Study their behaviors. Observe their territorial boundaries. Leave their habitat as you found it. Report any signs of intelligence.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Teflon Libertarian Moderate

There is a member of the Libertarian Party who advocates the following positions of many of us in the Reform Caucus.
  • He does not advocate anarchism and believes there are "proper constitutional functions of the federal government". He is "dedicated to limited, constitutional government" and believes there is a "proper role for government in a free society". He identifies "the real purpose of government in a society that professes to be free: protection of liberty".
  • He does not dispute the Art I Sec 8 taxation powers of Congress, and advocates funding the federal government through some combination of "tariffs, excise taxes, and property taxes" -- all of which are verboten under Rothbardian zero-force-initiation dogma.
  • He rejects the LP's absolutist position on abortion, and suggests that local jurisdictions should be free to draw the personhood line somewhere between conception and birth: "Would you be happy with a law that says abortion can be done no later than at six weeks' gestation? [...] I don't think anybody's going to win this. You [a pro-choice interviewer] are not even for abortion for anybody every time a minute before birth. You don't want to abort these normal babies. At the same time, I don't think we'll ever reach the stage where there will be no abortions. I want to sort this out the way the Constitution mandates, and that's at the local level."
  • He rejects the LP's traditional absolutist demand for unrestricted immigration.
  • He advocates what Rothbard called "an order to destatization", making immigration reform conditional on welfare reform: "The real problem is not immigration, but rather the welfare state magnet."
  • He demurs from immediate or even near-term abolition of the nanny state: "Q: Department of Agriculture. Commerce. Health and Human Services. Housing and Urban Development. You'd get rid of all of them? A: Yeah. Of course, that's not on the immediate agenda, but in theory they're unnecessary, and we should think about what kind of a country we'd have without these departments."
  • He cites social disruption as a reason to defer immediate destatization. "Q: Is [Medicare] something you'd get rid of? A: Yes, but that's not high on my agenda. As a matter of fact, we've taught a couple of generations of Americans to be very dependent on government. That's not my goal, because I think you have to have a transition period."
  • He denies that markets can provide national defense: "A: I happen to think that the market can deliver any service better than the government can. Q: Even -- would you use that for defense too, or no? A: No, no, we'd have defense, but this militarism isn't defense, it's the opposite of defense."
  • He believes in a "vital constitutional role in overseeing monetary policy", as opposed to the Rothbardian dogma that there should be no government-sanctioned currency.
  • He apparently supports the Sixth Amendment right of the accused to coerce innocent third-party witnesses to attend trial: "What other principles from our founding era should we discard for convenience? Should we give up the First amendment because times have changed and free speech causes too much offense in our modern society? Should we give up the Second amendment, and trust that today’s government is benign and not to be feared by its citizens? How about the rest of the Bill of Rights?"
  • He is a traditionalist about juries and presumably believes in the principle that jury duty is compulsory in the absence of compelling reasons against serving. Compulsory jury duty violates the anarcholibertarian Zero Aggression Principle.
  • He supported the use of the tax-financed military against those nations (e.g. Afghanistan) that aided or harbored the planners of the 9/11 attack, and does not endorse the idea that the existence of the tax-financed U.S. military is a crime against liberty.
  • He apparently believes in the federal government's constitutional authority to provide postal roads and manage interstate waterways, as a large percentage of the congressional earmarks he supports for his home district are for interstate highways and federal waterways.
Despite all these public heresies, this moderate member of the Libertarian Party is embraced and endorsed in some way by all of the following radical figures in the libertarian movement, each of whom is nevertheless a bitter critic of reform and moderation within the LP:
  • David Nolan
  • Mary Ruwart
  • Lew Rockwell
  • Burt Blumert
  • Jacob Hornberger
  • Walter Block
  • Roderick Long
  • Ernest Hancock
  • L. Neil Smith
  • Justin Raimondo
  • Eric Garris
  • Steve Kubby
  • Christine Smith
  • Wes Benedict
  • Anthony Gregory
  • Starchild
  • Less Antman
  • Lawrence Samuels
  • Mark Selzer
Who is this Teflon libertarian moderate? You know damn well who he is. He's Ron Paul. He's the Libertarian analog to the HypnoToad and the Steve Jobs Reality Distortion Field. His name is like the Godelian self-referential paradoxes that Captain Kirk invoked to make smoke come from the ears of alien robots. Only a tiny handful of LP radicals -- like Tom Knapp, Susan Hogarth, and perhaps the oh-so-conflicted Angela Keaton -- are immune to his Svengali-like powers of moderation. Radical libertarians confronting the campaign of the movement's most beloved political figure have to choose between inconsistency and self-marginalization, and it turns out the only way out of this catch-22 is to be gay. Radicals among the Outright Libertarians have a valid (though parochial) excuse for not supporting Paul, and the moderator of their forum candidly put it this way: "Expecting us to have a broad view of Paul within our niche is futile."

Tom Knapp estimates a 90% chance of Ron Paul seeking the LP nomination (which he of course would win), but I think the odds are unfortunately far lower. Ron Paul's bio (admittedly on his GOP nomination campaign site) doesn't mention the LP or his 1988 LP presidential candidacy, but Paul was making the same elision on his congressional web site as early as 2004. Paul will very likely stay in the GOP race as long as he thinks he has a chance to draw major non-embarrassing attention on the national stage inside (or outside) the 2008 GOP convention. When those odds start to look too long, he's likely to just reclaim his current House seat and from it try to surf the wave he's created. He doesn't need the LP to do that, and he's probably aware that a rerun of his 1988 LP presidential bid would be anticlimactic after the way his pre-Iowa GOP nomination campaign has rewritten the campaign manuals. Changing this picture would surely require some kind of wild card -- a major deterioration in Iraq, a major terrorist attack on Americans, or a sudden major entrance or exit among the (vice-)presidential candidates. Unfortunately, the wave of the Ron Paul Revolution remains very likely to be broken up by the rocks of the GOP primary calendar, when actual electoral returns and delegate counts will eclipse Internet polls and money bombs. The radicals listed above will then use their well-practiced skills in historical revisionism to try to explain why the relative success his campaign of constitutionalist minarchism did not tend to confirm the claims of LP reformers. LP leaders and reformers, meanwhile, will be trying to figure out how to dress up the LP's Anarchist Asylum so that it appears to offer political asylum to refugees from the Ron Paul Revolution. Will the radicals above give amnesty to Ron Paul Revolution veterans who advocate that the LP Platform make room for the heresies listed above, and treat them as converts instead of "infiltrators" and heretics? Not bloody likely. You see, it turns out that the Zero Aggression Principle has an exemption for anyone whose name is spelled R-o-n P-a-u-l.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Euthyphro's Is My Favorite Dilemma

Last year a Christian apologist named Steve Cornell called me out and sent me a chapter pending publication (and still not apparently online) by Notre Dame professor Christian Smith, entitled "Does Naturalism Warrant a Moral Belief in Universal Benevolence and Human Rights?" I wasn't impressed, and replied:

His paper would be more interesting if he had written it three hundred years ago, before David Hume famously noted the Is-Ought Problem. Smith does a workable job of re-demonstrating Hume's conclusion, and then does a very poor job of trying to show that an insurmountable problem results for the ethical worldviews of naturalists.

Smith is a sociologist with no publications in philosophy journals on his CV. If this paper ("Does Naturalism Warrant a Moral Belief in Universal Benevolence and Human Rights?") were peer-reviewed by a philosopher, she would likely complain that Smith fails to mention 1) Hume and the Is-Ought Problem (aka the Naturalistic Fallacy), and 2) the Euthyphro Dilemma (cf. Divine Command Theory), which is the corresponding problem for theists.

Smith assumes without noticeable argument that naturalists must defend the idea that "universal benevolence and human rights" are completely objective "moral facts". He commits an obvious fallacy of the excluded middle when he says the only alternative is "arbitrary, subjective, personal preference". 

There are choices on the table other than just that 1) morality is completely objective and 2) morality is completely subjective. As I mention in my book, there can be meta-ethical ways to objectively compare alternative subjective derivations of values from objective facts. This is related to what in contemporary meta-ethics is called value pluralism. Aside from one passing mention of "moral realism", Smith doesn't seem to engage the modern literature of meta-ethics at all. For an idea of what such engagement looks like, see Is God Good By Definition? by Graham Oppy.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

An LPCA Contract With California?

My top choice would be for all of our candidates to call on Sacramento to join the nine other states that have already endorsed the Liberty Amendment, and for California's members of Congress to support it as introduced by Ron Paul in 2003 as HJR 15. The Liberty Amendment would require the federal government to eliminate in 3 years 1) all activities not expressly authorized by the Constitution and 2) all federal taxes on personal incomes, estates, and gifts. David Nolan and Harry Browne both worked for the Liberty Amendment Committee before Nolan founded the LP, and the LAC mailing list was one of the seed lists Nolan used to boostrap the LP. Making the Liberty Amendment our top priority with totally align us with the Ron Paul Revolution.

The other issues that I would put on an LPCA Contract With California would be (in rough priority):
  • tax credits or vouchers for school choice
  • replacing environmental regulatory bureaucracy with green pricing and congestion pricing
  • gay marriage rights
  • medical marijuana
  • fully legalize buying health insurance from out-of-state carriers (cf. SB 365, which "could represent a de facto repeal of all benefit mandate laws, as well as all other health insurance requirements in California). (I'd put healthcare higher, but Sacramento can only do so much for our federally socialized healthcare industry.)
Our existing LPCA Program is good, but with 17 high-level initiatives and even more sub-initiatives, it's too detailed for this purpose. For more prior art on LP campaign programs and an analysis of top-N-issue polling data, see http://marketliberal.org/PlatComWiki/Legislative_Program. For my recommended LPUS campaign program, see http://marketliberal.org/PlatComWiki/MarketLiberal_Campaign_Program.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Heroes Who Stopped COINTELPRO

I hope someday these heroes are identified.

Published on Wednesday, March 8, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times


In 1971, stolen FBI files exposed the government's domestic spying program.
by Allan M. Jalon

Thirty-five years ago today, a group of anonymous activists broke into the small, two-man office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in Media, Pa., and stole more than 1,000 FBI documents that revealed years of systematic wiretapping, infiltration and media manipulation designed to suppress dissent.

The Citizens' Commission to Investigate the FBI, as the group called itself, forced its way in at night with a crowbar while much of the country was watching the Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight. When agents arrived for work the next morning, they found the file cabinets virtually emptied.

Within a few weeks, the documents began to show up — mailed anonymously in manila envelopes with no return address — in the newsrooms of major American newspapers. When the Washington Post received copies, Atty. Gen. John N. Mitchell asked Executive Editor Ben Bradlee not to publish them because disclosure, he said, could "endanger the lives" of people involved in investigations on behalf of the United States.

Nevertheless, the Post broke the first story on March 24, 1971, after receiving an envelope with 14 FBI documents detailing how the bureau had enlisted a local police chief, letter carriers and a switchboard operator at Swarthmore College to spy on campus and black activist groups in the Philadelphia area.

More documents went to other reporters — Tom Wicker received copies at his New York Times office; so did reporters at the Los Angeles Times — and to politicians including Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota and Rep. Parren J. Mitchell of Maryland.

To this day, no individual has claimed responsibility for the break-in. The FBI, after building up a six-year, 33,000-page file on the case, couldn't solve it. But it remains one of the most lastingly consequential (although underemphasized) watersheds of political awareness in recent American history, one that poses tough questions even today for our national leaders who argue that fighting foreign enemies requires the government to spy on its citizens. The break-in is far less well known than Daniel Ellsberg's leak of the Pentagon Papers three months later, but in my opinion it deserves equal stature.

Found among the Media documents was a new word, "COINTELPRO," short for the FBI's "secret counterintelligence program," created to investigate and disrupt dissident political groups in the U.S. Under these programs, beginning in 1956, the bureau worked to "enhance the paranoia endemic in these circles," as one COINTELPRO memo put it, "to get the point across there is an FBI agent behind every mailbox."

The Media documents — along with further revelations about COINTELPRO in the months and years that followed — made it clear that the bureau had gone beyond mere intelligence-gathering to discredit, destabilize and demoralize groups — many of them peaceful, legal civil rights organizations and antiwar groups — that the FBI and Director J. Edgar Hoover found offensive or threatening.

For instance, agents sought to persuade Martin Luther King Jr. to kill himself just before he received the Nobel Prize. They sent him a composite tape made from bugs planted illegally in his hotel rooms when he was entertaining women other than his wife — and threatened to make it public. "King, there is one thing left for you to do. You know what it is," FBI operatives wrote in their anonymous letter.

[...]

Sunday, December 09, 2007

"Keep Holtz Locked In The Basement"

The complaints about LP reformers over at Third Party Watch from Angela Keaton -- the radical Libertarian National Committee member and Liberated Space blog radio host who wears her ennui and ambivalance about the LP on her sleave -- seem to involve generous amounts of projection:

[F]ind me a Reformer (someone who IDs as a member of the Libertarian Reform Caucus) with actual administrative skills before we talk about pragmatism. I can name some bright guys. I can even name a Reformer who has made actual financial and administrative contributions (Stuart Flood.) Can’t find one however with even the basic understanding of how an office works let alone with the ability to raise money or manage staff and volunteers. [..] I have been over that [LRC membership] list and it is mostly a bunch of middle income computer programmers who don’t have any of the skills or financial means to do what it is they claim they want. That does not mean they are not good LP members, or good people. They do not however know what exactly it is they want nor have figured out how to get it, whatever “it” is. All you have is a list of people who have inchoate dis-ease with the LP. If the average LRC member believes that the anarchists are bunch of blathering eggheads which keeps us from getting those bluff hardy rubber meets the road sorts. Fine, find some. Meanwhile, what you got, besides some programmers in male menopause is a bunch of eggheads blathering. It’s just different blather. Come on, Bob Capozzi? Jon Roland? For Brain Bowl? Great choices. As missionaries to the Normals, not so much. Brian Holtz? Brian is exactly kind of libertarian we need to keep locked in the basement if we are ever going to appeal to normal people.

We can't all indulge in trying to make a political statement with our lifestyle or the angst level thereof, but it's a little odd for Angela the counter-culture community-radio activist to lecture any of the 5 million of us in the IT and engineering professions about how to be "missionaries to the Normals". When instead of fetishizing artillery shells Keaton is (like me) raising a family and driving a minivan and mowing a lawn and paying a mortgage and earning a living outside the freedom movement, then I'll be more interested in her opinion about what "kind of libertarian we need to keep locked in the basement if we are ever going to appeal to normal people". Nor will I rebut her complaint about "middle income programmers", since publicizing the actual income and net worth of this particular "programmer" might attract unwanted attention from the sort of competent fundraiser she seems to claim to be. What I'm more interested in is any explanation she might have of why her expertise in fundraising and administration wasn't more in evidence during her employment as LPCA Executive Director from Nov 2006 to Aug 2007. For some emerging details, see pp. 28-31 of the Sep 2007 LPCA ExCom minutes.

As for this LRC member's "actual financial and administrative contributions", see e.g. pp. 21-22 of those same minutes, or my multi-thousand-dollar record of LP donations, or indeed all my work in the LPCA (including how I just instigated a $5K/yr savings in LPCA newsletter layout costs). As for my inability to "appeal to normal people", people can watch my campaign commercial or my interview on the top morning show in the nation's 5th largest metro, and judge for themselves. Angela should try harder to distinguish the arguments I use on the LP's vocal minority of Rothbardian anarchists with the pitch I make to the average voter.

If Angela thinks we LP reformers see LP anarchists as "eggheads", well, that seems like wishful thinking. In my experience, the LP's anarchists (with the notable exceptions of Tom Knapp and anarchist-in-denial Starchild) are uniformly unwilling or unable to engage the many arguments against anarcholibertarianism or for the various other principled schools of libertarianism -- let alone able to invoke or even cite the arguments of academic anarchists outside the LP. No, we see LP radicals as primarily engaged in moral exhibitionism -- what Angela's husband Brian Doherty calls a consumption good (and what I call village anarchism). If LP radicals were in fact consistent in applying the principles they invoke against reformers, I'd be able to find one who is radical and principled enough to take the No 1st Force Pledge. Instead, LPRadicals censor-in-chief Susan Hogarth wouldn't even let me post my offer of $200 to her caucus if it endorsed the N1F Pledge. Next, I'll have to see if any of the self-identified radical LP presidential candidates are willing to take me up on my offer.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Varieties of Principled Libertarianism

It remains a mistake for Libertarian Party reformers and incrementalists to concede that Zero-Aggression ZAPsolutism is the purest or most principled brand of libertarianism -- as opposed to most simplistic. I realize there are some asymptotic anarchists who nevertheless believe that incrementalism is the best thing a political party could do to move toward their anarchotopian asymptote. That may or may not be true, but I won't try to talk them out of it. :-) If I were an asymptotic anarchist, my top priority for electoral politics would be neither to build cadre nor promote incrementalism . Rather, I would advocate radical federalism, so that some locality somewhere would eventually try something close to anarchism and prove that it actually has a hope in hell of working.

Luckily, I'm not a ZAPsolutist or asymptotic anarchist, and in fact consider minarchism based on modern economics (see below) to be the most principled brand of libertarianism. Why? Because I believe that it does the best job of minimizing the real-world role and incidence of aggression in society. I consider ZAPsolutists to be suboptimal libertarians, because as deontologists instead of consequentialists they explicitly value clean hands over the real-world minimization of the incidence of aggression. (Either that, or they indulge in some magical thinking in order to believe that, for our species of primate on this particular planet, it just so happens that 100% absolute aggression abstinence is always the optimal strategy for minimizing the net incidence of aggression, and that no investment in force-initiation could ever lead to a net reduction in overall force-initiation.) However, I don't insist that the Platform endorse my brand of libertarianism as the most principled. We can have that fight when we're done repealing the nanny state. For now we just need to agree as comrades that there is a range of equally-principled libertarian worldviews and that it is not a sellout to try to get all less-archists together on a Freedom Train heading straight north in Nolan Space.

Multiple principled and self-consistent libertarian worldviews can be assembled from combinations of elements like

Endless variations on those principled and self-consistent libertarian worldviews can be derived by changing the dials on the many free variables in libertarian theory, such as:
  • Enfranchisement variables
    • rights of animals and species
    • rights of the unborn
    • rights of children
    • rights of the mentally disabled
    • rights of the comatose, the cryonically suspended, etc
    • rights of the dead (e.g. to bind the living with a covenant)
    • rights of inheritance
    • rights of corporate persons
    • rights of persons to alienate their rights e.g. through contractual slavery
  • Property variables
    • rights in natural (i.e. non-excludable) resources e.g. atmosphere, water, non-solid minerals, spectrum, orbits
    • rights in excludable resources e.g. land, solid minerals
    • rights in intellectual property e.g. copyright, patents
    • justness of original property acquisition
    • status of stolen property
  • Aggression variables
    • whether blackmail is aggression
    • forms of allowable judicial punishment
    • rules for allowable extra-judicial defense and retaliation
    • thresholds for reckless endangerment
    • extent to which unequal associations are coercive
Thus those who believed Rothbard when he told them that the non-aggression principle is "the fundamental rule from which can be deduced the entire corpus of libertarian theory" have been sold a bill of goods. Rothbard may as well have been chanting "There is no god but God". Libertarians weaned on Rothbard or Rand seem unaware of the innovations in political economy that have occurred since their prophets closed the paleolibertarian canon in the late 1940s:
For example, Rothbard's For a New Liberty (1973) and Ethics of Liberty (1982) make no mention of public goods or externalities or free riding. And anyone learning their economics only from Rand will have even less hope of awareness of these ideas.

The cumulative revolution in the theory of political economy that took place in the 1950s and 1960s is very recent by historical standards. Students of biology and anatomy long ago stopped reading Aristotle's 2300-year-old treatises, with his theories that head-first birth in animals is caused by weight asymmetry around the umbilical cord, and that the brain's function is just to cool the blood. But progress in the theory of political economy has been so slow that after two millennia, Aristotle's political theories are still required reading. It was only 50 years ago that economists formulated the theoretical foundations of what is now the textbook economic analysis of the optimal scope of government. That analysis is profoundly libertarian, and it's just bizarre that a party calling itself "Libertarian" hasn't embraced it. The reason for this is a historical accident, in that the ideology of the LP was dictated in the 1970s by someone (Murray Rothbard) who froze his own anarcholibertarian dogma a decade or so before the cumulative revolution in the 1950s and 1960s in the areas of modern welfare economics, public choice theory, behavioral economics, and information economics.

A pioneer of string theory said in the 1970s that it is "a part of twenty-first-century physics that fell by chance into the twentieth century". Unlike physics, economics has not often had to wait on (or invent) new mathematics in order to make progress. I sometimes get the feeling that much of twentieth-century economics was in retrospect somewhat obvious and should have been already been developed before 1900. It would have been nice if the insights of modern economics had been available as the libertarian movement became self-conscious in the early decades of this century, but it was not to be. Oh well, at least we'll have front-row seats as the insights of modern economics continue to seep into our culture's political consciousness. The question of why the LP disputed those insights instead of championed them will make for an interesting footnote in future history books.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Adapation-Executers, More Than Fitness-Maximizers

On Earth's most interesting blog Overcoming Bias, Eliezer Yudkowsky quotes John Tooby and Leda Cosmides: "Individual organisms are best thought of as adaptation-executers rather than as fitness-maximizers." That's something that all of us fans of evolutionary psychology need to keep firmly in mind. While Yudkowsky's example of fatty foods is hits close to home as I finish my second week of The Blogger Diet (see graph above left), much more interesting cases are discussed in his posting about Superstimuli and the Collapse of Western Civilization. Transhumanists vastly over-estimate the probability of a technological singularity in the next couple of centuries (and its associated existential risks for humanity), while at the same time under-estimating the possibility that our species will (as he quotes Simon Funk saying) market itself out of existence.

Meanwhile, over on the Lifeboat Foundation's private discussion list, G. David Brin has pointed us to his 1982 paper that coined the term the Great Silence. He acts quite unimpressed at recent discussion of the Fermi Paradox, so I'll be eager to read whether he properly considered the extent to which runaway consumerism helps explain it.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Homesteading Intestate Restitution Claims

In Roderick Long's 1994 Constitution of Liberty, he proposed a "Virtual Canton Constitution" for a consensual state-like organization in which he hoped anarchists and minarchists could find common ground. It has limited appeal to this geolibertarian minarchist, who sees it fundamentally as a clever but unpersuasive attempt to sidestep the minarchist critique of anarchism based on the free-rider problem of national defense. Long's basic hope seems to be that if anarchists give their voluntary national-defense club a "Constitution" with lots of language and institutions reminiscent of the U.S. government, then minarchists will forget that the free-rider problem still applies.

The above criticism is of course far too glib, and there are at least a dozen other interesting ideas in Long's annotated Constitution that deserve full comment. The most interesting is something that followed this language (which Long says he borrowed from the pre-2006 Libertarian Party Platform):

It shall be the chief aim of judicial adjudication to secure restitution for the victim to the fullest degree possible at the expense of the criminal or wrongdoer. [The 2004 Platform said: "The purpose of a justice system is to provide restitution to those suffering a loss at the expense of those who caused that loss.]

What gets really interesting is a few sentences later:

The claim of a victim (or class of victims) to restitution shall be a marketable claim, which may be acquired through gift or sale (or, in the case of deceased victims, through bequest or homesteading). Judicial systems relying on user fees have been criticized for giving no protection to the poor. Likewise, judicial systems emphasizing restitution and victim-directed prosecution have been criticized for providing no incentives for defending the claims of victims who die without close friends or relatives. The provisions in this passage are meant to overcome these difficulties. The marketing of claims to restitution worked fairly well in medieval Iceland. (See my "The Decline and Fall of Private Law in Iceland," in Formulations,Vol. I, No. 3 (Spring 1994).)

I'd several times heard anarcholibertarians advocate a purely retributive theory of justice, and I didn't understand how they couldn't recognize its failure to defend hobos and orphans from casual murder. This "homesteading" idea is a clever attempt to solve that problem, using hearse-chasers instead of ambulance-chasers to make the justice market work. However, aside from the coordination problem among competing homesteaders, and their incentives to settle cases for far too little in order to maximize profit margin, I don't see how justice would be served in the case of criminals with shallow pockets.

Note Jonathan Bond's 2005 paper (The Price of Private Law: A Critical Analysis of Murray Rothbard’s Model for Common Law Juridical Systems in the Free Society), whose abstract follows.


This paper seeks to understand and critique the model of privately administered justice outlined and defended by Murray Rothbard (and subsequently adopted and extended by others following Rothbard). By sketching briefly the system Rothbard suggests and exploring the historiographical and praxeological defenses he offers in support of his system, the paper aims to illustrate several shortcomings inherent in both Rothbard’s system and his particular defenses. Moreover, after critically reviewing the historical examples Rothbard cites in defense of a fully market-based legal order, and after subsequently examining his model for private law in detail, it is argued that there is an important connection between the logical and historiographical errors which lie in Rothbard’s argument. Regarding Rothbard’s historical case, the central assertion is that Rothbard misreads or misinterprets the evidence upon which he relies, which in turn leads him to perceive the existence of stable private law orders in times and places where, the evidence shows, none existed. Concerning Rothbard’s positive model, it is argued that Rothbard has not, as he implicitly claimed, found a solution to the long-disputed dilemma regarding the adaptive character of common law; instead, it is maintained that Rothbard’s system does not convincingly prove how his model would preserve the liberty of producers and consumers of justice while ensuring that the libertarian axiom remains the primary canon of law in the private order. Finally, it is argued that Rothbard’s prima facie case for the superiority of private law does not hold, insofar as his system does not effectively prevent or even reduce the calamities all legal orders are designed to minimize, several of which are considered in detail.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Undefended Popular High Ground On Abortion

Who would seriously claim a 12-week-old fetus is a person?
Who would seriously deny that a 24-week-old fetus is a person?

People say that abortion is divisive, but I don't think they realize just how much consensus there is on the issue in America. That consensus is obscured because the two incumbent parties pander to their hardcore base, but just look at the polling results. People were asked: "Do you think abortion should generally be legal or generally illegal during each of the following stages of pregnancy?" The answers were:

“Legal” “Illegal”
First trimester 66% 29%
Second trimester 25% 68%
Third trimester 10% 84%

The Democrat/LP position (legal in every trimester) has only 10% support, and the Republican position (illegal in every trimester) has only 29% support. If the Libertarian Party advocated legal in the first trimester and illegal in the third, we would be consistent with the views of the remaining 61% of the public. Sample language from the Free Earth Manifesto: "Communities may choose the point, between the first trimester and birth, at which a healthy fetus starts acquiring rights and must if feasible be left unharmed by a termination of pregnancy."

(And no, my position on abortion is not determined by polls. The two extreme positions on when personhood begins -- conception and birth -- are both obviously wrong. The two tenable positions available are viability and neurological development. I used to assert the former, but the technology-driven malleability of that line brought me around to the latter position.)

The abortion issue is a unique opportunity for the LP to position itself as the party of common sense and reasonableness, showing how a sober analysis of individual rights can drive consensus among mainstream Americans. This opportunity is so unique that I'll pay that $200 bounty for a position that ANY of the top five parties (D, R, LP, Green, CP) could take (but hasn't yet) where both 60% of their members and 60% of Americans support it and it is not already staked out by any of the other four parties.

I don't think any other such position exists in American politics. You get my $200 if you can give a counter-example.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Democrats Not Nominating Their Best Demagogue

In May I predicted "Edwards would beat any Republican, Giuliani would beat any other Democrat, and Obama would beat Romney or McCain, who each would beat Hillary." I still think that's right, and I don't quite understand why the Democrats aren't going to nominate the most skilled demagogue in the race. Here's John Edwards flat-out lying through his teeth even as he lectures his competitors about telling "the truth":
The American people deserve to hear the truth. They have heard so much politician double-talk on this issue. That's the reason young people don't believe Social Security is going to be there for them. Why would you possibly trust a bunch of politicians who say the same thing over and over and over? "We're going to grow our way out of this," but nothing changes. Nothing changes. The honest truth is: There are hard choices to make be made here. The choice I would make as president of the United States is on the very issue that you've asked about, which is the cap. And I have to say, I have some difference with my friend, Chris Dodd, who I agree with a lot. But I don't understand why somebody who makes $50 million a year pays Social Security tax on the first $97,000 and somebody -- and not on the rest -- while somebody who makes $85,000 a year pays Social Security tax on every dime of their income.

But of course John Edwards understands why Social Security payroll taxes are capped -- it's because Social Security benefits are capped, so that people in the same age cohort who make similar "contributions" get similar benefits when they retire. He surely cannot claim to be ignorant of the central and fundamental premise of Social Security: that it is social "insurance" financed with premium-like "contributions", and not simply a scheme to soak the rich and the young in order to buy votes from the not-rich and not-young. When a benefit is financed according to ability to pay instead of by some function (however tenuous) of the amount one has contributed, then it loses all pretense of being "insurance", and is exposed as unabashed income redistribution and shameful rent-seeking.

Thus John Edwards is either a lying demagogue, or is too colossally ignorant to be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office. I leave it as an exercise for the reader whether being a wealthy trial lawyer correlates with 1) the ability to manipulate jurors with affectations of ignorance or 2) actual colossal ignorance.

Monday, December 03, 2007

3-D View of Current Solar System

If you can cross your eyes to view a crossed stereo pair in 3-D, then click the solar system image in the sidebar at left and enjoy.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Leaner LPCA 2008 Budget Approved

The Libertarian Party of California Executive committee met Saturday in Burbank. Here's some of what happened. More details for some of these topics are in the detailed draft agenda and financial information distributed before the meeting by our able Secretary and Treasurer, respectively.

Guest Comments. Our trio of guests included Paul Studier, ambassador from the Orange County LP and the webmaster of the increasingly indispensable LibertarianWiki. In the public comments period, Paul reported the happy news that he and Bill Todd have made great progress on a wonderful project idea: a secure database-sharing facility that will allow LPCA candidates and officers to aggregate the voter and member data they have, and to give secure access to the available data that they're authorized to have. Bill Todd is hosting the service, which is being implemented using open-source industry-standard technology (PHP and MySQL). They already have voter registration data for Orange County, as well as information from National about LPUS members in California. They'll presumably soon get the 20Gb of statewide voter registration data that is collected on our behalf as part of our deal with Labels N Lists. They are (wisely) not aspiring to import the data into a unified database, but at some point it would be nice if we could correlate 1) CA voter registration data, 2) LPUS membership data in California, 3) LPCA membership data, and 4) the 6000 email addresses we distribute to via Constant Contact. For the 2008 cycle I'll be generating RegLib contact tables for the signature-in-lieu efforts of our (50 so far) LPCA candidates, although in theory the Studier/Todd system could allow self-service for intrepid candidates willing to follow my instructions for using Open Office Base.

Chair. Kevin Takenaga's report stressed the need for recruiting, and for strengthening county affiliates and the party's connection to elected Libertarians. Despite the optimism in September about potentially closing the physical office and transitioning our processes to a system streamlined enough not to need a full-time salaried staff, the upshot from Saturday's meeting is that our Secretary Beau Cain will be continuing indefinitely to fill that $40K/yr position as he completes our transition to Donor Perfect.

Northern Vice-Chair Rich Newell's meeting included mention of a meeting held with Bob Barr and the EFF's John Gilmore. No update was given on the Candidate Support Committee's contract with WebAxxess to produce web site templates for non-federal LPCA candidates to use.

Southern Vice-Chair Zander Collier reported on his efforts to use Facebook to network with young libertarians.

Secretary. Beau's report (included with almost all the others in the draft agenda linked above) focused on the two recent renewal mailings. 14% of the 1208 members lapsing in 2007 have renewed, and results are just starting to come in from the 1711 recipients who lapsed in 2006. While 14% is better than the 2-3% that former Executive Director Angela Keaton reported in June for renewals targeting people lapsed as far back as 2001, these numbers reveal significant attrition in our membership. Exact numbers have not been provided to ExCom, but the Treasurer estimated we have about 900 dues-paying members, while a printed report on California Freedom expenses listed 700 "paying subscribers" and 338 life members. Beau is about to transition our processing of recurring donations into Donor Perfect, and to integrate our brand-new PayPal account into our web site.

Treasurer Don Cowles discussed the steep learning curve that he and Beau have been climbing since taking over in April. He revealed that an $11K expense for an accountant in the first half of the year had been reduced to under $1300 for the second half, with no more such expenses being anticipated. I asked Don where in the current budget (pp 45-47 of the June minutes) this expense was anticipated (a polite euphemism for "authorized"), and his reply was something vague about inheriting fuzzy budget categories from the previous administration. However, the only place that the $12,300 fits is in the $70,000 line item for "LPC Office", which nobody seemed to notice at the June meeting had doubled from the $35K in the May draft budget (compared to the $48K of 2006 LPC Office actuals spent by the previous administration). Such black holes of expense are why I was only one of three votes against the 2007 budget, which included footnotes like:
Authorization to spend on Membership Recruitment and Campaigns & Elections to be automatically increased by 1/2 of the amount Net Support and Revenue Available For Programs (excluding Member Recruitment) less Convention Program Expense less County Party Distributions exceeds $78,500. Authorization to spend on LPC Office to be automatically increased by 1/4 of the amount Net Support and Revenue Available For Programs (excluding Member Recruitment) less Convention ProgramExpense less County Party Distributions exceeds $78,500.

Don's report mentioned $14K in invoices paid (mostly) to the "Meta Information" vendor apparently for the Elected Officials Conversion project, and seemed to say the expenses were "not anticipated". The 2007 Budget authorized $15K for Campaigns and Elections, but the statement of 2007 actuals counted $29,546 spent so far on that category. I didn't notice this discrepancy until after the meeting, and during the meeting no explanation was offered or asked for. Given our red ink, it's safe to assume without doing the math that the footnote above could not have authorized this 100% overage of almost $15,000.

Campaign Committee Chair Ted Brown reported that he'd recruited about 50 of the expected ~100 candidates for the 2008 cycle. I commended him for transforming the 2006 LPCA candidates' forum into a permanent CALPCandidates forum, so as not to repeat our previous discardings of valuable institutional memory about campaigning. I also asked if he was going to recommend to our candidates the comprehensive 112-page Candidates' Guide produced by Allen Rice and Jim Eyer. He said he hadn't finished reviewing it, but that he was glad it had been announced on the CALPCandidates forum. Ted proposed that we oppose Prop 92 (community college bonds) and Prop 93 (merging and shortening Sacramento's term limits, thus saving 40 incumbents), and each vote was unanimous in agreeing with him. We also approved his recommendation to endorse the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act, an effort to prevent eminent domain abuse.

Membership Committee Chair Bruce Dovner presented a hardcopy report recommending we modify the membership cycle to end on the last day of each month rather than on the last day of the year. Bruce's presentation consumed most of the allocated time before Rich moved to end the annual cycle once per quarter. The motion failed 4-4-4, and then seconds after time expired, Zander offered a motion to accept the once-a-month recommendation. While parliamentarian Mark Johnson was protesting the motion was out of order due to time having expired, Kevin ruled the motion so similar to the defeated one as to be out of order. I challenged Kevin's ruling and only Johnson supported him. Time was extended, and Zander's motion passed on a roll call vote with Johnson and Chuck Moulton voting no, and Barnes and McMahon abstaining.

Executive Session. We then held our first executive session of my term, which I'm not allowed to discuss.

LNC Representatives. The sole remaining Audit Committee member Mark Johnson and current LNC 2nd Alternate Scott Lieberman were nominated to fill the LNC representative vacancy we created last meeting by removing Aaron Starr from that position now that he effectively cannot occupy it by virtue of being LPUS Treasurer (and not being allowed to have two LNC votes). Chuck Moulton, and LNC member by virtue of being LPUS Vice Chair, informed us there were two LNC meetings before the terms of our reps expire at our February convention, including a meeting next week in Charlotte. Chuck pointed out that Scott traveled faithfully to LNC meetings, and when Mark was asked if he would do the same, he said he would. I read an email from Scott that answered concerns about his policy views by pointing out that the LNC is an administrative body. Mark won 8-6. Scott was promoted by acclamation from 2nd Alternate to 1st Alternate. Mark Selzer then nominated himself for 2nd Alternate, and was approved without objection. It's possible that he'll attend the February LNC meeting in Vegas, but he surely won't attend next week's meeting.

Audit Committee. There was at no time any discussion of the Bylaws-mandated audit or the status of the Audit Committee. At this point I have no reason to believe that the Convention delegates in February will be given an audit of our finances. To my 13 earlier questions for the Audit Committee, I would now add:
  • How was it that the $13K invoice to Meta Information was "not anticipated"? (The June minutes mention $4K of expected invoices, so if that referred to Meta Information, then how was the magnitude of the expense not anticipated?)
  • Why was the 2007 budget of $15K for Campaigns and Elections allowed to be exceeded by $14K without any apparent authorization?
  • Why were there $12,300 in accounting fees for 2007? Was this all just to administer our payroll?
  • Was an expectation of these accounting costs part of the reason why the 2007 budget approved in June had increased its LPC Office expense category to $70K from the $35K in the May draft budget? What (else) explains the difference?
Fundraising. Don then lectured ExCom that we need to fundraise our way out of our financial problems. (He said at some point that there had been effectively no renewal mailings since UMP ended 2 or 3 years back, but Kevin corrected him to say we'd done some targeted mailings, such as to inactive counties where the LPCA would not have to split the dues with the county.) Don said that none of five ExCom members had solicited the three donors that they were each assigned to thank and hit up for an increased pledge. (I had been assigned 3 $10/mo donors in my area.) He said that one of the five members had even replied to his give-or-get request by saying "we should shut everything down and then he'll open his wallet". I asked who that member was, and he said it was me. I replied flatly that "that is not accurate", and said I'd publish the emails revealing what I told him. They are appended below.

Chuck asked how many unique Coffee Club members we have -- those who give $42/mo, a price analogous to a daily cup of coffee --, and the answer was 15. Don himself donates 5 "cups", totaling $2520/yr. I know Don also donated almost all of the roughly $4000 (if I recall correctly) that the independent Candidate Support Committee was last reported to have in the bank. This level of giving is admirable, but I'd rather have our treasurer focus on anticipating unanticipated five-figure invoices, and avoiding five-figure accounting invoices for administering our $70K/yr office budget, and finding ways to tighten that budget.

Central Committee Elections. ExCom discussed the question of whether to instruct the Secretary of State to hold county central committee elections for the LPCA. Ted Brown said that when we got ballot access back in 1980, the state legislature refused to enact rules allowing NOTA on the ballot (as our bylaws require), and so we chose to be governed by the Peace & Freedom section of the elections code. Some California libertarians even more contrarian than I -- like Allen Rice and Gail Lightfoot -- claim that the ExCom decision in 2006 not to hold such elections (for the first time) was a nefarious plot to suppress dissent from those few people who would rather gather the requisite 20 signatures than pay the $25 annual LPCA dues. I suspect the decision was motivated by roughly equal parts of desire to
  • minimize how much we let the state's force-initiating machinery interfere with our private right of association;
  • close the door on a way to withhold party dues as some kind of protest; and
  • try to redirect members' ballot-access efforts toward actually running for office.
I think the third concern is canceled out by the idea that membership is more valuable if you make yourself work for it. I share the second concern only to the extent that elected CentCom members are free-riding on the otherwise-mandatory dues of regular members, and that there is no obvious answer for how the party finances its core operations if everyone were to avoid dues this way. The first concern is my primary one, since (as I've noted) there are parts of the P&F election code that really stink, and so we shouldn't associate ourselves any more closely with them than is strictly necessary for getting and using ballot access.

Bruce Dovner said that he had a history of filing for an automatic CentCom seat out of concern for the apparent takeover opportunity presented by the P&F rules. Mark Selzer said it was nice practice for members to go through the signature-gathering process, see their name on the ballot, and get a certificate of election. I pointed out that one's name only gets on the ballot if more people run than the 7 to 15 spots available in a typical county. Ultimately, arguments like the above seem to have won the day, and my notes say only Chuck Moulton voted against asking the Secretary of State not to hold the elections.

2008 Budget. Don repeated that his and Kevin's priorities for the 2008 budget are
  • core membership operations;
  • the California Freedom monthly newsletter;
  • the Libertarian Perspective weekly op-ed release;
  • the annual convention.
Don noted that this budget zeros out costly projects like Operation Breakthrough and Elected Official Conversion, and contains no ~$20K vague categories of expenses. That meant that my only remaining questions were about the $38K in staff salary and the $9K of Outside Services to pay for the layout of California Freedom. Beau had told us in September that he didn't anticipate wanting or needing to work full-time in the office, but Kevin's report in the morning suggested that this thinking had changed. I asked Beau to clarify whether he planned to continue managing the office through the duration of the 2008 budget, because I wasn't willing to commit to that kind of spending unless I knew we were going to get somebody who worked as Beau has been working. Beau answered in the affirmative, and added that he was going to fundraise too. That's icing on the cake to my mind, because I consider his already-achieved cost savings to be equivalent to fund-raising. (It's actually better, because cutting costs saves after-tax dollars, whereas a donor in my tax bracket would have to earn an extra $200 to finance $100 in marginal donations to the Party.)

I then noted that the projected $9000 in layout services for California Freedom seemed extravagant given our financial situation. I proposed that a less gold-plated layout for CF could save us $5000 in those services, and moved to reduce the CF outside services budget by that much. Chuck asked if I was volunteering to do the CF layout, and I replied that while I was not volunteering to reproduce the gold-plated layout work that I was proposing to economize on, I'd be willing to work for free on a simpler layout. Johnson moved to amend my motion to note that I was volunteering to work on layout, and both the amendment and the motion passed without objection. This change very nearly eliminated the projected $5600 2008 deficit. Chuck graciously noted that in-kind contributions and cost-cutting were equivalent to fund-raising, and commended me for so generously "donating" to the Party. I joked in response that he should wait to see my layouts before putting a price tag on my contribution.

With these two compensation cost centers addressed to my satisfaction, I was able to vote with the rest of the committee to approve the amended 2008 budget, with no objections. In the ensuing discussion of other California Freedom costs, Matt Barnes moved to stop sending paper copies of CF to our 338 Life Members. After wide criticism and clarification of the expectations of the Life Members in the room, Barnes withdrew his motion. Mark Selzer had spoken eloquently about how Life Members are often donors and should not be antagonized, while Beau said that there is a distinction between those who've never contributed again and those who have. Before Barnes withdrew his motion, I was going to try to point out its unfairness with an amendment giving an optional refund to Life Members who want to cancel, after deducting the costs of a regular full membership for the term so far of the life membership.

Ron Paul. Mark Selzer raised an inquiry from the absent Lawrence Samuels about whether ExCom thinks Bylaw 9.2 prevents anyone in the LPCA other than the five officers from supporting someone like Ron Paul who could still turn out to be the LP nominee. I had just offered a motion expressing the sense of the body to this effect when time expired before anyone could second the motion. The meeting ended 20 minutes ahead of schedule, with the entire amended agenda having been covered.



[Excerpts from emails I sent to Treasurer Don Cowles on Friday, the day before he claimed I said "we should shut everything down and then he'll open his wallet"]

Your attachment (stating I've donated $0 this year) is not accurate. I've given $400 to the LPCA and its causes this year, and $4700 over the last four years. I campaigned for ExCom on the clear position that the LPCA's operating expenses should be brought in line with its dues income. I said that I would continue to donate to LPCA projects I supported, but that I would not be fundraising to support our recent expense structure. [...]

If many LPCA members find $50K/yr value in having a physical office and a salaried staff, let's set up dedicated pledging mechanisms for them, and/or redivide the dues+newsletter fees to reflect the component of that $50K/yr that isn't strictly needed to run our core membership processes. And if all of that $50K/yr is needed to run our core membership processes, then somebody needs to explain how that could possibly be the case. All other state LPs presumably run their processes on a lot less money, and I'm sure that at least one of them has a model that could (with perhaps some volunteer labor) scale to our size. [...]

As a minority of perhaps just one on ExCom, I of course cannot demand that any or all of my recommendations be followed. I'm just giving honest feedback, and letting you know what it will take to win votes and funding effort from me. If this administration wants to follow a different approach than what I recommend, it has every right to do so. Just please don't portray me as shirking a duty that I explicitly declined to sign up for and that assumes a funding model that I've consistently argued against. [...]

My ExCom campaign spam to all the convention delegates (which I ironically paid $200 to the convention committee for the privilege of sending) said somewhat tongue-in-cheek that I'm "willing to finance important LPCA projects" but that I "won't raise funds from anyone but himself". In my associated blog posting LPCA Strategy & Tactics that answer my questionnaire for party office candidates, I clarified:

What should be the fundraising expectations for LPCA officers?
We shouldn't need to be to be doing heavy generic LPCA fundraising if we have the right dues model and engage in projects that are either self-financing (from incremental project-specific fundraising) or are cheap (e.g. due to use of information technology). Aside from money for specific projects, we should more often being asking our members for their time (e.g. in outreach efforts) than their money.
Thus I have no problem with fundraising for worthy projects. My objection is to fundraising for operational expenses I consider extravagant [...]

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Institutional Foundations of Total Planetary Wealth

Ronald Bailey reported in Reason a couple months back on an important 2005 study by the World Bank: Where Is The Wealth Of Nations?: Measuring Capital for the 21st Century. The study aspires to be nothing less than a "millennium capital assessment" -- a "comprehensive snapshot of wealth for 120 countries at the turn of the millennium", giving "monetary estimates of the range of assets—produced, natural and intangible—upon which development depends". The study echoes the idea of Hernando De Soto's Mystery of Capital, that the wealth of a nation derives largely from culturally-dependent institutions for protecting property rights. The lesson is an ambivalent one, since while it confirms the prescription that we libertarians offer, it suggests that following the prescription is harder than it might look. The study concludes that on Earth at the turn of the millennium, "natural capital accounts for 5 percent of total wealth, produced capital for 18 percent, and intangible capital 77 percent." (I'll overlook the egregious mis-use of the word 'capital' instead of 'land' to describe natural resources.)

Any libertarian concerned with the institutional design of government will want to dig into the details of the what the study says are the institutions in which that 77 percent of planetary wealth is bound up. For that, we have to follow this reference, from which I'll just give the relevant excerpt as I haven't yet digested it:



We construct measures of six dimensions of governance:
  1. Voice and Accountability – measuring political, civil and human rights
  2. Political Instability and Violence – measuring the likelihood of violent threats to, or changes in, government, including terrorism
  3. Government Effectiveness – measuring the competence of the bureaucracy and the quality of public service delivery
  4. Regulatory Burden – measuring the incidence of market-unfriendly policies
  5. Rule of Law – measuring the quality of contract enforcement, the police, and the courts, as well as the likelihood of crime and violence
  6. Control of Corruption – measuring the exercise of public power for private gain, including both petty and grand corruption and state capture
[...]

We construct six aggregate governance indicators, motivated by a broad definition of governance as the traditions and institutions by which authority in a country is exercised. This includes (1) the process by which governments are selected, monitored and replaced, (2) the capacity of the government to effectively formulate and implement sound policies, and (3) the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions that govern economic and social interactions among them. This classification of indicators into clusters corresponding to this definition of governance is not intended to be definitive. Rather, it simply reflects our views of what constitutes a consistent and useful organization of the data that is concordant with prevailing notions of governance.

The first two governance clusters are intended to capture the first part of our definition of governance: the process by which those in authority are selected and replaced. We refer to the first of these as “Voice and Accountability”, and include in it a number of indicators measuring various aspects of the political process, civil liberties and political rights. These indicators measure the extent to which citizens of a country are able to participate in the selection of governments. We also include in this category indicators measuring the independence of the media, which serves an important role in holding monitoring those in authority and holding them accountable for their actions.

The second governance cluster is labeled “Political Stability and Absence of Violence”. In this index we combine several indicators which measure perceptions of the likelihood that the government in power will be destabilized or overthrown by possibly unconstitutional and/or violent means, including domestic violence and terrorism. This index captures the idea that the quality of governance in a country is compromised by the likelihood of wrenching changes in government, which not only has a direct effect on the continuity of policies, but also at a deeper level undermines the ability of all citizens to peacefully select and replace those in power.

The next two clusters summarize various indicators of the ability of the government to formulate and implement sound policies. In “Government Effectiveness” we combine responses on the quality of public service provision, the quality of the bureaucracy, the competence of civil servants, the independence of the civil service from political pressures, and the credibility of the government’s commitment to policies. The main focus of this index is on “inputs” required for the government to be able to produce and implement good policies and deliver public goods.

The second cluster, which we refer to as “Regulatory Quality”, is more focused on the policies themselves. It includes measures of the incidence of market-unfriendly policies such as price controls or inadequate bank supervision, as well as perceptions of the burdens imposed by excessive regulation in areas such as foreign trade and business development.

The last two clusters summarize in broad terms the respect of citizens and the state for the institutions which govern their interactions. In “Rule of Law” we include several indicators which measure the extent to which agents have confidence in and abide by the rules of society. These include perceptions of the incidence of crime, the effectiveness and predictability of the judiciary, and the enforceability of contracts. Together, these indicators measure the success of a society in developing an environment in which fair and predictable rules form the basis for economic and social interactions, and importantly, the extent to which property rights are protected.

The final cluster, which we refer to as Control of Corruption, measures perceptions of corruption, conventionally defined as the exercise of public power for private gain. Despite this straightforward focus, the particular aspect of corruption measured by the various sources differs somewhat, ranging from the frequency of “additional payments to get things done,” to the effects of corruption on the business environment, to measuring “grand corruption” in the political arena or in the tendency of elite forms to engage in “state capture”. The presence of corruption is often a manifestation of a lack of respect of both the corrupter (typically a private citizen or firm) and the corrupted (typically a public official or politician) for the rules which govern their interactions, and hence represents a failure of governance according to our definition.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Suspicious of the California Elections Code

One of the questions we will consider at tomorrow's LPCA Executive Committee meeting in Burbank is whether to authorize California to hold County Central Committee elections for the Libertarian Party. Since every dues-paying Pledge-taking member already counts as a CentCom member, there is not a lot at stake here. I wrote to the rest of ExCom tonight:

1) How does the certification/pledge requirement get enforced on elected central committee members? How does the state decide how many electable spots are available in each district?

2) What motive might one have for seeking election to a county central committee? It appears to be primarily a way to avoid paying dues.

3) The Bylaws talk about election to the "state central committee" via "Libertarian voters in a primary election pursuant to the relevant parts of the election code", but the election code talks only about "county central committees". Why doesn't this mismatch mean simply that there is currently no extant referent for "the relevant parts of the election code"?

4) Do all of the Peace & Freedom election code provisions apply to us? Sections 7800 and 7802 sound like a recipe for a takeover attempt:
7800.  At the convention meeting of the state central committee, the
state central committee shall consist initially of only those
members of central committees elected at the most recent direct
primary election.
7802.  At its convention and subsequent meetings the state central
committee, in its sole discretion, may appoint any additional members
to the state central committee as it may desire.
5) Does our decision affect whether or not 7805 applies to the LPCA? I don't want it to apply.
7805.  This committee may remove any elected or appointed member
who, during the term of membership, affiliates with or registers as a
member of another political party, publicly advocates that the
voters should not vote for the nominee of the party for any office,
publicly gives support to or avows a preference for a candidate of
another party or candidate who is opposed to a candidate nominated by
this party, or has violated the bylaws or constitution of the state
central committee.
I don't agree that the Bylaws mandate County Central Committee elections, even if the ambiguity in (3) above were resolved. Since the Bylaws reference the election code, and the election code says the elections are optional, then the Bylaws references to elected county central committee members could easily have been intended to cover the contingency of the elections having been held, rather than assuming that the elections must be held.

I don't like the idea of the LPCA voluntarily choosing to further entangle our private associations with the state election code -- especially a code written for another party, and with such suspicious provisions. I didn't even mention these other provisions of the P&F election code that I found:
7803.  The state central committee may require a balance of elected
and appointed members so that 50 percent of the state central
committee members from each county are women and 50 percent are men.

7851. A county central committee may require a balance of elected
and appointed committee members to create a total membership division
of 50 percent women and 50 percent men.

There might be more garbage like this, as I haven't read the whole thing. I think we should distance ourselves from it as much as possible, rather than ask that it apply to us (or ask that it apply to us more thoroughly). Unless somebody can answer these questions, I plan to vote against allowing central committee elections.

2007-12-01 Update: The answer to question 1B above is: at least 5, and typically 7 to 15, according to the formula in section 7752.

Note also section 7755, which says that any candidate nominated for partisan office is automatically elected as an additional member of the central committee. Given how few elected CentCom members we have combined with rule 7800 above, this suggests that the latest set of candidates for partisan office could try to hijack the LPCA at any convention.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Kill Bob The Builder

Nobody in our house has watched "TV" -- i.e. televised programming straight from the tuner in real time -- since we got our first TiVo in early 2000. (The living room TiVo effectively killed the TV that we used to occasionally watch in the bedroom.) However, our kids watch their fair share of "shows" -- digital recordings of broadcast programming, or (since we switched to Media Center in 2004) Internet video downloads. Even now that we have a house with a couple of sound-isolatable non-bedroom TV rooms, we tend not to have the kids watch shows in a room with no parent. That makes it critical to get the kids to like shows that the parents can tolerate. Here's what I've learned in the six years since we lost our absolute control of what our big screen shows us.

1) Kids love animation. I don't know why. Our kids will watch effectively any kind of animation, no matter how bad. (I'm talking even 1960's vintage Iron Man and Fantastic Four cartoons -- ugh.) Whenever I think that the advice described in this posting has given our girls good taste in shows, some piece of animated garbage will inadvertently catch their eye and prove me wrong. And it's not just that they learned to association animation with kid-targeting. Their earliest exposure to animation was largely The Simpsons and Futurama, which I won't discuss further here because 1) they're not kids' shows and 2) I don't want Social Services to know how much role Matt Groening has played in raising our kids.

2) Justice League. As a kid I was a Marvel Comics snob, with utter disdain for the D.C. universe. My first glance at the ridiculous body shapes in the Justice League cartoon made me think this would be as bad as the Super Friends of my childhood, but within minutes I knew I was wrong. The 2001-2006 Justice League animated series was simply one of the best serials I've ever seen, period. I've now downloaded about half of the episodes from Gnutella networks, and selection effects cannot discount the fact that only a handful of the episodes weren't excellent. I gave copies last year to a buddy of mine for his boys, and many months later he called me immediately when he'd finally watched an episode. He was floored by how good it was. (Granted, he'd watched the best story of the whole series, the two-part "A Better World", but it's still fairly representative, and in fact began the best story arc of the whole series. In that arc, as is true for the entire heroic genre, moral ambiguity is the key to being serious drama.) The Marvel franchises have made far better feature films than the D.C. franchises have, but the JL animated series is the gold standard for bringing superheroes onto the screen. (Caveat: I haven't yet watched Heroes, in part because I can't watch it with the kids.) (Caveat 2: the Silver Surfer animated series somehow got 12 episodes on the air despite blatantly not trying to appeal to kids at all, and is an exception to the dismal Marvel animated efforts. The other notable exceptions have been the two recent Ultimate Avengers DVD movies, but they aren't quite kid-friendly.)

3) Powerpuff Girls & The Tick. These two animated series are incredibly intelligent and incredibly funny. It's amazing how Zoe will continually pause animated and live-action dramas (as well as live-action comedies) to demand explanations about plot, but she almost never did so for these two comedic series. That tells you just how subtly the adult-targeted humor is woven into the dialog. (As good as the animated Tick was, the 8-episode live-action Tick series was even better. I've never seen any sitcom paint characters so well right from the pilot, with the only exception being The Office.) SpongeBob Square Pants deserves honorable mention here, but we never watched enough to know how consistently good it is. Rollie Pollie Ollie is definitely tolerable too, but doesn't try as hard to make adults laugh.

4) Tom and Jerry & The Pink Panther. Dialog is very distracting. If you need to pacify kids in the same room as you, put on some vintage Tom and Jerry or Pink Panther. The musical scores are quite good, and the shows are easy to ignore while still classically entertaining if you care to watch.

5) Veto Dora, Diego, and Bob. Dora The Explorer got through my filter because I was a sucker for how it taught a little bit of Spanish. The kids got hooked on Dora (which escalated to include Go, Diego, Go), and so I had to endure Dora's repetitive inanity for countless cumulative hours. By the time I had the idea of having them watch the all-Spanish version of Dora, they were old enough to object and demand English. Bob the Builder got through my filter because I was a sucker for its claymation and its theme song. But Bob simply sucks. He doesn't even fit inside the cabs of the vehicles, and has to dangerously hang onto the door! I would love to see Bob and his politically-correct gang sectioned with a pizza-cutting wheel.

6) "Holtzes Don't Watch Commercials". To try to inoculate them against future TV experiences outside our exclusively DVR household, I trained Zoe to exclaim "Holtzes don't watch commercials" (really) and demand they be skipped. The first button she learned on the remote was the commercial-skip button. Shannon was following in Zoe's footsteps up until about two months ago. All of a sudden, Shannon (4) started demanding to watch the "Barbie" commercials, and soon all the toy commercials. This is not good. She also keeps hoping Christmas is tomorrow, and at the toy store explains that we need at least one of any toy we don't have. This is not good.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

My Political Spending History

Saturday's ExCom meeting of the financially troubled LPCA is sure to bring renewed pressure on ExCom members and deep-pocket prospective donors, of which I am both. I note again that I'm the one candidate for LPCA internal office who campaigned on a theme of matching our finance structure to our cost structure (like real enterprises do):

We shouldn't need to be to be doing heavy generic LPCA fundraising if we have the right dues model and engage in projects that are either self-financing (from incremental project-specific fundraising) or are cheap (e.g. due to use of information technology). Aside from money for specific projects, we should more often being asking our members for their time (e.g. in outreach efforts) than their money.

For reference purposes, here is my non-LPCA-related political spending history:
  • 1980? - I may have sent like $20-$50 to Reagan, but I'm not sure.
  • 1995 Oct 12 - When Arlan Specter was the lone socially-tolerant candidate for the GOP nomination, I donated $250 to him.
  • 1999 Oct - I sent Gov. Jesse Ventura $50 when he told Playboy "Organized religion is a sham and a crutch for weak-minded people who need strength in numbers."
  • 2000 - I paid $1000 for a life LP membership in 2000 or 2001.
  • 2000 Nov - I donated $250 to Tom Campbell's Senate race.
  • 2001 Aug - I paid $175 for a voter guide statement in my race for San Carlos School Board.
  • 2002 - I'm pretty sure I donated a couple hundred bucks to Rep. Ron Paul, but haven't dug up the records to confirm it.
  • 2004 - I gave $500 to liberal Republican Steve Poizner's campaign for CA Assembly.
  • 2004 June - I gave $500 to Michael Badnarik's presidential campaign.
  • 2004 Oct - FEC records say I donated $1000 to the LPUS.
  • 2005 Nov - I donated $500 to Michael Badnarik's congressional campaign.
  • 2006 Jan - I donated $750 to the LPUS to help finance that lame Penn Jillette LP-promoting video clip eventually shown at the Portland convention.
  • 2006 Jun - FEC records say I donated $399 to the LPUS.
And here is my LPCA-related political spending history:
  • 2004 - I spent $629 in filing fees so that Libertarians in CA-14 would have a candidate for Congress (me).
  • 2004 Nov - I donated $800 to finance sending the LPSM election newsletter to all reglibs in the county.
  • 2005 Jun - I donated $300 to Richard Rider's campaign for mayor of San Diego.
  • 2005 Nov - I donated $936 to finance sending the LPSM election newsletter to all reglibs in the county.
  • 2006 Mar - I spent $1000 in filing fees so that Libertarians in CA-14 would have a candidate for Congress (me).
  • 2006 Mar - At the 2005 LPCA convention, Allen Rice ended a bitter fight over "floor fees" by donating $195 to cover unpaid fees. I paid him the $195 when he later complained about the controversy.
  • 2006 May - I donated $500 to Bob Weber's write-in primary campaign, in an LPCA effort to create a test case by which to challenge an election law and make it easier to get Libertarians into general elections.
  • 2007 Apr - I donated $200 to the LPCA convention for permission to email all the delegates regarding my race for ExCom.
  • 2007 Sep - I donated $200 to the LPCA pursuant to the 2006 Operation Breakthrough.
Thus, not counting a couple grand in travel-related expenses, I've given over $4700 to LPCA-related causes over the last four years, and a total of over $7000 to Libertarian causes since becoming an LP activist in 1999. In addition, I tried to give away $4000 in an LP-related essay contest but got no takers, and tried to give away $1000/yr in bounties for LPCA activism but got effectively no response. (I won't count the various times I've issued challenges that if met would require me to donate to the LP, since in most cases the challenges are designed to prove that the challengee is not serious about the challenged position.) I remain open to helping finance projects I believe are worthy, but I'm not going to be an enabler of the LPCA's broken financial model by handing over (or raising) cash to finance basic party operations -- like our anti-war-obsessed anti-reformist newsletter. Besides, I'm sure the new editorial slant of California Freedom has unleashed a flood of donations that were being withheld back when CF didn't take sides on the major internal LP schisms...