Thursday, January 31, 2008

Political Stimulus

Not understanding basic economics is dangerous because you’re vulnerable to political con games foisted by unscrupulous politicians.

Economics properly conceived is just common sense about human activity. An examination of the proposed economic stimulus will make this clear.

The rest of my op-ed, "Political Stimulus," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Catching Up

I've been on the road and Free Association is one of the things I've neglected. Here's an attempt to catch up:
"It's like taking a bucket of water from the deep end of a pool and dumping it into the shallow end. Funny thing -- the water in the shallow end doesn't get any deeper."

That's how George Mason University economist Russell Roberts describes the logic -- rather, illogic -- of the economic "stimulus" proposals that everyone and his uncle are proposing.

The rest of last week's TGIF, "An Unstimulating Idea," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Republican presidential contender Ron Paul certainly deserves credit for putting the foreign policy of noninterventionism into the public debate. It’s about time. For decades U.S. presidents have sought to manage the world in behalf of what they call “American interests,” and all it has brought is death, mayhem, anti-Americanism, and a price tag that would blow the average citizen’s mind if he fully grasped it.

Yes, the time for this debate is long overdue. Unfortunately, the quality of the debate on the other side is pathetic.

The rest of my latest op-ed, "Pathetic Arguments for Foreign Intervention," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Martin Luther King, Jr., Day

We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany.
--Martin Luther King, Jr., "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Recent Writings

The writer Michael Kinsley is very intelligent. He is also very glib, and his glibness often gets in the way of his intelligence. The expression "too clever by half" seems to have been coined for him. This is most obvious when he writes about the libertarian philosophy, as he did recently for the Washington Post website.
The rest of the latest TGIF, "Those Too-Consistent Libertarians," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Consistent advocates of individual liberty often point out that government restrictions on free immigration violate the rights of people not born in the United States. Not only are they denied their freedom to move and improve their lot in life, but if they make it into the United States, they are subjected to police-state raids and exploitation because their illegal status denies them access to justice.

While the immigrants themselves bear the brunt of U.S. immigration policy and will suffer even more regardless of who becomes president next year, they are not the only victims. Additional victims are to be found among American citizens.

The rest of my latest op-ed, "More Victims of Immigration Control," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Ron Paul: The Lost Opportunity?

Ron Paul has done an immense amount of good in promoting the pro-freedom, anti-war, and anti-empire message. To be sure, it is not pure libertarianism. To get a sense of what he has accomplished, however, you should read Brian Doherty's cover story in the February Reason magazine. Here's a key part, describing an appearance in Iowa:
[I]t's all classic Ron Paul: Get rid of the income tax and replace it with nothing; find the money to support those dependent on Social Security and Medicare by shutting down the worldwide empire, while giving the young a path out of the programs; don't pass a draft; have a foreign policy of friendship and trade, not wars and subsidies. He attacks the drug war, condemning the idea of arresting people who have never harmed anyone else's person or property. He stresses [note well] the disproportionate and unfair treatment minorities get from drug law enforcement. One of his biggest applause lines, to my astonishment, involves getting rid of the Federal Reserve....

He wraps up the speech with three things he doesn't want to do that sum up the Ron Paul message First, "I don't want to run your life. We all have different values. I wouldn't know how to do it, I don't have the authority under the Constitution, and I don't have the moral right." Second: "I don't want to run the economy. People run the economy in a free society." And third: " I don't want to run the world.... We don't need to be imposing ourselves around the world."

Doherty goes on to note, "Paul does not mention abortion or immigration...."

(I am glad he stresses that the drug war is an atrocity, with members of minorities bearing the brunt. But even here there is ambiguity. Does he oppose only the federal drug war? Or would he oppose prohibition by the states too. He is not always clear. Often he says it's a state matter.)

I quote this at length because most of us have never heard Ron Paul's stump speech. It is clear to me that if you only see Ron Paul on cable news or in televised debates, you do not get the full picture of his campaign.

Having said this, there are obviously areas where Ron Paul does not take anything close to the libertarian position. Immigration is one example. (I'll leave aside the especially contentious abortion issue, except to say I disagree with Ron Paul.) My views on immigration are readily available on the web, so I won't rehash them here. It seems to me Ron Paul takes the position he does because of his attachment to national sovereignty, about which more below. Let me point out just one difficulty that his position creates for the rest of his pro-freedom philosophy. Ron Paul has promised to pardon everyone who has been convicted of nonviolent drug offenses. In other words, he doesn't think one should be punished for breaking the drug laws. I assume he believes that legislation which violates the natural law of liberty is illegitimate. That's a proper libertarian position. Logically, he should also promise to pardon anyone who has violated the immigration laws because, like the drug laws, they are state restrictions on behavior that violates no one's person or property. Moreover, he has praised the civil disobedience of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks. Ron Paul needs to reconcile this contradiction. To his credit, he opposes a national ID and a wall on the border. I presume he would oppose eminent domain to force property owners on the Texas-Mexican border to let a wall be built.

Ron Paul has taken other positions, or at least implied other positions, that conflict with his overall message. If you look at the issues list at his campaign website you will find no section on international trade. Trade is mentioned only in the section on "American Independence and Sovereignty." In that section you find the words "I like free trade," both in print and in a video, but that is all he says in favor of free trade. They are overshadowed by his Lou Dobbs-style remarks condemning the the multinational organizations that threaten "our independence as a nation." On the site and in the debates he never explicitly distinguishes free trade and its undeniable benefits from those organizations. He never praises imports and open markets or points out that exports are the price we pay for goods from abroad. He never embraces the international division of labor. The overall message is one of suspicion of engagement with foreigners. Nowhere do you get a sense that NAFTA and WTO are bad because they may stand in the way of total free trade. You certainly don't hear calls for a unilateral and unconditional repeal of all U.S. trade restrictions.

Ron Paul's position on trade is not helped by his alarm on the alleged NAFTA highway, which he describes as part of a government plan to dissolve the borders within North America. Suffice it say that there is no such plot. (See this.) It's great to oppose eminent domain, but it's damaging to hitch that cause to imagined blueprints for a super North American government. In other respects, however, dissolving the political borders would be a good thing because that would permit free trade and free movement.

Ron Paul is also doing a poor job of presenting the free-market position on medicine. His website has some generally good, if vague, statements, but how many people read them? When he's been asked about medical care on television, he sounds anything but libertarian. Mostly I've heard him say that if we weren't spending billions of dollars on the empire "we could take care of our people at home." That Dennis Kucinich's line. Maybe he means the money could be left in the taxpayers' pockets, but he never says that.

Look at the opportunity he's missing. He's a doctor! He should be pointing out that pervasive government regulation of medicine and insurance has virtually destroyed the medical marketplace. I've heard him say nothing to debunk the calls for a government-paid system, mandatory insurance, or the other unlibertarian positions the other candidates take.

He's missing another opportunity with energy. In response to the fascist central planning of energy proposed by the other GOP candidates, Ron Paul said ... nothing. There are great free-market lessons to be drawn. Why isn't he drawing them?

This reminds me a general point. Ron Paul's position on empire and the Fed are great. I'm glad he pounds away at them because they outrageously burden regular people. Moreover, he is right to point out that these issues affect many others. But he can go too far in doing that. The erosion of the dollar certainly is part of the explanation for why medical care and energy are more costly. But there are specific reasons as well, such as regulation. If all Ron Paul does is tie every issue back to empire and the Fed, people will think he knows nothing of other issues. They may even doubt his single-cause explanation for all the ills in the world.

I don't think I am nitpicking. Medical care, trade, and energy are issues people talk about. In the debate the other night, Mitt Romney promised to "protect every job in America." Where was Ron Paul? There is no reason not to clearly endorse free markets here. He should be channeling Henry Hazlitt. No one should mistake Ron Paul for Lou Dobbs or Pat Buchanan.

Ron Paul did not do well in what is regarded as the most libertarian state in the U.S., New Hampshire. That may signal the end of the campaign, although surprises could lie ahead, in Nevada possibly. If the campaign goes on, there is time to make adjustments so that the program is even more clearly pro-freedom. I don't fault him for his emphasis on constitutionalism. One cannot treat a presidential campaign as a seminar in the fundamentals of libertarianism. Ron Paul is using the Constitution as short hand for limiting government power. I have strong reservations about that approach, but I can understand it in an election appeal. It's for the rest of us to fill out the story for those newly interested in the libertarian philosophy.

I've left the newsletter scandal for last, and here things get difficult. I doubt that Ron Paul ever held the odious views expressed in those newsletters. No one has come forward to claim that Ron Paul has ever spoken that way. Those views are certainly not reflected in his platform. My hunch is that over the years he has put his confidence in the wrong people. He may have had a sense of what was going on, but did not want to know the details. This doesn't absolve him of responsibility, but it does mean that he is not to be put in the same category as the author(s) and anyone else who had a hand in putting out such garbage in his name.

That said, I wish Ron Paul would more fully explain what went on. When did he first learn of the offensive material and what did he do about it? Most important, are the people responsible still advising him? He wouldn't even have to name names to answer these questions.

I continue to think that Ron Paul's campaign can make a contribution to the cause of freedom. As I've written before, it helps if libertarians speak the language of the people around them. "Ron Paul" still means: End the war now and expand freedom by shrinking the government. Yet I remain concerned over the newsletter issue. This is not a matter of getting to the bottom of the episode or rendering judgment on Ron Paul. It's bigger than that. It's about protecting the libertarian philosophy and movement from association with bigotry. That is no small matter. Ron Paul has made himself a portal to libertarianism. His campaign has become a first contact with the movement for many people. It would be a disaster if just as people were discovering it they were given reason to associate it with racism and other bigotry. People make nonrational associations all the time. Most people don't have the time to systematically study the libertarian philosophy and its noble heritage. They will form impressions based on things that drift into their range of vision, not taking the time to go below the surface. Hopefully, the newcomers who hear about the newsletters and then hear Ron Paul's repudiation of the views expressed will believe him and not associate racism and anti-gay sentiment with libertarians. But we can't count on that. So the rest of us will have to find ways to explain that those views represent the opposite of libertarianism.

Ron Paul could help by giving a more complete explanation.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

What Next for Ron Paul?

The New Republic article about Ron Paul that has the libertarian blogosphere abuzz is here. The campaign's response is here.

This is all very troubling. I don't know Ron Paul well, but the language in these newsletters does not sound like him, nor is it consistent with other things he has said over the years. He has condemned racism as collectivist (although admittedly, he has usually followed this statement with a condemnation only of affirmative action) and he has praised Rosa Parks and, I believe, Martin Luther King. He has condemned the "war on drugs" as mainly a war on minorities.

Ron Paul says that he did not write the offensive material, that he had in effect contracted the newsletter out to someone else. Apparently the identify of the ghost writer is well known to some people. See this. In this post Wendy McElroy appeals to the ghost writer: "Will you now do the decent thing for libertarianism and come forward to acknowledge responsibility for the material being used against your mentor?" Good question.

I have no trouble believing that the newsletter was ghost-written. But how could Ron Paul have let the author of this sewage get away with it for so long? He was so busy delivering babies that he never had a clue what was being said in a newsletter bearing his name? This does not speak well of him.

What now? I was tempted to say that with Ron Paul's poor showing in New Hampshire, it doesn't much matter now. But that is wrong. Ron Paul has done a great service in bringing libertarianism (however watered down and distorted as constitutionalism) plus anti-imperialism to a new audience. It would be a catastrophe if these people were now put off by the material quoted in TNR. That is why the damage must be repaired at once. I second Wendy McElroy's appeal. Not for the sake of Ron Paul or the campaign, but for the sake of the libertarian movement.

I recommend Radley Balko's post here.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Nice Job, Ron!

Ron Paul did admirably well in the ABC presidential forum last night. He got some sure shots in against the empire, sharp enough that Rudy Giuliani felt he needed to respond. His response, of course, was absurd. For example he believes that evidence against Ron Paul's blowback explanation for 9/11 lies in the fact that Islamic radicals want to subvert "moderate" Arab regimes! What moderate Arab regimes? The Saudi monarchy? Egypt's dictatorship? Ron Paul quickly shot back that the U.S. has supported oppressive rulers in the Arab world for years.

He made good points about government's destruction of the dollar when answering questions about oil and medical prices. But he was badly ambiguous (at best) when he said that the medically uninsured would be better off if all that money wasn't being spent on empire. This could have left the impression that he favors government paying for medical care. He might have made other points on these subjects, such as that a truly free market will find alternatives to oil when necessary and that the medical and insurance industries are problems because they are already thoroughly dominated by government.

His worst moment was, of course, immigration. But at least he attacked the national ID card. He deserves much credit for that.

Not a bad night overall.

Naturally, ABC paid only as much attention to him as necessary. The network had a reporter assigned to each candidate's camp -- except, apparently, to Ron Paul's. After the debate, each reporter related his candidate's spin on the debate performance, but we heard nothing about the Paul camp.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

Hands Off Pakistan

"The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was not an attack on this brave woman alone; it was an attack upon democracy, freedom and the United States." This statement by Asa Hutchinson, former undersecretary of homeland security, was typical of the reaction of the American political and media establishments.

The claim that the assassination was an attack on democracy and freedom is dubious because Bhutto’s two spells as prime minister of Pakistan were not notable for either one. Whether it was an attack on the United States depends on what that means. It certainly was not an attack on the American people. How could it be construed that way, unless one has such an imperialist notion of "our interests" that nothing can happen in the world without impinging on them?

But if by “United States” we mean the policies of the current administration, then indeed it was such an attack. Bhutto, after all, favored bringing U.S. military forces into Pakistan, according to Michael Scheuer, a former CIA analyst and region specialist. If that’s an option President Bush planned to exercise, the loss of Bhutto is a grave blow to his policy.

The rest of my op-ed "Hands Off Pakistan" is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Go, Obama!

Since the presidential campaign began, I have felt myself favoring Obama over Clinton. I wasn't exactly sure why. Yes, Obama has opposed the Iraq war all along, while Clinton voted for it and would keep troops there. But Obama's foreign policy is distinctly not noninterventionist. He's ready to invade Pakistan with or without Musharraf's permission. (I'm against it either way.) And he obviously does not plan to withdraw from the Middle East. Domestically, I can't see any important distinction between him and Clinton.

So it may come down to more ethereal things. Unlike Obama, Clinton acts like a woman driven by power lust. (Obama may lust for power too, but he doesn't come across that way.) Clinton displayed this the day after she humiliatingly lost Iowa. "I am ready to lead!" she shouted to her supporters.

Yes, that is the problem.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Paul Krugman, Doctor of (Bad) Economics

Paul Krugman, the New York Times op-ed writer, has a Ph.D. in economics. Those three magic letters give him an air of authority, as if they represent a valuable accomplishment, yet somehow he manages to consistently give bad economic advice in his twice-weekly column. Go figure.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Paul Krugman, Doctor of (Bad) Economics," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

The Illegal-Immigration Issue in a Nutshell

Respect for the law is due only to laws that warrant respect -- namely, those that reflect the natural law of justice.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

The Slippery Slope of Intellectual "Property" Law

"[T]he [recording] industry maintains that it is illegal for someone who has legally purchased a CD to transfer that music into his computer.

"The industry's lawyer in the case, Ira Schwartz, argues in a brief filed earlier this month that the MP3 files [Jeffrey] Howell [of Scottsdale, Ariz.] made on his computer from legally bought CDs are 'unauthorized copies' of copyrighted recordings."
--Washington Post, Dec. 30, 2007

Hat tip: Jacob Hornberger

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Happy New Year!

Let us hope, against the odds, that 2008 is a year of peace, happiness, good health, and prosperity.