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"Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism, but peace, easy taxes, and a tolerable administration of justice" - Adam Smith

Thanksgiving

Written by Spencer Aland | Sunday 29 November 2009

As an American, I was obliged to celebrate one of our most time-honored holidays, Thanksgiving. As part of the tradition, many families across America take time before Thanksgiving dinner to express what they are thankful for in their lives. In the spirit of Thanksgiving I would like to talk a bit about a couple of the things I am thankful for.

As an American, I am thankful for the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. In today’s world it is easy for government to enter into a slippery slope were rights can be reasoned away. This has never been more apparent than in Britain where we see government stepping into homes and telling more than adequate parents how to raise their children. Invasion of privacy is now perceived as something only criminals should fear, and anyone speaking out against big government is branded as ‘ignorant’ or ‘obtuse’. While things are far from perfect in America, it is comforting to know there is a document that draws a line somewhere; that we at least have a platform to stand on when arguing for personal liberties.

I am also thankful to be living in a socially and economically free country. While we still live in a free Britain, there are many politicians with good intentions that would seek to take that away. Limiting individual and business income with massively high marginal tax rates is what many government leaders believe to be the moral thing to do. Government intervention in the economy has cost thousands of individuals their jobs, and yet they still preach that the solution to the problem is more intrusive action. We are losing the ability to be economically independent of government.

In reality, there is a lot to be thankful for even if you sincerely believe that government is slowly changing that fact. But while we still have a chance we need to stop this wave of government expansion. It is imperative that we stop the massive amounts of public spending and curb the intrusion of government into our personal lives. We need to make the world a place where future generations will still have freedom to be thankful for.

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Britain's debt spiral

Written by Spencer Aland | Saturday 21 November 2009

The OECD has issued a warning to Britain that it could stand in danger of entering ‘debt spiral.’ While this may come as a surprise to many – perhaps most of all to our beloved Mr. Brown – many of us, not living in blissful ignorance, have been warning of this for years. According to the best estimates, Britain currently has the largest debt of any country in the developed world, and even if it takes drastic measures to reduce public borrowing, we will still hold that title until at least 2017.

The ignorance of the government on this matter is evidenced every time Mr. Brown is questioned about the economy. He will immediately begin to tell you how much better the economy is doing and how much the national debt is not as bad as other countries. This report should serve to those who have bought into this bogus rhetoric as a slap in the face. The OECD report clearly shows Britain’s debt well above even that of Iceland’s.

Only a couple of days ago, the government promised to introduce legislation to halve the deficit within four years. While it is quite doubtful that the Labor Party has any any intentions to fulfill that promise, perhaps a new elected government will be able to at least recognize the problem. We will see...

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Welfare without the state

Written by Spencer Aland | Thursday 19 November 2009

Earlier this month the Adam Smith Institute hosted a TNG meeting at which Chris Mounsey spoke on the problems and possible solutions to the welfare state in the UK. As part of his speech he highlighted the value of ‘friendly societies’ or co-operatives as one of the possible solutions, collectives that had previously existed in much of Britain and functioned well prior to the National Insurance Act. As he pointed out, amongst the benefits of these organizations are that they are more needs based and are able to prevent many problems such as fraud and lack of accountability in the government run system.

Although the rise of government welfare has had a similar impact on US private welfare as in the UK, the case of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormon Church) has survived the onslaught and is insightful in considering how private welfare can function outside of the state. Members of the church fund the program; on the first Sunday of every month everyone skips two meals and donates the saving from those meals. If a member loses income, becomes unemployed, etc. they meet with their local leader and together they determine the needs of that individual or family, and assistance is given accordingly.

Accountability is at the center of the program: if an individual is on Church welfare he must meet with his local leader each week to determine what progress he or she has made and what else might be done to fix the situation – often families are asked to sacrifice items such as cell phones and cable television before financial assistance is rendered. The Mormon Church also has its own employment services that help individuals seek employment through networking and Church run companies and organizations. There are even private markets, referred to as Bishops’ storehouses, in which individuals can purchase food for nearly 90% below market value while they are in the welfare system.

The program that the Mormon Church has developed creates a sense of accountability and helps people improve their circumstances rather than slowly becoming dependent upon the system. Co-operatives are able to do what no government can, by creating true accountability and fostering the importance of self-reliance and accomplishment. Yet religious commonality is not necessary to create the type of ‘friendly society’ the Mormon Church has. Private groups like this could flourish if it wasn’t for one major problem: the government does not allow you to opt-out of the state run system. If the state allowed an opt-out option for those who can confirm enrollment in a private co-operative, things would improve dramatically and private co-operatives would spring up everywhere.

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Big Brother is in your home

Written by Spencer Aland | Wednesday 11 November 2009

All telecoms companies and internet service providers will shortly be required by law to keep a record of every customer's personal communications. This all inclusive ‘Big Brother’ system will record phone calls, emails, text messages, and even the links clicked on the internet, all stored for at least a year under government control. According to government officials this type of surveillance is absolutely critical in combating terrorism and hardened crimes.

This is the same kind of rhetoric that was given when CCTV was installed up and sown the country. However, according to the London Police Chiefs less than 3% of crimes were solved with the assistance of CCTV in 2008, even though the number of CCTV cameras in England had reached 4,200,000 in the year 2002. The most fitting use for CCTV has proved to be in discovering which parents lied about where they lived in order to enroll their children in better schools and who is not disposing of their rubbish properly. CCTV is conceivably the best example of a tool implemented to fight crime that quickly turned into a mechanism for domestic control, even going as far as attempting to install them in school toilets.

This new program, no matter how good the intentions, will only add to the already out of control invasions of privacy in this country. Chris Grayling, shadow home secretary has said he has fears about the abuse of the data:

The big danger in all of this is 'mission creep'. This Government keeps on introducing new powers to tackle terrorism and organised crime which end up being used for completely different purposes. We have to stop that from happening.

Grayling is simply pointing out the obvious. The government has repeatedly used programs such as this against its own citizenry without regard for personal privacy, claiming that only tguilty have anything to fear. The crusial question though is at what point do law abiding citizens need to start fearing their own government? If monitoring your private phone calls and emails without a warrant, and without permission from a judge, isn’t enough then what is? I doubt that people would tolerate CCTV in their own homes, but the difference between allowing cameras in our homes and this new program seems to be minuscule at best.

Spencer Aland blogs regularly here.

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Two evils

Written by Spencer Aland | Sunday 08 November 2009

As I was riding the tube a couple of weeks ago I noticed one of the “text" polls in the paper as I was thumbing through it. The question was straight forward, “Do you Trust David Cameron?" the results, while admittedly not scientific, were both astonishing and yet not surprising. An overwhelming amount of respondents, over 75%, voted No.

While your average bloke on the street could tell you that most people don’t trust Cameron it is surprising to me how much we would rather jump from one boiling pot to another instead of just jumping off the stove. It is a sad state of affairs when we vote for a particular candidate or party that we distrust because we distrust the other more. I believe that democracy cannot continue to survive if it is reduced to choosing between the lesser of two evils because it fundamentally undermines the purpose of the vote.

To a large extent political parties are responsible for this democratic failure by eliminating the need for individual beliefs in elections. Political parties may ultimately prove to be the end of government accountability to the people. Politicians realize that money means more than a happy constituency so they respond more to the party than to the people. Any individual with real aspirations to make the world a better place must first conform to the party standards if they have any hopes of ever reaching political office. This not only waters down the quality of candidates, but reverses the role of government from employee to employer of the people.

It is no coincidence that the countries with the most powerful political parties are the most authoritarian. Perhaps it is time for people to look outside the political box, and maybe we can find a candidate that is truly trustworthy.

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Crime reduction

Written by Spencer Aland | Wednesday 04 November 2009

Since Obama won the Presidential election in 2008 gun sales in the Unites States have been soaring. Citizens feared that with a democratically controlled congress and presidency that gun rights would inevitably end up on the chopping block. In reality, gun rights have actually increased in America since President Obama took office – especially with the ruling of DC v Heller. President Obama had even stated on several occasions before he ever ran for public office that he actually believes the right to bear arms is an individual right and is not dependent upon militia service. And the number of democrats in congress that are supportive of gun rights makes it highly unlikely that any gun regulation will be on the docket anytime soon. While it appears that the general public may have over-reacted to the threat on gun rights it has actually given us a unique opportunity to look at what happens to crime rates as the number of private gun owners dramatically increases along with the number of conceal and carry permit holders.

More recently, the number of conceal and carry permit holders has more than doubled in most states. The surprising part is that in areas with the largest increase in conceal and carry permits we are also seeing the greatest reduction in violent crime. Although this is nothing new – as far back as 1997 there have been studies linking crime reduction with the number of conceal and carry permits – it is still surprising to many people when they hear about it, and many choose to disregard it.

Many advocates of gun control tend to cite that crime in general rises when gun are more present in an area. Generally speaking this is true, but the number of violent crimes and crimes committed with firearms actually decrease. It is believed that when criminals face a higher risk of encountering potential victims that are armed they tend to substitute into committing more petty crimes rather than more violent crimes. While the outcome of this criminal-substitution effect generally leads to an increase on overall crime it also decreases violent crime. This essentially leads to fewer crime related deaths and an overall better outcome. I guess in a strage way, President Obama has actually helped make America safer – so let it not be said that he has done nothing since taking office.

Spencer Aland blogs regularly here.

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Children of the state

Written by Spencer Aland | Saturday 31 October 2009

We have all heard the old adage, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’, but the government has taken the village to mean the state. Unfortunately we live in a world where there are people who seek out children to exploit children, but does it take the government raising our children in order to prevent it from ever happening? The government has now taken steps to ban parents from entering play areas, and in some cases even banned parents watching their own children play, unless they have been vetted.

It feels as if we elected nannies instead of public officials. First parents were banned from ferrying their children to sports activities and then two police women almost lost their jobs over sharing child minding duties. Now parents can’t even watch their own children play without submitting to criminal background checks. How long will it be before you have to submit to a background check before you allowed to have a child? I know it sounds outlandish now, but if you told my parents 15 years ago that they couldn’t watch me while I played in a playground they would have thought you were crazy.

We have already given up so many of our natural rights to government that we almost don’t notice when we lose another. The real danger is that we are allowing our children to grow up under government control. Children will grow up thinking that ‘government knows best’ if they continually see their own parents undermined by government regulation and intervention. The government is practically teaching children that they need to be protected from their parents. If public-run institutions are any indication of how well things turn out under government control, then I’m afraid families don’t stand a chance.

Spencer Aland blogs regularly here.

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US embargo on Cuba

Written by Spencer Aland | Thursday 29 October 2009

The UN general assembly is expected to overwhelmingly condemn the US economic embargo against Cuba today, adding pressure on the Obama administration to abandon its 47-year-old policy.

Since 1960, Americans have been barred from trading with, investing in, or traveling to Cuba. The embargo may have possibly made sense before 1991, when Castro served as the Soviet Union's proxy in the Western Hemisphere, but all that changed with the fall of the Soviet Union. Today, more than a decade after losing billions in economic aid from the Soviets, Cuba is only a poor and dysfunctional nation of 11 million people who pose no threat to America or any other country.

More recently some officials in the Bush administration charged that Castro's government may be supporting terrorists abroad, but the evidence is pretty shaky. It is much more likely that the Bush administration simply wanted the Cuban vote in Florida, than it really believed Cuba was paying the bills of terrorist. As a foreign policy tool, the embargo has aided Castro’s government authority by giving him an excuse for the failures of his socialist programs. He can, and has, railed for hours about the suffering the embargo inflicts on Cubans, even though the damage done by his domestic policies have been far worse. If the embargo were lifted, the Cuban people would be a bit less deprived and the Cuban government would have no one else to blame for the shortages and stagnation that will persist without real social reforms.

If the goal of U.S. policy towards Cuba is to help its people achieve freedom and a better life, the economic embargo has completely failed. The economic effects have made the people of Cuba worse off by denying them low cost food and other goods that could be bought from the United States. Given the current economic situation, lifting the embargo could create just the jump start that the US economy needs. Open markets are the best real way to encourage more personal freedoms and government reform.

Spencer Aland blogs regularly here.

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Here come the stormtroopers

Written by Spencer Aland | Saturday 24 October 2009

For the first time ever British Police Officers will conduct permanent patrols through the streets armed with fully automatic submachine guns. The measure is supposed to help areas where gang violence levels are on the rise, but does it really take submachine gun wielding cops to lower crime? How much does it take for British citizens to finally realize that the government is taking control of their lives? And how long will it take before the police institute a curfew in those areas, or police patrols like these become a regular occurrence in all of London? This measure taken should not be tolerated. It is severely damaging to the already frail social freedoms that Britons are allowed.

These patrols are supposed to be a means of reducing gang violence and illegal gun sales, and according to the police are ‘intended to be a reassuring presence for residents’. However, I can think of very few things more intimidating than seeing uniformed police walking down my street with submachine guns. I know that there must be line somewhere between policing and state control, but the government has blurred that line to the point that citizens don’t notice anymore. I personally feel that individuals should have the right to bear arms, and I didn’t think it could get any worse than denying individuals this right. I was wrong. The only thing worse is to send out permanent patrols armed with military grade weapons after taking away everyone else’s guns.

All steps toward state control start with good intentions. At some point people need to stand up and declare that good intentions are not enough to justify denying personal freedoms.

Spencer blogs regularly on gun control here.

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Marriage privatization

Written by Spencer Aland | Wednesday 21 October 2009

The debate over the whether or not homosexuals should have the opportunity to marry has been greatly debated in the past year – especially in America with the passing of proposition 8 banning gay marriage in California. The problem inherently found within both arguments is that neither side will ever give in to the other regardless of future government rulings on the matter. If gay marriage is made legal, all the institutions and individuals that opposed it today will continue to oppose it after the fact. This is similar to what we see in the debate over abortion. The problem within the debate is not with the debaters, but with the moderator. What right does government have to regulate marriage; better yet, do we really want government telling us what is moral and what is not? Morality is private, and unless there is the risk of immediate harm to others, government should stay out.

When western governments decided to remove themselves from religion it was a great step forward for both religion and the general public. Religious beliefs are extremely personal and in many cases private. If individuals decide to unite themselves with a specific religious assembly that group may have guide lines or rules that they expect those individuals to follow. These are essentially private contracts and they have worked very well among religions, and government has been able to remain completely neutral. Marriage for most people is a religious affair and is also a very personal matter. The government should not have the right to issue licenses for marriage. A private marketplace where individuals are able to enter into private contracts with each other would be optimal. Religious institutions will have the right to apply specific clauses or articles to those contracts if the marriage is to be conducted under the authority of that church, therefore providing for all religious beliefs within marriage.

The privatization of marriage would essentially end the debate over gay marriage because any institution in opposition to it will not be forced to recognize them or perform them. State incentives to marry would disappear and therefore allow individuals to enter into marriage for legitimate reasons reducing fraud. Some studies have even found that the rise in state sanctioned marriages correlates with government expansion over time. The argument for privatization is neither for or against gay marriage; it is an argument against government regulating morality.

Spencer Aland blogs regularly here.

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