Friday, 20 April 2012

FRIDAY MORNING RAMBLE: The “crony” edition

The tarnish is finally and deservedly wearing off Smile and Wave with the realisation that there’s nothing at all behind the smile, and that he doesn’t stand for business in general—only for particular businesses to whom he’s eager to grant favours. It’s called “cronyism,” and it’s as phony as he is.

Paul Hsieh’s latest OpEd discusses why there’s so much “money in politics” everywhere, and why a free market in economics is the only proper solution.
The Best Congress Money Can Buy? – Paul Hsieh, R E A L   C L E A R   M A R K E T S

Strike, strike, strike. If only Dickens had written about a Tiny Tim whose father remained unemployed due to labour-union barriers.
Unions and the Other Tiny Tim – Christopher Westley,  T H E   O T H E R   T I N Y   T I M

From the FFS file: a National Party blogger boasting about National Party spending! “So total government expenditure increased 21% under National, from Labour’s last term. If you compare to the last term of National’s 4th Government it is a whopping 131% higher. It is also 92% higher than Labour’s first term.”
This is a responsible Governments? Yeah right.
Government Expenditure – K I W I B L O G

Nice to see some balls from a local CEO for a change: TelstraClear boss Allan Freeth says Government broadband is "network socialism" dampening investment. And announces a plan to gazump the govt’s lack-lustre efforts.
Crown fibre nothing - TelstraClear launches 100Mbit/s cable service -  N B R

And now, some good news. Poverty in New Zealand is decreasing. “It decreased over the 2000s but has yet to fall to mid-eighties levels. But what is actually growing right now? The number of people clamouring about, and the level of noise being made about poverty and inequality.”
Something is growing but I'm not sure it's poverty or inequality – L I N D S A Y   M I T C H E L L

Left-winger John Moore decries the steady shift of NZ’s left-wingers from supporting internationalism to today’s knee-jerk xenophobia.
 Leftwing Xenophobia in New Zealand – John Moore,  L I B E R A T I O N

Since many people support the Greens because they see them as a liberal minded and pro-individual choice party, and for most people Russel Norman’s Greens are the real opposition, I thought I’d do another simple illustrative check up on how freedom-loving the cuddly munchkins are these days. 
When I last did this exercise back in 2005, the word ban appeared on the Greens’s website only 165 times.
And now? The word “ban” now appears a whopping 2,870 times. Only one of which is an announcement opposing a ban.
Search for “ban” on Greens’s’ website – G R E E N S
Greens - reading the bans – N O T   P C ,  2 0 0 5

Was the Titanic tragedy an early failure of the regulatory state?
The Real Reason for the Tragedy of the Titanic – W A L L S T R E E T J O U R N A L

Former Argentine dictator Jorge Rafael Videla has admitted for the first time his regime stole babies, kidnapped thousands of opponents and murdered them.
Argentina's Videla admits killings - H I S T O R Y  N E W S  N E T W O R K

That was then. Now they just rape investors.  "Argentina can kiss goodbye being treated seriously again by investors for another generation."
Argentina’s grab of oil firm: bad idea, worse timing – M I A M I   H E R A L D

We’ve said it before: the only ones to win from democracy in Egypt will be the Muslim Brotherhood, i.e., the creators of Al Qaeda. And what does the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate for president of Egypt believe? What kind of Egypt would he seek to create? “The mission is clear: restoring Islam in its all-encompassing conception; Subjugating people to God; instituting the religion of God; the Islamization of life…” In other words, an Islamic dictatorship.
What Does the Muslim Brotherhood Intend? – C O U N C I L  F O R   F O R E I G N   R E L A T I O N S

So, what is what is a proper immigration policy?
The Unethical Nature of Current Immigration Laws: Ayn Rand’s Theory of Rights contra Current Immigration Rhetoric – Andrew Ryan,  M O T H E R  O F   E X I L E S

Santiago Valenzuela busts the common immigration myth that regulations prevent the exploitation of migrant workers.
Immigration Myth: Immigration Regulations Prevent the Exploitation of Workers
- Santiago Valenzuela, M O T H E R O F E X I L E S

“It is now official: drilling for shale gas by fracturing rock with water may rattle the odd teacup, but is highly unlikely to cause damaging earthquakes.”
Time to start frackingMatt Ridley,  T H E   R A T I O N A L  O P T I M I S T

In the last decade, something astonishing has happened that has escaped the attention of nearly everyone. America is no longer number one.  “Chris Mayer, author of the absolutely essential and eye-opening book World Right Side Up, believes this slide is going to continue for the rest of our lifetimes and beyond. The implications of his thesis are profound for investors. It actually affects the lives of everyone in the digital age.”
It’s a New World, and America Is Not Leading It – Jeffrey Tucker,  L A I S S E Z – F A I R E    B O O K S

In Arizona, pregnancy can now legally exist two weeks before conception.
Arizona Passes Abortion Law That Says Pregnancy Begins Before A Child Has Been Conceived 
– H U F F I N G T O N   P O S T  ( U K )

Twitter’s posting of their so-called “Innovators Patent Agreement” is a very poor IPA indeed—it’s the sign that instead of patent protection we’re heading for a world of trade secrets—which does not promote innovation but stifle it.
Twitter’s IPA”: The Rise of Trade Secrets and the End of Innovation – S T A T E  O F   I N N O V A T I O N

The dangers of nannying: When the state lumps trivial crimes with barbaric ones, it undermines our moral priorities says Walter Williams.

The European Union is becoming ever more dangerous. While it is still unclear where future developments will lead the European Monetary Union, the costs and risks of remaining within the system are already immense and rising. The EMU provokes conflicts between otherwise peacefully cooperating nations. Redistribution is always a potential cause of social stress.
The Eurozone: A Moral-Hazard Morass – M I S E S   D A I L Y

“Every politician, central bank, and regulator in the developed world spent 2008 and 2009 saying, ‘This must never happen again.’ ‘This’ was the financial meltdown that almost took down the world economy.” Yet after engineering that first one, they’ve spent the intervening period making another one all-but certain.
Financial Crisis II: European Governments fail to learn from history – Johan Norberg, R E A S O N

Funny. I used to enjoy annoying Scotsmen by telling them that an Independent Scotland would be broke in a week—that Scotland is a nett bludger on the rest of Britain. Now, the Economist has this cover with the same message:


“Week after week, [White House economic adviser Christina] Romer would march in with an estimate of the jobs all the investments in clean energy would produce; week after week, Obama would send her back to check the numbers. ‘I don’t get it,’ he’d say. ‘We make these large-scale investments in infrastructure. What do you mean, there are no jobs?’ But the numbers rarely budged.”
The entire Obama presidency in one anecdote – T H E   A M E R I C A N

Oh yes, and there was also last month’s Executive Order signed with little fanfare by Obama giving him the power, in certain circumstances, to assume control over the energy industry—along with the rest of the economy.
Perhaps he learned the trick from Gerry Brownlee?
Obama’s Quiet Executive Order: Reaffirming and Expanding Federal Powers 
– M A S T E R   R E S O U R C E

And for a supposed constitutional law expert, turns out he knows nothing at all about constitutional law.
Unprecedented Presidential Posturing – Peter Schiff, T O W N   H A L L

Meanwhile, in the UK, there are still voices in the mainstream who do understand freedom.
UK is wrong to have turned its back on individual freedom – Allister Heath,  C I T Y   A . M .

The debate about climate change and its impact on polar bears has intensified with the release of a survey that shows the bear population in a key part of northern Canada is far larger than many scientists thought, and might be growing.
Healthy polar bear count confounds doomsayers – G L O B E  &   M A I L

Why are so many people still attracted to Marxism despite the history of totalitarianism and genocide? Bradley Thomson explains the appeal.

The US Federal Reserve is pursuing an unprecedented interventionist policy with our money.  At the same time, it is struggling with the idea of transparency.
A republic, if you can keep it – Russ Roberts, C A F E H A Y E K

So how to get recovery going when that recovery has been bogged down by Keynesian mismanagement? “The Keynesians, sad to say, show no understanding of how the economy works. They think they can lever employment up or down by pushing buttons – as if the economy were hydraulic. They show no grasp of the concepts that would be necessary to restore us to prosperity and flourishing. In an old image that applies well to the posturing of today’s self-styled Keynesians, ‘the Emperor has no clothes’.”
Phelps on Keynes vs. Hayek – Russ Roberts, C A F E    H A Y E K

The tragic mistake of economics explained:

Implicitly, uncritically, and by default, political economy accepted as its axioms the fundamental tenets of collectivism.
Political economists—including the advocates of capitalism—defined their science as the study of the management or direction or organization or manipulation of a “community’s” or a nation’s “resources.” The nature of these “resources” was not defined; their communal ownership was taken for granted—and the goal of political economy was assumed to be the study of how to utilize these “resources” for “the common good.” . . .
Political economy was, in effect, a science starting in midstream: it observed that men were producing and trading, it took for granted that they had always done so and always would—it accepted this fact as the given, requiring no further consideration—and it addressed itself to the problem of how to devise the best way for the “community” to dispose of human effort.
            From “What Is Capitalism?” in Ayn Rand’s Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal:

Edgar the Exploiter? To get the full picture of the virtues of the free market, we must bring the consumer into the picture.
Edgar the Entrepreneur – Daniel James Sanchez, M I S E S   D A I L Y

So, does the government-imposed minimum wage really help the poor? Yaron Brook answers. [If you would like to ask Yaron a question, you can submit it here.]

Here’s a quick pro-tip from Diana Hsieh on how not to argue against environmentalists: “Don’t attempt to dismiss concerns of environmentalists by claiming that the earth has been around for 6000 years, and that’s a long time, so surely this mine won’t cause any problems.” (She kids you not.)
How Not To Argue Against Environmentalists – N O O D L E   F O O D

Someone has blundered! Melbourne Theatre Company puts on a play featuring a female skeptic climate scientist.  Can you believe it?
Abbott again, or was it the IPA? Skeptic stars in Melbourne play – C A T A L L A X Y   F I L E S

“Ayn Rand once observed that ideas are the ultimate driving force of history, and the most consistent side in an ideological war will eventually win. If this is true, then it pays to study the ideas of any movement that arises in a country.
Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution, by Tea Party Patriots co-founders Mark Meckler and Jenny Beth Martin, is both a general framework of the Tea Party’s philosophical ideas and a broad long-term agenda for the Tea Party over the next 40 years. Running 210 pages, this indexed book is described in the inside cover as ‘the first comprehensive, forward-looking document outlining a plan to restore America to its prior greatness’.”
Book Review: Tea Party Patriots: The Second American Revolution – F O R B E S

Look at these neat little units by American outfit Sett Studio, and so easily constructed. Wouldn’t it be great if this sort of technology was allowed around Christchurch to help fix the exploding housing problem? 

Investing for retirement isn’t all about money. Here are “six essential retirement investments that have nothing to do with money and everything to do with well-being.”
6 Top Retirement Investments Not About Money – Y A H O O   F I N A N C E

Screaming silently. 
Middleton sisters 'avatars of aspiration' in annual list – G U A R D I A N

When might it be moral—and practical!—to break the law. Watch the video!
Video: The Morality of Breaking the Law – Diana Hsieh.  N O O D L E   F O O D

“Living is what you’re doing when you’re too enthralled to notice. Dying is what you’re doing when all you can  do is notice.”
Psalm – Greg Swann,  S E L F   A D O R A T I O N

Just thank goodness you weren’t sitting next to her in the plane!  “I planned to take advantage of a long-haul flight from San Francisco to Auckland, guessing that there were likely to be long periods of time when no one was using the lavatory on the 14-hour flight. I made several forays to the bathroom from my aisle seat, and by the time we landed I had a large group of new photographs entitled Lavatory Self-Portraits in the Flemish Style.”
Amazing airplane lavatory self-portraits in the Flemish Style by artist Nina Katchadourian 
– 2  M O D E R N   B L O G

The Auckland Philharmonia really nailed this at the Town Hall last night. If you weren’t there, you missed out.

I love the “small bands” swing-band leaders like Benny Goodman set up to play more improvisational fare.  And I’ve been fascinated to discover that Artie Shaw had such a band, the Gramercy Five—and it included a harpsichord!
Hip to the Harpsichord: Artie Shaw's 1940 'Summit Ridge Drive' is seductive swing 
W A L L   S T R E E T   J O U R N A L

And since Rigoletto will be playing in Auckland very soon, here’s the famous quartet from the final scene inside and outside the murder house (and I don’t mean they’re going to the dentist’s!). And you don’t get much more famous in the opera world than Joan and Big Lucy.

Thanks for reading.
Have a great weekend!

[Thanks and hat tips to Laissez Faire, Amanda Morrall, Dawn Walter, Neil Gaiman, Paul Hsieh, Ann McElhinney, Cathy, Matt Ridley, Allister Heath, Chris Keall, Martin Kramer, Liberty Scott, We Stand FIRM)

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Thursday, 19 April 2012

EVENT: "The real goal of the green climate crusade"

Here’s a  live-stream internet event for tomorrow to put into your electronic diary. 

Environmentalists claim that our use of carbon-based energy is altering the climate, making us more vulnerable to climate disasters. Human survival, they insist, requires the immediate abandonment of fossil fuels in favour of carbon-free sources. So why do environmentalist groups vehemently oppose projects involving every alternative form of energy ever proposed to replace fossil fuels--including wind farms and solar power plants? And why do they ignore the dramatic degree to which industrial development under capitalism has reduced the risk of harm from severe climate events? Before we rush headlong into drastic climate policies and energy rationing, a critical examination of these policies is urgently needed.
Dr. Lockitch will address these important issues and answer audience questions.

This event will be livestreamed free at

Who:  Dr. Keith Lockitch, fellow and instructor at the Ayn Rand Institute. Dr. Keith Lockitch has a PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee. His writings have appeared in publications such as the Washington Times, Orange County Register and the San Francisco Chronicle.

What: A lecture examining what is really behind global warming alarmism
Where: Smith Hall 231, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis (and livestreamed worldwide)
When: Friday, April 20, 2012
Time:  12:30 p.m. NZ time

As with yesterdays livestream event, if you’re anywhere near Mt Eden and would like to join us here to watch this on a big screen and have a quick chat about it afterwards, feel free to climb up the stairs at the Organon Architecture offices on the corner of Valley Rd and Dominion Rd, i.e., Level 1, 236 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden—opposite The Dominion.

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A Norwegian monster with some strange bedfellows

It’s as repellent watching the courtroom performance of the murderer of 77 young Norwegians as it was watching that of the murderer of Sophie Elliot.*

But how appropriate that the Norwegian killer, who so bravely killed 77 unarmed people guilty only of going about their daily business, admitted in court he was inspired by al-Qaeda and militant Islamists—who around the world from Madrid to Manhattan, from Bali to Beirut, have so bravely killed several thousand unarmed people guilty only of going about their daily business.

[The Norwegian sack of shit] said his attacks last year were aimed at defending "ethnic Norwegians" from rising multiculturalism, and that he "would have done it again."
    Insisting "universal human rights" gave him the mandate to carry out his acts, he described himself as a "militant nationalist" and, using the pronoun 'we' to suggest he was part of a larger group, added: "We have drawn from al-Qaida and militant Islamists."

And so “they” had. Which might seem bizarre—drawing inspiration from those he claimed as his ideological enemies.

But they’re not  really that different, are they. Both base their misbegotten evil on superstitious claptrap, and both claim the “right” to take away the right to life of those they despise.

And both seek (or sought) martyrdom.

So not so bizarre at all really.

What folk might find even more bizarre however is that his other supposed enemy, “multiculturalism”—the misguided notion in supposed opposition to which the Norwegian Monster set out on his slaughter—is actually another misbegotten evil to which he himself subscribes.  As Spiked editor Brendan O’Neill argues, the scumbag is himself “a monster made by multiculturalism.”

The dark irony in [the scumbag’s] courtoom ranting about multiculturalism is that his own worldview is riddled with that divisive ideology. B****** poses as a one-man army against the evils of multiculturalism and the “Cultural Marxists” who have foisted it upon us. Yet in everything from his plea to respect “my culture” to his paranoid belief that “his culture” is under threat from both uncaring officials and uncouth plebs, B****** reveals that he is in fact an adherent to the multicultural outlook. His view of himself as a threatened “culture”, his cloying self-pity, his paranoia about his traditions being trampled underfoot by Others – all of those warped ideas spring from the ideology of multiculturalism…
[His] obsession with one’s own cultural identity, and the desire to erect a forcefield around it so that it is never threatened by external forces, is pure, unadulterated multiculturalism, the same thinking that motivates the modern multicultural machine and its mission to enforce respect for various “identities”…
Another thing B****** shares with the multicultural lobby is a powerful sense of cultural paranoia. He believes “my culture” is under siege. Only where mainstream multiculturalists tend to argue that minority cultures such as the Islamic one are threatened by tidal waves of Islamophobia and general public ignorance, B****** says the majority culture – the white Christian identity – is threatened by the
“Islamic colonisation” of Europe and also by general public ignorance (he says ordinary people have been led astray by the media). These are just different versions of the same sense of cultural panic that is fostered by the multicultural outlook. Indeed, it is remarkable how much B****** has in common with those Islamists he despises.

Which brings us back to where we started really, doesn’t it.

The real evil of multiculturalism is not that it is “Islamifying” Europe. Its first evil is that in saying that every culture is equal it allows evil cultures to flourish instead of to fade away.

And its second is that by insisting adherents view others only in terms of white or brown, Christian or Islamic, Jew or Palestinian, it encourages a focus on tribalism and the group instead of a healthy individualism—on skin colour and ethnicity instead of individual character and actions—and mitigates that people be viewed as “members” of some racially-based “community” instead of being simply human beings like themselves yearning to breathe free.

The result, points out Greg Perkins:

In practice, over time, multiculturalism is not "a tribe against the many." When it reaches its full "flowering," multiculturalism is many petty tribes perpetually at each other's throats -- which can hardly be described as "tolerance."

In other words, instead of building bridges it erects fences—behind which cowards like Islamists and this scumbag can hide.

* * * * *

* Others might feel happy giving these scum-suckers the oxygen of publicity. Let they themselves reflect on that.  But I for one refuse to grant swine like this the respect of calling them by name.


The Grey Ones in Christchurch just got greyer [updated]

The Grey Ones in Christchurch just got very much greyer indeed. To the already growing layers of bungling bureaucracy, Gauleiter Brownlee has just added another to be added above the already tottering pile of the Council, Environment Canterbury, and the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, and just under the Gauleiter’s own Reichsgau.

And to the “regime uncertainty” already plaguing and delaying would-be investors in Christchurch’s rebuild, he has just added another three months (plus cockups) while this new “unit,” headed up by a bloke pinched from the Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority, prepares yet another top-down plan to be imposed on property owners—by planners pinched from the very same council who drew up the earlier plans.

Sounds like an abject bloody shambles?

It is.

A shambles to add to therapidly growing man-made disaster developing in Canterbury ever since the seismic disaster began.

The reason for this new bureaucracy to be added to all the others? In a word: coercion.  “The unit” has “special powers” of coercion, as I was hearing all across the radio yesterday; “special powers” to compel property owners to do the bureaucracy’s bidding. “Special powers” of coercion that only a central government agency can wield.

A “compelling” argument, don’t you think?

And as they often say, if you have to compel people it’s only because you couldn’t otherwise persuade them voluntarily.

The idea of the agency and the new top-down plan it is supposed to produce, eventually, is flawed from arsehole all the way to breakfast. 

Any “plan” to rebuild the country’s second-biggest city that begins by bludgeoning property owners into submission—the very people who will actually be rebuilding—is a plan, like every top-down plan ever born, that is bound to fail.

And the fact is cities just do not develop from the top down—they happen organically as a result of the seething, surging energy within; in the words of Paul Krugman (yes, that Paul Krugman) they’re self-organising systems—the crystallisation in concrete of the “spontaneous order” generated by every value-seeking interaction that happens in the city—“the result of human action but not human design.”

It arises from a myriad of individuals each pursuing their own interest and carrying out their own plans, within a framework of rules that encourages peaceful cooperation over violent aggression.

No planner can emulate the “spontaneous order” emerging from all that action, because no planner can replicate all the asymmetric information in actors’ heads.  It is, as Jane Jacobs long ago pointed out, a "problem of organized complexity" which entails "dealing simultaneously with a sizeable number of factors which are interrelated into an organic whole."

The planners and the growing band of Grey Ones know nothing of this. They have been obsessed since Day One (as they have been in Auckland since the creation of its own Super-Bureaucracy) with their turgid top-down topologies. A “government rebuild,” with all that implies.

But the top-down approach fails to take into account the subtleties of the knowledge possessed only by the individuals on the scene.  Real living cities are the very epitome of a bottom-up process, a condensation of all the “bottom-up” knowledge possessed only by value-seeking individuals out on the streets in the thick of the city’s driving energy.

And the Grey Ones have been killing that energy from day one. They’ve been killing the drive. And now they’ve explicitly announced the coercive war against property owners that has been implicit ever since the first quake, every property owner and would-be investor in Christchurch will be sitting up, taking notice, and quietly changing their plans accordingly.

The whole future of Christchurch just got very much greyer indeed.

PS: As an illuminating exercise, listen to the announcement of the new top-down plan by its various Gauleiters, Czars and panjandrums while pondering Ludwig Von Mises’ telling observation on the nature of planners:

"[The planners] are driven by the dictatorial complex. They want to deal with their fellow men in the way an engineer deals with the materials out of which he builds houses, bridges, and machines. They want to substitute "social engineering" for the actions of their fellow citizens and their own unique all-comprehensive plan for the plans of all other people. They see themselves in the role of the dictator—the duce, the Führer, the production tsar—in whose hands all other specimens of mankind are merely pawns. If they refer to society as an acting agent, they mean themselves. If they say that conscious action of society is to be substituted for the prevailing “anarchy” of individualism, they mean their own consciousness alone and not that of anybody else
             Ludwig Von Mises:
The Ultimate Foundation of Economic Science).

UPDATE:  Having already quoted Paul Krugman approvingly, let me also quote a blog post from The Standard (yes, The Standard):

It’s turtles all the way down
Anyone else see the irony in the 'bureaucracy-slashing National Government'TM reacting to delays in the Christchurch rebuilding - partly caused by lack of coordination between the local bureaucracy, the existing central government bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy National created especially to deal with the rebuild - by adding another layer of back-room bureaucracy?

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ECONOMICS FOR REAL PEOPLE: The stories behind the rap!


Here’s the update on tonight’s meeting from our friends at the Uni of Auckland Economics Group:

Hello All,

This week we are going to be watching a couple of rap videos. Yes, that's correct, rap videos.

These videos look at the debate between two conflicting schools of economic thought. The rap is a “battle off” between Hayek and Keynes, proponents of the Austrian and Keynesian schools, respectively.

We will discuss the key differences between these schools of thought, some of their implications, and the story behind this historic debate.

    Date: Tonight, Thursday, 19 April
    Time: 6pm
    Where: Case Room 3, Level 0, Business School Building

So come along for an interesting discussion and (more importantly) some quality music.

Dancing is allowed.

Look forward to seeing you there.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2012

“Scarcity” – Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified?

Guest post by Dale Halling from the State of Innovation blog.

Too many people today don’t understand property rights—even those people whom you might think would be most likely to.  Cato, Reason and the Mises Institute are just three out of many whose otherwise good work in many areas is undermined by their complete ignorance on property rights, especially intellectual property rights.

As Dale Halling explains, their error lies in their misunderstanding (or in some cases abject disinterest) in the derivation of property rights. “They have adopted the Utilitarian point of view that property rights are just an efficient way of allocating scarce resources.”  But this is not the justification for property rights, simply a beneficent consequence.  Cato, Reason, the Mises Institute et al confuse consequence for cause, and in so doing obliterate that which they should be defending.

Adam Mossoff explains has talked extensively on this nonsense, explaining that Jeremy Bentham’s ideas are at the root of these “libertarian” attacks on Intellectual Property.  “Bentham’s basic philosophy was Utilitarianism, i.e., the so-called ‘greatest good for the greatest number.’ Bentham argued the justification for property rights was scarcity and conflict resolution, not natural rights… This is the philosophical point of view used by the Cato Institute, the Von Mises Institute et al to attack patents and copyrights.”

The packaging of utilitarianism and property rights is a complete mess. Bentham himself was an opponent of rights altogether, famously calling them “nonsense on stilts,” so it’s no surprise that today’s Benthamites find themselves opposed as well.

The fact is however, as Mossoff explains, Utilitarianism’s ‘greatest good for the greatest number’ never even achieves its purported goal; its end result is always some form of  totalitarianism. “The reason for this [summarises Halling] is that utilitarianism is merely a justification for short term actions. Once something has been produced, it always looks like the greatest good is to redistribute the creation.” That this sounds like the underlying ethic of every socialist “workers paradise” ever invented is no accident; in fact it is the same ethic in theory, and leads to the same result in prcatice: poverty and coercion. Redistribution of already-produced creations might sound good to the unthinking, “however, this is clearly only true in the short term. In the long term it is clear that this always destroys the economy, rights, and rights-holders.  Stealing the product of one’s mind (mental labor is labor) is no different than banning free speech. It stifles the mind, which source of all economic progress (values).”

The confusion over the status of Intellectual Property must be repaired. Which means the package deal of using utilitarianism to ‘justify’ rights must be untangled. Craig Biddle explains very simply the correct derivation of rights here, wiping away several dangerous confusions in the process. And Dale Halling discuss the historical and theoretical fallacies behind the scarcity theory of property right here in this Guest Post. Enjoy!

The confusion over the status of Intellectual Property must be repaired. Which means the package deal of using utilitarianism to ‘justify’ rights must be untangled. Craig Biddle explains very simply the correct derivation of rights here. And Dale Halling discuss the fallacies behind the scarcity theory of property right here:at my post Scarcity: Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified and Scarcity -2 and Scarcity -3.  Mossoff points out that  (IP).

Scarcity – Does it Prove Intellectual Property is Unjustified?

A NUMBER OF ALLEGED SCHOLARS [1] have recently suggested that the logical basis for tangible property rights is scarcity.  Property rights efficiently allocate these resources and avoid conflicts between competing rights of individuals.  These scholars argue that ideas and invention are not subject to scarcity and therefore intellectual property rights should not exist.  These arguments seem to be particularly prevalent among libertarians, including the Cato Institute the Von Mises Institute and the open-source community.

Tangible property rights include real property rights in land and buildings and personal property rights in things like cars and furniture.  Tangible or physical property is scarce since it can only be owned by one person at a time and it takes resources to create.  According to this theory, intangible or intellectual property such as patents and copyrights, and software in the case of the open source community, is not scarce so can not be accorded property rights status.  Intangible property can be owned by multiple people without excluding others from the same property, which according to them is the defining characteristic of property..  According to Tom G. Palmer for example, a proponent of this “scarcity” theory of property:

          It is this scarcity that gives rise to property rights.  Intellectual property rights, however, do not rest 
         on a natural scarcity of goods, but on an “artificial, self created scarcity.”

Scarcity however is neither the historical nor logical basis of private property rights.  The historical justification of property rights is based on the right that a person owns himself.  If you do not own yourself, you are a slave.  If you own yourself then you own the fruits of your labor, physical and mental.  This is commonly referred to the “natural rights labor theory of property.”

In the pre-capitalist era, private property existed de facto, but not de jure, i.e., by custom and sufferance, rather than by right or by law.  In law and in principle, all property belonged to the head of the tribe, the king, and was held only by his permission, which could and often was revoked at any time, at his pleasure. [3]  [This is the basis of the fee simple title which is still issued these days in NZ, a legal fiction that remains as a vestige of this tradition that is unfortunately these days becoming a reality again all too quickly.]

The labor theory of property provided the first foundation of property rights as opposed to respecting property simply as a custom.  As a result, the scholars who suggest that property rights are based on scarcity are incorrect historically.

DESPITE THIS HISTORICAL INACCURACY, some of these alleged scholars might still argue that “scarcity” is still nonetheless a better theoretical framework for the justification of property rights.  But this is still not true.

The natural rights labor theory of property explains why slavery is immoral.  If you own yourself, then no one else has the right to own you.  It also explains why murder and manslaughter are immoral, why stealing is immoral, why assault and battery are immoral and why we have laws against all these actions.  The natural rights labor theory defines how property should be allocated and how people come into possession of property morally and legally.  The labor theory explains all of our basic criminal law and all of our basic property laws. 

But what does scarcity explain?  It offers no justification for why slavery, murder, manslaughter, assault and and theft are immoral, except that they are “inefficient at allocating resources.”  Thus, all of these crimes would be allowed if they were efficient at allocating resources.  [In effect, as Bob Jones one joked, their only argument against Hitler’s extermination of millions of human beings would be the size of his gas bill.]

The “scarcity” theory does not explain why these wrongs are wrong. But nor yet does it define who has ownership in any particular property, nor why they should have this ownership in property recognised.  It merely explains that private property ownership is an efficient manner in allocating scarce resources, then ignores completely the question of who is entitled to enjoy these rights.

The “scarcity” theory is neither complete nor accurate.

On top of that, it also requires the additional assumption that it is “preferable” [why? because we said so, that’s why] to have efficient allocation of resources. So it is neither complete, nor accurate, and in addition it begins begging other questions it also fails to answer.

IN SCIENCE, THE THEORY that has the greatest ability to explain the widest number of facts is considered to be the correct or better theory.  Here the “scarcity” theory of private property fails to integrate at all the facts it needs to explain while requiring additional assumptions it can’t explain.

It fails to recognise how a resource is created; it has no basis for explaining how a resource should be initially distributed; it does not explain how property law determines ownership; and it has no power at all to explain criminal law.

Trading scarcity for the labor theory of property is like trading the theory that “what goes up must come down” for Newton’s Law of gravity.  The fact of the matter is that the proponents of scarcity have confused cause with effect.  A system of private property results in efficient allocation of resource, but it is not the reason for private property – it is the effect of private property.

Dale Halling is an American patent attorney and entrepreneur, and the author of the book The Decline and Fall of the American Entrepreneur: How Little Known Laws are Killing Innovation.
Read his regular thoughts at his
State of Innovation blog.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How the internet makes you happy [updated]

Here’s one of the neat things the internet can do: by offering a live, free, web-streamed talk on happiness, presented by a philosophy professor and hosted by  the Ayn Rand Center:

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Tools For Attaining It

The Declaration of Independence famously espouses the idea that every man has a birthright to the pursuit of happiness. An individual's success in attaining happiness, however, depends on what he does with that right. This talk probes three factors vitally necessary to achieve happiness─factors that are not conventionally recognized but, instead, are routinely vilified.

Speaker: Dr. Tara Smith is professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, where she holds the BB&T Chair for the Study of Objectivism and the Anthem Foundation Fellowship. A specialist in moral, legal and political philosophy, she has published books on values, virtues, individual rights and, in the past few years, several articles on objective law and judicial review.

This event will be livestreamed free on the Ayn Rand Center's Facebook page.  Click here:

You do not need to be a registered user of Facebook to view the event.

What: Lecture on happiness—and how to go about achieving it!
When: Wednesday, 18 April: 11:30am-1pm

PS: If you're near Mt Eden at 11:30 we’ll be watching this at my office cnr Valley Rd/Dominion Rd, so feel free to call in and join us: Organon Architecture, Level 1, 236 Dominion Rd, Mt Eden.

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The earthquake was a natural disaster. Everything since has been man-made. [updated]

The Grey Ones have done everything wrong since the Christchurch earthquake.

They barred people from their city.1

They evicted people from their homes.2

They slowed down their repairs and insurance pay-outs.3

They slowed down reconstruction.4

They first banned the demolition of any heritage building (killing many people during the second big earthquake) then carried out themselves, by order, the demolition of all heritage buildings!5

They made a lottery of which home-owners would be paid out, and how much.6

They talked about “rebuilding” but have made it virtually impossible.7

They have barred for months the building of new commercial buildings 0n existing central-city land.8

They have barred the building of new commercial buildings on new land around the fringes.9

They have barred the building of new homes on new land at all.10

They handed monopoly status to Fletcher Building et al, locking out local contractors from work they know well.11

They encouraged the demolition of the Cathedral instead of leaving the ruin as a memorial.12

At a time when financial pain could not be worse they hiked rates instead of lowering them. 13

At a time when financial pain could not be worse they hiked their own salaries instead of lowering them. 14

Instead of allowing innovative prefabricated housing to be installed around the city, they have insisted on conformity and encourage “a tsunami” of construction workers to head to the city.15

Instead of allowing enterprise to flourish in a city on its knees, the Government instead appointed a central-planning Czar to kneecap whatever enterprise did emerge. 16

Instead of dismissing the dysfunctional Christchurch bureaucracy the Czar instead compounded the  problem by adding a new bureaucracy on top. 17

Instead of giving entrepreneurs certainty about all the decision-making being done—decision-making that should have been left in the hands of those entrepreneurs—businessmen have instead been left in the position of supplicants to whom information is doled out only when the Czars and their courtiers deem it necessary-even now being required to “hurry up and wait” for months while the Czar decides what they will be told to do.18

Every single thing they could have got wrong, they’ve got wrong.19

The job the earthquake started, the Grey Ones have been doing their best since 2010 to complete. The have virtually destroyed the place as a functioning city—with only the heroics of local businessmen keeping it running at all.

And now?

Now the Grey Ones are arguing amongst themselves about who should implement their “plan.” Their top-down plan.  Their centrally-planned plan. Their “vision” for the city formed in a void—without any cognisance whatsoever of the hopes, dreams, ambitions, plans and investments of the property-owners, entrepreneurs and citizens of Christchurch whose lives, plans and property they wish to control.

And arguing too about who should wield the “coercive power”20 they deem necessary to bludgeon unwilling property-owners, entrepreneurs and citizens to follow the Grey Ones’ plan(s) instead of their own.

The grey ones really do need a simple message:

Get the hell out of the way!

Let people make the most of what they do have now by minimising the difficulties they face in doing something with it, not giving them more burdens to slow them down.

Let them be free and unencumbered to move to where they need to, and build what needs to be built.

In short, abandon your top-down “plans” and centrally-imposed “vision” and allow the visions of entrepreneurs to connect the needs of one person after another with their own capacity to meet it.

In other words, declare an Enterprise Zone and get the hell out of the way. Make Christchurch an Enterprise Zone, not a Ward of the State.

And if, you must, re-emerge from your holes in two years time to take credit for the success.

But for Galt’s sake allow some success to happen in what was once New Zealand’s second-largest city.

Before it’s too late.

* * * * *


  1. In those first crucial hours they barred rescuers from rescuing. And in the following days they then tried to shut down student volunteers from helping out, and tried to ban volunteers’ “unauthorised” importation of food, supplies and port-a-loos into desperate parts of the city. And in all the months since the earthquake they have barred owners from their own buildings using military power, eventually giving owners access only after repeated protests, and only for a very, very brief time.
  2. Conceding only belatedly that the likes of Joe Bennett could take responsibility for his own life, thank you very much.
  3. By EQC’s inept duplication of what the insurance industry was already doing, and incompetent and long-delayed signing off of what they should never have been involved in, for which everybody needed to wait.
  4. Builders have ben sitting on their hands for over a year while they wait for council and government to allow folk to do what they already know needs to be done.
  5. Neither time with even any consultation with the owners of these buildings—even before demolition of their buildings was carried out!
  6. To this day, few can find any logic to the “system” used.
  7. Yes, they talk well.  This is, for example, Bob Parker’s only skill. Talking. But what rebuilders need is not polished words from politicians who are TV presenters but the certainty that comes with recognition of the rights they have in their own properties.
  8. Property owners in the central city have been treated exactly like mushrooms: kept in the dark and fed bullshit. Not one could make a sensible decision regarding their own property—not because of the earthquake but because of council and government intransigence. And all will very soon be liquid by virtue of the insurance payouts that should soon be arriving. How many do you think will want to reinvest that liquidity in a place from which it’s been made clear they’re not wanted? All that might keep them there is loyalty.
  9. Chch businessmen have done wonders working out of whatever space they can find, much of which was commercial space on the fringes empty before the earthquake; but council “planners” have done all they can to resist any new commercial space going up anywhere else than in the places designated in their “plans”—which is for the most part in places either not wanted by by businessmen as commercial space or not capable of being built on as commercial space.
  10. With demand going through the roof and the supply of housing around the city having been hobbled by planners even before the quake, rents and house prices around Christchurch are going through the roof.  The response of planners has not been to realise their cherished “zones” for new housing (which are misguided fantasies at the best of times) are now as obsolete as the dodo, but instead to instead ever more firmly that “no new land will be released for housing.” So instead of new land at $50,000 around the fringes being available for rebuilding, there  is little land and what there is remains unaffordable for most.
    UPDATE: Eric Crampton: “It is criminally insane that Council barred developers from building new houses on the outskirts of town after the quakes. More than a year on, how many new houses do we have compared to the number destroyed?” Answers on the finger of one foot.
  11. The mantra of this Government has been “letting business work”: by which they mean “doing deals with businesses they choose.” This is now known as “picking winners.” In Mussolini’s day it was called something starting with an ‘F.’
  12. Leaving a ruined cathedral as a memorial worked as a real catharsis for cities like Berlin, Liverpool and Coventry. So why not try it here?
  13. A massive 7.5% rates rise, on top of huge projected increases in “development levies.”
  14. Only a massive protest put off some of these rises, which may have only delayed some of the highest-profile rises until protestors have other things to worry about.
  15. Using prefabricated building technology to supply the housing shortage, building workers can be anywhere in the country--or even anywhere in the world. But using traditional labour-intensive techniques, that tsunami of workers will all have to come to Christchurch—exacerbating the already dire housing shortage. (This is just what govts do. When the Australian government wanted to fix housing problems in the Northern Territory the first thing they did was send thousands of bureaucrats to the Northern Territory to fix them—whose arrival in the form of all that new housing demand immediately made the already dire problem worse!)
  16. Former woodwork teacher and now Senior Gauleiter for for Earthquake Recovery Gerry Brownlee has done nothing at all with his extraordinarily extensive powers to remove bureaucracy, and instead has just added his immense weight to enlarge the existing bureaucratic stew and increase the meddlesomeness of all the bureaucracy that previously existed. While adding more. And not one of the people added or involved realises that for a city to thrive and cope with adversity, it must be resilient, affordable and flexible.
  17. Christchurch was already “a bureaucratically buggered city" before the earthquake, and now with several new layers either added or mooted it’s more so, not less so. And it’s not like this Government hasn’t got a record of dismissing councils it doesn’t like.
  18. Even in recent days we witnessed Deputy-Czar Sutton telling a strangely docile business audience their job was not to get on and do things, but to counsel patience in others.
  19. And believe me, I’ve only scratched the surface here with these examples!  Feel free to add your own in the comments.
  20. Listen to Chch East Labour MP Lianne Dalziel relish the phrase “coercive power” in this interview this morning—her only objection being that she thinks it should be her chums wielding the power instead of Gerry’s.


“Screwed?” asks Eric Crampton:

While Council's made some (*) great efforts in getting the sewers and water supply working again, onanistic light rail visions and new stadium plans seem more important to our Mayor and Council than things fundamentally more important to anybody on the East side of town, to commercial property owners downtown, and increasingly to the West-side folks now inconvenienced by rental price increases from East-side refugees.
Wellington ought to be awfully worried about getting EQC fixed before they get their earthquake. And, adopting the Productivity Commission's recommendations about easing up the regs around land use policy isn't just sound policy for housing affordability, it also makes the whole country less fragile in case of earthquake.

Christchurch is so screwed,” says Bill Kaye-Blake:

The government is doing what bureaucracies do. It is creating processes. It is making sure that everything is correct, that all the boxes are ticked, and, above all, that their asses are covered. So it moves slowly, carefully. Safer to keep people from doing something than allow them do the wrong thing.
Insurance companies are doing what they do. They are minimising their expenses and protecting their bottom lines.

Even dear old Chris Trotter recognises Cantabrians are being screwed—but he disregards entirely that those who will actually rebuild the city (if they are not restrained from ever doing so) are not the Grey Ones but the very entrepreneurial “class” who built it in the first place; he still deems a centrally-planned paradise possible; and he doesn’t realise how govt has been encouraging insurance companies’ intransigence. Still…

If politics is mostly about perception, then, looking at Christchurch, this Government’s in big trouble. Because, perception-wise, this Government’s handling of the rebuilding of New Zealand’s second city hasn’t just gone from Bad to Worse; Worse is sending Gerry Brownlee post-cards.
    The “reality” of the situation may be very different from people’s perceptions – it usually is. But the very fact that Cantabrians are having immense difficulty translating the reality of their everyday lives into anything remotely resembling the Government’s spin is a problem in itself. If disaster management isn’t grounded in telling disaster victims the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, then it isn’t management – it’s mismanagement.
    And that’s the problem this Government’s faces: an awful lot of people living in Christchurch appear to have stopped believing that they’re being told even a fraction of the whole truth….


The Onion: “World’s largest metaphor hits iceberg”

Centenary commemorations of the Titanic sinking wouldn’t be complete without the contribution of The Onion.


Too glib?

But where would we writers be without the metaphor.

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Monday, 16 April 2012

DOWN TO THE DOCTOR’S: A Simple Suggestion For The Police

_McGrath001Dr Richard McGrath has been driving around. Or trying to.

Now, I don't want to rain on anyone's picnic. The news about the Easter road toll of zero was welcome indeed.

But even the most excitable statistician would be able to talk to you soberly about this result being inside the normal curve.  And my recent experience of road policing tells me a rethink at Police National HQ is urgently required.

Because my anger at motorists’ treatment over the Easter period is only now abating.

On the Thursday before Good Friday I was heading southeast through Sanson when my journey was interrupted. This was peak holiday driving time at the place where State Highways 1 and 3 join briefly before going their separate ways in the middle of Bulls.

I was not even inside the 50km/hr built-up area when I had to slow to join a traffic jam running the length of the town. Yes, the police had decided to put the kibosh on everyone’s holiday plans.

I was drafted into the left of two lanes, the right-hand lane being cars that were waved through. I stopped dead about twenty metres from where a line of policemen stood waiting. After five seconds of increasingly frantic waving from one of the police officers, I took my foot off the brake pedal and inched ever so slowly toward a policeman, who when I got to where he was standing demanded (didn't ask nicely, no 'sir' or 'please', just barked out an order) I speak into his alcohol sniffer. Which, like an obedient citizen, I did—despite a seething resentment at once again being detained without being in any way suspected of criminal activity.

I noticed half a dozen of his fellow officers milling about on the other side of the road like grinning idiots. A very cost-effective use of taxpayer money.

My negative result on their sniffer was no surprise: it was only 5.45 p.m. The perfect time to hold up holiday traffic with minimal chance of finding drunks. What really incensed me though, was the order (not a request, note, but an order) to wind down the front passenger window of my vehicle to receive an unsolicited package. This turned out to be some taxpayer-funded propaganda on road safety, thrown onto the front seat of my car. I was then told to move on. I drove forward to merge with the right lane of other traffic, whereupon I was blinded by the afternoon sun shining straight down the main street of Sanson and almost ran into a truck, veering left with inches to spare.

At that point I decided to stop my car and see what happened. It was fairly amusing to watch how animated the policeman who had sniffed me became, waving me hysterically away like he was shooing away a swarm of wasps. Eventually I resumed my journey back to Masterton, wondering how many other motorists these idiots had pissed off that evening. The line of cars heading northwest stopped cars joining from the State Highway One, and extended into the 100 km/hr road to Palmerston North—offering the perfect opportunity for a high-speed tail-end collision.

You can see how well this had been thought through by someone.

I would like to make a simple suggestion at this point: that from this time onward any motorists testing negative with sniffer devices be handed, immediately, five dollars in cash. I can tell you it would compensate for the inconvenience and risk imposed on motorists by these intrusive and time-wasting impositions. And it might help restore some of the goodwill lost by these ridiculous and frankly dangerous road blocks.

Now I am not anti-police. As a libertarian I realise they are one of the few legitimate arms of government. On top of that, I have worked twenty-five years as a police medical officer (or 'pig doctor' as one or two of the customers I have met at the local police station have christened me). But something needs to be done to rescue the credibility of our police force. They need to be investigating criminals and not harassing (and alienating) innocent sober motorists. I don't think the police realise how destructive of goodwill their road blocks are, even to those who work with them and generally support the great work that the vast majority of police officers do.

And now I have another suggestion for you. Those travelling between Wanganui and Wellington who want to avoid the notorious Sanson speed camera:  after passing the Ohakea Air Base (and before hitting Sanson) take a right at Fagan Rd, left into Speedy Rd, and right onto State Highway One. And Bob will be your mother's brother.

P.S. Now that my whinge is over, here are two great articles, first, the best short summary of Objectivism I've seen, written by Craig Biddle (not sure if subscription is required, but it would be money well spent); and second, 100 common objections to libertarianism well refuted.

See you next time!
Doc McGrath