Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Black Market Bailout 2

Just to follow up my last post that mentioned illicit food places, the West coast also has its share of these. I was listening to the People's Radio network (CBC Radio 1) last evening, to a program called The Main Ingredient. They highlighted a "floating restaurant" called The Wandering Spoon  in Vancouver BC. Three regular daytime chefs cooking whatever they like to discerning and willing patrons without government oversight, regulation or constraint (and for a lower price too). What a concept!
Just to the South in Seattle there was a chef that prepares black market buntings in the French way. The pictured Ortolan bunting is apparently delicious eaten plucked and whole, but must be smuggled into the US from Europe where it is endangered. Naughty boys!    

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Black Market Bailout

There is an interesting article in the Financial Post today asking the question "Did Washington avert a depression"? Of course the answer is a resounding yes, not just because it's the Financial Post, but because the guy that wrote the report was a former vice-chairman of the Federal Reserve. What the hell do you think he would say? Naturally they don't go into the fact this "intervention" into the economy is going to be reconciled at some point down the road, but by that time the unwashed masses will have forgotten what caused the reconciliation. Of course those same unwashed masses will be forced to pay for the consequences without hope of any bailout. But there is one way for them to get that bailout and hints of it, are occasionally visible.
In Michigan, one of the hardest hit of all the States economically speaking, some businesses are accepting payment for goods or services with alternative forms of currency. Imagine a restauranteur accepting copper (and I don't mean pennies) as a payment for meals. Of course Ontario and BC have increased taxes on many more items this month with the new HST. Does that mean an all cash underground economy will grow? Do bears crap in the woods? "You betcha" as whats her name would say.
Yessiree the unwashed masses may be unwashed but they are not stupid. They want their bailout too. Which brings me to the story of the illegal "grilled cheese factory" in Manhattan. Apparently there is a talented grilled cheese maker in NYC who eschews the local government regulations and the prohibitive cost (not to mention risk) for setting up a legit business. This fellow has created a business making and delivering grilled cheese sandwiches for $5 in a brown paper bag to customers on local street corners. He even has a FaceBook page and a "company" name: Bread.Butter.Cheese. This could be the way of the future, the black market bailout!  
    

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Why the mandatory long form of the census is so vitally important

It's not going away; the latest Tory taunt is still all the rage for the bureaucrats of Bytown. And why not, the Census delivers vital information if you are a bureaucrat, and vital information if you are a Canadian that thinks the greater good of the country is best served by a well informed government at the helm. It makes perfect sense, not just for government, but for businesses that are too lazy or too cheap to do a proper analysis of their own market.
The Census is essential so government can implement new policies and programs, so it can best spend the taxes and tariffs it coerces collects from Canadians. With this information the politicians and portfolio mandarins in Ottawa are obviously best equipped to accommodate the needs of all Canadians. They will be behind the proverbial curtain, tweaking the dials and adjusting things just so, in order to make certain the economy hums along with no surprises, no bumps so clear will be their view. Trust in them, trust in StatsCanada and we will be a just and happy society. Sure.

All the statists were lining up in front of the Parliamentary committee "to study the long form" these past two days, all of it available for your viewing pleasure on CPAC. Rumours are flying that a compromise is in the works - so Canadian, it's sickening. I still don't understand why the conservatives decided to do this now, it really is not what you would call a "conservative" idea. But it's a diversion, more interesting than leaky oil wells and oppressive humidity. It is also a great opportunity to examine the role of government in our lives, the problem of course is that it shows just how comfortable we are with big government doing big things.
Neil Reynolds has some interesting comments on that very topic this week with reference to the Census. Interestingly he writes for the Globe and Mail which has been leading the statist charge to preserve the coercive mandatory long form of the census. I suspect whoever is pushing that agenda at the Globe might have political aspirations in the Liberal Party.     

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Census Shmensus

Looks like the Harper Conservatives have created another issue where none existed before. Harper has a knack for this. While they have not yet backed down (yet) on returning the long form of the Census for 2011, the pressure among the statists must be getting unbearable (there is now a FaceBook page!). Seems that all of the things Harper proposes that I like, he reverses course on. Remember the $1.95 per voter party funding cut fiasco? I liked that, and it was gone.
I think people are thinking about the Census issue from the wrong perspective. Suppose there was no long form of the Census, suppose the government suddenly announces that there will be a series of personal intrusive questions about race, ethnicity, income, plumbing, education etc. in 2011. I'll bet some of the same people who are now up in arms about the long form being removed will argue the reverse. How about this guy?

Don't you think he would object to the intrusiveness of the long form? Sure he would and he would probably use many of the same words, he would wonder why the government needs to know all this information and he would cry out that this shows how ideological these Conservatives are - snooping where they don't need to be.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nullification, American and Canadian style


Thomas E. Woods' latest book is about an old idea - nullification. The book called Nullification: How to resist Federal Tyranny in the 21st Century harkens back to a Jeffersonian idea that individual US State legislatures have the authority to ignore and declare void any federal law they deem unconstitutional. In Canada the analog is Section 33 of the Charter commonly known as the "notwithstanding clause" that allows provinces to opt out of Federal decisions. Neil Reynolds has a nice piece in today's Globe and Mail that provides a method that might restrain the growth of the welfare state in both Canada and the United States. Have a look.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Making the long form of 2011 Census voluntary - a good start

By now if you live in Canada and keep up with the news you have heard about the announcement made by the Harper Conservatives with regard to next years Census. Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement announced that the "long form" of the Census called the National Household Survey (see left) will be voluntary rather than mandatory as it has been in the past. Clement said that this was actually recommended by StatsCan, but rumours within StatsCan spin this story a different way. Whatever the truth it seems to be a tiny positive step that the Conservatives should be commended for.
Of course that's not what the opposition thinks and Clement's statement has been criticized (not surprisingly) by a large number organizations that claim they need the information from the long form to do proper planning. Many groups brought out there big guns, the C. D. Howe Institute brought out its President, William Robson.
In the Globe and Mail last week Robson admits that the long form is intrusive - "Knowledge comes at a price". But he goes on to show that's OK and he has no idea how the term "libertarian" fits into the politics of Canada or anywhere else. Let me quote one of the juicier bits:
"If you are one of the many Canadians who would like government to do less but do it better, this spectacle risks making you tear your hair. The state’s role in our economy and society has grown prodigiously over the past century – and not only radical libertarians worry about the resulting cost to prosperity and freedom. As governments’ reach grows, however, so does the need for information with which citizens can hold them to account. In eliminating the census long form, the libertarians have taken out the wrong target."
I've read that paragraph a few times and I can't believe Robson does not see the contradictions. He sort of laments the fact that the "state’s role in our economy and society has grown prodigiously over the past century" - it's a "worry", but as it grows it needs more information so citizens can hold government to account. Huh, it's the citizens that will suffer? Does he think libertarians would want more information from government to keep an eye on government? I'm shaking my head, but that is only part of why Robson thinks we need the long form. He mentions education, we need the long form to sample graduating students to see if they comply with the government mandated curriculum in the government mandated schools. On immigration, we need the long form to better plan the Canadian labour market. Then there is health care:
"The state plays a huge role in Canadian health care: Good information on personal and neighbourhood characteristics can help us know if we are healthier or sicker as a result. It redistributes income on a colossal scale: The long-form census can reveal much about the successes and failures of these programs. In all these areas, good information helps Canadians hold their governments to account."
Is that a great quote or what? I'm certain the next Census is going to give us the required information so we can fix health care, shorten those queues, improve the technology and justify that "colossal" redistribution of income right?

Just one point on the immigration. My parents came to Canada 62 years ago with virtually nothing but me. There was no government program for immigrants, no English classes, no co-ordination with skills and the labour force; my parents figured it out with help from various charitable agencies, family and friends. It worked amazingly well, my family and the thousands of others that came from war-torn Europe managed without government central planning, detailed statistics, charts and graphs and all that Statistics Canada does with more than half-a-billion dollars a year of our tax money.  
 

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The problem with democracy


Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.
Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947

Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame.
Laurence J. Peter (1919 - 1988)

On account of being a democracy and run by the people, we are the only nation in the world that has to keep a government four years, no matter what it does.
Will Rogers (1879 - 1935)

Under democracy one party always devotes its chief energies to trying to prove that the other party is unfit to rule - and both commonly succeed, and are right.

And
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard.
H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956)

All those pithy quotes come from this very helpful site - it is interesting browsing.  There is truth in all of the quotes and my favourite is the first one from
 Churchill, 
often misquoted.  I have always had trouble with the idea of democracy, even as a young boy I realized that the two words "wisdom" and "majority" are not always correlated.

For libertarians democracy is problematic much like Churchill's quote. In the present day, those countries that are democracies tend to have the most freedoms available to its citizens. When problems occur freedoms are often "suspended" even in democracies and frequently under the guise of protecting the majority. Those of us in the Toronto area recall how the recent G20 debacle interfered with daily life, freedom and commerce in the downtown core.  Clearly democracy and liberty are correlated but sometimes not guaranteed in practice. In fact, just the presence of the G20 meetings and the security disruption caused, was to me neither democratic or in any way advancing freedom no matter what local politicians said.

Democracy is also intrusive. If allowed, governments that are democracies, will grow by claiming responsibilities that rightfully belong to individuals or groups. When this happens, governments that claim they know best will confiscate resources (taxes) and spend them often inefficiently. When taxation becomes too intrusive governments will amass debt, with the promise of repayment underpinned by the 
future 
productivity of the population. Expanding the debt while increasing government responsibility is characteristic of almost all of today's democracies and it is unsustainable.

This week Neil Reynolds writes in the Globe and Mail about the disintegration of the welfare state in Europe, democracies that are living beyond their means and it's a warning to us.     



Friday, July 9, 2010

God and the Charter

So last week I suggested that the Queen (British Crown) be phased out of Canadian law. As unlikely as that may seem, given the constitutional changes required, here is another windmill I'm going to tilt at.
Yesterday the National Post highlighted a discussion that occurred because of an unusual interpretation of the Charter by a Superior Court judge in Quebec.  The judge defended a private (sort of - they are funded 60% by Quebec) Jesuit high school of its right to teach Roman Catholic ethics and religion rather than the mandated Quebec provincial curriculum. The judge used the Preamble to the Charter ("Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law") to make his case.
This presented an opportunity for CFI to get some publicity and its executive director Justin Trottier to point out that the Preamble is inappropriate for about 25% of Canadians who are agnostics or atheists. Bloody right! Furthermore the Preamble and section 2 of the Charter are a bit contradictory. Section 2 states that everyone has fundamental freedoms including "freedom of conscience and religion" which of course does not preclude atheists but I hope you see what I mean.
Again this is not a big deal and nothing will happen as a result, but the last phrase in the Preamble is what makes Canada what it is. The rules are important and need to be tested and sometimes tweaked, and this document (as imperfect as it might be), and others need to be part of the fabric of daily life. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Suicide, politics and economics


A study that appeared in the British Medical Journal this week suggests that the $6-million state-of-the-art suicide barrier built over the Bloor Street Viaduct in Toronto works wonderfully. No one has jumped from that bridge in the 4 years since the barrier was constructed, however those who wanted to jump went to other bridges. That's right, the number of suicides by jumping has not changed in the city (56.4 per year pre-barrier vs. 56.6 per year post-barrier). The entire very readable report is posted here.  On average 9.3 people per year jumped from the Bloor Viaduct, but in the macabre economics of suicide that number did not change. Interestingly the overall number of suicides in the city has decreased significantly over the same time span.
Hindsight is 20/20 sure, but politics in Canada on a city scale or a national scale is fairly predictable. The construction of the bridge barrier is a perfect example of how other people's money is misallocated daily by elected officials at all levels of government. To me this illustrates a phrase commonly used among Austrian economists "what is seen versus what is unseen". If you go to the Ludwig von Mises Institute's website (a wonderful place to explore) and type that phrase into the search box you will see it produces almost 150 results. It is a common theme in Austrian economics that refers to misappropriated resources. Yes, the $6-million solved the problem for the Bloor Viaduct (seen), but did not solve the overall problem of jumping from bridges and has left the city with fewer resources to solve other real problems (unseen).
As this story circulates through the media and gets bounced off a few "experts", you can be sure that no politician involved will admit this was in any way an error, but rather that more money needs to be spent going after the root problems of suicide prevention. Count on it.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Royal Visit is a royal pain.

Imagine your young child asking about the visit of Elizabeth II to your hometown. What would you tell her?  Would you say this is an important person and then try and list off all the Queen's accomplishments? That list might present a problem, because the Queen's most outstanding accomplishment was being born into the right family at the right moment in time. Your child might ask why is the Queen important? Your answer might sound like this: Elizabeth II is important because she is the Queen; a lot like saying she is important because she is famous, like Paris Hilton only with more followers. Your child may or may not see through the circularity of this argument, but think about what she learns here, the Queen is important because people say she is important and people grant her that importance. You probably won't tell your child that she herself could never become the Canadian Head of State, because that position is reserved for the Queen or her progeny, not deserved, not earned, just because.

The Queen was in Toronto these past few days, probably not enjoying the heat and humidity much like the rest of us, she is human after all. She is also an anachronism and an expensive frill.
Sure I know why we have a Queen but as she has pointed out herself during this trip, Canada has grown up in her lifetime and I think its time to cut the umbilical with the Brits. The fact is Canada works, by-and-large so why mess with that? Many would say "it ain't broke" so leave it alone. Not only that imagine what the cost in stationary changes would be alone?  So no, I'm not advocating a referendum just yet, or looking for a more republican form of government yet; and then of course there are the constitutional issues. I'm getting a headache just thinking about what needs to be done.
So lets be economical here, cut the ties along the way as the Queen herself fades. That has been happening very, very slowly but it needs to be more deliberate.

Monday, July 5, 2010

The War on Drugs goes on "Take 2"

My previous post referred to the passage of Bill C-15 in the House of Commons. Apparently Bill C-15 has been reintroduced as Bill S-10 in The Senate. Here is the backgrounder from the Dept. of Justice regarding Bill S-10. The purpose of this legislation is to curtail the production and trafficking of all "illegal" drugs and particularly if it involves "organized crime". Below, I will present some of the arguments for and against these Bills and the prohibitions against drugs.
First let me be clear, I don't give a rat's ass about drugs or drug use. As far as I'm concerned people have the right to do whatever they like with their own body as long as they harm no one else. I personally do not advocate, use, promote or even like the fact that people use drugs. I don't see drug or alcohol use as virtuous, noble, fun or desirable and I would just as soon not have anything to do with the issue.    Furthermore, if users become dependent on the use of drugs or alcohol - so what?  It is still not my issue, I expect users to be responsible in their use and not affect those individuals who wish not to be affected. I have no right to tell people how they must live and neither does the state. There is no crime if there is no victim. Of course crossing that fine line between drug/alcohol self-abuse and the rights of others is a very different story, but not for now.
So why do I bother writing about this? All of us who live in this country and pay taxes are involved, all of us who pay for the police, the prisons and jails, the legal system; we are all involved whether we like it or not. The policies and laws implemented by the state determine to a large degree the safety of our streets. Look at what drug laws have done in Mexico and the United States, we don't need to copy those mistakes.
My problem is that I'm not onside with the anti-prohibition people in Canada or the US (from the evidence I see). Their opposition to prohibitions seem to be more pragmatic than principled. In Canada the people against Bill C-15 and S-10 point to empirical evidence - the science, that suggests that more Draconian policies and laws makes criminals of many and misspends scarce resources. Obviously I can't disagree with that, I just don't think the science is the reason to reduce or eliminate the prohibitions. Having said that, we can be allied in moving the policies in the right direction, so here are two videos that present arguments care of an anti-prohibition group:


Part 2:
   

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The War on Drugs goes on

I first wrote about the War on Drugs in March of 2009. My view is that Alcohol Prohibition created criminals of American citizens in the 1920's and 30's and today drug prohibitions are doing the same to both Canadians and Americans as well as citizens of other countries around the world. The illegal drug trade and the laws against it has created violence that endangers the lives of innocent citizens rather than protecting them.
Contrary to good evidence the Harper Conservatives have introduced and passed (195 to 54) Bill C-15 that provides for Mandatory Minimum sentencing for so-called drug crimes even though more policing has been shown to increase violence. The violence threatens to spread into Canada and has grown worse especially in the border area around the US and Mexico. Bill C-15 will impose a minimum 6 month sentence for possession of between 5 and 201 cannabis plants. Though C-15 has passed in the House it has yet to become law awaiting passage in the Senate and signing by the Governor General.
The anti-prohibition group called LEAP has organized some opposition to Bill C-15 with this petition and the following video:
  

To my American friends and relatives:

Happy Fourth!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Bigger government equals poor economic performance - The Rahn Curve

From The CATO Institute here is a video that correlates the size of government to economic performance. Canadians should be reminded that the size of government in the mid-1990's was over 50% and that the Chretien/Martin austerity cuts of the mid-late '90's brought that down to a smaller (but still unacceptable) 42-44% in recent years. Relatively speaking that has made Canada look like a model for economic achievement compared to other Western democracies during the Great Recession.
Dan Mitchell of CATO explains the Rahn Curve:

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ideology vs. Ideology - How I celebrate my freedom.

Happy Canada Day!
By now most people have heard about the new "conservative" SUN TV NEWS channel slated to begin broadcasting on cable in the new year. It is owned by Quebecor Media Inc. and it will broadcast from downtown Toronto under the leadership of Kory Teneycke once of the PMO in Ottawa. Media pundits have already dubbed it "Fox News North", and I'm certain Quebecor would be thrilled if it was as successful as its supposed American version. Of course the website of the new station says nothing about "conservative" just "straight talk opinion journalism at night". I guess thats code for conservative. I'm not even sure what conservative means, - would commentators advocate the status quo? Does that mean that other broadcasters are liberal, socialist or don't advocate the status quo? While I welcome the new station I have real doubts that it will be any different then the others.
If Sun News reflects conservative values, does that mean it supports Harper's gang in Ottawa? If that is true how would it give a new ideological spin to news that differs from CBC, CTV or Global? Does that mean Sun News would advocate fiscal conservatism? That would be good but in my view Harper's Conservatives are less fiscally conservative than Jean Chretien's Liberals. Or is it going to be socially conservative, is it going to rail on gay marriage, abortion, drugs and gambling? That will not get me to watch. So you can see my problem, their ideological spin would likely be pretty much the same as the ideological spin I get every day in the supposed neutral news broadcasts on the other networks.
There is a prevailing ideological bias in the Canadian media and it colours all the broadcasters almost all the time. A good way to describe the pervasive ideology is to contrast it to mine, not that mine is the "right" (no pun intended) ideology but it is the only one I've got and it is my blog so here goes. I'll write a topic or issue in no particular order, first give my view of the prevailing media propaganda, then follow that with my own propaganda or bias.

The G8/G20 talks in Muskoka and Toronto:
Media propaganda: Important to get the leaders together to solve the world's problems with concerted action and unity of purpose.
My bias: A huge waste of money, an anti-democratic exercise of "back room boys" playing at sorting out the world's problems. These pseudo-governmental bodies (Gx) have no mandate from individuals in the representative countries, and have the ultimate effect of wasting resources and reducing freedoms around the world.

The G20 Protest Mess in Toronto:
Actually I can't argue with the media bias here. Most of them saw it for what it was, and it wasn't pretty. The bottom line is that our police act like police everywhere and it is most certainly not to protect the rights of citizens. It seems that civil rights are most often jeopardized during stressful events, just when they need to be protected the most.

The Queen arrives in Canada:
Media propaganda:  Wonderful to have her back "home", isn't that a nice hat?
My bias: Ugh! A huge waste of money, talk about anti-democratic; it's 2010 and time to shed the concept of "royalty" except in its economic meaning. The lesson taught to our children is that a privileged birth entitles one to be treated with special rights. This is not the lesson that should be taught in a society based on liberty and individual rights, not a Canadian value.

The Afghan War:
Media propaganda: For Canada a NATO obligation, necessary to prevent the resurgence of terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in Afghanistan, plus an attempt to create a democratic situation in Afghanistan (so they can be just like us). Many in media would advocate staying beyond 2011 and "finishing" the job. 
My bias: I was not against the initial "Get Osama" reaction in 2001, but since then too many lives have been lost for too little gain. At least 150 Canadians have died "defending Afghanis" - a waste of lives and money. We have done nothing lasting in Afghanistan but piss-off the natives, prop-up a corrupt government and there is no way to fix the problem or any reason to, so we should leave NOW.

The World Economic Crisis:
Media propaganda: The world was on the edge of disaster in late 2008 and quick government action saved us. The stimulus money/bailouts saved us and the economy is recovering slowly but surely and the future in bright. Canada is in pretty good shape in all this mess because we have relatively low deficit/debt problems.
My bias: How could Canada be in "good shape" if all its "customers" (we are a trading nation) are in dire straits with huge deficits and bigger debts? Who are we going to sell to? Are they going to purchase on credit and how can we trust them to repay? Several European countries are on the verge of defaulting, their bonds are junk, they must cut their costs likely resulting in mass (government worker) layoffs and unemployment or at best reduced salaries for many. All this austerity will sharply reduce consumption/trade and a recessionary or deflationary situation is likely. The same is true in the States (our biggest customers), if individual States default (or need bailouts) their situation mirrors the European countries. The bottom line is that the medicine must be taken or federal banks will print money to "fix" the problem resulting in future inflation which is a silent stealth tax on us all.

Climate Change/Global Warming:
Media propaganda: An urgent global problem that must be addressed before it is too late with concerted world action effectively creating a new world psuedo-governing body that tracks and trades carbon production with the intent of saving the planet for the future.
My bias: The planet has been warming since the most recent ice age (10-12,000 years ago), and if we are in any way aggravating the rate of warming, we certainly cannot and should not fix the problem without huge costs in money and freedoms. Let the future deal with any problems that may arise if and when they arise.

An article I read by Mark Steyn in MACLEAN'S a couple of weeks ago prompted me to write this piece. Steyn's article (worth the read) talked about  Don Newman's (CBC) view of FOX NEWS, and how biased it was. Of course bias works two ways as I hope I've pointed out.
One other little note. You may know Penn Jillette, illusionist and libertarian host of one of my favourite TV shows: Penn & Teller's BULLSHIT (seen in Canada on TMN). Well, there is an article in a mid-June issue of Vanity Fair where Jillette is interviewed by an obviously biased reporter, it too is worth a look.
Enjoy your freedom, Happy Canada Day!