21 Aug 2014

Potpourri

Potpourri, Shameless Self-Promotion 101 Comments

==> Rob Bradley in Forbes explains the long evolution of free-trade thought from Adam Smith to…me.

==> I explain that banks can fulfill their two functions even with 100% reserves.

==> I helped with some of the research, but Dan Simmons has a post at IER pushing back against the Administration’s claims about forest fires and climate change. It’s actually pretty interesting even if this isn’t usually your thing.

==> Richard Ebeling blames the Fed for booms and busts.

==> The best thing about this Gene Callahan essay on opium is that the people in the comments are mad that The American Conservative is giving a platform to libertarians.

==> Avens O’Brien has a nice post on how libertarians can win hearts and minds. (BTW, if you are ready to flip out in the comments about the brutalism/humanitarianism thing, you’re barking up the wrong tree. O’Brien’s overall perspective isn’t what such a knee-jerk reaction assumes.) An excerpt:

An excellent example here is the knee jerk reaction of libertarians to the liberal proposal that “we should do something” is immediately equated to a proposal that the government must do something. If a liberal ever says the slightest hint of “but, how will we help the [insert oppressed group here]?” a libertarian instantly assumes that government is the proposed answer (it might be) and rails against that with such fervor that it scares the sh** out of the liberal.

Ironically it’s what causes more people to feel government mustbecause people freely won’t.

When a liberal says, “let’s feed poor children”, they simply want to feed poor children, and they think the state might be a good vessel for that because they think it should happen and who would feed poor children without a benefit to themselves?

Their fear is well-reflected in the libertarian response: “No, you can’t force me to feed poor children.”

Instead of a much more reasonable response of: “Hey, you’re right, there may be hungry poor children out there. Wouldn’t it be nice if you and other people who care about feeding poor children could easily gather together to start an organization that feeds poor children efficiently? That I can donate to willingly? I highly recommend you do that! I know others who have this particular inclination towards feeding poor children. Perhaps I can introduce you.”

If liberals think libertarians may actually help if they weren’t forced to, they might be less compelled to try to force it.

21 Aug 2014

St. Louis Powell Shooting: Police Story versus Video

Big Brother, Police 119 Comments

See how much you guys think the video matches up with how the police initially described the shooting of Powell:



UPDATE: Well, it’s restricted. You can watch the video directly here.

21 Aug 2014

The Problem With the Police Is That It’s Not Just a Few Bad Apples

Police 48 Comments

(Unless we mean “a few” in the way Krugman does when discussing ObamaCare.)

Gene Callahan–author of Economics for Real People and once a frequent co-author with me on libertarian articles–has a new blog post in which he chastises libertarians for their over-the-top denouncement of the police State. Here’s Gene:

I received a phone call today from a cop from one of our major cities. (We know each other only electronically.) He wanted to talk because he was so discouraged about the state of police-civilian relations in the country right now. He has always been honest at his job…, always obeyed the law as if he wasn’t a cop, chastised his men when they would break it, sought to respect the community he was policing… and what’s more, he assures me that most cops are more like him then they are like the jack-booted thugs of libertarian fantasies, a few of whom actually exist…He readily acknowledges “We brought some of this on ourselves.” He wants dirty and violent cops punished.

But he also tells me that the one-sided sensationalizing of every possibly suspicious action on the part of a cop makes things worse. Naturally, if cops feel they will be attacked and smeared even if innocent of any wrong-doing, they will become defensive, and tend to dismiss any criticism of any cop as just more libertarian/leftist hate…

Once again, assertions that excessive police violence is is merely “the essence of the state,” as one poster fatuously put it recently, is a falsehood designed to promote a political agenda: police forces all over the developed world are enormously less violent than the American police. For instance, in 2011, all of the police from the entire nation of Germany, policing 80 million people, only fired 85 bullets while policing. By way of contrast, in one incident resulting from a driver’s failure to stop when ordered to do so, Miami police fired well over one hundred shots, killing their target as well as injuring five bystanders…So in the course of a few minutes the Miami police launched more bullets at a single man than the German police do at 80 million people over the course of a year. If excessive police violence is “the essence of the state,” every other state in the developed world must have had its essence sucked out.

First of all, it’s a bit odd that Gene is trying to convince us we’re being paranoid when worrying about a police state…by pointing to Germany. OK, maybe the German police didn’t behave very violently in 2011, but I’m pretty sure they had a few bad years back in the late 1930s. The “paranoid” libertarian position isn’t that all States at all times are totalitarian nightmares, just that they have the tendency to move in that direction and citizens must take great pains to guard against tyranny. Hayek’s famous book was titled the Road to Serfdom, not the Parking Lot of Serfdom.

But I also challenge Gene’s entire premise. I don’t doubt that his buddy is a decent guy, who would be perfectly fine to have over to your barbeque or even babysit your kids. The problem is that, as a general rule, “good cops” keep their mouths shut even when they observe some of their colleagues breaking the law. If Gene’s buddy is indeed a cop in a major city, he is probably personally aware of several officers taking money from drug dealers, or at the very least can make very educated guesses. Again, I am speculating, but I imagine if Gene had put this particular guy’s full name in his blog post, that the guy would flip out and tell Gene to take it down, for fear of professional reprisal.

When a member of any other profession is accused of wrongdoing, colleagues are willing to pontificate on whether the accused should be considered in the right or wrong. For example, if a historian is accused of plagiarism, it won’t be hard for CNN to line up other historians to defend or “convict” the accused.

In contrast, police who are still on the job almost never come forward and say one of their colleagues was in the wrong. I admit I conducted only a cursory search, but using Google I can only find retired police officers criticizing the actions in Ferguson. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure that plenty of cops around the country are shocked at what’s happening in Ferguson, and I don’t doubt that they call up their buddies and say so…privately, on the phone, when their comments can’t be used against them. Yet I don’t see hundreds of these outraged police writing letters to the editor or signing petitions, asking their fellow officers in Ferguson to re-think their tactics. (I would love to be corrected in the comments, in which case I’ll update this post.) There’s a reason people coined the term “Blue Wall of Silence.”

Let me give a beautiful illustration of what I mean. Watch the following video:

Note in particular that the CHP spokesman (starting around the 0:20 mark in the video) stresses how the woman was “a danger to herself” because she was walking around on the freeway. So even as he’s telling the press that they need to investigate before rendering a judgment on the officer’s actions, he wants to make sure people realize that this lady could’ve been hurt. (I mean, someone might tackle her and start beating the crap out of her; it’s safer to stay in a vehicle on the California highways.)

Notice also that the second cop runs up and jumps in to restrain the woman. When I worked at a grocery store, if I turned the corner and saw one of my co-workers sitting on top of a grandmother, punching her repeatedly in the face, I’m pretty sure my response would be to restrain him and say, “What the hell are you doing?!”

I recognize that by its very nature, law enforcement places cops in hazardous situations, and it may be hard for outsiders to appreciate the constant state of apprehension. But let’s not kid ourselves that there are a just a few “bad apples” out there, as in any other profession. No, the problem with police forces in the U.S. (I can’t speak for other countries) is that there is virtually no accountability. The rot starts at the top. It’s not because everyone who goes into police work is an awful person, but that the institutional structure produces horrible outcomes.

UPDATE: It’s possible that this particular officer will face “serious charges,” though he was initially put on desk duty and he hasn’t yet been charged. Either way, my point was the initial reaction of the CHP spokesman. He didn’t stand there, his face in shock at seeing one of his colleagues beat up a grandmother lying on the ground, but instead his reaction was to try to minimize the PR damage. Even if he does end up getting charged, the mere fact that it’s an open question shows just how much leeway the police have. They operate under a different law from everyone else.

UPDATE #2: I saw this Twitter picture of a Missouri cop marching with the Ferguson protesters.

20 Aug 2014

The Bigger Threat: The Police State or Looting?

Big Brother, private law, Shameless Self-Promotion 8 Comments

You can guess my answer. Here’s an excerpt, but you should follow the link for my surprise conclusion!

But let’s put aside the specific triggers of riots and looting, and take them as given. It still doesn’t follow that we need a strong State to protect innocent lives. No, as I’ve explained elsewhere (try here and here), a free market economy can provide voluntary police and judicial services far more efficiently and peacefully than a monopoly institution. If only the State would get rid of its gun control laws and allow genuine competition in the “industry” of property protection, then the threats to person and property from looters would be minimized.

20 Aug 2014

The Most Ethically Chilling Use of a Steady-State Equilibrium Ever

Scott Sumner, Shameless Self-Promotion 7 Comments

Now when Paul Krugman said “death panels” (and sales taxes) were the answer, he was obviously cracking a joke and didn’t mean the phrase in the sense in which the critics used it. So, you can understand why his fans roll their eyes when Krugman critics then tried to use that one-off line against him.

In complete contrast, Scott Sumner lays out a whole case for why reckless behavior that causes death is arguably praiseworthy. He tries to hedge himself at the end, but he doesn’t really explain what part of his argument might be wrong. I think he just realizes, “I sound like a nutjob in this post. Man I have a crazy worldview.”

Anyway, here is my Mises CA take on it. No point in excerpting, just click if I’ve baited you sufficiently.

19 Aug 2014

In My Life, I’ve Had a Few Posts That Criticized Krugman

Health Legislation, Krugman 32 Comments

How do you guys feel about that claim in my post title? Probably a bit of an understatement, eh?

Now consider the following from Krugman’s latest post on Obamacare:

A few relatively affluent, healthy people are paying more for coverage; a few high-income taxpayers are paying more in taxes; a much larger number of Americans are getting coverage that was previously unavailable and/or unaffordable; and most people are seeing no difference at all, except that they no longer have to fear what happens if they lose their current coverage.

Just re-read that a few times. (And when I say “a few times,” I don’t mean several million times. I mean, a few.)

That is truly dishonest, wouldn’t you say? If he had said “a relatively small proportion” or even “relatively few Americans,” that could have been defensible and we could go to the estimates to see how accurate his claims are. But when Krugman says a few–and he does it twice, so it’s not some grammar glitch in how he started the sentence–that implies that it’s literally a handful of people, doesn’t it? The only reason we know “that can’t possibly be what he means” is that we independently know that it would be absurd to suggest the literal interpretation of his statements.

I probably don’t need to mention that the title of Krugman’s post is, “Beyond the Lies.”

(David R. Henderson has a different complaint with the same Krugman post.)

19 Aug 2014

In Which I Explain My Bargaining Power at Hair Salons

Economics, Shameless Self-Promotion 31 Comments

My latest Mises Canada article. An excerpt:

[I]f the ignorance of alternatives on the part of female shoppers is the culprit here, including being “lulled into not doing anything about it,” then why is the gap in Speed Stick versus Lady Speed Stick 45 cents per ounce–as the article claims–rather than, say $10 per ounce? Why don’t dry cleaners charge women $1,000 to clean a blouse, if they have such power to engage in discriminatory pricing?

18 Aug 2014

John Oliver Has Beautiful Take on Ferguson

Big Brother 85 Comments

Perhaps he made a passing reference to the need for government police at some point, but we can forgive him that.