Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Political Philosophy of Prohibition

In the podcast below that I listened to the other night, Stefan Molyneux interviews Praxgirl (host of a YouTube show that focuses on Praxeology) and its director Robert Taylor. It's always humbling to be reminded that my knowledge of libertarianism and the Austrian School of Economics is very premature and that there's always so much more to learn.  

Basically, from my understanding of it, praxeology is focused more on studying human action through a priori methodology (ie. things you accept to be true based solely on logic and deductive reasoning like knowing that 2 + 2 = 4) as opposed to focusing more on empirical data (ie. things we accept to be true based on experience like touching fire will cause harm and damage to your body). Having read the chapters on Rationalism, Empiricism, and Immanuel Kant in the book Sophie's World is actually paying off.

It's great how director Robert Taylor thought of utilizing his filmmaking skills to promote praxeology and Austrian economics and created a show that is concise, appealing, and is hosted by someone who is actually quite pretty. Let's admit it: people's attention spans nowadays are very short and sometimes effectivity of educating people is all about marketing and packaging.

Mainstream contemporary economics is usually considered by most scholars as something that is a "hard" science mostly, if not entirely, based on empirical data whereas the Austrians mostly rely on sound logical and deductive reasoning instead of historical or statistical interpretations. Although it was interesting that Robert asked Stefan about his views on ethics being a combination of both theory and empirical evidence to which he answers:
"Theory precedes everything... if you're having trouble accepting a priori theory then appeal to evidence can be helpful. So if you're saying communism is great and the free market is terrible, you can go through the a priori arguments but if people are having trouble with that then you can point out, you know, 200,000 people killed by communism and 50,000 people a month getting from the poverty class and middle class in India... you can sort of give examples that are designed to chisel away and shake loose the blinders of dogma but evidence by and in of itself cannot establish any theory universally cause evidence by nature can be contradicted by something on the dark side of the moon, something that's never been examined before or whatever so the a priori stuff is really the way to clinch the arguments..."
One perfect example I can think of that best represents this kind of perspective on ethics and morality would be prohibition. One of the most interesting examples of prohibition in history is the prohibition of alcohol in the United States in the 1920's. As Stefan mentioned, these kinds of failures in history will help "chisel away and shake loose the blinders of dogma" because people have been so indoctrinated about prohibition then any of empirical data can easily help justify the sound and logical a priori arguments against prohibition.

HBO TV Series Boardwalk Empire

The poster above, as I'm sure most of you know, is a popular HBO period TV series about the prohibition of alcohol in the US during the 1920's. The characters and scenarios depicted in the show are actually not far from the historical reality of that time. There was connivance between government and syndicates. From a praxeological point of view, you could say that this is not something that emerged merely because those seated in government are corrupt but because it is inevitable for prohibited substances to go to the black market. And it's not just syndicates or mafias or corrupt politicians: up to now opium and other drug trades nowadays are actually funding terrorist groups.

Ron Paul talks about the failures of the War on Drugs
In the video above, Ron Paul argues the economical, moral, and empirical reasons why prohibition has and always will fail. For the economical, he points out trillions of dollars of taxpayer's money funding something that doesn't even work. He also points out that prohibition actually makes it easier for adolescents to purchase marijuana than alcohol. Also, being a physician, he mentions that addiction should be treated as a medical condition and not a crime the same way we view alcoholism. Incarcerating young men and women for non-violent use of illegal substances only increase their chances of becoming worse when they get out of prison.  For me, the argument for legalization is already so petty. I like how the Drug Policy Alliance argues that drug policies should be grounded in science, compassion, health, and human rights. It's all about facts really. Facts that are, once again, blatantly or sometimes unintentionally ignored because of the blinders of dogma.
And it's not even just about illicit substances. As I have said, it's already so petty. Let's take Jueteng, for example, a popular but illegal gambling game here in the Philippines. Many times, including the impeachment of previous president Joseph "Erap" Estrada, there were records that showed how much bribery and corruption is involved with this illegal game. It makes no sense because the act of playing this game is non-violent and entirely voluntary.

Many people will argue, as with illegal drugs, that gambling games such as Jueteng destroys lives and therefore the government should step in and be our nanny or our big brother and prohibit us from doing these things. But that is, as Stefan mentions in the podcast, an "argument from effect" and not an "argument from morality" which is basically some sort of subjective interpretation of empirical data. The idea is that because some people destroy their lives by doing X therefore X should be prohibited by government or, in this case, monopolized or licensed to a select few who are rich and powerful. These arguments are obviously not sound. This is why praxeology's method of starting from sound arguments and deductive reasoning first when deciding public policy as opposed to basing them solely on subjective interpretations of statistics or historical events is more objective and leads to better policies.

Libertarians believe that for as long as you are not hurting anyone else, destroying the property of others, or doing any other act that may interfere with the liberties of others, then the government has no right to prohibit you from doing so. That is your prerogative. That is your liberty. That is self-ownership and voluntary association. These are sound and undeniable axioms: the non-aggression principle and property rights. Dr. Walter Block who wrote a book that defends victimless crimes (see my article on Defending the Undefendable By Walter Block) gives a good introductory lecture on what libertarianism and Austrian economics in this video:


He also mentions that Austrian economics is a positive science, one that deals with real world scenarios  and is value-free whereas libertarianism is a normative one which means it deals with values, virtues, and morality. He does explain that Austrian economics and libertarianism almost always goes hand in and hand because both are based on principles of freedom and liberty.
Our perspective and methodology when it comes to deciding public policy should always be based on sound logical arguments or axioms. Once these foundations are compromised or denied then there will no longer be justice or freedom, something very apparent in contemporary society.
"Prohibition goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man's appetite by legislation and makes crimes out of things that are not crimes." - Abraham Lincoln

Sunday, October 14, 2012

On the US VP Debate — Joe Biden vs Paul Ryan

I figured it would be more interesting to talk about the VP debate than the presidential one. I'll try to make this short.

It's interesting that the campaign people of the Obama administration are playing the peace-card yet again. It will surely work though since people are usually very forgetful. David Boaz reports on the Huffington Post that troops and drone attacks actually increased exponentially during the Obama administration (source). Aside from that, Biden emphasizes "ending" the Iraq war even when their embassy in Iraq is bigger than the Vatican.
Paul Ryan talks about his supposed conservative (in the American sense of the word, see Liberal vs Conservative vs Libertarian) ideologies and advocacy for limited government. I actually made the case  against this already in another blog I'm writing for (see Romney Chooses Paul Ryan as Running Mate). He voted for the Patriot Act, TARP, bailouts, unnecessary wars, and foreign aid to dictators. Most, if not all, Biden supported as well.
The Obama administration actually continued Bush's interventionist economic policies. Whether it's Biden or Ryan who wins, spending and debt will increase in spite of Paul Ryan's "passion" for fiscal conservatism or for Biden's alleged support for a balanced budget. Either way, the wars will expand and crony-capitalism will prevail. And as I have made the case many times in this blog, their policies will not only be detrimental to the prosperity and civil liberties of the US but also the whole world.
The above photo is from a segment in the Daily Show satirically implying that there should be more elections. I appreciate it that they used Kucinich and Ron Paul as opponents. Before I became a libertarian, I was actually a Kucinich supporter. Being that I was a social democrat then, as most people seem to be, I chose the one who would actually be consistent, sincere, and passionate with his principles not just based on voting record but also in his platform. Evidently, I was swayed to libertarianism and became a Ron Paul supporter. Regardless of that, I do believe that at least the debate should be between these two people. Regardless of what are now differences that I have with Kucinich, people should be watching these two instead of Obama or Romney and their running mates. Unfortunately, the ideal candidates are the ones who are deemed "unelectable"; a culture I believe people of democratic nations should start changing.
A real solution would be to allow Gary Johnson in the debates (see Why it's okay for Ron Paul supporters to support for Gary Johnson?). He's in the ballot in 50 states anyway. What's so wrong about letting him join? Isn't that what democracy is all about? It's happened before anyway when independent candidate Ross Perot got to join the debates.
In the UK they now have three parties in the debates (labour, lib dems, conservative) and will hopefully become 4 as UKIP (Nigel Farage's party) gains more supporters. I don't understand why in the US only the two major parties are allowed in the debate. Also, taxpayers' money are used to fund the said parties' national conventions.
Politics nowadays is so hard to distinguish from showbiz and entertainment. It's all about money, power, and fame. Especially here in the Philippines. At least the US parties are based on principles and platforms unlike here where you can just switch parties because all they really mean is money and connections.
A lesson I learned: if someone is deemed "unelectable" then most probably he/she is saying something worth our time and maybe they're the ones who deserve the votes.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

My Two Cents on the Cybercrime Law in the Philippines

In my second post ever in this blog, around over a year ago, back when I was still a budding libertarian, I actually warned about making sure we preserve our internet freedom and keep the government away from it (see Stay the Hell Away from My Internet).

I've always seen the internet as a marketplace, a venue, where people can voluntarily exchange goods and ideas freely without government intervention. And when legislations like SOPA/PIPA/ACTA threatens internet freedom, it's as if it unleashes the inner libertarian within individuals.

Just take a look at how the recently passed Cybercrime Law here in the Philippines (RA 10175) is enticing outrage among netizens not just locally but all over the world. You will see those who used to be politically apathetic and even those leaning far from libertarianism all of a sudden being so wary of an Orwellian government as far as specifically calling out the government "Big Brother" when referring to criticisms about the said law. The terms "big brother state" or "nanny state" are usually derogatory terms criticizing laws that seek to legislate morality or tell us what we can or can't do and that we need a big brother or a nanny to watch over us to make sure that we don't do what is "immoral".

In real life, when arguing for the position that freedom of speech is absolute, people will always be wary and say that freedoms such as this one need to be limited and regulated by the government — the limits usually defined by lawmakers and bureaucrats and then judged by the courts. But when it comes to the internet, all of a sudden everyone sees how arbitrary or subjective the term "libel" can be and how easily government can use it for censorship. Because RA 10175 involves the internet, all of a sudden we invoke the Bill or Rights and see legislation like this as unconstitutional and I love it that people care and that people are united for freedom of speech.

Also, no one really cares about the Patriot Act or the NDAA in the US. Maybe it's because their policies don't really affect ours? In fact, they do. The Patriot Act became the blueprint for what our legislators passed in 2007 called the Human Security Act (RA 9372) that gives law enforcers the power  to arrest and detain citizens without a warrant. Aside from that, it also gives them power, with permission from appointed judges and bureaucrats from the Court of Appeals, for surveillance or wiretapping and be able to listen to our private conversations or other communication devices. 

I guess no one really uses telephones or cellphones anymore and the internet really has become a more important means of communication?

Maybe this is why when it comes to Cybercrime Law, we care about being presumed innocent until proven guilty and that every individual has the same rights to go through the due process of the law. Maybe there is something valuable in the constitution about how there should be probable cause justified and given warrant by an impartial court before any law enforcer can search our private properties. 

I also remember there was a time when the DTI wanted to impose red tapes on Filipino bloggers (see DTI Requires Bloggers to Have Permit for Online Contests?). This also went viral and made a lot of bloggers angry. Again, because it is on the internet, people saw red tapes or taxation as coercive. And I do fear that the Cybercrime Law will be a precedent for further internet regulation, taxation, restriction, and degradation of our civil liberties.

People even start to value fiscal conservatism especially when they learned that 50 million pesos will be allotted for this law. That's even nothing compared to all the other wasteful spendings our government is doing that isn't benefiting our economy at all.  

I'm not surprised that several senators are now for amending certain provisions of the said law only after  the reaction of people both locally and all over the world on the internet.

It's interesting that if you read the public records of the senate deliberations available here, you will see that aside from the fact that only one senator, TG Guingona (although he inconsistently enjoys calling himself a libertarian from time to time, this doesn't mean that I endorse him or all of his other principles or political positions), voted against it, you'll see that they never bothered to raise concerns about the constitutionality or the immorality of the provisions they now want amended. You'll see that even Miriam Santiago's tedious and almost line for line criticisms of what was then still a bill, not even once did she mention the unconstitutionalities of the provisions that impede our civil liberties and the due process of the law. And now she's all of a sudden protesting that the law is unconstitutional. And now all those who voted for the law seem to be changing their minds. Flip-flopping is the name of the game. Politics as usual. 

Obviously though, I stand behind the position that we must not only let them amend the unconstitutional provisions but repeal the law entirely.

I do understand, as much as I can tolerate, the sentiments of some of those who have intellectual reasons to defend some of the provisions in the Cybercrime Law. I have a friend and fellow libertarian who is a staunch advocate of IPR (Intellectual Property Rights) and believe that piracy over the internet should be eradicated. Senator Pia Cayetano says she is the champion of women's and children's rights  and abhors crimes against them and therefore agrees with the provisions in the law that attempts to protect women and children.

But is the solution to these issues really to give so much power to government? Is the solution really to legislate morality or to ignore the constitution or the due process of the law? Trading our liberties for safety is never the solution.

When arguing against the Patriot Act, Ron Paul usually gives an analogy that those who agree with it should just legislate that CCTVs be installed inside every citizen's private property to ensure that no domestic violence or other crimes are being committed. That's basically the kind of power Cybercrime Law are giving law enforcers. Every single Filipino's online activity will be searched. We have all become guilty until proven innocent instead of the other way around.

It is the same principle why PDEA officers don't do daily inspections of our basements everyday to make sure that people aren't being overly inspired by Breaking Bad. It is the concept of private property rights. For the government to have surveillance over our internet activity is the same as them entering our homes each day to make sure that we are not committing crimes or harboring pirated DVDs in our closets. Yes, perhaps in this kind of society things like meth labs or pirated DVDs will no longer exist but at the same time freedom, democracy, justice, liberty, and property rights will cease to exist.  Let us keep that in mind when we see the noble intentions in some of the provisions of the Cybercrime Law that there are unintended consequences to giving implementing power to government.

I have said over and over that the government should always only be our servant and never our master. I have made the case for this several times in this blog. At the end of it all, there is a bright side to all of this. It reminds us of how valuable our freedoms and liberty is and that we should constrain government instead of giving it more power. There's so much more I want to say but this blog post might never end. Just my two cents.

If you liked this post then you might also like:
1. YouTube and Intellectual Property Rights
2. My Two Cents on Spratly Islands Conflict
3. My Two Cents on K-12 and Public Schooling