Why rebut locavores?

Ever heard of the idea of ‘food miles’? In case you haven’t, some local food activists promote this idea that people should specifically try to buy food that is sourced locally. Why bother rebutting them? Why not just leave the ‘locavores’ to their own devices? After all, generally we let people shop their values. Here’s why:

We should care because ideas have consequences. Many, many more people will pledge allegiance to the local food movement than will actually pay a premium in price or inconvenience for local food. They’ll support politicians who pay fealty to the latest trends and complain about conventional food to pollsters. Consumers and voters are willing to show support for local food while letting others pay the bill for their good intentions. The notions that the past was better, local is important, technology should be feared, and trade is bad are powerful, and extremely dangerous.

The Locavore’s Dilemma

Sydney lock out laws not so effective?


The NSW government placed restrictions on the pubs, clubs and bars in the Sydney CBD area. This limited the sale of alcohol and restricted them from permitting patrons to enter their premises aka “lock out laws”.

Sydney’s lock out laws were recently praised for reducing violence, but the NSW Bureau of Crime and Statistics Research recently released a correction: “Lockout and last drinks” correction. See the actual paper here.

Subsequent checking by the Bureau has revealed an error in the geographic boundaries employed to define the Sydney CBD entertainment precinct.

Reanalysis of the assault data with the correct boundaries has revealed that assaults in this precinct declined by 26%, not 40% as originally stated.

So actually the reduction in violence was not that much. If the drop in overall foot traffic was the same, then you’re actually more likely to be assaulted in Sydney’s Kings Cross area than you were before the government lockout laws. How’s that for perverse outcomes?

The NSW Legislative Assembly Law and Safety Committee’s Enquiry into Alcohol and Drug-Related Violence heard evidence from business groups suggesting that the number of visitors to Kings Cross and the Sydney CBD had declined; with business revenue allegedly falling by between 20 and 50 per cent (NSW Legislative Assembly, 2014, p. 44). This suggestion that the number of visitors to Kings Cross has declined is supported by transport data. Between 2013 and 2014, counts of the number of passenger crossings in Kings Cross Station certainly declined, whereas over the same period rail patronage at all other City rail stations increased (see Table C1, Appendix C).

To be fair and not overstate the case, the BOCSAR article does state it is too early to examine these issues in detail:

If the January 2014 reforms reduced the incidence of assaults, not because they reduced alcohol consumption in Kings Cross and the CBD during hours when assault rates normally peak, but because the reforms discouraged people from visiting these areas, we might expect to see a general reduction in assault, even at times where there are no restrictions on sales of alcohol. It is still too soon to examine these issues in any detail.

Should policies be judged based on their intentions, or judged based on their outcomes? I’ll let you ponder that one.

Fedora tip: my libertarian friend Vikas Nayak.

3rd ALS Friedman Conference 2015

I attended the third Australian Libertarian Society Friedman Conference (program link here) over the weekend and had a great time. I also spoke on the break out panel, Liberty and Technology. I enjoyed sharing the stage with Darcy Allen and Dan Nolan, and I felt like the crowd genuinely enjoyed the points we all raised. I’d summarise the points made as follows:

  • Darcy Allen: Technology is allowing us to break down the power of incumbents and incidences of regulatory capture. Also, though there is a risk that the new entrant becomes the incumbent, but at least if the process happens faster thanks to technology, this is a good thing.
  • My talk: We don’t have to directly convince everybody of libertarianism as an ideology, we can instead offer services that compete with the state. People will want to take on these services because they are cheaper, safer, better. In doing so, we are reducing our reliance on the state.
  • Dan Nolan: We should be wary of state surveillance and claims politicians make about meta data, especially when politicians are not technically competent in this area. Using a VPN is one way to help reduce the risk of being spied on.

Julian Simon on the recycling mindset

From Chapter 21 of Julian Simon’s amazing book, The Ultimate Resource

The recycling mindset can also be counterproductive in rich countries. People praise saving trees by recycling newspapers, and they condemn those who cut down trees. But they do not cheer those who grow the trees in the first place–trees deliberately planted and grown to make paper. This is like praising people for "saving" a field of wheat by not eating bread, while ignoring the farmers who grow our food. It acts to suppress the creative impulse.

Julian Simon on recycling

Here’s a cool section from Chapter 19 of The Ultimate Resource:

6. The cost of urban recycling programs is typically about twice the cost of
landfill disposal, even without including the cost to consumers of separating various kinds of materials (a cost that can be very high to an individual whose time has a high market or personal value. In New York City the cost of recycling in 1991 dollars “appears to be $400 to $500 per ton,” and “in one Midwest city reached $800 per ton,” compared to the $25 to $40 per ton costs for landfill disposal.
The cost of recycling tends to rise as more recycling is done, because recycling increases the supply of recycled materials, especially newspaper. This decreases the prices paid for recycled paper. Indeed, the price may fall below zero, and recycling programs then either must pay the recycling facility to accept the paper, or put the paper in a landfill. For example, in 1988, Barberton, Ohio received $30 per ton for its waste paper, but by 1989, the town had to pay $10 per ton to the recycler. Hence Barberton shut down its recycling program and sold off its equipment.

Seeing as it has such variable use (sometimes paying, and other times costing money), recycling should not be venerated for the sake of recycling. It’s a matter of looking at the costs and benefits of doing it.

Greens taking credit for things

I saw this hilarious satirical page being shared on social media that fellow free market fans will enjoy: Greens taking credit for things. Sample image here:


I was reflecting on why this is funny, and to me it’s that The Australian Greens are trying to create a culture of shared victory with their fans – and this page satirically takes that down. I think of the Greens as similar to how Christians have their persecution complex. In reading the RationalWiki page, I particularly enjoyed this quotation:

“…one of the great secrets of human nature is that the one thing people want more than love, security, sex, chocolate or big-screen TV’s is to feel hard done by. Why? Because being hard done by is the shit. Feeling hard done by is the sweetest of drugs. If you’re being persecuted — it must mean you’re doing the right thing, right? You get the mellow buzz of the moral high ground, but without arrogantly claiming it as your own. You get an instant, supportive community in a big dark scary world of such scope it may well literally be beyond rational human processing. When you are hard done by, you get purpose in a life where otherwise, you’d have to find your own. And when you ride that high, then no amount of logic, no pointing out that in actuality you and your beliefs are at a high point of popularity and influence for the last hundred years — is going to pry that sweet crack-pipe of moral indignation from your hands.”

So the Greens want to try and galvanise the troops, make them band together as part of the tribe. It’s just… some tribes are destructive to humanity and have very harmful ideas like imposing socialist-inclined ideas on the masses.