Sunday, June 24, 2007

Maybe if there had been a junior high paper...

I spent three semesters as editor of my college paper's editorial section, and two years doing the same for my high school paper before that. That meant looking over article submissions from fellow students. I had to read some embarrassingly bad screeds in my time. I can honestly say, however, that even in high school I never had to read or edit anything as brain-shreddingly bad as this editorial, which was published by an actual regular newspaper. Apparently, the whole "provide arguments and/or evidence for a position when writing an editorial" thing is not the hard rule I thought it was.

Hat tip to the Mises Institute Blog, which has some good stuff in the comments thread.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

I'm not dead!

Lest my three readers think I've dropped off the face of the Earth, I just wanted to check in. I've been kept busy lately with friends coming in from out of town. I've also been intensifying my exercise routine, which has been eating up some free time. (I'm insanely buff now. Don''t laugh, or I'll crush your skull with my tree trunk-like arms.)

I'll be back in action starting this weekend.

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Thursday, June 07, 2007

I would abuse my blogging license horribly

According to Reason, the new owner of a drug store in Montana has announced that he will no longer sell birth control pills. This has caused an uproar among some groups, with a Planned Parenthood representative calling it a violation of a woman’s right to birth control.

This is to be expected; while most libertarians are pro-choice, most pro-choicers are not even remotely libertarian, and often have the assumption that if you have a right to do something, you have the right to make others provide it for you. What is surprising, though, is that I have heard some ostensible libertarians claim, in that post’s comment thread among other places, that pharmacists should be legally required to carry these products.

The argument, in its more sophisticated form, goes like this. In a free market in medicine, it would be wrong to force pharmacy owners to sell products they don’t want to sell. But pharmacists are beneficiaries of state privilege, since only they can dispense prescription drugs. This gives them an unjust amount of control over the distribution of prescription drugs, which includes oral contraceptives. Therefore, since we’re not going to get the ideal situation of a free market in medicine in the immediate future, forcing state-licensed pharmacists to sell birth control in privately owned pharmacies is legitimate, since they shouldn’t be allowed to abuse their monopoly privileges.

The first objectionable thing about this is that I see no reason why the logic of it wouldn’t also apply to medical procedures; if this line of argument is valid, it would also be illegitimate for hospitals and doctors to refuse to perform abortions, for instance, and it would be okay to conscript doctors to perform them if you can’t find someone to do it willingly. There are probably people on the left who would like that, but it certainly wouldn’t be a libertarian outcome.

But it has problems that go beyond medicine. By this principle, the government could legitimately control any profession or business if it first required a license for that field, since such licenses would give illegitimate and potentially abusable powers to the licensed.

Suppose we licensed publishers in this country, the way we licensed doctors, so that only they could print and sell books. And suppose a publisher decided that it would no longer publish any book that promoted Christianity. Under the principle described above, it would be legitimate, from a libertarian point of view, to force the company to start printing Bibles and Jack Chick tracts, in order to stop them from abusing the power that state licensing gives and ensure that such materials remain available.

That is where the argument leads, and it goes to similar places in any other field. Licensed professors would lose the right to teach what they want, and refrain from teaching as they wished. Licensed newspapers could be compelled to cover certain stories. Licensed bloggers could be required to blog on particular topics. We can’t have any of them abusing the powers government licensing brings, can we?

Like the notion that the government has the right to control activities it subsidizes, this is a potential backdoor to total government control. (Albeit one less likely to be embraced by statists, since to use it you have to acknowledge that government licensure is a form of monopolistic privilege.) Both arguments use the destructive effects of past statism to justify even more statism. It’s troubling to see people who identify as libertarians embracing this sort of thing.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

The state is a jealous God

So, I was reading Kathleen Parker’s syndicated column (God knows why) in the Chicago Tribune a few days back (online here) about American Muslim’s attitudes, according to a recent poll. Parker takes the results to show that Muslims aren’t assimilating as well as one might hope. I’m not particularly interested in that question here, but something she said jumped out at me.

Parker notes of young Muslims, disapprovingly, that “Sixty percent of the young group consider themselves Muslim first, American second.” This is shocking or offensive to a supposed conservative? I’m surprised it’s only sixty percent. If you told a devout Christian he had to either renounce Jesus or forfeit his American citizenship and move abroad, he’s going to put his God first. That hardly means that Christians aren’t assimilated, or are a pack of potential traitors.

If you believe in a monotheistic religion like Islam, and if you believe loyalty to that religion means loyalty to the Supreme Being, and if you believe your eternal salvation or damnation to be based on following the precepts of that religion, then of course that religion is going to be more important to you than a nation-state, and more fundamental to your identity. Muslims, I'm given to understand, are averse to the whole "idolatry" thing. Conservatives used to understand the value of intermediate institutions.

Parker's dismay at this shouldn't be surprising, I suppose, in light of the way more and more conservatives have been treating the government and its personnel and officials with a sort of religious adoration. Libertarians don't talk about the "cult of the state" for nothing.

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