Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Liberty with a side of sauerkraut - Part 1

The Libertarian "big tent..."
It didn't rain! For the first time in its 12 year history, the rain held off, in fact the weather was spectacular during the Liberty Summer Seminar (LSS) at the Jaworski Estate in Orono Ontario last weekend.

This annual two day seminar is one of the largest gatherings of libertarians of all stripes in Canada. Stripes of libertarians? Absolutely, if you thought libertarians came in only one flavour, this seminar would have been an eyeopener. I'll say more about that later in Part 2.

I'm always impressed with the selection of speakers at LSS, this year was no different. For me each speaker was a highlight, so let me select for you what it was I learned from them.

Fred McMahon of the Fraser Institute was first up on Saturday talking about economic freedom and how it relates to other freedoms. Fred pointed out that economic freedom is the fundamental freedom on which all the others are built. Historically the first European nations that were free, were market oriented. Freedom, he said, is often confused with democracy, and has little to do with it. In fact, to be economically free means being liberated from dependence on government, something that most democracies today, do their best to thwart.

The Fraser Institute produces much of its research based on econometrics, which most Austro-libertarians dismiss because human action, they say, is impossible to model through laboratory experiments as other sciences are. That didn't stop Fred from displaying slide after slide demonstrating the positive relationship based on econometrics, of economic freedom to wealth and happiness.

Next up was Cindy Cerquitella of the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Cindy's topic was Freedom Champions: Stories from the field. For those who are unaware of Atlas (not named after Atlas Shrugged) its mission: "is to discover, develop and support Intellectual Entrepreneurs worldwide who advance the Atlas vision of a society of free and responsible individuals. Achieving Atlas’s vision of a “peaceful and prosperous society of free and responsible individuals” requires respect for the foundations of a free society: individual liberty, property rights, limited government under the rule of law, and the market order. To move public policy debates toward these classical liberal ideas...." In other words, an organization after my own heart.

Cindy spoke about think tanks around the world, and demonstrated a positively encyclopedic knowledge about them. After speaking of a few interesting groups that Atlas supports in some countries, the audience was invited to shout out a country, to which she named the think tank and some of its members, for country after country, no notes, very impressive. And I was buoyed by how many countries there were that had liberty oriented think tanks.

Our next speaker was Victoria Henderson speaking about Advancing Liberty in the Americas (Latin America). Victoria was part of a panel on drug policy that I attended last January, though drugs are not her field of study. Her field is Latin American Studies and Geography, and she is the Managing Director at the Institute for Social and Economic Analysis (ISEA).

Victoria used two terms with which I was not familiar: Epistemic Communities - voluntary groups held together by ideas, and Epistemic Landscapes for which she gave an interesting example: in her class of 174 at Queen's University, students were shown pictures of Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, Karl Marx and then, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. Ninety percent of the class knew the first trio, only one person knew all of the second. That is the "landscape" we are up against, an educational apparatus in Canada that is geared to teaching about collectivist thinkers and thinking.

One fact that Victoria mentioned, a surprise to me, was that the Austrian School had a precursor in 16th Century Spain. Further investigation suggests there was no direct influence, but the School of Salamanca was in many ways so similar to the Austrian School that Murray Rothbard referred to them as proto-Austrians.

Another surprise to me, was Victoria's mention of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín (UFM) - The Free Market University in Guatemala! Who knew? A university that teaches about Mises, Hayek, Friedman etc. In fact there is a library named after Mises: La Biblioteca Ludwig von Mises. UFM is 41 years old, and on its a 40th anniversary last year it wrote "if Guatemala were to enjoy prosperity, it would be necessary for a group of influential people to understand, very clearly, the ethical, legal and economic aspects of a society of free and responsible persons," that is a worthy and wonderful mission.

Stay tuned for Part 2, BTW, I love sauerkraut.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

After Ron Paul what?

So what happens after the GOP convention in Tampa Bay? Who will carry Ron Paul's message into the future. Here are some thoughts from ReasonTV.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A libertarian diet: How the government makes you fat.

About 2 years ago, I discovered that I required hernia surgery, it's not uncommon at my age. I chose to go to one of the few private hospitals remaining in Canada (near my home). This hospital was a hold over from the time before socialized medicine, a centre of excellence for hernia surgery worldwide. Unfortunately (for me) they refused to do the surgery unless I lost some weight. According to the doctors in the private hospital, weight loss would make the surgery easier and the recovery quicker.

So, I had a dilemma, lose weight, endure the discomfort of the hernia, or go to a government run hospital and get the surgery done. Maybe the queue in the government hospital would be shorter than the time it would take to lose the weight, I needed to lose over 20 pounds.

I chose to lose the weight and go to the private hospital, and they were good enough to give me a diet they recommended to lose weight quickly and safely. I've posted a part of this diet here, and you can see from the "forbidden list" that this is a low carb diet. What you can't see on the other side, is that meats, fats, cheese, eggs, nuts and mostly vegetables, make up the greater portion of what I was allowed to eat.

This was definitely not a "fat free" diet, but it was virtually a "no carb diet".

The diet worked marvellously well, I was able to eat more often in some cases, but of smaller amounts of food. I learned to eat less and as I reached the goal set by the doctors, and had my surgery scheduled I was put on a "maintenance diet" that was very similar to the original, I was just allowed to eat a bit more. My weight levelled off as if by magic, I had the surgery and was out in two days. Recovery was pretty quick as predicted.

The best part of the story is most of the weight is still off, and I have good evidence that this diet really works. Emulating it, on a daily basis works to keep my weight down, and it's so simple.

The diet that I was on, is similar to diets advocated by Gary Taubes. The TIME cover (top) and the story that went with it, was one of the major impetuses that led to the "fat-free" craze that still grips our society. Listen to Gary Taubes as he was interviewed by ReasonTV and look at the notes I have appended below for more information, he thinks fat free diets are crazy:

From the YouTube video:
Reason.tv's Zach Weissmueller talked with Taubes about his controversial work in the world of nutrition and epidemiology, including Taubes' hypothesis that carbohydrates, not dietary fat, overeating, or lack of physcial activity, are the primary factor causing obesity. Other topics include the inability of governments and large informational institutions such as the American Heart Association to adapt to new information, the mess of bad legislation and bad science that Taubes believes led to America's obesity problem, and why many libertarians seem to love the Paleo Diet . 
Taubes' work has unsurprisingly invited criticism from scientists, government officials and journalists, even in the pages of Reason Magazine, where he went back and forth with Reason contributor Michael Fumento. Read below and decide for yourself who, if anyone, is right:
Fumento on Taubes - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/big-fat-fake
Taubes' response - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/an-exercise-in-vitriol-rather
Fumento's rebuttal - http://reason.com/archives/2003/03/01/gary-taubes-tries-to-overwhelm

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The 100-mile-diet? - The Locavore's Dilemma

cabbage storage
Anyone that has grown up in the Toronto area knows that the city's nick name is Cabbagetown. Why? The name Cabbagetown comes from stories of Irish immigrants arriving during the Irish Potato Famine in the middle of the nineteenth century. They grew cabbages in front of their homes in an area that became part of Toronto. Why cabbage? Probably because potatoes, historically a food staple of the Irish, had become unreliable through successive crop failures due to the potato blight back home. Cabbage was reliable and could be stored through the harsh Canadian winter, and avoiding starvation is an excellent incentive.
"This standard winter vegetable (cabbage) may be stored either indoors or out. In the former case a good way is to put the trimmed heads in slotted or open vegetable barrels. Or the plants may be taken up roots and all, the loose outer leaves trimmed off, and three or four heads tied together by the roots and suspended from nails in the cellar rafters. In this way they will keep well without occupying any floor space, which is needed for other things, such as root crops and fruits. .......... It is well to store at least part of the crop out of doors, as this will keep in perfect condition until late spring, when it will be much more fresh and crisp than that which has been stored indoors."
"......Well matured cabbage can easily be kept through the winter in an outside trench or pit. The heads are packed as shown
(see above right), covered with straw or marsh hay, and as freezing weather approaches, gradually cover with soil."
One of the most effective ways to avoid starvation is through trade. Even the Irish got tired of eating cabbage, not to mention the fact that growing anything in Canada, even relatively balmy Toronto in winter, is tricky. Trade, of course, reduces the risk that local food issues will impact local families with famines. The chances of widespread famine are remote especially if the trade areas are farther away. The greater the distance between traders, the more likely there will be food to trade.

But the anthropogenic global warming crowd has again bullied its way into an economic area blissfully unaware of the facts. They claim that to reduce one's carbon footprint its best to follow the dictates popularized in a book the100-Mile-Diet, eat locally to reduce transportation and thus CO2 emissions.

There is nothing wrong with eating local foods, its makes perfect sense when they are available. But is it wrong to source food from distant shores? Does it really help the environment to eat locally? Is the food more nutritious and safer if its local?

In a new book Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu dispel some of the myths around eating locally versus globally. Watch this lecture that Desrochers presented to CATO recently in Washington D.C.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Land of the free, home of the brave.....Canada

Recently I attended a meetup in Toronto. The host made some passing remarks about the upcoming Canada Day holiday and all the "benefits" that accrue from government. The last bit was more in jest. He spoke of how there were no roads, no laws, no rights, no freedoms BEFORE there was a Canada. Of course none of that is true, all of them existed before there was a Federal State or any state or colony.

We have just celebrated the birth of two nations the United States and Canada, in the 200th anniversary year of the last battles fought between the people of our two territories in the War of 1812.

So think about this: where does your freedom come from? Is it granted to you by government, by constitutions, by laws? Or does it exist from the moment of your birth, which is what I believe.

If you believe what I believe, then you must ask yourself what is the purpose of government? Make no mistake, I believe government is important and should have a defined and limited purpose and that is to make sure our freedoms are protected so that we may live our lives as best as we can. I know some who will say there is no need for government even to do those things, and I have great sympathy for that idea. But we're not there yet, and reigning in the excesses of governments today, will keep those of us in the freedom business busy for some time to come.

Our American cousins have for over 200 years celebrated their freedoms with such zeal and vigour, that peoples around the world think America invented liberty. Living here in Canada, often in the shadow of America, many Canadians dismiss our connections to freedom and the fights for liberty as being trivial and unimportant. Many will point to our allegiance to the British Crown as that which distinguishes us from our cousins to the South. They forget our two countries are both children of Great Britain, one older, one younger, but with the same heritage and it is NOT the British Crown, it is British liberty.

British liberty goes back to the days of Magna Carta, and the beginning of the end of the power of the British Crown. We cherish our British heritage, not because of the Crown, but because the Crown is irrelevant, powerless, and just fodder for the tabloids in the modern era.

Canada does not need to play second fiddle to America on liberty, on the contrary Canadians are more aware of it than ever. Need proof? The video below is from a radio program broadcast from Saskatchewan, the cradle of socialized medicine in Canada, listen to the zeal and vigour of Canadian liberty.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Obama-care and unlimited government

Most Canadians walk around under the delusion that the American healthcare system is a free market system, and that's why it's so expensive. Of course Americans probably believe that too, which doesn't help matters.
Many Canadians pride themselves in thinking: "we take care of our own - no matter what," that makes us better then our Yankee cousins. Well, our Yankee cousins have finally come around to our way of thinking, too bad for them.

Of course Obama-care will fix everything, score another point for unlimited government. Maybe once, a long time long ago, the American health care system was a free market, but the picture to the left and the second video below should dispel that misconception for today. There has been no free market in American health care for generations. The truth is, in a genuinely free market system, health care prices would be controlled strictly by supply and demand, like anything else.

Amazingly, those same people that believe health care is overpriced because of greed from insurance companies, doctors, you can name your own scapegoat here; well those people, put healthcare in a special category different from other services or products. The reason is easy to understand, if your income is low and you need healthcare you may have a problem, health care is pricey. People view this problem in the same way as they do if you have low income and you need a vacation. Your income is low and you need a vacation? Well, you may be out of luck, low income individuals typically cannot afford vacations. But it's not entirely out of the question. There are so many choices in the vacation industry, at so many price levels its possible even for low income people to find something that is affordable. How is that possible? Its possible because the vacation industry has far less regulation, no monopolies and as a result tremendous competition. Competition invariably lowers prices and improves service and those people that put health care in a different category know this is true for everything else.

What works for the vacation industry, the computer and electronics industry, the food industry, any industry, would also work for medical insurance and the health care industry. Why wouldn't it?

So, as Canadians become more and more disenchanted with socialized medicine, our American cousins are embracing it more and more. Here is what Nick Gillespie on ReasonTV thinks about Obama-care:    

Here is a historical perspective on the American health care system with some alternative solutions to a needlessly complex issue. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Restoring Fiscal Sanity to Ontario

A general election in Ontario was narrowly averted over the last few weeks, at least that was the perception. It would have been the second in less than a year, though realistically the disagreement was likely just political theatre.    

The current Liberal government has what amounts to a one seat minority. That means that the government can be defeated if the opposition parties gang up and declare they have "no confidence" in the government. That generally happens over substantial matters that deal with money, in this case it was the province's 2012-2013 budget that was presented back in late March 2012. The Ontario legislature gets to discuss and vote on the budget provisions as if it were a bill.

Of the two opposition parties, the Progressive Conservatives (oxymoron?), were against the budget from the outset, and so-called socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) carried the deciding votes. The NDP decided to do some arm twisting, and managed to add an additional tax on the wealthy along with some other minor tweaks.

The budget was supposed to address the growing provincial deficit and debt, something that the Liberals have exacerbated over the past 8 years. Now they wanted to fix it, and this budget was designed to balance the books in five years. Not the debt, mind you, it would continue to grow over those five years, just stop spending more than you bring in, that was the goal. Of course eliminating the deficit in Ontario depends on continued growth of the economy and no surprise shocks that may negatively impact the province. The latter is about as likely as the sun NOT rising tomorrow morning. But I am no expert. Why not watch and listen to an expert who thinks the Liberal plan is flawed and unrealistic. Not only that, but Niels Veldhuis has a better idea: