Monday, April 30, 2012

In Praise of the Competitive Spirit

I just read an article at the website Elephant entitled "When Competition Wins, Everyone Loses", and I felt compelled to respond. The author asserts that it is more important to cooperate than to compete, that we are put on the Earth of express our "uniqueness", and that, in fact, when it comes to competition v. expressing our uniqueness, we "...can have one or the other, but not both at the same time." Competition, it seems, is actually a bad thing, detrimental to human souls. It creates winners and losers, is based on the reality of scarcity of resources (this is seen as a negative attitude about the world, I suppose, rather than the truth), and is basically a negative human impulse we need to just get over already.

Obviously, I'm not writing this essay because I agree with her. While in her mind, competition and cooperation are diametrically opposed, in the real world, they are equally important, from the abstract "market" to which economists frequently refer, all the way out to the natural world in the Darwinian sense. In fact, competition is not only on equal footing with cooperation, it is actually a good thing! Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education said it best, in my opinion, when he described competition as "nothing less than striving for excellence in the service of others for self-benefit." When people push themselves personally, professionally, or creatively, the result is not a zero-sum, with one winner and one loser. The result is an expansion of what was previously dreamed as being possible. The result is progress. It is higher heights and deeper depths and entirely new frontiers! And when combined with cooperation (not instead of it), where ideas blend and merge in to something altogether new and even greater than the sum of its parts, life as we know it has the possibility to change.

When businesses compete, is the only winner the business that comes out on top? No! When businesses compete, everyone is better off. Remember, competition is nothing less than striving for excellence in the service of others for self-benefit. The customers of that business are better off; they might have better products, prices, and better service. Even people who do not become customers of that business are ultimately better off because of the ripple effect in the market economy created by innovation, higher standards of services, and competitive pricing. I don't own an iPad, but I'm better off because of its very existence because makers of eReaders like Amazon's Kindle had to compete not only with other similar readers, but with entirely new and exciting technology. When the first Kindle came out in 2007, it sold for $399. Today, even the most basic Kindle model, which is better than the original in every conceivable way, can be purchased for $79, free shipping included. In fact, I'd be better off even if I didn't own a Kindle because innovations in publishing make it possible for me to access and read untold numbers of books online for free. I can download Kindle Desktop and read "Pride and Prejudice" for free on my laptop if I want to, saving me at least a trip to the library or space on my overflowing bookshelf.

The Original Kindle

The Current Kindle

Competition benefits us our entire lives. These days many parents seem to feel that children aught to be shielded from the world of competition in order to build self esteem and spare egos. I even overheard a college professor recently say that he felt that giving his students grades was "mean". This attitude only does young people a disservice. Grades are a way to assess one's grasp of a subject and ability to apply it in meaningful ways. Pointing out areas of weakness or even failure is necessary for improvement to be made. The result of an "everyone wins because they participated" mindset is one that places no real importance on personal improvement, hard work, or perseverance. In a way, even so-called "losers" can be winners if they harness their ability to learn the valuable lessons afforded in every loss. Losing with grace, learning from our mistakes, and not tying up our identities and self-worth with winning or losing are things everyone needs to learn. Coddling egos is not compassionate, loving, or kind. Come on, do you want your kids to wind up like the kids in this SNL sketch?!

"I tried, and therefore no one should criticize me!"

It is the absence of competition, not its existence, in which the most of us lose. Take a look at the (former) Soviet Union. The ability to compete in a free market was virtually eliminated as the State took over the means of production across the board. Without competition for resources and business, it is impossible to come up with a price for anything. A price is nothing more than a signal in the market that a good or service is currently valued at a certain level. Without a pricing system based entirely on what people are actually willing to pay for something, production and consumption (supply and demand) are always lopsided. You'll have gluts (overproduction resulting in wasted resources) and shortages (think famine and people queuing up around the block to fill the car with gas), but seldom is equilibrium reached. When competition loses, everyone loses. 

Finally, back to the original article I referenced. The author makes the point that "a Brahms symphony only sounds good when all 80 people on stage are playing their own parts well", and she is absolutely right. But how did an orchestra come to be full of talented, capable musicians in the first place? They worked their butts off for years, striving for excellence in their chosen field, auditioned (competed) for the job, got the job, and now make beautiful, harmonious music together in cooperation with their fellow musicians. Even then, however, scores of passionate, talented, and ambitious musicians are ready and waiting to take any spot should one musician become complacent, stop practicing, and fall below the standards of excellence expected of the orchestra. Just as it should be.

Extra Credit:

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's Not Easy Being... Red?

Recently a very boneheaded article was brought to my attention (by the hubster, for my enjoyment), alerting me to the fact that Fox Business was on the attack against my beloved Muppets, calling them communists! This shall not stand, and not just because I've adored the Muppets since childhood, but because the whole premises for both Fox Business' AND HuffPost's arguments are wrong.

Here's the gist of it: Fox Business sees Kermit and gang as the new Red Menace, corrupting our children with it's pro-environmental anti-oil, anti-corporate message. The "successful businessman" is depicted as "evil" (Chris Cooper as "Tex Richman"), and Liberal Hollywood is brainwashing our kids! You can watch the clip for yourself at the bottom of the HuffPost page I linked to above, if you can stand it. HuffPost tries to put up a good defense, claiming that even though there are no explanations of the benefits of oil drilling in the movie, there is no talk of the industry at all, and that, in fact, no environmental issues are mentioned. This is true, but to me both sides of this silly argument actually miss the point and only see what they want to see.

To me, what's going on in "The Muppets", which is a really fun movie, by the way, is not an argument about Big Bad Business or Evil Oil or anything like that. At it's heart, this is a property rights issue. Tex enters into a contract with Kermit to remake the Muppet Theater into a Muppet Museum, which we soon find out is a big fat lie. He actually intends to tear it down and drill for oil. Realizing they've been swindled, the Muppets work like crazy to earn enough money to keep the theater because it means so much to them. Tex works up to the last second to thwart their efforts, even cutting of the power supply to the theater to disrupt the fundraiser they've put on to earn the money they need. One of the Fox pinheads goes on to question why being rich is seen as such a bad thing, implying that the Tex Richman character got where he did by "working hard and being successful" and living out the "American Dream." He's not a villain because he represents Big Oil or because he's wealthy, he's a villain because he's a lying, cheating, duplicitous creep! He uses every unethical, immoral tactic to get what he wants, namely, someone else's property. How can anyone with a working brain and a moral compass not get that?

Finally, even the title of the HuffPost article is erroneous. The Fox Business pinheads did spew out a lot of eye-roll inducing tripe, but they didn't call the Muppets "communists", as far as I could tell. I'd like to remind HuffPost that communism is an economic system which rejects all private property, favoring public ownership of the means of production. Because the Muppet Theater, whether owned by the Muppets or by Tex Richman, was always private property, never the property of the State, the "communist" label makes absolutely no sense and has no relevance. Calling the Muppets "communists", or even claiming that someone else did (when they didn't) is also the kind of uninformed ad hominem attack that 1) displays one's lack of understanding, 2) displays one's intent to be provocative for its own sake, and 3) lends your argument as much incredibility as you intend to bestow upon your opponent.  The next thing you know, someone will get themselves all worked up accusing them of promoting a " liberal homosexual agenda", citing "Rainbow Connection." Give me a break!

Now that I've got that out of my system, enjoy these classic Kermit songs, and then go see the movie for yourself!

"Being Green"

"Rainbow Connection"

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The Non-Aggression Principle

If you had to boil down libertarianism to its essence, it's very core philosophies, I think it comes down to two things: self ownership, and the non-aggression principle. Today I want to talk a bit about the latter. First, a video featuring Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio explaining the non-aggression principle.

The non-aggression principle, or NAP as I'll be referring to it henceforth, isn't something that a group of wise philosophers came up with. It is something written on our souls, something that has a place in the tenets of every major religion on earth. It is nothing short of the Golden Rule itself: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don't hurt people. Don't steal. Don't be a bully; talk things out, and do your best to persuade others using only words, not coercion and threats. Our parents taught this to us, as their parents taught it to them. It is the only way to truly treat others as equals. When you encroach on someone's person, whether it be with physical violence or theft or even angry words, you are, in essence, saying "I matter more than you do. My needs outweigh your needs."

We all expect this of ourselves and of one another, even though we all fail to put it perfectly into practice. The NAP is the standard to which a moral person and a moral society is held. Yet beyond our private lives, we live under a system completely based on the use of aggression. What is wrong for an individual has been made legitimate for the State. The State hurts people. The State kills people. The State steals from people. The State kidnaps people. The State enslaves people. The State is a bully. The State is coercion, force, aggression, and domination. To the State, you are not significant. Every time a new law is passed that violates even one person's natural rights, the State is saying "We matter more than you do. Our needs outweigh your needs."

Every time you pay a tax, you are being robbed. If you resist, the "at gunpoint" part becomes real. Every 18 year old boy who is forced to register for the Selective Service risks possible enslavement and even injury or death in the event the State decides to resume conscription. Failing to do so leads to more kidnapping and theft, in the form of a $250,000 fine or 5 years in cage. Behind every law, just or unjust, is a loaded gun. Behind those loaded guns are officers of the State "just following orders."

Most recently, a very terrifying bill has been passed by the Senate that would allow the military to arrest American citizens and indefinitely detain them without charges or a trial. As long as you are seen as a "threat", you can be held, even sent to Guantanamo Bay. Before you start to think that the kinds of people who will be picked up are the kinds of people who plot to crash planes into buildings and blow up hotels, take a look at this list of things which are now considered "suspicious". Included are such dastardly deeds as paying in cash, having missing fingers, and buying a flashlight. If you are a survivalist and keep more than one week's worth of food in your house, you are suspicious. This bill is not the result of the actions of people who respect others and their rights. This is the result of a State flexing its totalitarian and fascist muscles. Can you imagine what this would look like on an individual level? It would be like giving your neighbor the stink eye, so he locks you in his basement. It's beyond creepy.

The only legitimate role of government is to protect the rights and liberties of individuals. Beyond that, however, it represents an illegitimate use of force. Remember: if it's wrong for you to do, it's also wrong for the State to do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Liberty Maniacs

A quick plug for a great company I like a lot (and buy from) is in order., makers of "Freedom Products for Liberty Lovers", makes lots of fun and creative designs for t-shirts, posters, buttons, bumper stickers, hats, mugs, and just about anything you might want to slap a Ron Paul R[3VOL]UTION logo on. When you buy via, it's also really easy to completely customize your item. I recently bought one of their Tank Man t-shirts. I specified that the t-shirt be pale blue, and even added my own text. The original said "Individualism" (and others say things like "Stop Something" and "Disobey"), but I wanted mine to say "Freedom Fighter". The finished product looks great, and I love letting my colors show when I wear it!

"Like" them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter @libertymaniacs so you know when they have discount codes and new designs.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Economic Freedom vs. Income Equality

Recently, in the "Comments" section of my post, The Immorality of Taxation, some clips of Jon Stewart discussing his views on taxation and income equality were brought to my attention. One thing that really caught my attention was Stewart's citation of the Index for Income Equality and his mockery at the United States' position at #64.

What I'm referring to starts at minute 2:55. (By the way, the data he shows  doesn't seem to gel with the table at, which ranks the US at #52. Is his information not quite up-to-date? But I digress.) "The United States of America is not a Third World Country, by any measure, except perhaps Income Inequality, where we rank worse than the Ivory Coast..." states Stewart, to the applause and laughter of his audience. To take this at face value, to accept that we aught to be ashamed of ourselves for this ranking, would be premature. Let's take a closer look.

Income Equality: What does it mean?

In a free market economy, there will naturally occur differences in income. Some jobs are higher paying than others (brain surgeons versus ditch diggers, for instance). Likewise, companies who are able to best provide what a willing and able consumer wants to buy will make more money than companies that don't. The ability to provide something that people want, whether it's a service or a product, is rewarded in proportion to the value the market places on it. Income inequality, therefore, is the result of a system of values made by consumers who vote with their dollars. So far, so good.

What happens when this free system is frowned upon, tampered with, and controlled, in the name of equality? The market is no longer allowed to make value judgments. Companies are no longer rewarded for making more of the things that people want when their profits are taxed away. Businesses that fail are bailed out by the State at the expense of the taxpayer. The ability for companies to attract the Best and the Brightest to work for them and increase their competitive advantage is diminished.

But Equality is Good, Isn't It?

Equality, as in our Natural Rights, the rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness that we all have, is a good thing. But the rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, though they do apply to one and all, do not mean that we will all achieve the same things and realize our highest potential as individuals.

Income equality, specifically, demeans the individual by failing to reward hard work, achievement, and the realization of potential. It says to the brain surgeon, "we as a society do not value the years of hard work and dedication to the medical field that you have demonstrated in the name of saving lives." It says to the wealthy entrepreneur, "we as a society love your products that you've made available to us at prices we're willing to pay, but don't feel that you should be rewarded for them." It says to the high school dropout living on welfare, "your lack of ambition and self-motivation is nothing to worry about, because someone else will take care of your basic needs for you."

Economic Equality Does Not Equal Prosperity

One of the best indicators of the prosperity of a nation is not income equality, but rather economic freedom. The freer the economy, the healthier and more prosperous the economy, and the higher the overall standard of living. Call it the "rising tide that lifts all boats" (Melissa trivia: this was the title of a paper I wrote on School Choice for one of my college economics classes). "Inequality of wealth and incomes is the cause of the masses' well-being, not the cause of anybody's distress. Where there is a "lower degree of inequality," there is necessarily a lower standard of living of the masses."[1] So let's compare two indices: The Income Equality Index and the 2011 Index of Economic Freedom. Lets take a snapshot of the countries that rank first and last on the each of the two indices. I'll allow the data to speak for itself.


Equality Index Rank

Freedom Index Rank

GDP per capita
Hong Kong

*As you can see, North Korea, Afghanistan, Iraq, Liechtenstein, and the Sudan do not provide enough data to be counted on the list, so Zimbabwe is at the bottom of this list.

So, Jon Stewart, our levels of income inequality don't equate us with Third World Countries. On the contrary, it's one thing that keeps us from being a Third World Country.

Extra Credit:

[1] Inequality of Wealth and Incomes [The Freeman, 1955]

How do the 50 United States compare in Economic Freedom? Click here!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Libertarian Haiku

A little hobby of mine is writing topical haiku poetry*. This is what I came up with...

No masters, no slaves
Beholden to nobody
I make my own way

Laden with thick chains 
under the guise of safety
I can hardly move

Pretending to help
market manipulation
can only destroy

more State regulation
Pop goes the bubble

Taxation is theft
and the State is the bandit
picking my pocket

I hold my head high
For my burden is heavy
but my heart is Free

I would rather be
an enemy of the State
than of my neighbor

Left versus the Right
A play produced by the State
for its own pleasure

*If you're unaware, haiku is a traditional Japanese form of poetry. The first line has five syllables, the second has seven, and the third has five again.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Immorality of Taxation

I thought I'd kickstart the blog with a few thoughts on taxation. There's been more talk lately about higher taxes on the rich (from Obama and Buffett, to name two). "They should pay their fair share!" "The gap between the rich and the poor is too big. There needs to be more fairness!" "They can afford it!" Even hip-hop mogul Russel Simmons got in on the action, calling for higher taxes for his fellow millionaires and billionaires. How generous! Begging, pleading, for the government to take away their money and the money of their wealthy peers! 
"The wisdom of man never yet contrived a system of taxation that would operate with perfect equality." -Andrew Jackson

I'll let the little video at the bottom make my economic arguments for me since it does such a great job. Today I just want to make the other argument: the moral argument. As you'll come to see pretty quickly on this blog, I never met a tax I didn't hate. I hate what they stand for, and I hate most things that they're used for. For the things I like that taxes pay for, I'd rather they were done privately and voluntarily.

I Hate What Taxes Stand For

What is a tax, be it an income tax, a sales tax, a capital gains tax, a death tax, a property tax (the list goes on for miles) but the State's claim that they have more right to your property and the products of your labor than you do? Let that sink in. The State has more rights to your little slice of life than you do. It owns you, and can and will use force to take from you what it wants. Since the State is incapable of producing anything on its own, it relies on transfer payments to get things done. It takes money from one party and transfers it to another. If you think it's harsh to say that they use force via the threat of violence to take away your money, try not paying your taxes for a while, and see what happens. Taxation is nothing short of legalized theft. Imagine it on a micro scale: what if your neighbor demanded that out of every dollar you earned, you had to give him a quarter? You'd call it extortion or robbery. But when the State does it, it's for the greater good?
"The State is a gang of thieves writ large." -Murray Rothbard

I Hate What Taxes Are Used For

Picture taken in NYC on 8/6/11
Most things, anyway. It sickens me to think of the trillions of dollars spent on unnecessary, immoral, and unconstitutional wars. I'm incredulous at the thought of maintaining a vast American Empire all over the world, with over 900 military bases in 130 different countries. I can't believe that entitlements, which cost trillions every year, are always "off the table" when there are talks of cuts, despite the fact that they're completely unsustainable. The government keeps growing, like an out of control virus, and shows no signs of slowing down the trend, let alone reversing it. People now expect the State to take care of them, from cradle to grave, but how can everybody possibly live at the expense of everybody else? As anyone who followed the recent debt-ceiling debacle has come to realize, our borrowing and spending is completely out of control, and the burden on the taxpayer is only going to increase.
"We contend that for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle." -Winston Churchill
I was going to write a third section to talk about my third point, "for the things I like that taxes pay for, I'd rather they were done privately and voluntarily," but I actually think that deserves it's own blog post, so I'll save it for another day. For now, enjoy my offerings below. I have a short video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity directly dealing with the "taxation of the rich" issue, an article offering brilliant yet simple solutions written by Gary North, and two articles, one short and one long, from the maestro himself, Murray Rothbard. Finally, have a little fun and listen to "Taxman", by the Beatles.

Restoring Liberty with Three Short Laws, by Gary North

Tax Day, by Murray Rothbard

The State versus Liberty, by Murray Rothbard

The Beatles: Taxman (@iTunes) on "Revolver"