First Impression of Australian Politics

For those who are on my friends list on Facebook, I had mentioned that I was moving to Sydney for university study for quite some time now. I’ve since moved into the metropolitan area, and have been adjusting myself to the new realities of living here (mostly my sad search for grape jelly…few Australians know what I’m talking about…Americans need PB&J!), and the political scene is one that I’m still adjusting to.

So America is a federal republic, while Australia seems to be this half-parliament/half-republic mish mash of government. There’s a Constitution, with a legislature and Prime Minister. There’s even two houses (Senate and Representatives) which take some ideas from the American system. No Supreme Court, just High and Lower Courts (but no Middle Courts?), and the State governments have their powers that are a bit different from the Federal government.

On the language, the English is funny; many adults sound like little children when they add “-ie” to the end of words, like bikkie, bestie, chewie, and even kindie. In all honesty though, I’ve spent little time talking with native Australians; most of my time has been with foreigners and/or immigrants, most of whom speak little to excellent English. A lot of them to their credit are forgiving of my “American speak” and attempt to understand what I say. But it’s all good, I speak English so I don’t care about accents so much so long as I can understand you.

At this time, I feel like I’ve jumped into the middle of a debate without much preparation. I’ve heard about the carbon tax and have seen a couple of rallies that were against it back in July. I see many Internet comments on the Labour Government, but how and when elections occur is still a bit of a mystery to me. I don’t have television at the moment, so I can’t be sure if the sentiment on the Internet is representative of most of the population (probably isn’t is my guess).

The Labour and Liberals seem like the typical two-party “Democrats and Republicans” back in America. Labour being further left than Liberal, but both still quite right economically. The Greens seem quite looney, and it probably doesn’t help that there is a Green politician’s office literally two doors down from me. That Australians have to vote or face a fine is a typical violation of rights (for every right you have, you also have the right to not exercise it). That guns are strictly regulated is another violation of rights that I can readily see (though it hasn’t stopped criminals from shooting at each other). Oh, and there is a classification system that does ban works from entering Australia, a nice touch on freedom of speech violations.

The politicians seem to be even more “backlash” prone than American politicians. A young man was sadly killed by a lunatic a couple of months ago. Since then the regulations on alcohol (which had little to no part in this murder) have increased and restricted the rights of businessmen. The anti-tobacco brigade has expanded to the point that the Tasmanian government may ban the sale of all tobacco products to future adults once they turn 18; plus, the tobacco industry recently lost a case of free speech in that the government may force a business to adopt “plain packaging”.

And there’s a lot of hoopla on “boat people”, aka illegal immigrants. That many Australians on the internet are for sending them back to Indonesia or wherever they come from isn’t really surprising, but the level of emotion attached to it seems even greater than that of America’s towards Mexican immigrants. But I need more information before I can come to any sort of conclusion.

So it’s been an interesting two months. Sadly, there appear to be few Objectivists, and the university has a large and very prominent socialist/communist group. If anyone is a student in Sydney, e-mail me, and we can get in touch. I have lots of Ayn Rand books that I brought over. As they say in Australia, cheers! ;)

What would you do?

If your country saw a sudden spike in wealthy and middle-class people giving up their homeland’s citizenship, what would you do? If you read comments on various websites about the latest rich ex-American who gave up her citizenship, you’d be surprised at how many want to:

  1. Restrict any future visitations to America.
  2. Seize most, or for some all, US property.
  3. Tax away most of the wealth.
  4. Deny visas for future employment in America.

Of course, very little is said on the implications of 1,800 Americans giving up their citizenship last year. Even if it isn’t a lot, the trend has been sharply upward in the last few years. What is the reason? For most, it seems to be taxes. The United States taxing its citizens on worldwide income and all citizens must file tax returns each year (or face penalties). Yet, these same people also do not have a representative or senator in Congress they may vote for.

Economically, this puts US expatriates in a severe disadvantage when compared with other countries that don’t tax their citizens overseas. In addition, if you try and leave the US, you’re already subject to an exit tax. Plus complicated tax rules for just earning a living overseas makes for more headaches and financial pain than it is worth for some to keep their citizenship.

And with no end in sight of the government working towards a feasible solution (excusing income earned abroad from taxation and rewriting the tax code to reduce irregularities and lower tax rates), expect the trend to continue higher over the coming years. America is increasing a place to avoid taxation and regulations. Hopefully, the voters will realize this before it is too late and the damage can not be undone.

Is this really the state of our legal system?

A legal system is designed to establish clear rules regarding the interactions between men. It is supposed to safeguard rights and establish an orderly process to address situations where rights are violated. When done right, it enables people to know ahead of time what is and is not legally permitted and allows for a vital protection of contracts between men. In short without a legal system, commerce is severely hampered, and rights are subject to increased violation with little to no recourse.

On the flip-side, too many rules can be just as bad as too few rules. If the legal system goes beyond protecting rights, it becomes toxic and limits the freedoms of men. It becomes a powerful tool for those with connections, wealth, and time to embroil opponents in legal battles in order to silence and harm their ability to live peacefully. It can be argued that this is the situation today, where the government is so pervasive, that officials can send the IRS after political opponents to shame them from using their rights. How is the regular Joe supposed to keep up with these laws? He can’t.

And it isn’t even government officials who can abuse this, as shown below:

“He may have a very difficult time proving that Inman “instigated attacks,” as he said on his website, but he’s certain he can find some legal recourse for what’s going on right now – “California code is just so long, but there’s something in there about this,” he says.”

-Charles Carreon

Whatever you think it about the Oatmeal v FunnyJunk and Charles Carreon dispute, that this is the state of the legal system where someone can just throw a bunch of laws on the wall, just to see what sticks, is atrocious. It’s no wonder why people are increasing distrustful of the court system. When a person can be harassed by people who use a perverted legal system to silence them, why bother raising your voice at all?

Marriage as a Contract

Gay marriage often brings up the debate on marriage licenses, in which states restrict who can marry. These restrictions have varied throughout the history of the United States, but were mostly born in the late 1800s as a way to prevent people of different races from marrying one another. Nowadays, outside of polygamy and homosexual marriage, states restrict most people closer than 1st cousins from marrying, require blood tests for certain diseases, and require all parties to be 18 or have a parent consent when younger.

But what does this have to do with gay marriage? Everything truly. When the government is granted the power to restrict the freedom of association for some people, it is only attractive to prevent any group of people that voters deem unnatural, nasty, or whatever reason. Hence when racial minorities lacked equal protection under the law in the 1800s, it was easy for politicians to cater to the demands of voters, and in the process, violate the rights of others.

In 2012, most of the debate revolves around gay marriage, which depending upon which poll is looked at, about 50% of Americans oppose. This is still a large voting block, and many are pushed to vote against freedom due to irrational thought. Supporters of gay marriage have the right idea, in that, people should be free to marry (though some still believe polygamy ought to be banned for “economic reasons”), but their demands are not fully matched.

The proper course of action is to remove the state from the process of granting “licenses” of marriage. Instead, the state may have the option of recognizing a marriage contract, similar to how business contracts function in courts now. In this, people would have the ability to marry any of a number of people, over the age of majority, would be able to go to the courthouse or notary and have their contract of marriage validated.

The contract aspect would also allow people to add conditions and clauses into their contracts; and when these conditions are violated, or a person violates rights, a divorce is resulted. The divorce would still have to go through the courts if contested and if the people have children, but it would be easier today because of the contract details.

When organized into a contract, the rights of all people are protected. People would be able to voluntary enter into associations for romantic purposes and under any conditions that they wished. If the contract is violated, the person(s) harmed can take the violator to court for damages and seek to end the marriage.

The Continual Case for Freedom

There is no country in the world that has a government that completely respects individual rights. Not even the United States government, which was founded on the concept of liberty and a government subservient to the people, has achieved this. Instead, the world consists of governments that harm its own citizens in varying degrees.

This being said, those who live in America, Canada, Australia, and the other western countries should be thankful that elections are routinely scheduled and that corruption is the exception rather than the norm. Recently, Papua New Guinea’s government has deferred elections for the first time in that nation’s history. According to many NGOs, corruption is rampant, but so long as the people have the choice of voting in better leaders, the right to choose the government was secured. Now, that has been taken away from the people under the claims of the lack of security, an incomplete election roll, and overall unpreparedness. Australia has not imposed sanctions, nor has any other country at the time of this writing, instead stating that they are “worried” and that it is “too soon” for sanctions.

It is because there are people willing to harm others that freedom should never be taken for granted, even those in the industrialized parts of the world. All people, no matter where they are located, possess the same rights and freedoms. And as such, are fully within their moral rights to rise up and protect their rights. But this cannot be achieved without the proper philosophy to give guidance and help articulate the reasons man is a free creature, on part of his ability to reason.

If people do not understand that all are equal and free, then the same pattern of corruption emerges as it would be hypocritical to proclaim freedom unless it encompassed all persons. Such a government based partly on freedom and partly on slavery will always fall in time. It is only when the keys for prosperity on earth, reason and trade, is recognized that can a moral and proper government be established. Anything based on slavery is immoral and criminal, simple as that. When the government becomes a criminal, it invites all men to rely upon no one, to suspect their neighbors of wrong doing, and to take the law into their own hands.

It is a personal hope that the government of PNG schedules the elections back to the proper time (June, 2012), but it is highly unlikely that such an action will occur based upon their previous actions. For now, the people there must move forward, work hard, and support their families. Those with the resources are planning to strike and protest, and they are fully moral for doing so. The government is made up of people, and a government that violates the boundaries of limited governance is immoral and corrupt.

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3 Ways to Invalidate Obamacare

Obamacare has been in the news recently, for obvious reasons, as it is making its way through the Supreme Court. Its been given six hours of debate and questioning, the most in recent history, and thus far, many of the Justices seem wary of the individual mandate, which is the core of the law. Today they questioned how the law would stand without the individual mandate, and how striking down the individual mandate may mean striking the whole law down itself. This awful piece of legislation though can be thoroughly discredited on moral grounds, and hopefully, this is recognized by the Supreme Court should they strike down the law.

1. Coerced Contract

Contract law is based upon mutual association, where two or more parties agree to trade resources in exchange for other resources for the benefit of all. Some people bring up that states can force people to buy car insurance, which is true for almost all states (Vermont being the only exception that I know of), and that the federal government forcing people to buy health insurance is equally okay and within their power. This is a false equivalence. The state should not be able to force people to buy car insurance at all. Neither should the roads be public. In addition, even if the states do not mandate that insurance be required does not mean that people would go without, just look at Vermont, where car insurance rates are roughly equal to other states with mandates. No level of government has the moral authority to force coerced contracts, which if tried by normal people would land them in jail and face fines (with the contract rightfully being null and void). Just like car insurance, the individual mandate is a coerced contract that should be ruled unconstitutional.

2. Freedom of Association

Relating to contracts is the freedom of association, in which people can choose to have personal and business relationships with anyone that also wishes to associate with them. In this case, both insurance companies and consumers’ freedom of association is being violated. Insurance companies have the moral right to set their policies (not that any state government actually cares) and to only accept the people it wants to do business with. Consumers likewise have the ability to associate with any insurance company that is willing to enter in a business relationship. Obamacare does away with this by forcing insurance companies to accept anyone and everyone (the nature of business is to discriminate between good and bad consumers), and further, compels consumers to do business with an insurance provider.

3. Freedom to Work

In the current situation, health insurance companies are forced to do business within the state and are not allowed to branch outside of state lines. In some states, this has lead to virtual monopolies by only a handful of insurance companies that people can “choose” from. On top of these insanely anti-market regulations, the prices are subject to state approval in most cases. Since when has a price ceiling worked to contain costs? The doctors who bill the insurance company will seek to make up the funds that they need for their business (which is already hampered with many regulations plus the educational requirements to even be a doctor) by driving prices higher.

All these people are being hampered by the government in pursuit of their work. As humans must produce in order to survive, they rightly have the ability to pursue and obtain a job or self-employ themselves in order to sustain their life. By placing regulation after regulation after regulation upon people, prices have to rise to accommodate the demands of the government, which in turn affect those who do business with other people. Freedom to work also means that people have the freedom to choose what they want in their life. Healthy people may skip over health insurance in their younger years as they feel the money is better spent elsewhere, such as saving for college or a house.

Some people would say that these people are just gambling on not getting sick, and that if they do, taxpayers must pick up the tab. Under current situations yes, but that is because the government mandates hospitals and doctors to provide care without concerns for payment. And then such people ask if the opponents just want them to die in the streets, typically ending the argument. Look, we all have a right to spend our money as we see fit. This includes giving your money and resources to someone out of charity. There’s nothing stopping people from donating others, in fact, they can donate their entire income if they wanted to, because it is their freedom and it is their right. It is not someone else’s right to steal, whether it is from taxes or from breaking into houses to steal TVs.

Obamacare is a horrible law, and thankfully the Supreme Court is hearing the case so soon as opposed until after 2015. Any law that violates the rights of individuals, whether it is forcing them to buy a product or face jail time, or forcing unwilling parities to associate and do contracts, is an immoral law that should have never been enacted.

Objectivist Blogger’s John Smith is on Facebook, and he’s stilling learning how to navigate and what not. He’s still on Twitter, where he shares links from many articles he reads over the course of the day.

When to be Concerned About Income Inequality

If the media is any indication, there are many people who are concerned about income inequality. Income equality is the idea that in a given economy, all the incomes are distributed amongst the population as evenly as possible. To those who think the world should be “fair” it is often up to the government to less the “inequality” via various methods such as progressive taxation, welfare programs, or other redistribution efforts. Much has been said about the income inequality that is said to exist in the U.S., especially after the recession. To those who are concerned about it, income inequality may contribute to economic stagnation, lower social cohesion, and other social harm.

As most Americans have not taken an economics class or demonstrate basic knowledge of an economy, income inequality can appear to be a big issue. We’ve been bombarded about how the “1%” have earned more than the other “99%” and how the rich benefit while the poor do not (or in some cases, benefit at the expense of the poor). This is a collective mindset born about the culture we live in today. It’s typical to try and gain power in a setting where some benefit at the expense of others (politics), and this can be done quickly by using “Us vs Them” emotional rhetoric.

In terms of an economy though, income inequality will always exist so long as people exist. The most simple explanation is that each person is different from the next. Some are born with the right genetics that contribute to a high understanding of mathematics. Others are born with extra chromosomes that inhibit their mental functions (and often physical abilities), which naturally hinder their ability to contribute. Further, some people are fortunate to be born in a family that values education, to be born in a country with high GDP, to be born in a wealthy family, and so on. These factors that exist from the moment a person is born is something that cannot be easily changed. As we are creatures that possess reason, we can overcome poor backgrounds and make choices to further ourselves beyond what our parents could achieve. The child born to parents who do drugs can still rise to become a successful employee at a company and accomplish goals in his life.

From this perspective, capitalism is the only system that allows all persons the freedom to pursue their goals, whatever they may be. As a result of this, some will succeed and thrive, and others will fail. Those that succeed are often the ones who enable all of society to advance, such as those who invent new methods and applications that can be used even by the poorest of the poor. This raises the living standards of the poor over time, even if by monetary standards, they continue to earn little. In this sense, income inequality is not a bad thing nor should anything be done about it by the government. If private groups, for example churches, associations, and other charity groups, want to lend a hand to those who are unfortunate, they are free to do so.

When income inequality should be a concern is when it violates the rights of individuals. We can use a simple example. Let’s say the government decides to enact a tax in order to provide free meals for the homeless, as all people need to eat in order to survive. Though the “inequality”, in that some are without food, is lowered, it is not eliminated more often than not. In addition, others are harmed by having their incomes taken without consent to provide for others. Simply because some are without does not justify theft from others, whether it is for a thief stealing bread from the rich to feed his family or the government taking money to give to the poor.

On one hand, those who are truly on hard times or who grew up in disadvantaged homes can appeal to private charity groups, friends, and family to aid them through their tough times. This inequality will always exist, no matter what governments or charity do. As such, it should not be a concern for the government to matter. Instead, the government should stick to providing an efficient system of law and order so that all citizens are equal before the law and can benefit. If the inequality arises because of violations of rights, then the government may be concerned, but one will then have to see if the government is the direct or indirect cause.

State Can’t Force Pharmacies to Sell Plan B

A federal judge has recently ruled that the State of Washington cannot force pharmacies to sell the controversial Plan B, which is used to prevent possible pregnancy after unprotected sex. This sounds good at first glance, as no government should be telling businesses what they have to sell; rather, businesses have the option of selling certain products and are swayed by the market to stock those that their customers want. In this case, the judge ruled correctly, but for a different reason than the free market (from MSNBC):

“U.S. District Judge Ronald Leighton heard closing arguments earlier this month in a lawsuit that claimed state rules violate the constitutional rights of pharmacists by requiring them to dispense such medicine. The state requires pharmacies to dispense any medication for which there is a community need and to stock a representative assortment of drugs needed by their patients.

Ralph’s Thriftway in Olympia, Wash., and two licensed Washington pharmacists sued in 2007, saying that dispensing Plan B would infringe on their religious beliefs because it can prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg. The state argued that the requirements are legal because they apply neutrally to medicines and pharmacies, and that they promote a government interest — the timely delivery of medicine, including Plan B, which becomes less effective as time passes.

But Leighton said Wednesday that the state allows all sorts of business exemptions to that rule. Pharmacies can decline to stock a drug, such as certain painkillers, if it’s likely to increase the risk of theft, or if it requires an inordinate amount of paperwork, or if the drug is temporarily unavailable from suppliers, among other reasons.

If the state allows exemptions for non-religious reasons, he said, it must also allow them for religious or moral ones, he said.

“The rules force a pharmacy to choose between compliance with delivery and stocking rules and employing a conscientious objector as a pharmacist,” he said.

The emphasis is mine. This highlights the problem when government intervenes in the voluntary contracts between people. The pharmacists are entitled to objections to carrying a certain medication, it is their right and one that no one can violate (freedom of religion and thought); and further, as it is their business, they are within their rights to not carry whatever drug they want. But, when the government becomes involved and starts telling what they can and cannot have, lawsuits like this occur.

It would be best if the state simply went out of the pharmacy business (along with all other businesses), then these two would not have had to waste time and money defending what they (rightfully) see as an infringement upon their freedom. The free market will take care of this situation easily. If one pharmacy does not carry a drug, another can, in which case the customer can visit the rival and increase the rival’s business. Even if this is the only pharmacy within 100 miles, it would still be moral for the business to carry only those products as it sees fit. The customer has no right to a product, but he may offer money to obtain one, in which case, the seller has the right to no sell the product to the customer (whether or not this is in their interest does not matter). So the lesson is simple, eliminate exemptions and allow pharmacies to sell products that they want to sell.

The (Im)Morality of Filesharing

With all the talk about SOPA and PIPA, many news articles seem to either equate filesharing with theft or non-theft, with little explanation as to what is actually occurring in the name of filesharing.  Filesharing, in its most simple definition, is the sharing or distribution of files or the providing of access to such files.  It is an Internet and computer phenomenon, and has occurred since the first people were able to send messages to one another.

In that definition, the word ‘filesharing’ means that it is not theft, or for a better term, larceny.  Larceny is the wrongful acquisition of the property of another person.  If person A gives a document to person B, and the document was person’s A original work or a work that was authorized for giving away, then no crime has occurred.  However, filesharing can become larceny when person A has a document he obtained from person C who stipulated that person A could not give it away and then person A does so.  Or if person A obtains a music file from a website that took the file off the CD (which in almost all cases violate the terms of sale or license), then that person has committed larceny.

Copyrights are the set of rights that authors of written, music, or spoken word have to protect their creations.  In the United States, copyright is bestowed upon the work once it has been created; this means that it is not necessary to register the work to obtain legal protections.  Most authors do obtain copyright registration because it allows them to date and verify that the work has been created by them, and allows the courts an easier time to examine when or if an infringement occurs.

One thing that is overlooked in copyright, such as in this xkcd comic, is that as an author, you can stipulate what people can do with your work.  You can attach a license, such as the Creative Commons License, so that it is spelled out easily what people can do, or you can simply make your own form to state that “you may share my comics/writings/drawings/music with anyone so long as you attribute back to my site/company”.  Openware and freeware software typically utilize the attribution method, in that people can use their software with little stipulations.

On the flip side, a copyright holder can stipulate many things that entail use of their product.  If they state upfront that you may not reproduce their work in digital form for example, and you buy the product with this knowledge, you are now essentially in a contract.  If you break that contract, then the party may have reserved the right to sue you for infringement.  This is where filesharing is often viewed mistakenly as completely illegal.

Rights are meant to protect individuals, and the rights to works of creation can be sold or given away to others as the original author sees fit (exceptions being in cases of employment where a contract states that the employee’s works are transferred automatically to the company upon creation).  To go around the author’s wishes is illegal and immoral because it violates the right of the author to sell or give away their product as they see fit.  It does not matter if it is in digital form and that the supply is “basically unlimited”.  The author has created something, and retains the right to use that something, because it has value.

To summarize, there is nothing wrong, morally or legally, if the author of a work says that anyone can use their work in any way shape or form and then you download it off of a third party website.  However, if the author does have stipulations, it is within their right to do so, and violating that right is immoral (and rightfully illegal).  The best way to show appreciation for an author is to support their endeavors.  Despite what many people say, the word cost is more than just the computer and printer it takes to make a piece of work.  Time is necessary component as well as the energy they used to physically make the work.  Buying their works shows that you value their property and the effort they put into making that property.  If you do not value the property for the amount the author wants to sell it as, then simply do not buy it.

Charter Cities: Hong Kong and Macau

Charter cities are an idea developed by Paul Romer, in which lands are set aside where a new government can take charge and open the economy.  The hope is to promote economic growth and prosperity; and it was covered more extensively here.  Today, we will look at Hong Kong and Macau.  These two cities are not charter cities per se; but, share some similar qualities.  Both Hong Kong and Macau possess separate governments than the host country (People’s Republic of China), have relatively open economies that promote trade (this is almost a necessity considering that both countries cannot feed themselves nor are in possession of any large natural resources), and have strong governments that protect rights.

Hong Kong

The larger of the two cities, Hong Kong is a world financial center and has a small, but strong industry sector.  From 1961 to 1997, the GDP of Hong Kong grew 180 times, while GDP per capita increased 87 times! At this time, the CIA World Factbook lists Hong Kong as the world’s 37th largest economy; and the Heritage Foundation lists it as the freest economy in the world for 2012.  While it is an expensive city to live in, the standard of living is very high and the people are overall free to exercise their rights.

Hong Kong’s rise to prosperity was characterized by low trade barriers, a government that intervened little into the economy, and a relatively uncorrupted government, one that protected the rights of the citizens and settled disputes in the courts.  Low trade barriers are essential for an economy to gather the resources it needs to grow and develop.  If Hong Kong had enacted high trade barriers that prohibited products or placed high duties and customs on them, the economy would not have had grown as dramatically as it did.  The land Hong Kong is situated on is mountainous and provides little in way of natural resources, which continues to make the city dependent on international trade to maintain its quality of life.

Though Hong Kong has drifted from its policy of positive non-interventionism, with the recent enactment of the minimum wage, a mandatory social security net, and anti-discrimination laws, it still maintains a high growth rate that will continue for the foreseeable future.  The opening of the Chinese economy to the north has been a boom to development, and Hong Kong will likely play a pivotal role over the next few decades for foreign investment into China.

Macau

At only 11 square miles, Macau is extremely small geographically, but still highly developed.  Macau’s claim to fame is with its gambling industry, which the government maintains moderate regulation over, and provides a significant amount of annual tax revenue.  In terms of exports, the city has a stable clothing industry, but this is minimal compared to the tourism and gambling revenue.

Macau was once a Portuguese colony, which after the overthrow of the Portuguese dictatorship in the 1970s, was left open to economic and political autonomy.  Macau’s gambling industry was eventually open to competition in 2002, which enabled multiple companies to open gambling casinos.  Thus, despite being in a similar situation with Hong Kong in its lack of resources, Macau was able to develop into a modern economy, this time by playing to the vices of tourists from nearby China.  This does not mean to say that Macau lacks other prominent economic sectors; it is considered to be a tax haven by some countries and the city also has a financial center.  What is important it that the government is committed to growth, and though the economy is not as free as Hong Kong’s, it has low trade barriers which allow it to continue to prosper and thrive.

Charter cities are not yet existent in this world; though, through the hard work of Paul Romer, it may soon become a reality in Honduras.  If any proposed city was open to trade, and had a competitive tax and regulatory scheme, it would likely become more prosperous than its host country over a couple decades.  But if it quickly becomes a corrupt city, where the government is simply an extension of the old, then the city could risk failure and hamper any future attempts to establish bastions of freedom.