Liberty-Based Selection of a State to Call Home

I was looking at a state-by-state map of liberty across the US, and thinking about where I would like to live in the future. Often, states are heavily favored as “free” because of their stance on marijuana. That’s great for people who like using drugs, but that’s simply not even on my list of things to care about. Fortunately, the Mercatus Center offers a tool that lets you personalize your view of freedom.

Overall liberty is here.

Economic liberty is here.

Drug-free (excluding alcohol) overall liberty for an average American is here.

Non-drug (excluding alcohol) personal liberty for an average American is here.

What you can see is that the southwestern desert states of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico are some of the best for people who don’t like being told what to do, but personally choose to avoid the harder drugs. I like this because, as a native of California and a current resident of Wisconsin, I have learned the hard way that I definitely want to live somewhere hot and free.

When economic measures are thrown in there as well, Texas and Arizona still do reasonably well, but are no longer at the top of the list. Given that I don’t really want to live in a landlocked middle of nowhere (and my prior conditions), the top 5 on this list (the Dakotas, Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee) are ruled out. Surprisingly, Virginia and New Hampshire are #6 and #7, but they both voted for Obama twice, so that can’t be right. And that brings us back to Arizona and Texas. It’s worth noting that Georgia and Florida do pretty well by both measures too, though they are extremely humid, and both states seem to want a third Bush in the White House. So…

Arizona

  • Rapidly rising in the ranks of liberty.
  • Hot and dry.
  • Sunny all the time.
  • Great geography.
  • Closer to California family.
  • Landlocked.

Texas

  • High, yet stagnant in the ranks of liberty.
  • Hot and humid.
  • Sunny, but not as much as CA or AZ.
  • Great economy.
  • Further from California crazies.
  • Ocean access.

I have to say that both of these states look like excellent places to live. I hope Texas keeps its liberty, but Arizona seems to have made more recent progress. I’d prefer the climate in Arizona, but as beautiful as the natural landscape is there, it’s fairly important for me to be near the ocean. Plus, Texas has an amazing economy, with many job opportunities for someone in my field.

Taking into account liberty, economy, environment, and weather, I think Houston, Texas really would be the best place in the United States for me to live. It’s quite appealing that the Houston suburbs have names like “Jefferson” and “Freeport,” and were the districts that sent Ron Paul to Congress.

The Separation of Commerce and State

The principle of the Separation of Church and State has done wonders for religious freedom, and has brought impressive levels of interpersonal harmony and general prosperity. Why? Because this principle removes the mechanism of violence from religion, making the proposal in explicitly harmonious terms.

Unfortunately, a new kind of violent, crusading morality has taken its place, in the form of economic progressivism. Progressives believe that certain kinds of economic transactions between people, though completely voluntary on all sides, are immoral, and thus must be violently suppressed. This has created, on economic matters, the same kind of heated partisan discord that once divided British Catholics and Protestants. In the less civilized corners of the world, the economic crusaders have employed corruption and military strength to gain a permanent advantage over their opponents, establishing socialist dictatorships.

To restore harmony on economic matters, and ensure that violence is never used for the sake of overly-intrusive, moralistic crusading, what we need is a principle of Separation of Commerce and State.

I believe this principle would function the way the Separation of Church and State has, becoming shorthand for the plea to maintain civility through the enforcement of “live and let live” on economic matters. In other words, you may not agree with the contracts that I agree to, but I am free to make my own choices according to my own economic beliefs, and so are you. Certainly, the progressives will object to such a principle, arguing that the people are too stupid to know what’s best for themselves, just as religious crusaders have continued to do, centuries after the introduction of the Separation of Church and state. Yet, I think the formalization of this concept in parallel to the language that protects religious freedom will take a giant leap forward in protecting economic freedom, with far more success than general pleas for liberty (which are often difficult for the uninitiated to understand).

So, have I made my case? Are you ready to start framing the debate over economic liberty in terms of “Separation of Commerce and State”?

What Causes Wealth Inequality?

This discussion is adapted from a forum debate.

There are many causes of wealth inequality, but several major factors come to mind:

  • High effective income tax rates and costs of living. When the government takes larger percentages of income, it becomes harder and harder to accumulate wealth, but existing wealth is untouched. Hence, those trying to climb the economic ladder find it much more difficult to get to the top than it is for the wealthy to stay at the top. You’ll notice that most blue states have high taxes and high costs of living due to redistributive welfare policies, regulations, bans, licensing laws, etc.
  • High inflation. Inflation that is driven by the government printing money is effectively a flat-rate tax on income and wealth. This is even more harmful than the income tax for those trying to climb the economic ladder, because those are the people who tend to have their assets purely in the form of cash. The wealthy have enough wealth that they can afford to (knowledgeably) put most of it into stocks, bonds, securities, and business investments. So, they are hardly touched by inflation, while poorer people who have all their cash in the bank will see their effective purchasing power dwindle over the years.
  • Regulation and licensing laws. Regulations make it harder to run a business. They also make the learning curve and required initial investment to start a business MUCH steeper. The people who are already at the top can afford legal experts to parse through all the regulations for them, and can afford to comply with all the licensing laws. But people who are just trying to get started and make something of themselves are hopeless unless they can get free outside assistance to help them navigate the regulatory pitfalls and compliance requirements. Unless you’re very sociable and know the right people, free help is pretty hard to come by. Big businesses actively lobby for strict licensing laws (e.g. medical licensing, food service licensing, distillery licensing, “official” taxi licensing, etc.) because they know it keeps potential small competitors with great ideas out of the game completely. A powerful example of this effect can be seen in the beer market. After prohibition ended, all forms of alcohol production were kept under strict licensing laws, and only 2 or 3 breweries and 1 distillery dominated the entire market for decades. Then, in the 1970′s, brewery licensing laws were repealed (while distillery licensing laws were kept in place) and the craft brewery movement immediately got started. The quality and variety of available beer skyrocket so much that, within a decade, the beer market started to even outcompete the wine market on their own turf (i.e. customers interested in “classy” alcoholic beverages). This is why today, we have tens of thousands of choices in beer whereas in 1970, you had to pick Coors, Miller, or Budweiser. Though, distilleries still suffer under (some of) the old licensing laws, keeping just a few big companies in control of the whole market.
  • Government grants. Government grants sound like a good idea for helping causes you like (e.g. business, science, etc.), but it gives government enormous power to play favorites. The wealthiest districts in the country are those where people are most skilled at winning government grants. If you’re trying to run a business, and you have the best product on the market, but your competitor has a government grant, your competitor will win. And it’s much easier to get a government grant if you’re already wealthy, so the politicians have already heard of you. This process entrenches an economic elite that does little of value, but speaks the language that makes political hearts flutter with excitement. In graduate school PhD programs, they don’t even teach young scientists how to raise private money from willing contributors anymore. They just teach us how to apply for- and win -government grants. Getting government grants is also a lot easier if you live in a state that votes Democrat, simply because Democrats populate most of the government’s executive offices that distribute these grants. Based on what I’ve seen in my own field, you could have a university in Texas that generates more high-quality research than a university in California, both competing for the same grants, and the California university would get >80% of the grant money.

It is a perpetual irony of the political economy that every major problem faced by the lower-class and middle-class is created or worsened by the same people who claim to want to help them. Nobel Laureate Friedrich von Hayek observed this phenomenon in the 1930′s, and published a book in 1944 called The Road to Serfdom, in which he describes how totalitarians successfully subjugate a voting population through a vicious cycle of Observe a Societal Problem -> Implement Government Authority to Fix It -> The Authority Causes More Problems -> Repeat. Voters fall for it every time.

What’s the Point of Insurance if it’s Not Socialism?

This post is derived from a conversation I had on Facebook with a middle-aged Californian.

Q: What’s the point of insurance if you can’t force people to cover treatments they’ll never use (e.g. charging men for women’s birth control pills)?

A: Are you saying that you do not understand the difference between managing risk and redistribution of known costs? I can explain this to you.

Think about how your car insurance works. It insures you against collisions and the associated liability- a situation that has a low chance of occurring, but is associated with high costs. When you pay your premiums, you are buying the mitigation of risk. If you have a 5% chance of incurring $20,000 in damages each year, then your customer group is costing the insurance company an average of $1000/year. So they charge you $1170/year, spending 15% on bureaucratic overhead, and walking away with a 2% profit margin for the service of converting your individual risk into a certain, statistically-weighted charge.

But in situations where the chance of a cost being incurred are either 0% or 100%, it makes no sense to buy insurance. If the chance is 0% (e.g. the chance of a man needing an abortion, or the chance of a woman needing Viagra), then your risk is zero, and the insurance company has nothing to offer you on that plan. If the chance is 100% (or you have control over the event’s occurrence), such as with birth control pills that you know you want, or that vasectomy that a guy chooses to get at a particular time in his life, then the premium cost associated with the service will be the cost of buying it without insurance, plus 15-30% bureaucratic overhead, plus 2-5% profit. In these cases, you already have complete control over the costs, yet you’re paying the insurance company extra to manage no additional risk. Financially, this is not a smart decision.

However, you seem to want people who have zero risk to share your known (100% chance) costs. This is not insurance. This is known as “social ownership” of costs. Social ownership is always advantageous to those who spend more and contribute less, and disadvantageous to those who are more responsible with their cost-management. There are only 3 cases I can think of where this sort of arrangement happens voluntarily for a long term: marriages, corporate ownership, and socialist communes. These arrangements only survive if they are very selective about who is allowed to participate, and have established mechanisms for removing (divorcing) members who take advantage of the contract without contributing much in return. Otherwise, the best members will always leave first, collapsing the arrangement.

When you use government force to mandate social ownership of costs throughout an entire society, that is known as “socialism.” In this case, there is no check on the behavior or character of participants. There is no mechanism for removing bad actors from the arrangement. It’s like being stuck in 300 million bad marriages all at once…unless you’re the one being a bad partner. This system violates the human right of free association, incurs unnecessary bureaucratic overhead costs, reduces productivity, reduces innovation, and ultimately reduces prosperity for everyone involved.

So if you’re seeking social ownership, insurance companies are not the institution you’re looking for. Let insurance companies sell insurance, and get your desire for social ownership fulfilled through family, communes, or (if you think your desired organizational structure is more efficient than existing companies) start a corporation. Don’t try to force insurance companies to be something they’re not, and don’t try to force us all to participate in a social ownership plan that some of us really don’t want to be a part of. Involuntary association of that nature will only make us all poorer.

UPDATE: She responded that I was “mansplaining” to her, and argued that because birth control “is a basic part of health care,” insurance must cover it, completely ignoring my argument. Logic and reason doesn’t get through to these socialist idiots. They only understand the fear of having their own smears turned back against them. So I called her a bigot for trying to use my gender to demagogue me into silence through that misandrist term. That’s when she “lost interest” in the conversation…meaning she no longer had any way to maintain dignity while making her argument. This is just about the best outcome that can be hoped for with people like this- they’ll never admit they’ve lost the debate, but they’ll be too embarrassed to make those arguments in public again.

5 Very Stupid Beliefs About the Hobby Lobby Ruling

1. The Supreme Court doesn’t understand science/economics/women’s needs!

  • NO. That is stupid, and you are stupid for thinking it. The Supreme Court’s job is to interpret law, not write it or make policy. All they have said is that the contraception mandate is not legal because it contradicts the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed (nearly unanimously) by Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton. It would be illegal for the Supreme Court to change the law from their bench.

2. Hobby Lobby is denying women birth control!

  • NO. That is stupid, and you are still stupid for thinking these things. All Hobby Lobby has done is stated that they will not pay for 4 kinds of contraception (while happily offering to pay for 16 others). Nobody is stopping you from going to the store and buying that contraception yourself.

3. I have A RIGHT to make others pay for my contraception!

  • NO YOU DON’T. That is stupid, and you are a horrible person for believing that. You don’t have a right to make anyone else pay for ANYTHING for you. Well, unless you’re an infant and you’re asking your parents to take care of you. Are you an infant, and you need breast milk from your Hobby Lobby Mommy? The foundation of civilization is voluntary interactions and transactions. Can you imagine a society where I could come up to you and demand that you buy me a new car, and claim you’re violating my rights if you don’t? Yeah, that’s what you’re doing here. Stop being a greedy asshole trying to take things from others and learn to take care of yourself and interact with others on a voluntary and respectful basis.

4. Hobby Lobby is FORCING their religion on me!

  • NO THEY AREN’T. YOU are in fact trying to force YOUR beliefs on them by FORCING them to buy birth control that violates their religion, and then FORCING them to give it to you. How would you feel if they were forcing you to buy rosary beads and communion wafers and Pope hats and cross-shaped wall-hangings to give to them? Then you would see this for what it is. Don’t you DARE try to tell me “It’s DIFFERENT” when you’re on the other side, you hypocritical weasel.

5. Hobby Lobby still covers Viagra and vasectomies, so they’re DISCRIMINATING!

  • NO THEY AREN’T. I don’t know if there’s a female analogy for Viagra, but the comparable analogy to vasectomies is getting your tubes tied, which Hobby Lobby covers. In fact, Hobby Lobby covers far more contraception options for women than for men. I don’t see them handing out free condoms and spermicide to all the men. HEY OBAMA, WHERE’S MY CONDOM MANDATE!?

8 Ways to Obtain Contraception Without Violating Everyone Else’s Liberty

Here is a non-exhaustive list of the ways contraception can be obtained without violating the rights or liberties of others:

  • Pay for it out of pocket.
  • Split the costs with your significant other.
  • Buy a health insurance policy that voluntarily covers it.
  • If your employee health plan does not cover it, negotiate with your employer for contraception coverage.
  • If your employee health plan does not cover it, negotiate with your employer to be paid in cash, rather than medical benefits, and then use that cash to buy the medical benefits of your choice.
  • If your employer refuses to pay you in cash, campaign to remove the government regulations requiring your employer to pay you in benefits instead of cash.
  • If your employer refuses to pay you in cash, campaign to remove the tax benefits your employer receives for paying you in benefits instead of cash.
  • If your employer continues to refuse to pay you in cash after all government incentives against it have been removed, search for a different employer who respects your personal choice a little more.

And here is a list of the ways to obtain contraception by violating the rights and liberties of everyone else:

  • Campaign to use the force of government with the threat of taxes, prison, or violence, to mandate others to buy you contraception.
  • Steal it, or the money to buy it, with your own hand.

Yes, ladies, this same logic applies to Viagra as well.

Does I.Q. Predict Success?

I came across a forum thread discussing this article, which points out that SAT scores and I.Q. tests are high-resolution, strong predictors for the probability that an individual will patent, publish, and/or earn a doctorate. The article goes on to argue that innate talent is more important than hard work for predicting career success.

I think this conclusion misses some of the selection bias inherent in the SAT. I’ve witnessed friends (who happened to be particularly open about their scores) jump several percentile points year over year by attending SAT classes. Hard work and training can, in fact, drastically change how you measure on the SAT and other I.Q. tests, making them not particularly good at directly measuring innate talent. I think it is more likely that those who have the skills and academic drive necessary for academic success are simply more likely to work hard to improve their SAT scores, since good SAT scores are a gateway to good education and high-skill jobs. In other words, those who focus more on trying to look academically successful will inevitably become more successful in academics. It’s just another way of saying that people tend to get what they strive for.

But that’s not to say that intelligence or other innate talents are irrelevant to success. SAT scores and I.Q. test a very specific skill very effectively: the ability to recognize and evaluate simple patterns very quickly. They do not test other forms of intelligence that are easily recognized as crucial components of genius. These include creative inspiration, the ability to break down complex problems into solvable ones, and the ability to flawlessly follow a long trail of logic to its inevitable conclusion.

Have you ever known someone who always thinks carefully and speaks slowly, yet everything they say is absolutely uniquely brilliant? I know several people like this. Those people would score poorly on IQ tests due to the timing of it, but can out-think even the fastest pattern-solvers if you give them the time for it. They simply devote their mental resources towards quality and reflection rather than speed. Some of these individuals even choose not to pursue academic fields, despite their capabilities, preferring instead to focus on other hobbies, like entrepreneurship, art, or developing some component of their personal lives.

All of these forms of intelligence are necessary in some degree for true genius. Even then, genius alone won’t bring you success without confidence, perseverance, and a sense of purpose. The first step to being successful is figuring out how you, in your own life, would define “success.”

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