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I am currently reading The Age of Abundance by Brink Lindsey, a fellow of the Cato Institute.  The book is about how capitalism has made Americans more libertarian.

Reading the book made me think differently about the beginning of the civil rights movement as he describes in chapter 3.  It made me think of the movement in a more economic way.  Dr. King and the other leaders of the Montgomery bus boycott used the powers of the Invisible Hand to achieve social change.  If a person is displeased with a service, that person has the right not consume it and look elsewhere for a substitute.

African-Americans in Montgomery did just that.  They simply stopped riding the bus; they walked, organized carpools, founded underground cab companies, among other things.

And it was the White Segregationists that opposed free markets.  They wanted to deny the African Americans the right to choose what service to use.  According to Lindsey’s book, law enforcement would abuse their power to try to hinder people advocating the boycott by imposing bogus fines and making wrongful arrests.

In the end, Dr. King, the boycotters, and the free market won.

I can never understand the feelings of loss of those affected by the attacks of September 11, 2001.  I, however, can understand their feelings toward a Mosque being built on or near Ground Zero.  Of course, they would be hostile to a religion whose adherents carried out the horrible act that changed their lives forever.

However, I believe that it was only adherents of a religion, not a religion itself.  I would also believe that many Muslims were directly or indirectly affected by the attacks of September 11; not to mention the public scrutiny of being a Muslim.

To deny non-extremist Muslims the right take the right legal measures to build a house of worship would be to deny that they are even Americans at all.  I do not know for sure what the motivation of those seeking to build the Mosque, but I think the move could be out of solidarity with the more native majority of Americans who were directly attacked.  Maybe the Mosque is a sign that they are allying with America rather than with Al Qaeda.  Remember, Osama bin Laden and other such fundamentalist extremists hate American Muslims as much as they hate other non-Muslim Americans.

What bothers me is that history is repeating itself.  My paternal grandmother’s family was in America since colonial times.  However, the rest of my family had immigrated from Ireland (paternal grandfather’s family) and Slovakia (all maternal great-grandparents).  Irishmen were looked on by Nativists as lesser men, and those from Eastern Europe were treated the same way.  Now that these groups have made their mark in our country, I feel like the same thing is happening.  I think the children of immigrants should welcome other immigrants if they want to pledge their allegiance to America.

With all that being said, I want to firmly state that I am a firm believer in our Constitution, and for that reason I am a staunch civil libertarian.  To deny these people freedom of worship would be blatantly un-Constitutional because they are seeking this right through proper channels of the law.  However angry it makes native New Yorkers, the Constitution must not broken.

From some of my previous posts, you can probably tell that I think that the two party system divides our nation.  I think that people that identify themselves as either a “typical Republican” or a “typical Democrat” have no real idea of what that means.

What does that even mean?  What does it mean to be a to be either a “typical Republican” or a “typical Democrat?”  There certainly are stigmas associated with both parties.  When someone thinks of Republicans, one probably thinks anti-immigration, anti-gun control, pro-war, pro-deregulation, etc.  People also sometimes associate Republicans with the South, with Rednecks, with being resistant to change and holding provincial viewpoints.  And when thinking of Democrats, one likely thinks pro-gun control, anti-war, pro-regulation, etc.  Similarly, people often associate Democrats with Hippies, with academia, and with the entertainment industries.

How can this typecasting be positive?  People often apply these stereotypes to anyone that identify with either party without even hearing anything about what they actually believe.  The mainstream Republican party is wrongly identified as advocating small government.  The Bush White House vastly expanded the Federal Government with No Child Left Behind, and the economic stimulus package of our current recession.  In the same way, the Democratic party is wrongly identified as “liberal” when they discourage freer markets and advocate laws intended to curb people’s behavior.

In my opinion, our country should allow the entry of more political factions.  People may think that this would further divide our country, but I do not think it would.  What it would do is stop people from pegging people with a rigid package of ideologies when they identify with a certain party.  That is what I think would help stop the polarization of our society.  Many more that two political ideologies and philosophies exist; I think we owe it to ourselves to establish more than two parties with which to identify.

Prohibition Effects

While watching the show Weeds, I had a thought about the effects that prohibition have on the nature of the substances that are prohibited.

During Prohibition in the 1920s, the quality of alcohol was often very low because production was forced underground.  Moonshine was distilled in rural locales and was often very dangerous to consume.  Now, people can buy liquors in stores without worrying about going blind.  Microbreweries across our country brew very unique, complex beers.  Society benefits from all the choices.  During Prohibition, beer production was probably non existent because of the facilities required for brewing beer.

In the same way, before abortions were made legal, they were very dangerous because they could be performed in sterile facilities by qualified professionals (b.n. Whether or not abortion is ethical is an entirely different issue).

What if marijuana were legalized, and marijuana began to have their own versions of microbreweries?  Like with microbreweries, users could have greater access to much more diverse products.  They would benefit because of higher quality goods, as well as knowing that their marijuana is safe (like drinkers know their liquor does not contain poison because they bought it from a liquor store).  Furthermore, as alcohol is regulated, marijuana would be regulated, and therefore would be safer.

The unemployment rate is calculated by dividing those unemployed by the work force.  However, people that are unemployed but not looking for work, those who were looking for work but have given up, and institutionalized peoples are not considered part of the work force, and therefore are not considered to be unemployed.

I think that the definition of institutionalized peoples needs to be revised because I think that those serving active duty in the military should be included in unemployment figures.  I believe this for various reasons.  Those serving on active duty are able bodied people capable of doing work.  Suppose that, with our current conflicts in the Middle East, foreign policy changed and all active duty troops were brought home and discharged.  All of these active duty discharged would then be included in unemployment figures.  For this reason, I think that unemployment figures might be representing the actual employment situation.  So why not include them in unemployment figures now?

Currently there are about 1.5 million serving active duty for the United States.  The number of people in the work force in June was about 154 million and about 14 million were unemployed (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t09.htm and http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t10.htm).  This means the unemployment rate in June of this year was about 9%.  Suppose the 1.5 million active duty were added to these figures (provided that they were still serving).  The new unemployment rate would be slightly lower, but of negligible change.  If all these active duty were put out of work, the new unemployment rate would be almost 10%.

Bad for Business?

I just got done reading an article by The Economist (http://www.economist.com/node/16591136), and it got me thinking.

The article was about legalizing or simply decriminalizing marijuana consumption in California.

It was interesting to me because of how it could affect the economy.  In the article, the RAND Corporation predicted that the retail price of an ounce of marijuana would decrease by 80%.  This decrease can mean many different things.  It would be very bad for business for dealers and distributors because of the loss of revenues.  I recently started watching the Showtime show Weeds, and this point was further reinforced when Nancy’s distributor Heylia expressed disdain for legalization or decriminalization.

Another less obvious point that comes from this decrease in retail price is the ability of governments to tax purchases of marijuana.  If the retail prices does in fact decrease by 80%, then that is all the room government has to tax the marijuana without distorting consumer behaviors.  Furthermore, they would still have the room to levy a tax that would still make the price lower than when it was illegal, which could increase consumption, and thereby increasing tax revenues.

I am not an expert on tax policy, but these points are definitely something for policymakers to consider when dealing with near bankrupt state governments.

Of course, as many economists and analysts have stated before, legalization could decrease crime because of the elimination of marijuana’s black market.  Furthermore, cost to government to incarcerate “criminals” would decrease.

I have many pet peeves, but this one relates to the political polarization of Americans.  People that I hear discussing politics often label themselves as either liberal or conservative.  In my opinion, they know little of what these two terms mean, and are unaware that the political spectrum is more than two dimensional.

According to Merriam-Webster.com, liberal means:

1 a : of, relating to, or based on the liberal arts <liberal education> b archaic : of or befitting a man of free birth
2 a : marked by generosity : openhanded <a liberal giver> b : given or provided in a generous and openhanded way <a liberal meal> c : ample, full
3 obsolete : lacking moral restraint : licentious
4 : not literal or strict : loose <a liberal translation>
5 : broad-minded; especially : not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or traditional forms
6 a : of, favoring, or based upon the principles of liberalism b capitalized : of or constituting a political party advocating or associated with the principles of political liberalism; especially : of or constituting a political party in the United Kingdom associated with ideals of individual especially economic freedom, greater individual participation in government, and constitutional, political, and administrative reforms designed to secure these objectives

Nowhere in these definitions is a connection to the “political left wing.”

The same goes for conservative.  According to Merriam-Webster.com:

1 : preservative
2 a : of or relating to a philosophy of conservatism b capitalized : of or constituting a political party professing the principles of conservatism: as (1) : of or constituting a party of the United Kingdom advocating support of established institutions (2) : progressive conservative
3 a : tending or disposed to maintain existing views, conditions, or institutions : traditional b : marked by moderation or caution <a conservative estimate> c : marked by or relating to traditional norms of taste, elegance, style, or manners
4 : of, relating to, or practicing Conservative Judaism

Again, nowhere in these dictionary entries is a mention of the “political right wing.”

So, what does this mean?

The terms “liberal” and “conservative” are misnomers when describing political ideologies and positions.  The use of these terms to describe political positions also suggests that the political spectrum is two-dimensional.

Political scientist David Nolan developed the Nolan Chart; the chart divides all decisions based on personal/social and economic freedom.  Those advocating no freedom in any respect are considered statists or totalitarians (i.e. Stalin).  Those advocating freedoms in all respects are considered libertarians (i.e. Ron Paul).  Remember, there are always varying degrees of all of these ideologies.

The political right (not necessarily conservative) advocates more economic freedom but less personal freedom.  The political left (not necessarily liberal) advocates the opposite: more personal freedom but less economic freedom.

This method of classifying political ideologies makes sense in my opinion.  For example, “conservatives” are not always conservative because they often advocate free trade policies (liberalism).  “Liberals,” in the same way, are not always liberal because they advocate laws that are intended to control people’s behavior (conservatism).

To see where you stand, take “The World’s Smallest Political Quiz” (http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz or http://www.politicalcompass.org/) (based on the Nolan Chart).  You might surprise yourself.  If this interests you further, take a look at these Nolan Charts showing the ideological standings of our current House of Representatives (http://www.freedomdemocrats.org/node/812) and historical and some current politicians (http://www.politicalcompass.org/analysis2).