Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Selfishness is bad, right? No one likes to be called selfish or to be known as a selfish person. We teach our children to share, and admonish them when they act otherwise. However, I would argue that the best way to employ our capital and labor is for each of us to act in our own self-interest, or be selfish. Here’s but one illustration. Suppose a farmer decides to be more selfless and give away his crops to the needy. He starts small, but over time, he eventually gives all he has to the hungry, season after season. Many would applaud the farmer’s efforts and label his enterprise the perfect business model. However, a couple of things are working against him.
How long can the farmer afford to give away the fruits of his labor and remain in business? At some point, he will exhaust his capital and be forced into bankruptcy. At a minimum, he will no longer have the necessary capital and labor to grow crops. His land will now sit idle, producing nothing. While his initial efforts seemed selfless and noteworthy, acting selflessly lead to his downfall. Another effect wrought by the farmer’s generosity is dependency. Folks have come to depend on and expect the yearly handouts. Now the free food has disappeared, and those who have come to depend on the seasonal giveaway will be forced to look elsewhere for food, and will most likely have to pay for it. These problems could have largely been avoided had the farmer acted in his own self-interest.
A profit-seeking farmer would have produced a much different outcome. By selling his crops, he would have generated the profit necessary to continue the business, thus feeding the hungry indefinitely. A non-free price would have incentivized the consumers to seek gainful employment, thus eliminating the dependency problem.
While we often preach that selfishness is bad, acting in our own self-interest is often the best way to avoid the bigger problems of selflessness.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Like your incandescent light bulbs? Better stock up. Soon, the incandescent light bulb will become a thing of the past, thanks to Congress. In 2007, the Congress passed and President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. This 822-page monster accomplished many things, but no energy independence. The law addresses average mileage standards for automobile makers, sets unachievable and costly energy reduction requirements for federal facilities, and bans the incandescent light bulb.
This piece of legislation contains enough fodder for pages of blogging, but for the sake of brevity, we’ll confine our ranting to light bulbs. In case you’re wondering, here’s the phase-out schedule:
· the 100 watt bulb on 1/1/2012;
· the 75 watt bulb on 1/1/2013; and
· the 60 watt and 40 watt bulbs on 1/1/2014.
What about your oven, you say? That light is exempt. What about your refrigerator, you say? That light is also exempt. So are your 3-way lamp light, dryer light, colored light, and trouble light. Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it?
I’m not going to delve into the financial costs of outfitting your home with CFLs, or the safety procedures you are urged to follow should you break a CFL (they contain mercury). This is about preference. I prefer the soft, natural light only an incandescent can provide. I prefer being able to dim my dining room lights, creating ambience for a meal. I prefer the freedom to peruse the lighting aisle at Lowes and marvel at all the wonderful, different types of lights provided by our free enterprise system. That liberty will soon be gone, and like a good citizen, I will eventually outfit my home with the lights my government says I should use. I have no other choice.
In a free society, the preference of the individual is supreme. No government standard can (nor should try!) hope to meet the many different desires, tastes, and wants of the individual. Hayek said it best, in the Road to Serfdom, “From this the individualist concludes that the individuals should be allowed, within defined limits, to follow their own values and preferences rather than somebody else’s…the individual’s system of ends should be supreme and not subject to any dictation by others.”
So, head out to your favorite lighting store and stock up on incandescent before Congress turns the lights out for good.
Saturday, November 20, 2010
Seems odd at first doesn’t it? I’d venture to say most folks attribute freedom with our military, not the opposite. After all, America is the lone superpower in the world, able to project military might around the globe at the president’s command. Our navy is larger than the next twelve navies combined, eleven of which are our allies. We have thousands of fighter jets, tanks, and my favorite – Bradleys and other weapons of war. No doubt, when any rogue dictator contemplates war with the USA or its allies, the size and lethality of our military must give him pause. But is all this military might actually eroding our freedoms?
Economic freedom stems from individuals retaining the fruits of their labor. Government extracts this freedom from individuals in the form of taxes to pay for things like, well, military operations. According the Congressional Research Service (CRS RL33110), as of July 2010, Congress has appropriated $1.12 trillion for the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. Nearly all of this has been supplemental funding, meaning it wasn’t subject to the regular budget or appropriation process. It is all deficit spending. Deficit spending, as well know, is simply deferred taxes.
$1.12 trillion is a lot of money. And this is on top of the regular annual Department of Defense appropriations, which have swelled from $294 billion in FY2000 to nearly $550 billion for FY2011. In all fairness, the FY2011 request does include the supplemental for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, I’m not advocating we abolish the defense department or the military. I like living under the umbrella of protection our military affords us. What I am questioning is – can we afford it, and is it making us less free?
Friday, November 19, 2010
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
"Dear City Councilman: November 17, 2010
Having moved to San Antonio from Syracuse, New York in August, we were thrilled at the prospect of living in a warmer climate and enjoying more personal liberty. New York, as you are probably aware, isn’t known for broad individual freedoms. So far, San Antonio has lived up to our expectations. We are able to home school our children with little or no interference from the state; the friendly business climate has afforded us with numerous job opportunities; and there is no state income tax. We are enjoying these and many other liberties that make Texas a destination for like-minded folks.
As with most every other city, there is always room for improvement, especially when it comes to protecting and advancing individual liberty. One such area I feel needs addressing is the requirement for residents to obtain a permit for a garage sale. I must surmise that the limitation on the number of garage sales allowed is (or was) an attempt to prevent homeowners from establishing and operating an unlicensed business from their property. I don’t know the statistics, but I can imagine that the net effect of the “garage sale permit” is essentially a de facto ban on the practice.
The arguments against such a “ban” are plentiful and robust. I will point out just a few. First, garage sales should be a right protected by the state, not banned by it. Ownership in property ought to include the right to trade my personal effects with my neighbor, passerby, or across town stranger on my property at the time of my choosing. Property owners should not be required to “purchase” this right. Second, garage sales encourage recycling. If sellers want to trade used records of Rolling Stones and old Indiana Jones DVDs instead of junking them, a garage sale is the perfect market for “recycling” their goods. Third, a limit on garage sales disproportionately hurts the poor. Many families depend on a plentiful supply of cheap goods to dress and equip their families, provide toys for their youngsters, and outfit their homes with furniture. Now, they must choose alternative methods to find their necessities, often at a higher cost. Finally, the financial (and social) cost of this requirement must outweigh any benefits sought. I highly doubt that the fees generated by the permit requirement offset the administrative and enforcement costs required to effectively promulgate the program. I can think of many better tasks for enforcement officers to perform than issuing citations for weary homeowners simply wanting to clean out their garage.
I look forward to your response and welcome any action on your part to reconsider the limitations on residential garage sales in San Antonio.