Libertarian Activists Need to Work Harder and Smarter

There are two pop culture items I would like to point you to: The Founder and Hamilton. Both have a significant lesson in them. If you are unfamiliar with these pieces, The Founder is the story of Ray Kroc, the man who franchised the McDonalds business empire. Hamilton is a Broadway musical about the trials and hardships of Alexander Hamilton in his attempts to attain a legacy for himself in creating a robust financial system in the United States.

Being libertarians, I am sure most of you have positive feelings about The Founder and negative feelings about Hamilton, however if you are looking for a political message in these pieces, I think you are missing the point. They tell the exact same story. They are both stories of a person who busted their ass to reach their goals. It is the entire theme of both stories.

In Hamilton, they describe Alexander as the “$10 dollar founding father without a father who got a lot farther by working a lot harder; by being a lot smarter; by being a self-starter.” Throughout the play he is incredibly ambitious with his famous line being “there are a million things I haven’t done.” There is even a whole song called “Non-Stop”, which is all about Alexander Hamilton’s work ethic. He never stopped writing. He never stopped advocating. The man was non-stop.

In The Founder, Ray Kroc spends 50% of the movie fighting the McDonalds brothers who drag their feet time and time again. He separates from his friends whom he describes as the “idle rich”, and decides to make better friends with immigrants, door-to-door salesmen, and entrepreneurs. He fills his company with people who know how to hustle and know that the hustle never ends. At the end of the movie he gives one of my new favorite movie speeches:

“Now, I know what you are thinking: how the heck does a 52 year-old, over the hill, milkshake machine salesmen build a fast food empire with 1600 restaurants in 50 states, 5 foreign countries, with an annual revenue within the neighborhood of about 700 million dollars? One word: persistence. Nothing in this world can take the place of good ole persistence. Talent won’t. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius won’t. Unrecognized genius is practically a cliché. Education won’t. The world is full of educated fools. Persistence and determination alone are all powerful.”

Video found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ocXP1pLeqLM

These are powerful words, and they cannot be understated. Nothing replaces hard work. We constantly in our society use the terms “work smarter, not harder.” What a crime! This is bullshit, and is robbing millennials of greatness. The first half is absolutely correct. The second is the destruction of virtue and achievement.  The phrase should be “work smarter, work harder”.

And the unfortunate truth is libertarians are neither working smarter or harder. We certainly don’t work smarter! We fight unnecessary battles. We die on hills we will never win. We make bed fellows with despicable monsters. This is us not working smarter.

We certainly don’t work harder. I have spent the past two weeks going school to school in the Northeast recruiting students to join the fight for a free and prosperous future. As I walk these campuses, I see the schools plastered with fliers from the College Democrats and socialist clubs. At NYU, I saw 3 different socialist clubs at their club fair. The socialists are preaching on the greens of their campus, working to have dozens of events every month, and forming coalitions. On some of the campuses I visit there are libertarian clubs and on some there aren’t. Either way they are invisible.

I see groups across the nation run two group meetings a semester. TWO!? I see some never meeting at all. I see groups that think putting up 5 fliers is exposure on campus. I see activists that invite 10 people to a Facebook event and think they have created good traction. Many are guilty.

Libertarians constantly make fun of socialists because they think they are holding positions of non-work and laziness. Well guess what? They are working harder than us! They are working smarter than us! And it is so damn obvious. The American revolutionaries gave their lives, all their comforts, and their safety to attain liberty and independence. We can hardly dedicate 3 hours on a Thursday.

In order to be an activist, you have to be active. Our mission is one of incredible difficulty and persistence. We will fail over and over again, and we won’t stop until we attain every last success. We will be tired. Our feet and backs will hurt and ache. Our brains will be fried. But, whether we succeed or fail, we will know that we gave our everything to fight for human prosperity. We will be able to hold our heads high.

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(Classical) Liberals, the Agnostics of Politics

Religion and politics, for many reasons, have been tied together, whether formally or informally. It is most likely because they are both so much like each other in the abstract. Both are systems of authority. In religion there are priests and pastors, in politics there are politicians. In religion there are churches, synagogues, and mosques, in politics there are voting booths and town halls. In religion there are protestants, Catholics, and Muslims, in politics there are Democrats and Republicans. Both are involved with deeply held beliefs about the world around them. Both are uncomfortable to talk about at the Thanksgiving table. Both are uniting and divisive at the same time. Both have their mottos and talking points. For religion, you can hear a Catholic repeat the words “Christ is always with you” to multiple people on a missionary trip. In politics, you can hear a progressive repeat the words “no victim, no crime” during a signature outing. The list goes on and on.

However I would like to make the case that in this comparison, classical liberals are the agnostics of politics. They preach a philosophy of complexity and uncertainty in the world. The only certainty the classical liberal has (which is more than vague) is that people have goals and people aim to hit those goals. The goals could be literally anything, short-term or long-term. The goal could be a successful career, getting laid during a night out, or visiting grandma every Sunday. Furthermore, it is probable that everyone has multiple goals and these goals compete with each other with different levels of preference. That is the driving force behind classical liberalism. We also make an assumption that people don’t want to be acted violently against (as in don’t want to get murdered, stole from, raped, or hurt), but everyone seems to make this assumption to varying degrees, which makes it more of a background assumption. These two assumptions pretty much make up the philosophy of classical liberalism and libertarianism. It is a basic philosophy within a complex system. Just like the agnostic position within the scope of theology.

To make this clear, the religious agnostic position is that humans are either too limited, god is too complex, or there is too much to know in the universe to possibly make a knowledge statement on the existence of god or his participation within the universe.

In the context of liberalism and politics, classical liberals assert that humans are too limited, human communities are too complex, or there is too much to know within an economy to make a knowledge statement on what is best for everyone or how to direct an economy. It is principally agnostic. However, socialists and conservatives are the gnostics of politics. They purport themselves to have the secret knowledge to what makes humanity tick. Conservatives have the secret knowledge that it would be best for society to limit gay marriage or keep cannabis illegal. Democrats have the secret knowledge that it would be best for the economy if minimum wage were raised to $15. Socialists and authoritarians have the most secret knowledge that they can run every facet of the economy via central planning, which is probably the most hideous gnosticism of the them all. It is hideous and arrogant because it asserts that they basically know the underlying motivation behind every human action and thus how to guide it. This gnosticism of central planning has created some of the most unsavory human conditions in the Soviet Union, Venezuela, and Cuba.

Socialists claim to know the will of god within politics, liberals advocate based on their own uncertainties.

Could Ending Welfare Programs be bad for the Free Market?

Looking at the strategy of conservatives and libertarians in the United States, one can plainly see welfare activism is a strong focus. But is this the most important topic to promote the free market? We promote the ideas of the free market in order to bring about human flourishing and prosperity, but are welfare programs the main obstacle holding us back from our full potential in trade? I think not. Actually, I think that focusing on this, instead of other facets of the economy, is quite dangerous.

People generally join welfare programs for one of two reasons: 1) they need it to put food on the table. That is to say that they truly need it to survive either because of some disability, some unfortunate circumstance, or what have you. And 2) they see a profit of some kind. This is to say that they see they can make some kind of cash value with doing minimal work or less work then they would need to do otherwise to make that cash. Both are noble causes. In the market we are all trying to both survive and profit. It is what motivates us to fulfill our own wants and needs.

However, those that are for the free market generally demonize those that use these programs. This is a flaw in strategy and in principle. Most of those that promote the ideas of liberalism and the market say that we are all self-interested and we all take actions to advance ourselves and meet our goals. Why is this any different from those that use welfare programs? They are doing exactly what we say is natural. They are either seeking survival or profit or both.

Generally, the response to this is that people who use welfare are not mutually benefiting those around them. Mutual benefit is a natural consequence of market action, but it is not the goal of the actors in a market. When an entrepreneur sells his product or service, they are not intending to benefit those around them from their service, but they do regardless. This follows the logic of the popular Adam Smith quote about the baker not selling his labor and products for the good of his customers, but instead for his own self interest. The mutual benefit between the baker and his customers is simply happy coincidence that should be expected from voluntary action.

The same motivation is behind the actions of those that enroll in welfare programs. The only difference is that mutual benefit (a positive sum gain) doesn’t result from the transaction. The transaction is neutral sum. Value is taken from one and given to another in similar amounts. Someone benefits the exact same amount that someone is negated. However, this is not because of the actions of those that are enrolled. They are doing vaguely the same thing as the baker in the Adam Smith quote. They are taking a tally on the environment or setting they are in and choosing an option that is open to them that gives them the best profit (or the perceived best profit). Therefore the issue doesn’t lie in the receiver, but the taker and giver. The taker and giver in this scenario is obviously the government agency that facilitates the program.

Demonizing the welfare recipient ignores key principles of the liberal philosophy (particularly that people are self-interested) and is clearly bad strategy. The free market is what could help these recipients the most. Yet they are ostracized from the ideas by bombastic and fiery conservatives and libertarians that accuse them of laziness, idleness, or what have you. They aren’t lazy. They are self-interested.

However, there is one more key flaw to fighting welfare programs as a free market supporter. Though, it rests in a strategic hypothetical. What if the market cannot bear the introduction of unemployed or partially employed welfare recipients? What if there are not enough jobs in a particular area? What if the market doesn’t meet demand? People would suffer immensely. In a world with no welfare programs, these people could potentially starve if there isn’t a charity willing to give them support. This should be unacceptable to all people promoting the ideas of freedom and liberty. Not only think of the direct human suffering, but imagine how quickly people will demonize the ideas of the free market if just one person that used to be on welfare starved. The proponents of socialism and immense state control would flourish and our hope of liberty will be lost. We would have won, temporarily, the fight against the welfare state only to lose in the long run not only the welfare fight, but most likely every other fight for more freedom.

This is not to say that libertarians and conservatives should end the fight against the welfare state. It is an abomination and one that creates networks of dependency to the state. This is to say that this fight should be put on a backburner of sorts and we should focus on creating a market environment that would be guaranteed to support these people when welfare is removed.

This means fighting the regulatory state. The regulatory state suffocates our markets to a degree that forces otherwise productive people to be enrolled into welfare programs. I think of licensing laws that force people that want to do something as simple as braiding hair to get a permit. I imagine there are a handful of people that would love (or at least could) braid hair for money, but cannot due to a long, laborious permitting process. I think of licensing laws for florists, coffin makers, and hair dressers. I understand that we all want beautiful bouquets and great haircuts, but to create huge permitting processes for these professions is ludicrous. It isolates people from our markets and forces people into welfare programs.

While I see libertarians, in part, focus on the regulatory state, not so much can be said about conservatives who believe in the free market. The Republican Party’s main focus for years has been cutting welfare. There is hardly a word to be said about regulation, at least on the national stage. Perhaps they have their own strategy that I am not seeing. While libertarians have, in part, had some focus on regulation, they are not perfect in this either. As it goes, libertarians will generally parrot that of their conservative free market allies, even if only to form a coalition.

To me, this is not an arm chair discussion either. This is not simply a whimsical conversation about how I want libertarians or conservatives to act. I truly believe this distinction is the difference between fulfilling a more free society, and the possible end of liberalism in the United States. If free market advocates win the fight against welfare, the long-term results could be devastating for the free market. If free market advocates lose the fight against welfare, they will have only wasted their time as the government continues to grow. If free market supporters shift the fight to regulation instead of welfare, we could have the potential to win both fights.

The Importance of Energy

Energy is vital to the prosperity of communities and society as a whole. There were 253 million registered passenger cars and trucks on the roads in the United States in 2014. In 2016, there were estimated to be over 207 million smartphone users in the United States, which is estimated to above 257 million by the year 2020. In 2009, there were over 100 million air conditioners in US homes. All these commodities take energy, and in the case of air conditioners and cars, a significant amount of energy. In 2013 the United States consumed 12,988 kWh per person. According to the US Census, in 2013 there were about 317,200,000 people living in the United States. This means the United States consumed about 4,119,793,600 MWh of electricity in 2013 alone.

With these numbers in mind, it would not be a stretch to say that the United States’ standard of living rests heavily on its access to energy. Dr. Charles Hall, a researcher in systems ecology and biophysical economics, goes as far as saying that the “American Dream” was created due to the United States’ access to energy, most notably pointing to the use of the spindletop, an oil drilling tool, in 1901 as one of the most important economic events in the United States.

When it comes down to it, our access to energy is inseparably tied to our energy policy. This highlights the importance of sound energy policy in the United States, as well as the state of Colorado. In order to sustain a high standard of living, energy policy must be conducive to greater and greater access to energy.

What is the Environment Worth?

This is a difficult question that doesn’t have an answer that we could possibly calculate. There are a lot of variables to consider. First off, we would need to define what the “environment” is and what it means to destroy an environment. However, I do not find this question worth delving into in huge depth here so we will define the “environment” with a simple connotative definition of the natural sphere. So in some kind of way, national parks, undeveloped land, and communities of non-human species are all how I define the environment in this context. Also, to destroy the environment means to alter it in any kind of way that would have not been able to have been done without human influence. So constructing a building or any kind of development would be considered destroying the environment. These are not set definitions, and what the “environment” is and isn’t and how you protect it is up for a lot of interpretations. However, in this case I am going with this simple definition of the environment.

Now that we have a definition for what the environment is, we can think about its value with better boundaries. We must keep in mind, though, that there is no blanket value to the environment. A natural desert area is part of the environment, but it is not as valuable as say a natural hot spring to us or to a larger diversity of species. So if we were to say the entire environment conglomerated together was worth 100 trillion dollars (just a made up value), it wouldn’t be right to apply this value equally among square feet. So if there were 10 trillion square feet of natural space conglomerated, you couldn’t simply say that each square foot was worth $10, as some pieces of land would probably be more valuable than others. Like said before a natural hot spring or aquifer is probably more valuable than a piece of desert land.

However, this implies that the environment has a finite value, though to many people I talk with it doesn’t seem they believe this. It seems like many people think the environment has an infinite value. Meaning that all human development is wrong, and that we should always favor environmental protection over development. No matter what, you should not drill oil and any oil drilling is inherently evil.

I hope that the people that hold these beliefs are not reading my blog… or any blogs for that matter. If they were, they would be committing a huge atrocity in their own world view (not mine). They would essentially be sacrificing something of infinite value for something of finite value. They would essentially be making everyone on this Earth immeasurably worse off, as they would be using energy of a finite and calculable value to read my blog. I unfortunately have to admit that my blog is probably incredibly low on the value scale and is most likely not even in the top 75% of most valuable things (if you could even measure what the MOST valuable things are). However, you the reader right now are forfeiting something of unquantifiable value for something that is relatively low value. How dare you!?

How dare you own anything or even develop a smidgeon if you think the environment is of infinite value? There is nothing else on Earth that has infinite value, not even a human life. You might look at that and be shocked, but my reasoning is simple. Imagine that a human life has infinite value and is in danger of some kind. The only way to save this life, for some weird and bizarre reason, is to kill of every bear, fox, and wolf in the world. Is it worth it? Is killing off every bear, fox, and wolf worth saving a single human life. If a human life has infinite value, the answer here is absolutely yes, as a bear, a wolf, or a fox does not have infinite value.

To relate this example back to the environment. If the environment has infinite value and is in danger because of humans, would it be worth it to kill off every human in order to protect this thing of infinite value?

I think it is clear to see here that the environment, just like everything else that has ever existed, does not have infinite value. That means it must have some kind of countable value. However just like the value of a human life, it would be difficult to ever know what this value actually is. We know the value exists, but we cannot put an exact number on it.

Though, I think it would be easier to learn the value of something in the smaller scale. I think you would be able to get a rough estimate of the utility and value of a marshland on a community through certain practices. Even this is impossible though if there is no kind of market price that can be set for these natural spaces.

I will expand on this idea in future blogs, but this is your food for thought. How could you determine the value of a natural space? And how could you determine if development is worth the degradation of an environment?

Middle Earth Time: Comparing the Age of the Earth to the Lord of the Rings Movies

What if we were to compare Earth’s historical time to Middle Earth’s movie runtime? If we were to compare these two and put them side by side, at what point in the movie would you be during the KPG extinction (the event that killed off most of the dinosaurs)? Think of this like Carl Sagan’s cosmic calendar. Except instead of a calendar, it is all the Lord of the Rings movies, and instead of the history of the whole universe, it is just the history of the Earth.

So to start out, we need to know how long both are in order to create a conversion rate. The Earth has been around for 4.6 billion years (4,600,000,000 years). If we were to put all the movies together and cut out all the end credits, the movies run for 10 hours, 26 minutes, and 59 seconds. In seconds, it runs for 37,619 seconds.

(Note: I am using the theatrical version for Fellowship, but extended versions for Two Towers and Return of the King because it is all I could find)

With these numbers, for every second that passes in the movies, 122,278.6355 years pass in Earth time. For every year that passes on Earth time, 8.178043×10-6 seconds pass in the movies. Another way to write this is 0.000008178043 seconds pass.

(The links will take you to Youtube clips of the specific scene I am talking about)

As the Earth has finished forming, our movie begins. The screen is black and about to show the New Line Cinema logo. For several hundred million years the Earth is being bombarded by a shower of meteors. In movie time, the meteor bombardment lasts for about 1 hour and 20 minutes.

As the bombardment stops, Elrond is in a private meeting at his home with Gandalf, and says “men? Men are weak.” Time continues on Earth until we get to the formation of the oldest sedimentary rocks we have ever found (3.9 billion years old). At this time in the movie, Bilbo is grabbing Frodo’s hand as he is saddened that the Ring has tempted him again (1 hour and 35 minutes into Fellowship of the Ring). This is right after Bilbo makes the scary face at Frodo.

Fast forward in Earth time to the first eukaryotic cells, and in the movies we are already at the Battle of Helm’s Deep in the Two Towers. The orcs are firing a ballista at the wall (this is shortly after Gimli asks Aragorn to toss him during the battle).

Fast forward even more to the first mammals and dinosaurs on earth, and we are already well over 3 and a half hours of Return of the King! Frodo and Sam are already inside of Mount Doom, and Golem is attacking Frodo as he is invisible and is about to bite his finger off.

By the time of the KPG extinction (when most of the dinosaurs go extinct), the Ring is already destroyed, the hobbits have already gone home, and Frodo is finishing Bilbo’s book with the words “Bilbo’s story is now over. There would be no more journeys for him.”

The first hominids (our earliest ancestors) come in on the scene of Earth time, but Sam is just closing his gate with his family behind him. There is only seconds left in the film. As “The End” enters the screen in movie time, homo sapiens make their first appearance, the earliest know cave art is found, Julius Caesar was killed, China built the Great Wall, World War 2 was fought, and everyone you and I have ever know were born. The screen fades to complete black, and we are now back at current Earth Time.

Here is a graph of all the time stamps and a direct comparison between Earth time and the movie times:

lotr-time-graph

What if we got rid of fossil fuels immediately?

Just as a hypothetical, what if we decided to pack up all oil, gas, and coal developments and go home? What if we decided that we have had enough of fossil fuel pollution, and decided to outlaw the practice of drilling and mining fossil fuels, as well as selling it. I don’t mean a slow transition, but an immediate shift. The purpose of this is to put into perspective what our energy needs and energy market looks like today.

Let’s start with how much energy is consumed and where it comes from. Below is a table created by the U.S. Energy Information Administration showing by energy source how much is being consumed. The units are represented in quadrillion British Thermal Units (BTU).

primary-energy-consumption

In case you didn’t know, a BTU is a lot like a calorie, in that is how much energy is needed to raise a specific amount of water a specific temperature. In the case of BTUs, one BTU is the amount of energy needed to raise one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit. The average household uses about 263.5 million BTUs a year. Compare this number to the amount of BTUs consumed by the United States in a year (specifically 2015), which is 97.344 quadrillion BTUs. To show you the scope of these numbers, I want to write them out fully for you.

The average household consumes 263,500,000 BTUs a year.

The United States in 2015 consumed 97,344,000,000,000,000 BTUs.

This is clearly massive, but how much of it is from fossil fuels? According to the EIA, 79.330 quadrillion BTUs of energy consumed in the United States comes from fossil fuels (coal, natural gas, and petroleum). This means about 81.5% of our energy consumption in the United States comes from fossil fuels! About 8.6% comes from nuclear energy. 0.44% comes from solar power, and 1.8% comes from wind power. With all the renewables together (wind, solar, hydroelectric, geothermal, and biomass), the number is about 9.7% of our energy consumption.

These numbers should be enlightening. It means that today we are still reliant on fossil fuels, and based on the shear amount of energy we get from it, it will be difficult to shift. However, if it were to be an irresponsible and immediate shift, we could assume that we would be 81.5% the energy we demand! This would be gas lines like in the 1970s, and huge electricity shortages across the nations.

To us that live relatively comfortable lives, blackouts don’t sound like big deal. We have dealt with blackouts in snowstorms or ferocious lightning storms. But think of the hospitals need that power to save lives. Think of the 911 responders that now will be without communication. Think of the families that need to refrigerate life-saving medication. Think of all the food that will go bad. Think of the traffic lights in busy cities that will no longer work. Think of the people that live in dire cold environments that will struggle to keep themselves warm. Think of the people that live in dire hot and humid environments that would no longer be able to keep themselves cool. These are all life-threatening situations, and as of right now, oil, gas, and coal are the reliable and cheap energy sources that make it so these things do not happen.

If we were to hypothetically remove fossil fuels altogether, we would fix these problems eventually, right? We would probably be hard at work constructing nuclear reactors, hydroelectric dams, and digging for geothermal energy, but all these endeavors require a lot of energy to do! It takes a lot of energy to construct massive concrete towers for nuclear reactors. It takes a lot of energy to build massive concrete dams or even to get the materials to the rivers in the first place. All of this development for these alternative energy resources would require a lot of energy we wouldn’t have because we have removed fossil fuels entirely. How would we have enough energy to fix this problem in the time we needed it? People would undergo incredible suffering and death while waiting for this solution to come, if it ever could come in time.

To give you a concrete example of this, Southern Australia tried kicking out oil and gas recently. They decided to become reliant on wind energy, unfortunately for them wind is not an incredibly reliant form of energy. The wind doesn’t always blow. Because of this prices would spike up to $14,000 a megawatt hour in Southern Australia, and have averaged around $360 a megawatt hour! Compare this price to other areas in Australia that pay around $90 a megawatt hour. Supply in energy dropped in Southern Australia and prices skyrocketed. Since then, Southern Australia has begged natural gas plants to resume operation.

Getting rid of fossil fuels in one swoop would be terrifying! But so many young people today truly believe that we should immediately introduce legislation in states to get rid of oil and gas. Luckily, I don’t believe this is a widespread belief, but one that I have come across enough to feel like I should write this post. Every time I come across this idea, I can’t help but face palm harder and harder.

And to be clear, I am not saying we couldn’t ever live in a prosperous world without fossil fuels. I am simply saying that is not our world today, and it will not be our world for many days to come. We demand a huge amount of energy, and right now, our current renewable energy sources are not appearing to be the panacea we need.