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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Friday, September 29, 2006

Community without Compulsion

It's easy to make something bad look good. All you have to do is leave out its essential characteristic.

Consider what NPR commentator Bill Harley said recently about taxation and the importance of community. Harley was complaining about the effects tax cuts have had on his town of Seekonk, Massachusetts. Driving to the library one Saturday to return some books, he was disappointed to find it closed. That was the result, he said, of a reduction in the town's taxes.
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

I Don't Get It

The National Intelligence Estimate says that invading and occupying Iraq has become a "cause celebre" for terrorists around the world, making the threat worse not better. The administration counters that this just goes to show how important it is to win the war.

Do they really think we're such morons?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Not on Death Row

I'm late in passing the word that Cory Maye has been granted a new sentencing hearing in his murder case. So for now he is off death row. The judge still has to rule in other outstanding issues. This is the case of the young man in Mississippi who fatally shot a policeman as a SWAT team entered his home late at night to conduct a drug raid. If justice is to be done, Maye's conviction should be reversed and he should be set free. No reading of the details can lead to any conclusion other than this was self-defense.

Radley Balko at The Agitator has reported thoroughly and heroically on the case and has brought it much-needed attention. His summary of the case is here, and his posts on the latest developments are here.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Stop the Presses!

The government finally catches up:
A stark assessment of terrorism trends by American intelligence agencies has found that the American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.

--New York Times, September 24, 2006

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Washington Harmony

We are plagued by cooperation in Washington. Because of this allegedly benign spirit, George II will likely be free to legally wiretap people within the United States without warrants, torture terrorist suspects, and bring them before kangaroo military tribunals instead of real criminal courts.

I long for destructive infighting.

Washington Logic

Washington is a funny place, with its own unique "logic." It's a "company" town, the "company" being the federal government, the "product" being public policy. As a result, an odd sort of "thinking" is encouraged there. It's not like other places. Or it wasn't before the accelerating centralization of power in recent times.

A good example of Washington logic was featured on page one of Wednesday's Washington Post. Here is the headline:
A Quiet Break for Corporations
Tariff Suspensions, Often Initiated by Companies Based Overseas,
Keep Millions of Dollars From Flowing to the Treasury Each Year
The story explained that Congress has the power to pass three-year suspensions of tariffs on specific goods. The bills do not name the companies that would benefit from suspensions, but the Post learned that most of the lobbying is done by large foreign-based multinationals with American affiliates. As it reported, "Lawmakers usually introduce the provisions at the behest of companies in their districts. Many of those companies and their executives have given federal campaign contributions totaling millions of dollars."

Thus the newspaper presents tariff suspensions as examples of special-interest lobbying and legislation.

If you sense something screwy about this story, it's only because you are not using Washington logic.
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column at the website of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Libertarian Class Analysis

I'm back from the Czech Republic after a successful two-day FEE seminar, in cooperation with the Liberální Institut, for economics students -- a great group from that country as well as Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and Lithuania. Most of our time was spent near the Polish border in Broumov, but the brief time in Prague was fantastic. I had my share of excellent food.

(From the travel headache dept.: Our flight from Amsterdam to JFK was delayed three hours. We had already boarded and had to sit tight all that time. At least I got some reading done: Anthony Kenny's excellent Wittgenstein.)

Back to work.

My article "Libertarian Class Analysis," published by The Future of Freedom Foundation, is now available online.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, September 15, 2006

"Don't Download This Song"

Click here to see and hear Weird Al Yankovic's "Don't Download This Song." It's great!

Hat tip: Roderick Long at Austro-Athenian Empire.

Cross-posted at Against Monopoly.

The Political Economy of Fear

First it was foreign invasion and the government itself that the people were to be protected from. All the population had to do was surrender enough liberty and money, and the state would keep it safe from . . . "them." (Considering all the money it has spent, at times its failures have been spectacular.) Later the menu of fears was extended beyond foreign threats.
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

It Makes No Sense at All!

From Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory:
It's not just that this [Iraq] war is deceitful or destructive or immoral. The whole thing just makes no sense. The longer we stay, the more lives we lose, the more billions of dollars we squander, the best that we can hope for -- the best -- is to solidify Iran's control over this strategically vital country at exactly the time we have decided to decree Iran to be our worst enemy. Who could possibly defend that?
Hat tip: Jude Blanchette

To the Czech Republic

I'm off to the Czech Republic for a week -- most of the time at the Hotel Veba in Broumov, then Prague -- to help put on a FEE seminar for a group of Czech graduate students in economics. I expect to post from there. Cheers!

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Does the Republican Base Know About This?

From today's Washington Post:
For decades, marriages between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq were as ordinary as the daily call to prayer. But the sectarian warfare gripping the country has created a powerful barrier to Sunni-Shiite romances.

Married couples have filed for divorce rather than face the scorn of their neighbors. Fiances have split up as a result of death threats. And, increasingly, young single Iraqis have concluded that it is simply easier to stick to their own kind when it comes to love and family.

In a country where intermarriage was long considered the glue that held a fragile multi-ethnic society together, the romantic segregation of Sunnis and Shiites is more than just a reflection of the ever more hate-filled chasm between the two groups. It is also a grim foreboding of the future.
See what's happening? The Bush policy in Iraq is promoting . . . same-sect marriage!

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Robert Higgs Wins Szasz Award

Robert Higgs, author of Crisis and Leviathan and other important books, is the 2006 winner of the Thomas Szasz Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Cause of Civil Liberties (general category). Higgs joins a distinguished list of winners that includes Karl Hess, Phil Zimmermann (author of Pretty Good Privacy, the encryption program for everyone), and James Bovard.

Higgs is Senior Fellow in Political Economy at the Independent Institute; editor of its quarterly, The Independent Review; and a columnist for The Freeman.

Winner of the award in the professional category is Robert Spillane of Australia. Spillane is a psychologist who has fought against psychiatric abuses, particularly the drugging of children. He is the author of nine books.

Szasz of course is the leading defender of individual liberty against the various opppressions that fall in the category he has dubbed the Therapeutic State. (For more information, see my Szasz in One Lesson.)

No one is more deserving of this award. Congratulations, Bob!

(Full disclosure: I am a member of the awards committee.)

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Ten Lessons from 9/11

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

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

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

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

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

6. No one likes an occupying power.

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

8. Terrorism is not an enemy. It's a tactic, one used by many different kinds of people in causes of varying moral hues. 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.

(See Roderick Long's take here.)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Roderick Long Paper Rules!

Roderick Long's important paper "Rule-following, Praxeology, and Anarchy" has been published in New Perspectives in Political Economy, the journal of the Liberální Institut in Prague. The paper explains and explores some political (and other) implications of Wittgenstein's rule-following paradox. It's well worth reading -- much food for thought. Take a look.

My article "Where Is the Constitution?" discusses Long's paper and what it means for constitutionalism.

One I Missed

As usual, Jesse Walker has an excellent column at Reason.com, this one about the tenth anniversary of "welfare reform": "The Amazing Colossal Poorhouse." Here's a sample:
Ten years ago today, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, known more colloquially as welfare reform. The president had promised to end "welfare as we know it," and by signing the bill he did exactly that: In 2006 the welfare state is larger than ever before, but the way Americans think and talk about it has been radically changed. As a function of the government, welfare is thriving. As a culture war issue, it's practically dead....

[F]ew government programs have been created out of sheer munificence. The growth of the welfare apparatus has been linked much more closely to two baser impulses: buying the beneficiaries' support, and keeping the beneficiaries in line.
Hat tip: Kevin Carson.

Inflicting More Pain

When government began controlling narcotics nearly 90 years ago, it assured Americans it would never interfere with the practice of medicine.

Chalk up another in a long series of lies by the state. In theory government serves the people. In practice it does something else entirely.

The crusade to determine what drugs we can and cannot use, and under what conditions, couldn't help but affect medical practice. Someone who wanted a drug controlled by the state had two ways to obtain it: he could go into the black market or go to a doctor. If the drug-enforcement agencies weren’t prepared to watch the doctors, how effective could the anti-drug policy be? So as time went on, they did watch the doctors -- and prosecuted them, ruining careers and sending some to jail in the process.
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Well-Fed Subjects of the State

Wally Conger graciously linked to my post "Missing the Boat -- Again." While looking at his site, I found this quotation from Edward Abbey that more or less sums up what I was trying to say:
Never before in history have slaves been so well fed, thoroughly medicated, lavishly entertained. But we are slaves nonetheless.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Missing the Boat -- Again

The blogosphere is alive with discussion of what's been happening to compensation for regular workers over the last few years. See the several posts and comments at Cafe Hayek. I've addressed the issue here, but I want to add some points.

Libertarians constantly miss opportunities to appeal to good-faith left-leaners who are concerned that working people get the short end of the stick. Yes, they are subject to economic fallacies that should be addressed. Yes, they may misuse or misinterpret wage and total-compensation statistics. Yes, they may fall victim to demagogues, such as Paul Krugman. Yes, people generally live far better today than they lived 20 and 30 years ago -- although we don't give enough attention to how the Fed's easy-credit policies can create illusions of prosperity or how the government has inflated the price of housing, food, medicine, education, and energy. (See Jack Douglas's article.) All those things should be explained patiently and clearly.

But I fear that we miss the forest for the trees. We live in a corporate state, not a free economy. What are we arguing about? Whether the corporte state treats workers better than the left says it does? Big deal! What does that do to advance the cause of liberty?

It seems to me that all it does is make us look like corporate-state apologists. No thanks. There are enough of those.

These two statements are consistent:

1) the middle class is doing better than ever (leaving aside the scary debt question);

2) it's not doing as well as it should be doing.

Regarding 2) the question is why. If the lord of the manor comes into some money and raises the living stardard of his serfs, we would hardly tout that fact to show that feudalism is fine. I know the analogy is overdrawn, but many libertarians are doing something similar. They debate the numbers without pointing out what those numbers paint a picture of. It's not a picture of a laissez-faire economy; it's a picture of a corporate state -- the systematic intervention largely on behalf of incumbent business interests that tamps down competition and squelches alternatives, including self-employment, for many workers.

When I say that the middle class, and those below, are not doing as well as should they be doing, I mean simply that if competition were truly free -- if all transactions were voluntary -- these classes would be wealthier. The proper "distribution" of wealth is something only the market should determine. There are no good grounds for condemning the "shares" "allocated" by the unfettered market process, because the market process is just a fancy term for the countless consensual transactions it comprises. There is no actual allocation. To object to the outcome of that process (which is always a snapshot, because it is always in flux) is to favor, at least implicitly, interference with consensual transactions; that is, it is a call for violent inteference with free exchange. That would be immoral, as well as wealth-destroying.

Libertarians: wake up! Make the technical corrections, but be sensitive to how it sounds when you leave things at that. Keep your eye on the ball!

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Addendum: Here's an example of what I mean from the Wall Street Journal. Notice the lack of reference to the constellation of business privileges that constitute the corporate state. Invoking educational reform and pro-growth policies doesn't count.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Eye on the Ball

Like clockwork, the New York Times has produced another page-one story purporting to show that living standards for many Americans have fallen, this time because wages in recent years have failed to keep up with inflation. This has been happening, write Times reporters Steven Greenhouse and David Leonhardt, despite rising productivity and even taking into account the shift from cash to noncash benefits, such as medical insurance. Meanwhile, profits are up.

In other words, workers aren't getting their fair share of economic growth.
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column here.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.