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Don’t Be Fooled by the Deplatforming of Facebook

Don’t Be Fooled by the Deplatforming of Facebook

The push for speech control escalates. There is now a concentration of stories concerning social media companies and their role in shaping political thought.

We are nine months from a pivotal presidential election in the U.S. and the push is on to ensure that the outcome goes the way those in power want it to. 

Three times in as many weeks billionaire busybody George Soros has attacked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding he be removed because he is working to re-elect Donald Trump. 

This seems like an absurdity. But it isn’t. It’s all part of the game plan. 

Create a controversy that isn’t real to seed a narrative that there’s a problem in need of a solution. Facebook has been the center of this controversy to inflame passions on both sides of the political aisle to ensure the desired outcome.

They want regulation of all social media companies to create unscalable barriers to entry for new ones while curtailing free speech on the existing ones.

Warren Buffet would call that a moat. I call it tyranny. 

Enter Attorney General William Barr.

He weighed in recently that we need to have a conversation about Facebook et.al. in relation to their Section 230 immunity under the Communications Decency Act.

Section 230 grants immunity to companies like Facebook and Google from prosecution for content hosted on their services as they argue they are not publishers but rather just pass-through entities or platforms of user-generated content.

Now, it’s pretty clear for the past few years the social media companies have been acting with open editorial bias to deplatform undesirables. They rewrite broadly defined terms of services and EULAs (End-User Licence Agreements) which they use to justify controlling what content they are willing to host.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Canada’s Crude Oil Production Cuts Are Unsustainable

Canada’s Crude Oil Production Cuts Are Unsustainable

Canada oil

In an attempt to combat a ballooning oil glut and dramatically plummeting prices, the premier of Alberta Rachel Notley introduced an unprecedented measure at the beginning of December when she is mandating that oil companies in her province cut production. This directive was particularly surprising in the context of Canada’s free market economy, where oil production is rarely so directly regulated.

Canada’s recent oil glut woes are not due to a lack of demand, but rather a severe lack of pipeline infrastructure. There is plenty of demand, and more than enough supply, but no way to get the oil flowing where it needs to go. Canada’s pipelines are running at maximum capacity, storage facilities are filled to bursting, and the pipeline bottleneck has only continued to worsen. Now, in an effort to alleviate the struggling industry, Alberta’s oil production has been cut 8.7 percent according to the mandate set by the province’s government under Rachel Notley with the objective of cutting out around 325,000 barrels per day from the Canadian market.

Even before the government stepped in, some private oil companies had already self-imposed production caps in order to combat the ever-expanding glut and bottomed-out oil prices. Cenovus Energy, Canadian Natural Resource, Devon Energy, Athabasca Oil, and others announced curtailments that totaled around 140,000 barrels a day and Cenovus Energy, one of Canada’s major producers, even went so far as to plead with the government to impose production caps late last year.

So far, the government-imposed productive caps have been extremely successful. In October Canadian oil prices were so depressed that the Canadian benchmark oil Western Canadian Select (WCS) was trading at a whopping $50 per barrel less than United States benchmark oil West Texas Intermediate (WTI). now, in the wake of production cuts, the price gap between WCS and WTI has diminished by a dramatic margin to a difference of just under $13 per barrel.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

Why Bad Economics Makes Such Good Politics

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As the election nears, politicians will more and more frantically point out what wonderful favors they’ve done for the voters — or what favors they will do for the voters, if elected.

Of course, they never mean all the voters. They mean groups or individuals within the voting population who believe they benefit from laws, taxes, regulations, and spending programs supported by the politician in question.

Two such examples of these sorts of favors are tariffs and minimum wage laws. Both impose costs on both producers and consumers overall, while benefiting a small sliver of the population that is able to take advantage of the government mandate.

The economics of each of these, or taxation and business regulation in general, have already been addressed numerous times in these pages.

It must suffice to point out that these policies, for which politicians think they deserve accolades, potentially benefit only very specific interest groups. Nevertheless, these policies can prove to be politically popular, and may help a politician get elected.

But why should policies that help so few — and impose many costs on even those they purport to help — be politically popular?

Hazlitt and Mises on the Popularity of Bad Economics

Answering this question was one of the main reasons that Henry Hazlitt wrote his perennially popular bookEconomics in One Lesson.

In the very first chapter, Hazlitt notes that economic science is prone to so many errors because people are motivated to believe an incorrect version of economics that supports their own economic interests. Or as Hazlitt put it, economic errors “are multiplied a thousandfold … by the special pleading of selfish interests.”

Sometimes, these attempts to throw good economics in the garbage are spectacularly successful. After all, for decades, no insignificant number of Americans believed the claim that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America.”1

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why We Don’t Have Principled Politicians

Why We Don’t Have Principled Politicians

Politicians choose their stances on issues based on public opinion, not principles.

Recently, Senator Chuck Schumer introduced a bill that would decriminalize marijuana on the federal level. He stated that the legality of marijuana should be a matter left up to individual states. This ringing endorsement of federalism might carry a little more weight if Senator Schumer hadn’t spent a large part of his political career trying to micromanage Americans’ behavior at the national level. Hillary Clinton is widely considered to be a staunch supporter of the LGBT community; however, she was publicly opposed to marriage equality until 2013. These are just two of the innumerable examples of politicians changing their stances on policy issues in the face of evolving public opinion. This is not a new phenomenon or exclusive to a single political party. Not only is it common for politicians to modify their positions of political principles to match changing public opinion, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who doesn’t. We are dealing with political followership, not political leadership. So, what does that get us? Antony Davies and James Harrigan talk about this and more on this week’s episode of Words and Numbers.

In a Stateless World, Can You Grow Veggies In Your Front Yard?

In a Stateless World, Can You Grow Veggies In Your Front Yard?

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The Miami Herald reports that a local couple is going all the way to the state supreme court to fight a local ordinance banning front-yard vegetable gardens: 

Hermine Ricketts and her husband Tom Carroll may grow fruit trees and flowers in the front yard of their Miami Shores house…

Vegetables, however, are not allowed.

Ricketts and Carroll thought they were gardeners when they grew tomatoes, beets, scallions, spinach, kale and multiple varieties of Asian cabbage. But according to a village ordinance that restricts edible plants to backyards only, they were actually criminals.

“That’s what government does – interferes in people’s lives,” Ricketts said. “We had that garden for 17 years. We ate fresh meals every day from that garden. Since the village stepped its big foot in it, they have ruined our garden and my health.”

These sorts of stories pop up several times a year. They are often discussed at free-market oriented and libertarian sites to illustrate just the myriad of ways that the state interferes in our daily lives. Many times, they intervene to prohibit totally innocuous activities like growing a front-yard garden.

What articles like these often fail to point out of course, is that these laws didn’t appear out of nowhere. They are often passed because some voters demanded the city council or the county commission pass laws prohibiting front-yard gardens, or backyard chicken coops, or other non-violent activities deemed by some to be a nuisance to the neighborhood. These laws then persist over time because the majority of voters either agree with the laws, or don’t feel strongly enough about the matter to demand a change.

In Miami Shores, the law against front-yard gardens was likely passed because at least a few people felt that front yard gardens were not so innocuous after all.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Video Game Analogy to Our Energy Predicament

A Video Game Analogy to Our Energy Predicament

The way the world economy is manipulated by world leaders is a little like a giant video game. The object of the game is to keep the world economy growing, without too many adverse consequences to particular members of the world economy. We represent this need for growth of the world economy as being similar to making a jet airplane fly at ever-higher altitudes.

Figure 1. Author’s view of the situation we are facing. World leaders look at their video screens and adjust their controllers to try to make the world economy fly at ever-higher levels.

World leaders look at their video game screens for indications regarding where the world economy is now. They also want to see whether there are specific parts of the economy that are doing badly.

The game controllers that the world leaders have are somewhat limited in the functions they can perform. Typical adjustments they can make include the following:

  • Add or remove government programs aimed at providing jobs for would-be workers
  • Add or remove government sponsored pension plans and payments to those without jobs
  • Add or remove laws regulating efficiencies of new vehicles
  • Change who or what is taxed, and the overall level of taxation
  • Through the above mechanisms, change government debt levels
  • Change interest rates

There are numerous problems with this approach. For one thing, the video game screen doesn’t give a very complete picture of what is happening. For another, the aspects of the economy that can be controlled are rather limited. Furthermore, the situation is very complex–there seem to be several “sides” of the economy that need to “win” at the same time, for the economy to continue to grow: (a) oil importers and oil exporters, (b) businesses and their would-be customers, (c) governments and their would-be taxpayers, and (d) asset holders and the would-be buyers of these assets, such as families needing new homes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Goodbye Net Neutrality; Hello Competition

Goodbye Net Neutrality; Hello Competition

We should take our deregulation where we can get it.  

At long last, with the end of “net neutrality,” competition could soon come to the industry that delivers Internet services to you. You might be able to pick among a range of packages, some minimalist and some maximalist, depending on how you use the service. Or you could choose a package that charges based only on what you consume, rather than sharing fees with everyone else.

Internet socialism is dead; long live market forces.

With market-based pricing finally permitted, we could see new entrants to the industry because it might make economic sense for the first time to innovate. The growing competition will lead, over the long run, to innovation and falling prices. Consumers will find themselves in the driver’s seat rather than crawling and begging for service and paying whatever the provider demands.

Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC, is exactly right. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

A Fed for Communication

The old rules pushed by the Obama administration had locked down the industry with regulation that only helped incumbent service providers and major content delivery services. They called it a triumph of “free expression and democratic principles.” It was anything but. It was actually a power grab. It created an Internet communication cartel not unlike the way the banking system works under the Federal Reserve.

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If You Give the State an Inch, It Will Take a Mile

If You Give the State an Inch, It Will Take a Mile

There’s No Such Thing as Neutral Intervention

Humans are imperfect beings. Try as we may, each of us is subject to some degree of inconsistency in our own thought patterns. Even the greatest champions of liberty who have made invaluable contributions to the study of classical liberalism have fallen prey to error. And while these heroes and geniuses may come to an inconsistent conclusion every now and then, our admiration continues.

Hayek wasn’t infallible. And in chapter three of The Road to Serfdom, he makes some arguments in favor of “harmless” market intervention that call for scrutiny.

No Such Thing as Harmless Regulation

As I made my way through chapter three, I did a doubletake after coming across this passage:

To prohibit the use of certain poisonous substances or to require special precautions in their use, to limit working hours or to require certain sanitary arrangements is fully compatible with the preservation of competition.”

In this chapter, Hayek regularly uses the word “competition” to mean free market. He also asserts that “planning” is, in and of itself, the enemy of competition. Hayek argues that not all state action qualifies as “planning” and as an encroachment on “competition.”

Hayek reasons that since these types of regulation do not interfere with the means of production themselves, it is fully compatible with free market capitalism. He has also argued that since these are “blanket” regulations—no one can use these substances— and not individual regulations—only this group can’t use them—they do not inhibit the market’s ability to function freely. In Hayek’s mind, for example, the state limiting the number of widgets you can produce is far more intrusive than outlawing certain harmful substances.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Regulation–The Hidden Curse

Regulations are nearly always introduced with the best intentions.

In financial services, they aim to stop unscrupulous brokers and banks from ripping off the public through bad practices. Manufacturers are banned from making products which are dangerous to children, the environment, or which might fail through shoddy workmanship. However, state intervention in commercial matters is based on shaky grounds, consistent with denial of the role and workings of markets, and an overriding desire to interfere.

This contrasts with a true understanding of why free markets work, and the control the consumer exercises over prices and choice, subordinating them to his subjective decisions. Consequently, regulation is based on an unreasoned belief that the individual needs state intervention to ensure standards are maintained, and that bad practices will be eliminated. The incorrect assumption is that free markets encourage unscrupulous manufacturers and service providers to defraud the consumer, when in fact, reputation becomes the paramount relationship in trade.

Because private sector regulation tends towards monopoly practices, the state naturally sees itself as the independent arbiter to ensure fair play. But the state, having initially imposed regulations, finds it very difficult to stop there, with political pressures always to modify and intensify bureaucratic control. Furthermore, unintended consequences of earlier regulations are never corrected by abolishing them. Instead, more layers of regulatory control are introduced in an attempt to address ensuing problems. We therefore drift into greater and greater regulation, without being aware of the true economic cost.

Anyone who favours regulation needs to explain away Germany’s post-war success. Her economy had been destroyed, firstly by the Nazi war machine, and then by Allied bombing. We easily forget the state of ruin the country was in, with people in the towns and cities actually starving in the post-war aftermath.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What’s Different About Monetary Policy?

What’s Different About Monetary Policy?

Many people agree that it’s important to move to a free market in money (i.e. the gold standard). They also say that it’s just as important to fight bad taxes and regulation. In their view, government interference in the economy is like friction in a car. The more friction you add, the slower the car goes. One source of friction is much the same as any other.

Let me explain why it doesn’t quite work that way, using a few examples.

Suppose the government imposes an expensive tax on employers based on the number of full-time employees. Full time is defined as working at least 30 hours per week. Employers respond to this tax by reducing the hours of as many employees as possible below the threshold. The law still harms employers, but less than intended. If the law were a bullet aimed at the chest of the employer, it ends up causing a flesh wound.

Another example is a law that makes it illegal for startup companies to pitch their deals to non-accredited investors. Accredited investors form organized groups that entrepreneurs can safely go to and raise capital. It’s cumbersome, and it leaves some entrepreneurs out in the cold, but as with the employer tax, everyone works to minimize the damage.

Both the employer tax and the investment regulation fit the analogy of friction that slows down the economy. However, our monetary system causes a different kind of effect.

For over three decades, the interest rate has been falling. This causes all asset prices to rise. Rising asset prices incentivize people to consume their capital (as I’ve written in many articles). In short, it’s a process of converting someone’s wealth into someone else’s income. The owner of the wealth would never consume it, but the recipient of income is happy to consume most of it.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Case of Glyphosate: Product Promoters Masquerading as Regulators?

The Case of Glyphosate: Product Promoters Masquerading as Regulators?

roundup

On 20 March, the World Health Organisation International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) said that glyphosate was probably carcinogenic to humans. This is just one step below the risk designation of ‘known carcinogen’. The European Unioin is currently in the process of assessing the IARC’s research and will re-evaluate glyphosate.

Aaron Blair, a scientist emeritus at the National Cancer Institute who chaired the 17-member working group of the IARC that classified glyphosate as “probably” cancer-causing, says that the classification is appropriate based on current science. Blair also states that there have been hundreds of studies on glyphosate with concerns about the chemical growing over time and added that in its review the IARC group gave particular consideration to two major studies out of Sweden, one out of Canada and at least three in the US.

He stressed that the group did not classify glyphosate as definitely causing cancer:

“We looked at, ‘Is there evidence that glyphosate causes cancer?’ and the answer is ‘probably.’ That is different than yes… It is different than smoking and lung cancer. We don’t say smoking probably causes cancer. We say it does cause cancer. At one point we weren’t sure, but now we are.”

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, which was primarily responsible $5.1 billion of Monsanto’s revenues in 2014.  The herbicide is also used to support Monsanto’s Roundup Ready crops, which comprise the vast bulk of the balance of its revenue stream. Unsurprisingly, Monsanto has wasted no time in trying to rubbish the WHO findings. The work of cancer specialists from 11 countries was speedily dismissed by Monsanto. In a press release, the company argued the findings are based on ‘junk’ science and cherry picking and are agenda driven.

 

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Birth of What Will Prove a Short Siege

Birth of What Will Prove a Short Siege

I see with no surprise that Washington is stepping up its campaign to censor the internet. It had to come, and will succeed.  It will put paid forever to America’s flirtation with freedom.

The country was never really a democracy, meaning a polity in which final power rested with the people. The voters have always been too remote from the levers of power to have much influence. Yet for a brief window of time there actually was freedom of a sort. With the censorship of the net—it will be called “regulation”—the last hope of retaining former liberty will expire.

Over the years freedom has declined in inverse proportion to the reach of the central government. (Robert E. Lee: “I consider the constitutional power of the General Government as the chief source of stability to our political system, whereas the consolidation of the states into one vast republic, sure to be aggressive abroad and despotic at home, will be the certain precursor of that ruin which has overwhelmed all those that have preceded it.” Yep.)

Through most of the country’s history, Washington lacked the ability to meddle, control, micromanage, and punish. In 1850, it had precious little knowledge of events in lands such as Wyoming, Tennessee, or West Virginia, no capacity to do much about them, and not a great deal of interest. People on remote farms and in small towns governed themselves as they chose, not always well but without rule by distant bureaucracies and moneyed interests.

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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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