Saturday, February 26, 2011

Preservationists Are At It again..

The praise showered on the Mayor and councilors for their decision to prohibit the demolition of the current building on 105 Wellington St. is a curious departure from the critical stance Mary O’Grady usually takes with the hubris of city hall (“Vote to Retain 105 Wellington”, Feb 26). Apparently, the “needs of the community” do not include a respect for property rights, due process and the right of free trade.

What kind of community can we expect where individual property owners are tools of central planning, and the use and disposal of their land is determined by civil engineering graduates with no personal stake in maximizing its productive capacity? Let’s freely concede that a large body of land use planning and regulation already severely restrict how a person can use or dispose of what is rightfully his or hers. In the drive to rezone a property because of its age or history we see a natural progression towards a kind of back door expropriation on any pretense a person can come up with.

We also see what is wrong with the central planning perspective, one that is less concerned with what people do and how they live their lives, and more concerned with what appointed experts and consultants decide they must do, whether they like it or not. Instead of small mixed use communities with their own residential and commercial cores, we are given segregated regions; one for shopping, one for working, etc. The natural and organic growth of cities is replaced with synthetic management by an army of bureaucrats acting on behalf of a coalition of developers, consultants and other special interest groups.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Contraband Tobacco is Tax Resistance

You would think that anyone who appreciates Dennis Leary's wit on the absurdity of social engineering could also appreciate the wider point about the ultimate futility of cigarette prohibition. But instead, in lockstep with industrial tobacco and the retail lobby, Kalvin Reid ("Serious tobacco plan should start with illegal cigarettes" – Jan 4) asserts that "We have a responsibility as a society to create healthy communities, and eradicating smoking is a big part of that." He promotes an initiative to save us from everything from lung cancer to yellow fingers. What about personal liberty and the responsibility of parents to monitor their own children?

In case Mr. Reid hasn't realized, imposing punitive costs on the consumption of tobacco is precisely what has made homebrewed cigarettes and the underground trade so lucrative. Before reinvigorating the crusade against smokers and their bootleggers, it might be worth considering that the black market actually provides an effective check against the prohibitionists, and not the other way around. It is the black market that withholds at least some private wealth from government and its corporate clients. As a form of tax resistance, the trade in contraband cigarettes is the only effective restraint on tax increases for an ostensibly legal product. The tail is wagging the dog.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Santa's Pissed

Apparently, US officials have widened their investigation of Julian Assange, informally accused of espionage, to include the web administrators of NORAD, for leaking the whereabouts of Santa via GPS. A press conference is scheduled shortly where it is expected that Rudolph the Red Nosed reindeer will be sought for questioning in the unauthorized disclosure of Santa's itinerary, prompting concerns that the secrecy Santa depends on has been compromised.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Wikileaks: Media Anarchist

Monte Sonnenberg’s piece on Wikileaks (“With friends like these, who needs enemies?”, Dec 7) walks a curious tightrope. More people have laid eyes on the leaked diplomatic cables through The Guardian, The New York Times and the Washington Post than through the original Wikileaks site itself, but he is not calling for their chief editors to be waterboarded at Gitmo. What gives?

The howling and hysteria over the leaked cables is every bit as much a danger to the establishment media as it is to the fragile ego and careers of high ranking political leaders. Neither seem to be able to decide whether the content is trivial and petty chatter between diplomats, or a lethal compromise of national security priorities. The “innocent lives placed in danger” is a perfect diversion from the real threat posed by Wikileaks; a pattern where governments everywhere have their sanctity and legitimacy stripped away, and the eventual (and predictable) attempt to achieve information lockdown, which is ultimately impossible in a networked, digital age. And of course, as Mr. Sonnenberg unwittingly reminds us, a desperate effort by archaic institutions to maintain their hallowed role as protected gatekeepers of our knowledge of the world.

One crucial aspect of a free and open society, Mr. Sonnenberg, is the right of people to decide for themselves when and if their government can keep secrets, and why. Perhaps if the mainstream media aspired to something more significant than stenographers of the political class, Wikileaks and the underground media culture would not be rendering them obsolete.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What's Wrong with Brantford Transit?

The problems with Brantford’s bus system pointed out by Brodie Vissers (“Bus system needs improvement”, Nov. 22) are typical of every municipality which has collectivized its transit system, and its deficiencies ultimately cannot be remedied within a central planning perspective. Riders pay directly only a relatively small portion of the cost of maintaining the transit service, which invariably runs at a deficit, despite the enormous funding from local and provincial governments.

So it’s little surprise that rider satisfaction seems largely irrelevant to the day to day operations of the transit service, since from the point of view of the unionized public sector staff, riders are not customers but pests huddling at mass loading points who only serve to disrupt the fixed route schedule. Unlike private businesses who must gauge a volatile consumer market daily in order to stay in business, decisions impacting service to their captive market rely on public meetings, petitions, public complaints and most important of all, levels of funding, where poor service is more likely to draw more operating revenue in the name of improvement. As a result, adaptation to changing demographics is glacial, and resources are more likely to be devoted to showy renovations and inflated wages than actual improvement of service.

Private companies once operated a variety of inexpensive and efficient public transportation services, but in the 20th century were driven out by regulation, political collusion and corruption, and many were outlawed altogether by governments pressured by public sector unions. It’s time to consider replacing our lumbering, Soviet style mass transit monopoly with a decentralized model that, when applied consistently, has a proven history and works so well for the rest of the economy.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

10 Interesting Things to Do on Voting day, Instead of Voting

  1. Take some paid time off work (it's the law).
  2. Make this your chance to begin measuring toenail growth..
  3. Visit the polling station in your area, and take your ballot into the booth. Exit the booth repeatedly, complaining that you can't make up up your mind. Ask the staff some very specific political questions and debate the answers they give. They will appreicate your commitment to democracy.
  4. Offer to scalp your vote, , at a discount to those who have not voted, and at a premium to those who have.
  5. Enter the booth and whisper inaudibly. Simulate more than one voice if you can.
  6. Laugh while in the booth
  7. Cry
  8. Curse and swear, with frequent references to "why this has to be so difficult".
  9. Leave the staff a tip.
  10. Or, download a copy of Lysander Spooner's "No Treason; the Constitution of no Authority" to learn why voting is not merely ineffective, but makes voters tacit supporters of the crimes committed by the state in their name.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The State as Pimp?

A court ruling has (for now at least) unloaded some of the contradictions in this country’s prostitution laws. It goes without saying that, typically governments respond in two ways when it comes to civil liberties, criminalize it or subsidize it. This court decision seems to have been heavily influenced by the premise that women are victimized by the lack of protections resulting from prostitution laws, and not (big surprise) a woman’s right to ownership over her own person, or the right of consenting adults to mutually agreed upon exchange. We can expect this to pave the way towards bringing sex workers into the "social services" fold of the welfare state with their own set of subsidized entitlements. We can also expect the trade to be heavily taxed and regulated, with a cartel of institutional brothels. With the state assuming the role of the pimp, Canada will be served up as yet another failed experiment in "legalized prostitution".

Despite all this, for anyone who believes in individual liberty, there is something hopeful in a court ruling of this scale, one that could (but not likely *will*) weaken and slow the momentum of a major campaign of persecution in this country against people who choose to live their lives in an unconventional but non-violent manner.


A friend recently mused about the impact this ruling has for those currently collecting Unemployment Insurance. After all, as we know Eligibility is contingent on being "ready, willing and able" to accept any legitimate form of employment. With brothels, pimps and solicitation now being legal, will the EI eligibility criteria be re-assessed? Time will tell.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Steal This Blog Post

Danielle LaBossiere Parr (Technical protection measures curb threat of piracy – Aug 7), in his zeal to promote the new copyright bill, also fails to provide the full picture. Obviously he sees no contradiction in which a person who legally buys something can be accused of “stealing” it at the same time. Bill C-32 does not merely legitimize the digital locks that software manufacturers and distributers encode in their products; it also further criminalizes the act of circumventing those locks; in other words, making modifications to products that a consumer has purchased and owns. The proposed legislation is logically absurd and a violation of basic property rights.

The revolution in digital reproduction, and the near zero cost of distribution through broadband and wireless networking is quickly rendering so called “intellectual property” as an obsolete, archaic and unenforceable program of government protected monopoly and privilege. Defenders of this franchise rarely mention the countless ways through which copyrights, patents, and the latest DRM laws actually stifle innovation and competition. Not only do such laws discourage compatibility across different brands, it raises prices for consumers by providing venders legal protection from the development of improvements from more efficient rivals. A law that enables producers of digital content to treat its customers as criminals is a law we can do without.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The “Eco Fee” is a Tax

Mr. Horsnell's letter ("Concerns over eco fees", July 16) has its heart in the right place, but he makes the problematic claim that the "eco fee" is not a tax. If the government compels payment to itself, we call it a tax. When a government takes from Peter to give to Paul, we call the compelled payment a tax. If the government compels Peter to pay Paul directly, what has happened here? Essentially, the government has granted Paul the power to tax. In this case, "Paul" is Stewardship Ontario.

Since the rationale for this tax is the need to divert waste from landfills, the tax is intended as a disincentive at the consumer level. However, we are told this is not a tax because manufacturers and retailers can choose to absorb this "fee" at their own expense. So, while this fee is equivalent to a tax from the manufacturing and retailing perspective, the cost of this tax will only be passed to the consumer by them voluntarily, and is therefore a fee. The problem with this convoluted explanation is clear.

By this standard, the former PST, the GST and the current HST are not taxes, but "fees" since a merchant could always, and often does, absorb these costs on their own. How many times have we been exposed to that "pay no GST" marketing gimmick, or paid a discounted price for an item that essentially waived the sales tax? A tax is a tax. The "eco fee" is mandated by the government, and that makes it a tax regardless of who ultimately pays it.

The more interesting question is: Why the intense effort to deny this is a tax? Could it be that no one wants to think of Stewardship Ontario as a recipient of legalized graft? Or could it be the need to pretend that the government is developing market based solutions to waste management, when in reality it is forcing the taxpayer to finance a massive jobs program for the eco-industry?