Saturday, February 26, 2011

What is the tipping point to economic strangulation?

That is the question posed at the end of an article in the National Post by Kevin Libin. Apparently in Egypt more than one-third of the working population was employed by the state. That may have been the tipping point that brought down the Mubarak regime earlier this month.
The same kind of situation is happening in many jurisdictions around the world. When the size and cost of the public sector is factored together with their near and longterm entitlements, and the private sector is so burdened and disadvantaged, something has got to give. That maybe what is playing out in Wisconsin and what prompted an article in the New York Times to ask: Is Wisconsin the Tunisia of collective bargaining rights? Talk about mixing metaphors.
In Canada the same kinds of problems occurred in the 1990's when the Liberal government of the time instituted severe cuts to the size and spending of the federal government with very positive economic results. These same problems are beginning to appear again (see the graph); the Conservatives are in power now, but no matter, they spend like Liberals. This of course provides ample evidence that all the major parties in Canada are identical in power - spend and tax or borrow from the future. They all do it.
Even in smaller jurisdictions like cities in Canada or the US something will have to give and soon. The City of Toronto has frozen municipal taxes for 2011, but he future looks bleak for the new cost conscious administration, with a possible $770 million dollar shortfall for 2012. I'll predict an interesting and possibly violent next few months/years.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Incentives work better than disincentives

Would you pay for plastic bags at a store checkout counter? That is an issue in the Toronto region. Of course retailers pay for the bags they provide customers at checkout. The price per bag is minuscule because the number of bags used is large. But efforts to change human behaviour by penalizing them often just create resentment, antagonism or worse.
In libertarian philosophy, choice is always preferred and coercion is always shunned. So whether it's a ban on plastic bags or recreational drugs the operative word "ban" is antithetical to libertarian thinking. Even a surcharge on plastic bags rankles most libertarians. There must be a better way to change behaviour if that is a goal.
I'll put aside for a moment whether plastic bags are desirable or not (here is an opinion I would support). Personally, I have no problem with plastic bags, but if I was a store keeper, I would at the very least offer a choice, like they used to: paper or plastic, very sensible.
Of course store keepers feel compelled to abide by the government edict that prohibits "free" bags and they feel no obligation to offer a choice. Why? Because they were not offered a choice, and orders are orders. But imagine the goodwill that customers would feel if indeed some entrepreneurial store keeper started offering recyclable paper bags to their customers in the spirit of "you can catch more flies using honey than vinegar."
Some people at Volkswagen had thoughts along those lines a while back, so they sponsored what they call "The Fun Theory." The video below was part of that enterprise which causes people to change their behaviour if they are incentivized to do it. Watch the video and go see the others here.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The School Sucks Project - Part 2

A new philosophy magazine called Kontext is looking for readers and contributors. The magazine is published bimonthly out of the United Kingdom and its first issue as a pdf is available for free download. The hard copy may be purchased for about $12US.
Stefan Molyneux is a contributing author (my link), and the first issue is entirely about education which is what tweaked my interest, see Part 1.
The website of Kontext has links to Freedomain Radio and which also makes it interesting to me. But what really got me involved was the link to The School Sucks Project.
As a former teacher, I am painfully aware of some of the problems in the government-run educational bureaucracies that exist in the English speaking Western democracies, particularly Ontario. The School Sucks Project (TSSP) uses a surgeons precision to splay open the entire body of the educational system (especially in the United States) and examine the entrails, and it's not pretty. TSSP looks at everything, the origins, the purpose, the immediate and long lasting effects of the school system that has shaped each us in some way for good or ill.
This first issue of Kontext and its link TSSP, asks the right questions about our school system.  How can a system that is regulated and funded by a government bureaucracy, administered by bureaucrats whose primary job is to manage public funds, and executed by unionized teachers whose allegiance is to the system and each other rather than the clientele, deliver good service, a good education? How? It boggles the mind. Mass-produced indoctrination and socialization must by its very nature create oddities, freaks, widgets that don't work. Whose child is so worthless that s/he can be tossed aside as unfit to proceed (like a malformed widget) as so many children are now? The system truly sucks. Is it any wonder that today the political structure of these same Western democracies employs the same sorts of coercion that were ingrained into each of us by the school system? If you are instilled with collectivist ideas for 12 years you begin to think that is normal, to think like a collectivist. It's not normal, we are each of us different in some way, and those differences cannot not be accommodated by the school system as it is.
Kontext offers its readers an alternative to the established model, its worth reading and promoting. I look forward to the next issue in April that will look at "People and Movements." Good luck!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Watson wins Jeopardy!

If you missed the historic win of Watson the computer on TV, here is the brief YouTube version, enjoy:

"Mr Watson—Come here—I want to see you"

Did anyone seriously believe that the humans could beat IBM's Watson computer in Jeopardy! last week? Did you seriously think that IBM would screwup the advertising coup of the year to Ken Jennings? I didn't even bother watching, but that does not mean I'm not impressed with the result. This was a major step since IBM's Chess contests with Gary Kasparov in 1996 and 97. Deep Blue beat Kasparov in May 1997, after first losing to him the previous year. That computers can play chess is no big deal these days, but understanding Jeopardy! clues, is another issue.
Next year (2012) is The Alan Turing Year and maybe IBM is planning to crack the Turing Test and win the Loebner Prize for the first computer to fool humans into thinking they are talking to a human, maybe. Passing The Turing Test would be a major step in Artificial Intelligence research and since it took 25 researchers and four years to teach Watson to play Jeopardy!, I have my doubts.
Both chess and Jeopardy! have much in common, they are both games, somewhat predictable with rules, although Jeopardy! is much broader in scope, and more difficult because of the language aspect, neither really compares well to real life situations. However if the "real-life" situation is somewhat confined to a particular occupation, Watson may become an interesting help mate. This link will open a TED webpage that features a discussion with one of Watson's creators and some of the implications of this type of technology.
It seems Canadian medical schools are being accused of bad-mouthing family practitioners at a time when a shortage of this type of physician is possible because of aging boomers like me. Medical schools seem to have a bias to specialties for their students instead of family practice, and as a result less than one-third of medical students show interest in that field.
Here is a possible role for Watson, that is, program it so that it might be able to interact with human patients in a medical practice. Could Watson in real time assist in diagnosing ailments while freeing up physicians to do physical exams or other things? One of the major complaints that I can see in Canadian medicine is face time with physicians so that they can hear the patient's whole story. Of course this is the value of the family practitioner, s/he can discover all aspects of patient health IF they had the time. Furthermore, computers never have bad days, spats with their spouse or partner, headaches or get sidetracked by chatty patients. Computers will execute their program, ask ALL the pertinent questions, and a nuanced computer like a Watson, could get a useful chunk of data that a human doctor could miss. It's a thought anyway, but not that far-fetched as you can see here

Welcome to New Hampshire.....

No income tax, no general sales tax, less taxes in general and relatively limited government, if you think like a libertarian, you might like New Hampshire.
ReasonTV has a very interesting interview with one of the producers of a documentary that:  "follows one man who is walking across the country to raise awareness about the Free State Project, another who already moved to New Hampshire and works as an advocate for medical marijuana patients, and a Ron Paul-inspired teenager who decides to leave his friends and family in California to live in New Hampshire."

Friday, February 18, 2011

Behind the scenes at the movie Atlas Shrugged

Enjoy these two short clips of the movie version of Atlas Shrugged Part 1, including interviews from the director, the screen play writer and various actors.  Thanks to ReasonTV.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Do you wonder why government always gets bigger?

Here is why (one reason) governments are going broke all over. Imagine, if we all could work for government, we would all be doing quite well? From the National Post.

Ontario Power Generation: under poor management

Poor management! Without looking at the back story, how else can the dramatic rise of the price of electricity in Ontario be explained? When input fuel costs have actually dropped (natural gas), and other costs have been relatively stable, why is your electrical utility bill more expensive today than one year ago? The pamphlet (at left) attempts to explain the reasons behind the huge price increases. I've always been under the impression that the job of management involves using resources in the most efficient way to achieve the best service for the most competitive price. But when there is no competition, and when management has an agenda that is at odds with the needs of customers, what else can you expect?

The Liberal government of Dalton McGuinty manages the operation of Ontario Power Generation (OPG). Here is what OPG says on its website: OPG is an Ontario-based electricity generation company whose principal business is the generation and sale of electricity in Ontario. OPG was established under the Business Corporations Act (Ontario) in 1999 and is wholly owned by the Province of Ontario. "Wholly owned by the Province of Ontario," the government sets policy, and plans future projects that often require huge amounts of capital investment and sets the course for the future prosperity (or lack thereof) of the Province. Therefore a major component of the wealth of Ontario is centrally planned at Queen's Park, right or wrong, that is a fact. The OPG website says the right things, but somehow their comments are at odds with the McGuinty Liberals: Our focus is on the efficient production and sale of electricity from our generation assets, while operating in a safe, open and environmentally responsible manner. "Efficient production," I beg to differ. Below you see my first YouTube video attempt, which outlines the pricing plans of Dalton McGuinty. I hope to follow this up with others. By the way, a job review (general election) for management comes up on Oct. 6, 2011.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Flag Day in Canada is not......

Today was another unheralded Flag Day here in the Great White North, the 46th since Feb. 15, 1965, barely a mention in the media. The fact that it is unheralded says something interesting about Canadians. I'm not sure what that something is, but I like it. It's certainly not that we aren't patriotic, just cast your thoughts back one year to the Vancouver Olympics and you will change your mind on that.
However, I do know what this day and the flag does NOT say.  It does not say 'country-first,' an irrational phrase often heard in the US. It does not say that we have socialized medicine, it does not say that we take care of each other, in fact when the flag was first introduced the government sector was much smaller, and the welfare state was just in its infancy.
I would hope that the flag says to the world that the individual Canadian is proud, responsible for him/herself, and stands alone like that red maple leaf on the white background (see the first line). Our flag represents a place on a map, where we the inhabitants should cherish a common law that includes protecting the rights of those individuals who live there. It also is an invitation sent to the world, come here and adopt our ways and you can to live in freedom.

Canadian Federal Election? Would anything change?

A Valentine's Day poll produced by Angus Reid and presented in the National Post today, shows the country is falling back in love with Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.
The recent noise coming out of Ottawa that a spring election was imminent, may have been squelched by the ad hominem attacks on Michael Ignatieff. Maybe the ads worked, maybe not.
I've been looking at "Education" with a jaundiced-eye in the last few days and I was intrigued by the poll graphic at left. Take a look at the bottom part: Which party would you support?
It has always been my contention that there really is no difference between the major parties in Canada (or the United States). Of course the main-stream media would never admit this because then they would have very little news to discuss on a daily basis, and polls like this one would be meaningless. Canadian main-stream media like to portray the Harper Conservatives as right wing, the Liberals as centrist, and the NDP as leftists. I think they ALL advocate statism: the principle or policy of concentrating extensive economic, political, and related controls in the state at the cost of individual liberty. All the parties shown in this graphic would use the coercive power of the state to effect their particular pet policies. But I've digressed, back to the bottom of the graphic: Which party would you support?
The 18 to 34 age bracket, those that have most recently come out of schools, and so presumably are still most influenced by what they learned, they would vote quite differently than the rest of the population. This group is fairly evenly split between the three major parties, why is that? Does this mean that this group sees little difference between the parties? Does this mean that this group is not influenced by the mainstream media's portrayal of the three parties? Both of those questions may be true, but also worth noting is that the total shown for this age bracket is only 74%, so 26% of this demographic (a fairly significant chunk) would choose some of the minor parties or no one. Of course this age group (18-34) is the most apathetic in terms of voting. Apathy could mean disinterest, or it could mean resignation, as in it doesn't make a difference. Maybe they know something?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

The School Sucks Project - Part 1

Our Prussian Education
I once worked for the largest school board in Canada. Over those many years, I was a part of several curriculum revisions, several attempts to change the way material was presented, other attempts to improve the system, and all sorts of tweaking and adjustments along the way. Always at the back of my mind I wondered why it was, that so late into the 20th Century, the education of our young people had not been perfected. Teachers and administrators were still tinkering with, and trying to perfect our educational model. Huge amounts of money were being spent (much of it misspent in my estimation) and still a significant proportion of our young people fell by the wayside, unable to cope within the system and often left with no other options but to leave. Where else would this type of incompetence be tolerated? Imagine if medicine or industry failed at the same rate as the school systems fails its clients? In Ontario, about 12% of the population do not complete high school, slightly less than the average for Canada. In the United States huge spending increases over the past 40 years do not translate to improvements in Math or Reading scores, according to charts like this one.  One can only conclude that somehow the original model IS the problem.
From a libertarian point-of-view the educational model in North America is wrong by its very nature. How can a system that is coercive at all levels, deliver a service that is tailor-made for individual children? Can our educational model produce individuals who are responsible and qualified to care for themselves? Are these individuals able to maximize their potential abilities and achieve their goals? Why do we tolerate a system that can't deliver that type of service? Can we change it?
All these questions need to be addressed, but first, its worth looking at the origins of the system of education that pervades Canada and The United States and proceed from there. The following video clip is also posted here.

The School Sucks Project

Friday, February 11, 2011


Feb. 12th is Darwin's birthday!

Spontaneous Order

One of my favourite "media guys" is John Stossel. From years ago he did information programs on ABC's 20/20 about Junk Science, that I frequently used as a teaching tool. Today, alas, I can't watch him on television because my cable company does not carry the Fox Business channel (it is a government plot).
Stossel and I have much in common, we share exactly the same birthday (dd/mm/yyyy), ethnic origin, sort of close on religion, and we are both outspoken libertarians. OK, I'm not even close to his level of "outspokenness," but I'm certainly annoying to friends and family. But I digress, the purpose of this posting is to present a clip from a recent STOSSEL about something that is poorly understood by most people who have been schooled by the collectivist educational system in Canada and the United States: Spontaneous Order in economics.
Stossel interviews Larry Reed of FEE and its great stuff, simple, clear and to the point. 

Drugs? - "There's too much money in it!"

Some people say the dumbest things.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The price of democracy?

Muslim Brotherhood logo
"The dark ages are staging a comeback via the age of enlightenment." So begins a column in the National Post where George Jonas muses about the Egyptian Crisis. In Opening a back door to theocracy, Jonas suggests that it may be goodbye Hosni, which leads ultimately to hello Hamas.
Democracies have done this before, yielding to religious or non-religious dictatorships, especially when limits are not adhered to. Yes, Mubarak's 30 years have been dictatorial, but the implication is be careful what you wish for.
Jonas suggests that recent comments by Obama have not helped. Actually it was the comments that Obama didn't make that might lead to problems. Obama didn't say how the current uprising would lead to an orderly transition. He didn't say how the past and present unorganized opposition would suddenly get organized. Most importantly he didn't say how these protests would prevent handing over Egypt to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.
Of course we would say that is the price of democracy, the people may choose and sometimes those choices are not wise. In limited democracies where there are checks and balances, where orderly transitions can and do occur, mistakes can be corrected. Just remember, the Muslim Brotherhood needs only to be elected once.   

Monday, February 7, 2011

Unrecorded History?

One reason people find history so boring and difficult to relate to, is that those people, who are portrayed in history books, were the movers and shakers of the world in their time. They were the leaders, the monarchs and nobles, the presidents and prime ministers, the explorers and discoverers, and the dates of their achievements were recorded and transmitted for posterity.
But what was everyone else doing? You know, the common folk. Did they not play a role in shaping their present and their future. Of course they did, but few of them were taking notes, so much of that history - interesting history - is lost.
In the following ReasonTV video clip, author Thaddeus Russell attempts to recover some of that lost history. His new book A Renegade History of the United States could be very interesting. As he says, these people did not write pamphlets or manifestos, they were not explicitly political, they were just living and often "doing things they were not supposed to be doing." In doing that, they have left us all a legacy of freedom, far greater in many cases, than was achieved by the leaders. Of course by extrapolation similar stories were not written every where else.  

Hey Canada, what's a Bieber?

Forget the football game. This is what you missed if you live in the Great White North. The wonderfully creative, and hugely entertaining commercials, that the Yanks get to see between the downs. For me they are the "ups", have a look, they are all here.

A loveable libertarian?

I can't recall the last time I watched a TV sitcom regularly. Was it Seinfeld, All in the Family, I Love Lucy, I'm not sure?
My wife showed an article in MACLEAN'S magazine the other day, I guess she thought it reminded her of me. The MACLEAN'S article titled The Lovable Government Hater refers to the character played by Nick Offerman in the NBC sitcom Parks and Recreation.
The character played by Offerman (Nick Swanson) is a "libertarian, government-hating bureaucrat," which sounds like a contradiction in terms. As the MACLEAN'S article points out, most government-haters on TV are portrayed as militia fanatics, but Nick Swanson is - a nice guy. What a relief, TV is breaking out of the practice of stereotyping, although not entirely. Nick Swanson is still portrayed as being religious, gun-loving, humourless,  a throw-back to the '70's and "virulently anti-government." The good news? He is conflicted, which makes him seem real, almost human. That's a good thing, we don't need one-dimensional government-haters, we need caring people with better solutions.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Egypt - The end of Statism?

Stefan Molyneux makes a compelling argument for the end of Egyptian statism in a video blog on the Freedomain Radio YouTube site.
In it, he talks about how Egypt virtually invented the idea of "state" 6000 years ago, but still suffers the terrible poverty of any third world nation. Why?

Ron Paul talks about Foreign Aid

This is refreshing.
Rep. Ron Paul is interviewed on a CBC Radio program about the Egyptian crisis, and the whole idea of foreign aid. He answers questions about foreign aid to Egypt, to Israel, and to many of the countries in the middle east, but most importantly Rep. Paul outlines the libertarian view of foreign aid as only he can, in simple, clear and unambiguous terms. The interview was broadcast on Sat. Feb. 5, 2011 in edited form. But here is the entire uncut version of the interview, enjoy: Uncut Ron Paul Interview

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Sandwich Sinner

How do you know when zealotry has gone too far? One test would be when innocents are impacted, thats true in religion or politics. When a 6-year-old kindergartener has been punished for a misdemeanour that he can't possibly understand, you know the zealots have gone too far.
Is it a sin to bring a sandwich for lunch wrapped in a plastic bag? It is at a school in Laval Quebec. This story became news in a National Post article early in the week. A six-year-old boy was sent home crying when he was excluded from a draw for a teddy-bear because he brought a sandwich to school in a ziploc bag. Shame!
This story has received North American coverage when ABC News picked it up here.
Today the National Post ran an editorial titled Playing the environmental shame game which does a pretty good job of outlining the obvious.
Whose business is it whether plastic bags or recycled containers should be used for lunch? Whose business is what kind of light bulbs you use at home? Whose business is it what form of transportation you choose? Whose business is it what type of diapers you use for your children? Whose business is it how many squares of toilet paper you use daily?
The answer to all those questions is NO ONE, BUT YOURS!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

User Based Billing for the internet in Canada PODCAST included

It's called UBB or metered billing and it has become a hot topic around the web and political circles in Canada. The issue revolves around a recent decision made by the CRTC that essentially removes the "unlimited" option for subscribers who use internet resellers as their ISP. The resellers are using infrastructure that was built by the capital investments of Bell, Rogers, Telus and Shaw cable (the big 4). The resellers are using those "pipes" to deliver service and undercutting the big 4, so they complained. The CRTC design essentially forces the resellers to have tiered limited options just like the big 4 have had for several years now. If you want more internet usage you can buy more, but if you exceed the limit you will pay a heavy toll. Thats the problem, and of course it has been made worse by the increased downloading of movies, games and so on, by subscribers who are dumping their cable TV contracts.
Because this might be an election year, subscriber rumblings have reached the office of Federal Industry Minister Tony Clement, and he has promised he will review the CRTC decision, which is interesting because he can overrule it.

I discuss this issue with my friend Rod Rojas in a short podcast available on the Ontario Libertarian (OLP) website. Below is a description of the podcast and the link. I'll make excuses now. This is our first attempt at doing something like this (so not that polished really) but Rod and I are planning to make this a regular feature of the OLP site, and we have bigger plans.    

This Free-to-Choose podcast is about User-Based-Billing UBB. A recent decision by the CRTC forces small internet providers (often called resellers) to charge their subscribers based on their internet use. Previously the resellers were offering unlimited use for a set fee. Monthly fees for heavy internet users could rise dramatically. The essence of the problem seems to be related to competition (or the lack of it) and regulation by the CRTC. We encourage people to visit this website:

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Econ 101 vs Green Econ 101

How can you "reduce consumption of carbon-emitting energy......reduce smog, curb traffic congestion, stop urban sprawl, bring back jobs from China, help fund public transit, save the auto industry, produce a big double dividend of tax cuts and reduced emissions.....generate federal-provincial harmony (in Canada)," and in the U.S. "boost jobs, unleash U.S. innovation, reduce the U.S. government deficit, reduce oil imports," all of it on top of the first bunch mentioned? How? Simple, institute a carbon-tax, thats all it would take, magic! Terence Corcoran in the Financial Post, take us through the magic steps required to reach that plateau of nirvana. No longer is global warming the prime motivation for a carbon-tax, now that they have your attention, there are all sorts of other benefits besides saving the planet from catastrophic heat death. 
In the Post, Mr. Corcoran discusses a new report in the Climate Prosperity series (I didn't make that up folks) from the National Roundtable on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE), sort of like nut tree. Isn't it great that we are funding a government initiative like this that will take care of us all? Isn't it?