Available Now! (click cover)

America's Counter-Revolution
The Constitution Revisited

From the back cover:

This book challenges the assumption that the Constitution was a landmark in the struggle for liberty. Instead, Sheldon Richman argues, it was the product of a counter-revolution, a setback for the radicalism represented by America’s break with the British empire. Drawing on careful, credible historical scholarship and contemporary political analysis, Richman suggests that this counter-revolution was the work of conservatives who sought a nation of “power, consequence, and grandeur.” America’s Counter-Revolution makes a persuasive case that the Constitution was a victory not for liberty but for the agendas and interests of a militaristic, aristocratic, privilege-seeking ruling class.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

German Physicists Reject Greenhouse Effect

I'm not a climate scientist. I don't even play one on TV. There do seem to be serious problems with the catastrophic anthropogenic global-warming (AGW) thesis, but I remain an agnostic, and I refuse to use political-economic criteria to judge scientific credibility.

Nevertheless, this interesting article about German physicists who insist that AGW is bunk is worth reading.

From the physicists' paper:

(a) there are no common physical laws between the warming phenomenon in glass houses and the fictitious atmospheric greenhouse effects, (b) there are no calculations to determine an average surface temperature of a planet, (c) the frequently mentioned difference of 33 degrees Celsius is a meaningless number calculated wrongly, (d) the formulas of cavity radiation are used inappropriately, (e) the assumption of a radiative balance is unphysical, (f) thermal conductivity and friction must not be set to zero, the atmospheric greenhouse conjecture is falsified.

HT: Brad Spangler

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Hoist by His Own Petard

Tibor Machan takes John Stossel to task for not espousing the pure libertarian position during his recent Fox Business Network show on the health-insurance overhaul. A proponent of Obamacare, Russel Mokhiber, challenged Stossel, an opponent of government-run medicine, by asking if he also opposes government parks and schools. Machan is unhappy with how Stossel responded, because instead of invoking the libertarian principle against government parks and schools, Stossel said "the issue is big versus limited government."
[S]o that in the last analysis [Machan writes] John Stossel and [guest] John Mackey were trapped in a dilemma: they either embrace a pure libertarian position in which there is no room for any wealth redistribution and public works--everything must be privatized apart from the judicial system and the military--or they have to accept the socialist health-care proposals of the liberal Democrats, better known as Obamacare, as just another task the government can take over.
But hold on. Machan is stuck in his own dilemma. If he opposes socialist health care, why does he favor a socialist judicial system and military? As he says, "It isn't the size of government, really, that is of concern but its proper scope." He's right. But why does he want a government whose scope includes the judiciary and military?

He responds, "Matters pertaining to the protection of the basic and derivative rights of the citizenry are the government's purview but nothing else, including parks, forests, lakes, roads and so forth."

This seems wholly arbitrary. What does it mean to say that protecting rights is the government's purview? Historically that has not been the case; government has been the greater killer of liberty. Rulers may have claimed they were protecting people, but that doesn't make it true or proper, since it routinely coerced innocents in the process. More fundamentally, who says that rights protection is government's--and only government's--purview? Is that carved on a tablet somewhere?

Machan might say that everything but judicial and military (by which I presume he means bona fide defense) functions can be provided in the competitive market. But that's mere assertion, belied by theory and history.

Enforced monopoly is bad for everything--except the production of security? Why?

Gustave de Molinari thought this through more clearly:
It offends reason to believe that a well established natural law can admit of exceptions. A natural law must hold everywhere and always, or be invalid. I cannot believe, for example, that the universal law of gravitation, which governs the physical world, is ever suspended in any instance or at any point of the universe. Now I consider economic laws comparable to natural laws, and I have just as much faith in the principle of the division of labor as I have in the universal law of gravitation. I believe that while these principles can be disturbed, they admit of no exceptions.

But, if this is the case, the production of security should not be removed from the jurisdiction of free competition; and if it is removed, society as a whole suffers a loss.

Either this is logical and true, or else the principles on which economic science is based are invalid...

In the entire world, there is not a single establishment of the security industry that is not based on monopoly or on communism.

In this connection, we add, in passing, a simple remark.

Political economy has disapproved equally of monopoly and communism in the various branches of human activity, wherever it has found them. Is it not then strange and unreasonable that it accepts them in the security industry?

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Kindle DRM Cracked


A blow for freedom...

From BBC News:

Hacker cracks Kindle's copyright

An Israeli hacker claims to have broken the copyright protection on Amazon's Kindle e-reader, reports say.

The hack will allow the ebooks stored on the reader to be transferred as pdf files to any other device.

The hacker, known as Labba, responded to a challenge posted on Israeli hacking forum, hacking.org.

It is the latest in a series of Digital Rights Management hacks, the most famous being the reverse engineering of iTunes.

The Kindle e-book reader has been very successful since it was launched in the US in 2007.

Amazon hopes to have sold a million devices by the end of the year.

It leaves it to individual publishers whether they want to apply DRM but books in its main proprietary format .azw, cannot be transferred to other devices.

It did not immediately respond to the news but it is likely it will attempt to patch its DRM software.

DRM has long divided opinion. While rights holders regard it as a crucial tool to protect copyright, consumers tend to hate it because it limits what can be done with content.

"DRM is not an effective way of preventing copying nor is it a good way of making sales. There isn't a customer out there saying 'what I need is an electronic book that does less," novelist and co-editor of the Boing Boing blog Cory Doctorow told the BBC when the Kindle was launched.

As soon as a new DRM system is active, hackers begin to try and break it.

Most famously Jon Lech Johansen, known as DVD Jon, cracked the copy protection on DVDs in 1999.

He went on to break the copyright protection on iTunes, leading Apple to offer DRM-free music.

DVD Jon now runs a company with an application to take the pain out of moving different types of content between devices.

Karl Hess -- Just Because


Karl Hess -- friend, mentor, libertarian folk hero

Click photo for bio. And don't forget "The Death of Politics."

Do You Really Want to Know?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

On DDT, Global Warming, Junk Science, and Libertarians

Kevin Carson has some interesting things to say about DDT, global warming, junk science, and libertarians: here. (I'm more skeptical about anthropogenic catastrophic global warming than he is -- but I'm not climate scientist and I refuse to choose which scientists to believe on the basis of their political-economic convictions.)

Check out the comments section, too, if you have the stomach for it. Hang in there, Kevin!

Curiously Missing Words

Compare this sentence from Barack Obama's Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of the military of a nation in the midst of two wars.
with how it was posted at MSNBC's website:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars.
So-called progressives couldn't stand the thought that George W. Bush was commander-in-chief of the country -- neither could I -- but they have no problem with Obama's filling that position. "We're awaiting our orders, sir!" Of course Obama had it right. The Constitution says the president runs the military not the country.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Leave the "Left" Behind?

In the comments section of my recent post on Kevin Carson's new book, the value of the "left" prefix in "left libertarian" was questioned. I responded that there are historical reasons that makes the prefix valid. The terms left and right come from the French National Assembly after the 1789 revolution. The right side was populated with defenders of mercantilism and aristocracy, while the left, where Bastiat and Proudhon sat, were liberals and republicans (loosely defined, of course; it was a disparate group, including state socialists). Thus radical liberals were among the original leftists.

There are also good strategic reasons for associating libertarianism with the left and not with the right. The modern movement has, despite futile protests that we are "neither left nor right," been placed on the right as sort of a hip variant of conservatism. Some of this comes from the observers' lack of perceptiveness, but much of it is the movement's own fault. A good deal of libertarian commentary sounds like corporate apologetics. Kevin Carson's term "vulgar libertarianism" -- the attitude that despite government intervention, business today is essentially what it would be in a free market -- is valuable because it identifies a serious and alarming phenomenon.

Being tagged "right-wing" has not helped the libertarian movement. It's hurt. How so? By making libertarians appear indifferent to real misery. We need not deny that general living standards have certainly increased over the decades when we acknowledge that corporatist intervention in the economy has real, not just theoretical, victims. Many people in the United States still live and work in crappy conditions -- and it's not always their fault. Government creates unemployment, abominable "schools," and unlivable inner cities. It erects barriers to self-employment and unorthodox forms of enterprise. It inflates what Charles Johnson calls the fixed costs of subsistence -- the minimum price of decent housing and food is artificially high, and various interventions (zoning and other land-use controls, artificial land scarcity, government economic development, road subsidies) make owning a car nearly indispensable. Let's not forget building codes, patents, trade restrictions, licensing, ubiquitous taxes, and the rest of the weights that government imposes on people.

In sum, the State cuts off the lower rungs of the ladder and pushes people into an oligopsonistic labor market, subjecting many to ugly conditions and arbitrary authority that likely could not endure in a truly free and competitive economy where alternative self-employment and small-scale farming would be unburdened by government.

When libertarians mimic conservatives and address this hardship by saying in effect, "Tough shit," they stifle the growth of the libertarian movement. It's as if they were saying: This is an upper-middle-class college-educated corporate-oriented white movement. No others need apply.

I want no part of that libertarian movement. I prefer the one envisioned by Richard Cobden, John Bright, Frederic Bastiat, Thomas Hodgskin, Herbert Spencer, Lysander Spooner, Benjamin Tucker, Voltairine de Cleyre, Karl Hess, Murray Rothbard (at times), and others who saw true liberalism as a movement for working people and the disfranchised as well.

Lots of people feel pushed around by big institutions, government and otherwise. They should! We need to speak to those people. What's to lose? There's so much to gain.

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Empires Crumble

From the "Sign of the Times" Dept., courtesy of the Wall Street Journal:
Militants in Iraq have used $26 off-the-shelf software to intercept live video feeds from U.S. Predator drones, potentially providing them with information they need to evade or monitor U.S. military operations.
The U.S. government says it will fix the problem, but my money would be on the leap-frogging hackers scattered around the world.

By the way, we should stop the equating enemies of the U.S. occupation forces with enemies of the American people.

TGIF: Workers of the World Unite for a Free Market

People typically become libertarians because they favor individualism and abhor seeing themselves and others abused. Unfortunately, nonlibertarians don’t know this. They think libertarians are simply pro-business (and anti-labor). We can set the record straight by acknowledging that government-business collusion hurts working people.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Carson: Good Reading!

I'm reading Kevin Carson's Organization Theory: A Libertarian Perspective, and I couldn't be more enthusiastic about it. I'll have more to report in the coming weeks, but for now let me leave it at this: When I read Carson I get have the same positive reaction I used to get when reading or listening to my libertarian hero and friend the late Karl Hess.

P.S. I can't resist saying a bit more. I'm not far into the hefty book yet, but what I have covered confirms through massive evidence what my previous reading led me to believe: that the modern American economy is far more the product of government-business collusion than of free markets. Contrary to the way free-marketeers tend to talk, we don't have an essentially free economy except for a thin interventionist crust that needs to be scraped away. Instead, intervention is woven deeply throughout the economic fabric. Thus our economy would have looked very different had laissez faire been the rule. We can't undo what has been done, of course, but if all privilege and intervention were abolished, the economy would evolve in a radically different direction than if the State's favors stay in place.

Libertarians really need to come to grips with this if we are to make a contribution to the continuing debate over political economy. If we keep sounding like Lawrence Kudlow and Ben Stein, we will be irrelevant. And we should be.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Obama in Oslo

Roderick Long's commentary on Obama's acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize is not to be missed. Here it is.

Friday, December 11, 2009

TGIF: Perverse Health Care Incentives

The common impulse for “health care reform” is entirely honorable. It is distressing to know that so many people are vulnerable to bankruptcy-threatening medical bills or to raw deals from State-cartelized insurance companies. Who wouldn’t change that if he could? The question is: Which approach has a better chance of changing it? Centralized bureaucratic decision-making by self-serving politicians and their “private sector” patrons? Or decentralized, cooperative, entrepreneurial efforts to satisfy cost-conscious, freely choosing consumers?
The full TGIF is here.

Op-ed: There's No Such Thing as a Free Mammogram

Read my latest FFF op-ed here.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Patents: End Them. Don't Mend Them

Freeman authors David Levine and Michele Boldrin call for an end to patents in this Christian Science Monitor article. A taste:

[I]ntellectual property does not increase innovation and creation. Extending IP rights may modestly boost the incentive for innovation, but this positive effect is wiped away by the negative effect of creating monopolies. There is simply no evidence that strengthening patent regimes increases innovation or economic productivity. In fact, some evidence shows that increased protection even decreases innovation. The main finding is that making it easier to get patents increases … patenting!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Scott Horton Interview

I was Scott Horton's Antiwar Radio guest recently to talk about libertarian class analysis. You can listen to or download the show here.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Proudhonian Corollary

Government is the mother, not the daughter, of disorder.

Friday, December 04, 2009

TGIF: Snow Job Summit

What are the odds that yesterday’s White House jobs summit will lead to the creation of any real jobs? The summit was based on the magic theory of government: Say the right incantations and reality will be reshaped according to one’s desires. There are no economic laws. There is only will. If we all think good thoughts and exude the spirit of cooperation, we’ll end these hard times and get the economy moving again.

This is the sign of a primitive mentality. In reality economic laws exist, reality sets limits, and good feelings can’t create prosperity out of nothing, especially when government stubbornly stands in the way.

The rest of this week's TGIF is here.

Op-ed: Kill the Insurance Mandate

Everyone who believes he lives in a free country should be asking himself, By what authority do the Congress and the president force me to buy insurance?
My latest FFF op-ed is here.

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Civil War President

Barack Obama's intensification of the occupation of Afghanistan is nothing less than a full commitment to one side in the civil war raging there. What he calls a threat of a Taliban takeover is actually a Pashtun resistance to the U.S. occupation and the corrupt Karzai government it backs. Obama's and Hillary Clinton's spin cannot change those facts.

Obama's story isn't even coherent. Al-Qaeda is in Pakistan, he says, not Afghanistan. (Obama's speech said nothing about the continuing "secret" drone assault that the U.S. military is conducting there. See this and this.) Yet he insists that we must see Afghanistan through because that's where the 9/11 attacks were planned. Well, not actually. You can just as easily say they were planned in Germany and Florida. Why are those terrorist sanctuaries not feeling the wrath of the U.S. military?

Obama vows to defeat al-Qaeda, but what does that mean in the case of a highly decentralized "organization" under whose banner anyone anywhere may claim to be operating? How do you defeat an idea?

Obama promises that U.S. forces will begin leaving in July 2011--maybe, depending on conditions on the ground.

Our only hope is that opposition will keep growing--where is that antiwar movement anyway?--and that the looming 2012 presidential election will prompt Obama to get out.

But in the meantime, Afghan people, expect more U.S.-sponsored violence, more maimed and dead babies and children, compliments of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

I don't know about you, but I don't regard someone as my enemy merely because he refuses to recognize the legitimacy of Karzai's gang.

Friday, November 27, 2009

TGIF: The Power to Tax is the Power

The authority for forcing us to buy health insurance is said to be the Commerce Clause and the taxing power. TGIF looks at these claims.

Read TGIF here.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

America: Corporate State

At ThinkMarkets, Gerald O’Driscoll, building on a Wall Street Journal column by George Melloan, describes how Fed policy is leading America further down the corporatist road. Here’s a sample:

Melloan doesn’t state it, but there is a name for this economic policy: corporatism. Big government favors selected big business and rewards big labor as a junior partner. It’s not socialism, but the economic component of a fascist political program. Credit administered on a favorable terms is the narcotic that anesthetizes businessmen to the creeping government control of their firms. To paraphrase Lenin, government seizes control of the commanding heights of the economy.

After the loss of economic liberty, can political liberty survive? As Melloan concludes, “it’s not unlike what we witnessed in the depression of the 1930s.”

Serious stuff with far-ranging consequences.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mysteries of the Universe

If I bribe a congressman, it’s a crime. If a congressman bribes a congressman, it’s glorious democracy in action.

Friday, November 20, 2009

TGIF

Want to know how the politicians justify forcing us to buy health insurance? I discuss their screwball grounds in this week’s TGIF.

"She Left Me for Jesus"

Hayes Carll's great song and video

Progressives Against Free Speech?

I have no desire to take Glenn Beck's side, but there's something noteworthy here nonetheless. Last night on "Countdown with Keith Olbermann," Arianna Huffington of the Huffington Post suggested that Glenn Beck might properly be silenced by the State. She claimed that an exception to the free-speech doctrine is yelling "fire" in a crowded theater and that Beck every day commits the political equivalent of yelling "fire." A few minutes later she sort of backed off, saying that while he may not be legally liable if his viewers commit violence, he would be morally liable. Olbermann ate this stuff up.

Of course, Huffington got it wrong. The "fire in the crowded theater" matter is not an exception to free speech but a recognition of property rights, of which free speech is but a derivative. There's no right to "free speech" on someone else's property. If you buy a theater ticket and then endanger the audience by falsely yelling "fire," you have (among other things) violated the terms of your being in the theater. There's no need to claim an exception to the free-speech doctrine. Properly conceived, free speech is ultimately a property right.

What's with the progressives? Now that their guy is in power, are they ready to throw out civil liberties so flagrantly?

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Freeman, December 2009, Now Online

Click on the cover on the right. For a blowup of the cover click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Trial for Cory Maye!

From a Facebook note by Radley Balko:

"Cory Maye gets a new trial!"

We're awaiting details.

If you want background on the case, click on the "Free Cory Maye" link in the right column.

War Crimes or Only Crimes

Why are conservatives (and some others) so bent on treating the atrocities committed on September 11, 2001, as acts of war rather than monstrous crimes? They don't look like acts of war. They were not launched by an aggressor nation with the intention of invading and conquering the United States, or overthrowing the government. Despite the enormity of the crimes, the viability of our society is not at risk in the least. Life has gone on rather normally, even allowing for all the ways politicians have exploited the situation in their quest for power. There just seems no good reason to respond by pretending "America is at war." Indeed, the reasons against this response could fill volumes.

So why the insistence that this is war? I think one big reason is that conservatives are, first and foremost, nationalists, and nothing makes nationalism (a form of collectivism) more real than war. Throw in the doctrine of "American exceptionalism" and you have a rationalization for an open-ended "war on terror" in which the world is the battlefield and civil liberties are a luxury we just can't afford.

The war footing also makes it easier to take attention off U.S. interventionist foreign policy, which has seeded the ground for terrorism directed at Americans. One need not excuse the inexcusable acts of September 11 to see how they fit into the big picture. Every empire was struck by terrorists because terrorism is the only low-cost means of retribution available to those who feel aggrieved by imperialism. Most Americans have no clue about what "their" government has been doing in the Middle East for the last couple of generations. It takes shocking ignorance or willful blindness to regard the United States as a gentle sleeping giant until September 11.

So . . . try the criminals in civilian courts. Meanwhile, bring the troops, the CIA, and the meddling diplomats home so this doesn't happen again.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Health Insurance Scam

How can you get insurance for a volitional act? Regardless of one’s position on abortion, there is no denying that it is something a woman chooses. It doesn’t happen without her initiative and consent. My objective here is not moral judgment but precision. For all kinds of reasons a pregnant woman might feel she needs an abortion, but that does not change the fact that it is an action not a happening (as Thomas Szasz would put it).

The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day

As I've done many times before, I quote a passage from the great antiwar movie The Americanization of Emily.
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. [Emphasis added.]

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Insurance for Abortion: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

The health-insurance nationalization bill that passed the House Saturday night has a lot of enemies. One reason for this is that in order to get a majority to support the bill, House Speaker Pelosi had to accept an amendment by Rep. Bart Stupak that would ban tax-funded abortions (except for rape, incest and danger to the mother’s life) under the “public option.” It would also bar people who get government insurance subsidies from buying policies with abortion coverage. However, AP reports: “Under the Stupak amendment, people who do not receive federal insurance subsidies could buy private insurance plans in the exchange that includes abortion coverage. People who receive federal subsidies could buy separate policies covering only abortions if they use only their own money to do it.”

To all those people who are upset by the amendment, I say: That’s what you get for inviting government to become involved in a personal matter like medical care.

But there’s a more fundamental point: How can there be such a thing as insurance coverage for elective abortions? Insurance emerged to protect one’s financial well-being against unlikely catastrophic happenings (as Thomas Szasz likes to call things that befall people). But an elective abortion (whatever your position on the issue) is not a happening. It’s a volitional act (which follows previous volitional act). How does a company insure against a volitional act? It can’t, but that doesn’t mean firms which we call insurance companies aren’t willing to appear to cover abortion by collecting payments from customers in advance. They are happy to do so, but only under the right circumstances. The key factor is that someone other than the insured person, such as an employer, must be willing to pay the premium. Of course when an employer pays the premium he reduces the employee’s cash wages, but most employees don’t understand that. So they think their insurance is paid for by someone else. But if the employee had to pay for her own insurance against elective abortion, I suspect she wouldn’t think it worth the price. That’s because the premium would consist of prepayment for possible future services plus costly administrative overhead. It would be a bad deal. What would she do if she decided she wanted an abortion? She’d pay out of savings or borrow the money. Insurance is a costly way to pay for things you (and the insurance company) know you may choose to buy one day.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Two Decades Since the Fall

From "Perspective," The Freeman, November 2009:

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall effectively ceased to exist. Remember the sequence: Communist Hungary started letting people pass into Austria and to freedom. Captives of the Soviet bloc left in droves. East Germans, too—thousands of them. The Hungarian government tried to stanch the flow, but the dam had been breached. With one dictator having resigned, a panicky East German regime began making concessions, hoping to mollify the people. They would not be placated. Thousands—and in one case, a million—took to the streets, shouting, “We want out!” Things were getting out of hand. So, on November 9, the government fumblingly announced it would lift travel restrictions to West Berlin and West Germany. It was all over but the demolition.

I don’t know why it seems so much longer ago that we saw those inspiring celebrations, when East Berliners, joined by their countrymen from the western side, danced on the wall while others whacked at it with axes and sledge hammers. The crowds, the singing, the joyful cries of “Freedom!”, the sections of wall toppling—I remember watching the scenes on television with my then-six-year-old, Jennifer. If you can watch them on YouTube today without tearing up, I don’t know what to say.

It’s hard to believe that today’s 19-year-olds were born into a world without a Berlin Wall and 17-year-olds were born into a world without the Soviet Union. When my generation was growing up, the Iron Curtain and USSR seemed like permanent fixtures of life.

Yes, we really did have air-raid drills in school. (Looking back, I can see they were insidious, ridiculous propaganda stunts.) Some of us wished, at most, for what was called peaceful coexistence. Others thought “we” could roll “them” back. War—which a few, amazingly, actually welcomed—would have been catastrophic beyond imagination. We dared not hope for a bloodless dissolution of totalitarianism. Yet that, more or less, is what we got.

Those of us who believe in full individual liberty have been dismayed to learn that revulsion with dictatorship does not equate to a wholehearted embrace of freedom. None of the former Soviet-bloc countries has thoroughly foresworn state-capitalist welfarism, and some have traveled only a short distance along the road from serfdom. Central planning is dead as an ideal, but the regulatory state lives, as does what Thomas Szasz calls the Therapeutic State. This is disappointing, but it would be difficult for a resident of the United States to criticize others for failing to resist overbearing government. The longing for security, combined with the absurd notion that only ignorant and force-wielding bureaucrats can provide it, dies hard.

The fall of the Iron Curtain has been heralded as the failure of socialism, but this is a more complicated matter. Strictly speaking, there has been much less socialism in the world than it might appear since Lenin gave it up for the New Economic Policy in 1921. Remember, Marx envisioned the abolition of the market, including money and exchange. The economy was to be centrally planned—literally. But when the Bolsheviks tried it, they ended up, as Trotsky said, “staring into the abyss.” Lenin was savvy enough to back away from oblivion and reintroduce aspects of the market, including a gold ruble. What followed for the next seven decades was a heavily bureaucratized, de facto quasi-market economy, existing in a world of prices in which The Plan was adjusted ex post to reflect reality and black-market “corruption” kept things going. Ludwig von Mises could not have been surprised.

Such an economy was doomed to fail, but perhaps with a little less intervention and a dollop of political freedom, it might have muddled through a bit longer. The market can put up with a lot of harassment, which means people can resourcefully get around a lot of government obstacles when they want to. Look at the U.S. economy.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pelosi Health-Insurance Bill Summarized

Happily, you need not invest the next few weeks of your life reading the 1,990-page House overhaul of the health-insurance -- and by implication, the healthcare -- industry. A convenient summary has been provided, compliments of Pierre-Joseph Proudhon.

To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans
and reduce the growth in health care spending, and
for other purposes.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled that the American people shall henceforth be:

Watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded, by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. ... [A]t every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. ... [U]nder pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, ... place[d] under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted from, squeezed, hoaxed, robbed; then, at the slightest resistance, the first word of complaint, to be repressed, fined, vilified, harassed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sacrificed, sold, betrayed; and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonored.

All in favor say aye. The rest of you can go to hell.

Friday, October 30, 2009

TGIF: The Welfare State Corrupts Absolutely

Let’s begin at the beginning. Medical care is not a free good found in nature. Of course, no one really thinks it is. But that doesn’t keep most people from wanting to pretend otherwise, and the current institutional setting makes that possible. After a while, one forgets one is pretending. Yet medical care goes on being a collection of produced goods and services — subject to the laws of supply and demand, and requiring resources and labor that come with opportunity costs. Therein lies the problem.
The rest of TGIF is here.

My Grand Proposal

Here's my idea for a constitutional amendment: Limit congressional bills to five pages. At least we'd have a shot at seeing what they are up to.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Freeman, November 2009

The Freeman for November is online. Click on the cover at the right.

TGIF: Getting in Deeper

Should the Treasury and Fed regulate executive pay, even when a company is on the dole? Thats the subject of TGIF. Read it here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Read It and Weep

Once again, NYU's Mario Rizzo at ThinkMarkets, a FEE summer seminar lecturer, exposes the sham democracy that is the welfare state. The latest example? The Senate Finance Committee health-insurance bill (pdf).

It is 1,502 pages long and it is in legislative language. If passed, it will affect our lives in important ways. Let me suggest that you all read it carefully and then let your senators know what you think.

Of course you won’t do that and neither will I. We are rationally ignorant and we shall remain that way.

Will the senators, not on the committee, read it? I doubt it. They will be too busy giving their opinions on selected portions. However, special interests will know about the particular provisions that affect them. As to the senators on the committee, staffers will give summaries. How much they understand or care about provisions that affect the general interests in contrast to the interests that elect them is unknown.

But why worry? As the bill states at the top, its purpose is "To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes."

We're even told that "This Act may be cited as the 'America’s Healthy Future Act of 2009'."

What's the matter? You got a problem with that?

Friday, October 16, 2009

TGIF: Frustrating Michael Moore

Whether he realizes it or not, Michael Moore favors a system in which an elite necessarily would make critical decisions for the rest of us. He’d be incredulous to hear that, but if he ever comes to understand it, libertarians might end up with an unlikely ally.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Missing the Point

Reporting on this year's Nobel Prize winners in economics, Elinor Ostrom and Oliver Williamson, the New York Times said:
Neither Ms. Ostrom nor Mr. Williamson has argued against regulation. Quite the contrary, their work found that people in business adopt for themselves numerous forms of regulation and rules of behavior — called “governance” in economic jargon — doing so independently of government or without being told to do so by corporate bosses.
Note the key equivocation over the word regulation. Most people use that word to mean government interference with private market activity. So the Times at first seems to be saying that Ostrom and Williamson do not oppose such government interference. Maybe they don't, but that's not what the Times goes on to say. Instead, it says that both have shown that people often generate their own efficient rules -- governance -- independent of the State (and corporate authority).

It's as though the reporter said, "Neither has argued against taxation. Quite the contrary, they found that people use market prices to pay producers for their efforts."

What the Times reporter misses is that spontaneously evolved bottom-up rules are to be distinguished from top-down government regulation, which statists believe is indispensable. The former results from voluntary interaction by people on the spot, the latter from coercion by a central elite. The reporter seems more interested in getting in a subtle dig at the free market, which is alleged to be "unregulated." Of course it isn't, as I point out here.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Insurance Companies Want a Mandate with Teeth

The health-insurance lobbyist complains that under the proposed healthcare overhaul the penalties on individuals who don't buy coverage would be too mild and would encourage people to wait until they are sick before buying a policy -- at which point they couldn't be turned down or charged more than healthy people.

That's right. The industry wants the government to force us to buy its product and to impose harsh penalties on those who refuse. The companies, which oddly are demonized by the "reform" crowd, are happy to accept all kinds of coverage rules in return for captive customers and guaranteed income.

If I may be so presumptuous as to edit Adam Smith:

People of the same trade seldom meet together with government officials, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

No You're Not

"I am the commander in chief of a country that's responsible for ending a war and working in another theater to confront a ruthless adversary that directly threatens the American people and our allies."


"The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States...."

Friday, October 09, 2009

War Is Peace

President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize

We’ve come a long way since Frederic Passy.

TGIF: Liberty versus Social Engineering


So David Brooks, the New York Times‘ resident conservative intellectual, must think he’s a pretty clever fellow. In trying to characterize “the choices we face on issue after issue,” he presumes to enlist the aid of philosophers Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832) and David Hume (1711-1776). Considering that Bentham believed human beings could consciously design society and Hume did not, this might have been a worthwhile approach. Unfortunately, Brooks got Hume wrong — unforgivably so — and missed a chance to present a fresh alternative in the stale political debate.
The reset of TGIF is here.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Unemployment Keeps Rising

Unemployment hit 9.8 percent last month (a conservative estimate, to be sure). The Obama administration once said it would approach 9 percent -- if the "stimulus" did not pass. With the "stimulus" it was supposed to be less than 8 percent by now. (See graph.)

When do we declare the "stimulus" a failure? Huh?

Op-ed: Exit Afghanistan and Leave Iran Alone

The Obama administration’s quest to control the health-insurance industry has dominated the headlines for months, but finally — with the news out of Iran and Afghanistan —foreign policy has again asserted itself. It was almost easy to forget that the United States maintains a worldwide empire, but the reminders came leaping off the front pages and the television screens.

Word that the U.S. commander in Afghanistan wants 40,000 more troops and that Iran has a hitherto undisclosed uranium-enrichment facility gave the empire enthusiasts something to get excited about. The advocates of Pax Americana tell us that we must “win” in Afghanistan and be ready to bomb Iran if the leaders there don’t prostrate themselves to the U.S. government forthwith.
The rest of my FFF op-ed is here.

TGIF: Being for the Free Market Isn't Enough

Harold Meyerson, an op-ed columnist for the Washington Post, this week launched a devastating attack on what he calls "mainstream economists." Too bad he’s oblivious of Austrian economics.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Richman & Bastiat in Poland

Here's part one of my lecture at the PAFERE conference on Bastiat in Warsaw.


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Friday, October 02, 2009

Chicago Dodges the Bullet

The people--as opposed to the elites--of Chicago should be eternally grateful they will be spared the Olympics. They would have been in for a terrible time with the impositions produced by government's idea of security and other acts of political opportunism. Especially lucky are the city's poor, who would have been removed to spare the elite embarrassment when the world cast its eyes upon the games.

Had I been a resident of Chicago, I would have said, Barack, Michelle, Oprah, mind your own business.

Rio, you have my condolences.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Excusing Polanski

It is truly sickening to see Hollywood types make excuses for Roman Polanski, the slimeball director who drugged and boozed up a 13-year-old girl 30 years ago before committing a variety of sexual assaults on her. For example, witness Whoopi Goldberg's attempt to distinguish what Polanski did -- and pleaded guilty to before fleeing the country -- from "rape-rape."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Here We Go Again

I saw a television commercial today in which a lending company urged people to refinance their homes. It made a special appeal to those who have been unable to refinance: FHA (Federal Housing Administration) now requires less documentation than before and no appraisal of the property.

Isn't this the sort of thing that caused so much trouble just a short while ago? This sounds like another government attempt to keep the market from pricing houses accurately, i.e., to reinflate the housing bubble.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Take It Off the Table

...the military option, that is.

The Art of Politics

Politics: the art of seducing people to cooperate in their own exploitation.

TGIF: Bastiat in Poland

Last week I mentioned that I traveled to Warsaw, Poland, to participate in the Liberty Weekend Devoted to the Life and Legacy of Frédéric Bastiat. I can report now that the conference, sponsored by PAFERE, was a smashing success.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

October Freeman

The October Freeman is now online. Contributors include Jim Powell on government incompetence, Kevin Carson on intellectual property, James Payne on government impediments to volunteerism, Ross Levatter on free-market medicine, Todd Zywicki on consumer debt, and Andrew Morris on Curacao.

Click on the cover at the right for the table of contents.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

TGIF: Monsieur Bastiat, Call Your Office

Tomorrow [i.e., yesterday] I’ll lecture at the Liberty Weekend Dedicated to Frédéric Bastiat, sponsored by the Polish-American Foundation for Economic Research and Education (PAFERE) in Warsaw. Preparing for my visit, I reread Bastiat’s great book The Law. Oh we do we need Bastiat today!
The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Modest Health-Care Proposal

Enough dithering! President Obama says it’s time to act on health care. I agree.
Read the rest of my latest FFF op-ed here.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Let's Hear It for One-Party Autocracy

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.
Who wrote that? Thomas Friedman of the New York Times. Is any comment necessary? Possible?

TGIF - ObamaCare: Status Quo on Steroids

Let’s begin by noting that the so-called health-insurance companies deserve little sympathy. As they exist today, they are very much creatures of the State. In fact, there’s a sense in which it can be said that if we didn’t have health-insurance companies, we wouldn’t need them.

Read the rest here.

Ten Lessons from 9/11

1. Killing one or many innocents, regardless of one's grievances, is monstrous. This elementary principle would seem to apply to George Bush, and now Barack Obama, as much as to Osama bin Laden. Can someone say why it doesn't?

2. Despite all its guarantees -- contrary to its ideological justification for existing -- the state can't protect us -- even from a ragtag group of hijackers. Trillions of dollars spent over many years built a "national security apparatus" that could not stop attacks on the two most prominent buildings in the most prominent city in the country -- or its own headquarters. That says a lot. No. That says it all. The state is a fraud. We have been duped.

3. The shameless state will stop at nothing to keep people's support by scaring the hell out of them. (Robert Higgs writes about this.) That people take its claims about "why they hate us" seriously after 9/11 shows what the public schools and the mass media are capable of doing to people. But the people are not absolved of responsibility: they could think their way out of this if they cared to make the effort.

4. Blowback is real. Foreign-policy makers never think how their decisions will harm Americans, much less others. They never wonder how their actions will look to their targets. That's because they are state employees.

5. As Randolph Bourne said, getting into a war is like riding a wild elephant. You may think you are in control -- you may believe your objectives and only your objectives are what count. If so, you are deluded. Consider the tens of thousands of dead and maimed Iraqi and Afghanis. What did they have to do with 9/11?

6. No one likes an occupying power.

7. Victims of foreign intervention don't forget, even if the perpetrators and their subjects do.

8. Terrorism is not an enemy. It's a tactic, one used by many different kinds of people in causes of varying moral hues, often against far stronger imperial powers. Declaring all those people one's enemy is criminally reckless. But it's a damn good way for a government to achieve potentially total power over its subjects.

9. They say the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Maybe, maybe not. But it seems abundantly clear that the enemy of my friend is also likely to be my enemy. See the U.S.-Israel relationship for details.

10. Assume "your" government is lying.

(Adapted and re-posted from 2006.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forcing Insurance Companies to Cover Preexisting Conditions Is Immoral

The Christian Science Monitor today published my op-ed on the fundamental dishonesty of President Obama’s healthcare proposals. Read “Forcing insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions is immoral” here.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Obama Speech

Predictable crap. How many times does it have to be demolished?

It was nothing but theater. The objective was to get good reviews from the pundits. He was no less ambivalent about the "public option" than he has been, so the "Progressives" shouldn't be terribly happy.

But I am curious why all these employers are buying health plans for their employees that drop them when they get sick? What's up with that?

Obama's Message to Kids

From Barack Obama's speech to schoolchildren, which even many conservatives praised:

And even when you're struggling, even when you're discouraged, and you feel like other people have given up on you -- don't ever give up on yourself. Because when you give up on yourself, you give up on your country.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Health-Care “Reformers” Duck the Hard Questions

Advocates of what is called health-care “reform” must lack confidence in their case. Were they sure that more government control of medicine and medical insurance was a good thing, they would answer the opposing arguments rather than marginalize their adversaries as corrupt or crazy.
The rest of this week's op-ed is at FFF website.

TGIF: From 1944 to Nineteen Eighty-Four

I’m inclined to think of George Orwell and F. A. Hayek at the same time. Both showed great courage in writing the truth, undaunted by the consequences awaiting them. Both valued freedom, though they understood it differently.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Kennedy Op-ed in Star-Tribune

My latest Future of Freedom Foundation op-ed, on Ted Kennedy, was published by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

TGIF: Proposers versus Producers

Why do people who really make us better off get nowhere near the attention when they die that prominent national politicians get?
The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Bye, Teddy

We knew ye all too well and liked little of what we saw. You stayed around far too long, spending our money and finding ways to run our lives. For this you were dubbed the compassionate "lion of liberalism." You disgraced a noble word.

Hopefully, somewhere there is justice. You'll prefer mercy.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Obama's Health-Insurance Cartel

President Obama and other advocates of nationalized health insurance have tried a variety of sales pitches, which indicates their difficulty in getting traction with the public. The latest is”competition and choice.” Who could be against those things? Barack Obama for one.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Now at TheFreemanOnline.org

"Now I Am Finally Scared of a White House Administration."

Nat Hentoff, who has valiantly defended civil liberties against all threats, declares, "Now I am finally scared of a White House administration," in his analysis of the Obama healthcare-takeover plan here. It is well worth reading.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Has Medicare Extended Life?

Here are some facts that champions of Medicare are either ignorant of or hope you remain ignorant of. They leave the impression that before Medicare (pre-1965), life for "seniors" (hate that term) was unenviable because of lack of access to medical care. Since then, thanks to a government program that really "works," things have turned around.

Leaving aside whether a program with a $37 trillion unfunded liability can be said to be working, look at this:

In 1930 average life expectancy for Americans at age 60 was 74.5 years. (Infant mortality pulls down average life expectancy, hence the measure "at age 60.") In 1960 -- five years before Medicare began -- the average jumped 2.6 years, to 77.1. By 1990 -- 25 years after Medicare began -- it had jumped to 79.7 -- again 2.6 years.

Medicare did not make the upward-sloping life-expectancy curve any steeper!

For historical context, from 1900 to 1960, overall life-expectancy increased 22.4 years, from 47. 3 to 69.7.

I hasten to add that the medical system may be the least important factor in life expectancy, and one must never judge a country's health care by that measure. (Too many other factors -- lifestyle, genetics, culture -- play more important roles.) Nevertheless, it is interesting to know that Medicare did not improve the rate of progress in life expectancy that was occurring before the program started.

(Source: Derived from data presented in Sue A. Blevins, Medicare's Midlife Crisis, Cato Institute, 2001.)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Must-Read on Health Care

I exaggerate only slightly -- and I mean slightly -- when I say that all you really need to read on the healthcare debate is Steve Horwitz's Freeman article "Profit: Not Just a Motive."

No one who is ignorant of these arguments can be counted as a serious participant in the debate.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Keith Olbermann, Demagogue

John Mackey, head of Whole Foods, favors a free market in health care and thus opposes Obama's nationalization. He wrote this in a Wall Street Journal article. Keith Olbermann of MSNBC reported this and pointed out that since Whole Foods specializes in organic products, many of its customers probably favor Obama's plan. (Let that dubious leap pass.) In fact some advocates are calling for a boycott of Whole Foods.

So did Olbermann praise Mackey for putting conviction before (short-term) profit? (He often criticizes business for putting profit first.)

Of course not. He implied that Mackey must be an idiot who doesn't know his own interests.

That's the sign of a demagogue.

Oh the Injustice!

The house of a friend caught on fire. While his home was aflame he called an insurance company to buy fire insurance. Honest fellow that he is, he told the company rep that his house was on fire as they spoke.

The company refused to issue the policy.

When will we finally get homeowner's insurance reform so that companies will stop this cruel practice of refusing to cover preexisting conditions?

After that we should move against the life insurance companies' vicious discrimination against dead people.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Don't MissThis

Keith Hennessey answers President Obama’s case for health-care nationalization point by point here. You won’t want to miss this.

Rigging the Debate

Calling something"reform" biases the discussion from the start. It's question-begging. Whether the proposed changes actually amount to reform -- that is, improvement -- is precisely what is in dispute.

Health-Care Interview on Antiwar Radio

Scott Horton interviewed me about health care on Antiwar Radio. The audio is here.

The End-of-Life Rigmarole II

I'd like to take this matter a step further and to make explicit what was only implicit in the original post. It should be a matter of concern that people paid by the State -- doctors treating Medicare patients -- would be authorized under the House legislation to venture into end-of-life issues when the government's priority is to control medical costs. One need not be an alarmist to connect those dots and wonder how the source of the paycheck might influence the advice given. Whom exactly is the doctor working for?

But this is a general problem that plagues any government intervention in health care, and the advocates of increased government intervention have no answer. Worse, most of them do not even acknowledge that the agent-principal problem exists.

For whom does the doctor work? The patient, whom medical ethics would seem to designate as the principal, or the State, which pays the bills?

I can't blame anyone for finding the end-of-life issue ominous in the context of healthcare "reform." Still, we must get our facts straight.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

The End-of-Life Rigmarole

Sometimes I almost believe that the right-wing critics of Obama healthcare "reform" are moles working for Obama. Take the end-of-life controversy. There is nothing in the House bill that would require Medicare recipients to have end-of-life counseling, much less submit to some kind of euthanasia process. All I can find is a requirement that Medicare pay for end-of-life counseling if requested. Not that I like this; I don't want government anywhere near medical care or end-of-life decisionmaking. But nothing is imposed on the elderly. (By the way NBC reported tonight that this provision has been dropped from the House bill.)

Correction: It's the Senate Finance Committee that has removed the provision from its bill.

Here's why I almost believe the right-wing critics are moles: By raising the phony "death panel" claim, Palin, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Beck and the others have taken everyone's eye on the ball. Defenders of Obama's scheme had an easy time demolishing the inventions of the right-wing simpletons, enabling Obama defenders to evade the real problem with"reform," which continues to fly under the radar.

The problem is not that the bill calls for death panels--it doesn't. The problem is that the expansion of medical coverage by government decree and taxpayer subsidy, along with a determination to keep prices from rising, logically requires rationing of medical services. How else can you expand demand without raising costs? Through government efficiency? Get real. (Price controls would lead to shortages and then rationing.)

With rationing the government would decide how medical resources would be distributed. Bureaucrats would have to make choices, and they'd have to have standards by which to make those choices. Is it outlandish to suggest that they would want to divert scarce resources from people who are near the end of life and with little chance of recovery to those who are not? This wouldn't be euthanasia; but it might well be a refusal to pay for some medical procedures for older people. It might even include a prohibition on paying for services privately. (The alternative to rationing is bankruptcy, to which Medicare has already put us on the path.)

Obama has already said he wants Medicare to pay for the value not volume of services. Value to whom?

Instead of conjuring up phantom death panels and compulsory counseling, the right wing should have been demanding that the defenders of "reform" explain how they can avoid rationing if they are serious about pumping up demand without pumping up prices. They should have been using their access to the media to point out that rationing in an inevitable implication of a government limit on total healthcare spending.

Maybe some advocates of "reform" really haven't thought about this. Maybe they believe that somehow costs can be controlled without rationing and bureaucratic triage. (This can't be said about others, such as Peter Singer.) But their premises logically commit them to rationing whether they know it or not and whether they like it or not.

By the way, do not accept the glib comeback that the market rations too, only by price. As I point out here, the market does not ration. The market is not a conscious, decision-making entity. It's a process in which people exchange money for goods and services, and vice versa. That is not rationing. Economists talk about markets rationing, but that is only a metaphor. Our choice is between rationing by bureaucrats (including insurance clerks empowered by government tax policy) and individual self-determination through free exchange.

Government Logic

  1. Outlaw full interstate health-insurance competition.
  2. Denounce the lack of competition.
  3. Propose ersatz competition (exchanges) with a government option.
  4. Live happily ever after.

Government's Track Record in the Insurance Business

Barack Obama and many others want the government to get into the health-insurance business. Very good. Is the government in any other kind of insurance? As a matter of fact, it is: flood insurance. It essentially has a monopoly. Here's a Reuters story about the House last month extending the "troubled [i.e., broke] program" for six months while postponing a comprehensive overhaul. Why does it need an overhaul?

The program has been deep in debt ever since the costly hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005. Repeated rescue efforts have failed....

[T]he administration said it favors forgiving the 40-year-old program's $19 billion debt.

This would not be the first time the program was bailed out by Congress or had its huge debt forgiven. This trouble did not begin with Katrina. See this article I wrote 16 years ago. (Scroll down.)

About the postponement of comprehensive reform, Reuters reports that Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank "said discussion on repairing the program needed to be put off due to other pressing matters, including healthcare and financial regulation reforms."

Translation: Government can't fix what it's already screwed up right now because it's too busy screwing up some other things.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Healthcare-Reform Protests

Many of the people attending congressional district meetings to protest the emerging healthcare reform harm the cause of freedom when they are unruly and, more importantly, when they repeat unfounded rumors they’ve heard on the radio or read on the Internet. My advice is to get your facts straight and act in a dignified way. Reason should be in for forefront. Passion too prominently displayed looks like blind emotion and alienates those who might be persuaded by calm argument. Don’t call people names. Coolly state the moral and economic reasons against government control. Remember: Statism did not begin with Obama.

That said, I must point out that the critics of the protesters — those who want to continue the status quo of government-dominated health care but even more so — are off base in their sneering dismissal of the people who are worried about the so-called reform. Why would anyone have confidence in an 1,000-page-plus piece of legislation, obscurely written, that would give not-fully-defined powers to the secretary of Health and Human Services? Because Barack Obama, Ted Kennedy, Henry Waxman, Barney Frank, and Chris Dodd say so? Excuse me, but that’s not good enough.

Anyone who doesn’t have an instinctual revulsion at such a bill needs to read some history.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Healthcare Thoughts

Random thoughts on healthcare reform:

  • The core of "healthcare reform" is the principle that what one takes out of the system should have no necessary relationship to what one pays in. Aside from the injustice of the inevitable coercive subsidies, this principle is economically nonviable.

  • Healthcare reformers must think they've repealed the law of unintended consequences. Can't be done.

  • Healthcare reform rests on a pretense of knowledge (Hayek): viz., that bureaucrats know the just price of medical services, drugs, and insurance coverage.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Law Did Not Predate Commerce

Best quote I've seen today:

Law and commerce were indelibly linked in the thought of David Hume, who argued that it is commerce itself that gives rise to notions of justice between people and peoples. Although commerce is today typically seen as something which is proactively enabled by law, it is much more accurate historically to see law as something which emerges because of its vital importance in commerce – and particularly commerce involving foreigners. Within the Roman Empire, it was the ius gentium, the “law of nations,” derived from custom rather than legislation, and applying specifically to noncitizens, that governed most types of commercial transactions.

The modern notion that law is inseparable from the will of a ruler or ruling body, antithetical to the idea of a universal natural law or a ius gentium, has, in parts of the world and during epochs where it has actually been applied, been devastating to economic development.

--Benn Steil and Manuel Hinds, Money Markets, and Sovereignty

Hat tip: Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek

TGIF: The Market Doesn't Ration Health Care

Healthcare reformers say they have two objectives: to enable the uninsured and under-insured to consume more medical services than they consume now, and to keep the price of those services from rising, as they have been, faster than the prices of other goods and services. Unfortunately, Economics 101 tells us that to accomplish those two things directly — increased consumption by one group and lower prices — the government would have to take a third step: rationing. The reformers are disingenuous about this last step, and for good reason. People don’t like rationing, especially of medical care.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Hiroshima


Today is the 64th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, one of President Harry Truman's two acts of butchery against Japan in August 1945. There isn't much to be said about those unspeakable atrocities that hasn't been said many times before. The U.S. government never needed atomic bombs to commit mass murder. It's "conventional" weapons have been potent enough. But considering how the "leaders" saw The Bomb, its two uses against Japan stand out as especially heinous acts. The U.S. government may not have used atomic weapons since 1945, but it has not yet given up mass murder as a political/military tactic. Presidential candidates are still expected to say that, with respect to nuclear weapons, that "no options are off the table."

The anniversary of the Nagaski bombing is Sunday.

Rad Geek People's Daily has a poignant post here. Rad says: "As far as I am aware, the atomic bombing of the Hiroshima city center, which deliberately targeted a civilian center and killed over half of the people living in the city, remains the deadliest act of terrorism in the history of the world."

[This post appeared previously.]

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Market Does Not Ration!

Why do economists, even those who favor the free market, call what the market process does "rationing." When you choose, because of the price, to buy four pounds of hamburger rather than eight, that is not rationing. Rationing is when an authority says you can only buy four. It indicates a conscious process of allocation of other people's property. The market is not a conscious process. Rather it's a bunch of people engaging in conscious exchanges involving their own property to improve their situations. That's very different.

I think it does the case for the market harm to call what it does rationing. The other side can say: "I agree. But the market is a cold, impersonal rationer. We need a kinder, gentler rationer: the State."

I don't think we should want those to be the terms of the debate.

Later thought: When I enter a store and spend $50 rather than all I have, would we say I rationed my money to the store owner? Who would talk like that?

Rachel Maddow, Demagogue

I know, I know. Why am I wasting time on her? Good question. But I can't let this get by me.

The other night she and state-socialist congressmen Anthony Weiner had a good laugh because all the Republicans on a congressional committee voted against his trick amendment to end Medicare. What hypocrites, they sneered. Republicans say they are against socialized medicine, but when their political careers are at stake, they won't vote to end the socialized medicine we already have for retirees. (Clip here.)

I am the last person to want to defend the Republicans. The charge of hypocrisy is easy to make, and no doubt Maddow and Weiner are right about many or most of them in this case. But they were engaging in demagoguery, and they must have known it. The principle of charitable interpretation is worth applying not only because it's decent but also because it forces oneself argue against your opponent's strongest possible case. Going for the weakest case is a wimpy thing to do--a confession you lack confidence in your own.

Someone can nonhypocritically and coherently say, "I'd vote against creating Medicare today. But since after 44 years people on fixed incomes have come to rely on it, I would not just kill it in one shot now. I favor some kind of gradual transition to a private system."

Agree or disagree with that position, it shows that voting no on an up-or-down vote to kill Medicare is not necessarily hypocrisy for one who opposes government-controlled medical care.

Maddow's schlocky program is little more than a series of conversations with guests who agree with her so she can distort the positions of those she diagarees with. She might have brought on a someone to argue the point I make above, but she wouldn't know what to do with someone who intelligently disagrees with her. That speaks volumes about her intellectual heft or confidence, or something.

What We Spend on Health Care Is None of the Government's Business

So it should butt out and stop making medical services more expensive than they'd be in the free market.

Details here.

Read this Article!

My friend Shikha Dalmia at the Reason Foundation nails the healthcare issue here. No, we don't have a free market here, and see what's happening in Germany and France.

Money quote:

The point is that there is no health care model, whether privately or publicly financed, that can offer unlimited access to medical services while containing costs. Ultimately, such a model arrives at a cross roads where it has to either limit access in an arbitrary way, or face uncontrolled cost increases.

Friday, July 31, 2009

TGIF: Are We Really All Healthcare Collectivists Now?

“We have to do something about health care.”

The scariest word in that sentence is not something. It’s we.

TGIF is here.

Appearance on Mike Beitler's Free Market Program

Here's the link. It's mostly about health care, but we covered cap and trade also.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Gates Incident as a Free Speech Case

Harvey Silverglate, a founder of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), has an excellent article in Forbes on the arrest of Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates. For Silverglate -- and I agree with him -- this is entirely a free-speech matter. Gates was arrested exclusively for what he said to a policeman and for how he said it. The incident is less about race and more about a police attitude toward "civilians" that free people should not tolerate. That attitude is exemplified in the current practice of not including police personnel in the term "civilian." This is a recent change. "Civilian" used to mean everyone but the military. This is another sign of the militarization of the police, which is stimulated by the "wars" on drugs, guns, and other things that are not directly connected with crimes against person and property.

Obama, Medicare, and Socialized Medicine

At his AARP event yesterday, President Obama derided those who in the 1960s called Medicare "socialized medicine." Yet later in the event he conceded the point. See for yourself:

I got a letter the other day from a woman; she said, I don't want government-run health care, I don't want socialized medicine, and don't touch my Medicare. And I wanted to say, well, I mean, that's what Medicare is, is it's a government-run health care plan that people are very happy with.

As he read this, he and the audience laughed condescendingly as if to say, "What a dolt. She hates socialized medicine but she loves Medicare. Doesn't she realize they are the same thing?"

As for people being happy with Medicare, Obama might have pointed out that retirees receive far more in medical benefits than they ever paid into the system. At the moment they can basically have all they want for free or for low cost. Now they even have drug coverage. But that will change if Obama gets his way, because he's decided "we" spend too much on m medical care and he is determined to do something about that. Part of that "something" will be to scale back Medicare, which Obama himself says is, along with Medicaid, the biggest source of the budget deficit. Anyone who thinks that "reform" won't start denying options to retirees is dreaming. It's already happening. Wait until the government inserts itself in to end-of-life decisions. I guess the earlier critics of Medicare weren't wrong, they just had their timetable off.

If government were really interested in seeing a rational medical system, it would stop forcing the taxpayers to pick up the tab for other people's medical care. How could that do anything but send costs through the roof and then "justify" government control?

Monday, July 27, 2009

TGIF: A Cornucopia of Healthcare Fallacies

The effort to reinvent medical care is so full of fallacies and bad logic that it would take volumes to properly expose them. Nevertheless, in this short space, let’s take a crack at some of the problems.

The rest of TGIF is here.

Friday, July 24, 2009

For Gates and Against the Police

Professor Henry Louis Gates was perfectly justified in being pissed at the cops who ordered him out of his own home. The police sergeant who cuffed and arrested him for disorderly conduct, after he knew who Gates was, was retaliating against him, a black man, for not showing proper deference to a representative of the State. How dare he yell at a policeman who treated him like a street thug? I side with Gates.

Monday, July 20, 2009

George Orwell, Call Your Office

If someone is already sick, a plan to pay his doctor bills can’t be insurance! Can we at least get that much straight?

We're All Marxists Now

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Why the Rush on Health Care?

Why is Obama so eager to have his healthcare "reform" voted on before members of Congress go home for their August recess? Because this advocate of "representative government," like many others, is a big fraud. He wants the vote to occur before the members go home and get an earful from their "constituents" about how intrusive and costly the "reform" will be. In other words, he fears he will lose votes over the recess. This is not the first time this kind of thing has happened.

Wouldn't a true democrat insist that congressmen consult with the people they allegedly represent back home before voting?

There are many reasons for agreeing with Joseph Schumpeter that representative democracy is a "sham." Here is the latest proof that even its advocates don't really believe in it. As historian Edmund Morgan argues the "sovereignty of the people" is a principle that developed as a mean of controlling not government but the people.

(For more on Morgan see this.)

Amazon Promises Not to Trespass and Steal Again

Here's what Amazon has to say about its trespass against Kindle owners and its forced "buy-back" of copies of 1984 and Animal Farm:
These books were added to our catalog using our self-service platform by a third-party who did not have the rights to the books. When we were notified of this by the rights holder, we removed the illegal copies from our systems and from customers’ devices, and refunded customers. We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances.
"[I]n the future we will not remove books from customers' device in these circumstances." We have them on the record now. Let's see what happens.

HT: Peter Kafka.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Books Vanishing from Kindles

David Pogue of the New York Times reports:
This morning, hundreds of Amazon Kindle owners awoke to discover that books by a certain famous author had mysteriously disappeared from their e-book readers. These were books that they had bought and paid -- for thought they owned.

But no, apparently the publisher changed its mind about offering an electronic edition, and apparently Amazon, whose business lives and dies by publisher happiness, caved. It electronically deleted all books by this author from people's Kindles and credited their accounts for the price.

This is ugly for all kinds of reasons. Amazon says that this sort of thing is "rare," but that it can happen at all is unsettling; we've been taught to believe that e-books are, you know, just like books, only better. Already, we've learned that they're not really like books, in that once we're finished reading them, we can't resell or even donate them. But now we learn that all sales may not even be final.

As one of my readers noted, it's like Barnes & Noble sneaking into our homes in the middle of the night, taking some books that we've been reading off our nightstands, and leaving us a check on the coffee table.

You want to know the best part? The juicy, plump, dripping irony?

The author who was the victim of this Big Brotherish plot was none other than George Orwell. And the books were "1984" and "Animal Farm."

Scary.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Healthcare Arrogance

The conceit of a handful of congressmen is truly astounding. They actually think they know enough to design a medical marketplace. Do they have any idea what they are up to, any idea of the havoc they will wreak, the hardship they will inflict?

Anyone interested in freedom should read as much as they can about the bills working through the House and Senate. They can be found online, though of course they are not easy to read. The authors don’t want us looking too close. That also means most members of Congress won’t be reading them either. Par for the course.

They call this “representative government”? This is what Joseph Schumpeter had in mind when called political representation a “sham.”

I would advise that no one believe the cost figures the Obama administration and the bills’ sponsors are throwing around. We know the real costs will be far higher. Read the history of Medicare for proof. Today Medicare has an unfunded liability of over $30 trillion.

I would further advise everyone to doubt all the promises about keeping your doctor and medical coverage. The fact is that all medical plans will have to comply with detailed government regulations or they will not qualify for tax exemption. All new policies will have to be bought through government-created “exchanges.” When the government’s own “insurance” plan puts the screws to its rivals and to doctors, they will leave the market and abandon their customers and patients. We’ll be stuck with either the government plan or “private” plans that ape it. Some choice. Some competition. What a cruel hoax on the American people. But they won’t realize it until it’s too late.

No, the alternative is not to do nothing, though that would be far better than what these cretins are about to do. The alternative is to free the market, deregulate top to bottom, and let freedom work for a change.

There is no free market in medical care or insurance. It’s about time we’ve had one.

When will these vain, power-lusting politicians leave us alone?

TGIF: Sotomayor, Freedom, and the Law

The dreary Senate hearing on the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the U.S. Supreme Court left me so in the doldrums that my only chance for solace was to dig out my copy of Freedom and the Law (1961) by Bruno Leoni.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Novelist Gagged by Judge

The U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, two weeks ago issued a preliminary but indefinite injunction against publishing, distributing, or advertising of an "unauthorized sequel" to J. D. Salinger's Catcher in the Rye titled 60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye. The text of the preliminary injunction against Frederik Colting, writing as John David California, is here.

Everything hinges on whether California's book is deemed a parody. If so, it can go ahead. If not, it goes to the shredder. Seems like an odd task for a judge or jury.

Thus another demonstration that so-called intellectual property requires the suppression of freedom. Despite our proclaimed belief in freedom and the First Amendment, as things now stand you may not publish a novel about someone who seems to be the Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye. (The name does not appear in California's book.) Why? Because Salinger claims to "own" Holden Caulfield. Whatever the heck that means.

Friday, July 10, 2009

More on McNamara

I managed to avoid Vietnam, thank goodness. But for several years I was aware of the threat Robert McNamara's project posed to me and my generation. How do I feel about his death? I keep thinking that justice has eluded us. There was no chance in the world he could have suffered even to the slightest extent what was suffered by the people he helped send to the slaughter -- American and Vietnamese.