What’s In A Name?

The terms anarcho-capitalist and anarchist are quite common to libertarians. We hear the terms and think of such figures as Lysander Spooner and Murray Rothbard. Yet to the general populace, these words represent something very different. The terms harken back to history classes where students learned about the self-proclaimed Anarchists who threw bombs, engaged in violence, and had a much-different view towards the free market.  In a lighter sense, the majority grew to accept that to be an anarchist is to experience youthful phases of rebellion against society and “the man”. This is drastically different from the libertarian view, where an individual who identifies as an anarchist or an ancap is one who believes in a completely voluntary society with  no government coercion.

While I don’t claim either one of those titles, this is certainly a case in which libertarians need to play a better semantics game as it relates to outreach to the general public. The second that one identifies themselves politically as an anarchist or an ancap in a conversation with a non-political acquaintance, one of two things will happen: either the subject will be changed or a deluge of confused questions will be asked; in my experience, the former tends to happen more often. Anarchism has such violent connotations; do we really want ourselves associated with that, even if we attach the term capitalism?

There are much better terms to use to describe the belief in a free society or laissez-faire economics. Relying instead on the political label of voluntaryist may require some explanation, but doesn’t create preconceived notions. Explaining first and foremost that you are an advocate of a free-market economy (a real one without impediments created by the Federal leviathan) is also another solution to the semantics problem that we find ourselves facing.

The general public finds itself more cynical of the status quo every day and is looking for another answer out there. Terms need to evoke a certain kind of hope, and that can only be accomplished by using self-descriptions that haven’t already been manipulated to represent a negative, or dangerous, point of view. I’d argue that even capitalism is a bad term. It was first defined by Marx in Das Kapital and has always had a negative connotation: one that evokes the image of the fat executive smoking a cigar while stomping on the poor. Furthermore, the Left claims that the bailouts and Keynesian economics “saved capitalism”, an exemplar of oxymoronical statements. If the bailouts and Keynesian economics saved capitalism, I wonder what their notions of real central planning are.

It’s not hard to be savvy about your terminology if you know who you are talking to. Efforts must be made in every way possible to win the hearts and minds of the public, especially in terms of viability of libertarian candidates. When I run for office, I don’t want people to be associating me with Gavrilo Princip just because someone mentioned to them that they were a libertarian who had anarchist leanings. Likewise I assume that libertarians in business or the non-profit sector of the economy would rather not have their productivity associated with destruction and violence.

Make a conscious effort to use new terms, or only use self-descriptors such as “anarchist” or “anarcho-capitalist” amongst other libertarians, where they will be understood for what they mean. It will make a world of difference in the long run, and could contribute to living in a much more free society one day.

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Contradictions

In my state, there is a free monthly magazine that circulates entitled Indiana Living Green.  It is a magazine dedicated to everything environmentally friendly, or so they would claim. To my surprise, this month, two articles side-by-side were “Beyond Coal: Indiana’s Best Eco-Movement” and an article entitled “Making Nikola proud: The Tesla all-electric car”. These articles being paired together points out one of the greatest ironies of the modern environmentalist movement- they loudly denounce fuels that require combustion, but at the same time, quietly reap the rewards of cheap energy from sources like coal. It’s classical white liberal activism, the concept that it’s perfectly fine to use something as long as you are protesting it, the “do as I say, not as I do” mentality.

Whether these environmentalists like it or not, their use of smart cars is probably putting more carbon into the atmosphere than my minivan. That electricity that they are using to power their car didn’t randomly appear: it came from somewhere, and, in my home region of the Midwest, it likely came from a coal power plant. While we have solar power and windmills here, solar power has a very limited presence. Likewise, the windmills are a result of subsidies and wouldn’t hold up to the rigors of the market.

How these environmentalists can both denounce coal power and praise electric cars that run on such power still eludes me. Do they presume that as soon as coal is gone, somehow wind and solar power will automatically be viable to produce the amount of energy an affluent society needs? Or are they doing what Hayek warned against: only thinking about the short-term and ignoring the larger picture about what will happen in the long-term when energy is no longer cheap enough to maintain the viability of smart cars?

I harbor no malice towards smart cars, they’re a great innovation. However, I think that if someone is going to be an environmentalist, they should take their ideology to the logical extreme. Concepts of “sustainability” will produce amounts of carbon, no matter what. Windmills are made of metal, and thus must be forged with some type of heat and then transported long distances by massive flat-bed semi-trucks and wide load police escorts.

Time immemorial, there has been no way man could survive without the production of some type of carbon, whether he was building a fire or cooking meat. Yet, this element (the 4th most abundant in the universe) is a boogeyman to environmentalists who fail to see it as a chemical that is not only given off in reactions, but vital to life as well.

I pose a challenge to environmentalists: be ideologically pure. If you’re going to denounce cheap fuels, stop using them. That’s all I ask. Oh, and you can start by selling your Prius.

Hey bro, don't you know that PVC pipe is pollution?

Hey bro, don’t you know that PVC pipe is pollution?

Libertarian Tech

gps1Oftentimes, technology is discussed solely in such a light that it will only lead to an inhibition of freedom, as LWA contributor Spencer Smith pointed out in regards to drones.

This past weekend while traveling to Northern Illinois to assist the McHenry County Young Republicans in their July 4th activism, I realized one of the benefits of technology in regards to one of the most vital forms of human freedom: mobility between geographical and governmental boundaries.

When I would put in my destination, my GPS would notify me: “This route has toll roads. Do you want to avoid them?” Anyone would say yes, but my reasoning was to deny a state that has been fiscally irresponsible more revenue; the dream of any libertarian.

My GPS not only helped me avoid such wastes of time and money, but also stimulated local businesses, an exemplar of spontaneous order if there ever was one. When I was in need of gas or a bite to eat, my GPS would alert me to where the closest gas station or restaurant was. The utility of such technology cannot be understated, even though the government can use such technology for nefarious purposes. In the past, I took drives merely with paper directions; that was not the easiest thing to do and resulted in many obscenities being uttered. Tom Tom is a company that is commended every day by such consumers like me who continue to buy their products and use them.

Consumers gain quite a lot more than government can as a result of the fact that they are rational actors using such technology to produce wealth, as opposed to stifle wealth or violate the rights of others. Consumers also don’t use the technology in such a way that it is overwhelming; in other words, they only gather enough information to use for their needs. I need to go one place, not gather the details on where millions of people are going.

Consumers, beyond using such technology to challenge, and stymie, revenue collection and stimulate private business, can also use such technology to do what I did: counter government intervention with activism. In that I wasn’t a local, I didn’t have an intimate knowledge of the environs I was working in there, just like when I was doing my work with AFP in my home state. Yet, the technology assisted me in getting where I needed to be and thus I was rendered more effective.

GPS units are not merely computer chips and plastic, they represent a certain kind of freedom as well due to the ease of travel when utilizing them. They are decidedly libertarian in nature for the reasons I’ve pointed out and a result of the prosperity the United States still has, in spite of the central planning that has become more characteristic of the economy.

Richmond’s Gun Ban Defeat

On the eve of July 4th, an event took place that restored my faith in democracy. A public meeting had been called in Richmond, Illinois to debate the merits (or lack thereof, judging from the unanimous responses of the residents) of a proposed ordinance that would have banned many weapons from the environs of the village. It had only been recently decided that this would be a topic of debate, and thus many of those that were there were only notified briefly before by a Herculean effort on behalf of Melissa Denker and the McHenry County Young Republicans.

Upon pulling up to the Richmond town hall, I saw a large gathering of men and women, most wearing pro-Second Amendment and NRA t-shirts. While my GPS hadn’t told me I was at my destination, I gathered that this was the meeting place judging from the attire they were wearing. The meeting room filled up rather quickly and as soon as the mundane topics of business, the minutes and a report on the purchase of a lawnmower, were complete, village president Peter Koenig read the legislation in full which led to many understandable outbursts and questions from trustees on what certain firearms paraphernalia were and how they functioned. The crowd seemed enthusiastic to let the trustees know what detachable magazines and the so-called “barrel shroud” actually were, as opposed to the definitions given to these items by the media earlier in the year.

After some discussion of the terms, the public voiced their concern- and were unanimously opposed to the ordinance. It wasn’t only the public that had common sense at this meeting; Trustee Craig Kunz said that he “would have a hard time voting [the ordinance] up or down if I don’t know what the hell it [means].” At this statement, applause broke out. One resident asked if there was any other constitutional right that the board would take advice in legislating on from Springfield or Chicago politicians. Another resident posed whether or not the board would be ready for the lawsuit that would be filed by the residents and the National Rifle Association, and where they would find the money to fight that lawsuit. Other residents appealed to the right to own firearms such as the AR15, stating that it’s much easier for women and the disabled to manipulate due to its considerable lack of recoil compared to other firearms commonly used for self-defense. Another man, who owned a machine shop that made tools for the housing industry, appealed to the board on economic terms, stating that as a result of the housing bubble burst and the considerable lack of business, he had purchased $500,000 in machinery to manufacture custom AR rifles, and that he would be possibly be able to re-hire the four people he’d had to lay off since 2007. The ordinance would have effectively shut down his new venture.

While I’m certain there were one or two trustees who would have voted in favor of the law, the public outrage about the ordinance led to a unanimous rejection, 6-0 with one abstention due to absence.

The residents of Richmond declared their independence from the big city politicians and made sure that their elected officials heard them loud and clear. While many times it seems the deck is stacked against the people, this was one case at the local level where interest of the public was able to prevail. Local government tends to have the biggest impact on our lives and it’s where we can make the most difference, if we stand up like the residents of Richmond, Illinois did.

One of the disaffected residents warns the Richmond, IL trustees what will happen if they approve a gun ban on July 3, 2013. The measure failed, unanimously.

One of the disaffected residents warns the Richmond, IL trustees what will happen if they approve a gun ban on July 3, 2013. The measure failed, unanimously.

The Unseen Effects of Regulation, Part II

To aid myself in becoming more rounded, I subscribe to multiple trade magazines that cater to those who make a living from a wide variety of industries, from law to logistics to small business. In my perusal of these magazines, one big thing sticks out to me: the number of articles in regards to compliance with regulations. As I mentioned in my first article, there are many physical products that don’t exist as a result of such regulations. However, in this article, I seek to reveal the unseen mental, rational, and commercial possibilities that could exist but don’t as a result of such deleterious, even if well-intentioned statutes.

The authors of the articles that I read in those magazines have an air of respect, even fear, for bureaucrats who are paid to write statutes that mandate or ban certain products in an innocuous legal language that could be twisted to such ends as to exact the most money from a businessman or lawyer branded a “violator”. I’ve read articles on proposed legislation in states like Illinois and Connecticut that would mandate that all firearm owners have a specific type of liability insurance, solely based on the fact that they had the temerity to own guns, a right firmly enshrined in the Constitution and multiple Supreme Court decisions. I’ve read articles in trucking magazines about how USDOT regulations make it extremely difficult to be an owner-operator.

The thoughts that run through my mind are not only those of sheer frustration about how difficult government makes people’s lives, even if the results are unintended consequences, but what that space could be devoted to otherwise. As mentioned previously, this is the unseen. Could there be different content in place of these? Could there be an advertisement in that space which would be mutually beneficial to both the publisher and the company that bought it? Could there be an article explaining a new and innovative business practice that would make the reader more efficient of a farmer, lawyer, or commercial driver? Furthermore, if the author is focusing on regulations and his column is geared towards the explanation and discussion of the implications of such laws, could they perhaps have more time to write about topics that would pertain more to the job than hindrances of it?

The frustration in this country seems to be moving slowly from apathetic mumblings to real action. The past few years have shown Americans that central planning does not work, both in terms of monetary policy and regulations, as shown by quantitative easing and healthcare reform, respectively. The American people are at the precipice and the next decade will determine the fate of the United States in the 21st century.

What the various disaffected professions served by the multitudinous publications I read need to do is take a lesson from the unions and organize. They need to collectively bargain, so to speak, at their statehouses and in the halls of Congress. For too long, the rent seekers have owned those arenas. It’s time for a change. Their livelihoods depend on it. As the working men and women who are affected time and time again by regulation make up the majority of our country, our future depends on it as well. Regulations on law only make it more difficult for me to sue for damages. Regulations on trucking only make it more difficult to transport goods from point A to point B efficiently. Egregious regulation on agriculture makes it more difficult for me to purchase food. America is known in many parts of the world for its standard of living, without which, it would not be this oasis that everyone wants to come to.

While I find it tragic that Cubans drown trying to escape oppression every year by using makeshift rafts to make it to the mainland United States, it speaks to the view that this is a land of opportunity and promise. I however don’t take this view for granted as the United States is not the exception: tyranny can and has manifested itself in the past within our borders and it is doing so once again due to the lack of the proactivity of the very people whom depend upon the opportunity and promise inherent in our land.

The Unseen Effects of Regulation

Government regulations are costly, not only on the surface, but also in the unseen results they bear.  Regulations, such as various state statutes banning the multiple hook baits known as Alabama rigs, have resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of research and development dollars of tackle companies like Mann’s Bait Company on the exploitation of loopholes that statutes inadvertently create.

While it can be argued from a utilitarian perspective that these statutes have “stimulated” innovation, to what extent could that research and development money have been used on another product that would enrich my life? While the example of a fishing lure seems rather frivolous, it is merely a small example of something  that can be more simply explained than another matter of greater complexity or seriousness to society. In light of my example, couldn’t those dollars have been spent on yet another bait that would spawn the spontaneous order that exists in the fishing lure market and many other markets with low cost of entry and significant lack of intellectual property protections (notably, the garage lure-makers and those who make and sell after-market accessories)?

Had the money that Mann’s spent on skirting the existing statutes to make a bait that will possibly be affected by future statutes been spent on a new concept, there would be a real stimulation, a real demand for products at every level of the market, from components to the final product offered at the local tackle shop. While statutes have created such an innovation, it’s still a market distortion that would not exist had government not intervened to tell anglers what was acceptable to fish with.

Thinking with an economic mindset has made me realize that this exists not only in the world of bass fishing, but in every aspect of the market. It is representative of, as Bastiat mentioned, the unseen that policy-makers do not consider when they write laws or take actions, no matter how well-intentioned they are. For every statute on the books that “created” one product, hundreds more were not created. Entire legal markets wither as a result of bans of certain items or mandates for other items. While these products remain unseen, the lack of employment in certain sectors can be seen. The suffering of families whose income providers were laid off can be seen. The fall in sales of the small-business owner can be seen. At the personal level, our standard of living decreases, or doesn’t become what it had the potential to be. All of this is due to bureaucrats whom are overzealous in telling us that we are better off without something or telling us that we absolutely need something.

I’d like to see a world where Mann’s Bait Company and thousands of small business owners can actually innovate and sell their products without having to concern themselves with such market distortions that ban or mandate certain products. I’d like to see a world where no business has to contend with such regulations and can actually put money into areas where it needs to be placed: inventory, payroll, merchandising, displays, and, the elements that actually stimulate real employment, spending, and innovation. It’s basic morality to allow mankind to design, create, and sell what his mind can conceive; to do otherwise violates his natural right to the fruits of his labor.

Baits like this that only exist to exploit loopholes in statutes are merely market distortions. Had that money been spent on R&D for something organic, there would be a real stimulation and real demand.

Baits like this that only exist to exploit loopholes in statutes are merely market distortions. Had that money been spent on R&D for something organic, there would be a real stimulation and real demand.

Can I Get Your Number?

At the store I work at part-time, while it is merely an entity that sells tools and other implements necessary to construction or home improvement, those who run it have been able to grasp a concept that many involved with political action seem blind to: obtaining and updating the contact information of the customers. In the case of activism, voters and activists are as vital to the success of political ventures as the target market of the store is to its long-term success.

Any time one makes a return, purchases an extended service plan, or signs up for our preferred customer membership or to receive our catalog, they must provide us with their address, phone number, and if applicable, email.  The importance of creating and retaining contact lists has always been crucial in retail, yet is overlooked in many of the campaigns or groups I’ve had involvement with in the past two and a half years, with the notable exception of the one I volunteered for this past spring.  While I routinely criticize the poorer or less efficient aspects of the business I work for in private, the collection of contacts en masse is something I applaud in public.

Regardless whether you are selling drills or ideas, your contacts are both your target market and those who will promote your product via word of mouth.  Contact lists cannot be underestimated in the long-term flexibility they will give you going forward.  A contact list is not merely about numbers; it is about what the numbers, the individual contacts, can contribute to you down the road.  Has a certain contact noted that they can phonebank? Has a certain contact noted that they can canvass?  Has a certain contact entertained the idea of making a tax-deductible contribution, in the case that your group has been recognized as a 501(c)3 organization? When obtaining their information, ask such questions and make note of them in order to better tailor your direct mail or email alerts.  The end result is not only that you waste less time and money in contacting them, but that you also recognize one of the most important aspects of customer service: treating the contact as an individual that your organization or campaign has established rapport with.

As mentioned in previous pieces, I was involved in a long-term tax reduction advocacy campaign with Americans For Prosperity- Indiana.  Their contact forms were the best I’ve ever seen, asking not only for the basic information such as someone’s name, address, email, and phone-number, but also posing questions as to whether or not the person would be interested in activism, and if so, what capacity they would specifically prefer to get involved in.  This struck me as significant, especially since I’d worked so many things in the past where such forms were never present, even at events that attracted decent numbers of people!

While Americans For Prosperity ultimately had success in the aforementioned advocacy campaign, the contacts that were collected will prove significant in future battles or local activism.  In that sense, a contact list is not only short-term, but something that can continue to serve long after the campaign is over, provided that the people who gave their information are still motivated and aware of what your organization is doing.  This can be accomplished by email alerts or direct mailings on a regular basis.

While extremely mundane in nature, successful businesses and advocacy groups have been able to keep customers, activists, and donors coming back respectively, via contact lists and effective follow-up communication. It is not a task that should be overlooked, whether you are in the business of selling physical products or your beliefs to the general public.

The Art of War and Leadership

Sun Tzu, while a military strategist who wrote The Art of War in regards to conquering one’s enemy on the battlefield, had many lessons that can be applied to leadership within the scope of political work or campus activism. I will detail some of my favorite axioms and how I feel they apply to leadership in regards to my battlefield, that being the battlefield of ideas and policies, and how society will be shaped by those in power.  As Clausewitz stated, war is just politics by other means.  In a sense, politics is war by other means, just a bloodless and democratic form of it.

“A leader leads by example, not by force.”

To lead by example and not force is to excuse those who make mistakes in the beginning and show them the correct way to go about doing something.  Having worked many jobs where I was disciplined for minor mistakes, I can relate to Tzu’s axiom.  If one leads by example and not force (discipline, whether spoken or, in the example that Tzu speaks of, physical), there will be less resentment amongst those you are seeking to inspire and lead.  It need be noted that I didn’t spend very long at those jobs where I was disciplined for minor mistakes and not shown how to do something via example; whereas, those who have led by example have inspired a trust and kinship with myself and other employees  or activists.  Leadership is not about having power to use without limit, it is about pulling the same amount of weight as those under you to inspire their continued loyalty.  If you have to, train fellow activists on the job; I know I have.

“To know your enemy, you must become your enemy.”

What Tzu is stating in this axiom is that on the most basic level, you must understand the tactics of your opponent and, if need arises or if they are particularly effective, utilize them yourself.  Understand the means which create their ends.  Learn their ground game.  Who are they reaching out to?  What is their base of support?  Learn to create a base that numbers larger than that of your opponent.  Remember, in elections or initiatives, all you need is a plurality.

“A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.”

While achieving this is somewhat difficult in a time of constant communication, 24 hour news, and social networking, it’s still possible.  Make your opponents feel as if they have the upper hand and make them complacent.  Do everything you can do under the radar.  It’s priceless to see opponents aghast, when they catch wind of the phonebanking, canvassing, or any other effective form of field-work that you are doing, due to their constituents contacting them or seeing their poll numbers steadily decrease right before the election.  Leadership in regards to politics is not only about winning, but having the tactics necessary to ensure that victory.  You owe it to those you lead to make the conditions possible for victory, otherwise will they have any impetus to fight?

“The general who wins the battle makes many calculations in his temple before the battle is fought. The general who loses makes but few calculations beforehand.”

This axiom goes hand in hand with a Bible verse I detailed in a prior piece about building a tower without making the necessary calculations of the costs.  As a leader, you must take into account everything that will be necessary including funds, materials, manpower, and the most mundane little expenses that you will need to lead and win effectively.  Always remember that it is better to have  something and not need it than it is to need it and not have it.

“The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers.”

Time and time again, I’ve learned this lesson.  I’ve worked with many people who would have served in other capacities to a much better extent.  As a leader, you must be able to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses, and thus be able to allocate them correctly.  Your activists and volunteers are human capital that can lead to distortions if not correctly placed.  Those who are better with organization are much better suited to planning events, typing up spreadsheets, and making expense reports whereas those who have shown an ability to work with the public are better  suited to canvassing, phonebanking, or serving as ambassadors to those whom you are trying to build coalitions with to achieve your goal.

The Art of War is a great read even for those who aren’t involved in warfare, as it has many lessons that can be applied to other facets of life, especially those in regards to leadership, the form that I embrace of humility and service to those serving under me, a concept that Tzu understood over two thousand years ago.

art-of-war

Not Above the Law

Enter the Indianapolis City-County Building on a hot August day in 2012.  I made it through the jury selection and was one of twelve Indianapolis residents who were going to decide the fate of the defendant that day: a young black male who had been accused of spitting on an IMPD officer.  The penalty if convicted of  spitting on an agent of the state? A felony, a conviction that would effectively have reverberations throughout the rest of his life, especially due to the fact that he would not only be a convicted felon, but one who also had bipolar disorder and was given to outbursts. One such outburst occurred during the sequestration of my fellow jurors and I, which unfortunately ended the proceedings that day, and led to the judge declaring mistrial.

While having the case explained to us, we were told that it would have only been a misdemeanor had he spat on a civilian who wasn’t employed by the state in a policing capacity. Hearing this, it made me think: Why are cops a protected class in this country?  Why is it a felony if one spits on a cop, but not if one spits on a civilian?  Surely both actions are reprehensible, disgusting, and should be dealt with in the same way.  Why is it mandatory in some jurisdictions that one should receive the death penalty for the murder of a cop, but not for the murder of a civilian?

Cops are ideally of the law, not above the law.  The fact that crimes against them come with stiffer penalties – and that they often receive preferential treatment in countless cases of brutality, manslaughter, and even murder – is reminiscent of the caste systems of ancient India and feudal Europe where certain classes were valued higher than others due to their service to the state.

Those who are cops have chosen to be cops.  They accept the risks inherent with the job when they sign their names on the dotted line, just as those who join the military accept the risks they face.  They are no different than private security guards, yet those who injure or kill security guards are not given stiffer penalties.  Nor are the guards given preferential treatment if they exceed acceptable amounts of force in carrying out their duties.

This is not to say that I don’t appreciate the jobs that decent cops do.  My viewpoint is that it’s wrong to value them higher than others in society due to the work they do.  Every human life is sacred; what message does it send when we apply higher penalties to those who aggress against cops, or give preferential treatment to law enforcement?

If society wants to see the police as an honorable group of public servants that protects and serves, they ought to treat them as anyone else is. They should be held to the same laws that I must follow in my day-to-day life.  As officers who are supposed to enforce the law and uphold the constitutions of their respective states, they’d take a giant step in becoming beholden to those statutes and documents.

"Service is Job One" I'd have an easier time believing this if they were held to the same standards that I am.

“Service is Job One”
I’d have an easier time believing this if they were held to the same standards that I am.