liberty Archive

Raise Your Voice Against Censorship And Oppression

Posted October 16, 2015 By Steve

“When you have strict censorship of the internet, young students cannot receive a full education. Their view of the world is imbalanced. There can be no true discussion of the issues.” — Ai Weiwei

Raise Your Voice!
Today, 16th October 2015, is Blog Action Day, and this year’s theme is “Raise Your Voice”. That means this year we’re remembering bloggers whose mission is to bring critical information to the world, but have imprisoned and silenced by oppressive regimes.

To that end, I’d like to send a shout out to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and their new project, called Offline. As they explain:

Around the world, repressive governments have arrested, imprisoned, and tortured coders, technologists, and bloggers. EFF’s new project, Offline, raises awareness of these digital heroes to ensure that—even as they are locked away—their voices can be heard. The first five highlighted cases include free software developer Alla Abd El Fattah (Egypt), web developer Saeed Malekpoor (Iran), online columnist Eskinder Nega (Ethiopia), and the Zone 9 Bloggers (Ethiopia). Right now, we’re trying to raise as much awareness as possible about free culture advocate Bassel Khartabil, who has been transferred from a civil prison in Syria to an unknown location.

Many parts of our world are improving year by year. Progress is out there. But there is still oppression and censorship in many places. These people are trying to make it better. Don’t forget them.


This is a reaction to Inequality Is Not Inevitable by Joseph Stiglitz, who among other things has won the Nobel prize for economics.

The problem is that the power system we have today is a mixture of big business and big government. This leads to errors from critiques from conservatives and libertarians in that they see the problems caused by government, but are often ideologically blinded to those caused by business. But similarly, it leads to errors in leftist critiques like this one, in that they see the problems caused by business, but not government. Two things in particular highlight Stiglitz’s lack of understanding here. (And yes, I’m aware of his lofty credentials.)

The first is when he says, “Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.” All too often, larger businesses want regulation, because they know they can afford to absorb its costs, whereas smaller companies (especially entrepreneurs and their startups) cannot. By cooperating with government policymakers, executives of large businesses end up with a regulatory regime that shields them from competition at the expense of everyone else.

The second is the references to bankers as “among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics”. This is completely ridiculous, and while I realise that Stiglitz is an hardcore ideologue, he really ought to know better than to say something like this. Our system is nowhere close to being laissez faire. It’s solidly corporatist, with a powerful central government whose policymakers work to advance the interests of corporations large enough to participate in the system of collaboration. The financial system is at the very centre of this web of patronage, and its pulsing heart, the Federal Reserve, is the world’s most powerful public-private partnership. So the last thing bankers want is laissez faire.

The thing that frustrates me about critiques like this is that both sides actually perceive part of the problem, but neither sees all of it. And since conversations between left and right about the power system in our society are shouting matches rather than dialogues, people who should be working together against a common problem of corporatism instead are squabbling like children. Stiglitz refers to TARP, which is a prime example. The Occupy Wall Street movement and the Tea Party movement both initially started as a reaction to bank bailouts. Obviously left and right do not agree on most things, but that sort of corporatism is one of them and it’s arguably the biggest problem of them all.

A final thought, this word “inequality” has become increasingly popular in this era of Bernie Sanders populism. The problem there is that most people talking about it are upset about inequality of outcome, when it’s much more important to care that everyone has a baseline equality of opportunity. Let the wealthy have their yachts — in a system without corporatism they’ll have earned them and saying otherwise is simply class envy. Let the ceiling be sky high, the higher the better! What matters is where the floor is.

Marco Rubio Is A Fool And A Hypocrite

Posted August 4, 2015 By Steve

“He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career.” — George Bernard Shaw

Marco Rubio with mouth wide open
I’m not planning to comment much on the U.S. presidential election process that unfortunately has already started to be foisted upon us all. In fact, I really do plan to ignore it as much as humanly possible. But sometimes a politician says something that’s so asinine and hypocritical that it simply cannot pass unchallenged.

Given who has the longest and most inglorious track record of making such statements you may think I’m talking about The Donald, but surprisingly it’s one of the other ones who’s stumbled across the tripwire of absurdity, one about whom I really didn’t know very much before today. This fool is named Marco Rubio.

I refer specifically to Rubio’s recent comments about higher education. As Bloomberg reports:

Rubio, 44, said he’d “bust this cartel” by establishing a new accreditation process more welcoming to low-cost, innovative providers. “This would expose higher education to the market forces of choice and competition, which would prompt a revolution driven by the needs of students — just as the needs of consumers drive the progress of every other industry in our economy,” he said.

This is asinine because it shows that Mr. Rubio is not afraid to get up in front of large groups of people and show that he knows nothing about how innovation in higher education works. It’s true that the regional accreditors are a somewhat exclusive club, but considering that they let in any school that meets their stated criteria, including such controversial institutions as the University of Phoenix, one can hardly rightfully call them a cartel.

Moreover, there are alternative paths where organizations that don’t fit the normal pattern can be part of the higher education system. Alternative accreditors like the Distance Education Accrediting Commission exist for this very purpose, and while better known schools vary in their acceptance of schools accredited by DEAC and the like, that’s an individual decision on the part of each school, it’s not systematic exclusion. Moreover, there are not one but two organizations where even non-academic providers of education and training can have their non-academic credentials be evaluated as the equivalent to college credit and accepted in transfer: the American Council on Education and the National College Credit Recommendation Service. In other words, what Mr. Rubio is calling for so loudly has already existed for decades.

But his merely being poorly informed is hardly unique. Perhaps as a back bencher he simply cannot afford competent advisors. What is truly inexcusable is the hypocrisy and how it drives home how ill suited for leadership this man truly is. How so? He refers to market forces as part of his call for public interference in an accreditation system that is conducted voluntarily by private agencies! It may be unclear whether he has no idea what market forces are, or whether he’s just using the term as a buzzword to try to sound good to those who advocate for free markets, but either way all he succeeds in doing is demonstrating that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the reins of true power.

I realize that he’s far from the only Republican who praises free markets with one face while calling for big government with the other. But with this example coming so early and so brazenly, if no one calls him on it then it’s not a very good sign for things to come in the next fifteen interminable months.

Liberty Through Entrepreneurship

Posted April 29, 2014 By Steve

Recently, the Institute for Humane Studies held a “Liberty Through Technology” contest for full and part time students to win a tablet. The selection process revolved around explaining why their giving the recipient a tablet would advance the cause of liberty by enabling academic research. Here were the questions they asked, and my responses. To be honest, if I had won a tablet I’d probably mainly use it for reading books on the john, but I didn’t think they would find that a particularly compelling reason, so instead I submitted the following, which conveniently, is also true. (While I didn’t win the tablet, they did call me a finalist and gave me a $25 credit for, which was very nice of them.)

What is your current research interest and what questions would you like to answer through your future research?

I am interested in the use of distance learning to deliver entrepreneurship education to students in low and middle income countries.

I would like to determine what mobile learning strategies are the best for attracting prospective students and for educating them once they’re enrolled. Relevant topics would include keeping students engaged in their learning despite not having a classroom environment, fostering cooperative relationships among students who may be spread across many countries, and on determining which mobile learning approaches are compatible with the uncertain Internet connectivity found in many lower income countries.

How does your research topic advance liberty?

I realize that it’s something of a rarity that someone keen on liberty is in a graduate school of education. Such schools have the reputation for being the “Whose Line Is It Anyway” of higher education: where everything’s made up and the points don’t matter. That’s doubly so in that schools of education are known for being safe harbors for leftist ideologies that would ignite and turn to dust were they ever exposed to the harsh daylight of the real world.

I’ve long thought, however, that higher education can be a strong force for liberty. Many people who will never stop at an information table or visit a libertarian web site, and who if asked would express no interest in such things, will listen with rapt attention to a liberty-friendly curriculum if it’s delivered in a university classroom where they are earning credit towards a degree.

I’ve chosen entrepreneurship education as a specific focus for several reasons. Firstly, I believe that starting a business is an excellent way to run headlong into a myriad of ways that the state hinders one’s prosperity. I recognize that not all entrepreneurs become libertarian, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.

Secondly, I believe that starting a business has been underrated as a way to advance the cause of liberty. Think tanks and political action are all very well, but there’s something to be said for changing the system by selling people an alternative. If, as the saying goes, libertarians see the state as damage and route around it, then someone has to bring those alternative routes into existence.

Finally, every once in a while, an entrepreneur will succeed in a way that makes considerable amounts of money. For those who may become friendly to liberty to become wealthy can only be helpful in the long run in a world where money talks. I expect that’s even more the case in economically developing countries where money goes much further than it does in North America, Europe, and the Pacific Rim.

How can a tablet help you achieve your research goals?

With such a device handy, I would be in a better position to evaluate various approaches to mobile learning that would answer the questions I’ve outlined above. I indicated an Android device because such devices are more affordable and thus more common in economically developing countries.

Crazy Baldhead

Posted September 20, 2013 By Steve

This one is for Marcia Bright, Alula Raphael, and Scratchie Lloyd.

One Love Hippie Bus Seattle
Don’t chase this crazy baldhead
Out of town

Me nah want your cabin
Me nah want your corn
Me nah want no slave
Me have respect, not scorn

Let’s build hospital, not penitentiary
Let’s use schools to make us free, not fools
Let’s have one love as our religion
Let’s leave God to one’s decision

There is always some conman
Coming with some con plan
But these words are not a bribe:
Let’s help each other stay alive.

Don’t chase this crazy baldhead
Out of town

Me, I not running

Note: A friend of mine in Tamil Nedu wanted to speak out about the censorship of Vishwaroopam, a film from Indian cinema legend Kamal Haasan, but he’s concerned about retaliation. The following are his remarks.

Support Kamal HaasanWell the dictator we have as Chief Minister Jayalalitha has used minority religious groups (Islamic groups) to stall the release of Vishwaroopam because Kamal Haasan once said the Congress minister P. Chidambaram is Prime Minister material. Now this has triggered a ban on the movie in its principal revenue making zone, Tamil Nadu, a 65 million populous state in India where there would be houseful shows shown so the film maker and actor Kamal can get back his money as he has pledged his property and assets all together in this film. The pyrotechnics in the film are of Hollywood standards and in his vision to take Indian cinema to global standards, has lavished money in production costs. Most Indian celebrities are trying placate and express their views but none of them stand against the state government.

Spoiler alert: Well it is a film about an Indian muslim spy who is an undercover Indian cop who sneaks as a mole into the Taliban camp in Afghanistan and turns a traitor and have the American forces gun them down eventually foiling the ploy to have bio and nuke bombs planted into doves and pigeons and sent all over the world by Afghan terrorists. There are a few instances of holy Quran verses chanted as soon as a killing scene. (Or probably that’s what the politicians have been using to instigate minority religious groups to stall the movie’s release).

Now the irony is they have shown such themes in many such movies however this has been picked by the government because our Chief Minister Jayalalitha is against the central government and since Kamal once said in a function openly that central minister P. Chidambaram is Prime Minister material and also to the fact that the satellite right went into the hands of he opposition parties owing to their higher bid, she wants blood and has create a needless controversy by provoking the minority Muslim groups.

Now the film has been made at a budget of a billion Indian rupees. Thats two times the assets owned by he producer and actor and superstar Kamal Haasan who has been a huge contributor to Indian cinema industry. He is an ant, if you understand my analogy, who does not stop working and has an amazing filmography and is worshipped in these parts of he world. But sadly is fragile as the government is playing spoil sport.

Vishwaroopam’s piracy hunt has been in huge proportions lately as millions of Facebook fans have been reporting torrents and download sites 24/7/365 and have been standing guard. Each one of his fan has taken an oath that until he gets out of debts through the good box office show of his movie released world wide we would not indulge in piracy and would only watch films in theaters. And we have travelled far and wide just to watch the movie in our neighboring states. But still those are worth peanuts and only Tamil Nadu release can see through his debts.

The NRA’s Response To Newtown Misses The Mark

Posted December 21, 2012 By Steve

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” — Benjamin Franklin

Police at riot
I have to admit to being disappointed. After Newtown, when those who run the NRA had no public statement, I was unsure of the reason. Was it that they believed that it would be politically disadvantageous for them to say anything for a while? Did they believe that it would be in their interest to wait to get a better sense of any change in public opinion in the wake of the massacre? Did they (unlike gun control advocates) actually have sufficient decorum to wait until after all of the funerals to politicize the tragedy?

But now we’ve learned that the real reason was none of these things. Instead, their response was delayed so long because, apparently, they have been working around the clock to come up with the most stupid and short-sighted possible response to the shootings. Put simply, for them to suggest that it’s actually necessary or wise to have an armed policeman in every school in America is so ridiculous if I hadn’t read it on their own web site I wouldn’t have believed they could say something that obtuse.

Now I understand the basic idea behind their proposal, that places where good guys don’t have guns, only bad guys will have them. And with that much I can agree. But as I see it, there are three really glaring flaws in any plan to station armed police in every public school in America.

First, it accepts at face value the hysterical notion that children are in unreasonable danger when they go to school. Events like Newtown and Columbine are horrific, but they’re also incredibly rare. I have four kids in public schools in the U.S., and I am no more concerned that they’ll be killed at school than I am if they go to the mall, or a museum, or any other public place. I realize that there is always a chance that something terrible could happen, and I don’t mean to minimize the sorrow of parents who have lost children to violence. But there is no way to keep kids completely safe, and there comes a point when one has already taken all reasonable precautions.

Second, this is the sort of proposal that addresses the symptom of the disease rather than the root cause. By the time someone gets to the point where they’re shooting innocent kids in a school, to blame the gun is like blaming a pencil because the one holding it never learned how to spell properly. American culture doesn’t take mental illness seriously enough, in particular when it focuses on liberally dispensing psychotropic drugs that destabilize people as often as help them. Americans’ lazy relationship with news media isn’t helpful either, because the sort of attention these incidents get serves only to glorify those who commit these atrocities.

Finally, the NRA’s plan shows that their leaders may care about private gun ownership, but have no concern for what it will take to slow the continuing decline of American freedom. The key to having kids grow up thinking of themselves as the heirs to a free society is not to have them spend the majority of their waking hours in the company of armed police. The history of liberty’s decline is the history of the use of crises as an excuse to increase government control over people’s lives, so the suggestion that we acclimate future generations to the constant presence of armed government officials is one that might be better expected from an organization that promotes tyranny than liberty.

It’s important to remember that no matter what its detractors say, the NRA doesn’t speak for all gun owners nor for those like me who don’t own a gun but believe the government has no legitimate role to play in an individual’s right to choose whether or not to do so. With this poorly considered proposal, that’s certainly the case. There’s no way to ensure perfect safety for kids, and armed cops in schools is no exception. But even on an individual basis we can renew our commitment to valuing life, accentuate positivity in ourselves, and promote an environment of concern for one another. Passing on those sorts of cultural changes on to future generations, not gun control or armed cops in schools, is the best way to respond to this tragedy.

My Son The Ringleader

Posted March 19, 2012 By Steve

“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh. Beneath this mask there is an idea, Mr. Creedy, and ideas are bulletproof.” — V, in V for Vendetta

Guy Fawkes Mask
I have four kids, Duncan is 15, Fiona is 12½, Graham is 11, and Noah is 7. While they’re close knit, they’re all very different from one another, and some of them are better at attracting attention than others. In fact, usually, Duncan, Fiona, and Noah get the most attention, usually through error, and poor Graham, who even gets called “the good one” from time to time, often hears from us the least. In fact, sometimes he’s so well behaved that I wonder whether he takes after me in temperament at all, or whether he really just takes after his mild-mannered mom.

It seems however, that there’s an anti-authoritarian streak in him after all. As a fifth grader, he’s in the uppermost class at his elementary school, which means this is his sixth and final year there. Recently the school changed their procedure for where kids sit during lunch, making it more restrictive and having them all sit in a row rather than where they can face one another and socialize while eating. It was an unpopular change among students, and Graham took it upon himself to resist it.

His first step was to draft a petition calling on school administrators to return to the previous lunch seating arrangement, getting many of his fellow students to sign it, and even getting the signature of one of the teachers. On delivering this petition to administrators, he discovered what most activists soon discover — when the will of the people can be easily ignore by authority figures, the smart money bets that the people will be disregarded by those in authority.

Undaunted, he organized his friends to take chalk with them to recess, and write what he described as “V for Vendetta” symbols on the blacktop as a continuing protest. The only response was that they were told not to use the school’s chalk for such a purpose. Still undaunted, he then got his friends to bring chalk from home so they could continue to express their opinion without being accused of misusing school resources.

It was at this point that he was sent to the principal’s office, because he was identified as a “ringleader” of what was happening. He wasn’t suspended or expelled or anything like that, but they did confiscate his chalk (his chalk, mind you) telling him that what he and his friends were doing was “vandalism” — even though rain would wash it away and even though strangely it wasn’t considered vandalism when other students would draw on the blacktop with chalk for reasons other than expressing their opinion about school policy, e.g., drawing squares for hopscotch and the like. In fairness, he also got an explanation for the change in lunch seating procedure, although he wasn’t particularly impressed by its reasoning.

Now, I have the feeling he’s gone as far as he wants to go with this, and that’s his call. But even though his mother was appalled, I told him that I was proud of him for not being intimidated by authority figures. In the long run, he’ll be much better off if he’s not swayed by those who want to bend him to their will, and in particular doesn’t let those who are supposed to be educating him steal his dreams.

Who’d Get Your Billion Dollars?

Posted March 6, 2012 By Steve

Recently someone asked online “If you had a billion dollars to give either to the Ludwig von Mises Institute or the Cato Institute, which would it be?”

The question got a lot of responses, and each of the two institutions had its defenders. I thought about it, but I realized that I don’t really love either of them enough to drop them a billion dollars.

I think Cato’s job is to influence those who make decisions, but that corporate money completely drowns them out. Sometimes they have free lectures on a topic that interests me, and I’ve gone to those. I’m glad they’re there, but I don’t think they’re anywhere near as important as they like to think.

And the Mises Institute may be really strident on issues that few others address directly, like sound money and copyright. I appreciate that. But I’ve been led to believe that their chairman is the real author of the loathsome stuff from Ron Paul’s old newsletters, and I just can’t imagine handing that guy a sum that amounts to the annual GDP of the Seychelles. Besides, like Cato, they may say the right things, but ultimately, what good does that do if the only people who hear them are those who already agree?

So I said that I would use it to set up a fund to support entrepreneurs, or failing that, I’d give it to FLOW. My argument was that entrepreneurs do a lot more good for people than any libertarian talking shop, and that it’s pretty tough to become an entrepreneur without finding out good and hard what a hindrance government really is.

Unfortunately for FLOW, I don’t actually have an extra billion dollars lying around. But it’s fun to think about what sort of change one might be able to promote with that level of effort. So… who’d get your billion dollars for change?

Taxation Without Representation

Posted January 30, 2012 By Steve

taxation without representation
Tip o’ the hat to me dear mum, who just sent me this article on how officials from the local government of Washington, D.C. who are traveling the country to drum up support for D.C. statehood are receiving the indifferent response that they probably should have expected.

The reason for the D.C. statehood movement, which is extremely popular among District residents and virtually unheard of elsewhere, is that since those who live in the district don’t have any real representation in Congress, it’s unfair that they’re held to federal laws and regulation. Their battle cry, based on similar sentiment from the American Revolution, is that they live in an democratic system of “taxation without representation”. And that photo is real — they have it on the license plate and everything.

And if you subscribe to small-r republican principles, you might see their point. Sure, Washington, D.C. has a lot of Congressmen, lobbyists, and other power brokers, but that doesn’t mean that all 600,000 people who live in the city are wheeler dealers who are shaping the destiny of the federal government. While the city has its wealthy areas, much of it is working class, and their claims to disenfranchisement shouldn’t be lightly dismissed, especially since there are several states that have a lower population than D.C., yet have their full Congressional complement.

The problem is that outside D.C. itself, no one cares about this issue. And even if they did, it’s arguable that it would take an amendment to the U.S. constitution to change things, which is the way D.C. residents got electoral votes in the presidential election. That’s hard to do even when people around the country actually want something. There are other options than statehood however. Personally, I’d just give the whole place back to the Piscataway Indian tribe, although I doubt that would set well with the city’s current inhabitants. Another option is to return the city to being part of Maryland, from which it was carved in the late 18th century, and just keep a “federal enclave” separate from that state, one without residents. There’s precedent for this, in that the portion of Virginia that was ceded to be part of D.C. was given back in the 1840’s, since it didn’t seem at the time like the federal government would ever be large enough to need it, among other reasons.

One option that I never hear people suggest, and it sort of surprises me, is to solve the taxation without representation problem not by adding representation, but by removing taxation. Especially considering much of the city isn’t affluent, it would be a prosperity enhancing move to say, “You don’t get a vote? Fine, no federal taxes for your residents.” Do that, and watch the place become the biggest boom town ever seen in North America. Maybe it would even have the healthy effect of causing people in other parts of the U.S. to realize that taxation, and maybe even Congressional representation, are overrated.