Not Neutrality, Part 3

Last week’s article on Net Neutrality focused primarily on what not to do. Net Neutrality shares an ideological pedigree with every other government backed “solution” intended to solve the problem fostered by government itself. The solution to the (mostly) unfounded fears of Net Neutrality advocates is more competition, not more government one-size-fits-all programs. The only way to get more competition is to reign in government’s ability to restrict it.

The overriding problem is structural. The world we live in is the result of decades of misguided policies and government induced market distortions. Like some perverse game of pick up sticks, this state backed structure retains its form no matter how many pieces are removed, impervious to all “reform.” The state has wrought a Gordian knot so intractable the only solution is to cut it.

At the ground floor of this structure are local municipalities that grant utility providers exclusive monopoly privileges in exchange for the fig leaf of “oversight”. If an outside Internet Service Provider (ISP) wishes to enter that market they have no choice but to negotiate either with the municipality itself or its pet public utility for access to “public” infrastructure such as utility poles or underground conduit. The fees charged for such access can double the cost of the entire project, turning an economically viable endeavor into one that is hopelessly unprofitable and results in the ISP throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away. This encourages either no service or monopoly service. Just as a sperm cell induces a protective response in the egg it fertilizes, so too does the first ISP in a region use the powers of its municipal host to keep out all would be competitors. For example, they may negotiate a contract that requires the municipality or public utility charge any future competitors much higher rates for access or a guarantee of exclusive access, thus effectively securing their monopoly position. In at least 20 states so far some ISPs have pushed for legislation that blocks municipalities from competing as ISPs themselves. Such legislation is typically cloaked in the rhetoric of “saving jobs” to pass the sniff test of public opinion. Not that “municipalizing” an industry is ever a good idea, but to the extent that it is possible for this to occur without the use of any taxes, subsidies or eminent domain, there is theoretically no ethical issue with such competition. Although I would seriously question whether such tax-free competition is possible, the easiest way to test that is to remove the power of taxation and eminent domain, not create a rat’s nest of exceptions and restrictions.

To ultimately solve these issues we need fewer, not more laws. We need fewer grants of monopoly privilege for both private and “public” interests. Municipalities should have no rights to grant charters or licenses to any business. This removes the whole notion of “public” utilities. With that antiquated framework swept away, we would witness competition between electric, gas, water, sewage, phone, and Internet providers solve an array of problems that are intractable under the current “public” system. For example, restrictions in Georgia on the generation of solar power, water rationing during drought, and poor and expensive phone service, are all easily solved in a competitive environment. For Internet access one solution could be totally free access but the consumer pays the content provider directly. Or a consumer pays their ISP but there exists an explicit contract where the ISP guarantees maximum speed to all content. Or a million other approaches that neither you nor I can predict. We must dispense with the “should” attitude of “it should work this way or that way.” “Should” implies the necessity of an enforcer to make that “should” a reality. “Could” is more appropriate. It acknowledges the uncertainty of anyone being prescient enough to know what is best. To paraphrase Yoda, “No should! Could or could not, there is no should.”

Competition permits the creative power of millions to come to bear on solving problems. They pursue it in hopes of “winning” the best-solution-lottery that will yield happy paying customers. Municipal monopolies maintain a legacy status quo system by restricting all allowed approaches to just one. If one is knowingly ingesting poison the solution is to not also simultaneously ingest an antidote; the solution is to stop ingesting the poison.

November 24 / 2014

Not Neutrality, Part 2

The moniker “net neutrality” is perhaps one of the most masterful strokes of political propaganda, right up there with “ethnic cleansing” and “quantitative easing” when measured for overall obfuscation. When asked their opinion, many are hesitant to take a stand, as they retreat behind a wall of an honest lack of knowledge on the subject. For the most part this is due to a perceived requirement that one must possess a deep technical understanding of how the internet works in order to have an informed opinion. Unfortunately this plays right into the hands of its proponents; “it’s complicated, trust us, we know what is best”. In fact this complexity tactic comes directly from the pundit’s playbook; witness the recent condescending Jonathan Gruber revelations (“Lack of transparency is a huge political advantage.”) In fact, the essence of net neutrality is not at all complicated; it is just good ol’ fashioned crony capitalism in 21st century garb.

Putatively complicated subjects are often best understood through metaphor. In this case we cast the large content carriers (Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google) as manufacturers. The manufacturers need to ship their product to distributors. The ISP’s (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon) are the shipping carriers. Currently it is entirely uncontroversial that shipping carriers charge more to ship large things quickly than they do to ship small things slowly. So if we rename “net neutrality” as “shipping neutrality” things come into focus. Under “shipping neutrality” the large manufacturers want the government to force the shipping carriers to charge everyone the exact same amount regardless of size, weight, or speed. In fact, they want the shippers to ship everything at “next day air” speeds but charge first class letter rates. Net neutrality is nothing more than two parties disagreeing over pricing for a service. The cronyism comes in to play when one side demands the government take their side and implement a price ceiling. Of course such naked rent seeking would never fly politically, so it is camouflaged under the guise of protecting freedom, equality and baby kittens. Who could be against baby kittens?

But, as with all types of economic protectionism (tariffs, subsidies and other price controls) it is the consumer that is ultimately harmed. To discern this harm we must extend the metaphor a bit further. If the shipping carriers could not recoup their costs from the shipper then they would have no choice but to collect it from the recipient (postage due surcharge). Nothing is free and someone must pay.

We should be striving to make the internet more, not less, like a package shipping network. For example, if our neighbor receives a large delivery and we receive a small one, we do not subsidize his shipment through a “monthly shipment access fee”. If we receive no shipments in a particular month, we pay nothing. With free competition we would likely see a similar situation with internet access develop: no monthly charges, pay for only the amount and speed you demand as you actually consume it.

Today with internet access we pay the same amount month after month regardless of the extent to which we utilize that service. Although some may pay a bit more for faster service, the fact remains that light users subsidize heavy users. Under net neutrality this subsidization ‘inequality’ would only become more extreme. Heavy Netflix users will cause ISP’s to increase access rates for all consumers because they are legally prohibited from collecting anything extra from Netflix or basing consumer’s charges on their usage patterns; all in the name of ‘fairness’ of course. Would it not be a better outcome if through competition ISP’s charged Netflix more to ensure priority for their content and Netflix in turned passed that cost onto their customers alone? Internet access for everyone else would get cheaper and faster as ISP’s plow that ‘Netflix’ profit into bigger and faster pipes.

An even worse outcome of net neutrality would be if ISP’s were prohibited from raising anyone’s rates. This would result in a fixed price but ever slowing speeds as the network became more congested. At which point the voters would cry out “to do something” and we would then see a new “internet delivery tax” collected by the government and doled out to ISP’s that promised to wag their tails and do their master’s bidding (such as identifying all users on their network, tracking “suspicious” behavior and shutting down websites deemed by the government to be “politically incorrect”.)

So net neutrality supporters, be careful what you wish for, you just might get the world Edward Snowden feared.

November 17 / 2014

“Muh Ebola outbreak!”

When those who steadfastly believe in the ideal of a free society (i.e. no state) try to convince their brainwashed brethren to imagine a world free of institutionalized violence they are invariably assailed not with counter-arguments but rather with emotionalism or questions. “But without the state, how would X be accomplished?” This typical smug response betrays the interlocutor’s belief in the false choice promoted by the state, namely, that without the state it is not possible to accomplish X, Y, or Z. But a question is not an argument. A question proves nothing other than the questioner’s inability to understand the argument. A lack of understanding does not invalidate an argument any more than understanding it proves its validity. There is no more telling example of this truth than the obvious invalidity of the rejoinder “but who will pick the cotton?” from those that opposed the end of slavery. Apropos the similarity between statism and slavery: this method of argumentation, assaulting your opponent with questions believed to have no answer, is the most common tact against those proposing the end of statism. Without the state: who will build the roads? Who will teach the children? Who will stop the criminals? Who will stop the Ebola outbreaks?

It is this last point that I’d like to address since (a) the first three are absurdly easy to refute and (b) even some libertarians have a hard time answering this one. Let me begin by stating the guiding principle behind any of these thought experiments: if apparently the only way to accomplish something is by initiating violence against a fellow human being then you’re either not very imaginative or it is something that truly should not be done. Incentives and persuasion always trump coercion and violence. So, without further ado, how does one stop the spread of highly infectious diseases in a free society? To find the answer we need look no further than what the state does, albeit rather poorly, today. The answer lies within the principal of private property and the absolute control and discretion of private property owners over the use of their property. The state takes on the presumptive role of being the property owner of all within its borders. Under this presumption of ownership it then exercises its putative rights as property owner, namely control of ingress and egress and movement in that property. The irony of such state control is that the state actually has an incentive to do a poor job when it comes to control of infectious disease. Why is that? Because crises are the perennial excuse for expansion of state power, power that when the crises is over, is never relinquished. That is not to say those in power deliberately try to make it worse, but merely that failure of the state in its stated goals always results in the people rewarding it with more, not less, power.

Within a free society that had full private property rights the property owner (hospital) carries liability insurance and that insurance requires it do everything in its power to not release infected people. If an infected person wanted to leave anyway, they could, but only to the extent surrounding property owners permitted it. In other words, they wouldn’t get very far owing to highly secure fences and private roads. A private road owner would have a mutual contract with the hospital (for their own insurance reasons) to not permit sick individuals to leave without a clean bill of health. Because the state shields hospitals from this type of liability and the state owns all the roads and the state itself has no liability many people like this fall through the cracks today. In a private system there are many more people involved (insurance, hospital, road company, surrounding property owners) and this ensures a more granular level of control that minimizes “crack fall through”.

What we have today is a total structural problem in how society is organized. This is why there is no simple “what liberty says we should do” answer when we consider how we should handle quarantines within the current system. It is insufficient to say “we must respect the right of the individual who is infected” while ignoring the systemic problem of monopolistic state ownership that both crowds out competitors that would do a better job and that eliminates liability for its own mistakes.

November 11 / 2014

Halloween Economics

Every Halloween children engage in the single largest simultaneous generation of mutual profit and yet not a single dollar changes hands. As the lights go out on the front porches the opening trade bell chimes for the time honored post-Trick-or-Treat ritual known as “the trade”. Twizzlers, Snickers, M&M’s, lollipops all change hands multiple times. The absolute quantity of candy changing hands is static, only ownership changes. Yet when all trades are complete everyone is happier than when they started out. How then can this apparent zero-sum game produce a positive output not just for some participants, but for all participants? The answer is quite simple: all value is subjective.

The Halloween candy market mirrors the real world in microcosmic fashion. Each participant starts out with a random distribution of candy; some may have more and some less, but all have something. In the same way each of us is born into this world with differing abilities that carry with them advantages and disadvantages (i.e. some are born into candy rich or candy poor neighborhoods to extend the metaphor). This process may be “unfair” but all have something to offer each other. But, what all have in equal proportion is the human propensity for general dissatisfaction with whatever they do have and therefore each has a desire to improve his or her condition. So, people have X but they want Y, and in order to achieve Y they will use X to get as much of Y as they can. Of course trade is usually never that simple. Sometimes to get X you must trade Y for T and T for R and R for U and then U for X. But the point is that with each completed trade both participants have a profit; that is, both place a higher value on the item(s) obtained post-trade then the items they had pre-trade. Profit is merely our subjective assessment of having gained an increase in satisfaction when we consider our post and pre-trade mindsets. Were there not an anticipated increase in satisfaction then naturally we would not have engaged in such a trade. Of course it is not impossible to deliberately trade away something we hold in high esteem for something we hold in much lower esteem, but it would be foolish. But do not misinterpret that as meaning that a “sacrifice” is foolish. In fact if done willingly it is not possible to “sacrifice” something. The one “sacrificing” does receive something of greater value in the exchange; the satisfaction of benefitting the one for whom they willingly “sacrifice”.

Because all value is subjective it makes it difficult (if not impossible) for a third party to judge the outcome of a trade. To use the candy example, if a parent who detests Tootsie Rolls witnesses their child trade away all of their Hershey Kisses for Tootsie Rolls, then that parent will indignantly conclude their child has been “ripped off” and may attempt to intervene. But since their child loves Tootsie Rolls and the other kid loves Hershey Kisses then both kids are now much happier because of their swap. Both children have profited from the trade but the parent believes one child has gained and the other has lost. This demonstrates the utter futility of believe a third party can “regulate” economic trade by substituting their own subjective opinion for the equally subjective opinion of the market participants. For example, imagine what would happen if a parent decreed a minimum wage of sorts. House rules say jawbreakers must trade for at least two Hershey Kisses. But, jawbreakers are so universally disliked that the market rate is actually 10 jawbreakers for one Hershey’s kiss. What do you imagine would happen to the kids with lots of jawbreakers? That’s right, no one would trade with them because no one would be willing to meet the decreed price minimum. This market intervention and subsequent distortion causes decreased profit not only for the kids with jawbreakers but for all other participants that now are barred from trading with them. Intervention robs all of the maximum satisfaction that could have been achieved.

Fortunately the state has yet to get involved in exerting control over this chaotic and unregulated candy free market. Each Halloween we are witness to the simple beauty of the natural equilibrium of increasing satisfaction achieved by those able to freely engage in uncoerced and unregulated trade.

November 03 / 2014
Author Greg Morin
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The Silent Majority

If one is a believer in the democracy and voting, then this demands at a minimum a respect for the concept of a quorum, that is, a minimum level of participation of those members (citizens) eligible to vote. Although the US constitution does not provide any specific requirements for a quorum with regards to voting by citizens, it does provide some insight into the minds of the founding fathers with respect to the importance of voter participation. Specifically, the 12th Amendment states that a quorum of at least two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives should be present if they are called upon to decide a presidential election (when the electoral college produces a tie). Given that voter turnout has never exceeded 67% in a presidential election it could be argued that none of our elected representatives are “legitimate”. Voter turnout in presidential election years hovers around 60% and 40% in off years. Therefore, 40-60% of the population found all options so distasteful they chose to abstain from casting a ballot. In other words, at last at the national or state level, no elected official has ever received majority support of those citizens eligible to vote. This inconvenient truth is ignored for the simple fact that were it respected it would be impossible for those “in power” to govern at any level greater than city council (and even that is in question). To truly respect the wishes of those not voting requires either providing a NOTA option on all ballots or to assume a tally of a vote for NOTA for each person not voting (NOTA= None Of The Above).

To the apathetic voter then I say take heed of the power you hold. If those of you who do not vote do so because you believe it won’t make a difference, then the fact that your constituency is 60% of the population should tell you otherwise. If you are tired of the status quo of the left and right wings of the officially sanctioned State Party – the party that stays in power no matter who “wins”, then seize this opportunity and vote Libertarian this election. Now I could write a book about why Libertarians are the better choice, but honestly, how could it be any worse? The two party duopoly has given us nothing but a soul crushing welfare-warfare state liberally sprinkled with either economic or civil rights violations. At least the libertarians are ideologically in alignment with the majority of Americans. That is to say, when people are polled on issues rather than candidates, they overwhelming choose libertarian positions (“I can’t believe this is instant coffee!”) Yes libertarians are the Folgers of politics. Try them, you’ll be surprised how much you like them.

In Georgia we have several libertarians running at the state level: Andrew Hunt for Governor, Amanda Swafford for Senate, Ted Metz for Insurance Commissioner. Some have tried to pin the “spoiler” label on them claiming that since no libertarian has ever won a high level office they have no chance and thus should not even bother. That’s a great message – if it’s never been done before then that means it can’t be done. Of course an actual election “spoiler” is someone who draws votes away from one or more candidates and thus alters the outcome of the election. But, since Georgia employs a run-off system it is mathematically impossible for additional candidates to play the role of spoiler; the top two vote getters (assuming no one got more than 50%) compete head to head in a run off. Some have said that third party candidates just waste public money by forcing expensive run-off elections. Well whose fault is that? Citizens exercising their constitutional right to run for elected office or lazy legislatures that refuse to implement Instant Runoff Voting. IRV not only eliminates additional costs with run off elections but it also negates the distasteful practice of “strategic” voting found in plurality voting. Such strategic voting only serves to further marginalize third party candidates so it’s hardly surprising why Republicans or Democrats would never promote such a system.

So to all of those in Georgia that have sat on the sidelines, now is your opportunity to send a message to our oligopolic status quo rulers: vote Libertarian and show the country that the “impossible” is possible. Vote Folgers.

October 29 / 2014
Author Greg Morin
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Oconee Liquor Referendum: A Vote Less Traveled

“Shall the governing authority of Oconee County be authorized to issue licenses to sell distilled spirits for beverage purposes by the drink, such sales to be for consumption only on the premises?”

 

This is a difficult question for the principled libertarian. It’s a bit like asking the antebellum electorate whether a law requiring slave-owners to not separate families should be passed. Obviously that would be an improvement but the very asking implies consent with the legitimacy of the immoral institution of slavery. Likewise allowing business owners slightly more flexibility in what they are permitted to offer to their voluntary, paying customers is a step in the right direction. But, one must also recognize that such approval implies acquiescence to the right of existence of a “governing authority” that can by decree or popular vote dictate what some people may or may not do with their own justly acquired private property within the invisible lines that define this particular segment of planet Earth as Oconee county. Ethically no such “governing authority” should exist.

To understand why this is so consider the following: People of different religious beliefs can all live side by side in the same community without any (well almost) desire to force their neighbor to conform to their particular set of beliefs. But when those beliefs are secular in nature suddenly it makes perfect sense that the beliefs of the majority are the ones that should govern not merely that majority, but all who live amongst that majority and within an arbitrary boundary. There is no logical basis as to why one type of belief should be respected and another type ignored when it comes to majoritarian impositions on one’s neighbors.

If you don’t want to imbibe a real tequila based margarita, then don’t, but you have no more of a right to tell someone else that they cannot then does an old school Catholic have the right to tell you that you can’t eat meat on Fridays or the Jew to tell you that you must power down all electrical devices for the Sabbath. Indeed it is curious that one extreme segment of the Christian community is so vociferous in their opposition to this referendum. Setting aside the ecclesiastical distortions that lead some to the opinion that alcohol is evil; there is no evidence Jesus ever said his teachings were best enforced by state decree. Following His word willingly is the only gift we can give Him. But a gift given under duress is no gift at all. Such laws rob others of the opportunity to make that willing gift. But, I digress.

Although on the one hand most Americans will espouse support for the ideas of liberty, respecting the rights of the individual and generally minding our own business, when they go into the voting booth those same Americans will engage in a process that is the antithesis of those concepts. Consequentialism, utilitarianism, call it what you will, but that is the thought process that drives many. Rights are important, but if people exercise the right to do X then that might result in Y, therefore WE can’t allow this. The ends justify the means and our rights are trimmed on the altar of Might Be. Recognizing possible deleterious scenarios and working to minimize them is fine – as long as the methods employed do not resort to aggression, that is, the initiation of violence against another. That is what law, ordinances and licenses are – implied aggression. Implied aggression becomes actual aggression if the ordinance or license is ignored.

“But without ordinances and licenses there would be chaos” is the usual rejoinder. No, there would not be chaos. There would simply be a different outcome. Different does not equal chaos. Chaos is simply code for “not the outcome I personally want to see.” But the individual is not powerless to prevent that which they fear in a world of voluntary societies free of coercive “governing authorities”. If you don’t want to see certain kinds of businesses or land use patterns within a certain distance from your residence then you can join like-minded people and put your money where your mouth is. Buy up all the land around you, and then you are free to decide how it is used. If that is too expensive then this is society’ way of telling you that it values other uses for that land more highly than you value it for the purpose you desire. Who are you to argue with society? After all, the people have spoken.

October 20 / 2014
Author Greg Morin
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Come Fly with Me

Media bias is often subtle. Those that know the whole story are aware when a slanted viewpoint arises from omitted information. Then again, there are times the “reporter” simply is unable to contain his zeal and so takes aim at his subject with all the adjectival and adverbial firepower he can muster. I don’t normally do this but I came across just such a hyperbolically biased story this week and can only perform a proper critique in blow-by-blow style. The editorial, err, I mean news story concerns a Democrat congressman Alan Grayson (Florida, 9th district) who is hell bent on tilting his lance at the proverbial windmill that is airline frequent-flier programs. Good to know our elected representatives devote their energies to solving the most pressing of ills in the world. The article, penned by a Christopher Elliott, appears in the Washington Post and by the fourth word the author is well on his way to making his opinion known. According to him such programs are “rigged to favor airlines, deceive passengers and cost consumers billions of dollars.” Rigged? Deceived? Yeah, no judgment calls there. And “cost consumers” – I’m still scratching my head on that one. How does giving consumers free stuff “cost” them billions? Next we have a quote from the good Congressman:

“Frequent flyer programs are prone to manipulation by the airlines that control them,” he wrote, likening the estimated $700 billion worth of miles to an unregulated currency. “Airlines establish the rules, the terms, the value, expiration dates, and the sales pitches.” To earn more money, airlines are constantly devaluing this de facto currency, which is “profitable for the airlines, and costly for the consumer,” wrote Grayson.”

An unregulated currency! Say it isn’t so! Every decent God-fearing person knows that unregulated = pure evil. How dare those airlines establish rules, terms and values for a VOLUNTARY PROGRAM THAT GIVES THEIR CUSTOMERS FREE GOODS? What’s next, regulating the toys in a happy meal (oh, right, that already happened). But the final bit is the height of hypocrisy. The congressman bemoans airlines devaluing the FREE STUFF they give their customers while oblivious that his employer (the Federal Government) purposefully devalues (through inflation) the US dollar every year. Such inflation (devaluing) is profitable for the government and costly for the consumer because each dollar buys less each year. Wait a minute, no, could it be? Could it be that this inflation is the proximate cause of the decreasing value of miles and other consumer complaints (fees for baggage, narrowing seats, etc.)? When inflation affects the value of money there are two ways for businesses to respond: raise the money price of the goods, or lower the goods price of the money, that is, less stuff for the same nominal money price. No one wants to be the one to raise money prices as that “seen” figure is obvious, but, decreasing the goods received is relatively “unseen” because people normally pay attention to the price of the can, not how much is in it.

The article then moves onto what irritates all progressives: inequality, even voluntary inequality. The fact that we are not all clones of each other with the exact same skills, drive, desires and tastes induces apoplexy in the progressive. For it is only in just such a world could their utopian ideal of equality not of negative rights, but of outcomes, be realized. The author states:

“Thanks to loyalty programs, airlines have completely separated their most valued customers from the rest. They lavish top spenders with perks while forcing the less valuable passengers to sit in shrinking seats and pay fees for services that should come with every ticket, such as a seat reservation and the ability to check one bag without paying extra for the privilege. Frequent-flier programs have widened the airborne caste system to the point where it’s hard to believe everyone’s on the same plane. They’re making air travel worse for all but a few privileged elites, according to critics.”

Allow me to parse this. Is he honestly saying that businesses should not be able to “discriminate” amongst their clientele by rewarding their biggest customers in a way that incentives those customers to remain their customers? Words like “lavish” and “forcing” leave the reader with the impression airlines are an aristocratic institution that “lavishes” perks on totally random people they just happen to like for no reason at all and then “force” the rest of us to ride their planes at gunpoint… after forcibly removing money from our wallet for the ticket. Oh, wait, only the state can force people to buy a product at gunpoint.

You know what Mr. Elliott, you can be part of that caste too if you like, no revolution necessary. It’s totally voluntary; just pay for the level of service you desire. No “force” involved – and in case you forgot “force” means weapons, which is what the state has and the airlines don’t.

October 20 / 2014

I’ve got a tip that will change your life…

Last week I touched on a handful of stories concerning police and civilian interaction that ended in tragedy. This week I’d like to focus on a story that should serve as a wake up call to anyone who has ever thought “not my problem” because “that stuff only happens to shady characters or people who hang around shady characters.”

David Hooks, 59, of East Dublin, Georgia was the poster-boy for least likely to be associated with a criminal element. He owned a construction company that routinely worked on military bases. Such work required numerous background checks at both the state and federal level (Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms). Short of being vetted by the CIA you couldn’t ask for anyone with a cleaner background. This is not to suggest that those with “clean records” are incapable of committing crimes but rather that such people are statistically as likely to commit a crime as any of us are (I presume my readers also have clean records!).

So what irresponsible action on his part resulted in him becoming yet another casualty of Prohibition (the war on drugs)? Why he allowed his truck, sitting in his driveway, to be broken into and his SUV to be stolen. It turns out the guy who stole the truck, Rodney Garrett, (a self-described thief and meth addict) turned himself in to the cops claiming he found a bag of methamphetamine in the truck and thus “became scared for his safety.” So, based solely on this hearsay of a tip, a warrant was issued to search Hook’s home. Now, if the cops had executed this warrant the way the 4th Amendment intended (and the way it used to be done) there would have been no problem. They would have sent one or two squad cars over to the house, politely knocked on the door, served and then executed the warrant. They would have found nothing, hopefully apologized for the trouble, cleaned up after themselves and left.

But that is not what happened. Those accused of drug crimes, even mere possession, are presumed to be clones of Al Pacino’s “Scarface”, AK-47 at the ready 24/7. So, under a presumption of Hook’s guilt, the Laurens County Drug Task Force silently rolled up his driveway around 11 pm with no flashing lights, jumped out of their vehicles and rapidly approached the back door of the house. David’s wife, seeing dark shadowy figures moving about their house late at night logically concluded that the burglars had returned to possibly steal more vehicles or enter the house. It had only been two days since the first theft and being unaware the thief was in custody they had no reason not to suspect a repeat event.

So David grabbed a shotgun and prepared for a confrontation. What happened next is unclear because there are conflicting stories. The official version is that the police did approach with sirens and lights, they did loudly knock on the door and that when no one answered they broke the door down, saw David holding a shotgun and thus had no choice but to unload their weapons. David’s widow (and the physical evidence) beg to differ with that narrative. There were no lights, sirens or knocking. David was not shot near the back door but rather through an interior wall. In other words, they blindly shot at a wall not knowing what was behind it. Brilliant. Good thing his grandchildren weren’t visiting that night. And just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, it does. His grieving widow and family had to endure a 44-hour search of the residence. The result? Not even a trace of narcotics was found. Oops.

So, the next time you think you are safe from brutal police actions, just remember, you are just one blame-shifting-meth-head’s “tip” or wrong address away from having black-helmeted thugs appearing in your doorway unannounced and unloading an entire clip into you or a loved one because they moved their hand the wrong way or came around the corner too quickly. No one is safe if everyone is just an utterance away from a weapons-drawn raid on his or her home. Due process is not the Gestapo breaking down your door in the middle of the night and claiming procedure was followed because they left a warrant on your corpse. This is not America. But if this is what America has become, then there is nothing exceptional about it. Prohibition must end. Again.

Details sourced from: http://goo.gl/dxTD1F and http://goo.gl/XX8Nz9

October 13 / 2014
Author Greg Morin
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Lifting the Veil

“There’s a reason you separate military and the police. One fights the enemies of the state, the other serves and protects the people. When the military becomes both, then the enemies of the state tend to become the people.” Commander William Adama, Battlestar Galactica (Season 1, Episode 2)

Although the source of this quote is fictional, its perspicacious message is grounded in reality. The only twist is that it is the police who are becoming more military-like. The end result, however, is the same – civilian casualties.

I shouldn’t have to provide examples, but I will as a courtesy for those reading this a few years hence when I suspect recent events will have been lost down the rabbit hole of collective amnesia: the shooting death of Michael Brown in Missouri, the shooting death of John Crawford in an Ohio Wal-Mart, a toddler in Georgia critically injured by a flash grenade, David Hooks shot dead in his home by police in Georgia and so on. If you’d like to read more there is a website dedicated to memorializing these horrific stories. The take home message here is that if cops are going to put their safety above all other considerations, then perhaps they should find a different line of work. “Officer safety” is the oft-cited excuse for the use of deadly force, however the myth that police work is the most dangerous profession just doesn’t line up with reality. In fact in 2013 it didn’t even make the top 10 of most dangerous professions (garbage collector and roofer actually rank higher).

Now I’d like to engage you in a thought experiment. Suppose that instead of the headlines being “local police shoot man dead” they instead read “employee of private security firm at local mall shoots man dead.” What kind of response would we expect in that situation? Would we expect that the employee be given a few days off from work, found to have done nothing wrong and be back on the job within a month or two? If an employee of ANY company did such a thing there would be lawsuits galore. The security company, the employee and the mall would all be sued. The message of a lawsuit is this: someone is accountable.

But what happens when a public police force is involved? The police department can’t be sued. The individual cop can’t be sued. This is qualified and sovereign immunity at work. The municipality involved is sometimes sued in rare situations. Even if they lose the suit there is zero incentive to change. Those “in charge” are not personally held financially accountable. Instead the cost of the suit or settlement is diffused among the taxpayers in pieces so small it is hardly noticed. The normal feedback mechanism that a lawsuit provides (personal financial loss) is thus short-circuited and nothing changes.

Now imagine a world where policing is entirely in the domain of private companies. This is not at all far fetched. Many municipalities (like Sandy Springs, Georgia) now outsource a range of traditional municipal services. In this hypothetical scenario private police companies would carry liability insurance just like all companies do today. Private police companies likewise would require their employee (the cops) to carry their own liability insurance. The cost of this insurance would be directly related to the cop’s training and work history (just as auto insurance rates are related to a driver’s history). Insurers would have an incentive to regulate such police forces in order to minimize the likelihood of paying claims. Reckless cops and poorly managed policing companies would either lose coverage or find their insurance rates so high they couldn’t afford to operate anymore. No municipality would contract a company lacking insurance. The self-correcting feedback mechanism of blatant self-interested profit seeking keeps everyone in line. Insurers regulate out the bad firms so they don’t lose money paying out claims. Police firms regulate out the bad cops so they don’t suffer increased insurance rates. The public sues those firms or cops that manage to slip through. There’s nothing magical here, it works like this everyday throughout the market (when not otherwise distorted through government interventions).

This would be trivial to implement nationwide. Municipalities already utilize a bid process for many other projects; there is no reason why it could not be done for policing as well. True accountability can only happen once the veil of qualified and sovereign immunity is lifted and the self-correction of self-interest found in the market is permitted to function.

October 06 / 2014
Author Greg Morin
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ISIS IS US

Hunting conjures up war-like imagery: guns, knives, arrows, booby traps and of course camouflage. Hunting is necessarily an overtly violent affair. Farming on the other hand invokes a more pastoral and peaceful mindset. Sure, intellectually we know killing must occur on a farm, but it is clean and clinical, so that makes it civilized. But dead is dead. The means may be different, but the ends are the same.

No, this is not some vegan polemic. The point is that we too live on a farm otherwise known as the state. Our ancestors and we have inhabited the farm for so long we have contrived the comfortable illusion that orderly and civilized violence isn’t really violence at all. We have convinced ourselves that because we are a nation of laws, of rules and order, and that we engage in the very civilized process of democratic elections to collectively decide the rules of society, then that makes us better than barbaric invaders who hunt their surroundings and take what they want. But whether one is robbed at gunpoint or by way of a Form 1040 one is just as impoverished by the process (and resistance to the latter will end just as violently). This idea of democratic self-determination is nothing more than an illusion. It is a Potemkin village that we have unwittingly built that mollifies our passions and so permits our owners, the state bureaucracies, to extract from us the fruits of our labor in order to parasitically advance themselves.

 

violence is the fertilizer that ensures strong roots for the state

 

In recent weeks we have witnessed the birth of a new state: ISIS. ISIS is still in the “hunter” stage of state formation. They have not yet collected enough “citizens” to form a proper, modern, farming state like we have in the US (and other countries). Once the farm-state is established the overt violence fades from the foreground while intimidation and threats rise in the background. This hunter-state formation is a bloody, violent, disgusting affair no doubt. But it is one that all states pass through, as violence is the fertilizer that ensures strong roots for the state.

Although the hunting and farming state differ in form, their substance is identical. Consider the following: the US says to foreigners, “Do what we say or we will have no choice but to kill you.” Inevitably the US sends drones, missiles, planes, troops, mines, and bombs – all agents of death. Similarly, ISIS tells people “Do what we say or we will kill you.” Those that do not comply are beheaded or shot. But dead is dead. Does it matter if done by the sword or the drone? Or would it be uncontroversial if ISIS killed by lethal injection?

Now consider the people ISIS did not kill – those who capitulated to their demands. They chose to comply with “the law” rather than suffer the consequences. This preference for submission over death is the same glue that maintains order here as well. We have “laws” that are just as arbitrary as Sharia “law.” A law that pertains to anything other than murder, rape or theft is no law at all. It is a mere edict that masquerades as law because some believe the ends justify the means. And why are such pseudo-laws obeyed? Violence. Non-compliance with pseudo-laws here results in the same outcome resisters of ISIS encounter there: death. Consider what would happen if pseudo-law A were ignored (insert any law you find absurd). The individual doing so might be fined first. If they ignored the fine, they might then be prosecuted in a court of the state. If they ignored that illegitimate process the state would send its agents (police) to confiscate property or arrest the individual. If the individual passively resisted and did not comply with “lawful orders” to willingly submit to being jailed then the encounter would eventually escalate to drawn weapons. Further passive resistance ensures this would eventually escalate to an “officer involved” shooting of the non-compliant citizen.

If you ignore the “authority” of the state, if you refuse to believe it has no more authority over your life than does your neighbor, well, the state doesn’t take kindly to that. If we all were to engage in non-violent non-submission to authority, the true nature of the state would quickly become apparent and all would see it is the US pot that calls the ISIS kettle black.

P.S. And no, I don’t “hate America” – I hate bullies that initiate aggression or threats of aggression to get their way.

September 29 / 2014
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