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Government is Inevitable January 29, 2009

Posted by federalist in Government, Natural Rights.

I recently quipped, “A Minarchist is an Anarchist who has been mugged,” summarizing my conclusion after much debate that anarchists do not have a practicable social philosophy.  I just found Randall Holcombe’s excellent essay from The Independent Review (2004), “Government: Unnecessary but Inevitable,” in which he clearly explains why even starting from an anarchist condition any surviving society will inevitably converge on an equilibrium in which every individual is subject to a coercive government.  His arguments and illustrations are worth reading in full.  His conclusions:

One can debate the merits of anarchy in theory, but the real-world libertarian issue is not whether it would more be desirable to establish a limited government or to eliminate government altogether.

People may not need or want government, but inevitably they will find themselves under government’s jurisdiction.

A challenge to advocates of a minimal state is to explain how people can create and sustain preemptively a liberty-preserving government. 

I hew to Constitutional minarchy because though I subscribe to libertarian principles I also realize that a practical society requires some formal institutions of order that can’t depend on the voluntary consent of every individual.  Anarchists can’t resist this “Gotcha!  You say coercion is illegitimate and yet you support coercive institutions.”  Which is true: Even minarchy is illegitimate in principle.  But it is the only practical means of preserving our liberty.  Or, put another way, in the real world individual liberty is maximized under Mises-style minarchy (i.e., government constituted solely for the purpose of protecting individual liberty and private property).

Therefore, our goal as libertarians should not be the final destruction of all governments, but rather vigilance against the ones we have.

Citizenship is a Public Good January 24, 2009

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Human Markets, Taxation.
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And as I previously suggested, we should consider selling such public goods in lieu of taxing citizens to fund government.  That citizenship might qualify for such consideration was suggested today by James Kardon in a letter to the WSJ:

Immigration can be the key out of our current financial morass. The attack of 9/11 may have caused the current crisis by inciting the government to encourage real estate price inflation and, more importantly, slowing the immigration of talented people, caught in the red tape of the Department of Homeland Security. We could rescue the housing market and kick-start growth again by selling green cards to solvent immigrants for, say, $200,000.

If you build a valuable country why should you give it away via lottery, as the United States presently does with green cards?  Especially when there are so many people willing to commit not only their allegiance but also real capital?

Let Profit Guide Government Spending (and Bailouts) January 23, 2009

Posted by federalist in Economic Policy, Energy, Finance, Government Spending.

How can we avoid turning a government bailout into a political boondoggle?  As I suggested yesterday on Rick Bookstaber’s blog:

The expectation of profit is the only way to prevent politics from perverting market interventions. If government can interfere at times and in ways in which it does not expect to make a profit then you may as well tell special interests to grab their sacks and form a line to have them filled with taxpayer money.

But if there is a true financial crisis then, by definition, there is an objective opportunity for a liquidity provider to realize excess profits in the distressed markets.

If we insist that government can only intervene in times and ways in which it can expect a long-run profit (without abusing its power to “change the facts on the ground”), then we take most of the political hazard out of the equation. Instead of the current debate we see — are Paulson and Frank just funneling tax revenue to their friends and cronies in NYC? — the only debate would be on whether the long-run fair value of assets being bought by the government is clearly above the price at which the government can buy them.

(Profit is the same criterion I previously proposed for managing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.)

Hollywood Gunfighting Myths January 20, 2009

Posted by federalist in Uncategorized.

I’m giving 24 another chance, but they’re not making it easy.  Memo to the gunfight choreographers:

  1. A trained gunfighter would never voluntarily walk into a gun fight carrying just a handgun.  “You carry a handgun to fight your way to a long gun.”  Stop showing gunfighters getting out of their cars to go after an armed opponent without grabbing the shotgun or rifle they would almost surely carry in the trunk.
  2. A trained gunfighter does not hold his gun out with straight arms like he’s doing a basic target qualification when stalking or in close quarters.  Any fighter caught in that pose deserves to have his gun grabbed or his arms broken by a swift whack from an opponent on his periphery.  Please visit Sabre Tactical for video clips on how handguns are supposed to be handled in close quarters, and note that it is not any less photogenic!
  3. The combat ready position does not involve pointing a handgun at the ground with arms locked straight.  If it’s out of a holster then the handgun is pointed wherever the gunfighter most expects the threat.

Private aviation for the masses? January 18, 2009

Posted by federalist in Transportation.

I am not uninitiated in the science and practice of aviation, but I am continually bewildered by the lack of technological and commercial development in bringing private aircraft to the masses.

  • Why are rotary-wing aircraft still so outrageously expensive to operate?
  • Why isn’t fly-by-wire technology penetrating general aviation?  Private cars are now universally equipped not only with electronic engine control but also with multiple vehicle stability control systems that prevent drivers from exceeding safe operating envelopes.  Analogous systems on aircraft would bring safer vehicles within reach of people with less time and money for training than the hobbiests who presently dominate general aviation.
  • Why is decentralized air traffic control still not the norm?

At least Kirk Hawkins offers a step in the right direction:  He aims to fill the relatively new “light sport” niche carved out by the FAA with an seaplane whose wings easily fold for towing and whose controls are designed only for VFR (daylight, fair-weather) flight.  Essentially, it’s the aircraft equivalent of a sports car or personal watercraft.  A former F-16 pilot, Hawkins notes:

Flying had this complex, regulated-transportation mentality, but the best flying I’ve ever done was always at low altitudes with the window open.

Low-Hanging Fruit in Transportation Efficiency January 14, 2009

Posted by federalist in Energy, Transportation.
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No, it’s not electric hybrids, which depending on the longevity and cost of their battery packs may never break even.  It’s incremental improvements to internal-combustion engines.  Ford is rolling out “EcoBoost direct-injection gasoline engines, which should boost fuel economy by about 20%.

The company argues the premium for EcoBoost … is a better value than a hybrid or diesel. [A]ssuming a gallon of gas is $3 or less, it would take 12 to 18 months to see the cost savings of owning an EcoBoost vehicle. The equivalent for a hybrid … is five to seven years and as long as a decade for diesel at current prices.

Further down the road are homogenous-charge compression-ignition (HCCI) engines that should offer another 10% boost in efficiency.

Granted, no matter how efficient engines become they will always lose useful energy through braking.  But I still think hydraulic hybrids are the answer for maximizing fuel efficiency in vehicles that make frequent stops (like delivery trucks and inner-city cars), since the hydraulic motor can potentially recover practically all of the energy currently lost as heat through braking.  Electric hybrids will always be limited in how much they can recapture by the size of their motors and the charge rate of their batteries.  And even if battery lifespans are improved there is the problem that battery packs do not scale as gracefully (in size, weight, or cost) as hydraulic cylinders.  [Addendum: Dave Vanderwerp has a great column detailing the state of the art in hydraulic hybrids, including prototype hybrid UPS delivery trucks.]

One other piece of low-hanging fruit is materials: Most of the transportation fuel we burn is spent moving the frames and bodies of our vehicles, not their passengerss.  Mass-produced vehicles contain tons of frame metal that in principle could be replaced with vastly lighter and stronger carbon fiber or other composites.  Someday soon we will look back on the era of steel and aluminum vehicle bodies as archaic.

[Update: Gordon Murray provides a technical history of Structural Composites in Cars.]