Part I here.

Consider the following hypothetical that takes place under a libertarian (Nozickian/Randian/Rothbardian) state.  A rich person has a pile of money in her house.  A poor person, wanting some money, goes into the house and starts taking it.  When the rich person tells the poor person to stop, the poor person refuses.  The rich person may now call in the force of the state to stop the poor person from taking the money.  The state may, using physical force if necessary, imprison the poor person and take back whatever money the poor person took from the rich person.

Non-aggresion principle endorsing libertarians would say that the state’s forcible protection of the rich person’s money is legitimate.  But for something that is allowed under the non-aggression principle, it sure seems pretty aggressive to me!  What’s going on here?

The two cases (the one from part I and the one above) aren’t the same, the defensive libertarian might claim.  In the first case, the state is coercively seizing property that belongs to the rich person, whereas in the second case, the state is simply protecting the rich person’s property from a would-be thief.

However, this response doesn’t hold up, because it presupposes the institution of property rights, which are a social institution with certain rules about what it means to own something.  Among them are rules about when it is permissible to use physical force against another person.  It’s an assumption about the existence of property rights, not the non-aggression principle, that’s doing the work here.

State-backed redistribution and state-backed property rights are both, in a sense, coercive.  The question obviously becomes, which sort of coercion is justified?  The non-aggression principle, as I have shown, is unable to provide the answer, and it therefore does not necessarily entail libertarianism.

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No, it’s not a theme park. I’m talking about the land seized from Suzanne Kelo in the Kelo vs. City of New London case.

In the case, the Supreme Court upheld the legal authority of the local government in New London, Connecticut to take Suzanne Kelo’s land and give it to a private company on the basis of a net gain in tax collection and economic activity. The decision is a fairly radical interpretation of the fifth amendment’s eminent domain clause that says the government can take private land “for public use and just compensation.” What most people interpret this to mean is that the government can buy someone’s land if they need to build a highway, railroad, or for public utilities. The decision was a close 5-4 and widely criticized by the public.The land taken in the Kelo case, four years later.
Four years after the decision, the planned $1.2 million in tax revenue and 3,000 or so jobs from the “development” Kelo’s land have yet to be seen because the ground remains unchanged.

For me, on the hierarchy of the importance of certain rights, I think this basic property right is at the top of the pyramid. If the government can decide that your property can be put to better use – aka give it to any special interest they want with the justification of an expanded tax base – there is no intrusion the government can’t justify. The fact that the property has yet to be developed even shows the further B.S. that is involved.

I’d also like to point out that the 4 justices that dissented in the Kelo decision weren’t the progressive stand-up-for-the-little-guy Justices. They were the Justices who are considered more “conservative” on the bench. Kelo was defended by our good friends at the Institute for Justice.

I finished Joseph Stiglitz‘s Globalization and Its Discontents. In Stiglitz’s words, it argued that:

The Problem is not with globalization, but with how it has been managed.

Here are the thoughts I jotted down while reading it (yes, there are a lot of them):

  • Stiglitz acknowledges the benefits of privitization and how, when necessary criteria are met regarding property rights and good government, private firms operate better than government.
  • The IMF ruins capital by controlling the money supply.
  • Rich countries practice hypocritical protectionism by using things like the IMF to make developing countries lower trade barriers while not doing so themselves. I couldn’t agree more.
  • His claims supporting the “infant industry argument” aren’t too compelling.
  • “The reason that Wal-Mart is successful is that it provides goods to consumers at lower prices.”
  • Believes the invisble hand doesn’t exist because the critera implied by it – perfect information, perfect competition – aren’t there. But he fails to explain why market economies are better at dispersing resources than centrally planned ones. In other words, he doesn’t disprove Hayek’s theory of spontaneous order.
  • He blames a lot of the East Asian Crisis of the 90’s on currency speculators. I am very suspicious of this.
  • Stiglitz met with Chinese government officials to discuss their transition to a market economy. No one (rightly) ever accuses Stiglitz of being an aid to the Tianeman Square Massacre. But for some reason Naomi Klein accused Milton Friedman of being complacent to Pinochet’s human rights violations because Friedman had a 40 minute meeting with Pinochet’s advisors. Naomi Klein is such an idiot.
  • Stiglitz thought that Alan Greenspan cared too much about inflation. This book was written in 2001, before the current economic crisis. Most people now accuse Greenspan of letting a huge bubble be created by extremely loose monetary policy. I just thought that was interesting.
  • His recommendation for a “gradual” approach to the market-oriented reforms in poor countries: “Development encompasses not just resources and capital but a transformation of society.” I think this can be applied to Iraq –  we can’t force our values on countries.
  • People getting richer helps the environment.
  • Makes a case in the “Way Ahead” chapter for preserving local cultures. I disagree tremendously. I think that as long as cultural change is caused by voluntary actions, whatever happens shouldn’t be altered. (If Japan suddenly only had American food because that’s what the consumer demand was, why is that bad?)

Stiglitz’s book was pretty good in convincing me that the IMF and World Bank are counter-productive. But I’m excited to hear some rebuttals to his other ideas about globalization from Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization, which I’ll read next.

Anyone who has read Globalization and Its Discontents is encouraged to criticize the points I made or add their two cents in the comment section below.

This is what it should be like in some restaurants

This is what it should be like in some restaurants

I really despise cigarette smoke. I apologize to those who engage in such activities. However, banning smoking in private establishments is a completely different story, in my opinion. The following is a second op-ed I wrote for the Koch Summer Fellowship Program. Since I adhered to a word limit, I know there are some things I didn’t elaborate on as much as I would have liked to or needed to. However, I think you should get the main idea:

Recent smoking bans in restaurants and bars across the country have, for the most part, had the good intention of protecting people from the harmful effects of second hand smoke. However, they are misguided and violate fundamental rights of smokers and the owners of the restaurants that choose to allow smoking.

The fundamental argument against smoking bans is their violation of property rights. No one is forcing anyone to go into a private establishment. There is no inherent right about being able to use the coercive power of the law to force restaurant owners to cater to one’s preferences. If you don’t like restaurants that allow smoking, don’t go to them. There’s a reason many restaurants voluntarily disallowed smoking from their establishments: non-smokers don’t like it. But what about the smokers? Don’t they have a right to smoke inside, as long as it is permitted by the person who owns that establishment? Smoking bans, interestingly enough, have the unintended consequence of making smokers pollute the air where common citizens can’t avoid the smoke: public sidewalks.

Proponents of smoking bans often use imperfect information as justification. Indeed, customers can’t always tell whether a restaurant permits smoking or not before they park their car and restaurants rarely have signs on the outside that convey their smoking policy. However, this imperfect information can apply to essentially any other characteristic of a restaurant. Loud music often results in hearing loss, but should we ban live music or loud stereos for people who fear hearing loss and don’t know a restaurant’s noise policy before they go inside? Should all restaurants be mandated to have vegetarian/vegan dishes? I certainly don’t think so. Places can have loud or quiet music, just like they can have a purely meat menu or have vegetarian options (or no meat at all).

Secondhand smoke has negative effects on health. Since second-hand smoke is by definition not something that is personally being undertaken, the recipients must have their rights to clean air protected. However, the use of government to enforce your right to clean air stops when you voluntarily enter a restaurant. No one made you go there. Walking into an establishment and demanding the owners meet your needs violates the rights of both the owner of the establishment as well as the other patrons, who could disagree with your preferences. In a sense, it’s like going into a strip club and claiming your right to decency is being violated. Or going into a pet store and crying foul about your cat allergies.

Drunk people also give out negative externalities. Not only do drunk people impose a risk on everyone on the road when they get behind the wheel, but they are often loud, destructive, and creepy both in and out of the bar. One can only imagine the outcry if there was a proposal to outlaw drinking in public places. Why? Because alcohol consumption is popular compared to cigarette smoking. Once very common in society, cigarette smoking is now done only by a small minority. The presence of smoking bans without major pushes for bans of bars somewhat shows the power that the tyranny of the majority can have.

I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. The cost, smell, and health effects of cigarette smoking are all a big turnoff for me. But using the government to push my personal preferences on others in a private establishment is never justified.