Monday, May 23, 2011

Assault on “Assault Weapons” Begins

Sponsored by the Calguns Foundation and the Second Amendment Foundation, a lawsuit has been filed in federal court to challenge California’s ban on so-called assault weapons. Richards v. Harris attacks the ban itself on Second Amendment grounds and as a bonus also challenges the constitutionality of warrantless gun-related searches under the Fourth Amendment. The lawful possession of a firearm is not probable cause that a crime has occurred.

As I have noted before, “assault weapons” do not actually exist. They are an artificial and arbitrary category of weapon, functionally identical to many non-banned semi-automatic firearms, and much of the legislation passed against them was done through subterfuge, exploiting their superficial resemblance to machine guns, which have been tightly controlled since A.D. 1934 and effectively banned since A.D. 1986. Even in California, there are hundreds of thousands of firearms that have been modified to comply with the law’s confusing definitions.

The time has come to strike down this unconstitutional statute that prohibits firearms “in common use for lawful purposes.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Economic Musings

As a libertarian, I advocate for individual freedom and responsibility. However, I focus mainly on the personal aspects of this and am fairly content to let economic matters wait. While economic freedom is tremendously important and has far-reaching implications, the route to more libertarian economic policies must first pass through such subtler points as the right to privacy and the freedom of association.

Nevertheless, economic questions have been impossible to ignore in the face of the most recent financial crisis. When jobs are lost and financial security evaporates, emotions naturally run high and hot, and frightened, angry people look for someone or something to blame. Predictably, capitalism and free markets end up taking much of that blame.

The irony is that we don’t actually have free markets. Even in nominally capitalist countries such as the United States, the markets are managed, regulated, influenced, and manipulated by governments. This often, if not usually occurs with the participation or at least the tacit approval of powerful corporate interests, which are happy to see a regulatory status quo that protects their profits from potential competitors. In the latter respect, a private company can be as unfriendly to free markets as any state socialist.

In fact, free markets have never really been given a fair shake. While the young United States embraced the idea of capitalism after throwing off the legacy of British mercantilism, the federal government was still quick to regulate international trade. The industrial and banking magnates that rose to prominence after the Civil War also sought to control markets by building monopolies when possible or by colluding with their competitors when not. The legislation and regulation that followed, though born of good intentions, created new problems, especially for organized labor.

Regulations or rather bad regulations helped turn the recession of A.D. 1929 into the Great Depression. As with the latest crisis, easy credit fueled bad investments and outright speculation. Governments worldwide tried desperately to solve the problem through deficit spending, increased taxation, and ultimately warfare. When prosperity began to return after the Second World War, this had the curious effect of appearing to be successful. Government intervention in the economy had surely ended the depression!

The corollary observation was that capitalism and free markets had failed—though it’s hard to imagine that the economy wouldn’t have recovered naturally after nearly two decades. If greedy bankers and speculators had triggered the depression, then obviously the government needed to keep these dangerous “capitalists” in check by maintaining an active regulatory role and to help their victims by providing generous social welfare supported by significant taxation. This became the framework that encloses “free markets” today.

Therefore, it is now effectively a given that governments should step in to “fix” economic problems caused by “failures” of the free market. Indeed, many high schoolers learn about John Maynard Keynes, but few college graduates have even heard of economists such as Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, or Milton Friedman. Public education has framed the discussion very thoroughly, if incompletely in this regard.

Of course, under the right fiscal circumstances, Keynesian economic policies make perfect sense. We should set aside some funds in the good times and spend them in the bad times, smoothing out the ups and downs of the “business cycle.” However, governments are almost always spending beyond their means, abusing fiscal power for political favor. In the end, rampant Keynesian interventionism provides the would-be socialists with the power they crave and the so-called capitalists with the wealth they cherish.

When both of the factions that would destroy free markets are happy, I have to worry.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Right-to-Carry Loss in District Court

Seeming to deliberately misread the Heller and McDonald decisions, Judge M. C. England has ruled in favor of Yolo County in the case of Richards v. Prieto at federal district court. Citing the fact that it is not yet technically illegal to openly carry an unloaded firearm, Judge England concluded that the county’s arbitrary licensing policy is “constitutionally valid.” However, in an ironic coincidence, the California Assembly voted to eliminate this technicality earlier today.

A notice of appeal has been filed.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

May 1st

I had planned to write about economics tonight, but war news intercedes. Osama bin Laden has been killed in Pakistan.