Libertarian View of War Cleared Up, Let’s Have a Drink

Over at Catallarchy, debate begins anew about the justice of the Iraq War, sparked by a post about the libertarian split over the war at the Volokh Conspiracy. Fortunately, our esteemed senior editor cleared up this little spat a few years ago in “The Wrong Hill”:

It doesn’t matter if there is a right side in the war, neither side can have any right to require Charlie Anderson to participate in any way. This is the argument libertarians need to make, not that war is evil, but that it can never be moral to force others to participate. It will do no good to win the argument that a war is evil while implicitly accepting that it is legitimately a collective decision; that’s the wrong hill. The right hill is the one where we reject the collectivist premise first.

Pace the argument at Catallarchy, the war may or may not be moral (though I don’t think it is) and it may or may not be utility-maximizing (I think the idea is incoherent in itself), but what matters is that no one has the right to require my money or my body to fight it.

Interestingly enough, at the Volokh post, Rose Friedman says, “And we will!” in response to a quip from Milton Friedman about winning the war. There’s the wrong hill right there.

I’ll have a gin and tonic.

Thanks, Ron, Now Shut Up

Ronald Bailey over at Reason is talking about the need for consumer-driven health care. Well and good. He mentions the problems of the current healthcare – which are legion – and says that a solution is needed. His solution?

My advice to President Bush on how really to jumpstart consumer-driven health care: mandatory private health insurance. Poor Americans would be offered a voucher with which they would buy private health coverage. Such vouchers could be paid for by abolishing Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Programs.

But they won’t be, Ron, and you know it, because you know what underlies all of this: the barrel of a gun. Why you think the solution is to point the gun in everyone’s face is beyond me, but you’re either clearly ignorant or clearly evil about this.

Dear Karen (No, Not That One)

Over at our old friend, Karen Kwiatkowski has a bit of advice for Hamas. If you’ve been under a rock recently, Hamas is a Palestinian terrorist organisation whose political arm just won a majority in the Palestinian parliament. She does so by way of comparing Ireland and Palestine.

Unfortunately, throughout the article she conflates Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Ireland was overrun by the English in the late 16th century. In the early 19th century, it was incorporated into the United Kingdom, and its local government was abolished. In the early 20th century after many bloody rebellions, most of Ireland decided to secede from the United Kingdom, and the UK sanctioned it. However, the northern part of the island voted to stay united with the United Kingdom. Hence, Ireland broke into two political units: the independent Republic of Ireland (after a tenure as the Irish Free State) and Northern Ireland, which is still united with the United Kingdom.

The violence in Northern Ireland has lasted most of the previous century. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) supported a break with the United Kingdom and a union with the Republic of Ireland. The Unionists supported the continued union of Northern Ireland with Great Britain as the United Kingdom. Recently, the most violent wing of the IRA, the Provisional IRA, chose to lay down its arms. But don’t be fooled by this: in 2003, the most recently elections for regional government in Northern Ireland returned the radicals on both sides of the Republican/Unionist divide – Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party, respectively. This has soured the hopes for peace and some sort of coherent and liberal legal system or systems. More of Northern Ireland’s more recent troubles can be read here.

Karen says:

What happened to Ireland? I surely don’t know, and as an American, whatever I think I know about some other country’s history and political condition is probably way off base. But I do know this. The current Heritage Economic Freedom Index places Ireland number three in the world. Ireland has scored 1.99 or less every year since 1998, and scored 2.19, 2.19, and 2.2 in the three years preceding 1998. Scoring below “1.99” is Heritage-speak for systemic economic freedom!

Dear Karen, you are confusing Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. The Heritage Economic Freedom Index is referring to the Republic of Ireland, not Northern Ireland. The Republic has indeed liberalised some over the past two decades or so, mostly at the behest of the minority Progressive Democrats. It has enjoyed rising GDP growth, although whether that GDP growth is mostly on paper and not in the pockets of the average working Irishman is some matter of debate.

Northern Ireland, on the other hand, has been economically dead for a long time. You are right that prosperity does not come in an atmosphere of violence, hatred, and mistrust. But you are mistaking the peaceful Republic with the dangerous North. Hamas, Fatah, or anyone in Israel do not face any easy answers for achieving peace or protecting human liberty.

On the Italian Pharmaceutical Industry

There’s a study going around the libertarian blogosphere about Italy, its pharmaceutical industry, and patents. Alex Singleton, on Samizdata, mentioned it first. Kevin Carson, on the Mutualist blog, picked up on Singleton’s post.

The gist of the argument is this: Italy didn’t have pharmaceutical patents until 1978. According to standard economic thinking, this means that Italy should have produced fewer drugs. “Yet between 1961 and 1980, 9.28% of the world’s new molecular entities (NMEs) came from Italy. NMEs are the most important advances in pharmaceuticals as they represent leaps rather than just gradual progression.” Singleton, paragraph 2.

This seems pretty damning to patent theory, at first blush. But what does “new molecular entity” mean? According the FDA, a new molecular entity is “an active [molecule or ion] that has not previously been approved (either as the parent compound or as a salt, ester or derivative of the parent compound) in the United States for use in a drug product either as a single ingredient or as part of a combination.” So, is this a new drug? Hardly. A NME is just a new type of molecule. A drug, on the other hand, requires study, testing, approval, and industrial development. So, not only must the NME be discovered, it must be developed into a consumer product.

So, how many new drugs did the Italian industry bring to market without its patents regime? The study is silent – surprise, surprise – and I haven’t been able to find a study saying one way or the other through Google. I’d be interested to know.

Proving Too Much on Education

With John Stossel’s recent report on the failure of American public schools, libertarians are coming out of the woodwork talking about the need for competition in public schools and the failure of public education. I don’t disagree, but there’s more to it than what they say.

If Bulgaria is stomping the crap out of America in high school mathematics, science, and foreign languages, the first question is “Why do their public schools work so much better than ours?” Libertarians seem to ignore that the countries embarassing American students don’t have a free market in education. Their public schools are whipping ours.

Secondly, there may be cultural problems underlying American educational failures. A free market expresses people’s preferences and beliefs; it does not change them. If American parents think that the schools are currently doing a good job, will they demand anything better in a free market? To overuse a common example, in a free educational market, a number of parents will make sure their children are ignorant of the centerpiece of modern biology. A free market won’t solve these underlying things.

It is true indeed that a free market in education is the only moral educational system, but let’s not kid ourselves that it answers all questions.

The State Legislator is the Child Grown Strong

Missouri Lawmaker Seeks to Ban Cold Beer Sales

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A state senator wants to force Missouri stores to sell warm beer. Under a bill by Sen. Bill Alter, grocery and convenience stores would risk losing their liquor licenses if they sold beer colder than 60 degrees. The intent is to cut down on drunken driving by making it less tempting to pop open a beer after leaving the store.

“The only reason why beer would need to be cold is so that it can be consumed right away,” Alter, who has been a police offer for more than 20 years, said Thursday.

He said the idea came from a fifth-grade student in Jefferson County who was participating in a program to teach elementary students about state government. He sought their suggestions for new laws and chose the cold beer ban from a list of the top three ideas.

There are a few things disturbing about this article:

1. “He [the state senator] sought their [fifth-graders] suggestions for new laws…” A state senator is asking ten-year olds for ideas about law? What’s next, state-provided Mountain Dew fountains in public places?

2. Hey, I like cold beer. Fuck you, pal.

3. Does anyone actually crack a beer open on the ride home? And if they do, is that enough to get anyone drunk enough to cause an accident? Come on.

4. I really like cold beer. Double fuck you, pal.

Hat tip: The Agitator

This is What I Mean

Over at LRC, noted Christian totalitarian Gary North discusses the transit strike in New York. The theme is that the unions are evil and are screwing over the city. He says, “The union has New York City’s transportation system by the neck. This is because the state of New York and New York City jointly put the transportation system in this position.” And he calls the union a “coercive, state-created organization”.

But, what if we talk about Halliburton, and all the corporations lined up at the trough for government money. Are we going to talk about how business is evil? How corporations have the country’s production by the neck? Of course we won’t, because, to North and his ilk, libertarian philosophy is just an apology for the rich.

Bush Gets It Right

Maximum Leader Bush finally gets it right:

“Mr. President,” one aide in the meeting said. “There is a valid case that the provisions in [the PATRIOT Act] undermine the Constitution.”

“Stop throwing the Constitution in my face,” Bush screamed back. “It’s just a goddamned piece of paper!”

Correct, which is why you have no just authority.

Open Question about Libertarians and Unions

What do libertarians have against labour unions? This question struck me the other day (because it was better than studying for Business Associations) and I wondered why libertarians have so much bile for labour unions. This piece from Prof. Reisman on MI’s website is par for the course. I’ve heard several reasons why unions are evil from free marketers, but I don’t find them particularly convincing.

Reason 1: Unions wouldn’t exist in a free market.

Answer 1: Why wouldn’t they? Perhaps they would actually be the dominant system for large-scale production enterprises.

Answer 2: Neither would the water department. How much bile do you have against public water?

Reason 2: Unions get government protection.

Answer: Sure, who doesn’t? The corporations whose products libertarians enjoy and often lionise enjoy government protection themselves. Direct subsidies, research grants, uneven tax laws, transport subsidies, bureaucratic regulation, etc. all contribute to the success of numerous corporations. Libertarians seem less bothered by this than with (admittedly unjust) laws such as the prohibition on firing striking workers.

Reason 3: Unions attempt to raise wages above the market rate.

Answer 1: In other words, unions attempt to get more for workers. So what?

Answer 2: The market rate, if I understand it, is what buyers and sellers are willing to bear. There is no objectively correct wage for labour – it is the result of the interplay of market actors. Workers will, of course, push for higher wages, just as management will push for higher profits.

Reason 4: Unions are just using workers.

Answer: This is the analogue of the Marxist argument that capitalists are exploiting workers. It deserves the same respect (i.e. none).

Reason 5: Unions support big government.

Answer 1: Did you miss the last election, where tens of millions of adult Americans expressed the same desire?

Answer 2: Most businesses support big government, themselves. Corporations are beginning to push for nationalised health care as a competitive advantage.

Most people I meet in my daily life know I’m a libertarian, and they find it surprising when I express pro-union sentiments. What do anti-union free marketers know about unions that I’m missing?

Consent of About Half

[T]o secure [life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness], governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed . . . Declaration of Independence.

As a market anarchist, I have no problem with this statement.

The problem is when “consent of the governed” actually isn’t consent. Iraq’s constitution is a good example of “consent” in action. 63% of Iraq’s adult populace turned out, 78% voted in favour. That’s 49%. 49% of the adult population just bound the other 51% (and their children) to a form of governance they did not choose, and in 2.5m cases, actively rejected. This is consent of the governed?

We are the people of Iraq, who in all our forms and groupings undertake to establish our union freely and by choice . . . Preamble, Constitution of Iraq, AP translation (emphasis mine).

Or not, as the case may be.