freedom politics

An immigration issue

A guy named George from Ghana found me on facebook. He is one of several people that have come across my profile while looking up things like “feedom” and “free market.” It’s gratifying to have other people with similar outlooks get in touch with me.

He is an advocate of free markets and freedom in general and uses those ideas to try to help people in his country. He is currently working for a company called “Save the Village.” If I understand correctly, the idea is to foster economic development in villages in order to keep them viable.

In any case, George was invited to go to a conference put on by the Mackinak Center for Public Policy. They are an organization that promotes free market thinking in Michigan. Talk about a tall order… Anyway, they are an organization that encourages liberty, freedom, etc.

Here’s the thing, George was refused a tourist visa to come to the US. Why? Because he’s not married… I’m familiar with visa issues for people in Yemen and I can kind of understand the State department’s wariness about letting the wrong person go to the states. I had never heard of not being married as a reason for being denied entry into the US before.

It sounds as though they are worried that he won’t come back to Ghana. They have deemed that he does not have enough “ties” to guarantee his return. The fact that he works to promote the long term viability of village in Ghana and the fact that he was attending a conference to promote freedom and economic liberty wasn’t enough for him. He needs to be married. The irony of being denied a visa to the US to attend a conference on liberty is sickening…

economics free market freedom politics

Two sides to everything (pt. 2)

I don’t want anyone to think these are the only reasons that people would be for or against the stimulus bill. There is always the possibility of stupid partizanship. I’m ignoring the possibility that people are for it/against it simply because of who proposed it. There are also an infinite number of variations on what Ihave written, but I’m trying to paint with large strokes in order to simplify. I’ll admit to having a little trouble with characterizing the group that is in favor of this “stimulus” bill, but I will try anyway. Please correct me if I’m way off…

At their best, the people that are in favor of this bill are worried about the general public’s welfare and believe that the government has the power to make sure that everyone is cared for. There is a deep belief in the power of the government to work for what is right and true. Underneath this belief, there seems to be the usually unsaid understanding that all things economically flow through and come from the government. If the government doesn’t do it, it won’t happen. They believe that morality should be the basis of government and that no “good” person could really be against a government made this way.

At their worst, the people that are in favor of not only stimulating the economy but in all of the other things that are in the bill are technocrats. They believe that they know what is best for everyone in this country. Underneath this belief is the understanding that people at large can’t be entrusted to take care of themselves. Not only are people stupid, but they should be actively discouraged from doing what they think is best. Somehow, even though they are stupid, they are still the technocrats burden and must be cared for…

Once again, the more extreme view is pretty out there, but they do exist. How often have we heard the phrase, “They should be sterilized?” I know, that is usually said in jest, but it points to a deeper feeling of “We are in the right and they are insignificant.”

Don’t jump on me, I know there’s a wider spread, but these seem like they are the two extremes of the people that favor this bill.

I do have some big problems with even the best case scenario I’ve outlined above (the worst case I won’t even dignify with a critique). First, I don’t see any evidence that the government has “our” best interest at heart. That is tied up in my second issue in that the government keeps changing. Even if we were to elect a government that is pure in word and deed and had perfect foresight, that government would change. I think it is telling that the people that have the above belief only have it when the “right” people are in office. No one ever seems to connect the dots in the fact that if a government has the power to do good, it also has the power to do evil. I worry about the power, if they don’t have sweeping power, it matters much less who is in charge.

The third thing that I don’t like is that there have been governments based on the principles outlined above. They have been formed with the stated goals of equality and justice and have all been nothing but evil. The Soviet Union, Red China, North Korea, etc. What needs to be emphasized is not that the wrong people were in charge, but that people like that will always be drawn to lead governments like that. While I don’t think that our government is in danger of becoming like those, I am very worried about those types of people being drawn into the government because of all of the power they can wield.

This isn’t a left/right or republican/democrat thing. This is all about what people believe when it comes to the government’s role in our lives. I’m willing to bet a lot of people don’t give it much thought and I’m also willing to believe that the majority of people in this country believe in what I have described above. I’m just hoping to make my point and tell people why I am against this and not be seen as an uncaring person or a partisan hack…

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economics freedom freedom of choice politics

Two sides to everything (pt. 1)

This bailout business is comical. Both “sides” can line up economists that agree with them. All of them have models and historical facts and figures to make their case. Unfortunately, macroeconomics isn’t something that can be proven. i wouldn’t be surprised if both sides were right some of the time.

This event is not so much about competing schools of economics, but of world views. I’ll start with the “side” that I’m in because I understand it pretty well.

Resistance to this bailout goes well beyond the idea “It won’t work.” At their best, people who do not want this bill passed believe that everyone should spend their money the way they see fit. People should be free to labor for what they think is important with a minimum of burden from outside influences like the government. This means keeping the tax levels low, and therefore keeping government spending low. Not everyone will do what we like, but c`est la vie, everyone is different and we can’t expect them to do our bidding. They don’t believe that this “stimulus” will work because no one can steer an economy. It is built on what is done by everyone in it as opposed to being directed from above. If things are left to themselves, the entire economy may look like it’s going up or down, but that isn’t really important. Allowing people to have the freedom to react to their world is paramount. There is a coherent, logical form of economics that says that this type of arrangement would allow for the most widespread prosperity not only in this country, but worldwide. History would seem to bear them out. While it’s true that there has never been a government like this, the opposite has been tried with disastrous results.

At their worst, the people that oppose this “stimulus” believe that the real motivation for it is slavery. Massive spending is the first step to higher taxes, and being forced to work without remuneration is in fact slavery. Think about it, if the government taxes you at 8.3 percent, that means that you would work for an entire month without seeing any money. It might be OK if they then spent it on things you agree with, but these people would never admit to that, plus, if they wanted it, they wouldn’t need to have the threat of incarceration to pay for it. In reality, people are generally taxed at much higher rates already and if taxes are not paid, you go to jail. In these people’s eyes, the current bill is simply the latest effort to force people to live and work in a way that the political elite want them to.

Like all extremes, the worst version of this view is a little kooky although it’s hard to argue against the slavery definition. One thing that needs to be emphasized is that just because someone is against this bill, it does not mean that they want people to suffer. They just have different priorities in how our labor should be spent. I’m somewhere closer to the first, or best case scenario in my own outlook, but I can sympathize with people who have the second. I’ll try my hand at the “pro” side to the bill in the next post.

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art culture freedom photography politics

A great picture

This came from the website of the Yemen Observer, one of the English language newspapers in Yemen.


Her name is Boushra Almutawakel and she is a photographer in Yemen. Needless to say, a female photographer in Yemen is a rather unusual thing. You can read the article via the link above to read more about her. I want to say a few things about this picture.

There’s no way to know what she meant by it but I find it quite powerful. Many people in the US and Europe see the hijab as a repressive aspect of Arab culture. Of course those people have probably never asked one of those women why they cover up. Part of it is simply dressing appropriately in that culture. A woman here in the US might have a reason to go topless, but she would have to think about it long and hard before she did so. It just isn’t done for the most part.

A more important part of the hijab is its religious importance for those women. By wearing the hijab, they reaffirm what they believe. Here in the US and in Europe, it is also a marker of her faith. Women who wear hijab here know that they are in some senses representing Islam so they better act accordingly. I wish more people that wore a cross would remember that as well.

The hijab is very powerful symbolism when taken in context of faith. Women are quite literally taking refuge under it and by extension Islam. That is why, in my opinion, wearing the American flag as hijab is so powerful. It is not just a religious statement, it is political.

Of course, it is the kind of politics that I like. She is free to do this, the US constitution guarantees her freedom to not only make this statement but to be a Muslim as well. It is everything that makes this nation great.

She may have been making an “in your face” statement to Americans with it. She might have targeted those people that conflate Christianity and being American or it may have been some sort of statement about the so called War on Terror. I have no idea, but that’s one of the great things about art, the artist does their thing and we are left to makes sense of it. What I love about it is going to piss some others off. How an American acts will probably be different than someone living in the middle east. The many different responses that can come from this is what makes it a great work in my opinion.

You go girl!

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economics free market freedom

Isaac, why is it always about the money?

There is, among some of my friends, the belief that I am all about money. I do talk about it quite a bit on this blog and most of my economics posts seem to center around money. I guess I only have myself to blame for not making things clearer.

Most of us do not value money for its own sake, but for the possibilities that it represents. When you have x amount of dollars, you can turn that amount into a computer, a hamburger, a charitable donation, a trip, education, or any number of other things. Naturally, we all prefer having more things/experiences, or at least higher quality things/experiences than less.

What people seem to discount (no pun intended) is how we get it. The bottom line is that we can only get money by doing something that other people want. The potential for making money is directly related to how great a want we satisfy. Working, and profiting from that work, is a benefit to society. As you profit, you employ others for your wants. Other people can make your lunch, drive you to work, clean your suit, educate your children, or whatever comes into your mind.

This is the real definition of a wealthy society. People use dollars to satisfy their wants and they can only get them by satisfying the wants of others. The more people that do this, the wealthier we are. Not because of the dollars, but because of the services and products we make for others.

Too many people make an artificial distinction between monetary freedom and “personal” freedom. They are the same thing, this is what economics is all about. Somehow people have gotten it into their heads that things like taxation and education are not related. They think that we can discuss health care and civil liberties as separate topics. No one seems to see the connection.

If you restrict things on the monetary side of things, you will eventually impact things on the freedom side of things. Imagine that taxes have to go up in order to pay for some things. The money you pay in taxes is diffused throughout the country so you will inevitably not see the direct effect of your money paid to the government. So you end up getting less money for the same amount of work, or you work more for the same amount of money. Monetary issues have taken away some of your time, liberty has been lost to a monetary measure. The same thing happens with any regulation that increases the cost of a product or service. We must work more for the same benefit…

If you curtail liberties, it will eventually impact the wealth of the nation. Remember, wealth is determined by people satisfying wants and needs of other people. For people to achieve their potential, they must be free to pursue what is important to them. Remember, there are always two people behind every transaction. They must be free to pursue what is important to them, and be free to pursue what is important to others. Doing both of those things is the very definition of wealth, you can’t have wealth without freedom.

In order for society to function, there needs to be some limits, I’ll admit that. But I tend to lean more towards things like prohibiting murder and leaving things like marriage, food, recreational chemical usage, etc. up to the individual.

So the thing that I have as my primary subject in my posts is not money, but freedom. Money is usually a good short hand method for talking about freedom and liberties in general. Most people tend to only look at liberty OR money, I want people to reconnect those concepts…

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culture freedom

My top ten historical events in my lifetime

I’ve heard some people talking about history today, and I was wondering where today fits into my idea of historical events. Obama makes my top ten, but there are some other things that take precedence. I’m limiting myself to things that happened in my lifetime but not to things that I recognized their importance at the time.

10) The take over and taking of hostages in the American embassy in Tehran 1979
9) W’s unjustified and illegal invasion of Iraq
8) Obama is elected president
7) The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty 1979
6) 9/11/2001
5) China adopts market reforms under Deng Xiaoping starting in 1978
4) Pol Pot giving up power and fleeing into the jungle during the Cambodian-Vietnamese war 1979
3) The end of Apartheid in South Africa 1n 1990
2) The fall of the Berlin Wall 1989
1) The collapse of the Soviet Union 1991

That was tougher than I thought it would be. I had the top three pretty well nailed down, but I thought that the end of the Vietnam war and the assassination of Sadat would make the list. My top 5 had immediate and important effects to millions and millions of people. Number 6 is probably ranked too high on an absolute scale, but it did have quite an impact on me. Hmm, the more I think about it, the less I think Obama’s place on my list will last. Right now we are all a flutter with the departing of Bush and the inauguration of the first black president, but if we take a step back, it really doesn’t compare with the things that come after it on my list…

Well, he’s made history, now let’s see what he can do. For all our sakes, I hope he does a good job.


Happy New Year!

I’m up early this new year for some reason, guess it’s as good a way to start it as another. Like every year of my life, I’m looking forward to this one. I don’t have any resolutions other than this, I resolve to let things go. By that I mean that I am not going to allow myself to become depressed over the economy and people’s beliefs in how to fix it. It has been too easy to get angry over the disconnect between what people think the problem is and what they think the solution is. I can’t do anything about the political/economic machinery churning away and people’s blind faith in it despite what I see as its obvious failings. All I can do is try to make the most out of what I’ve got. I am resolving to regain my optimism. It has faded a bit over the last 6 months. I think having too much extra time to think about things is mostly to blame for that. Well, it’s time to get busy with life again…

Oh, I’ll still rail against what I see as obvious problems, don’t worry about that! I have to keep in mind that all I’ll be able to do is educate people. Things will turn out the way they will, bad policy will have bad results… In the same vein, bad habits will have bad results as well. I need to take care of the things that I can do and ensure that what results from my activities is good. Insha’alla I will remember this throughout the year and keep my sanity intact.

In some ways all years are basically the same. All that really changes is what we think of them. Here’s to a good attitude for the rest of this year and for all the years to come. Happy new year!

economics free market freedom

Vanity Fair econ… ugh.

A friend asked me what I though of this article in Vanity Fair. My basic thought is that you find what you look for. Everything he mentioned reminded me how much the government had screwed up. He enumerated all of the things that the government did or had power to do (Alan Greenspan, various legislation, etc.) and how disastrous they were and then concludes that “anti-regulation fanatics” were to blame for the current mess. Huh?

I think a more reasonable way to look at it is that the government either shouldn’t have the power it does (via the fed) or should stop trying to compensate for its market distorting reactions to other market distorting legislation (like Sarbanes Oxely etc.). Instead of picking out one fed chair and (rightfully) complain that he screwed some things up, why not ask why a person or board has that kind of power in the first place? Instead of complaining about the repeal of Sarbanes et. al, why not ask what the markets were reacting to that made that legislation first attractive and then unattractive? I’m willing to bet that it was a reaction to some sort of legislation that caused that law to be “needed” in the first place. I’m also willing to bet that both in the enactment and the repeal of that law, they got it wrong…

His sneering at self-correcting markets is especially galling, how would he know how well they work? First off, they don’t exist in the financial world. On top of that, they are never allowed to correct. No one ever claimed that perfection would result from totally deregulated markets, but they do indeed “correct” themselves. I’m ignoring the strawman that people have been chomping at the bit for totally deregulated markets. As far as I can tell, people have wanted less regulated markets, or at least minimally regulated ones.That’s not the same thing at all… Anyway, it is the attempt to mitigate these corrections that causes so much widespread trouble. Trying to “fix” the result of markets only leads to other consequences. Markets only work well if the negative things are allowed to happen. Stupidity and excessive risk taking should be their own punishment….

How people can propose more regulation to fix problems that have government’s fingerprints all over them really confounds me. Why does he think it is possible for effective legislation for such a complicated issue to come out of the political process? Why does he not think that even if we did get the most brilliant economists (even by his standards) running things via regulation that they would be replaced by other people eventually? If you give power to people to regulate things, the political process will make a hash out of the best intentions.

So I’m not going to attack his econ cred. I’d look pretty silly with my several semesters worth of econ vs. his nobel prize… I have no reason to disbelieve his analysis of cause and effect. I am attacking his myopic view of what regulation is capable of and of the process that creates that legislation. There isn’t any reason to think that different regulations wouldn’t cause other problems. This is, in a nutshell, why the vast majority of professional economists drive me crazy. They know their models well, but they confuse those things with economics.

The main point that I got out of it was “The party I don’t like made some decisions that had bad consequences, so they’re all stupid.” His juvenile worship of the philosopher/economist technocrat getting things right blinds him to the reality of the political process. Unfortunetly, this idea of “If only we had the right people administering the right laws, everything would be fine,” is probably the most widespread view out there. Sigh…. Freer markets are by no means perfect, but they are a hell of a lot more democratic. In a totally free market of exchange, the damage caused by bad decisions are mostly limited to the people involved in that exchange. In his world, if all of the politicians involved in his regulating efforts aren’t blessed with perfect foreknowledge of all consequences for years to come from their regulations, we all feel the effects of their decisions.

freedom politics

"Tear down this wall!" and freedom in the middle east

I heard a clip of this speech the other day on the radio and I realized that I had never heard the entire thing. I made the effort and I’m glad I did. It’s quite the history lesson. It’s also good to hear the man himself instead of relying on fuzzy memories and modern critics. Listen to it here:

The first 30 seconds or so is a blurb about who is hosting the file, the speech begins after that. This wasn’t that long ago, a little over 20 years, but my how things have changed! Some of the more interesting bits IMO:

1) “The Soviet Union is pointing nuclear weapons at all of the capitals of Europe…” Wow, doesn’t that take you back? We were worried about nuclear war, and for good reason. Reagan has the reputation of being a war monger, but listen and you’ll hear a man that felt that he was doing what had to be done. he certainly didn’t seem to relish the arms race…

2) SDI. Yes, I can hear all of you groan from here. The “Star Wars” project was an infamous government waste of money. It was a waste insofar as it didn’t actually produce any sort of defense anything and cost an amazing amount of money. Believe it or not, there are more than a few historians that credit the SDI with the beginning of the end of the arms race. How? As early as 1968, Reagan had written that the best way to make the Soviet Union collapse was to make them spend a lot of money. His reading of Hayek made him realize that the Soviet system was inherently inefficient (despite all sorts of people, including a fair number of economists thinking otherwise). The American system could absorb many more losses and still function fairly well. History has born out both Hayek’s and Regan’s visions. SDI didn’t have to work, in fact I’m sure that Regan knew it wouldn’t work. All he had to do was convince the Soviets that there was a way to make it work given enough money. The Soviets couldn’t start that kind of research and keep up the ongoing arms race. It was the first crack in their armor, SDI is what made it clear that the US could afford much more than the Soviets, and they started to change…

3) Freedom. I know that use of “freedom” in a political speech is out of favor these days due to dub-ya’s mistakes in the name of it. But really, what Reagan said and what W has promised isn’t all that different, so why is Reagn’s speech moving and W sounds like a buffoon? I think that it was primarily what was causing the lack of freedom. Socialism was an organized, powerful, directed movement against liberty. The USSR was an easy target, and they were genuinely repressing people that wanted things to be different. Today is much different. Except for a few sad holdouts (N. Korea, Cuba), socialism is dead. There are still governments that repress their citizens of course, but none of them are large enough to pose a world-wide threat. They are also not large enough, or powerful enough to consistently fire up Americans… The freedom that W talked about was freedom at the point of a gun. Yes, Saddam was a monster, but that entire area seems to be disposed to autocratic rulers. My time in Yemen made it clear to me that they were not convinced a democracy like the US’s was in their best interests. Most of them would rather have a king…

In other words, the lack of freedom in the middle east was not so much dependent on governments (although there are more than a few repressive ones over there) as it was ingrained in their culture. If you ask them, they will of course claim to desire freedom, but that word has very different connotations to them than to people in the US usually. So the thing that limits freedom is not a monolithic, militarily powerful entity in that part of the world. It is instead diffuse, ingrained, and largely beneath the surface. How do you fight that? Trick question, you can’t “fight” that, you have to cultivate freedom.

So in short, I think that a lot of what caused W problems was the fact that there wasn’t a single thing that he could fight and “win” against. Today’s problems with freedom are quite a bit more complex than in years past. This last administration has been an absolute disaster in that regard. I really hope that Obama can get a feel for the real obstacles to freedom and act accordingly.