Just two paths

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There are people who lament, “Why does it have to be capitalism or socialism, isn’t there any other method?”. I think the answer is that there really are only two broad categories available as Albert Jay Nock points out.

To borrow an example I’ve heard from Tom Woods, consider if two people were alone on an island. Now picture one of them claiming to have a ‘right to healthcare’. How would they receive this healthcare? They could either provide it themselves, or have the other person provide it. So what happens if there is a dispute over who has to provide it? Well, they can either peacefully agree on a solution, or sort it out over violence.

But we intuitively grasp that the only way we can each peacefully have the things we want, is to set up society with “negative freedoms” or “freedom from” rather than “freedom to”. We don’t have the ‘freedom’ to take what we want from other people, we have the freedom to not be unjustly physically harmed by other people.

This is an appeal to reason. If you want to live in a peaceful and productive society, you should have high respect for the property rights of other people.

Quibbling over spoils

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When the government privatises something, that is not necessarily a step towards the free market. Extending this idea out further, political debates on ‘university fee deregulation’ are not actually about whether we should have a free market or not. It’s more like, they’re debating which special interest group the government should back.

For example, ‘deregulation’ of university fees is not genuinely creating a free market in higher education if you consider the prior government interventions:

‘Deregulating’ the fees that universities may charge, while still keeping the above interventions isn’t creating a free market. It’s rigging the deck in favour of people who stand to gain: University staff, academics, researchers and other certification bodies. This rigs the deck against: students (particularly international students) and people who want to work, but are denied by government occupational licensing.

If you truly want to create better outcomes in education, then you should consider Bryan Caplan’s upcoming book, The Case Against Education. See his post, The Magic of Education for a primer.

Don’t be naive about the true nature of the debate. Just because the government subsidises something or sets rules/prices, does not mean it will be more accessible and high quality for all. Just because the government removes some (but not all) its prior restraints, does not mean there will be a free market in education. In many ways, government intervention achieves the opposite purpose: making education lower quality and less affordable.

[1] ARC Annual Report FY13/14, page 131

Image: Dollar Photo Club

Changing hearts and minds

“Half the harm that is done in this world is due to people who want to feel important. They don’t mean to do harm– but the harm does not interest them. Or they do not see it, or they justify it because they are absorbed in the endless struggle to think well of themselves.”  ~T.S. Eliot

A big part of the struggle is calling on people to see the hidden/unseen effects of what they propose. It’s especially difficult to do this when they think so highly of themselves for proposing government intervention.

That said, it is not impossible. It just takes patience and skill to explain why government programs are often wasteful and unnecessary at best, or downright evil at their worst.

Tom Woods is right about the 3×5 card

Tom Woods is right, the typical political debate occurs on a 3×5 card of ‘allowable opinion’. When I first read his book, Real Dissent, I didn’t put too much stock into the concept of the 3×5 card. But the more I think about it, the more I see real world examples.

If you try to present an opinion outside that 3×5 card, you won’t even be dignified with a rebuttal. They’ll just try to ridicule your position purely because that is your position.

If you run into these sorts of people, you can try to reason with them by appealing to the desire to create better outcomes. If they still aren’t willing to actually engage with the argument, then it’s best to cut your losses and move on to someone who is willing to actually engage with the argument.

Society, not politics

“The expediencies of politics plus the frailties of political leaders rule out the possibility of using the political method of putting principle into law. The social order must look after itself; politics and the law will follow the dictates of society, once society knows what it wants and acts as if it wants it. Therefore, to “do something about it” one should concentrate on society and leave politics severely alone.” – Frank Chodorov

Politics is not the answer.

Why the stateless society would be more peaceful

A common argument against the stateless society (anarcho-capitalism) is that ‘the strongest private defence agency will win, and the big fish will eat the little fish. The justice you get will depend on the military strength of the agency you patronize’.

David Friedman has a great response to this:

Perhaps the best way to see why anarcho-capitalism would be so much more peaceful than our present system is by analogy. Consider our world as it would be if the cost of moving from one country to another were zero. Everyone lives in a house trailer and speaks the same language. One day the president of France announces that because of troubles with neighboring countries, new military taxes are being levied and conscription will begin shortly. The next morning he finds himself ruling a peaceful but empty landscape, the population having been reduced to himself, three generals, and twenty-seven war correspondents.

We do not all live in house trailers. But if we buy our protection from a private firm instead of from a government, we can buy it from a different firm as soon as we think we can get a better deal. We can change protectors without changing countries.

The risk of private agencies throwing their weight— and lead— around is not great, provided there are lots of them. – David Friedman, The Machinery of Freedom 3rd edition Chapter 30 The Stability Problem

Healthcare third party payer problem

Ever wondered why the cost of so many goods and services is going down in real terms, but health care seems to stay expensive? One reason behind this, is the third party payer problem:

A direct cost comparison between the SBA Hospital and other hospitals, however, would miss a key issue. Blue Cross and other third-party payers were less vulnerable to medical inflation. Because third-party payers reimbursed health care providers on the basis of their costs, hospitals and doctors lacked incentives to economize. The same was true of patients. Both providers and recipients could shift costs to third-party payers. With the real medical costs obscured, incentives to be cost-conscious or shop around for less expensive alternatives were significantly undercut. – From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State by David T Beito