Sunday, March 28, 2010

Good Sense about Property

I highly recommend Less Antman's essay on property here. A teaser:
I believe that property is a problem solver, a useful tool for achieving social peace and economic efficiency that benefits society enormously. However, it is a useful social convention, not a an absolute right derivable from self-ownership: there is no reason that a person born in the year 2100 should have fewer rights than a person born in the year 2000, but if all the world becomes private property, and property owners can establish all the rules for their property, then every person born after that date will be born a slave, and self-ownership will become a joke....

All anarchy requires is that we accept the idea that other people are not our property. With that alone, we’ll create whatever order and organization is needed in an environment of mutual respect. When we have disputes we can’t resolve, we’ll create tools for resolving them. History tells us that private property is one of those tools, but we shouldn’t raise it to the level of a fetish that overrides our common sense and our humanity.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Block Strikes Again

Walter Block's latest commentary on my views on "capitalism" is here. I have nothing else to say.

Alarmism or Realism?

A standard charge against opponents of the medical insurance overhaul is that the dire predictions are nothing but alarmism. The argument is something like this: “You said the same thing when Medicare passed in 1965.”

This is actually a very funny contention. One of the arguments against Medicare was that it would pave the way to greater government control of the medical system.

Does anyone now think that was a bad prediction?

Medicare has made $37 trillion in promises (over the next 75 years) for which there is no money. Even Barack Obama acknowledges that Medicare is responsible for a major part of the federal deficit, which is creating the huge national debt. To deal with the out-of-control budget, coverage for some services is being denied. The bureaucratic burden is prompting doctors to stop accepting new Medicare patients.

By paying for the medical care for retirees, the government program has stimulated the demand for products and services, pushing up prices for everyone. More expensive medical care means more expensive medical insurance. As the price of insurance goes up, many people are priced out of that market, adding to the number uninsured. (This is not the only factor in price inflation, but it is a big one.)

Higher prices and the growing number of uninsured — in large part a product of Medicare — fueled the effort to increase government power over the medical system.

So: Q.E.D. The predictions about Medicare were valid. It has led to deeper government control of medicine, which is to say, us.

Are we alarmists or realists?

What's Sauce for the Goose...

Supporters of Barack Obama’s pro-industry health insurance overhaul are absolutely right to condemn the threats and acts of violence that followed the House vote on Sunday. All decent people should join in that condemnation. It is immoral on its face, not to mention the taint it leaves on the cause of diminishing government power.

By the same token, the advocates of ObamaCare should also have forsworn violence. Unfortunately their plan embraces it. Failure to comply with any of the countless forthcoming regulations and mandates will bring fines to the violator, that is, deprivation of his or her property. Failure to pay the fines will bring further sanctions including, eventually, arrest and imprisonment. Resistance to arrest and imprisonment will bring … you know what it will bring — the mighty wrath of the State. All because a peaceful individual abstained from complying with a mandate.

If universally accessible and affordable medical care is worth achieving — and it most certainly is — then it is worth achieving exclusively through peaceful cooperative methods. That means without the use of government, which, as George Washington reminded us, is not reason or eloquence but force. Although they could have done otherwise, those responsible for ObamaCare chose to rely on threats of violence to get their way on the grounds that the end justifies the means. They have surely set a bad example.

Advocates of freedom must not sink to their level.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Block Says Yes to Capitalism

My old friend Walter Block (we've known each other about 40 years) has written a rebuttal of my views on the value, or lack thereof, of the word capitalism to free-market radicals. As if to make my case, Block writes:
If U.S. Presidents such as George Bush (41st or 43rd), Dwight D. Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan are widely considered capitalist supporters, and they are, then I, along with Libertarians Against Capitalism [my Facebook group], want no part of this moniker.
Then after naming a slew of conservatives and neoconservatives who use the word capitalism in ways he does not like, Block says:
If they support capitalism, and they are widely seen to do so, then I, too, along with called Libertarians Against Capitalism, oppose it. For the "capitalism" of these people includes as a central tenet war, militarism and imperialism. They may call it "American Greatness," but what it amounts to is the U.S. tossing its military weight all around the world, in a totally unjustified manner.
So, "Reading the above, one might infer that I am as good a candidate as any other libertarian to join Libertarians Against Capitalism."

Alas, "Not so, not so."
My main reason is not etymological but rather linguistic. I readily admit that "capitalism" has a bad press, and its historical use is none too salutary either. But, the enemies of libertarianism are always trying to take words away from us. ...Some have recently [!] had the audacity to try to take away the word "libertarian." I refer, here, to Noam Chomsky, who has the temerity to characterize himself as a libertarian.
Whoa! Block needs to read some history. If anything, we took it from them (to make up for the loss of liberal) ! Libertarian was used by left-wing Spanish anarchists during the 1930s civil war; they were no friends of private property and free trade. Going back further, the word was used by anarcho-socialists after the fall of the Paris Commune in 1871 because the word anarchist could land them in a heap of trouble. I doubt Block would regard those libertarians as comrades. The French word Libertaire appears to be the origin of our word libertarian, and it seems to have had nothing to do with what Block wants to call capitalism. Quite the opposite.

Even if you can find an earlier free-market advocate who used the word (can you?), there is no case that Chomsky's use of it constitutes a case of "attempted theft," as Block charges.

But let that pass.

"So, I beseech Sheldon Richman and the other members of Libertarians Against Capitalism to disband their group," Block concludes, "and, instead, work with the rest of us to save as many words as we can for our own use."

Sorry, can't do it, old friend. It's not worth the candle. The word was tainted from the start -- free-market radicals used it disparagingly -- and it has never lost its taint, despite the efforts of Mises and Rand. It creates confusion not clarity. We have perfectly good words for what we want: the free market and laissez faire, voluntarism and market anarchism.

We don't need the poisonous word capitalism.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Tea Party Disconnect?

Someone had done his homework, but it wasn't Dick Armey. Dana Milbank of the Washington Post reports:

A member of the [National Press Club] audience passed a question to the moderator, who read it to [Freedom Works chief Dick] Armey: How can the Federalist Papers be an inspiration for the tea party, when their principal author, Alexander Hamilton, "was widely regarded then and now as an advocate of a strong central government"?

Historian Armey was flummoxed by this new information. "Widely regarded by whom?" he challenged, suspiciously. "Today's modern ill-informed political science professors? ... I just doubt that was the case in fact about Hamilton."

Alas, for Armey, it was the case. Hamilton favored a national bank, presidents and senators who served for life and state governors appointed by the president.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Corporate Land Grab in Africa

Much of the modern world has been shaped, alas, by governments' grabbing land from peasants and yeomen, whose families had worked it for hundreds of years, in order to give it to the nobility or other privileged interests. As a result, many self-sufficient farmers became tenants of politically created absentee landlords.

As Ludwig von Mises wrote in Socialism:

Nowhere and at no time has the large scale ownership of land come into being through the working of economic forces in the market. It is the result of military and political effort. Founded by violence, it has been upheld by violence and by that alone.... The great landed fortunes did not arise through the economic superiority of large scale ownership, but through violent annexation outside the area of trade.

According to this story in the Observer (UK), this still goes on today, in Africa:

Ethiopia is one of the hungriest countries in the world with more than 13-million people needing food aid, but paradoxically the government is offering at least 7.5 million acres of its most fertile land to rich countries and some of the world's most wealthy individuals to export food for their own populations....

But Ethiopia is only one of 20 or more African countries where land is being bought or leased for intensive agriculture on an immense scale in what may be the greatest change of ownership since the colonial era.

An Observer investigation estimates that up to 50m hectares of land – an area more than double the size of the UK – has been acquired in the last few years or is in the process of being negotiated by governments and wealthy investors working with state subsidies.

The land rush, which is still accelerating, has been triggered by the worldwide food shortages which followed the sharp oil price rises in 2008, growing water shortages and the European Union's insistence that 10% of all transport fuel must come from plant-based biofuels by 2015.

In many areas the deals have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of "land grabbing"....

Leading the rush are international agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds as well as UK pension funds, foundations and individuals attracted by some of the world's cheapest land.

Together they are scouring Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land there, which investors have not been able to buy, is being leased for approximately $1 per year per hectare.

According to an Ethiopian living in England:

The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands.

All the land round my family village of Illia has been taken over and is being cleared. People now have to work for an Indian company. Their land has been compulsorily taken and they have been given no compensation. People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry.

This is eminent domain and Kelo writ very large. Some, seeing the involvement of corporations, will conclude this is privatization and modernization. But true champions of liberty and property will be appalled and will condemn it loudly for the theft and usurpation it is.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Op-ed: Is Greece the Future of America?

It may be possible to look into America’s future. How? Watch what’s going on in Greece.
My latest op-ed is here.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Capitalism versus the Free Market, cont'd

This post by Chris Sciabarra from 2005 is well worth reading (again).

I like this quote from Hayek from Capitalism and the Historians:
In many ways it is misleading to speak of "capitalism" as though this had been a new and altogether different system which suddenly came into being toward the end of the eighteenth century; we use this term here because it is the most familiar name, but only with great reluctance, since with its modern connotations it is itself largely a creation of that socialist interpretation of economic history with which we are concerned.
I also recommend Kevin Carson's comment on Chris's post.

TGIF: Jefferson's Economist

In 1817 the Frenchman the Count Destutt de Tracy (1754-1836) published his Treatise on the Will and Its Effects. Thomas Jefferson, who several decades earlier had been the U.S. representative in France, was so enthusiastic about Tracy’s book that he had it translated, then edited and revised the translation himself. He renamed itA Treatise on Political Economy.
The rest of TGIF is here.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Capitalism versus the Free Market

On Monday I flew east to give a lecture titled "Capitalism versus the Free Market," sponsored by the Future of Freedom Foundation and held at George Mason University. I had great time. The audience seemed to appreciate the lecture, and I saw many old friends. I really enjoyed myself.

The lecture dealt with the confusion about the word "capitalism" and the historical reasons why what is known as capitalism has little to do with the free market. You can watch the video here.

Let me know what you think.


Economic Liberty Lecture Series: Sheldon Richman from The Future of Freedom Foundation on Vimeo.