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The illiberal nature of passports

All too frequent hour-long queues at passport control

In these days of global trade and supposed free movement of people, it’s amazing that we still have – and continue to put up with – the ridiculous ritual of passport control. The obsolete technology, the humorless border police, the queues, the ban on use of mobile phones or cameras in the hall (why?!) – all these contribute to making sure that your very first impression of the country you’ve just entered is a bad one.

I was therefore first surprised, and then increasingly annoyed, by finding out from an article entitled “Passport to the Total State” that passports are a relatively recent invention, were until even more recently a voluntary document, and were originally developed to help those who carried them:

A passport is where the security theater begins. Indeed, without a passport those who wish to fly or cross a border are not “allowed” to be scanned, searched, interrogated, or undergo a plethora of other indignities imposed by uniformed thugs. The hoops through which passport carriers jump are all prelude to “permitting” them to exercise a right belonging to every freeborn person: the right to travel.

America and the world were not always this way. It is important to remember that there once was a world in which people traveled freely across borders without paperwork to visit families, pursue education, conduct business, and mingle. Freedom worked once. It enriched the world economically, culturally, and psychologically.

The passport has grown into what is arguably the single most powerful tool of totalitarian America, second only to law enforcement itself. It no longer pretends to protect individuals; not a single terrorist has been apprehended as a result of passport checks. But it does cement the totalitarian state. The mandatory passport should be reviled and rejected as an abuse of human rights and common decency. A nation that requires one cannot be free.

The passport is yet another part of our everyday lives that, along with Big Government, tax, inflation, war and a host of other things, we accept as completely normal.

If you were king… (would you do any better?)

Via Davy at The UK Libertarian blog, I came across this great video which, quite simply and elegantly, pulls apart the concept that the State (whether it takes the form of a benevolent king or, for example, the US Congress) can ever be a positive force for humanity in general. Check it out – it will make you think!

Of course, one only has to look at what is currently going on in Europe, the US and a multitude of other places around the world to realise quite quickly that our rulers are anything but benevolent…

When did you sign the ‘social’ contract…?

There’s a great article posted on the Mises Institute blog that I highly recommend, on the topic of the so-called ‘social contract’:

In regard to the so-called social contract, I have often had occasion to protest that I haven’t even seen the contract, much less been asked to consent to it. A valid contract requires voluntary offer, acceptance, and consideration. I’ve never received an offer from my rulers, so I certainly have not accepted one; and rather than consideration, I have received nothing but contempt from the rulers, who, notwithstanding the absence of any agreement, have indubitably threatened me with grave harm in the event that I fail to comply with their edicts.

What monumental effrontery these people exhibit! What gives them the right to rob me and push me around? It certainly is not my desire to be a sheep for them to shear or slaughter as they deem expedient for the attainment of their own ends.

Moreover, when we flesh out the idea of “consent of the governed” in realistic detail, the whole notion quickly becomes utterly preposterous.

The author, Robert Higgs, then goes on – in a way that would be hilarious if it was not so true – what this social contract would look like if you were to receive it in the post tomorrow:

I, the party of the first part (“the ruler”), promise:

(1) To stipulate how much of your money you will hand over to me, as well as how, when, and where the transfer will be made. You will have no effective say in the matter, aside from pleading for my mercy, and if you should fail to comply, my agents will punish you with fines, imprisonment, and (in the event of your persistent resistance) death.

(2) To make thousands upon thousands of rules for you to obey without question, again on pain of punishment by my agents. You will have no effective say in determining the content of these rules, which will be so numerous, complex, and in many cases beyond comprehension that no human being could conceivably know about more than a handful of them, much less their specific character; yet if you should fail to comply with any of them, I will feel free to punish you to the extent of a law made by me and my confederates.

(3) To provide for your use, on terms stipulated by me and my agents, so-called public goods and services. Although you may actually place some value on a few of these goods and services, most will have little or no value to you, and some you will find utterly abhorrent, and in no event will you as an individual have any effective say over the goods and services I provide, notwithstanding any economist’s cock-and-bull story to the effect that you “demand” all this stuff and value it at whatever amount of money I choose to expend for its provision.

(4) In the event of a dispute between us, judges beholden to me for their appointment and salaries will decide how to settle the dispute. You can expect to lose in these settlements, if your case is heard at all.

In exchange for the foregoing government “benefits,” you, the party of the second part (“the subject”), promise:

(5) To shut up, make no waves, obey all orders issued by the ruler and his agents, kowtow to them as if they were important, honorable people, and when they say “jump,” ask only “how high?”

Would you sign up to this…?

Why can’t the NHS be run like Tesco?

Came across an excellent post from the Adam Smith Institute the other day that’s definitely worth sharing:

We’re lucky there’s no such thing as the National Food Service [NFS], modelled on the National Health Service, to ensure equal access to affordable food supplies.

[…] It’s not hard to imagine the disaster befalling our kitchens and restaurants if the industry was organised into an NFS in pursuit of an equality agenda. GPs (Grocery Practitioners) would be the gatekeepers to food supplies, assessing everyone’s basic dietary requirements and issuing coupons according to guidelines from Whitehall under budgets set by the Treasury. PCTs (Primary Comestible Trusts) would oversee the distribution of food parcels, adopting best practices as judged by NICE (National Institute for Cuisine Excellence). There’d be nationally set waiting-list targets to see consultants on wine and cheese.

Fortunately, nobody is seriously proposing a National Food Service – yet. But, equally, nobody is seeking lessons from the supermarkets on delivering efficient health care in rapid response to changing consumer demands. Which is too bad.

I think this article makes its central point very clearly: that there is absolutely no credible reason why the NHS needs to be organised the way it is, i.e. through central government dictat and controlled by all-powerful vested interests. The equally important grocery industry is as near to free-market capitalism as you can get in this country, and yet somehow the less well off have plenty of options on where to shop and have not starved en masse.

The time for a free-market health service that truly reflects the needs of the customer – not the producers – is now. Will anyone do anything to bring this about before the current system collapses under its ever-increasing burden…?

I’m not holding my breath…

A tale of two drugs: why we all pay (more) for socialised care

I came across a really interesting article on the US healthcare system on the Mises Institute website yesterday, which puts forward the argument that rather than help, Government intervention in the healthcare market only makes things worse – most obviously by raising prices and costs way higher than they otherwise would be. Quite frankly, this article is completely relevant to the UK’s NHS as well.

Below is a key section of the article where the author uses a simple example to demonstrate the inherent flaw in socialised systems:

The following is an example of a real and very popular drug that I use on a routine basis that I will call drug X. Drug X works by inhibiting blood clot formation (when a blood clot forms in a vessel in the heart, one can have a heart attack). Drug X and drug Y work together by acting on different substrates of the clot-formation process to ultimately effect the same outcome — stopping clots from forming. Drug X costs on average $141.82 per month. Drug Y costs a couple of dollars per month over the counter at your local drug store. What does the data tell us about the two?

Multiple studies have been performed to answer the question: Does drug X improve cardiovascular outcomes compared to drug Y alone after a patient has had a major cardiovascular event or a stroke? The answer, unequivocally, is yes. By how much? The answer is a few percentage points, give or take.[2] Does it eliminate the risk all together? The answer, unequivocally, is no. It should also be noted that drug X in addition to drug Y confers a minor increase in the risk of having a major bleeding event. So the question is: How many people, in the appropriate clinical setting, knowing this information, would buy drug X for $140 per month? Probably not nearly as many who take it now for nothing or for a small copay. Leaving aside the issue of brand names and patents, under conditions of market competition, do you think the company who makes drug X would lower the price to entice more buyers? If they did not lower the price, or simply could not lower the price due to production costs, I would venture to guess that drug X would not be marketable outside of a small niche of patients.

Now ask yourself, is the doctor who recommends drug X the bad guy? Of course not: drug X does provide a benefit beyond drug Y itself, and furthermore, if he didn’t offer it and the patient had a heart attack (which could happen despite being on drug X) the doctor could be at risk of losing his medical license. After all, drug X is part of the standard of care. Is the patient the bad guy? Of course not: if you were offered the chance to take a drug that had a defined benefit and wouldn’t cost you that much, you’d be silly to reject it. Is the pharmaceutical company the bad guy? No, they have a responsibility to their shareholders to make a profit, so they should sell their product at the highest price possible.

So who’s to blame? The answer: a system that has been developed by government intervention to interfere with consumer sovereignty and make every individual pay for every other individual’s medical expenses so that the individual consuming the care does not bear the full price at the point of utilization.

For me, this is pretty much self-evident. Amongst all of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that we have all been subjected to recently on the subject of reform – from the unions, the myriad vested interests, the politicians (from all parties) and our unbiased (hah!) media – where is the voice of the actual, put-upon consumer?

Keynesian cretinism at the London Evening Standard

Like many thousands of other people, I pick up a free copy of the London Evening Standard to try and help minimize the pain of the daily commute home coutesy of South East Trains. Normally, the LES is a good read and time passes quickly. However, every now and again I come across an article that is so completely wrong that I can feel my blood pressure rising while reading it.

There are a few of the regular writers that I can now expect to be highly annoyed by whatever they write (e.g. James Fenton, Chris Blackhurst, Jenni Russell), but one of them stands out: Anthony Hilton, the City Columnist. One of his latest articles appeared last week, “Debt isn’t always bad. We may even learn to love it

Here a few of the (many) paragraphs that got my blood boiling:

In fact, the whole saga shows up our politicians at their worst. Listen to Chancellor George Osborne and you could easily believe government debt was invented by Gordon Brown. In fact, he made a pretty big reduction in the debt levels he inherited from his Conservative predecessor John Major – fixing the roof while the sun was shining, to coin a phrase – until he was knocked hopelessly off course by the financial crisis and the need to bail out banks.

Of course, it is unfair to blame Gordon Brown alone for our current problems – our fiat currency, the policy of the US and most other ‘developed’ countries’ governments to finance ever-increasing state debt via the printing press and permanent inflation (i.e. currency devaluation), and rampant crony capitalism are just some of the systemic Keynesian problems that no UK government has done anything to address for the last century.

However, the major cause of our current problems in the UK at the moment is the structural budget deficit – in other words the amount by which state spending oustrips tax revenue. Far from ‘fixing the roof while the sun was shining’, Gordon Brown spent our money like there was no tomorrow and built up the public sector of the economy to the point where it is now larger than the productive private sector. This is Gordon Brown’s legacy to the nation – had there been no financial crisis or bank bailouts the deficit would still be the same.

On current projections, debt is expected to stabilise at around 70 per cent of GDP or, shedding the jargon, it will be the equivalent of just over two- thirds of all the output generated by the entire nation in one year.

However, if things turned out much worse than that and debt rose to 100 per cent of GDP, the interest would still only be about five per cent or 5p for every £1 earned in the country. Eminently affordable, so why the panic?

Hilton appears to be talking about the UK’s “official” state debt, which helpfully excludes most of our pension liabilities as well as a tranche of other items (e.g. public-private partnerships) that are kept “off the books”. In fact, the UK’s total debt has been forecast to hit £10 trillion by 2015. For an even more frightening example of how much trouble we are all in thanks to Brown et al, have a look at this video – the total US debt is greater than the combined GDP of the whole world economy:

One more paragraph:

It would be wrong to say debt does not matter but we need a sense of proportion – and having made the point, the Government must move on. Talking tough on cuts may keep financial markets onside, but the Government’s priority should be to restore economic growth, not fixate about the deficit. Get growth right and the deficit will take care of itself; but a government which defines itself by cuts stands a very good chance of making things worse.

At the risk of repeating what many independent bloggers have pointed out ad nauseam already, what cuts?? The result of the ‘biggest cuts in a generation’ – you know, the ones that are proceeding “too far, too fast” – is simply a reduction in the rate of increase of our debt. Worth repeating: these cuts constituting the “final solution against the poor” will not even sort out our deficit, let alone start paying off the debt itself.

Hilton would do well to cold turkey himself off his big-state Keynesian theories and perhaps school himself on Austrian free-market economics. Who exactly is going to fuel this growth when those same people are slowly being strangled by red tape and de-incentivised by ever-higher taxes? Once again, who was in power over the last 13 years and did more than any other Chancellor to put these things into place?

Anyway, rant over. Hilton and the legion of others like him is the reason why I – like many others – no longer get my news from the mainstream media. If you want to start thinking for yourself then type ‘libertarian’ or ‘Austrian school of economics’ (or, for any US-based readers, ‘Ron Paul’) into your browser and see where it takes you.

In the meantime, note to self: stop reading Hilton’s articles. He’s not worth it.

The most dangerous man to any government…

2011-06-01 1 comment

Came across this brilliant quote, had to share:

The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is able to think things out for himself, without regard to the prevailing superstitions and taboos. Almost inevitably he comes to the conclusion that the government he lives under is dishonest, insane, and intolerable, and so, if he is romantic, he tries to change it. And even if he is not romantic personally he is apt to spread discontent among those who are.

– H.L. Mencken

This was taken from a post on the Orphans of Liberty blog – as good a place as any to start if you want to want to think things out for yourself…