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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Free Associations

Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: Greenspan out. Bernanke in. It's still central economic planning. Bah!

* * *

She May Know Medicine, But That's It: Veteran geriatric physician Christine Cassel, author of Medicare Matters, was interviewed on Terry Gross's NPR program, "Fresh Air." Dr. Cassel was engaged in a full-court defense of Medicare, opposing any change involving the private sector, when she played what she must have thought was her ace of spades. Medicare, she said, is not just for the elderly. It's a "family program, because if there were no Medicare, we'd be paying those bills."

Pardon, Dr. Cassel, who do you think pays them now?

* * *

The Government Keeps Us Safe. . . Really: Gene Callahan at Crash Landing has a great anecdote that goes to show that consumer protection is just another facade for the corporate state, which in fact exists to preserve the wealth of well-connected business interests through cartelizing regulations and taxes. Can you name a major business figure who is for laissez faire?

* * *

It Could be Verse:

Oh, what a tangle they create,
When first they seek to legislate.

Perpetuating War by Exalting Its Sacrifices

For the first time in ages I watched the 1964 movie The Americanization of Emily, directed by Arthur Hiller, with screenplay by the great Paddy Chayefsky (available from Netflix). I won't go into the details of this antiwar romance set during World War II, just before D-Day. For that, click here to read Rick Gee's excellent run-down.

All I'll do is quote the lead character Charlie Madison's (James Garner) perceptive speech to his English girlfriend's (Julie Andrews) mother, who has lost her husband, son, and son-in-law in the war:
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.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Jefferson's Fears Are Coming True

Jacob Weisberg, editor of Slate, had a noteworthy column last week on the extravagant claims Bush II's people are making for total presidential power. Some samples:
Even if one assumes that every unknown instance of warrant-less spying by the NSA were justified on security grounds, the arguments issuing from the White House threaten the concept of checks and balances as it has been understood in America for the last 218 years. Simply put, Bush and his lawyers contend that the president's national security powers are unlimited. And since the war on terror is currently scheduled to run indefinitely, the executive supremacy they're asserting won't be a temporary condition.

...[T]he nation implied by the [Justice Depatment's recent] document would be an elective dictatorship, governed not by three counterpoised branches of government but by a secretive, possibly benign, awesomely powerful king....

Bush's message to the courts, like his message to Congress, is: Make way, subjects....

The final problem with [Attorney General Alberto] Gonzales' theories of unfettered executive authority is that they, as the lawyers say, prove too much. The Article II plus AUMF [Congress's 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force] justification for warrant-less spying is essentially the same one the administration has advanced to excuse torture; ignore the Geneva Conventions; and indefinitely hold even U.S. citizens without a hearing, charges, or trial. Torture and detention without due process are bad enough. But why does this all-purpose rationale not also extend to press censorship or arresting political opponents, were the president to deem such measures vital to the nation's security?
Why not, indeed?

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Drug Lies

At first I was disturbed when I learned James Frey's memoir of drug use and recovery was actually fiction. But then I remembered that every premise of the misnamed war on drugs (it's a war on people) is fiction.* What's one more set of drug lies?

*The lies include: drugs are addictive; addiction is a disease; drug use per se is dangerous to oneself or society; prison can be in the interest of drug users; counseling for drug addiction is a medical process; compulsory drug rehab is therapy; drug warriors mean well; "we are winning the drug war"; ad infinitum. For more see this Reason interview with Thomas Szasz as well as his books Ceremonial Chemistry: The Ritual Persecution of Drugs, Addicts, and Pushers and Our Right to Drugs: The Case for the Free Market. Also see Jacob Sullum's Saying Yes: In Defense of Drug Use.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Go Figure

A serial killer motivated by money is called a hitman.
A serial killer motivated by anything but money is called a schizophrenic.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Is Ayn Rand Spinning in Her Grave Yet?

Ayn Rand had a pretty good handle on the mixed-economy, i.e., the corporate state (notwithstanding "Big Business: America's Persecuted Minority"), and its relation to war. (See Chris Matthew Sciabarra's classic article, "Understanding the Global Crisis: Reclaiming Rand's Radical Legacy" pdf.) So how curious that her favorite philosopher, Leonard Peikoff, and the institute he founded in her name support a foreign policy of intervention, war, and, perforce, mass murder (see the press releases and such at ARI), and her favorite economist, Alan Greenspan, became the world's chief central planner of money and banking. (He retires next week.)

Greenspan's economic philosophy was on horrifying display the other day when he urged Congress to close an exemption in the banking regulations that enables Wal-Mart to form an industrial loan company (ILC), a type of bank that could process credit- and debit-card transactions in its stores. Here's what Greenspan had to say, according to the Associated Press:
The character, powers and ownership of ILCs have changed materially since Congress first enacted the ILC exemption. These changes are undermining the prudential framework that Congress has carefully crafted and developed for the corporate owners of other full-service banks.

Importantly, these changes also threaten to remove Congress' ability to determine the direction of our nation's financial system with regard to the mixing of banking and commerce and the appropriate framework of prudential supervision. [Emphasis added.]
Is he kidding? Congress has "carefully crafted and developed" a "prudential framework" for the banking industry? And if we aren't careful we might harm Congress's "ability to determine the direction" of the financial system? Could it escape anyone's notice that here Greenspan reveals himself as favoring central planning on behalf of "the corporate owners of other full-service banks"?

Boy, with advocates of laissez faire like this, who needs fascists?

Another Victim

The war on drugs (sic; it's a war on people) has another victim -- or is about to. See this post from Brad Spanger about a man who will almost certainly be jailed in the U.S. (if he hasn't been already) and die from a rare form of cancer because he cannot obtain marijuana. Steve Kubby fled to Canada to avoid prosecution in California, but thanks to U.S.-Canadian collusion he has been returned. If jailed, he is doomed. Our Benevolent State always looks out for us, especially the most vulnerable. It's not "medical marijuana" we need; it's simple freedom.

Update: Brad Spangler has late developments here.

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Well . . . elections don't always go as expected. Contrary to official U.S. policy, most Palestinians were not overcome by the Spirit of Liberal Democracy. Instead, they gave Hamas a huge margin of seats in their governing body. I don't suppose George II's heavy-handed support for Fatah (including our tax money) had anything to do with the results, which, by the way, call to mind Tom Lehrer's great lyric in "Send the Marines":

For might makes right,
And till they've seen the light,
They've got to be protected,
All their rights respected,
'Till somebody we like can be elected.

Why is the U.S. government allowed to meddle in other people's elections? Whenever someone suspects that's happening here, he cries bloody murder.

Overlooked in all the pre- and post-election coverage is this interesting fact: Israel promoted the emergence of a religious rival to Arafat's secular Fatah, i.e., Hamas.

As UPI reported in 2001,
Israel and Hamas may currently be locked in deadly combat, but, according to several current and former U.S. intelligence officials, beginning in the late 1970s, Tel Aviv gave direct and indirect financial aid to Hamas over a period of years. Israel "aided Hamas directly -- the Israelis wanted to use it as a counterbalance to the PLO," said Tony Cordesman, Middle East analyst for the Center for Strategic Studies. Israel's support for Hamas "was a direct attempt to divide and dilute support for a strong, secular PLO by using a competing religious alternative," said a former senior CIA official.... One US intelligence source who asked not to be named, said that not only was Hamas being funded as a "counterweight" to the PLO, Israeli aid had a more devious purpose: "to help identify and channel towards Israeli agents Hamas members who were dangerous terrorists."
Now Hamas is Israel's mortal enemy. It's called blowback.

Postscript: As for George II being stunned by the election results, I can't improve on what Brad Spangler says here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Free Associations

Tautology: It's now being said that the guy who went bananas on a taxiing airliner, charged the flight-deck door, bit a passenger in a scuffle, and then jumped off the plane was mentally ill. Translation: the man acted unpredictably and inappropriately because he is the kind of man who acts unpredictably and inappropriately. Thanks. Now we understand.

* * *

Eminent-Domain Watch: From the Institute for Justice: "BB&T, the nation’s ninth largest financial holdings company with $109.2 billion in assets, announced today that it 'will not lend to commercial developers that plan to build condominiums, shopping malls and other private projects on land taken from private citizens by government entities using eminent domain.'" (News release here.)

Hear, hear!

* * *

Global What?: "Vienna’s subway tracks cracked, German authorities shut a key canal to ships after it iced up, and a zoo moved its penguins indoors Tuesday as a deadly deep freeze tightened its grip on much of Europe.

"Blamed for more than 50 deaths in Russia, the cold wave claimed at least 13 lives in the past five days in the former Soviet republic of Moldova, where authorities said another 30 people -- many of them homeless -- were hospitalized with hypothermia.

". . .Parts of Austria felt more like Siberia, with the mercury plunging well below zero. The bitter cold hit an all-time low of minus 24 degrees in the lower Austria town of Gross Gerungs, while in the beer-making town of Zwettl, it was minus 12 -- the chilliest Jan. 24 since 1929. (AP)

* * *

The Great Murray: From a Rothbard lecture, "Clinton's Giant Step Backward, " available as a podcast from the Mises Institute: "The essence of the welfare state and the regulatory state is cartelization: the government as ally with various business groups to put their small competitors out of business. . . . It's important to show the essence of the regulatory state; it's a coalition between big government, ideological statists, and big-business groups who benefit from it."

* * *

From My Latest Op-Ed: "Government Perpetuates the Underclass": "Removing the INS as a threat to these [exploited immigrant] workers would go a long way toward improving their situation. People coming here to make better lives should be welcomed, not persecuted. But more can be done, such as removing all government barriers to competition, work, and self-employment, such as licensing, regulations, and taxes, which reduce people’s options and help to perpetuate the underclass." (The Future of Freedom Foundation)

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Intervention Begets Intervention

Frank J. Gaffney Jr. wants President Bush to impose a "requirement that every car sold in America be flexible fuel-compatible" and to establish "incentives for: the manufacture and purchase of hybrids and their plug-in variants, greatly increased production of alternative fuels and the necessary, modest infrastructure modifications."

Why all this intervention? To set "America free of its dependence on oil."

And why do we need to do that? "Because we in the United States and industrialized world more generally, are funding both sides in the War for the Free World. On the one hand, since we consume far more oil than is available here at home, we are obliged to import most of what we need from abroad. As a practical matter that means enriching with wealth transfers those who are the principal financiers of Islamofascist terror -- notably, Saudi Arabia and Iran. And, on the other, we are paying vast sums to protect ourselves against such terror."

Moreover, "our transportation sector remains reliant upon oil -- 60 percent of it imported -- for the gasoline and diesel fuel on which it runs almost exclusively. This creates a dependency that is as unsustainable as it is strategically perilous, especially as the appetite for oil of our emerging rival, Communist China, continues to skyrocket."

So, according to Gaffney, we need intervention in the domestic economy because of our dependence on oil. And how did we come to be dependent on oil? Through previous government intervention. A good deal of U.S. foreign policy has had the effect (and usually the intention) of subsidizing the American oil companies. Involvement in the Middle East, going back at least to the end of World War II, has, via the taxpayers,  externalized the costs of assuring a stable source of oil for ostensibly private companies. In other words, socialized costs, privatized profits. No wonder the left despises the oil companies. They have a point.

We don't know what the energy and transportation industries would look like without this subsidy, not to mention all the other subsidies and cartelizing regulations and taxes they enjoy. But we do have reason to think they would look a lot different than they do today. Government intervention distorts risk, prices, investment, economic calculation, and the resulting consumer choices. If unsubsidized oil companies had had to face the turmoil in the Middle East at their own risk, they would have acted differently than they have: they would have looked for safer sources of supply and/or developed entirely different forms of energy. We don't know what we're missing, but we are likely missing something good. Maybe we'd all be driving clean, high-mileage electric cars by now.

Of course, if the U.S. government had not intervened in the Middle East, there would have been much less turmoil there (and here) in the first place. We wouldn't be fighting a "war on terror" or changing regimes. So maybe we'd be using oil from there anyway. We'll never know. But we do know that the policy has imposed untold costs and hardship on American taxpayer-consumers--and the people of the Middle East.

For more, see my 1991 paper, published by the Cato Institute, "'Ancient History': U.S. Conduct in the Middle East Since World War II and the Folly of Intervention."

Monday, January 23, 2006

Beware "School Choice"

Some advocates of what is euphemistically called school choice argue that their reform would be a crucial step along the road to the separation of school and state. Some of us have dissented. Knowing how government works, we've had a hunch that vouchers and tuition tax credits would most likely lead to greater regulation of private schools. The cry of accountability for schools receiving public money would be irresistible.

Events are not only supporting our prediction, they are even worse than we might have expected. In Florida, groups that support tuition tax credits for private schools have been lobbying, so far unsuccessfully, for legislation to impose standards on schools wishing to participate in the scholarship programs. Associations of private schools are in the forefront of the lobbying coalition.
The rest of my op-ed, "Government role runs counter to school choice," which was published yesterday in the Myrtle Beach Sun News, can be found here. It was distributed by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Benjamin Tucker on the Therapeutic State

"Upholding thus the right of every individual to be or select his own priest, they [Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Josiah Warren, and other anarchists] likewise uphold his right to be or select his own doctor. No monopoly in theology, no monopoly in medicine. Competition everywhere and always; spiritual advice and medical advice alike to stand or fall on their own merits. And not only in medicine, but in hygiene, must this principle of liberty be followed. The individual may decide for himself not only what to do to get well, but what to do to keep well. No external power must dictate to him what he must and must not eat, drink, wear, or do." ("State Socialism and Anarchism: How Far They Agree, and Wherein They Differ," Liberty, March 10, 1888)

Saturday, January 21, 2006

The Gospel of Leisure

Professor David Levy of George Mason University has pointed out that when Thomas Carlyle labeled economics "the dismal science," he wasn't referring to the pessimistic conclusions drawn by Thomas Malthus. No, what Carlyle found dismal was that market-based societies entail free labor and rule out slavery, specifically black slavery. That depressed Carlyle. Perhaps slavery was gone in Britain forever, but now how could whites make sure blacks did the hard work they were destined to do?

In this Freeman article from 2000, Levy quoted Carlyle's 1849 Fraser's Magazine article, "Occasional Discourse on the Negro Question":
Truly, my philanthropic friends, [anti-slave] Exeter Hall Philanthropy is wonderful; and the Social Science—not a “gay science,” but a rueful [one]—which finds the secret of this universe in “supply-and-demand,” and reduces the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone, is also wonderful. Not a “gay science,” I should say, like some we have heard of; no, a dreary, desolate, and indeed quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science. These two, Exeter Hall Philanthropy and the Dismal Science, led by any sacred cause of Black Emancipation, or the like, to fall in love and make a wedding of it,—will give birth to progenies and prodigies; dark extensive moon-calves, unnameable abortions, wide-coiled monstrosities, such as the world has not seen hitherto!
Levy comments:
Too often soft-pedaled by those who admire his attack on economics, Carlyle was the premier theorist of the idealized slave society. In opposition to the economists’ supply-and-demand model of human society, he put forward the doctrine of obedience to one’s betters. While he had been making such arguments through the 1840s, it wasn’t until the “Negro Question” that he realized that all white people are "better" than all black people. This certainly made the idealized slavery more attractive for white Britons than one in which they might be on the cutting end of the "beneficent whip." . . .Carlyle idealized slavery in the same way economists idealized markets. To match the economists’ claim of mutual gain from exchange, Carlyle put forward the doctrine of the joys of service to one’s betters. And according to the way things were supposed to work, the common religion would give the details of the hierarchy.

Responding anonymously to Carlyle in Fraser's in 1850 was John Stuart Mill. In "The Negro Question" Mill objected to Carlyle's religious-based claim that black people were put on earth to work for white people. He wrote: "If 'the gods' will this, it is the first duty of human beings to resist such gods. Omnipotent these 'gods' are not, for powers which demand human tyranny and injustice cannot accomplish their purpose unless human beings coöperate. The history of human improvement is the record of a struggle by which inch after inch of ground has been wrung from these maleficent powers, and more and more of human life rescued from the iniquitous dominion of the law of might. Much, very much of this work still remains to do; but the progress made in it is the best and greatest achievement yet performed by mankind, and it was hardly to be expected at this period of the world that we should be enjoined, by way of a great reform in human affair, to begin undoing it."

Mill went on, passionately, satirically, for 4,600 words, praising the anti-slavery movement as a movement for justice and condemning slavery and the slave trade as criminal. He mocked Carlyle all the way: "That negroes should exist, and enjoy existence, on so little work, is a scandal, in his eyes, worse than their former slavery. It must be put a stop to at any price. He does not 'wish to see' them slaves again 'if it can be avoided ;' but 'decidedly' they 'will have to be servants,’' 'servants to the whites,' ' compelled to labor,' and 'not to go idle another minute.' " Carlyle presented himself as the benefactor of black people and invoked the "divine right of being compelled, if permitted will not serve, to do what work they are appointed for." According to Carlyle, whites had this "right" also. "But," Mill wrote, "he will begin with the blacks, and will make them work for certain whites, those whites not working at all; that so 'the eternal purpose and supreme will' may be fulfilled, and 'injustice,' which is 'forever accursed,' may cease."

Mill then turned to "the gospel of work," praised by Carlyle, "which, to my mind, justly deserves the name of a cant." He attacked the idea that work is an end in itself, rather than merely a means. "While we talk only of work, and not of its object, we are far from the root of the matter; or, if it may be called the root, it is a root without flower or fruit. . . .In opposition to the 'gospel of work,' I would assert the gospel of leisure, and maintain that human beings cannot rise to the finer attributes of their nature compatibly with a life filled with labor . . .  the exhausting, stiffening, stupefying toil of many kinds of agricultural and manufacturing laborers. To reduce very greatly the quantity of work required to carry on existence is as needful as to distribute it more equally; and the progress of science, and the increasing ascendancy of justice and good sense, tend to this result."

Levy sums up
If a student knows the Carlyle-Mill debate, it is impossible to think of the classical economists as taking the reactionary side in the Victorian debate over social organization. The alternative to markets was not socialism. There were socialist experiments, but there were no socialist economies. The alternative to market organization was slavery. Teachers have to work rather hard to hide this fact. For instance, when students in classes in British literature encounter Charles Dickens’s 1854 Hard Times, with its savage attack on markets and market economics, teachers wishing to present Dickens as "progressive" have to be careful. When they explain why it is "inscribed to Thomas Carlyle," it is probably helpful to their cause if they not mention that in 1853 Carlyle republished an expanded version of his part of the exchange with Mill under the title Occasional Discourse on the Nigger Question. What would modern students think if they knew that the attack on market transactions came from those who idealized slavery for black people?

The Carlyle-Mill debate was a theoretical debate. Ideas do have consequences. The issues stopped being purely theoretical in what historians call the “Governor Eyre controversy” of mid-1860s Britain. What ought we to do about those responsible for an administrative massacre of nonwhite Jamaicans? On the side demanding colorblind justice we find the old coalition Carlyle opposed, antislave Evangelicals and economists now joined by Charles Darwin and T. H. Huxley. In opposition we find all the major antimarket voices in Victorian literature—Dickens, John Ruskin, Charles Kingsley, and Alfred Tennyson—joining Carlyle in making the case that it could not be murder to kill Jamaicans of color because one could only murder people. The defeat of the Evangelical-economic coalition was complete. Eyre walked; Mill lost his seat in Parliament; the century of administrative massacre began. And the episode is never mentioned when in English classes the stories of the progressive literary figures and the heartless economists are retold.
More by Levy (and Sandra Peart) here.

Hat tip for the Mill response: Jeff Hummel

Friday, January 20, 2006

Eminent-Domain Watch

It's happening again. The State of New York has promised to turn over private property to the Seneca Indian Nation so it can expand its casino. According to the Associated Press, "The Empire State Development Corp. [ESDC] determined the Senecas' expansion plans would be good for Niagara Falls, with the potential to create thousands of jobs and attract more visitors.... The Senecas were promised about 50 acres of downtown land as part of their 2002 compact with the state, which let them build the casino -- and two others in western New York -- in exchange for a share of slot machine profits."

In other words, the state government bargained away people's homes and businesses for a cut. How nice.

In its published legal notice, the development corporation stated, "It is determined that ESDC should exercise its power of eminent domain in order to implement the acquisition." Two blocks of homes, two hotels, a water park, and a Pizza Hut are slated for taking.

At least one owner, an elderly woman who has lived in her home 50 years, is planning to fight the taking in court.

There is irony of course in land being taken for an Indian tribe, but I have seen no allegation that the parcels in question belonged to the Senecas.

The full story is here.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Happy Birthday, Lysander Spooner

Today is the 198th anniversary of the birth of the great Lysander Spooner, an inspiration to indivdualist voluntarists and anarchists. Spooner was a political philosopher, a constitutional lawyer, an abolitionist, a postal entrepreneur, and an activist. You can learn more about him and read his voluminous writings here. Here's a taste from his 1882 letter to Thomas F. Bayard (U.S. senator from Delaware):
You assume that the right of arbitrary dominion -- that is, the right of making laws of their own device, and compelling obedience to them -- is a "trust" that has been delegated to those who now exercise that power. You call it "the trust of public power."

But, Sir, you are mistaken in supposing that any such power has ever been delegated, or ever can be delegated, by any body, to any body.

Any such delegation of power is naturally impossible, for these reasons, viz:

1. No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over himself; for that would be giving himself away as a slave. And this no one can do. Any contract to do so is necessarily an absurd one, and has no validity. To call such a contract a "constitution," or by any other high-sounding name, does not alter its character as an absurd and void contract.

2. No man can delegate, or give to another, any right of arbitrary dominion over a third person; for that would imply a right in the first person, not only to make the third person his slave, but also a right to dispose of him as a slave to still other persons. Any contract to do this is necessarily a criminal one, and therefore invalid. To call such a contract a "constitution" does not at all lessen its criminality, or add to its validity.

These facts, that no man can delegate, or give away, his own natural right to liberty, nor any other man's natural right to liberty, prove that he can delegate no right of arbitrary dominion whatever -- or, what is the same thing, no legislative power whatever -- over himself or anybody else, to any man, or body of men.

This impossibility of any man's delegating any legislative power whatever, necessarily results from the fact that the law of nature has drawn the line -- and that, too, a line that can never be effaced nor removed -- between each man's own interest and inalienable rights of person and property, and each and every other man's inherent and inalienable rights of person and property. It, therefore, necessarily fixes the unalterable limits, within which every man may rightfully seek his own happiness, in his own way, free from all responsibility to, or interference by, his fellow men, or any of them.

All this pretended delegation of legislative power -- that is, of a power, on the part of the legislators, so-called, to make any laws of their own device, distinct from the law of nature -- is therefore an entire falsehood; a falsehood whose only purpose is to cover and hide a pure usurpation, by one body of men, of arbitrary dominion over other men.
Hat tip: Kenneth R. Gregg.

Postscript: It was Spooner's letter to Bayard that inspired my essay "Slave Contracts and the Inalienable Will," which was published in the July-August 1978 issue of The Libertarian Forum.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Ersatz Autonomy

The U.S. Supreme Court, as everyone knows by now, has ruled that the federal government can't interfere with Oregon's so-called assisted-suicide law. I have mixed feelings. I'm happy the feds were told to butt out. But I don't like the Oregon law. It's an example of ersatz autonomy. It doesn't really recognize the right to take one's own life; rather, it empowers doctors to grant permission for and to facilitate a person's suicide if that person petitions his doctor and meets the highly stringent conditions set out in the law. For one thing, another doctor has to concur, and the patient has to be certified as not being mentally ill, which opens a floodgate of reasons to deny a petition. Thomas Szasz pointed out the fraud of assisted-suicide long ago. His book Fatal Freedom goes into the subject in depth. Here's a summary in one of his Freeman columns.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rothbard on Justice in Property

Murray Rothbard tirelessly insisted that advocates of the free market must have a theory of justice in property, and he often loosed his ire at utilitarian economists who defended markets and "property rights" without such a theory. Here's what he wrote in a 1973 paper on the subject. This is classic Rothbard, and the relevance to today's privatization issues is clear.
Let us consider a hypothetical example of the failure of the utilitarian defense of private property. Suppose that somehow government becomes persuaded of the necessity to yield to a clamor for a free-market, laissez-faire society. Before dissolving itself, however, it redistributes property titles, granting ownership of the entire territory of New York to the Rockefeller family, of Massachusetts to the Kennedy family, etc. It then dissolves, ending taxation and all other forms of government intervention in the economy. However, while taxation has been abolished, the Rockefeller, Kennedy, etc. families proceed to dictate to all the residents in what is now "their" territory, exacting what are now called "rents" over all the inhabitants. It seems clear that our utilitarians could have no intellectual armor with which to challenge this new dispensation; indeed, they would have to endorse the Rockefeller, Kennedy, etc., holdings as "private property" equally deserving of support as the ordinary property titles which they had endorsed only a few months previously. All this because the utilitarians have no theory of justice in property beyond endorsement of whatever status quo happens to exist.

. . .We conclude that utilitarianism cannot be supported as a groundwork for property rights or, a fortiori, for the free-market economy. A theory of justice must be arrived at which goes beyond government allocations of property titles, and which can, therefore, serve as a basis for criticizing such allocations. ("Justice and Property Rights," in Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature and Other Essays)

Collateral Damage

Okay, so a bunch of Pakistani civilians died in a U.S. airstrike intended to kill a top al-Qaida guy. Don't you realize we're at war? Or at least that's what members of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body say.

Sen. John McCain: "We have to do what we think is necessary to take out al-Qaida, particularly the top operatives."

Sen. Evan Bayh: "It's a regrettable situation, but what else are we supposed to do? It's like the wild, wild west out there. The Pakistani border is a real problem."

Sen. Trent Lott: "My information is that this strike was clearly justified by the intelligence."

Besides, the senators are convinced that the U.S. government informed the Pakistani government that the strike would occur.

So what are all those people who object to the murder of of innocent civilians complaining about? Sheesh! Don't the victims realize that the world is safer now that George II has sent troops to the Middle East?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Always a Kerfuffle

Have you noticed that when right-wingers want to minimize (and defend) some Bush administration violation of civil liberties or individual rights, they call the controversy a "kerfuffle"? Torture at Abu Ghraib and other places? Warrantless eavesdropping? Kerfuffles. It's their cute way of saying, "What's the big deal? Now move on."

Mises on the Conquest of Land

I'm a classic-quote junkie. I admit it. Here's one from Ludwig von Mises, in his great book Socialism. (Truth be told, I saw this most recently in Kevin Carson's book, Studies in Mutualist Political Economy.)
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. As soon as the latifundia are drawn into the sphere of market transactions they begin to crumble, until at last they disappear completely. Neither at their formation nor in their maintenance have economic causes operated. The great landed fortunes did not arise through the economic superiority of large scale ownership, but through violent annexation outside the area of trade. "And they covet the fields" complains the prophet Micah, "and take them by violence; and houses, and take them away." Thus comes into existence the property of those who, in the words of Isaiah, "join house to house . . . lay field to field, till there be no place, that they may be placed alone in the midst of the earth".

The non-economic origin of landed fortunes is clearly revealed by the fact that, as a rule, the expropriation by which they have been created in no way alters the manner of production. The old owner remains on the soil under different legal title and continues to carry on production.

The world would look a lot different today had that conquest not taken place. Contemplating that difference makes the mind boggle.

Sunday, January 15, 2006


I've always loved this quotation from Pierre-Joseph Proudhon. I found it at Wikipedia. Has anyone ever summed things up better?
To be GOVERNED is to 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. To be GOVERNED is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be 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. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.
(P.-J. Proudhon, General Idea of the Revolution in the Nineteenth Century, translated by John Beverly Robinson [London: Freedom Press, 1923], pp. 293-294.)

Proudhon is best known among libertarians for his statement "Property is theft" (What Is Property?). But this is usually misconstrued, for he also wrote, "Where shall we find a power capable of counterbalancing this formidable might of the State? There is no other except property.... The absolute right of the State is in conflict with the absolute right of the property owner. Property is the greatest revolutionary force which exists" (Theory of Property). So how can property be theft? As stated in Wikipedia, "The apparent contradiction is resolved when it is realized that, in What is Property?, he was using 'property' to mean idle natural resources that, through coercion and conquest, individuals were being prevented from using by the force of the state."

Okay, I can't resist adding this dialog from What Is Property? (also at Wikipedia):
"Why, how can you ask such a question? You are a republican."
"A republican! Yes; but that word specifies nothing. Res publica; that is, the public thing. Now, whoever is interested in public affairs -- no matter under what form of government -- may call himself a republican. Even kings are republicans."
"Well! You are a democrat?"
"What! "you would have a monarchy?"
" A Constitutionalist?"
"God forbid."
"Then you are an aristocrat?"
"Not at all!"
"You want a mixed form of government?"
"Even less."
"Then what are you?"
"I am an anarchist."
"Oh! I understand you; you speak satirically. This is a hit at the government."
"By no means. I have just given you my serious and well-considered profession of faith. Although a firm friend of order, I am (in the full force of the term) an anarchist. Listen to me."

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Stossel on Public Schools

I just watched my recording of John Stossel's 20/20 special on America's public schools. While I don't agree with his solution, vouchers (having the tax money follow the kids), I applaud Stossel for vividly showing how bad the government's schools are and how reactionary the bureaucrats and teachers unions are. The system is destroying the future of so many children, and all apoloigsts for it are accomplices to the crime. Innercity parents are realizing what's going on and who's at fault. They have been sold out by their self-styled champions, the crocodile-tear-shedding state socialists, because the jobs are secure and the money isn't bad. (It can take years to fire an admitted sex-offender teacher.) Besides, public schooling is a mother lode of profits for well-connected "private sector" contractors who sell the system everything from paperclips and textbooks to food and buses. Collecting the taxpayers' money is so much nicer than hustling for customers in a real marketplace. (Smash the School-Industrial Complex!) It is truly a tragedy.

(I have more on education here and here.)

Szasz in One Lesson

This is something I came up with some time ago to summarize a good deal of what Thomas Szasz, a great libertarian and hero of mine, has been saying for half a century.

If neuroscientists discovered that mass murderers and people who claim to be Jesus had different brain chemistries from other people, most everyone would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a mental illness/brain disorder (MI/BD).

If neuroscientists discovered that homosexuals had different brain chemistries from heterosexuals, far fewer people would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD.

If neuroscientists discovered that nuns had different brain chemistries from everyone else, very few people would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD.

If neuroscientists discovered that married men had different brain chemistries from bachelors, no one would accept this as evidence that they suffered from a MI/BD.

Clearly, a difference in brain chemistry per se is not enough to make people believe that someone has a MI/BD. It takes more. Why, then, would a difference in one case be taken as evidence of MI/BD, while a difference in another case would not be? The obvious answer is that people, including psychiatrists, are willing to attribute behavior to mental illness/brain disorder to the extent that they disapprove of that behavior, and are unwilling to do so to the extent they approve of, or at least are willing to tolerate, that behavior. (Psychiatry once held that homosexuality was a mental illness. That position was changed, but not on the basis of scientific findings. Science had nothing to do with the initial position either.)

In other words, the psychiatric worldview rests, not on science or medicine, as its practitioners would have us believe, but on ethics, politics, and religion. That would be objectionable only intellectually if that were as far as it went. Unfortunately, it goes further, since the practitioners and the legal system they helped shape are empowered:

•  First, to involuntarily “hospitalize” and drug people “diagnosed” as mentally ill and thought possibly to be dangerous to themselves or others, and

•  Second, to excuse certain people of responsibility for their actions (for example, via the insanity defense).

Postscript: I'm often asked which one of Thomas Szasz's two dozen books I'd recommend to someone unfamiliar with his work. I suggest Insanity: The Idea and Its Consequences. This highly readable book covers most of his views on psychiatry, mental illness, and the Therapeutic State, with responses to his critics along the way. Of course, after that, you'll want to read the rest.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Anti-Wal-Mart Law Passes in Maryland

The anti-Wal-Mart bill passed yesterday by the Maryland legislature shows once again that government is the organization by which one group exploits others, as Franz Oppenheimer long ago noted. (This is true regardless of the fact that at different times the same group can be the exploiter and the exploited. See this.) The law, which was pushed by a union wishing to organize Wal-Mart's employees and its largest supermarket competitor, Giant Foods (which is unionized), compels companies with more than 10,000 employees to spend at least 8 percent of their payrolls on health benefits or to give the money to a state welfare program. Wal-Mart is the only firm that crosses that threshold and does not spend that amount. (Why 10,000? Why not 9,000?)

Defenders of the law say it's necessary to protect Medicaid. They claim that Wal-Mart doesn't have to provide health benefits because its employees can go on the state-federal medical welfare program. But the percentage of Wal-Mart employees in Maryland who use Medicaid is not unlike that of other big retailers nationally. That, however, is not the main argument against this claim. Wal-Mart didn't set up Medicaid. It's slightly absurd for politicians to create a welfare program and then complain when people use it. If they don't want taxpayers paying for other people's medical care, let them shut down Medicaid. (Hey, great idea!) The hypocrisy here is amazing. For decades state politicians have made medical care more expensive than it would be by piling regulations and mandates on insurers and imposing licensing requirements that suppress competition. Then they object when employers try to cope with artificially inflated costs.

The way to make medical affordable is to strip away the regulations, allow a truly competitive market, and end the pernicious rules that encourage workers to tether themselves to their bosses through health insurance. The way not to make it affordable is to impose idiotic laws such as Maryland has just done. Forcing Wal-Mart to spend more may well cause people to lose their jobs; then I guess it'll be okay if they go on Medicaid. Some favor.

A final word about the union effort here. I have no problem with a union trying to interest Wal-Mart's employees in organizing. If employees want to organize, they should do so. But employees who'd rather not be in a union shouldn't be forced to pay dues or have representation they do not want. If Wal-Mart's management wishes not to recognize the union, that is its right. It should be voluntarism all around. (Workers should be free to bring public pressure to bear on the company consistent with everyone's rights--that is, peacefully.) I acknowledge that in a truly competitive marketplace (that means no regulations and taxes, which hamper small and potential competitors and self-employers), workers would have more choices and higher pay than they have now. But the way to address this is to get rid of the regulations and taxes, not to pile new regulations on old.

It Takes Government to Create a Reading Crisis

My latest op-ed, "It Takes Government to Create a Reading Crisis," distributed by the Future of Freedom Foundation, appears in the Baltimore Chronicle and Sentinal.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

More Corporate-State Land Theft

Norwood, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, is the scene of another corporate-state land grab, majestically called "eminent domain." (Think about what that phrase implies.) Here's the news story. The city has condemned 60 middle-class homes and businesses so that the properties can be conveyed to developer Jeffery Anderson and partners for expansion of a swanky shopping center and apartments. The new shopping-center wing would feature a Crate and Barrel store. (You can complain to the chain here.) Two homeowners refuse to bow to the state and have gone into court, with the help of the Institute for Justice. The case is now before the Ohio Supreme Court. During oral argument Wednesday, a member of the court asked an attorney for the town why the local government should have the power to brand properties "blighted" and to take them against the will of the owners. "In the end, it is up to the City Council to make that decision because they know the community best," said the attorney. Such arrogance from political hacks.

This is really getting out of hand. Big retailers (Wal-Mart, Costco, and others) should be ashamed of themselves for seeking to build stores on stolen property. It's time that we make them aware that we know what they are doing. No one without political connections is safe. The U.S. Supreme Court said last summer that taking private property in order to turn it over to developers is constitutional. Score another one for Spooner. At least the Supreme Court ruling prompted people to put the heat on politicians in some states. As a result, it might be slightly tougher for governments to seize land for so-called economic development. But in most cases, they can get their way by declaring a property "blighted." It's a virtual blank check. We'll be safe only when people realize that eminent domain strikes at the heart of liberty.

Laissez-faire voluntarists have long maintained that that the difference between being pro-market and pro-business is vast. Business was never enthusiastic for open competition, preferring the safety of protectionism in all its many forms -- consumers and workers be damned. We're at the point where being pro-market requires being anti-business.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Who'd Bet that the Government Will Get it Right?

Another excellent column by David Henderson at antiwar.com. This time he applies the economic thinking of Milton and David Friedman to provide an additional argument against an interventionist foreign policy. The argument, Henderson writes, is this: "Because there are costs even of conducting a foreign policy in which the government makes 'correct' decisions, for a government's foreign policy to be, on net, stabilizing, the government must be correct much more often than it's incorrect." How likely is that? Henderson's answer: not very. He then quotes a similar argument from David Friedman's The Machinery of Freedom. As Friedman the younger points out, however, what looks like a blunder may just be a policy with objectives other than the stated one, such as perpetuating the wealth and power of the policymakers and their "private sector" clients.

The column is definitely worth reading!

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

St. Ariel?

The commentary on the stricken Ariel Sharon, PM of Israel, ranges from praise for his peacemaking to condemnation for his peacemaking. Peacemaking? Here's a man whose career was devoted to violence against Palestinians. In 1953 it was Qibya, a village in which Palestinians were subjected to a terrible onslaught by Sharon's Unit 101. As quoted in David Hirst's book The Gun and the Olive Branch, UN military observers reported, "Bullet-riddled bodies near the doorways and multiple bullet hits on the doors of the demolished houses indicated that the inhabitants had been forced to remain inside until their homes were blown up over them.... Witnesses were uniform in describing their experience as a night of horror, during which Israeli soldiers moved about in their village blowing up buildings, firing into doorways and windows with automatic weapons and throwing hand grenades." According to Hirst, 66 men, women, and children died.

Why was the village destroyed? It was punishment because some Palestinians driven from their homes during and after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war had tried to retrieve property, find relatives, or get produce from their own farms.

Sharon also masterminded the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and the bloody assault on Beirut. It was during this time that the Israeli army made it possible for Israel's Lebanese allies to enter the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and slaughter some 3,000 inhabitants. The invasion of Lebanon, which had President Ronald Reagan's blessing, also saw U.S. warships bombard Beirut with 2,000-pound shells. In 1983 over 240 Marines and other U.S. military personnel died in a truck bombing while sleeping at their headquarters during the U.S. intervention as a so-called peacekeeper. The Israeli invasion is often defended on the grounds that Palestinians had launched violent raids or shelled Israeli settlements across the Israeli-Lebanon border. But according to the U.S. State Department, the border had been quiet under the terms of a cease-fire the previous 11 months before the invasion.

But didn't Sharon see the light later in his career and begin making peace? Saree Makdis writes in the Los Angeles Times, "Sharon's approach to peacemaking in recent years wasn't very different from his approach to war. Extrajudicial assassinations, mass home demolitions, the construction of hideous barriers and walls, population transfers and illegal annexations — these were his stock in trade as 'a man of courage and peace.' ...Some may take comfort in the myth that Sharon was transformed into a peacemaker, but in fact he never deviated from his own 1998 call to 'run and grab as many hilltops' in the occupied territories as possible. His plan for peace with the Palestinians involved grabbing large portions of the West Bank, ultimately annexing them to Israel, and turning over the shattered, encircled, isolated, disconnected and barren fragments of territory left behind to what only a fool would call a Palestinian state. ...His much-ballyhooed withdrawal from Gaza left 1.4 million Palestinians in what is essentially the world's largest prison, cut off from the rest of the world and as subject to Israeli power as before. It also terminated the possibility of a two-state solution to the conflict by condemning Palestinians to whiling away their lives in a series of disconnected Bantustans, ghettos, reservations and strategic hamlets, entirely at the mercy of Israel."

Makdis adds, "[I]t's not really a sacrifice to return something that wasn't yours to begin with."

I expect the canonization to continue as scheduled.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Legal Plunder II

The Jack Abramoff story reminds me of an important book of a few years ago, Fred McChesney's Money for Nothing. Most people think that corruption in politics consists of donating to a congressional campaign so that the senator or representative will sponsor and vote for a bill that will do a favor for the donor. McChesney discusses a different sort of corruption: the harvesting of donations so that congressmen won't do something. Government holds the power to ruin specific interests by passing a tax, or a tax exemption or subsidy for a competing interest, or a regulation. This means that not doing something can be worth a lot of money to someone, and it can become a lucrative source of campaign money. McChesney says that members of Congress have made speeches suggesting some tax or regulation with the sole intention of gaining contributions from people hoping to dissuade them from doing what they suggested they might do.

Thus state plunderers have found yet another way to extort money from productive people.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Legal Plunder

There is something pernicious in the media's response to the Abramoff scandal. Jeff Greenfield of CNN this morning was regaling Don Imus with some of the details of how Abramoff paid congressmen to do his clients favors, such as block labor legislation in the Mariana Islands or help an Indian tribe get exemption from federal taxation. "You can't make this stuff up," Greenfield said. What's missing from that sort of comment is that this is what government does; it's what it has always done! (If there were no power to impose labor legislation, or other kinds of coercive favors, or to tax, no one could be bribed to prevent it.) Being surprised that it happens is like being surprised that monkeys eat bananas. These commentators surely know this. But their mission to promote the "democratic" consensus obliges them to encourage people think it once was—and could again be—otherwise. They are committed to making sure people never realize that plunder is the essence of the state.

Hat tip: Frédéric Bastiat.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, January 09, 2006

How to Really Privatize the Schools

Last month Brad Spangler wrote, "[I]f we concede that governments are all bandit gangs and that therefore government property can not actually be 'owned' by either the government itself or anyone the state chooses to award it to for its own convenience, then we are faced with the question of who becomes the rightful owner of all of the formerly state-owned enterprises in the world (the hypothetical day after everybody wakes up and decides we don’t need a government)."

To which he responds, "Based on Rothbard's Lockean criteria of occupancy/use as the origin of legitimate property title, the logical answer to that question is: the former rank-and-file employees of those state enterprises."

As they used to say on "Family Feud": Good answer! For some time now, whenever I have lectured on separating school and state and have been asked how, I have responded that the best way would be to turn each school over to its teachers, principals, janitors, etc. They would be informed that they would no longer receive a dime of the taxpayers' money or coerced students, and that they are free to do whatever they wish with the facility. Each individual involved could keep, sell, or give away his share in his or her school. Together they all could run it as a for-profit or nonprofit institution. It would be their property, period. All laws and taxes regarding education would be repealed. I can't think of a cleaner way to make a break from the current corrupt system.

Hat tip: Kevin Carson, Mutualist Blog.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Did Katrina Discriminate?

The question of whether poor black people bore a disproportionate share of Hurricane Katrina's devastation is complex. You'd expect poorer people to be at a disadvantage, since their houses are likely of lesser quality, fewer would have cars, and those that did might have less money for gasoline. My earlier post reported on a Knight-Ridder study that indicated that the death and destruction cut more or less proportionally across socioeconomic and racial lines. This Los Angeles Times article professes to bear this out, but the story has conflicting data. For example, the Times says that 298 of 528 bodies recovered were from poor parts of town. That's over 56 percent. Yet people below the official poverty level are said to account for 25 percent of the city's residents. Moreover, not all the bodies have been identified with respect to race and residency. For more, here's an analysis by Benjamin Kilpatrick of the LA Times article. Who knows what more complete data will show?

Hat tip: Roderick T. Long.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Nock Again

Albert Jay Nock certainly saved some interesting material for his footnotes in Our Enemy, the State. Here's note 14 from Chapter 6:
The horrors of England's industrial life in the last century furnish a standing brief for addicts of positive intervention. Child-labour and woman-labour in the mills and mines; Coketown and Mr. Bounderby; starvation wages; killing hours; vile and hazardous conditions of labour; coffin ships officered by ruffians - all these are glibly charged off by reformers and publicists to a regime of rugged individualism, unrestrained competition, and laissez-faire. This is an absurdity on its face, for no such regime ever existed in England. They were due to the State's primary intervention whereby the population of England was expropriated from the land; due to the State's removal of the land from competition with industry for labour. Nor did the factory system and the "industrial revolution" have the least thing to do with creating those hordes of miserable beings. When the factory system came in, those hordes were already there, expropriated, and they went into the mills for whatever Mr. Gradgrind and Mr. Plugson of Undershot would give them, because they had no choice but to beg, steal or starve. Their misery and degradation did not lie at the door of individualism; they lay nowhere but at the door of the State. Adam Smith's economics are not the economics of individualism; they are the economics of landowners and mill-owners. Our zealots of positive intervention would do well to read the history of the Enclosures Acts and the work of the Hammonds, and see what they can make of them.

This matter of the Enclosure Acts is complicated and the literature voluminous, and I don't for a moment count myself qualified to render a judgment. But it does seem like something libertarians and voluntarists should want to investigate. We too should "see what [we] can make of them." We know the sort of land-crimes that were committed by imperial powers in Africa, Latin America, North America, and elsewhere, so it is not unreasonable to wonder if something similar did not occur in England. Two of my heroes and intellectual influences, Murray Rothbard and Roy Childs (also see this), were greatly interested in the land question. As good Lockeans, they were concerned about land systems that violated the rights of homesteaders (the peasant-tillers) and benefited the rulers and their favored interests. Rothbard's two chapters on land in The Ethics of Liberty ("The Problem of Land Theft" and "Land Monopoly, Past and Present") are emphatic:
Land monopoly is far more widespread in the modern world than most people--especially most Americans--believe.... Largely escaping feudalism itself, it is difficult for Americans to take the problem seriously. This is particularly true of American laissez-faire economists, who tend to confine their recommendations for the backward countries to preachments about the virtues of the free market. But these preachments naturally fall on deaf ears, because "free market" for American conservatives obviously does not encompass an end to feudalism and land monopoly and the transfer of title to these lands, without compensation, to the peasantry.

Katrina Didn't Discriminate

We've all heard the claims that Hurricane Katrina was far worse for poor and black people than for wealthier white people. Apparently the figures don't bear this out. See this article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Quoting from A. Barton Hinkle's column, based on a Knight-Ridder study:
· THE MEDIAN income for the New Orleans area was $29,000. The median income in neighborhoods where bodies of Katrina victims were found was $27,000.

· One-fourth of the area's residents lived in Census tracts where the median income was $37,000 or higher. One-fourth of deaths attributed to Katrina occurred in Census tracts where the median income was above $35,300.

· Thirty-nine percent of New Orleans residents lived in neighborhoods where the poverty rate was higher than 30 percent. Forty-two percent of the bodies were recovered in those neighborhoods.

· Thirty percent of residents lived in neighborhoods where the poverty rate stood below 15 percent. Thirty-one percent of the bodies turned up there.

· In Orleans Parish, blacks made up 66 percent of the total population, and 62 percent of the victims of Katrina.

· In St. Bernard Parish, whites made up 88 percent of the residents, and 92 percent of the victims of Katrina.

· Men made up about 51 percent of the pre-Katrina population of New Orleans, and about 51 percent of the victims of the storm.

Hat tip: Robert Higgs

Cory Maye Legal Defense Fund

Radley Balko reports that a legal defense fund as been set up for Cory Maye, the man convicted in Mississippi and now on death row for shooting a policeman during a late-night raid on his home.

Contributions can be sent to:
Cory Maye Justice Fund
c/o R.E. Evans
P.O. Box 636
Monticello, MS 39654

Radley's archives on the case are here.

Friday, January 06, 2006

What Next?

"President Bush announced plans yesterday to boost foreign-language study in the United States, casting the initiative as a strategic move to better engage other nations in combating terrorism and promoting freedom and democracy. . . . Bush intends to request $114 million in fiscal 2007 for the programs, which involve the departments of State, Education and Defense, as well as the director of national intelligence, according to officials who briefed reporters on details." (Story here.)

Is any comment necessary?

Florida Voucher Plan Goes Down

The Washington Post reports today that the Florida Supreme Court has rejected the state's voucher plan because the "alternative [school] system" the program establishes is not accountable to the state. The irony is that any system that is perceived to subsidize private schools with taxpayer money will prompt demands for "accountability" and will eventually lead to state domination. Good riddance to the voucher system in Florida. Parents should stop waiting for politicians to rescue their kids from the government's clutches (imagine expecting that to happen!) and just find a way to get their kids out.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Who Said It?

“It must be observed, however, that free trade is impractical so long as land is kept out of free competition with industry in the labour-market. Discussions of the rival policies of free trade and protection invariably leave this limitation out of account, and are therefore nugatory. Holland and England, commonly spoken of as free-trade countries, were never really such; they had only so much freedom of trade as was consistent with their special economic requirements. American free-traders of the last century, such as Sumner and Godkin, were not really free-traders; they were never able – or willing – to entertain the crucial question why, if free trade is a good thing, the conditions of labour were no better in free-trade England than, for instance, in protectionist Germany, but were in fact worse. The answer is, of course, that England had no unpreempted land to absorb displaced labour, or to stand in continuous competition with industry for labour.”

That’s from libertarian hero Albert Jay Nock in Our Enemy, the State (chapter 4, note 18).  Nock regarded the tariff as “robbery,” but understood the systemic advantage that the history state capitalism has bestowed on “capital” at the expense of the rest of us.

(Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.)

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

And Another Thing...

More on Abramoff: It’s funny how all the people who love that the government gives away more than two trillion dollars a year (they’d like it to be more) get terribly upset that other people go to great lengths to get a piece of the action. What did they think would happen? You want to get rid of the Abramoffs? End every form of welfare spending. Start with corporate welfare.

One Down, Thousands to Go

Jack Abramoff, the high-powered Republican lobbyist, has pleaded guilty to fraud and conspiracy to bribe public officials. (He also pleaded to tax evasion; I'll let that one go.) Okay, fine. But what bugs me about this kind of story is that there's a implied standard of conduct that the illegal activity has supposedly deviated from. The scale of Abramoff's activities might have been extraordinary and his e-mail trail unusually contemptuous of the clients he was bilking. But when you consider that the state exists precisely to transfer wealth from producers to nonproducers, what did Abramoff actually do that was unusual besides grab too much too brazenly? As Michael Kinsley once said, it's not the illegal activity in Washington that is so shocking. It's the legal activity.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Ivan Eland reports:
As if being asked to strip off shoes, coats, belts and other clothing before going through a metal detector and getting your personal belongings x-rayed is not enough, the TSA will begin psychoanalyzing air travelers in 40 major airports next year. TSA screeners, who are not even fully trained law enforcement personnel, let alone professional psychologists, will perform behavior analysis screening on all passengers. The screeners will look for “suspicious” signs that might indicate a passenger could be a terrorist: having dry lips or a throbbing carotid artery (I’m not kidding), failure to make eye contact with or say hello to the screener, or evasive or slow answers to casual questions asked by the screener. Travelers who exhibit such nefarious characteristics will undergo extra physical searches—the infamous “pat down” frisk and bag rummage—and could even face police questioning.

He winds up with this good advice:
Instead of piling on yet another unnecessary and ludicrous layer of “big brother” airport security, the United States should tone down its foreign policy overseas in order to dramatically reduce anti-U.S. terrorism by removing its primary underlying cause.

The rest is here.

Support the Troops?

I’m sick of the expression “Support the troops.” Its only purpose is to shut up dissenters against George II’s illegal war. If someone believes the troops are carrying out an immoral purpose, why would he support them? Such a person would want the troops to stop what they are doing and leave the place where they are doing it. He'd hardly want to keep their morale high. If the pro-war crowd must demand illogic on the part of their opponents, something is wrong with their case. The debate should be over the purpose of the war. Leave the troops out of it.

Monday, January 02, 2006

The Cure for Governmment Failure? More Government

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports the following today:
Despite 70 years of federal effort to address the imbalance, rural America remains significantly less prosperous than urban America, prompting new thinking about how to stem its decline.

The "new thinking" is entirely about how government might finally get it right.

Maybe it's me, but if private-sector efforts had failed at something for 70 years (or a lot less time than that), we'd be flooded with demands for the government to do something. But here we have a case where governments have failed miserably after all that time and what we're flooded with is . . . demands that government do something.

As Albert Jay Nock wrote in Our Enemy, the State (1935), "It is a curious anomaly. State power has an unbroken record of inability to do anything efficiently, economically, disinterestedly or honestly; yet when the slightest dissatisfaction arises over any exercise of social power, the aid of the agent least qualified to give aid is immediately called for."

Of course the case at hand is worse than the kind Nock alludes to because the failure is clearly government's.

(Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.)

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Happy New Year!

A thought for this first day of 2006 from Thomas Paine and The Rights of Man:
Great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It has its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. . . . Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their law; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost everything which is ascribed to government.”