Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Laurier = Awesome

"Let me tell you, my fellow country men, that the twentieth century shall be the century of Canada and of the Canadian development. For the next seventy-five years, nay for the next 100 years, Canada shall be the star towards which all men who love progress and freedom shall come."

How about we try to make this happen in the next seventy-five years. Nay, for the next 100 years!

Sean Morley endorses Marty Gobin

This is cool.

Sean Morley, a.k.a "Val Venis," a.k.a. "Chief Morley," of World Wrestling Entertainment has endorsed Marty Gobin, the Ontario Libertarian Party's candidate in the upcoming by-election in Whitby-Ajax.

From the press release, Morley said: "It is great to see someone young and bright like Marty running in hopes of expanding real freedom. Getting government out of peoples' lives and letting real freedom reign. Being very much a Libertarian myself I fully support Marty and his campaign."

Sunday, March 19, 2006

An explanation and a march

A little behind, but worth pointing out anyway. Ezra explains the publication of the cartoons in the Western Standard at a Fraser Institute event I wish I could have gone to. He also published this Standard cover story entitled What were we thinking?, well worth the read.

Meanwhile, on the 13th, about 100 marchers--including Peter Kent--stood up for freedom of speech. Coverage from the CBC, as well as the Chronicle-Herald.

Of course, this story is still not dead, as the Human Rights complaint is still being decided. I suspect that they will throw this frivolous complaint out, just as they did the criminal charge, but I'm no lawyer, and the Human Rights tribunal operates under very different rules of evidence and procedure...

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Ten (really crappy) reasons against private insurance in health care

I posted the following response to this blog post which cited this article opposing the moves by Ralph Klein on health care. I'm posting it here because I wrote quite a bit, and I think some of these "reasons" against private insurance in health care are awful enough to be repeated.

"10. The Supreme Court decision in Chaoulli only looked at the Quebec law preventing the purchase of private health insurance. It did not strike down the law stopping doctors working in both the public and the private sectors nor did it speak to any law in any other province."

This is merely a technicality. In the decision, three of the seven justices ruled that it did violate the Charter. One of the seven justices (which would have made a majority) said that the wording of the Quebec Charter and the federal Charter is identical in all relevant respects, and chose, therefore, to treat only of the question of a violation of the Quebec Charter. Since he prefaced it with the claim that the two are identical in all relevant respects (not all of it, mind you, just the relevant sections of the Charter), it stands to reason that we can infer a violation of the federal Charter, making it a majority. It is the subsequent intellectually dishonest interpretations of the ruling that have made this a bigger mystery. Speaking with Chaoulli, he told me that future court cases in the provinces will undoubtedly rule like the Chaoulli decision because of the precedent set.

"9. More private funding will not improve the sustainability of our system. Countries in which private spending is high spend more in total on health care, not less."

This argument borders on stupidity. When people are given a choice to spend money on health care, they do so. That increases the amount of money spent on the system. Sustainability, in the health care context, is a matter of government spending, not private spending. In addition, mentioning the U.S. is intellectually dishonest since the Supreme Court only talked about European models as examplars, and not the U.S. model, which no one wants, and no one argues for.

"8. We have a shortage of doctors and nurses. Most developed countries do. Wealthier provinces are luring doctors from poorer provinces. This problem will be exacerbated if doctors are allowed to top up their public sector incomes by doing less difficult work for higher rates of private pay. If you were a doctor, wouldn't you?"

This assumes a stagnant labour pool. Sure, provided there is no increase in doctors and nurses, we would see more people topping up in the private sector. However, the potential additional wage is an incentive to enter the health care profession in the first place. There are no doctor or nursing shortages in France, Belgium, Portugal, and other European nations that have the kind of mixed system that we are talking about.

"6. In countries that have two-tier systems, only a relatively small percentage of the population holds private health insurance (for example 11.4 per cent of U.K. citizens); typically the wealthiest buy insurance. In other words, the vast majority of Canadians would not benefit from being able to buy private health insurance as either they will not qualify for it, or they won't be able to afford the premiums."

Uhm, so what? 10 per cent of Canada is still about 3 million people that would benefit from such private provision. It's stupid not to allow such a huge proportion of Canadians to benefit just because less than a majority chooses to pay for insurance. As a sidenote, private insurance is likely to have positive side-effects for the publicly insured individuals through a probable increase in doctors and nurses, and reduced wait times at public facilities.

"5. From the perspective of a private insurance company, if you are on a waiting list you do not have an insurable risk. You don't have a risk of disease or illness, you have the disease or illness -- current needs that must be met. If you can't pay cash, the public system is your only option. People presently on wait lists will not be helped by privatization unless they can pay cash."

Uhm, okay, so why prevent those who are currently on wait lists to benefit by paying cash if they can afford it? Because others can't afford it (or don't want to go into debt for it)? So Jones, who could have gone to a private clinic or to a private insurer, has to either suffer an extra six months or die on a wait list because Smith can't afford private insurance or to go to a private clinic? How stupid is that? It's super stupid, that's what.

"4. Don't buy the baloney that Canadian medicare is in league with communist states like Cuba and North Korea. We are third in the world in terms of the contribution of private health insurance to the funding of our system."

The actual comparison is in terms of the ability of the citizens to purchase care privately. And the fact that Canada is third is interesting, don't you think? We talk as though we only have public health care. It's not true. And it's interesting.

"3. NAFTA requires that we must compensate U.S.-based private insurers for denying them access to Canadian "markets" if we subsequently change our mind about the benefits of two-tier insurance."

I suspect this would result in a case before the NAFTA tribunal or court or whatever to be established. I also doubt that this is required by NAFTA.

"2. Governments and health-care providers can fix wait lists. Together they have been able to achieve extraordinary improvements, for example, in cardiac care treatments in Ontario and with respect to hip and knee services in Alberta."

Of course they can! And if you blow a billion dollars on something, you're bound to get a few things right. But that's not the point. The point is at what price, including opportunity costs.

"1. And the top reason why we shouldn't allow private health insurance for essential services? Access to essential care should be based on need and not ability to pay. If resources are constricted we should revisit what is essential but not allow a two-tier system for what are core services."

Right. Sure. Need. "Health Card, not a credit card." And so on. If the government could have secured this health care in a fashion that didn't violate the Charter, then we wouldn't have this problem. But they have failed, and there is little reason to suspect that they could succeed. Ultimately, what matters are health care outcomes and quality of life, not the particular philosophy that underpins the system. If health care outcomes can be improved with the inclusion of private insurance, then that's the way we should go. If that means we have to pay for it, like we pay for food and housing (also basic human needs), then so be it.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Libertarianism 101

I posted the following overview (or clarification) of libertarianism on the Conservative Youth Forum. I want to put it up here, too, maybe to spark some discussion on here as well.

As a political philosophy, all you need to be called a libertarian, neo-liberal, or classical liberal, is a commitment to economic liberty and social, political liberty. Whatever reasons you have to support these views is a separate question that is answered in different ways by different people. To be a libertarian, you need to believe that the government should be super-small. That's it.

In particular, you don't need some specific story about human nature, about what people are "essentially" like, whether or not we have "rights," what will follow empirically from libertarian institutions, and so on.

You can be optimistic, pessimistic, or neutral about a theory of human nature and still be a libertarian. There is no need to believe that people are essentially good, bad, or otherwise. For instance, as Ken pointed out, you can believe that people are essentially bad, and be a libertarian because you think it would be the worst possible outcome for these bad people to have access to and control institutions like government.

You might also believe that people are "essentially" good and think that a libertarian program follows. I don't think this is a good approach, since if people were essentially good, it wouldn't be such a bad idea to have a government. After all, we get much more done together than apart, and if we didn't have shitty politicians we could count on people to really get more good done than bad. In other words, I think the assumption that people are essentially good may (given some other assumptions) lend itself to non-libertarian conclusions.

It will depend on what else you think follows empirically or philosophically from your human nature assumptions which will determine whether or not you like liberty and small government, or something else. The 'optimist' libertarian will say that we are essentially good, so we don't need the government. Since the government costs money, it is better for us not to spend it on that, and spend our resources on other things. The 'pessimist' libertarian will say that we are essentially bad, so we had better keep these people from the levers of political power. The only way to do that is to restrict the size and scope of the state.

Consider the pessimists who follow the Public Choice School of Economics, a significant proportion of which are libertarians. James Buchanan and Gordon Tullock, the founders of this approach, argued that politicians--just like the rest of us--are self-interested for the most part. That means that they will construct policy to favour special interests, their own, and fill their pockets, all in an effort to get and stay elected. They say the size and scope of the state needs to be reduced and small in order to avoid the massive inefficiency that government brings about.

There is no need to think that libertarians believe in some fairy tale of human loveliness to support liberty. But you would have to be aware of the work of Nobel-prize winner James Buchanan (and Milton Friedman) to understand this.

Secondly, there is no necessity to adopt any particular theoretical approach to get at libertarianism. The most prominent approach is the natural rights approach, but it is hardly the only one. These libertarians say we have "rights," that these rights are "natural," and that they take the following specific form: We have a right to life, liberty, and property. These rights are essentially "negative" (meaning: they don't tell you what you can do, they tell you what you can't do. Namely, the right to life means you can't kill people, the right to liberty says you can't restrict peoples liberty, the right to property means that you can't prevent people from acquiring, keeping, and doing things with stuff.)

I'm not a natural rights libertarian. I see little reason to believe in these rights as metaphysical facts about you and I that everyone can "just see" if they look at us, or think of us, in really special ways. But, whatever, plenty of people think we do have these "rights" and that we have them whether or not anyone actually thinks we do, or governments accept the fact that we have them.

Thirdly, there is no need for a libertarian to be an individualist, or have some specific view about the role other people play in our lives. For instance, I'm no individualist, I'm a communitarian. That means that I think we are "essentially" (at core, or at bottom, or ultimately, or whatever) social creatures with our human relationships being the most important thing.

How does this work? I believe the following: communities form because we are social. Those communities have different avenues to bring their preferences and goals to fruition. One of those avenues is to form civil institutions like charities, informal policing groups, environmental clean-up organizations, and so on. Another avenue is to lobby the government to do these things.

The government, however, is impersonal and divides, rather than unites, communities. When Joe takes care of the orphans on Orphan Avenue, others become aware of it and join his mission. He becomes prominent in his community for this reason. People join or don't join based on their own preferences, and genuine human ties are built around common purposes. When Joe's informal project is formalized through the government, bureaucracies somewhere else take over these functions. Impersonality follows. Orphans are carted off here and there without the sort of human touch that Joe previously had, and you get a raft of people who don't care a lick about orphans getting these jobs to earn money, not to help orphans.

Of course, of course, of course, there will be deeply sympathetic bureaucrats who actually care about orphans. That's not the point. The point is that some who don't care get involved, and the necessary paperwork and bureaucratic processes of government depersonalize the entire affair.
Potentially genuine human relationships are undermined, and instead of building communities, we undermine them. In addition, those of us who have other projects, or who think money should be spent on other priorities get angry by having to pay for the government orphanage program. Whereas Joe asks for money and builds communities by getting voluntary support, government takes the money without asking and without wondering about the personal circumstances of those whose money is so taken. Witness the conservative hatred of welfare as a great example of this. I've not met a single conservative pissed off that some church group is providing soup kitchens or housing support, and so on. But put those same functions into the hands of government, and you get pissed off people who start talking nonsense about how poor people don't work enough, are lazy, 'deserve' their crappy lives, and so on.

Fourthly, we needn't be philosophical about it either. We can be thorough-going pragmatists and still be libertarians. Milton Friedman, for instance, is pragmatic and still calls himself a libertarian (yup--a libertarian, he does not call himself a conservative). How might this be possible? Consider the empirical outcomes of economic and social liberty. John Stuart Mill was a libertarian on social issues from a utilitarian/consequentialist point of view. He said the freedom to say and do just whatever we'd like (provided everyone else we plan to do things with or to is game) will result in good consequences. We will get to truth better, we will have experiments in living that others pursue (like being gay, getting body piercings, and so on) that we can use to better inform our own preferences, and we are likely to progress better this way. Meanwhile, a massive pile of economists are libertarians about economics. Friedman argued that economic liberty increases wealth, general prosperity, and the quality of life of everyone who lives under economically free institutions and systems. I think most of us on this list are either economic libertarians, or deeply sympathetic to this outlook, even if we think there are or should be exceptions to this liberty.

The upshot? Libertarianism is a commitment about how the particular institution of government should be and look like. It says nothing (yet) about why you believe that's what the government should look like. I have tried to show that there is an incredible plurality of ways to get to this conclusion, and that none of them is the libertarian story. You can believe people are good, bad, or otherwise. You can be an optimist or a pessimist. You can believe in natural rights, or not. You can be an individualist, or a communitarian, or something else. You can be a pragmatist and believe in liberty (depending on what you think are the empirically probable outcomes). You can be a consequentialist arguing for the good outcomes of liberty, or a deontological theorist arguing from first principles. You can be a liberal in theory, and a libertarian in practice (yes, you can. Consider the fact that John Rawls himself said, in the preface to the second edition of A Theory of Justice, that he did not intend to justify the welfare state. You can have a commitment to justice that demands each of us help the poor, the destitute, the homeless, the disenfranchised, and so on, and think that the government is not the right institution to help ease these problems.)

But all of this depends on so many other background conditions, assumptions, empirical facts, probabilities, and so on. At bottom, all that unites libertarians is a commitment to small government, and the belief that we should be economically and socially/politically free. Nothing else matters to being called a libertarian.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Emery on 60 Minutes

You can now check out the video of the 60 Minutes interview with Marc Emery, the Prince of Pot, over at Pot-TV.

It is richly important that Emery wins the battle against extradition into the U.S. Watch the video and join the fight.

UPDATE: Jesse Gritter disagrees with me and takes a shot at libertarians [edited... see comments] over on his blog. I post a response there, as well as in my comments here.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Thoughts on the Windsor Liberty Seminar

UPDATE: Check out the photos. Read Ian's blog on the event, and Paul's for more insight.

This year's Windsor Liberty Seminar was amazing.

If you missed it, kick yourself a few times. You really missed a great day to chat liberty with some amazing people.

Dr. Jan Narveson gave an overview of the philosophy of liberty, with a few concrete cases to whet our appetite.

Dr. Lydia Miljan followed Narveson with a talk on the Hidden Agendas of the media, and the trouble with empirical studies of bias in the media. Her talk sparked a pretty animated discussion in the breakout groups on just what it means for the media to be biased in one way or another. For instance, does the media influence our preferences, or do our preferences influence the media? The Calgary Herald, for instance, appears to show plenty of positive coverage of the Conservative Party, and the Party tends to do really well in Calgary. But is this a sign of the media responding to the preferences of their audience, or are they helping to shape those preferences? (I suspect it's both. But think about the CBC, and their positive spin on NDP "news"... Is that the same, or different?)

Gerry Nicholls gave a great talk on pragmatic approaches to pushing liberty. His insight? We need to focus more on the Quality of Lifers... the people who don't care very much about ideology or philosophy, and care much more about how certain policies might impact them, and their family in terms of their quality of life. He's right, I think, and good marketing of what are (obviously) great ideas could go a long way.

Dr. Steve Horwitz exposed three economic myths, including the most virulent one--the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. It's nonsense. The rich get richer, sure, but the poor have gotten richer too. And there's a separate question of whether it's the *same* rich and poor who are getting richer or poorer. The numbers appear to show that people tend to begin their economic life somewhere near the bottom, and end up somewhere near the top. This makes perfect sense. The numbers are insufficiently subtle to capture the fact of "poor" college students and job market entrants who, after being in the labour market for a while, begin to earn more and more money. Fun, fun, fun.

Finally, Dr. Pierre Desrochers gave an incredible talk about the way capitalists tend to find uses for "waste," converting what was once garbage into useful resources for other things. It doesn't make much sense to say that capitalists would be happy to throw stuff away--they're supposed to be greedy, right? So if they're greedy, why wouldn't they try to come up with other uses for their sludge, slag, and other by-products of creating things like iron-ore or soap or whatever? Why would you throw out something that could make you even richer? That's dumb.

Matt Bufton, the organizer of the event, deserves some serious kudos for this event. Hopefully, he'll keep this up year after year. (You rock, Bufton!)

I also had a chance to meet up with some really cool people. Robert, the fellow who videotaped the event, is planning to do the same for this year's Liberty Summer Seminar (get on my email list if you want more news about this year's event). The video will be available soon, and I'll post on the details once the pictures and videos are available. I also finally met Omar, the fellow who debated me a bit on the Muhammad cartoons issue. He's a very bright young man who I hope to speak with more often. He plans to attend the Liberty Summer Seminar, hopefully after reading a truckload of Hayek and, maybe, Oakeshott, so I'm sure I'll get a chance to talk with him some more. Of course, Debi was there, and her vim and optimism about liberty in Canada is contagious. Janet was her typical awesome self, and I got to meet her dad, who was cool.

In short, the Seminar was great fun. Three cheers to Bufton and the Windsor Liberty gang.