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From the Archives: Writings by Hans Riess at Merion West

The writings of Hans Riess at Merion West.

Are We Doing Voting Incorrectly? 

Only 9% of United States citizens voted for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the presidential primary, and only approximately 30% of residents of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. The remarkable thing about these numbers is that both of these decisions are incredibly impactful to virtually every single citizen of the nation, yet a shockingly small fraction of the nation participated in making these decisions. This troubles me deeply. And it should trouble you too.

With decisions like Brexit or the 2016 U.S. presidential primary, Democratic theory tells us that for such a decision to pass, it must be held to the strictest standard of consent possible. This means that the level of consent to make a decision should correspond to the number of people impacted by the decision. Put another way, any decision that, by and large, only affects one person should be made by that one person, while a decision that affects everyone should be made by as many people as possible.

The takeaway from both the primary and Brexit is that proxy voting, that is to say, representative democracy, does not meet a sufficiently high standard of consent. Imagine for a minute that, say, Congress, were responsible for nominating a presidential candidate, or that Parliament decided Brexit, rather than leaving the decision to referendum. I do not think it would be unreasonable to predict that there would be complete and utter outrage. I might even go so far as to say that many people would begin to question whether they live in a democracy even at all.

The reason for the outrage in a potential case in which decisions were made by legislative bodies alone is that the people could reasonably claim that they were left out of the decision-making process of a decision so fundamental to the existence and function of the nation itself. After all, if they do not have a stake in such fundamental decisions as choosing candidates for the highest office, or membership in the EU, then do they have any stake in their nation at all?

Even with a primary election or referendum, such as the primary or Brexit, with such a low level of consensus and participation, can we truly say that we have set the standard high enough even though both decisions are in a sense “majority rule”? I do not think so.

To be sure, in both, by and large every citizen of age had every opportunity to participate in the decision. It would be natural to blame the lack of consensus on those who didn’t vote.

“Those lazy folks couldn’t even get themselves to the polls!” you might even say.

But when you get to thinking about it, was it really enough that a much greater number of people had at least the opportunity to consent to the decision?

I still don’t think so. Here’s why.

For one, it is perfectly rational, economically speaking, to not vote. There are deep reasons for this, but in short it is that our expected utility of voting grows infinitesimally small when the number of voters is large, while the cost of voting is basically constant. In other words, the probability that my vote is the one that tips the election and decides the candidate who wins is extremely small.

More to the point, sometimes when you consider yourself caught between the Scylla and the Charybdis (i.e. “between a rock and a hard place”) you can choose neither of the two or select another alternative unlikely to win. It is of no difference whether it is another alternative that you choose that loses by plurality rule or whether you choose to abstain in a decision by majority rule. In this way, by choosing not to vote, one is actually voting—one is voting for another possible alternative: abstention.

Thus, when we are considering the standard of consent necessary to make certain decisions in a democracy, we must consider both the consenters, the dissenters, as well as the abstainers. Democratic consent, even when given by referendum, is not justified without some sense of “quorum,” that is, how many participated in making the decision. Imagine, for example, if in the entire state of North Carolina, only ten people showed up to the polls in November!

Why should there be no “quorum” for elections and referenda, while the quorum is ubiquitous for voting in smaller groups, such as Congress?

My guess is for the sake of expediency. Politicians have chosen to ignore that not voting is a vote in itself for their own benefit. It is not that, by not voting or voting for unpopular alternatives, you are, at least morally, “wasting your vote.” Rather, you have been disenfranchised for the convenience of majorities.

If there is one thing Democrats and Republicans can agree upon, it is how much they love majorities. Politicians want us to believe that any decision—even if it is morally reprehensible to some, and actually made by a rather small number of individuals—is morally justified merely because more people agreed to make the decision than disagreed.

Furthermore, politicians, left unchecked, would likely want to make most decisions in our lives. They justify the decisions that should be made individually by the sanctity of their majorities, either by proxy, appointment, or—don’t be fooled by their tricks —even referenda.

So, maybe majority rule is not the standard bearer of democracy. We should be weary when politicians coerce us to choose between the Scylla and the Charybdis. We should demand that decisions that affect every one of us, such the Primary or Brexit, should be held to a much stricter standard of consent. Finally, we should demand that decisions that affect only ourselves should be left to ourselves, and ourselves alone.

On Bitcoin

In January, I had the extraordinary privilege of attending the 2017 North American Bitcoin Conference in Miami. Among many intriguing speakers in the bitcoin community, I heard “the man, the myth, the legend,” John McAfee, who was the 2016 Libertarian presidential contender, the original founder of the well-known McAfee antivirus software, who now is the CEO of MGT Capital, a recent cybersecurity startup in the business of bitcoin.

Mr. McAfee gave a keynote address with a simple message: bitcoin is user-unfriendly, confusing, and to a certain degree, vulnerable to cyberattacks such as keystroke or screen-logging spyware hidden on the smartphones that so many today rely on to manage their bitcoin wallets. As Mr. McAfee put it: before bitcoin can become a mainstream currency of exchange, your mother has to be able to use it.

I commend Mr. McAfee for saying what so few bitcoiners have had the humility to say. Let’s have a reality check. Outside the bubble of bitcoin aficionados, the currency is mysterious to the public at large. And when it comes to money, mystery is rarely tolerated. After all, you have probably heard very little about bitcoin: the pseudo-anonymous, international crypto-currency. If you have about it, you have probably heard negative criticisms—that  (1) Bitcoin is a deflationary currency, (2) it enables criminals and money launderers, (3) it cannot be used to buy practically anything you would normally buy on, say, Amazon.com, and (3) its price compared to the USD fluctuates daily. The scariest thing is that all of these criticisms are true, but none of which are critical flaws, nor do they take away from the genuine utility of bitcoin.

(1) After a certain number of bitcoins are created, no more can be created. Hence, as global economic growth presumably continues past this point, the value of each bitcoin will increase rapidly. This is not as drastic as it may seem because bitcoins (theoretically) can be divided into arbitrarily small fractions, but a real concern nonetheless.

(2) Yes, criminals love bitcoin. Only one speaker at the conference, Jeremy Gardner, had the guts to admit that bitcoin has a clandestine reputation, while perhaps undeservedly earned. Indeed, the infamous Silk Road, a website in which you can buy practically anything, not limited to heroin and military-grade firearms, facilitated its transactions completely in bitcoin. If I were to guess, I would say a shockingly large percentage of bitcoin transactions are under illegal auspices. But just because a gun can be used to commit evil acts does not mean that the gun itself is evil. I don’t think bitcoin is any different. Unfortunately, bitcoin is inextricably linked criminal activity that it enables, but do we say the same about wire-cutters? Or plastic explosives?

(3) No, bitcoin, as of now, cannot, for the average person, be any practical means of buying groceries, consumer electronics, or a new automobile. But it could be in the future. And to me that is enough.

(4) Yes, the price of bitcoin can fluctuate to such an extent as to cause great inconvenience. For example, it is possible that the money you received from a transaction is worth noticeably less in the amount of time (around 10 minutes) for the transaction to be verified. The high volatility of bitcoin is due to a large amount of speculation by investors on the price of bitcoin compared to the U.S. dollar. If bitcoin becomes more mainstream, the price of bitcoin will stabilize. But for now, owning bitcoin may require a deal of vigilance in the market.

I am not denying that these concerns are very real. And perhaps the greatest of which is the ease by which a perfectly intelligent person—as John McAfee in his keynote address admitted in doing—can lose the contents of an entire bitcoin wallet by transferring its contents with the incorrect key. These concerns, all of them, need to be seriously addressed before bitcoin can break away from tech circles and criminals.

But these concerns should not diminish the exiting positive good that bitcoin can do. So while I cannot teach your mother to use bitcoin yet, I can prepare you for the world in which she can.

I am not a futurist. I do not make any—I will say it—arrogant claims as to being able to predict the next new technology, or the rate of development of artificial intelligence—though I think that such development is inevitable. What I can tell you is that bitcoin is much more than its criticisms. And while I hope that one day Bitcoin becomes a mainstream currency, I will resist the temptation, to which so many bitcoiners have indulged, of making this prediction. I will say this: bitcoin has incredible potential to do real good whether we will soon be able to use it on Amazon.com and Ebay.com or not.

For example, bitcoin technology could allow charities to send bitcoin directly and anonymously to individuals’ smartphones (yes, while very few in developing nations have computers, smartphones are ubiquitous) in developing nations where corruption normally limits the effectiveness of sending money or food as aid. The individuals in need could then convert the bitcoin into the local currency with solar-powered, satellite, bitcoin ATMs (a technology not invented yet for the developing world) which would be owned by private individuals who would charge a nominal transaction fee.

Another example, which technology entrepreneur Flip Filipowski implied at the conference, is that bitcoin would be a very natural currency for artificially intelligent beings to exchange with one another as well as with humans. Artificial beings, like humans, will have the need to transfer currency in exchange for other being providing services or information they themselves are ill-suited for. Although more sophisticated forms of artificial intelligence may be a long ways away, self-driving cars are coming in the immediate future. One possibility is that your car will drop you off at work and then find a robotic charging station; your car will pay the station the cost of the electricity in bitcoin plus a premium the station will charge for its services. It turns out that bitcoin is the most secure and convenient way for your car, for example, to make this transaction.

These are both very exciting applications. But here I will not focus on them, but dive into why bitcoin as a currency in general has great potential.

It is not always morally wrong to want to be “under the radar” when it comes to creating value and transferring that value with currency. After all, if privacy is a natural right, why does it end in your bedroom? Consider the question: does an individual have the right to compensate another individual for his creating value without anyone else knowing? On one hand, it is a matter of privacy. But on another hand, individuals such as banks, credit card companies—or I dare say—government agencies create a system of trust. There are deep reasons for this, but I would argue that institutional trust systems are grossly inefficient, meanwhile human nature, by and large, is diametrically opposed to violating person to person trust. And, in any cases, the proverbial “jerk” who violates trust in a transaction would do so whether or not there are institutions set up to deter him from doing so.

And even if there might be a risk in trusting an unknown person to pay you on the other side of the globe, the alternative is to trust the banks and governments that back them with an unnecessarily enormous control over your money. But with bitcoin you don’t have to. If you own bitcoin stored in an electronic bitcoin wallet, you are your own bank. You can securely send or receive any amount of bitcoin from your wallet into another bitcoin wallet without the approval or knowledge of any banking institution, which is ultimately under the close watch of some government agency. The transaction is verified by a private third-party party called a “miner” who uses their computing power to verify the transaction using “blockchain,” the world’s most provably secure public verification technology.

The beauty of bitcoin is how miners are compensated for their computational labor: whichever miner, approximately every 10 minutes, or more likely, mining company (e.g. Genesis mining was one such company that I met at the conference) successfully “hashes” the correct “block” on the blockchain used to verify transactions, earns 12.5 BTC, which is roughly equivalent to $11,000 USD. As one could imagine, the competition is fierce to win every block, and in practice miners pool together their efforts and share in the profits. When miners are paid, these bitcoins are not taken from any wallet, but are created out of thin air. In technical terms, this means that bitcoin is equipped with self-regulating monetary easing.

So say goodbye to the Federal Reserve, or even the gold standard. With bitcoin, you can throw all central regulation out of the window. And to me, and other techno-Libertarians this is the greatest appeal of bitcoin. Even if this does not appeal to you, even if it upsets your or scares you, you should still listen. Decentralization of a system—whether it be an economic exchange, a network, or in the case of bitcoin, both—means that if one part of the system fails, it has a controllably small effect on the whole system. That means that the value of your money does not depend on, for example, Standard and Poor’s rating of U.S. Treasury Bonds. The value of your money does not depend on politics, who is the chairman of the Federal Reserve, whether the U.S. in in a war, or whatever politically-motivated paranoia bureaucrats have about the U.S. economy going into the next “great recession.”

But if you put value in individual freedom, choice, and privacy, a decentralized system such as bitcoin makes it difficult—and I would actually say impossible—for a government to lay its hands on it.  In this, there is great power. With the election of nationalist Donald Trump, it seems that as a society we are shifting away from liberalism back to the nationalist, and even isolationist, paradigm. It is uncertain, given Trump’s push for high barriers for trade (e.g. his recent withdrawal from the TPP) and his practice of bullying American companies (e.g. General Motors), how much economic freedom individuals will have in the future. Bitcoin could be a way to push back.

I have no fear in saying that unconditional free trade is the only economically-informed policy on trade. Bitcoin is the epitome of free trade. Not only are the likes of Trump unable to regulate international transactions made in bitcoin, but they cannot even know the parties in the transaction. They can know—as can anyone in the world—that the transaction did in fact take place, but little else.  In this way, bitcoin could be a force of resistance in this new uncertain era of American protectionism. Bitcoin has an enormous power to make the wants or wishes of bureaucrats or elected officials on how you as an individual create value largely irrelevant. Some, including economist Jeffery Tucker, may even believe that technologies like bitcoin will one day make government irrelevant altogether.

Governments have cost the world many tears and much blood. If we could streamline government itself, that would be more than revolutionary. It would be utopian. Bitcoin is an honest-to-God step in that direction.

Escaping the Cognitive Trap

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” This is the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States.

The First Amendment has been challenged and tested by trial and error—mostly error—and in the court of law regularly ever since it was ratified. In the most recent Supreme Court case regarding the First Amendment, Brandenburg v. Ohio (1969), the Court ruled, “Freedoms of speech and press do not permit a State to forbid advocacy of the use of force or of law violation except where such advocacy is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action.” In other words, the only limit to your freedom of expression is that which incites violence. Not only that, but such violence must be both likely and imminent to occur. The standard to which the freedom of speech can be limited by the government is now extraordinarily high.

But as clearly as the First Amendment may seem to modern eyes, our freedom of expression during the first years of our nation, was conditional at best. Only seven years after the First Amendment’s ratification did the President of the United States sign the Alien and Sedition Act into law. To any intelligent outsider looking in, these laws violated the First Amendment in the most deplorable, yet blatant, way possible: the law made it illegal to criticize the federal government. Nevertheless, the Alien and Sedition Acts were passed by Congress and signed into law by none other than the Second President, John Adams, a man who firmly believed in a “government of laws, not of men.” How could this be?

It is not that Adams is a hypocrite, at least not any more than than the next man. And, it is not that Adams is a liar. I do not have any doubt that Adams believed with equal intensity in a government of laws, and in a need for such laws for to punish “unpatriotic” speech—what great irony that by and large those who reject American exceptionalism are the censors today!

The reason was simple, I think. Adams was human. Humans, by the very wiring of their brains, do not respond well to cognitive dissonance, a physiological reaction to cognitive elements that are in opposition to each other. If ideas we are presented with cannot be somehow integrated with the ideas already in our head, physiological discomfort surely follows. Coddled progressives of my generation—a generation too easily ashamed of—may call this discomfort  feeling a “micro-aggression,” but I assure you that the only aggression is between different parts of your brain with one another. That is not to say that one ought not to strive for politeness, nor make concessions to establish common ground, nor it is not far from disgraceful for young conservatives to be unkind for the sake of “boycotting” political correctness. But a true “micro-aggression” is not an aggression any more than is the feeling of relearning how to use your smartphone after a major software update, wearing an unfamiliar pair of shoes, or finding your collection of albums in disarray.

While humans are not very good at coping with cognitive dissonance, they are remarkable experts at finding roundabout ways of avoiding it. Censorship, or the call for censorship, is the most public manifestation of this phenomena. But even censorship comes from within: it starts with a mental block. Tonight (2/11), I watched Tucker Carlson on his telecast Tucker Carlson Tonight.  (If Fox News is a micro-aggression, too bad!) He was interviewing a graduate student, Kouross Esmaeli, of New York University who, in the very same sentence, affirmed his will for unconditional freedom of speech and for NYU to shut down the College Republican group because they invited Gavin McInnes, a controversial conservative commentator, to speak on campus. I watched Mr. Carlson continually press Mr. Esmaeli as he would continue to make this contradiction, in one form or another, in so many words. Embarrassingly, this went on for several minutes as Mr. Carlson pressed Mr. Esmaeli harder to explain his contradictions.  At first, I admit, I thought that Mr. Esmaeli was a blathering imbecile. But then I got to thinking. It was a mental block. He was escaping a daunting task of having to synthesize whatever Mr. McInnes, the College Republicans—or Mr. Carlson for that matter—had to say.

Mr. Esmaeli was susceptible to this mental block. So were the protestors at University of California Berkeley who, by acts of inciting violence and disrupting order on campus, prevented Milo Yiannopoulos—undoubtedly another controversial alt-right figure—from speaking via yet another College Republican group. Even John Adams, the founding father, the principled defender of the British regulars in the Boston Massacre, fell to this cognitive trap.

John Adams, by having signed these acts into law, had violated the highest law of the nation, the Constitution of the United States. But more significantly, he violated a natural right of freedom of expression that transcends the written law. As natural laws do not have the same traction as they once did, I will invoke the wisdom of the philosopher John Stuart Mill. He argued that freedom of expression, no matter how heinous the expression may be, should be preserved for three reasons: (1) that there may be some possibility that what is being said is true, (2) that there is some partial truth either in content or approach to be gained from listening, and (3) that even if there is no truth in what is said, that it nevertheless reminds us of what we truly believe and why we believe it. I believe the third is the most powerful: we should embrace expression unconditionally so that our intellectual foundation stands firm. With John Stuart Mill’s wisdom and a degree of intellectual discipline and self-control, we can overcome the mental block—the cognitive trap—that closes the dark cavern which otherwise our mind would have become.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Stossel

Today, media personality and journalist John Stossel is celebrating his 70th birthday.

John Stossel made his career at Fox News and Fox Business Network. Beginning September 2009, he appeared on the O’Reilly Factor every Tuesday. By the end of the year, Mr. Stossel was also given his own program, Stossel, airing on the Fox Business Network every Friday.

Mr. Stossel’s program offered a bit of fresh air from the tiresome us-versus-them dialogue between Democratic and Republican pundits.  Instead of covering the usual partisan politics, Mr. Stossel focused on news stories in which personal and economic freedom were being compromised, stories often ignored by the Left and the Right.

This past April, Mr. Stossel, made history by hosting the first ever nationally-televised Libertarian presidential debate. The debate was a much-needed exposé of alternative perspectives to be brought forth in the political arena, and featured candidates Gary Johnson, Austin Petersen, and John McAfee.

John Stossel, as well as his Fox-affiliated compadre Judge Andrew Napolitano, have become the face of the liberty movement in traditional media. However, Mr. Stossel has not always been skeptical of government regulation. Mr. Stossel, began his career as a consumer reporter for CBS, and then ABC. Midway through his career, he became a staunch critic of consumer protectionism, once remarking, “Patrick Henry did not say, ‘Give me absolute safety or give me death.’”

Stossel aired its last program in December of last year. Now, Mr. Stossel—who, in his bold way of storytelling, never had to choose between compromising his principles and reaching an ordinary audience—has shifted his focus on mentoring a younger generation of journalists. Only time will tell whether their new perspectives can influence mainstream dialogue. Stossel certainly did.

On Eminent Domain


North Carolina House Bill 2 was signed into law by Governor Pat McCrory in March of last year. The bill required individuals to use only the restrooms in government buildings that correspond to their sex listed on their birth certificate.

As trivial and mundane as such a bill may seem, it sparked a national controversy on—public and government—bathroom use for transgender people, a demographic that comprises of 0.003% of the population in North Carolina, according to Time’s analysis on people affected by the bill and the most recent NC census.

For example, a month after HB 2 was passed Target proclaimed a bathroom policy that would allow customers and staffs to use the bathroom of their choice according to their personal gender “identify.” This, according to the Blaze, has resulted in a public relations disaster for the consumer goods company.

In the 2016 North Carolina gubernatorial election, McCrory lost to Roy Cooper by a razor-thin margin. North Carolina was a crucial state that cast its 16 delegates to Donald Trump, yet the GOP lost a governor in this this state. The negative press and misinformation that McCrory received from HB 2 may well have cost him the election as suggested by a Charlotte News and Observer op-ed.

North Carolina residents have created quite the buzz about the act of relieving oneself. On North Carolina roadways, catchy bumper stickers such as “You Can Pee Next Me” abound.

While you still see plenty of “potty” puns on North Carolina’s roads, you aren’t seeing bumper stickers reading, “Pass HB 3.”

HB 2 has prompted a national discussion on civil liberties regarding the LGBTQ community. But there is another important North Carolina bill that may have a far greater impact on civil liberties in North Carolina.

House Bill 3 was introduced this January. The Bill proposes a Constitutional Amendment which reads: “Private property shall not be taken by eminent domain except for a public use. Just compensation shall be paid and shall be determined by a jury at the request of any party.”

This February the, bill went through the NC House by an overwhelming majority. It has been read once by the Senate, but has been deferred to the Committee on Rules and Operation in the Senate.

HB 3 has not seen the NC Senate floor since February.

In 2007, the Institute for Justice published a report card for the eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states. North Carolina received a “C-“ by their criteria. Unfortunately, there has not been a more recent comprehensive study yet published.

Needless to say, the Firth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”  Seizing private property for private use is out of the question according to the U.S. Constiution. But that did not keep the Supreme Court from ruling in Kelo v. City of New London (2005) that the involuntary transfer of private property to another private entity was permissible if it benefited the economic interests of the community.

According the same Institute for Justice study, 42 states including North Carolina have passed laws to curb the abuse of eminent domain for private development since Kelo, as of 2007. Yet, as the study notes, these laws typically include a “blight clause” which excludes public health or safety concerns, an exemption, according to the study, which has been historically abused by various municipalities.

A firmly worded constitutional amendment such as the one proposed in HB 3 may be the only surefire way to prevent cronyism in the form of eminent domain powers.

Political scientists, such as Michael Munger in a short Learn Liberty video , suggest that Kelo exemplifies how the interests of majorities can lead to injustice to individuals, whether the injustice be social or economic.

Whether unrestricted use of public bathrooms by transgender people—especially in non-governmental buildings—is such a case is unclear. HB 3, however, would prevent the tyranny of the majority in North Carolina one and for all.

“Kenneth Arrow dies, aged 95”

Last week, on Tuesday February 21, renowned economist and Nobel laureate Kenneth Arrow died in Paolo Alto home. He was 95.

Kenneth Arrow won the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics with fellow economist John Hicks in 1972 for his foundational work in the theory of public choice, the economics of the collective.

Arrow was a pioneer in abstracting and formalizing problems in economics and politics, transforming these problems into, essentially, mathematical problems. One kind of broad problem Arrow was interested in was how groups of individuals make collective decisions, a problem ubiquitous in public life—from going out to dinner with a group of friends, to political elections. Arrow transformed this seemingly mundane problem into a problem about aggregating formal preferences into a single preference for a group. Such an aggregation he coined a “social welfare function.”

Arrow’s most famous results was his Impossibility Theorem. Avoiding technical details, the Impossibility Theorem states that any sufficiently well-behaved method social welfare function will, in fact, be dictatorial, that is, the preferences of the group are reflected by the preferences of a single member, whether or not she is aware. This result puts the very legitimacy of democratic institutions in question. Not only do our institutions often fail us (Link to “Big Decisions, but Only a Few are Doing the Deciding), but, by the Impossibility Theorem, they always will. Furthermore, contrary to the paradigm of Francis Galton’s Wisdom of the Crowd, voting does not a priori reflect morality or truth. Rather, voting is a utilitarian process of making—admittedly arbitrary—group decisions. By this line of reasoning, voting is a necessary evil,

“Democracy is a process, an indispensable process, for making decisions and controlling the excesses of state officials.  But, as Kenneth Arrow showed, elections and voting are not, and in fact cannot be, a process for discovering anything true or moral about the world.  Values have to be reasoned, not fashioned with a majority rule bludgeon,” said Duke economist Michael Munger.

Perhaps in this new era of politics, where arbitrariness and confusion abound, Arrow and his wisdom is most needed.

On Antifa in Philadelphia

This past Monday, in commemoration of the 1886 Chicago Haymarket Affair and as part of the international Marxist holiday, May Day, a series of attacks against so-called fascists took place across the nation. In Philadelphia, arsonists destroyed two half-million-dollar new-construction townhomes in Point Breeze neighborhood. In a North Philadelphia neighborhood, activists destroyed $100,000 of property. Other incidents occurred in Portland, New York, among other cities.

Both Philadelphia attacks appear to have been triggered by a growing trend of gentrification in the city. In Point Breeze, several flyers were posted before the attack which urged readers to “smash gentri scum,” clearly inciting violent action against the developers and construction workers in the neighborhood.

These incidents, according to one independent source, were orchestrated by an international internet-organized movement known as Antifa.

Antifa, a shortened form of the group Antifaschistische Aktion, formed in 1932 as part of an unsuccessful coup by the German Communist Party to overthrow the Nazi majority in parliament. Antifa was subsequently dissolved by Hitler’s regime, although several groups have organized under the banner of Antifa since the 1980s.Since the election of President Trump, Antifa has seen a resurgence in the United States—not as a resistance force against a type of fascism even loosely akin to the regimes of Mussolini or Hitler, but against “fascism” in a, let’s say, more interpretive sense.

One Antifa group, Philly Antifa, who allegedly organized the vandalism and arson on Monday, states in their mission statement that they are in “direct conflict”—indeed, violent conflictwith “Racism, Homophobia, Sexism, Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, Transphobia, and all the other flavors of Fascism.” Whether these forms of “facism” must be explicit in order to warrant retaliation, or could be inert or suspected is unclear.

Philly Antifa did not list gentrification or classism as a flavor of fascism, or a trend/behavior they condone.

Antifa-affiliated groups have been labeled “anarchists” by Fox News anchors Wednesday morning, as well as by the Philadelphia Inquirer in their analysis of the May Day vandalism.

Anarchism is a political philosophy that the State does not hold moral legitimacy. The State, under this philosophy, instead, derives its power from force which makes the State illegitimate under most moral frameworks.

As history shows, no alternative to capitalism has ever been implemented on a large scale without an oppressive central government. Antifa, on the other hand, if they stand against anything in particular, stands against capitalism.

Antifa—and affiliated groups such as By Any Means Necessary which played a role in the Berkeley Attacksresorts to violence as a means of social change. Philosophical anarchists, such as Mahatma Gandhi or Henry David Thoreau, did not advocate for violence, but instead believed in strict non-violence.

Philly Antifa maintains a section “Local Fascists and Nazis” on their website which includes pictures, current addresses, and descriptions of suspected Nazis in the area. They encourage visitors to report suspected fascists to by emailing phillyantifascists@gmail.com.

The practice of posting personal information such as addresses as a means of harassment or threat is a growing trend amongst radical far-left groups. Doxing is a concerning and (in many cases) illegal practice that could lead to vigilante attacks such as the ones in Philadelphia. Vigilante attacks against persons misidentified as alleged fascists in the addresses or photographs may be an even greater concern.

If indeed Philly Antifa organized these attacks, they would be categorized as a terrorist organization under the U.S. Code of Federal Regulation.

Meanwhile, news outlets struggle with what exactly to call these groups, such as Philly Antifa.

 

On #DeleteUber

After Uber New York City tweeted at 4:36 PM on January 28th that they would be turning off surge pricing for pickups at JFK Airport, a Twitter media campaign #deleteuber lead to over 200,000 subscribers deleting their accounts—a slander of the most grandiose scale, ignored by the media…until now.

Although it is impossible to say why each of the 200,000 subscribers deleted their account, early tweeters of the #deleteuber hashtag claim that Uber, by turning off surge pricing for pickups from JFK, was trying to interfere with a spontaneous NYC taxi cab strike at JFK from 6 to 7pm in reaction to President Trump’s  recent executive order on immigration. Such claims caused #deleteuberto trend on Twitter on the 29th which ultimately led to the mass boycott.

More recently, under pressure from public scrutiny resulting from #deleteuber, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick removed himself from Trump’s economic advisory council, an opportunity the CEO defended fervently in a letter to Uber drivers released on the 28th after the backlash. Mr. Kalanick wrote in his letter, “Whatever the city or country—from the U.S. and Mexico to China and Malaysia—we’ve taken the view that in order to serve cities you need to give their citizens a voice, a seat at the table.” In the same letter, Mr. Kalanick vowed to compensate Uber affiliated drivers affected by the executive order pro-bono. In addition to this compensation, Mr. Kalanick set aside a $3 million fund the following week to pay the legal fees of affected drivers.

We at Merion West believe #deleteuber was a heinous attempt to place completely unwarranted blame on Uber.

President Trump’s signed Executive Order #13769 on January 27th, just seven days after his inauguration, and one day before the taxi strike. Contrary to the order’s portrayal by the mainstream media, the executive order was not a ban on Muslims, nor was the primary purpose of the order to target immigrants from a particular set of countries that Trump himself determined. The actual purpose of the order was exceedingly clear: to prevent foreign nationals intending to exploit U.S. immigration laws for malevolent purposes from entering the country, a policy unwarranted of its controversy. The order did, of course, include a temporary ban on immigration from the countries Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. These countries were designated as high-risk for terrorist activities under Department of Homeland Security statute, not under the Trump Administration, but under in the Obama Administration. The so called “Muslim ban” was not a ban of any particular religion or even particular country, but rather a 90 day suspension of entry of aliens from countries deemed high-risk in the DHS statute (Sec 3c.), a statute predating Trump.

So while supporting the executive order is a perfectly reasonable position to take—one that Uber did NOT take—to the militant far-left, even the slightest  indication of support for a policy associated with the Trump Administration is grounds for all-out war.

Reporters at Merion West have confirmed that one man with over 47k followers by the name of Dan O’Sullivan was the first to tweet #deleteuber, the first to reply to Uber New York City. Only one hour after Uber New York City announced they were dropping the surge and twenty minutes before the taxi strike even began, did Mr. O’Sullivan reply, “Congrats to @Uber_NYC on breaking a strike to profit off of refugees being consigned to Hell. eat shit and die.” In his second reply, an hour later, contained the first occurrence of the hashtag after the executive order was passed: “Don’t like @Uber’s exploitative anti-labor policies & Trump collaboration, now profiting off xenophobia? #deleteUber.”

I think this is a good opportunity to teach Mr. O’Sullivan and the other #deleteuber tweeters a lesson in basic economics, if not in decency.

For those unfamiliar with Uber, Uber is a car-sharing service run by a mobile app on which you can call for a ride to your current GPS location, or any other location. Drivers are private contractors who give rides to member riders for financial compensation. Uber takes a small cut of every fare. Uber prices the fares at a flat rate depending on the duration and mileage of the trip. During times of high demand, the flat rate is increased by a certain multiplier, called “surge pricing,” a feature which Uber may turn off. This multiplier is calculated from the ride demand, that is, how many drivers are able to give rides as compared to how many riders are in need of rides in a given location. Uber drivers are then able to see the surge multipliers of nearby locations on a map so that they are given the opportunity to drive to locations with high surge rates. In other words, surge pricing is a—incredibly innovative—feature that equilibrates supply with demand, allowing for maximal market efficiency in the Uber network. It is because of this market efficiency, as well as a number of other reasons, that Uber fares are generally much lower than their taxi competitors.

When Uber NYC turned off surge pricing rates at JFK, they actually disincentivized Uber drivers from picking up passengers at the airport, as Uber drivers would be better off picking passengers in areas with surge pricing, or at least as well-off by driving in other non-surge areas given the ruckus occurring at JFK. Thus, it is more than a stretch to say that Uber was “profiting off of xenophobia.” This is simply untrue. If anything, Uber was losing revenue. But without question, Uber, by turning off the surge pricing, aided the taxi protestors. Not only were passengers unable to catch taxis from the JFK from 6-7pm, but they would have found great difficulty in calling an Uber since demand far exceeded the supply—and Uber drivers were not allowed to charge higher fares, as they normally would.

When Merion West asked Mr. O’Sullivan for a statement, he ignored my cordial request, and purported that Merion West was not a news publication but a Florida golf resort at which he had once stayed. Then, upon revealing his admitted prank over—no surprise—Twitter, Mr. O’Sullivan publically tweeted screenshots of our private email correspondence. Personal attacks came raining in from his entourage of Twitter followers.

What more do we know about this Dan O’Sullivan, who was responsible for starting this #deleteuber debacle? Mr. O’Sullivan is a failed sportswriter turned free-lance ranter. In his recent article titled, “Vengance is Mine,” Mr. O’Sullivan urged his readers to “…every day, and in every way…say ‘go f— yourself’ to Trump, and his ilk, until the weapons capable of destroying him.”  Mr. O’Sullivan epitomizes the worst of the far-left. Yet, Mr. O’Sullivan is the same man who successfully bludgeoned Uber behind a veil of cowardice. Maybe the media is to blame?

Many news outlets, including the Daily Tarheel, have misrepresented the occurrence of events, relying on hearsay on the twittersphere to do their investigative journalism for them. The New York Times was the first to legitimize the accusation that Uber “intended to profit” from the NYC taxi protest, concluding in their report that “…Uber’s long history of being aggressive and developing a reputation as a bully of the transportation industry has come back to bite it at the worst possible time.” If revolutionizing the transportation industry is bullying, then Uber is the biggest bully on the block.

Some secondary news outlets, such as the Daily Tarheel, took it so far as to claim that Uber singlehandedly “broke up a Muslim taxi strike by dropping its surcharges,” urging its readers to practice so-called “ethical consumerism,” and to “use our dollars as a form of advocacy.” At what point is consumerism unethical? To far-left reactionaries, it seems, all it takes is for Uber—or their next victim—to, even mistakenly, imply their support of any ideology besides their own. To these reactionaries, opposing opinions and free discourse are but obsolete.

Not only does Uber offer high-paid employment to anyone with access to a car and will to work, provide a technology for individuals to freely share their labor and resources, but Uber, and other forms of ride-sharing, reduce carbon emissions significantly. Uber and the sharing economy, possible with new technologies, have the potential to reduce the grip of corporations on the economy, handing economic influence to the people. Uber, in fact, is God’s gift to the left.

But that does not stop the likes of Mr. O’Sullivan. #delteteuber has little to do with the role Uber had in the NYC taxi strike at JFK, but all to do with the far-left’s reprisal for Donald Trump’s victory and their general hatred of free markets,  taking any opportunity to cause a buzz, or to be a thorn in the side of anyone less radical than them, anyone at all.

Hans Riess graduated from Duke University with a degree in mathematics and is working towards a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of Pennsylvania. He is interested in applying concepts from mathematics to theories of optimal political decision-making.

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