Study of a Lady

Our good friend Jon Preston created a video montage of his original paintings called “Study of a Lady” set to the song “Golden” by Paper! For those in need of a reminder, Paper is the moniker of Avett Brothers drummer Mike Marsh‘s solo project… for which I play bass.

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Low Supply and High Demand Here in No Man’s Land

We’re long overdue for an installment of Classic Rock for Classical Liberals, so today will feature Billy Joel’s “No Man’s Land” from his 1993 release, River of Dreams.

I’ve seen those big machines come rolling through the quiet pines
Blue suits and bankers with their Volvos and their valentines
Give us this day our daily discount outlet merchandise
Raise up a multiplex and we will make a sacrifice
Now we’re gonna get the big business
Now we’re gonna get the real thing
Everybody’s all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
Out here in No Man’s Land
Before they passed the master plan
Out here in No Man’s Land
Low supply and high demand
Here in No Man’s Land

There ain’t much work out here in our consumer power base
No major industry, just miles and miles of parking space
This morning’s paper says our neighbor’s in a cocaine bust
Lots more to read about Lolita and suburban lust
Now we’re gonna get the whole story
Now we’re gonna be in prime time
Everybody’s all excited about it

Who remembers when it all began
We’ve just begun to understand
Low supply and high demand

I see these children with their boredom and their vacant stares
God help us all if we’re to blame for their unanswered prayers
They roll the sidewalks up at night this place goes underground
Thanks to the Condo Kings there’s cable now in Zombietown
Now we’re gonna get the closed circuit
Now we’re gonna get the Top 40
Now we’re gonna get the sports franchise
Now we’re gonna get the major attractions

Who remembers when it all began
Before the whole world was in our hands
Before the banners and the marching bands
Low supply and high demand

Smells Like Mean Spirits: Tennessee’s Crony Whiskey Laws

whiskeyAdult beverage fans are undoubtedly aware of the craft brewing and distilling revivals that swept the U.S. in recent years. The craft movement is understandably popular since it provides an influx of options at the intersection of quality and economical. One particularly unamused player in the spirits industry, however, is Brown-Forman, the maker of Tennessee’s famous Jack Daniel’s whiskey.

Although distillers in Tennessee employed different techniques and a variety of base products like corn, barley, and rye to produce whiskey for over a century, last year the company successfully urged the state to pass legislation requiring anything labeled “Tennessee Whiskey” not just be distilled in Tennessee, but also made from at least 51 percent corn, filtered through maple charcoal, and aged in pricey, new oak barrels each year. State lawmakers are currently considering an outright repeal of last year’s law that unfairly benefits the world’s most renowned Tennessee Whiskey.

It’s no secret that people lobby the government to curry favor. In fact, it’s been going on for centuries. Gordon Tullock, a founding figure of public choice theory, identified many of these concepts and originated the idea of what became known as rent-seeking, which occurs when large companies utilize their financial position to lobby politicians with the express purpose of increasing profits through legislation. As David Henderson explains at the Library of Economics and Liberty, “Tullock’s insight was that expenditures on lobbying for privileges are costly and that these expenditures, therefore, dissipate some of the gains to the beneficiaries and cause inefficiency.”

Incumbent firms in any given industry are prone to use their considerable resources to seek out regulations that protect their economic interests and secure competitive advantage over rivals through codified increases to the cost of doing business. This behavior can lead to moral hazard when politicians base policy decisions on the lobby rather than efficiency. Anybody that’s watched at least twenty minutes of Netflix’s “House of Cards” is already subliminally well-versed in the implications of public choice and rent seeking.

But Jack Daniel’s already enjoys a more than comfortable market share of over 90 percent in the battle of the Tennessee Whiskeys. Why this standard-bearer is suddenly concerned with codified quality criteria after approximately 150 years of distilling is puzzling. Even more perplexing, however, is why they would seemingly waste their own resources to lobby the state when their dominant position in the Tennessee Whiskey market is already remarkably secure. Brown-Forman spokesman Phil Lynch claims they’re merely attempting to preserve the integrity of Tennessee Whiskey though rigid standards that ensure top quality:

Any place that produces a product, in this case we’re talking about distilled spirits, that has a particular premium to it or particular ways you will make it, has standards to entry. The standards of identity for Tennessee whiskey are the same that they’ve been, [the legislature] just never codified them.

In other words, you must make your whiskey like Jack Daniel’s makes theirs! Not only is this law anti-competitive, it’s also blatantly anti-innovation. Jack Daniel’s master distiller Jeff Arnett admits as much, saying there is “only one way to make Tennessee whiskey” and that last year’s law “protects a process and name that [they've] spent nearly a century and a half investing in.” Jack Daniel’s even stores its whiskey in new barrels produced at a Brown-Forman plant, a luxury that smaller distillers competing for their share of the Tennessee Whiskey market don’t enjoy.

Recent explosions in American whiskey are largely attributed to experimentation with different barrel combinations and various flavors like cinnamon, honey, and maple. Distilleries brought their new products to market, branded as Tennessee Whiskey, in the “spirit” of competition, innovation, and providing a diverse array of options to consumers. But in the absence of a full repeal, the ingenuity behind this modern day whiskey rebellion may well be stifled by stricter regulations that dictate what exactly constitutes a Tennessee Whiskey.

Brown-Forman needs to focus on how their initial success was won, creating the best product on the market and securing brand loyalty through consistent output and product quality. Their insistence on lobbying the state to regulate the definition of Tennessee Whiskey will only succeed in creating market distortions while increasing their own expenses and those of their competitors. If Brown-Forman is truly concerned with preserving their “particular premium” and “the standards of identity for Tennessee Whiskey,” then the merit of Jack Daniel’s, as well as other brands claiming to be Tennessee Whiskey, should be decided by consumers in a competitive marketplace, not behind closed doors by legislators and lobbyists.

This post originally appeared at The Daily Caller.

Targeting Cold Medicine is No Cure For Tennessee’s Meth Addiction

blueTennessee currently holds the dubious honor of being the second biggest meth state in the country, with 1,545 reported incidents in 2013. To combat the problem, Gov. Bill Haslam is pushing a bill in the Tennessee legislature that seeks to restrict over-the-counter purchases of products containing the decongestants pseudoephedrine and ephedrine to two packages per month. Unfortunately for the governor, the state’s meth problem has little to do with the accessibility of Advil Cold & Sinus and everything to do with the policy of drug prohibition, which succeeds only in creating black markets, and the futility of the War on Drugs.

If history has proven anything, it’s that the human appetite demands certain vices that no amount of legislation can curb. So long as these demands exist, other people will respond by surfacing to meet them. Alcohol prohibition paved the way for a thriving empire of organized criminals who controlled the supply and distribution of liquor on the black market and settled disputes with violence in the absence of courtroom adjudication. Moreover, prohibition created the perverse incentive for people to create dangerous homemade alternatives like bathtub gin and wood alcohol to get their buzz on. Repealing alcohol prohibition all but eliminated the incentives to produce such noxious concoctions.

As it relates to today’s drug war, the prohibition phenomenon occurs primarily in the form of methamphetamine and crack cocaine. Targeting cold and allergy remedies, while ignoring the systemic problem of prohibition, will yield the unintended consequence of adversely affecting law-abiding citizens who need and rely on effective medication, not the meth industry. Health care costs would undoubtedly rise along with the difficulty to receive timely care, likely causing patients to seek less effective treatment or no treatment at all. This can lead to increased absenteeism at work, translating to lower productivity and increased health insurance rates for employers. The net result can take the form of job cuts and reductions, or the elimination, of health benefits.

Senior citizens are likely to be among the most unfairly burdened by restrictive access to pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, according to AARP Tennessee executive council member Debbie Pare:

Transportation is a huge issue that is increasing as more and more seniors give up their driving and then now are depending on others to get them places. With this bill requiring more frequent visits to the doctor’s office for prescriptions for these medications, it’s going to be a hardship. I think everybody realizes what the dilemma is and the impact that the meth production is having on every community in the state. But is there maybe an option that won’t affect seniors negatively?

Oregon was the first state to require prescriptions for pseudoephedrine, providing a clear example that stringent laws regulating and restricting decongestants simply do not achieve their desired outcome. While the Beaver State’s prescription requirement took effect in 2006, a 2011 report from the Office of National Drug Control Policy indicates a “sustained high level of methamphetamine availability” in Oregon. The national results are no different, as an Associated Press report from 2011 indicates that the laws dramatically increase the black market value of medications containing pseudoephedrine. Radley Balko highlights further negative unintended consequences of such laws in The Huffington Post:

They’ve given rise to a new way of making meth that requires less pseudoephedrine, called the “shake and bake” method, and it has taken off. The AP reported in 2010 that the new method, which involves shaking a cocktail of volatile chemicals in a two-liter bottle, only makes enough of the drug for one or two people. But if done wrong, the resulting chemical burns can be worse than those from exploding backyard and basement labs.

Restrictions and prescription requirements for cold medications with little to no effect on the overall supply of meth don’t even begin to scratch the surface of the drug’s epidemic, much less the overarching problems with prohibition and the war on drugs. If Tennessee truly wishes to combat the state’s meth problem directly, the legislature and Gov. Haslam need to embrace the reality that the drug war is futile, destructive, and an absolute failure.

In stark contrast to America’s backwards drug war, Portugal decriminalized all drugs in 2001 in response to a heroin epidemic and has since succeeded in reducing the country’s heroin use by 60%. Meth should similarly be dealt with as a public health concern as opposed to a criminal justice concern. Just as legalizing alcohol essentially eliminated toxic prohibition-era concoctions, ending the drug war will remove the perverse incentives that initially caused the illicit meth outbreak.

This post originally appeared at Townhall.com.

 

Eleven Years of the Iraq War

C4SSJonathan Carp at C4SS offers up a solid retrospective:

If you’re an American, you’d be forgiven for thinking the war in Iraq was over. After all, Barack Obama, after being thwarted in his desperate attempts to extend the American military presence there, has been crowing about how he “ended” the war in Iraq. But the war never ended.

Last night, 13 people were killed when a café in Baghdad was bombed, bringing the total killed yesterday to forty-six. In America, we are still discussing a terrible shooting at a school that killed 28 people, including the perpetrator, over a year ago. In Iraq, more than 2,000 people have been killed just so far this year. Every single one of those deaths, and every single one of the 500,000 killed since 2003, is an entirely foreseeable consequence of American foreign policy.

But today, rather than rehashing the well-known arguments against the war, let us focus on what the war has cost us. The American death toll is well known- 4,489 killed, 32,021 wounded. According to several studies, a minimum of 4% and a maximum of 17% of American veterans of the Iraq War suffer from PTSD. Applying the lower bound to the population of Iraq, we can estimate that at least 1.3 million Iraqis suffer from this debilitating condition, which can cause difficulty sleeping, emotional detachment and outbursts of rage, among other things, and which denies those who suffer from it the possibility of leaving their suffering behind and living a normal life.

Worse still, these victims of the Iraq War, along with the survivors left behind by the dead and the wounded, do not have the support structures American veterans enjoy. American veterans are eligible for disability pensions, career retraining, and free medical care for their war wounds, physical and psychological. However dysfunctional the institutions providing these services may be, American veterans still fare much better than the Iraqi people. The Iraqis, who bore the brunt of the war, are simply left to suffer while some “libertarians” wonder why they are not more grateful for their plight.

The Iraq War was, as wars go, not an especially harsh or brutal one, and was largely conducted according to all the latest precepts of “humanitarian intervention.” The free-fire zones of Vietnam were largely absent, as were the brutalities of massed, prolonged aerial and artillery bombardment. And yet, the results are unimaginably horrific to us in our First World comfort. Sandy Hook and Columbine reverberate to this day in America; in the hell into which we plunged Iraq, neither would even make the front page. There is no war without horrific violence and nightmarish suffering. Never forget.

Tennessee’s Meth Problem

heisenbergHere is a letter to the Tennessean in response to their editorial on meth:

Tennessee’s meth problem is directly correlated to the policy of prohibition and the futility of the drug war. Outlawing substances that are in demand creates dangerous black markets controlled by criminals. Disputes are settled with guns rather than by courts, and products are not subject to safety standards and regulations that exist in a legal marketplace.

As we experienced with alcohol prohibition, the law created perverse incentives for people to concoct new, dangerous products themselves — such as poisonous bathtub gin and moonshine. Under today’s prohibition laws the phenomenon comes predominantly in the form of meth or crack. In Amsterdam, citizens have seldom even heard of meth or crack. There is no incentive to concoct hazardous homemade substances since people can simply walk into a store and purchase a product safely and legally – as we do with alcohol now.

Moreover, pushing for certain cold medications to be prescription-only doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of the systemic problem with drug prohibition. Take Portugal, for example. In 1999 they decriminalized all drug use in response to a heroin epidemic. Over ten years later, heroin use in Portugal is down over 60% because addicts are treated like patients instead of criminals. The Portuguese government even implemented a clean needle-exchange program for their addicts.

It’s well past time to admit that the drug war is destructive and an absolute failure. Legalizing drugs, like any other consumer good, will eliminate the perverse incentives that brought us meth in the first place.

UPDATE: An edited version of the above was published by The Tennessean: Legalization of drugs would reduce black markets.

Three Years of Bleeding Heart Libertarians

PrintAlthough I’m feeling way too lazy to concoct another unabashed valentine to my favorite crew of bloggers, we still wish them a very happy third birthday and congratulate them for making it through the terrible two’s.

I will, however, recap my encounters/highlights with the BHL crew over the past year:

  • Witnessed James Stacey Taylor lecture in a kilt and show off his sheep-ish sexual partner Flossie (put this on your bucket list!)
  • Personally steered a discussion group with Rod Long in the direction of dystopian themes, Huxley, and the movie Demolition Man (it’s an awful must watch!)
  • Appeared in a Sarah Skwire-taken selfie as well as being the subject of one of her BHL posts (not me personally, but the band I play in — see below)
  • Performed Rush’s “The Spirit Of Radio” in front of Steve Horwitz (and many more) at the 2014 ISFLC with Radar vs Wolf

I said as much on stage at ISFLC, but it’s worth repeating here: If Matt Zwolinski didn’t start Bleeding Heart Libertarians three years ago, RvW wouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Happy Birthday!

 

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