C. Welwood: “Why Socialist Countries Don’t Celebrate Halloween”

Halloween is a quintessentially modern North American holiday. With its costume parties, trick-or-treating, and extravagant decorations, Halloween traditions are a product of material abundance. Environmentalists and health nuts may bemoan it as an indulgence in throw-away culture and gluttony, but if you’ll look past the surface you’ll see that the reason traditions like trick-or-treating have become widespread is due to the high level of social trust we enjoy in this part of the world.

When you think about it, for parents to allow their children to roam the neighbourhood collecting candy from strangers’ is pretty strange. And for home-owners, the idea of giving out food, at their own expense, to random kids dressed as witches and goblins is rather odd. What if someone intentionally or unintentionally poisons the kids? What if someone abducts or abuses them? And what’s the point of spending one’s hard-earned money on candy for kids one probably doesn’t know and who eat too much sugar already?

Certainly some people don’t participate in Halloween for these reasons and others, but it’s remarkable how many people do. The stories are razor blades in Halloween candy are so rare that they make national headlines—they are the exceptions that prove the rule, and the rule seems to be Halloween is quite safe.

What do we have to thank for this milieu of general trust and safety in neighbourhoods across North America? A large part of the credit has to go to our economic system of free enterprise. It’s a system that has made us very wealthy on the whole, compared to previous generations, and with the growth in income, the incidence of crime has fallen dramatically. Societies that have economies based largely on voluntary exchange also foster higher levels of trust between strangers. Such exchanges normally leave both parties better off, and the cumulative effect of these win-win interactions builds weaves inter-personal trust into the fabric of the culture. Compare that to countries where prosperity has historically been seen as a zero-sum game, and the method to achieving it is to gain military or political power, or make oneself useful to those who wield it. So, no surprise Halloween hasn’t taken hold in Venezuela, Sierra Leone, Cuba, or the People’s Republic of China.

We also wouldn’t experience Halloween in its current form without the high levels of economic specialization and free trade we enjoy today. A huge variety of costumes are available for purchase for very reasonable prices, decorations cost very little, and candies and snacks are so cheap that giving dozens of them away makes no noticeable impact on most people’s budgets. Innovations in production, retail and transportation, plus the removal or reduction of tariffs and other trade barriers have made these goods are very affordable.

Much like the other North American autumn holiday (Thanksgiving), Halloween is a celebration of abundance. And though there are risks associated with over-indulgence (like chocolate gorging tummy-aches, or pumpkin ale hangovers), they sure beat going door to door asking for food out of hunger, or being stuck at home because it isn’t safe to go out at night.

Kyle McCormack: “Post-AGM 2018 Report”

The date was October 6th, 2018. The BC Libertarian Party had spent the past few months working around the clock to promote our annual general meeting for 2018. Every mind was focused on getting members in attendance. For an event that began at 9:30am, a core team of volunteers were on site as early as 5am to begin setting up for the important day.
Why would so many people get up so early on a Saturday morning just to attend our political meeting? Because British Columbians are tired. They are tired of government waste and high taxes. They want their lives back, and that’s worth sacrificing one weekend.
So we sent out the call and waited patiently as people bought their AGM tickets.
We were by all counts extremely successful.
 Over 50 Libertarians journeyed from across BC to witness the next steps for the BC Libertarian Party. Each member at the door acquiring a new set of voting cards and copies of important policy choices to be voted for or against on the floor. This is how any political party shapes it’s future; input and feedback from members.
What excites someone like myself, who has been with the Party for over two years now, is how many new faces I saw there. It was just as pleasurable to catch up with executives and leaders in the movement, as well as our friends from Vancouver Island that we don’t get to spend time with nearly often enough.
At this AGM, it was clear that there was an important issue on the floor – our aging constitution. In 2017, the Party struck a constitution committee with the task of exploring another option. Throughout this year, other members also came together in the libertarian spirit of providing options and choice, and we ended up with two completely different documents on the floor of the convention. Both intended to completely replace our original founding documents with a vision for the future.
In the end, after presentations were given to explain the merits of each document and to answer difficult questions about how the new document might affect our Party, members voted to overwhelmingly support the “Going To Victoria” proposal, offered by four members of the Party: Dr. Kenneth Van Dewark, Matt Stiles, Lee Smith and Paul Matthews.

We want to thank everyone who ran for Party positions and congratulate our new Leader, Donald Wilson and Deputy Leader, Billy Morrison, and the rest of those elected to the Executive Council: Paul Matthews (President), Lee Smit (VP), Paul Geddes (Treasurer), Fiona Reed (Secretary), Kenneth Van Dewark (Party Regional Caucus Chair).

 

In addition, we elected four Directors-at-large with Sandra Filosof-Schipper, Kyle McCormack, Noémi Klaudia, and Steve Tsonev.

Workshops held in multiple locations helped to field new ideas from all our members. The BC Libertarian Party is different because it listens to it’s membership and tries to incorporate it all into how the Party functions.
The BC Libertarian Party is exploding in terms of membership numbers, social media reach and candidate readiness. Over the coming years, we will reveal our election candidates and their management team, our new media team and outreach teams.
Over the past year we have released a great number of new policies and the policy committee is now bigger and better than ever. Before the next provincial election in 2021, the BC Libertarian Party will have grown in enormous strides and we will have written many new policy pieces.
The 2018 AGM for the BC Libertarian Party was a massive success because dedicated members poured blood, sweat, time and talent into this event. We walked away with a brand new high-octane constitution & bylaws to replace our 30+ year old founding document and chart a path forward.
Together, we’re going to grow this party from hundreds of members to tens of thousands.

 

C. Welwood: “I won’t call for “legalizing” anything again”

Never again will I advocate for “legalizing” anything. I am embarrassed to say that initially, I fell for the trick Canadian politicians have pulled on us. Thankfully, I wasn’t so duped to vote Liberal, but still, three years ago I naively thought that enough members of the political class had recognized the immorality of the war on drugs, and were seeking minimize the destruction of citizens’ lives by taking cannabis off the list of prohibited substances. Sure, I knew it would be a tax grab, that’s just par for course in Canada, but I thought the driving factor was that the public opinion had shifted to view cannabis as no more harmful than alcohol, and Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were simply the ones to reap the windfall in votes.

What I did not imagine was “legalization” being used as a cover to continue fight the drug war with new powers and agencies. Something started to smell funny when the feds announced that cannabis would be legalized July 1, 2018, and police forces said that didn’t give them sufficient time to prepare. “What did they need to prepare for?” I wondered. Impaired driving came to mind, but there were already laws on the books to deal with that.

Then provincial governments started expressing their concerns about the “legalization” timeline, and how the legislation the government had drafted downloaded the responsibility to regulate cannabis on them. Again I wondered, “so there will be a licensing scheme like we have for liquor stores, what’s so complicated about that?”

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What became clear as my colleagues at the BC Libertarian Party and I began to educate ourselves in advance of our presence at 420 Vancouver was that the “legalized” regime being brought forward was not really akin to treating pot like booze. Alcohol, for all the regulations on how it can be produced, sold and consumed, is still a legal product—no one is ever jailed for simply possessing the wrong kind or quantity of it. Not so with cannabis. What it seems the government has done, in essence, is to keep the status quo of cannabis prohibition and criminalization, but carve out it an exempted sector. Health Canada describes it this way:

Possession, production, distribution and sale outside the legal system will remain illegal and subject to criminal penalties proportionate to the seriousness of the offence, ranging from ticketing up to a maximum penalty of 14 years’ imprisonment.

14 years? That’s no joke. What this lead me to understand is that there would continue to be a white market for cannabis, as well as a black market. The white market would be heavily controlled by the government —in most provinces in Canada, the only legal retailers will be provincial government stores, distribution would be monopolized by the provinces (much like alcohol), and production would given to a privileged group of licenced producers who had the ability to navigate the regulatory process.

The black market does not seem to be going anywhere fast, even though getting rid of it was one of the main motivations politicians gave us for “legalization.” Consumers who are getting a product they want for a decent price from their dealer aren’t likely to pay a premium to switch to government weed. At least in BC, few police resources have been devoted to busting these guys in recent years, and I would be surprised if that changed, particularly considering illegal opiods are a much larger concern these days.

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It seems that the real target of the new regime is the grey market: namely, your local dispensary. Now that the Cannabis Act is in force, the benign neglect these businesses enjoyed has evaporated overnight, and municipal governments have warned unlicensed dispensaries to shutter their doors or expect a visit from the cops, or possible blacklisting when it comes to the issuance of municipal business licences. This is what happened on Oct 18th to two unlicensed dispensaries in Port Alberni, with their products seized and fines issued, even though they had applied for provincial licenses.

The thing is, currently there’s only one brick and mortar store open: the government-run one in Kamloops. Everyone else in BC is supposed to buy it from the government’s online portal (with a Canada Post strike looming—isn’t it wonderful to see the various branches of the state coordinating their efforts?).

So why haven’t licenses been issued to any private BC retailers yet? The provincial government decided not to go for a system of interim licences like Alberta, and wants to let municipalities review each license application, even though they’ll be making cannabis retailers jump through their own licensing hoops at the local level.

The heavy-handed approach of the regime carries over to cannabis possession as well. Unlike alcohol, where you can stock your liquor cabinet as much as you like, you’re only allowed to possess certain amounts of this newly “legal” product: 30 grams of dried cannabis, with equivalent limits on other forms such as concentrates and edibles. Possessing more than this can get you a criminal record and up to 5 years in prison. If you grow your own, you’d better keep it to the 4 plant per household limit or face up to 14 years in jail.

If you think that’s bad, the provisions to deal with cannabis impaired driving are even more severe. Firstly, there are the federal criminal code provisions, which came into effect in June 2018. According to Justice Canada:

The legislation authorizes police to use additional tools, such as roadside oral fluid drug screeners, enacts new driving offences of being over a prohibited blood drug concentration, and allows for blood samples to be collected without first requiring a driver to undergo a drug recognition evaluation.

The prohibited blood concentration of THC is 2 nanograms, a miniscule amount. Like alcohol, tolerance for THC and hence impairment varies greatly from person to person, with the added complication that it stays in the bloodstream after it’s no longer active. The scientific jury is still out on what constitutes impairment for the purposes of driving when it comes to cannabis, but 2 nanograms seems to be just an arbitrarily low threshold.

If the bit above about blood samples being collected sounds creepy, it should—police jabbing you with a needle by the side of the road does not sound like a safe situation, for either motorists or cops. And while they may be able to use mouth swabs (oral fluid screeners), the standard means of testing seems to be the drug recognition and evaluation (DRE) process, which includes 12 steps and is performed on the suspect by two police officers at a detachment and takes a couple of hours. Kyla Lee, a Vancouver lawer who specializes in impaired driving defense, is convinced that this process is designed to virtually guarantee suspects will fail. The maximum penalty for drug impaired driving that does not cause bodily harm is 5 years.

On top of the federal legislation there are provincial laws against impaired driving. These are particularly worrying in BC from a civil liberties point of view because even suspected offenses can end up on a person’s driving record and result in driver’s license suspension. BC’s legislation forbids any consumption of cannabis by anyone inside a vehicle, whether driver or passenger, and could be penalized with fines up to $10,000 a six month prison sentence.

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When people really started talking about cannabis legalization a couple years ago, a frequent comment I heard was that it was all about the money, and that it would be a big cash cow for the government. Today, it doesn’t look that way, with speculation that some provinces won’t cover their costs in the first year. How it possible to lose money selling weed when you’ve stacked all the rules in your favour? Only the government could screw up such a sweet gig. Maybe they aren’t taxing it enough? No, a 10% or $1 per gram excise tax, plus 7% PST, plus 5% GST—that’s 22%! Plus with the provinces controlling all legal distribution (like for alcohol) you can expect a wholesale mark-up which goes into provincial coffers and is effectively another tax (unless of course bureaucracy create a bottleneck leading to severe supply shortages, as is happening now in Alberta). If getting consumers to abandon the black market was the plan, this is the wrong way to go about it.

With the heavy regulation of and state-owned enterprise involvement in the cannabis market, the increased penalties for possession or sale of illegal cannabis, impaired driving laws that don’t require proof of impairment, and a tax regime that ensures legal cannabis won’t be price competitive, it makes me wonder, what’s the government’s real motivation with their “legalization” regime?

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I think it’s control for it’s own sake. Sure, public safety plays an important factor in that, and yes the Liberals wanted to make sure they weren’t making themselves an easy target for social conservatives by appearing complacent in this area. You could ask a thousand politicians and bureaucrats what their motivation is and none of them would give you this answer, but if you take a step back and look at the state as a system, or even an organism, you can see that it operates according to its own logic.

Biological organisms live to pass on their genes to the next generation, even if none of them recognize that this is what they’re doing when they eat, run away from predators or mate. Within one species and between species, genes compete and the fittest survive. Something similar happens with businesses in a free market—the ones that serve customers and manage their finances best live on, while those that can’t, disappear. We also hear the term “marketplace of ideas,” which implies that good or useful ideas will replicate, while unpopular ones fade away.

The state, however, isn’t subject to the same kind of evolutionary pressures, at least not on a time scale we can easily reckon with. Being a monopoly on the legitimate us of force, it doesn’t face direct competition. Just like the farmed animal that no longer needs to fear predators can grow to a size many times that of its wild ancestors, so too can the state grow to a size that is truly unnatural. And as it grows it becomes ungainly and unsteady on its feet, resorting to laboured and exaggerated movements just to keep its balance. It ocillates between shaky steps and pauses to regain balance, always trying but not always succeeding to impose control on its movements, for it knows that when you’re so heavy, a fall can mean serious injury.

It’s the logic of the state to grow, and as it grows it must control more and more areas of society or risk being thrown off kilter. Now that I understand the operating logic of the state, I won’t be so easily duped next time the government tries a bait and switch like they did with cannabis. Instead, I’ll advocate for decriminalization—removing, from the criminal code, the crime of simply possessing a thing. Hand in hand with that should go expunging the criminal records of those with possession offenses, which sadly has not yet happened with cannabis. Though I’m hopeful that in time, through the efforts of groups like Cannabis Amnesty, this will happen, the fact that it wasn’t part of the roll-out on Oct 17th just reinforces my belief that cannabis “legalization” is mainly about more control for the state. My starting assumption going forward is that adults of sound mind have the right to consume and possess whatever they want, and the only legitimate role for government to step in is when that use infringes on some else’s right to life, liberty or property.

C. Welwood: “Ten Years Later, the 100 Yen Shop is Still the 100 Yen Shop”

Clayton Welwood was the leader of the BC Libertarian Party from 2016-2018 and is a frequent writer and guest speaker for libertarian events and outlets. He currently sits as the Chair of the BCLP Ethics Committee.

This presentation was given by Clayton Welwood as part of the BC Libertarian Party’s “Liberty & Economics” lecture series on Sep 11, 2018.

In June this year I took a trip to Japan with my family. It was the first time I’d been there since having lived there a decade ago. A few things had changed; a couple new high-speed rail lines, a new upscale shopping mall in the suburb where my in-laws live, a lot more foreign tourists. But one thing that hadn’t changed was the cost of goods and services. The 100 yen shops still sold everything for 100 yen. Compare this to Vancouver, where everything is $1.25 at least, and plenty of items cost $3 or $4.

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It wasn’t just the made-in-China goods, which are being produced for less than ever. The cost of food and drinks in both grocery stores and restaurants hadn’t gone up, and every second or third cold drinks vending machine had a “Price Down! 100 ¥” sticker on it.

The cost of services too didn’t seem to have gone up either. Public transit fares still started around 150 ¥, a 1 hour shiatsu massage for 3000¥, and I was able to find a 4-star hotel in next to the main train station in Nara (a fairly major tourist town) for $75 Canadian a night including fees/taxes. Residential real estate prices seemed to have increased slightly.

 Japan earned a reputation internationally for being outrageously expensive during its bubble economy in the 1980’s. But after the bubble popped, price deflation then stability have been the norm. The fact is even though the quality of life isn’t really the same, the cost of living in Tokyo is significantly less than Vancouver.

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Am I saying all this to encourage you to move to Japan, or to say that Japan’s monetary system is superior to Canada’s? No, I’m just pointing out that it must be nice to not have the purchasing power of your earnings constantly eroded. Imagine how different your thought process might be regarding when to buy a home, how much of your earnings to save, or what kinds of investments to choose, if the dollar that you earned today could buy the same value of goods and services a decade from now?

Consider the newly-married couple, living in a large urban center in Canada, looking to buy a home and start a family. Both need to work full time to save for a down-payment, but each dollar they save buys significantly less house with each passing year.

 

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If they work for someone else, they’ll be expecting a raise of 2 or 3% or so per year, just to ensure they aren’t falling behind relative to the cost of basics like food (never mind the cost of housing, which is rising much faster).

 

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Or consider the 60-year-old carpenter, eager to retire and give his aching joints a rest. His government pension now seems a pittance, and won’t even cover the rent. He’s played it safe with his own savings, preferring GIC’s and Canada savings bonds, but these are yielding less than inflation and his investment advisor is urging him to shift to riskier assets. Work 5 more years or get into the stock market? It’s a difficult call for him to make. Though we may not have thought about it consciously, we’ve all felt the stress that this pressure to keep up with inflation exerts on us. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could step off the treadmill, even for a year?

 

Short of going completely off-grid, that isn’t really possible at the present time; inflation of the monetary supply has been institutionalized by the Bank of Canada. Low interest rates, set by our central bank and not the market, encourage borrowing and discourage saving.

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In past decades, interest rates were allowed to rise after the economy had recovered from recession, but now, with every level of government heavily dependent on cheap credit, the Bank has been persuaded to keep them low. Individuals have become used to the new “normal” as well, and consumer debt is now at an all-time high.

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Finance ministers can wag their fingers at the public all they want, but the fact is that government policy is the source of all this debt, and the asset bubbles in housing, equities and bonds. It’s not simply a matter of people being fiscally irresponsible; they’re responding to incentives, and if money is cheap they’ll borrow more of it. This is particularly true for land, which is seen as an asset that holds its value better than others, and hence people will borrow whatever they can to buy some of it.

 

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Why hasn’t Japan suffered the same fate of steady inflation? Their last bubble burst decades ago, and the government has been borrowing like mad since then, racking up the highest debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, so it’s not for lack of trying. It’s a question for economists to answer, and I’m not one. Perhaps the cultural propensity of Japanese people to save a significant part of their income, even if interest rates don’t reward it, has helped to keep inflation in check.

What I am quite certain of is that having interest rates set by market forces of supply and demand is much more sensible than leaving it to central planners. Government price controls reached a high during the second world war and have slowly been removed in the decades since, but somehow we can’t seem to shake the price control on the most fundamental commodity of all: money.

There are however three inter-related myths that need to be dismantled before Canadians will start to question the powers of the central bank:

  1. Economic growth (as measured by GDP) is necessary
  2. Economic growth is a result of spending
  3.  Spending can be stimulated by central banks setting interest rates low and governments borrowing lots

It helps with this sort of thing to think of an economy not in terms of dollars, but in terms of real goods and services that have value; in Frederic Bastiat’s terms, they help people overcome problems. To illustrate the difference let’s say that you want to call a friend in Japan. You can use the phone, and pay long-distance charges to your carrier, or you can use a free app on your mobile. If you use the phone line and pay $5, this gets added to GDP. If you use the app, you still make the call (maybe with the added bonus of video), but nothing is added to GDP. In a sense, we’re all economically better off than we were 20 years ago when such apps didn’t exist, and the long-distance charges were higher, regardless of whether GDP went up or down.

What makes us better off is innovation and productivity increases, not simply growth. GDP can grow because of a spending spree on military hardware, or from a bad wildfire season, or an uptick in cancer rates, none of which makes us wealthier in any meaningful way. So be wary next time you hear a talking head going on about how we can boost economic growth.

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If we agree that economic growth isn’t the best goalpost then we should immediately be sceptical of #2. So, if real wealth is the sum of the goods and services available in the market that help us to overcome problems, then what does injecting more money into that market result in? You guessed it…higher prices. This makes some people better off, but not society as a whole. If, however, more goods and services are produced, all other things remaining equal, the prices of those goods and services will go down, which means we get more stuff for the same amount of money. Production is the real economic stimulus, and consumption (spending) is the secondary effect.

When we see that it’s increased production that makes us better off, then low interest rates appear more as a mixed-bag than a cure-all. If those lower interest rates entice producers to purchase capital, hire more staff, and expand production, then great, we’re better off. But what if firms just use the cheap credit for buy-backs of their stock, or to engage in financial speculation, or hire high-priced lobbyists to advocate for tax code changes that help their industry? For government spending fueled by cheap credit, the results aren’t any better. If they use the loans to have a new highway built, there’s some benefit to private contractors that are hired for the work, and to motorists when it’s complete. But very little of the growth in government budgets are due to these kinds of infrastructure projects. More often than not, ministries grow their payrolls significantly while not making significant progress on the ills they set out to cure.

 
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The best case in point is public education—the number of administrators in provincial capitals has ballooned to tens of thousands, while the student population has remained stable and their performance on standardized tests has stagnated or fallen. Insofar as employees leave the private sector to work in the public, the effect of government stimulus spending harms the productive economy by diminishing its talent pool. The expansion of government programs into new area can also crowd out existing businesses and non-profits delivering those services, making the users of those services more likely to be dependent on public programs in the long term. Another long-term consideration is that someone will have to pay these loans back eventually, and I don’t think the politicians and bureaucrats are going to offer to contribute a share of their pensions to do so. No, it will come in the form of higher taxes, tariffs, licensing fees, and traffic fines.

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Or the government may decide to print billions to cover the debt, which would make the single-digit inflation we’ve discussed so far look like a walk in the park. In any case, the end game ain’t pretty, so we need to do what we can to address these issues before the day of reckoning.

If we can see through these three myths, and encourage our fellow citizens to do so as well, we can open up space for an honest conversation about who should be setting interest rates. Cost of living increases are a frequent topic of conversation everywhere you go in Canada and I think this is a good opportunity for us libertarians to talk about how the monetary system and government taxation and regulation contribute to this.

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In particular, a new CD Howe Institute study has shown that the cost of such regulation makes housing in Vancouver cost around double what it otherwise would. Certainly there are other factors at play (including the fact that people from all over the place want to move to coastal BC), but when it comes to cost of living, government policy is the major driver, and the one that we can do something about without inviting ethical dilemmas. If a of couple decades without government-mandated inflation hasn’t harmed Japan, maybe it’s time for Canada to give it a try.

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My main point is that central bankers aren’t wise enough to know what the price of money should be. Like the price of anything, interest rates should emerge naturally from the voluntary actions of lenders and borrowers in a free market.

We could take one more jab at government money creation and question the validity of the fiat currency system, but we’ll save that for another lecture in this series.

 

 

 

Make Your Voice Heard – BCLP AGM 2018

 It’s that time again, Libertarians.
To register for this event and to renew your membership, click here.
Ever wanted to get into politics and help change the world? Do you LOVE Liberty enough to do something about it?

You are invited to our forthcoming Annual General Meeting and Leadership Convention, which will take place on October 6th 2018!

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This is an important meeting as members will be electing a new Party Leader and Deputy Leader, in addition to the entire executive team and board of directors-at-large. We hope that you will be able to join us as we report and reflect over our activities of the last year. This AGM is also the occasion at which the board of directors as well as the Party President and Vice-President will be elected.
Now is a good time for you to consider whether you want to play a role in the essential, interesting and rewarding work that our board and leadership carry out. In addition to the business of the AGM itself we are also delighted to welcome this year’s returning guest speaker Tim Moen, the Leader of the Libertarian Party of Canada, as the keynote speaker for the meeting.
For more information and to register be sure to check out the event by CLICKING HERE!