Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Not up for Debate in the Debate Over Net Neutrality

I think of the debate over net neutrality as a fight over the rules of the game where the game is the delivery of information and entertainment. There are big corporations arguing all sides of the issue. All of them are happy to explain how the position they advocate will benefit the public. But nobody seems interested in discussing issues pertaining to the very bedrock on which the communication industry is based. That bedrock is the right of the way that providers use to place their cable through private and government property, and the right to keep others off specific bands of the public airwaves. I’m not advocating any particular change or position, mind you. I haven’t put any real thought into what is, at best an infinitesimally unlikely hypothetical question. But if rules are up for debate and can be changed, surely the uncompensated and often involuntary transfer of property rights from the public deserves some consideration. This is particularly true when the beneficiaries of said transfers used to be heavily regulated for the benefit of those from whom the property rights had been transferred.

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Water, Rights and Privileges, and Global Markets

An article about famine in the Horn of Africa by Maude Barlow appeared today. It is worth your consideration. (h/t coberly) My own response is in comments. Following are excerpts:


Most Westerners see the crisis in the Horn of Africa as a combination of a large population, chronic poverty, corruption on the part of African government officials, failed states and no rain, and that none of this will ever change so giving money to this self perpetuating crisis is throwing it away. But I offered another narrative that I believe is closer to the truth.

I believe the water and food crises in the Horn of Africa are the direct result of old-fashioned colonial exploitation: land grabs by foreign hedge and investment funds and wealthy countries setting up large foreign-based agribusinesses that are guzzling the lion’s share of the water resources and using them to grow crops and biofuels for export and drive up speculation.





Foreign acquisitions are forcing small farmers and peasants off the land depriving them of access to food and water. The food and water of the region is being used for export for profit and not being used for local people. As a result, food prices in the region have gone up 200 per cent in less than a year and the price of water has risen 300 per cent. The foreign minister of Ethiopia defends his government’s actions with the neo-liberal explanation that these foreign “investments” will make the country wealthy enough that it can stop producing food and start buying it on the world market.



But exactly the opposite is happening when you drain the land of its water, as is being done by this agribusiness industry, and the rains stop coming. The drought is directly related to both climate change and the resulting desertification of a land stripped of its water sources. Here is what is essential to know: deserts can arise because humans treat land and water badly.



Desertification is taking place in over 100 countries in the world, as we strip the land of land-based water from aquifers and rivers, sending it to thirsty mega-cities (who dump it untreated into oceans), or using it to grow food and other goods for the world market, where it is transported out of local watersheds in the form of “virtual water exports.”

[end of excerpts. feel free to research the subject yourself. if Barlow is right, she provides a much more reality based understanding of what is going on in the world than the usual politicized and politicized economics analyses we usually see… coberly]

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I am not a Libertarian Because I Believe in Freedom and Property Rights, And I’d Like to Minimize Government Coercion

by Mike Kimel

I am not a Libertarian Because I Believe in Freedom and Property Rights, And I’d Like to Minimize Government Coercion

I wandered over the Libertarian Party and I found their Platform. I’m sure there are a few items here and there with which some libertarians disagree, but in general, it seems to me to be a pretty fair representation of libertarian beliefs, so I encourage you to read the whole thing. That said, I do not believe libertarians live up to their stated beliefs. Here’s the first sentence of the pre-amble:

As Libertarians, we seek a world of liberty; a world in which all individuals are sovereign over their own lives and no one is forced to sacrifice his or her values for the benefit of others.

To that end, of course, the libertarian philosophy also seeks to minimize government, in particular, government coercion.

More below the fold!

And it is precisely here – in the first sentence of the pre-amble, and its implications, where libertarians go off the rails. Consider the following… my neighbor, whom we have never met and might not even have seen (we’re not certain) despite living in this house for two years, seems to enjoy letting her lawn grow uncontrollably. (Feel free to substitute “loud music” or “noxious fumes” or “toxic waste” or “rats and other vermin” or “vile (like there are any other kind) windchimes” or “measles”, etc., to make the story more relevant to you.) As I type, the place is something of an eyesore: weeds, overgrown bushes and knee-high grass. Now, a libertarian would say that our neighbor, being the home-owner, has the right to do what she will with her property, and I should mind my own business and my own property. As it happens, I agree. I may wish she would have weed collection trimmed, but the weeds are on her property and she paid for the right to do what she wants on that property.

My problem is that my neighbor also has taken upon herself to make choices about what happens on my property. See, the weeds she has chosen to grow, or rather, allow to grow, have seeds, and she has chosen to allow the seeds from her weeds to cross onto my property instead of keeping them on her property. Put another way, she has made a decision that I either have to have dandelions and weeds on my own lawn, or I have to expend resources (some combination of time, effort, and money) to eradicate outbreaks. The more weeds she chooses to cultivate on her property, the more resources I have to apply to keep weeds in check on my property the following year. But it isn’t just me – she is also making the same decision about the lawns of other people on the block too.

Now, in this instance, there is a simple solution that anyone who truly believes that property rights should be sacrosanct and nobody should be coerced by anyone else should be willing to agree upon. See, she should have every right to cultivate weeds on her property, but should have zero right to place weeds (actively or passively, it makes no difference to the rest of us) on anyone else’s property. Put another way – it should be her responsibility to ensure that she does not cultivate weeds on our property without our say so.

Now, it turns out that the city has some rules about this. Last year I saw signs placed on some people’s doors saying essentially: “clean your lawn or the city will do it and bill you for it.” As far as I can tell, a libertarian – every libertarian I have come across, would view that as coercion. I, on the other hand, see things differently – were the government to allow people to create infestations on their property that inevitably spread onto their neighbors’ property, the government is essentially coercing the neighbors of those that would grow weeds into either growing weeds themselves or spending an inordinate number of resources fighting it. And to some extent, the libertarians, and I, are both partly right. But here’s what they’re missing; someone will be coerced, no matter what, as long as there are people who will grow weeds. Or play loud music or emit noxious fumes or dump toxic waste or allow rats and other vermin to proliferate or put up vile windchimes or refuse to get their kids vaccinated for measles, etc. In the end, the question is – who will be coerced, how many will be coerced, and how bad will the coercion be? I tend to come down on the side that the coerced party should be the one that is the first to try to coerce others, and that the coerced party should be as small as possible, and that the coercion should be the least bit possible. And it is clear that while libertarians may say the same thing, it isn’t true, as the one they don’t want to see coerced is my neighbor, but they have no problems coercing everyone else on the block.

Now, frankly I can understand how many libertarians don’t see this. Many of them are misfits or eccentrics. Others simply can’t reason out that there are two sides to every equation (and this, six decades after Coase!). Some like to view themselves as lone wolves, in no way beholden to the rest of society. Some find they can be more successful in business if they don’t pay taxes and/or find export their costs onto third parties. And of course, there are the thugs. Guess which group will take over if libertarians ever get their way.

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The Magna Carta: What it is and what it isn’t.

by Bruce Webb

(Somehow I got caught in HTML hell and can’t get this post to render correctly, not only did the read more not work it took out a paragraph with it. So I moved the post over to my site: The Magna Carta: What it is and what it isn’t It does feed into the Kennedy-Webb discussion below. But if you are interested you will have to take it on over to the Bruce Web, because I can’t figure out what went wrong)

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The Kennedy-Webb Colloquoy on Liberty and Private Property: Want to make it a Seminar?

by Bruce Webb

Scottish Professor Gavin Kennedy is the blog-proprietor of ADAM SMITH’S LOST LEGACY and a new (and continuing?) contributer to Angry Bear, most recently with Spare Us From the Invisible Hand. In an earlier post by Gavin Adam Smith in a Broader Legacy I responded to one of our regular Angry Bear glibertarians and rather than disrupting Prof. Kennedy’s thread further took it to my own post at the Bruce Web Adam Smith and Glibertarianism which in turn led to some back and forth between Prof. Kennedy and me on ASLL and the Bruce Web with two posts from Gavin and two from me including Marx, Smith and the Ages of Man.

The discussion was initially about the development of private property and its relation to both liberty and rising consumption/population levels as that is seen developed in the works of Adam Smith. In the course of the discussion it appears that Prof. Kennedy and I have radically diverging views not only on the underlying nature of pre-historic, ancient and some current economic modes of production but also on how those resolve themselves in the conceptual conflict of ‘liberty’ vs ‘democracy’.

It is all rather a departure from the more numeric analysis typical of Angry Bear, but for those interested in history, economic history in relation to modes of production, the economic and philosophical thought of Adam Smith feel free to jump in at either or both sites. In an upcoming post I am going to add some discussion of ‘democracy’ as it relates to the development of English Land Law, where the latter was marked in large part by its suppression of the former. Hints so far are that Prof. Kennedy and I are coming at this last question from totally different perspectives. Which may reflect fundamental differences between the British historical view of democracy and that expressed in the American Declaration of Independence. We’ll have to see how it goes.

Got ideas to share?

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