Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Libertarian Socialism?

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

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

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

Friday, September 26, 2014

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

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

Will American Ground Troops Be Sent to Fight ISIS?

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

Friday, September 19, 2014

TGIF: The Antimilitarist Libertarian Heritage

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Liar, Liar!

Calling President Obama's ISIS plan a "counterterrorism operation" is a lie to pacify the American public. ISIS is not a terrorist group (though it's capable using terrorism as a tactic.). It's a nonstate conquering army that is taking and holding territory in order to build a formal state.

P.S.: If Obama really thought ISIS presented a significant threat to Americans at home, would he rule out sending ground troops?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Is the Foreign-Policy Elite Clueless?

The American foreign-policy elite seems to have no idea what it’s doing.
Americans may believe the government — especially the foreign-policy side — is at least minimally competent, but when one surveys decisions from the last few decades, one has to wonder. 
The current crop of policymakers, like earlier ones, know what they want to do: make the world safe for American leadership — or, less euphemistically, American hegemony: No rivals for American influence or access to resources and markets can be tolerated. As 
President George H.W. Bush said, “What we say goes.”
Even by that standard, the policy architects and executors look incompetent — or unbelievably cynical.
Read the full op-ed here.

Monday, September 15, 2014

TGIF: Ownership and Ideas

Like many libertarians, I’ve learned a lot from Murray Rothbard on a wide variety of subjects. Of course, no one gets everything right, especially someone as intellectually ambitious, multidisciplinary, and prolific as Rothbard. Nevertheless, reading the work of the man who left such a mark on the modern libertarian movement is as profitable as it is pleasurable. 
While rereading For a New Liberty (first published in 1973) recently, I confess I was puzzled, which is not the frame of mind Rothbard normally leaves me in. In deriving property rights, he used the example of a “sculptor fashioning a work of art out of clay and other materials.”
Read TGIF here.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ten Lessons, Plus One, We Should Learn 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 the late Osama bin Laden and now Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ilk. 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 have taken its claims about "why they hate us" seriously after 9/11 shows what the government's 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 and those who suffer "collateral damage." 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 Iraqis and Afghanis (and dead Pakistanis and Yemenis and Somalis and Libyans). 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.

11. Politicians will stop at nothing to shamelessly exploit the memory of the American victims of blowback if it will aggrandize their power. No amount of national self-pity, self-congratulation, and vaunting is ever enough.

(Adapted and re-posted from 2006.)

Friday, September 05, 2014

TGIF: Does Freedom Require Empire?

In a startling article, Daniel McCarthy, the admirable editor of The American Conservative magazine (TAC), writes, “Successive British and American empires created and upheld the world order in which [classical] liberalism could flourish.” In other words, as he writes in “Why Liberalism Means Empire,” “Liberalism and empire reinforced one another in manifold ways.” Therefore, if we want an enduring liberal democratic society, we must acknowledge the necessity of a U.S.-enforced global empire.
Read all of TGIF here.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Let's Have Candor from the NATO Summit

Don’t hold your breath, but it would be refreshing if NATO leaders meeting in Wales this week spoke candidly for once about Ukraine.
Read it here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Wrong, Hillary

Hillary Clinton says there would be no Islamic State had her advice been taken about arming the "moderate" opposition in Syria. To which Stephen Zunes replies:
In reality: 1) Much of ISIS's weaponry has come from overrunning FSA [Free Syrian Army, i.e., the "moderate" opposition's] positions and from fighters who left FSA and joined ISIS; 2) The FSA consists of hundreds of independent uncoordinated militia of largely untrained fighters, additional arms would not have made them effective; 3) Their [the Islamic state's] coming to power in northern Iraq is a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, which Clinton supported and Obama opposed.

TGIF: "The Police Force Is Watching the People"

Political philosophy — the libertarian philosophy included — can take you only so far. The libertarian philosophy provide grounds for condemning aggression, that is, the initiation of force, and along with some supplemental considerations, it identifies in the abstract what constitutes aggression, victimhood, and self-defense. But the philosophy can’t identify the aggressor and victim in particular cases; relevant empirical information is required.
Read TGIF here.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Mission Creep in Iraq

There are several reasons not to intervene militarily in another country’s conflict, even modestly. One is the potential for mission creep.
We already could detect the signs of mission creep in Iraq. Now, with the stepped-up U.S. airstrikes after the Islamic State’s horrific execution of American reporter Jim Foley, the signs are clearer than ever.
Read it here.

Friday, August 15, 2014

TGIF: American Liberty during World War I

There’s always plenty for libertarians to complain about in our troubled world, but in many respects, things could be much worse. I’m thinking particularly of how the U.S. government punished dissent before, during, and even after America’s participation in World War I. Although it will be a few years before we observe the centenary of Woodrow Wilson’s idiotic decision in 1917 to plunge the country into the Great War, this seems like as good a time as any to review his administration’s, Congress’s, and the courts’ shameful conduct.
TGIF is here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

She's Wrong Again

Unsurprisingly, Hillary is wrong: "Don’t do stupid stuff’ is an organizing principle -- for government.

Mental-Health Gnomes

The sad death of Robin Williams has brought out the usual mental-health gnomes. Here's a summary of their message:

Phase 1: Bad brain chemistry
Phase 2: ?
Phase 3: Suicide.

If only life were that simple. Persons are more than the sum of their parts.

Out of Iraq, Etc.!

Nearly a century ago, after four bloody years of World War I, British colonialists created the state of Iraq, complete with their hand-picked monarch. Britain and France were authorized — or, more precisely, authorized themselves — to create states in the Arab world, despite the prior British promise of independence in return for the Arabs’ revolt against the Ottoman Turks, which helped the Allied powers defeat the Central powers. And so European countries drew lines in the sand without much regard for the societies they were constructing from disparate sectarian, tribal, and ethnic populations....
History alone does not tell us what, if anything, outside powers should do now; there’s no going back in time. But we can say that without foreign interference, even a violent evolution of the region might have been far less violent than it has been during the last century. At least, the violent factions would not be seeking revenge against Americans.
It's all here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

TGIF: The 100th Anniversary of the Great State Crime

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, the four-year bloody nightmare that claimed 16 million lives — 7 million of them noncombatants — and wounded over 20 million people.
That would have been bad enough, but the conflict was merely Act One in a much bigger war. The “peace” settlement vindictively branded Germany uniquely culpable and imposed border adjustments that made Act Two a virtual certainty. The so-called Second World War, which began after the 21-year intermission from 1918 to 1939, claimed at least 60 million lives, at least 19 million of which were noncombatants.
Read TGIF here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Real Days of Infamy



Today is the 69th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima, one of President Harry Truman's acts of mass murder against Japan in August 1945. Some 90,000-166,000 individuals were killed. The anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing (39,000-80,000 human beings killed) is August 9. (It has come to my attention that the U.S. military bombed Tokyo on Aug. 14--after destroying Hiroshima and Nagasaki and after Emperor Hirohito expressed his readiness to surrender.)

There isn't much to be said about those unspeakable atrocities against civilians that hasn't been said many times before. The U.S. government never needed atomic bombs to commit mass murder. Its "conventional" weapons have been potent enough. (See the earlier firebombing of Tokyo.) Nor did it need the bombs to persuade Japan to surrender; the Japanese government had been suing for peace. 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. Presidents and presidential candidates are still expected to say that, with respect to nuclear weapons, "no options are off the table."

Mario Rizzo has pointed out that Americans were upset by the murder of 3,000 people on 9/11 yet seem not to be bothered that "their" government murdered hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians in two days. Conservatives, ironically, were among the earliest critics of Truman's acts of mass murder.

As Harry Truman once said, "I don't give 'em hell. I just drop A-bombs on their cities and they think it's hell." (Okay, he didn't really say that, but he might as well have.)

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."

Other things to read: Anthony Gregory’s “Hiroshima, Nagasaki, andthe US Terror State,”  David Henderson’s “Remembering Hiroshima,” and G.E.M. Anscombe's "Mr. Truman's Decree."

Finally, if you read nothing else on this subject, read Ralph Raico's article here.

[A version of this post appeared previously.]

The U.S. Government Still Tries to Subvert Cuba

When I saw the headline about the U.S. government and Cuba in my newspaper the other day, I thought I’d awoken in 1961. It was a Twilight Zone moment for sure: “U.S. program aimed to stir dissent in Cuba.” I expected Rod Serling to welcome me to “another dimension.”
But it was 2014. The AP news report said President Barack Obama and presumably then–secretary of state Hillary Clinton had plotted to incite a popular uprising — to “gin up opposition” — against the Cuban government by sending in young Latin Americans masquerading as tourists and health workers.
Read it here.