Saturday, December 31, 2011

A libertarian's New Years Resolution for 2012

As a high school teacher a few years ago, I took very seriously my obligation to teach. If a student didn't understand a concept, I tried to explain it in a different way, that was my job. I never assumed that my students were unable to understand the subject. I always assumed that their mental block, was my challenge to remove.

I mention this because my venture into politics of late is a bit like teaching, but without the captive audience. However, my efforts at persuading people to my political views have not quite reached the level of my ability to successfully teach biology. On the contrary, I may have done the opposite, turned people off my politics. Like my previous teaching example the fault or obligation is mine. How do I know how well I've done? Judging from the reactions of my own friends and family, I doubt I've persuaded any of them, though I'm still trying. Of course I don't know for certain about any other people I've encountered, I can't ask them, but I can look at three sets of previous election results, and they are not encouraging.

As a teacher I adapted (different ways of teaching) to my accommodate students, but my political persuasion techniques leave much to be desired. I have used just one technique so far, the debate. Debates rarely persuade, rather, the opponents "butt heads" intellectually, and the goal is to win, not to discover the truth. When I don't win, I just debate harder, I become more aggressive and argumentative. Who does that persuade? Not many.

Voters, the people I'm trying to persuade these days are very conservative, and I mean that in the original sense of the word, not the current meaningless political usage. Dramatic change, the kind libertarians advocate, is just not on. Successful persuasion requires getting people to come along with you voluntarily, steering their thinking, sort of like teaching. That means getting in tune with people, not shocking them with libertarian bravado. I'm as guilty as any one of doing that. So, where to get help?

Over the years, libertarians have created a variety of different organizations each with its own niche (many you will find on this page). Some organizations specialize in economics, others in politics, still others in education. With the advent of the internet, access, popularity, and usage of these organizations has multiplied. One them, The Advocates for Self Government is concerned with the best practices for communicating the ideas of liberty. Many of you may be aware of the Nolan Chart which is at the centre of the World's Smallest Political Quiz, that is one of their tools. The Advocates have taken on the niche of persuasion by selling books, tapes and CDs, plus providing training. Over recent weeks I've been listening (mostly while driving) to a CD set titled The Essence of Political Persuasion and I've learned a great deal about using language to sell liberty, I recommend it. In it, there are several techniques, easily learned with practice, that can help anyone vary their own particular attempts at persuasion.

Its very difficult to sell the idea of liberty to people who are constantly told and who already believe that they have freedom. Governments routinely use their powers to usurp more and more of our personal responsibility, that's how they continue to grow. They have grown so large, and we are so inured to their presence now, that some freedoms are even considered to be destructive to our best interests. For example, as John Stossel suggested in a recent article that applies just as much to Canadians as Americans:
"Lots of Americans oppose free trade and free markets. It takes some knowledge to realize that the seeming chaos masks underlying order. The benefits of freedom are not intuitive, and when you go against people's intuition, they get upset.
The benefits of freedom are largely "unseen," as the 19th century French liberal Frederic Bastiat put it. He meant that rising living standards and labor-saving inventions don't appear to flow from freedom. But they do.
It's one of the ironies of life that people need not understand freedom for it to work, and because of this, there is the perennial danger that they will give it up without realizing the disastrous consequences that follow."

So this year I am determined to learn some new tricks of persuasion, and use them so that I can become as good a politician as I think I once was a teacher.

To all reading this, I wish you a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous 2012.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holiday detoxing and purging.....don't do it.

Anticipating New Year's Eve? Ready for some heavy partying? One thing you don't need to worry about is cleansing your body of the "toxic substances" you may be consuming.

Those late night "infomercials" that claim your body accumulates toxic material that needs to be removed every so often....well, that's just bunkum. The bodies of most reasonably healthy people do a fine job of protecting them from toxicity, no need to waste your money on stuff like this. Companies like that prey on the ignorance of the general population who have never learned or totally forgotten their high school biology. Spend a few minutes and read this timely article that debunks the detox myth and lend support to reason and evidence. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Jetsons vs the leviathan state

By the time the Jetsons cartoon series came to television in September 1962, I already had great anticipation for the future. Manned space flight was a reality after Yuri Gagarin's one orbit in April of 1961, then came Alan Shepard's flight weeks later.
The Jetsons' cartoon world showed freedoms and possibilities that were only heard of in the pages of Popular Science at the time. Mundane household tasks were carried out by robots, and as Jeffery Tucker writes:
"— people work only a few hours a day, travel at 500 miles per hour in flying cars that go as fast as 2,500 miles per hour, and the main job is "pushing buttons."
The galaxy is their home. Healthcare is a complete free market with extreme customer care. Technology was the best (but of course it still malfunctions, same as today). Business is rivalrous, prosperity is everywhere, and the state largely irrelevant except for the friendly policeman who shows up only every once in a while to check things out."

I yearned for that world, and had every confidence that the way things were going, I would live to see it. I saw every episode of The Jetsons, and so, apparently, did Jeffrey Tucker.
Mr. Tucker is a prolific writer for, and has written It's a Jetsons World, as you can see in the short video clip below. Over the past few days, in the quite times of this holiday period, I had the pleasure of listening to the free audio book version online. This represents a portion of the full text. The reader is Stefan Molyneux, who needs no introductions, and he does a wonderfully theatrical job of reading. Mr. Tucker's audio book is funny, entertaining, and enlightening. Listening here is a treat. Enjoy.   

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Psssst......wanna buy some potato chips?

What does the leviathan state do best? That list would be very short. Certainly one of the most proficient if dubious examples of efficacy, is the ability of the state to create criminals, inadvertently, of course.
In Ontario, Premier 'Dad' Dalton McGuinty, uses his government's legislative powers to socially engineer the lives of it's citizens. McGuinty means well, he is a gentle paternalistic bully, but a bully nonetheless. What's he done? Since taking power almost nine years ago, Ontario now has laws that dictate what breed of dog is allowed as a pet, how homeowners must care for their lawns, what must NOT be done while driving, what methods of electricity production are acceptable and encouraged, how to dress while riding a bike, and lately in the government run public schools, what foods may and may not be served or sold at lunch.
Since the 2011-12 school year began, the Ontario Ministry of Education is "committed to making schools healthier places for students" after instituting Policy Memorandum 150. Parents are no longer fully responsible for what their children may or may not eat, the McGuinty Liberals have prescribed some fairly stringent rules about nutrition. How stringent? Well, in-school fundraisers like a weekly "pizza day" or the ubiquitous chocolate bar sales are now verboten.
The Ministry has divided up foods sold or served in schools into three categories:
1. Foods that can be sold or served at least 80% of the time or more.
2. Foods that can be sold or served 20% of the time or less.
3. Foods that must never be sold or served in school. 

The 80% or more category contains things like salad, vegetables, fruits, bread, pasta, cereal, meat, and fish as long as they all have low salt, low sugar, and  low fat content. So, pizza does not qualify because it has too much salt, and likely too much fat. Here is the multiple page appendix that stipulates the new nutrition standards in Ontario schools.

Of course proper nutrition makes sense. French fries and gravy, common lunchtime fare when I was a student, are not healthy foods to be eaten regularly. But is it the job of the school to teach this or should parents have final say? Why don't schools just concentrate on what they are supposed to be doing (and often not that well) and let parents make personal and societal decisions?

The problem whenever government uses legislation to engineer habits, is that the legislation always limits choices and often creates conflict that would not have occurred without the bad legislation. Government run public schools, where most students in Ontario are educated, already come with numerous limitations on parental freedom. Many wealthy parents vote with their feet to keep their children out of the government school system, but even that is undermined, because the Ministry prescribes the curriculum taught in ALL schools.

My cartoon, suggestive of a black market in illicit junk food, may seem a bit over-the-top, but is it really? In many school districts in the American states and elsewhere, the intrusive regulations we have adopted in Ontario, have already been field tested. A recent posting at (below) shows how black markets have sprung up in Public School cafeterias:

Though the Los Angeles Unified School District has received accolades for its new, healthful lunches, the appearance of quinoa and whole wheat bread has created “an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers and other taboo fare.”
At Van Nuys High, a Junior ROTC officer and an art teacher have been caught selling candy, chips, and instant noodles to students. And, as Hank Cardello, the author of Stuffed: An Insider's Look at Who's (Really) Making America Fat, and a former food executive with Coca-Cola, General Mills, and Cadbury-Schweppes, pointed out in the Atlantic, candy dealers have sprouted up wherever fresh food is sold:

  • Last week, Van Nuys High School juniors, Iraides Renteria and Mayra Gutierrez told the LA Times, they considered the new school fare "nasty, rotty stuff," as they pulled three bags of Flamin' Hot Cheetos and soda from their backpacks – which they very well may have purchased from one of the junk food “dealers” on campus.
  • Following the passage of the Texas Public School Nutrition Policy, which banned candy, enterprising students at Austin High began selling bags full of candy at premium prices, with some reportedly making up to $200 per week.
  • Similarly, young entrepreneurs at one Boca Raton (Florida) middle school make runs to the local Costco and buy candy bars, doughnuts, and other high-calorie snacks in bulk. They then offer these goodies for sale in an environment that has supposedly eradicated such goodies.
  • An eighth-grade student body vice president in Connecticut was forced to resign after buying Skittles from an underground "dealer."
  • The U.K. has also seen its share of black market trade in banned foods, snacks, and beverages, with schools in Oxford, Dorset, and Essex reporting healthy underground markets trading in food contraband. The plots ranged from kids selling McDonald's hamburgers in playgrounds to bicycle-riding entrepreneurs hauling bags of soft drinks and milk chocolate for sale.
New on the curriculum at the schools mentioned above and coming to Ontario schools is: "flouting the rules" and getting away with it. The children will learn early that dumb rules create a criminal class of entrepreneurs that operate in the shadows, a black market in junk food. Again the leviathan state does what it does best.
"The more corrupt the state, the more numerous the laws." Tacitus

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Disenchanted, Disengaged, Disenfranchised

In the most recent Ontario general election voter turnout was at an historic low, only 49.2% of eligible voters actually bothered to cast their ballots. This was despite a concerted effort by Elections Ontario to make voting easier and more convenient than ever.
The following was included in a late summer media release:

“It’s now easier than ever to vote in a provincial general election” said Chief Electoral Officer Greg Essensa today at a media conference held in Toronto. Stating that making voting easy was the core driver for Elections Ontario, Essensa took attendees through a review of the voting options available, highlighting the More Days More Ways approach which gives voters more flexibility than ever before to choose how, when and where to vote. 

On election day, most voting locations:
Will be wheelchair accessible, as indicated on your Notice of Registration Card.
On election day, all voting locations:
Will have magnifiers, Braille ballot templates and other tools to assist voters who are blind or with vision loss.
Will provide pens and pads to help electors who are deaf, deafened, or hard of hearing to communicate.
Will provide the elector the opportunity to book a sign language interpreter paid by Elections Ontario through the Canadian Hearing Society's Ontario Interpreting Services to be with you at your voting location.

During the 15 days preceding election day:
In returning offices and satellite offices, assistive voting tools will be available that feature:
Audio headphones
Tactile buttons
Large keypads marked with Braille
A "sip and puff" device
If you have restricted mobility:
You may transfer to a more convenient voting location within your electoral district. Contact your Returning Officer to make arrangements.

Almost $92 million later, it didn't seem to work. In fact, its almost axiomatic (for me) that whenever a big government (like Ontario's) institutes a program to fix a problem, not only is the problem not fixed, but it is often made worse. Such was the case here. Obviously "ease" of voting was not preventing people from voting in this election. It was something more fundamental. Why did 67.8% of the population turn out to vote in 1975, dropping to 49.2% in 2011? Was it more convenient then? Hardly. So the answer must be something else and I suspect the answer is incentive. No, I'm not suggesting that we pay or reward people who vote. Nor would I suggest that people be coerced to vote, as they are in Australia. I'm suggesting that people need a reason to vote, a reason to believe that their ballot may change what is, after all, an entrenched system.
There is some evidence for this. In 2008, Obama's election was a spike in the usual US voter turnout, maybe because people were under the misimpression that an Obama victory would change things. US turnouts seem to be far worse in percentage terms than Canadian federal elections. Ontario turnouts resemble the US.
The upcoming US election will be interesting, or not, depending on who is chosen by the GOP. If a razor blade will be needed to separate and distinguish the policies of Obama and the GOP candidate, then look for a low turnout. That's what I'm predicting.     

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Heavily taxed secularists are not very generous

In human relations, at the corner of religion and politics, there lies personal responsibility. For some of us, that corner does not exist exactly, rather it is metaphysics (worldview) and politics. Either way, at that intersection, personal responsibility and self reliance are among the most highly prized virtues among libertarians. Libertarians invariably prefer that people in trouble deal with their own problems or seek voluntary help rather than accept legislated handouts. Libertarians prefer donation to taxation. Many people mistake this attitude among libertarians as being cold and uncaring, but it is more likely an aversion to coercion. Most libertarians regard voluntary donation as their own personal responsibility, helping those that need help in any way they can. Libertarians also believe, that when people are coerced to give, they end up feeling and acting less generously. There is evidence for this.

The Fraser Institute publishes an annual report called "Generosity in Canada and the United States - The 2011 Generosity Index." The report lists the 64 States, Provinces and Territories that comprise the United States and Canada. These two countries that have a great deal in common, with some subtle (and not so subtle) differences that make this a valid comparison.
The Canadian Provinces do not fare well in this comparison. All the Canadian Provinces and Territories are in among the bottom 27 positions out of total 64.  Quebec has the lowest average charitable donation in local dollars with $606 in 2009, while the average amount given in South Dakota in the same year was $7580, a huge difference. In a measure that Fraser Institute calls the "generosity index," Utah ranks as the most generous, number 1 out of 64, while Quebec is 59, Ontario ranked as 46 of 64. So whats going on here?

One of the not so subtle differences between the two countries is that the US is generally more religious than Canada, and likely the most secular of the Canadian provinces is now Quebec. Utah, on the other hand has a large percentage of Mormons that may still practice tithing. Many religions make charity an obligatory part of being faithful. So religion may account for American generosity, though I think Americans are generous by nature. What I don't get is this recent article by someone that clearly hates Ayn Rand, calling Americans greedy etc. They most certainly are among the world's most generous people, as this article posted on the same day as the previous one indicates.

In the National Post, a recent column by Barbara Kay recognizes the religious differences between the two countries. But she goes one step further: "Big governments assign all responsibility for social justice to the state. Smaller governments assign some responsibility to the state and some to the individual. Statism dampens the impulse to be generous at an individual level." Quebec is both secular and has big government, maybe that's why this relatively rich province is so stingy with its donations?

Ms. Kay ends up with: "Taking personal responsibility for alleviating the sufferings of others is the mark of a mature individual. Statism tends to suffocate the blessing of empathy. Statism promotes civic immaturity. One more in a long litany of reasons for working to bring down the size of government." I could not agree more.  

Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens Tribute Debate with Tony Blair

Most of you know by now that Christopher Hitchens died today, too young.
The Munk Debates have made available the video of the debate between Hitchens and Blair for the next 72 hours.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AGW - Running out of time and support.....

Have you ever been so engrossed in your work that you are oblivious of your surroundings? It frequently happens to Wile E. Coyote of Looney Tunes fame. Poor coyote doesn't realize he is not supported by anything until, well....until he realizes it, then it's too late.

So it is with the people that brought you the global warming catastrophe and how to prevent it, the IPCC. Their recent meeting in Durban South Africa is over now, and to hear and read their reports, the planet has been saved for our children and so on. Well, if I were them, I'd say its time to look around for their support if they can find it.

Last year at Cancun, that climate conference "kicked-the-Kyoto-can-down-the-road." This year, the Kyoto Accord is being abandoned, kicked out, as it should be. Canada, an early adopter of Kyoto back in 1997, is one of the first to dump it, saying that it would do so this week. Russia and Japan are also not renewing their Kyoto vows. The US was never part of it, and China and India were excused because they had a "note" that stated they are underdeveloped. Right. Who's left? Europe, and they are in good shape, aren't they?

In fact climate change has become money exchange, and really it has always been just that. The battle to save the world from impending climate doom has really morphed into the something the South African hosts called, "Climate justice." And Climate justice is a euphemism for taking from rich countries (that produce wealth and a byproduct called CO2) and giving to poor countries (that can only produce shit apparently). Giving how much? How about $100-Billion a year to expiate our guilt for working hard, establishing good trade rules, and having a descent standard of living. That's right, the whole Durban thing ended with an agreement to keep the Kyoto idea alive by "promising to fund a Green Climate Fund to the tune of $100-billion per year as a farewell gift appease their own citizens."

I am not appeased, but unfortunately Canada has signed on to this fund. The good news is that few agreements of this sort are ever honoured. This article in the National Post suggests that the $10 Billion fund to help save Haiti, (remember that?) is still owing. The rest of the "deal" signed in Durban pushes everything significant off to 2020. What is saved for now, is the next conference in Qatar. Most of today's politicians will be long gone by 2020, and if nothing significant happens that can be pinned onto climate change or global warming, well, the rest of us will forget about it too. Can't happen soon enough.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Unintended Consequences - Schiff Radio

Why does post-secondary education cost so much? Why is poverty increasing if it is always being so actively fought? Why is there so much unemployment despite so many attempts to reduce it? Why do disabled people have difficulty finding jobs?

There is a common thread here, and Peter Schiff does a pretty good job of explaining the 'whys'. Have a look....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Jolly Green Gouging

There are few things more annoying than being billed for services or items never ordered or never wanted. The hassle of calling the biller, claiming ignorance of the charge, then asking for it to be removed always feels a bit like claiming innocence in a courtroom.

This past week consumers of electricity and taxpayers in Ontario, were told by the provicial Auditor General, that they are being gouged for services that very few of them would have chosen voluntarily. Unfortunately, there is no biller to call, the corrective 'fix' will not be simple, and the rip-off of Ontario's consumers will continue into the foreseeable future.

"Billions of dollars of new wind and solar power projects were approved without many of the usual planning, regulatory, and oversight processes....While this helped these projects get off the ground quickly, their high cost will add significantly to rate-payers’ electricity bills in the future.” That is from a media release by Auditor General Jim McCarter from his 2011 Annual Report.

In another media release, Jim McCarter points out that:“Because we all use electricity, and because the sector operates in a near monopoly, effective oversight...........has historically been crucial.” No kidding, and of course the Auditor's office is the last resort for oversight. You might wonder why the haste in getting these projects going, why skip over planning, consultation etc.? Never does McCarter suggest a reason for the haste and lack of oversight, because at the heart of his report he really does support and depend the government.

So what drives the decision making of the Ontario government because they will ignore this report? I suggest you spend a few moments listening and watching this short video. In it, David Suzuki hero of environmental concerns, clues us all in to whom he has been talking to about Ontario's new green energy future. What's most interesting is Suzuki's concern for sound economics, and how he uses Europe as the model for our green future; the video is slightly dated. Well, we all can see what's happening to Europe today, and the McGuinty Liberals are doing the same sorts of things right here in Ontario.

McGuinty and his Liberals have swallowed hook-line-and-sinker, the idea that humans are the cause of global warming, and Ontarian's in particular. Under the direction of the Premier, cheap coal fired thermal generation stations have been, and are being closed across the province and replaced with costly and uneconomic wind and solar power. Programs like the FIT and MicroFIT are being used to prop up these alternative sources of energy, all at huge cost, according to the Auditor's report.

In an editorial this week, the National Post pulls no punches in lambasting the McGuinty Liberals for its failed energy and environmental policy. Libertarians are frequently criticized for their ideological bias in politics and economics. This of course is a bit like criticizing a tiger for eating meat. No one in the media dares call the Liberal government ideologically driven, no-siree, but of course it is no less ideological than are Libertarians. Spend a few minutes listening to McGuinty's mentor Suzuki, then tell me there is no ideology there.

Strangely, on the same day as the Auditor's report, our Federal Conservative government has decided that it will not renew its commitment to the Kyoto Protocol. Ontario seems to be going one way, while the Feds are going the other. Why is Ontario being burdened with huge costs from a monopoly service determined to cut carbon emissions, while the rest of the country seems to be ignoring the issue? Why are the citizens of Ontario being gouged in their monthly electricity bills? Why has McGuinty not yet resigned for incompetence? It's not too late.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Auditor-General vs. Government / Wolf vs. Sheepdog

The 2011 Ontario Auditor-General's annual report was released yesterday, two months after the Oct. 6th election when it actually might have had an impact on government. The timing of this report also serves government interests, because Christmas is coming, and soon the report details will be overwhelmed by good cheer and tinsel, and then ultimately ignored. Nothing will kill a conversation at a Holiday Party quicker than: "So what did-ja think of the A-G's report, eh?"

The report itself is written by bureaucrats whose job depends entirely on the foibles of big government. Sure the Auditor and staff must have some integrity, because their report is invariably critical of government and its excesses, and there is so much to be critical about. But it's really just a game. The actors in this report reminds me of the Looney Tunes cartoon where the apparent arch rivals, Ralph E. Wolf, and Sam Sheepdog, punch-in every morning at the same time-clock with friendly greetings. While on the job they are brutal adversaries, but outside of work they actually live together. So it is with the Office of the Auditor-General and its partner the Government, both are sucking from the same taxpayer's teat. To push my imperfect metaphor to its limits, someone is getting fleeced, can you guess who?
The report itself is 460 pages long, and is replete with the major boondoggles that the Ontario Provincial government considers part of its mandate and purview. Government waste and ineptitude are everywhere, and people like me, have ammunition for months and months. Where to start? Here are a few issues from the report:

-  Ontario's electricity monopoly, prices have risen 65% since 1999 and are expected to rise another 46% over the next five years,
- Billions of dollars of wind and solar power projects were approved without the usual planning, regulatory, and oversight processes
Ontario drivers, particularly those in the GTA, generally pay much higher auto insurance premiums than other Canadian drivers
- Ontarians have been paying a special charge to retire an electricity debt, though the remaining debt is never disclosed
LCBO is one of the biggest purchasers of alcohol in the world is more concerned with restricting the use of alcohol than getting the best price for Ontarians

As critical of the government as these issues seem to be, the Auditor offers pathetically poor suggestions to repair to the problems, always suggesting that somehow government can become more efficient, more responsible, more accountable, and never considering that the size and scope of government itself, is the problem. Why would he? He is part of the game and he will punch-in next year at the same time, happy in his work.

We are left with a report, which I believe is truthful, that should send citizens running into the streets screaming because they are literally being robbed, but that won't happen, not yet anyway. I will have more to say.