John Locke — Far From the Paragon of Classical Liberty

If Locke is viewed, correctly, as an advocate of expropriation and enslavement, what are the implications for classical liberalism and libertarianism? The most important is that there is no justification for treating property rights as fundamental human rights, on par with personal liberty and freedom of speech.

The true liberal tradition is represented not by Locke, but by John Stuart Mill, whose wholehearted commitment to political freedom was consistent with his eventual adoption of socialism (admittedly in a rather refined and abstract form).

Mill wasn’t perfect, as is evidenced by his support of British imperialism, for which he worked as an official of the East India Company, and more generally by his support for limitations on democratic majorities. But Mill’s version of liberalism became more democratic as experience showed that fears about dictatorial majorities were unfounded. By contrast, Locke’s classical liberalism has hardened into propertarian dogma.

As Mill recognized, markets and property rights are institutions that are justified by their usefulness, not by any fundamental human right. Where markets work well, governments should not interfere with them. But, when they fail, as they so often do, it is entirely appropriate to modify property rights and market outcomes, or to replace them altogether with direct public control.

Received ideas change only slowly, and the standard view of Locke as a defender of liberty is likely to persist for years to come. Still, the reassessment is underway, and the outcome is inevitable. Locke was a theoretical advocate of, and a personal participant in, expropriation and enslavement. His classical liberalism offers no guarantee of freedom to anyone except owners of capitalist private property.

— , “John Locke Against Freedom

Sir Nicholas Winton, The “British Schindler”, Dies At 106

Winton saved 669 mostly Jewish children from Czechoslovakia destined for the concentration camps, and worked to get many of them adopted. His heroism remained unknown for fifty years. From ABC:

Born in London in 1909 to parents of German Jewish descent, Winton himself was raised as a Christian. He was a 29-year-old clerk at the London Stock Exchange when a friend contacted him and told him to cancel the skiing holiday they had planned in late 1938 and travel instead to Czechoslovakia.

Alarmed by the influx of refugees from the Sudetenland region recently annexed by Germany, Winton and his friend feared — correctly — that Czechoslovakia soon would be invaded by the Nazis and Jewish residents from there would be sent to concentration camps.

While supporters in Britain were working to get Jewish intellectuals and communists out of Czechoslovakia, no one was trying to save the children, so Winton took the task upon himself.

Returning to Britain, Winton persuaded British officials to accept children, as long as foster homes were found and a 50-pound guarantee was paid for each one to ensure they had enough money to return home later. Their stays were only expected to be temporary.

Setting himself up as the one-man children’s section of the British Committee for Refugees from Czechoslovakia, Winton set about finding homes and guarantors, drawing up lists of about 6,000 children, publishing pictures to encourage British families to agree to take them.

The following video, in which he unknowingly meets those he saved, still gets me.

Finland and the Netherlands Experiment With Basic Income

Finland became the first country in Europe to announce plans for the implementation of a basic income program, according to the Basic Income Earth Network (BIEN). (To recap: a basic income is a universal, unconditional form of payment to individuals that covers their living costs. It allow people to choose to work more flexible hours and devote more time to non-work related activities, from caregiving and volunteering, to studying and leisure.)

The commitment consists of one line: ‘Implement a Basic Income experiment’, in the ‘Health and Welfare’ section of the programme.

The main party of government, the Centre Party and the new Prime Minister Juha Sipilä, are known to be supportive of Basic Income, but his new government partners, the populist Finns Party and conservative NCP have not spoken publicly on the issue. The scant reference to Basic Income raises some doubts about the government’s commitment to the policy.

So while it is far from a done deal — especially as the government has yet to release any further details, including a timeframe — it is nonetheless a big step, as few other countries, even in socially progressive Europe, have ever made such a formal, nationwide commitment.

Meanwhile, the fourth largest city in the Netherlands, another country that has been mulling over a basic income, is set to implement a plan of its own. The intention is not only to determine if a basic income will help people in absolute terms, but to see how its efficiency compares to the status quo of welfare payments. From The Independent:

University College Utrecht has paired with the city to place people on welfare on a living income, to see if a system of welfare without requirements will be successful.

Alderman for Work and Income Victor Everhardt told DeStad Utrecht: “One group is will have compensation and consideration for an allowance, another group with a basic income without rules and of course a control group which adhere to the current rules.”

“Our data shows that less than 1.5 percent abuse the welfare, but, before we get into all kinds of principled debate about whether we should or should not enter, we need to first examine if basic income even really works.

“What happens if someone gets a monthly amount without rules and controls? Will someone sitting passively at home or do people develop themselves and provide a meaningful contribution to our society?”

It is not surprising that the Dutch would lead the way in this experiment, given that they already have a well-established fondness for less traditional work environments — 46.1 percent of the labor force works part-time, the highest proportion in the European Union, and the nation is nonetheless broadly prosperous, with a high rate of life satisfaction. This is a country that already leads the way in work-life balance, so it would be interesting to see how this endeavor goes and whether it will catch on elsewhere in the country or beyond.

Finland and the Netherlands are the first developed nations to experiment with a guaranteed basic income since the 1970s, when Canada conducted a pilot project dubbed “Mincome” in a small town, with great results. Other experiments have been performed more recently in India, Namibia and Brazil, each one of them reporting measurable, positive outcomes in everything from poverty reduction to healthcare and general wellness.

As BIEN notes, there is an increasing interest in Basic Income worldwide, as well there should be: from mounting inequality to a dearth of well-paying and sustainable jobs, there are plenty of good reasons to consider at least trying out this streamlined and promising approach to alleviating poverty and improving quality of life.

Same-Sex Marriage Legalized in the U.S.

As most readers have no doubt already heard, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that same-sex marriage is legal throughout the country.

As the New York Times notes, this landmark decision was the culmination of a rapid arc of progress that first came to the fore back in the early 1990s, when the first states began explicitly banning gay marriage. Only in 2003 did a sole state, Massachusetts, allow for gay and lesbian couples to marry.

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This rise in marriage equality was the result in a rapid turnaround in public opinion: from only 27 percent public approval in 1996, according to Gallup, to 60 percent as of this year. As The Washington Post observes, this is far more rapid and dramatic a change than most social issues (such as abortion and capital punishment).

The decision was based primarily on the Fourteenth Amendment, namely its Equal Protection Clause, which requires each state to provide equal protection under the law to all people within its jurisdiction.  Continue reading

Happy 86th Birthday Anne Frank

Anne FrankOn this day in 1929, Anne Frank was born. Had her life not been cruelly cut short, she would be 86 today, and probably one of the foremost writers of our time.

It was also on this day in 1942, her thirteenth birthday, that she first began keeping her diary. Her father gave her a book that she had pointed out in a shop window a few days earlier. Although it was an autograph book, Frank decided she would use it as a diary, and began writing in it right away.

Sure enough, her father Otto Frank, the family’s only known survivor, would be the one to publish the diary he had given his daughter. When he returned to Amsterdam from Auschwitz in 1945, he sought out his protectors in the hopes of finding his family. The diary and other personal papers had been kept safe by Miep Gies, one of the family’s protectors, who resolved to give them back to Anne. Instead, they were given to Otto when the death of Anne had been confirmed.

Of all her deep and well-written insights, the following resonates with me most. It was written July 15, less than a month before she and her family had been betrayed, arrested, and deported to their deaths.

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!

If someone hiding out from one of the most vicious regimes in history could maintain such a humanistic and compassionate spirit, I have little excuse. What better inspiration do I need? I would like to imagine that although she could not realize her ideals directly, her kindness, sincerity, and hope continue to influence others to carry it all on for her.

The 26th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square Protests

On this day in 1989, an over month-long, mostly peaceful protest involving workers, political reformers, and pro-democracy students — centered on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, but later spreading across hundreds of cities around the country — was crashed by government security forces. Continue reading

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A Flag For Planet Earth

As both a self-proclaimed citizen of the world and science fiction fan, I am favorably disposed to the idea that some day, against all odds, there will be one global community undivided by petty conflict and national borders.

I admit, it is an idealistic, if not naive, expectation, but given the trajectory of globalization and the subsequent blossoming of a global human identity, it seems more inevitable than ever (though nonetheless long-coming and tenuous, given we still have a ways to go). Increased space exploration most likely accelerate these trends.

So what would our hypothetical “Terran Federation” — to use Heinlein’s concept from Starship Troopers — use as its symbol? The United Nations flag might seem like the most obvious choice, given that the global body ostensibly represents the interests of all humanity, via its member states. But to quote Swedish artist Oskar Pernefeldt the U.N. is “an organization on Earth, not the planet itself”– hence why he created his own flag for planet Earth.

According to the Washington Post,  “The International Flag of Planet Earth”, which was conceived for a college thesis project, could be used to replace the national flags of whatever nations land on other worlds.  This would represent a radical departure from the status quo, in which countries are more than eager to establish a lasting symbol of their achievements in space exploration (which given the expense and technical challenge thereof, is an understandable position).

Oskar Pernefeldt / Washington Post

Pernefeldt explains the concept of the flag:

Centered in the flag, seven rings form a flower – a symbol of the life on Earth. The rings are linked to each other, which represents how everything on our planet, directly or indirectly, are linked. The blue field represents water which is essential for life – also as the oceans cover most of our planet’s surface. The flower’s outer rings form a circle which could be seen as a symbol of Earth as a planet and the blue surface could represent the universe.

A video of the creative process behind this intriguing flag can be seen here.

Might there be a future where humans identify more with their planet rather than a comparatively smaller and more parochial polity? Might Earth actually be a full-fledged community on par with a single country in terms of cohesion and loyalty? It seems like a stretch, but so too was the existence of the nation-state not that long ago.

I think the likelihood of it summed up beautifully and effectively by Pernefeldt in the following hypothetical:

“Imagine standing on the Moon, someone asks you where you are from, and your intercom doesn’t work. You have to point with your finger. Where do you point?”

 

The Kenguru: The First Car Exclusively Designed For Wheelchair Users

Over at Big Think, Teodora Zareva introduces a revolutionary new car that will give wheelchair users much needed mobility and independence: the Kenguru, designed by a Hungarian company of the same name and manufactured by the Austin, Texas-based Community Cars.  This clever vehicles is the first of its kind, the product of an international partnership between Texas lawyer and wheelchair user Stacy Zoern, and Kenguru chief executive Istvan Kissaroslaki.  Continue reading

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How An Iron Fish Can Help Millions of People

Anemia, caused mostly by iron deficiency, is one of the most widespread and consequential health afflictions in the world, impacting 30 percent of the world’s population, mainly children, teens, and young mothers. From constant fatigue and headaches, to potentially deadly hemorrhaging, it literally weakens entire communities and makes the already laborious lives of the poor even more miserable.

It is easy to take for granted the prevalence of iron in most developed-world diets. But for most people living in the developing world, such as in Cambodia, it can be difficult to grow or access iron-rich food, let alone take expensive and equally unavailable iron tablets. It is one of those problems that should not be so widespread and intractable, indicative of the pervasive neglect and inequality of many economic and political systems (and indeed the world).

The BBC highlights a promising solution by Canadian scientist Dr. Christopher Charles so simple and cost-effective that there can be no excuse for not implementing it.  Continue reading

Four Cancer Charities Accused of Fraud, With Some Important Lessons

According to the New York Timesfour sizeable charities — the Cancer Fund of America, Cancer Support Services, Children’s Cancer Fund of America and the Breast Cancer Society — have been accused by the Federal Trade Commission and all fifty U.S. states of being controlled by the same small network of individuals who were enriching themselves with millions in donations.

According to the complaint, [James] Reynolds devised the fund-raising scheme in 1987 and recruited his son, friends and members of his church congregation to participate in the years that followed. The F.T.C.’s finding of $187 million in misspent donations reflects the charities’ activity from 2008 to 2012. In that time, the charities spent less than 3 percent of donations on cancer patients.

“The defendants’ egregious scheme effectively deprived legitimate cancer charities and cancer patients of much-needed funds and support”, said Jessica Rich, director of the F.T.C.’s bureau of consumer protection.

The complaint also accuses the organizations of falsifying financial documents, reporting inflated revenues and “gifts in kind” they claimed to distribute internationally.

Aside from the sheer sordidness of this affair — enlisting loved ones and church members to embezzle funds meant to go to cancer victims — this it is vital reminder about the importance of being vigilant towards any and every charity you are interested in. No matter how admirable or convincing the cause, please do your utmost to fact-check rigorously. Plenty of good and honest organizations doing effective work lack funding.

And while it is true that these organizations have not been formally convicted, the details of the case, and some prior controversies, do not look encouraging.

In any case, checkout charity reviewers like Charity NavigatorGive Well, and Charity Watch to see if any organizations you are interested in make the cut. Feel free to share your own trustworthy watchdogs.