Friday, 7 September 2018

Bitcoin: currency, commodity or consensual hallucination?

If ducks collateralise Duckaroos - what collateralises Bitcoin? Nothing. What central bank or government stands ready to bail Bitcoin out? None. If the US economy props up the US dollar, is there a diversified, productive and growing economy propping up Bitcoin? Nope.

The value of a Bitcoin lies in consensus. Today we agree that a Bitcoin is worth around US $7000 and so today it is. If I stop believing that and and wish to be rid of my Bitcoin then someone will buy it from me for the price they believe it is worth. Bitcoin will be worth nothing only when last person on earth believes it is worth nothing.

Consensus works here because participation is voluntary whereas your participation in the fiat currency of your nation state is compulsory. “Legal tender” does not mean it is only lawful to accept fiat currency as payment (you can accept ducks, shells or Vegemite jars if you like) it means that it is unlawful not to accept the national currency to settle an account. 

The value of a paper dollar is enforced by the state whereas the value of crypto is left up to us to decide, or to opt out completely. Voluntary participation, freedom of choice, value through consensus – these things are what libertarian dreams are made of.

With no anchor the good ship Bitcoin drifts, flounders, floats, it soars and subsequently it is less useful as a currency than the good old Duckaroo which is pegged to and stabilised by the price of a duck.

But it was not meant to be so.

Bitcoin was actually designed to be a useful global currency with stability based on supply and demand economics. As more Bitcoin is spent on goods and services the more transactions are processed by computations that create more Bitcoins that satisfy the increasing demand.

This process intentionally becomes more difficult as it progresses requiring increasingly more time, computer power and energy to create new Bitcoin. The total number of coins that can be created is capped at 21 million to ensure that supply should not exceed demand.

So you can't do with Bitcoin what Uncle Donald does with Duckets. You can't mint at will the fresh coins you need to asset- strip your neighbours farms and enslave the townsfolk by constantly diluting and therefore devaluing their hard earned dollars. This is why nation states are not too keen on the whole idea of a decentralised global currency and why libertarians are.

But this is academic. If you are holding Bitcoin you bought last year at 15,000 dollars you might well find your purchasing power has halved in less than a year due which is a hell of a lot worse than your national inflation rate - unless you live in Venuzuela.

Why is it so?

Because Bitcoin's creators did not account for rampant price speculation for profit which has made crypto what it is today – a mardi gras of highly volatile speculative assets.

Very few people purchase goods and services with Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies though millions of speculators trade them on exchanges everyday. Slow transfer speeds and occasionally high transaction fees contribute to Bitcoin's lack of viability as a useful currency – but you could also blame both of these factors on volatility from price speculation which can cause dramatic spikes in network congestion.

Like gold, Bitcoin has (so far) failed as a currency but succeeded mightily as store of value with a total market capitalisation of around 170 billion US dollars. One whole Bitcoin is generally considered to be worth at least 6000 and has been worth as much as 20,000 US dollars. Not bad for a consensual hallucination.

Could Bitcoin replace gold as the global store of value – a safe haven for wealth under threat of war and economic collapse?

Not likely. The only thing that could replace gold is a metal more precious, more beautiful and desirable. Gold represents the romance of greed and the history of lust. It has been valuable across the globe for thousands of years. Ask anyone if their life savings were to be converted to Bitcoin or gold which would they choose – I will bet you that 99.9 percent will choose gold.

You don't need a computer to buy and sell gold. Or even a bank account. There are no whales manipulating the gold price. Bulgarians cannot hack your gold. You don't have to explain gold to anyone as every man woman and child on this planet knows what it is.

Bitcoin is an alternative to gold as a store of value to be sure. The rise and fall of the Bitcoin price in the last year was driven largely by frantic buying in Japan, China and South Korea - countries that were threatened most by North Korean aggression and the possibility of war.

In September 2017 the Bitcoin price was coming down from an all time high of nearly 5000 to less than 3000 dollars when North Korea launched a missile over Northern Japan and Bitcoin shot up 30 percent in the next 24 hours. The bull run that followed took the price of a Bitcoin to nearly $20,000 in December.

As for gold, is it a co-incidence that its price has been falling steadily since April this year when an inter-Korean summit between South Korean President Moon and North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un saw peace officially break out on the Korean peninsula ?

Both these assets will live long and prosper as a hedge against tomorrow. Both will benefit from rumours of war and impending doom.

So if Bitcoin and gold are such great stores of value could they, like ducks, succeed as collateral for a currency instead of being a currency itself?

Stay tuned as a these questions will be (sort of) answered over the coming weeks when we unearth digital gold and mint crypto currencies of our own.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Uncle Donald deals with dodgy Duckets

Uncle Donald is the god-emperor of the duck universe. His currency, the Ducket, is like the Duckaroo and also pegged to the price of a duck. But his empire of ducks is vast and his ducks are fat and healthy. They breed so fast and he buys and sells so many of them that he has lost count of how many ducks he has long ago.

His wife is a Ukrainian psychic. His daughter is a best selling novelist and celebrated porn star. His sons hunt giant pandas with ninja stars. His estate has three post codes and his swimming pool has tides.

Uncle Donald has heard of my plight and has offered a solution. He will buy up all my Duckaroos from the mob at my gate and will not demand a duck for each banknote just yet.

Uncle Donald makes the deal. The Duckaroo holders are so impressed with the power of the mighty Ducket that they are willing to accept one big fat Ducket for two ailing Duckaroos.

The mob heads for the pub. Uncle Donald's prestige and his currency have saved the day and praised be the Lord.


Now I am deeply in debt to Donald. He has bought 1000 ducks from me for the price of 500. He will give me time to come up with the ducks but at an interest rate of .1% or one duck each day.

Remember, I only have surviving 500 ducks from my flock of 1000. To get out of this mess I need to breed at least two ducks a day and at that rate it will take a year and a half providing there are no more surprises.

So now I am working for Uncle Donald and if all goes well I will be debt free in 500 days. If not I could be wallowing in duckshit for the rest of my days and for no reward while Uncle Donald will get at least 1500 ducks for the price of 500 without getting his famously tiny hands dirty.

So how did Uncle Donald pull off this deal?

Because unlike myself he has the ability to print Duckets at will without anyone questioning whether they are adequately collateralised which gives him extraordinary buying power and a huge discount on everything he buys.

No-one asks the leader of a duck superpower how many ducks he has because no-one dares to, leaving him free to print as many Duckets as he wants and buy whatever he pleases with them.

Did he bail me out with the goodness of his heart? No. He is just a predatory duck hunter. And with each raid such as this one his empire of ducks grows and more importantly so does his prestige. Combined these factors mean he can print more Duckets to conduct further raids to get bigger discounts - forever and a day.

But surely it's only those holding weaker currencies that are disadvantaged here – so we should happily stick with the Ducket – dodgy as it may be.

Well, no.

As the mob heads into town with pockets stuffed with Duckets the publican decides that this might be a good time to put up his prices and and grab an extra 5% of that good paper currency. The next day the other merchants do the same and soon their suppliers do too. Now the purchasing power of the Ducket has decreased by 5%. Uncle Donald will be fine – he just prints more Duckets and carries on raiding disadvantaged duck farms. The rest of the townsfolk just bear the loss and put it down to the greed of merchants and the state of the economy rather than what it is - the constant devaluation of the Ducket. Now the good folk must work harder, save more, invest more, and beg, borrow and steal to be able to afford goods and services with money that buys less every year. And Donald has all the ducks.

But enough of ducks.

This is a story about predatory globalism and inflationary paper currency. It is what libertarians, anarcho-capitalists, crypto-zombies, gold bugs and a good deal of actual economists like to bang on about even though no one is listening because they are too busy joining those they can't beat.

Ask the Turks, the Iranians and the Russians whose currencies are reeling from the onslaught of the US Dollar wielded as a weapon against their regimes. Their financial institutions and wealthy individuals have some options - they can buy precious metals or real estate or pork belly futures: but to save themselves from ruin and stay liquid they mostly buy the currency of the enemy, which just makes their enemy stronger.

While everyday people have only their earnings and imagine that the meagre interest the banks give them is enough to off-set the devaluing of their savings, the reality is that the interest earned is probably less than the bank fees.

According to Republican Congressman Alex Mooney, who is proposing that the US dollar should once again be collateralised by gold, the purchasing power of the dollar has decreased 30 percent in since 2000 and has lost 96 percent of its value since the gold standard was ended 1913. Under the Federal Reserve’s two percent inflation target, the dollar loses half of its purchasing power every generation, or 35 years. Check out this chart from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

So if inflationary paper currencies are unfair to all but the global predators, would a truly global currency or a return to the gold standard fix this mess, or both?

Tune in next week when we look for a solution in crypto-currency - something I know slightly more about than ducks.

Monday, 20 August 2018

You can keep your damn money (I'm going to make my own)

What is money anyway? Once upon a time it was bits of precious metals we carried around in drawstring bags. Then the banks got in on the act and offered to store the precious stuff for us and issued paper IOUs for it, which, apart from being the death knell for the drawstring bag trade, made it easier to trade in denominations of pennies and pounds now dollars and cents.

The practise of banks issuing currency was eventually centralised by governments of nation states and when the gold and silver standards were abandoned these pieces of paper were collateralised by nothing in particular other than the promise of the central bank that the money was good. We believe the bank is good because the economy of the nation state is good.

There are places in the world like Hong Kong where banknotes are still issued by two private banks (at one stage there were 13) and collateralised by some gold, silver, some land and their ability to borrow from other banks – particularly from each other.

So, if I have enough collateral, credit and courage could I could issue my own currency, starting with issuing paper IOUs for assets I hold?

Consider ducks.

As the struggling owner of 1000 ducks I am duck rich but cash poor. As a courageous anarcho-capitalist I decide to create my own currency – the Duckaroo (Ausssie birds obviously). Each Duckaroo can be redeemed on demand for one healthy duck. As the market price of a duck is around $20 so in turn one Duckaroo is worth roughly the same in fiat, which in this case is Australian dollars.

Now I can trade my ducks on the market or purchase goods with paper rather than actually carrying the damn birds around under my arms with them crapping down my legs.

Will merchants accept my Duckaroos as payment for goods and services? They don't have to because they are not legal tender. But they might if they believe that there is in fact a duck waiting for them to pick up on demand, that the price of a duck is stable and there is sufficient demand for ducks at the market so they can easily liquidate the duck for $20 in fiat. It would help if they were fond of ducks.

I head to the market and trade all my Duckaroos. Now I have 20,000 dollars worth of fiat, goods and services and I still have 1000 ducks.

And there is more good news. Ducks breed and for each new baby duck I can issue and spend a brand new Duckaroo. The bad news is that ducks are mortal creatures. So now I must put all my efforts into maintaining collateral for each Duckaroo in the marketplace.

Disaster strikes. Avian flu arrives from China. Half of my ducks die. The health of the other half is in doubt. Word gets around and I wake to find a queue of Duckaroo holders in my yard demanding healthy ducks.

Not only are the Duckaroo holders seeking to get their ducks out while they are still able, but also supply and demand economics have pushed the price of a duck up to $40 due to statewide losses from the avian flu. Panic and greed take hold and we find ourselves in the savage grip of a Duck Run.

Remember the 13 Hong Banks which once issued their own banknotes? This is what became of 11 of them. Rumours about a bank being undercollateralised led to bank runs when panicked depositors withdrew their funds en masse. With competition fierce among the many banks and no central bank to bail them out, eleven of them collapsed and were swallowed up by the others, leaving just two big banks still standing today.

So what to do? I am short 500 ducks. I could buy some but the price per beak has gone up so replacing my lost ducks would cost an extra $10,000 that I don't have.

But I might be able to stall if the Duckaroo holders believe that I am good for the ducks – just not today.

So here the strength of the economy kicks in as quasi-collateral in the way that the economies of nation states sort of collateralises their fiat currency, their banknotes that are not IOUs for anything- just attractive pieces of paper that say “You can trust me – I'm from the government”.

Will my local economy support the failing Duckaroo? Will my neighbours lend me some ducks? Would a duck merchant extend me some credit or, if not, will my local bank lend me some money? Will a merchant bank or a loan shark? Will local merchants extend me credit so that I can eat until the duck crunch has passed? Will the government bail me out? Is there a growing demand for duck products as the population is growing and wealthy enough to afford duck rather than the much cheaper chicken? Are interest rates affordable?

If the answer is no to too many of these questions: the Duckaroo is cooked, sorry. The mob at the gate will leave eventually – to get flaming torches and pitchforks.

So where did I go wrong?

Other than relying on perishable goods as a store of value, I was clearly undercollateralised. I needed at least 2000 ducks to issue 1000 Duckaroos in case my entire flock was wiped out. I also need credit and insurance, but from companies which might not be satisfied with a two to one ratio of collateral as lightning often strikes in the same place twice. Or thrice, - or more.

So how many damn ducks are enough collateral for each bloody Duckaroo? What the hell have I got myself into?

Tune in next week - Uncle Donald rides to the rescue. Or does he? We will delve further into this mess and discuss better ways to issue our own currency.

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Will Bitcoin save us from tomorrow (and John McAfee's dick)?

I got into trading crypto currency, such as Bitcoin, early in July out of curiosity and to flex my libertarian muscles and maybe pick up some anarcho-capitalist street cred along the way. I bought a couple of grands worth of coins then sat back to watch with interest as the whole market fell about 40 % in 48 hours. Luckily, we libertarians are made of the sterner stuff as laissez-faire capitalism requires a certain amount of sangfroid.

The price of a Bitcoin was down to US$1900 and market confidence was at an all time low. When the price started to climb eccentric cyber-security millionaire and staunch libertarian John McAfee tweeted that if Bitcoin didn't go to $300,000 in three years he would “eat his own dick on national television.”

Meanwhile, I was busy getting my shirt back without losing my pants in the process - thrashing about like a noob and down to my socks and underwear until the steady upward march of Japanese coin called NEM got me back in the black at the end of August - just in time for the Bitcoin Fork.

Bitcoin soared to a record high just short of $5000 US dollars and Bitcoin investors were given a free bonus coin called Bitcoin Cash which settled at $300 apiece. Had I traded my NEMs for Bitcoin I would have doubled my money in a few days. Then the good ship NEM started to sink and I was getting a little hot and bothered, so I called it a day, cashing out of the market and back into my life.

So as much as I would love to tell you a greed-is-good story of my triumph over the crypto markets - it is instead one of survival on the harsh and unforgiving anarcho-capitalist frontier. But I was there - I saw the First Bitcoin Crash, the Bitcoin Fork, the Second Bitcoin Boom. I saw alt-coins glittering in the darkness by the Poloniex Exchange.

And all the while I thought about Mr McAfee's dick.

We know how a Bitcoin went from $4 to $4400 in 8 years - it was through a process known as hodling. Investors bought 'em cheap and hodled 'em close. As the price went up they bought some more and hodled them through the good times and bad. These brave hodlers became the Bitcoin billionares - they get to fly on Space X and marry Miranda Kerr.

So how might a Bitcoin get from $4000 to $300,000 and save us from watching an old man perform such an obscene and intricate task three years from now?

Well, because of supply and demand.

Because Koreans love cryptos. They are buying up all the coins in the world and driving the second Bitcoin boom. While Americans are selling off their Bitcoins to realise some profit the Koreans are buying them up like there is no tomorrow.

Because cryptos, like gold, are a hedge against tomorrow, against the prospect of war and the chaos and expense of a re-unified Korean Peninsula. And since there is no end in sight to their 70 year old cold war they will continue to invest and the market will continue to grow and the price of a Bitcoin price will go up and up and up.

Imagine fleeing a war zone with only what you can carry. Your cash is worthless your valuables can be stolen - but you carry in your head a password to a crypto wallet. Open a bank account in any country you find yourself in then access the internet and you have funds. You may even be pleasantly surprised to find your funds have grown by several hundred percent. 65 million such people are permanently or temporarily displaced on this planet.

Because the Chinese are very keen on cryptos too. They too feel the heat from their Korean neighbours and uncertainty about the health of their economy. But more importantly they love making a profit even a small one. If I make a hundred dollars profit in a week it's nothing to me – but to a salaryman in Hubei that's a huge win. He can throw a party for all his friends and family in his favourite restaurant and bask in the glory of his good fortune. There are 1.5 billion such people in China and the one child policy is no-more.

And because it is all a game. The trading coins in the crypto market is an exciting global online computer game that you can play anywhere and anytime with only a smartphone. If you are good at it you are rewarded with dollars and you don't need to know anything about finance to play. There are 2.5 billion computer gamers in the world and a billion of them are in Asia. How many of them aspire to playing games for a living? Much has been said about the re-distribution of wealth through the gamification of work in our post-industrial future. I say it's happening already – but due to the stealthy nature of crypto you just can't see it.

Because the informal economy, not just the worldwide black market but the entire untaxed, unlicensed, and unregulated cash economy is worth an estimated 10 trillion dollars and rising. Imagine if all it needs is an unregulated, untraceable, untaxable currency for it to surpass it's only serious rival - the US economy. Well folks, it's here and it's happening.

When cryptos become a serious threat to the stability of conventional markets governments worldwide will try to regulate the crypto market or shut it down entirely a la the War on Drugs. Important to this is that not all cryptos are decentralised. Coins such as Ethereum, NEM and NEO are corporate products that reside on servers in Switzerland, Japan and China respectively. All can be shut down overnight leaving the value of the coins left standing like Bitcoin, Monero and Dash to rocket to the moon.

And because fiat currencies (the stuff in your wallet and bank account) do collapse. You buy stuff in Zimbabwe with US dollars and get your change in rand, yuan or cannabis if you are lucky enough to have cash at all. The Venezuelan economy is kaput and their fiat is literally worth less than toilet paper. Which currency do the think the 31 million locals will favour, the soaring Bitcoin or the worthless bolivar?

Most importantly because the blockchain, the technology which makes these coins, works. The crypto market is worth about US$145 billion dollars and grows by at least a billion dollars each day as God only knows how many millions of users furiously trade more than 850 coins 24 hours a day across 66 exchanges. The networks have handled everything that has been thrown at them and just kept humming along for the last 8 years. Conventional markets also are booming as confidence in the technology that gives access to those markets drives investment from people like you and me, and that guy in Hubei.

And finally, and this pertains to you my friends, because of the prohibitive cost of housing in cities all over the world. You are about to retire and enjoy the life of a grey nomad but you have three daughters about whom you worry will rent for the rest of their lives. You cannot buy them each a house so they will need money – lots more money than you will will ever have. So before you pack the Winnebago you invest $13,000 and buy them a Bitcoin each – a hedge against tomorrow. And if in 2020 they have not $900,000 between them, well – you all can console yourselves watching John McAfee eat more than just his words.

Remember U R Free - to check out Free to Change your Mind on Facebook. You are free to like, share, follow or disregard it completely. Whatever makes you happy.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Elon Musk just gets bigger and bigger

Recently billionaire businessman Elon Musk confirmed his plans to build the world's largest battery in South Australia within 100 days. Today Mr Musk also revealed his plans to end worldwide hunger in just 30 days by making the world's biggest peanut butter sandwich to feed the hundreds of millions of starving poor.

We started out with a plan to build a giant BLT, but well you know those Muslims and hipsters are picky. Some of the team were pushing for an organic kale and mushroom pinenut pesto kinda deal but well - it was fuckin' disgusting. Our people finally settled on peanut butter - but on wholemeal 'cause like you know what happened to Elvis”.

Mr Musk also revealed his plan to end homeless today – the erection of the world's biggest yurt. Measuring 1.2 billion square metres the giant Mongolian tent would provide shelter for the entire worlds homeless population and even their pets. South Australia has been chosen as the perfect site to erect the yurt as it is mostly wide open desert and most of the population have fled, unable to pay their power bills.

We chose the yurt design because as the climate changes the homeless will be able to pick it up and move it away from floods or droughts or mutants or whatever. And if it's good enough for Ghengis Khan its good enough for me.”

Elon's original proposal was to move the homeless to Mars on Space-X but “they didn't want to go somewhere bleaker than Adelaide, but indicated they would take Mars over Melbourne any day of the week”.

However Mr Musk's eye is always on the future with plans to integrate the giant yurt with his new weapon to combat global warming – the world's biggest air-conditioner.
The problem with air-cons as a global cooling solution is that while they push cold air out the front of the device, hot air comes out the back. I wanted to ship the hot air to Mars to shut the homeless up but that would need a balloon the size of Ganymede and well that's just fuckin' silly. The team was about to give up when I said hey - lets just point the front end at the desert and set up the yurt at the back! No more desert, no more freezing, whinging homeless hipsters”.

It is that forward integration of complex systems and clarity of vision that has made me the billionaire I am today. Just today I solved the how do-we-toast-the-giant-sandwich problem without building the world's biggest toaster and another fuck-off huge battery to run the thing. Get this – you put the sandwich under the Space-X rocket before the Mars launch! Ok so it's only toasted on one side but what the fuck dude – it's my nickel.”

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill welcomed everything Musk had to say as he was very keen to build something in South Australia – even a tent. However as the 100 day deadline looms, he did admit to nerves regarding the giant battery as his state currently “doesn't generate enough power to charge my iPhone”.

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young tweeted “Happy now Elaine Musk is saving the world – so sick of rich white men telling us what to do!!”

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Trust not the horse, O Trojans.

In Australia lawmaking has become a political act viewed from a partisan Left vs Right perspective. If a Labor politician proposes a bill it is immediately opposed by those on the Right, and vice versa, regardless of its merits. If the Greens propose a bill there is laughter from both sides. If a cross-bencher propose one then it must be time for lunch.

My libertarian starting point is to oppose the making of a new law because it is a new law.  As each law takes away the freedom of Australian citizens it should be treated with utmost scepticism. The merits of the law must pass my free and fair test. Only then can we begin to debate whether the law is necessary, whether it will be effective, whether it can be enforced, how much enforcing it will cost the taxpayer and whether it is something useful to all citizens rather than just the political tribe of whoever is proposing it.

My libertarianism is a healthy scepticism of lawmaking as the solution to society's evils. As society and technology progresses there will be new laws made and changes to the old ones. But we should not automatically give away our freedoms to enhance the prestige of our tribal leaders and those they owe favours to. Nor should they be used as a weapon against their political opponents or segments of society against which they hold some prejudice.

Some laws are just plain evil as discussed in my last post. Some are ineffectual wastes of our hard earned money. Some laws act as Trojan horses – they are gifted to us for a benign purpose but will kick us in the teeth if we don't pay attention.

One is the Major Sporting Events Act which currently gives the Victorian Police the power to search without giving a reason anyone at and around venues such as stadiums and racetracks.

Designed to eliminate potential terrorist threats at major events, the Act allows police to search you inside or outside the venue – if you refuse they can kick you out or stop you from going in. Refusing their directions will cost you $3000. They can also demand to see your ID and fine you $750 if you don't comply.

Which might all seems well and good if it will help keep some mad bastard from blowing up the Melbourne Cup or the AFL Grand Final.


Victoria's police now want to broaden the scope of this Act to include dance festivals - so that they can surround the event, search young folks for drugs and bar, eject and fine those who do not comply. In other words – so they can shut the damn doofs down.

A classic Trojan horse scenario - a law is passed to combat terrorists but concealed inside it is the means to criminalise our young people for doing what young people do for fun these days.

And while Victorian Police Minister Lisa Neville claims that the proposal is all about reducing harm at festivals, if they were serious about harm reduction they would listen to the professionals and allow pill testing which has proven to be effective all over the world.

And where on from there? Well if you can extend the law to reach from the Melbourne Cricket Ground to a bush doof in Lexton, then it is on to the city nightlife precincts where since April the police have increased their use of sniffer dogs in and around Melbourne nightclubs under Operation Safenight.

So aggressive are the police that the High Alert campaign was formed in response to Operation Safenight by a group of concerned harm reduction advocates, health professional and legal practitioners including Nevena Spirovska, a former campaign manager for the Australian Sex Party.
So aggressive that just yesterday a man and a woman were shot by police at a 'Saints and Sinners Ball' inside a Melbourne nightclub following a report that the man was armed with a gun. But as you might expect to find at at fancy-dress party on a guy dressed as The Joker – the pistol was a toy. Not a safe night for him or his girlfriend.

If the Anti-Terrorist / Anti-Fun / Super Safety Squad are successful then it won't be long before similar legislation appears in other States.

Then who knows how far the long arm of the law will stretch to keep us safe from ourselves? Perhaps to Melbourne Cup Day at your local pub, to the Australia Day bash at the end of your street, and to your kid's 18th birthday party at your house.

Be it what it may, I fear the Grecians even when they offer gifts.

Remember you are free.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Freedom for speech, the press, truck drivers and porn

Without a bill of rights to protect us Australians are vulnerable to the tyranny of politicians who make our laws. Though as our country is a healthy democracy with low levels of corruption, we tend to trust that our government will make laws that will not unnecessarily take away our freedom and if they try, we can vote them out.

And tyranny, really? Do we really need this eternal vigilance against an oppressive regime – this isn't bloody North Korea. But in recent times there have been serious assaults on our freedom in this country and while you may have forgotten them, I have not. And I don't mean by Human Rights Commissioners or social justice warriors but by elected politicians.

Back in 2007 the Rudd Labour government tried to censor the internet in the same way the Democratic Republic of North Korea does by blacklisting websites they considered offensive. Costing upwards of $60 million of taxpayer's money, the secret blacklist of banned websites was initially proposed to counter child pornography and benignly described as a 'filter' by then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who later admitted that it would also target “other unwanted content”.

As the US State Department was mounting a diplomatic assault on internet censorship worldwide, the Obama administration condemned the Australian government's blacklist, along with those of Iran, China, Cuba and good old North Korea.

When Wikileaks rode to the rescue and published the secret list, only half were child pornography the other half being online poker, YouTube links, gay and straight porn, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions and mysteriously - links to a boarding kennel and a dentist.

The Liberal / National Coalition in opposition seemed to warm to the idea so long as it did not affect Internet speeds and commerce. So it was thanks to opposition from the Greens, and Fiona Patten's Australian Sex Party that the plan was finally dumped in 2012. Good thing too as it is generally held that the ultimate aim was to censor all pornography to secure the votes of the Australian Christian Lobby.

In that same year the Labour / Greens coalition government tried to censor the media in a way that both Trump and Putin would have cheered - the first peacetime government to attempt restricting press freedom since censorship was abolished in NSW in 1823.

Then Greens leader and Deputy PM Bob Brown fired the first shot at the free press when he described News Limited newspapers as the "hate media".

PM Julia Gillard convened an inquiry into media regulation and report concluded the Australian media was 'failing the public interest'. It recommended a new government funded regulator, the News Media Council, with the power to make findings against journalists and without a course of appeal. Those who disobeyed the council would face fines or imprisonment. This censor would even have power over online sites that get 15,000 hits a year which these days is just about every half decent blogger in the country (except me).

This brilliant idea became the Public Interest Media Advocate Bill 2013 that would regulate Australian media mergers and acquisitions as well as journalists and publishers by way of regulating the Australian Press Council.

It failed to get up - not because the opposition rejected it on the grounds of press freedom but because the crossbench found it unworkable. But it was damn close.

In 2012 the same Labour government tried to censor our speech. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon was feeling frisky following her stunning victory over Big Tobacco. Fancy packaging of cigarettes was a thing of the past so naturally freedom of speech should be next to go.

Chillingly claiming that her Discrimination Consolidation Bill would "help everyone understand what behaviour is expected", her proposed legislation sought to make any conduct that 'offends, insults or intimidates' into unlawful discrimination.

The proposed law would have reversed the burden of proof so that the offended one didn't have to provide evidence that someone offended them, the offender must instead prove that they did not. And that would be tough as there was to be no reasonable person test and discrimination was redefined as "unfavourable treatment" of a person. Ways you could discriminate against a person include their “social background”, of which there was no definition.

That's right – anything you do or say to anyone anywhere - if it offends someone they can take you to court and free of charge too (well actually compliments of the Australian taxpayer).

Amazingly but not, this dystopian future hyper nanny state nonsense was initially championed by the notorious Gillian Triggs of the Human Rights Commission who later backed away from it as ridicule poured from all sides.

Roxon resigned. Triggs did not.

And just last year you might remember how big government tried to end the free market in the transport industry by regulating self-employed truck drivers into submission or death, whichever came first.

Set up by Labour leader Bill Shorten in 2012, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal sought to shut down owner drivers by fixing the rates that their customers paid them to prevent the drivers from from undercutting bigger unionised companies. Failure to pay these 'Safe Rates' would result in prosecution and fines of up to $54,000 for the customer, not the truck driver.

The only way out was to quit working for yourself, sell your truck and become an employee of a big company and join the Transport Workers Union. Brilliant work, and it only took four years and God knows how much of our money to to come up with.

It would be nice to say that the Liberals leapt to the defence of the truckies and free markets, but no – consecutive Prime Ministers Abbot and Turnbull dithered until the eve of an election in 2016 before abolishing the tribunal.

All these attacks on freedom occurred in the last 10 years. All by elected politicians and funded by you and me. Imagine if all of these laws had passed - government agencies would be regulating the internet, the media, and everything you and I do and say. And having crushed the truckies under their boots – looking around for their next target. And no porn. None.

It would be easy to take the view that the Australian Labour Party is the enemy of freedom. It is true that the Liberals are unlikely to propose such laws as these while in government. But they have shown that they will consider selling out our freedom while in opposition or in any position where they can blame their colleagues on the other side of the house.

Freedom and democracy won the day over tyranny in all these cases. So you could say this is proof that our system works – and it does. But tyranny lurks there in the schemes of those who seek power over others, waiting for us to drop our guard for that crucial moment to deliver a knockout blow.

A law once made is hard to unmake - as evidenced by the reluctance and subsequent failure of the Liberal government to abolish 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

My brand of libertarianism is a rejection of law making as the solution to all society's evils. These examples go well beyond that - they are of laws made to do evil on our society.

Remember u r free ()