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December 4, 2007 / Gabriel

Global Warming Alarmists: I Don’t Believe You

So you think that global warming is real? A key issue? You agree with Academy Award and Nobel Peace Prize winner and chief global warming luminary Al Gore that the climate “crisis” is a “true planetary emergency” and a “moral and spiritual challenge to all humanity?”

I don’t.

More importantly, I don’t believe you truly believe it either.

After all, if you were really concerned about global warming…

…you’d stop eating beef, milk and all associated dairy products immediately. Livestock are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gases worldwide—more than all planes, trains and automobiles on the entire planet combined. Cows belch and flatulate methane (up to a whopping 130 gallons per cow daily), a gas with 21 times the warming impact of carbon dioxide. So if you talk about the dangers of global warming but had a steak for dinner and milk with your cereal this morning, you’re far from convincing.

…you’d push for more nuclear power plants. Only 14% of U.S. energy comes from nuclear power—the rest comes from sources that are major greenhouse gas producers: petroleum (40%), coal (23%) and natural gas (23%). France, on the other hand, generates 78% of its energy needs from nuclear power, and it has the cleanest air (and lowest electricity bills) of any industrialized economy in the world. More nuclear energy would immediately and massively lower greenhouse gas emissions (even a doubling to 28% would be the greenhouse gas equivalent of removing carbon emissions from all U.S. passenger cars). Have you petitioned Congress to allow the building of more nuclear power plants?

…you’d stop using air conditioning in your home and car. Mankind survived several hundred thousand years without A/C, and still does in the vast majority of the world. Maybe you can too. Or is feeling nice and cool today more important to you than the whole world supposedly feeling too hot tomorrow?

…you’d live in a smaller house, closer to work. Everyone else in the world does. Or are you somehow special and exempt? Al Gore, at least, seems to think so: his Tennessee mansion consumes 20 times more energy per year than the average U.S. household, which in turn consumes far more than those in other countries. And in that vein, how about the hypocrisy of the Hollywood set, who give Gore’s movie an Oscar while being chauffered in by limo to the Academy Awards from their energy-guzzling palatial mansions.

…you’d forego pets. Let’s face it: they’re cute, but they’re also furry little CO2 emitters on legs, and they eat a massive amount of food, which is energy-intensive to produce and primarily meat-based (see cow issue). Or is the love you get from Fido more important to you than entire islands disappearing from projected rising sea levels?

… you’d buy only locally produced foods. Nothing is more ironic than seeing a global warmist buying bananas in a Chicago supermarket. Where, exactly, did that banana come from? Central America? From a banana plantation onto a diesel train to the coast. Then a refrigerated container on a ship to the U.S. Then a refrigerated warehouse. Then a refrigerated truck to the supermarket. How much energy (and greenhouse gases) were expended so that you could enjoy that banana split? Let’s not even talk about ice cream (deep refrigeration of a dairy product), or the French cheese section at Whole Foods (refrigerated dairy products flown in from across the Atlantic). Is the satisfying of your taste buds more important than all the kids in Africa that will supposedly die from increases in global temperatures?

…you wouldn’t go on vacation away from where you live. Unless you plan on traveling by bicycle, that trip you’ve been planning is entirely dependent on oil, be it by car, train or—God forbid—the tons of kerosene consumed by jet aircraft. Or is all the coastal devastation global warming will allegedly entail merely the price to pay for your Cancun beach getaway?

…you’d dramatically cut back on commercial entertainment. What, exactly, is the carbon footprint of a blockbuster movie filmed in multiple locations around the world? How much energy does it take to light up all those sets, power all those computer effects, and air-condition all those movie theaters? How about all those TV shows? How many trees were felled and shipped to print all the books? How much electricity are you using annually to power all your electronic gadgets—from cell phones to internet to video games to ipods to flat-screen TVs. Remember, most people in the world do not have any of these, so if you do, you’re a primary global warming contributor.

…you’d stop having kids. After all, the crux of the global warming scare is that humans are causing it. Less humans, less warming. Why directly contribute to Gore’s “true planetary emergency” by increasing the population?

But you’re not doing any of these things.

So no, I don’t believe the global warming alarmism. People who truly believe something don’t just talk—they act.

Until I start seeing global warming believers actually doing things that match the severity of their rhetoric, consider me a rational skeptic. Especially when the so-called “solutions” to the global warming “problem” sound remarkably like the same political agenda that these same folks were previously pushing under different guises.

You want to convince me that global warming is real? Fine. Show me by your actions that you actually believe it first. Until then, save the hot air.

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February 26, 2007 / Gabriel

The Case for Guns

Should private citizens be allowed to own guns? Anti-gun advocates say no; pro-gun advocates say yes.

While both want what is best for the country, these two groups approach the issue from different perspectives: anti-gun advocates focus entirely on the societal costs of guns, while pro-gun advocates weigh those against the major societal benefits of private gun ownership.

The Anti-Gun Viewpoint

The anti-gun position against private gun ownership is straightforward: guns are an instrument of force and violence, and in the hands of private citizens will only increase violence in the country. After all, one cannot commit a crime with a gun if there is no gun to commit a crime with.

From this viewpoint, the anti-gun solution is very clear: disallow private citizens from owning guns and society will benefit. There will be less violent crime and accidental shootings and the whole country will be a better place as a result.

And from this viewpoint, anyone arguing that private ownership of guns is a good thing must be uninformed, immoral or simply callous to the loss of life.

Not so fast, say the pro-gun camp—the issue is more complex than that. Not only is it naïve to think that making guns illegal will eliminate gun crime (criminals in every country always have access to guns), but this line of reasoning doesn’t take into account any of the major benefits of guns.

Cost and Benefit

To understand the pro-gun position, think of cars. They kill, every year, a far greater number of people than guns do. This is an undisputed fact. So should we then not allow private citizens to own cars? Wouldn’t we save thousands of lives every year and make the world a better place as a result?

Most would agree that this is an absurd proposition. But implicit in coming to that conclusion is the mental cost/benefit calculation that we make in evaluating the question: yes, ownership of cars leads to the deaths of some 45,000 Americans every year. But (and this is a very important but) the benefits of car ownership are perceived to far outweigh the costs, from convenience to greater productivity to pleasure to the health of the economy.

In coming to this conclusion, we are not uninformed, immoral or callous about the loss of life resulting from car ownership. We simply accept that there are tradeoffs and in this case the value of car ownership for society as a whole exceeds the cost.

The pro-gun position on private gun ownership follows the same logic. Those against guns, they say, focus only on the costs of guns. The costs are real. But the discussion is not complete unless one weighs these costs against the benefits of private gun ownership.

From a pro-gun viewpoint, there are two main benefits to private ownership of guns, both of them equally important: protection of individual liberty and crime prevention. We’ll look at each of these in turn.

Protection of Individual Liberty

It is no accident that the right to individual gun ownership is clearly spelled out in the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights, directly following freedom of speech and religion.

After winning the bloody revolutionary war for independence, the drafters of the Constitution aimed to design an ideal form of government for the new country, one that would most effectively secure the rights and liberty of its people.

Astute students of history, they full well understood that whatever words were in the Constitution were worthless if the people didn’t have the power to protect their rights and resist against tyranny. And in this they followed the old Swiss dictum: “if weapons are a token of power, then in a democracy they belong in the hands of the people.”

Aristotle had said much the same centuries before: “those who possess and can wield arms are in a position to decide whether the constitution can continue or not.”

This has been true throughout history. One of the first and most crucial steps to dictatorial rule has always been to disarm the populace. Name any of the most repressive regimes in the history of either the modern or ancient world, and it is an absolute certainty that the people subjected to its rule were not allowed to carry arms. As Hitler himself stated, “history teaches us that all conquerors who have allowed their subject races to carry arms have prepared their own downfall by doing so.”

Conversely, the opposite is true: an armed populace is one of the most effective checks against excessive government tyranny. Switzerland, for example, has one of the highest ownership of guns per capita of any country in the world. It is also one of the most successful democracies in history, the combination of which prompted Machiavelli to note in 1532 that they are “most armed and most free.” What was true some 500 years ago continues to be true to this day.

This was clearly reflected in the thinking of the men who drafted the United States Constitution. Thomas Jefferson declared that “all power is inherent in the people…it is their right and duty to be armed at all times.” Patrick Henry’s goal was that “every man be armed.” And James Madison praised the “advantage of being armed, which Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation.”

The primary motivation for arming the general populace was to ensure that Americans always had the means to defend themselves against tyrannical oppression.

To provide just one example of the effectiveness of this concept, 1,500 Jews with just a few dozen guns in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of World War II were able to hold out for 28 days against over 12,000 German troops armed with tanks and heavy artillery, prompting Goebbels to comment that “it shows what is to be expected of the Jews when they are in possession of arms.”

What if citizens of all countries during the last 100 years been armed? Could a great number of the 20th century’s most horrific injustices, massacres and genocidal acts been avoided or greatly minimized?

An armed populace serves as a bulwark against oppression and tyranny. It is perhaps no accident that a number of the world’s longest-standing democracies—such as the United States, Switzerland and Finland—also have had the most armed populace. “Most armed and most free” is not a coincidence.

Crime Prevention

The second benefit of individual gun ownership is as a means of preventing crime. Any weapon that can be used to attack can also be used for defense.

First, there is deterrence. Let’s say a criminal has a choice to commit a crime (murder, robbery, assault, etc.) in one of two cities: one where it is legal for citizens to carry guns and one where it is not and the population is unarmed. Which would he choose?

The answer is obvious. And in fact, surveys of felons report that they are typically more fearful during a crime of a potential victim being armed than running into the police. This is easily evident in criminal behavior patterns: for example, the instance of “hot” burglaries, where the criminal robs a house while the resident is present is more than 3 times lower in the United States, where many citizens are armed, than in Canada or Great Britain, where strict gun laws have left the majority of the populace defenseless. Criminals clearly understand the deterring value of guns.

Apart from deterrence, guns also play a major role in the outcome of a crime. For instance, crime statistics show that women are 2.5 times less likely to suffer serious injury from an attack if they resist with a gun than if they offer no resistance. Guns provide women with an equalizing tool to efficiently subdue their would-be attacker.

The link between guns and crime prevention is also evident in places where gun bans have been recently imposed. Australia, which banned most firearms in 1996, saw the following changes in crime in the two years following, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics: armed robberies rose by 73 percent, kidnappings by 38 percent, assaults by 17 percent and manslaughter by 29 percent. Clearly, disarming law-abiding people is not an effective means of crime prevention.

On the flip side, statistical regression analysis showed the impact of certain U.S. states allowing citizens to carry concealed weapons. Had other states followed suit and also allowed concealed weapon permits, in the same year murders in those states would have declined by 1,800, rapes by 3,700, aggravated assault by 11,000, robberies by 61,000 and burglaries by 112,600.

Guns play a significant but role in crime prevention: major national polls suggest that there are somewhere between 760,000 to 3.6 million defensive uses of guns in the United States per year. How many of those have saved people from property loss, bodily harm or even death?

While there is no question that some legally purchased guns will be used to commit crimes, it is also without question that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens are both a deterrent to crime and an effective means to positively change the outcome of a crime in progress. These are critical, undeniable benefits.

Conclusion

Any serious discussion of the gun debate must include not just the cost of private gun ownership but its benefits as well.

For pro-gun advocates, as it was for the founders of this country, protecting freedom, individual liberty and the right to self-defense are inalienable individual rights. As Samuel Adams said, “The said constitution shall never be construed to authorize Congress to prevent the people of the United States, who are peaceable citizens, from keeping their own arms.”

Those in favor of private gun ownership, like the founders of this country, believe that by leaving the entire citizenry defenseless one would only invite tyranny and abuse from criminal elements—be they in official government garb or otherwise. Gun ownership gives peaceful citizens the means to defend their liberty, property, life and freedom.

In the words of Thomas Paine, “the peacable part of mankind will be continually over-run by the vile and abandoned while they neglect the means of self-defense…The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian, while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe and preserve order in the world…Horrid mischief would ensue were [good men] deprived of the use of them…The weak will become a prey to the strong. The history of every age and nation establishes these truths.”

bill-of-rights-354-340x191

September 14, 2005 / Gabriel

The Human Desire for Free Markets

All economic systems can be placed on a spectrum ranging from a fully centralized economy (e.g. communism) all the way to a fully decentralized economy (free-market capitalism), with a variety of other systems falling somewhere in between (e.g. socialism).

In a previous essay, the thesis advanced was that this range also represents a spectrum between economies based on fear versus those based on happiness.

Communism                                                                                                     Capitalism

<———————————————————————————————————————>

(Fear-based)                                                                                       (Happiness-based)

In a nutshell, the idea is that all transactions in capitalistic economies take place only when both parties are happier as a result of an exchange, whereas in centralized economies the only way the state can enforce its economic decisions for transactions is through the threat of force for non-compliance, or fear.

This is a great idea in theory, but is there any way to validate its truth in practice?

If the thesis is correct, then we should expect to consistently see people wanting to move from fear-based economies to happiness-based economies.

According to the Index of Economic Freedom[i], here are the 20 countries with the least economic freedom:

Congo, Republic of the

Vietnam

Guinea-Bissau

Syria

Suriname

Bangladesh

Nigeria

Belarus

Tajikistan

Haiti

Venezuela

Uzbekistan

Iran

Cuba

Laos

Turkmenistan

Zimbabwe

Libya

Burma

Korea, North

There is little doubt that these are not typically countries that people want to move to. In fact, in a number of them the economic repression is so extreme that it is even against the law to leave the country.

Net migration statistics confirm that these countries have a negative migration outflow of minus 1.12 per thousand[ii]. In other words, every year these countries see 1.12 more people moving to another country per 1,000 in population than people from another country moving in. Clearly, this represents overall dissatisfaction with life in that country (especially since these numbers would be higher if it wasn’t illegal to leave some of the countries).

On the flip side, the 20 most economically free countries in the world are:

Hong Kong

Singapore

Luxembourg

Estonia

Ireland

New Zealand

United Kingdom

Denmark

Iceland

Australia

Chile

Switzerland

United States

Sweden

Finland

Canada

Netherlands

Germany

Austria

Bahrain

Not surprisingly based on our thesis, these countries are much more desirable to live in and have a positive net migration inflow of 3.81 per thousand. And unlike those countries with extremely centralized economies where it was illegal to leave, in most of the economically free countries there are limits on immigrants allowed to move in due to overly high demand. If the restrictions weren’t there on either side we would see an even bigger difference in net migration.

So our theory is holding: the most extreme centrally managed economies see either a net outflow of their population (or make it against the law to leave), while the most economically free countries see a strong net inflow of people from other countries.

This principle holds true not just for the extremes. Of the 154 countries that are ranked by the Index of Economic Freedom, comparing the top 77 with the bottom 77 you also see that the top half (more economically free) has an average positive net migration inflow of 0.83 per thousand, while the bottom half (less economically free) has an average negative net migration of minus 0.57 per thousand.

Migration patterns of people around the world clearly show that people consistently move from centrally-managed economies to free-market economies (and in fact the results of the analysis are statistically significant, with a P value of 0.0220)

Now, some may advance the argument that only rich countries can afford to be economically free, and thus it’s normal to see migration from poorer countries to richer countries. Let’s put aside the fact that this ignores the fact that rich countries are rich precisely because of their economic policies and take this at face value.

Here are the 22 “first-world” countries of Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada, ranked by order of most economically free:

Luxembourg

Ireland

New Zealand

United Kingdom

Denmark

Iceland

Australia

Switzerland

United States

Sweden

Finland

Canada

Netherlands

Germany

Austria

Belgium

Italy

Norway

Spain

Portugal

France

Greece

All of these countries are among the most free market-based in the world, including 7 of the top 10. Even the three least economically free of this select group (Portugal, France and Greece, ranking at 37, 44 and 59, respectively) are well above average in their free-market orientation.

If our thesis is correct, even among these we should be seeing migration from less economically free to more economically free. After all, if the spectrum analogy holds true, people will always gravitate towards the greater happiness found in more free-market economies.

Of these 22 first-world countries, the 11 most economically free have an average net migration rate of 2.68 per thousand, while the 11 less economically free have an average net migration rate of 2.01. In other words, even among these countries the most economically free show 33% more positive net migration than their less free peers. The principle holds.

Even within a country, we can see migration from more restrictive to more free market policies. In the United States, net migration is 23% greater to states that have a conservative governor than to states with a liberal governor[iii], and as a general rule the conservative political platform is more pro-free market.

Even at the county level, 97 of the top 100 fastest growing counties in America voted conservative, or more free market, in the last election[iv]. Again, the principle holds.

By analyzing the net migration of millions of people making individual decisions every year in every country around the world, we are able to objectively validate the thesis: that on the economic spectrum ranging from centrally-managed economies all the way to decentralized free market economic policies, people will always tend to shun central planning and gravitate towards the free market. In all cases, people are happier with freer markets and repeatedly demonstrate this by their choice of where to live.


[i] Source: 2005 Index of Economic Freedom

[ii] Source: CIA World Factbook

[iii] Source: National Governor’s Association & U.S. Census Bureau 2000 – 2004 Migration Statistics

[iv] Source: Los Angeles Times, November 23, 2004

September 12, 2005 / Gabriel

Economic Systems: Fear vs. Happiness

The question of economics is very simple: given that the world only has a limited amount of resources, how do you determine who gets what? After all, it is simply impossible for everyone to have everything.

Over thousands of years, men have tried all manner of economic systems to deal with this, from might-makes-right to feudalism to mercantilism to capitalism to socialism to communism to everything in between.

There are a lot of fancy names and theories, but the bottom line is that every single one of these solutions can be boiled down to this: who decides?

Think of it as a spectrum. On the far left of the spectrum, decisions on who gets what are made for everyone by a very small group of people—a centralized economy, like communism. They decide who gets what.

On the far right of the spectrum, decisions on who gets what are decentralized as much as possible—people decide among themselves through the process of trading directly with other individuals, as in free market capitalism.

Communism                                                                                                         Capitalism

<———————————————————————————————————————>

(centralized decision-making)                                          (decentralized decision-making)

This is nothing new or controversial. Under a purely communistic system, it is the government who decides how many chairs are made, at what price they are sold. And it is the government who decides how much each person makes.

Under a purely capitalistic system, anybody can make or not make chairs, and the price at which they can sell the chair is determined entirely by how much others are willing to pay for it. As for how much each person makes, again the government has no say and it is dependent entirely on what value others put on a given person’s work.

And of course there are all manner of systems in between, such as socialism, which splits the difference with the government deciding on some things and the market (i.e. people) deciding on others.

Now here is where it gets interesting.

In a true capitalistic system, any economic transaction occurs only if both parties are happier as a result.

For example, if I go to the store and buy a bag of cookies for $3, I do so because I am fundamentally happier with the bag of cookies than I am with my $3. If that weren’t the case, I wouldn’t buy it.

But exactly the same holds true for the store: they will only sell me the bag of cookies for $3 if they are happier with the $3 than they are with the bag of cookies. Otherwise, they wouldn’t sell it.

The same is true of work: a plumber will only go to work if he is happier fixing pipes and receiving $20 per hour doing so. If he was happier staying home doing nothing, there’s nothing preventing him from doing so. Conversely, the person hiring the plumber is happier paying $20 per hour and having fixed pipes than keeping that money and having leaky pipes. Everyone is happier by the transaction.

Thus, every single economic transaction in a true capitalistic system is one that increases the amount of happiness of everyone involved.

But, people ask, what if the plumber would have been even happier making $100 per hour like a lawyer does? That’s all well and good, but a capitalistic system only works when all people involved in the transaction are happier, not just one.

Just like the store owner would love to charge $300 for a bag of cookies, so everyone would love to make more money for their work. But the amount of money that you can receive—be it for a bag of cookies or the work you provide—is entirely dependent on how much value others put in what you have to offer.

Remember, not everyone can have everything. Under any system. But the rule of thumb under capitalism is that the more your work makes others happy, the more you will have.

Now let’s look at the other side of the spectrum: centrally-managed decision-making.

Under a centrally managed economy (such as communism), it is a subset of the population that makes the economic decisions for the whole population. This subset is always the ruling party, since making economic decisions for others necessarily involves using the threat of force to ensure compliance.

For example, if a store has a bag of cookies, in the centrally-managed economy the ruling party will determine the price. Let’s say it is $5. What if the person minding the store wants to sell it for $3 or $7? He is not allowed.

But it is not enough just to say that someone is not allowed to change the centrally-managed price. In order to prevent such action from happening, the ruling party is obliged to enforce its economic policies, and the only means the state has of doing so is the threat of harm.

There is no other option to the ruling party than to enforce its economic decisions by the threat of force. If it does not, people will make their own decisions, and we are right back to a free-market capitalist system.

Thus, any kind of centrally-managed economic decision-making is inherently based on fear. It is only effective if those making the decisions for the rest of the population have the ability to enforce those decisions, and to do so by coersion.

Therefore, our continuum from above could look like this:

Communism                                                                                                            Capitalism

<———————————————————————————————————————>

(Fear-based)                                                                                              (Happiness-based)

Now, some may say that these examples are of the extremes—that there’s a happy medium in between the two. But experience tells us that any system that takes economic decision-making out of the hands of individuals and puts it into the hands of a ruling class (i.e. the government) necessarily reduces happiness and increases fear.

For instance, take minimum-wage laws. These are common even in what otherwise would be considered very capitalistic countries. The government in this case dictates that employers may not hire anyone below a certain amount—they are making an economic decision for the population, and enforcing it by force (fines and jail time for violators).

What is the result of these laws? Very simply, employers are able to hire less people than they normally would without the laws (just like if our store raised its price on bags of cookies from $3 to $5, they would get less sales). And potential employees that would have been happy to work for an amount less than the minimum wage instead find themselves unemployed.

Thus, by inducing fear in both employers and potential employees and not allowing them to make their own economic decisions, the government has reduced the happiness of both (and increased the country’s level of unemployment).

Now, is there a legitimate role for government in the economy?

Absolutely: to maintain the peace, enforce honest economic transactions, and prevent economic monopolies that can distort the normal trade between people.

But other than that, the more government moves away from central planning and economic interference and towards individuals making their own economic decisions, the more society will move from a climate of fear to one of happiness

September 10, 2005 / Gabriel

The “Root Causes” of Terrorism

On the left, one of the most common refrains is that poverty is a major “root cause” of terrorism, and that by providing more aid to developing countries the threat of terrorism would be significantly reduced.

Ignoring for a moment the assumption that foreign aid actually helps countries out of poverty, which is not borne out by historical experience, this neo-Marxist theory doesn’t stand up to even limited scrutiny.

If poverty causes terrorism, then the poorer the country, the more one should see terrorist activities from that country. But this is simply not the case. Here is a list of the world’s 20 poorest nations, ranked by GDP per capita[i]:

Rank

Country

GDP per Capita

1

East Timor

$      431.68

2

Malawi

$      574.87

3

Burundi

$      606.62

4

Comoros

$      676.48

5

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

$      686.75

6

Ethiopia

$      689.89

7

Afghanistan

$      701.41

8

Congo, Republic of the

$      716.46

9

Eritrea

$      742.02

10

Madagascar

$      743.92

11

Guinea-Bissau

$      765.64

12

Kiribati

$      783.74

13

Niger

$      797.67

14

Mali

$      880.67

15

Liberia

$      961.76

16

Kenya

$   1,031.48

17

Benin

$   1,067.85

18

Burkina Faso

$   1,071.83

19

Central African Republic

$   1,117.70

20

Chad

$   1,118.61

Of these twenty countries, only one (Afghanistan) can be said to have truly produced any kind of serious terrorist activity. (Quick, can anyone name any terrorists from Ethiopia, Mali or the Congo?)

On the other hand, Saudi Arabia, with a GDP per capita at $11,157 (higher than Poland, China and Mexico), is one of the top exporters of international terrorism.

Nor are absolute poverty numbers an indicator. After all, one could argue in the case of Saudi Arabia that they have a high average GDP per capita but that the wealth is centralized in the hands of very few people while the majority of the population lives in poverty.

But this doesn’t bear out either. Here are the top 20 countries with the highest percentage of people living with less than $2 per day[ii]:

Rank

Country

% < $2

1

Nigeria

91%

2

Mali

91%

3

Zambia

87%

4

India

86%

5

Burkina Faso

86%

6

Niger

85%

7

Pakistan

85%

8

Rwanda

85%

9

Central African Republic

84%

10

Madagascar

83%

11

Gambia, The

83%

12

Nepal

83%

13

Ghana

79%

14

Mozambique

78%

15

Bangladesh

78%

16

Ethiopia

76%

17

Sierra Leone

75%

18

Laos

73%

19

Mauritania

69%

20

Senegal

68%

Again, with the exception of Pakistan none of these are serious breeding grounds for international terrorism.

So it’s rather obvious that poverty (or at least poverty alone) does not breed terrorism. Therefore logically neither will foreign aid to developing countries eliminate the threat of terrorism.

Now let’s look at the conservative argument: namely, that totalitarianism and oppression cause terrorism (and thus, that democracy and freedom are a key solution to eliminating terrorism.)

Here are 10 countries ranked in 2001 as having the least political and economic freedom in the world[iii] (alphabetically—all had a liberty score of zero):

Afghanistan

Burma

Cuba

Iraq

Korea, North

Libya

Saudi Arabia

Sudan

Syria

Turkmenistan

One will immediately recognize in this list many of the world’s top exporters of terrorism. And without question none of the most free countries in the world are exporters of terrorism (top 10 ranked alphabetically):

Austria

Canada

Denmark

Iceland

Ireland

Norway

Sweden

Switzerland

United States

Uruguay

So the neoconservative answer to terrorism (actively spreading democracy to eliminate the root cause of terrorism) certainly has some very strong factual justification.

But there’s one more, politically incorrect element to factor in. Of the 10 least free countries in the world, four are not major exporters of terrorism: Burma, North Korea, Cuba and Turkmenistan.

What separates these four countries from the other six? Religion.

Burma is Buddhist, North Korea is officially secular (but of a Buddhist tradition), Cuba is Christian and Turkmenistan just came out of 70 years of Russian-imposed secularism. All six other countries, each a known source of terrorists, are strongly Islamic.

Thus, from a purely objective standpoint, the data points to the “root cause” of terrorism as being a combination of Islamic extremism and totalitarian rule. And hence the ideal solution to terrorism is the establishment of freedom and religious tolerance in the Middle East, exactly the strategy that the United States and its allies has been pursuing in Afghanistan and Iraq[iv].


[i] Source: CIA World Factbook, March 2005

[ii] Source: World Bank 2002

[iii] Source: Freedom House 2001. Afghanistan was not rated that year but is generally accepted to have had one of the least free societies in the world—certainly less free than Cuba and Syria.

[iv] Source: National Security Strategy of the United States, 2002 (http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss.html)

September 10, 2005 / Gabriel

A Rational Look at Abortion

For all its emotion and controversy, the abortion debate is actually quite simple, and rests on a single question: at what point does human life begin?

After all, both the pro-choice and pro-life camps agree that killing a one-week old baby is murder. No issue there. And neither camp has an issue prior to conception. The only difference between the two, and the source of so much disagreement, is in that 9-month period in between. The absolute pro-life position is that human life begins at the moment of conception; the absolute pro-choice position is that life doesn’t begin until the whole baby is out of the womb. And of course there are many positions in-between.

The debate has nothing to do with women’s rights, or the right to privacy. These are red herrings that simply serve to confuse the real issue. Don’t believe it? Then try applying these rights arguments to a 1-week or 1-month or 1-year old baby: What if the woman doesn’t want the child? Isn’t ready? Was raped? Doesn’t have a father? Doesn’t have the money/time/resources/support for a baby? Can the woman abort her 1-week old baby? Of course not. She’d go straight to prison for murder. Because there’s no legal “right” that allows one human being to legitimately end the life of another (other than in self-defense.)

So the debate is entirely about when human life begins.

This is a very important question, because the answer determines whether one is simply making a lifestyle choice or committing infanticide—not something to be taken lightly.

Some people say life begins at conception. Others say 3 months. Others say at the time of a baby’s viability. And yet others not until the baby is physically separated from the mother. So who is right?

And the answer is: nobody knows. Not definitively. Sure, there are many with a certainty of opinion on this matter. On both sides. But certainty of opinion is far different from certainty of fact, and only unchecked hubris would not allow for the possibility of being wrong.  Thus far there is no scientific proof that life begins at one point versus another.

Given the absence of proof on this subject, and given the immense importance of the decision—whether or not to terminate what may possibly be a child—the obvious rational and moral decision is to err on the side of caution. To assume that life begins at conception, until proven otherwise. To not do so is to risk being wrong, and being wrong on this issue would mean participating in the murder of children.

Protecting children is one of the most important responsibilities that we have, both as individuals and as a society. And life and death decisions regarding children are not something we should take lightly or gamble with, especially not for the purpose of convenience or lifestyle choices.

And for those with religious or spiritual beliefs, being wrong on this issue has personal ramifications far more serious than simply feeling guilt over the death of a child–all spiritual beliefs save their harshest punishments for harm done to children.

If, at some point in the future, there comes definitive proof that human life doesn’t begin until some time after conception, then at worst the result of our cautious approach will have been some additional deliveries, which our society can handle. But if it turns out that at some time in the future life is proven to start at the time of conception, then we will spare humanity infanticide on a massive scale. In ignorance, then, playing it safe is by far the more enlightened choice.

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