Archive for July 2005

Reparations for Slavery

Groups like the NAACP are actively pursuing claims for compensation from both corporations and governments for slavery in the United States 140 or more years ago (that's 7+ generations in the past).  The particular article linked is on seeking reparations from corporations, but many efforts exist to extract compensation from taxpayers, e.g. you and I.

Lets forget for a minute why I owe money for what my great-great-great-great-great grandfather did to your great-great-great-great-great grandfather.  Lets even forget that my great-great grandparents and all preceding generations of my family did not even live in this country.  Forget even about whether a statute of limitations has been exceeded by waiting 140+ years and seven or more generations to file a claim.

Lets however ask the question of what damages are incurred by the current generation of African-Americans who are decedents of American slaves.  Clearly the slaves themselves were irreparably harmed by slavery, but lets talk about the people who are actually bringing the suit.

If it were not for slavery, then many African-Americans today would be ... in Africa.  And in Africa, they would very, very likely be in horrible mind-numbing poverty (see Live8).  Its hard to pin down a number, but estimates of average incomes in Sub-Saharan Africa are between $600 per year and $1,770 per year.  By comparison, the average income of an African American was $14,397 in 1999 and is certainly higher today, since black incomes are growing rapidly in this country and actually falling in Africa.  And African American life expectancies, which still have some catching up to do with whites in the US, are nevertheless 10-25 years longer than their counterparts in the old country.  Everything from AIDS survival rates to education levels to VCR ownership and Internet access are far superior for American blacks than blacks in Africa.  So in this context, how does one demonstrate economic damages from slavery?

If I were an African American, I would give thanks every day that my ancestors endured the torture and humiliation and horror of slavery so that today my family could live, despite frustrations that sill exist for blacks, in relative wealth and prosperity and good health instead of some sub-Saharan shit-hole.

One Note:  I have certainly gotten some interesting emails on this one, including at least one "you will roast in hell" offering.  One comment I have gotten several times is "But there is no statute of limitations on murder, so how can there be on slavery?"   To which I answer - yes, there is not statute of limitations on murder, BUT, if we fail to catch a murderer in his lifetime, we don't throw his kids or grandkids in jail in his stead, nor do we ask his grandkids to pay reparations for his murders.  If we suddenly could absolutely prove the identity of Jack the Ripper, would we track down all his descendants and sue them for his actions? 

The second comment I get, presumably from African-Americans by the pronouns "I" and "we" used in the emails, is "we had our heritage ripped away".  I will confess that I may have a blind spot on this loss-of-heritage issue.  My great-grandparents were forcibly exiled from Germany about a century ago, and I don't shed any tears for my lost heritage, particularly given Germany's atrocious actions during the twentieth century.  I am thrilled to be an American and reject or at least ignore my German heritage.  I am not at all saddened my disconnectedness from the Kaiser or Hitler, and am not sure in turn that if I was black I would feel a loss from not being closer to Robert Mugabe or any of a zillion other repressive African regimes. 

By the way, in terms of being disconnected from one's heritage,  I have no way to prove it or get the numbers, but I would be willing to be that there are more college students right now studying black and/or African history in the US than in the whole of Africa.

More Speech Limitation in England

I have argued several times in the past that banning "hate speech" has been an entry point for limitations on free speech on college campuses all over the country.  Now, it appears that the British Parliament may use it as an excuse to put restrictions on speech of all all their countrymen:

MPs gave the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill a third reading by 301 votes to 229, a majority of 72.

Shadow minister Dominic Grieve said the bill would not improve race relations.

But Minister Paul Goggins said: "I believe we need to
take on the hate mongers, whether they are terrorists or whether they
are extremists."

The bill would create a new offence of incitement to
religious hatred and would apply to comments made in public or in the
media, as well as through written material.
The plans, which have failed to make it through
Parliament twice before, cover words or behaviour intended or likely to
stir up religious hatred. Jews and Sikhs are already covered by
race-hate laws.

I can't think of anything more dangerous than placing any such restrictions on speech, especially when the standards against which speech will be judged are so ambiguous and open to interpretation.  As someone who often utters statements and supports concepts that many consider "extreme" (and here), it is very worrisome to see politicians attempting to ban "extreme" speech.

There are so many ironies in this I can hardly count them, but here is one:  The left typically are primary supporters of these prohibitions on hate speech.  Under the British law, half the management of organizations such as Planned Parenthood who often criticize the religious right and religious organizations could probably be heaved in jail.

Update:  Can't happen in the US? Check out this article on allowing native Hawaiians to secede.

More Evidence of the Ethanol Folly

Previously, I asked "why won't ethanol just go away", lamenting what a stupid program ethanol is and how much subsidy money is poured down that drain, not to mention the effect it seems to have on the Iowa primary every 4 years.  Yet another study has shown that ethanol consumes more energy to make than it actually produces. 

Turning plants such as corn, soybeans and sunflowers into fuel uses much more
energy than the resulting ethanol or biodiesel generates, according to a new
Cornell University and University of California-Berkeley study.

"There is just no energy benefit to using plant biomass for liquid fuel,"
says David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agriculture at Cornell. "These
strategies are not sustainable."

Pimentel and Tad W. Patzek, professor of civil and environmental engineering
at Berkeley, conducted a detailed analysis of the energy input-yield ratios of
producing ethanol from corn, switch grass and wood biomass as well as for
producing biodiesel from soybean and sunflower plants. Their report is published
in Natural Resources Research (Vol. 14:1, 65-76).

In terms of energy output compared with energy input for ethanol production,
the study found that:

  • corn requires 29 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
  • switch grass requires 45 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced;
  • wood biomass requires 57 percent more fossil energy than the fuel produced.

In terms of energy output compared with the energy input for biodiesel
production, the study found that:

  • soybean plants requires 27 percent more fossil energy than the fuel
    produced, and
  • sunflower plants requires 118 percent more fossil energy than the fuel

In assessing inputs, the researchers considered such factors as the energy
used in producing the crop (including production of pesticides and fertilizer,
running farm machinery and irrigating, grinding and transporting the crop) and
in fermenting/distilling the ethanol from the water mix. Although additional
costs are incurred, such as federal and state subsidies that are passed on to
consumers and the costs associated with environmental pollution or degradation,
these figures were not included in the analysis.

Some Final Observations from Paris (with Pictures!)

Its good to be back in the USA, though my wife and I had a great time in Paris.  In the extended post, I have some pictures from our trip.  However, don't expect any tourist sites.  My business-related travelogue includes pictures of a gas station, a few cool new cars, my restaurant bill from hell, and other stuff...

Continue reading ‘Some Final Observations from Paris (with Pictures!)’ »

Decoding the Anti-Globalization Protestors

As a note, I had this post ready last Thursday, but with the terrorist attacks in London, the regular G-8 protesters sort of dropped off the radar screen.

For years now, I have struggled trying to categorize what philosophy motivates the brick-throwing protesters that seem a regular part of G-8 summits ever since they ripped up Seattle several years ago.   To say they are against Globalization does not answer the question, since what exactly does that mean, given that the protest movement itself is global and multinational in nature. 

To some extent, the protests of course just Marxism returning under a different guise.  However, even when compared to socialist reality avoidance, the arguments of the protesters seemed really hard to follow.  Part of the problem is that many of the protesters are violent anarchists and out-and-out criminals who want nothing more than violence and destruction.  However, there are people and groups who seem to be trying to accomplish something, and who resent being associated with these criminals.  After reading a number of different web sites of the protesters (many are really, really hard to parse logically), I have come up with the following basic argument shared by the core of the protesters.

  1. They want to help the poor and outright poverty-stricken nations of the world
  2. Many want the wealthiest nations (G8) to help these poverty-stricken nations, both because they blame the wealthy nations for this poverty, and because the wealthy nations are seen as the ones with the means to do something
  3. They want to help these nations by encouraging the poorer nations to avoid any of the techniques or economic models the G8 used to get wealthy and successful in the first place

There is nothing particularly new about arguments 1 and 2; however, it was recognizing part 3 of the argument that helped me realize why I could never understand what they wanted.  In a nutshell, they want to fix poverty in the third world by disavowing everything -- private property rights, individual enterprise, free commerce, entrepreneurship, individual freedoms, etc. -- that made the G8 not impoverished.  Rich nations, you have to help the poor nations, but whatever you do, don't allow they to emulate what you did to get rich. 

This is so nutty its unbelievable.  If they were camping outside of the G8's door and saying that we want you to drop trade barriers on our goods and help us foster entrepreneurship and we want your help promoting private investment in our economy and infrastructure, I could understand perfectly.  This is like activists camping outside of Jack Welch's door looking for him to help the poor by funding programs to teach children to drop out of school and avoid getting a jobs.

I discussed suggestion on providing aid to Africa here and here.  A good companion article to this piece is this one on why progressives are too conservative to like capitalism.  Here is the part that is relevant to development:

However, when we move to fields such as commerce, progressives stop
trusting individual decision-making.  Progressives who support the
right to a person making unfettered choices in sexual partners don't
trust people to make their own choice on seat belt use.  Progressives
who support the right of fifteen year old girls to make decisions about
abortion without parental notification do not trust these same girls
later in life to make their own investment choices with their Social
Security funds.  And, Progressives who support the right of third
worlders to strap on a backpack of TNT and explode themselves in the
public market don't trust these same third worlders to make the right
decision in choosing to work in the local Nike shoe plant.

Beyond just the concept of individual decision-making, progressives
are hugely uncomfortable with capitalism.  Ironically, though
progressives want to posture as being "dynamic", the fact is that
capitalism is in fact too dynamic for them.  Industries rise and fall,
jobs are won and lost, recessions give way to booms.  Progressives want
comfort and certainty.  They want to lock things down the way they are.
They want to know that such and such job will be there tomorrow and
next decade, and will always pay at least X amount.  That is why, in
the end, progressives are all statists, because, to paraphrase Hayek,
only a government with totalitarian powers can bring the order and
certainty and control of individual decision-making that they crave.

Progressive elements in this country have always tried to freeze
commerce, to lock this country's economy down in its then-current
patterns.  Progressives in the late 19th century were terrified the
American economy was shifting from agriculture to industry.  They
wanted to stop this, to cement in place patterns where 80-90% of
Americans worked on farms.  I, for one, am glad they failed, since for
all of the soft glow we have in this country around our description of
the family farmer, farming was and can still be a brutal, dawn to dusk
endeavor that never really rewards the work people put into it....

More recently, progressives have turned their economic attention to
lesser developed nations.  Progressives go nuts on the topic of
Globalization.  Without tight security, G7 and IMF conferences have and
would devolve into riots and destruction at the hands of progressives,
as happened famously in Seattle.  Analyzing the Globalization movement
is a bit hard, as rational discourse is not always a huge part of the
"scene", and what is said is not always logical or internally
consistent.  The one thing I can make of this is that progressives
intensely dislike the change that is occurring rapidly in
third world economies, particularly since these changes are often
driven by commerce and capitalists.

Progressives do not like American factories appearing in third world
countries, paying locals wages progressives feel are too low, and
disrupting agrarian economies with which progressives were more
comfortable.  But these changes are all the sum of actions by
individuals, so it is illustrative to think about what is going on in
these countries at the individual level. 

One morning, a rice farmer in southeast Asia might faces a choice.
He can continue a life of brutal, back-breaking labor from dawn to dusk
for what is essentially subsistence earnings.  He can continue to see a
large number of his children die young from malnutrition and disease.
He can continue a lifestyle so static, so devoid of opportunity for
advancement, that it is nearly identical to the life led by his
ancestors in the same spot a thousand years ago.

Or, he can go to the local Nike factory, work long hours (but
certainly no longer than he worked in the field) for low pay (but
certainly more than he was making subsistence farming) and take a shot
at changing his life.  And you know what, many men (and women) in his
position choose the Nike factory.  And progressives hate this.  They
distrust this choice.  They distrust the change.  And, at its heart,
that is what globalization is all about - a deep seated conservatism
that distrusts the decision-making of individuals and fears change,
change that ironically might finally pull people out of untold
generations of utter poverty.

Scratch a progressive, you will find a totalitarian.  That is why progressives support totalitarians like Chavez in Venezuela and why you find "progressives" supporting brutal Muslim totalitarian apartheid states.  That is why you will hear a lot from protesters about Nike wages being too low, but nothing about the impact totalitarians like Robert Mugabe have on creating poverty.  By the way, I am willing to offer them some help spotting dictatorships if they need it.

To their point that poor nations got that way because of rich nations, their argument relies on a zero-sum mercantilist view of economics that I deconstruct here.  Their other argument is that western colonialism ruined the poor nations, but if that is true, why do they attack the US the most, which had the fewest colonies of any of the G8, instead of France, which made the worst mess of its colonies?

Republicans Running Away from Property Rights?

Readers of this blog will know that every time I have read condemnations of Janice Rogers Brown with quotes from her that are "out of the mainstream", I have become more enamored of her. 

JRB is opposed by the left and the Democratic Party because she is a strong supporter of property rights against government intervention.  Reason has an interesting article noting that while Democrats in Congress were quick to attack her small government libertarianism, Republicans pointedly did not in turn embrace it.  First, a reminder of why Brown makes everyone nervous:

Property and contract are, for her, the lifeblood of liberty; and when, in
the late 1930s, the country and the Supreme Court began treating property
rights cavalierly, they set loose an inexorably advancing leviathan state.
To Brown, moreover, it makes no sense to treat speech and privacy rights as
sacrosanct but property rights as trivial, when the Founders viewed all
those rights as of a piece.

More striking than Brown's philosophy is her tendency to express it in
language reminiscent of Barry Goldwater in his intemperate prime. In a 2000
speech to the Federalist Society in Chicago, she said, "We no longer find
slavery abhorrent. We embrace it. We demand more. Big government is not just
the opiate of the masses. It is the opiate: the drug of choice for
multinational corporations and single moms; for regulated industries and
rugged Midwestern farmers and militant senior citizens." She spoke of the
Supreme Court's belated acquiescence to the New Deal as "the Revolution of
1937," resulting today in "a debased, debauched culture." There is much more
in this vein, and not just in her speeches. In a 2002 dissent involving a
San Francisco housing regulation, she declared that private property "is now
entirely extinct in San Francisco," replaced by "a neo-feudal regime."

And the Republic response?

Otherwise, Republicans ran away from Brown's ideas as fast as their legs
could carry them. Specter listed, approvingly, government regulations she
has upheld. Sessions: "She has ruled on hundreds of cases affirming
government regulations, for heaven's sake." Sen. Jim DeMint, (R-S.C.):
"While she would likely describe herself as a person who believes in small
government and limited regulations ... Justice Brown has voted consistently
to uphold economic, environmental, consumer, and labor regulations." Lott:
"She has consistently voted to uphold regulations in every walk of life."
You would almost think she was Walter Mondale.

It is depressing to me to think the Republican party is returning to its 1970's big-government conservative roots.

Best Wishes to London

My best wishes to the people of London today.  London is perhaps my favorite city in the world.  Only a coin flip with my wife put us on the Paris metro rather than the London underground yesterday, so the bombings hit close to home.  This is only the second time in five years my wife and I have gotten away without the kids for more than a day -- the first was a trip to Manhattan from September 9-13, 2001.  Maybe we should notify Homeland Security when we make our travel plans next time.  I know my mom is getting exasperated with worrying about me near major attacks.

More Evidence We Are Lacking A Strong Opposition Party

This is another in a series of my lamentations on this country not having a strong and credible opposition party.  Previously, I have derided the Democrats for not coming up with a viable foreign policy alternative, but they appear just as week on domestic policy issues.

I have made my disdain for Kelo fairly clear.  It has taken a while, but someone other than a major beneficiary of eminent domain (e.g. the NY Times, which got their new HQ building courtesy of an eminent domain condemnation) has tried to defend it.  The defender is Nancy Pelosi, and boy has it become clear why we don't have a stronger opposition party in this country.  The Democrats have chosen this mental midget as their Congressional leader?  Check out this interview, via NRO:


"Q: Later this
morning, many Members of the House Republican leadership, along with
John Cornyn from the Senate, are holding a news conference on eminent
domain, the decision of the Supreme Court the other day, and they are
going to offer legislation that would restrict it, prohibiting federal
funds from being used in such a manner.

Two questions: What was your reaction to the Supreme Court decision
on this topic, and what do you think about legislation to, in the minds
of opponents at least, remedy or changing it?

Ms. Pelosi: As a Member of Congress, and actually all of us and
anyone who holds a public office in our country, we take an oath of
office to uphold the Constitution of the United States. Very central to
that in that Constitution is the separation of powers. I believe that
whatever you think about a particular decision of the Supreme Court,
and I certainly have been in disagreement with them on many occasions,
it is not appropriate for the Congress to say we're going to withhold
funds for the Court because we don't like a decision.

Q: Not on the Court, withhold funds from the eminent domain purchases
that wouldn't involve public use. I apologize if I framed the question
poorly. It wouldn't be withholding federal funds from the Court, but
withhold Federal funds from eminent domain type purchases that are not
just involved in public good.

Ms. Pelosi: Again, without focusing on the actual decision, just to
say that when you withhold funds from enforcing a decision of the
Supreme Court you are, in fact, nullifying a decision of the Supreme
Court. This is in violation of the respect for separation of church --
powers in our Constitution, church and state as well. Sometimes the
Republicans have a problem with that as well. But forgive my

So the answer to your question is, I would oppose any legislation
that says we would withhold funds for the enforcement of any decision
of the Supreme Court no matter how opposed I am to that decision. And
I'm not saying that I'm opposed to this decision, I'm just saying in

Q: Could you talk about this decision? What you think of it?

Ms. Pelosi: It is a decision of the Supreme Court. If Congress wants
to change it, it will require legislation of a level of a
constitutional amendment. So this is almost as if God has spoken. It's an elementary discussion now. They have made the decision.

Q: Do you think it is appropriate for municipalities to be able to use eminent domain to take land for economic development?

Ms. Pelosi: The Supreme Court has decided, knowing the particulars
of this case, that that was appropriate, and so I would support that.

(emphasis added)

This is just crazy.  I guess as a Kelo-hater, I should be happy in this case that the opposition is so weak, but my god it is a depressing revelation for the future on other issues.

More Observations from Paris

  • I got tripped up today by my American expectations.  The hotel had this little breakfast buffet in the lobby.  It had some coffee and juice and a few croissants.  It was not nearly as nice as the free breakfast at a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express, but it was still a quick and easy way to eat and get out the door.  OOOPPSS.  My wife and I got hit with a bill for 52 euros, or over $65, because we grabbed some coffee and pastries off the buffet.  Bummer.
  • Service is a strange thing here.  I try fairly hard to submerge my ugly-American impatient tendencies.  I know to expect that meals will be paced much slower here, and have come to enjoy that pace, at least on vacation.  Shopping, though, is another story.  I still just want to get the stuff I want, pay for it, and go.  I have made the following observations about French service:  When you have a service person's attention, they will serve you for as long as you need, chatting about the product and about your life, for hours if necessary.  The problem is, that they will do this even if 10 other people are waiting to be served.  The lines here are awful, and you have to wait in them for everything.  Women in the US complain about bathroom lines at sporting events, but the women's rooms here have lines all the time, everywhere.  Even my wife the europhile is getting fed up with 45 minute transaction times
  • We chose to blow it out one night, and have a top notch French meal at a top restaurant.  We ended up spending a ridiculous sum, more than half the people in the world make in a year, for one meal.  It would embarrass me to spend so much consistently (heck it embarasses me this once), especially since there are equally fine meals out there for 1/4 or less the price.  Also, we were actually nervous for the first 20 minutes - is that nuts?  But there is nothing in the world that can make an American like me who knows the McDonald's value meal numbers by heart nervous like a great French restaurant.  We eventually got into the spirit of the once in a lifetime experience, enough that we were laughing pretty loud about the little fried goldfish we got for appetizers.
  • By the way, condolences for the French and the Olympics.  Paris would make a fine venue.  The only real mar in the city's beauty is that it has a real trash and dog poop problem on the streets (no scoop laws here, at least none that anyone enforces) so an Aolympics might help them clean it all up.  Maybe they need a few years of Mayor Giuliani?  Really, it is a beautiful city - did I mention that?  Perhaps the most beautiful city in Europe even before WWII, and certainly the most beautiful after given that it was spared most of the bombing and fighting other great cities faced (not too mention the horrendous 1950's architecture they were rebuilt with.  I mean, my god, look at Berlin.  It was rebuilt during the most horrid period in modern architecture).
  • More later on hotels and restaurants you might visit if you come here,
    plus I will just have to post a scan of our restaurant bill from tonight

Parochialism from the NY Times

I was reading the NY Times' International Herald Tribune today here in Paris, and saw something funny at the end of an article about the crazy process underway to select the 2012 Olympic venue.  By the way, this is the big issue in Paris right now - you can't walk anywhere without finding yourself in the middle of some sort of Paris promotional event, presumably being simulcast back to the selection committee in Singapore.

Anyway, the IHT had this funny line:

The last days of the race drew the president of France, the prime minister of Russia and the queen of Spain here.  New York City pulled Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton away from a busy schedule to lend her star power.

Uhh, you mean the president of France and the prime minister of Russia don't have busy schedules?  And wouldn't a more correct formulation be "while other cities were represented by their head of state, NY City could only muster a junior member of Congress"?  I hope any city but New York wins, because, given past history, NYC will likely get themselves into some financial hole hosting the Olympics that the rest of the country will have to bail them out of.

By the way, apparently in a bid to head off past corruption, the International Olympic Committee has banned its members from actually visiting host cities and their facilities ahead of the selection.  This seems kind of extreme - you have to pick between cities but you can't learn anything useful about them.  Its depressing that the members of the Olympic committee are so untrustworthy that the only way to prevent them from collecting bribes from potential host countries is to not allow them anywhere near the country.

Thoughts on the Fourth of July

I was going to write a Fourth of July post, but it kept looking like my past Memorial Day effort, so, since I am in France and ready to go consume more food, I will take a shortcut this holiday:

Every Memorial Day, I am assaulted with various quotes from people
thanking the military for fighting and dying for our right to vote.  I
would bet that a depressing number of people in this country, when
asked what their most important freedom was, or what made America
great, would answer "the right to vote."

Now, don't get me wrong, the right to vote in a representative
democracy is great and has proven a moderately effective (but not
perfect) check on creeping statism.  A democracy, however, in and of
itself can still be tyrannical.  After all, Hitler was voted into power
in Germany, and without checks, majorities in a democracy would be free
to vote away anything it wanted from the minority - their property,
their liberty, even their life.   Even in the US, majorities vote to curtail the rights of minorities all the time, even when those minorities are not impinging on anyone else.  In the US today, 51% of the population have voted to take money and property of the other 49%.

In my mind, there are at least three founding principles of the
United States that are far more important than the right to vote:

  • The Rule of Law.  For about 99% of human
    history, political power has been exercised at the unchecked capricious
    whim of a few individuals.  The great innovation of western countries
    like the US, and before it England and the Netherlands, has been to
    subjugate the power of individuals to the rule of law.  Criminal
    justice, adjudication of disputes, contracts, etc. all operate based on
    a set of laws known to all in advance.

Today the rule of law actually faces a number of threats in this
country.  One of the most important aspects of the rule of law is that
legality (and illegality) can be objectively determined in a repeatable
manner from written and well-understood rules.  Unfortunately, the
massive regulatory and tax code structure in this country have created
a set of rules that are subject to change and interpretation constantly at
the whim of the regulatory body.  Every day, hundreds of people and
companies find themselves facing penalties due to an arbitrary
interpretation of obscure regulations (examples I have seen personally here).

  • Sanctity and Protection of Individual Rights.
    Laws, though, can be changed.  In a democracy, with a strong rule of
    law, we could still legally pass a law that said, say, that no one is
    allowed to criticize or hurt the feelings of a white person.  What
    prevents such laws from getting passed (except at major universities)
    is a protection of freedom of speech, or, more broadly, a recognition
    that individuals have certain rights that no law or vote may take
    away.  These rights are typically outlined in a Constitution, but are
    not worth the paper they are written on unless a society has the desire
    and will, not to mention the political processes in place, to protect
    these rights and make the Constitution real.   

even in the US, we do a pretty mixed job of protecting individual
rights, strongly protecting some (like free speech) while letting
others, such as property rights or freedom of association, slide. 

  • Government is our servant.
    The central, really very new concept on which this country was founded
    is that an individual's rights do not flow from government, but are
    inherent to man.  That government in fact only makes sense to the
    extent that it is our servant in the defense of our rights, rather than
    as the vessel from which these rights grudgingly flow.

of all stripes have tried to challenge this assumption over the last
100 years.   While their exact details have varied, every statist has
tried to create some larger entity to which the individual should be
subjugated:  the Proletariat, the common good, God, the master race.
They all hold in common that the government's job is to sacrifice one
group to another.  A common approach among modern statists is to create
a myriad of new non-rights to dilute and replace our fundamental rights
as individuals.  These new non-rights, such as the "right" to health
care, a job, education, or even recreation, for god sakes, are
meaningless in a free society, as they can't exist unless one
person is harnessed involuntarily to provide them to another person.
These non-rights are the exact opposite of freedom, and in fact require
enslavement and sacrifice of one group to another.

Don't believe that this is what statists are working for? The other day I saw this quote from the increasingly insane Lou Dobbs (Did you ever suspect that Lou got pulled into a room a while back by some strange power broker as did Howard Beale in Network?):

Our population explosion not only detracts from our quality of life but
threatens our liberties and freedom as well. As Cornell's Pimentel puts
it, "Back when we had, say, 100 million people in the U.S., when I
voted, I was one of 100 million people. Today, I am one of 285 million
people, so my vote and impact decreases with the increase in the
population." Pimentel adds, "So our freedoms also go down the drain."

In a society with a rule of law protecting individual rights, how does
having a diluted vote reduce your freedom?  The only way it does, and therefore what must be in the author's head, is if
one looks at government as a statist tug of war, with various parties
jockeying for a majority so they can plunder the minority.  But in this
case, freedom and rule of law are already dead, so what does a
dilution of vote matter?  He is arguing that dilution of political
power reduces freedom -- this country was rightly founded on just the
opposite notion, that freedom requires a dilution of political power.

At the end of the day, our freedoms in this country will only last
so long as we as a nation continue to hold to the principle that our
rights as individuals are our own, and the government's job is to
protect them, not to ration them.  Without this common belief, all the
other institutions we have discussed, from voting to the rule of law to
the Constitution, can be subverted in time.

So to America's soldiers, thank you.  Thank you for protecting this
fragile and historically unique notion that men and women own
themselves and their lives.


Sometime when I was over the Atlantic, we passed 100,000 visitors since I started counting last December.  Thanks to all my readers!

Random Impressions of Paris

After a couple of days here, some impressions:

  • The airline flights that dump you off in Europe at 7am which seemed so convivial when I was consulting are less so when I am a tourist.  We had the experience of arriving at our hotel about 8am, which of course did not yet have a room anywhere near ready.  We had a nice day walking around, but we sure were exhausted by the time we got to our room and had a nap.  Note:  American Airlines 767's have very very uncomfortable business class seats - really a disgrace nowadays.
  • The Louvre is magnificent, but is ridiculously big.  It is impossible to digest.  You really have to find a branch of art, like the Flemish painters, and stay in that area.  The Musee d'Orsay, which focuses on 19th century French art, is much more digestible.  Also, it has a cool location in a train station, which was a very important part of 19th century life.
  • The French smoking thing has been joked about so much it is almost a caricature, but it is still a shock the first time in a restaurant.  We observed many American smokers reveling in their smoking freedom.  I wonder if there is a business opportunity to sponsor smoking trips to Paris, much like those Asia sex trips to Thailand.
  • Wow, the food is expensive!  $50-80 entrees in some places, and for that you can get two slices of tenderloin.  It was good though, and we have yet to have a bad, or even so-so, meal.
  • I would feel safer in a golf cart than some of the cars here.  You can really see the trade-offs with fuel economy we make in the US by having crash test standards.  Over here with no crash tests and $6.00 gas, you get lots of tiny cars.  Mini-coopers look average to large-sized here.
  • The Champs d'elysees was amazing on Sunday afternoon - a sea of people going up the hill.  It looked like those pictures of the start of the NY marathon, but it went as far as the eye can see.  Amazingly, with all this foot traffic past the door, half the businesses were closed that day (welcome to Europe, I guess)
  • There are more shoe stores here than fast food restaurants in Phoenix.  And my wife has stopped in every one of them

Headed off to Paris

I am headed off to Paris this weekend, so blogging may be light the next few days.  I am going to try to blog from France, and try to get a sense for the issues being discussed there post-referendum.  In the mean time, I will leave you with this heartwarming scene from Team America: World Police.


I thought the movie was very funny, though if you don't like South Park-type humor, don't even bother.  I still can't get the Team America theme song out of my head, or at least the main refrain that goes

America... Fuck Yeah!

If I had a baseball team, I would play that at the 7th inning stretch.

Problems at the Nature Conservancy

I tend to divide up environmental regulations into two buckets:

  1. Regulations aimed at curbing emissions that spill out of one person's property (e.g by air or water) to others
  2. Regulations mainly aimed at land use restrictions that affect how someone may use their own land

The first type of law is essential to rational functioning of strong property rights in the modern world.  Otherwise, we would all be suing each other over molecules of pollution that cross our property lines.

The second category, including wetlands and open space and habitat protection, are a threat to property rights (something one could infer just from the fact that many anti-capitalist anti-technology leftists have jumped on the environmental bandwagon, mainly focusing on this second category of limitations).

Here is one of those situations that make me a true minority in this country:  I greatly value wide-open undeveloped spaces and ranges for wild animals, but I don't expect the government to provide them for me nor do I ask other citizens to provide them to me against their will.  Unfortunately, most of the other people in this country who value these things do in fact accept, and even demand, that government provide them.  Every day, landholders are told by various government bodies that they cannot do what they like with their land, because other people who do not own the land like the land the way it is.  These landholders are effectively expropriated of their land, in these cases without even the payment the New London Kelo victims received

This is why I have always supported the private land trust movement, of which the Nature Conservancy is the most well-known example.  These land trusts use private donations to buy out property owners and set aside property for various conservation purposes.  This way, the people who value the conservation of the land pay the price for it, not the person who happens to be owning the targeted land.

I was sad to see, therefore, the Nature Conservancy revealed in Senate hearings as having a number of ethical lapses.  , was all over this story.  They describe the problems found as follows:

*A pattern of dealings with insiders that gave preferential treatment on land deals.

*A pattern of dealings with the companies of board members

*Selling emissions credits, including a $10 million deal with General
Motors while GM's chairman John Smith served on TNC's board.

*Selling emissions credits that it may or may not have even owned,
essentially furthering its own environmental goals (buying land) at the
expense of another environmental goal (reducing greenhouse gases)

*Allowing oil and gas drilling on one of three known habitats of the
Attwater Prairie chicken, bumbling its way through the deal so that it
ended up in court, accused of cheating one of its partners, all while
pocketing over $8 million in royalties.

The report paints a picture
of an organization that had gotten so big, and so successful, that it
lost sight of why it was formed in the first place.

There is a lot of discussion about what reforms will help prevent this problem, and a lot of discussion about eliminating the tax deduction for conservation easements:

It has become clear that some people have been abusing the law that
allows tax deductions for conservation easements. The easement
deduction allows me to sell the development rights to my property to a
land trust. I keep the property the way it is, and everyone who buys it
from me agrees to keep it that way too. If it's wilderness, it stays
wilderness. If it's a ranch, it stays a ranch. In areas with lots of
development, that can be worth a ton of money. The big question, how
much? It's a subjective appraisal, and if both parties want to unfairly
jack up the value, the hearings have shown the IRS doesn't have the
manpower to catch it. And it's led to a cottage industry in easement
tax shelters, including millions of exemptions for golf courses,
driving ranges and backyards. Phony trusts were set up not to protect
land, but to act as tax shelters for the wealthy. As the facts come
out, it's outraging critics, and depressing supporters.

In these deals, one party keeps the land while another party. like TNC, buys the "development rights" and pays the legal bills over time to defend these rights.  Personally, I have not been a big fan of conservation easements.  "Forever" is a very long time, and there are always going to be incentives to cheat -- if not in this generation, then in the next.  Also, such "conditional" property makes me nervous, somehow splitting property rights into two pieces, like a treasury strip.  I can't say I can make a firm philosophic argument against it, but it makes me uneasy. 

I would much prefer land trusts like TNC to forget about being enablers for conservation easements and get back to their original mission - buying land outright for conservation purposes.  By buying it outright, you get away from all the problems of policing private land use of the easements an organization has taken on.

I have decided to continue to donate to the Nature Conservancy.  They do a lot of cool stuff, and philosophically I much rather spend my money to have property purchased for conservation rather than to lobby Congress to force someone to conserve at the point of a gun.  I just hope TNC can get its act together so it can continue to provide a viable private alternative to government coercion.