Stossel and Good Intentions

John Stossel, in his program broadcast 9/2/2010 on the Fox Business Channel, covered the issue Good Intentions Gone Wrong on the Americans with Disabilities Act(ADA).

As usual, Mr. Stossel does a good job explicating the unfortunate effects of a government program, the ADA. As is typical of Mr. Stossel, he makes the assumption Congress passed the ADA with good intentions. However, what reason is there to believe that the Congress passing the ADA was the result of good intentions?

To determine whether the ADA was a result of good intentions, you first have to have a definition of good intentions in the context of the actions of a member of Congress. First, each member of Congress has sworn to uphold the constitution. Whatever the liabilities of the constitution, Congress has sworn to uphold the agreement. The evidence that Congress has considered the strictures of the constitution when passing the ADA, or anything else, is pretty thin. To regulate the height of bathroom mirrors in restaurants based on the interstate commerce clause is equivalent to saying that there is no constitution.

Considerations of the constitution aside, each member of Congress is generally expected to pursue the interests of his constituents. Herein lies one of the problems. There is nothing that Congress can do that will benefit some group without applying a disability to someone else. The ADA is a good example. Even if the ADA benefited people with disabilities, an assumption challenged in the program, the ADA would impose manifest disabilities on the rest of the population. So, what balance of interests constitutes good intentions?

Consider the interests of Congress. Each member of Congress has an interest in increasing his own power and financial standing. In other words, each member of Congress naturally wants to, at the very least, win the next election. If the politician can achieve higher office, so much the better. So, the politician is motivated to do whatever will insure success in the next election. Insuring success in the next election has little or nothing to do with following the constitution, or adhering to any notions of liberty or justice.

While the politician is in office, and after the politician has left office, increasing his wealth is an obvious goal. In fact, members of Congress live very well on the public teat while in office, and often live even better after they leave office. If you can pass legislation favorable to particular industries, you can be cut in on all sorts of business deals.

So, why should anyone believe that Congress has good intentions? If you could read minds, you might be able to determine the intentions of Congress. Since you cannot read minds, you can only judge by the actions of Congress. Those actions hardly warrant the assumption of good intentions.

Posted September 5, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized

The War on Independent Truckers

Last year, independent truckers were protesting plans by the Port of Los Angeles that would put them out of business due to the high costs of complying with pollution abatement.

The latest news, reported here and here, has about 12 thousand of the 19 thousand truckers out of business. Another 3 thousand support jobs have been lost. According to reports, pollution is greatly reduced.

The Port of Los Angeles and the Teamsters Union are not satisfied with putting most of the independent truckers out of business. The Teamsters Union drew up a plan that would bar all owner operated trucks from accessing the port. The Port of Los Angeles accepted the plan. The Teamsters Union says that union drivers would get higher wages, and benefits. The legality of the plan is being fought out in federal courts. The Port of Los Angeles has won round one.

If the plan is implemented, the winners will be the Teamsters Union, which will get more members and more dues. The union members will get more renumeration. Large trucking companies will also be winners here because they will not have to compete with the low cost independent truckers. The politicians will presumably be paid off by the union and the trucking firms.

The losers will be the independent truckers, especially those who have just made a major investment in upgrading their equipment to satisfy pollution control regulations. The general public will also lose because shipping rates will go up for goods passing through the Port of Los Angeles. Thus, the costs of all those good will go up. Note that other ports around the country are carefully watching what is happening in Los Angeles before deciding whether to follow suit with similar plans.

Where ever you have a political authority controlling a major transportation facility, you have cartelization of access to the facility. Airports always have taxi service cartelized via permits and licenses.

Posted September 2, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized


Bruce Schneier writes about how people are wrongfully convicted in Misidentification and the Court System. The Slate article that Mr. Schneier references is well worth reading.

The article describes how about half of the district attorneys and detectives that are presented with incontrovertible evidence of the innocence of someone they have convicted will stoutly defend the verdict. There are many possible reasons why government officials react to evidence with denials. However, positions of authority attract authoritarian personalities. Nobody likes to have their mistakes pointed out, but authoritarians really don’t like to have their mistakes pointed out.

Another interesting question is why do those responsible for prosecutions make so many mistakes in the first place? One factor is that government officials do not generally pay for their mistakes even when those mistakes are uncovered. When someone wins a suit for wrongful conviction, the taxpayer ends up paying. The officials involved may be embarrassed, but they suffer no real penalty. Such a system constitutes a license for abuse.

Posted August 31, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized

The Disutility of Leaning

In the article In the Tea Party Era, Which Way Should Libertarians Lean?, three writers provide advice to libertarians. The article is a summary and discussion of the views presented in the Reason article, Where Do Libertarians Belong?.

The discussion has a number of comical elements. The idea that libertarians need to lean in any particular direction is one of the comical elements. The makeup of the panel of debaters provides other reasons for mirth. The three participants were:

* Brink Lindsey, who I have written about before, at least concentrates on a number of libertarian issues. However, Mr. Lindsey also spends considerable time criticizing the right for social conservative tendencies, and other troglodyte transgressions. If these were the only problems with the right, libertarians would be much more comfortable with the right. It is in areas of war and civil liberties, and the conservatives penchant for pressing their desires via political means, that libertarians have significant differences with the right. In any event, Mr. Lindsey, who in the past has espoused liberaltarianism(i.e., using libertarianism to further liberal goals), wants libertarians to align with the middle, and employ liberal language in doing so. Note that Mr. Lindsey supported the invasion of Iraq.

* Jonah Goldberg, neoconservative writer for National Review, wants the libertarians to align with the conservatives mostly based on economic issues. Mr. Goldberg defends the conservatives as being no worse than the centralists on civil liberties issues. Mr. Goldberg lauds the conservative for their decentralism. Mr. Goldberg somewhat disingenuously mostly sidesteps issues of war. The question of how you can have a libertarian society while supporting ongoing wars all over the world is not something within the neoconservative purview.

* Matt Kibbe wants the libertarians to align with the Tea Party movement. Mr. Kibbe emphasizes the issues where libertarians agree with the Tea Party movement: TARP, Obamacare, and some economic issues. Mr. Kibbe, like Mr. Goldberg, carefully skirts issues of war and peace. Mr. Kibbe also does not address civil liberties. Mr. Kibbe does not seem to often publicly express opinions on anything except Austrian economics, and a rather narrow range of topics favored by the Tea Party. Nothing wrong with that, but it does not provide a very good idea of Mr. Kibbe’s overall ideology.

These three gentlemen have dubious credentials as libertarians. At least two of the three supported the Iraq war. Consequently, they end up trying to sell libertarians whatever horse they are currently riding. If they can rope in a few voters, and a few dollars, so much to the good. The question is, what would the libertarians get out of aligning with any of these groups?

In basketball, a defender will sometimes employ the pull the chair trick on an offensive player that leans too much. If the defender pulls back rapidly, the offensive player may fall on the floor. A similar thing will happen to libertarians that lean too much on political groups. When the chair gets pulled, the libertarians will end up being blamed for the sins of the group they have advocated. Politicians are masters at the pull the chair trick.

It is much better to concentrate on issues than it is to worry about broad political groups. If someone commits some outrage against liberty, criticize them. If someone defends liberty, defend that person in turn. The more specific the issue and the individual, the more efficacious it is to get involved.

Posted August 27, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized

Cato Unbound

In the Cato Unbound article Surveillance of Our Enemies During Wartime? I’m Shocked!, John Eastman responds to an article, The Digital Surveillance State: Vast, Secret, and Dangerous, by Glenn Greenwald.

Eastman provides all sorts of historical and legal precedents for surveillance. Eastman accuses Greenwald of ignoring the fact that “we are at war”. In his response, Eastman ignores the fact that Congress has not bothered to declare war. So, even if you accept the authority of the government, are we really at war?

Eastman also ignores the fact that even the proponents of the war on terror don’t expect the war to end in our life time, the life time of our children, or the life time of our grand children. Consequently, Eastman wants to provide the government with a license to spy on everyone forever.

That Eastman’s brand of drivelling sophistry got published is hardly surprising. There are plenty of neoconservative journals that specialize in publishing such fear mongering tripe. What is surprising is that Eastman’s article got published by an adjunct of the reputedly libertarian Cato Institute. Publishing a wide range of view points is good policy, but in this instance Cato was a little too unbound.

The editor of Cato Unbound at the time that Eastman’s article was published, Brink Lindsey, has apparently been made redundant. If publishing Eastman’s article is an example of Lindsey’s editorial judgement, Mr. Lindsay’s departure will likely bring an improvement to Cato Unbound.

Posted August 25, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized

Rent Seekers Never Sleep

Having the public be forced to buy the hardware required to access your product is a great business model. Hence, the RIAA and the music labels want Congress to mandate that mobile devices, such as cell phones, PDAs, etc., have built in FM receivers.

The only cost to the RIAA and the record labels is the price of the lobbyists. Since they presumably already have lobbyists in their employ, the cost to the RIAA and the record labels is zero. That is the cost to the proponents will be zero unless the proponents have to buy members of Congress to get the mandate passed.

The overwhelming majority of the costs will be born by the public and the manufacturers of mobile devices. The public will pay higher prices for larger and heavier devices. The mobile device manufacturers will suffer the design, and manufacture headaches of producing a more complicated device. In addition, the manufacturers will have reduced sales because their devices will be more expensive.

The proponents justify the mandate based on providing increased choice to consumers, and so the government can send messages to the public during emergencies. The proponents of the mandate have a funny notion of what constitutes providing choice to the public. Is their any evidence that the public is demanding FM capabilities in mobile devices and, for some strange reason, manufacturers are ignoring that demand?

As for the government supplying emergency messages, if most people are like me, they have plenty of stationary, portable, and car FM radios. It is hard to fathom why I would need another FM capable device in order to allow the government to tell me, “Everything is under control. Be calm, and obey orders”.

When I told my youngest son about the proposed mandate, he replied, “Nobody listens to the radio anymore”. As for myself, the only time I listen to local over the air radio is when the Internet is out. Internet radio supplies orders of magnitude more choices than is available locally even in a big market like Los Angeles.

So there you have it, private interests using the political method to extract wealth from the public.

Posted August 18, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized

Cable Television Companies

In Needed: The Separation of Cable and State, James Bovard describes how cable television operators and local governments cut deals.

The cable television operators get a monopoly, and a monopoly price. Cable companies who enjoy a monopoly charge rates 35 per cent higher per channel than cable companies who have competition.

Local politicians get channels to deliver propaganda to the public. Local politicians can also get bribes in the endless ways that a modern mixed economy can deliver bribes. Beside the time honored cash and carry method, local government officials can be cut in on business deals after they leave office.

The public ends up with inflated cable bills. The public also enjoys the dubious benefit of being subjected to propaganda on channels cable operators reserve for government use.

Many will argue that cable service is a natural monopoly. If cable service is a natural monopoly, why does that monopoly have to be protected by law?

The partnership between cable companies and local governments constitutes a particular example of the general principle that businesses embrace regulation in order to restrict competition.

Posted August 12, 2010 by Brian Cantin in Uncategorized