Sunday, April 29, 2012

Summer and Educational Freedom

This week's column.

HARBESON: Those uncontrollable summer goose bumps

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — This time of year I always experience honkin’ goose bumps — the kind that comes from anticipation. This happens as summer draws near because I know the compulsion and forced association inherent in government schooling will soon disappear.

Sure, it’s a temporary reprieve, but it’s still exciting to watch even a short-lived shift toward a more healthy society — summer is the one time of year kids are not treated like prisoners.

I love to watch what happens in the summer when all families of kids who fall under compulsory attendance laws regain temporary control over their lives and are free to make choices about where their kids spend their days. This freedom creates a situation where people in the community interact with each other on a voluntary basis and work together to meet various needs that may arise when compulsory schooling is temporarily absent.

In the summer, many families look for places where they can send their kids during the day, or for a week or more at a time, and in response to that demand, individuals, organizations and businesses offer options for those families. People in the community see the market demand that exists in the summer and they work to fill the demand.

In this atmosphere, families and especially kids, are treated differently. They become customers who are respected by the people who have activities to offer. Those who want to help families by offering various options will work hard to create opportunities that are inviting and enticing because the relationships are voluntary, not coercive.

Organizations and businesses offer a huge variety of programs and options in the summer. The offerings cater to the kids because there is no need to focus on meeting government-imposed requirements. There are day-camps, overnight camps, classes, special interest clubs, etc. As a matter of fact, so many options are available that collecting and organizing them has become one of the services offered to help families. Magazines and newspapers even build entire issues around summer activities for kids.

I get goose bumps looking over what is offered in the summer to families who are temporarily freed from compulsory attendance laws because the summer season proves what educational freedom can look like. It’s easy to see how educational options can exist without the stringent government compulsion and control we see the rest of the year.

These camps, activities and classes exist even though no one is compelled in any way. They are set up with the family, not government, in mind. During the summer, people are focused on making connections with each other and not on meeting government requirements, and families enthusiastically share options they have found to be valuable.

No matter what the focus might be of a summer activity, if the kid is enjoying himself, learning becomes simply a natural part of the experience. In addition, many of these options create opportunities for older kids, whether they are volunteers or employees, giving them lots of valuable experience.

The summer focus on children as individuals seems to keep people from fighting as much with each other over school board antics, teacher union contracts, state funding formulas and other conflicts that arise naturally from government control of education.

If you haven’t really thought about how society literally changes in the summer, why not put yourself in observation mode this year? See if you can notice the change that happens when the government-imposed compulsory attendance schedule ends. Observe how kids are treated by organizations that don’t compel attendance in the summer and compare that to how kids are treated by the government school system that compels not only attendance but funding too.

Maybe you will see what I see — that when the entire premise of helping kids learn changes from being government enforced to family controlled, people have no problem cooperating and interacting with each other and the community becomes loaded with a wide variety of offerings based on interests — which leads to learning that sticks.

Will there ever be a day when this kind of respectful and voluntary interaction between families and those offering educational resources happens all year long? Who knows, but I get goose bumps just thinking about it.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson inadvertently disturbs the peace this time of year due to her honkin’ goose bumps. Write her at

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Here Comes Da Judge

Judge Steven Fleece has responded to my two recent columns about the State Board of Accounts Audit for Clark Superior Court 3, that implicates him in a few misdeeds. See the first column by clicking here. And for the second part, click here

Here's an excerpt to his response:

"At the risk of boring everyone except Debbie Harbeson and myself, I must take issue with some of the comments made in her columns concerning the State Board of Accounts audit of the Clark County Alcohol and Drug Services Program. First of all, however, I wish to thank the News and Tribune for what seemed to me a fair and balanced account of the controversy in the April 5 edition.

 I also want to commend Mrs. Harbeson for taking the time to read my response to the audit. I could do without the sarcasm. But, I suppose when you view the world from her “all government is evil” libertarian perspective, some of what I wrote in my response really does seem “hysterical” to her. Personally, I think it’s hysterical every time she compares any governmental restraint on personal conduct, no matter how reasonable, as the government “holding a gun” to somebody’s head.... Click here to read more."

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Voluntaryism Defined Video

Here's a short video introduction to voluntaryism that I thought was interesting. I like to see people working on producing and creating short videos like this because it's an easy way to spread around basic information that people may not have been exposed to before.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Judge Fleece Pulls Out Dictionary Again

 This week's column...

 HARBESON: More fun with fees

SELLERSBURG — Last week, while discussing the recent State Board of Accounts audit report for Clark County Superior Court No. 3, I focused on Judge Steven Fleece’s disagreement with the SBOA that no users were inappropriately charged user fees. This week I want to focus on Fleece’s disagreement with another SBOA contention — that the funds were also spent inappropriately.

As he did in his previous response, Fleece pulled out his dictionary. This time Fleece used the dictionary to broaden the interpretation of the word “intervention” so he could make the case that it was valid to expand drug and alcohol fund expenditures on prevention.

This was important because Fleece wanted to defend “the subsidy of youth sports leagues.” Government officials were “donating” drug and alcohol program user fee funds to sports organizations under the assumption that they prevent drug and alcohol abuse.

This brings up lots of questions, one being what about the many, many other youth activities available? And why only team sports? What about sports that focus on individual accomplishments like running, Karate or rock climbing?

Clearly the decision to broaden the scope in order to justify spending money on such items creates difficulties because it ends up with government officials favoring some groups over others. In addition, it is difficult if not impossible to provide evidence that any of these activities actually provide a direct causation to preventing drug and alcohol abuse, let alone proving that one type is more effective than any other.

After all, we all know that jocks are not conspicuously absent from weekend keggers.

Broadening the scope of this program put government officials in a position where they were “donating” to a “good cause” and since lots of benefits accrue to elected officials who “donate” money that is not their own, it’s easy to see why they would justify boosting the fund by charging user fees to nonusers.

Another troubling aspect of drug and alcohol program expenditures is the spending that was done for the benefit of various government departments. In the 2008 audit report for the County Council, we’ve already learned that government officials deemed it appropriate to spend user funds on new carpeting for judicial offices and in this report there were even more items of interest.

One was binoculars for the Department of Natural Resources. You may be wondering how that relates to the county drug and alcohol program. I don’t know but my guess is that they decided that someone needed to keep an eye out for drunken squirrels in the park.

The second purchase was for a lawn mower, and it’s easier to imagine how that got in there. My guess is that someone mentioned “grass” and when Fleece looked it up in his dictionary, he saw a common slang usage he could use to show a relationship to the drug and alcohol program.

As I read this audit report discussing appropriate spending of funds created for a very specific purpose, I found myself thinking about the recent tornadoes that slammed into Clark County. Many of you donated money to help and took advantage of the choice some organizations offered that allowed you to specify that your donation be directed to that organization’s tornado relief fund.

So, how would you feel if your donation specifically marked for tornado relief was spent on new drapes for offices of the administrators?

How would you feel if the organization you supported used your funds to subsidize a board member’s wind chime club and justified that purchase by saying, “well when we looked up the word ‘tornado’ in the dictionary, we saw that wind is involved. These chimes create sounds when wind blows so we decided to broaden our interpretation of ‘tornado relief’ to include anything that could warn people that wind is blowing.”

Ridiculous? No more so than the government spending drug and alcohol program user fee funds on football equipment.

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson says that reading SBOA reports on the drug and alcohol program is driving her to drink. Write her at

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Constant Battle with Hypocrisy

Ever since I started digging into libertarian philosophy I’ve struggled with hypocrisy. Once I truly understood and came to terms with the fact that government is an entity that exists because of the threat of violence, I did not want to support the state. Also I did not want to use or participate in anything the state controls, because it’s all backed up by the violence. I felt that I would be a hypocrite if I did.

I spent lots of time in lengthy debates with other self-described libertarians over specific actions one could or could not take, if one wanted to adhere to the philosophy of non-aggression. I tried to create specific rules in my mind, not just for myself but for others too. For some reason it was important for me to declare that “I (and anyone else) would be a hypocrite if I (we) used, or participated in, xyz.”

It didn’t work. I found gray areas all over the place. But now I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that we are limited by the society that exists today. Yes, there is the risk of rationalizing an action one wants to take, yet I don’t think it helps to constantly self-attack or attack others, particularly those who already get that the state runs on violence. We are all just trying to live our lives as best as we can.

There are choices others make to work with the state that I would not do because it would be crossing a line I just could not cross. And on the other side, there are actions others take to avoid the state that go far beyond what I would do. We all have to deal with our own personal experience, abilities, history and current life circumstances that related to how we may choose to interact with government.

I’m trying to relax more about my possible hypocrisy because it’s just not doing me any good at all. It’s not helping me to live the life I want to live. Ironically my constant worry about hypocrisy in relation to government is making me less free than before I learned all I have learned over the past 10 years or so. And if I try too hard to avoid accusations of hypocrisy I also might be stopping myself from helping others who could use help and are also limited by the society we currently live in.

On this subject, I was comforted by a recent podcast of Stefan Molyneux of Freedomain Radio. Here’s an excerpt that really spoke to me. This is from FDR Podcast 2122, “Liberty Chat.” (This excerpt comes at around the 58:30 mark but the entire podcast is excellent.)

Someone asked if it was a conflict for libertarian anarcho-capitalist to pursue a law degree and here’s an excerpt of what Stefan said:

“No, no, I think that we spend a little too much time worrying about ‘should I take this student loan’ or ‘I’m working with a company that works with a company that works with a company that has a contract with the department of defense’, live your life and be happy! If you want to be a doctor in Canada that means you gotta join the socialist system then be a doctor, be happy with that. If you want to be a lawyer, go be a lawyer. You know, let’s keep our moral searchlights and lasers pointed directly at the people who have or cheer the guns and not worry about what we need to do to find our way through the thickets of statism with all of this stripy predator surrounding us. So I think we gotta cut ourselves a huge amount of slack and not worry about our own moral choices so much because I think once you have a good understanding of morality it’s kind of impossible for you to do any significant wrong. And as long as you’re speaking out against the system, I mean I could care less what you do with it because we all have to survive. And not just survive but actually have fun, you know, like enjoy ourselves,…”

I have been listening to FDR podcasts since 2007 and it appears to me that he has softened his views on our interactions with the state too. The main message I get from him presently is that we need to relax more about the way things are now and realize the move to a voluntary society will be a gradual thing, a “multi-generational project” as he says.

His focus on peaceful parenting as the means to this end really resonates with me. I will still continue to tell the truth and point out problems as I see them but it makes me less concerned about any possible hypocrisy in myself and others living within the limits of the current society, and much more hopeful about the future.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Judge Explains A Government Service

HARBESON: Are services really being rendered?

In his hysterical response to the State Board of Accounts audit for Clark County Superior Court No. 3, covering the years 2008-10, now-retired Judge Steven Fleece resorted to a typical defense of government actions — focusing on the so-called services provided rather than the coercion necessary to fund them. This tactic is particularly intriguing here because one of the primary points of contention between the SBOA and Fleece is whether or not a service even exists in the first place.

This issue of services concerns the Clark County Alcohol and Drug Program, the troubled entity that has been mentioned in previous SBOA reports for other Clark County government departments. The county has been charging an alcohol and drug fee to every driver charged with a moving traffic violation, even if the violation had nothing at all to do with drugs or alcohol and those charged did not receive alcohol and drug program services.

The SBOA claims that no alcohol and drug program service was provided to the people who were forced to pay this fee, but Fleece, who was in control of this program for years, disagrees. He says they did provide a service to these people — a pamphlet discussing the dangers of drugs and alcohol and “offering” a professional alcohol and drug assessment.

It doesn’t matter to Fleece if these people actually take advantage of and use this assessment service — the pamphlet itself is considered the service that justifies the user fee extorted from the people unlucky enough to commit a moving traffic violation in Clark County.

Fleece works very hard in his response to prove that this pamphlet is the service and therefore justifies the extra fees charged on nonalcohol and drug related moving traffic violations. As a matter of fact, Fleece is so determined that he spends nearly two full pages discussing the definition of the word “service.”

He settles on two definitions. One is from the Oxford English Dictionary of 1971: “The action of serving, helping or benefiting; conduct tending to the welfare or advantage of another.” The second is from the American Heritage College Dictionary, Third Edition: “An act of assistance or benefit to another or others; a favor.”

Do you think the people pulled over for speeding felt like the government did them a favor when the officer handed over a pamphlet that would cost them up to $50?

Further attempting to defend the pamphlets as a legitimate service, Fleece goes on to say that services people provide can vary in degree and the relative importance of a given service does not matter. To illustrate this, Fleece uses heart transplants and shoe polishing as examples.

It’s interesting to note here that since these service providers interact with others on a voluntary basis, they would never consider it proper to hand out pamphlets about their services to others and then after doing so, charge people $50 for the pamphlet. Instead, they simply charge people who actually use the service offered.

Can you imagine what would happen if a surgeon or shoe polisher did try to charge for pamphlets they handed out about their services? People would laugh in their faces if they arrogantly proposed that just the offer of the service is a provision of a service. Yet this is exactly the defense Fleece is offering to justify collecting what has amounted to more than $2.5 million in these so-called user fees since 2006.

For now, it appears that this has stopped because current Judge Joseph Weber has been following the SBOA recommendations. However, that doesn’t mean he’s exactly on board with what the SBOA says either because his response to the SBOA report says he is of the opinion that “there is a legitimate argument that the offer of services does itself constitute the provision of services.”

Weber’s letter also states that county officials, along with their attorneys, are interested in finding a way around this problem. Who knows what that means but wouldn’t it be nice if they’d do everyone a favor and stop charging people user fees for this service they don’t use?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson is available to write for you. Now that you’ve read this offer, you owe her $50. Email her at to find out where to send payment.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Defining Happiness for the Collective?

HARBESON: The pursuit of happiness

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In the continuing effort to justify the manipulation of the market and interference in people’s lives, governments love to collect data. For a long time now, the federal government has been using straight economic measures such as the Gross National Product, the idea being that a country with strong economic output is doing well. But now government officials are looking into ways to measure happiness.

I can’t imagine a more subjective concept to measure, but the Department of Health and Human Services, with full support of the Obama Administration, has been spending your money trying to define happiness and a method of measuring it. The intended goal is to develop a new indicator for well-being, called Gross National Happiness, which proponents believe is a better way to evaluate than using economic-based measurements.

The idea of Gross National Happiness (GNH) was started by a King in a little country called Bhutan in the 1970s and the idea seems to be catching on because the country hosted a United Nations conference in New York this week to discuss the idea. [Does anyone else find it odd to hear that the United States wants to emulate a monarchy?]

Determining happiness can vary widely from individual to individual, and I don’t see how you can even measure such a thing for a collective — which may be the point. After all, it would be much harder to argue with any results of such a subjective measurement than it would be of economic data.

In addition, no matter what the GNH turned out to be, the government could use it to justify more government involvement. If the GNH determines that people are happy, then the government could justify continuing its current actions, perhaps even increasing them in an effort to get even more of the government-approved form of happiness. And if it turned out people are not happy enough, then they would of course develop all sorts of wonderful interventions intended to increase the government-approved happiness scale.

If GNH is bad enough, will the government declare a war on unhappiness? If so, we all know what that means — the problem would get worse. People would be even more unhappy, which would give the government justification to intervene more, creating a new bureaucracy to support the war. It would help in part, though, I guess because the people making money off the unhappiness war would be happy they have a job.

It feels strange to talk about any government involvement in happiness, even just the measuring of it, considering the ideas that were clearly laid out in the Declaration of Independence. Those writers understood that government can’t centrally plan happiness. It is an individual pursuit of what is often a moving target because circumstances and desires that define happiness for a given individual can change over time. For example, as people get older, happiness simply becomes a successful bowel movement.

If the government ends up developing a GNH indicator, will another one of the primary concepts that defines freedom — the pursuit of happiness — no longer be considered the responsibility of the individual?

There is good reason to be concerned if the government starts to define and measure happiness. After all, look at what’s happened to education since the government started to define and measure that concept. No one seems happy about the condition of education and there are constant efforts to reform it. And yet, society is so dependent that most people would be very unhappy if government was not involved. Taking responsibility for education is completely beyond the imagination of most people.

Could something similar happen with the individual pursuit of happiness? I don’t know but that sure is an unhappy thought.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Simplifying the Issue of Smoking Bans

HARBESON: Care for a smoke?

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — People who want to manipulate and control others will often make issues more complex than they really are, usually by avoiding basic principles like property ownership.

This benefits those in government because, in the confusion, inconsistent laws are created, which increases conflict and the illusion that even more government interference is needed.

How do we simplify issues so people can think about them in a clear and consistent manner? It’s easy — just frame the issue as if it only involved you and a neighbor or two. I’ll use the smoking ban issue as an example.

Let’s say your neighbor smokes. You prefer to stay away from smoke but you enjoy his company and you want to watch the Final Four games with him. So you invite him over and ask him not to smoke in your home. He can choose to accept your invitation or not. He doesn’t try to force you to let him smoke in your home. He accepts your property ownership claim and understands you make the decision.

Now let’s say it’s the other way around and he invites you over to watch the game and eat. He may smoke while you are there so you can choose to accept his invitation or not. You don’t try to force him to not smoke in his home. You accept his property ownership claim and understand that he makes the decision.

This mutual respect of property ownership is what helps the two of you live peacefully as neighbors. You are free to decide how, or if, you will to interact with each other. You are free to make any arrangements and agreements you wish in regards to smoking without government involvement.

Now let’s say the same neighbor invites you in to his business as a customer to eat and watch the final championship game. He may decide to smoke. Does it now seem valid to go to the government to have them force your neighbor to not smoke or let his friends smoke because you want to be there too?

If you think this is valid, why? What has changed in the individual relationship between the two of you? You are still an invited guest and he’s still the property owner. The only difference is that rather than just eating his food, you will pay him for it.

Does this voluntary exchange create a property ownership claim that entitles you to use the government to create rules for his property that you prefer, even over his objections? If so, then why isn’t it equally valid to tell him what to do when you voluntarily enter his private residence?

Maybe you agree with me and don’t see any validity in the idea that an ownership claim in the property was created just because you became a paying customer. Many people do remain consistent at this point.

But let’s take this one step further — your neighbor offers you a job to serve food to the people watching the game. Again, he decides to allow smoking. Do you think it is now valid to go to the government and force him to ban smoking on his property? Why?

You are exactly as free to leave, or not even enter, this relationship with your neighbor as you were when he invited you to his home or invited you to his privately owned business as a customer. Never at any time did your neighbor point a gun at you and force you to enter either property, nor did he force you to work for him. At all times your relationship was based on voluntary interaction.

So what is it about the relationship that has changed that gives you, through the use of government force, a property ownership claim now, but did not exist when you were invited into his home and to his business to watch the game?

One more question to consider — if you want to use government force against your neighbor so he can’t allow smoking on his own property because you voluntarily agreed to employment, who is the aggressor in this situation?

— Clark County resident Debbie Harbeson likes to keep it simple. You can send her a simple message by writing to