Wednesday, December 4, 2013
American energy producers have rapidly expanded their output of oil and natural gas in recent years—thanks to the advancing technologies of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). For an indication of the difference these technologies make, consider some figures regarding the Eagle Ford Shale formation in Texas.
The energy company EOG Resources recently announced daily production rates of 4,510 barrels of oil, 715 barrels of natural gas liquids, and 4.2 million cubic feet of natural gas out of a single well. In 2007—prior to horizontal drilling and fracking at the location—Eagle Ford “total liquids production (crude oil and condensate) was less than 21 thousand barrels” for the year. In other words, EOG Resources now produces more energy in five days from one well than all the energy produced in the Eagle Ford in 2007.
That is the kind of difference these technologies make. More precisely, that is is the kind of difference the scientists, engineers, and businessmen who develop and apply these technologies make. Heroes one and all.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Voters Have No Right to Violate Right to Frack
Posted in: Science and Technology
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
A recent exchange about gun statistics illustrates the failure of libertarianism to base political freedom on an anything other than personal or cultural opinion.
In a recent blog post, Bryan Caplan, a libertarian anarchist and an economist at George Mason University (GMU), discusses a recent study linking gun ownership to suicide rates.
In that study, Justin Briggs and Alex Tabarrok (both of GMU) find:
Using a variety of techniques and data we estimate that a 1 percentage point increase in the household gun ownership rate leads to a .5 to .9% increase in suicides.
The researchers claim to have factored in the ability of people to substitute other methods of killing themselves. Whether they have adequately accounted for the fact that people serious about committing suicide (as opposed to making a “cry for help” or the like) tend to acquire guns for the purpose—as opposed to cutting themselves, taking pills, or doing other things less likely to result in death—I do not know.
As Caplan explains, a writer for Think Progress seized on the results to argue for more restrictive gun laws.
How, in light of this, does Caplan attempt to defend gun ownership? He pursues two lines of argument, one based on utilitarianism—the theory that the proper moral standard is “the greatest happiness for the greatest number”—the other on subjectivism—the idea that moral truths are matters or personal opinion or social convention.
Caplan’s utilitarian argument runs as follows:
[T]he Briggs-Tabarrok effect says that depriving 3,100,000 people of their guns (a 1 percentage-point decrease in the gun ownership rate) would save about 200-360 lives. . . . In ratio form, the Briggs-Tabarrok effect says that to prevent a single suicide, 8,600 to 15,500 people—the vast majority of whom are not suicidal—must lose their guns.
Is that a good deal? A standard $7M value of life [!] implies a critical value of gun ownership between $452 and $814 per person per year. If the marginal person’s value of gun ownership is less than that, gun deprivation passes the cost-benefit test.
Soak that in.
Caplan offers various data suggesting that American gun owners value their guns more than the dollar figures mentioned. But, sensing the deficiencies of the utilitarian case for gun ownership, Caplan turns to a second argument:
But is a pure cost-benefit approach to gun suicides even appropriate? Probably not. Everyone makes fun-but-risky choices—on diet, lifestyle, and sex for starters. The risks you take affect not only you, but the people who care about you. Many are far riskier than the Briggs-Tabarrok Effect. Yet almost [everyone] thinks it’s wrong to use cost-benefit analysis to veto these personal decisions. . . .
Here Caplan attempts to use moral subjectivism to bolster his utilitarian case. His idea is that to find out what is right we must find out what people subjectively want—even if they don’t yet know it. His argument is essentially that because most people oppose paternalistic government controls in most areas, so too, by implication, they should oppose such controls in this area as well. In other words, people’s desires are to set the standard of proper policy. His argument runs no deeper than that.
Leaving aside the fact that gun ownership is not merely about making a “fun-but-risky” choice (it is fundamentally about self defense and helping to maintain a free society) Caplan’s arguments utterly fail to make the case for gun ownership.
Why should an individual’s or a group’s desires be the standard for political policy? And on what basis does anyone value other people’s lives at $7 million or any other figure? Caplan offers no answers to such questions—and no objective answers are possible.
The approach Caplan takes here is common among libertarians, in that it fails to offer a philosophic grounding for political liberty. (For details, see Craig Biddle’s article, “Libertarianism vs. Radical Capitalism.”)
A person’s rights—to act on his own judgment, to own a gun or other property, to speak his mind, etc.—depend on and arise from a philosophic foundation of reason and egoism: To live, man must use reason to pursue life-promoting values—and he can do so only to the extent that he is free to do so.
Caplan seeks to make the case for liberty while avoiding such fundamentals—which is why, as interesting as some of his discussion is, his case ultimately fails. To effectively advocate liberty, activists must embrace and clearly articulate the philosophic basis of liberty. Let’s encourage each other to do so.
Posted in: Libertarianism
Monday, December 2, 2013
Voters in several Colorado communities recently elected to ban or severely restrict hydraulic fracturing (fracking)—a process by which energy producers have vastly expanded production of natural gas and oil—in their areas. (Of course, these voters continue to power their homes and automobiles using energy produced by fracking.) An editorial in the Colorado Springs Gazette explains why voters were wrong to do so.
“In the United States, voters have limited authority by design,” the Gazette explains:
Theories and concerns about potential dangers do not authorize majorities to violate fundamental protections of civil rights. . . . . Just as this country was founded to protect [rights to freedom of] religion and speech, it was founded to protect reasonable use of private property. The Fifth Amendment makes this clear. It prohibits governments and voters from depriving any individual of “property, without due process of law.” It says private property may not be taken for public use “without just compensation.”
Energy producers have a moral and constitutional right to operate on lands they own and contract to use for the purpose. Voters are wrong to violate that right.
Hopefully Colorado courts will overturn the popular vote in this case. In any case, kudos to the Gazette for making a principled argument in defense of frackers’ rights.
- Energy at the Speed of Thought: The Original Alternative Energy Market
- Coloradans Should Kill Fracking Ban for Right Reason
Creative Commons Image: Maarten Heerlien
Posted in: Property Rights
Sunday, December 1, 2013
SkyView Academy, a government-funded charter school in Colorado, recently cut ties with a religious charity after the American Humanist Association threatened to sue over the charity’s involvement, as the Denver Post reports. As part of a community service project, students helped the Samaritan’s Purse organization send “shoeboxes filled with hygiene items, candy and gifts—and a Gospel message—to children around the world.”
Although various parents and Christian organizations expressed outrage over the school dropping the charity, a government-funded school cannot properly spend tax dollars to evangelize religion. And the thorny debates over such matters illustrate the inherent conflicts that arise when government finances education.
The problems with tax-funded charter schools are similar to those with tax-funded vouchers, an issue that C. Bradley Thompson addresses in his new article for TOS:
Voucher programs assume that children have a “right” to a tax-funded education and thus that taxpayers must be forced to support government schools and/or pay for vouchers. But if real rights are to be protected and if education is to be freed from government force, the premise that children have a “right” to a tax-funded education must be rejected, not embraced.
Further, vouchers undermine and corrupt private education by gradually turning private schools into government-controlled schools. When government provides students with vouchers, government obviously has a say in where and how that money is to be used.
Should a school participate with a particular charity? Properly that is a matter to be determined by the owners of the school, who, in order to stay in business, must satisfy their customers—the parents whose children attend the school—and attract and keep talented teachers. When government finances the school, in effect everyone owns it—and no one owns it. So the schools are in fact controlled by the government, as Thompson explains, and are therefore subject to the perpetual political debates that accompany all such government projects.
As Thompson establishes, the proper solution to such problems—and to many more stemming from government-controlled education—is to separate schools from the state, to establish a government that protects rather than violates individual rights in the area of education, and to free educators and entrepreneurs to operate in a voluntary market.
- Education in a Free Society
- Egalitarian Call to Abolish Private Schools is Morally Obscene and Economically Absurd
Posted in: Education Policy
Sunday, December 1, 2013
Thanksgiving has come and gone, but controversy over the holiday rages on.
Traditionally, on the day after Thanksgiving, so-called Black Friday, many Americans go shopping. Last year, some 140 million Americans spent more than $11 billion on this highly commercial day. Anti-commercial mentalities have long howled about this concentration of commerce, but now they have even more to howl about.
In the last few years, many retailers have opted to open their stores on Thanksgiving evening and to remain open all night and through Black Friday. In other words, commerce has seeped into the producers’ holiday.
Infuriated by this trend, anti-commerce groups and some employee unions are calling for the government to force retailers to remain closed on Thanksgiving. For stores to open on the holiday, they say, violates the rights of employees who are called to work.
This is absurd.
Employers and employees deal with one another entirely voluntarily; they trade via mutual consent to mutual advantage; and no one’s rights are violated by means of voluntary trade.
Employers pay employees to work—and they often pay a premium to those who work on holidays. Employees choose to work for the pay offered and under the conditions negotiated or contractually agreed to—and they often appreciate opportunities to earn extra money. Employers set a variety of standards for employees—from business hours to dress codes to productivity goals—and those who dislike such terms are free to seek employment elsewhere. No one is forced to work on a holiday or any other day.
Rights can be violated only by means of force (including fraud, extortion, or the like). Where there is no force, there is no rights violation.
It may be debatable whether being open on Thanksgiving makes good business sense for a given business. But it is not rationally debatable whether employers, employees, and consumers have a moral right to engage in commerce on a holiday.
- Capitalism and the Moral High Ground
- Call It Exuberant Friday, Not “Black Friday”
- Walmart Isn’t Forcing Anyone To Work on Thanksgiving
Posted in: Regulations
Thursday, November 28, 2013
In this episode of Reason at Large, Craig Biddle answers a question from Kyle: “What is the moral status of homosexuality? Is it moral, immoral or neutral? And why are some people gay? Is sexual orientation inborn or a choice or what?”
In answering, Biddle explains that sexual orientation per se is neither moral nor immoral and that the relevant issue is whether, given a person’s orientation, he approaches sex in a rational, self-interested, rights-respecting manner. Biddle then discusses the purpose and importance of sex in human life, points out that hostility to homosexuality stems primarily from religion and should be ignored, touches on possible causes of homosexuality and explains that this as irrelevant to its moral status, and encourages homosexuals and everyone else to embrace their sexual orientation and to engage in sex rationally and joyously.
Tuesday, November 26, 2013
In response to the recently “celebrated” America Recycles Day, the Property and Environment Research Center promoted its 2010 publication, “Recycling Myths Revisited.” The report’s author, Daniel K. Benjamin, does a good job of reporting the history of trash collection and busting a variety of myths about recycling—such as that it always saves resources and improves the “environment.”
But recycling is not merely impractical in many cases, as Benjamin demonstrates, it is often immoral. Specifically, recycling is immoral whenever it involves a personal sacrifice—that is, whenever the time and resources spent recycling exceed the benefits.
Obviously in many contexts recycling can generate a net gain, and so it is not sacrificial. For example, my wife and I recycle (i.e., reuse) plastic grocery bags as trash bags and disposable totes. Some people recycle professionally by hauling junked but valuable metals to recycling centers, where they are reused at less cost than producing new metals would entail. In such cases, recycling is a beneficial and perfectly moral activity.
But whenever the costs of recycling exceed the gains—including reasonable compensation for one’s time—the moral thing to do is to throw the object in the trash and get on with living.
Every person’s most valuable resource is his own time—and it is a severely limited resource. Your life is composed of the moments you spend living. If you value your life, then wasting a portion of it to recycle worthless garbage is immoral—and it should be recognized as such.*
* The final sentence of this post initially contained an overstatement and has been corrected.
Posted in: Environmentalism
Monday, November 25, 2013
Carri and Larry Williams recently were sentenced for assaulting their deaf adopted son and killing their adopted daughter, Hana, while obeying their religion’s dictates on child discipline. The Williams followed the commands regarding corporal punishment found in the Bible (e.g., Proverbs 13:24, 22:15) and advocated in Michael and Debi Pearl’s “parenting” book To Train Up a Child.
Hana died of hypothermia hastened by malnutrition after her mother forced her to remain outside for hours in the rain while temperatures were in the forties. At the time of her death, Hanna was five feet tall and weighed seventy-eight pounds.
Hana was not the first child to die as a result of abuse motivated by the Bible and the writings of the Pearls. With horrific irony, seven-year-old Lydia Schatz’s adoptive parents beat her to death with a “quarter-inch plumbing supply line” over the course of several hours in obedience to scriptures such as Proverbs 23:13–14: “Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.”
Four-year-old Sean Paddock was also the victim of abusive religious parenting reportedly linked to the teachings of the Bible and the Pearls. Sean suffocated after his mother bound him rigidly in blankets to keep him in bed.
Although the Pearl’s book doesn’t advise parents to kill children, it does advise parents to beat and otherwise abuse children, and it does so by reference to supporting biblical scripture.
Just as beating, suffocating, starving, or freezing a child to death is evil and (nearly) universally recognized as such, so too beating a child with a “rod” or abusing him in any way is evil and should be recognized as such. Any book or worldview, religious or otherwise, that advocates or condones “disciplining” a child through abuse is morally obscene.
The parents of these dead children have been tried and convicted in courts of law. Authors and worldviews that call for child abuse—and followers who engage in or promote such abuse—should be held morally culpable in the court of public recognition.
- Religion Versus Morality
- Death by Prayer: Christian Fundamentalist Parents Denied Their Children Medicine and Watched Them Die
Posted in: Religion
Sunday, November 24, 2013
Shortly after the United States declared independence from Britain in 1776, British troops occupied New York City and, because of its pivotal location and resources, made it the center of their operations throughout the Revolutionary War. On November 25, 1783, the last remnant of British tyranny in the American colonies—its troops—were evacuated from New York and from the United States.
To celebrate this final victory, the British flag at Battery Park in Manhattan was to be replaced by the American flag, after which General George Washington was to proceed ceremoniously down Broadway. However, the departing troops had nailed the Union Jack flag atop a pole, which they had greased, hoping to foil efforts to remove their flag until long after they were gone. With assistance from others, Captain Van Arsdale spiked the pole, climbed it, tore down the offending flag, and replaced it with the Stars and Stripes. The crowd cheered as the British ships, still in sight of the flag, went packing.
Washington received a hero’s welcome on his triumphant return as he led his Continental Army down Broadway. In his book Life of George Washington, Washington Irving gave an eyewitness account of this event:
We had been accustomed for a long time to military display in all the finish and finery of garrison life; the troops just leaving us were as if equipped for show, and with their scarlet uniforms and burnished arms, made a brilliant display; the troops that marched in, on the contrary, were ill-clad and weather beaten, and made a forlorn appearance; but then they were our troops, and as I looked at them and thought upon all they had done and suffered for us, my heart and my eyes were full, and I admired and gloried in them the more, because they were weather beaten and forlorn.
Much of New York remained in disarray, mainly from periodic fires and British interference in trade during the occupation. The city rebounded beautifully and, a few years later, became the first capital of the new nation. In 1789, at Federal Hall, George Washington was sworn in as the country’s first president.
November 25, Evacuation Day, was a national holiday for eighty years, until the Civil War, when Abraham Lincoln introduced the Thanksgiving Day Proclamation, which called on Americans to observe the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving. Thereafter, Evacuation Day faded from public memory.
Fortunately, a great symbol of the event remains in Union Square Park: a statue of George Washington. The statue, designed by Henry Kirke Brown and financed by New York merchants, was unveiled in 1856, on the eightieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Although replaced as a national holiday by Thanksgiving, Evacuation Day should never be forgotten. It was the denouement of the U.S. victory in the war for independence, and it is a day about which to be grateful. Here’s to the men who caused it.
Posted in: History
Saturday, November 23, 2013
According to Sandra Lee Dixon, the new film The Hunger Games: Catching Fire celebrates violence rather than challenges it. But she entirely misses the point of the work and of the second of a trilogy of novels on which it is based.
Yes, the premise of the film is brutal and horrific: A tyrannical government forces each of twelve districts it controls to send children to fight to the death in a gladiator-style “game.” But the purpose of the stories is not to glorify such violence but to condemn it. As is made extremely clear by the Hunger Games films and the source novels written by Suzanne Collins, the oppressive regime uses many tools of violence—including the “games”—to brutalize and control the population. The heroes of the story do whatever they can to endure the violence and to rebel against the regime.
Contrary to Dixon’s misleading “review,” the focus of Catching Fire is not on the violence of the “games,” but on the characters who must endure and fight it and on their relationships. What is most memorable about the film is not its violence, but the loving relationships between main hero, Katnis Everdeen, and her family and friends, including other victims of the “games.”
The film is especially poignant given that the rulers of Communist North Korea recently executed dozens of people for such “crimes” as watching foreign television shows and owning a Bible—and that the theocratic regimes of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and elsewhere likewise murder their own citizens on a regular basis. Oppressive governments have used violence to control the populations they rule for thousands of years and continue to do so to this day. Hunger Games draws attention to such tyranny and encourages people to fight against it.
Catching Fire is an extremely powerful film with outstanding performances and direction. Although the film’s brutality is difficult to watch, the film focuses on the importance of freedom and loving relationships and on fighting against tyrannical government. Those are the reasons so many people read the novels and view the films, and those are the reasons the work deserves its prominence in the culture.
Posted in: The Arts
Join Our Mailing List
If you enjoy TOS Blog please make a donation to keep us blogging
- Announcements (162)
- Events (36)
- Ayn Rand and Objectivism (82)
- Business and Economics (74)
- Culture (61)
- Education and Pedagogy (23)
- Environmentalism (52)
- Foreign Policy and War (155)
- History (58)
- Individual Rights and Law (573)
- Abortion and Reproduction (20)
- Antitrust (15)
- Banking and Monetary Policy (7)
- Criminal Justice (5)
- Education Policy (49)
- Free Speech (31)
- Gay Issues (4)
- Guns and Self Defense (10)
- Health Care (87)
- Immigration (4)
- Libertarianism (6)
- Property Rights (15)
- Regulations (41)
- Taxation (29)
- The Left (6)
- Unions (5)
- Welfare and Subsidies (17)
- Philosophy (95)
- Ethics (32)
- Politicians and Candidates (72)
- Productivity (15)
- Psychology (5)
- Reason at Large (11)
- Religion (119)
- Romance (2)
- Science and Technology (112)
- Uncategorized (1)
Ideas presented in posts on TOS Blog are those of the authors of the posts and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Objective Standard. TOS Blog is powered by WordPress.