Friday, January 30, 2015

life in the panopticon

Intervention begets intervention. When Canada's imperialist foreign policy stirs up domestic blow back rather than acknowledge that there are consequences to engaging in wars of aggression and adopting a foreign policy of freedom and peace the solution of national security experts at home has been to ramp up the surveillance state. With it's new anti-terror legislation the Harper government has granted an expansion of the already broad powers CSIS enjoys.

The Anti-Terrorism Act makes it a crime to 'promote terrorism', allows for sealed court proceedings, let's CSIS agents carry out arrests on the slightest inkling of nefarious doings, expands the no fly list and allows the spy agency a variety of new activities relating to internet and telecommunications (such as interrupting a phone call).

Instead of expanding the power of the state to spy on Canadians what we should do is cease our meddling in the affairs of other nations, withdraw from the middle east and maintain a foreign policy of non intervention. There is no need to sacrifice our freedom and privacy to stay safe. 

Friday, January 23, 2015

Stimulus? No thanks.

Chris Hall, the CBC's National Affairs Editor, has suggested that the Canadian government should respond to falling oil prices with stimulus spending. It's counter intuitive to argue that because revenues have fallen expenditures should increase but that is the topsy turvy world of Keynesian economics, where up is down, left is right, and all roads lead to increased government spending. Instead of advocating for the financially prudent course of cutting spending social democrats want the Canadian state to borrow more money, presumably to stave off a recession triggered by the shock of low prices to the oil industry.

Sometimes the most disciplined thing to do is not to act at all, or rather to understand that inaction is action; that the conscious choice to do nothing is sometimes the best approach. Instead of looking upon every vagary of market behaviour as an opportunity for the government to rush in and save the day a truly intelligent statesman might practice some restraint. Stimulus spending is not the answer to falling oil prices. There is a finite pool of loanable funds. When the government draws heavily upon this pool there is not enough money for private sector projects that create wealth and better living conditions. When money is taxed and then spent by the government it no longer goes to serve the most pressing needs of the people it is forcibly taken from but instead spent according to the consumptive decisions of bureaucrats. There is a great loss of utility when you take money from someone and then spend it on their behalf, even without accounting for all the waste along the way (like the salaries of the bureaucrats that do the collecting and spending or the political expenditures necessary for politicians to buy votes).

One of the virtues of the market economy is that nothing is stagnant nor does it need to be. Prices rise and fall and fortunes are made and lost in accordance with the entrepreneurial ability of those who risk capital. It is not the business of the state to stabilize the market nor do we want it to be kept rigid at the expense of flexibility. These changes are natural and healthy, as the market responds to consumer demand and reallocates resources towards their most efficacious ends.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

A $15 minimum wage?

The NDP have put their collective minds together and come up with a bright idea. Why not a federal minimum wage at $15 per hour?  Low income workers will have more money to spend, the economy will be boosted and we'll all live happily ever after. Luckily it looks like this election is either Harper's or Trudeau's to lose so we probably won't have to worry about the bitter prosecutor and his happy go lucky gang of malcontents in the New Democratic Party but on the off chance we are faced with an NDP or NDP / Liberal coalition government which does put through a $15 / hr minimum wage what would be the consequences of that policy?

Labour is a heterogenous market. Every worker's efforts on behalf of their employer are unique. Their wage represents their marginal revenue product, or how much they contribute to the productive process. Unless the market is highly uncompetitive they will already be paid roughly what through their labour they create. If their wage is arbitrary set at twice their present rate by the state it becomes uneconomic for the business to keep them on. This is the process by which the minimum wage works; far from lifting the poor out of the gutter it forces them to remain idle and unemployed. The very people that the minimum wage claims to help are those who it oppresses.

Wages rise naturally with productivity, as new technology is developed and more capital is acquired. Instead of imposing additional price controls on the labour market we should seek to remove what intervention already exists. Instead a $15/hr minimum wage we should allow anyone to work at any wage and rid the working class of the payroll taxes which we all despise. An end to the minimum wage would mean significantly less unemployment and a much better quality of life for the countless number of Canadians who would be able to re-enter the labour market. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

scrap the school boards? how about we privatize education instead

In 2003 a report by Queen’s University professor T.R. Williams advocated for the dissolution of the school board system in favour of individual schools having their own governing body. Given the grossly inflated salaries of some trustees (such as Donna Quan, of the Toronto District School Board who makes a handsome $289,000 per annum) and the general bureaucratic ineptness of these institutions certainly we must entertain this suggestion. But what if there was a better solution yet?

Instead of attempting to reform the public school system, why not abolish it entirely? Instead of having education provided by the state and compulsory for all, it could be voluntary and supplied by the market. That way, instead of forcing every school in the province to follow the same curriculum and teach in the same manner we could have a flourishing of choice and competition between educators. Parents who wish to send their child to private school (or educate them at home or pay for private tutoring) would no longer before forced to first pay for the public system. Children who receive no benefit from education would no longer be forced to waste their time undergoing the charade of sitting in a classroom simply because it pleases those who wish to believe that we are all absolutely equally or if we are not that we should be made to be.

Public schools are notoriously wasteful. Salaries are exorbitant and incompetent employees are impossible to fire. The students learn little and the entire process of sitting obediently while listening to a bored bureaucrat prattle on is destructive to both the mind and the body. Many expensive boondoggles have been undertaken in the name of public education. If schools had to compete for students on the basis of price as well as quality you would see radically better results both in terms of how efficiently the task is done and also the caliber of education received. 

Instead of scrapping simply the school boards, let's scrap the system whole cloth and privatize it all.

Friday, January 9, 2015

paris and brazau

Media outlets and heads of state across the world are awash with outrage at the recent shooting in Paris which claimed twelve lives. As Noam Chomsky said of 9/11, events like this are unique not in size or scope but only in location. There is little hand wringing over the 31 Pakistanis killed by air strikes in the Tirrah valley of the Khyber region on Saturday and precious soul searching concerning the 76,000 who have died in the Syrian civil war in 2014, the fires of which have been fanned by Western support and active military engagement in an effort to destabilize the Assad regime. These innocents disappear down the Orwellian memory hole because they are inconvenient.

Meanwhile in Toronto the curious and kooky case of Eric Brazau has drawn to a close. In July of 2013 the anti-Islam activist boarded the subway wielding an Israeli flag and loudly condemned Islam and the Koran. He also refused to leave the carriage for around half an hour. He was then refused bail and sentenced to twenty months in jail in total. By way to contrast in the case of R v. Weins 2013 a career criminal with 9 different theft or break and enter charges in the last five years, caught doing yet another B&E, received a sentence of only sixteen months. Brazau had earlier been sentenced to 9 months in jail for handing out a flyer which the presiding judge said "vilified Muslims and disparages their religion" as well as harassing a Muslim man and his family. This is an interesting case because while the right to free speech should be absolute you don't have a right to free speech everywhere. Rights can only be understood in the context of property. Thus the right to free speech is really a right to own your body and use it in any manner which you wish, including to speak out on topics that concern you. But you don't have the right to, for example, enter a McDonalds and lecture the customers about the horrors of that particular company because the owner of the store or their agent has the right to expel you from their property. What is interesting about this example is that the subway is publicly owned. Should a libertarian view the bureaucrats who control and manage the subway as the owners and attribute to them property rights including the right to determine which conduct is acceptable among riders? What about the fellow passengers, do they have a right to their transit free of the harassment of polemicists and ideologues? The simple solution is to privatize mass transit (and everything else) but given that we do live in an un-free world how do we handle the contradictions inherent in public ownership? His sentence was unnecessarily draconian given the minor inconveniences caused by his actions.

While it's difficult to find sympathy for Brazau and the hate filled bile which he spews we must also defend his right to spew it. The earlier case of the pamphlets is far more clear-cut. It is precisely this sort of unpopular speech which must be protected against censorship. But there is another lesson to draw from this case, which is this sort of hatred and race baiting is precisely what the elites want from us. They want us divided and hating each other over minor cultural differences so that we do not recognize that we are being exploited and oppressed by the state which they control.  They want us to fear Muslisms, or Russians, they want us to be pitted against each other so terrified of imaginary demons that we do not recognize the very real ones which walk among us. We are just one tribe, manipulated, exploited and dominated by a few ruthless sociopaths and if we ever realize this then we will unite and throw off our oppressors. Their power depends upon our fear. We should not succumb to racism or tribalism but instead seek to reform our society along voluntary lines.  We must denounce the mechanisms of coercion, compulsion and control which have long been hallowed as sacred and embrace the peaceful social cooperation of the market.

We should recognize that Muslims do not hate us because we "value freedom, openness and tolerance" as Harper recently alleged. So long as this facile worldview is maintained there will not be peace. They hate us because we kill them. They are over here because we are over there. When we invade and occupy their countries this creates hostility. When Western spies stir up trouble and people die they get angry. How would you feel if you woke up to discover your brother or son was dead? And so we must advocate for peace. For Canada to withdraw from Washington's imperial conquests in the middle east and for Harper to end his bombing campaign in Iraq. We must demand that Canadian troops leave the middle east, never to return and that non-intervention not military adventurism rules the day.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

guaranteed bullshit

In 2014 the Liberal Party of Canada (the government in waiting, to hear the media tell it) joined the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Senate and of course the bolsheviks over at the NDP in calling for a guaranteed nation income. Their verbosely worded policy resolution 97 "Basic Income Supplement:Testing a Dignified Approach to Income Security for Working-age Canadians" calls for a pilot project to test out the idea of a guaranteed income for all Canadians. We here at the forum can save you fellas the trouble of going through all this work, this plan is a really bad idea.

In the rural areas especially (and among many ethnic minorities) there is a real stigma associated with welfare. Some people in this country still cling to this antiquated notion that nothing is free in this world and what you want you must work for. On the farm life is hard. You work long hours for little pay but there is a satisfaction in it, a feeling that you have made a meaningful contribution to the wealth of our society and to your own family. Instead of waiting forlornly for the benevolent state to come to their rescue people in smaller communities have always helped themselves and those around them in need. Indeed there is a certain justified antipathy in less sophisticated parts of the country towards those who languish on welfare instead of embracing the necessity of welfare, an attitude which their urban cousins might do well to adopt. But the Liberal proposal to make welfare automatic would remove this stigma and this would add countless more to the rolls. While an advocate of wealth redistribution might counter that it is demeaning to live off charity, how much worse a blow to one's righteousness it must be to live off what is not voluntarily given but what is instead taken through force. There is also a tremendous moral hazard to the welfare program in that many recipients use this free money to subsidize alcohol and drug use. Labour is good for the soul and idle hands are the devil's plaything.

The specter of poverty, against which this program is being urged, is a nebulous thing indeed. Today poor can easily mean owning your own house and car. Such an incredible amount of wealth has been created by modern industrial capitalism that we think nothing of the casual luxuries enjoyed by even the paupers of this society and were it not for the massive siphoning of wealth from the productive private sector into the hands of the parasitic political class we would be seeing the alleviation of scarcity continue at it's previous breakneck pace. The destitute of today are in a far better place than the kings of yesteryear but professional anti-poverty activists are constantly blurring the line between where poverty and normal everyday life begins; their careers depend upon it. Yet few consider how much poverty is created by the machinations of the welfare state. The salaries of all the bureaucrats and academics who design, carry out and rationalize these programs must come from somewhere, after all. The taxes which fund their activities cause significant harm to the families which must pay them. Taxation is bad enough when you are paying for something you need, like roads or police, but it's simply unbearable when you are actually funding something counterproductive like the welfare system. If all the people on welfare and all the bureaucrats who administer the system were actually out working creating value in the market economy our society would be much better off and our tax burden that much lower.

It's also a little naive to imagine that a universal basic income program would replace payments to seniors, free daycare or the rest of the welfare state. Haven't we learned anything from the 20th century? If this were ever to be adopted it would be in addition to everything else not as a replacement. At any rate trying to reform the state and make it more efficient is a losing battle. The function of government is to exploit and oppress. It is a means by which the politically connected can plunder those who have no pull. Who wants to be looted in a more effective manner? 

Want a guaranteed income? Get a job.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Trudeau is an isolationist?

Whoever loses next October (or whenever the upcoming federal election is called) the War Party is sure to win. Lately hawks across the Canadian political spectrum have been practically tripping over themselves in their efforts to boldly proclaim that they are not in the least afraid to send Canadian soldiers off to die in the service of the cause célèbre du jour. Garneau has crowed loudly that the position of the Liberal party has been "in lockstep" with the Conservative government on Ukraine (we here at The Forum are well aware that it's just two heads on the same vicious hydra, Marc, but thanks for the confirmation). There isn't a hint in the general political discourse that we Canadians should mind our own business and maybe, just maybe, not try to provoke war with a country sporting the world's second largest nuclear arsenal. No that wouldn't play well with Canada's substantial Ukranian population. Never mind that Ukraine is halfway around the world or that Western governments share a certain culpability for the mess in Eastern Europe with regards to our own covert meddling in the affairs of cabbage country. Why won't either the Liberals or Conservatives put Canadian interests first for a change and advocate against deploying Canadian troops to Eastern Europe or anywhere else? Our soldiers signed up to defend Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver not Kiev and it's a blatant disregard for their sacrifice to risk their lives so foolishly.

Matthew Fisher, likewise, is almost ecstatic with the prospect of all the wars Canada can fight in the 21st century see Isolationist path : . From the Africa to the Far East, the Near East and everywhere in between there's scarcely a country in the world which he wouldn't send Canadian troops. So much to do and so little time! If only Trudeau were an isolationist. If only there was any Canadian politicians with the brains and the stones to stand up and loudly shout 'no!' to Western imperialism and intervention abroad. To stop taxing Canadians in order to prop up corrupt regimes overseas. To keep our boys at home. But that is not the case. We're all military adventurists now.

But Canada should not be intervening in oil rich Nigeria, in order to prop up the corrupt kleptocrats in the south who have long been oppressing the ethnic Muslims in the North. There is always the temptation when considering events overseas to view the two sides of a conflict as good and evil but the truth is seldom so clear cut. While Boko Haram are hardly on the side of the angels there is a reason why there is a popular uprising against the Nigerian state. It is simply hubris to imagine that the miracle solution to the gangsterism, civil war and unspeakable horrors which have long plagued Nigeria is the addition of Western military forces.

Nor should Canada engage in Syria, where a western sponsored civil war against Assad has claimed the lives of over a hundred thousand souls. Instead of trying to de-stabalize autocratic regimes in the middle east we should leave them be. Haven't we learned anything from our previous meddling in the Gulf? Nor should we send troops to the Central African Republic nor should we be currently fighting Isis in Iraq. It is none of our business what goes on outside of our borders. This notion that we should be the world's policeman (or the sidekick of) is wrongheaded

Let's stop trying to save the world and just let people escape it by running to our shores. Let's stop giving out foreign aid, and no longer participate in peace keeping missions or any sort of military intervention abroad. Instead we should have a simple foreign policy of free trade, open immigration and honest friendship with all; this would benefit both Canada and the world greatly.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Let John Calvin Stay

Part of the problem with the faux wars which are all the rage these days with states the world over, like the war on drugs or the war on terror, is that real people get caught in the crossfire. Take the case of John Calvin a 24 year old homosexual Christian from Edmonton who is being deported back to the Palestinian territories for having served in Hamas during his teenage years. Aren't we supposed to feel sympathetic for child soldiers? Instead apparently we are inarcerating them, as with Khadr, or deporting them. Never mind that there is a legitimate struggle between the displaced Palestinian people and the Israeli state which claimed their land some decades ago. Certainly if someone comes here and engages in criminal activity (such as kidnapping or murder) then by all means, throw the book at them. But to deport someone for taking part in a legitimate resistance movement by an indigenous people against a foreign occupying force is an injustice. Instead of looking to deport refugees who have fled conflicts and oppressive governments abroad we should welcome these people to our shores and in significantly greater numbers than we are presently doing. We also have a special duty to accept those who have been the victims of conflicts in which we or our close allies have played some part, such as Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq and Syria. If we are to play junior partner to the Hegemony's war machine then surely it is incumbent on us to also tend to the wounded.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

the federal per vote subsidy is dead and we should not mourn it's passing

It's about damn time the ostensibly conservative Harper government did something right. While the professional parasites in the New Democratic and Liberal Parties are complaining that they must now get their funding voluntarily instead of taking it by force from the hapless taxpayer and denouncing the move as undemocratic we should celebrate it for precisely that reason. For what is democracy really but soft communism? Why should we celebrate occasions when the mob runs roughshod over the rights of individuals instead of denouncing these events as manifestly evil? And why should an individual be taxed in order to finance a party who's views are diametrically opposed to their own? Why not have those who support philosophy x donate to an organization that espouses their views, and same for y and z? Isn't it more rational to have society organized upon voluntary lines instead of relying on the apparatus of compulsion and control to force people to do thing they don't want to do? Isn't this more ethical as well?

The Chrétien Liberals introduced grants to political parties on a per vote basis after instituting campaign finance reform legislation which banned contributions from corporations and unions. While the impulse to remove the influence of businesses or organized labour from our politics (and the special privileges which they lobby for) is a sound one the mechanism in place is inappropriate. It is precisely the sort of political speech which these laws target that we must not regulate. A better solution would be to eliminate the powers of the state to interfere in the market place or grant special privileges in the first place; to go after the cause of the disease instead of treating the symptoms. Since mainstream politicians and political parties have impressive fundraising apparatuses and wide networks of supporters they can easily leap through any hurdles imposed by the state on raising money but outsiders, with perhaps one or a few wealthy supporters, will have a very difficult time in challenging the establishment and bringing minority views into the political discourse. Similarly the per vote subsidy benefits popular political parties and makes it very difficult for any new group to emerge on the scene. Fringe parties already labour under the disadvantage of few numbers and limited resources, to add to their burdens a massive subsidy to their opponents is surely to sound their death knell, which of course was the point. Politics and more broadly government is, after all, a game whereby the strong can oppress the weak while lecturing those who are exploited about how necessary and important it is that they be plundered.

Despite the pessimism of schools of thought like the public choice economists, who argue that because the benefit from a particular mercantilist policy is so concentrated and the harm it causes so diffuse that victory for those who favour laissez-faire is impossible it is important to remember that ideas, not narrow economic interests, shape history. Freedom can win out, and has in the past, precisely because of the agitation of a small group of very committed individuals, namely the liberals of the 17th and 18th century. People like Smith, Locke, Bastiat, Turgot and Cantillon spoke out against the abuses of their time and made the modern capitalist system and the tremendous wealth it has created possible. So while it is tempting to retreat into cynicism, the urgency of our struggle should counsel against this course of action. Whether or not the future of our society is one of freedom and prosperity or despotism and despair is very much determined by our actions today.