Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Imperial Troubles

My latest op-ed, "Imperial Troubles," distributed by The Future of Freedom Foundation, appeared today in the Southwest News Herald in Chicago.

Silver Lining?

Whatever one thinks of Dubai Ports World acquiring leases to manage terminals at U.S. ports, there is one bright spot: People don't believe George II. He's basically asked for trust in his judgment on the deal, but today's New York Times shows he's not getting it: "Seventy percent, including 58 percent of Republicans, said Dubai Ports World, a company controlled by the emir of Dubai, should not be permitted to operate at United States ports, while 21 percent supported the arrangement." Bush's job-approval rating has fallen to 34 percent, and the percentage saying Iraq is going badly has increased from 54 to 62.

Given a world of government-owned ports and government-owned companies, I don't see a problem with DP World's acquiring the leases. But it's nice to see the people expressing their distrust for a president who has systematically misled them.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, February 27, 2006

More on the Early Factory Workers

As a follow-up to my post below on factory workers, I quote this from Kevin Carson:
[T]he ruling class literature of the period is chock full of complaints about just how hard it was to get workers into the factories: not only were the lower classes not flocking into the factories of their own free will, but the owning classes used a great deal of energy thinking up ways to force them to do so.

Although the kind of thing I'm saying is denounced as "Marxist class warfare" these days, the land-owning and employing classes of early industrial Britain said the same thing in very nearly the same words, in a pretty frank "we're all men here" style. The cottager with independent access to a piece of land, it was complained, would only work a few days a week to supplement his income, and perhaps even then only work seasonally when he needed an extra stake of money to pay taxes or buy some luxury item. The periodical press resounds with demands for enclosure, the reduction of land available for household gardens, and forcible restriction of independent access to the means of subsistence so that the working population would have no choice but to work in the factories or as agricultural wage-laborers for whatever hours a master saw fit to demand of them.
Chapter 4 of Carson's book, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy, has supporting quotations and citations. (It's also online here.)

Carson adds in a Monday post: "When laborers had independent access to the means of subsistence, they worked at wage labor only seasonally, for supplemental income; they could afford to rely on subsistence farming for long periods, and go back to working for a boss only when they felt like it."

This is an important issue that I expect I will be returning to now and then as I learn more.

Detention Centers and Military-Run Civilian-Inmate Labor Programs?

Have you seen this summary of ominious news from Consortiumnews? According to reporting in the mainstream media, Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg Brown & Root got a $385 million contract to build holding facilities for "an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs [!!]" (New York Times [$$]), and the Army posted a report on "civilian inmate labor programs" ("This regulation provides guidance for establishing and managing civilian inmate labor programs on Army installations. It provides guidance on establishing prison camps on Army installations." Read it here).

Is it time to get nervous yet?

(By the way, Consortiumnews' section on Sen. Lindsey Graham's remarks about pursuit of fifth columnists was taken out of context. See this Washington Post article.)

Agora Site Started

Brad Spangler has announced the start of a new website of interest to left-libertarians and anarchists (or any curious person, really): Agorism.info. Some really good reading is posted there, including the late Samuel Edward Konkin III's "The New Libertarian Manifesto" and Wally Conger's "Agorist Class Theory." Kudos to Brad!

Port Sense

Xon Hostetter has an entirely sensible article about the Dubai ports issue. I recommend it. Here's a tidbit:
[W]e have a very good idea as to why Dubai Ports company wants to run these six ports – it thinks it can make money doing so! As said before, companies have every interest in protecting their investments, and they do this most obviously by turning a profit. . . . This company [Dubai Ports World] has every reason to take all necessary measures to keep its operations safe from terrorism, and to convince the American public that it is doing so. There are no guarantees in life, of course, but at least this company's motivations (and resources) are aimed against letting some terrorist atrocity occur on its watch.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Did the Early Factory Workers Welcome Their Fate?

Kevin Carson has an interesting post in his occasional "Vulgar Libertarianism Watch" series. This time he critiques Thomas Woods's comments on distributism, the Catholic-related idea, associated with Belloc and Chesterton, that the means of production should be widely dispersed, rather than concentrated in the hands of a few bureaucrats or capitalists. A distributist economy would presumably be filled with single proprietorships and worker co-ops. Carson quotes from Woods's article "What's Wrong with 'Distributism,'" in which he states that for family reasons, "it is by no means obvious that it is always preferable for a man to operate his own business rather than to work for another." To which Carson responds,
This makes the unwarranted assumption that working for someone else is the only way of reducing risk, as opposed to cooperative ownership, federation, etc. It assumes, as a basic premise, the very thing that distributism objects to: that capital is concentrated in the hands of a few owners who hire wage labor, instead of widely distributed among the general population who pool it through cooperative mechanisms.
He then adds,
The proper contrast is between a laborer making a subsistence living off a small family plot with access to a common, and supplementing his income when necessary with wage labor, versus that . . . [nineteenth-century] factory worker. To compare the hours and quality of work of a genuine subsistence farmer with the mind-numbing 12- or 14-hour days in a dark satanic mill is a joke.
To Woods's claim that the people who flocked to the factories after 1750 had no tools with which to start their own businesses and would have starved had they tried to stay in agriculture, Carson responds that land expropriations put those workers in that dire position, which was one of the points of expropriation in the first place.

Carson concludes:
To the extent that the anti-corporate Left sees state intervention as necessary to break the present power of big business, it's owing to the fact (as Nock said), that vulgar libertarians and state socialists have a common interest in obscuring the nature of the present system. Vulgar libertarian apologists for big business like to pretend that the current winners got that way through superior efficiency in the market. And state socialists like to pretend, likewise, that a bureaucratic apparatus controlled by themselves is the only way to counter the natural outgrowth of big business from the free market.
The post attracted several comments (including a couple by me) regarding the actual condition of pre-industrial peasants and factory workers, and the conditions under which the factories procured their employees. This debate has been going on a long time. Frankly, I find it difficult to sort it all out. Writers on the industrial "revolution" often have ideological agendas that color their descriptions, so it is hard to know whom to credit and whom to doubt. What I look for are statements that go against an author's own grain. When the Marxist historian Gabriel Kolko (The Triumph of Conservatism) writes that market competition intensified in the late nineteenth century and that it took government intervention to create cartels, that is impressive because Marxists usually think markets naturally become concentrated. Likewise, when the left historian Fernand Braudel (Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18 Century: The Structures of Everyday Life) portrays pre-industrial life as poor, nasty, brutish, and short, again, that is informative, since many anti-industrialists have romanticized pre-industrial life.

It can work the other way too. For example, in Human Action, Ludwig von Mises writes:
But the fact remains that for the surplus population which the enclosure movement had reduced to dire wretchedness and for which there was literally no room left in the frame of the prevailing system of production, work in the factories was salvation. (Emphasis added.)
Writers like Carson would disagree with only the second half of the sentence: they would point out that the factory owners were to some extent accomplices in creating the situation in which the wretched had no choice but to submit to wage labor in the factories.

Similar statements can be found in How the West Grew Rich by Nathan Rosenberg and L.E. Birdzell Jr., two enthusiasts of the industrial "revolution." E.g.:
In England, the downward pressure on agricultural wages was accentuated by the enclosure movement -- that is, the fencing of agricultural land formerly available for the pasturage of animals owned by agricultural workers. The enclosure movement reflected the twin facts that the market price of land was rising as the population increased, while the market price of agricultural labor was declining: landowners [how did they come to "own" the land? --S.R.] had other uses for land more remunerative than its use as a fringe benefit for cottagers. The combination of a rise in agricultural population with a reduction in agricultural employment was a compelling incentive for the urbanization of Western society, but it also compelled many agricultural workers in England and other Western countries to endure long periods of economic and social adjustment. It was a combination that accounted for much social misery in England and other Western countries until well into the nineteenth century. . . .

In theory, the [parliamentary enclosure] acts compensated the cottagers for the loss of their common rights by giving them some of the enclosed land. But the cottagers were not effectively represented in Parliament, and there is much reason to believe that the compensation was in practice inadequate. [This implies that the cottagers had no choice in the matter; who would freely accept inadequate compensation? --S.R.] In any event, animal husbandry was often essential to the villagers' margin of prosperity over the barest subsistence, and the commons were essential to animal husbandry. Thus, quite apart from any question of the inadequacy of compensation, the long-term effect of enclosure was an impoverishment of agricultural labor. . . .

The shift from open-field agriculture, in which each villein cultivated a number of small strips, to small holdings agriculture was . . . not necessarily of benefit to those who ended as tenants of large landowners, and it was a disaster for the agricultural workers it left wholly landless.

There was, in point of fact, widespread poverty of the most abject kind in England and other countries in eighteenth-century Europe, and it was from the pool of the forgotten poor that the early factories drew many of their workers. [Emphasis added.]
Nonetheless, Rosenberg and Birdzell reject the "conventional belief" that "the economic gains of the period from 1750 to 1880 were achieved at the cost of enormous sacrifices. . . . In point of fact, there is good reason to think that the alternatives supposedly sacrificed by early factory workers were much less attractive than factory work -- which is not to say that factory work was attractive otherwise than by comparison to the alternatives. . . . But if early factory work was oppressive, the alternatives open to those who voted with their feet for factory work were worse. The early factories were able to attract workers with low wages because the wages were still well above the poverty level . . . ."

This seems out of kilter. If the cottagers had to leave the land because of acts of Parliament, how can we say simply that they chose "oppressive" factory work because it was the superior alternative? Other alternatives were foreclosed by government intervention, no?

As for the relative sacrifices, is the historian or social scientist really competent to do the weighing? Isn't this a matter of subjective value for the people concerned? If government intervention forced people off their land and into factories, can we really point to a rising living standard as "just compensation"? Not according to the methodology I subscribe to.

Addendum: I find this quotation in D. McCloskey's "The Enclosure of Open Fields: Preface to a Study of Its Impact on the Efficiency of English Agriculture in the Eighteenth Century," Journal of Economic History 32, no. 1 (1972): 15-35:
As much as enclosure may have hurt the poor, however, it is doubtful that the hurt was large enough, relative to the net gain to be achieved by the larger owners of the land, that it influenced their decision to enclose. This is because the poor were very poor: the value of their land and other rights was small. In consequence, an equitable procedure, which compensated them fully for their ancient rights, would have changed the net benefits accruing to those who had the power to set an enclosure in motion very little. At first approximation, then, the issue of equity may be left to one side.
This makes two objectionable assumptions: First, that hurt can be weighed against gain. Suddenly an indivdiualist becomes a collectivist. There is no social hurt and social gain. There is subjective hurt to specific individuals that is produced by the subjective gain seized by other specific individuals. There can be no hurt-gain calculation. You can't tote things up to determine "net gain." Really. I thought we were all methodological individualists now.

Second, maybe a cottager would be unwilling to give up his "ancient rights" at any cost, like Mrs. Kelo in New London, Connecticut. One suspects that some libertarians think that you can legitimately deprive someone of his rights as long as you compenstate him. But this can't be. It is a violation of rights. As I've written in the eminent-domain context (and isn't this the same thing?), logically there can be no just compensation in a forced sale. What signals that a level of compensation is just is that it is freely accepted by the property owner. If rejection of an offer is not an option, then we cannot conclude that an ostensible act of compensation is in fact just. What makes a transaction just is not compensation per se but consent. So, no, we cannot leave equity to one side.

Phoniness All Around

We live in such a phony age. I heard that sales of artificial tears are at an all-time high.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

More on the Dubai Deal

The more I hear the hysteria against the Dubai port deal the more I think the opponents are exploiting the issue for political gain. They can't even get the facts straight: they keep talking about the outsourcing of security, which isn't what this is about at all. I never thought I'd be sympathetic to George II on anything, but when one listens to Schumer, Clinton, Graham, Frist, Hastert, not to mention media blowhards like Jack Cafferty on CNN, what choice does one have? In this case, the relative bad guys are the fear-mongers. Let them explain why a large company, Dubai Ports World, would jeopardize a lucrative worldwide business to help terrorists, who didn't need any such help on 9/11. This has the stench of populist demagoguery about it. I don't think governments should own ports or companies that operate ports. But we're stuck with such things today. The opponents of the Dubai deal are not calling for privatization. They apparently have no problem with other government-owned port operators, which are ubiquitous. So this is just a case of whipping up fear to score political points. Arabs are easy targets these days.

Cory Maye

Radley Balko summarizes the Cory Maye case on the Cato website today. Maye is on death row in Mississippi for fatally shooting a policeman during a raid on his home late one night. Although looking for a "large stash" of marijuana, police found only a gram's worth of ashes. As Balko points out, paramilitary raids by police are not uncommon and often involve errors and tragedies. "There are dozens of examples of late night 'no-knock' drug raids executed on the wrong home, or on people guilty of, at worst, misdemeanor offenses. Any gun owner willing to defend his family from intruders could well be in the same position Cory Maye was in four years ago," Balko writes.

Balko also points out that the firing of the public defender who represented Maye indicates that the authorities have something to hide. Kudos to Balko for keeping on top of the case.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

"All I Gotta Do Is Die"

The great comedian Myron Cohen used to tell a story in which a man, unhappy at being told he had to do something, replies (in trademark Yiddish accent), "I gotta what? I don't gotta do a goddam thing. All I gotta do is die."

I was reminded of that by the latest column by one of my favorite commentators, David Henderson. A sample:
Last December, I attended a round-table academic conference in which we spent a fair amount of time discussing war and foreign policy. One participant mentioned that after the Japanese government (he actually said "the Japanese") bombed Pearl Harbor, it was obvious that the U.S. government (he said "we") had to go to war with Japan. I replied that that wasn't obvious to me at all. First of all, as my co-author, Charles Hooper, and I point out in our book, Making Great Decisions in Business and Life, and as philosopher David Kelley has so eloquently put it, there's almost nothing we have to do. And you don't think clearly by starting from falsehoods. So, although one might argue that the U.S. government should have made war on Japan, the U.S. government didn't have to: it had a choice.
Read the whole thing. It's a gem.

Dubai or Not Dubai

Ivan Eland brings a lot of sense to the port controversy at Antiwar.com:
In fact, since two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE, Dubai Ports World might even have a stronger interest in operating safe and secure ports than companies from other nations. Dubai has a worldwide presence, an extensive history of operating ports, and a reputation to uphold. If a terrorist incident occurred in one of its ports, the company would probably lose more business worldwide than a non-Arabic company would under the same circumstances.

The company should be evaluated on its qualifications to operate the ports, not on McCarthy-like litmus tests for Arabs or the UAE.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

What To Do About the Ports

The corporate state/mixed economy presents many conundrums. The latest is is posed by the purchase of a British port-terminal management company by firm owned by the governmment of Dubai, part of the United Arab Emirates. The British company operates terminals at six major U.S. ports, and its purchase by the Dubai firm, although approved by the Bush administration, has many politicians expressing concern about security at those ports. (All such expressions should be discounted to some extent by political interest.) They point out that two of the 9/11 hijackers were from the UAE and that money to finance the attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon passed through the Arab state. The UAE reportedly still recognizes the Taliban as the government of Afghanistan. The Bush administration has approved the deal, saying that the UAE has been cooperative in the "war on terror." The Washington Times notes that "At least 90 terminals at major U.S. ports are operated by foreign governments and businesses...."

The six ports, of course, are not private property or private enterprise. They are "owned" by governments or government-created "authorities." In at least some cases, governors or mayors say they have the legal power to cancel the contracts with the management firm, and they may do so if the Bush administration doesn't reverse its position.

So what now? There may be no satisfactory answer under present circumstances. (This is often the case.) The ports are political, not free-market, facilities. And port security is a federal-government matter, just as it is at the airports, which are also government-owned.

The only good solution is to privatize the ports. This would not mean transferring them to well-connected corporate cronies, but rather, as Brad Spangler suggests, ceding control to the people who work and use the ports and who are not tainted by the corporate state. I'd prefer real profit-oriented ports with owners who risk their own capital to bureaucratic ports with politicized managers.

The other thing to do is to liquidate the empire in order to drastically reduce the odds that someone will want to do our society grave harm.

In the meantime, I suppose the the government authorities that now control the ports should act like the managers they claim to be. (A clash between the federal government on one side and the state and local governments on the other would be delightful.) As I said, no short-run measure will be satisfactory.

For some useful insights see Brad's post "Dubai Ports deal: What’s wrong and how to fight it."

Update: Kn@ppster has a persuasive argument here.

The Magic Needs Time

The U.S. government has again laid down the law to the Iraqis: Put the right kind of people in charge or else. The "or else" is a cut-off of money. Of course, the money should be cut off; American taxpayers shouldn't be compelled to finance Iraq. Nevertheless, it is enlightening to see the Bush administration using the money threat to dictate terms to the Iraqis. I thought George II went to war to bring democracy, sovereignty, and self-determination to that country. Apparently, he gave little thought to that society's sectarianism, which grows out of Iraq's history as a country pasted together by the British after World War I. The Bush utopians believe they can make it all right because they are wise and well-meaning. A government death squad is killing Sunni men? Don't worry, with time the neocons will work their magic.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Here We Go Again

From the Washington Post:
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked Congress yesterday to provide $75 million in emergency funding to step up pressure on the Iranian government, including expanding radio and television broadcasts into Iran and promoting internal opposition to the rule of religious leaders.
Not that I'm a constitutionalist, but where does the Constitution permit that?

Happy Birthday, Frank

Frank Chodorov, editor of The Freeman the first year it was owned by Leonard E. Read of the Foundation for Economic Education, was born on this date in 1887. Influenced by Henry George and Albert Jay Nock, Chodorov was a passionate and intelligent champion of individualism and free markets. He was equally passionate and intelligent on the subject of war and peace, understanding that war brings a permanent expansion of state power and a diminution of freedom. His criticisms of U.S. conduct in the Cold War and its penchant for empire are still worth reading.
If we will, we can still save ourselves the cost of empire. We have only to square off against this propaganda, and to supplement rationality with a determination that, come what may, we will not lend ourselves, as individuals, to this new outrage against human dignity. We will not cooperate. We will urge noncooperation upon our neighbors. We will resist, by counterpropaganda, every attempt to lead us to madness. Above all, when the time comes, we will refuse to fight, choosing the self-respect of the prison camp to the ignominy of the battlefield. It is far nobler to clean a latrine than to kill a man for profit.
In a letter to National Review in 1954 he said, "As for me, I will punch anyone who calls me a conservative in the nose. I am a radical." Some years ago Charles H. Hamilton edited an excellent collection of Chodorov's work, Fugitive Essays, copies of which can still be found.

Thought for the Day

"The liberal case for diminishing the power of unions by removing their
preferential legal treatment would be much enhanced if the power of business
were simultaneously diminished by removing their preferential legal
treatment in the form of free incorporation. If the power of big business were
curtailed, there would be no need for countervailing powers in the form of
either big labor or big government."

--Piet-Hein van Eeghen, "The Corporation at Issue, Part I:
The Clash with Classical Liberal Values and the Negative Consequences for Capitalist Practice"
Journal of Libertarian Studies, Summer 2005 (note 21)

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Dog Bites Man

U.S. Royalty Plan to Give Windfall to Oil Companies --New York Times
The federal government is on the verge of one of the biggest giveaways of oil and gas in American history, worth an estimated $7 billion over five years.

New projections, buried in the Interior Department's just-published budget plan, anticipate that the government will let companies pump about $65 billion worth of oil and natural gas from federal territory over the next five years without paying any royalties to the government.
Socialize the costs, privatize the profits. Nice work if you can get it.

Yeah, That'll Work

From the New York Times:

"The United States and Israel are discussing ways to destabilize the Palestinian government so that newly elected Hamas officials will fail and elections will be called again, according to Israeli officials and Western diplomats."

I smell blowback.

Update: The Israeli and U.S. governments said the report is untrue. (Hey, I didn't say I believe them.)

Cheney Shooting: What's the Mystery?

I can't understand why people haven't figured out why 22 hours elapsed before we learned that Vice President Dick Cheney had accidentally shot a companion during a quail hunt in Texas. The reason is obvious: the victim, Harry Whittington, required 22 hours of surgery to remove the birdshot, and only Cheney could perform the operation. Whittington is doing fine.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Qui Bono?

The UK has something called the Better Regulation Commission, which advises the government how to "reduce unnecessary regulatory and administrative burdens and ensure that regulation and its enforcement are proportionate, accountable, consistent, transparent and targeted." Given the nature of government, I'm skeptical that such a commission would actually lighten the regulatory burden in any significant way. One reason was identified by the commission's chairman, Rick Haythornthwaite in the Financial Times the other day:
Red tape is the unloved enemy of reason. At least, that is the orthodoxy... On the one hand, we publicly rail against it. But on the other, there are many who privately benefit from complex and excessive regulation. It supports an industry of regulatory consultants and can act as a convenient barrier to market entry.

Hat tip: Jude Blanchette.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

All Right Already!

I'd much rather think about historical and theorectical market anarchism than the Muslim protests, violent and otherwise, against cartoonists, but I have to add one more thing to what I've already said: Get over it! Non-Muslims are under no obligation of any kind not to depict Muhammad. (It's not even clear that Muslins are under such an obligation.) If a cartoonist wishes to depict Muhammad in order to make a political or social point (or no particular point at all), that's his right. So if you abhor such depictions, do what any mature adult would do: ignore them -- and ignore the governments that have been using the cartoons to stir up hatred. (How come no one cared about the cartoons in the Danish paper when they were first published in September?) If someone were to draw a cartoon ridiculing or besmirching Aristotle or Rothbard or Rand, you wouldn't see me in the streets holding a candle in a silent vigil, much less screaming for the beheading of the artist. And if this outrageous display of anger is really about U.S. and western intervention in the Muslim world, then for goodness sake say that and shut up about the cartoons.

Let's grow up. It's long past time.

Okay, now that that's off my chest, let's get back to what really matters: market anarchism. Roderick Long has a worth-reading post (as usual) here. Follow the links. One of them (this one) takes you to a fascinating post and discussion at RadGeek People's Daily (Charles Johnson). If you are interested in the relationship among libertarianism, market anarchism, socialism, mutualism, utilitarianism, nonconsequentialism, virtue, and more, check it out.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Biggest Nonstory of the Day

Trade Gap Hits Record For 4th Year In a Row --Washington Post

(I'm not linking to it because it's not worth linking to.)

As Adam Smith put it:
Nothing, however, can be more absurd than this whole doctrine of the balance of trade, upon which, not only these restraints, but almost all the other regulations of commerce are founded. When two places trade with one another, this doctrine supposes that, if the balance be even, neither of them either loses or gains; but if it leans in any degree to one side, that one of them loses and the other gains in proportion to its declension from the exact equilibrium. Both suppositions are false. A trade which is forced by means of bounties and monopolies may be and commonly is disadvantageous to the country in whose favour it is meant to be established, as I shall endeavour to show hereafter. But that trade which, without force or constraint, is naturally and regularly carried on between any two places is always advantageous . . . to both.
For more see Donald Boudreaux's article here.

"A License to Steal"

John Samples of the Cato Institute has a good article today on how the corporate state (government-business partnership) creates the Jack Abramoffs of the world. In this case, it all starts with the government power to determine who can and cannot go into the gambling business.
In a free market, entrepreneurs with ideas and capital can start a business. This freedom to enter a market spurs competition and prosperity while keeping both profits and prices low. In contrast, markets with entry barriers lead to abnormal profits and inflated prices.

In most states, you cannot go out and simply open your own casino even if you have the capital and skills needed to succeed. Once forbidden, entry to the gaming business is now strictly controlled by government licensing and regulation. Under a 1988 federal law, Native American tribes must enter compacts with a state government to start a casino. This licensing itself hobbles entry into the market, thereby reducing competition and boosting profits.
Of course, state governments want a cut of the booty, plus they retain the power to change the terms or to yank a license altogether. You can trace out the consequences for corrupt lobbying from there.

There's Good News and There's Bad News

This from Battlepanda and Radley Balko: Cory Maye, who's on death row in Mississippi for fatally shooting a policeman who had burst into his house on a drug raid late at night, will be represented in his state Supreme Court appeal by a "top legal firm" for free. Keep your fingers crossed. Meanwhile, sign the petition!

Now for the bad: Charles Noel, whose wife was killed in a no-knock raid, could go to jail for a year because of the half-ounce of pot found at his home. As Balko writes, "Apparently, killing the guy's wife wasn't punishment enough for a pissant amount of marijuana." Balko has more on the killing of Cheryl Lynn Noel here.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Bush's Energy Nonsense

Despite the bravado in his State of the Union address, President Bush actually admitted that his efforts in the Middle East are destined to fail. Here’s what he said: “America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world.” He then unveiled billions of dollars in new subsidies to find an alternative to oil.

What’s going on here? Haven’t we been told repeatedly that Bush’s policy in the Middle East is going to bring freedom, democracy, and stability to the long-suffering oil states of the region? Why the subtle confession that the policy will fail?
Read the rest of my latest op-ed, "Bush Speaks Nonsense on Energy," at the website of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

In Praise of Unschooling

I like what David Friedman has to say here about unschooling, the child-directed version of homeschooling.

Pork Fat Rules!

Steven Malloy, debunker of junk science, has the details on the latest major study to demolish the myth that dietary fat and cholesterol are bad for you. The article is here. The study involved nearly 50,000 women. According to Malloy:
The most significant result of the $415 million study is that low-fat diets don’t reduce heart disease risk. As the researchers put it, “Over [an average] of 8.1 years, a dietary intervention that reduced total fat intake and increased intake of vegetables, fruits and grains did not significantly reduce the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women and achieved only modest effects on cardiovascular risk factors. . . .”

Low-fat diets didn’t even improve heart health among the population of women who had heart disease at the beginning of the study. In fact, the low-fat diet regimen was associated with a slightly increased risk of heart disease among these women.
These results are quite a blow to the Diet-Government Complex, that constellation of pharmaceutical companies, food processors, and government bureaucrats that have been pushing low-fat, high-carb diets on us for years. This has been a thoroughly politicized process from the start. (See this New York Times Magazine article, "What If It's All Been a Big Fat Lie?") As Malloy points out, the other major studies have consistently failed to support the fat-cholesterol-heart-disease hypothesis, but the results were always spun to distract attention from the facts. And the news media has always been too willing to merely reprint the press releases.

For the scoop on such things, visit the website of The International Network of Cholesterol Skeptics . I'd also recommend Dr. Uffe Ravnskov's book, The Cholesterol Myths.

Somewhere up there, Dr. Atkins is smiling.

As Emeril Lagasse says, "Pork fat rules!"

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Need This Be Said? Perhaps So

Threatening or using violence against the person or property of anyone who has not initiated or threatened force when one's own life is not in peril can have no justification whatsoever. Religiously offensive cartooning -- even if intentionally provocative -- is no exception to this basic rule of civilization. Each individual who is tempted to join a violent mob has the power to think about what is doing -- and to abstain from doing it. If he goes ahead anyway, he is a monster. Period.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Tariff Is the Mother of the Trusts...and of War and Imperialism

On this date in 1883 Joseph A. Schumpeter was born in Trest (Czech Republic) in the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Schumpeter wrote on a wide range of economic and social subjects, and is best known for Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy and History of Economic Analysis. One of his claims to fame is the phrase "creative destruction," by which he indicated the dynamic entrepreneurial element at the heart of the market economy. (Actually, I've never been crazy about that phrase; I prefer Israel Kirzner's Misesian/Hayekian emphasis on entrepreneurial coordination.) Curiously, Schumpeter thought the state socialists had won the economic calculation debate against the Austrians, and he expected capitalism to be replaced one day. Yet, in the free-market economy ("capitalism") Schumpeter saw a force for peace and worldwide cooperation through the division of labor. However, in his view various precapitalist influences eat away at the system, especially the wish for protectionism, setting a country on the path to imperialism and war. He stressed that these influences are not inherent in the market economy. (Note the similarity with Ludwig von Mises's thesis in Omnipotent Government.)

With the U.S. government fighting in the Middle East and possibly more battles on the horizon, it is fitting to contemplate what Schumpeter had to say about capitalism and war. Here is an excerpt from his paper "Imperialism and Capitalism" (1919) reprinted in his posthumous book Imperialism and Social Classes (1951; all emphasis in the original):
A protectionist policy, however, does facilitate the formation of cartels and trusts. And it is true that this circumstance thoroughly alters the alignment of interests. . . . Union in a cartel or trust confers various benefits on the entrepreneur—a saving in costs, a stronger position as against workers—but none of these compares with this one advantage: a monopolistic price policy, possible to any considerable degree only behind an adequate protective tariff. Now the price that brings the maximum monopoly profit is generally far above the price that would be fixed by fluctuating competitive costs, and the volume that can be marketed at the maximum price is generally far below the output that would be technically and economically feasible. Under free competition that output would be produced and offered, but a trust cannot offer it, for it could be sold only at a competitive price. Yet the trust must produce it—or approximately as much—otherwise the advantages of large-scale enterprise remain unexploited. The trust thus faces a dilemma. Either it renounces the monopolistic policies that motivated its founding; or it fails to exploit and expand its plant, with resultant high costs. It extricates itself from this dilemma by producing the full output that is economically feasible, thus securing low costs, and offering in the protected domestic market only the quantity corresponding to the monopoly price—insofar as the tariff permits; while the rest is sold, or "dumped," abroad at a lower price, sometimes (but not necessarily) below costs.

What happens when the entrepreneurs successfully pursue such a policy is something that did not occur in the case discussed so far—a conflict of interests between nations that becomes so sharp that it cannot be overcome by the existing basic community of interests.
This, Schumpeter continues, can set off a malignant drive toward militarization, imperialism, and colonialism, promoted by the tariff-spawned monopolists who need to dispose of their surplus goods. The target countries don't always acquiesce.
Thus we have here, within a social group that carries great political weight, a strong, undeniable economic interest in such things as protective tariffs, cartels, monopoly prices, forced exports (dumping), an aggressive economic policy, an aggressive foreign policy generally, and war, including wars of expansion with a typically imperialist character. Once this alignment of interests exists, an even stronger interest in a somewhat differently motivated expansion must be added, namely, an interest in the conquest of lands producing raw materials and foodstuffs, with a view to facilitating self-sufficient warfare.
What I would add here is that the "conquest" need not be old-style explicit colonization. It can be executed more subtly through a system of client states and friendly, beholden regimes (oiled by the IMF, World Bank, USAID, and arms sales), with "regime change" pulled off periodically when necessary.

The lesson? For the sake of peace, we need laissez faire.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Where Are the Isolationists?

President Bush’s State of the Union address was one odd speech indeed. Besides his silly statement about our being “addicted to oil” and his messianic declarations in response to the “call of history,” he referred to isolationism four different times. Who favors isolationism?
The rest of my latest op-ed, "Where Are the Isolationists?," is here at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Support the Troops and Innocents Be Damned?

I highly recommend this important post, "Randians on the Warpath," by Roderick Long at The Austro-Athenian Empire. It's a first-rate discussion about "supporting the troops" and the killing of innocents. Follow the links!

Monday, February 06, 2006

Render Unto Caesar

Since this was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's day at the Senate to defend George II's warrantless eavesdropping on Americans, I thought it might be instructive to revisit his previous attempt at defending the indefensible. Remember the rendition controversy? That's the administration's policy of sending suspected terrorists (or so they say; there have been "errors") to countries (e.g., Egypt and Syria) with governments not reluctant to inflict a little pain during interrogation. When the press got wind of this, the administration was, shall we say, embarrassed. In an interview almost a year ago Gonzales said, "Our policy is not to render people to countries where we believe or we know that they're going to be tortured." But he added, "We can't fully control what that country might do. We obviously expect a country to whom we have rendered a detainee to comply with their representation to us. If you're asking me, 'Does a country always comply?' I don't have an answer to that."

Remember the doubletalk when you read his defense of eavesdropping on Americans.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Penn Jillette: Anarchocapitalist?

Penn Jillette, the talkative half of the magic-comedy team Penn and Teller, is the subject of this article on Slate.com. Here's how he describes his late-night bull sessions with friend Paul Provenza, with whom he collaborated on the documentary The Aristocrats (which is about humor, not libertarianism): "We talk an awful lot about whether you have to stop at libertarianism or go onto to anarchocapitalism."

Hat tip: Jude Blanchette.

Islamo-Fascism and U.S. Intervention

David M. Brown at Blogcritics.org writes, "Whatever the full explanation may be, anyone who reads these stories and continues to claim that murderous Islamo-fascist antipathy toward the West and America is all or mostly about foreign policy, and would evaporate if only the governments of the West never acted militarily overseas, is not being altogether honest."

Impugning the honesty of those of us who see U.S. foreign policy as the chief instigator of Islamic violence against the West doesn't seem the best way to launch a debate salvo. But there you are. Brown contends that threats across the Middle East and Europe against the countries in which newspapers have published negative cartoons about Muhammad prove that the problem is Islamo-fascist culture, not merely Western intervention in the Middle East for the past 50 years.

"So, it's all about foreign policy? Tell it to the recipients of the latest Islamo-fascist death threats," Brown writes

A few points. Threatening violence against cartoonists, newspapers, and whole populations is monstrous, entitling potential victims to be on heightened guard against efforts to carry out such threats. Religious people who were really confident about their beliefs wouldn't  react that way to satire. Why is it not enough to believe that their just god personally will inflict divine retribution in the afterlife, if not sooner? I guess that's why they call it "faith."

But Brown has not proved his point. This inexcusable response to the cartooning comes against a backdrop of decades of war, bombings that killed innocents, and intervention at times openly on behalf of tyranny. Wars currently rage in two Muslim countries, and threats loom against others. Can we really be so sure that in fact it's not largely about foreign policy? It would be naïve to suggest that ending intervention in the Middle East would overnight bring the evaporation of anti-Western violence. Geniis are not returned to bottles so easily. But that does not mean that Western intervention has not been the chief factor in the origin of that violence.

Maybe Brown's right. But he'll have to do more to demonstrate it.

Hat tip: Kn@ppster.

Friday, February 03, 2006

This Is the Limited-Government Position

George II speaking at a 3M plant in Minnesota yesterday:
I think the role of government is to shape the future, not fear the future.

Go Figure II

When a person claims he hears God, he's labeled a schizophrenic.

When a president of the United States claims he hears the "call of history to deliver the oppressed," he's called a Wilsonian.

Perpetuating War by Exalting Its Sacrifices II

The other day I quoted a passage from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily. I repeat the quote today, with some additional material, because the newspapers are carrying this perfectly illustrative (AP) photo.

"I don't trust people who make bitter reflections about war, Mrs. Barham. It's always the generals with the bloodiest records who are the first to shout what a Hell it is. And it's always the widows who lead the Memorial Day parades . . . we shall never end wars, Mrs. Barham, by blaming it on ministers and generals or warmongering imperialists or all the other banal bogies. It's the rest of us who build statues to those generals and name boulevards after those ministers; the rest of us who make heroes of our dead and shrines of our battlefields. We wear our widows' weeds like nuns and perpetuate war by exalting its sacrifices. . . .

"My brother died at Anzio – an everyday soldier’s death, no special heroism involved. They buried what pieces they found of him. But my mother insists he died a brave death and pretends to be very proud. . . . [N]ow my other brother can’t wait to reach enlistment age. That’ll be in September. May be ministers and generals who blunder us into wars, but the least the rest of us can do is to resist honoring the institution. What has my mother got for pretending bravery was admirable? She’s under constant sedation and terrified she may wake up one morning and find her last son has run off to be brave."

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Bush's Confession

Did anyone notice that George II admitted that his Middle East policy will fail? It was right there near the beginning of his State of the Union address, when he said, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world." He then promised to lay thick subsidies on corporations so they can find us alternatives to iffy oil.

But isn't his policy of shock, awe, and regime change supposed to bring all things wondrous – including stability – to the oil states? Did he let something slip here? Maybe the Hamas electoral victory had an effect on him.

Happy Birthday...

...Ayn Rand.

A good way to observe the occasion and achieve a subtle understanding of Rand is to read Roderick Long's posts here and here and Chris Sciabarra's here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A Very Scary Speech

Some reactions to George II's State of the Union address:

He still can't say nu-cle-ar.

He says, "America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. [Only 11 percent comes from the Persian Gulf.] The best way to break this addiction is through technology." I don't like to see the word "addiction" applied even to drugs because it implies passivity. So it is inappropriate for the American use of oil. The fact is that by a combination of oil's nature and U.S. government intervention, Americans use oil because it appears economically sensible to do so. It's hardly an addiction. Let's fully deregulate the economy, adopt a noninterventionist foreign policy, and internalize all costs -- and we'll see what happens. In fact, we don't know what a truly free energy and transportation industry would look like. So Bush shouldn't be trying to imagine it and bringing his vision to fruition through subsidies and whatnot. That will be a disaster, although it will make big bucks for the well-connected companies that get the contracts.

He's only partly right when he says technology is the best way to end the use of oil (assuming that's really a good idea). But he left out the most important part: free, unsubsidized competition. Give someone enough taxpayer money and he will come up with a technological alternative to oil. Big deal. The real trick is to come up with an alternative that makes economic sense. The only way to know which technologies make economic sense and which do not is to let the market process play out without state regulation or benefit. In other words, no privileges for anyone. All costs internalized. Laissez faire, laissez passer.

Obviously George II has something else in mind. Did you see all the subsidies in his speech? Take a look. Okay, I'll save you the trouble.
So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

We must also change how we power our automobiles.

We will increase our research in better batteries for hybrid and electric cars and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.

We will also fund additional research in cutting-edge methods of producing ethanol, not just from corn but from wood chips and stalks or switch grass.

Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years.
The government contractors are licking their chops. Corporatist central planning is alive and well.

I know all presidents do this, but I -- I! -- was surprised by how aggressively nationalist, tribal, and collectivist George II was in the speech. Some samples:
We will choose to build our prosperity by leading the world economy. . . .

The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure the peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership. So the United States of America will continue to lead.

Here at home, America also has a great opportunity: We will build the prosperity of our country by strengthening our economic leadership in the world.

In a dynamic world economy, we are seeing new competitors like China and India. [Emphasis added; what does he mean by "we"? If a Chinese or Indian firm wants to sell me things I value, it is not my competitor.]

Tonight I will set out a better path: an agenda for a nation that competes with confidence . . . . [Emphasis added; the nation is not an economic entity.]

Americans should not fear our economic future, because we intend to shape it. [This sounds ominous. What if others don't wished to be shaped?]

Keeping America competitive requires us to open more markets for all that Americans make and grow. [The history of the U.S. government's opening of foreign markets is not pretty.]

With open markets and a level playing field, no one can out-produce or out-compete the American worker. [Unpacking that ominous sentence would take a dissertation. Does he really believe no non-American can out-produce any American?]

Well, you get the idea. And I didn't even cover the national-security part of the speech.