In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the morality of vigilantism. The question was:

Where is the line between justice and vigilantism? When is it moral to take the law into your own hands – meaning pursuing, detaining, and/or punishing criminals as a private citizen? Suppose that you know – without a shadow of a doubt – that some person committed a serious crime against you or a loved one. If the justice system cannot punish the person due to some technicality, is it wrong for you to do so? If you’re caught, should a judge or jury punish you, as if you’d committed a crime against an innocent person?
My answer, in brief:
The vigilante is not an agent of justice, but a threat to innocents and to the foundations of civilized society.
Here’s the video of my full answer:
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In Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Webcast, I discussed the morality of breaking the law. The question was:

When is it moral to break the law? Laws should be written to protect individual rights. Unfortunately, many laws today violate rights. When should I abide by a rights-violating law, and when is it proper to break it?
My answer, in brief:
A person does not have any moral obligation to submit to violations of his rights. However, the proper course – whether complying with the law, breaking the law overtly, or breaking the law covertly – depends on the particulars of the situation. Mostly, get legal advice first!
Here’s the video of my full answer:
If you enjoy the video, please “like” it on YouTube and share it with friends via social media, forums, and e-mail! You can also throw a bit of extra love in our tip jar.

Join the next Philosophy in Action Webcast on Sunday at 8 am PT / 9 am MT / 10 am CT / 11 am ET at

In the meantime, Connect with Us via social media, e-mail, RSS feeds, and more. Check out the Webcast Archives, where you can listen to the full webcast or just selected questions from any past episode, and our my YouTube channel. And go to the Question Queue to submit and vote on questions for upcoming webcast episodes.


The University of Pennsylvania published an interesting ranking of relative cultural/political impact of various US and international think tanks, based on their publications, media appearances, reputation amongst policymakers, etc. The list is independent of their political leanings (e.g. liberal, conservative, libertarian, etc.) or primary specialty (economics, foreign policy, etc.).

The UPenn listing of the Top 50 US think tanks for 2011 can be found on pages 36-37 of this file: “2011 Global Go To Think Tank Index Rankings

Their Top 50 list includes several whose works I’ve cited in the past, including:

6) Cato Institute
10) American Enterprise Institute (AEI)
42) Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI)
43) Manhattan Institute
48) Mercatus Center

(Note: I don’t necessarily endorse these organizations, but I’ve found some of their publications informative and useful in my own research/advocacy.)

To compare their sizes and/or budgets, one can look up their financial information on (a website that collates information about nonprofits and charitable organizations). GuideStar lists their “annual expenses” as follows:

6) Cato: $21.8 million
10) AEI : $25.6 million
42) CEI: $4.3 million
43) Manhattan Institute: $11.8 million
48) Mercatus Center: $7.7 million

Some friends may be interested in how a couple of other organizations which also perform advocacy (but which aren’t classic “think tanks”) compare in size:

Institute For Justice (IJ): $9.3 million
Ayn Rand Institute (ARI): $8.7 million

For further context, the top 5 US think tanks listed by UPenn (and their GuideStar annual expenses) were:

1) Brookings Institution ($90.4 million)
2) Council on Foreign Relations ($50.7 million)
3) Carnegie Endowment for International Peace ($24.3 million)
4) Center for Strategic and International Studies ($30.1 million)
5) RAND Corporation ($262.8 million)

Anyhow, I thought this might be of interest for people wondering how folks in the mainstream culture perceived the relative effectiveness of various think tanks, including their relative “bang-for-buck” ratios. As usual, the reliability of these rankings depends on the validity of their methodology (which is discussed in detail in their report).

Vecchio Video Series On ObamaCare

Mar 302012

Dr. Jill Vecchio, the head of the Colorado chapter of Docs4PatientCare (and a fellow radiologist!), has recorded an informative set of videos on ObamaCare and what it means to all Americans.

One important point: the current system is not a free-market but rather a mixed system with some free-market elements but also enormous amounts of government regulation. Forthcoming additional government controls to be imposed by ObamaCare will not solve our current problems but rather make them worse. In contrast, there are many good free-market reforms that would lower our costs and improve our health care quality.

Part 1 — Coverage:

Part 2 — Costs, section A:

Part 3 — Costs, section B:

Part 4 — Employers and Exchanges:

Part 5 — Doctors and Patients:

Part 6 — Constitutional Issues:

Part 7 — Real Health Care Reforms:

(Note: I don’t necessarily endorse every single point she makes, but overall I found these extremely informative. Cross-posted from FIRM.)

Hsieh PJM OpEd: Free Market Lessons from Contraception Fight

Mar 232012

Note from Diana: Sorry to be so late in posting this announcement! It’s all the fault of SnowCon!

PJMedia published my latest piece, “Free Market Lessons from Contraception Fight“.

I discuss how the controversy over contraception coverage has made apparent three lessons about America’s current health care system and why we need free-market health care reforms:

1) Health insurance should be uncoupled from employment.
2) Mandated benefits will become political footballs.
3) We must fight for freedom as a principle.

For more details on each of these three points, read the full piece.

Jim Manley Scores Big Gun Rights Victory in Colorado

Mar 092012

Ari Armstrong recorded a nice interview with Jim Manley last night on his big legal victory with the Colorado Supreme Court to overturn the ban on concealed carry at University of Colorado (CU). Colorado law allows concealed carry, but CU has refused to allow permit holders to exercise that right on campus grounds, even though state law should permit it:

Diana and I first met Jim several years ago when he was the head of the University Colorado (Boulder) campus Objectivist club. After he graduated from CU law school, he went to work for the Mountain States Legal Foundation (which does the same sort of advocacy work as Institute for Justice, but at the state/regional level).

Jim was the lead attorney on this case against CU’s bad policies. His (and MSLF’s) recent legal victory has made national news, including writeups in the Wall Street Journal and MSNBC.

I was glad to be able catch up with Jim a few nights ago and give him my personal thanks for his hard work on this case. Soon, law-abiding concealed weapons permit holders such as myself will no longer have to disarm when we enter University grounds. (Jim came to Diana’s free public lecture at CU on Ayn Rand’s ethics and moral perfection).

Given how easy it is to be discouraged by current politics, I wanted to highlight another example of successful activism by a determined individual!

Addendum from Diana

When I was a graduate student at CU Boulder, I had to walk a few blocks off-campus, through a residential neighborhood, to get to my car. I took classes in the evening on occasion, and during those times, my walk was dark and lonely. Like other students, I’d receive periodic reports of sexual assaults just off-campus, and that worried me.

The police chief’s advice of carrying a “safety whistle” was pure absurdity to me. If I was attacked, that wouldn’t do me a lick of good. Also, I knew that I couldn’t hope to outrun my attacker: I’m a slow sprinter, and even in elementary school, I only ever beat the fat girl in running the 50-yard dash. Really, I wanted my “safety Ruger” — because that could have actually kept me safe! Instead, I often took Kate, my German Shepherd with me to those late classes. She probably wouldn’t have helped much if I’d been attacked, but she might have deterred a criminal.

Moreover, in the wake of school shootings, I hated to think of being disarmed and defenseless, particularly as a teacher in a classroom full of terrified students. I’d have an obligation to protect my students as best as I could, yet I’d be unable to do much of anything. I hated that with a passion.

Hence, I’m so pleased by Jim’s fabulous work to overturn this gun ban on CU campuses. It’s taken years of litigation, but the results will make a real difference in the lives of students, professors, workers, and visitors to campus.

Thank you, Jim!

100th Lucidicus Kit Awarded!

Feb 072012

I’m rather late in reposting this January 17th announcement from Jared Rhodes of The Lucidicus Project… but this milestone is fantastic, and I wanted to publicly applaud Jared’s work to promote free markets among our future doctors!

I’m proud to announce that today The Lucidicus Project hit a nice milestone: we’ve awarded our 100th kit! The 100th kit went to Alexander G., a third-year medical student at Boston University.

You can read about Alexander and all the other recipients here.

The Lucidicus Project is a student outreach program that I started in 2005. We give out a “self-defense kit” of books and essays to medical students who are interested in learning about the moral and economic case for capitalism in medicine.

I think it’s great that there is a popular movement brewing against Obamacare, but I believe it is absolutely critical to have doctors on board, too. We’re cultivating that by reaching out to tomorrow’s healthcare leaders–namely, medical students–while they are young and still open to new ideas.

Our next goal is to reach recipient number 200 a lot faster. I’d like to thank everyone who has donated or supported the project in the past in any way. And for anyone interested in doing so now, just go to Support The Center. Or, if you can’t help out financially, then just spreading the word online and offline is extremely helpful, too. You never know who is listening!


Jared Rhoads
Center for Objective Health Policy

Congratulations, Jared!

Hsieh PJM OpEd: SOPA, Guns, and Freedom

Jan 202012

The 1/19/2012 edition of PJMedia published my OpEd, “SOPA, Guns, and Freedom“.

I open with the following question:

Q: What does the proposed SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act”) legislation have in common with gun control?

A: Both would punish the innocent for the bad acts of a guilty few.

Click through to read more on how this applies to SOPA, gun control, freedom, and limited government.

For more detailed discussion on how SOPA could have “broken the Internet”, technically-minded readers might enjoy Paul Vixie’s article from 1/11/2012, “Refusing REFUSED“. Because of the intense political pressure from anti-SOPA advocates, some legislators have proposed a modified version of SOPA that they claim will avoid some of these technical problems.

Diana has more links and information about SOPA in her recent webcast on this topic, “SOPA and Online Piracy“.

(Note: This OpEd was written the day before the 1/18/2012 “blackout” and subsequent political events.)

MPAA on the SOPA/PIPA Blackout

Jan 192012

Senator Chris Dodd, Chairman and CEO of the MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) released the following statement (PDF) about the blackout of web sites to protest SOPA and PIPA. (Emphasis added by me.)

Only days after the White House and chief sponsors of the legislation responded to the major concern expressed by opponents and then called for all parties to work cooperatively together, some technology business interests are resorting to stunts that punish their users or turn them into their corporate pawns, rather than coming to the table to find solutions to a problem that all now seem to agree is very real and damaging.

It is an irresponsible response and a disservice to people who rely on them for information and use their services. It is also an abuse of power given the freedoms these companies enjoy in the marketplace today. It’s a dangerous and troubling development when the platforms that serve as gateways to information intentionally skew the facts to incite their users in order to further their corporate interests.

A so-called “blackout” is yet another gimmick, albeit a dangerous one, designed to punish elected and administration officials who are working diligently to protect American jobs from foreign criminals. It is our hope that the White House and the Congress will call on those who intend to stage this “blackout” to stop the hyperbole and PR stunts and engage in meaningful efforts to combat piracy.”

Such words, particularly the paragraph in bold, could be straight from the mouth of that slimy villain Bertram Scudder of Atlas Shrugged. “The gall of these companies to stop offering their free services to the world for so much as a single day! What appalling ingratitude to the state, which is already is so generous in permitting them to operate at all! As for all that disinformation they’re spreading… we’ll have to do something about that.”

Or, as I saw on Facebook:

The MPAA calls the Internet going dark in protest of SOPA and PIPA an “abuse of power.” In related news, the Eye of Sauron accuses hobbits of terrorism.

As I stated in my webcast discussion of SOPA and PIPA, to defend intellectual property rights is hugely important. However, such must be done in the context of a general understanding of and respect for individual rights, including rights to property, contract, and free speech.

It’s a moral crime to attempt to protect some rights by willfully violating other rights. Alas, the MPAA doesn’t or won’t understand that.

Hsieh RCM OpEd: Why is Creating Value Good, Profits Bad?

Jan 192012

The 1/17/2012 edition of Real Clear Markets has just published my latest OpEd, “Why Is Creating Value Good, Profits Bad?

It’s not directly related to health care policy, but rather the broader theme of defending the virtue of the profit motive in a free, capitalistic society. (I do use insurance as an example of how value is created). Here is the opening:

“Profit” is a dirty word. Profit-seeking businessmen are stock villains in Hollywood movies. “Occupy Wall Street” protestors demand, “People not profits” (whatever that means). Companies reporting healthy profits are automatically assumed to be exploiting customers and can only atone for this by “giving back” to their communities. “Making a profit” has an unsavory, morally suspect taint.

Yet simultaneously, Americans have a far more positive view of the concept of “creating value.” The mainstream press lauds visionary businessmen who “create value,” such as the late Steve Jobs of Apple. The business literature routinely emphasizes the importance of “creating value.” So many organizations wish to be seen as “creating value” that it has become a business cliche, like “best practices” and “thinking outside the box.”

But in a free society, “creating value” and “making a profit” are just two sides of the same coin…

(Read the full text of “Why Is Creating Value Good, Profits Bad?“)

Those who earn honest profits by creating value should be proud of this fact.

I’d like to thank attorney-blogger Doug Mataconis for providing the Tweet which I cited later in the OpEd, as well as pointing me towards the Wall Street Journal piece on Bain Capital that I cited.

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