I believe it's a grave error to think that government can behave in any other way than it currently does.
Who's responsible for your property?

My wife and I own a piece of property in a community in another state. We bought it with plans to one day build a house on it and live there probably for the rest of our lives, but our situation at present makes that a poor choice, so we're waiting. The community has an HOA, and even though we're not yet "residents" I've been keeping up on the antics of the HOA and my future neighbors to get a feel for 1) how the HOA behaves, and 2) what kind of people I'll be living next to if we decide at some point to go through with our plan. To that end, I signed up for the community group on Yahoo, and I receive emails from time to time from the HOA and other members of the community. Needless to say, the issues confronting the residents, along with the HOA's responses thereto, provide endless hours of entertainment, even while some of them are truly cause for concern.

The latest episode in the neighborhood is that some residents are having plants and planters stolen from outside there homes. Everything from small potted plants to heavy concrete planters are being taken in the wee hours of the night from walkways, porches, and patios all over the community. It's been ongoing for several weeks now, and the items stolen are always those that are attractive and in good condition, so it's unlikely that it's a prank being perpetrated by local teenagers. Rather, it's been presumed that contractors, landscapers, or some other group is stealing the items and selling them to local contractors. Understandably, this situation has prompted a variety of responses from the residents affected, as well as those who could be affected.

The encouraging thing is that most residents are simply asking others to be more vigilant around the neighborhood, and some have even offered to take turns patrolling the community at night to prevent further thefts and possibly catch someone in the act. Others have suggested spending HOA dues to hire a private security force to serve the same purpose, which has met with mixed responses (some residents display an irrational bias against private security, saying they believe "rent-a-cops" were more likely to be found sleeping that patrolling, and suggesting instead that they attempt to hire off-duty "commissioned officers" as if that's supposed to ensure better service...but I digress).

What's not so encouraging, though, is that anyone who's dared to suggest that people be more careful about securing their own planters or otherwise safeguarding their own property has been lambasted as "selfish" and lacking "all form of social conscience."  The outrage is levied particularly heavily against those who express a desire to NOT have HOA dues spent on additional security for the community as a whole. It's one thing to presume that we all have a responsibility to watch out for each other, and on a social level I sort of agree. It's good for us to look out for one another, but it's immoral to force people to look out for each other. It's quite another thing, however, to presume that we are selfish for wanting to protect our own property first. I can't quite wrap my head around the root of this viewpoint. I believe that many socialist views are rooted in envy, but what's the root of this particular viewpoint? I'll have to think about it some more. In the meantime, any feedback others may want to provide would be welcomed.

Isn't MORE Recycling the Whole Point?

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it's a crime to recycle in some major U.S. cities. Or it soon will be. With the market prices for recycled goods actually reaching a level that makes recycling profitable, bands of entrepreneurs have rushed onto the scene to make a buck by "stealing" recyclable materials from trash cans. A few major cities are cracking down on these trash thieves, in a bid to ensure that recycling remains a government monopoly.

"California lawmakers are also considering legislation that would make large-scale, anonymous recycling more difficult by forcing scrap and paper recyclers to require picture identification for anyone bringing in more than $50 worth of cans, bottles or newspapers and to pay such individuals with checks rather than cash."

So, let me get this straight...state and city governments supposedly want people to recycle, right? Most people believe that recycling is a good thing, which is not untrue. The problem with recycling to date has been that it wasn't profitable, so the only way it could be sustained was if it was subsidized by taxes. Now, suddenly it's profitable to recycle, so more people are doing it. You would think this is a good thing, right?

Well, the government obviously doesn't think so, and neither do their monopoly contract holders. Why not? You might think that a waste collection company could care less, and may even be thrilled that private individuals are doing a portion of their work for them. After all, refuse theft means less they have to pick up and less they have to dump into a landfill. It would save space, time, and money. So why would they condemn the practice and lobby for laws prohibiting it? Because it threatens their monopoly on recycling...plain and simple. If private recycling becomes a profitable enterprise, the subsidized government bureaucracy loses its raison d'etre, since its only reason to exist is to provide a service that supposedly couldn't or wouldn't be provided by a free market.

Now, I certainly am not one to advocate theft, and you could make the argument that refuse left by the curb to be picked up by a collection company belongs to either the producer (the resident disposing of the refuse) or the company. And, of course, stealing newspapers out of the rack in order to recycle them would rightly be considered theft...except that we're talking about "free" newspapers.

"The free weekly The East Bay Express, which covers Oakland, Berkeley and other Bay Area cities, hired an ex-police detective to stake out thieves and began retrofitting curbside newspaper racks to make them theft-resistant because thousands of fresh copies go missing some weeks.

"We don't want to be spending all our energy printing papers that people take directly to the recyclers," said Hal Brody, the paper's president.

Mike Costello, vice president of circulation at the free San Francisco daily, The Examiner, has taken to doing stakeouts of his own." (emphasis added)

These newspapers are probably free because they're paid for by advertisers, so the argument could definitely be made that the recyclers are stealing from the advertisers themselves. However, the fact that they're being stolen specifically for recycling would seem to indicate that they're more valuable as recycled material than as actual newspapers, which should probably inspire the advertisers to rethink that particular marketing choice.

But why should a homeowner care who takes possession of his or her trash once they place it next to the curb for pick-up?

"Every Wednesday night, Bruce Johnson dutifully puts his garbage and recycling on the curb for pickup, and every week he fumes as small trucks idle in front of his home and strangers dig through his bins stealing trash they aim to turn into treasure."

In most cases, residents don't pay for their trash pick-up directly. Rather, it's paid for via taxes or homeowners' dues. The same is often true of recycling (although in some rural areas homeowners must actually pay to have recyclables picked up separately). One would think that if someone was willing to pick up a portion of a homeowners' garbage for free it would spur competition among waste collection companies for contracts. This is, of course, precisely what the government monopolists don't want.

So here we are, at a point where one can actually turn an honest profit while "saving the planet", but rather than embracing the benefits that this newfound profitably would bring in a free market, bureaucracy is fighting it tooth and nail, as it threatens its very existence. Surely we all see the irony herein. Government wants you to recycle, but only so long as you use government to do it. All else is verboten. Honestly, were I a homeowner who witnessed my garbage being ransacked for recyclables I would probably feel more inclined to sort the recyclable items into a separate container to speed up the process of undermining the government monopoly on recycling, thereby doing my part to save the planet by encouraging the free recycling market to flourish.

Inflation Around The World

Ah, the power of the printing press! This site is chock full of hilarious comments on currencies around the world, with an obvious anti-inflationary bias. Definitely worth some surfin' when you have some time to kill.

"Legal" Immigration

This is the continuation, or expansion, of this small item, that I posted earlier on this 'blog. In that post, I asked what benefit is provided by the legal immigration process to those of us already living in the good old US of A. I'd like to examine the question a bit further to see what fallacies underly the belief that immigration must be a formal process.

When you enter a doctor's office, there is typically a diploma (or several) hanging on the office wall. If you take your car to a reputable auto repair shop you will often see a certificate from ASE or some other certifying body. When I interviewed with my current employer I presented my credentials as a Microsoft Certified Database Administrator (MCDBA). All of these documents indicate that the bearer has completed some sort of training or testing to verify that they are qualified to provide a particular service. Even though in some cases these certificates are required by law (which is a discussion for another time) they nonetheless add value to their services in the form of consumer confidence, and most people are willing to pay a bit more for the services of a certified provider versus one who is uncertified.

What if, however, you entered your doctor's office or auto repair shop and saw, not a certification, but the provider's birth certificate? Likewise, what if I had simply provided my prospective employer with a copy of my birth certificate, rather than my MCDBA certification? Would this document have indicated a single thing about the ability to perform the service offered? What about a work visa, passport, or green card? Do these documents add any value for consumers of our services? No, of course not. They simply indicate that the bearer has met some set of arbitrary, bureaucratic requirements in order to obtain the government's permission to live and work within our political borders. Why, then, is there the presumption that they are necessary for an individual to move freely about the country?

Do any of these documents serve to reassure us that the holder will be a productive member of the community? Do they, in fact, say anything useful about the possessor at all? If you have racist or nationalist tendencies, then perhaps they do, but I can think of no other reason these documents should hold any weight whatsoever.

Many who oppose illegal immigration do so simply because the rest of us are already saddled with a myriad of stifling rules, taxes, and regulations, and so everyone else who desires to come to this country must abide by those same laws. This completely ignores the question of the validity of those laws to begin with. However, rather than call for the abolition of taxpayer-funded entitlements, most people prefer instead to rail against the "flood of illegals" that are supposedly "draining our economy." They fail to realize that these "free" services may be part of what attracts immigrants to the US in the first place, though one wonders how an immigrant without a valid government ID would go about obtaining government services.

These people are correct in one regard...the taxes and endless entitlement programs are indeed a drain on the economy, as are the rules and regulations. Exactly how they affect the economy is a subject for another post, but the fact is that the government programs should be the target of public ire...not illegal immigrants.

Responsible Consumerism?

Comcast is being sued for allegedly limiting bandwidth to file-sharing applications. Verizon recently settled a similar suit over its "unlimited" data plan.

If you notice, however, on the Verizon commercials there’s a disclaimer that says, “Some restrictions apply.” So when you get to the store, and YOU ACTUALLY READ THE CONTRACT before you sign it, it says that there are certain types of data (mp3s, streaming media, etc.) to which the “unlimited” moniker doesn’t apply.

So does this constitute fraud…when they say “unlimited” but don’t mean “unlimited”? Would they be off the hook if they had simply chosen a different term?

In the case of Comcast, they’re not blocking or limiting any particular type of activity. They’re merely throttling bandwidth on connections that are consuming a disproportionate amount thereof, in order to leave some bandwidth available to the rest of their subscribers. In their ads they promise “speeds up to [whatever]”, and “blazing download speeds”. In the first case there’s an implication that a certain speed is possible but not guaranteed. The meaning of the second is highly subjective, so there’s no way one person can say he wasn’t getting what he was promised. To a former dial-up user 100 kbps is “blazing”.

Where does the responsibility of the consumer fall in this case? At what point does the consumer have a responsibility to know what he or she is getting into before they sign a contract? If you go to the store under the pretense that you're signing up for an "unlimited" plan, but upon reading the contract find out that it's not really unlimited, what have you lost? How have your rights been violated?  You've given up some of your time, sure, but our time is the price we pay in the name of due diligence and responsible behavior. Where do we draw the "false advertising" line?

Stupid Arguments - RE: Immigration

Here's the first installment in my list of stupid arguments I've heard regarding government, law, economics, etc.

I've talked to a number of people who say they have no problem with people immigrating to the U.S. in order to build a better life, but fervently believe that "they should have to do it legally!"

Why? So that they're "on the hook" to pay taxes? Everyone should share in the burden of taxation equally?

What other "benefit" could possibly be provided to anyone by the legal immigration process? Specifically, what benefit does it proved to those of us who are natural-born citizens? Are we in any way guaranteed of anything positive simply because someone has been put through what is certainly an expensive, lengthy, frustrating, and most likely humiliating bureaucratic process?

Of course, I don't know for sure that the immigration process is all of those things, but it's safe to assume. Otherwise, why isn't every immigrant pursuing it?

What would Murray Rothbard say?

First, the question, then some background info:

Q: What would happen, in the United States, if the government "went away" right now?

Some friends and I had this discussion the other day, and one theory was that society would basically devolve into "warlord states", whereby whoever has the most guns would control resources and thus maintain a position of power. This is the scenario that is inevitably postulated by military-types, and indeed the friend who insisted on the certainty of this outcome is a military-type guy.

This is, admittedly, a pretty easy scenario to swallow. Much like the various riots that occur on college campuses after football games, or in cities where law enforcement is temporarily rendered useless for whatever reason, it's easy to believe that the sudden lack of government would give many people a sense that they could get away with whatever they wanted. For a short period of time, at least, it's certainly conceivable that there would be a great deal of rampant crime, probably mostly theft and destruction of property. But once that initial "high" is gone, what would happen?

I suspect that the initial rioting wouldn't be as bad as most people believe it would be, and I further suspect that it would be confined primarily to urban areas that already have high rates of crime. For many people, life would go on as usual. People would still have bills to pay, and most of them would still have jobs to go to in order to pay those bills. Of course, there would be thousands of government employees looking for work, so that presents some problems, but that issue is somewhat tangential to the main question. The lack of law enforcement does raise one interesting question...what incentive does anyone have to pay their bills or continue to pay their mortgage if there's no government to punish them if they don't? Can we rely on the honor system or the goodness of peoples' hearts to make sure contracts are adhered to, bills owed for services rendered are paid, and private property is respected?

I must admit that I didn't have a good rebuttal against this argument. I'm a pretty smart guy, but I'm having trouble bringing this scenario to its full, logical conclusion in an Austrian framework. The only thing I've come up with so far is that this scenario would instantly increase the market for private protection. Many former policemen and women would find plenty of work guarding individual homes and communities from would-be aggressors. In addition, the market for private collection agencies may increase as well, thereby helping to ensure that money owed is remitted in a timely manner. Still, there must be other reasons to believe that anarchy can be peaceful and organized. I realize, of course, that peaceful interaction does not presuppose the existence of government...the original immigrants to the U.S. interacted with one another peacefully while basically government-free. Some may attribute that to their particular ideology, but I think there's more to it than that. I'm just not 100% sure what that is.

So the challenge I present to all who wish to participate is to provide examples of inherent mechanisms that foster peaceful interaction in the absence of government. Hopefully we'll all learn something from the exercise.