GW’s Speech Code Hurts Student Organizations

As an executive member of a campus organization since my freshman year, I’ve dealt with the GW bureaucracy on almost a daily basis. Honestly, for the most part, the administration has been very accepting and encouraging of the outrageous schemes the Liberty Society concocts. They even allowed us to sell shot glasses that read “Lower the Drinking Age” on campus. However, there are practices and policies unseen by most that severely handicap student organizations’ freedom of expression.

George Washington University’s flyer distribution policy is stated as follows:

“To assure that… Postings are not derogatory to any group…

Posters/flyers should not be found in bad taste/blatantly offensive to any group on campus.”

Due to this policy, and others concerning demonstrations and individual civility, the Foundation for Individuals Rights in Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the defense of individual rights on campuses nation-wide, has flagged GW’s speech code as having “at least one ambiguous policy that too easily encourages administrative abuse and arbitrary application.”

In practice, the vagueness of this policy has been abused by the GW administration to the detriment of student groups. Since an incident in 2007, where satirical flyers upset a few groups on campus, the administration has been diligently enforcing a strict flyer distribution policy.

There is a screening process for every flyer posted on campus. As an administrator once described to me, approvable flyers should not have any “sexual parts, racist remarks or swears,” or, in general, “anything that makes GW look bad.” These implied rules are not stated explicitly, but it has been my experience that they are enforced. Flyers not specifically approved by the administration are torn down.

One of my flyers that never stood a chance. This is a promotional advertisement for a documentary screening co-sponsored with activist organization “Liberty in North Korea”. Crude and juvenile? Maybe. Funny? I think so.

In my experience, again, the same restrictive policy applies to anything that has a GW logo on it. For student organizations, all merchandise they use or sell must incorporate GW’s signature stamp. For Liberty Society, this means we cannot use our allocated school funds to make t-shirts that read “Fuck the State”, a favorite slogan of ours.

While some may argue for limiting the use of racist remarks on campus, does any student stand by the policy that prohibits us all from swearing? Society has used “fuck” as common vernacular since the 1970’s, so why can’t GW students?

I encourage all students to join me in combating GW’s war on free speech. I urge you to write to the administration and the Student Activities Center demanding a revision on the speech code to make it less arbitrary and more conducive to free speech.





Why I am a Liberaltarian

I am a liberaltarian. I’m a starbucks coffee swigging, Bloomberg reading, urban denizen who sees both the need for robust personal liberties, and a freer market. I wasn’t always this way, and while there was no moment where I suddenly felt a spark rush through my body, it has been a slow progress of understanding and learning.

At the beginning of college I was sure I was going to be a life long democrat. My dad had always looked up to individuals like Bill Clinton, and tried to instill in me a strong sense of social justice. Hoping that good policy would promote a society that has a strong welfare state in order to enable an opportunity society.

When I first went off to college, a small local area institution called Moravian College, I quickly joined the college democrats. As the primaries heated up I was one of the handful of students that was part of Students for Barack Obama. Moravian College’s sole blip on the map, is as the 14th most political apathetic school in the country according to Princeton Review, after all, and as such we were the only politically active students on campus. 

However, at the same time I was going through my first economics class with a professor named Jason Hockenberry. I remember his missing teeth, and the way he presented some of the material- especially through creating a prisoners dilemma by accusing students of cheating on the midterm. It was with his class that I began to think about economics more. Though, even as my interest in economics grew, I was adamant in campaigning and exuding the merits of then senator Obama. Naturally the year ended with hate groups for me forming on Facebook calling for a stop to the “Obamanazi.”

My sophomore year had me taking classes on labor politics with a socialist professor, macroeconomics with a professor from Zimbabwe, and the financial crisis in full swing while I watched the investment club’s portfolio plummet week after week. I started to champion free trade after taking a class on Economics of China and India, and wanted to move the direction of College Democrats, which I was then president of, away from campaigning and towards talking about policy and why it matters.

When I transferred to George Washington University I started taking the blunt of my economics courses, and came to disagree with some of the basic foundations the theory I was learning. During this time that I became disenfranchised with the College Democrats and initially joined the GW Liberty Society as a means of talking more academically about policy and it’s effects. I came to see the vast amount of policies- from both sides- as counter productive, or like using a sledge hammer to put together a model airplane, in which sweeping reform often missed the targets that actually needed to be adjusted

During the summer I read Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, and to date the most influential book on my development, Eric Beinhocker’s Origin of Wealth, which opened me up to a method of analysis that stressed the complex system of interdependent individuals whose interactions leads to emergent, spontaneous order. It was from this point that I started to understand the limitations of institutions to affect the economy, which was predominately driven by the individual decisions of billions of people acting independently- and perhaps most humorously counterproductively.

It was around then that I finally started seeing myself as a liberaltarian rather than as a liberal Democrat. It was a slow progression, starting out as a hardcore democrat, a campaigner for Barack Obama- during which I got to be a media placement and talk to him briefly- to a member of the executive board of a nationally recognized libertarian organization.

My progress has not been brought out through political philosophy nor moral philosophy, but a quest for what sort of policies I think will be best to bring about a prosperous society. A society that will enable the poor to become rich, and provide for the common well being of all, just like the morals my dad years ago instilled in me. And it has, after nearly four years of soul searching, paper reading, and vivid and sometimes livid debate, made me settle quite comfortably as a liberaltarian.

Economic Development and the Liberal Economy

Much has been said on the topic of economic development. For the most part, we know a few things, like institutions matter. There is a strong divide between a lot of economists though, some promote ideas of poverty traps, like economist Paul Collier, while another group focuses on issues relating to incentive alignment, in making people care about improving their standard of living from the bottom up through all of society. These include economists such as William Easterly. I tend to side with people like Easterly, and see a small improvement through removing the rent seeking power of government agents in developing countries.

Despite this, I still pull some of my inspiration from the other side. The world is converging, for most of us. At least, that’s what Paul Collier claims in his book the Bottom Billion. It is hard given his data to dispute this fact, though I may disagree with his context of a poverty trap (especially since he claims roughly 78% of those countries suffer from a bad governance “trap”). In his book Collier argues for the vast majority of countries, long run growth shows us moving together. For the poorest 58 countries, however, they are actually moving away from the pack- diverging in fact. What is interesting is to compare this pack of 58 countries to the World Bank’s Doing Business Index. For the most part, the bottom 58 lie at the bottom of the index, and probably for good reason.

China, which is now growing at a breakneck speed, ranks in at a measly 79th- but that still puts it ahead of 104 other countries, making one of the more business friendly countries in the world! This is of course coming from a country who had to start arming market regulators with bullet proof vests after one got stabbed when commandeering someone’s bicycle cart. This is also the same country where almost no indigenous entrepreneurship has taken place, and when it has the Communist Party has tried to squash in favor of party insiders and foreign investors.

If this is the state of the world, then I am not surprised that many supposedly “capitalist” countries are squandering so much. After all, the Doing Business Index covers issues like, ease

to start a business, obtaining a building permit, registering property, getting credit, paying taxes, international trade, enforcing contracts, and closing a business. Even the United States, often heralded as a free market, ranks below most of “socialist” Europe in many categories. A self-proclaimed communist country, which routinely tries to take property rights from people, and when those individuals don’t move they either build around, or try to claim land as unused, is somehow better than most of the world.

What then is the issue? Well, signficant work has been done on government agencies and rent seeking. Government agents will often either look out for themselves, especially with cronyism and corruption are heavily imbedded in the system, or for specific groups that benefit the ruling government often at the cost of others. The result is regimes that will tax and regulate for their own benefit, rather than the promotion of economic growth, often to an excessive extent. It is hard for me to side with Mugabe of Zimbabwe, when he lives in opulent wealth and his people starve.

Here is a good example on the issue of starvation in North Korea, which is excluded from the Doing Business Index.  All grain production done by farmers have to be sold to the state at an official price, not onto the open market. The state then can turn around and decide to sell it at a higher rate, and pocket the left over money for it’s own interests. This is a massive disincentive to farmers to expand production to meet societal demand and stop starvation in ravaging the country further. There is clearly a higher price to be gained from the market, given the historical precedents, but they are cut off from it by government agents.

Furthermore, Easterly in his book The Elusive Quest for Growth points out the failure of foreign aid to promote economic growth by itself, since much of it is lost in the bureaucratic apparatuses. He notes that many economists, politicians, and humanitarians have wished to believe simply by lobbing money at failing countries would go into investment and end up promoting growth, rather than held by rent seeking individuals and never seen by the society at large. unfortunately the models and ideas fell far short of the incentives to simply pocket cash, or buy food instead of save, invest, or start businesses.

Lets face it, incentives are what matter. Institutions set up externally that people have no control over will often get in the way of those incentives. Government institutions in general can be imposed on developing economies with no oversight or put in place by governments whose sole purpose is to extract the mineral resources of the country with no care for agriculture or industrial development. There is no reason for people to go out and start businesses if there is no profit to be made, just like educational attainment is likewise wasted if there are no jobs for individuals with engineering and new technical degrees.

As we’ve seen, through the large body of literature provided by the World Bank, Collier, and other economists, the poorest countries have some of the worst institutions available when it comes to enabling market access, consensual exchange, and enabling incentives to take hold and promote growth. No longer is international trade alone a sufficient clause for development in these countries, and substantial reorganization, shrinking, and shearing of government agencies needs to take place in order to enable people caring for the future to come.

Breaking Windows on a Friday Afternoon

By Jason Kwasnicki

The clock had just struck twelve, and as Friday morning classes let out they release unsuspecting students into Kogan Plaza where shear insanity awaited…well at least purposeful insanity. Students would stroll upon a curious little setup: a large tarp hanging behind a small wooden frame. We came that day to smash windows. And smash we would.

As we scrambled about with the weapon of choice in hand, a tennis ball, students were enticed with the ability to create a job by throwing the small green sphere through a frame. Break a window, the window maker has a job. Makes sense, no?

Eventually, after several bouts of rage and frustrating near-hits, panes began shattering. The sound rang like a gun-shot across Kogan. Crowds came to see what was going on. However, while the tension before had been undeniable, the excitement faded after the window lay broken. Where was the fabled job?

This is the Broken Window Fallacy, put on display by GWU’s Liberty Society. We attracted would-be window smasher’s with the common misconception that destruction can create, and the most satisfying part was seeing their minds click when they realized the disconnect in that belief. Someone might say that a war creates jobs and reduces unemployment, but no one ever accounts for the costs associated with wars destructive nature. It’s a net loss, not gain.

An even more relevant example we used is the economic stimulus packages so popular in modern legislation. Government is not looking at the hidden costs which will turn out to yield a net loss rather than a net gain for the US economy.

This event shows that, in addition to being academics and furthering the ideas of liberty, perhaps every now and again we should take a moment to break down the big concepts for those who haven’t studied it as deeply. From this event, I definitely learned there are more people ruled by common sense than one might think.

Poverty Reduction in Urban Areas: A Case for Deregulation

Perhaps one of the greatest issues of our time is poverty reduction. As of the early 2000’s urban poverty was significantly higher than non-urban poverty, this is true among all demographics and family make up. As a result, tackling urban poverty rates would do a lot to bring down the total number of people living in poverty. Policy makers must think then both what causes this higher level of poverty, and secondly how to solve it.

I’m going to propose a thesis; Urban regulation relating to starting business is a deterrent for growth. The land use policies relating to zoning and licensing have become barriers to entry so that those who are already disenfranchised from the system are unable to start businesses that might move them out of poverty. Zoning laws have made it harder for businesses to open in markets in urban areas where there is real demand, and licensing laws continue to be barriers of entry for poorer individuals who are staved off by quotas and latent regulation.

The first case is a classic issue firm placement, in the coming example of grocery store location in urban areas. Since I live in Washington, DC, most of my examples will stem from DC licensing and zoning laws. Grocery stores should typically be near residential districts, this enables shorter walking time between people and their food carrier. In contract, fast food places, and other secondary delivery markets, can be closer to business centers, work places, and more dispersed in location. The aim of a food market is to be convenient to families who need to buy daily and weekly consumption, meats, bread, milk, etc. The aim of fast food places is to take advantage of people on the go.

However, according to DC law, both grocery stores and fast food places are zoned commercially. Specifically, grocery stores are zoned C-1 only (out of 5 commercial zoning possibilities), making them ineligible to be in all other forms of commercial real-estate, and removed from mixed commercial-residential districts! In contrast, fast food locations are zoned for three commercial areas and mixed commercial-residential zoning, making them by far more plentiful, and easier for consumers to come across.

Why then is this a contributor towards poverty? The vast majority of US firms are quite small, and are more often based on small shops providing local needs. This is especially true in urban areas, where local cafes, bookstores, and shops can be quite profitable. Furthermore, local individuals are more perceptive to local needs. Several groups on my campus have illustrated the lack of markets in poor areas issue, and tried to find ways to create farmers markets which deal with less stringent regulation. By removing or lightening these laws, local people will have greater ability to start businesses that provide goods and services to their communities.

As is, zoning laws create a premium on land values and raise costs in general. This has been studied quite extensively. The first way has dealt with whether or not housing regulation has raised housing costs (pg 57 for graph), and the second has been whether or not zoning specifically has increased home premiums (the paper I’m using is not public). In both cases the answer has been yes, regulation has raised home values through increasing construction costs, while zoning has created a consumption premium that has raised prices. Furthermore, as I have illustrated above, they lower the ability for businesses to be near local demand.

A policy program that either liberalized or removed zoning laws would go a long way in promoting economic vibrancy among potential entrepreneurs in urban areas. The same policy would do this in two ways, first it would lower start-up costs, and make it easier for poor individuals to get loans and register businesses. The second way is that it would enable businesses to be closer to target demographics, which will have a positive societal welfare benefit as well. A policy that continues a heavily structures and differentiated zoning regime makes it harder for poorer families to start local businesses, and ensures that certain firm types are more prevalent than might have been otherwise ideal.

Licensing is perhaps even more visible a deterrent to starting working in a small-scale mode. Taxi cabs for example are a basic job that most immigrants can usually easily break into. In New York City though the number of Taxi Cabs is lower today than it was at the turn of the century, with the number almost stagnant since the middle of the 20th century. Even within that market, most are created into professionally coordinated fleets run in long-term lease contracts, rather than individual owners. Food trucks in DC have become popular, but came under fire for new regulatory interference and the creation of new “provisions governing vending licensure, vendor operations, the designation of sidewalk and roadway vending locations, public markets, vending development zones.” Much of this is covered in the Small Enterprise and Entrepreneurship Council’s Small Business Survival Index, and work done by the Institute for Justice, who note;

Street vending is a quick, convenient and cheap way to get food to consumers on the go.  And, because a food cart can have much lower startup costs than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, opening a food cart can often be someone’s first foray into business.  But outside of a narrow geographic area, the District enforces draconian regulations that stifle entrepreneurial drive and restrict consumers’ food choices.

Even in activities that span the city, outside of location issues such as zoning, licensing and regulations are a major deterrent to indigenous business. Again and again these practices favor established businesses that have more disposable income to deal with regulation, employ lawyers, and gain benefits from the system for bringing in a hire expected job base than small businesses. In the process though, poor families that might otherwise be able to take out loans or get outside financing to start a small business are strangled out of the market. Taxi cabs, food carts, DC tours, and even home based businesses are regulated by the DCRA.

Zoning laws and heavily regulated licensing makes it harder for people to see markets that they can enter with their own ideas, and contingent upon outside entities to create jobs and employment opportunities. These same laws though make it harder for demand for services to meet the supply, as shown under the grocery store issue through zoning restrictions, and deter companies from opening up in less than ideal areas. As a result, poverty resists in urban areas higher than it does in rural areas, where there are typically less stringent regulations both on businesses and land use.