Thursday, December 27, 2012

Self-management in business

It almost sounds like spontaneous organization with echoes of communal cooperation. Here is a huge business venture where the employees run the show:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Junk Food Jury 2


I hope you have been paying attention to your junk food intake during the holiday season. Why do I care? I don’t really.

But just because I think it is a personal choice and responsibility what you eat, that does not mean everyone else does.

The Ontario Medical Association (OMA), infinitely wise, and powerful, has pronounced on junk food. Apparently, it's the cause of the obesity epidemic sweeping our society and OMA knows how to combat the problem. OMA president Dr. Doug Weir: “We are raising a generation of children that will suffer from devastating and wholly preventable diseases, overwhelm the health system, and die prematurely…. The time for gentle admonitions has come and gone. We need to fight…with…. tax incentives and graphic warnings.”

Privately run and voluntary advocacy groups should be able to push an agenda, but OMA is a special case. They bargain with government when physician’s contracts expire. Effectively they are a union monopoly, with the ear of government. They represent the "political, clinical and economic interests" of the Ontario's medical profession. When they advocate legislation to increase taxes, or restrict marketing, you can be certain such legislation is inevitable. Of course their monopoly plus the government monopoly on healthcare, gives them the credibility to say they can mitigate healthcare costs by behavioural engineering.

OMA uses the unfortunate precedent and apparent success of the anti-tobacco campaign to bolster their case. However, tobacco is not an essential requirement of life, food is. The reasons for the steady decline in Canadian smoking rates over the years may be in part due to government action, but I suspect it has more to do with education and societal pressures. There is little reason to ask someone standing beside you to refrain from drinking cola; smoking is different.

Strangely, there is no real scientific evidence that points to junk food as being the cause of shorter lifespans in people or the primary cause of obesity. Diet is so variable, volume of food may be more important. Should we legislate the size of cutlery? Scientifically, there are too many questions to answer before we impose any judgment on food, even if it were appropriate. Agreement on what is junk food will end up being extremely arbitrary.

Last February three Alberta physicians suggested that junk food be reclassified as "pathogenic," disease-causing, like viruses. I wrote about that story here. Their argument is that junk food contains so many excesses related to various chronic conditions, junk food must be the causative agent. Yet that has never been established because very few people (if any) eat junk food exclusively.

So why is OMA so concerned about your diet that they want to warn you using government legislation? Because we let them, its become fashionable for the political elite to rail against junk food. Lots of stories in the States from the West coast, and the East.

I don't really have a problem with an educational assault on junk food without any government involvement. Good advice on diet is to be expected from physicians, why don't they leave it at that?   

The main argument against the OMA proposal is the libertarian one. Should government use its monopoly on the use of force to control our diets? Certainly not!

Monday, December 24, 2012

A climate science debate? We'll see.....

It's been almost six months since I've mentioned global warming. That recent IPCC conference in Doha was barely worth mentioning, not much of consequence happened. I guess just going to a part of the world that depends on the fossil fuel business, with an anti-fossil fuel message is worth noting. So there, noted.

In case you are wondering, I am not denying global warming (climate change or whatever). I believe the planet has been warming, certainly since the last ice age. It's still warming. Are humans the cause? Maybe to some extent, but not to the extent that we need to take any drastic global action, now or ever.

Over the past 22 years IPCC has put out an "assessment"  of the "climate crisis." The fifth one, AR5, was just prematurely released here. Each report since 1990 made predictions based on the climate models IPCC runs. 

The graphic, which comes from this site, shows predictions from the first assessment (FAR) to the last AR4, including an actual measured record (black arrow), at least according the this website.

Terrence Corcoran in the National Post, says AR5 has a “game-changing admission” about the effect of the Sun's magnetic field on climate. He also points out that a debate has broken out among the priesthood of climate science: "we have a science debate, rather than a dumped consensus. It’s not pretty, but it is an improvement over the secretive science that has dominated the IPCC since its inception."

Its good to see debate, that is the essence of science after all, that's how it corrects itself so the truth does emerge....eventually.

The rest of us can get on and discuss the real manmade problems of sovereign debt and currency. There is your real crisis and looming catastrophe. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

How to increase the cost of post secondary education

Perhaps you have seen the recent television ads from the Ontario government explaining that school isn't like the movies. The ads show dramatized scenes of a student making an extraordinary football catch, another completing an arcane math equation on a blackboard, and both being offered fully paid university scholarships.
Alas, those were movies, in real life students and their parents need to pay for education, so the Ontario government has a solution. It will give qualified students 30% off on their tuition.

You might think that qualifying for this discount would be difficult, not at all, easy as pie. This eligibility wizard lets you know if you qualify, you should try it. You might be surprised to read that in order to qualify gross parental income must be less than $160,000. Thats right $160K, not exactly poverty, not by a long shot. So, if your parents only make a paltry $150K per annum, you're in.
A brief check of average per capita income in Ontario, and you find that most families pull in considerably less than $100K, let alone $160K.
Now lets look at tuition, average undergrad tuition in Ontario is the highest in Canada at just under $7200. A 30% discount brings it down to about $5000.
Sure, even that is a strain on any family, but children take about 18 years before they are ready for university, and planning and saving is something I would expect everyone to do, but thats me, and that is the responsible thing to do.

The point is, making the cost of education lower for many people, actually makes it more expensive for everyone.

When something of value becomes cheaper, more of that something is consumed. Demand for that something becomes greater. Greater demand generally results in higher prices. That is what will happen and is happening to the cost of education in many jurisdictions.

This is another example of how a well-meaning government action is not fully thought through, but in fact leads to unintended consequences as this video points out:

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Think like a libertarian in 30 days or less!

Now there is an outrageous claim and a tall order. Some may be mumbling "why would I want to?" 
If you have some free time over the holiday period in the next few weeks, let me suggest a productive way to improve yourself while obtaining a very strong grasp of libertarian principles and a basic understanding of Austrian economics. You may not agree with it all, or any of it, but you will have a better understanding of the libertarian idea.
The reading list that I have linked here was created by Robert Wenzel, who as you can see has a very popular blog. Note that some of the comments below that list suggest other articles that Wenzel missed.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Why we wait for healthcare in Canada....

"We have a (healthcare) system in which the patient is not at the forefront of the system.....We have a system where ..... patients are a cost to the institution....The hospitals in Canada are unique in the OECD in being funded almost exclusively with global budgets....which means that a hospital is given a billion dollars a year....and no matter whether they treat 100 or 1000 or 20,000 patients, every patient that comes into their institution is a cost. This is a perverted system of funding a hospital...."  Dr. Brian Day

See the story of the boy that was paralyzed after surgery delays:


What is the price of the "free healthcare" we receive in Canada? Read this.
Is current healthcare policy sustainable in Canada? Read this.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Right-to-work OR race-to-the-bottom?

Hard to believe "right-to-work" has arrived in Michigan.
The Detroit area, called Motor City, was once the centre of the universe for automobile manufacturing. Michigan was a fantastic wealth-producer as well as being heavily unionized and really one of the centres for the labour movement in America. Things have changed, that's what competition does.

The manufacturing sector has been shrinking in Michigan since year 2000, and has only weakly recovered in recent years, much of that due to artificial government "stimulus."

But competition has also pushed Michigan to act. Earlier this year neighbouring Indiana became a right-to-work state, so, lose jobs to Indiana or stop the bleeding, that was the choice for Michigan.

Of course Michigan borders Ontario, so are we next? We can hope, but not likely, not yet.

The principle behind right-to-work clearly lines up with the libertarian non-aggression principle. Workers should be able to join and contribute fees to a union or not. Employers should have the right to choose their employees based on whatever criteria they please. Workers should be able to freely associate and form collective bargaining units (unions) and approach employers with terms. Employers should be free to bargain with the union or other workers who are NOT members of the union. Unions and union members do not own the jobs they have, the jobs are the property of the employer/owner of the business. Right-to-work for workers means freedom to choose to belong to a union or not, within a free market.

Of course none of that squares with the way unions operate in reality. Generally the "brothers and sisters" do not appreciate independent thinkers in the workforce and are more likely to bludgeon (and I mean literally) reluctant joiners into joining. This practice of union coercion is referred to as "hard fought gains" by the mainstream media. One of my least favourite reporters from CBC, Neil Macdonald, wrote his fair-minded assessment of the situation here. I'm not sure which of the thirteen "!" CBC unions Macdonald belongs to, but even he couldn't ignore reality in that missive:

"Now, it is unarguably true the unions brought a lot of their misfortune upon themselves. The larger ones have often been corrupt and sometimes entangled with organized crime." Oh really?

Evidence that union jobs don't belong to the union members came recently in the dispute with Hostess Brands. Two unions were involved, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and Bakery, Confectionary, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) Union (part of the AFL-CIO). The story is complicated, Hostess has been struggling for some time now, 8 of the last 11 years were in bankruptcy, and blame is shared all around. But to give you an idea as to how unions help business this is from a story in the Wall Street Journal:

"Under the latest turnaround plan, the sticking point was Hostess's distribution operations, source of the Hostess horror stories filling the media. Union-imposed work rules stopped drivers from helping to load their trucks. A separate worker, arriving at the store in a separate vehicle, had to be employed to shift goods from a storage area to a retailer's shelf. Wonder Bread and Twinkies couldn't ride on the same truck."

Rules are rules, and sometimes they get in the way. Hostess is being liquidated and the jobs are gone for 18,500 people, but the union wins a Pyrrhic victory, whoop-dee-do.

Jon Stewart called right-to-work a race to the bottom and went on to say: "It's one of those things that are actually named for the opposite of the thing they do, like strip bars call themselves gentlemen's clubs."  I think he got that wrong. What unions want is the right-to-coerce, what should be, is the free market.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Anti-vax backlash

Two rules to contemplate for the new year:

1. Never fool with mother nature, she will win.
2. Frequently conspiracy theories have no merit, you should be skeptical always, especially when there is good evidence that contradicts the theory.

Good advice, I think. Sadly the photo left tells a different story. The photo suggests that someone associated with the liberty movement is against vaccination, all vaccination I guess. This is troubling. Certainly the person in that picture has a right to voice an opinion, right or wrong. But blanket generalizations like that do not put libertarians in a good light. The man holding the sign is doing a disservice to the cause of liberty and perpetuating a myth. And both are dangerous. "Say no to vaccine" flies in the face of over 200 years of evidence, it's a stupid, stupid statement. I'm not about to defend the practice of vaccination here, if you are interested in finding out some information from someone other than Alex Jones, then go here.

Its easy to dismiss the tremendous evidence that very few people in the Western world get sick or die from the numerous diseases that don't seem to be making people sick or killing them anymore. The diseases are no longer a problem, most people are immune to them because of vaccinations. But the diseases are still out there, people are still infected, the causative microbes still get passed around. Very few people show symptoms because their immune systems are able to fight the microbes off due to previous vaccination That's how we know the vaccines work. What happens if people refuse vaccinations, like my liberty minded friend above?

In recent years vaccinations have become associated with childhood autism, there is no evidence to support this. Young children get numerous vaccines through their early years. Autism is behavioural disorder that doesn't manifest itself until children are 12 months to 4 years old. Parents look for a cause and point to vaccination because autism and vaccinations are correlated. But correlation is not causation, and I repeat there is not supporting evidence. On the contrary, there is much written against. But worried parents have taken the precautionary principle to heart, and refused certain vaccinations. The results are predictable as you can see here, here, and especially here.

Be skeptical, but be smart.      

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The future? "Better in some ways, worse in others."

"The story that was widely accepted in the 1960's.....strong central government and central planning.....is much less believable now, than it was then." David Friedman 


Monday, December 10, 2012

Good news: "the use of force is going down"

"Libertarianism is based on a single ideal, the non-aggression principle, so libertarian rhetoric tends to be remarkably consistent." Mary Ruwart


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

A new understanding of why money and democracy don’t mix well.


Of the many events that happened in November 2012, one of them was the first Toronto Austrian Scholars Conference. The conference was held by the Mises Institute of Canada, whose mission is to educate the public to the importance of placing human choice at the centre of economic theory.

One of the featured speakers at this conference was Assistant Vice-Provost of the University of Guelph-Humber and Program Head of Business, Dr. George Bragues. My daughter interviewed Dr. Bragues, and here is what she wrote. This originally appeared here.

If democracy needed only to be viewed through a moral lens, Dr. George Bragues, would have many good things to say. “Equality is the moral pivot of the whole democratic regime. And in many ways, a very noble aspect of it,” he says.

But enter a financial lens, and the picture becomes clouded with contradictions.

Money in a democracy is an affair of the State; the State prints the money, and oversees its supply. But in a democracy, the State is also voted in by the many. This naturally brings political incentives into the picture – and more than that, the necessity to please the many in order to win their votes.

“Given the moral climate democracies tend to foster, and given the incentives that politicians face to get votes – politicians tend to be inclined toward deficit spending,” says Dr. Bragues. He explains: “Democratic politics becomes a bit of a bidding war, where politicians tend to outbid one another in an ‘I can offer you that’ manner in order to win a majority. But never is there talk about how it will be paid for. In a democracy, the cost of public goods always appears cheaper than they really are to the voter,” he says.

Once politicians are faced with deficits, Dr. Bragues explains the three options from which they have to choose: “One – you can cut spending, which is not very popular. Two – you can increase taxes, which is difficult from a political standpoint. Three – you can just print more money.”

Dr. Bragues says it is this third option that is often the chosen route, given the innate realities of a democracy. But to take this one step further, Dr. Bragues adds that printing more money leads to its devaluation. Soft money, as it is otherwise known.

Here comes the part where Dr. Bragues prefaces his thoughts with “I hope I don’t sound pessimistic.”

“Soft money raises serious moral questions.”

He argues that certain virtues become undermined with soft money, ultimately and inevitably leading to a moral decline. “What ends up happening is one part of society uses another part. The people who profit more from a soft money regime gain at the expense of those who get hurt by it.”

“So – are you really treating everybody equally? Or is the political regime just helping one part of society to gain at the expense of another?”

Here is Prof. Bragues in his own words at the conference:



Sunday, December 2, 2012

Middle East Morass

Troubling, is what I would call some of the commentary from libertarians on Facebook and other social media with regard to the Palestinian - Israeli conflict recently.

Steve Horwitz, a professor of economics and an advocate of the Austrian School, wrote a blog post on the conflict that sums up my thoughts very well, in an argument that might satisfy many libertarians. Have a look at his blog post, it's worth your time.

The issue of course is extremely complex, made worse by missteps on both sides and by the 24 hour news cycle that needs to be fed. On top of that there are issues of political correctness when one or the other side is criticized.

A great many younger libertarians and modern day liberals have approached this conflict with the same view promulgated by politicians, commentators, and reinforced by the modern liberal mainstream media who believe they are being objective in their position which sounds something like this: 

Poor tiny Gaza is being blockaded by the tyrannical Israeli's, whose apartheid policies have caused the Palestinian people untold hardship. It's an unfair fight, the Israeli's with their modern military might against the Palestinian's homemade rockets and plucky attitude of resistance. 

That represents the superficial argument if you, like many, are unaware of the history of this conflict or you have been fed the revisionist story widely available on the CBC et al. 

The purpose of my blog is to advance the cause of liberty and secularism. It is difficult to ignore that this conflict seems to be a clash of religions. Lets put aside the conflict for the moment, one has to consider which side in this conflict has the greatest possibility of advancing the cause of liberty in the future. So lets look at that.

Over the past two years a number Arab states in the region have undergone what is called the Arab Spring. This has been touted as a freedom movement by the liberal media, a move towards democracy and away from dictatorial rule. In several of the countries dictators have been overthrown or killed and replaced by new government. Lets look at Egypt, one of the more "peaceful" revolutions. The dictator Mubarak was overthrown, the new President, Mr. Morsi, after 100 days in power has adopted temporary sweeping new powers, effectively making him a dictator now backed by the Muslim Brotherhood. A Mubarak military dictatorship has been replaced by a Morsi theocratic dictatorship. 
Is that a move forward or backward? I'm not sure. 
Its happened in other places and in Syria, it is still happening. The dictator is slaughtering his own people, cutting them off from the rest of the world (Internet was turned off for two days) with no peace in sight yet. The Arab Spring has morphed into the Islamist Winter. I'm going to take a guess and say that it is unlikely that any of these revolutions will result in classical liberal democracies with the type of liberties common in other countries like Canada.

On the other hand Prof. Horwitz has this to say: "Let me be blunt: there is one and only one state in the region that rests on broadly classical liberal values and that is Israel. It has the rule of law, an independent judiciary, a more or less market economy that protects private property, not to mention a higher degree of ethnic/religious inclusiveness in its political institutions. It is far from perfect, but it is the most classical liberal game in town."

Their have been several wars since the state of Israel was founded 65 years ago, Israel has been victorious in all of them. Do you seriously believe that if Israel had lost one of those wars the country would still exist? I don't. Yet each of Israel's neighbours still exist, they have even (foolishly IMHO) had land returned by the Israeli's in an attempt to have peace, but those wars have morphed into an ongoing war of attrition. I'm predicting this war is going to get much, much bigger, in many different ways. I hope not, but history is not on the side of peace. 

The video below is a bit of history, and if you haven't seen it you should.

Friday, November 16, 2012

A farewell from Ron Paul

Here is likely the final address to Congress of Texas Rep. Ron Paul. His final chance to tell them what he really thinks, and he pulls no punches as usual.



Thursday, November 15, 2012

Market Power - I, Pencil

There is nothing simple about the science of economics. Worse yet it's very difficult to predict using ordinary mathematical principles commonly used in science.

For example in chemistry it's fairly straightforward to predict the products and their quantity in a particular chemical reaction or even a set of reactions if the starting materials and conditions of the chemical reaction are known beforehand. Using stoichiometry, "the rules of chemical reactions," its simple enough that high school students can do the calculations and make the predictions.

Economics, is very different. There is something called econometrics, the application of math and statistics to economics. It's very useful in showing economic trends and events in the past, but predicting the future, not so much.

In the 19th century, Thomas Carlyle called economics the "dismal science" in response to the grim predictions in the writings of Malthus in the previous century. Malthus was wrong, he could not predict the scientific and agricultural advances that changed the lives and economics of Western civilization, the apocalypse did not happen as Malthus envisioned.

Malthusians in the guise of environmentalists are still around today, predicting doom and gloom. It makes for great news stories because of the hyperbole involved, the books written, movies made, and the creation of an army of charlatan scientists predicting doom and gloom. Malthus would have been proud.

In economics, more often than not, the past does not predict the future because human actions are far too complex. But because humans are incentivized to act for their own well being, what seems chaotic and spontaneous often has wonderful orderly results, and what seems destructive, ends up being very creative.

The following video is a perfect example of a seemingly chaotic and spontaneous interplay, creating order.           


If you didn't understand that, here it is explained.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Bastiat Prize for Journalism 2012

John Robson (second from left) of the Ottawa Sun and a frequent contributor to SUN TV NEWS received second place honours, $5,000 and a candlestick from the Reason Foundation's Bastiat Prize for Journalism.

Here are some interesting comments from attendee's of that event.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

Caring for the aged, voluntarily

My daughter works for a small local university as a writer and web specialist, promoting the school to the rest of the community. Interestingly the head of the business department in this school is an advocate of the Austrian School of Economics. It turns out other professors are discovering that governments are often not the answer to every social issue. Here from one of her postings is an example:
A low-cost answer to our aging population? We’re already doing it.

Why the Canadian Association on Gerontology is interested in one UofGH Professor’s findings… and why others should be, too

By now, a discussion around the aging population and its impacts needs almost no introduction. Dr. Brenda Elias, Professor in the Family and Community Social Services Program at the University of Guelph-Humber, echoes the sentiment: “We know we are looking forward to amazing numbers of people growing old. We know about the baby boomers.”

The latest population projections, according to Ontario’s Ministry of Finance, show the number of seniors aged 65 and over to more than double – from 1.9 million to 4.2 million – by the year 2036.

Add to this one more absolute: “And we know about the huge concern around healthcare costs,” says Dr. Elias.

While part of the Ontario government’s solution has been, in Dr. Elias’ words, ‘investing billions in big healthcare centres with lots of technology and expensive machines’, she has been investing her time in searching elsewhere for answers.

“In looking at small, rural communities, we find very rich and vibrant centres,” she says. “They may look sleepy, but in fact, they’re good places to grow old because of amazing volunteers leading not-for-profit organizations. Not because of trained professionals.”

She adds that the investments put forth by larger provinces in Canada, such as Ontario, often don’t reach many seniors, as rural communities often boast senior populations of more than 50 per cent. These seniors often don’t have access to family doctors or walk-in clinics – something city dwellers might take for granted.

Dr. Elias’ research took her to Georgetown, a small community in Ontario, home to a not-for-profit-run seniors facility called Bennett Village. What she found was remarkable success amid unremarkable circumstances.

“This not-for profit organization already has two facilities for seniors, but given the needs of their population, they’re being proactive and planning for a third next spring with long-term care beds,” says Dr. Elias.

She continues: “This community doesn’t have any more money than anyone else in Ontario. But what they’re saying is, we have a responsibility to our neighbours; we can take control of this situation; we don’t need government money.”

“They didn’t wait for someone else to come along and offer financial help. They just went out and did it. What they have is strong leadership - and that’s what it’s all about,” she says.

Dr. Elias points to what she calls a newfound caliber of volunteer as the reason behind such strong leadership. As baby boomers now enter retirement, a new pool of trained professionals is forming.

“We’ve never before had trained professionals with the time, resources, energy, and enough pension money [to support such demanding volunteerism]. This is a tremendous resource that Canadians have, that is not necessarily replicated around the world – not even in the United States,” she says.

In finding that small, rural Canadian communities are capable of supporting successful aging, Dr. Elias’ work corroborates that of others, including Dr. Norah Keating, a professor in the Department of Human Ecology at the University of Alberta, and one of Canada’s pre-eminent social gerontologists.

The key now is to get the right people listening.

She presented her findings this month at the Canadian Association on Gerontology’s Annual Scientific and Educational Meeting, “but if we can discover what makes a successful, supportive community, and how to sustain leadership in the community – then that may be a very low cost option that government may want to take a look at.”

Sustaining strong leadership does add a final twist to this story. If successful communities are those that are taking advantage of their volunteers, then how can we ensure future volunteerism?

Admittedly a concern for Dr. Elias, who shakes her head at a current provincial government policy designed to support the trend: high school students in Ontario must complete a minimum of 40 hours of community involvement activities in order to graduate.

“I’m torn about this policy, because I’m worried that we’re not making sure that younger people understand volunteerism,” she says. “Volunteerism is a very fragile thing, and I’m worried about the future.” 

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

They chose the devil they knew....

Unsurprisingly Barack Obama remains POTUS for another term. The US Congress is still divided, and as one of my more learned Facebook friends suggested during the TV count coverage last night:

"It appears we are headed for four more years of divided government and gridlock. The least bad of all possible outcomes."

Not exactly a ringing endorsement for what happened, but as positive as could be hoped for. 

Alas, a 5% showing for Gary Johnson the Libertarian candidate, did not happen, not even close. Johnson had his best showing in his home state of New Mexico with just 3.5% of the popular vote, next was Montana with 2.9% then Wyoming with 2.2%. Everywhere else was slightly more or less than 1%. His national total (at this posting) was about 1,140,000 votes, just 1.0% of total votes cast. This graphic from Google is one of the best sources. The graphic above from the Libertarian National Committee neatly compares the three candidates on a variety of issues. Of course most campaigns really are not about issues, are they? 

Another Facebook friend pointed out an article written by a libertarian that stirs up the hornets nest of the third party in a two party system. It's an interesting argument here.

Then there is Jeffrey Tucker's blog that neatly summarizes a libertarian perspective on the entire ordeal that is the American election campaign here.

I've already seen indications that the next campaign has started....Rand Paul anyone?

Occupy vs. Liberty

Liberty Now 2012 - in the foyer UTVic...

Liberty


I apologize, no postings for almost three weeks. Other work, and family obligations have kept me very busy. Some of you will know that I have been involved with the "liberty weekend" here in the Toronto area, and in all modesty, a  very successful one.
First, there was Liberty Now on Nov. 3, 2012, then my party's Annual General Meeting the very next day, so some things, like blogging, had to go by the wayside.

Liberty Now was a great success; it may even have lived up to it's billing as "Canada's largest Liberty Event." We had two liberty-related themes that day, each one with 3 sessions opposite the other throughout the day, all were well attended, plus a keynote lunchtime address from the host of Freedomain Radio, Stefan Molyneux. There was a liberty-bazzaar of sorts (see picture) in the foyer of the beautiful Victoria College building at the University of Toronto. The whole event was designed to bring people from different parts of the Canadian liberty movement together for discussion and networking purposes, and it worked wonderfully. The only negative about the day for me, the media chose not to attend, I'll have more on that.
The next day, Nov. 4, was my party's AGM, a private affair. Over the course of weeks and months, I've assisted the efforts of our party's Campaign Director, who has put us on the path to a useable, workable, presentable Platform, designed to ready our candidates with a document to carry into the coming Provincial election battle, likely next spring. We'll be ready, and with some hard work, and determination, we will strive for a full slate of candidates across Ontario.

Occupy


You will recall that it has been about a year since the Occupy Wall Street movement rose up, seemingly spontaneously in cities around the world including Toronto. The local media were all over it, covering every inane chant, every emanation and demand from a besieged neighbourhood park in the heart of Toronto live and direct. I thought of that event while driving home from the event on November third.
Prior to Liberty Now I had notified some local media, radio and TV, about Liberty Now, once I saw that we could have a good crowd. As many as 115 people actually showed up that day to occupy Victoria College, of course they paid us, and we asked permission from the College, rented the space and paid for the day. Everything was done by mutual agreement. We did not squat in a public area, we did not disrupt a neighbourhood or force ourselves on the local citizenry. It was totally peaceful, no demands, no whining, no muddy mess left behind, on the contrary, Liberty Now came replete with solutions and suggestions to improve the lives of Canadians and all people. A positive event, attended by people no less sincere than the Occupiers of last year, but no media. We'll be back, bigger and better.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Free Trade? at 25, USA and Canada

Charge!!!   
There is a scene from the John Candy movie Canadian Bacon, where American military types realize that 90% of Canada's citizenry live within 100 miles (~160 km) of the American border. They pretend to fear an invasion. The fact is Canadians invade the United States regularly, every weekend. But when Canadians 'charge,' they do it with a credit card.

This month marks the 25th Anniversary of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement (FTA).

Reciprocity, as it was once called, pre-dates Canada, back then it was limited to raw materials, but in 1911 the terms were broadened and Reciprocity or free trade, was defeated when the Borden Conservatives rejected a treaty signed by the Laurier Liberals. The same arguments used against free trade then, were used in 1987, when ironically, the Mulroney Conservatives signed the FTA. A national election in 1988 confirmed the deal, which was apposed by the socialist NDP and left Liberals of the day. I'm sure Laurier would have been sickened by those modern era Liberals.

So if free trade has been around for a quarter of a century, why do Canadians in ever growing numbers choose to shop in the nearby border towns of the United States? Why are there services that provide "border wait times," for travellers - mostly Canadian - here, here, and here? The answer is simple, just have a look at the tariff chart below that was published in the National Post recently.
from the National Post
If all those items are 7 to 18% more expensive in Canada, AND, each province (except Alberta) has a sales tax plus a federal GST, you can see why many Canadians go on US shopping jaunts particularly since the currencies have been close to par for sometime now. Where I live in Ontario, there is a 13% HST (harmonized sales tax, federal and provincial) that may be avoided with a 90 minute trip to New York State. The potential savings on an item of clothing would be upwards of 30%! Lets not forget that shopping in upstate New York provides more selection and good sales too, because of "the economy of scale."

That phrase: "the economy of scale" is often used by Canadian wholesalers and retailers (as an excuse - but I'm not blaming them) to explain their higher prices. Yet the population of the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) is far larger than upstate New York, aren't we big enough here if we were part of that same New York State market? The simple answer is yes, we are big enough, and yes, we could be part of that market, but the invisible boundary that separates us from our neighbours in New York, adds various government costs to "protect" our industries here in Ontario. Some free trade.

So our political masters here in Canada try to protect the brassier and panty hose industry, while at the same time hurting the rest of the population and in particular those least able to afford brassieres and panty hose.

In that National Post article I've mentioned above, Terence Corcoran explains why free trade is due for a change.

BTW, for your enlightenment here is the trailer to Canadian Bacon, enjoy:


Ed & Ethan 0.5 are moving to a new format....

But, I made it to the final broadcast (in this format)...and some of the past broadcasts too. I like this one because I'm the only panelist along with Ed & Ethan. Have a listen:


Monday, October 8, 2012

Minarchy vs. Anarchy and the State

In libertarian circles the minarchy versus anarchy argument is ever present, and typically in a non-threatening way.

What I mean by "non-threatening" is that the anarchy is NOT the sort characterized by conservatives and liberals. You know the kind, rioters in black masks roaming the streets looting, pillaging, and causing general mayhem. That is not the libertarian view of anarchy, thats just rioting.

The libertarian view of anarchy coincides with the concept of spontaneous order. That concept describes how the unhindered the free market operates by imposing its own rules on itself, such that there is a "spontaneous emergence of order out of seeming chaos." One of the biggest proponents of that sort of anarcho-capitalism, as it is called, was Murray Rothbard.

My background teaching biology made it very easy for me to accept spontaneous order in economics and society. Anyone that has ever studied biology will know that organisms, be they plant, animal or protist, live within "self ordered" ecosystems. There is a producer level, and various levels of consumer, and any external interventions often disrupt the order of the ecosystem. So, you see its not a huge jump to spontaneous governance among humans, and I have written about this before, here, here, and here.

In the ReasonTV video below, Stefan Molyneux is interviewed by Matt Welch at FreedomFest 2012. If you live in or near Southern Ontario, Stefan Molyneux will be the Keynote Speaker at Liberty Now on November 3, 2012. Why not come out and challenge the self-confessed  anarcho-capitalist on his home turf? I'll be there too.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

US vs. Canada Health Care: "A Mercedes Costs More than a Corolla"

Yes, "A Mercedes Costs More than a Corolla," even though they both seem to be able to do the same thing, that is carry people from one place to another. Certainly the Mercedes does the "carrying" in more style and comfort, but the end result is the same.

That comparison used in the following video from ReasonTV discusses the cost and availability of health care, including a brief comparison of the American versus the Canadian medical care systems. 

If the American system is the Mercedes, and the Canadian system in the Corolla, then the end result for patients should be the same, just difference between luxury and utility. But is it? Do Canadians get faster better service, or are wait times longer and access to care more restricted? 

I think a better and more appropriate comparison would be comparing the product of an ordinary X-Ray machine to the product a CT Scanning machine. Both products will give physicians an internal view of a patient, but the CT Scan will provide volumes more data for the physician to make an accurate diagnosis of an ailment.

In this commentary Michel Kelly-Gagnon, president of the Montreal Economic Institute, does have an interesting viewpoint.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Achieving a critical mass?

Europe is in a deep recession. Spain has a 25% unemployment rate, the rest of the EU has unemployment north of 11%, and those are the official "adjusted" government figures. Various countries have required huge monetary bailouts including Spain and Greece, Italy is in trouble and government austerity measures have resulted in rioting throughout the EU.

In the US, official unemployment figures show rates over 8%, but unofficially some say it is over 20%. The US Fed has announced a third round of Quantitative Easing, even though the previous two have not worked.

The price of gold has tripled in just 5 years and is now approaching record levels. Interest rates in the Western democracies, controlled by their various central banks, are at or near record lows, jeopardizing large pension plans and the savings income of retirees and the elderly. A worldwide economic malaise lingers from the economic turmoil of 2008-09; the bailouts and handouts back then may yet lead to greater problems in the future. World markets and investors are in a constant state of apprehension.

Governments everywhere (including Ontario) are reining in spending and are at odds with their various public sector unions; terms like cutbacks, pay freezes, and outsourcing are common in the daily news. The same is true in the North American manufacturing sector.

While all this is happening government run education costs in North America continue to increase, while student test scores are mediocre at best. Canadian government run health care costs continue to rise, yet wait times and access to service never seems to improve. At the same time Americans are expanding their socialized health care system.

Local and regional governments everywhere are instituting bans related to environmental and personal choices. Bans on the sale and distribution of pesticides, herbicides, plastic bags, sugary soft drinks, foods, breeds of dog, and on and on, are becoming more and more common. That, of course, is in addition to the restricted sale of alcohol in Canada, smoking bans everywhere, and continued and seemingly fruitless prohibitions on the distribution and use of recreational drugs.

So, the question needs to be asked, have we reached a point yet where the actions of governments are so detrimental to the general welfare that some sort of action is required? There is no question that the individual liberties of large swaths of the population have already been constrained. Can personal and economic freedoms be restored? If so, how, and who will do it?

These and other issues will be addressed at first annual Liberty Now at the University of Toronto, November 3, 2012.

Liberty Now is an opportunity to network with other liberty-minded Canadians. This full day event is designed to provide liberty-minded individuals the opportunity to listen to, and participate with, panels of leaders discussing such topics as the philosophy of freedom, the environment, the economics of liberty, the politics of freedom, freedom on campus, and how to spread the message of liberty.

Whether you are a conservative, classical liberal, libertarian, objectivist, anarcho-capitalist, a follower of the Austrian School of Economics, or just in favour of limited government, you'll find something of interest at Liberty Now.

One question may be answered at this event. Has the liberty movement in Canada achieved the critical mass required to make an impact on the social and political fabric of this country?

Find out. Be a part of it!

Please join us for the first annual Liberty Now at the University of Toronto November 3, 2012. Registration is now open.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

It's Justin....time

The Liberal Party of Canada has not had much luck with its leadership choices since the glory days of Jean Chrétien.

Paul Martin came next as leader and he was just too wishy-washy.

Then came Stéphane Dion, a convention compromise, and characterized as "not a leader."

Next Michael Ignatieff was literally shipped in, and he was "just visiting."

Each of these men led the party to lower and lower popular vote counts: Martin got 36.7% in 2004, then 30.1% in 2006, Dion 26.2% in 2008, and Ignatieff 18.9% in 2011. Down and down they went, from being the minority government, through to loyal opposition, then to a back bench third place finish for a once great political force. The current interim leader Bob Rae, a refugee from the socialist NDP, has already read the tea leaves, and will not run for permanent leader.

The stage has been set for the second coming of a saviour for the Liberals and by extension Canada, and this boy was born on Christmas Day too!

Yes, it's Justin Trudeau, eldest scion of the charismatic Pierre who led Canada to larger and ever more bloated government. Trudeau the father took office in 1968 when Canada's debt was 24% of GDP, by the time he left office in 1984, the debt was 46% of GDP, an increase of 83%. But of course the rest of the Western Democracies, did precisely the same thing during that time and it has become much worse. The evidence in Europe, America and Canada clearly shows bloated governments don't work.

How does the younger Trudeau - just Justin, thank you - propose to fix the country? I think he gets it right, sort of, lets reinvigorate the middle class. Here is a part of his leadership entry speech:
"A thriving middle class provides realistic hope and a ladder of opportunity for the less fortunate. A robust market for our businesses. And a sense of common interest for all.
The great economic success stories of the recent past are really stories of middle class growth. China, India, South Korea and Brazil, to name a few, are growing rapidly because they have added hundreds of millions of people to the global middle class.
The news on that front is not so good at home; I don’t need to tell you that. You, like our fellow Canadians all over the country, live it every day. Canadian families have seen their incomes stagnate, their costs go up, and their debts explode over the past 30 years.
What’s the response from the NDP? To sow regional resentment and blame the successful. The Conservative answer? Privilege one sector over others and promise that wealth will trickle down, eventually.
Both are tidy ideological answers to complex and difficult questions. The only thing they have in common is that they are both, equally, wrong.
We need to get it right. We need to open our minds to new solutions, to listen to Canadians, to trust them.
And as we face these challenges, the only ideology that must guide us is evidence. Hard, scientific facts and data. It may seem revolutionary in today's Ottawa, but instead of inventing the facts to justify the policies, we will create policy based on facts. Solutions can come from the left or the right, all that matters is that they work. That they help us live - and thrive - true to our values.
Because middle class growth is much more than an economic imperative."

So, Justin and the Liberals should eschew ideology, except where it is supported by evidence and hard scientific facts. Maybe that has been part of the problem with the Liberals, no principles, nothing but the ideology de jour, or as I heard this morning, there is no there, there. 

I don't know where Justin gets his facts, but it seems to me, he and the Liberals have absorbed the prevailing collectivist ideology so they don't even recognize that they have one. If putting a larger and larger tax burden on the middle class, then saddling it with huge debt, is not evidence for why the middle class is struggling, then I'm not sure what is. Maybe Justin should consider unburdening the middle class and stop trying to fix it. That is a second coming I can get behind.

Here is Justin telling the internet he is going to share his greatness with us:

    

Monday, October 1, 2012

Omar Khadr comes "home"

 Khadr in a video 2002....
The hue and cry over the last few days among conservatives in the Canadian media has been deafening.

Why? Omar Khadr has finally been shipped from GITMO to a Canadian prison, 10 years after he was captured by US troops in Ayub Kheyl, Afghanistan.

In October 2010, Khadr pled guilty to war crimes as stipulated here. In Canada the entire story has had wide exposure.

For me this story has not yet warranted a mention in any of my postings. The very idea of a "war on terror"  like most government crusades (good word here), leaves me apathetic to the cause, yawning, except that it is yet another way government wastes lives and money by maladministration. The one thing governments should be doing, protecting our rights, protecting our freedoms, ensuring our safety from violence, they manage screw up by inappropriate international interventions. Does anyone in the West feel safer now that the war on terror has entered its second decade? I doubt it.

The Khadr story has been a political football in Canada. Conservatives see it as a cause célèbre for the fight against terrorism, collectivists (left liberals and socialists including the mainstream media) see it as an injustice verging on abuse, done to an innocent child. The collectivists have a point.

Khadr was 15 years old when the incident occurred. Canadian fifteen-year-olds don't arrange to travel 11,000 km (6800 miles) to Afghanistan to get into a firefight with American soldiers. Canadian fifteen-year-olds don't arrange for weapons and explosives training while in Afghanistan. Canadian fifteen-year-olds generally don't appear in al Qaeda videos with weapons in the background. These events are due to the actions of parents, and not parents that mean well. What kind of parent would bring their child to the centre of a military conflict? What kind of parent would put their child into the path of mortal danger? Certainly these actions would be considered abusive and we may never know what Omar the child's wishes were back then. Ten years at GITMO will change you, no doubt.

Which brings me to the prevailing conservative position in the Khadr case. Conservatives are often the first to stand up for abused children in a variety of situations. Why not Omar? Omar Khadr was a child by any definition used in Canada when these events occurred, yet he is vilified amongst conservatives as being beyond redemption, a traitor, and a murderer. Lets just throw away the key. Is that a reasonable well thought out position? Do the sins of one's father transfer to the child?

Sure, Khadr has made statements and confessions while in GITMO, but he may not have felt free to speak. How would anyone act if they were held captive in such a hostile situation?

So now what? Its hard to believe that Khadr has been rehabilitated (or will ever be) by being in a prison with older terrorist operatives. I doubt that in that time they have come to love America, the West and all that it stands for. Even before GITMO, Khadr's family saw to it that he was indoctrinated with the antihuman distortions of a fundamentalist Muslim upbringing. Any religious indoctrination in my view is abusive, this one was way beyond that. All of this was sanctioned and encouraged by his family, they didn't care. Why should we?

The Islamic traditions that Khadr's family cultivates are not going to blend readily into the so-called multicultural traditions of Canada. The lies that defend multiculturalism and relativism in Canadian society will stop right here. The very idea of Sharia, the moral code of Islam, is in many ways inimical to life in a free and culturally pluralistic society such as we have in Canada. I'm concerned that the story of this conflict has just begun.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

The Innocence of YouTube

An incomprehensible YouTube posting called the Innocence of Muslims has created a furor in the Islamic world, I'm sure you are aware. This incident and previous such provocations show that it doesn't take much to incite violent protests in that part of the world. So when I first heard of the posting and the reaction, all I could think of was 'here we go again.'

I tried to watch all of this 14 minute video, but couldn't make it through without fast-forwarding to different scenes just to see if it got any better. It didn't. Is it an insult to a religion, Islam? I suppose it is, but the reaction that ensued is an insult to humanity that makes the video's purpose (if there was one) pale by comparison.

Our humanity, the central thing that makes us human, is our ability to use reason, and in many ways all religion is an insult to humanity. Humans have the capacity to reject blind faith (the foundation of all religions), to control their violent emotions, to act in their own rational self interest. The reactions to this video, are so much more damaging than the video itself, yet those protesting see themselves as defenders of the faith. It's a head shaker.

But worst of all were the calls to squelch the video, pleas to both Google and YouTube to remove or review it. Those calls came from some people sworn to defend freedom, but of course the freedom to speak out, to disagree, needs to be most safeguarded in times of turmoil. Sadly that reminder too often needs repeating.
Here is ReasonTV's take on YouTube freedom.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Why American Pizza tastes better...

I know that's a generalization, and of course it may not always be true. But that has been my experience when visiting my relatives in New Jersey over the past almost 40 years.

The pizza seems richer, more flavourful, definitely cheesier! I never understood or thought about why until now, and I have theory.

This week the CBC ran a story where members of the Niagara Regional Police Service will be charged for smuggling large amounts of mozzarella brick cheese across the US-Canada border.

Cheese smuggling!! Why would anyone smuggle cheese across the "NAFTA free-trade border" between two of the largest trading nations on Earth? Good question.

I have written about this before (here), Canadians pay a premium for dairy products because of a monopoly granted to dairy farmers in Canada, which is outside of the NAFTA agreement. This distortion in the dairy market occurs because the federal government allows farmers to collude on the price of raw milk by agreeing to limit production to allotted quotas. The government also creates a tariff wall that effectively prevents cheaper foreign dairy products from competing in the Canadian market. If milk is pricey, cheese will be too. What does this have to do with pizza?

Apparently after removing labour costs, 80% of the price of Canadian pizza is due to the mozzarella cheese. Who knew? Of course getting cheaper cheese allows the local pizza shop to either use more cheese or make more profit, or both. That is my theory, that is why those New Jersey pizzas are so much cheesier. Unlike their Canadian counterparts, Americans can be generous with their cheese without hurting their bottom line.  This story from Niagara Falls Ontario explains some of the cost realities involved. A pizza shop in Ohio spends $90 on cheese every day, a similar shop in Niagara Falls Ontario spends $290 for the same type, quality and roughly the same amount of cheese. Starting to see why there is a cheese smuggling racket?

Again the unintended consequences of government intervention in an economic area, has spawned a black market criminal class of cheese smugglers, the "mozzarella mafia." According to the CBC, a cheese smuggler can earn up to $2000 per shipment, so it's not as lucrative as drug smuggling, but neither are the penalties as onerous. This story has received wide publicity in the US and Canada, here is a report from NPR in the US.

When will things change? Only when Canadians become cheesed-off enough with how they are treated by their various governments.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How to create farming jobs by spending more of your money.

Or else.....
"If every one of our families were to spend $10 more every week on Ontario foods, that would have a $2.4 billion impact on the economy and create 10,000 jobs." That sort of brilliant reasoning can only come from the mind of an overbearing politician. Most elected politicians have the view that YOUR money is theirs to spend anyway. And they justify that position because this is how they can create jobs.

The quote above comes from the Premier of Ontario Dalton McGuinty, but the rest of what he said is more ominous:

"So we've got a new bill that we will shortly be introducing, the Local Food Act....We're buying the food anyway right now, for example, in our public institutions. It's just a matter of ensuring that we're using our purchasing power to support local agriculture."

You don't have to be a mathematician to realize that $10 more per week adds over $500 to the annual family budget, which would be fine if it were your choice to do that or not. There is nothing wrong with supporting local industry if you think it helps the economy. Typically it does not, and the extra money spent often means that other parts of the economy will suffer. The ominous part is that a Local Food Act, prepared with the help of a lobby group, to "encourage" people to buy locally, well, that sounds like a tax of sorts. It's the kind of thing that hurts the poor the most, because any additional cost subtracts from their meagre discretionary income the most. There are almost 5 million family households in Ontario, and at $500 a family, you can see where McGuinty gets his figures in the first paragraph. 

In Canada we already have a system that forces citizens to buy locally grown produce at additional costs for eggs, poultry and dairy products, its called supply management. I've already discussed this here and here

You might wonder how Canadians feel about paying more for local produce, wonder no longer. Despite  the "politically correct" comments that you may hear from your neighbours, the fact is Canadians are voting with their feet in greater and greater numbers to avoid uncompetitive food prices. Check out this article from Jesse Kline in the National Post.

The bad news is this type of legislation is likely to pass because of the composition of the legislature, there is no good news.   

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Authoritarianism evolves suppressing internet freedom

Traditionally the "soapbox" was the tool used to promulgate radical socialist ideas in societies that were not socialist. The physical box acted as a raised platform for the individual activist to be heard above the crowd ranting revolutionary thoughts in places like London's Hyde Park.

Things have changed. The new and improved soapbox is the internet, and the rants of activists of all stripes can now potentially reach all corners of the world. That is a problem for local governments that wish to control the flow of information to their citizens.

Immediately places like North Korea or Cuba may come to mind as jurisdictions that wish to control the flow of information to their citizens. The poverty of those people is likely the most effective filter. China is another place where information is filtered, but the burgeoning middle-class there is becoming an issue for the authorities and they are evolving to deal with it.

How safe are we from arbitrary filtering of information? Maybe not as safe as you might like. A new book about that is discussed on ReasonTV.