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Posts Tagged ‘property rights’

Things to be thankful for: Pilgrims, property rights, and technology

Posted by Richard on November 22, 2018

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you enjoy your turkey (or ham) dinner and the company of family or friends. Yes, even that crazy aunt or uncle. But please shut down any family member who starts spouting Tom Steyer’s talking points about the “Need to Impeach.”

On this Thanksgiving, Veronique de Rugy suggests being grateful for all the technological advancements that have improved our lives and the new ones that are on the horizon, such as air taxis (if the feds don’t stifle them with onerous regulations).

John Stossel, meanwhile, looks backward and is thankful for William Bradford and the Pilgrims’ “early correction” from collective ownership to private property rights.

For much more about the Pilgrims, see this old post of mine about the real story of Thanksgiving.

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Must read: the back story behind the situation in Oregon

Posted by Richard on January 3, 2016

As you probably know by now, a militia group, including members of the Bundy family, have occupied a closed headquarters building in Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge. They are there to protest the latest in a decades-long series of persecutions of the Hammond family by the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Bureau of Land Management. The Last Refuge has the full back story; it’s a long read, but highly recommended. You’ll learn many things that will never be reported in the MSM (where this occupation is being called terrorism by the same people who called the rioting and looting in Ferguson and Baltimore “peaceful protests” and defended them as justified).

Stories like this one and the Bundy family’s are not unique, just more noticed (thanks to those militia protests) than the many other similar ones. It’s quite clear that the FWS and BLM (among other agencies) have been run by anti-capitalist, anti-private-property watermelons for decades, and that they’ll stop at nothing to wrest land, water, and grazing rights away from their rightful owners. There’s no point in posting an excerpt; you simply must read the whole thing.

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The war against savers escalates

Posted by Richard on March 17, 2013

A while back, people who worry about the growing mountains of sovereign debt pointed to Greece as the canary in the coal mine. We have a new canary, and he’s got a bad cough: Cyprus. The Eurocrats are funding a bailout of Cyprus by doing what debt-laden governments with no respect for the rule of law or the sanctity of contracts usually end up doing eventually: seizing the assets of savers.

I’m not shedding any tears for the Russian klepto-billionaires who parked their ill-gotten riches in Cyprus. And maybe only a few for the Cypriots who until now believed they could get something for nothing through the miracle of endless government borrowing. But prudent and frugal folks throughout the heavily-indebted nations of Europe must be wondering when the EU will come after their savings. Under the mattress or in a hole in the back yard must be starting to look like better options than a bank account.

Think it can’t happen in the good old USA? It already has. In April 1933, a month after taking office, FDR issued an executive order (under the “Trading with the Enemy Act of 1917”) outlawing the private ownership of gold coins, bullion, and gold certificates. Owners had a month to turn it all in or face 10 years in prison. They were reimbursed at face value — the owner of a $20 gold double eagle (which contained gold worth $19.99 at the time) was given $20 in currency. But once all the gold had been turned in, FDR quickly devalued the dollar by 59%. That double eagle, had the owner been allowed to keep it, would have been worth $35. Essentially, this was a confiscation of wealth that makes the Cyprus “haircut” look picayune.

More recently and on a smaller scale, when the Obama administration turned GM into Government Motors, they abrogated contracts and confiscated the assets of bondholders in order to turn them over to their friends in the UAW.

And for some time now, left-wing activists and Obama administration officials (but I repeat myself) have been talking about how “unfair to poor people” 401k and IRA accounts are and suggesting that the government should do for retirement accounts what it’s doing for health care: take over.

Fiat money allows governments to confiscate wealth slowly and stealthily by inflating the currency, thus shrinking both your savings and their debt. But if (when) things start to go out of control and panic sets in, they’ll come after your savings more directly and immediately. You might want to be prepared.

HT: Instapundit (via email from David Aitken)

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Michael Moore vs. Abraham Lincoln

Posted by Richard on March 4, 2011

Fat cat (no pun intended) movie mogul Michael Moore, interviewed on something called Grit TV, has declared that the money of wealthy Americans isn't theirs, it's a "natural resource" that the government should seize and redistribute. I can't help but wonder why the interviewer didn't ask what Moore has done to redistribute the tens of millions of dollars of this "natural resource" that reside in his bank accounts.


[YouTube link]

Moore and those like him are guilty of two egregious errors. The first is an error of ignorance (willful ignorance, I'm tempted to say). They seem to believe that wealth (or money, which they seem to think is the same thing) is just a fixed pile of stuff that somehow, magically, exists — and that all that's necessary is deciding how it should be distributed. 

The second error is even more egregious, and it rests on the first — because it requires one to be ignorant of (or indifferent to) how and why wealth is created and even of the fact that there are those who create wealth. It's the moral error of believing that it's OK to take wealth from those who've created it to give it to someone else. As I noted, people like Moore can believe and justify this because they don't view those who've created the wealth as its creators, and thus don't view them as its rightful owners. Wealth just exists, or appears magically like manna falling from heaven, so it's a "natural resource" that we all collectively own.

Peter Wehner contrasted Moore's perspective with that of Abraham Lincoln, and quoted Lincoln: 

I don’t believe in a law to prevent a man from getting rich; it would do more harm than good. So while we do not propose any war upon capital, we do wish to allow the humblest man an equal chance to get rich with everybody else. …. I want every man to have the chance — and I believe a black man is entitled to it — in which he can better his condition — when he may look forward and hope to be a hired laborer this year and the next, work for himself afterward, and finally to hire men to work for him! That is the true system.

Allowing individuals the chance to better their condition is a legitimate moral claim that citizens demand of government. Government’s goal should be to ensure equality of opportunity instead of equality of outcome; to work toward a society where everyone has a fair shot rather than one where government enforces equality.

This issue — equality of opportunity vs. equality of outcome — is one of the great dividing lines between modern conservatism and liberalism. If given the choice between the philosophy of Michael Moore and the philosophy of Abraham Lincoln, my hunch is that the public will side with Lincoln.

I think the public sided with Lincoln in last November's elections. I think — I hope — enough people understand that increasing the total wealth of our society depends on ensuring that people have the opportunity to create wealth. And that the redistributionist philosophy of Moore and those like him destroys that opportunity. And thus makes us all poorer in the long run. 

Besides, it's not just that it would do more harm than good — it's just plain wrong. The person who creates something that didn't exist before is the rightful owner of that creation. Calling it a "natural resource" and redistributing it is theft, plain and simple. 

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Orwellian behavior by Amazon

Posted by Richard on July 17, 2009

Although I’m reasonably geeky and tech-savvy, I’m still an old fuddy-duddy in some ways. To wit, I prefer to buy and own content, rather than subscribe to it, and I like having it in my possession in physical form — books, CDs, DVDs, etc. — rather than just having access to electrons under someone else’s control. Stories like this just reinforce my anachronistic attitude:

If you’re into keeping tabs on irony, check this out. Amazon apparently sent out its robotic droogs last night, deleting copies of the George Orwell novels Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four from Kindles without explanation, then refunding the purchase price. As you can imagine, a lot of people caught in the thick of Winston and Julia’s love story aren’t very happy — and rightfully so — the idea that we “own” the things we buy is pretty fundamental to… ownership.

It seems that the publisher changed its mind about selling the books!

I have both books in my library. They’re printed on paper pages bound together between covers. If the publisher changed its mind about selling them to me and sent someone to come into my house and remove them — well, let me point out that I’m a strong supporter of gun ownership and the right to defend one’s person and property. I suspect that, should this person survive, the local authorities would gladly charge him with burglary. I don’t think saying “But I’m refunding the purchase price!” would make it all right.

So, no, I won’t be buying a Kindle any time soon. If I’m going to buy a book, I want the physical book, not an all-too-revocable “license” to read it — until the seller changes its mind, or the technology fails, or the government determines it’s contrary to the public interest, or …

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$80,000 per song

Posted by Richard on June 29, 2009

I'm a proponent of intellectual property rights (an oft-debated issue in libertarian circles), but copyright law in this country has just gone totally off the deep end. I blame Mickey Mouse. The desire to ensure that no one other than Disney can ever create anything related to Mickey Mouse apparently means that copyright protections will grow into perpetuity.

The RIAA is also responsible for our legal system going to insane extremes protecting copyrights, and they've won another astonishing verdict in one of their lawsuits against consumers: 

A court has ruled that Jammie Thomas-Rasset, a 32-year-old mother of four, must pay $1.92 million in damages to record companies for illegally downloading 24 tracks off of file-sharing services like Kazaa.  This amounts to $80,000 per song.  This is one of the last few lawsuits in the courts pertaining to illegal downloads, as the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) has said they will discontinue the suits in favor of working with ISPs to stop illegal downloads. 

Yeah, they've decided all those shysters whose shoes cost more than your computer are getting too expensive. So instead they're going after whatever little shreds of privacy you have left.  

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Joe the Forgotten Man

Posted by Richard on October 22, 2008

According to Newt Gingrich, a June Gallup Organization survey asked Americans if the government should focus on improving economic conditions or on "distributing wealth more evenly," and 84% chose the former. Thanks to Joe the Plumber, it should now be clear to everybody that Barack Obama is one of the 13% who chose the latter:

America met Joe the Plumber last week.  But a pro-market economist writing over a hundred years ago was already familiar with Joe Wurzelbacher and Americans like him — and understood how they are used and exploited by politicians.

“They are always under the dominion of the superstition of government, and forgetting that a government produces nothing at all, they leave out of sight the first fact to be remembered in all social discussion — that the state cannot get a cent for any man without taking it from some other man, and this latter must be a man who has produced and saved it. This latter is the Forgotten Man.”

These are the words of William Graham Sumner, brilliantly analyzed and applied to 21st century America by Amity Schlaes in her recent book, The Forgotten Man.
    
Sumner wrote of the Forgotten Man: "He works, he votes, generally he prays — but he always pays — yes, above all, he pays."

Joe the Plumber has struck a chord in the closing weeks of this election because he represents the Forgotten Man.  When he confronted Sen. Barack Obama on the campaign trail with the question of what would happen to his taxes under an Obama Administration should he realize his dream of owning his own business, Joe cast the decision that faces us in this election in stark relief:

Which will be better for our economy:  Politicians redistributing our wealth or growing more wealth?

And Sen. Obama gave us an equally stark answer:  Under his leadership, America will focus on “spreading around” the Forgotten Man’s wealth, not encouraging him to create more of it.

Read the whole thing.

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Kelo Day

Posted by Richard on June 23, 2008

Kelo Day - June 23, 2008

Three years ago today, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the city of New London, Connecticut, could seize the home of Susette Kelo and turn it over to a private developer. A public purpose — more tax revenue — is the same thing as a public use, according to the liberal majority. It was one of the most egregious decisions of my lifetime. But there was a silver lining, according to the Institute for Justice, which represented Ms. Kelo:

The Kelo case sparked a nationwide backlash against eminent domain abuse.  Since that ruling:

  • 42 states have passed either constitutional amendments or legislation that provide greater protections for property owners facing eminent domain abuse.
  • Two state supreme courts have rejected the ruling while four others have said they are likely do so in a future case.
  • Property owners and community activists have stopped 23 projects throughout the country that abused eminent domain for private development.

 Ironically — fittingly, I'd argue — the land seized by New London still sits vacant three years later:

“New London’s Fort Trumbull project has been an unmitigated disaster,” said IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who litigated the Kelo case with Bullock.  “Despite the infusion of close to $80 million in taxpayer funds and three years elapsing since the Kelo decision, there has been no new construction in the area and nothing to show but brown, empty fields.  The developer was so desperate for funding that it applied to the federal Housing and Urban Development agency to obtain taxpayer-subsidized loans to build luxury apartments on the land where Susette’s neighborhood once stood.”

Today, Kelo Day, please make a donation to the Institute for Justice to commemorate this shameful event (the secure donation page is here ). Even a small donation — $5, $10, $25 — makes you a member of the Susette Kelo Liberty Club. If you can afford more, of course, please be generous. IJ and its Castle Coalition project are fighting eminent domain abuse all over the country every day. 

Here's a short (1:34) message from Susette Kelo herself:

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This Thanksgiving, celebrate the producers

Posted by Richard on November 22, 2007

"The first Thanksgiving" by Jean Louis Gerome FerrisUPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2008): Thanks for stopping by. After you read this post and The real Thanksgiving story, don’t miss this year’s funny/sad Thanksgiving story! It’s about kindergarten kids celebrating Thanksgiving. And it features cops and accusations of genocide.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2009): This year, with lots of help from Jim Woods, I again thanked the producers. And remembered the anniversary of the Jihadist attacks on Mumbai. Please check it out.   

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you have a wonderful day with family, friends, food, and football. But before you leave your PC for the festivities, please read Debi Ghate’s wonderful explanation of what you should be thankful for and who you should thank (bold added, italics in original):

What should we really be celebrating on Thanksgiving?

Ayn Rand described Thanksgiving as “a typically American holiday … its essential, secular meaning is a celebration of successful production. It is a producers’ holiday. The lavish meal is a symbol of the fact that abundant consumption is the result and reward of production.”

She was right. This country was mostly uninhabited and wild when our forefathers began to develop the land and build spectacular cities, shaping what is now the wealthiest nation in the world.

It’s the American spirit to overcome challenges, create great achievements, and enjoy prosperity. We uniquely recognize that production leads to wealth and that we must dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness.

It’s no accident that Americans have a holiday called Thanksgiving — a yearly tradition when we pause to appreciate the “bountiful harvest” we’ve reaped.

What is today’s version of the “bountiful harvest”? It’s the affluence and success we’ve gained. It’s the cars, houses and vacations we enjoy.

It’s the life-saving medicines we rely on, the stock portfolios we build, the beautiful clothes we buy and the safe, clean streets we live on. It’s the good life.

How did we get this “bountiful harvest”? Ask any hard-working American; it sure wasn’t by the “grace of God.” It didn’t grow on a fabled “money tree.”

We created it by working hard, by desiring the best money can buy and by wanting excellence for ourselves and our loved ones. What we don’t create ourselves, we trade value for value with those who have the goods and services we need, such as our stockbrokers, hairdressers and doctors.

We alone are responsible for our wealth. We are the producers and Thanksgiving is our holiday.

So, on Thanksgiving, why don’t we thank ourselves and those producers who make the good life possible?

From a young age, we are bombarded with messages designed to undermine our confident pursuit of values: “Be humble,” “You can’t know what’s good for yourself,” “It’s better to give than receive,” and above all “Don’t be selfish!”

We are scolded not to take more than “our share” — whether it is of corporate profits, electricity or pie. We are taught that altruism — selfless concern for others — is the moral ideal. We are taught to sacrifice for strangers, who have no claim to our hard-earned wealth. We are taught to kneel rather than reach for the sky.

But, morally, one should reach for the sky. One should recognize that the corporate profits, electricity or pie was earned through one’s production — and savor its consumption.

Every decision one makes, from what career to pursue to whom to call a friend, should be guided by what will best advance one’s rational goals, interests and, ultimately, one’s life. One should take pride in being rationally selfish — one’s life and happiness depend on it.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to recognize what we are truly grateful for, to appreciate and celebrate the fruits of our labor: our wealth, health, relationships and material things — all the values we most selfishly cherish.

We should thank researchers who have made certain cancers beatable, gourmet chefs at our favorite restaurants, authors whose books made us rethink our lives, financiers who developed revolutionary investment strategies and entrepreneurs who created fabulous online stores.

We should thank ourselves and those individuals who make our lives more comfortable and enjoyable — those who help us live the much-coveted American dream.

As you sit down to your sumptuous Thanksgiving dinner served on your best china, think of all the talented individuals whose innovation and inventiveness made possible the products you are enjoying. Debi Ghate

As you look around at who you’ve chosen to spend your day with — those you’ve chosen to love — thank yourself for everything you have done to make this moment possible.

It’s a time to selfishly and proudly say: “I earned this.”

Debi Ghate is Vice-President of Academic Programs at the Ayn Rand Institute in Irvine, California.

Amen.

As for the Thanksgiving lesson to be learned from the history of the Plymouth colony, it’s an economics lesson. I provided a pretty good account (if I do say so myself) last year, with plenty of quotes from Governor William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation. John Stossel wrote a shorter summary of the same lesson this year, which I encourage you to read, too. Even though mine’s better. 🙂

Enjoy your Thanksgiving dinner. And remember to thank the producers who made it possible — including yourself!

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Must-see HDTV

Posted by Richard on April 25, 2007

Did you take my advice and watch "The Ultimate Resource" last night? It was simply outstanding, meeting and exceeding my rather high expectations. Visually, it was first-class — beautiful high-definition video comparable in quality to the better Discovery HD programming. The content was fascinating as well as uplifting.

My only minor criticism is that the last of the five segments — the story of Shanghai entrepreneurs and their computer game company — was the weakest. The China segment was merely interesting, while the preceding four segments were moving:

  • In Ghana, a poor fisherman and his wife wanted their daughter to get a good education, so they put her in a private school instead of the free government school. James Tooley explained that in this very poor region of Ghana, 75% of the schools are private and for-profit, and all of them outperform the government schools.
  • In Peru, remote mountain villagers celebrated when they finally get legal titles to land that their families have worked for generations. Hernando de Soto talked about how property rights and the rule of law can turn the world's four billion poor into eager and successful stakeholders in the capitalist system.
  • In Estonia, the former Soviet republic has become one of the economically freest countries on Earth, enabling the Estonia Piano Company to transform itself from an inefficient producer of mediocre pianos for the state into an efficient, successful producer of some of the world's highest-quality instruments.
  • In Bangladesh, a young woman got a small loan so she and her husband could buy a loom. This enabled them to make and sell high-quality saris, lifting themselves out of poverty. Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammed Yunus and his Grameen Bank have made millions of similar "microcredit" loans (averaging $70), always for an income-producing purpose that will lift a family out of poverty. The repayment rate is 99%. 

The program is a joyous and heartwarming celebration of the human spirit and of the benefits of liberty. By all means, see it if you can. HDNet is showing it several more times in the next few days (see schedule). I'm sure it will eventually be available on DVD, but if you can see it on HDNet this week, I bet you'll be glad you did. 

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The Ultimate Resource

Posted by Richard on April 23, 2007

If you're an advocate of free markets and a fan of the late Julian Simon and the late Milton Friedman, and you have an HDTV, it doesn't get any better than this: glorious high-definition images from exotic locales all over the world celebrating people's creativity as the ultimate resource and freedom as the key to enabling them to accomplish wonderful things. 

Tuesday, April 24, at 10 PM Eastern, HDNet premieres a new documentary from Free To Choose Media entitled "The Ultimate Resource." It will repeat five more times between then and May 5 (see schedule), so you have time to buy that high-def TV you've been thinking about and order HD programming from your cable or satellite provider. 

Lance at A Second Hand Conjecture has lots of info:

In short, they travel to China, Bangladesh, Estonia, Ghana, and Peru and show examples of how people (thank you Julian Simon) – when given the incentives and the tools – are proving they can apply their free choice, intelligence, imagination and spirit to dramatically advance their well-being and that of their families and communities. …

You can see the trailer and more here. Teachers can get the video (and lots of other resources) for free at izzit.org.

These stories of entrepreneurship and achievement among the world's poorest people illustrate the ideas of four outstanding thinkers featured in the program:

Muhammad Yunus, winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, founded the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, which uses microfinance to bring opportunity to the world’s poorest people by helping them to start their own businesses.

Hernando de Soto, founder of The Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, helps developing countries open their systems — creating strategies for legal reform that offer the majority of the world’s people a stake in the free market economy.

James Tooley, British professor of education policy, explores the widespread, dramatic impact of low budget private education– financed not by charities or wealthy supporters– but by the poor families themselves in India, China, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.

Johan Norberg, Swedish author and scholar, takes aim at both left-wing critics, who would condemn developing countries to poverty until they develop “First World” workplace standards, and Western governments, whose free market rhetoric is undercut by tariffs on textiles and agriculture, areas in which developing countries can actually compete.

Wow, what a lineup! I can't wait to see it. 

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Insurance scam

Posted by Richard on February 20, 2007

I’m no insurance expert, but I know that flood insurance is a special case. Some time back, the feds effectively preempted the field, and if you want flood insurance, you get it at a federally subsidized rate. Because of that situation, no ordinary property insurance policy covers flood-water damage. You’d think people who live in a highly flood-prone area, such as a Gulf Coast state subject to hurricanes, would know this and gratefully avail themselves of the subsidized, low-cost flood insurance, right? And you’d think those who didn’t bother could expect little sympathy from the courts and public officials, right?

Wrong. And wrong again. In Mississippi, the courts and Attorney General Jim Hood have fallen all over themselves with sympathy for the (voluntarily) uninsured victims of Katrina’s flood waters. As a consequence of some jury awards and coerced settlements negotiated with the AG, State Farm has decided the climate in Mississippi is so hostile that they can’t continue offering homeowner insurance in the state. The future risk is too great.

Attorney General Hood objected to this business decision, and he’s proposed a law to force insurance companies who sell auto insurance in the state to also sell homeowner insurance. Dan Melson took umbrage at this anti-capitalist move:

State Farm is not a charitable organization. They are entitled to charge enough to make a profit – otherwise there is no reason to be in business. If they decide they cannot do that within the environment in a given state, they are entitled to decide to leave. If they can’t do it at all, the correct decision is to go out of business.

Add hefty punitive fines for not wanting to pay out claims for things which weren’t insured, and it’s a miracle that anyone is willing to issue homeowner’s insurance in Mississippi. Make them write homeowner’s insurance in order to write automobile insurance, and some insurers might do it – but others will cancel their policies of automobile insurance. Exactly how bad does the state of Mississippi want their insurance situation to get?

Dan’s right, of course. Hood’s populist grandstanding is both immoral and stupid. The state’s deputy insurance commissioner noted that a similar, but less onerous, law in Florida is driving insurers out of the state already, even though it won’t take effect until 2008. Robert Hartwig, chief economist for the Insurance Institute, doesn’t think such a law will have the desired effect:

Automobile insurance isn’t profitable enough to offset losses in the sale of homeowner insurance in a hurricane-vulnerable region so the company may be inclined to stop selling auto policies if they also must sell homeowner policies there, Hartwig said.

"The only losers in this situation are consumers facing fewer options for automobile insurance," Hartwig said.

I’m pleasantly surprised that Republican Governor Haley Barbour, despite an upcoming re-election campaign, resisted the urge to pander or cave and rejected Democrat Jim Hood’s call for an executive order:

"Having considered my statutory and constitutional emergency powers including the statute you cited in your letter, I have no authority to force a private company to sell its products in the State of Mississippi," Barbour responded in a letter to Hood.

After the epidemic of invertebrateness among Republicans recently, that statement — as cautious as it is — is a breath of fresh air. Bravo, Gov. Barbour!
 

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Veiled threat, part 2

Posted by Richard on January 3, 2007

Remember a couple of weeks ago when we learned that the burqa is the preferred dress for wanted murderers who’d like to sail through British airport security? Well, now it turns out that the burqa is also popular with jewel thieves in India. And, of course, the jewelry store owners had to apologize for being so insensitive as to suggest that they didn’t want people completely concealed in burqas snatching up jewelry and running off:

Jewelers in western India have apologized to Muslims for proposing to ban women wearing burqas from their shops following a series of thefts by burqa-clad customers.

British radio (BBC) reports that the jewelers association in the city of Pune withdrew its request Friday for a ban on serving women who wear face veils or burqas. The association says it decided not to pursue the ban for fear of offending religious sentiments.

Jewelers asked police for the ban after surveillance cameras showed veiled thieves stealing. Shopkeepers and police say they cannot identify them because their faces are covered.

The jewelers say the request was a security measure and was not targeted at minority Muslims in Pune.

The request sparked tensions among local Muslim leaders who said the ban discriminated against Muslim women.

I’ve got a couple of questions. First, why are women who aren’t supposed to show any portion of their body in public or experience any pleasure so interested in jewelry anyway? Second, when will someone have the stones to tell outraged Muslims, "We’ll tolerate your burqas and niqabs in our jewelry stores and airports as soon as you tolerate our bikinis and beer in Riyadh."
 

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The real Thanksgiving story

Posted by Richard on November 23, 2006

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2007): Welcome to all of you who found this post via Google, Ask.com, etc. I hope you appreciate the true story of Thanksgiving and the important lesson it teaches us. I’ve provided plenty of links if you want to follow up further. Please check out my new Thanksgiving post, which features Debi Ghates’ wonderful explanation of what you should be thankful for and who you should thank.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2008): Welcome again, “real Thanksgiving story” searchers. After you read this post and last year’s, check out this year’s funny/sad Thanksgiving story! It’s about kindergarten kids celebrating Thanksgiving. And it features cops and accusations of genocide.

UPDATE (Thanksgiving, 2009): This year, with lots of help from Jim Woods, I again thanked the producers. And remembered the anniversary of the Jihadist attacks on Mumbai. Please check it out.   

First Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving! May you enjoy lots of food, lots of football, and lots of fun with family and friends on this day. But before you push away from the PC and belly up to the banquet table, please take a few minutes to read this story about the Pilgrims — it’s probably not the one you’ve heard.

Two competing Thanksgiving stories are commonly told these days. The first is the traditional one I was taught as a child: The Pilgrims suffered through a terrible first winter at Plymouth, but with hard work and the help of the friendly Massasoit Indians, they had a bountiful harvest in 1621 and held a thanksgiving celebration with their Indian friends. Happy celebrations of sharing and giving thanks for God’s bounty came to be repeated every year and throughout the colonies.

The second version, apparently widely taught for the past 30 years or so, differs a bit. In it, the wisdom, kindness, and generosity of the Indigenous Peoples is the only reason that any of the stupid white Europeans survived and had food with which to celebrate. The Pilgrims soon repaid their benefactors by slaughtering them. Barbarous treatment of gentle natives and gleeful celebrations of their genocide came to be repeated frequently and throughout the colonies.

Both versions are false, of course. The real story is available straight from the horse’s mouth. Colony Governor William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation provides a complete history. You can download the entire book (8 MB PDF) from Dr. Ted Hildebrand’s Gordon College website. The Mises Institute’s Gary Galles used quotes from Bradford to put together a good summary. The first two Thanksgivings were rather grim, and for two and a half years, the colony endured not only hardship and hunger, but also conflict and strife:

The Pilgrims’ unhappiness was caused by their system of common property (not adopted, as often asserted, from their religious convictions, but required against their will by the colony’s sponsors). The fruits of each person’s efforts went to the community, and each received a share from the common wealth. This caused severe strains among the members, as Colony Governor William Bradford recorded:

” . . . the young men . . . did repine that they should spend their time and strength to work for other men’s wives and children without any recompense. The strong . . . had not more in division . . . than he that was weak and not able to do a quarter the other could; this was thought injustice. The aged and graver men to be ranked and equalized in labors and victuals, clothes, etc . . . thought it some indignity and disrespect unto them. And the men’s wives to be commanded to do service for other men, as dressing their meat, washing their clothes, etc., they deemed it a kind of slavery, neither could many husbands well brook it.”

Bradford summarized the effects of their common property system:

“For this community of property (so far as it went) was found to breed much confusion and discontentment and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort . . . all being to have alike, and all to do alike . . . if it did not cut off those relations that God hath set amongst men, yet it did at least much diminish and take off the mutual respects that should be preserved amongst them.”

How did the Pilgrims move from this dysfunctional system to the situation we try to emulate in our family gatherings? In the spring of 1623, they decided to let people produce for their own benefit:

“All their victuals were spent . . . no supply was heard of, neither knew they when they might expect any. So they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery. At length . . . the Governor (with the advice of the chiefest among them) gave way that they should set corn every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to themselves. . . . And so assigned to every family a parcel of land . . . “

The results were dramatic:

“This had very good success, for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been by any means the Governor or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better content. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little ones with them to set corn, which before would allege weakness and inability, whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyranny and oppression.”

That was quite a change from their previous situation, where severe whippings had been resorted to as an inducement to more labor effort, with little success other than in creating discontent.

The Mises Institute also has a Richard Maybury version of the story that’s worth reading. Maybury quoted Bradford acknowledging another terrible consequence of the communal system — it encouraged dishonesty as well as indolence:

In his ‘History of Plymouth Plantation,’ the governor of the colony, William Bradford, reported that the colonists went hungry for years, because they refused to work in the fields. They preferred instead to steal food. He says the colony was riddled with “corruption,” and with “confusion and discontent.” The crops were small because “much was stolen both by night and day, before it became scarce eatable.”

The Hoover Institution has a much longer account (with more of an economic historian’s perspective) by Tom Bethell, with details of how “the communal experiment” came to be and how it worked (or didn’t). And the Independent Institute’s Ben Powell wrote a good short article that nicely summarized the lesson of Plymouth Plantation:

We are direct beneficiaries of the economics lesson the pilgrims learned in 1623. Today we have a much better developed and well-defined set of property rights. Our economic system offers incentives for us—in the form of prices and profits—to coordinate our individual behavior for the mutual benefit of all; even those we may not personally know.

It is customary in many families to “give thanks to the hands that prepared this feast” during the Thanksgiving dinner blessing. Perhaps we should also be thankful for the millions of other hands that helped get the dinner to the table: the grocer who sold us the turkey, the truck driver who delivered it to the store, and the farmer who raised it all contributed to our Thanksgiving dinner because our economic system rewards them. That’s the real lesson of Thanksgiving. The economic incentives provided by private competitive markets where people are left free to make their own choices make bountiful feasts possible.

And for that, I’m extremely thankful. Now, when’s that turkey going to be ready?

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Good election news

Posted by Richard on November 8, 2006

As regular reades no doubt could guess, I’m not exactly cheerful about spending the next two years hearing about Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Ways and Means Chair Charles Rangel, and Judiciary Chair John Conyers. And I’m disappointed by the departure of Rumsfeld. Nevertheless, I’m basically a "glass half-full" sort of guy, and I think there’s some good news related to yesterday’s elections.

One big bright spot: the property rights protection movement racked up an impressive string of victories. Ten of twelve ballot measures passed, and eight of them are constitutional amendments (one victory, Louisiana, was in September). Only California and Idaho defeated citizen initiatives dealing with eminent domain. They were thrilled yesterday at the Institute for Justice:

“Election Day usually reveals how polarized public opinion can be as campaigns focus on highly divisive issues.  Today, however, the vast majority of voters across the country all agreed that the fundamental right to property must be protected,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice, which represented the homeowners in Kelo before the Supreme Court.  “Citizens around the nation agree that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo was wrong.  As we’re seeing tonight’s results, this issue cuts across party lines, state borders and socioeconomic levels.”

“The American people are furious their property rights are up for grabs to the highest bidder,” said senior attorney Scott Bullock, who argued the Kelo case for the Institute.  “They understand that the U.S. Supreme Court declared open season on everyone’s property and the resulting momentum for eminent domain reform shows no sign of slowing.  The significant margins in the votes today show just how wrong a narrow majority of the Supreme Court was.”

The margins were truly significant, typically three or four to one.

Here’s another bit of good news: Dennis Hastert won’t run for minority leader. I’ve made clear my low opinion of Hastert. I think he bears much of the blame for the Republican losses. Hastert helped create the "culture of corruption" by dismantling the 1994 ethics and accountability reforms. His lack of principles, inarticulateness, and focus on wielding the levers of power helped create the widespread distrust of the Republican Party.

If the Republicans really have been chastened and want to mend their ways, in January they’ll follow Human Events’ advice and elect Mike Pence minority leader. Furthermore, they should correct a mistake they made when DeLay departed and pick John Shadegg over Roy Blunt for the number two post, minority whip.

More good news came via Josh Poulson, who argued that the GOP lost because it "abandoned its libertarian wing," and cited a couple of interesting related items. One is this post at Economist.com about the growing clout of Libertarians:

GLUM Republicans might turn their attention to the Libertarian Party to vent their anger. Libertarians are a generally Republican-leaning constituency, but over the last few years, their discontent has grown plain. It isn’t just the war, which some libertarians supported, but the corruption and insider dealing, and particularly the massive expansion of spending. Mr Bush’s much-vaunted prescription drug benefit for seniors, they fume, has opened up another gaping hole in America’s fiscal situation, while the only issue that really seemed to energise congress was passing special laws to keep a brain-damaged woman on life support.

In two of the seats where control looks likely to switch, Missouri and Montana, the Libertarian party pulled more votes than the Democratic margin of victory. Considerably more, in Montana. If the Libertarian party hadn’t been on the ballot, and the three percent of voters who pulled the "Libertarian" lever had broken only moderately Republican, Mr Burns would now be in office.

The other item is Sen. Tom Coburn’s statement on the elections:

“The overriding theme of this election, however, is that voters are more interested in changing the culture in Washington than changing course in Washington, D.C. This election was not a rejection of conservative principles per se, but a rejection of corrupt, complacent and incompetent government.

“A recent CNN poll found that 54 percent of Americans believe government is doing too much while only 37 percent want government to do more. The results of this election reflect that … the Democrats who won or who ran competitive races sounded more like Ronald Reagan than Lyndon Johnson.

“This election does not show that voters have abandoned their belief in limited government; it shows that the Republican Party has abandoned them. In fact, these results represent the total failure of big government Republicanism.

“The Republican Party now has an opportunity to rediscover its identity as a party for limited government, free enterprise and individual responsibility. Most Americans still believe in these ideals, which reflect not merely the spirit of 1994 or the Reagan Revolution, but the vision of our founders. If Republicans present real ideas and solutions based on these principles we will do well in the future.

Read the whole thing. If you’re a discouraged limited-government type, libertarian or conservative, you’ll feel better — and you’ll be glad there are people like Tom Coburn in politics.
 

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