiar sight on British roads 100 years ago.  …Mike Watts, 62, hired a crew of workmen and ploughed £150,000 of his own cash into building a 365m long bypass road in a field next to the closed A431. He reckons it will cost another £150,000 in upkeep costs and to pay for two 24 hour a day toll booth operators. …Father of four Mike asked his friend John Dinham if he would mind renting him the field until Christmas and hired three workmen to help build the road in just 10 days. He worked with the Highways Agency, has public liability insurance… But a spokesman for the council said it was not happy about the bold build.

Wow, talk about the private sector coming to the rescue. Two things jump out from that story. First, it took only 10 days and £150,000 to build the road. If the government did it, it would take 20 times as long and cost 30 times as much.

The other noteworthy part of the story is that the local government isn’t happy. Well, of course not. Mr. Watts showed them up.

Some of you may be thinking this is a once-in-a-lifetime story and that we shouldn’t draw any lessons.

But that’s why an article by Nick Zaiac in London’s City A.M. is a must read. He cites the new toll road, but puts it in historical context.

Adams’ work falls into a long tradition of private provision of public services in order to serve some private goal. …Actions like these are not without precedent. In the American island state of Hawaii, residents and business owners gathered together in 2009 to fix a road through a state park that was vital to the area. They completed it entirely for free, with locals donating machinery, materials, and labor. In fact, the project was completed in a shockingly brief eight days. …Private roads have a long and storied history in both Britain and the US. Between 1800 and 1830, private turnpikes made up an astounding 27 per cent of all business incorporations in the US. Britain, between 1750 and 1772, had previously experienced a period of “turnpike mania”, as noted by economic historians Daniel Klein and John Majewski. Put simply, private infrastructure is by no means a new thing. It is simply the slow return to the way many roads were originally built.

Nick then explains that the private sector is making a comeback, and not just for little projects in the United Kingdom and Hawaii.

Australia stands out as one of the leaders. There are currently eight P3 projects on the market, with others in the pipeline, ranging from new rail lines and roads to hospitals. Each of these projects brings private financing into traditionally public projects, with benefits to companies, taxpayers, and, local citizens. Even better, as David Haarmeyer notes in Regulation, infrastructure projects such as those funded public private partnerships serve as good, long-term investments for investors seeking safe returns. …The traditional role of the government as infrastructure monopolist is slowly falling apart. Whether from grassroots efforts or large, complicated P3 projects such as the M6 Toll, the market is proving that it can provide infrastructure that people need, in one way or another.

John Stossel also has written on the topic and discussed modern-day examples of private sector involvement in the United States.

Heck, there are even private lanes on the Virginia side of the “beltway” that circles Washington!

So the moral of the story is that the private sector can do a lot more than people think.

In other words, libertarians may fantasize when they think of very small government. But the fantasy is not because libertarian policy is impractical. The fantasy is thinking (and hoping…and praying…and wishing) that politicians will actually do the right thing.

P.S. You want to know the best part of private roads? If they’re truly private, that means local governments wouldn’t be able to use red-light cameras and ticket traps as scams to generate revenue!

P.P.S. As I explained on Wednesday (only partially tongue in cheek), I’m willing to let the government be in charge of roads if the statists will agree to give people more personal and economic freedom in other areas. I’m not holding my breath waiting for a positive reply.

P.P.P.S. Though if government continued to have authority to build and maintain roads, that doesn’t mean Washington should play a role. The Department of Transportation should be abolished as quickly as possible.

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Some people confuse being libertarian with being libertine.

I’m sometimes asked, for instance, if I’m a libertarian because I want to smoke pot or do other drugs.

I respond that I’ve never done drugs and have no desire to use drugs.

Then I’m asked if I’m a libertarian because I want to gamble.

I respond by saying that I don’t gamble, even when I’m in Las Vegas or some other place where it’s legal.

Sometimes I’m asked if I’m libertarian because I want to use prostitutes.

I respond by explaining that I’d never patronize a prostitute because I want to at least be under the illusion that a woman actually wants to be with me.

At this point, some people conclude I’m boring, and that may be true, but this is also the point where I try to educate them about the libertarian philosophy.

I give them the usual message about small government and free markets, but I also explain that libertarians don’t believe that government should persecute people for victimless crimes.

This doesn’t mean we think it’s good to use drugs or that we personally approve of prostitution. And it doesn’t mean we’re oblivious to the downsides of gambling.

The libertarian message is simply that prohibition makes matters worse, not better. For instance, prohibition gives government the power to behave in reprehensible ways.

Let’s look at two examples, starting with this disturbing and powerful video from Reason TV (warning, both the subject material and language are not for the faint of heart).

Having watched the video, now ask yourself whether you think this is an appropriate way for governments to be using our tax dollars?

Remember, we’re not talking about cops busting people for impaired driving. That’s totally legitimate, regardless of whether they’re impaired because of drugs or booze.

The question is whether cops should look for excuses to pull people over simply in hopes of finding that they have some pot. And when they don’t find drugs, should they then go through obscene efforts in hopes of finding some contraband?*

Our second example isn’t as disturbing, at least on a physical level, but it should be equally troubling if we believe in decent and humane society.

It seems that SWAT teams have too much time on their hands and are now conducting raids on old folks playing cards.

On Saturday, state and local authorities raided a monthly poker tournament at a bar in the city of Largo, after an investigation into unlawful gambling, the Tampa Bay Times reported. The Nutz Poker League, which was running a free game open to the public at Louie’s Grill and Sports Bar at the time of the crackdown, said on its Facebook page that some of the police were in “full riot gear” and had their “weapons drawn.” …One woman present described the event in a blog post: “Today, while out playing poker with this poker league, we were raided by the [Florida Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco], all with men and women officers wearing black masks so we couldn’t see their faces. We were forced (by a threat of going to jail) to place our hands on the table where they could see them and to stay there until we were told.” …Luke Lirot, an attorney involved with the matter, told Card Player that players took cell phone photos and video of the raid, and that they were “ordered by officers to delete” the material. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the undercover investigation, dubbed “Operation Cracked Aces,” had been ongoing for months prior to the bust.

The community group that runs the recreational league has an appropriately libertarian view of this costly harassment.

“The ‘crime’ here is the waste of valuable public resources, and the misguided efforts to enforce an archaic law that was never intended to be used to criminalize events such as the one here, where six individuals were unjustly arrested and terrified, and now face prosecution,” the league said. “If state statutes can be exploited and stretched to criminalize these types of events, legislation needs to be adopted to clear up this unnecessary abuse.” Nutz Poker added that the raid was an example of “tyrannical [law] enforcement.”

By the way, the Florida raid is not an isolated incident.

Here are some excerpts from a report in the Baltimore Sun.

…at the Lynch Point Social Club in Edgemere, police say, …dozens of men would meet regularly to play no limit Texas Hold ‘Em poker games and gamble on electronic machines. County police said it was all off the books and against the law, and busted the club’s members in a raid involving a tactical unit last week. The organizer and dealers were arrested and face charges. Almost immediately after our story posted, there was a quick backlash against police. The story’s been shared nearly 200 times on Facebook and generated 40 comments as of this writing… commenters had no tie to the event but were angered at an investigation they believe was a waste of police resources. …But police say games like the ones hosted in Edgemere are against the law and must be enforced, and may even put the players at risk for becoming victims of a robbery.

Here’s the bottom line: A bunch of guys want to pass the time by playing cards and making wagers. They’re not hurting anybody else, yet cops decide to send a “tactical unit” to conduct a raid.

Once again, I’m glad there’s a backlash against the police. Cops should be protecting innocent people, not harassing them.

Or killing them.

And this is why libertarianism is a philosophy of human decency. We don’t believe in using coercive government power against people who aren’t harming others.

*I’m thinking an involuntary cavity search might be worth it if I got a $900,000 award after suing the government.

P.S. Since I feel very confident about libertarian principles, I don’t object to sharing anti-libertarian humor.

Here’s the latest example.

I’ve previously shared a cartoon with the same theme, and that post also makes the should-be-obvious point that fire departments would exist in a libertarian world.

And that link also has many more examples of libertarian humor.

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It’s easy to get discouraged if you believe in small government and individual liberty.

It seems that the burden of the public sector is always expanding and that politicians and bureaucrats are always figuring out new ways to restrict our freedoms.

But let’s not lose hope.

We still have a lot of economic liberty, particularly if you count non-fiscal policy factors.

And we still have the Second Amendment.

Heck, we don’t just have the right to keep and bear arms, we exercise that right in massive numbers.

Take a look at this impressive graphic. We’re #1 in some bad ways, but it seems we’re also #1 in a very good way.

Make sure to share this graphic with your statist friends and colleagues. It’s guaranteed to put them in a glum mood for the rest of the day!

And when you share this with your misguided acquaintances, ask them why guns don’t cause murder in nations such as Switzerland and Finland. Maybe you’ll have a breakthrough and they’ll confess that gun control isn’t the solution.

Incidentally, in addition to having lots of guns in America, we also are quite ready to defy the government if politicians try to take them away.

What’s happening in Connecticut is merely one example of this wonderful form of civil disobedience.

Since we’re on the topic of gun ownership vs. gun control, here’s another image that will cause heartburn for your leftist friends.

Schindler guns

Same theme as the 4th image in this post.

And let’s not forget the best-ever poster on gun control.

Last but not least, here’s a poster sent to me by the PotL.

photo1

It’s the same message found at the top of this post and at the bottom of this post.

If you want more info – both serious and humorous – on gun control, click here.

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One year ago, I looked at the worst policy developments of 2012.

I had some very good (or should I say bad?) options for that award, including the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, the IRS’s lawless decision to make American banks act as tax collectors for foreign governments, Japan’s higher VAT tax, the California vote for a class-warfare tax hike, and France’s 75 percent income tax rate.

I ultimately decided, perhaps for selfishly sentimental reasons, that the worst development was repeal of the flat tax in Slovakia and the Czech Republic.

We’re going to do the same exercise this year, but the glass is going to be half full. Not only will we look at the worst policy developments of 2013, but we’ll also list the best policy developments of the year.

And because I try to be optimistic, we’ll start with the good news.

But remember the rules. We’re looking at policy rather than politics. I know, for instance, that one of my favorite posts in 2013 was the one about Reagan crushing Obama in a hypothetical matchup, but that’s obviously not a policy development.

So what are my choices?

Potential examples of good news include the fact that very little legislation was enacted during the year, the sequester (while it lasted), the overwhelming rejection of class-warfare tax policy in Colorado, and the government shutdown.

Those are all good options, but I think these three developments rank the highest.

1. Obamacare – You’re probably thinking I’m on drugs since Obamacare is listed as good news, but bear with me because I’m engaging in some one-step-backwards-two-steps-forward analysis. More specifically, I think the President’s signature “achievement” has done more than anything else in recent years to discredit big government. I also think the flop of Obamacare has rejuvenated interest in – and support for – the types of policies that would make health care system more affordable and efficient. I’ve always feared that undoing the damage of government intervention in the health sector was our most intractable challenge, but Obama may have given us a path forward and that is worth celebrating. By the way, the Detroit bankruptcy is good news for the same reason. Maybe, just maybe, some people will learn the right lessons when statist policies spectacularly fail.

2. The defeat of pro-gun control politicians in Colorado – I don’t think many people will argue when I say that nothing matters more to politicians than getting reelected. And that’s why I am so happy that two Colorado state senators were kicked out of office because of their votes to impose gun control. And that was then followed by the resignation of another state senator who wanted to avoid the same fate. There aren’t many certainties in life, but I can assure you that pro-gun control politicians all across the nation noticed what happened to these Colorado thugs and are now much less likely to push anti-second amendment initiatives. More broadly, we can feel somewhat optimistic that the right to keep and bear arms has never been in a stronger political position.

3. Spending restraint – This hasn’t gotten nearly as much attention as it deserves, but the federal budget in 2013 was actually smaller than the federal budget in 2012. And I’m using honest math, not the Washington approach of calling an increase a cut because the budget might have grown even faster. Indeed, the nation actually has enjoyed a two-year spending slowdown that substantially reduced government spending as a share of GDP. In other words, my Golden Rule was in effect! If we could maintain this approach for a few more years, we’d quickly have a balanced budget and hopefully kill off any pressure for tax hikes.

Feel free, by the way, to offer your suggestions in the comment section. Maybe the best news of 2013 was something that I neglected to cover.

Now let’s look at the other side of the ledger.

Potential bad news stories might include the IMF coercing/bribing Albania to get rid of its flat tax, the easy-money policies of the Federal Reserve and European Central Bank, the 100th anniversary of the income tax, the global shift to higher tax rates, the seemingly permanent drop in the employment-population ratio, and the fiscal cliff tax hike from last January 1.

Geesh, that’s a depressing list. But there are three options – in my humble opinion – that are even worse.

1. Obamacare – I realize I listed Obamacare as one of the best developments of 2013, but it also has to be one of the worst. The legislation is a toxic stew of spending, taxes, regulation, cronyism, and intervention, and it was based on the absurd theory that you solve government-caused problems by adding even more government. And even though Obamacare has discredited big government and opened the door to real reform, we can’t dismiss the possibility that the law will survive and created more dependency.

2. Erosion of the Rule of Law – One of the defining features of a civilized society is the rule of law. Heck, even if laws are bad, it’s still important for people to know that there are rules and that the government is constrained by those rules. That’s the basic difference between the developed world and the types of despotic rule you find in developing nations (with Argentina being a tragic example). Unfortunately, the Obama White House seems to think that it can arbitrarily change laws or ignore laws simply based on the President’s ideological whims or political needs. This has happened over and over again with Obamacare, but the problem extends to many other issues.

3. Murray-Ryan budget deal – Since I thought the sequester was one of the good things that happened in 2013, you won’t be surprised that a law designed to evade the sequester would make the list of bad policy developments. The budget pact between Paul Ryan and Patty Murray allowed more short-term spending, much of it financed by back-door tax hikes. I’m the first to admit that the spending hikes and tax increases were relatively small compared to the size of the federal Leviathan, but what’s really depressing about the Murray-Ryan deal is that it probably sets the stage for future bad agreements. And this Charlie Brown cartoon shows what frequently happens when Republicans and Democrats decide to negotiate on fiscal policy.

Once again, feel free to offer your suggestions for the worst development of 2013.

On a more personal note, I’m happy to report that I don’t think there were any noteworthy bad developments in my life. Other than getting another year older, which isn’t any fun.

I can,however, report a couple of good developments for the year, including the Princess of the Levant and some better performance on the softball field.

And in the I’m-not-sure-how-to-react category, my favorite daughter got engaged this year. I’m worried this may eventually lead to marriage. And then children.

Which would make me a grandfather, and I’d like to think that I’m much too young for anyone to call me Grandpa!

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I’m a very straight-laced guy. Some would even say boring. I’ve never done drugs, for instance.

But not because they’re illegal. I’ve never done drugs for the reason that I’ve never smoked cigarettes. Just doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. And I encourage friends and family to have the same approach.

That being said, I’ve never thought we should criminalize things simply because I don’t like them.

Particularly when it would make a lot more sense to focus law enforcement resources on stopping crimes against people and property. This new video from Learn Liberty explains further.

But this isn’t about cost-benefit analysis. Watch this powerful video from Reason TV about how one family has been victimized by drug prohibition.

Now ask yourself what purpose it served to have local cops basically entrap that unfortunate kid? If you come up with an answer, you have a very creative imagination.

Also keep in mind that the War on Drugs is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

One misguided government policy leading to two other bad policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

P.S. Drugs do impose costs, but they’re mostly incurred by moronic users. Though there sometimes are collateral victims, such as kids whose parents allow their lives to get messed up. That’s why it would be nice if drugs somehow didn’t exist. Heck, the same things could be said about booze. Or tobacco. But they do exist. The libertarian position isn’t that these things are good. Instead, our position is that prohibition does more harm than good.

P.P.S. Just in case you think I’m an outlier, I invite you to read the thoughts of John McCain, John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

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The English are an interesting tribe. There is much to like about their country, including the fact that voters repeatedly elected Margaret Thatcher, one of the world’s best leaders in my lifetime.

On the other hand, the United Kingdom has veered sharply to the left in recent decades, and Thatcher must have been very disappointed that her Conservative Party now is but a hollow shell, controlled by statists who actually think people should voluntarily pay extra tax to support wasteful and corrupt government.

And the politicians openly pursue Orwellian tax-collection tactics!

No wonder the country now faces a very grim future.

But the thing that most irks me about the British political class is the fanatical embrace of anti-gun policies. Consider some of these examples.

Given these example of anti-gun zealotry, you won’t be surprised to learn that some English pundits think America is primitive and backwards for retaining an individual right to bear arms.

You may be thinking, “so what, they have their bad laws and we have our good laws.” But it seems at least some Brits want to disarm not just their own citizens, but Americans as well.

Writing for the UK-based Guardian, Henry Porter asserts that it is time for the United Nations to somehow undermine private gun ownership in the United States.

…what if we no longer thought of this as just a problem for America and, instead, viewed it as an international humanitarian crisis – a quasi civil war, if you like, that calls for outside intervention? … If this perennial slaughter doesn’t qualify for intercession by the UN and all relevant NGOs, it is hard to know what does.

Mr. Porter doesn’t specify how the United Nations and other non-governmental organizations are supposed to accomplish this task.

Does he want Obama to ram through the U.N. treaty that leftists hope would trump the Second Amendment?

If so, all I can say is good luck trying to enforce gun bans. The American people would engage in widespread disobedience if our own politicians tried to take away our constitutional freedoms.

I’d like to see UN bureaucrats try to disarm these great Americans

And if a bunch of U.N. bureaucrats tried to do the same thing…well, that’s such a ridiculous notion that I’m reminded of my fantasy about what might have happened if the United Nations had tried to stop Texas from executing a child murderer who originally was from Mexico.

But the call for UN intervention is not the most absurd part of the article.

What could be sillier, you ask? How about the fact that Mr. Porter implies that gun owners are akin to slave owners. It’s not an explicit accusation, but you can see in this excerpt that he wants readers to draw that conclusion.

Half the country is sane and rational while the other half simply doesn’t grasp the inconsistencies and historic lunacy of its position, which springs from the second amendment right to keep and bear arms, and is derived from English common law and our 1689 Bill of Rights. We dispensed with these rights long ago, but American gun owners cleave to them with the tenacity that previous generations fought to continue slavery.

So if you “cleave” to your guns, you’re on the same level as the people who defended slavery. I guess this is the U.K. version of Obama accusing some Americans of “clinging to guns.”

Ironically, Mr. Porter self identifies as a “journalist specialising in liberty and civil rights.” But he doesn’t specify what side he’s on, so I guess we can assume – based on this column – that he specializes in undermining liberty and curtailing civil rights.

P.S. The Guardian is known as a left-wing newspaper, but I’ve always had a special place for them in my heart ever since one of their writers accused me of being “a high priest of light tax, small state libertarianism.” He meant it as an insult, of course, but I think of it as the nicest thing ever written about me. Even better than this.

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What do John Stossel, Mona Charen, Gary Johnson, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson all have in common?

And let’s add voters from the states of Colorado and Washington to this list. So what unites this unusual collection of people?

They’ve all expressed doubts about the War on Drugs. And that’s a good thing.

As explained in this video, the Drug War has been a very costly failure. Indeed, it’s been such a boondoggle that we can now add John McCain to the list of those who think maybe it’s time to consider decriminalization.

McCain Drug WarSen. John McCain (R-AZ) signaled Thursday that he’s receptive to legalizing pot. Tim Steller, a columnist for the Arizona Daily Star, reported over Twitter from a town hall in Tucson, Ariz. that McCain cited the “will of the people” in expressing an openness to legalization.

I’m glad Senator McCain is moving in the right direction, though I’m not sure I like his reasoning. The “will of the people” sometimes means two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for lunch.

I much prefer the logical arguments of my Cato colleague Jeffrey Miron, who is a Senior Lecturer in economics at Harvard. Here’s some of what he recently wrote for the Huffington Post.

I have come to regard legalization as a policy no-brainer. Virtually all the effects would be positive, with minimal risks of significant negatives. An important piece of that research has been examination of drug policy in the Netherlands, where marijuana is virtually, although not quite technically, legal.

Jeff just visited Amsterdam and here’s what he found in that supposed den of iniquity.

Legalization advocates point to Amsterdam as evidence that legalization works, at least for marijuana. Legalization critics, such as former White House Drug Czar Gil Kerlikowske, believe instead that Dutch policy is flawed, generating crime and nuisance effects. Only first-hand observation could give me a clear view of which description is more accurate. …the Red Light District could not have felt safer or more normal. Yes, marijuana was widely available. …But nothing about the District felt unsafe, or suggested elevated crime or violence; I have felt less safe in many American and European cities. …The absence of violence is not surprising. Prohibition, not drug use, is the main reason for the association between violence and drugs, prostitution, gambling, or any banned good. In a legal market, participants resolve disputes with lawyers, courts, and arbitration. In an illegal market, they cannot use these methods and resort to violence instead. Thus the critical determinant of violence is whether an industry is legal, as the history of alcohol prohibition illustrates. That industry was violent during the 1920-1933 period, when the federal and many state governments banned alcohol, but not before or after. And if the government banned tobacco, or coffee, or ice cream, or any good with substantial demand and imperfect substitutes, a violent black market would arise.

There’s no evidence, by the way, that legalization means more drug use.

In 2009, the past year marijuana use rate was 11.3 percent in the United States but only 7.0 percent in the Netherlands. This does not prove that legalization lowers drug use; many other factors are at play. But these data hardly support the claim that prohibition has a material impact in reducing use. When we were toured Amsterdam on a canal barge, the guide commented that, “Despite legal drugs and prostitution, Amsterdam is a safe city.” My son, who has heard me rant about prohibition for years, looked up and quipped, “He should have said “Because drugs and prostitution are legal, right?” Exactly.

Sounds like Jeff’s done a good job as a father (and if I’m allowed to brag, I haven’t done a bad job either).

In closing, let me emphasize that libertarian does not mean libertine. My Republican friends are wrong when they think libertarians are like the guy in the upper left of this poster.

You can support legalization without being a drug user or without thinking that it’s a good idea for other people to smoke pot. Heck, I’m probably one of a small minority of people in my generation to never try any drug.

But that doesn’t mean I want to squander lots of tax money and reduce human freedom to persecute others who are engaged in victimless activities. Especially when it means a massive increase in the power of government!

Let’s not forget, after all, that politicians used the Drug War as an excuse to enact reprehensible and costly laws on asset forfeiture and money laundering. One foolish policy leads to a couple of other misguided policies. That’s Mitchell’s Law on steroids!

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I’m in Vienna, Austria, for the annual European Resource Bank meeting.

I had the pleasure last night of listening to Jose Pinera speak about economic reform in Chile, particularly the system of personal retirement accounts.

He shared a chart that conclusively shows why good economic policy makes a difference.

Chile Miracle

Wow. Look at how much faster the economy has grown since the communists were ousted in 1975 and replaced by a pro-market government.* And the poverty rate has plummeted from 50 percent to 11 percent!

Simply stated, economic reform has been hugely beneficial to poor and middle-class people in Chile. Something to remember as we try to rein in the welfare state in America.

Let’s look at some more data. A couple of years ago, I shared this chart showing how Chile had out-paced Argentina and Venezuela. In other words, Chile’s performance is ultra-impressive, whether examined in isolation or in comparison with other nations in the region.

The reason for all this success is that Chile didn’t just reform its pension system. As you can see from this Economic Freedom of the World data, Chile has made improvements in virtually all areas of public policy.

The nationwide school choice system, for instance, is another example of very beneficial reform.

It’s not quite Hong Kong or Singapore, but Chile is definitely a huge success story.

*The Pinochet government that took power in the 1970s may have been pro-economic liberty, but it also was authoritarian. Fortunately, Chile made a successful and peaceful transition to democracy in the late 1980s and has generally continued on a pro-free market path.

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When I was became interested in public policy, I thought Jimmy Carter was the epitome of a bad President. But as I began to learn economics, I realized that Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson also were terrible and belong in the Hall of Fame of bad Presidents.

Presidential Hall of ShameAnd the more I studied economics and public policy, I learned that Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt were two peas in a failed big-government pod and deserve membership in that Hall of Fame.

Or I guess we should call it a Hall of Shame (you can click on the image to see my selections).

Whatever we call it, I’m now at the point where I realize that Woodrow Wilson and Teddy Roosevelt are the charter members. Why? Well, because they were the first Presidents to reflect the progressive ideology.

More specifically, they shared the ideology of the progressive movement, which saw a powerful and activist central government as a force for good – a radical departure from the views of America’s Founding Fathers, who hoped that the Constitution would protect people by keeping government very small.

Not surprisingly, Barack Obama is in that “progressive” tradition, even to the point of attacking the views of the Founding Fathers in a recent speech at Ohio State University.

I commented on this issue in this Fox News segment.

That short clip only scratches the surface.

For more detail, here are some excerpts from a column by Andrew Napolitano. Like me, he isn’t impressed by the President’s statolatry.

It should come as no surprise that President Obama told Ohio State students at graduation ceremonies last week that they should not question authority… And he blasted those who incessantly warn of government tyranny. Yet, mistrust of government is as old as America itself. America was born out of mistrust of government. …Thomas Jefferson…warned that it is the nature of government over time to increase and of liberty to decrease. And that’s why we should not trust government. In the same era, James Madison himself agreed when he wrote, “All men having power should be distrusted to a certain degree.” …The reason Obama likes government and the reason it is “a dangerous fire,” as George Washington warned, and the reason I have been warning against government tyranny in my public work is all the same: The government rejects the natural law because it is an obstacle to its control over us. …Because the tyranny of the majority can be as dangerous to freedom as the tyranny of a madman, all use of governmental power should be challenged and questioned. Government is essentially the negation of liberty.

Napolitano also warns against majoritarianism in his column, which is music to my ears.

Though I’m not sure our battle today is with majoritarianism or the progressive ideology.

Our real challenge is redistributionism. Far too many people think it is okay to use the coercive power of government to obtain unearned benefits. And that’s true whether the benefits are food stamps or bailouts.

Welfare State Wagon CartoonsAnd as we travel farther and farther down this path, it leads to ever-greater levels of dependency and ever-higher levels of taxation. But that simply means more people decide it makes more sense to ride in the wagon rather than pull the wagon.

Somehow, we have to reverse this downward spiral.

Unless we want America to become Greece or France, at which point productive people may be forced to emigrate – assuming there are still some sensible nations left in the world.

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A reader wants to know if I think the American people are becoming more statist over time.

I’m conflicted. More and more people get lured into some form of government dependency every year, and this suggests Americans eventually will adopt a  European-style moocher mentality.

This worries me.

On the other hand, I periodically see polls suggesting that the American people have very libertarian views on key issues.

These are encouraging numbers. And here’s another bit of good news. A recent poll by Fox News found that a plurality of Americans would not give up personal freedoms to reduce the threat of terrorism. What’s especially remarkable is that this poll took place immediately following the bombing of the Boston Marathon by the welfare-sponging Tsarnaev brothers.

Terrorism Freedom Tradeoff

Interestingly, I had a conversation with a left-leaning friend who said this poll showed that Americans were a bunch of “paranoid nuts” because this poll showed that they viewed their government with suspicion.

But perhaps people are simply rational. I had an intern look up data on the probability of getting killed by a terrorist. He found an article from Reason that reported.

…a rough calculation suggests that in the last five years, your chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 20 million. This compares annual risk of dying in a car accident of 1 in 19,000; drowning in a bathtub at 1 in 800,000; dying in a building fire at 1 in 99,000; or being struck by lightning at 1 in 5,500,000.

In other words, the odds of being killed by a terrorist are very low. And with the risk so low, why give up liberty? Particularly when it’s highly unlikely that sacrificing more of your freedom will actually reduce the already-low threat of terrorism.

This reminds me of the money laundering issue. Just a few decades ago, there was no such thing as anti-money laundering laws. Then politicians decided we need these laws to reduce crime.

These laws, we were told, would give law enforcement more tools to catch bad guys and also reduce the incentive to commit crimes since it would be harder for criminals to enjoy their ill-gotten gains.

That sounds good, but the evidence shows that these laws have become very expensive and intrusive, yet they’ve had no measurable impact on crime rates.

So how did politicians respond? In a stereotypical display of Mitchell’s Law, they decided to make anti-money laundering laws more onerous, imposing ever-higher costs in hopes of having some sort of positive impact.

This is bad for banks, bad for the poor, and bad for the economy.

So when I see polls showing the American people are skeptical about surrendering freedom to the government, I don’t think they are being “paranoid.” I think they’re being very rational.

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Whether they’re banning bake sales, federalizing school lunch menus, or criminalizing Big Gulps, the nanny-staters feel they have some special wisdom that gives them the right to tell other people how to live their lives.

This irks libertarians since we value human liberty, even if it means people sometimes make foolish choices. But so long as you’re not interfering with someone else’s rights, we don’t think government should dictate your private behavior.

Parternalists obviously disagree. For a very reasonable explanation of this mindset, here’s some of Cass Sunstein’s work, as excerpted by The New Republic.

What seems to unify paternalistic approaches, however diverse, is that government does not believe that people’s choices will promote their welfare, and it is taking steps to influence or alter people’s choices for their own good.

In other words, people are sometimes dumb and the government at the very least needs to nudge them in the right direction.

Sunstein outlines the objections to this approach, largely focusing on the fact that the market process will discourage bad behaviors.

To the committed antipaternalist, government should not short-circuit the valuable process of learning by doing. If people make mistakes about diets, drinks, love, or investments, they can obtain valuable lessons, and those lessons can make their lives a lot better. …In a market economy, companies compete with one another, and people are free to choose among a wide range of options. If a car has terrible fuel economy, and if it costs a lot of money to operate, fewer people will buy it. As a result, companies will produce more fuel-efficient cars. Some consumers may be fooled or tricked, but in the long run, free competition and open markets will help. On this view, paternalism presents a major risk, because it may freeze the process of competition.

Not surprisingly, Sunstein argues that the market process is sometimes inadequate.

…even if we are inclined to think that individuals are generally the best judges of how to make their own lives go well, the word generally is important. With that qualification, we can see that the objections to paternalism depend on some empirical judgments. …The relationship between freedom of choice and welfare is being tested, with complex results. Sometimes people’s means do not promote their own ends. Behavioral economists have identified a number of reasons that people’s choices do not always promote their welfare. …sometimes we fail to take steps that really are in our interest. Human beings often procrastinate, and the long-term may not be so salient to us. We can be tempted by emotional appeals. Sometimes we do not take steps that would make our lives go a lot better. If welfare is our guide, means paternalism might be required, not forbidden.

To be fair, Sunstein recognizes that many antipaternalists are motivated by freedom, not some abstract measure of human welfare.

Suppose that we are not so focused on welfare and that we believe that freedom of choice has a special and independent status. We might think that people have a right to choose, even if their choices cause harm, and that government cannot legitimately intrude on that right, even if it does in fact know best. …Many of the most deeply felt objections to paternalism are based on an intuition or judgment of this kind. They often take the form of a question: By what right can government legitimately interfere with the choices of free adults?

This passage captures my view.

I actually agree with paternalists in that there are lots of people who make bad choices. I think a major problem is that these people over-value the positive feelings they get from “bad” behaviors today and under-value the harm  that those behaviors will cause in the future.

At the risk of making a sweeping judgement, I even think the biggest barrier to upward mobility is that some people don’t have a properly developed sense of deferred gratification.

So I think paternalists often are right, but I disagree with the notion that government should coerce people and impose “good” choices. Simply stated, freedom and liberty matter to me.

To butcher a very important quote, “I may disagree with your decision to smoke cigarettes and guzzle 32 oz. sodas, but I will defend to the death your right to do so.”

Actually, to be perfectly honest, I won’t defend to the death your right to be foolish. But I’ll surely write a snarky blog post.

Let’s close by acknowledging there are some gray areas. What about the idea that government can “nudge” us to make better choices? A classic example is a government rule to automatically sign new workers up for things such as 401(k) plans, but then give them the ability to opt out.

I don’t want government to interfere with private employment contracts, but that type of policy is obviously not nearly as objectionable as banning Big Gulps.

And you can come up with other proposals that might even pass muster with rabid libertarians. If a high school has a consumer finance class that teaches people about compounding and present value, that presumably will nudge them to be more pro-saving.

Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not, though we hard-core libertarians would argue that such lessons presumably would be part of the market-based education system.

In other words, there’s a reason why our answer to just about every question is “less government.” Not only is that a good philosophy, it’s also the way of getting the best results.

P.S. If Sunstein’s name sounds familiar, it may be because I have criticized him for endorsing more redistribution based on FDR’s awful Economic Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, I have favorably cited his research to show that too much regulation can cause needless deaths.

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Mostly for the humor value, I’ve shared stories about brainless anti-gun political correctness by America’s “educators.”

I realize this is a serious issue and I should be figuratively banging my fist on the podium and demanding negative consequences for these foolish teachers and school administrators.

But I share my outrage for stories like this one from New Jersey.

“Take him from his parents and send him to a foster home!”

New Jersey police and Dept. of Children and Families officials raided the home of a firearms instructor and demanded to see his guns after he posted a Facebook photo of his 11-year-old son holding a rifle. …The family’s trouble started Saturday night when Moore received an urgent text message from his wife. The Carneys Point Police Dept. and the New Jersey Dept. of Children and Families had raided their home.

Thankfully, this absurd exercise in government overreach met with stiff resistance.

Moore immediately called [his lawyer] Nappen and rushed home to find officers demanding to check his guns and his gun safe. Instead, he handed the cell phone to one of the officers – so they could speak with Nappen. “If you have a warrant, you’re coming in,” Nappen told the officers. “If you don’t, then you’re not. That’s what privacy is all about.” …“I was told I was being unreasonable and that I was acting suspicious because I wouldn’t open my safe,” Moore wrote on the Delaware Open Carry website. “They told me they were going to get a search warrant. I told them to go ahead.” …The attorney said police eventually left and never returned. “He has a Fourth Amendment right and he’s not going to give up his Fourth Amendment right or his Second Amendment right,” he said. “They didn’t have a warrant – so see you later.”

But let’s not be too optimistic just because this story ended well.

…the person who reported the false allegations of abuse cannot be held liable, she noted. “You can’t be prosecuted for making an allegation of child abuse –even if it’s false,” she said. Nappen said what happened to the Moore family should serve as a warning to gun owners across the nation. “To make someone go through this because he posted a picture of his son with a .22 rifle on his Facebook page is pretty outrageous,” he said.

We should all be outraged by this story. You don’t need a vivid imagination to see that this type of nanny-state-meets-the-jackboot- state thuggery could become more prevalent – and a lot uglier – in the future.

Raising my kids right

I’ll be taking my kids out to the High Lonesome Ranch in May, and we’ll be doing some shooting. And when they were much younger, my kids enjoyed their opportunity to shred some soda cans with an AK-47. I can only imagine what might have happened if I had taken some photos and posted them (not that Facebook existed in the primitive 1990s).

Let’s close by being thankful for the Founding Fathers. They bequeathed to us a Bill of Rights that includes a 2nd Amendment and a 4th Amendment. I know my conservative friends appreciate the former, but I hope this story helps them realize that the latter is also important as a bulwark against government thuggery. It’s for that reason that I once had the unusual experience of siding with Ruth Bader Ginsburg over Clarence Thomas!

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I realize the sequester kicks in tomorrow and I should be writing about that rare opportunity to control the burden of government spending.

To be sure, my fingers are crossed that Republicans won’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, and I’ve been busy on Capitol Hill talking to folks about the issue, but this post already says everything you need to know about that topic.

It’s time to switch gears, particularly since I have a soft spot for feel-good stories.

And what could be more heart-tugging than a story about the right to keep and bear tanks?

Here are some blurbs from the Wall Street Journal.

Weapons buffs may stock semiautomatics in the gun safe. But nothing makes a statement like having an Army tank in the garage. …there are several hundred to 1,000 private tank owners in the U.S. …Brothers Ken and Gene Neal, owners of Bullet Proof Diesel, a truck-parts manufacturer in Mesa, Ariz., once took their 1966 British Chieftain tank into the desert and joyfully backed it over a rusty car. When their insurance agent inquired about their plans for the tank, the Neal brothers emailed back, “We are going to use it to take over the world.” Says Ken Neal, 45: “A tank is cool.”

Private Tank

The latest in home defense

But is it legal?

Yup, and it can even have a working gun if you’re willing to fork over $200 for a permit.

A tank in the U.S. can have operational guns, if the owner has a federal Destructive Device permit, and state laws don’t prohibit it. The permit costs $200, and the applicant must swear he hasn’t been a “fugitive from justice,” “adjudicated mentally defective” or convicted of “a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.” A local law-enforcement official, usually a sheriff or police chief, has to sign off on the application. Tanks generally aren’t street-legal, so owners usually drive them off-road or on other private property. Some say local authorities sometimes make exceptions for parades, a quick test drive or a trip to the gas station.

But won’t tanks in private hands lead to horrible crimes? Doesn’t seem that way, particularly since the story mentions that the only tank used in a crime was one taken from a government armory.

And in sensible places such as Texas, local police think a tank is “awesome,” not a cause for hysteria.

Earlier this month, Mr. Bauer, the Texas banker, took his Chaffee out for a spin in his warehouse parking lot. He had rigged the .50-caliber machine gun on the turret with a propane system that generates the noise and muzzle flash of gunfire, without the bullets. He fired off several bursts. Minutes later, two Port Lavaca police cruisers pulled up. The first officer rolled down the window and asked dryly: “You know why we’re here, right?” Mr. Bauer assured him that no actual rounds had been fired. …The second policeman, Jeremy Marshall, got out of his car and eyeballed Mr. Bauer’s tank. “Awesome,” he said.

Meanwhile, a 6-year old boy in Maryland is suspended for making a gun shape with his fingers and a 5-year old girl in Pennsylvania is busted for having a pink plastic gun that shoots bubbles.

The best of America…and the worst of America.

But we shouldn’t be resting on our laurels. Most able-bodied men in Switzerland have fully automatic guns (i.e., capable of continuous firing) in their homes, so it’s an open question which nation is more “awesome.”

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I’ve always been a big fan of Economic Freedom of the World because it provides a balanced and neutral measure of which nations do best in providing free markets and small government.

And I like it even when it gives me bad news. It’s somewhat depressing, after all, to read that the United States has dropped from the #3 nation when Bill Clinton left office to the #18 country in the most recent index.

But for all its many positive attributes, Economic Freedom of the World isn’t a comprehensive measure of liberty. That’s why I’m very glad to see that Ian Vasquez and Tanja Stumberger have put together a Freedom Index designed to measure economic and personal liberty.

And since they’re both sensible people, their definition of personal liberty is very sound – i.e., the freedom to be left alone and not harassed, persecuted, or annoyed by government.

Here’s their description of what the Freedom Index is designed to measure.

…we use indicators that are as consistent as possible with the concept of negative liberty: the absence of coercive constraint on the individual. We do not attempt to measure positive freedom…nor do we measure so-called “claim freedoms,” which often become government-imposed attempts at realizing positive freedoms (e.g., the “right” or freedom to a have job or housing). …This index of freedom also does not incorporate measures of democracy or “political freedom.” …Democracy may be more consistent than other forms of government at safeguarding freedom, but it is not freedom, nor does it necessarily guarantee freedom. …We combine economic freedom measures from the Economic Freedom of the World (EFW) index with measures of what we somewhat imprecisely call civil or personal  freedoms. The economic freedom index and the personal freedom index we devise each receive half the weight in the overall index.

Here are some additional details on the personal freedom score.

For the personal freedom sub-index, we use 34 variables covering 123 countries… The index is divided into four categories: 1) Security and  Safety; 2) Freedom of Movement; 3) Freedom of Expression; and 4) Relationship Freedoms. …We have tried to capture the degree to which  people are free to enjoy the major civil liberties—freedom of speech, religion, and association and assembly—in each country in our survey.  In addition, we include indicators of crime and violence, freedom of movement, and legal discrimination against homosexuals.

So how do nations compare with this system?

New Zealand is the nation with the most freedom, followed by the Netherlands and Hong Kong. The United States is #7

Freedom Index Top 20

By the way, if you’re wondering about places to avoid on your next overseas vacation, Zimbabwe is in last place, followed by Burma and Pakistan.

And if you want to maximize your personal liberty, but aren’t as concerned about economic liberty, the top nations are the Netherlands (9.5), Uruguay (9.4), and Norway/Japan/New Zealand (9.2).

If you want to experiment with a life of very limited personal liberty, your “best” choices are Pakistan (3.1), Zimbabwe (3.2), Sri Lanka (3.4), and Iran (3.6).

Last but not least, here’s the video I narrated from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity that explains in more detail the economic-freedom component of the Freedom Index.

Hmmm…more growth and prosperity with free markets and small government. Such a novel concept!

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For five consecutive weekends, I responded to your “questions of the week.”

That involved queries about my views on when the monetary system will begin to unravel, whether I hated Republicans, what I thought about Senator Jim DeMint moving over to the Heritage Foundation, the degree to which the media is biased, and if my opinions have changed on any issues.

But last weekend, I got too wrapped up in other topics and neglected to answer any of the questions I received. So I’ll try to compensate by answering one question today and another tomorrow.

Today’s query actually is a request, not a question: “Take the Quiz and Tell Us How Libertarian You Are?”

Libertarian QuizAt first I thought this was going to be a request to take the World’s Smallest Political Quiz, put together by the Advocates for Self Government.

And that would have been an easy test since it involves only 10 questions. I’ve done if before and I’m a pure libertarian.

But the reader instead sent me the much more detailed test put together by Professor Bryan Caplan of George Mason University.

This means answering 64 questions, though it doesn’t actually take that long to complete.

Libertarian TestThe good news is that I got a 94, which sounds close to perfect.

The bad news is that the maximum score is 160, so I obviously fell far short of libertarian purity.

But even a 94 makes me a very unusual person. According to Professor Caplan’s grading system, I’ve “entered the heady realm of hard-core libertarianism.

Libertarian Test Summary

If you want to know why I got what appears to be a modest grade, it’s because the test basically measures whether you’re an anarcho-capitalist. And as I confessed back in 2011, when sharing this funny video poking fun at libertarianism, I’ve never been able to rationalize how to get rid of all government.

From an ideological perspective, I’d like to think that we could privatize courts, police, and national defense. But I just don’t see how the market would fill those roles.

So, yes, I’m a squish. But whenever anarcho-capitalists give me a hard time, I tell them that we should work together to get rid of 90 percent of government. Then we can squabble about what to do with the remaining 10 percent.

P.S. Since I shared the funny anti-libertarian video, I may as well share these other examples of humor targeting me and my fellow travelers.

And since sauce for the goose should be sauce for the gander, here’s some libertarian-produced humor mocking statists.

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Regarding Obama’s “you-didn’t-build-that” comment back in July, I explained why that attack on entrepreneurs and small business owners was misguided.

And I also shared some humorous cartoons on the topic.

But it is true that no entrepreneur produces a product without help from many others. But what the President apparently doesn’t understand is that almost all of the real help comes from voluntary and decentralized exchange in the private market.

This CEI video is a good introduction to this spontaneous process.

And if you want to look at the topic from a different perspective, this video helps to explain how we often get much more than we pay for in a competitive market economy.

There’s also a moral argument presented in this video from the American Enterprise Institute.

Needless to say, Walter Williams is always worth reading to understand the difference between markets and statism. And here’s some good real-world evidence about the benefits of better policy.

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Since one of my main priorities is to defend tax competition and tax havens, I’m always delighted to see others jump in the fight to defend fiscal sovereignty.

Especially when those people clearly understand that so-called tax havens are necessary to restrain the compulsive tendency of “onshore” politicians to over-tax and over-spend.

Pierre Bessard of Switzerland and Allister Heath of the United Kingdom are among the world’s best analysts on global tax issues. But Philip Booth of the UK’s Institute for Economic Affairs can be added to the list. Here are some key excerpts from his new Business Insider column.

Tax havens are in fact essential, especially international financial centres. Tax rules are often unjust… nobody should be taxed twice on investment returns. …it would be to the detriment of us all if there were no tax havens. Most predatory activity is actually undertaken by governments and not by companies. Governments are trying to spend more and more with the UK government now spending 50 per cent of national income – in common with other European Union countries. This is deeply damaging to general welfare and business in particular and it is very difficult to hold the elites who con­tinually expand the size of the state to account. Elections are very imperfect mechanisms. One effective method by which we can keep the size of government in check is if labour and capital can exercise its freedom to move to lower-tax jurisdictions. Capital is much more mobile than labour and so tax havens do us all a favour by ensuring that governments have to keep tax rates lower – thus creating a better environment for business.

This hits the nail on the head.

For all intents and purposes, the existence of tax havens makes tax competition more robust. And we need vigorous tax competition because politicians – with some sort of external constraint – will drive their nations into Greek-style fiscal chaos.

But there’s also a moral case for tax havens, as explained in this video.

One final thought. The real outrage in this issue is that American taxpayers are subsidizing the international bureaucracy that is trying to kill tax competition.

So if Republicans on Capitol Hill are looking for some much-needed budget cuts, that’s a good place to start.

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I get criticized all the time, usually because of my support for limited government (though sometimes because people think I’m not sufficiently radical).

Sometimes I even get attacked because I cite someone else’s work, as happened when a bunch of Keynesians went after me for posting some data on Reaganomics vs. Obamanomics put together by Richard Rahn.

Just last week, though, I was attacked from a completely different perspective. Some guy named Stan Sewitch, in an article for the San Diego Daily Transcript, questioned my motives rather than my views.

He started out with an innocuous description of a speech I gave.

These days, the harbingers of doom no longer include hippies or even youth. The “protest” movement that may be growing in our country now is known for its natty fashion sense and belief in free markets… It winds its way to the offices of lobbyists and politicians. It acts a great deal behind the scenes, and uses the educated, articulate voices of “think tank” gurus to make the points. Daniel Mitchell is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a nonprofit economics and policy research organization that promotes “libertarian” philosophies, i.e., small government, free markets and individual rights. I heard him speak recently about how the United States could avoid “becoming the next Greece.” As he described the lengthening list of ills that our country has inflicted upon itself, Mitchell acknowledged that neither party has a consistent track record of doing the “right thing” to keep our gross domestic product growing faster than our government spending rate. …In that sense, the Cato Institute does seem to represent a nonpartisan view of our national and international state of affairs.

Since I think America faces a very grim fiscal future in the absence of entitlement reform, and since I also blame Bush as much as I blame Obama, I can’t quibble with anything he wrote.

But then he starts to speculate about my (grossly inadequate) salary.

But as he continued to describe the litany of calamity that will befall us under current conditions, I asked myself, “Gee, I wonder who pays Mitchell’s salary? Can’t be cheap.” So I did a little looking on the Web, and I found the 2011 annual report for the Cato Institute. They brought in about $33 million in revenue last year, spent about $22 million and showed net assets of $63 million. Well, it looks like they practice what they preach, spending less than they earn. And they earn a lot.

Where’s he going with this, I wonder. But I suppose I could have guessed that he would focus on rich people and corporations.

The Cato Institute doesn’t list its individual benefactors or corporations that provide the funding, but their board of directors includes David and Charles Koch. The Kochs founded the Cato Institute and have contributed millions to it. Combined, the Koch brothers are worth roughly $50 billion. Their company, Koch Industries, generates about $100 billion in annual revenue and is the second-largest private company in the United States. Other like-minded, wealthy individuals undoubtedly make up the financial support for the Cato Institute, along with corporations, the sale of Cato Institute books and the speaking fees that Cato scholars receive for their expert punditry.

My Sewitch obviously doesn’t know that Cato hasn’t received support from the Kochs in recent years, much less that the Cato Board and the Koch brothers had a big fight about the future of Cato, but that’s an understandable mistake since the average person would have no reason to follow a squabble inside the libertarian movement.

But his point is generically true. Occasional large contributions from wealthy people can play a non-trivial role in the budget of any non-profit group.

So what’s the point? Well, here’s where he gets to the part about my motives.

Whether or not one subscribes to the shiny and attractive ideals of small government, free markets and individual liberty, one has to follow the money, the economics of any given viewpoint to be able to evaluate the veracity of the opinion. The money behind Mitchell’s capacity to publicly opine comes from business people who want to affect policy at the federal and state level toward outcomes that they believe are in the collective best interests. It also doesn’t hurt that those same people benefit personally and financially from the promoted policies and research results that the Cato Institute generates. …So if someone is earning their living by preaching, whether for God or free markets, I have to find out who’s paying them to tell me this stuff, and I immediately discount the value of the sermon by 84 percent.

Gee, I guess I should be happy that my opinions are worth 16 percent rather than zero.

But now for my serious point. Washington is filled with people who say things, write things, and do things solely because they’re getting paid. I often write about the sleazy behavior of such people, particularly Republicans who do the wrong thing just to fatten their bank accounts.

So I can’t complain when someone questions my motives. Everyone in Washington should be viewed with suspicion. It is, after all, a pervasively corrupt town.

That being said, I invite the world to comb through everything I’ve ever done, everything I’ve ever said, and everything I’ve ever written to find the slightest shred of evidence that I am motivated by anything other than a principled belief in liberty.

Do I get paid to do all these things? Of course, which is why I consider myself to be a very lucky person. I’m getting a salary to do what I would be doing anyhow.

And if we count the non-pecuniary satisfaction of fighting for liberty, I’m one of the richest people in DC.

You can’t deposit non-pecuniary satisfaction in a bank, to be sure, but I wouldn’t trade places with any of the multimillionaire lobbyists. That would be like watching It’s a Wonderful Life and wanting to be like Mr. Potter instead of George Bailey.

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Thomas Sowell, George Will, and Walter Williams have all explained that the Constitution imposes strict limits on the powers of the federal government. This means, for all intents and purposes, that it is a somewhat anti-democratic document.

And by anti-democratic, I mean the Constitution puts restrictions on democracy (not restrictions on the Democratic Party, though in this case…).

More specifically, it doesn’t matter if a majority of people want Obamacare or a Department of Education. We live in a constitutional republic, a system specifically designed to protect individual liberties from tyranny.

The Founding Fathers obviously didn’t want our freedoms to be subject to the whims of a king, but they also wanted to protect us from the tyranny of the majority.

This is one of the reasons why I’m so happy to share this short video from the folks at the Institute of Humane Studies. The Supreme Court may have wimped out in fulfilling its role of  protecting us against untrammeled majoritarianism, but at least we can understand why it’s a good idea to protect economic liberty.

I particularly like the fact that the video cites the Supreme Court’s horrific Kelo decision.

By the way, if you want to understand the other side of the debate (or if you want to enjoy a good laugh), you can peruse my post on E.J. Dionne’s failure to understand history and constitutional governance.

P.S. I applied the lessons of this video in my post about why the U.S. government should promote liberty rather than democracy in the Middle East.

P.P.S. They probably don’t realize it, but Republicans actually came out against marjoritarianism in their party platform.

P.P.P.S. There is at least one Republican who is against majoritarianism (and for the right reason). Click here for the answer.

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If you can read the following and not get upset, you are not a good person. Please move to France (where higher taxes are “patriotic”) and don’t come back.

I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole, but you’ll hopefully understand after reading this excerpt from a very disturbing report posted on Zero Hedge.

Jacques Wajsfelner of Weston, Massachusetts is a criminal mastermind. Big time. Like Lex Luthor. But rest easy, ladies and gentlemen, for this nefarious villain is about to face some serious jail time thanks to the courageous work of US government agents. You see, Mr. Wajsfelner was finally caught and convicted of a most heinous crime: failing to disclose his foreign bank account to the US government. Note– he was not convicted of tax evasion. He was not convicted of failing to file or pay taxes. His crime was not filing the annual Report of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts (FBAR). Because of his failure to disclose his foreign bank account, Wajsfelner is now looking at FIVE YEARS behind bars in a Day-Glo orange jumpsuit. Oh, one more thing– Wajsfelner is 83 years old. He was born in Germany during the global depression and rise of Adolf Hitler. The Wajsfelner family soon fled the Nazi regime and made its way to the United States.

Please note that Mr. Wajsfelner didn’t get convicted of not paying tax. He got convicted for the utterly trivial and victimless “crime” of not reporting a foreign bank account.

So the government is sending a completely harmless old man to jail for something that shouldn’t be illegal (and if we had a flat tax, there would be no double taxation of saving and investment, so it wouldn’t matter for tax purposes if your bank account was in Georgetown, Kentucky, or Georgetown, Cayman Islands).

Now let’s compare the treatment of Mr. Wajsfelner with the way some real criminals are treated.

Then there’s Eric Higgins of Port Huron, Michigan, who was recently busted for major possession of child pornography and engaging in sexually explicit conversations with juveniles online. He was given 20 months. Oh… and Mr. Higgins was a US Customs & Border Patrol agent. …Or Ricardo Cordero, another US Customs & Border Patrol officer who was given 27-months for personally smuggling 30 Mexican nationals into the United States, and assisting another smuggler to bring 15 Mexican nationals across the border. This genius even had the smuggler testify as a character witness at his divorce proceeding! Or Jon Corzine, former CEO of Goldman Sachs and member of the political elite, who presided over one of the largest plunders in the financial system ever seen during the recent MF Global collapse. He walks the streets freely to this day.

The article closes with a very accurate – but understated – assessment of the federal government.

It seems pretty clear where the US government stands: the victimless crime of failing to report a foreign bank account is far more egregious than, say, possession of child pornography, engaging with minors in online sex chat, bribery, extortion, fraud, and abuse of official power.

This horrifying example of government abuse is a good example of why I’m a libertarian. Yes, I get upset about bloated and counterproductive government spending. And I also get irked by our punitive and destructive class-warfare tax system.

But what gets me most upset is unfair tyranny against powerless people. If your stomach can stand it, here are some more examples.

Every one of the government officials involved in these episodes should be fired. And they should consider themselves lucky that tar and feathers are no longer a method of dealing with despicable bureaucrats.

P.S. The Zero Hedge website is also the source of the extremely funny and clever ethnic analysis of Europe.

P.P.S. While I utterly despise bureaucrats who engage in thuggish behavior, I’m not a big fan of bureaucrats in general.

P.P.P.S. The government’s grotesque treatment of Mr. Wajsfelner is part of the overall attack on tax competition. Heaven forbid people have the freedom to benefit from better tax policy in other jurisdictions!

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A couple of months ago, I discussed a column by Arthur Brooks, in which he explained that libertarians and conservatives need to make a moral argument for capitalism and not just rely on statistics and economic analysis.

This is correct, I believe, and I cited myself as an example. When the flat tax became an issue in the 1990s, I gave lots of speeches, and I pontificated about lower marginal tax rates and getting rid of double taxation. I quickly learned, though, that people were most excited about getting rid of the corruption in the current system.

Brooks now makes his case for the morality of capitalism in a new video.

A superb job. His insights on earned success are very important. Indeed, this is why the dependency culture is misguided for both taxpayers and recipients.

President of the American Enterprise Institute

And it’s also why I try to stress that bloated government is basically a racket that either allows people to obtain unearned benefits or makes it harder for people to achieve earned success.

P.S. Brooks also is more than capable of making traditional economic arguments, as you can see from what he wrote about Europe’s collapsing welfare states.

P.P.S. And he has produced some first-rate research on the loss of ethics in Europe compared to the United States.

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Back in April, responding to an article written by Ann Hollingshead for the Task Force on Financial Integrity and Economic Development, I wrote a long post defending so-called tax havens.

I went through the trouble of a point-by-point response because her article was quite reasonable and focused on some key moral and philosophical issues (rather than the demagoguery I normally have to deal with when people on the left reflexively condemn low-tax jurisdictions).

She responded to my response, and she raised additional points that deserve to be answered.

So here we go again. Let’s go through Ann’s article and see where we agree and disagree.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post criticizing the philosophies of Dan Mitchell, a libertarian scholar from the Cato Institute. I asked for a “thoughtful discussion” and I got it—both from the comments section of our blog and from Dan himself.  On his own blog, Dan replied with a thought-provoking point-by-point critique of my piece.

It has been a polite discussion, which is good because readers get to see that we don’t really disagree on facts. Our differences are a matter of philosophy, as Ann also acknowledges.

Dan made several interesting points in his rebuttal. As much as I’d like to take on the whole post right now, my reply would be far too long and I don’t think our readers would appreciate a blog post that approaches a novella. Rather I’ll focus on a couple of his comments that I find interesting on a philosophical level (there were many) and which demand a continued conversation because, I believe, they are the basis of our differences. We’ll start with a rather offhand remark in which Dan indirectly refers to financial privacy as a human right. This is an argument we’ve heard before. And it is worth some exploration.Unless I am very much mistaken, Dan’s belief that financial privacy is a human right arises out of his fundamental value of freedom. My disagreement with Dan, therefore, does not arise from a difference in the desire to promote human rights (I believe we both do), but rather in the different relative weights we each place on the value of privacy, which Dan (I’m supposing) would call an extension of freedom.

I wouldn’t argue with her outline, though I think it is incomplete. I’m a big fan of privacy as a principle of a civil and just society, but I also specifically support financial privacy as a means to an end of encouraging better tax policy. Simply stated, politicians are much more likely to reduce or eliminate double taxation if they feel such taxes can’t be enforced and simply put a country in a much less competitive position.

Okay, so on to [my] answer of the subject of this post. Privacy—and financial privacy by extension—is important. But is it a human right? That’s a big phrase; one which humanity has no business throwing around, lest it go the way of “[fill in blank]-gate” or “war on [whatever].” And as Dan himself points out, governments have a way of fabricating human rights—apparently some European courts have ruled that free soccer broadcasts and owning a satellite dish are a human rights—so it’s important that we get back to [philosophical] basics and define the term properly. The nearly universally accepted definition of “human rights” was established by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which the United Nations adopted in 1948. According to the UN, “human rights” are those “rights inherent to all human beings,” regardless of “nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status.” The Declaration includes 30 Articles which describe each of those rights in detail. “Financial privacy” per se is not explicitly a human right in this document, but “privacy” is, and I think it’s reasonable to include financial privacy by extension. But privacy is defined as a fundamental, not an absolute, human right. Absolute rights are those that there is never any justification for violating. Fundamental freedoms, including privacy and freedom from detention, can be ethically breached by the government, as long as they authorized by law and not arbitrary in practice. The government therefore has the right to regulate fundamental freedoms when necessary.

I’m not sure how to react. There are plenty of admirable provisions in the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but there are also some nonsensical passages – some of which completely contradict others.

Everyone hopefully agrees with the provisions against slavery and in favor of equality under law, but Article 25 of the U.N. Declaration also includes “the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.”

That sounds like a blank check for redistributionism, similar to the statism that I experienced when I spoke at the U.N. last month, and it definitely seems inconsistent with the right of property in Article 17.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I don’t care that the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights includes a “right to privacy” because I don’t view that document as having any legal or moral validity. I don’t know whether it’s as bad as the European Union’s pseudo-constitution, but I do know that my support for privacy is not based on or dependent on a document from the United Nations.

As an aside, I can’t help noting that Articles 13 and 15 of the U.N. Declaration guarantee the right to emigrate and the right to change nationality, somethings leftists should keep in mind when they demonize successful people who want to move to nations with better tax law.

Getting back to Ann’s column, she confirms my point that you can’t protect property rights for some people while simultaneously giving other people a claim on their output.

That’s important because it means, that when it comes to freedom and privacy, we need to make choices. We can’t always have them all at once. To use a hideously crude example that gets back to the issue of tax evasion, in a developing country, a rich person’s right to financial privacy might be at odds with a poor person’s right to “a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family.”

For those who are not familiar with the type of discussion, it is the difference between “negative rights” promoted by classical liberals, which are designed to protect life, liberty, and property from aggression, and the “positive rights” promoted by the left, which are designed to legitimize the redistributionist state.

Tom Palmer has a good discussion of the topic here, and he notes that “positive rights” create conflict, writing that, “…classical liberal ‘negative’ rights do not conflict with each other, whereas ‘positive’ rights to be provided with things produce many conflicts. If my ‘right to health care’ conflicts with a doctor’s ‘right to liberty,’ which one wins out?”

Continuing with Ann’s article, she says values conflict with one another, though that’s only if true if one believes in positive rights.

I started this post with a discussion of values, because at the core that’s what we’re talking about. Values are relative, individual, and often in conflict with one another. And they define how we rank our choices between human rights. Dan values freedom, perhaps above most else. He might argue that economic freedom would lead to an enrichment of human rights at all levels, but he probably wouldn’t disagree that that thesis remains untested. My views are a little more complicated because I don’t get to enjoy the (albeit appealing and consistent) simplicity of libertarianism.

I’m tempted to say, “C’mon in, Ann, the water’s fine. Libertarianism is lots of fun.” To be a bit more serious, libertarianism is simple, but it’s not simplistic. You get to promote freedom and there’s no pressure to harass, oppress, or pester other people.

As my colleague David Boaz has stated, “You could say that you learn the essence of libertarianism — which is also the essence of civilization –  in kindergarten: don’t hit other people, don’t take their stuff, keep your promises.”

The world would be a lot better if more people rallied to this non-coercive system.

One more point. Dan mentioned he does “fully comply” with the “onerous demands imposed on [him] by the government.” But as Dan insinuates, irrespective of an individual’s personal values, those demands are not optional. In the United States, we have the luxury of electing a group of individuals to represent our collective values. Together those people make a vision for the country that reflects our ideals. And then, we all accept it. If our country got together and decided to value freedom above all else, we would live in a world that looks a lot like Dan’s utopia. But, frankly, it hasn’t. So we respect our tax code out of a respect for the vision of our country. Dan has the right to try to shape that vision, as do I. Neither of us has the right to violate it.

What Ann writes is true, but not persuasive. Libertarians don’t like untrammeled majoritarianism. We don’t think two wolves and a sheep should vote on what’s for lunch.

We like what our Founding Fathers devised, a constitutional republic where certain rights were inalienable and protected by the judicial system, regardless of whether 90 percent of voters want to curtail our freedoms.

Ann, as you can see from her final passage, does not agree.

That, at is heart, is my problem with both tax evasion and tax avoidance. Neither lines up with the spirit of our collective compact; although the latter is not necessarily reflected in the official laws on the books. I’m not saying tax avoiders should be thrown in jail; they’ve done nothing illegal. I’m saying the regulations that confine us should line up with the vision we’ve created and the values we’ve agreed upon. If that vision is Dan’s, I’ll accept it. But I’m glad he’ll (begrudgingly) accept ours too.

I’m not automatically against having a “collective compact.” After all, that’s one way of describing the American Constitution. But I will return to my point about America’s founders setting up that system precisely because they rejected majoritarianism.

So what does all this mean? Probably nothing, other than the less-than-remarkable revelation that Ann and I have different views on the legitimate role(s) of the federal government.

Since I want to restrain the size and scope of government (not only in America, but elsewhere in the world) and avert future Greek-style fiscal nightmares, that means I want tax competition. And, to be truly effective, that means tax havens.

If that appeals to you (or at least seems like a reasonably hypothesis), I invite you to read some writings by Allister Heath of the United Kingdom and Pierre Bessard of Switzerland.

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We know that the United States and most other developed nations are in deep trouble if we leave government policy on auto-pilot. And we know the painful day of reckoning will arrive even faster if we continue the Bush-Obama policies of expanding the burden of the public sector.

All this sounds very depressing, but the good news is that we know the types of policies that will solve the problem.

The bad news is that we often don’t do a very good job of convincing people of the changes that are needed.

Part of the answer is that libertarians and small-government conservatives are probably too utilitarian. Not in our hearts, but in the way we talk.

Arthur Brooks of the American Enterprise Institute addresses this problem in a column for the Washington Examiner.

…many who strongly believe in free enterprise steer clear of all public “moral” arguments. This is a mistake and a missed opportunity. A great deal of research shows that people from all walks of life demand a system that is morally legitimate, not just efficient. …Privately, free enterprise’s champions…celebrate capitalism because they believe that succeeding on merit, doing something meaningful, seeing the poor rise by their hard work and virtue, and having control over life are essential to happiness and fulfillment. But in public debate, conservatives often fall back on capitalism’s superiority to other systems just in terms of productivity and economic efficiency. …The dogged reliance on materialistic arguments is a gift to statists. It allows them to paint free enterprise advocates as selfish and motivated only by money. Those who would expand the government have successfully appropriated the language of morality for their own political ends; redistributionist policies, they have claimed to great effect, are fairer, kinder, and more virtuous. …Average Americans are thus too often left with two lousy choices in the current policy debates: the moral Left versus the materialistic Right. The public hears a heartfelt redistributionist argument from the Left that leads to the type of failed public policies all around us today. But sometimes it feels as if the alternative comes from morally bereft conservatives who were raised by wolves and don’t understand basic moral principles. …There just doesn’t seem to be a good alternative to the “statist quo,” and as a consequence, the country is slipping toward a system that few people actually like.

I think Brooks is correct. Most libertarians and conservatives are not motivated by GDP numbers. They believe in small government because it is morally sound (no government-imposed stealing) and fair (you don’t get rich without offering something of value).

During public policy debates, though, we rely on utilitarian arguments.

I offer myself as an example. When the flat tax became a big issue in the 1990s and I started giving lots of speeches about tax reform, I would make dry and technical arguments about marginal tax rates and capital formation. But I quickly learned that much of the support for the flat tax was motivated by a belief in a fair and moral system – no cronyism, treating everybody equally, ending corruption, shutting down loopholes, etc. So I modified my speeches and gave much more attention to the moral arguments.

That being said, there’s no silver bullet in public policy fights. We probably need a combination of morality and utilitarianism. And it’s obviously important to put things in terms ordinary people can understand. That, I believe, is what made Reagan so effective. And it’s what I try to do with this blog (albeit on a much more limited level).

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Even though I’m a dull and straight-laced guy, that doesn’t mean I want the government to pester, harass, and persecute people for engaging in victimless crimes that I find distasteful.

Especially when interventionism and prohibition doesn’t work. To be blunt, the War on Drugs has been a costly failure (much like the War on Poverty).

Fortunately, it appears that more and more people are coming to the same conclusion – and many of them aren’t libertarians. For instance, I recently cited Mona Charen’s wise comments about the issue.

Even more remarkable are the statements from one of America’s leading evangelicals, Pat Robertson.

Here’s the key sections from an Associated Press report.

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol because the government’s war on drugs has failed. The outspoken evangelical Christian and host of “The 700 Club” on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network he founded said the war on drugs is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. He said people should not be sent to prison for marijuana possession. The 81-year-old first became a self-proclaimed “hero of the hippie culture” in 2010 when he called for ending mandatory prison sentences for marijuana possession convictions. “I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance,” Robertson said on his show March 1. “The whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.” …Robertson said he “absolutely” supports ballot measures in Colorado and Washington state that would allow people older than 21 to possess a small amount of marijuana and allow for commercial pot sales. Both measures, if passed by voters, would place the states at odds with federal law, which bans marijuana use of all kinds. While he supports the measures, Robertson said he would not campaign for them and was “not encouraging people to use narcotics in any way, shape or form.” “I’m not a crusader,” he said. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”

Wow, not only for legalization, but “absolutely” supports ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Kudos to Rev. Robertson for recognizing the human cost of the Drug War. As the old saying goes, not everything immoral should be illegal.

Here’s five minutes from Gov. Gary Johnson on the issue.

Very well stated. Legalization is common-sense conservatism. Too bad Gary Johnson didn’t get more attention early in the GOP race.

The Drug War doesn’t work, and it is the ultimate example of Mitchell’s Law since it has spawned bad policies such as asset forfeiture and anti-money laundering rules.

Time to “just say no” to big government.

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As a libertarian who became interested in public policy because of Ronald Reagan, it won’t surprise you to know that I’m more of a “right libertarian” than “left libertarian.”

I fully agree with positions that motivate left libertarians, such as the war on drugs doing more harm than good, foreign entanglements such as NATO no longer serving America’s national security purpose, and the importance of preserving constitutional protections of civil liberties. But since I’m a fiscal policy economist, I normally consort with conservatives.

And my frequent interactions with conservatives sometimes lead me to wonder why we aren’t closer allies. Well, maybe we can be if both sides read what Tim Carney wrote for today’s Washington Examiner.

His column is about Rick Santorum’s inability to unite proponents of limited government, but that’s secondary to the insightful analysis on how conservatives and libertarians can be natural allies. Here are key passages.

For many of today’s liberals, if something is bad — like the traditional light bulb, a very high health-insurance deductible, a gas-guzzling car, or a lack of racial diversity — the government ought to outlaw it. Maybe they can’t comprehend the mind-set of many of today’s conservatives, who revere both individual liberty and traditional morality as the necessary conditions for human happiness and thus say that certain behaviors are immoral but shouldn’t be illegal. Not only are traditional morality and limited government totally compatible, today they are intimately linked, as the Left uses big government to subsidize abortion providers and force all employers to pay for their employees’ contraceptives. …the moral law should guide our personal actions, and individual liberty should guide our political decisions. …When liberals cry that conservatives are trying to legislate morality, that’s typically projection and misdirection from liberal attempts to legislate morality — they say we’re trying to outlaw buying contraception because we oppose their efforts to mandate buying contraception. …More often than not, in the United States these days, it’s the secular Left imposing its morality on the religious Right. Don’t want to photograph a gay wedding? You’re fined. Don’t want to sell the morning-after pill at your pharmacy? You’re driven out of your job. Don’t want to pay for your employees’ sterilization? You’re a criminal. Don’t want to subsidize Planned Parenthood with your tax dollars? Tough, pay up. An alliance between libertarians and conservatives is natural and right today. …The proper conservative response is to fight for the liberty of all Americans, including religious conservatives, to manage their own affairs according to what they believe is correct. Increasing the size of government, even in the name of a more moral society, simply gives the Left more weapons to turn on the Right in the culture war — Obamacare is the perfect example.

Maybe Tim’s column makes sense to me because I’m somewhat of a social conservative in my personal life. I’ve never smoked, never done drugs, don’t like gambling, rarely drink, don’t deal with prostitutes (other than the non-sexual ones serving in government), and have a traditional view on the importance of family. But I’ve never thought my boring personal preferences should be part of the law.

But as Tim explains, leftists believe in imposing their views on everyone else. And the last sentence in the excerpt shows why conservatives and libertarians should be united in opposition to statism. Big government gives the left the tools to advance an agenda that undermines both morality and liberty.

So with that in mind, I’m going to do something similar to Mitchell’s Law and Mitchell’s Golden Rule. But in this case, I’ll actually give credit to someone else. As shown in the picture, libertarians and conservatives should unite behind Carney’s Fusionist Theorem.

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Someone has to take the tough assignments

I’m currently in the British Virgin Islands to speak at a conference. As you can see from this photo (taken from my satellite office), I’m having to endure hardship conditions.

But I’m willing to suffer because I believe in making personal sacrifices in the battle for liberty.

As you can probably guess, I’m speaking about tax competition. But I write about that issue so much that there’s no need for me to reiterate my remarks.

Instead, I want to focus on the speech given this morning by Sir Richard Branson, founder and head of the Virgin business empire.

Why does Branson get higher billing than me?!?

Sir Richard is a tax resident of BVI (which is a smart step since there’s no income tax here and the top tax rate in the U.K. is 50 percent), and most of his speech focused on business and development advice for his adopted home.

But he also spent several minutes talking about the damaging and destructive impact of the War on Drugs. And I’m proud to say that he cited data from a Cato Institute report on the successful decriminalization policy in Portugal.

This isn’t the first time he’s mentioned Cato’s work on the issue, by the way. As my colleague Tim Lynch noted last year, Branson also cited the Portugal study in a strong message against the failed War on Drugs that he posted on the Virgin.com website.

I suspect Branson isn’t willing to give up his day job running the Virgin Group, but we’re happy to have him as a volunteer publicist for our studies and the cause of liberty.

Incidentally, he’s not the only one who has commented on this development. The Economist also has noted the positive impact of Portugal’s pro-liberty policy.

And if you want general information on the failed Drug War, check out this story on the complete mis-match between the costs and benefits of prohibition. And here’s a speech by Gov. Gary Johnson on the issue, as well as a video exposing how the War on Drugs is completely ineffective – or even counterproductive.

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