Wednesday, August 31, 2011

What's wrong with the transit union?

This was written at the time of the transit strike in January 2009.

Hostage - noun, 1 a: a person held by one party in a conflict as a pledge pending the fulfillment of an agreement b: a person taken by force to secure the taker’s demands 2: one that is involuntarily controlled by an outside influence. (Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

Whereas many people see the problems of the transit union as solvable provided there is enough money and will to do so, I see permanent problems as an inherent part of the very nature of the union and so not solvable in the real world.

OC Transpo head Alain Mercier says the transit union is holding the city hostage. Looking at the second part of the dictionary definition shown above, I must agree that the people of Ottawa are being partly controlled by an outside force against their will. But what exactly is the source of this force and what allows it to continue? Union power comes from rules established by the use of government force against the rest of the population.

First is the establishment of a monopoly. The transit company and the union have an absolute monopoly on the transit system. No competitors are permitted. In businesses not propped up by government, socialists decry what they call monopolies (in fact only temporarily the top competitors and we even have laws to prevent these) but when it comes to the business of labour unions they insist on monopoly power. A monopoly prevents competition and much innovation, keeping prices higher and ensuring permanent inefficiencies. Observe that the transit union leader proudly admits that the current strike was started at a time when it could inflict maximum harm to the most people – in winter storm season, just before Christmas in the midst of a severe economic slowdown.

Unions try to improve their lot by excluding other workers from job opportunities. In a free market the use of such force is against the law but with government assistance unions effectively prevent others from competing for their jobs. This keeps people who are willing and able to work unemployed. Because they require victims, if everyone was equally unionized then unions wouldn’t work.

Unions, especially in monopolies, attempt to operate outside real-world economics by taking the determination of wages out of the market. A regular wage is a result of competition among employers for workers and among workers for jobs. The transit union wage has little to do with supply and demand by consumers and is mostly a function of holding the consumer hostage until they pressure government to “do something.” This usually means throwing money at the problem until it goes away, leaving the roots of it to be faced again another day.

Unions can even use force against their members. In the present strike we clearly see union leaders preventing their members from even voting on an offer they might well accept. Who denies union employees the right to speak on the subject of their own contracts? Yet union control is so powerful even this can be prevented, while the law stands by rendered helpless.

Unions are also heavily dependent on government inflation policy. It is the normal path of progress to increase efficiency and lower the prices of goods. Employees increase their purchasing power (lower prices) through the means of and to the degree of their increase in productivity. In order for union leaders to be seen to be accomplishing something, union wages must rise in nominal dollars. In a free market, dollar wages need not rise and thus the union leaders would be revealed as a sham. They depend on inflation to be able to point to dollar wage gains. Inflation erodes the value of dollars over time and hurts most the weakest in society – those living on a fixed income and those without union force to push up their wages at the expense of others.

The problems of transit in Ottawa will not have a permanent solution until a free market is restored: competition for the consumer dollar is allowed, taxpayer subsidies are ended and employers and individual employees are freed to negotiate contracts void of coercion. It is a huge task to undo the damage of decades and we appear short of leaders willing to even publicly identify the problem, much less face it. Meanwhile, we must not give in to the current strike against the citizens of Ottawa.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

What's wrong with a living wage?

Ottawa keeps discussing the implementation of what is called a “living wage” for City employees and contractors.   Advocates claim the policy is just and fair and that poverty is a human rights matter.  In fact, the phrase is an anti-concept, an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate the legitimate concept of wages.

The use of anti-concepts provides a sense of approximate understanding.  According to Merriam-Webster the word “wage” means a payment for services.  The meaning is precise and clear.  On the other hand, “living wage” is defined as a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living.  The definition of “necessities”, “comfort” and “acceptable” make this definition susceptible to subjective interpretation and even abuse.

According to its advocates, the Living Wage Policy would state that an individual working full-time earns enough to meet the basic needs and be able to build savings for the future.  For example, Rob Rainer, executive director of Canada Without Poverty said “If you work full time, you should be able to make a living wage”.  Unanswered is the question of says working full time qualifies you for what someone arbitrarily determines is sufficient income?  Who says your work is of a particular value?  Only an agreement between an employer and employee acting without coercion can decide that.  If an employer is willing to pay and you are willing to work then you have a deal.  If either one of you does not agree then you have no deal.  If one party agrees only under coercion then the agreement is a fraud.  Living wage advocates want to use the force of government to decide employment contracts.  Is there such a thing as a right to ask government to force either of you to act against your free will?

Consider the contorted logical implications of the living wage policy: because an individual has a low value to offer employers (as measured by freely acting people's willingness to pay him), the government should force employers to pay him more than his fellow citizens say his work is worth? Why doesn't he get a second job and work 60 hours or more a week if he does not have enough income? Why doesn't he improve himself so he has more to offer potential employers?  What stops him from learning or studying on his own to become better?  Why should citizens whose abilities are more valuable be penalized (taxed) to pay for his inability, thus penalizing people for doing what they need to do to survive - create value and exchange it with others who do likewise?

Some may counter by asking what to do about disabled employees.  While I have great sympathy for someone who is disabled, it is not moral to use this as a claim against the mind, work and life of another person. There can be no such thing as a right to force another individual to do anything, no matter what needs you may have in life. Income, housing and a given lifestyle are not rights since this would force others to provide them.  I think charity is wonderful so long as it is voluntary and not achieved by coercion.

Who will decide the meaning of necessities, comfort and acceptable and who will be made to pay for providing them?  There is no objective standard one can use, so poverty advocates invent definitions that suit their purposes and sound desirable.  What entitles anyone to work 35 hours a week at $13.25 per hour? By what moral code does one man's supposed need validate the use of government force against another man.  Is it a code validating the right of man to his life, liberty and pursuit of happiness?  Or is it a code authorizing pressure-group warfare to divide the spoils of wealth taxed from those who produce it?

If we were talking about taking the 90% in science earned by Jimmy and giving it to Bobby who earned a 60%, we would rightly see it as soul-destroying for Jimmy.  “From each according to his ability to each according to his need” is a philosophy repeatedly proven to be soul-destroying for individuals and nations.  Ottawa should not implement any more of this ideology and should instead work to reverse its legion of in-force policies.

Friday, August 26, 2011

We shouldn't care about the cost of a stadium

(This was first written in April 2009)

There is much to get excited about in Ottawa these days.  Two major projects have been proposed that would be huge attractions for area residents, increase the national and global profile of Ottawa, provide structures and sites we can be proud of and draw tourism from all over.  With such glowing words you would think I am in favour of City, Provincial and Federal funding to support these initiatives, but I see a better way.

Whenever governments provide funding for a project they are spending money they have first taken by force from you through myriad taxes and fees.  The rationale for taking your money is that politicians and bureaucrats know best how to spend your hard earned money.  Presumably you are too dumb to choose what you will buy, where you will go, how you will get there, what you will eat, where and how you will work, how to care for the health and education of yourself and your family and so on.  Because taxes on productive work and business are so high, many businesses are near impossible to run without getting some of the money back through government grants, loans, investments etc.  This creates a cycle of punishment and dependency.

Consider the case of Lansdowne Park.  The facility and land are City-owned.  The asset has been crumbling for a long time because it is not owned by anyone with true business accountability to the customer.  It is an example of the tragedy of the commons, where something owned by everyone but no one in particular suffers from neglect and various interest groups fight for political control of it.  In the end it is under-productive.  The consequence is the government continues to pour your money into the declining asset until it is time to go back to the start and spend much larger amounts of your money on reconstruction.  Between the consumer and the project is a huge gap.  The project attempts to operate outside the real economy and inside the imaginary world of government’s “higher knowledge and purpose”.

Contrast this with Scotiabank Place.  The facility and land are owned by a business.  Before investing in the venture the business must take careful account of economic reality, meaning assessing the willingness and ability of the customer to buy the product.  Costs must be scrupulously controlled.  Prices must reflect the consumer market at all times.  The value of the asset must be maintained as efficiently as possible.  All this is done as a standard and crucial part of business analysis and operation.  If the business cannot be run at a profit it fails and is sold to another business that thinks it can make it work.  With a low enough purchase price they likely can.  This is an example of how a free market reallocates capital to those who are best able to manage it, directed by the inexorable power of you, in your role as a self-interested consumer.

If government would get out of the way of the businessmen behind the current proposals we would surely have both facilities well run for decades with no risk to the citizens of Ottawa, Ontario or Canada.  Entrepreneurs willing to stake their reputations, experience and capital would take all the risks and enjoy whatever rewards consumers choose to give them.  Government would sell assets it owns at market price, not charge any taxes or fees except those services the facility management buys from government agencies (water, electricity etc.) and pledge not to impose any such penalties in the future.  With the huge cost of government removed from the project, entrepreneurs could raise more capital on their own and remove all risk from government and citizens.  In fact, this is how business was once done in Canada, as is proper for a country that was once almost fully free.  With obstacles such as the crushing weight of the nanny state, City councilors who could not build or run a project like these in a million years and who spend most of their time trying to run your life, it is no wonder the pace of progress on such things is often slower than rust on my car.

I don’t want to be forced to care at all about the cost of a stadium facility because it is properly the responsibility of business people, not politicians and voters.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

What ails Canadian health care

The other day an acquaintance related how he had needed to find a new family doctor when his previous doctor retired.  The old doctor, he said, had always had a very personable approach, taking his time to know patients and understand their concerns.  The new doctor processes patients fast and hardly looks at the patient, much less takes the time to know the patient personally.  I realized this story was symbolic of the changes well underway across Canada and understood why it is taking place. 

Government intervention in the science and practice of medicine is wrecking health care.  Already a huge proportion of Ontario's budget is dedicated to health care and the amount is growing rapidly as the average age of the population rises and government forces costs up.  Before government seized control of large portions of medicine, health care was a product traded freely like food, housing, transportation or any other important product.  Almost all Canadians could afford basic health care, insurance was available to cover large risks and the few who could not afford it were served by a large number of charities.  If this had continued, health care productivity would have risen steadily, variety of services would have increased and costs would have come down as technology advanced.  There would have been no such thing as waiting lists or bursting provincial budgets.

When people came to think of health care as an entitlement and used the coercive force of government to create a monopoly, they tried to impose their own health care expenses on their neighbors.  Since such a monopoly can only create less health care than before, everyone attempts to feed off his neighbor's budget while facing little individual accountability for health and related expenses.  When expenses are shifted away from the person actually incurring them and onto a faceless mass, the demand for services explodes until government must respond with rationing and triage.  When government first took over, there was a vast increase in spending that at first seemed to increase services, but soon this became too expensive and turned patients into an expense instead of a customer.  As the intervention grew and distorted the health care market, protesters demanded even more intervention to "fix" the problems.  In Canada we patiently wait like sheep for appointments, testing, diagnosis and treatment.  In the US, intervention has driven the cost of being a doctor through the roof, and Obama is proposing to make it worse, not better.

To solve the problems of health care what is needed is not an increase in government coercion, regulations or funding.  The solution is to return the business of health care to the citizens and let them make their own individual choices, decide their own priorities in life and be accountable for their own health and related care.  The resulting market signals to doctors, hospitals, drug companies, nurses and all other aspects of health care would shape the system according to the desires of the population.  As in all products not rationed by government, lineups would vanish, technology would flourish, costs would decrease and shortages would end. 
You do not have the right to make a doctor to treat you or make other people pay for your expenses.  The real fix in health care requires a change in morality - a rejection of the philosophy of sacrifice to provide for the many.  All such efforts are doomed to fail since they can only destroy rights, not create them.
To be a doctor traditionally meant not only years of study, but long hours seeing patients, being on call, accepting some work without pay, continuing education, little family life, tremendous reasoning skills, an entrepreneurial spirit, a willingness to innovate and a desire to improve.  Doctors were skilled businessmen whose value was constantly assessed by their patients and their successes and failures.
My friend's new doctor is a government product - good at filling out forms, dealing with bureaucracies and regulators, skilled at processing visitors to his office and working regular hours.  His income has little or nothing to do with medical success and mostly to do with his ability to comply with regulations.  He has little accountability to patients.  He does not seek to innovate in medicine, but in processing speed.  He is the future of government-run health care and you are his unfortunate patient.  Few doctors remain from the pre-monopoly years and what type of student would want to go into the profession today, knowing what it is really like?  The compliant bureaucrat.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The inverted ideology of Earth Hour

(It was Saturday, March 28, 2009 when I first wrote this.)

In just a few hours millions of people are expected to switch off their electric lights, claiming this is a vote against “global warming”.  Organizers hope politicians will see this as pressure to construct a policy to replace the Kyoto accord.  I’ll be making sure my lights stay on in an effort to combat the intellectual darkness of and Earth Hour and climate change alarmism.

A large and growing body of evidence disproves claims of a significant man-made influence on the climate.  Scientists in many disciplines have found hard evidence to not only falsify the many claims of global warming alarmists but to show convincing, natural explanations for many of the large, cyclical fluctuations in Earth’s climate.  Studies from world-renowned climatologists, paleo-climatologists, astrophysicists, geologists, historians and others have consistently cast light on the outright lies of Al Gore and his ilk.  Right here at the universities in Ottawa are some of the well-known scientists who consider the uproar over climate to be a farce.  This information remains ignored by those who would use nature itself as a weapon to push back the advances of humanity over the last two centuries. Just look on the web under the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) and the Manhattan Declaration to learn more.

What about Earth Hour itself – what does it really symbolize?  The desire of some people to control the lives of many others by using government force to restrict the use of energy.  These people have the same mindset as those who value bugs and rocks over human life.  The outspoken ones go so far as to state openly that Earth would be better off without humanity.

Think of all the life-improving changes mankind has discovered since the industrial revolution.  People do not have to rise with the sun to scrape the land in an effort to grow food and feed their family.  Instead only a small fraction of the population does this using super-efficient machinery and farming technologies.  We do not have to huddle in the cold, burning branches to protect us from the bitter cold of night and winter.  Instead we live in insulated, heat-regulated houses built with machines and using high technology.  We do not have to sit idly in the dark after sunset, perhaps burning wood or animal oil to provide a dim light.  We are able to create our own bright light using energy sources un-dreamed of just a few centuries ago.  Our productive and engaged hours are thus expanded greatly.  We do not have to suffer and die at young ages from diseases like tuberculosis, pneumonia, diarrhea, bronchitis, syphilis.  Instead we live more than 80 years and are healthier and stronger than any group in history.  Instead of the rigors of walking long distances to travel, we can step in a car, train or plane and cross countries in a day or oceans in hours.  Rather than have access to a very limited amount of knowledge through a small number of hand-produced books we have instant access to most human knowledge instantly.  Education, health, culture, clothing, housing, travel, food and every other important aspect of human life has been revolutionized in the last 200 years. 

Can you think of one part of your life that is not sustained by the use of energy, in particular the ingenious use of fuels like oil and coal?  Earth Hour participants may enjoy an hour in the dark, though they will likely burn candles and battery power, safely knowing the life-saving benefits of industrial civilization are just a light switch away. If the draconian carbon-reduction policies that climate activists are demanding were actually implemented we would be trying to survive while shivering in the dark without heating, electricity, refrigeration; without power plants or generators; without any of the labor-saving, time-saving, and therefore life-saving products that industrial energy makes possible. Billions would die.

Our city lights are a great symbol of human achievement, of mankind’s achievement in rising from the cave to the skyscraper. Earth Hour presents the inverted spectacle of people celebrating those lights being extinguished.   It reminds me of the end of the novel Atlas Shrugged when the lights of New York go out, signaling the end of a collectivist civilization.  During Earth Hour my home lights will shine brightly in honour and celebration of the successful use of man’s great tool - his mind – to promote human life in the face of a harsh and unforgiving environment.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Books about economic freedom

Teaching socialism in our schools

In the fall of 2009 as another school year started I flipped through the textbook used in Civics at my daughter’s high school in Orleans then decided to take a second look to see what is being taught about rights and government.  I have long known our public schools, being creations of a collectivist entity, have a strong bias towards socialism, yet I was surprised and at times almost ill with the actual content of the text and its direct contradiction of Canadian legal foundations.

It started at the very beginning, with the title of the textbook (which I translate from French): “Responsibility, democracy and engagement”.  In a section titled “What are the challenges of life in a collective?” students are told government is the vehicle used to take care of our most complex needs such as transportation, health care, defense of our rights and freedoms, epidemics, famines and ecological disasters.  It points out that it is difficult to satisfy the needs of all members of the society because what is good for one is not necessarily good for others, so conflicts occur.  It invokes environmental and anti-poverty organizations as examples of what makes up “civil society”.  It claims that in a democracy all individuals should feel responsible towards other members of the community.  The principle of majority rule is discussed as the most equitable way of making rules and settling disputes, even if the minority disagrees. Students are told that if they live in a society that provides “free” health care and other services then they have a responsibility to pay taxes to fund the system and use their abilities for the benefit of the collective. 

A full rebuttal would take a book, so I will briefly consider the notion of responsibility to others and the collective.  In no way can responsibilities be held as a primary in a man’s life.  It is the nature of man that to be alive he must survive, that his reasoning mind is his primary tool for survival and that to use his mind he must be free to act and able to keep what he produces.  Thus, the term “inalienable rights” is used to describe the rights to life, liberty and property.  If he is born with responsibilities he is not free but is a type of serf or slave.  If he wishes to live in a society, expect that his rights will be respected and exchange mutually beneficial production with others, then he must respect their individual rights.  Responsibilities can be created by voluntary consent through a mutually satisfactory agreement.  Responsibilities cannot morally be forced on an individual since that violates his right to liberty.

Simply because the majority around him votes to implement policies on transportation, health care, education, or ecology using the force of government does not morally bind a child or adult to these policies since it is wrong to use force against an innocent individual.  The conflicts the Civics textbook refers to are conflicts inevitably arising when laws are not objective and don’t fully protect individual rights, instead allowing innumerable pressure groups to use government force to create improper laws.  These laws force individuals to conform to the wishes of those controlling government and specify punishments for violations.  For example, laws that force innocent business owners to make signs in a particular language violate the freedom of the individual to make his own choices in life so long as he does not violate the rights of others.  Laws forcing doctors to work for the state and prohibiting a patient from contracting with any doctor of his choosing clearly violate the right to freedom of the doctor and the patient.  Laws forcing some people to pay for the living expenses of others are immoral.  Those who claim the right to make such laws are claiming the right to violate the rights of others.  In such a system there are no objective rights or laws and the system is driven by pressure-group politics, with the largest number ruling over the minorities – and the smallest minority is the individual.

A society that does not make the protection of individual rights its highest law cannot truly be called a free society.  Groups and society do not exist as separate entities without individuals, thus there can be no such objective concept as group rights, racial rights, collective rights or any rights that are not agreed to by mutual consent of all the individuals involved.  The Civics textbook I refer to is wrong at its very foundation and is teaching young minds to be subservient to the collective.  It belongs in the realm of the infamous Borg from Star Trek lore, a race that represents the worst horror for man: to have his mind, born free, submerged in the collective.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Signage at the point of a gun

A couple of years ago I exchanged 8 pages of writing with a fellow columnist on the subject of sign language bylaws in Russell County, just outside the City of Ottawa.  Despite my efforts he was unable to really grasp a fundamental aspect of my argument.  The exercise helped me to see why so many people create, support or submit to so many of the improper laws we have today: they have so little understanding of the source and meaning of individual rights.

Until the last few centuries humanity was ruled by brutal force.  Kings, emperors and warlords conquered land and people to take valuable assets, supposedly limited resources and the production of the people.  The individual was a servant of the state which ruled with absolute power under the threat of death.  Rulers could and did keep the people in a state of slavery or servitude.  Then came the intellectual revolution of the enlightenment, whose leaders taught that man’s tool for survival (the right to life) was his mind (an unlimited resource); that to survive and prosper he must be free (the right to freedom) to use his mind and therefore free to keep the product of his work (the right to property). 

As the idea of inalienable human rights spread, this eventually led to the creation of the United States, which I think is the only country founded on the principles of individual rights and freedoms; with the state subservient to the people (how far they have fallen).  Other countries adopted similar philosophies and in some cases entrenched them in constitutional and powerful legal documents to ensure their strength.  In Canada we have our constitution, which is a combination of the laws of the United Kingdom and Canada including written parts like the English Bill of Rights (1689), the B.N.A. Act (1867), the Canadian Bill of Rights (1960) and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982) and unwritten parts such as the principles of natural law and fundamental justice. 

In a free country the government is the servant of the people and is charged with the responsibility to protect the individual rights of citizens.  Risk to citizens may come from the external force of a military attack, the internal force of actual or threatened physical violence and the implicit force of fraud and theft.  When individuals are able to do as they wish so long as they do not harm others and are fully responsible for their own lives then a country can be said to be free.  In such a society the retaliatory use of force is delegated to the government through the military, police and courts.  Any action that does not require the use of force is the domain of individual decision making and is not the proper role of government.  When government oversteps its role it uses force against innocent citizens.

In a free country a businessman can put any sign he wants outside his establishment.  The law recognizes that it is his land, his building, his business and his sign.  Customers are of course free to ignore the sign and ignore the business.  Only when the businessman and the customer come to a mutual, un-coerced agreement can a transaction take place.  Both have agreed they will benefit as a result.  The lives of both are improved and no one has the right to stop them from doing this. 

Since there can be no such thing as a right to violate the rights of others, a bylaw forcing the use of any language is a violation of individual rights backed by the threat of physical force.  People doing no harm to others can at first be fined (violation of property rights) by the municipality, have their assets seized by the police (violation of property rights) and can eventually be imprisoned (violation of right to freedom).  Such laws are not proper for life in a country that stands for freedom and human rights.  They inevitably create pressure-group warfare as some groups try to use the law to selfishly impose their wishes and whims on others.  Instead of being the highest protector of rights, government becomes the tool for the worst violations of rights – those against its own citizens. 

The Russell Township sign language law should not be scrapped because it is expensive to defend it from legal challenges; raises the cost of doing business; some people are anti-French; or because the majority says so.  Pragmatic opposition will not produce a lasting and meaningful effect.  The law is based on a flawed and immoral principle and must be attacked on this basis for its opponents to win a true victory for individual rights and freedoms.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Government "Stimulus" Spending Hurts The Economy

Many will think the government “plan” to cushion the Canadian economy from reality will be helpful, but I think not.  Deficit spending simply means borrowing against the future of the citizens of the country and against the wishes of the citizens.  If they want to borrow money they are free to do so to the degree they are credit-worthy and credit is available.  By borrowing, especially in panic mode, the government imposes the will of the few who think they know better on the will of the many who are trying to live their lives as they see fit.

The proper and moral action of the government should be to withdraw its economic stormtroopers from the business of Canadians and let them choose how to earn and spend their own lives and money.  For far too long government has been creeping further into the economy and interfering with freedom of choice in many areas considered, at the time of Confederation, the sovereign domain of the individual.  A shockingly high portion of people's lives is subject to the whims and wishes of bureaucrats, politicians and regulators. 

Canada could become a super-magnet for business and trade by reducing the grasping claws of government and freeing people, especially businessmen, to run their own lives. 

To maximize quality of life requires the greatest production capacity possible whereas taxes punish production.  Why not eliminate all taxes on production and shut down all government interference in production?   If there is to be any tax at all, it should be a small consumption tax.  This would stimulate vast amounts of investment capital flow into Canada, spur a massive rush to start and build business, employ everyone who wishes to be employed and set an example for the rest of the world.  It would be a new industrial revolution.

All so-called stimulus spending is just a crude redirection of otherwise more efficiently spent money.  Governments do not know where money is best spent; freely acting people using their own resources do that much better.  Government action undermines the choices of citizens and forces inefficiency on the country.  It takes wealth from those who produce it and redistributes it arbitrarily among the favorites of the day - whatever government sees as expedient to gain voter support.  In particular it takes wealth from citizens who are the most productive and most valuable (who therefore pay the most taxes) and hands it to the less productive and less valuable. This is supposed to stimulate anything?  It certainly stimulates waste, rent-seeking and a clamor for unearned wealth, pitting citizen against citizen in a war of political favoritism and pressure-group fighting for the spoils of tax policy.

Prime Minister Harper should know better.  He used to speak of these things openly, as a champion of the right of the individual to live a free life and the paramount responsibility of government to protect that right.  He used to advocate for a decrease of government interference in our economy and lives. 

Now, he seems fearful of a craven group of misfits; people he used to oppose with every word.  Now, he has joined them in an orgy of spending he once righteously and rightly condemned.  Now, he has made himself one of them by betraying his once proudly defended principles.  There is nothing left to surrender - our Prime Minister has succumbed fully to the corrupting effect of political power and has become a socialist.

I only hope there is a small voice remaining inside him screaming at the agony of betrayal, longing to be free again, that may one day start reversing the abandonment of core principles.  He could do so by admitting the mistakes of using government force against citizens and being willing to commit political suicide by pulling the life-draining government needle from the arms of our productive individuals. 

I once thought Stephen Harper could be the man to at least begin the process of helping Canada shrug off the burdensome load of government interference, controls, regulations and dictates.  Unfortunately he has clearly succumbed to the drug of political power and differs little from his political opponents and recent predecessors.  What a colossal waste of potential and an end, at least for now, to hope for increased individual freedoms for Canadians. 

Sunday, August 7, 2011

When Ontario attacks businesses

During the early recession time in 2009, Ontario’s Liberal government looked to get into even more businesses, ostensibly to support Ontario’s economy.  Those of sound economic mind will recognize this as one of the worst actions a government can take and is certain to cause destruction of value, jobs and companies. 

The fact that an Economic Development Minister even exists tells me Ontario is going in the wrong direction.  The original and still highest purpose of government is to protect your individual rights so you may choose your own path in life, free from coercive force so long as you do not harm another.  To accomplish this, we delegate the right to initiate force to our governments.  The entity having the greatest potential for harm is government itself.  No other organization exists that has insinuated itself so deeply into your daily life and has such power over you.  Constitutional laws are primarily needed to protect citizens from the force of government, to restrain government.

Minister Bryant said “This is government choosing winners and losers.  This is supposed to be the thing that governments weren’t supposed to do.  But this is the business we are in.”  Amazing – the Minister saying out loud that he is knowingly doing the wrong thing – casually, as if the wrong thing is now to be the right thing.  This reversal of right and wrong is altogether typical of proponents of socialism – an inverted and impossible philosophy: freedom through massive use of force.  

Bryant said “Just as companies go to banks and apply for dollars, companies come to the government of Ontario and apply for dollars.”  He failed to recognize a crucial distinction between free people (and their businesses) and government-as-business.  If a business goes to a bank seeking a loan the bank must carefully judge the merits of the business because it is responsible for the safety of your (depositor) money that it is lending to others.  If the bank does not lend carefully and loses your money then you should not deposit money with that bank and instead deposit it with a bank that is careful.  Competition and your consuming preferences require bank accountability.  When a business goes to the investment market seeking equity investment from you it becomes accountable to you as a shareholder whose own assets are on the line every day. 

When government takes the place of a bank or an investor it interferes with your consumer and investment preferences and distorts the economy.  What sort of business would want to partner with the notoriously fickle, inefficient and bureaucratic jaws of the state?  Only those that cannot raise money from careful lenders and investors, whose business has been judged as not suitable by people with direct experience and full accountability.  Thus, government is left as the supporter of those businesses that are least capable, most risky and most willing to use political influence to get their hands on taxpayer money. 

Where does government get this money?  It is taken by force from those who earned it.  Where does it go?  To those who cannot earn it on their own.  Bryant said “governments have to play a role in assisting those companies in consolidation battles to survive.  It’s critical to survive.”  By his measure, every business that exists must survive, no matter what the cost.  Bryant proposed to ignore the clearest consumer signal possible – the insolvency and failure of a company.  If consumers do not want to buy enough product at a price that allows the company to make a profit, then why should government use money taken from consumers to compensate that business for its inability?  Madness.  Bryant wants to force citizens to support businesses that citizens have voted against with their own hard-earned money.  This economic insanity is totally incompatible with the principles of freedom.  Clearly the Ontario Liberals have no wish for a free province and would rather control your life.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Garbage In - Garbage Out

When considering the merits of an assertion, one of the most useful tools of logic I have encountered is to ask the question: if this is true then what are the logical extensions and consequences?  This challenges the thinker to follow the implications of an idea and see if   contradictions in reasoning arise.  When faced with an apparent contradiction, one must then try to discover which of the premises is false. Discovery of the false premise enables the removal of the contradiction.  Such is the case with the public discussion of garbage/blue/black/green box collection, which is filled with apparent contradictions.

Consider the primary reason given for splitting our household waste into so many compartments in the first place: that available landfill space is limited and so we must find ways to reduce, recycle and re-use.  According to the City of Ottawa web site, the City covers an area of 4,662 square kilometers with over 90% of it being in a country setting.  It would be greatly surprising if even one thousandth of this was used for all the landfill Ottawa has accumulated in its history to date.  In fact, Ottawa could probably store in landfill the municipal garbage of the entire country for decades without using more than a tiny fraction of our land area, never mind the fact that we are surrounded by millions of kilometers of even less populated land where landfills could operate.  Clearly, space is not a limitation for landfill use.

Consider that the technology of managing a landfill has really only started in the last few decades.  With a few sensible steps taken to prevent liquids from leaching into the water table and capture and convert gases into energy, landfills can be a safe an economical way to manage our waste.  If the contents of the landfill become more valuable as technology advances or a particular material becomes scarce (though this is unlikely to ever happen), then companies could mine the landfill or exploit it in other ways.  Landfills do not have to mean damage to the surrounding environment.

Consider that the technology of plasma gasification, wherein waste is fed through a powerful electric arc and converted into basic elements in gaseous form, is nearly new and has the potential to reduce the volume of solid waste by 95% or more.  This process converts much of the organic carbon and hydrogen normally present in waste into a gas that may be further processed and used for energy production with clean by-products.  The inorganic materials are converted to an inert, glassy, rock material that may be further processed into materials such as rock wool (used for insulation and hydroponics) and other construction materials.  Ottawa is the site of one of the world’s leading plasma gasification facilities (Plasco Energy Group Inc.) but the technology is still very new and is rarely used.  If we choose, in the next few years nearly 100% of Ottawa’s organic and inorganic waste could be recycled by this process and existing landfill material could be dug up and recycled as well, converting the waste of the past for the benefit of future citizens.

The assertion that landfill space is scarce fails when we look at not only the current facts of geography, but the new facts that are being discovered by science and exploited by industrial use of technology.  If you assume that garbage can only go to landfill, that garbage will always be a waste product and that resources are limited then you have to conclude we will eventually run out of space to store our garbage.  This seeming contradiction can be easily solved once you understand that humans are constantly discovering ways to adapt to challenges and overcome them by the use of their reasoning minds.  The human ability to reason, imagine and create knows no limits and so all political, economic and pseudo-scientific thinking that begins with an assumption of scarcity has eventually been proven wrong.  True contradictions do not exist and are corrected once the underlying premises are challenged and logical extensions explored.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Cutting down individual rights

In June 2009 the City of Ottawa’s planning and environment committee approved a bylaw forcing landowners to seek and pay for city approval to cut a tree located on their private property.  Committee Chair Peter Hume said the bylaw does not go far enough and the City isn’t showing leadership.    Let’s consider the ideas behind the bylaw and their logical implications to identify the ideology at work here.

Governments are created by citizens to protect them from the use of force or fraud by others.  For protection, we delegate the right to initiate force to our government.  This delegation of power must be closely supervised and limited to prevent the worst use of force – that done by a government to its own citizens.  Fundamental legal documents such as a constitution and a bill of rights define the rights of individuals and restrict the powers of governments. 

The basic individual rights are the right to life, liberty and property.  Humans survive by using their unique capacity to reason.  To survive (life) they must be free (liberty) to seek and earn values and keep the product of their effort (property).  All other rights come from these. 

Black’s Law Dictionary, 8th ed., 1999 defines private property as: property protected from public expropriation – over which the owner has exclusive and absolute rights.  Note that the definition very specifically refers to the protection of the individual’s rights from government use of force.   When you buy a real property you make a payment to the owner and the government registers you as the rightful owner.  But do you really own your land and what is on it?

I can argue that you do not truly own your land because government charges you a tax based on their estimate of its market value.  This tax is ostensibly for services they provide to you, but you have little or no choice of which services you want to pay for.  Regardless of which you use, if you don’t pay the taxes they charge they will eventually seize your property by force. 

Now back to the issue of your trees (and grass, weeds and soil)?  Do you own these?  Are you free to use them or not?  Can you be forced to grow grass or cut it?  Can you cover your soil with bricks or asphalt?  Can you grow trees and cut them down?  Apparently not – the very officials elected to protect your rights instead spend most of their time figuring out how to control more of your life, remove your rights and redirect your efforts to suit their own purposes.  Consider that you could buy land, plant a tree, spend years nurturing it and then only the apparently omniscient City officials will determine if you are allowed to cut it down.  Your own mind, decisions and preferences will not be considered and in fact no objective rule will determine what tree can be cut – only the subjective whims of bureaucrats will rule.

The very definition of property rights has been eliminated in almost all areas of your life.  The primary purpose of government has been reversed from protecting your rights to disposing of them.  Your elected officials spend almost all their time figuring out how to spend your money and take as much of it as they can get away with.  We are left with massive and inefficient bureaucracies of unionized workers clamoring for their purported right to work and working conditions, right to wages, right to benefits, right to pensions, and right to force you to pay for all of it. 

In this dramatic economic slowdown caused by the actions of such people, they cannot recognize the evidence for the failure of their collectivist ideologies and instead argue for more of the same to repair the damage.  At the very least you now can try to stop them from stealing your exclusive and absolute right to plants grown on your own private property.