Political Philosophy Archives



More Generally: Philosophy (477)
More Specifically: Civil Rights (5) Constitutionalism (2) Contract Rights (2) Intellectual Property (14) Legitimacy (1) Libertarianism (4) Positive Rights (7) Private Property (10) The Free Market (8) The State of Nature (3)

October 7, 2016

Becoming a Political Kantian

This morning I've decided to take a break from contemplating the fact that my country is seriously considering giving the nuclear codes to a narcissistic, incompetent, hateful, con artist orangutang to contemplate politics in a more theoretical fashion, without reference to the present election. I've always had strongly deontological moral intuitions—that is, I find it most natural to think of ethics as primarily involving rules we have to follow rather than outcomes we have to promote. Further, before I started studying philosophy, I had broadly libertarian political views. It's not surprising, then, that when I first encountered Nozick's Kantian defense...
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October 6, 2015

Quote of the Day: Mencius on Border Police

In antiquity, a border station was set up as a precaution against violence. Today it is set up to perpetrate violence.

- Mencius (4th cent. BCE), sect. 7B8, tr. Lau


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April 7, 2012

The Pseudo-Voltaire Principle

Voltaire famously didn't say, "I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to say it." There is, however, something quite important in the sentiment, which Voltaire of course endorsed, and it can be generalized beyond the case of speech. Call the following the Pseudo-Voltaire Principle: It often happens that there is an agent S and domain of action A such that: (a) S has the exclusive right to make decisions with respect to A, so that it would be morally wrong for anyone to attempt to interfere with S's implementation of her decisions with...
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February 15, 2012

Dropping My Tagline

For several years, this blog has been labeled with the tagline "The Evangelical libertarian philosopher." For some time now, I've been dissatisfied with this label, both as a description of my views and as a description of what this blog is about. I've hesitated to drop it primarily because I think that blogs of non-famous people, such as myself, should have some kind of descriptive name or tagline rather than just the author's name, and I couldn't think of another short, catchy, descriptive phrase that would nicely fill that bit of screen space. (I toyed with: "Berkeley's metaphysics, Nozick's politics,...
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March 14, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival 122

The 122nd Philosophers' Carnival is now up at Icthus77, with a link to my post on bad footnotes. Also of interest this time is Michael Billy's post, "Is 'piracy' theft?". I am in broad agreement with Billy on this one, though I don't have time to lay out my thoughts in detail right now, but let me simply say that the distinction between piracy properly so-called, theft properly so-called, and copyright infringement is, to my mind, a very important one because it is my view that property is a natural right, whereas copyright and patent are only statutory rights. This...
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November 23, 2010

John Locke, Ron Paul, and Airport Security

It has been rather a long time since I wrote on politics. As you can probably imagine, I'm pretty worked up about this whole body scanner business. As recently announced in a post on Homeland Stupidity, Ron Paul and two co-sponsors have introduced a bill in the House which would remove immunity from airport screeners and other federal employees who engage in certain sorts of behavior associated with airport screening. That is, it ensures that the screeners at airports are subject to the same laws regarding battery, sexual assault, child pornography, etc., as everyone else. I think there is something...
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August 6, 2010

The Lockean Proviso and Federally Managed Lands

On my recent vacation, I visited a number of national parks (specifically: Crater Lake, Redwood, and Yosemite). This got me thinking about the moral and political aspects of federal land management, including the National Park System. Libertarians are often skeptical of government ownership of anything. However, in this post I want to argue that the Lockean Proviso actually demands such a system of government land management, and so such a system should be supported by libertarians of the Nozickian/Neo-Lockean sort, such as myself. Let's start at the beginning. Locke holds that initially all of earth's natural resources were held in...
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March 9, 2010

Deontic Utilitarianism, Liberty Utilitarianism, and Deontologism

I just came across the following passage by J.J.C. Smart in Smart and Williams' Utilitarianism: For and Against: What Bentham, Mill and Moore are all agreed on is that the rightness of an action is to be judged solely by consequences, states of affairs brought about by the action. Of course we shall have to be careful here not to construe 'state of affairs' so widely that any ethical doctrine becomes utilitarian. For if we did so we would not be saying anything at all in advocating utilitarianism. If, for example, we allowed 'the state of having kept a promise'...
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February 18, 2010

What is a Right?

Among my moral convictions is the conviction that there is a sharp distinction to be drawn between public or political morality and private or individual morality. This roughly corresponds to Kant's distinction between the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue. That there be such a distinction is important to me because I believe that political morality is very permissive, whereas private morality is very restrictive. I have tried to cash this out before. I want to try it again today, by examining what I take to be the central concept of political morality, the concept of having a...
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December 31, 2009

Preventing Terrorism "At All Costs"

Insofar as there is any debate about airline security measures at all (and there is not as much as there should be), the debate typically assumes that we ought to prevent terrorism "at all costs". But this is simply false. Last night I saw a segment on the local news here in Johnstown, PA, where a "terrorism expert" (it wasn't clear exactly what his qualifications were) said that we could catch terrorists much more effectively by engaging in religious profiling. Apparently a federal legislator recently said the same thing. What these people are pointing out is something that should be...
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August 23, 2009

The Biblical Origin of Hobbes's State of Nature Theory

Thomas Hobbes is famous for his pessimistic state of nature theory. According to Hobbes, the 'state of nature' (i.e. anarchy) is a "warre of every man against every man" (Leviathan, p. 63 of the 1651 'Head' edition). The concepts of justice or injustice are, according to Hobbes, not applicable in this state of war. This is because injustice is defined as "the not Performance of Covenant" (p. 71). However, "If a Covenant be made, wherein neither of the parties performe presently, but trust one another; in the condition of meer nature ... upon any reasonable suspicion, it is Voyd"...
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July 19, 2009

Why Libertarians Should Support a Carbon Tax

When people list reasons for having a strong central government, one of the reasons they most frequently give is the need for environmental protections. Air and water pollution frequently effect huge numbers of people across large geographic areas (in the case of greenhouse gasses, the entire world) and so, it is thought, we must have a strong central government that can regulate emissions and such. A typical libertarian response to the 'what about the environment?' question is to argue that there should be unlimited civil liability for environmental damage. The current system isn't working particularly well and, libertarians are always...
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July 7, 2009

Community Standards of Decency

May communities (justly) set standards of decency? In the recent Philosophers' Carnival, Russell Blackford of Metamagician and the Hellfire Club (a blog with which I am not familiar) argues that they may not. Blackford argues from not-quite-libertarian principles (he allows some limited degree of paternalism) to the conclusion that neither burkas nor nudity should be banned in public. What I want to do here is to show that, on the libertarian picture, either having or not having community standards of decency creates a problem, and try to chart a way forward from there. Libertarians (and, indeed, all proponents of liberal democracy)...
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May 23, 2009

Kant, Libertarianism, and the Limits of Contract Right

By 'libertarianism' here (and in my tagline) I mean the family of broadly Lockean political theories, mostly articulated in the 20th century, which take private property to be the most fundamental concept for political theory. (Locke himself writes, "'Where there is no property, there is no injustice,' is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: For the idea of property being a right to any thing, and the idea to which the name injustice is given, being the invasion or violation of that right; it is evident, that these ideas, being thus established, and these names annexed to...
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March 22, 2009

Kant's Argument for Monogamy

In my previous post on The Problem of Sex in Kant's Ethics, I ended with Kant's argument for monogamy, on which I declined to offer any commentary. I am going to offer a brief reconstruction here (go back to the previous post for the original text).

The argument can be understood as follows:
  1. Sex involves the use of the other's 'sexual attribute' as a means
  2. It is impermissible (contrary to right) to use what one has no right to
  3. One cannot have a right to the sexual attribute of another without having a right to the whole person...

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March 19, 2009

(Self-)Quote of the Day: A Controversial Claim for Your Consideration

Hobbes's normative theory implicitly commits him to the belief that a constitutionally limited government of the sort that would later be described by John Locke would be a paradise if only it could be achieved and maintained.
    - Kenneth L. Pearce, "Deposing Leviathan: Hobbes and Locke on Grievances Against the State" (working draft)
This is the last sentence of a paper that I just finished my first draft of. (I'm running a little late - it's due tomorrow evening!) As I'm editing, I'll be taking a closer look to try to see whether I've really established a claim this strong...
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March 18, 2009

Hobbes, Locke, and Grievances Against the State

It is a fact of life that people frequently come into conflict in various ways: conflicts both about whether a certain action took place, and about whether that sort of action is acceptable. Thomas Hobbes calls the first of these "a question Of Fact" and the second "a question Of Right" (Leviathan ch. 15). Both Hobbes, the notorious proponent of absolute sovereignty, and John Locke, the great proponent of limited government (can you tell whose side I'm on?), agree that one of the chief reasons for forming governments is to prevent these disputes from leading to violence...
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March 6, 2009

Moral Wrongs and Civil Rights

The California Supreme Court heard oral arguments on challenges to Proposition 8 yesterday, and The New York Times seems to expect that, surprisingly, the court may rule more or less the way I want them to: that is, they are expected to rule that the state must extend all the same substantive rights to gay couples as to straight couples, but if the voters don't want to call them both by the same name they don't have to. The NYT article happened to note that there were some protesters outside the courtroom, and one of them was holding a sign that read...
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February 22, 2009

Quote of the Day: Why Write Political Theory?

I may be asked whether I am a prince or a legislator that I should be writing about politics. I answer no: and indeed that that is my reason for doing so. If I were a prince or a legislator I should not waste my time saying what ought to be done; I should do it and keep silent.

    - Jean-Jacques Rousseau, The Social Contract, tr. Maurice Cranston, Introduction to Book I

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January 24, 2009

Kant on Copyright

Regular readers are no doubt aware that I don't believe in intellectual property. That is, I don't believe that you can have property rights in ideas or, generally, in intangibles. I have, however, noted that I support anti-plagiarism laws, and even suspect that they are capable of doing most of the good that so-called 'intellectual property' laws do. (Our current copyright and patent laws, in my opinion, do more harm than good.) Kant, however, has an interesting argument (which is even more or less comprehensible - a rare find in a Kant text!) against the unauthorized publishing of books. The section is fairly short so I will publish the whole thing without authorization...
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January 21, 2009

The Limits of Religious Toleration

In a very sad case out of Wisconsin, the parents of 11 year old Kara Neumann are being prosecuted for reckless endangerment after their daughter died of diabetes. They refused medical care for their daughter on account of their religious beliefs. (They do not belong to the Church of Christ, Scientist, which I believe is the largest religious organization which forbids its adherents from seeking medical care; rather, it appears that they are followers of some internet group by the name of "Unleavened Bread Ministries".) The Neumanns originally entered a constitutional challenge to their prosecution. The judge ruled that...
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January 20, 2009

Topics of Thought for This Quarter

Although I only very rarely post life updates to this blog, it is my custom here to list the subjects I am studying each term because it generally has some bearing on what interesting philosophy I will be blogging about. This quarter I am taking courses on the following topics: Early Modern Social Contract Theory. Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau. I am already considering a paper topic: grievances against the state. (A timely subject.) Hobbes seems to say that you can't sue a sovereign (whether sovereignty is held by an individual or a group) unless he/she/they intentionally set up a process...
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December 24, 2008

Valicella on Private and Public Morality

Bill Valicella of The Maverick Philosopher has an interesting discussion on the distinction between private and public morality. Valicella supposes that there is an inherent tension between any Socratic, Platonic, or Christian ethics and the requirements of a stable state. A couple years ago, in my post on rights, obligations, and abortion (which continues to be one of the most popular posts on this blog) I argued that there was no inherent contradiction, or even tension, between the idea that I have a libertarian right to retaliate for an offense against me, but an obligation of private morality not to exercise that right...
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December 19, 2008

Legislation and Regulation in the Libertarian State

A little while back, I argued that the current crisis was not, by any means, the end of libertarianism, and that anyone who says so misunderstands libertarianism both in terms of its practical consequences and in terms of its theoretical basis. What I mean by this is, in the first case, that libertarianism doesn't condone the policies that led to the current crisis and, in the second case, that libertarianism is a deontological theory of political morality, not a theory of political 'utility'. That last claim perhaps needs a translation for non-philosophers...
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October 22, 2008

California Proposition 8: What Rights?

There are some issues that I always hesitate to talk or write about on account of the fact that it seems to me that most of the discussion on the issue - regardless of which side it's coming from - is, well, stupid. Evolution (in the context of either (1) theology, or (2) public education) is one of those issues. Another is gay marriage. Nevertheless, since, now that I'm a Californian, I have to decide how to vote in two weeks, I suppose I had better wade in. When the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of allowing gay marriage,...
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October 21, 2008

The End of Libertarianism?

I'm still on the newsletter of the Penn Libertarian Association, which has pointed me to an article on Slate entitled "The End of Libertarianism". Author Jacob Weisberg believes the current US financial collapse proves that libertarianism is not viable in the same way that the fall of the USSR proved that Communism is not viable. I offer two brief practical responses and one theoretical response. Firstly, without any government involvement, it is unlikely that any of this would have happened...
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July 9, 2008

R.I.P. Lex Americanorum (Sept. 17 , 1787 - July 9, 2008)

Lex Americanorum, the King of America, passed away this afternoon on the Senate floor. Lex had been ill for some years and White House-ologists in Moscow have long suspected that one or more cabinet members had in fact taken responsibility for most major decisions. The exact identity of this person had not been firmly established, but most experts agree that it is Vice President Dick Cheney. Lex was born on September 17, 1787 and became king shortly thereafter upon election by representatives of the 13 American colonies. Lex was able to survive and maintain power for nearly 221 years...
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March 12, 2008

Telecom Immunity and "Lex est Rex"

The most recent Electronic Frontier Foundation newsletter contains a couple of links on telecom immunity which allude to an argument against telecom immunity that I want to expand upon. Many people think that the basic principle of democracy or of a free society more generally is "majority rule" or some such. However, this is not historically how the matter has been viewed, and history in fact furnishes plenty of cases in which majority rule has not been particularly consistent with freedom. Classic liberals - the early modern thinkers who gave us the foundations of western democracy - had a different view...
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July 21, 2007

Economically Optimal Copyright Term is 14 Years

According to economic analysis recently published by Cambridge Ph.D candidate Rufus Pollock, the optimal term for copyright is 14 years. Presumably, this means that a 14 year term would maximize utility across society in an idealized free market or some such. This is of interest to me because I don't believe that one can hold libertarian property rights in information or ideas (or intangibles generally), and so I take copyright and patent law to be constructed in the social contract (which means that its enforceability by goverment is limited, in terms of what the government is morally permitted to do),...
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April 26, 2007

The New York Times Supports the Police State!

An editorial appearing in today's New York Times finally, at least, more or less understands the position of supporters of the Second Amendment as written. That's close to all that can be said positively about this little article. It begins with this line:
By now, the logic is almost automatic. A shooter takes innocent lives, and someone says that if the victims had been armed, this wouldn�t have happened. The only solution to a gun in the wrong hands, it seems, is a gun in the hands of everyone.
Why do gun advocates support this line of reasoning? The critical point is that it is not possible to keep guns out of the hands of criminals...
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March 10, 2007

Laissez-faire (the game) Version 2

Update (6/2/07): Three minor changes: (1) the cost of the Home Maintenance Co. has been increased to $500. (2) A provision has been made (see under "Taking a Turn" and "Jail") to ensure that players going out do not gift their properties to other players to alter the course of the game. (3) Changes have been made to the selection order at the beginning of the (not yet play-tested) zero sum variant in the hope of increasing the fairness of the initial selection of properties. Also some clarifications have been made. I am considering removing the Petroleum Distribution Co., but...
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December 29, 2006

Laissez-faire (The Game)

I received for Christmas this year a copy of the game Anti-Monopoly. The game has an interesting premise. Half of the players are "monopolists" who play according to rules similar to the original Monopoly, and the other half are "competitors" who must charge "fair" rents and obey laws and so forth. The competitors make up for their lower rents by being able to build houses without controlling a monopoly. If you are detecting a slight socialist bias here, you are right; the rulebook contains questionable and irrelevant interjections like "monopolists will destroy competitors in the absence of anti-monopoly laws." However...
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November 30, 2006

Christianity and Homosexuality

In the very first Carnival of Citizens, there is a post at HeartFulls (a blog with which I was not previously familiar) in which the author wants to know how Christians deal with homosexuality. She seems to be particularly concerned with the question of gay marriage (which is presumably why this post was included in the Carnival of Citizens). She cites a few Scripture passages that are commonly used in arguments, but doesn't present a clear picture of how and why these arguments cause Christians to hold the positions they do (presumably, she doesn't know quite how these passages are interpreted, which is why this is part of her "I want to know" series). In this post, I will try to explain how these verses are interpreted, and how they should influence Christians' actions, especially in the political realm...
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November 28, 2006

US Mint Out to Get the Liberty Dollar?

It seems, over the last few months, that the U.S. Mint has suddenly been out to get the Liberty Dollar. This after years of investigations by the Secret Service and others which concluded that there was nothing criminal about it whatsoever. In the latest Liberty Dollar newsletter, which will be available on their web-site shortly, we read that "'threatening' letters have been received via certified mail by all the [regional currency officers] and [monetary architect Bernard von NotHaus] from Daniel P. Shaver, chief counsel for the US Mint." Also, NORFED, the organization behind the Liberty Dollar, has had their bank...
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September 11, 2006

Conservative Judicial Activism?

The New York Times has a piece today on conservative judicial activism. The article claims that, not only does conservative judicial activism happen, but it is more common in the US today than liberal judicial activism. However, I have to wonder if 'conservative judicial activism' is even possible. My disagreement with the Times is, I admit, in large part semantic, because the terms 'conservative,' 'liberal,' and 'judicial activism' are all horribly equivocal, but they are also all emotionally charged terms, and I can't stand the kind of rhetorical trick the Times seems to be trying to pull here...
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May 15, 2006

Why is the NSA Data Mining Operation Bad?

In the comments to my first post on NSA domestic spying, Jeremy said, This is exactly why I think libertarianism is completely nuts. If it's going to place some absurd sense of an absolute right to privacy so much higher than the extremely important obligation of the government to protect its people, then I want nothing to do with it ... It just seems silly to me to complain that my rights are being violated simply because information the government can already get if there's reason to suspect me of any criminal activity is more readily available in the event...
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April 17, 2006

Quote of the Day

"For tell me, if you saw any two persons, one naked, one having a garment, and then having stripped the one that had the garment, thou wert to clothe the naked, wouldest thou not have committed an injustice? It is surely plain to every one. But if when thou hast given all that thou hast taken to another, thou hast committed an injustice, and not shown mercy; when thou givest not even a small portion of what thou robbest, and callest the deed alms, what manner of punishment wilt thou not undergo?" - St. John Chryosostom (Patriarch of Constantinople, c....
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April 6, 2006

Invisible Hand, April '06

The April 2006 issue of the Invisible Hand Newsletter is now available for download. The publishers hope that libertarian groups and individuals at colleges and universities across the country - and perhaps even internationally - will print and distribute this newsletter on their campuses. This latest issue contains an article by yours truly entitled "What Rights Don't I Have?" and based on a blog.kennypearce.net post from last October entitled "Why 'Positive Rights' are Stupid." The whole newsletter is worth a read....
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March 23, 2006

The Invisible Hand Newsletter

I was recently introduced to The Invisible Hand, a newsletter being put out by the Rutgers Libertarians (that would be Rutgers University, in New Jersey). The first edition came out last November and was distributed at two campuses in New Jersey. Now the group wants to get a wider distribution, by having individuals and groups on various college campuses throughout the country print the newsletter from the internet and distribute it. I am planning to submit an article on positive rights and why libertarians don't believe in them (based on this post) for the next issue, which is due out...
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March 13, 2006

A Singularly Un-Nutty Gun Nut

Jeff The Baptist is pointing to this opinion piece by one Jim March, apparently an activist concerned with gun policy and electronic voting machines (no, the two don't seem to be connected). After reading the article, I take March to be a singularly un-nutty gun nut. He provides statistics, history, scientific case studies, and personal anecdotes to support his position that keeping guns away from law-abiding citizens (a) undermines democracy, and (b) increases crime. Particularly interesting is his claim that the development of weapons technology that could be purchased and used by the common people was an essential element in...
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March 5, 2006

Rights, Obligations, and Abortion

A while ago, in a post on abortion, I had a brief discussion with Jeremy Pierce about the distinction between rights and obligations. Since we are discussing abortion again, I thought now would be a good time to clarify what I mean by this distinction. I will also discuss briefly how this applies to the abortion debate. First and foremost in this distinction is this: rights belong to the province of public or political morality, whereas obligations belong to the province of private or individual morality. Political morality has to do with the existence and nature of morally appropriate government,...
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March 3, 2006

John Stossel on Education and the Free Market

Syndicated columnist and ABC news reported John Stossel has an editorial at TownHall.com (HT: WorldMagBlog) on the benefits of introducting free market competition to the primary/secondary education system through a voucher-type system. Most of the points he makes are obvious - as economists say, idealized free markets lead to Pareto-optimal states, and competition brings a system that much closer to the idealized free market - but the article is nevertheless worth a read. In short, under the competitive system "Bad schools will close and better schools will open. And the better schools won't all be the same." Stossel points out...
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February 20, 2006

Libertarianism and Corporations

One of the key problems of strict (non-consequentialist) libertarianism is how the state is to successfully perform its function of protecting citizens from force or fraud without the funding acquired from confiscatory taxation schemes. The problem is that libertarian commitments in the region of political morality do not permit the government to violate the private property rights which individuals have in the hypothetical "state of nature," and in the state of nature individuals own all of their income, not just what's left after taxes. The government exists to enforce these property rights. Robert Nozick believes (see his book Anarchy, State,...
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January 20, 2006

On Public Education

In the comments to this post on recent attempts to insert intelligent design into public high schools as philosophy, Ed Darrell and I have been having a discussion about more general questions of public education. I thought it would be a good idea to write a piece about my general view of this subject here, since the discussion is looking like its about to get quite long and detailed. As I see it, there are two issues here: the government's use of tax money to fund education, and the government's exercise of power over how education is done. Furthermore, there...
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January 12, 2006

Propaganda, Abortion, and the New York Times

I am a regular reader of the New York Times, and I must admit that I often sympathize with the assertion of many conservatives that the Times is biased toward the Democratic party. However, I think this concern is much overstated. The Times routinely portrays both sides of issues on the Op-Ed page, and also in factual reporting. Biases of omission, or phrasings that seem to make value judgments rather than report fact, do occur and tend to occur in a decidedly liberal direction, but if there is real persistent bias in the Times, I would say that it has...
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January 10, 2006

Smoking Bans, Private Property, and the Free Market

Hammer of Truth reports today that New Jersey has been added to the list of states banning smoking in "public buildings." Washington is also one of these states. Philadelphia tried to pass a city ban some time ago, but I believe it failed (I'm not entirely sure). Now, there are two things I want everyone to know about these smoking bans: (1) they are unjust, because they violate the private property rights of restraunt and bar owners, and (2) they are unnecessary because, to the degree that people actually want non-smoking establishments, the free markent provides them. I do not...
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