Standing up for smokers’ rights

Published in The Drum ABC Online on 1 June 2011 under the title “It’s time to stand up for smokers’ rights”.

Perhaps it is inevitable that people will always need to find a minority to hate. Whether it is based on race, or sex, or sexual preference, or lifestyle choice, or language, or religion, or personal habits… the instinct to discriminate, to distrust “different” people, and to enforce conformity is a constant theme throughout history and throughout the world. If this instinct was purely personal, then it would not be a big issue. People could simply choose to associate with those people they prefer, and we could all live in peace. But sadly, many groups want to use the government to force their bigotry on others.

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Improving Gillard’s carbon tax

Published in The Drum ABC Online on 25 March 2011 under the title “How Julia Gillard could improve the carbon tax”.

The debate about the carbon tax is so passionate and divisive that a compromise is almost certainly out of the question.

That doesn’t mean we can’t consider the thought experiment. I am on the public record as being against Gillard’s carbon tax, but after Ross Garnaut came out recently talking about linking the carbon tax with other tax cuts I started thinking about what else could be done to make the carbon tax “less bad”. The following are the demands I would put to the government if they wanted me to consider supporting their new tax…

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The rise & fall of community welfare societies

This article is a summary of a talk I gave at Consilium (July 2010), which itself was a partial summary of my presentation at the inaugural Festival of Dangerous Ideas (4 October 2009).

In the long and complicated debate about welfare systems, there is one element that I think is of particular interest and yet is under-appreciated and unknown to many people: community welfare societies.

By “community welfare” I do not mean private charity, or help from friends, or even social business. All of those are important and positive elements of civil society, but when talking of “community welfare” I mean the coming together of people into mutual societies where everybody contributes and everybody benefits. In effect, I mean a collection of non-government societies that work very much like a mini welfare state.

The first thing that needs to be remembered is that the government did not invent the welfare system. In the early 20th century it is true that there was no government welfare system. But there was a large and growing community welfare system that was relatively effective and efficient, and offered health care, sickness and disability benefits, an aged pension, a widow’s pension, and other forms of help. The government didn’t invent welfare, they nationalised it.

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The argument against defamation law

Published on the ALS Thoughts on Freedom blog & LibertyWorks blog on 31 January 2010.

Most people accept anti-defamation laws as a legitimate restriction on free speech. For a starters, the laws have always existed so it just seems normal to keep them. If we remove them then society would be plunged into chaos as everybody accused everybody of being a paedophile, a thief, or a murderous nutcase… and if those rumours are believed then they could cause lots of damage to the victims, such as loss of work and/or loss of friends. And that’s just not fair.

Perhaps. But before we give up on fully free speech we should fully understand the arguments and implications.

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Non-government carbon price

Published in The Sydney Morning Herald on 24 December 2009 under the title “Activists should stop talking about global warming and start acting”. Written in my capacity as Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies.

If climate activists had spent the past 10 years acting instead of wasting time at talkfests such as the one at Copenhagen, we would already have a price signal on greenhouse gas emissions. It is an indication of the sorry state of community groups that when faced with a problem, they spend millions of dollars whinging and asking other people to do something. This is especially true when it comes to climate campaigners. While this group of young ideologues revel in their self-appointed moral superiority, they have so far achieved very little.

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