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Queensland’s boring budget

June 3, 2014 Comments off

NOTE: This article was writing at the request of The Conversation, where it was first published.

With the release of their plan to sell and lease some assets after the next election, the state government has shifted attention away from their budget. Though in truth, it would have been quite easy to distract people from this budget, because there is nothing new.

This is a boring budget.

We already knew that the ever-elusive budget surplus had disappeared. Two years ago I commented in The Conversation that: “The forecast for a fiscal surplus in 2014/15 is nice, but it is hard to take long-term budget predictions too seriously” and also that “it is easy to predict future austerity and surpluses, but it is harder to actually make it happen”. Time has justified that skepticism. The government’s original estimate for 2014/15 was a $0.7 billion surplus, but they are now expecting a $2.3 billion deficit.

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Understanding the anti-capitalists

June 3, 2014 Comments off

I think that “capitalism” is such a contested, misunderstood, misused, and vague concept that it is best to avoid when discussing political philosophy. But whether I like it or not… the word is often used.  So what do people mean when they complain about “capitalism”? Sometimes the word means “corporatism” and sometimes it means “voluntary trade” and sometimes it means “the status quo”.

But there is another way that some people use the word…

The world is not utopia, and (unless you’re religious) then it wasn’t created for us, which means that there is no inherent guarantee that everybody is going to have everything they want. There is scarcity in the world… not just a limited number of cars or caves or cats, but perhaps more importantly a limited amount of time. Some people react badly to finding out that scarcity exists, and that they aren’t a special snowflake who can insist on getting everything they want.
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The right to be a bigot

May 26, 2014 1 comment

Should people have a right to be a bigot? The current law (with significant public support) says that people cannot be racist, sexist, homophobic, etc in your private business dealings. On the rare occasions that people oppose such laws, they are generally accused of being racist, sexist, homophobic etc themselves… as happened to Rand Paul in America.

Despite that risk, this is my argument for why people should have full freedom of association, including the right to choose who they deal with, even when they’re being assholes.

By way of introduction, let me say that I can understand why people want to force others to behave according to their own morals, which is a fairly common theme through history. And I understand that forcing people to follow the morals of the majority is always a politically populist position that will generally win votes at the ballot box. But I argue that it is immoral, unnecessary and dangerous to give the government (made up of imperfect politicians and bureaucrats) the power to force people to associate with each other against their will.

My personal approach to social issues is fairly progressive in that I think we should encourage acceptance of different races, gender identities, religions, sexual orientations, lifestyles, etc… and I like to think that I have set a fairly good example through words and deeds, and perhaps influenced a few people along the way. However, I don’t think I should use violence (or the threat of violence through government) to force my morality on other people.

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March 28, 2014 Comments off

Sydney has The Centre for Independent Studies… Melbourne has the Institute for Public Affairs… Perth has Mannkal and Adelaide has the Bert Kelly Research Centre… but for over 2 million people in and around Brisbane, we sadly don’t have any large group or serious money to host classical liberal and free-market thinkers. What we do have are the ALS Friedman Dinners.

 

CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE FRIEDMAN DINNER MAILING LIST
2006-11-30_friedman
CLICK HERE TO JOIN THE FRIEDMAN DINNER MAILING LIST

 

Since 2011 we have hosted some of the best & brightest of Australia and a few visiting guests — including Dr Tom Palmer (USA), Prof Jim Allan, the Hon Dr Gary Johns, Prof Judith Sloan, Dr Jonathan Crowe, the Hon Senator George Brandis, Prof Deirdre McCloskey (USA, co-host Economic Society), Dr Alex Robson, the Hon Peter Reith, Prof Jason Potts, Dr David Martin-Jones, Prof Jeff Bennett, the Hon Bill O’Chee, and many more. Next on the list is Brendan O’Neill… who is touring from the UK (thanks to the CIS) and the Friedman Dinners will host his only event in Brisbane on the 10th of April. Should be good.

If you want to hear about future events coming to Brisbane, make sure you are on our mailing list.

 

Game theory & the (not quite) Mexican standoff

March 24, 2014 Comments off

Somebody on the internet asked about the game theory of a mexican standoff (he meant two people pointing guns at each other) and why both players don’t just shoot immediately. I got a bit carried away with my response, which turned into this 4000 word mini-thesis. 

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If shooting first was guaranteed to kill the other person, and that is something that you want to do, then you would be right. But most gunshot victims don’t die… so let’s re-think the game with a hypothetical payoff matrix. Assume two players {Robert; Dermot} with two strategies {shoot; smile}.

We’ll make the simplifying assumption (for now) that both have the same preferences and skills. If both smile then they walk away from the conflict, go home and party. Their payoff is (5, 5). If they both shoot, then both get hurt (sad -8) but they both get to hurt the other person (happy +10)… so the net payoff is (2, 2). If one person shoots, then the shooter smites his enemy and gets a benefit of 10… well done that man. The poor schmuck who was shot gets hurt (sad -8) which is the worst of all worlds for him, and it leaves him a broken man. Hollow. Dejected. Just an empty hole where his soul once existed.

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Asia Liberty Forum 2014

January 11, 2014 Comments off

Three years ago, at the age of 19, Chanyang Ju escaped the North Korean regime and started her new life as a free woman in South Korea. On the last night of the 2014 Asia Liberty Forum, Chanyang spoke to us about her experience, life in North Korea and the importance of controlling her own life. She is in the middle of the picture below.

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This was just one of the many great talks that we had over two and a half days of lively discussion, debate, and networking with old and new friends. Over 200 people came from over 30 countries to hear from distinguished intellectuals, effective activists and community leaders.

The conference started with an inspiring talk by successful Indian businessman and author Gurcharan Das, who spoke about the “dharma of capitalism”. In Hinduism, “dharma” means the duty to act with honesty and decency towards others, and Das pointed out that the duty of dharma is at the core of a lot of everyday transactions, such as catching a taxi without first signing a contract.

Other academic talks included Professor John Tomasi (Brown) talking about free market fairness, Professor Feng Xingyuan (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences) discussing the importance of enterprise in economic development, and Professor Razeen Sally (NUS) explaining the economic evolution within Asia. And of course the wandering libertarian polymath Tom Palmer, who manages to show up at all the best freedom events around the world.

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We also learnt about the success of think-tanks around the world, with talks from Parth Shah (India), Peter Wong (Hong Kong), Kris Mauren (USA), Rainer Heufers (Singapore), Sonam Tashi (Bhutan),Wan Saiful (Malaysia), Medeni Sungur (Turkey) and other inspiring liberal leaders. There was also a popular session on women in liberty, including infamous trouble-maker Baishali Bomjan (India) as well as Arpita Nepal (Nepal), Cindy Cerquitella (USA), Li Schoolland (USA & China), and Tricia Yeoh (Malaysia).

On the lighter side, after the Azadi journalism awards we had several excellent performances from conference participants, including Russian Opera singing from Pavel Koktyshev (Kazakstan), rapping by Casey Lartigue (USA & Korea), singing from Chanyang Ju (Korea) and the awesome oddity of Sadaf Hussein’s strange sounds. We also enjoyed learning more from dozens of activists during speed networking, and listening to spontaneous sessions, coordinated by the always interesting Andrew Humphries.

More than just an academic conference, the 2014 ALF was a coming together of open-minded and kind-hearted people from around the world in a spirit of tolerance and learning. The Asia Liberty Forum is now established as one of the “must do” events on the libertarian calendar. I look forward to going back next year, and you should come too.

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Are objectivists a type of anarchist?

December 17, 2013 2 comments

There is an apparent contradiction at the heart of objectivism. Ayn Rand said that she opposed the initiation of coercion/violence, but she also rejected anarchism and insisted on having a government… which is defined as an institution that has a geographical monopoly over the initiation of violence/coercion.

That doesn’t add up. Either objectivists accept a government, and then they accept the initiation of some violence/coercion in some circumstances. Or they don’t want a government, which makes them anarchists. Those options are mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive; there is no other option.

Given the vehemence of Rand’s opposition to anarchy, I had previously thought that objectivists accepted government and that they were confused about the whole coercion thing. But in a debate this evening it seemed that my objectivist sparing partner was inadvertently advocating for no government (anarchy)… but with the assumption that people would voluntarily give money to a security provider that would protect everybody. The idea is that this benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider would be called “government”, despite not initiating violence or coercion.

If this is accurate, then there are two consequences. First, semantics notwithstanding, a benevolent non-profit donor-funded security provider is not actually a government and it is totally consistent with anarchy — so such a position is really just another type of hyphenated-anarchy with a particular vision of how a free society might function. Second, it seems to me that the above approach to security provision is very reliant on the benevolence of one organisation and the people who will donate to that organisation, which means it is actually less stable than the system suggested by other market anarchists.

What do you say objectivists… are you secret anarchists living in denial, or are you people who oppose coercion all the time except for when you don’t? 

No need for a hyphen in anarchy

December 17, 2013 1 comment

Anarchy is a political philosophy, which answers the question of “what is the role of government” with the answer “nothing”. If you have no government, there is no scope for disagreeing about what the non-existent government should do.

There will still be plenty of disagreement about what should happen in society. Some people might choose to join socialist communes, or religious communities, or trading towns, or live as hermits, or whatever other options you can imagine. We can pontificate about what trends might be popular and we can argue about which community will be best… but these are not discussions of political philosophy. They are the equivalent of arguing about the best way a baker should bake bread. The beauty of anarchy is if we disagree about how to live, we can simply go our separate ways and voluntarily join different communities (or bakeries).

Therefore, hyphenated-anarchy is unnecessary. Whether a person self-describes as anarcho-communist, anarcho-syndicalist, anarcho-capitalist, anarcho-monarchist, etc… as long as the person actually is an anarchist, then these are not differences of political philosophy. They might describe personal preferences or predictions about the future, but they do not describe a disagreement about the role of government.

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Is Zimbabwe a police state?

October 30, 2013 5 comments

In Zimbabwe, the police have the power to detain somebody without charge or questioning, the government is able to overrule the judiciary, small crimes like drug possession or dangerous driving are punishable with over 20 years in jail, freedom of assembly and association are restricted, free speech is stifled as outspoken people can be taken to court for saying peaceful but “wrong” comments, subsections of society are banned from certain jobs, the internet is censored, the right to silence has been removed, and the government is involved in surveillance programs against their own citizens that sound like they come directly from 1984.

The system in Zimbabwe is still democratic, with regular elections and an active opposition. But the steady growth in government/police powers and the erosion of civil liberties have led some observers to describe Zimbabwe as a “police state”.

Not everybody agrees.

Some people in Zimbabwe have dismissed the idea of a police state as silly fear-mongering from the radical fringe. They argue that the expanded police and government powers are necessary to keep ordinary people safe. These loyalists point out that the government and police do not intend to abuse their powers, innocent people have nothing to fear, and that people complaining are simply defending criminals. Most Zimbabweans seem to agree with the loyalists and support the “tough on crime” policies.

From an outsiders perspective it is hard to know what conclusions to draw. It seems clear enough that Zimbabwe has abandoned the traditional checks and balances of liberal democracy, and have placed their faith in arbitrary power and super-strict sentencing. But is this a bad thing? Just because the government and police have suspended privacy and civil liberties, does that necessarily mean that Zimbabwe is a police state? From the outside it is easy to judge and criticise Zimbabwe for their strict policies… but perhaps they have found the right balance?

Before we judge countries like Zimbabwe for having authoritarian policies, perhaps we should try some of them in Australia to see if they work. What could go wrong?

Libertarian heading for the Senate

September 14, 2013 2 comments

In the 2012 American Presidential election, one of the side stories was the unlikely campaign of the libertarian-Republican Ron Paul, who brought a new brand of politics to the country by advocating significantly smaller government, personal freedoms, and peace. He was ultimately unsuccessful, but his brand of politics is having an ongoing impact on political debate. In America, his son is now a leading Senator and contender for 2016 President. And in Australia on the weekend the people of NSW elected a libertarian to the Australian Senate in the form of David Leyonhjelm from the Liberal Democrats.

A lot has been written and said about this unlikely outcome, and one or two things were even true. Pretty good for the mainstream media.

The discussion about the Liberal Democrats on ABC’s “the drum” TV show was particularly hilarious. Beyond the words “hello” it was hard to find any comment that wasn’t laughably, embarrassingly wrong. One commentator said that Leyonhjelm chose the name of the party because it sounded serious, but the party was started in 2001 and Leyonhjelm  joined in 2006. The reason for the name has been repeatedly explained — the Liberal Democrats believe in liberal democracy and wanted to portray that in the name. The AEC and all reasonable people don’t think that the Liberals should be able to claim a monopoly on a generic political word, especially when it isn’t even true in their case. If somebody wants to vote for liberalism, then the Liberal Democrats offers them that choice.

Another witless commentator said that Glenn Druery arranged front parties to funnel preferences to the Liberal Democrats in 1999… two years before the Liberal Democrats was even started. Fail. In fact, the Liberal Democrats were one of the only small parties that were excluded from the Druery coalition this year. Are facts even vaguely relevant for the ABC chatterati?

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