Thursday, October 30, 2008

DO throw away your vote

Every four years I get into the same argument with friends and family. I inform them that I don’t see any substantive differences between the two major party candidates and, therefore, I will be voting for a third party candidate.

Wait for it . . . wait for it . . . “But you are throwing away your vote!” So I explain to them that that is only the case if there was a reasonable probability that my one vote would be the deciding vote in determining the outcome of the presidential election. (Here is
link to a site that claims, for the 2008 presidential election, I live in a state where my probability of being the deciding vote is a billion to one.)

Very often the response to my probability argument is, “But what if everyone thought like that?” The implication is that this would result in the election of the greater evil. I usually tell them that I cannot control anyone else’s vote except mine. Which is true; I can’t even convince my wife to vote third party.

The discussion should end there. They either understand the indisputable logic of my argument or they don’t. Unfortunately, they usually try to trump logic with the Supreme claim. You know the argument, it goes something like this . . the President appoints justices to the Supreme Court and a Republican president will at least nominate someone who believes in upholding the Constitution as originally intended. Which of course does nothing to change the validity of the probability argument, but the Supreme argument has been surprisingly effective in keeping dissatisfied conservatives in the GOP fold. My response is, “You mean like Souter or Stephens?” Both appointed by Republican presidents and yet two of the most liberal members of the Supreme Court. So unless the GOP fields a ticket of true Constitutionalists, why assume they will get judges right?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Book Review: Among the Hidden

Among the Hidden is the first of seven books in Margaret Peterson Haddix’s dystopian Shadow Children series. A totalitarian government has taken power after a famine hits America. The new government’s response to the food shortage was to limit families to no more than two children; this policy is known as the Population Law and enforced by the Population Police. The punishment for having a third child is death. Twelve year old Luke Garner lives with his family in the country on a farm. Luke is a third child and, therefore, must hide. He has never been off his family’s farm. Since the property is shielded by woods, his parents allow him to work and play on the property. Until, the government takes half of the land to build a subdivision for privileged government bureaucrats called barons. Once the trees have been removed he is confined to his house. Having become accustomed to playing outside, he is miserable being restricted to the house.

One day after the subdivision is built he notices, while looking through a vent, a face peering out of a window from a house next door. He knows it is not the face of the owners or their two teenage sons since they have already left for the day. Later he gets the courage to run over to the house where he discovers another third child - a girl named Jen. Unlike him, Jen is able to venture outside of her house as her parents, being privileged government workers, have been able to get her a shopping ID. She also has a computer and is active in an illegal Internet chat room visited by shadow children. She is trying to organize a protest rally at the president’s house. She is a lot more knowledgeable than Luke about the hows and whys of the Population Law. She gives him books to read so he can understand more. Ultimately, he decides he is not brave enough to join Jen at the rally. He regrets that he doesn’t have the courage to stand up for himself and other shadow children.


After a few weeks of hearing nothing due to the government’s total control over all media, he sneaks over to Jen’s house to see if he can find out what happened. He enters the chat room on Jen’s computer to see if anyone has heard from Jen. He sets off the security system and Jen’s father – Mr. Talbot - catches him in the house. He tells Luke that Jen and everyone at the rally were mowed down by the Population Police. The Population Police have been monitoring the chat room since the rally. Mr. Talbot tells Luke that he must assume another identify and leave his parents and brothers. Mr. Talbot has contacts and is able to get him the ID of another 12 year old boy who recently died. He is also able to get him a scholarship to an exclusive boarding school.

Here is Laissez Faire Books review of Among the Hidden.

Addendum: Now that I have read all seven books, I was most likely wrong to state that the location was America. The location can probably best be described as some fictitious small country.

Second addendum: There is a study guide for Among the Hidden.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Shadow Children Series

Many books written for children listed on the two lists of Children’s Literature of Liberty (see my September posts) are very heavy handed and, therefore, have not attracted a mainstream audience. Sure there are a few libertarian parents who have paid their children to read these overbearing lifeless attempts at fiction, but for the most part there is a reason they are out of print. That is certainly not the case with Margaret Peterson Haddix’s Shadow Children series as it is a very popular series among middle school children. And for good reason, they are extremely well done. My eleven year old daughter actually recommended this series to me and I have really enjoyed the first four.

This series is listed as being appropriate for children 8 – 12. However, I suggest parents of children younger than ten read the books first to see if they are appropriate. This warning is especially true of some of Haddix’s other books.

I hope to review each book here but I am afraid I will give too much of the plot away so I am going to suggest that you buy the books and not read my reviews. If, however, you are buying the books solely for your children then by all means read my reviews.

Significance through achievement

When my children were younger I would occasionally visit their classrooms to read or do a demonstration and as I read or talked I would ask questions. There were always kids that would quickly answer my questions. Unfortunately, most of the quick answers were just plain nonsense. Apparently these kids had never been told, “No, that answer doesn’t make sense. Next time give some thought before you answer.” I am sure the response they had become accustomed to was something like, “Well, Little Johnny, that is a good answer but does anyone else have a different answer.”  Apparently when these kids with inflated self-esteem get to college they continue to answer with nonsense.  Joseph Epstein has this to say about overconfident kids:

"So often in my literature classes students told me what they "felt" about a novel, or a particular character in a novel. I tried, ever so gently, to tell them that no one cared what they felt; the trick was to discover not one's feelings but what the author had put into the book, its moral weight and its resultant power. In essay courses, many of these same students turned in papers upon which I wished to--but did not--write: "D-, Too much love in the home." I knew where they came by their sense of their own deep significance and that this sense was utterly false to any conceivable reality. Despite what their parents had been telling them from the very outset of their lives, they were not significant. Significance has to be earned, and it is earned only through achievement. Besides, one of the first things that people who really are significant seem to know is that, in the grander scheme, they are themselves really quite insignificant."

So true, kids today expect the fruits of achievement without the hard work that leads to achievement. We parents are contributing to this mindset by giving praise to every little “accomplishment” and, as a result, our kids think everything they do is a true accomplishment. But kids eventually get wise to their parents and recognize that the praise isn’t genuine and rightly ignore it. Unfortunately, these kids become jaded to praise and even when genuine praise is given for real achievements they discount that.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

No Pain, No Gain

I am not going to give financial advice on this blog but I think financial analyst Jim Rogers makes sense in this article. He essentially says that only when assets are in the hands of those that can more efficiently use them will the recovery will begin and any government action is going to simply delay a recovery. He warns against getting back in the market at this time. However, he does suggest buying Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs and agriculture products. I assume he means commodities and not for personal consumption. ;)

But tell us how you really feel Mr. Rogers:

"The way to solve this problem is to let people go bankrupt.

"Then you will hit bottom and then you start over. The people who are sound will take over the assets from the people who aren't sound and we will start over. This is the way the world has worked for a few thousand years."

The current rescue plans, which will force governments to issue more debt, print money and flood the markets with liquidity, will flare up inflation after the crisis is over and will create worse problems, Rogers warned.

"We're setting the stage for when we come out of this of a massive inflation holocaust."

Of course the Austrian Economists have been saying this for quite some time.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

How would Americans respond to another great depression?

While I am not predicting another great depression, it is being talked about on the Internet due to the current world-wide financial crisis. And not just by the usual the-world-is-ending-buy-gold-and-ammo crowd. President Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson are also doing their part by suggesting that a depression is possible unless the government “rescues” the troubled financial institutions. (“Rescue” is Orwellian for “bailout” in case you were confused.)

The Great Depression of the 1930s paved the way for more government intervention into the economy and severe limits on economic liberty, primarily through New Deal policies restricting voluntary employer-employee arrangements. And just like the camel’s nose in the tent, government has been expanding its powers ever since. Would the government attempt to use another depression as justification to expand its control over the economy? (That is a rhetorical question as the answer should be obvious, especially in light of how 9/11 led to more government intrusions into personal privacy.)

But the point of this post isn’t so much how the government would respond, but how would the people respond? Are we softer now? Are we less part of our communities now that we couldn’t count on our neighbors in tough times? Would we act like the New Orleans residents who had become so dependent upon the welfare state that they simply waited to be saved by others? I think it is likely that some will look to the government first for help. But the optimist in me thinks people eventually would return to being more self-reliant and more community centered. The barter of goods and services would help tie a community together. Churches and other faith-based organizations would once again return to being the first line of defense against hunger. And a more cautious attitude toward debt would return where buying on credit would no longer be nonchalantly viewed as the first method of buying something.

My parents were children of the Great Depression. While they were poor, their childhood memories are not that much different from children who grew up in other, more prosperous times. But the lessons they took from that time were different. They understood the importance of saving first and delaying immediate gratification. They didn’t buy something until it could be paid for with cash. They were not wasteful. They did not buy on impulse but out of need after careful consideration of the alternatives. As school teachers, my parents weren’t rich but they never borrowed money for anything. They never owned a credit card. The past ten plus years I lived my life the same way as I am 100% debt free. It is a freeing experience. I recommend it.

While I am not hoping for another depression, if one were to occur, it might be the catalyst that forces us to change our personal and national appetite for debt. If we continue at our current rate of deficit spending, we will become slaves to the lenders. Current Congressional Budget Office projections have government spending consuming 55% of GDP by 2049. The government currently spends 20% of GDP. And that was before the $1 trillion financial bailout rescue and pork bill. In addition, American’s personal debt is at an all time high at 140% of disposable income. It is time to get back to how our parents and grandparents viewed debt – as a necessary evil not as the preferred way of buying stuff. In other words, we will have to learn to live within our means.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The road to financial ruin was paved with good intentions

Don’t have time to read all the Internet blogs about why we find ourselves on the verge of personal and collective financial ruin? Do you have a few minutes to watch a couple videos?

In the first video, economist Russell Roberts explains why we are in this mess.

This is the infamous SNL video that was removed from the NBC web site for a few days:

If you have time to read something, I suggest you read this letter from Austrian economist Steve Horwitz.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Book Review: Yertle the Turtle

Yertle the Turtle celebrates its 50th year anniversary this year. I have given this book to many friends with young children. Did I do this because I think these little tots will become libertarians when they grow up because Mack revolted against Yertle the Turtle King? Of course not. First and foremost, it is a great story for parents to read to their children. In fact, it is one of the better Dr. Seuss books. What more could one ask for? Well, yes it does make the point that one shouldn’t just do as one is told by an abusive ruler but more importantly it teaches a child about standing up to injustice. I have heard parents tell their children that “life isn’t fair.” I think that is one of the worst things a parent can tell a child. At five years of age, a child wants to believe that the world is fair and just. Why would we want to tell them otherwise? They will find out soon enough that life isn't always fair, but at that age, it is a parent’s or teacher’s job to attempt to make the unfair fair. As a child gets older, he needs to be encouraged to stand up to injustice. I think this book teaches that. Yertle becomes a power hungry ruler and forces his subjects – the other turtles in the pond – to build a tower for Yertle to sit upon. The tower is made up of stacked turtles. Mack is the turtle on the bottom of the stack. When he complains, Yertle demands that he be silent. How dare he question the great turtle king? Eventually Mack burps and knocks Yertle off his throne. The story ends with, “And the turtles, of course . . . all the turtles are free. As turtles, and, maybe, all creatures should be.”

There are actually three stories that make up the Yertle the Turtle and Other Stories book. The first story is Yertle the Turtle, the second one is Gertrude McFuzz, and the last one is The Big Brag. While Gertrude McFuzz isn’t as fun to read as Yertle or The Big Brag, it does have a good moral with a warning about the perils of vanity. The Big Brag is as much fun to read as Yertle and has a very funny ending. In fact, I recall laughing out loud the first time I read it to my girls. It makes the point that those that brag, very often exaggerate their skills and their bragging gets in the way of their work. I have found - as I am sure you have as well - that those who brag are insecure but the truly gifted rarely feel the need to brag. I work with a lot of incredibly bright people – many are internationally recognized as the top experts in their field – and rarely do the truly accomplished ones tell you where they went to school or brag about their achievements. However, the insecure ones will remind you that they graduated from so and so college or that a certain project would not have been successful without their input. Maybe they were never taught as children that humility is a virtue.

I will continue to buy this book for new parents.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Quote: Walter Williams on Destroying Liberty

Another way for Dr. Williams to say "more government means less liberty."
There is no question that if one were to ask whether we Americans are moving towards more liberty or more government control over our lives, the answer would unambiguously be the latter -- more government control over our lives. We might have reached a point where the trend is irreversible and that is a true tragedy for if liberty is lost in America, it will be lost for all times and all places.