Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Politicians Are Scaring You Again

They are doing it again. “They” are the war-party politicians, Democrats and Republicans. “It” is scaring you into supporting another war in the Middle East.
Read the full op-ed.

Webinar: The Antimilitarist Libertarian Tradition

Next Tuesday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m. central, I'll conduct a webinar on "The Antimilitarist Libertarian Tradition," for The Future of Freedom Foundation and Liberty.me. Below is a preview.
 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

We Have Lost a Giant: Leonard Liggio, RIP

I'm sad to report that Leonard P. Liggio, the indefatigable globetrotting builder of the modern libertarian movement, whose encyclopedic knowledge of history astounded even seasoned historians, died today at age 81. Leonard was the quintessential gentleman and scholar. No one was more generous with his time or more interested in helping young libertarians in their intellectual careers. He was an amazing fount of knowledge and advice, leaving his mark on every institution and individual with whom he came into contact.

I believe I met him in 1978 at the first Cato Institute summer seminar at Wake Forest University. (It's possible I was introduced to him a year earlier in San Francisco.) In the second half of the 1980s I worked with him at the Institute for Humane Studies. He was immensely helpful to me in many instances as I was writing and struggling to understand some historical episode. From IHS, Leonard went to the Atlas Network as executive vice president of academics.

He could talk authoritatively about the most obscure events in history -- always with insight, amazing detail, and humor. It is hard to imagine anyone knowing more about the struggle for liberty throughout the ages. All his life he was dedicated to peace, as an intellectual, as a teacher, and in earlier days, as an activist. He was truly unique, the quiet radical.

Leonard was known and admired by countless libertarians the world over. They mourn his departure now. It was an honor to have known and learned so much from him. I will long remember his beaming eyes and smile, his soft voice, and his gentle ways.

Rest in peace, Leonard.

Read the Atlas Network's obituary.
Watch this video tribute to Leonard.
Listen to A Conversation with Leonard Liggio.
Read the obituary by Brian Doherty at Reason.
Watch Tom Palmer's discussion of Leonard's life and work.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

A Foreign Policy By and For Knaves

David Hume (1711-1776) was no hardcore libertarian, but he was a provocative thinker and a key figure in the development of liberalism. Hume helped make the Scottish Enlightenment the important period it was. He also can be fun to read. Observe this from his essay “Of the Independency of Parliament”:
Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all.
Read it all here.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Is Obama Trying to Alienate Muslim-American Youth?

A 19-year-old Chicago-area man was arrested last weekend for attempting to help the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The U.S. government says Mohammed Hamzah Khan, an American citizen, faces 15 years in prison because he was at an airport with a ticket to Turkey and had left references to ISIS and a note to his parents saying he was going to Syria.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration says it will step up outreach efforts with American Muslims to counter ISIS’s campaign to attract young Western Muslims to its cause.
Is this any way for the government to keep the turmoil in Iraq and Syria from washing up on America’s shores?
Read it here.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Libertarian Socialism?


Some people have a hard time seeing how a libertarian could call himself or herself a socialist. I understand the confusion. But in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, this was far less a mystery. In market anarchist Benjamin Tucker's day, socialism was more an umbrella term than it is today. It essentially included anyone who thought the reigning political economy -- which they called capitalism (and saw as a system of state privilege for the employer class) -- denied workers the full product they would have been earning in some alternative system. The Tuckerite socialists' alternative was full laissez faire -- without patents, tariffs, government-backed money/banking, government land control, etc. The collectivist socialists had some nonmarket system in mind. The point is that socialism was more a negative statement -- against capitalism -- than a unified positive agenda on behalf of a specific alternative system.

Some might say that the common element for all these variants of socialism was a belief in the labor theory of value. But it may be more precise to say that the comment element was more general: namely, that workers were cheated by the reigning system. That need not commit one to the labor theory. (On the relationship between cost of production and price in Austrian economics, see my "Value, Cost, Marginal Utility, and Böhm-Bawerk.") In fact, Austrian economics contains an implicit exploitation theory, which was made explicit by Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk. As I wrote in "Austrian Exploitation Theory":
Böhm-Bawerk was merely applying the more general exploitation theory held by free-market thinkers at least back to Adam Smith: Monopolies and oligopolies (suppressed competition) harm consumers and workers through higher prices and lower wages. For Smith monopoly was essentially the result of government privilege. This largely has been the view of later Austrians, also.
This should be uncontroversial. In the corporate state, government privilege restricts competition among employers in a variety of ways and -- just as important, if not more so -- forecloses or raises the cost of self-employment and other alternatives to traditional wage labor. So worker bargaining power is reduced. The difference between what workers would have made in a freed market and what they actually make represents systemic exploitation.

I'm not saying that libertarians should call themselves socialists today. That would not communicate well. But this semantic history has its value.

Friday, September 26, 2014

TGIF: The "Boomerang Effect": How Foreign Policy Changes Domestic Policy

The late Chalmers Johnson, the great analyst of the American empire, warned that if Americans didn’t give up the empire, they would come to live under it.
We’ve had many reasons to take his warning seriously; indeed, several important thinkers have furnished sound theoretical and empirical evidence for the proposition. Now come two scholars who advance our understanding of how an interventionist foreign policy eventually comes home. If libertarians needed further grounds for acknowledging that a distinctive libertarian foreign policy exists, here it is.
Read it here.

Will American Ground Troops Be Sent to Fight ISIS?

With the United States dropping bombs on yet another Muslim country, we might benefit from a close look at President Obama’s anti–Islamic State strategy.
Obama and his spokespeople are always quick to make two points: first, that no American ground forces will be sent into combat against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and second, that the United States will merely be part, albeit a leading part, of a broad coalition of Arab and NATO countries.
Read it here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

TGIF: The Antimilitarist Libertarian Heritage

With the United States on the verge of another war in the Middle East — or is it merely the continuation of a decades-long war? — we libertarians need to reacquaint ourselves with our intellectual heritage of peace, antimilitarism, and anti-imperialism. This rich heritage is too often overlooked and frequently not appreciated at all. That is tragic.
Libertarianism, to say the least, is deeply skeptical of state power. Of course, then, it follows that libertarianism must be skeptical of the state’s power to make war — to kill and destroy in other lands. Along with its domestic police authority, this is the state’s most dangerous power. (In 1901 a libertarian, Frederic Passy, a friend of libertarian economist Gustave de Molinari, shared in the first Nobel Peace Prize.)
Herbert Spencer, the great English libertarian philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, eloquently expressed radical liberalism’s antipathy to war and militarism. His writings are full of warnings about the dangers of war and conquest.
TGIF is here.