October 2008

I have a hard time understanding some Republicans.  The same people who don’t trust the government to do, well, anything somehow find it perfectly acceptable for that the same government to lock people up and throw away the key (no trial, no due process) as long as those people are “terrorists.”  Because that isn’t a system susceptible to abuse.

WASHINGTON [08 Oct 2008]—An appeals court in the U.S. capital has blocked a lower-court order to release 17 ethnic Uyghur detainees held at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay camp without charge since 2001.

The ruling Wednesday, by the U.S. Appeals Court here, temporarily freezes an order earlier this week by a federal judge who said the Bush administration was wrong to keep holding the men because it lacked evidence against them.

The men, all members of the Muslim Uyghur minority concentrated in China’s northwesternmost region, Xinjiang, were cleared for release in 2004 but could face persecution if they are repatriated to China, according to U.S. officials and human rights groups.

If you missed it, these men were cleared for release four years ago, but they are still in custody.

And, just in case you thought you needn’t worry because you’re an American citizen and not part of some Chinese ethnic minority whose name you can’t pronounce.

The Maryland State Police classified 53 nonviolent activists as terrorists and entered their names and personal information into state and federal databases that track terrorism suspects, the state police chief acknowledged yesterday.

. . .

[Police Superintendent] Sheridan said protest groups were also entered as terrorist organizations in the databases, but his staff has not identified which ones.

. . .

“I don’t believe the First Amendment is any guarantee to those who wish to disrupt the government,” he said.

There was “no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime” by those classified as terrorists.  I think we have been stretching the definition of terrorist for some time, but now, apparently, protesting the Iraq war or the death penalty is enough to get you labeled with the “T” word.

You’re probably still OK though.  These were “fringe people,” and you’re not a “fringe person” are you?

[An audio recording of the oral arguments in the Supreme Court case, Boumediene v. Bush, is available for download at the Oyez Project or on iTunes.]

Primary farm producers in the world’s developed countries receive about $280 billion a year in government support. In the European Union, farmers receive a third of their income from government subsidies. Beef and veal producers get more than 70% of their income from subsidies.

A typical cow in the European Union receives a government subsidy of $2.20 a day. The cow earns more than 1.2 billion of the world’s poorest people.

Mark Vaile, Australian trade minister in 2005

(HT Carpe Diem)

Or, what do you mean “we”?  Do you have a mouse in your pocket?

An insightful point:

Looking at the (long term) consequences of an act is an important part of individual decision making.  This is so obvious that we are led to believe that such consequentialism is possible for society as a whole.  Political consequentialism can take two forms. In its first incarnation, it is assumed that society is a collective effort toward shared goals. This view regards society, and as a consequence “the economy,” as one organism. A good example of this mindset is displayed by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell when he says, “Our whole economy you could think of as the human body and the credit markets as the circulatory system.” Presumably, any measures that are made to restore circulation will benefit us all.

. . .

In its second incarnation, different interests and values among individuals are acknowledged but it is believed that policies can be designed to optimize a “social welfare function.” This position is a non-starter on epistemological grounds, as evidenced in real life by the lack of consensus among its advocates. This should not be surprising because consequentialism is not possible without guesswork and making personal value judgments. As the political philosopher Anthony de Jasay has argued, at some point someone needs to make decisions that will be binding for all, and consequentialism will ultimately collapse into authoritarianism, plain and simple. Nevertheless, this view has obvious appeal to people  who advocate government intervention and redistribution of incomes.

That brings to mind Milton Friedman’s opening to Capitalism and Freedom:

President Kennedy said, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” . . . Neither half of that statement expresses a relation between the citizen and his government that is worthy of the ideals of free men in a free society.

(HT Cafe Hayek)

JustKidding, a friend, reader and frequent commentator on this site was recently asked, in another forum, to provide a list of Libertarian readings that might help someone get an idea of what Libertarians are all about.  He was kind enough to forward his response to me, and I think it is well worth repeating here.  I have included links for those works that are available on line.

Here are some books that I would recommend.  They are not all the most scintillating books, but they will get you started:

1.  An easy start to learning about libertarian philosophy (or classical liberalism, as it is also called) is to read almost anything by Frederic Bastiat, a nineteenth century philosopher.  He is generally concise and easy to understand, something not all philosophers can say.
a. The Law
b. What is seen and what is unseen
c. The petition of the candlestick makers

2.  One thing that most libertarians believe is that the use of government force is inherently immoral, and that in only a few cases is that immoral quality outweighed by the near-universality of the benefits (some level of national defense and law enforcement, for example).  However, most libertarians also believe that, even if it weren’t immoral for government to use force to do “good things,” it is impossible for the government to coordinate the resources necessary for it to do what it claims to want to do.
a. I, Pencil, Leonard Read (discusses the enormous amount of info needed to make a simple pencil)
b. The Use of Knowledge in Society, by Fredrich Hayek (this is a little more complicated reading than I, Pencil, but addresses the same principles in a much more powerful fashion)

3.  The environment is one area where people usually assume that the government has to step in or we humans will destroy everything, but humans are possibly not that destructive, and government can also be devastating to the environment.
a. Free Market Environmentalism, by Terry Anderson
b. The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lumborg

4.  There is a lot written about the natural inclination of government towards being bought off by interest groups (economists call it rent-seeking), but much of it is pretty complicated.  Here is one that isn’t:
a. Beyond Politics, by William Mitchell and Randy Simmons

5.  There are some libertarian books that are just a fun read
a. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, by Robert Heinlein (a sci-fi book about a moon colony – very good)
b. Fair Play, by Steven Landsburg (non-fiction, but written by an economist who writes in a very easily understood and entertaining way)

6.  Finally, if you like these books, and want something a little more in-depth and complicated, try:
a. The Road to Serfdom, by Fredrich Hayek
b. The Fatal Conceit, by Fredrich Hayek
c. The Mystery of Capital, by Hernando de Soto

I hope that helps!