Category Archives: Liberty

In Wichita, the surveillance state expands again — and again

In Wichita, we see another example of how once government starts a surveillance program, the urge to expand it is irresistible.

Earlier this year the City of Wichita installed 70 cameras in Old Town for the purpose of enhancing public safety. 1

Now we’ve learned two things, according to Wichita Eagle reporting: The cameras aided in making one arrest for a serious crime, and the role of the cameras has expanded to include traffic enforcement. 2

When the city council approved the cameras in February, city documents didn’t specify how many video cameras would be installed as part of the $618,261 program (for one-time installation costs only), except that it may be “as many as 100.” The city also asked council members to pass an ordinance with bonding authority of up to $750,000 to pay for this project. In other words, the city borrowed to pay for this system.3

These expansions of camera surveillance are additional examples of the expansion of police powers in Wichita at the loss of civil liberties.4 It started with a small program of a few cameras owned by private property owners. Then in 2014 the city designated Old Town an “entertainment district,” giving the city increased powers to attempt to control crime.5 Critics are concerned that the extra enforcement measures granted to entertainment districts are discriminatory to certain minority groups.6

Now we have dozens of city-owned and monitored cameras, used first for public safety, and now for traffic enforcement.

This proposed expansion of cameras is not likely to be the last. Wichita’s police chief is seeking to add more surveillance and cameras.7

Across the county, those concerned with the loss of civil liberties and privacy are concerned about the expansion of the surveillance state. Adding irony to this debate are the remarks of Wichita City Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita). She called the addition of the new cameras “huge” and “exciting,” adding that she is “very, very happy” at their addition.8 The irony is that she would insist that she is a protector of civil rights.

Civil rights are important

Why are civil rights important in this matter? Discussing this matter on Facebook, one local political activist wondered, “How long before someone is being blackmailed with footage from a police surveillance cam, for stumbling down the road, or some other harmless but embarrassing scenario?”

In response, I added, “Or blackmailed for marital infidelity, or entering a gay bar, a marijuana dispensary, a church, a soup kitchen, an STD clinic, an abortion doctor’s office, or maybe being spotted dropping off an anonymous tip to the Wichita Eagle.” (Well, we don’t have marijuana dispensaries, but we do have stores that sell complementary products.)

We also have to wonder whether the cameras work as advertised. The website You Are Being Watched, a project of the American Civil Liberties Union, comes to this conclusion: “An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates. Several studies on video surveillance have been conducted in the UK, where surveillance cameras are pervasive. The two main meta-analyses conducted for the British Home Office (equivalent to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security) show that video surveillance has no impact on crime whatsoever. If it did, then there would be little crime in London, a city estimated to have about 500,000 cameras.”

An irony is that law enforcement likes recording citizens, but not the other way around. As John Stossel has noted, police don’t like to be recorded. In some states its a crime to tape a police officer making an arrest. A video excerpt from Stossel’s television shows the attitudes of police towards being recorded. At Reason Radley Balko details the problem, writing “As citizens increase their scrutiny of law enforcement officials through technologies such as cell phones, miniature cameras, and devices that wirelessly connect to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak, the cops are increasingly fighting back with force and even jail time—and not just in Illinois. Police across the country are using decades-old wiretapping statutes that did not anticipate iPhones or Droids, combined with broadly written laws against obstructing or interfering with law enforcement, to arrest people who point microphones or video cameras at them. Even in the wake of gross injustices, state legislatures have largely neglected the issue.”

Writing for Cato Institute, Julian Sanchez noted:

It is also unlikely that cameras will be especially helpful in deterring such attacks. Even when it comes to ordinary crime — where the perpetrators are generally motivated by the desire to make a quick buck without getting caught — studies have been mixed and inconclusive about the value of CCTV cameras as a crime deterrent.

Some show significant declines in crime in some regions of cities with camera networks, which may be attributable to the cameras — but many show no discernible effect at all.

Of note, one country with a government that really likes surveillance cameras is China.


Notes

  1. Leflier, Dion. If you think someone’s watching you in Old Town — they are. Wichita Eagle, June 22, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article157654759.html.
  2. Manna, Nicole. Officers are using Old Town cameras to pull over drivers. Wichita Eagle, November 3, 2017. Available at http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article182478176.html.
  3. Wichita City Council agenda for February 14, 2017.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Surveillance state arrives in Wichita. https://wichitaliberty.org/liberty/surveillance-state-arrives-in-wichita/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to form entertainment district. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-form-entertainment-district/.
  6. Class-action lawsuit alleges racial discrimination at Power & Light. Kansas City Star, March 10, 2014. http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article341880/Class-action-lawsuit-alleges-racial-discrimination-at-Power–Light.html.
  7. Finger, Stan. Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132071799.html.
  8. Lefler, Dion. Wichita working to bring Old Town under camera surveillance. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article131952109.html.

In Wichita, the surveillance state expands again

In Wichita, we see another example of how once government starts a surveillance program, it probably won’t produce the promised results, yet will be expanded.

This week the Wichita City Council will consider adding more surveillance cameras to Old Town. City documents don’t specify how many video cameras will be installed as part of the $618,261 program (for one-time installation costs only), except that it may be “as many as 100.” The city is also asking council members to pass an ordinance with bonding authority of up to $750,000 to pay for this project. In other words, the city is borrowing to pay for this system.1

This proposed expansion of camera surveillance is another expansion of police powers in Wichita at the loss of civil liberties.2 In 2014 the city designated Old Town an “entertainment district,” giving the city increased powers to attempt to control crime.3 Critics are concerned that the extra enforcement measures granted to entertainment districts are discriminatory to certain minority groups.4

This proposed expansion of cameras is not likely to be the last. Wichita’s police chief is seeking to add more surveillance and cameras.5

Across the county, those concerned with the loss of civil liberties and privacy are concerned about the expansion of the surveillance state. Adding irony to this debate are the remarks of Wichita City Council Member Janet Miller (district 6, north central Wichita). She called the addition of the new cameras “huge” and “exciting,” adding that she is “very, very happy” at their addition.6 The irony is that she would insist that she is a protector of civil rights.

Why are civil rights important in this matter? Discussing this matter on Facebook, one local political activist wondered, “How long before someone is being blackmailed with footage from a police surveillance cam, for stumbling down the road, or some other harmless but embarrassing scenario?”

In response, I added, “Or blackmailed for marital infidelity, or entering a gay bar, a marijuana dispensary, a church, an STD clinic, an abortion doctor’s office, or maybe being spotted dropping off an anonymous tip to the newspaper.” (Well, we don’t have marijuana dispensaries, but we do have complimentary stores.) (There are two newspapers in Old Town. Well, one is across the street from Old Town, but is moving into Old Town.)

We have to wonder whether the cameras work as advertised. The website You Are Being Watched, a project of the American Civil Liberties Union, comes to this conclusion: “An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates. Several studies on video surveillance have been conducted in the UK, where surveillance cameras are pervasive. The two main meta-analyses conducted for the British Home Office (equivalent to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security) show that video surveillance has no impact on crime whatsoever. If it did, then there would be little crime in London, a city estimated to have about 500,000 cameras.”

An irony is that law enforcement likes recording citizens, but not the other way around. As John Stossel has noted, police don’t like to be recorded. In some states its a crime to tape a police officer making an arrest. A video excerpt from Stossel’s television shows the attitudes of police towards being recorded. At Reason Radley Balko details the problem, writing “As citizens increase their scrutiny of law enforcement officials through technologies such as cell phones, miniature cameras, and devices that wirelessly connect to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak, the cops are increasingly fighting back with force and even jail time—and not just in Illinois. Police across the country are using decades-old wiretapping statutes that did not anticipate iPhones or Droids, combined with broadly written laws against obstructing or interfering with law enforcement, to arrest people who point microphones or video cameras at them. Even in the wake of gross injustices, state legislatures have largely neglected the issue.”

Writing for Cato Institute, Julian Sanchez noted:

It is also unlikely that cameras will be especially helpful in deterring such attacks. Even when it comes to ordinary crime — where the perpetrators are generally motivated by the desire to make a quick buck without getting caught — studies have been mixed and inconclusive about the value of CCTV cameras as a crime deterrent.

Some show significant declines in crime in some regions of cities with camera networks, which may be attributable to the cameras — but many show no discernible effect at all.

Of note, one country with a government that really likes surveillance cameras is China.


Notes

  1. Wichita City Council agenda for February 14, 2017.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Surveillance state arrives in Wichita. https://wichitaliberty.org/liberty/surveillance-state-arrives-in-wichita/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita seeks to form entertainment district. https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-seeks-form-entertainment-district/.
  4. Class-action lawsuit alleges racial discrimination at Power & Light. Kansas City Star, March 10, 2014. http://www.kansascity.com/news/local/article341880/Class-action-lawsuit-alleges-racial-discrimination-at-Power–Light.html.
  5. Finger, Stan. Police seek answers, reversal as aggravated assaults surge. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/local/crime/article132071799.html.
  6. Lefler, Dion. Wichita working to bring Old Town under camera surveillance. Wichita Eagle, February 10, 2017. http://www.kansas.com/news/politics-government/article131952109.html.

The unprecedented campaign against free speech

The political left’s campaign to silence opponents and reorder society in accordance with their personal beliefs is in many ways the single greatest threat to America’s experiment in self-governance, writes Mark Holden.

The unprecedented campaign against free speech

By Mark Holden. Originally published in The Hill.

The liberal Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once warned of the biggest danger facing free speech: “If you have no doubt of your premises or your power, and want a certain result with all your heart, you naturally express your wishes in law, and sweep away all opposition.”

Yet many lawmakers today are mistaking his wise warning as an invitation to restrict the First Amendment. At nearly every level of government, freedom of speech is under unprecedented attack. Many on the political left now seek to silence their opponents and reorder society in accordance with their personal beliefs. This is in many ways the single greatest threat to America’s experiment in self-governance.

This coordinated campaign has been underway for years. Its creation can be traced to the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, when the court refused to accept the Obama administration’s argument that it could ban books, mailers, advertisements or anything else that contained a political message during an election campaign. This simple ruling ensured that Americans retained the fundamental right to use free speech to praise or criticize a candidate running for office.

However, that is the very core of free speech itself. If Americans — individually or acting together through nonprofits, businesses or labor unions — cannot voice their views on public policy and elected officials, then the democratic process as we know it is dead. The result is a system that makes those already in power even more powerful; incumbents need not fear having those pesky voters learn about their statements, views and voting records.

In fact, liberal politicians and activists swiftly made opposition to Citizens United a defining part of their platform from the moment the Supreme Court issued its decision. By 2014, no fewer than 54 U.S. Senators — all Democrats or Democratic allies such as current presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.) — supported a constitutional amendment essentially rewriting the First Amendment so that the federal government could regulate and criminalize free speech. Congressional Democrats are once again preparing to make a push to roll back the court’s decision and stifle free speech.

Not to be outdone, leading Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has declared that she would only appoint judges who promise to overturn Citizens United and permit the censorship of political speech.

At the same time, lawmakers and their allies have found other ways to stifle their opponents’ speech. Americans learned in 2013 that the IRS had systematically singled out conservative nonprofits in the build-up to the 2012 election. The agency harassed many applicants and kneecapped others by refusing to grant them tax-exempt status, restricting their members and supporters from exercising their rights to free speech and free association.

Sadly, this abuse of power still occurs. The federal courts recently learned that multiple nonprofits still haven’t received IRS approval.

Even more attacks on free speech are happening at the state level. For example, New York and California are both demanding that some nonprofits hand over lists of donors to the state. Although the government invariably promises to not release this legally confidential information, California has “accidentally” posted at least 1,400 supporter lists online.

This fact, and ongoing harassment by California Attorney General Kamala Harris, led a federal judge to permanently stop her from obtaining the donor list of one organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation. (Full disclosure: I am a director of the related Americans for Prosperity.) However, the IRS has done something similar, conveniently disclosing confidential taxpayer information for several of the Obama administration’s political opponents.

And then there are the demands that government investigate organizations that hold unpopular or controversial views. Over a dozen state attorneys general (all of them Democrats), recently announced that they will go after companies such as Exxon Mobil that disagree with their views on climate change. The prosecutors’ goal is to intimidate these groups to change their position or else face criminal prosecution.

Federal lawmakers are in on the action, too. The Department of Justice has asked the FBI to begin similar investigations of major energy companies. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) has even called for organizations that disagree with him to be prosecuted under the federal law banning racketeering — a law originally meant to target mobsters and drug kingpins.

This coordinated campaign is antithetical to the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. In our system of self-government, when someone finds other people’s ideas and opinions disagreeable or even reprehensible, the solution is more speech, not less. Yet instead of persuading others to see their point of view, many in today’s society would rather use government’s power to bully their opponents into silence instead.

Thankfully, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) have tried to combat this assault on free speech. They have championed a number of reforms to protect the First Amendment and prevent elected officials and the administrative state from stifling Americans’ right to free speech.

Their leadership should be praised, but much more needs to be done. This fundamental right won’t truly be protected until Americans of all political persuasions heed Justice Holmes’s wise words.

Holden is senior vice president and general counsel of Koch Industries, Inc. and a director of Americans for Prosperity. (The chairman of the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, David Koch, is also executive vice president and director of Koch Industries.)

AFP Foundation wins a battle for free speech for everyone

Americans for Prosperity Foundation achieves a victory for free speech and free association.

Must donors to non-profit organizations live in “fear of exercising their First Amendment right to support” any organization, which effect is to “diminish the amount of expressive and associational activity?” Should these people be denied the right to their speech? The constitution says, no.

Non-profit organizations file a form known as IRS Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax. 1 The first part of this form is public information and may be obtained from the organization itself or from services like GuideStar. Also part of the filing is Schedule B, Schedule of Contributors. 2 This form holds the names and addresses of donors, along with the amount donated. This information is not public, and generally non-profits do not disclose it.

But California Attorney General Kamala Harris wanted the names of AFP Foundation’s donors, and she demanded its Schedule B. AFP Foundation said no, and now a federal judge has ruled that “the Attorney General’s Schedule B disclosure requirement unconstitutional as-applied to AFP.”

AFP Foundation Board Member Mark Holden said “Federal District Court Judge Manuel Real issued a permanent injunction to enjoin the Attorney General of California from demanding AFP Foundation’s donor list. After a full bench trial, the Court found the Attorney General’s disclosure requirement was an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment as applied to AFP Foundation. The Court also found that the Attorney General’s demand chills the exercise of AFP Foundation donors’ First Amendment freedoms to speak anonymously and to engage in expressive association.”

Holden added “From my perspective as an AFP Board member and a citizen is that it is a great day for First Amendment free speech and free association.”

The case is Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Kamala Harris, In Her Official Capacity as Attorney General of California. The final ruling is here.

Anonymity

Why might donors choose to be anonymous, and why is protecting that right important? In his decision, the judge wrote “During the course of trial, the Court heard ample evidence establishing that AFP, its employees, supporters and donors face public threats, harassment, intimidation, and retaliation once their support for and affiliation with the organization becomes publicly known.”

Disclosure has been used as a political weapon, as the Wall Street Journal noted in its reporting: “The judge is an LBJ appointee who can recall when disclosure was used as a political weapon in the Jim Crow South.” (Judge Manuel L. Real was born in 1924 and appointed to the Court in 1966 by President Lyndon Johnson.) In his opinion, Judge Real wrote “[A]lthough the Attorney General correctly points out that such abuses are not as violent or pervasive as those encountered in NAACP v. Alabama or other cases from that era, this Court is not prepared to wait until an AFP opponent carries out one of the numerous death threats made against its members.”

Today, those who advocate for free markets, limited government, and economic freedom are often verbally assaulted and threatened, and sometimes threats are physical and real. But it is not only those who this ruling benefits. Today, there are people who may want to donate to controversial matters such as supporting gay rights, but may still be “in the closet.” Conservatives who support issues like abolition of the death penalty, criminal justice reform, and legalization of drugs are often branded by their fellows as closet liberals who are soft on crime. Should these people be denied the right to their speech? The constitution says, no.


Notes

  1. Form 990, Return of Organization Exempt From Income Tax. (2016). Irs.gov. Available at www.irs.gov/uac/About-Form-990.
  2. Schedule B (Form 990, 990-EZ, or 990-PF), Schedule of Contributors. (2016). Irs.gov. Available at www.irs.gov/uac/About-Schedule-B-(Form-990,-990EZ,-or-990PF).

‘Love Gov’ humorous and revealing of government’s nature

A series of short videos from the Independent Institute entertains and teaches lessons at the same time.

Lov Gov trailer exampleThe Independent Institute has produced a series of humorous and satirical videos to present lessons about the nature of government. The Institute describes the series here:

Love Gov depicts an overbearing boyfriend — Scott “Gov” Govinsky — who foists his good intentions on a hapless, idealistic college student, Alexis. Each episode follows Alexis’s relationship with Gov as his intrusions wreak (comic) havoc on her life, professionally, financially, and socially. Alexis’s loyal friend Libby tries to help her see Gov for what he really is — a menace. But will Alexis come to her senses in time?

There are five episode (plus a trailer). Each episode is around five minutes long and presents a lesson on a topic like jobs, healthcare, and privacy. The episodes are satirical and funny. They’d be really funny if the topic wasn’t so serious. I recommend you spend a half-hour or so to view the series.

The link to view the video series is here.

Classical liberalism means liberty, individualism, and civil society

Not to be confused with modern American liberalism or liberal Republicans, classical liberalism places highest value on liberty and the individual.

In a short video, Nigel Ashford of Institute for Humane Studies explains the tenets of classical liberalism. Not to be confused with modern American liberalism or liberal Republicans, classical liberalism places highest value on liberty and the individual. Modern American liberals, or progressives as they often prefer to be called, may value some of these principles, but most, such as free markets and limited government — and I would add individualism and toleration — are held in disdain by them.

Here are the principles of classical liberalism that Ashford identifies:

Liberty is the primary political value. “When deciding what to do politically — what should the government do — classical liberals have one clear standard: Does this increase, or does it reduce the freedom of the individual?”

Individualism. “The individual is more important than the collective.”

Skepticism about power. “Government, for example, often claims ‘we’re forcing you to do X because it’s in your own interests to do so.’ Whereas very often, when people with power do that, it’s really because it’s good for themselves. Classical liberals believe that the individual is the best judge of their own interests.”

Rule of law.

Civil society. Classical liberals believe that problems can be dealt with best by voluntary associations and action.

Spontaneous order. “Many people seem to assume that order requires some institution, some body, to manipulate and organize things. Classical liberals don’t believe that. They believe that order can arise spontaneously. People through their voluntary interaction create the rules by which people can live by.”

Free markets. “Economic exchange should be left to voluntary activity between individuals. … We need private property to be able to do that. … History show us that leaving things to free markets rather than government planning or organization, increases prosperity, reduces poverty, increases jobs, and provides good that people want to buy.”

Toleration. “Toleration is the belief that one should not interfere with things on which one disapproves. … It’s a question of having certain moral principles (‘I think this action is wrong’), but I will not try and force my opinions — for example through government — to stop the things I disapprove of.”

Peace. Through free movement of capital, labor, goods, services, and ideas, we can have a world based on peace rather than conflict and war.

Limited government. “There are very few things the government should do. The goal of government is simply to protect life, liberty, and property. Anything beyond that is not justifiable.”

This video is available on YouTube through LearnLiberty.org, a site which has many other informative videos. Besides this video, other resources on classical liberalism include What Is Classical Liberalism? by John C. Goodman, Christianity, Classical Liberalism are Liberty’s Foundations by Leonard P. Liggio, What is Libertarian? at the Institute for Humane Studies, Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism (review of James M. Buchanan book by William A. Niskanen), Myths of Individualism by Tom G. Palmer, and Palmer’s book Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice.

David Theroux: C.S. Lewis on mere liberty and the evils of statism

Following is a very interesting lecture I recommend you view or listen to.

David J. Theroux, founder and president of The Independent Institute and the C.S. Lewis Society of California, discusses the writings of C.S. Lewis and Lewis’s views on liberty, natural law and statism.

The presentation was the keynote talk at the first annual conference of Christians for Liberty, that was held at St. Edwards University in San Antonio, TX, August 2, 2014. View below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube.

For further discussion, see the following:

C.S. Lewis on Mere Liberty and the Evils of Statism,” by David J. Theroux

Secular Theocracy: The Foundations and Folly of Modern Tyranny,” by David J. Theroux

Defining liberty: The future of freedom

From The Independent Institute, an important video on current and future issues relating to freedom and liberty.

How can Americans overcome record government spending and debt, escalating healthcare costs, intrusive federal surveillance, endless wars, ongoing economic malaise, high unemployment, failing schools, and increasing abuses of civil and economic liberties? In this superb, new video from the recent, sold-out event sponsored by The Independent Institute and The Smith Center for Private Enterprise Studies (CSU-East Bay), former, twelve-term Congressman and Presidential candidate, Dr. Ron Paul, takes a candid look at America’s increasingly dysfunctional political system. Drawing on his 24 years in Congress, he highlights the need to rein in unchecked government power.

The author of numerous #1 New York Times bestselling books, Dr. Paul is a leading advocate for individual liberty, privacy, limited constitutional government, low taxes and spending, free markets, restrained foreign policy, and sound money. The New York Post has called him a man who “cannot be bought by special interests. There are few people in public life who, through thick and thin, rain or shine, stick to their principles.” And, Judge Andrew Napolitano calls him “The Thomas Jefferson of our day.”

Recommended reading: Foundations of a Free Society

institute-economic-affairs-logo

Described as “An introduction to the core principles that define a free society,” I highly recommend this short book. It’s written by Eamonn Butler and published by Institute of Economic Affairs, a British think tank whose mission is to “improve understanding of the fundamental institutions of a free society by analysing and expounding the role of markets in solving economic and social problems.” (Being written in British English, a few words are spelled wrongly now and then.)

The book may be purchased or downloaded at no charge at Foundations of a Free Society. Here is the summary of the book, as provided by the author:

  • Freedom creates prosperity. It unleashes human talent, invention and innovation, creating wealth where none existed before. Societies that have embraced freedom have made themselves rich. Those that have not have remained poor.
  • People in a free society do not become rich by exploiting others, as the elites of less-free countries do. They cannot become rich by making others poorer. They become rich only by providing others with what they want and making other people’s lives better.
  • The chief beneficiaries of the economic dynamism of free societies are the poor. Free societies are economically more equal than non-free societies. The poor in the most-free societies enjoy luxuries that were undreamed of just a few years ago, luxuries available only to the ruling elites of non- free countries.
  • International trade gives entrepreneurs new market opportunities and has helped lift more than a billion people out of abject poverty in the last twenty years. Freedom is truly one of the most benign and productive forces in human history.
  • Attempts by governments to equalise wealth or income are counter-productive. They destroy the incentives for hard work and enterprise and discourage people from building up the capital that boosts the productivity of the whole society.
  • A free society is a spontaneous society. It builds up from the actions of individuals, following the rules that promote peaceful cooperation. It is not imposed from above by political authorities.
  • Government has a very limited role in a free society. It exists to prevent harm being done to its citizens by maintaining and enforcing justice. It does not try to impose material equality and it does not prohibit activities just because some people consider them disagreeable or offensive. Leaders cannot plunder citizens for their own benefit, grant favours to their friends, or use their power against their enemies.
  • The government of a free society is constrained by the rule of law. Its laws apply to everyone equally. There must be?due process of law in all cases, with fair trials and no lengthy detention without trial. People accused of offences must be treated as innocent until proved guilty, and individuals must not be harassed by being prosecuted several times for the same offence.
  • Tolerating other people’s ideas and lifestyles benefits society. Truth is not always obvious; it emerges in the battle of ideas. We cannot trust censors to suppress only wrong ideas. They may mistakenly suppress ideas and ways of acting that would greatly benefit society in the future.
  • Communications technology is making it more difficult for authoritarian governments to hide their actions from the rest of the world. As a result, more and more countries are opening up to trade and tourism, and new ideas are spreading. More people see the benefits of economic and social freedom, and are demanding them.

Zoltan Kesz on collectivism and racism in Hungary

Cronyism and Collectivism in Central EuropeZoltan Kesz, founder of the Free Market Foundation in Hungary, speaks to a luncheon gathering at the Wichita, Kansas Pachyderm Club on February 21, 2014. For more about this topic, see In Hungary, the rise of nationalism and racism. View the video below, or click here to view at YouTube. Paul Soutar is the videographer.

In Hungary, the rise of nationalism and racism

Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation of Hungary.
Zoltán Kész of Free Market Foundation of Hungary.

Zoltán Kész will speak at the Wichita Pachyderm Club on Friday February 21. The public is welcome to attend. For more information on this event, see Hungarian activist to address Pachyderms and guests.

In Hungary, nationalism and racism are rising problems. The Free Market Foundation of Hungary, co-founded by Zoltán Kész fights against these problems. Last November Kesz was in Wichita and I visited with him and a small group.

I asked about economic freedom in Hungary, noting that according to the economic freedom of the world report, Hungary was about in the middle of the European countries, although it is moving in the wrong direction. Kesz said that is right. Hungary had a very good economy in the 1990s, but in the past 13 or 14 years the country has been going in the wrong direction. The government in Hungary has a two-thirds majority he said, which means it can pass any law. The government passed a flat tax, but there are so many other taxes added on that he said it’s not really a flat tax. The flat, or value-added, tax is 27 percent.

Kesz said that while the government in Hungary says it is a conservative government, there have been recent developments that are contrary to free-market principles. For example, private pensions were nationalized in 2010. The government heavily regulates utility prices, and soon all utility companies will be nonprofit.

A serious and growing problem in Hungary is racism. In 2006, the Jobbik party, a group that is openly anti-Jew and anti-Roma (Gypsy) became popular. In 2010 it had 15 percent of the vote in the Hungarian parliament and is the third largest party. The country is very homogeneous, Kesz said, surrounded by Hungarians in other countries. An estimate is that about eight percent are Roma. There are about 100,000 Jews in Hungary, which has a total population of ten million.

The Jobbik party in Hungary — which Kesz described as far-right — is nationalistic and criticizes the loss of territory after World War I. It stirs up emotions for a larger Hungary and for getting the old empire back. Economically, Jobbik rejects globalism and foreign investment, and supports more government redistribution of income and wealth.

Very troubling is the radical, neo-Nazi aspect of Jobbik. The party blames Jews and Gypsies for the problems in Hungary. Kesz told of demands by one Jobbik member of parliament who demanded a list of Jews in the legislature. Leaders of Jobbik have said that Jews should be put in cattle wagons and shipped away to labor camps.

Recent surveys have reported that Jobbik attracts 33 percent of university students, and 52 percent of those say that in some cases they would prefer dictatorship rather than democracy.

It’s hard to overstate how serious is the problem of the rise of racism and nationalism in Hungary. In his recommendation of the free market foundation of Hungary, Tom G. Palmer said “The backsliding towards authoritarian statism and even primitive collectivism in the heart of Europe is extremely disturbing and so it is truly inspiring to see the work that the Free Market Foundation is doing. I was very active in the region as communism was crumbling and remember vividly the struggle of Hungarians to free themselves from the horrors of Communism.”

Last year Zoltan Kesz was named “Liberty Entrepreneur of the Year” by Atlas Economic Research Foundation. You can view his short speech nearby, or click here to view at YouTube.

John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award

Kansas Policy Institute 2013-10-15

Last night I was recognized by the Kansas Policy Institute with the John J. Ingalls Spirit of Freedom Award. Following are my remarks I delivered to the audience.

Thank you. I’m humbled to be recognized this way by the Kansas Policy Institute.

I am also honored to be receiving this award along with John Todd, who really deserves this more than I, and who is an inspiration to me.

I’d like to say thank you for the support of my mother Marty and my wife Lynn. Thank you also to the board of trustees of KPI and its chair George Pearson, and also to the staff of KPI, especially Dave Trabert, who is a tremendous asset to our state. And, although he’s not here tonight, I’d like to say thank you to our Congressman Mike Pompeo, who hired Dave.

Thank you, Nestor Weigand and Ethelmae Humphreys for hosting this event.

Thank you, especially, to the donors that support KPI and the similar institutions in other states that are working for free markets and economic freedom. I am familiar with many of them, and there are many outstanding examples.

And speaking of outstanding, I’m grateful for people like our keynote speaker David Boaz who have built the Cato Institute into a powerful organization with a global reputation for quality and integrity. I attended Cato University a few years ago, and if you know any college-age people, it is a great program to attend in summer for one week. Good for adults, too.

Finally, thank you to my many friends and supporters that are here tonight, that support me as we try to make Wichita and Kansas safe for capitalism.

Why Liberty

Cato Institute senior fellow Tom G. Palmer has released another new book in what seems to be an annual series aimed at young people. This year’s book is titled Why Liberty. The book’s webpage is at Why Liberty, and you can download your copy there.

Why Liberty is described as “a broad and multidisciplinary introduction to the ideas of liberty. It focuses not just on political theory but also on liberty through the lens of culture, entrepreneurship, health, art, technology, philosophy, and the transformative power of freedom. Edited by Dr. Tom G. Palmer, the book features articles from experts in the fields of policy, academia, business, media, and student organizing.”

In the opening chapter of this book, Palmer writes:

As you go through life, chances are almost 100 percent that you act like a libertarian. You might ask what it means to “act like a libertarian.” It’s not that complicated. You don’t hit other people when their behavior displeases you. You don’t take their stuff. You don’t lie to them to trick them into letting you take their stuff, or defraud them, or knowingly give them directions that cause them to drive off a bridge. You’re just not that kind of person.

You respect other people. You respect their rights. You might sometimes feel like smacking someone in the face for saying something really offensive, but your better judgment prevails and you walk away, or answer words with words.

You’re a civilized person. Congratulations. You’ve internalized the basic principles of libertarianism. You live your life and exercise your own freedom with respect for the freedom and rights of others. You behave as a libertarian.

A libertarian is someone who believes in the presumption of liberty. And with that simple presumption, when realized in practice, comes a world in which different people can realize their own forms of happiness in their own ways, in which people can trade freely to mutual advantage, and disagreements are resolved with words, and not with clubs. It would not be a perfect world, but it would be a world worth fighting for.

View an introductory video below, or click here to view in high definition at YouTube.

Classical liberalism means liberty, individualism, and civil society

Classical liberalism

In a short video, Nigel Ashford of Institute for Humane Studies explains the tenets of classical liberalism. Not to be confused with modern American liberalism or liberal Republicans, classical liberalism places highest value on liberty and the individual. Modern American liberals, or progressives as they often prefer to be called, may value some of these principles, but most, such as free markets and limited government — and I would add individualism and toleration — are held in disdain by them.

Here are the principles of classical liberalism that Ashford identifies:

Liberty is the primary political value. “When deciding what to do politically — what should the government do — classical liberals have one clear standard: Does this increase, or does it reduce the freedom of the individual?”

Individualism. “The individual is more important than the collective.”

Skepticism about power. “Government, for example, often claims ‘we’re forcing you to do X because it’s in your own interests to do so.’ Whereas very often, when people with power do that, it’s really because it’s good for themselves. Classical liberals believe that the individual is the best judge of their own interests.”

Rule of law.

Civil society. Classical liberals believe that problems can be dealt with best by voluntary associations and action.

Spontaneous order. “Many people seem to assume that order requires some institution, some body, to manipulate and organize things. Classical liberals don’t believe that. They believe that order can arise spontaneously. People through their voluntary interaction create the rules by which people can live by.”

Free markets. “Economic exchange should be left to voluntary activity between individuals. … We need private property to be able to do that. … History show us that leaving things to free markets rather than government planning or organization, increases prosperity, reduces poverty, increases jobs, and provides good that people want to buy.”

Toleration. “Toleration is the belief that one should not interfere with things on which one disapproves. … It’s a question of having certain moral principles (“I think this action is wrong”), but I will not try and force my opinions — for example through government — to stop the things I disapprove of.”

Peace. Through free movement of capital, labor, goods, services, and ideas, we can have a world based on peace rather than conflict and war.

Limited government. “There are very few things the government should do. The goal of government is simply to protect life, liberty, and property. Anything beyond that is not justifiable.”

This video is available on YouTube through LearnLiberty.org, a site which has many other informative videos. Besides this video, other resources on classical liberalism include What Is Classical Liberalism? by Ralph Raico, What Is Classical Liberalism? by John C. Goodman, Christianity, Classical Liberalism are Liberty’s Foundations by Leonard P. Liggio, What is Libertarian? at the Institute for Humane Studies, Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism (review of James M. Buchanan book by William A. Niskanen), Myths of Individualism by Tom G. Palmer, and Palmer’s book Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice.

Laws that do harm

As we approach another birthday of Milton Friedman, here’s his column from Newsweek in 1982 that explains that despite good intentions, the result of government intervention often harms those it is intended to help.

There is a sure-fire way to predict the consequences of a government social program adopted to achieve worthy ends. Find out what the well-meaning, public-interested persons who advocated its adoption expected it to accomplish. Then reverse those expectations. You will have an accurate prediction of actual results.

To illustrate on the broadest level, idealists from Marx to Lenin and the subsequent fellow travelers claimed that communism would enhance both freedom and prosperity and lead to the “withering away of the state.” We all know the results in the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China: misery, slavery and a more powerful and all-encompassing government than the world had ever seen.

Idealists, from Harold Laski to Jawaharlal Nehru, promised the suffering Indian masses that “democratic economic planning” would abolish famines, bring material prosperity, resolve age-old conflicts between the castes and eliminate inequality. The result has been continued deprivation for the masses, continued violence between the castes and widened inequality.

To come down to less sweeping cases rent control has been promoted for millenniums as a way to hold down rents and ensure more housing for the disadvantaged. Wherever it has been adopted, the actual result has been precisely the opposite for all but a few favored tenants. Rent control has encouraged the wasteful use of housing space and has discouraged the building of more housing units. As a result, rents actually paid — whether legally or under the table — by all tenants except those who do not move have skyrocketed. And even the tenants who do not move complain about not being able to.

Over two years ago, when the San Francisco supervisors were contemplating a form of rent control, I republished in a local paper a NEWSWEEK column of mine on rent control, prefacing it with the comment that only a “fool or a knave” could support rent control after examining the massive evidence on its effects. Needless to say, that did not prevent the majority of a board of supervisors, consisting of neither fools nor knaves, from enacting the ordinance I objected to. And the lessons of experience have not prevented the adoption of rent control in other cities — or the repetition of that same experience.

Urban renewal programs were urged to cure “urban blight” and improve the housing available to the poor. The result was a “Federal Bulldozer,” as Martin Anderson titled his searching examination of urban renewal. More dwelling units were torn down than were constructed. The new units constructed were mostly for middle- and upper-income classes. Urban blight was simply shifted and made worse by the still higher density created elsewhere by removing the poor from the “renewed” area.

In education, professionalization, integration, bilingualism, massive doses of federal assistance — all have been promoted to improve the quality of schooling and reduce racial tension and discrimination. The result was predictable: a drastic lowering of educational performance and an increase in actual segregation of races, at least in the North.

President Nixon introduced price controls on Aug. 15, 1971, to eliminate inflation, which at the time was running at about 4 to 5 percent per year. When controls ended in 1974, inflation soared into double digits.

The Interstate Commerce Commission was promoted in the 1880s and 1890s by the Ralph Naders of the day to discipline monopolistic railroads and benefit their customers. One group in today’s Nader conglomerate has published a devastating study of the ICC demonstrating that it strengthened the monopoly power of the railroads, and later of trucking. The users of transportation have had the dubious privilege of paying higher prices for poorer service.

Need I go on? I challenge my readers to name a government social program that has achieved the results promised by its well-meaning and public-interested proponents. I keep repeating “well-meaning and public-interested proponents” because they have generally been the dupes of others who had very clear self-interested motives and often did achieve the results that they intended — the railroads in the 1890s for example.

The amazing thing to me is the continued gullibility of intellectuals and the public. I wish someone would explain that to me. Is it simply because no one has given this widely documented generalization a catchy name – like … (suggestions welcome)?

Surveillance state arrives in Wichita

In an effort to control crime in Old Town, Wichita is importing the police surveillance state. Right now the targeted area is a small part of the city during certain periods of time. But once camera use has started, it is likely to spread across town, especially given the enthusiasm of police and elected officials like Wichita city council member Lavonta Williams (district 1, northeast Wichita), according to Wichita Eagle reporting.

Many people may not be aware of the gross invasion of privacy that government cameras represent. Have you used the facial recognition technology in Google’s Picasa software? It’s uncanny how accurate it is. In the hands of government, it’s a concern.

Some surveillance cameras can read car license plates two blocks away. With facial recognition technology and optical character recognition, police don’t have to actually watch the live or recorded video to learn who has been in a location. Computers can create databases, updated in real time with who is where at what time. Alerts can be programmed, so that if a person or car is seen, police can be notified.

Then, we have to wonder whether the cameras work as advertised. The website You Are Being Watched, a project of the American Civil Liberties Union, comes to this conclusion: “An increasing number of American cities and towns are investing millions of taxpayer dollars in surveillance camera systems. But few are closely examining the costs and benefits of those investments, or creating mechanisms for measuring those costs and benefits over time. There is extensive academic literature on the subject — studies carried out over many years — and that research demonstrates that video surveillance has no statistically significant effect on crime rates. Several studies on video surveillance have been conducted in the UK, where surveillance cameras are pervasive. The two main meta-analyses conducted for the British Home Office (equivalent to the US departments of Justice and Homeland Security) show that video surveillance has no impact on crime whatsoever. If it did, then there would be little crime in London, a city estimated to have about 500,000 cameras.”

An irony is that law enforcement likes recording citizens, but not the other way around. As John Stossel has noted, police don’t like to be recorded. In some states its a crime to tape a police officer making an arrest. A video excerpt from Stossel’s television shows the attitudes of police towards being recorded. At Reason Radley Balko details the problem, writing “As citizens increase their scrutiny of law enforcement officials through technologies such as cell phones, miniature cameras, and devices that wirelessly connect to video-sharing sites such as YouTube and LiveLeak, the cops are increasingly fighting back with force and even jail time—and not just in Illinois. Police across the country are using decades-old wiretapping statutes that did not anticipate iPhones or Droids, combined with broadly written laws against obstructing or interfering with law enforcement, to arrest people who point microphones or video cameras at them. Even in the wake of gross injustices, state legislatures have largely neglected the issue.”

Further irony is found in the parties promoting the cameras. Council member Williams was instrumental in crafting Wichita’s smoking ban. So too was Charlie Claycomb, president of the Old Town Association. One of their arguments was that everyone should have the right to enter any business and not be subjected to secondhand smoke. It was an argument based on civil liberties.

I’d like to be able to enjoy a cocktail in Old Town without my presence monitored and noted by the police. Is that a civil liberty worth preserving?

Wichita should reconsider this decision. It seems like an easy solution to a problem. But it’s another journey down the road of the ever-growing regulatory regime in Wichita.

Central planning: Are we humans or pawns?

From LearnLiberty.org, a project of Institute for Humane Studies, a video titled Adam Smith and the Follies of Central Planning.

“How do you like being told what to do? If someone tells you to do something you find enjoyable or fulfilling, you may not mind. What if you are told to do something contrary to what you would choose for yourself? What if the government was the one telling you to do it? Adam Smith, the philosopher and father of economics, talks about a “man of system,” a central planner who believes he can orchestrate the lives of others, like chess pieces that can be moved at will. As Professor James R. Otteson illustrates, society suffers when the man of system attempts to force his desires on the lives of individuals in ways that contradict their own desires. According to Smith, people are not chess pieces to be moved on a board; they are living and thinking and have their own wills. Individuals pursuing their own desires will constantly be in conflict with the desires of any central planner.”

In Kansas, we see the rise of central planning in several ways. Officials believe they can plan and guide our economic development efforts, and the results have not been successful.

Wichita believes it can plan its downtown development and direct taxpayer subsidy to politically-favored developers and campaign contributors, but voters, when given a chance, reject this.

Then we have the rise of sustainable communities planning, shepherded by the professional planners working at Regional Area Economic Partnership.

All these are examples of the problem explained in the video.

Classical liberalism: Liberty, individualism, and civil society

In a short video, Nigel Ashford of Institute for Humane Studies explains the tenets of classical liberalism. Not to be confused with modern American liberalism or liberal Republicans, classical liberalism places highest value on liberty and the individual. Modern American liberals, or progressives as they often prefer to be called, may value some of these principles, but most, such as free markets and limited government — and I would add individualism and toleration — are held in disdain by them.

Here are the principles of classical liberalism that Ashford identifies:

Liberty is the primary political value. “When deciding what to do politically — what should the government do — classical liberals have one clear standard: Does this increase, or does it reduce the freedom of the individual?”

Individualism. “The individual is more important than the collective.”

Skepticism about power. “Government, for example, often claims ‘we’re forcing you to do X because it’s in your own interests to do so.’ Whereas very often, when people with power do that, it’s really because it’s good for themselves. Classical liberals believe that the individual is the best judge of their own interests.”

Rule of law.

Civil society. Classical liberals believe that problems can be dealt with best by voluntary associations and action.

Spontaneous order. “Many people seem to assume that order requires some institution, some body, to manipulate and organize things. Classical liberals don’t believe that. They believe that order can arise spontaneously. People through their voluntary interaction create the rules by which people can live by.”

Free markets. “Economic exchange should be left to voluntary activity between individuals. … We need private property to be able to do that. … History show us that leaving things to free markets rather than government planning or organization, increases prosperity, reduces poverty, increases jobs, and provides good that people want to buy.”

Toleration. “Toleration is the belief that one should not interfere with things on which one disapproves. … It’s a question of having certain moral principles (“I think this action is wrong”), but I will not try and force my opinions — for example through government — to stop the things I disapprove of.”

Peace. Through free movement of capital, labor, goods, services, and ideas, we can have a world based on peace rather than conflict and war.

Limited government. “There are very few things the government should do. The goal of government is simply to protect life, liberty, and property. Anything beyond that is not justifiable.”

This video is available on YouTube through LearnLiberty.org, a site which has many other informative videos. Besides this video, other resources on classical liberalism include What Is Classical Liberalism? by Ralph Raico, What Is Classical Liberalism? by John C. Goodman, Christianity, Classical Liberalism are Liberty’s Foundations by Leonard P. Liggio, What is Libertarian? at the Institute for Humane Studies, Why I, Too, Am Not a Conservative: The Normative Vision of Classical Liberalism (review of James M. Buchanan book by William A. Niskanen), Myths of Individualism by Tom G. Palmer, and Palmer’s book Realizing Freedom: Libertarian Theory, History, and Practice.