Pity the American Libertarian

From the “Letters” section of the March 13, 2010 issue of The Economist comes this quip, with emphasis added:

Moreover, your use of the term “radical libertarianism” was disturbing. While I would not join the mobs at a tea party, I do know there is nothing inherently “radical” about libertarianism. Why cast the philosophy in such a bad light? Free trade, limited government, personal responsibility, the rule of law and free markets are fantastic aspects of Western civilisation. Pity the American libertarian.
Dennis Colasurdo
San Diego

Libertarianism is often thought of as radical – case in point being the blog, The Radical Libertarian, the tag line of which reads “we reject all forms of government.”
That position is not shared by many Libertarians, who believe that limited government has a role in society, and that freedom does not require (or equal) anarchy.
That being said, such a position is not without challenge, as posed by The UK Libertarian, who write in their post, “Limited Government (minarchism) is not ethically consistent”:

[L]imited government, of the kind argued for by many libertarians, is a dead end. I’m talking about the people who argue that a government’s sole functions should be to provide national defence, policing, and the courts.

The problem with the argument posed by our friends across the pond is their repetition of the mantra, “The government uses its guns to take money from people by force and then redistribute that money…” If government truly exists at the will of the people, it does not have the right to force the people to do (or give up) anything. If the government does that nonetheless, it is not a government, it is a tyranny.
The Libertarian challenge is in creating a government that can have necessary powers to protect personal and economic freedoms without sliding down the slope of tyranny. No one says such an effort is easy, but it is also not impossible.
Don’t pity the American Libertarian for trying; rather, support his cause.

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New York delays tax refunds after a long history of fiscal irresponsibility

From the article, “NY tax refund checks not in the mail” (The Business Review), with emphasis added:

New York state has temporarily stopped issuing income tax refund checks, hoarding money to help the state pay more than $14 billion of bills due this month.
Refund payments will not resume until April 1…
State law caps the amount of refunds paid from January through March every year at $1.75 billion.
This year, for the first time in a decade, Gov. David Paterson lowered the cap to $1.25 billion to preserve the state’s cash flow. The state hit that lower cap on March 12…[Governor David] Paterson has warned for a few weeks now that the state lacks the funds to pay all of its estimated $2.2 billion of bills due this month, which include everything from Medicaid reimbursements to benefits for state workers.

Happy days in Albany, for sure.
Albany’s fiscal irresponsibility
Since 1999, total government spending in New York State has risen from $62.2 billion to $112.5 billion — an 81% increase– as shown in the chart below.

Granted, due to inflation, a dollar in 1999 was worth more than a dollar in 2010. Despite that, even when counting inflation, state spending has increased by 47% in the past 11 years.
But state population has gone up since 1999; shouldn’t that make things look better? Sadly, no; spending per person in inflation-adjusted dollars has still gone up by 43% since 1999. (Source: usgovernmentspending.com)
Final scary number: total public debt has gone from $76.56 billion in 1999 to $123.04 billion in 2010.(Source: usgovernmentspending.com)
The verdict: New York State is spending 43% more per person today than it was in 1999, and has increased its total debt by 61% in the same time span. For those that have lived here in that time period, would you say that living conditions in New York State today are twice as good as they were in 1999, since our combined spending and debt obligation has roughly doubled? I doubt it.
In layman’s terms: Imagine you were earning $50,000, spending $50,000, and had a $40,000 mortgage. If, eleven years later, you were earning $90,000 a year, spending $90,000 a year, and had a $74,000 mortgage, would you say you were on the path to success?
Only someone from the Albany legislature could say “yes” to such a question.

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First Annual Convention: Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Staten Island Libertarian Party (SILP) will have its first Annual Convention on Thursday, March 25, 2010 at Karl’s Klipper (40 Bay Street, Staten Island).

Agenda for the Annual Convention

The following initial agenda is set for our first Annual Convention:

  • Identify all those present as members in good standing with the Libertarian Party of New York (LPNY).
  • Nominate and elect officers: Chair, Vice-Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.
  • Vote to approve and/or amend the Chapter By-Laws.
  • Nominate and elect a representative to represent the SILP at the state party level.

If you plan on attending the Annual Convention, please notify us!

To be a member of the SILP

To be a member in good standing, you must be a member of the LPNY. Membership in the LPNY requires that you have paid party dues ($25) on or after Sept 1, 2009.

  • Those who are already members of the LPNY should notify the SILP via email so we can add them to our member list. Please include your full name and the approximate date that your dues were paid.
  • Those who are not members of the LPNY must first join the State party prior to submitting their name to the party. Joining requires paying dues $25 (annual). You can join the LPNY via an online form or via the mail. Once you join, please notify us as described above.

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Saving $1,900 per tree (or: a brief lesson in government inefficiency)

Sometimes, one sentence can show how government is ill-suited to provide certain products and services.
From But only Parks can price a tree, SILive.com, March 3 2010:

The Parks Department charges $1,900 to plant one 8-inch sapling, and usually takes months to do so; builders who testified before the Council said they pay anywhere between $300 and $500 to purchase the same tree.

A quick Google search turned me on to Musser Forests, a tree farm in Pennsylvania, that sells 3-year red oak seedlings (3- to 5-feet tall) for $6.59 each (minimum purchase: 5). Add in shipping, and it’s still only $15.09 per tree. Want your trees shipped in two days? Only $31.59 per tree.
Granted, a 3- to 5-foot sapling is a bit smaller than what is usually used as a replacement tree (about half the size), but oak trees grow about two feet per year.  Is two years of tree-growth worth saving nearly $500 — or, as it is with the Parks Department, $1,900?

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Supermarkets selling wine, and liquor store insanities

I hate taxes and government-imposed fees as much as the next guy. When Governor David Patterson announced that he wants to increase licensing fees for stores that sell wine (to the tune of up to $300 million in new tax receipts over two years), I wasn’t impressed. But one side effect of this did impress me: the hope that such changes would allow wine to be sold in stores other than liquor stores, notably supermarkets.
Unfortunately, not everyone believes that retailers should be allowed to sell whatever they want, even if it means bringing in more money to Albany. State Assemblyman Lou Tobacco (R-Staten Island) had this to say:

The purpose of a liquor store is to sell liquor, they’re not going to make any money selling chocolates and cigars. There are over 1,000 independent liquor stores in New York State. If this happens, it will have a ripple effect to local economies with the loss of business and jobs. This would really be detrimental to the loss of mom-and-pops.
Source: Weak support for Paterson’s plan to allow wine sales in supermarkets (FoodBizDaily)

To this, I have a few comments and observations.

  • Shouldn’t the liquor store decide whether it can or can not make any money selling chocolates and cigars, not a bureaucrat?
  • Liquor stores sell more than just wine; they also sell liquor, which supermarkets would still not be able to sell.
  • Why can’t liquor stores sell beer? It is an alcoholic beverage, just like wine and liquor, yet this is sold only in supermarkets.
  • Why can’t liquor stores be open 24 hours per day? Why can’t they sell their goods before 9AM on a Tuesday, or after midnight on a Saturday, or at 11:30AM on a Sunday?
  • Supermarkets will likely not stock the selection of wines that liquor stores do. Supermarket shelf space is valuable, and they rely on high volume and low margins, and will not replace the selection and service of liquor stores. (Source: Wikipedia)

To add to the insanity of this, did you know that 35 of the 50 states permit wine sales in supermarkets and liquor stores? Blogger Dr. Vino asked some retailers questions related to this (Wine shops in states with supermarket sales – three views). The responses from those retailers is interesting; the comments to the blog post are enlightening. I recommend reading them if you want a wider perspective than mine.
The final insult to injury: a recent Siena poll showed that 58% of New Yorkers would support the sale of wine in supermarkets and grocery stores, and only 39% would object. To this, Assemblyman Tobacco was reported as not being “impressed by the number” (source: SILive.com). Nice to know that the standing elected official in a representative government disregards the opinions of his electorate.
Unrelated side note: While doing the research for this article, I noticed that two articles, one written by an anonymous staff writer at FoodBizDaily.com and one by staff writer Judy Randall on SILive.com, to be suspiciously similar, and in my opinion borderline plagiarism. Someone seems to be borrowing content from the other. Very sad, if it is true.
Additional Sources:

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Two simple ways to reduce health insurance premiums

A 2009 study by the AHIP Center for Policy and Research, entitled Individual Health Insurance 2009: A Comprehensive Survey of Premiums, Availability, and Benefits (PDF download), reveals a great deal of facts about health insurance premiums throughout the United States.
Going through this report, one can identify two simple but effective steps to reducing the cost of health insurance

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