general freedom browsing by category


You Own You, I Own Me

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

There’s been a lot of talk about Robert Draper’s New York Times article on a possible “libertarian moment.” On Townhall, “last weekend,” I focused on the partisan political aspect of the movement. There was a lot of curious stuff in the article, and I haven’t seen anyone comment on one of its stranger passages.

Call it a moment of culture shock.

The article briefly profiled a “Washington-based journalist” who sported “a tattoo under her right biceps that reads, ‘I Own Me.’” This is a provocation, of course, sure to annoy authoritarians and collectivists and . . . David Frum:

“What does that mean, ‘I own myself?’ ” David Frum, a former speechwriter for George W. Bush and Republican commentator, sputtered in exasperation when we spoke later. “Can I sell myself? If I can’t, I don’t own myself.”

Taken at face value, one could simply answer Frum by mentioning that in olden times people could sell themselves — into slavery.

Or one could make an extended political point. “Haven’t we all sold ourselves long ago?” That might be unnerving.

But the informed answer is this: “We can’t sell ourselves because our ‘self-propriety’ (as Richard Overton put it long ago) differs from other kinds of ownership. Our self-ownership is inalienable. That’s why it’s so important.”

It’s like this: You own you, I own me — we are free.

It turns out, Mr. Frum, that this “inalienability” idea was central to much discussion of rights at the founding of our country. Funny you don’t seem to know anything about that.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Central Banks Losing Control

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

The rapid rise of interest in and use of “virtual currencies” like Bitcoin has been astounding. It probably won’t surprise you to learn what the established masters of the worlds’ monies say: Bitcoin is disruptive!


Bogdan Ulm, writing on Bitcoin Trader, noticed the concern in Ireland:

“Virtual and digital currencies can challenge the sovereignty of states,” says Gareth Murphy, senior Central Bank of Ireland official. At a recent digital money conference in Dublin, he mentioned that rivals are interfering with a bank’s ability to sway the price of credit for the entire economy. Murphy warned that there might be considerable threat to the finances of a country if increasingly more transactions for services and goods fade away from the tax system due to the use of crypto currencies such as Bitcoin.

Now, it’s worth mentioning that there are many economists — from a long tradition — who have denied the necessity of anyone acquiring the ability to “sway the price of credit for the entire economy.”

Separate bids and offers for credit (loaning money with interest) can be seen as signals of competing evaluations in the economy. There are tremendous forces pushing interest rates to align, and when they do (or don’t), their alignment (or lack thereof) sends important additional information to market participants about both the present and the future.

But when anyone (say, a central bank) presumes to corral all interest rates into a “coherent plan,” much of the useful meaning of signals gets lost, or jumbled, and the economy gets (inadvertently?) programmed for boom and bust.

So, when I hear that modern digital currencies could prevent central banks from “doing their business,” I wonder if, perhaps, this is not a good thing.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Declare Your Independence

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Today is Independence Day, and we’re celebrating. Tonight there will be fireworks to watch. So I’ll try to be brief.

The original independence that the Continental Congress of the seceding colonies declared, was dramatic and fundamental, as I’ve tried to honor these past two days in Common Sense.

But the idea of independence, and of our liberty that it was meant to secure, extends beyond events over two centuries ago.Declaration of Independence

Today, we are riddled with at least two kinds of dependence that are worth resisting.

  1. Economic dependence. I’m not talking about foreign trade. “Independence-with-freedom”  assumes that we will always depend on each other by co-operation. But the terms of that co-operation should be mutual. The great problem with crony capitalism and the welfare state — and even to some degree with a large federal workforce — is that increasing numbers of people (whole classes) increasingly depend on taxpayers rather than their own productivity and commerce.

    This sort of dependence depends on wealth, but provides poverty.
  2. Partisan dependence. The polarization of the two political parties has become increasingly ideological — as it was at the beginning of the country, actually — and is becoming increasingly nasty. Americans seem “stuck.” Breaking apart from the parties might make for a more honest and productive debate.

One way to accomplish the latter? Work for general, non-partisan — “transpartisan” — reforms, like term limits . . . and other measures aimed at greater representation, from mandating smaller districts to establishing ranked choice voting.

Remember, in 24 states and most cities and towns, citizens also have the initiative and referendum process to act directly. Staying focused on issues is the key to working across partisan divides.

Who knows what improvements we might be able to make?

What begins by thinking independently comes to fruition in successful cooperation.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Reason for the “Treason”

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

The United States of America is exceptional in at least one way: it was founded by folks who made very clear that the reasons for breaking with past allegiance and alliance — indeed, subjugation — rested, finally, on an idea: liberty.

No doubt that was just an excuse for some founders. And no doubt Americans never kept liberty foremost in their minds for long. But the emphasis at the beginning on the moral principles altered not merely the American consciousness, but the conscience of the world.

The principles led a list of complaints, and were preceded by an explanation for their necessity: “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required the public statement.Declaration of Independence

The meat of the argument is this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

You may write it a bit differently. (Too many, today, wouldn’t write it at all.) But whether you make minor edits for modernized style, or substantive edits for some paradigm shifts, the basic idea, that somehow government must rest on consent — not on mere accommodation to terrorizing force — remains one of the most potent ideas ever promoted.

A moral, informed consent binds government, or at least limits it: this is the notion that changed the world.

For the better.

Remember, though: the break with Great Britain was deemed, by King George III, treasonous.

But it was very reasonable.

We have a lot of reasons, today, to resist a lot of homegrown tyranny. As in 1776, the future hangs in the balance. Fortunately, our founders did a good enough job that what we do now requires less than their “treason.” Still, just like them, our lives, our liberties, and our sacred honor are on the line.

We’ve got some work to do.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Opposites for Independence

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Could any two men be more different than John Adams and Thomas Jefferson? And yet, I doubt if the United States would exist were it not for both. Somehow, they worked together when it counted. And worked against each other, when it seemed necessary.

Yet they respected each other (in their different ways), and before the end, after a long estrangement, became close friends.Thomas Jefferson

The story is well known: on his deathbed on July 4, 1826, Adams whispered, “Thomas Jefferson survives!” He was wrong. Jefferson had died earlier that day, on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

Adams was also wrong about Independence Day. On July 2, 1776, after the Lee Resolution for independence passed the Continental Congress, he wrote that “the second day of July” would become the day of “a great anniversary festival.” But “by 1777,” Steve Tally noted in Bland Ambition, his jovial history of the vice presidency, “people were already celebrating the Fourth of July.”

John AdamsBut give him his due: it was Adams who insisted that Jefferson write the Declaration, and it was indeed its words — especially that of its “mission statement” preamble — that resonate almost universally to this day. And gave birth to the annual festivities.

Adams, Tally tells us, was “short, round, peevish, a loudmouth, and frequently a bore.” Jefferson, on the other hand, was tall, handsome, polite, and much more popular. And a much better writer. Which is why he was given his great job, to produce the Declaration.

Great writer or no, it’s not as if the tall redhead’s initial draft was acceptable as it flowed from the pen. Adams, Franklin, and the whole congress got in on the editing job. “Jefferson liked to recall that his document survived further [extensive] editing,” Tally explains, “because of the meeting hall’s proximity to a livery stable.” Still, it’s obvious that Jefferson wasn’t the only genius in the room, and that without Adams’s tireless work, independence might not have gotten off the ground.Declaration of Independence

The later history of both men, in service to the country they helped found, is riddled with ambiguities and even horrible moral and political lapses. Adams was the kind of politician who not only opposed term limits, but opposed terms: he thought men raised to office should be kept there forever. Jefferson leaned not merely the other direction, but flirted with the notion of a revolution every generation.

I adhere to the anti-federalist slogan of their day, “that where annual elections end, tyranny begins.”

Between the two extremes of these two great men, somehow, the republic survived. And thrived. Their correspondence is a mine of great wisdom, their biographies well worth reading.

Most of all, their legacy — of July 2 and July 4, 1776, and the universal rights of man — remains worth fighting for.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Don’t Empower Venezuelan Government

Monday, June 9th, 2014

If you run a company that buys oil from Venezuela, stop.

If you purchase fuel from a company getting its product from Venezuela, stop.

If you run a government that imposes lots of arbitrary restrictions on the exploration, development, and/or transport of oil, stop that also. 

But don’t wait for the last to happen if you can do the first. Or second.

And the second means: Don’t buy gas from Citgo.Leopoldo López

We have long had more than sufficient cause to refrain from financially empowering Venezuela’s autocratic regime, and to make it a lot easier for domestic buyers and sellers to shun dealings with dictators who happen to be sitting on a lot of oil. These reasons didn’t fade after the death last year of Hugo Chavez.

News from the communist country underscores the viciousness of the Venezuelan tyranny. Organizations like the Human Rights Foundation have called attention to the plight of all those detained and abused for peacefully protesting the regime by formally declaring opposition leader Leopoldo López, detained since February, to be a prisoner of conscience of the Maduro government; and by vocally condemning the government’s torture of student protestors Marco Aurelio Coello and Christian Holdack, also detained since February.

Communist governments steal everyone’s stuff; that is the pain that everybody who works for a living sees and feels. They also tend to resort to repression and torture of any who dare object to their repressive policies. Persons free to boycott such tyranny should boycott it. Now. In order to do so, we need not wait for a government or even have the support of our own government.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Unknown Citizen

Wednesday, June 4th, 2014

No one knows his name. Or whether, when he was whisked away by several people who suddenly appeared in the square, he was rushed to the safety of friends or into police custody.

He’s “Tank Man.” His claim to fame is largely symbolic, blocking a whole line of People’s Liberation Army tanks for several minutes as they were taking a victory lap through Tiananmen Square mere hours after crushing the encampment of protesters. Tank Man stood in front of these massive treaded war machines, moved with them when they maneuvered to go around him, and, once the tanks stopped, he climbed on top of the one in front, banging on it and yelling at the driver.

For seven weeks, protests had taken over much of Tiananmen Square in the heart of the Chinese capital. Students began the demonstrations, which were then joined by working folks. They spoke truth to power and crowds swelled to hear calls for press freedom and individual liberty and basic democratic rights to control government.Remember Tiananmen: 25th Anniversary

But on this day 25 years ago, the Chinese communist leaders, the Butchers of Beijing, ended this Springtime burst of life and liberty by ordering the military to fire on civilians* and roll their tanks over people to clear the square. The Chinese government acknowledges that hundreds died; others put the death toll as high as 6,000.

Tank Man and the pro-freedom movement lost.

An obviously emotional ABC reporter told American viewers that “the voices of those who died calling for freedom and liberty are likely to be remembered long after the sound of the gunfire that attempted to silence them has faded away.”

Tragically, to this day, the Chinese government imprisons pro-democracy activists who speak out, blocks Internet searches for “Tiananmen Square protests,” and uses a massive police presence and arbitrary detention of “radicals” to prevent any commemoration of what happened a quarter century ago.

Still, the image of that lone Chinese worker, satchel in hand, serves as a symbol of the desire for freedom, for the defiance of tyranny. It is forever etched in the minds of liberty lovers everywhere.

We cannot bring freedom to the Chinese people. They will have to continue to struggle to achieve that on their own.

What can we do?

We can remain inspired by the bravery shown by Tank Man — and by bloggers and activists in prisons throughout the world. Working through non-governmental organizations, such as the Human Rights Foundation, we can assist the cause of individual freedom by bringing attention and pressure against tyrants trying to eliminate those who agitate for it.

And we can let these courageous people know they aren’t alone against the tanks and truncheons.Stand Up for Freedom

The most important thing we can do is to make certain that our freedoms, the rule of law, and citizen control of government through constitutional limitations and democratic checks on power continue to be defended, protected and expanded.

That really begins when responsible, caring, freedom-loving individuals come together with their neighbors, online, in social networks, at the workplace, through civic groups, at church or school to stand up for our right to be free.

This is Common Sense … and helping to inspire, inform and organize for freedom is our mission. I’m Paul Jacob … and working together I believe we can make a difference.

If you’re moved to support our effort to block the advance of Big Government please give generously … keep the Common Sense coming (and growing).

On the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, why not contribute $25 today?