There has been some good news in the “war on drugs” in Queensland recently. The government has been working hard to achieve their goals, and they are proud of their success. In the Australian Crime Commission Illicit Drug Data Report 2010-11 we are told that the Queensland police managed over 17,000 seizures of marijuana. Well done to the boys (and girls) in blue.
Now, some of you may be thinking that this is all a horrible waste of time & money. People have argued that the “war on drugs” is too expensive and draconian, and does more harm than good. But those people would be missing the point.
It’s true that prohibition does cost hundreds of millions, harass many peaceful people for their lifestyle choices, help organised crime and leads to more violent crime, leads to worse health outcomes and more deaths, and it doesn’t prevent drug use to any noticeable degree. But there is another effect that is often ignored — it helps switch drug-users from marijuana to other “harder” drugs.
And this is the good news.
At the recent Mises Seminar in Sydney there was a speech by Chris Leithner that explicitly called for the banning of fractional reserve (FR) banking. Leithner and other Australian libertarians (including Michael Conaghan & Benjamin Marks from Liberty Australia) follow the lead of some American libertarians (Walter Block, HH Hoppe, JG Hulsmann — BHH) and argue that FR-banking is fraud and should be banned, and further that it is economically damaging and causes inflation.
These two issues need to be addressed separately. The first is a deontological issue about whether FR-banking is consistent with a free world. The second is a consequentialist issue about whether FR-banking leads to bad outcomes. It is possible that FR-banking is consistent with freedom and yet leads to bad outcomes, and then those libertarians who accept the “non-aggression principle” would have to tolerate FR-banking even if they don’t like those outcomes. But before delving into that debate, it is worthwhile quickly explaining what we are actually talking about with FR-banking.
Vaults, loans & banks
Anything can be money. In jail (and POW camps) cigarettes have been used as money. In the early years of Australian settlement, rum was used as money. In some small island nations, shells have been used as money. Through much of history, precious metals (especially gold and silver) have been used as money. And today, the most common sort of money is “fiat” paper money that is created by government but is intrinsically worthless (ie it has no value except as money). This is not the place to go into a debate about what should be money or who should decide, but the important point is simply that there is some original supply of money that then becomes the standard “unit of account” and “store of value” and “medium of exchange” in an economy. For the sake of this discussion, this original supply will be called “base money” and in Australia it is created by the Reserve Bank of Australia (RBA).
The Queensland Treasurer Andrew Fraser has recently introduced a private members bill on civil unions for same-sex couples. The debate is ongoing, but submissions to the relevant committee considering the bill closed today. Below is my submission, on behalf of the Australian Libertarian Society.
Submission to the Legal Affairs, Police, Corrective Services and Emergency Services Committee
RE: CIVIL PARTNERSHIP BILL 2011
On behalf of the Australian Libertarian Society (ALS), I would like to suggest that the government does not belong in marriage at all. The debate about how the government should regulate our love lives and our personal relationships rests on the idea that the government should be involved in the first place. That starting assumption is flawed. Love and relationships do not become better or worse because you inform a politician. Few married people conclude that their love is real only because it has been approved by Anna Bligh or Julia Gillard.
A marriage or civil union is an agreement between two people, and the only people who should be able to make that decision are the people involved. So long as the people involved are consenting adults, there is no reason for the government to restrict their right to form a contract with each other. The idea that the government should restrict the basic economic freedom to contract, on the basis that the parties to the contract are the same sex, is a perplexing attack on liberalism and the rule of law.
Ideally, the government should fully deregulate “marriage”. But if the government insists on continuing its weird fixation with documenting our love lives, then at the very least they should conduct their kinky hobby without discrimination. Personal discrimination is necessary and normal in everyday life, but government discrimination should never be tolerated because the government has the privileged position of being able to impose their views on others through force, and without direct consent.
In case this isn’t clear, let me state it simply — marriage should be fully deregulated, but if that is considered “too radical” then the government should at least allow for same-sex civil unions.
Defenders of marriage will rightly say that marriage is traditionally a religious concept. If only it had stayed that way. I suggest that religious groups should be free to discriminate according to their beliefs, just as we all discriminate every day regarding who we date, meet, support, visit, like, etc. However, that discrimination must not be done with the backing of government. Churches should always be free to *not* conduct a same-sex marriage or a same-sex union, but that decision should be left to each church, and not imposed by the government.
Freedom is now considered a quaint concept in most of the western world, including Australia. While political talking heads will argue passionately about how the government should run our lives, most people are genuinely perplexed when they hear the idea that perhaps the government should not run our lives at all. Many people now feel comfortable in their gilded cage, debating about the rules that our “leaders” should impose on us. This letter is in support of civil unions, and to let you know that some of us still believe in human self-ownership and reject the idea of government control of our lives.
You may set restrictive laws if you like. I will consider obeying them. Who is Ron Paul?
Australian Libertarian Society
I’ve just finished Graham Hancock‘s 1989 classic “Lords of Poverty” and recommend it to anybody interested in the working of the international aid bureaucracy. Hancock is scathing in his assessment of international aid agencies such as the United Nations, bilateral aid agencies (eg US AID), development banks (eg World Bank), and the IMF, and concludes that they haven’t just made a few unfortunate mistakes but they are irredeemably broken and need to be abandoned.
I found a few of his examples to be overly harsh, but found his thesis to be generally persuasive. Instead of trying to review his themes, I think it best to provide some extended quotes, and then encourage you to read the rest…
“This is how the game works: public money levied in taxes from the poor of the rich countries is transferred in the form of ‘foreign aid’ to the rich in the poor countries; the rich in the poor countries then hand it back for safe-keeping to the rich in the rich countries. The real trick, throughout this cycle of expropriation, is to maintain the pretence that it is the poor in poor countries who are being helped all along. The winner is the player who manages to keep a straight face while building up a billion-dollar bank account”
….. Read more…
The recent report by Four Corners about the live cattle trade to Indonesia has got people talking. The report showed that some Indonesian abattoirs are acting “inhumanely” towards the cattle, where some cows take over three minutes to die (instead of the industry standard 30 seconds) and other cows are beaten and abused. Many scenes from the report were gruesome to watch, and it has stirred a popular backlash against the live animal trade. In response, GetUp started a campaign against live animal exports, and the government has responded.
This debate is framed as being about “animal rights”. But it isn’t. If anybody was honestly determining the rights of animals, surely the first right would be the right not to be killed just so that people could eat their flesh. No honest person would say that “the right to not be punched in the face” comes before “the right to live”. If I told you that there was a guy called Brian… and that one person wanted to beat him up, and another person wanted to kill him and eat him, are you honestly going to say that you think the first guy is doing the greater crime?
What if I told you there was a cow called Brian? This is from the GetUp campaign:
Brian (a cow) did nothing to deserve being hit in the face, whipped, or kicked. Each time this occurred he called out in a way which was heart-wrenching. I swear I could hear him call out ‘why’
Perhaps it is inevitable that people will always need to find a minority to hate. Whether it is based on race, or sex, or sexual preference, or lifestyle choice, or language, or religion, or personal habits… the instinct to discriminate, to distrust “different” people, and to enforce conformity is a constant theme throughout history and throughout the world. If this instinct was purely personal, then it would not be a big issue. People could simply choose to associate with those people they prefer, and we could all live in peace. But sadly, many groups want to use the government to force their bigotry on others.
Over the last 100 years there have been some great improvements in social policy, as the government removed most of their discrimination based on race, religion, sexual preference and sex. There are a few outstanding issues (women in the military, gay adoption rights, special rules for aboriginals) but on the whole we now have less official discrimination in these areas. Sadly, not all minorities have been this lucky.
While some minorities become popular political causes, other minorities are on the receiving end of negative political populism. Politically correct campaigners will loudly support the “good minorities” such as GLBT or immigrant groups, but they are equally loud in their condemnation of the “wrong minorities”. This seems to indicate that we are not becoming more tolerant… we are simply switching our bigotry on to other areas.
The problem with irresponsible gamblers is the word “irresponsible” not the word “gambler”. The same is true with “irresponsible drinking” or “irresponsible drug-use” or any other irresponsible action. It is not the existence of gambling or alcohol or drugs that create irresponsible behaviour. And yet the nanny-state campaigners want to punish the product instead of addressing the underlying problem. With wowsers Nick Xenophon and Andrew Wilkie in parliament, and the government in trouble with the carbon tax, the pressure is growing for the government to “do something” about poker machines.
It’s easy to attack poker machines. I don’t like them. I enjoy playing texas hold’em poker for the judgement, excitement and social element… none of which I get from poker machines. But personal preference is besides the point. In a free society, people should be free to pursue their own hobbies and activities, and I shouldn’t force my preferences on others. People who use poker machines (like smokers and shooters) are the new whipping boys of politics. While “progressive” politicians love to wax lyrical about defending minorities, they only seem to defend fashionable minorities. And while trendy lefties will advertise the moral superiority of their tolerance, they only seem to tolerate groups which they actually like.
People who enjoy playing poker machines are seen as the “wrong sort of minority” and therefore they apparently deserve no tolerance.
Child subsidies are a vexing issue for me. Especially concerning is the idea of subsidising mothers and parents to have children when those mothers and parents are unable to even look after themselves. It seems to me undesirable to give child subsidies to long-term unemployed people, but at the same time concern for the child means that there will be popular support for some sort of welfare.
Last week I gave a talk on community welfare for Consilium. This is a summary of what I said.
In the long and complicated debate about welfare systems, there is one element that I think is of particular interest and yet is under-appreciated and unknown to many people: community welfare societies.
By “community welfare” I do not mean private charity, or help from friends, or even social business. All of those are important and positive elements of civil society, but when talking of “community welfare” I mean the coming together of people into mutual societies where everybody contributes and everybody benefits. In effect, I mean a collection of non-government societies that work very much like a mini welfare state.
In the courier mail today it was reported than LNP federal candidate for Dawson (ie Townsville), George Christensen, has suggested drug and alcohol tests for welfare recipients. An interesting idea.
A few years ago I would have been opposed to this. My reason was that people are generally best at looking after their own situation, and so it’s best just to give people money and then give them the freedom to manage their own affairs. This is the argument given by Milton Friedman against food stamps. But my view has changed.