San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains
San Juan Mountains: Grenadier Range

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Immorality of Zoning Laws

Two days ago I discussed the  highly immoral system of tax lien sales whereby the government claims sovereign ownership over all of your real property, thus reducing you to the status of a serf or a vassal.  Zoning laws are based upon the same presupposition as tax lien sales and they accomplish the same statist goals.  They are worth considering for a moment.
The Denver Post had a story last week about the owner of an decrepit downtown warehouse who wants to raze the building and put up something else that might make some money.  The neighbors, who do not want the economic competition,  have complained and managed to get the local government to forbid progress on the new building under a branch of zoning law known as "historic landmarking".  In case you are not familiar with this particularly immoral and oppressive operation of the state, historic landmarking is where the state declares that the building you own is a "historic landmark" and therefore no longer subject to your control.  From the moment it is declared to be a historic landmark the owner loses all rights of ownership over the building.  The future of the building is determined by a subset of the board of zoning commissioners.  When the state declares your private property to be a historic landmark the state steals your property.  It is theft.  It is wrong.
A July 7th editorial in the Post took the partially proper position that the application of the historic preservation law to this particular is wrong.  The position of the newspaper would have been entirely correct if the editor had come out and declared the law to be what it is, theft.  Instead, the editor took the partially correct position that the application of this law in this situation is an abuse of the intention of the law.
Historic preservation laws are nothing more than another way that busy-bodies and self proclaimed do-gooders can spend their days minding the business of others.  The situation in Denver came about because the neighbors of the property owner decided that they did not want him to do what he wanted to do on his own land.  They believe they have the right to tell another person what he can or cannot do with his own land.  They believe that they know better than he does about what is best for the "community", whatever that may be.  Of course, they presuppose that the "community" is more important than the individual, and that they speak for this mystical thing called the "community".  As a result of their actions, they reveal themselves to be political socialists.  They fit very well  into the Socialist Democracy of America (SDA).
A couple of days later Tom Roberts, of Denver, wrote a letter to the editor expressing his support for socialism in general, and zoning laws in particular.  In making his case against the Post he says, "In essence, your argument appears to be that one can do whatever one wants with his property..."  Exactly!  The Constitution of the United States was written to protect the right of individuals to do whatever they want to do with their own property.  That concept was one of the foundational principles of the fledgling US government.  A war of revolution was fought over the right to do what one wants with one's own property.  Sadly, the concept of private property is utterly lost on the modern citizen of the SDA.
Tom goes on to assert that the basic presupposition behind zoning law is that landowners have a right to protect their property from the negative impact of their neighbor's actions upon their property. He believes that zoning laws give them the best ability to do so.  Tom is very, very wrong on this point.  Or, at least, he is very, very wrong when he asserts that citizens should have the right to use the law to control the behavior of their neighbors.  The free market has a perfectly viable solution to the problem of property depreciation due to a neighbor's pollution (the economic term for when your neighbor does something on his property that negatively impacts yours).  In fact, the free market has several solutions to this problem.  Worshipers at the throne of the state never consider them.  We should. 
First, if you do not want to have your neighbor raze his house and build another, or if you do not want your neighbor to convert his house into a duplex rental property, or if you do not want your neighbor to paint his house hot pink, or if you do not want your neighbor to install a swimming pool, purchase your home in a covenant controlled community.  Covenant controlled communities solve all of the problems allegedly solved by zoning laws in a totally voluntary fashion. Nobody is forced to do anything. Everybody knows what he is getting into in advance.   If you want to submit to a list of rules of behavior in respect to your property, make the voluntary decision to join a homeowners association that enforces those rules.  Problem solved.
Second, if you live outside of a covenant controlled community, and your neighbor engages in some behavior on his property that harms the value of your property, you have an example of a tort.  You can sue for damages.  However, you must be able to prove that you have been harmed.  You cannot sue him in advance because you think that what he is doing might harm your property.  Merely disliking the color of your neighbor's paint is not harm.  Merely disliking the style of his front porch is not damaging to your property.  Merely wishing that he had done things exactly as you wanted him to does not rise to the level of a tort.  If there has been no harm there has been no foul.  A man has the right to do whatever he wants with his property insofar as what he does does not harm your property.  When it does he has committed a tort against you and you have the right to sue for damages.  Notice that nowhere in the process is there the need for an omniscient zoning board that will issue rulings in advance of the alleged damages.
Zoning laws are an example of the state attempting to be omniscient.  Under these ridiculous laws the zoning commissioners believe that they are able to anticipate all property disputes in advance of their happening and, via the application of zoning law, keep them from becoming an issue.  Of course, they are not omniscient.  How does a zoning commissioner know what one person's subjective appraisal of value will be?  How can a zoning commissioner rule on behalf of the "community" when the "community" is made up of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of individuals with subjective appraisals of value and multitudes of diverse artistic opinions?  One person might love hot pink.  Another might love a xeriscaped landscape.  Another might love a tropical jungle.  There is no such thing as a "community".  We are always just associations of different individuals.  We do not need zoning laws to solve our disputes.  We do not need another level of governmental control over our property. Zoning laws are immoral precisely because they strip the owner of the property of his fundamental right to do with his property whatever he wishes.  They are immoral because they give people who should be minding their own business the opportunity to mind the business of others.  They should all be scraped.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Growth Is Still Growth

The present environment of economic pessimism continues to haunt the stock market.  This overarching belief that we are doomed to return to a feudal society has been with us since 2008.  No matter how good the news might be, it is turned into something bad.  No matter how positive the data, it is turned into a harbinger of bad things to come.  Here are some examples just from today:
  1. A headline on cnbc.com (they cycle various headlines through throughout the day) said, "Fiscal Cliff Starts To Hit Growth:  US Economy Is On Death Row".  The article goes on to cite the usual culprits of tax increases, lack of awareness of new government regulations, the housing "bubble", the spike in oil prices earlier this year, and, of course, Europe, as reasons for why we will experience a reduction in "gross domestic product by as much as 0.5% this year."  Death row?  Are you kidding me?  Whoever wrote that headline should be fired for fraudulent reporting on the economy.
  2. The next headline says, "Warren Buffet:  US Growth Slowing, Europe Sinking 'Pretty Fast'".  This article has the world's most famous investor opining that economic growth in the US has "tempered down so that it is more or less flat."  Although our growth rate is slow, it is by no means flat.  Either Buffet was misquoted or he has not looked at the relevant data.  Either way, this should not have been reported in this fashion.  It is simply not true.
Meanwhile, a slew of good news came out today that was virtually ignored.  Remember how everybody has been complaining about how horrible unemployment is?  The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits last week declined to its smallest number since 2008.  For the most part, nobody had anticipated this decline and most were surprised by it.  Did it have a positive impact upon the stock market?  No.  It was ignored.
Remember how everybody has been saying that the US is going to enter a recession because Europe will not be purchasing any of our goods?  The US Census Bureau published the May 2012 International Trade Report yesterday (why the Census Bureau should be involved in reporting international trade is not explained).  The report contained several interesting, and positive, economic items.   We have been inundated with reports about how US trade with Europe has declined.  According to the report, through the first five months of 2012, US exports to the eurozone total $82.6 billion. Through the same period last year, US exports to the eurozone totaled $80.9 billion.  That is a net increase in trade of 2%.  That does not indicate a serious problem.  An increase in trade with Europe is not a decrease in trade with Europe, no matter what the pessimists might tell you.  Of course, the report was largely ignored.
Ignorant reporters continue to report on the "trade deficit".  Trade deficits are alleged to be bad things for a sovereign nation to have.  As I have argued previously, trade deficits are irrelevant statistics used to justify statist interventions in the market place.  They make good material for campaign speeches and allow politicians to talk, in militaristic terms, about how they will punish other nations economically.  That purchases a lot of votes.  The Census report also contained trade information about China.  You may recall that politicians have been making a lot of noise about how the Chinese are "dumping" their goods on us.  According to those seeking elected office, we need to put tariffs on the Chinese to prevent this terrible dumping.  Reported in the Census report, and totally ignored by both politicians and the press, is the fact that US exports to China have increased at a substantially faster rate than US imports from China have.  Ummmm....maybe we should put tariffs on our own goods to prevent us from "dumping" our goods on the Chinese?  The point is this, trade with China is increasing dramatically and it is good for all parties involved.  That good news about economic growth is never reported.
Gross Domestic Product continues to increase, albeit slowly.  Corporate profits continue to rise, albeit slowly.  The Index of Industrial Production continues to rise, albeit slowly.  The total amount of commercial and industrial loans continues to increase, albeit slowly.  The total amount of consumer credit continues to increase, albeit slowly.  International trade continues to grow, albeit slowly.  Almost all economic news about economic growth clearly indicates that the US is continuing to grow, albeit slowly.  Perpetual pessimism turns this positive scenario into a negative.  That perpetuates the mood of pessimism.  It seems like a never ending circle of ignorant pessimism is being foisted upon us.  
Growth is still growth.  Growth is not contraction.  Growth is good.  Economically, things are not nearly as bad as you are being led to believe.  Economically, things are not nearly as bad as you might feel them to be.  Try and get in touch with the facts.  They will help you with your feelings.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Immorality Of Tax Lien Sales

Do you believe that you own your own home?   You don't.   I realize you may think that your mortgage company owns your home, if you have a mortgage, but it does not.  The tragic truth of the matter is that the government claims ownership of your home.  From the perspective of the local government, you are a tenant and it is the owner.  How do I know this?  It is quite simple actually.  You have to pay rent to the government.  The government calls that rent "property tax".  If you do not pay the rent the government will forcibly remove you from the home and rent it to somebody else.  That is called a tax lien sale and it is one of the most immoral things government does to its citizens.
As far as I am aware, there is no area of the United States that does not have a property tax.  That means that various branches of government in this country claim ownership over all the land found within our national borders.  That small little piece of land you "own" is really being rented to you by your local government authority. As long as you pay your taxes you are permitted to stay on the land.  The moment you stop paying the taxes (rent), the government jumps into action.  The first thing the landlord will do is file a tax lien against the property.  That gives it the right to seize the property and evict you from the land.  If you are unable to come up with your rent payment (tax payment) the government holds an auction for your tax lien.  These auctions are advertised by unscrupulous financial advisers and other immoral louts as excellent investment opportunities.  They are not.  Purchasing a tax lien is nothing more than using the heavy hand of government to do your dirty work for you.  Purchasing a tax lien is nothing more than theft and it should never be done.  Imagine what would happen if the government held a tax lien auction and nobody came?
After your tax lien has been auctioned off to the highest bidder (for a price nowhere near the value of your home), you have a short period of time to buy it back.  Presumably, however, you never would have been in this position in the first place if you could have afforded to pay your taxes so it is highly unlikely you will get your house back.  So it is only a matter of time before the "investor" (fence, or receiver of stolen goods) who purchased your tax lien from the government (thief), seizes the home.  It will then usually be put up for sale and a tremendous profit is realized when it sells. 
Government records report that homes have gone into the tax lien market for back tax payments as small as $400.  Oftentimes, but not always, the folks who are victimized by this legal government scam are the elderly who are on fixed incomes.  In most of those cases the home is owned outright and the only liability on the home is the property tax liability.  It does not matter that somebody has lived in that home for 30 or more years.  It does not matter that the cumulative tax payments on the home have now totaled more than the original purchase price of the home (a very common occurrence, by the way).  All that matters is the the government claims ownership of your property and it will soon be taken away from you and given to somebody else. 
This system is one of the most immoral systems for property ownership ever conceived.  It transfers all property to the state and makes citizens little more than vassals.  Do not ever participate in the tax lien business, unless you want to have blood on your hands.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Required Resources For Economic Literacy

Illiterate people are disconnected from the real world.  As a result of this disconnection, they make bad decision after bad decision.  Ignorance really does extract a terrible price in those in whom it is found.  An educated man must, first and foremost, be theologically educated.  The absence of an accurate theological understanding of the universe will guarantee that a person will be perpetually disconnected from the truth and operating in error.  The second most important discipline, that every person must seek to become educated in, is economics.  Without an accurate view of the way the world operates economically, you will continually be sucked into the morass of stupid, counterproductive and immoral behavior that characterizes those who believe in socialism and Keynesianism.  Although nobody has asked for it, I now present a list of required resources for anybody who wishes to become economically literate.
  1. A subscription to Forbes magazine.  Editor-in-chief Steve Forbes has several problems in his view of the world.  He is prone to believe that the United States should be quick to intervene militarily in sovereign foreign lands in order to spread democracy.  He also believes in the Monetarist school of economics (for those who are unaware, the Monetarist school follows the teachings of Milton Friedman and, although far superior to Keynesianism, is not quite up to the quality of the Austrian school).  Those two points aside, the strength of Forbes is his ability to see reality in the business world.  He is not brought down by emotional excesses.  He does  not believe that American capitalism is doomed.  He sees and tells the stories of American success.  For that reason alone you should read his magazine.
  2. A subscription to The Freeman magazine.  This magazine has been produced by the Foundation for Economic Education since 1956.  FEE is presently headed by Lawrence Reed, a highly capable Austrian economist.  For a small donation you can be put on the list of those who receive the magazine.  Every month you mind will be stimulated and challenged to see the world from an accurate economic perspective.  There is rarely a dud article.  Get it.
  3. The website lewrockwell.com.  Lew Rockwell is an intelligent and dedicated Austrian economist.  He has made himself hated by academic economists due to his penchant for always telling the truth.  For fellow truth seekers he is the kind of person you want to be around.  For those dedicated to working for the government and having a stable retirement pension, he is anathema.  He maintains a website dedicated to Austrian economics, free markets, and government criticism.  His daily postings are a collection from various sources on things he considers interesting.  You will not agree with everything found there.  I have much difficulty with the folks who regularly post there who believe the world is coming to an end.  There is a fair bit of that type of writing.  Ignore it.  The rest of the site is well worth a daily visit.
  4. The website marketminder.com.  Kenneth Fisher is simply the best investment adviser alive today.  His mantra is that one must know something that everybody else does not.  He ceaselessly searches out things that are true that have been overlooked by everyone else.  As a result he is connected to economic reality in a way that is very rare in today's world.  That connection to the world as it really is makes him an ultra-valuable source of economic and financial information.  You will rarely go wrong with the information found at his website.  Visit it daily.
  5. Read one of two very big books that will introduce you to the world of economics.  Read either Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises or Man, Economy and State, by Murray Rothbard.  If you are a bit more philosophically minded, pick up Human Action.  Mises spins a dramatic tale as he establishes an epistemological foundation for free market capitalism.  'Praxeology' is the world he uses to describe individual human action.  Based upon his understanding of praxeology he then goes on to create an entire world view that describes how human beings interact to produce an economy.  For the less philosophically minded, Rothbard's Man, Economy and State is a must read.  It is, in my opinion, the single best work on economics ever written.  It is understandable to anyone with an average degree of intelligence.  Rothbard, in a highly readable style, does the same thing that Mises had done earlier;  he explains how the world operates from an economic perspective.  Except for his anarchy, this book is perfect.  Both of these books are large.  They will require energy and effort.  But then, that is the price to pay to understand the nature of the economic world, is it not?
  6. Two books by Thomas DiLorenzo:  The Real Lincoln and How Capitalism Saved America.  If DiLorenzo does not immediately become your favorite historian of all time, something is wrong with you.  He writes with a verve and style that is guaranteed to excite you.   His historical insights will shock you.  In the end, you will understand our past like you never have before.  In fact, read anything written by DiLorenzo.  You can't go wrong.
  7. For a shocking exposition of what has really happened in this country in our more recent past, read anything by James Bovard.  Bovard is a genius.  Anything he writes is worth reading.  He too is a dynamic writer who will have you on the edge of your chair as you read.  Everything he writes is exhaustively footnoted (actually end notes) so there can be no dispute with the accuracy of his arguments.  Start with Feeling Your Pain for a painfully true exposition of the Clinton era.  Move on to The Bush Betrayal for an equally painful and true exposition of the Bush regime.  Terrorism and Tyranny is a masterful description of how the government uses the fear of terrorism to expand its tyrannical power over its own citizens.  Attention Deficit Democracy is a scathing critique of American democracy as it has come to be.  We are indeed a nation of morons who are ruled by the idiots we elect.
  8. Gusher of Lies, by Robert Bryce, is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the true nature of the oil and natural gas business.  Bryce describes how the government's holy grail of "energy independence" is a pipe dream that has cost US taxpayers billions of dollars.  You will never look at the energy markets the way you do today after reading this book.  It is brilliant.
  9. The Skeptical Environmentalist, by Bjorn Lomborg is a must read to understand the issue of global warming.  Lomborg is an environmentalist.  He was a member of Greenpeace.  He was thrown out of the group because he did not come to the same conclusions they did.  Lomborg is that rare voice of reason who believes in global warming but does not call for massive expansion of government power to deal with the issue.  For a really "fair and balanced" treatment of global warming, read this book.
  10. Extreme Prejudice, by Susan Lindauer, is not technically a book on economics.  It is, however, so good that it has to make this top ten list.  Lindauer takes a long and hard look at the Patriot Act.  She believes, as I do, that the Patriot Act is the most harmful bit of legislation to come out of Congress in our generation.  The governmental abuses that have been justified by the Patriot Act are legion.  The losses of individual freedom that have come about as a result of the Patriot Act are equally legion.  If you want your eyes opened to what is going on politically in this country, this is a must read.
These ten sources are just a start.  Like a Lays potato chip, once you start you will find yourself unable to stop.   Once you have completed the reading list above you will be qualified to speak accurately about the economic nature of the universe.  You will be freed from the immorality of Keynesianism.  Never again will you believe that government transfer payments are a good thing.  Never again will you believe that the bags of money the government hands out to its favorite subjects comes from trees growing in Washington.  Never again will you be a willing pawn in the government's schemes.

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Am Personally Offended By Personal Offense

I am personally offended at how often people take personal offense.  Have you noticed how people in our society seem to be chomping at the bit to take personal offense over every little thing that comes down the pike?  Most amusing to me is the fact that so many people constantly take personal offense at things that are not personal. 
I think I understand the concept of personal offense.  You come up to me on the street and say, "You are ugly and your Mother dresses you funny."  I consider your statement.  Yes, you are correct, I am ugly.  There is no offense to be taken there.  But, my Mother does not dress me funny.  You are insulting my Mother.  Nobody insults my Mother.  You can call me anything you like but do not insult my Mother.  That is not acceptable.  I take personal offense at what you have said.  Note that the key to taking personal offense is the fact that you have said something that is personal.  That seems rather obvious but it also seems to be lost on many people today.
Take Carl Carnein of Florissant, Colorado for example.  He wrote a letter to the editor of the Denver Post last week in which he stated that "As a PhD. geologist who has studied issues related to global warming for many years, I am personally offended by the comments made by Exxon Mobil chief executive Rex Tillerson in a recent speech."  The fact that Carl holds a PhD. in geology is an assertion of objective fact (I did not check to see if he was telling the truth but will take him at his word).  The fact that Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson made a recent speech is an objective fact.  The fact that CEO Tillerson spoke about global warming is an objective fact.  The fact that different scientists can disagree over  how to interpret scientific data is an objective fact.  The fact that Mr. Carnein and Mr. Tillerson disagree is an objective fact.  Why, then, does Mr. Carnein take "personal offense" at the content of Mr. Tillerson's speech?  There was no personal content in his speech.  It makes no sense to me why he would be personally offended.
So, I have to speculate as to his motives.  Mr. Carnein would no doubt take personal offense at my speculations but since he does not give me any rationally objective reasons for his personal offense I really have no choice in the matter.  Come to think of it, the fact that he gives me no rationally objective reasons for his personal offense is personally offensive to me.  But that is a matter for another posting.
Carl goes on to say a lot about the CEO of Exxon Mobil that has nothing to do with the objective content of his speech.  He does, however, give us some insight into his own troubled soul.  He says, "Mr. Tillerson works for a company that, for years, has denied that fossil fuels contributed to global warming..."  Now, what is personally offensive about that?  Exxon Mobil has the right to its opinion on the issue of global warming.  CEO Tillerson has a right to his opinion on global warming.  It is an objective issue subject to objective discussion.  For Pete's sake, even I deny that fossil fuels have contributed to global warming.  Many reputable scientists believe the the impact of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is too small to be responsible for the small amount of global warming we have measured in recent decades.  Many responsible scientists objectively believe that solar activity is much more likely to be the cause of any global temperature changes.  There is nothing personal in any of this.  It is just people disagreeing about how to interpret various parts of objective reality.
Carl goes on to say, "He (referring to CEO Tillerson) earns more in a month than most of us earn in a lifetime."  Now, what does the salary of Mr. Tillerson have to do with an objective discussion about global warming?  I can't find any possible connection.  On the other hand,  what does the salary of Mr. Tillerson have to do with the personal offense Carl has taken?  Now I can begin to see a connection.  It is called envy.
Carl goes on to say, "It is easy to adapt (to global warming) if you live in multiple gated communities and have a staff of peons to cater to your needs."  Wow!  How did Carl find out so much about CEO Tillerson?  Does he really live in a community with multiple gates?  Does he really have "peons" working for him?  What is a "peon"?  (I think they are something like an umpa-lumpa or a munchkin, if I recall correctly.) What does any of this have to do with CEO Tillerson's position on global warming?  I can't see any connection between where a man lives and his position on global warming.  Is there any connection between where Tillerson lives and Carl's "personal offense"?  Ah...I suspect so. The cause is, once again, envy.
Poor Carl.  He is so shot through with envy he is utterly incapable of having a rational discussion on the topic of global warming.  When he tries to talk to somebody who makes more money than he does he becomes angry and takes personal offense at whatever comes out of the richer man's mouth.  What a shame.
Carl concludes that CEO Tillerson's comments "illustrate a lack of connection to reality or to the rest of us that is truly breathtaking."  It seems to me that if anybody has illustrated a lack of connection in this issue, it is poor old Carl.  If anybody seems unable to connect to another fellow human being, it is the man who is so envious of his neighbor's success that he takes personal offense at everything his neighbor says and does.  Carl is the one who is disconnected here.  Maybe he should run for political office.  He is superbly qualified. 
I conclude that personal offense taken is a sure sign of envy in the heart of the offended.  Unless personal offense was intended ("you are ugly"), personal offense taken at an objective statement tells me a whole lot more about the blackness of the heart of the offended person than it does the content of the argument being presented.  Really now, in objective discussions, what does personal offense have to do with anything?