Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Decline of Violence

In February 2012 Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, declared, “I can’t impress upon you [enough] that in my personal military judgment, formed over 38 years, we are living in the most dangerous time in my lifetime, right now.”

One year later, he upped the ante: “I will personally attest to the fact that [the world is] more dangerous than it has ever been.” But General Dempsey is hardly alone. Dire warnings about our uniquely dangerous world are ubiquitous. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testified in early 2014 that he had “not experienced a time when we’ve been beset by more crises and threats around the globe.”

This seems to be an opinion shared by many.  We are constantly bombarded by images of violence in the media.  We are warned about threats by politicians and other actors on the political stage.  Do these media reports and political narratives have a basis in fact?  Is the hypothesis that the world is a more violent and dangerous place in fact correct?

Fortunately the data is available to analyze the current state of violence in the world.  The results of the analysis is that the world is unequivocally less violent today than at any time in history.  This may be surprising and difficult to believe, but the facts are clear.

Reason Magazine published an interview with Steven Pinker author of the book  The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.  The complete interview can be viewed at this link:

The message delivered in this interview is:

You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been declining for centuries.

Steven Pinker wrote an article titled The World Is Not Falling Apart that was published in Slate Magazine and can be read at this link:

Some of the highlights of this article are:

  • It’s hard to believe we are in greater danger today than we were during the two world wars, or during other perils such as the periodic nuclear confrontations during the Cold War, the numerous conflicts in Africa and Asia that each claimed millions of lives, or the eight-year war between Iran and Iraq that threatened to choke the flow of oil through the Persian Gulf and cripple the world’s economy.

  • As long as violence has not vanished from the world, there will always be enough incidents to fill the evening news. And since the human mind estimates probability by the ease with which it can recall examples, newsreaders will always perceive that they live in dangerous times. All the more so when billions of smartphones turn a fifth of the world’s population into crime reporters and war correspondents.

  • The only sound way to appraise the state of the world is to count. How many violent acts has the world seen compared with the number of opportunities? And is that number going up or down? 

It is important to note that these studies include violence of all types, not just wars and terrorist acts.  The facts are very clear that even violent crime is less prevalent today.  The following Reuters article describes the most recent FBI "annual Crime in the United States report":

According to the FBI the United States had an estimated 1.16 million violent crimes last year, the lowest number since 1.09 million were recorded in 1978.  All types of violent crimes were lower, with murder and non-negligent manslaughter off 4.4 percent to 14,196, the lowest figure since 1968. Rape was down 6.3 percent and robbery fell 2.8

Finally for those who prefer visual data Max Roser has a very interesting website Our World in Data 

There is a visual presentation about the history of world violence at this webpage:

Christopher A. Preble of the Cato Institute discusses the consequences of the over estimation of dangers in a recent policy report:

This policy report reaches these conclusions:

  • Individual liberty is often threatened during periods of heightened fear and anxiety, a fact that informed the very structure of the U.S. government. James Madison, in making the case for restraining the new government’s war-making powers, warned the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia: “The means of defense against foreign danger, have been always the instruments of tyranny at home.”

  • He went on: “Among the Romans it was a standing maxim to excite a war, whenever a revolt was apprehended. Throughout all Europe, the armies kept up under the pretext of defending, have enslaved the people.” A decade later, Madison returned to this theme in a letter to Thomas Jefferson. Madison knew that there was already some demand for a standing military, and that a few would use fear of foreign threats to whip up public sentiment in favor of a more powerful state. Indeed, Madison postulated “a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger real or pretended from abroad.”

  • Others since then have stumbled upon similar ideas about popular notions of threats, and of how the fear of threats has been used to grow the power of government. For example, the noted writer, social critic and satirist H.L. Mencken declared “the whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

  • Madison and Mencken’s warnings remain relevant today. Recall how in November 2008 incoming Obama chief of staff Rahm Emanuel called for swift government action to deal with what he said was an urgent threat. “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste,” Emanuel explained in an interview, “it’s an opportunity to do important things that you would otherwise avoid.”

  • While Emanuel was talking about an economic crisis, an increasingly powerful state can be used in many different ways, regardless of whether it was precipitated by fears of foreign or domestic threats. The same sorts of powers that allowed the Justice Department to go after suspected terrorists allowed the IRS to harass suspected tea partiers.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Individualism vs. Collectivism: Our Future, Our Choice

A recent article from The Objective Standard, Vol. 7, No. 1 by Craig Biddle is a very well written and detailed examination of the basic political issue of our time.  I have copied the introduction and conclusion to this article below but there is so much depth to this article that I can not provide an adequate summary.  Please take the time and effort required to read the entire article at the following link:


The fundamental political conflict in America today is, as it has been for a century, individualism vs. collectivism. Does the individual’s life belong to him—or does it belong to the group, the community, society, or the state? With government expanding ever more rapidly—seizing and spending more and more of our money on “entitlement” programs and corporate bailouts, and intruding on our businesses and lives in increasingly onerous ways—the need for clarity on this issue has never been greater.

Individualism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs to him and that he has an inalienable right to live it as he sees fit, to act on his own judgment, to keep and use the product of his effort, and to pursue the values of his choosing. It’s the idea that the individual is sovereign, an end in himself, and the fundamental unit of moral concern. This is the ideal that the American Founders set forth and sought to establish when they drafted the Declaration and the Constitution and created a country in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness were to be recognized and protected.

Collectivism is the idea that the individual’s life belongs not to him but to the group or society of which he is merely a part, that he has no rights, and that he must sacrifice his values and goals for the group’s “greater good.” According to collectivism, the group or society is the basic unit of moral concern, and the individual is of value only insofar as he serves the group. As one advocate of this idea puts it: “Man has no rights except those which society permits him to enjoy. From the day of his birth until the day of his death society allows him to enjoy certain so-called rights and deprives him of others; not . . . because society desires especially to favor or oppress the individual, but because its own preservation, welfare, and happiness are the prime considerations.”1

Individualism or collectivism—which of these ideas is correct? Which has the facts on its side?


Such is the state of politics in America today, and this is the choice we face: Americans can either continue to ignore the fact that collectivism is utterly corrupt from the ground up, and thus continue down the road to statism and tyranny—or we can look at reality, use our minds, acknowledge the absurdities of collectivism and the atrocities that follow from it, and shout the truth from the rooftops and across the Internet.

What would happen if we did the latter? As Ayn Rand said, “You would be surprised how quickly the ideologists of collectivism retreat when they encounter a confident, intellectual adversary. Their case rests on appealing to human confusion, ignorance, dishonesty, cowardice, despair. Take the side they dare not approach; appeal to human intelligence.”

Friday, July 4, 2014

Independence in 1776; Dependence in 2014

The following article was published by Chris Edwards  in the Cato Institute's blog "Cato at Liberty":

Since the 1960s, the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (CFDA) has provided a list of all federal subsidy programs. That includes subsidies to individuals, businesses, nonprofit groups, and state and local governments. The CFDA includes subsidies for farmers, retirees, school lunches, rural utilities, the energy industry, rental housing, public broadcasting, job training, foreign aid, urban transit, and much more.

The chart below shows that the number of federal subsidy programs has almost doubled since 1990, reaching 2,282 today. The genesis of the CFDA was the explosion of hand-out programs under President Lyndon Johnson. Members of Congress needed a handy guide to inform their constituents about all the new freebies.

The growth in subsidies may be good for the politicians, but it is terribly corrosive for American society. Each subsidy program costs money and creates economic distortions. Each program generates a bureaucracy, spawns lobby groups, and encourages more people to demand further benefits from the government.

Individuals, businesses, and nonprofit groups that become hooked on subsidies essentially become tools of the state. They have less incentive to innovate, and they shy away from criticizing the hand that feeds them. Government subsidies are like an addictive drug, undermining American traditions of individual reliance, voluntary charity, and entrepreneurialism.

The rise in the size and scope of federal subsidies means that Americans are steadily losing their independence. That is something sobering to think about on July 4.

Which subsidies should we cut? We should start with these.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The False Justifications for a Minimum Wage

On 1/30/14 Forbes published an article by Jeffrey Dorfman titled "Almost Everything You Have Been Told About The Minimum Wage Is False".  The entire article is at this link:

These are some of the most interesting points:
First, people should acknowledge that this rather heated policy discussion is over a very small group of people.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics there are about 3.6 million workers at or below the minimum wage (you can be below legally under certain conditions). That is 2.5 percent of all workers and 1.5 percent of the population of potential workers. Within that small group, 31 percent are teenagers and 55 percent are 25 years old or younger. That leaves only about 1.1 percent of all workers over 25 and 0.8 percent of all Americans over 25 earning the minimum wage.

Within that tiny group, most of these workers are not poor and are not trying to support a family on only their earnings.

This group of workers is also shrinking. In 1980, 15 percent of hourly workers earned the minimum wage. Today that share is down to only 4.7 percent.

Liberals have been trumpeting a study claiming that if the minimum wage had risen in tandem with worker productivity, the minimum wage would be nearly $22 per hour. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has gone to great lengths to push this statistic into the policy debate....Labor productivity may have risen faster than the minimum wage over the last twenty or thirty years, but the study getting all the press uses the productivity gains of all workers to calculate a hypothetical increase in the minimum wage. What is needed is a measure of the productivity gains of minimum wage workers....Taking a longer view, from 1987 to 2012 the same BLS data show that worker productivity in the food service sector rose by an average of 0.6 percent per year. In limited service restaurants, the gains were slightly lower, only averaging 0.5 percent per year. Meanwhile, unit labor costs have risen by an average of 3.6 percent. Over this period the minimum wage has risen from $3.35 to $7.25 per hour which is an average annual increase of 3.1 percent. In other words, at least in food service, the minimum wage has risen at a rate five or six times as fast as justified by the gains in worker productivity.

The myth that minimum wage workers are being treated unfairly is exposed by a look at the correct data on labor productivity.  In a truthful debate we see that the minimum wage has been generous to workers receiving it when compared to the changes in the value of their output.
We discussed the minimum wage in a previous post on this blog.  Please review:

Monday, February 3, 2014

The extent of corruption in Europe is "breathtaking"

An article published by BBC News on 2/3/14 discusses corruption in Europe.  I find the "shocked" tone of the article ironic.  European nations have expansive governments that control all aspects of social and economic interaction.  The fact is that whenever government is large and intrusive corruption will flourish.  You can read the article at this link:

This article is reporting on a study by the European Union to the European Parliament.  The entire study can be found at this link:

The BBC News article contains the following paragraphs:
In some countries there was a relatively high number reporting personal experience of bribery.

In Croatia, the Czech Republic, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania and Greece, between 6% and 29% of respondents said they had been asked for a bribe, or had been expected to pay one, in the past 12 months.

There were also high levels of bribery in Poland (15%), Slovakia (14%) and Hungary (13%), where the most prevalent instances were in healthcare.
The last sentence could be a prediction for the future direction of healthcare in the USA.  As more government intervention occurs in the healthcare industry we will be subjected to more corruption.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

The social safety net

Several times each year, John Allison President and CEO of the Cato Institute circulates a memorandum to the Directors, Sponsors, and Friends of the Institute.  In his July/August 2013 Report John makes the following statements:
A trend that disturbs me is the effort by some of those who want to change political results to try to appeal to egalitarianism for the purpose of electing "compassionate" conservatives to Congress. On several occasions, I have heard the leaders of conservative policy organizations lead with the comment "We all agree about the need for a social safety net" (of course, government financed and controlled). Well, not me. In fact, once we agree the government has the right to use force to redistribute wealth (which is mandatory to create a government-based safety net) the fight is over. The only logical stopping point for this argument is equal outcomes. Equal, that is, except for the elitists in the government and power positions who control the redistribution of wealth.

As libertarians, we believe the sole role of government is to protect individual rights. Our position is logically defendable across all political activities and demands a limited government.

In addition, we are the true advocates of human flourishing. In fact, as libertarians we are the defenders of the pursuit of happiness in the Aristotelian concept of happiness. Happiness earned by a life well lived. Hard work, blood, sweat, and tears happiness. The type of happiness we advocate is only possible in a free society where each individual has the personal responsibility for his life and has the right to live that life consistent with his beliefs and values as a free and independent person.

I believe the welfare state creates very destructive incentives in multiple ways. Mike Tanner's recent study, The Work versus Welfare Tradeoff: 2013, outlines the significant economic incentives that the welfare state provides.

On the noneconomic front, many (most) long-term welfare recipients are not happy as evidenced by high rates of alcohol consumption, drug use, domestic violence, etc. They are numbed into a destructive state of dependency that destroys personal responsibility, undermines a sense of purpose, and makes the true pursuit of happiness impossible.

What if the welfare state had not been created? Would markets have solved the welfare problem better than governments, based on private contributions? I believe the answer is unequivocally yes. In fact, there were many private mutual-support societies that provided voluntary assistance to the poor before the government welfare state was created.

A current example is Goodwill Industries, which relies primarily on donations of used goods (clothing, etc.). Their philosophy is to teach people how to be personally responsible, to teach them work skills, and to help them understand the healing power of work. Goodwill has many inspiring success stories. Compare this outcome to the results of government-based welfare. Unfortunately, organizations like Goodwill have a difficult challenge competing against a free lunch from the government.

If the welfare state had not been created, I am confident the pre-welfare private charitable organizations would have experimented and learned radically different solutions to many social issues. The market-discipline process would have supported innovation that would have led to significantly better outcomes for many beneficiaries (victims) of the current welfare system.

So, I do not agree that a government-financed and controlled safety net is a morally defendable idea. When government expands beyond its important but very limited role, it crowds out private institutions that are far more effective. History teaches us that when force is used to achieve so-called "positive" goals, instead of in the proper role of defending individual rights, the "good intentions" practically always produce bad results.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

On Spending: No Sacred Cows

The following is an advertisement currently being circulated by the Cato Institute.

We face another budget crisis and possible government shutdown as early as January, unless Congress can come together on a bipartisan basis to cut spending.

The Affordable Care Act is far from the only program that should be repealed. Both Democrats and Republicans must be willing to cut programs that are championed by special interests in their parties. There can be no more “sacred cows.”

Policy experts at the Cato Institute have put together a plan that balances the budget and reduces our dangerously high debt burden by cutting more than $3 trillion over 10 years. It builds on good ideas from both liberals and conservatives to expand individual freedom and reduce the burden of government.

You can read more about needed reforms at, a project of the Cato Institute.

CORPORATE WELFARE | Farm aid distorts agriculture, harms the environment, and nearly all goes to well-off businesses. Energy subsidies have been disastrous—from a $500 million loss on Solyndra to $700 million wasted on a clean coal project in Mississippi. Phasing out farm and energy subsidies would save $160 billion.

SUBSIDIES FOR THE STATES | Washington runs more than 1,100 aid-to-state programs. They are hugely bureaucratic and stifle state and local innovation. Phasing out federal subsidies for K-12 schools would save $180 billion and free states to improve the quality of their own education systems.

PRIVATIZATION | President Obama has suggested privatizing the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA and other businesses may “no longer require federal participation,” his budget noted, which would “help put the nation on a sustainable fiscal path.” Other candidates for privatization include Amtrak, the Corps of Engineers, federal dams, airport screening, and air traffic control—which would save at least $110 billion.

SUBSIDIES FOR INDIVIDUALS | The government’s vast array of individual aid programs would be better handled by state and local governments and private charities. Programs such as food stamps should be turned over to the states. Phasing out federal food stamp subsidies over 10 years would save $400 billion.

INTELLIGENCE BUDGET | The budgets of the CIA, NSA, and other intelligence agencies have become bloated with spending on vast and often invasive data collection efforts and armadas of drone aircraft. Cutting intelligence spending by one quarter would save $110 billion.

MILITARY OVERREACH | The Constitution envisioned a military to “provide for the common defense” of the United States, not one that serves as the world’s policeman. Congress should reduce overseas military commitments, avoid foreign wars, and create a leaner force structure. Making reforms to meet the budget caps for 2014 and beyond could save at least $200 billion.

DRUG WAR | The war on drugs wastes a huge amount of resources in our police and justice systems. It also harms civil liberties, foments violence, and does little to curb drug use. Ending the federal drug war and returning drug policy to the states where it belongs would save $110 billion.

MEDICARE | Medicare spending is the largest factor pushing the budget into crisis. Raising premiums and increasing cost-sharing would save $330 billion. Policymakers should also restructure the program by directing payments to enrollees, not insurers or providers. That would generate greater choice, spur innovation, and improve access to care.

SOCIAL SECURITY | Social Security has huge unfunded obligations, and it causes ongoing damage by reducing personal savings and harming labor markets. Meanwhile, spending on federal disability programs has soared as the number of recipients has multiplied. America should move to a system of personal accounts for retirement and disability, but meanwhile we would save $640 billion by indexing initial benefits to prices, modestly raising the retirement age, and trimming the disability rolls by one quarter.

MEDICAID | Medicaid’s open-ended matching grants to the states have led to huge cost growth, but not better health care. Congress should give each state a fixed amount of funding and free them to experiment with better ways of providing care for the needy. Limiting annual growth in the block grant to five percent would save $760 billion.

Dollar amounts are savings over 10 years. Cuts are assumed to be phased in over 10 years. Total cuts include estimated interest savings.