About that time a drove a Trojan horse across the country…

4 07 2012

This seemed like a fitting day to post the account of my recent cross-country horse-towing sprint. For America.

You can see the related gallery (and original post) here, but it’s reproduced here in all its lengthy glory down below:

There are as many ways to receive the Sacrament of the Open Road as there are roadside tourist traps. Some choose to make meticulous road-trip plans revolving around specific destinations. Others crisscross the country on a Kerouacian voyage of self-discovery until the allure of the road begins to fade.

Sometimes, however, the opportunity to hit the highway arrives spontaneously, leaving you no time to prepare. You must ditch reason, abandon any attempt at proper planning, fly out to California and then spend two days trailering a giant, wooden Trojan horse to Detroit.

I should know, because that’s exactly what I did a few weeks ago. It all started with a Thursday afternoon text message from my buddy Kolin:

“Wanna go to california and then drive back a mr perks size animal across the country?” he wrote.

A bit of background: Mr. Perks is a giant fiberglass pig that Kolin and I drove around southeastern Michigan for a state senate campaign a few summers ago.

I soon learned that the “mr perks size animal” in California was a massive Trojan horse. Apparently once you break into the giant-novelty-animal transportation business, it’s hard to break out.

Kolin didn’t know why the horse was in California or who, exactly, needed it in Michigan—or when it needed to arrive, for that matter. A former boss passed the job on to him, but little else about the assignment was clear. Faced with a lack of details, I told him I’d have to think about it.

Minutes later I came to my senses. When you get the chance to road-trip a giant wooden horse cross-country, you don’t say no. Read the rest of this entry »


The national bloodbath that never happened

20 06 2012

Take desperate individuals trapped by a lack economic opportunity, add in record firearm sales, and — just for the heck of it — set it all against the much-hyped “climate of hate” turning Americans against each other as never before. It’s practically a recipe for a national bloodbath.

And if you search hard enough, you can certainly find parts of the country where that apocalyptic scenario seems to be playing out. Look at Detroit. Fairly or not, the Motor City is used as a national — even international —  example of what happens when society breaks down. It’s the New Wild West, which, as turns out, is much, much worse than the old, not-so-wild West.

But Detroit is the exception, not the rule. Pockets of violence aside, Americans enjoyed a fifth straight year of decreased violence in 2011. Via Hot Air, a report that will disappoint the doomsayers and cheer just about everyone else:

The FBI is expected to report the final 2011 figures around the end of the summer. Assuming those figures match the current estimates, the nation’s murder rate has been cut by about 53 percent and the total violent crime rate has been cut by about 49 percent since 1991, when violent crime hit an all-time high. Stated another way, the nation’s murder rate has fallen to about a 48-year low, and the nation’s total violent crime rate has fallen to about a 41-year low.

Peace and prosperity: now available in an expanded range of calibers

The report comes courtesy of the NRA, so the FBI figures are naturally used to support the claim that more guns mean less crime. It’s a compelling argument, especially since the NRA cites the rise of laws making it easier for citizens to carry and use firearms defensively rather than simply boasting about the overall increase in the rate of gun ownership. But gun ownership and gun-friendly laws can’t tell the entire story of our increasingly civil society.

Read the rest of this entry »

Singapore, Land of the Free

7 06 2012

A would-be graffiti artist was recently arrested in Singapore, and if convicted of vandalism, the 25-year old woman faces fines and jail time — and even corporal punishment in the form of caning.

In a nation famously called “Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” the draconian discipline doled out for seemingly minor infractions like graffiti is hardly surprising. Still, Western nations seem to understand that Singapore’s medieval approach to crime and punishment, while apparently effective (the streets are clean, after all), is a rather high price to pay for a veneer of order.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Unfortunately, there’s no place on the planet where individuals exist in a state of absolute liberty. Singapore’s economic freedom must be weighed against the literal butt-whooping that awaits minor acts of criminal stupidity. Western Europe’s celebrated cultural liberalism comes with a burdensome, faltering welfare state attached. Read the rest of this entry »

By this time tomorrow, I’ll be on my way to California

2 06 2012

…with my friend Kolin. To pick up a giant Trojan Horse and tow it back to Western Michigan. Non-stop.

Yeah. That’s about as much as I know as well.

A gift from the gods, maybe

What could go wrong?

Perspective and social justice

8 05 2012

Whatever the faults of our current economic and political system are (and there are many), we should at least acknowledge that, in relative terms, the poorest Westerners are better off than a decent chunk of the world’s population.

Conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation have pointed out that even Americans living below the poverty line enjoy products and technologies that were luxuries a generation ago; these results are then trumpeted by proponents of free markets, who are quick to note that it is hard to call a household with multiple televisions, cars, and modern appliances truly impoverished. In a country where lower income individuals are more likely to be obese than starving, we might want to re-examine our understanding of the word poor.

Just don’t try making that point to a left-leaning friend acquaintance. I’ve tried. It doesn’t end well. So you don’t even think the poor should enjoy television or refrigerators!? is the usual response – as if I don’t want individuals of all income groups to benefit from our modern economic bounty. It’s an incredibly unproductive argument – and a frustrating one.

There’s a reason for this frustration. You can outline your favored position over and over again, but no amount of logical clarity will ever allow you to confer your perspective on another person. And perspective is everything; without it, you’re just talking past each other. Read the rest of this entry »

The Road More Traveled: Why Statism Persists, and the Importance of Fighting Back

3 05 2012

I wrote this essay for an Intercollegiate Studies Institute essay contest. I did not win, but putting it all together was a useful exercise. I have reproduced it here:

Since F. A. Hayek penned The Road to Serfdom, the world has witnessed a series of seemingly unequivocal affirmations of his central thesis: that central planning leads to economic decline, moral decay, and inexorably, the rise of a liberty-destroying total state. While Hayek lived to see the implosion of the Soviet Union – perhaps the most tangible sovereign manifestation of the statist impulse – he could have only imagined the incalculable benefits free trade and new technologies have brought to billions of individuals across the globe in the two decades that followed.

Yet every triumph of classical liberalism[1] has been tempered by setbacks, and these setbacks only seem to be mounting as the 21st century progresses. States have spent far beyond their means, virtually guaranteeing that future generations will be held in debt-driven subservience. Personal dependence has become a virtue to be rewarded by a munificent, ever-growing welfare state. Regulations choke innovation while benefiting those willing to engage in political entrepreneurship and rent seeking.

Certainly, Hayek would not be pleased. He might also be a bit perplexed. For centuries, Hayek and other liberal intellectuals have diagnosed the cause of our most enduring troubles and prescribed a simple solution: increased personal and economic freedom. This solution has worked wonders to the extent that it has been attempted, but relapses are nevertheless frequent – and frustrating.

The liberal’s persistent frustration is explained by an error of perception, not understanding. The road to statism and the road to liberty are not the two possible trajectories that a given society might follow. Rather, statism is a threat that must be fended off constantly, even in societies that appear relatively free. As soon as one slackens in the Sisyphean task of defending liberty, the leviathan resumes its march. The road to serfdom is always and everywhere the path of least resistance.

Though it may be disheartening, that the loss of liberty is never more than a generation or two away explains the enduring relevance of liberal thought. The Road to Serfdom is as vital in America today as it was in 1944. The same can be said of the works of 16th century French protolibertarian Étienne de La Boétie, who lived and died centuries before America – let alone Hayek – existed.

Unlike the many strains of utopian collectivism, classical liberalism recognizes mankind’s limited capacity for fundamental change; rather than lamenting the fact that there can be no “New Liberal Man,” it incorporates its individualistic understanding of human nature into its worldview. Importantly, liberal thinkers acknowledge the central importance of self-interest as the motivation for man’s actions. At its best, self-interest reveals itself in the peaceful cooperation between Adam Smith’s butcher, brewer, and baker. In a different context, however, the same self-interest can transform men into cruel feudal lords – or Goldman Sachs executives. Read the rest of this entry »

Repeal isn’t just about the helmets

13 04 2012

To my great surprise and delight, Governor Snyder repealed Michigan’s motorcycle helmet law earlier today. In fact, I might head out to my old Honda and go for a nice, long ride to celebrate – but not before I don my helmet.

Wearing a helmet makes sense. Mandating helmet use does not.

These days, we almost reflexively associate good behavior and government enforcement. Seat belts are important, which is why we require individuals to wear them. Alcohol and tobacco are bad, which is why we tax them heavily and limit distribution. Exercise is a good thing, which is why we mandate a half hour of…oh, I suppose we’re not quite to that point. Yet.

This is America to me

This mentality is as pervasive as it is tragic, so I wasn’t surprised to take some flack from family and friends when I advocated the repeal of the helmet law. A common counterargument was that riders who go helmet-less and lacking adequate insurance incur costs to Michigan’s taxpayers if they get injured. This may be true, but it is more an indictment of our twisted health insurance system than it is of individual liberty. Further, it sounds an awful lot like the argument for ObamaCare’s individual insurance mandate – which is why I am often surprised to hear it used by conservatives. Read the rest of this entry »