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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Sunday, December 30, 2007

On Amnesty

Ron Paul says he's against amnesty for migrants without government papers. I am too. Amnesty is a pardon for wrong-doing. Why would migrants without government papers need a pardon? They've done nothing wrong. But in the spirit of the season, the migrants might consider granting amnesty to the government thugs who have hounded them since they got here.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ron Paul and Immigration

I still think there is value in Ron Paul's campaign, but this commercial sure doesn't make it easy. Note that he takes the Tancredo position that earlier immigrants "followed the rules" and came here legally. But back then you had to have an infectious disease to be denied entry. Virtually everyone else could come in. Illegal immigration was unnecessary since there were essentially open borders. I continue to be appalled that Ron Paul is parroting the line of the worst opponents of immigration.

By the way, where does the U.S. Constitution give Congress the power to control immigration? Or is that an implied power?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Ron Paul and David Schuster

Ron Paul's MSNBC appearance with David Schuster, in which Lincoln and the Civil War were discussed for seven minutes, was a disaster. Why Ron Paul let it go on, rather than insist that they should be discussing a war that he could actually do something about if elected, is beyond me. No one who was not already a Lincoln revisionist would have been impressed. Schuster and his producers wanted to convey the message that Ron Paul is not a serious candidate (a "crackpot," as Jack Jacobs called him to his "face") -- and Ron Paul played their shameful game. A very big mistake indeed. Who's calling the shots in that campaign?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

More on Ron Paul and "Meet the Press"

Interesting that Tim Russert didn't ask Ron Paul about the Iraq war, but did ask him about the Civil War. Didn't that end about 140 years ago?
MR. RUSSERT: I was intrigued by your comments about Abe Lincoln. "According to Paul, Abe Lincoln should never have gone to war; there were better ways of getting rid of slavery."

REP. PAUL: Absolutely. Six hundred thousand Americans died in a senseless civil war. No, he shouldn't have gone, gone to war. He did this just to enhance and get rid of the original intent of the republic. I mean, it was the--that iron, iron fist..

MR. RUSSERT: We'd still have slavery.

REP. PAUL: Oh, come on, Tim. Slavery was phased out in every other country of the world. And the way I'm advising that it should have been done is do like the British empire did. You, you buy the slaves and release them. How much would that cost compared to killing 600,000 Americans and where it lingered for 100 years? I mean, the hatred and all that existed. So every other major country in the world got rid of slavery without a civil war. I mean, that doesn't sound too radical to me. That sounds like a pretty reasonable approach.

He might have emphasized that Lincoln did not forcibly prevent southern secession to end slavery but rather to preserve the Union and said that he would have maintained slavery had that been necessary to keep the Union intact.

But let his sink in. Russert didn't ask Ron Paul about Iraq but he asked him about the Civil War? What the hell is going on?

Here's the transcript.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ron Paul and Me

Here's a 1990 televised panel discussion about the impending first Gulf War, with Ron Paul as host and guests Joseph Sobran and me.

Hat tip: Scott Horton

Is Ron Paul Inconsistent on Earmarks?

My local newspaper ran an item about Ron Paul's answer to Tim Russert's asking him how he can seek money for his congressional district while attacking big government. (See AP story here.) I believe there is no inconsistency here. Ron Paul says he votes against spending programs that in his view exceed the authority specified in the Constitution. (I'm taking him at his word, problems of constitutional interpretation aside.) If so, can he in good faith add earmarks to spending bills that would benefit his constituents?

Yes, he can. There is a difference between making choices at the rules-selection level and making choices within rules you are stuck with. In other words, it's one thing to try to channel flood-insurance money to your district, but quite another to vote to create or renew the program.

As Ron Paul pointed out on "Meet the Press," the government taxes people, then ladles out the money to particular groups. If one group of potential recipients doesn't get a particular appropriation, another one will. The result of not seeking or taking the money is not a cut in taxes and spending. So, as Ron Paul asked, why shouldn't people try to get some of their money back? Is it unlibertarian to accept a tax "refund" or Social Security? Must one tear up the checks (leaving the money in the U.S. Treasury)?

The hidden premise behind the criticism of Ron Paul on this matter is that taxation and spending would be lessened or eliminated if one refused the largess. Does anyone really believe that? The state taxes and borrows all it believes it can get away with. So any money that doesn't go into, say, disaster relief is available for the military or something else. Ron Paul's refusal to play the earmark game would make no difference to the size of government or its burden on the American people.

Thus, as a congressman, Ron Paul does not contradict himself when he tries to get some of his constituents' money back for them -- as long as he also opposes the spending programs and votes against them when he gets the chance. The moment he votes for the federal disaster-relief program he is caught in a contradiction.

A similar principle applies to Ron Paul's answer about term limits. He told Tim Russert that one who favors mandatory term limits is not in any way obliged to impose terms limits unilaterally on himself. Again, it involves picking rules versus acting within a rules system. I don't like the designated-hitter rule, but if the rule is in effect and I am manager of a baseball team, my position on the rule does not oblige me to put my pitcher in the batting lineup. Similarly, because I think all congressmen should be term-limited, it doesn't follow that I think I alone should be term-limited. If only congressmen who believe in term limits are term-limited, the most statist congressmen will tend to become entrenched, which is the opposite of what term limits is intended to accomplish.

I concede that under the pressure of a television interview, where the host is trying to throw the candidate on the defensive, it may be hard to be persuasive on these issues. But that doesn't mean the response is wrong. It may mean that television is not the venue for a serious political discussion.

Finally, what does this have to do with anarchism? Not much, I concede. Maybe the state can be dismantled completely from the outside. I don't know. My musings here assume that there is nothing intrinsically immoral in trying to dismantle the state from within. My hunch is that it will take work on both the inside and outside. I say this while inclined toward the view that the heaviest work will occur on the outside.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Ron Paul on "Meet the Press"

I just finished watching. I'm afraid I had my usual reaction. I felt let down, like something was missing. For one thing, Ron Paul talks too much about the Constitution and too little about liberty and justice. War in Korea would okay if Congress wanted it? When was the last time Congress voted for a declaration of war without the president asking for it?

He also sounded unprepared. If he is going to call for ending the income tax (why that one and not the others?) and for bringing all the troops home, he should know the numbers. He looks like he's winging it. No excuse for that.

The immigration answer was a disaster. He persists in speaking of an invasion. How offensive! He's lucky Russert wasn't better prepared. How does Ron Paul know we'd have fewer immigrants if the welfare state were abolished? I think we'd have more, considering how attractive the economic environment would be. But would he open the borders then? I'm not convinced he would. I am more and more suspicious of this welfare-state rationalization for immigration control. It has worn so thin there is virtually nothing left of whatever credibility it had.

I think I'll stop watching news of the campaign. I'm tired of being disappointed.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Anarchism, Limited Government, and the Surveillance State

The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.
--Washington Post, Dec. 22, 2007
This story raises a question for advocates of limited government. It's easy for an anarchist to oppose the construction of this Orwellian database. The state is illegitimate per se -- it cannot exist without violating the nonaggression principle -- and thus cannot be trusted with such power. Even if we assume the database could be used legitimately and confined to catching criminals, the state can be counted on to abuse it.

The libertarian advocate of limited government will agree that the state is likely to abuse the power, and he will therefore oppose the FBI's plan. But ... he also believes the state is necessary -- indeed, indispensable -- to protect individual freedom. That puts him in the awkward position of opposing the end but not a means. When his conservative opponents chide him for wanting to leave Americans vulnerable to terrorism or other crime, the minarchist will have little to argue in response except to say that the database won't be work as promised. But how does he know this? Even if the state uses the database against noncriminals, that doesn't rule out the chance that it will also be used to catch real rights violators.

Anarchists are not subject to this criticism because they embrace a full free market in protective services. We know that entrepreneurs in a free market will devise innovative ways -- consistent with liberty -- to protect people from criminals, including terrorists. Comprehensive private property is an essential institution for preventing crime without violating rights. Considering John Robb's thesis in Brave New War, the state is increasingly unsuited to protect us because potential enemies are highly decentralized, flexible, and entrepreneurial. Only free-market protection is up to the task.

What say you, limited-government advocates?

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Tucker Carlson on Ron Paul

In case anyone missed it, Tucker Carlson's sympathetic New Republic article about Ron Paul is here. Why doesn't Carlson know that anarcho-capitalists and acolytes of Murray Rothbard are the same thing?

Hat tip: Emily Richman

Friday, December 21, 2007

Immigration and Welfare

Libertarian-leaning folks who oppose free immigration often point to the welfare state as the reason for opposing what looks to me like the consistent libertarian on the borders question. But they also invoke national sovereignty as a reason for wanting the government to control "the borders." Question: if the welfare state went away, how many of these people would really favor open borders?

My guess: none to not many.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Torturing the Language of Torture

Is waterboarding, known during the Spanish Inquisition as tortura del agua, really torture or not? The question seems to answer itself, but the Bush administration says No. Its critics disagree, noting that the “interrogation technique,” which makes a subject physically and mentally react as though he is drowning, has long been regarded as torture by international agreements and outlawed in the United States.
The rest of this week's op-ed, "Torturing the Language of Torture," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Friday, December 14, 2007

A Matter of Priorities

'Tis the political season, which means the season to bash immigrants. This goes especially for so-called illegal aliens, i.e., residents without government papers. (As if that's a big deal.) Candidates and others who are so set on securing the Mexican border -- the Canadian border seems of less concern -- and expelling those who had the audacity to come to the land of the free without permission mainly rely on two arguments: jobs and welfare. If those are the best arguments they've got, they haven't got much.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "A Matter of Priorities," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Coming Soon

Saturday, December 08, 2007


Much anti-immigrant sentiment, even among some libertarians, appears fueled by resentment that non-citizens might get tax-financed welfare benefits. This gives a curious amount of offense, especially when it concerns so-called "illegals," whom I prefer to think of as residents without government papers. (Like that's a big deal.)

I can only say this: There are things that offend me far more than foreign-born people's going on welfare. Here are two in no particular order:

1. Native-born Americans' going on welfare. (They were born in the "land of the free" and are supposed to know better.)

2. State-police tactics, including the witch-hunting of employers who have the audacity to hire "illegals," designed to catch or prevent the migration of people who are merely exercising their natural liberty.

Let's get our priorities straight.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

The Constitution or Liberty

If the foundation of our case for liberty is nothing more than the Constitution -- rather than natural-law justice -- we will continue to be trumped by our opponents. After all, the Constitution was in effect all during the time the national government expanded and liberty shrank. As Lysander Spooner wrote, the Constitution "has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it." Liberty's champions have to come to terms with that logic.
The rest of the newest TGIF, "The Constitution or Liberty," is at the Foundation for Economic Foundation website.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Virginia Primary Voters Won't Have to Pledge GOP Loyalty

The voter pledge referred to below has been canceled. See the story here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Whom Is This Intended to Thwart?

From the Associated Press:

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- If you're planning to vote in Virginia's February Republican presidential primary, be prepared to sign an oath swearing your Republican loyalty.

The State Board of Elections on Monday approved a state Republican Party request to require all who apply for a GOP primary ballot first vow in writing that they'll vote for the party's presidential nominee next fall.

There's no practical way to enforce the oath. Virginia doesn't require voters to register by party, and for years the state's Republicans have fretted that Democrats might meddle in their open primaries.

Virginia Democrats aren't seeking such an oath for their presidential primary, which is held the same day -- February 12th.

Hat tip: Jacob Hornberger

Isolationism versus Noninterventionism

I saw most of the debate. Here was Ron Paul's best moment, coming after John McCain accused him of being an isolationist (transcript here):
He doesn't even understand the difference between non-intervention and isolationism. I'm not an isolationism, (shakes head) em, isolationist. I want to trade with people, talk with people, travel. But I don't want to send troops overseas using force to tell them how to live. We would object to it here and they're going to object to us over there.

Iraq 3.0

One gets the feeling that even the White House realizes the mess it’s made of Iraq. The other day the newspapers reported that the Bush administration has scaled back its objectives rather substantially. We might call it Iraq 3.0. First the plan was to create a democratic paradise which, domino-like, would spread freedom throughout the Middle East. When that didn’t work, the administration shifted to simply bringing some kind of order to Iraq, reconciling the three largest groups — Shi’a, Sunni, and Kurd.

That hasn’t gone too well either. The nearly two dozen political objectives that the military “surge” was intended to accomplish have largely gone unachieved. The violence level may have fallen (one never knows how temporary such things are), but there are many possible explanations for that. One horrifying explanation is that enough ethnic cleansing of neighborhoods and emigration have occurred that less violence is “necessary” in the eyes of the various militias. That presumably is not the sort of peace President Bush had in mind.

So now the strategists in Washington have retooled.
The rest of my op-ed, "Iraq 3.0," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

The article has also been posted at Counterpunch.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Should the State License People?

Democratic presidential candidates are tripping over the driver’s-licenses-for-illegal-aliens issue like a bunch of old slapstick vaudevillians. What’s so comical about their antics is that the issue demonstrates that politicians are locked into bad assumptions from top to bottom. Start with driver’s licenses. In one debate Sen. Chris Dodd said driving “is a privilege not a right.” That’s a common belief. But it’s incoherent.
The rest of this week's op-ed, "Should the State License People?," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Individualism, Collectivism, and Other Murky Labels

Imagine the following person. He believes all individuals should be free to do "anything that's peaceful" and therefore favors private property, free global markets, freedom of contract, civil liberties, and all the related ideas that come under the label "libertarianism" (or liberalism). Obviously he is not a statist. But is he an individualist and a capitalist or a socialist and a collectivist? It sounds like an easy question, but on closer inspection it's not.

The rest of this week's TGIF, "Individualism, Collectivism, and Other Murky Labels," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ersatz School Choice

"Vouchers go down in crushing defeat"

That headline thundered from Wednesday's Salt Lake City Tribune, as it announced that more than 60 percent of Utahans who voted on whether to uphold the statewide school-voucher program said no. It was a big setback for the voucher movement. The Utah legislature had approved the program by one vote. But the teachers' union, which opposes vouchers, gathered enough signatures to put the question to the voters. It poured a ton of money into its successful effort to have the people veto the law. This was the tenth time in over 30 years that voters have defeated school vouchers or education tax credits, says the National School Boards Association.

It may not look like a win for the cause of educational freedom, but in the long run it might be. That depends on what we do about it.
The rest of my latest TGIF, "Ersatz School Choice," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Woodstock May Have Saved Sen. McCain’s Life

John McCain scored a standing ovation at the last Republican presidential debate when he attacked Sen. Hillary Clinton for proposing — unsuccessfully — to spend a million taxpayer dollars on a museum commemorating the 1969 Woodstock festival, saying, “Now, my friends, I wasn’t there. I’m sure it was a cultural and pharmaceutical event. I was tied up at the time. But the fact is, my friends, no one can be president of the United States that supports projects such as these.” It would be easy to criticize McCain for politically exploiting his five-and-half years of suffering as a captive of the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam war. But there’s a more important point to be made.
The rest of my op-ed, "Woodstock May Have Saved Sen. McCain’s Life," is at the website of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Robertson Endorses Giuliani

So let me get this straight: Rudy Giuliani denounces Ron Paul for saying that U.S. foreign intervention in the Middle East created the conditions for the 9/11 attacks, but he accepts the endorsement of a man -- Pat Robertson -- who said that his god may have allowed the attacks to occur in order to punish Americans for homosexuality, abortion, and other moral decline. Okay, I think I have it now.

While we're at this, let's note that Robertson has also attributed killer hurricanes to his god's wrath.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Happy Guy Fawkes Day!

Remember, Remember the Fifth of November
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot
I know of no reason why the Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot

Can it be treason to defend the liberty of your fellow men and women?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Virtue versus Legal Obligation

Michael Gerson, a former speechwriter and policy adviser to President George W. Bush, is the latest in a long line of political writers who fail to see the distinction between a virtue and an enforceable legal obligation. Missing that difference leads to all sorts of mischief and undermines a writer's insistence that he favors liberty. Some people may find it an unpleasant choice, but choose they must: freedom or compulsion? There is no third way.
The rest of my TGIF column, "Virtue versus Legal Obligation," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Regarding the "Founding Fathers"

How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of negroes?
--Samuel Johnson, "Taxation No Tyranny," 1775

In this connection, see Rad Geek's post here.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Paul W. Tibbits Jr. Is Dead

Paul W. Tibbits Jr. died yesterday. He was 92. Tibbits lived 62 years and nearly three months longer than the 140,000 Japanese he helped murder when he piloted the Enola Gay, the American B-29 Superfortress from which the first atomic bomb was dropped in Hiroshima on August 6, 1945.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Bush Has Time to Run the World

President Bush has been a busy man. Even though the quagmire in Iraq threatens to worsen as Turkey prepares to invade the Kurdish north, Bush has time to undertake the arduous task of preventing World War III and begin the transition to democracy in Cuba. How does he do it?!
My latest op-ed, "Bush Has Time to Run the World," distributed by The Future of Freedom Foundation, appears today on Counterpunch. Read the rest here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Liberty and Political Obedience

Last week I discussed Anthony de Jasay's claim that the freedom philosophy -- liberalism -- is precarious because it "has always been rather loose, tolerant of heterogeneous components, easy to influence, open to infiltration by alien ideas that are in fact inconsistent with any coherent version of it." He specifically criticized the utilitarianism of Bentham and the Mills. In light of the deficiency he has identified, Mr. de Jasay attempts no less than a reconstruction of liberalism.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Liberty and Political Obedience," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Blackwater and Bush's War

Blackwater’s involvement in Iraq has been ugly but misunderstood. The presence of security contractors in Iraq does not signify that the war has been privatized. Unfortunately, the word “privatization” has been corrupted over the years.
The rest of my op-ed, "Blackwater and Bush's War" is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

What Nearly Killed Liberalism

The shifting meaning of the word liberal in the direction of statism has been analyzed often. But a few years ago Anthony de Jasay wrote a short comment on the matter that deserves attention. For Mr. de Jasay, the problem is not merely terminological. As he wrote in "Liberalism, Loose or Strict" (Independent Review, Winter 2005), while political ideas such as nationalism and socialism have had core principles, "Liberalism, I maintain, has never had such an irreducible and unalterable core element. As a doctrine, it has always been rather loose, tolerant of heterogeneous components, easy to influence, open to infiltration by alien ideas that are in fact inconsistent with any coherent version of it. One is tempted to say that liberalism cannot protect itself because its 'immune system' is too weak." His statement does seem to explain why liberalism has taken many forms over the centuries.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "What Nearly Killed Liberalism," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Naomi Klein: Free-Market Ally?

I haven't read Naomi Klein's book The Shock Treatment: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (or her other books). But based on what I've read about it, she's probably going to be misunderstood by some libertarians and free-market economists. Although apparently an attack on corporatism (fascism), the book is bound to be seen as a criticism of the free market. I assumed that Klein would promote such understanding by an imprecise use of terms -- and to some extent she apparently does so. But perhaps I've underestimated her. I caught her appearance on Bill Maher's program the other night, and during her interview she explicitly said that practitioners of crony capitalism have hijacked the rhetoric of the free market to advance their self-serving cause. She drew a sharp distinction between the two systems. "[I]t's certainly not the free market. ...Ironically, it's the free-market ideology that gets used to propel this [corporatist] vision forward. It's not free for anybody but the contractors." (The interview is here.)

Her thesis is that crony capitalists use crises to foist their "reforms" on otherwise unwilling people. Sounds like it should be read in conjunction with Robert Higgs's Crisis and Leviathan.

Although Klein is not an advocate of a true free market, she seems to be an ally in struggle against corporatism. We should cultivate that alliance in public statements about her book and reinforce her inchoate view that being for the market is far from the same thing as being for capitalism.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, October 12, 2007

America's Anti-Militarist Tradition

The right wing went apoplectic at the skepticism that greeted Gen. David Petraeus’s recent testimony about the alleged success of the military escalation in Iraq. It was as though a member of the military was incapable of engaging in spin to support his commander in chief’s war policy. President Bush summed up this attitude revealingly when he said it was one thing to attack him, but quite another to question General Petraeus. War, Clausewitz noted, is politics by other means. That makes high-ranking generals a species of politician. Not a few have harbored presidential thoughts, and some have made it. It is said that Petraeus would like to be another. These are the people the pro-war conservatives are willing to trust implicitly? (Anti-war members of the armed forces, on the other hand, are, in Rush Limbaugh’s words, “phony soldiers.”)

It is unappreciated today that an earlier American culture was anti-militarist. In his classic study The Civilian and the Military: A History of the American Antimilitarist Tradition (1956), historian Arthur A. Ekirch Jr. wrote, “The tradition of antimilitarism has been an important factor in the shaping of some two hundred years of American history.”

The rest of my op-ed, "America's Anti-Militarist Tradition," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Atlas Shrugged and the Corporate State

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Ayn Rand's stunning novel, Atlas Shrugged. So many words have been written about the book that the task of saying something new is daunting. It is a celebration of the creativity that is required for the production of material goods no less than for the production of music, art, and literature. And it is an elaboration of the preconditions for that creativity: individual freedom, which necessarily includes property rights. In sum, Atlas Shrugged is a literary brief for the proposition that human beings can live fully as human beings only in a society founded on the freedom philosophy, i.e., on self-ownership, private property, privacy, consent, free trade, and peace -- in a phrase, laissez faire. What sometimes goes unappreciated by readers of the novel is the extent to which Rand targeted business people as potentially the most egregious saboteurs of freedom.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Atlas Shrugged and the Corporate State," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

The Freeman, October 2007

There is lots of good stuff in this issue, but I particularly want to draw attention to Frank van Dun's article, "Can We Be Free If Reason Is the Slave of the Passions?" (pdf, html). Goodnight, Mr. Hume.

Sunday, October 07, 2007


President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is no one to admire, but when was the last time President Bush stood before a critical college audience and fielded tough questions? Bush appears only before handpicked friendly crowds. Even news conferences are barely adversarial because the media has the curious rule that the president -- any president -- deserves to be treated like royalty.
The rest of my op-ed, "Ahmadinejad," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Government Failure

A popular academic rationalization for having government forcibly override people's economic decisions is the theory of market failure. Advocates of the free market have long emphasized that the countless self-regarding actions individuals perform daily in the marketplace generate a larger complex spontaneous, or undesigned, order -- that is, a high degree of interpersonal coordination that is remarkably pleasing to consumers. This is the social cooperation Ludwig von Mises placed at the center of his description of the market process. Critics of the market realize this is a powerfully appealing feature of the economists' case for what these critics deride as the unfettered marketplace. So this feature has been among the prime targets of those who would straitjacket or even abolish the market. Hence the attraction of market-failure theory.
The rest of my TGIF column, "Government Failure," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Monday, September 24, 2007

A Chip Off Old Big Brother's Block

Late last month the California Senate and Assembly sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a bill to prohibit employers from requiring workers to have RFID (radio-frequency identification) chips implanted under their skin. North Dakota and Wisconsin already have passed similar laws. Two other states are considering bans. VeriChip (motto, appropriately: "RFID for People") already has FDA permission to sell a device suitable for human implantation. Some people find this form of ID attractive because it can't be lost or, presumably, counterfeited easily. (We'll see about that.) But others, especially organizations dedicated to protecting privacy, object to treating other people like pets. What should an advocate of liberty think of all this?
The rest of last week's TGIF, "A Chip Off Old Big Brother's Block," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Showing Respect

George II was asked at his news conference this morning if he is thinking about attacking Iran. He said he respects the Iranian people and hopes the two countries can work out their differences diplomatically. (Blah, blah, blah. He speaks fluent boilerplate.) Yet he threatened further economic sanctions, which would exacerbate the hardship on the Iranians.

If he really wants to show his respect, he can formally apologize for the U.S. government's helping to overthrow an elected prime minister in 1953 and the restoration to power of the brutal Shah and his Savak secret police. Then he can promise not to bomb Iran under any circumstances. That would be a start.

On a related matter, Bush refused to comment on whether he approved of Israel's airstrike on a building in Syria allegedly holding nuclear equipment September 6. (The Syrian government says only an airspace violation occurred and no nuclear weapons were involved.) Why don't the American people have a right to know if Bush was complicit in the attack in any way, including the issuing of a green light, as U.S. presidents have done so many times in the past for Israel?

On the history of U.S. intervention in the Middle East, see this.

A Fine Example

From McClatchey news service this morning:
The Senate on Wednesday rejected legislation that would have allowed terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to petition federal courts claiming that they’re being held in error.

The 56-43 vote in favor of the bill fell short of the 60 votes needed under Senate rules to cut off debate, blocking the legislation.

The measure, sponsored by Sens. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and Arlen Specter, R-Pa., would have given military detainees the right of habeas corpus — the right to challenge one’s detention in court, rooted in English common law dating from before the Magna Carta of 1215 — which serves as a check on arbitrary government power.

The Bush administration opposed giving the right to terror suspects. Most Republican senators backed the administration. Besides Specter, the other Republicans who voted with the
Democrats were Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, Richard Lugar of Indiana, Gordon Smith of Oregon, Olympia Snowe of Maine and John Sununu of New Hampshire.

The change in law would have applied to the roughly 340 men held at Guantanamo. Many of them have been held for more than five years without charge. The Bush administration has said that indefinite detention of enemy combatants who threaten the United States is necessary in an age of terrorism.

Congress passed a law last year that establishes combatant status review tribunals, made up of three military officials, to review such petitions. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., a military lawyer who helped write the law, said the military is best able to determine who’s an unlawful enemy combatant. [Emphasis added.]
So all an American president has to do is invade a country, round up anyone he wants, and hold him forever without charge or access to the courts.

A beacon of liberty for the rest of the world.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Constitution Day?

I know I'm a day late, but this immortal quote from Lysander Spooner must be posted:
[W]hether the Constitution really be one thing, or another, this much is certain --- that it has either authorized such a government as we have had, or has been powerless to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.
It's the closing line of "No Treason: The Constitution of No Authority."

Monday, September 17, 2007

More Illumination

George II and his war cheerleaders insist that U.S. troops must remain in Iraq for as far as the eye can see if a genocidal bloodbath is to be averted. Very interesting in light of this from Sidney Blumenthal of Salon.com
Two years ago the Sunni sheiks leading the insurgency in Iraq's Anbar province approached the United States, offering to end the violence in exchange for a timetable establishing that U.S. forces would withdraw from the country, a senior official at the highest level of the British government told me. Without some sort of negotiated deal that the Sunni leaders could brandish, they explained, they would not have the essential political justification for quelling the conflict. The British believed that the Sunni offer was being made in good faith and urged that it be accepted. But according to the senior British source, President Bush rejected it out of hand, still certain that he could achieve a military victory. He saw any agreement with the Sunnis as tantamount to defeat, the British official said. And yet, even as the Sunnis were rebuffed, Bush continued to invest trust in the Shiite-dominated Iraqi government to forge a political conciliation.

Everything Is Illuminated

From John Nichols at the blog of The Nation:

[Gen. David] Petraeus has apparently been so open in expressing his "long-term interest in running for the US presidency" that Sabah Khadim, a former senior adviser at Iraq's Interior Ministry who worked closely with the general in Baghdad, recalls, "I asked him if he was planning to run in 2008 and he said, 'No, that would be too soon'."

Such are the political calculations of the man whose embrace of President Bush's war has become so complete that he and his aides have radically altered the manner in which statistics are gathered on violence in Iraq in order to foster the fantasy that the fight has taken a turn for the better....

It is Petraeus's willingness to apply the optimistic gloss that marks him as a worthy successor to George Bush, who in Thursday night speech to the nation pronounced himself well and truly pleased with his general's recitation of the administration's talking points. Based on general's testimony, Bush is claiming "success in meeting (our) objectives."

The president's "return on success" is an empty promise that a small number of troops already scheduled for withdrawal from Iraq may, in fact, be withdrawn. At the same time, however, Bush acknowledges that this "success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my Presidency."

Translation: For all the window-dressing talk about drawing down troop levels, Bush continues to peddle the " stay-the-course" message that has been his theme since the occupation of oil-rich Iraq went awry more than four years ago. And, once more, the president is asking Congress to provide him with more money for more war....

For their own reasons, the president and Petraeus feel they can afford to maintain the war until they figure out how to rearrange the letters of the word "quagmire" to spell "victory."

That will not happen. Bush's will be a failed presidency. And Petraeus's will be not be a presidency at all.

Unfortunately, on the way to their shared fate, the commander-in-chief and his general will preside over thousands of additional American deaths, tens of thousands of additional Iraqi deaths, the continued collapse of this country's global reputation and the emptying from our treasury of the resources that might have made America and the world more secure, more functional and more humane.

As Nichols points out, whatever illusions he may harbor, Petraeus is no Eisenhower.

Hat tip: Robert Higgs

Friday, September 14, 2007

Do They Really Think We're Morons?

This past week, with General Petraeus's appearances in Congress and George II's televised remarks, has been one shameless PR campaign to get us to trust the administration when it insists that what it is doing in Iraq is in the best interests of the American people as well as the Iraqis. Is there anyone around who still believes anything these con men say? How many times do they have to lie before we catch on to the game? They are contradicted by studies coming from various agencies and the administration itself. And the so-called drawdown could leave the troop level higher than the pre-surge level. At any rate, the troops have to be taken out regardless of what's going on Iraq, as explained here by Alex Koppelman at Salon.com.

These arrogant militarists think we're too stupid to notice. They assume the American people will hear the words "troop reduction" and figure everything is fine now.

When will we say a resounding "Enough" to these mis-leaders and public self-servants? Before they attack Iran, I hope.

Force Fetishists

Why is it that every few years some prominent newspaper or magazine publishes a critical article about the freedom philosophy (libertarianism) that rests on the same confusion over two key but simple concepts? Such confusion should have been dispelled by 1875 when Lysander Spooner, the colorful individualist anarchist and abolitionist, wrote his great essay "Vices Are Not Crimes: A Vindication of Moral Liberty." In that essay Spooner took pains to distinguish actions that harm the actor (vices) and actions that harm others by invading their persons or property (crimes).
Read the rest of this week's TGIF, "Force Fetishists," at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Libertarianism: Left or Right?

Is libertarianism of the Left or of the Right? We often avoid this question with a resounding “Neither!” Given how these terms are used today, this response is understandable. But it is unsatisfying when viewed historically.

In fact, libertarianism is planted squarely on the Left, as I will try to demonstrate here.

The rest of my article "Libertarianism: Left or Right?" is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Moment of Reflection

The official position apparently is that we should all take time to think about 9/11 today. But what should the content of that thinking be? No contest: we should be thinking about how for more than 50 years U.S. presidents and their foreign-policy advisers created the conditions in which 9/11 would eventually happen. We should be reflecting on foreign intervention and its inevitable consequences. All empires are targets of terrorists. What's the surprise?

Here's something else we can think about. In this day of relatively easy, free-lance terrorism, the state is exposed as useless as a means of security. No lumbering, bureaucratic, centralized government can hope to have the flexibility, innovation, and entrepreneurship required to produce security under the current circumstances. Replacing the state with a stateless free-market society is more practical and important than ever. (See more here.)

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Nation as an Object of Service

Today's TGIF, "The Nation as an Object of Service," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website here.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sunday, September 02, 2007

I Wasn't Kidding

Photo credit: Cheryl Richman. See more of her photos here.

Are We to Be Spared Nothing?

The New York Times reports that George II told the author of a forthcoming book that after his presidency,
"We’ll have a nice place in Dallas," where he will be running what he called "a fantastic Freedom Institute" promoting democracy around the world.
Some things just require no comment.

Recent Writings

If you were reading with only one eye open or only two hours' sleep you might have thought Paul Krugman had finally stumbled onto the truth. In his Monday New York Times op-ed, "A Socialist Plot," he wrote: "[L]et's end this un-American system and make education what it should be -- a matter of individual responsibility and private enterprise. Oh, and we shouldn't have any government mandates that force children to get educated, either.... The truth is that there's no difference in principle between saying that every American child is entitled to an education and saying that every American child is entitled to adequate health care."
The rest of last week's TGIF, "Counterfeit Rights, Cold Bureaucracies," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website. By the way, some people missed the point of this column, thinking it is primarily an attack on Krugman. Let me know what you think.
President Bush, one of the two most famous pro-Vietnam War members of his generation to avoid fighting in that war, has finally accepted what he previously rejected: that there are parallels between the war he ducked out of and his violent occupation of Iraq. (The other best-known famous pro-war war avoider is Vice President Dick “I had other priorities in the ’60s than military service” Cheney.) Unfortunately, Bush has learned a far different lesson from Vietnam than many others have.
The rest of my op-ed, "Iraq and Vietnam," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Friday, August 31, 2007

A Better Way to Safety

Assuming everything the Bush administration says about al Qaeda is true, what's a better way for us to keep safe: a plodding, bumbling, centralized monster bureaucracy led by devious unaccountable politicians, or a decentralized, entrepreneurial network of organizations whose existence depends on satisfying customers who can take their business elsewhere anytime?

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Meet The Rockingham Whigs

This is the first known photograph of the new band The Rockingham Whigs. The band is shown here playing at a clandestine studio somewhere in the south-central U.S. As you can tell, this picture was taken with a hidden cellphone camera and is not an official release. This is exclusive to Free Association. Check back here for news of more sightings.

Photo credit: Jennifer Richman

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Autocracy Comes to America

We appear to live in a republic. But look closely; it’s clearer every day that we live in a de facto autocracy. President Bush has managed to amass an astounding amount of power simply by scaring the American people and Congress into thinking that our continued existence as a society depends on giving him carte blanche.
The rest of my op-ed, Autocracy Comes to America," is at The Future of Freedom website.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Bad Policy Drives Out Good

All public policies are related. Okay, that may be a slight overstatement, but there's a point here. A politician's credibility on one public issue -- and thus the disposition of that issue -- will often be determined by his or her position on other issues. People will look at a politician's full program as a way of judging good faith. Case in point: the Bush administration's announcement that it will limit the states' ability to extend medical coverage through the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) to families that do not qualify for poverty programs because they make too much money.
The rest of this week's "TGIF, Bad Policy Drives Out Good," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Such Are the People Who "Govern" Us

From today's New York Times:
Broad new surveillance powers approved by Congress this month could allow the Bush administration to conduct spy operations that go well beyond wiretapping to include — without court approval — certain types of physical searches on American soil and the collection of Americans’ business records, Democratic Congressional officials and other experts said.

Administration officials acknowledged that they had heard such concerns from Democrats in Congress recently, and that there was a continuing debate over the meaning of the legislative language. But they said the Democrats were simply raising theoretical questions based on a harsh interpretation of the legislation....

The dispute illustrates how lawmakers, in a frenetic, end-of-session scramble, passed legislation they may not have fully understood and may have given the administration more surveillance powers than it sought. [Emphasis added.]
They were rushing off to vacation, by the way. Remember this the next time someone rhapsodizes about democracy public service, and all the other "of the people, by the people, for the people" shit.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

What About the Iraqi and Afghan Dead?

The Washington Post yesterday devoted some of its pages to photos of the 4,100 U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. I suppose it was some kind of statement.

A better statement would have been pictures of the Iraqi and Afghan dead. But there are well over half a million of them and pictures aren't readily available. So we can just forget about them.

But something bothers me about this. Oh, yes, the Americans could have refused to go to Iraq. They might have gone to the brig as a result of their choice--life's a bitch sometimes--but it was a choice. The Iraqis had little choice in the matter. The U.S. invaded them. (Many have fled their country, but that's a big step to take.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Natural Right of Property

Thomas Hodgskin (1787-1869), the English economics writer I discussed last week, is an enigma -- until his philosophy is seen in its entirety. He was an editor at The Economist of London from 1846 to 1855, during the period author Scott Gordon called "the high tide of laissez faire," yet he is considered a Ricardian socialist, was "quoted and deferred to by Marx [and] described by Sidney and Beatrice Webb as Marx's master." How could any libertarian claim Hodgskin as a mentor?
The rest of this week's TGIF, "The Natural Right of Property," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Blogtalk Radio Interview

I was interviewed by Todd Andrew Barnett's Liberty Cap Talk Live on BlogTalkRadio. The topic is foreign policy. You can listen to it here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Casual Talk of War

The opponents of the Bush wars and the accompanying expansion of government power have been disappointed countless times before. Just the other day the Democrats in Congress acquiesced in the Bush administration’s heavy-handed bid for the power to conduct warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens and residents in the name of fighting terrorism.

We’ve come to expect Democratic cave-ins by now, but I confess I was disheartened to hear the presidential aspirant Sen. Barack Obama say he would invade Pakistan if he knew Osama bin Laden was there and President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan did nothing. Although Obama opposed the invasion of Iraq from the start, he evidently missed a key argument against that folly, for it would apply to the invasion of Pakistan too, namely: the U.S. government cannot throw its military might around the Muslim world without making things far worse than they are.

The rest of my op-ed, "Casual Talk of War," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Real Liberalism and the Law of Nature; Winning Is Losing

This week's TGIF, "Real Liberalism and the Law of Nature," is online at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

My op-ed "Winning Is Losing" is now online at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Addendum: If anyone has any doubt regarding the worthlessness of the O'Hanlon/Pollack analysis of the Iraq "surge" (discussed in "Winning Is Losing"), see the account of Glenn Greenwald's interview with O'Hanlon here. A sample:
[I]t is very difficult to credit him and Pollack with good faith, as though they are guilty of nothing more than sloppy "scholarship."

A failure to disclose obviously critical facts that bear on the credibility of their "findings" and a willingness to ground their conclusions in patently one-sided and highly controlled data are far more serious sins than mere sloppiness. It is difficult to avoid reaching any conclusion other than that they willfully served as propaganda tools in order to bolster the perception of success for a war and a "Surge" strategy which they prominently supported and on which their professional reputations rest....

Moreover, they not only acquiesced to the fraud that they are "critics of the administration," they actively propagated it in order to lend their claims credibility they did not deserve.

This was clearly a propaganda trip arranged by the U.S. Department of Defense, and O'Hanlon and Pollack, hawks and Bush boosters all along, played their lackey roles well. No one should be fooled by the apparently detached organizational affiliations of these so-called scholars. They are partisans pure and simple.

Hat tip: Ralph Raico

First Things First

If your notion of physics and chemistry obliges you to deny the undeniable -- viz., your volitional, rational faculty -- you should revise your notion of physics and chemistry.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Hiroshima 62 Years Ago

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

The anniversary of the Nagaski bombing is Thursday.

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."

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Diversion

To change the subject, I've taken up the electric bass. Some guys my age buy sports cars, motorcycles, or sailboats. Here's my far-less-dangerous new toy, a Fender Squier Jazz Bass.

Hat tip: Ben Richman

Friday, August 03, 2007

National Defense

If we didn't have it, we wouldn't need it. Think about it.

Interviewed on Antiwar Radio

Scott Horton interviewed me on Antiwar Radio yesterday. You can listen here.

No Substitute for History

The great economist Ludwig von Mises showed that economics can be deduced from the axiom that human beings act: individuals consciously select ends and apply scarce means to achieve them. By examining the logical implications of that undeniable fact, one can come to understand the concepts value, cost, time preference, supply, demand, money, price, profit, interest, and so on. In light of this, it is noteworthy that Mises was also an accomplished historian. And more than that, he was an important historiographer; that is, he was interested in the why and how of history. This theorist who is so identified with the a priori method in economics also believed that a knowledge of history and its methods was indispensable to understanding the world.
The rest of this week's TGIF column, "No Substitute for History," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Letter the Wall Street Journal Didn't Print

The Wall Street Journal published a few letters responding to Randy Barnett's article about libertarians and the Iraq war, including excellent, though cut-down, letters by Robert Higgs and Mario Rizzo. Alas, mine was not among them. So here it is:
While Randy Barnett ("Libertarians and the War," July 17) was at it, why didn't he also attempt a libertarian justification of state torture, extraordinary rendition, suspension of habeas corpus, secret CIA prisons, warrantless eavesdropping, secret searches and seizures, destruction of financial privacy, a national ID card, and the president's autocratic Unitary Executive Theory. I'm sure he would have been no more successful than he was at trying to provide a libertarian defense for imperial wars.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Barnett Still Has It Wrong

In a follow-up comment to his pro-war Wall Street Journal article at the Volokh Conspiracy blog, “Antiwar Libertarians and the Reification of the State,” Barnett further exposes his deficiencies in thinking about libertarianism and foreign policy. The core of his argument is that “radical libertarians” can’t coherently all hold four principles he ascribes to them:
  1. War is Inherently Unjust
  2. Foreign Governments are Sovereign
  3. The illegitimacy of the United Nations
  4. The existence of fundamental human rights
One immediately smells a straw man. The trap is in 2). Here’s what he says:
[M]any radical libertarians who hold position (1) at the same time adopt a hyper-legalistic view of what constitutes a ‘war of aggression’ in which states are treated as though they were individual persons. In other words, they adopt the Westphalian view of nation states and sovereignty, which was devised to recognize and protect the autonomy of the government rulers ‘their’ territory. When making this argument, these radical libertarians treat foreign governments as ‘sovereigns’ to be respected (by the U.S. government) unless they commit or imminently threaten an act of aggression against the territory of another sovereign. Systematically violating the rights of their own subjects or citizens is a wholly internal domestic matter. In essence, these foreign governments are treated in principle as the just owners of the territories they govern. And their conduct is to be judged by the same rules of self-defense as are individuals…. One might say that, when dealing with issues of (American) foreign policy, these libertarians reify (foreign) states and treat them like individuals, with all the natural rights of individuals.
Now I’ve read a good bit of libertarian foreign-policy theory, and I don’t recall many references to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which marked the end of the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War. According to Wikipedia, the two treaties comprising this event enshrined the doctrine of national sovereignty and nonintervention in the internal affairs of states. But the entry also notes that a revisionist view holds that “Neither of the treaties mention sovereignty.”

This historical controversy aside, what does it have to do with libertarianism and foreign policy? Not much. While it is true that the most substantial libertarian thinking about foreign policy embraces the principle of nonintervention in other countries’ internal affairs, libertarian noninterventionism is not founded on the principle of national sovereignty. How could it be?

Only the individual is sovereign. That being the case, no radical libertarian is guilty of reifying the state. Thus, there is no incoherence in the radical-libertarian position. Nice try, Professor Barnett, but no cigar.

If the reason for the prohibition on intervention is not national sovereignty, why have libertarian foreign-policy thinkers insisted that governments follow a strict noninterventionist principle? It shouldn’t be too difficult to discern the answer. Barnett of all people should know, given his long association with most of the heavyweight libertarian intellectuals.

Murray Rothbard, who did some of the most important work on libertarian foreign policy, summed up the answer in The Ethics of Liberty:
[T]he libertarian is interested in reducing as much as possible the area of State aggression against all private individuals, "foreign" and "domestic." The only way to do this, in international affairs, is for the people of each country to pressure their own State to confine its activities to the area which it monopolizes, and not to aggress against other State-monopolists—particularly the people ruled by other States. In short, the objective of the libertarian is to confine any existing State to as small a degree of invasion of person and property as possible. And this means the total avoidance of war. The people under each State should pressure ‘their’ respective States not to attack one another, and, if a conflict should break out, to negotiate a peace or declare a cease-fire as quickly as physically possible.
As one can readily see, no principle of national sovereignty is needed to establish the noninterventionist principle. Governments don’t have rights over “their” territories or populations. Rather, they are ubiquitous threats to life, liberty, and property. But that is precisely why they must be kept from clashing with each other—when they do, innocents get slaughtered and wealth gets confiscated. This doesn’t mean that governments may properly aggress against “their” populations unmolested. They most certainly may not. It simply means that the method of opposing a given state’s aggression must be something other than interstate warfare. A libertarian cannot coherently advocate aggression in order to fight aggression.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Laissez-Faire Anti-Imperialism

[E]xpansion and imperialism are at war with the best traditions, principles, and interests of the American people, and that they will plunge us into a network of difficult problems and political perils, which we might have avoided, while they offer us no corresponding advantage in return.
These might be the sentiments of a contemporary left-wing intellectual whose notion of America's traditions, principles, and interests would differ markedly from those held by advocates of the freedom philosophy. But they're not. They were written 108 years ago by William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), who, if he gets any attention at all, is usually castigated for his evolutionary (Social Darwinist) and laissez-faire views. Sumner, a founder of American sociology and a distinguished professor at Yale University, was an uncompromising champion of economic freedom, unfettered international trade, individual liberty, and limited government. It is fair to say that in his time he was the best-known American exponent of individualist, classical-liberal ideas.

The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Laissez-Faire Anti-Imperialism," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

A Bogus Libertarian Defense of War

My new op-ed responding to Randy Barnett's defense of the Iraq war is posted here at MWCNews.net. It was distributed by The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Sunday, July 22, 2007


The state by nature is a threat to life, liberty, and property;
War is the health of the state (Bourne);
War is thus by nature a threat to life, liberty, and property;
No libertarian can consistently support what is by nature a threat to life, liberty, and property;
Ergo, no libertarian can support war.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Against the Next One Too

I spent the weekend with my wife at charming Eureka Springs, Arkansas, in the Ozarks. We dropped in to Gazebo Books, where I spotted a bumper sticker I immediately bought:
"I'm already against the next war."

Thursday, July 19, 2007

More on Barnett

Randy Barnett's "libertarian" defense of the Iraq war -- and imperial war generally -- was so much balderdash that it can't be covered in a single post. So I'll probably come back to it again in the coming days. My first post, while worthwhile in my opinion, was more complex than necessary, because here's one of the chief points of his article:
[L]ibertarian first principles of individual rights and the rule of law tell us little about what constitutes appropriate and effective self-defense after an attack.
But they sure as hell tell us what constitutes inappropriate "self-defense" after an attack. Such as: don't commit mass murder, don't destroy a people's infrastructure so they will die of starvation and disease, and don't violate the rights of the people allegedly being defended. The principles also provide guidance in how to avoid attacks and the need for self-defense in the first place. Such as: Don't prop up and arm dictators, don't overthrow elected regimes, don't aid those who oppress others, don't go out of your way to acquire enemies, etc. etc. etc.

Come to think of it, a libertarian can get quite a lot of foreign-policy guidance from his first principles. If he's really interested in trying.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Ahistorical "Libertarian" Warmongers

Legal scholar Randy Barnett wrote in the Wall Street Journal yesterday that one can be a libertarian and also support the war in Iraq. (Judge for yourself: "Libertarians and the War.") Much could be said about this woeful article. But I'll touch on just one point for now.

Nowhere in Barnett’s article does one find a hint that the leading, pioneering classical liberals of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were not just skeptical of the government’s war-making power; rather they were forthrightly antiwar, anti-empire, and pro-peace. These include Frederic Bastiat, Richard Cobden, John Bright, Herbert Spencer, Auberon Herbert, and William Graham Sumner. This is no coincidence. These men were not ivory-tower theorists; they were historians as well as keen observers of contemporary events, applying libertarian principles to the historical conduct of politicians, bureaucrats, and diplomats. It was Sumner, echoing many before him, who pointed out that "national defense" means "war, debt, taxation, diplomacy, a grand governmental system, pomp, glory, a big army and navy, lavish expenditures, political jobbery." The liberals unfailingly understood that war meant the mass murder of innocents and regimentation at home. Nothing is easier for a politician than conjuring up a "self-defense" justification for war, but the great classical liberals would have nothing to do with it. For one thing, they realized that the self-defense analogy is bogus. When an individual defends himself, he does not tax others to help him, conscript others, or bomb the attacker's friends and family, who may be completely innocent of wrongdoing. The state is not an individual. The rules are different.

I think this gets at an underlying flaw in Barnett’s case. He, like others, approaches libertarianism in a hyper-rationalistic, ahistorical way. If in his view a policy position cannot be reached deductively from libertarian first principles, he concludes that libertarianism per se has nothing to say about it. But his method is wrong. Libertarianism isn’t purely an a priori theory. It's a set of insights about human beings and a unique historical institution -- the state -- insights produced by centuries of experience. Libertarianism properly conceived is an interplay of theory and history, neither ever losing sight of the other. It is, as Chris Sciabarra notes, dialectical.

Barnett curiously combines his simplistic a priori approach to libertarianism with a vulgar dilettantism regarding current events void of detailed knowledge about the U.S. government’s conduct in the world for at least the last 50 years. That is what allows him to blithely proclaim that there is no libertarian position on a war against a country that posed no threat to the American people and that was run by a former agent of American presidents. That's why he takes George Bush's pronouncements and policy seriously.

And why are libertarian such as Barnett comfortable with this dubious methodology with respect to foreign policy? Because not far below the surface, they are nationalists. The nation is still a special unit of emotional value -- particularly the U.S. There's an implicit theory of exceptionalism here too. That accounts for their lack of interest in the history of U.S. intervention.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

The "861" Argument

Some tax-deniers insist that wages earned domestically are not taxable. How do they know? Section 861 of the tax regulations told them so.

Here's what tax professor Jonathan R. Siegel of George Washington University Law School says about the argument:
The 861 argument, as articulated by Larken Rose, contains much, much buildup, but in the end it's all based on a misunderstanding of this regulation. The regulation just provides a list of the situations in which it matters whether income is from foreign sources or not. The regulation does not show that domestic income is not taxable. The above references, and particularly code section 61's definition of gross income as "all income from whatever source derived" (as opposed to section 871's limitation to "the amount received from sources within the United States"), shows that the domestic income of a U.S. citizen is subject to the income tax.

By the way, the notion that the whole thing turns on a regulation is somewhat ironic: most tax protestors are particularly insistent that they want the government to rely on laws (which have to be passed by Congress), not just regulations (which come from a government agency such as the IRS).

Siegel adds that as long as we're consulting the IRS regs, we might as well look at 26 C.F.R. § 1.1-1:

. . . (b) Citizens or residents of the United States liable to tax. In general, all citizens of the United States, wherever resident, and all resident alien individuals are liable to the income taxes imposed by the Code whether the income is received from sources within or without the United States.

As we've come to expect, there's nothing to the 861 argument. For more, click here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Tax-Case Acquittals

Anyone who wants to know how someone can be acquitted by a jury in a criminal income-tax case yet still be liable for the taxes should read the Supreme Court opinion in Cheek v. U.S (1991). Here are the opening words:
Petitioner Cheek was charged with six counts of willfully failing to file a federal income tax return in violation of 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code (Code) and three counts of willfully attempting to evade his income taxes in violation of 7201.
What? You mean the sections of the law are stated in black and white? But we've been told over and over that the government never says what law is violated in such cases. How about that!
Although admitting that he had not filed his returns, he testified that he had not acted willfully because he sincerely believed, based on his indoctrination by a group believing that the federal tax system is unconstitutional and his own study, that the tax laws were being unconstitutionally enforced and that his actions were lawful.
The Court ruled that Cheek should have been allowed to argue to the jury that he sincerely believed he was not liable for the tax, as unreasonable as that belief may be. His sincere belief goes to the crucial element of willfulness, which is a jury question. (The trial judge had told the jury to disregard the defendants statements to that effect.) But it also ruled that Cheek was properly barred from arguing to the jury that the income-tax law is unconstitutional. That, the justices said, is not a jury question. Some more highlights:
We thus disagree with the Court of Appeals' requirement that a claimed good-faith belief must be objectively reasonable if it is to be considered as possibly negating the Government's evidence purporting to show a defendant's awareness of the legal duty at issue. Knowledge and belief are characteristically questions for the factfinder, in this case the jury....

It was therefore error to instruct the jury to disregard evidence of Cheek's understanding that, within the meaning of the tax laws, he was not a person required to file a return or to pay income taxes and that wages are not taxable income, as incredible as such misunderstandings of and beliefs about the law might be. [Emphasis added.]
The Court sent the case back for retrial, and guess what. The jury didn't believe Cheek's claim of sincerity. It convicted him, and he was sentenced to prison. The conviction was upheld on appeal.

To add insult to injury, Cheek had to pay all the taxes.

That's what I mean when I say a tax law applicable to regular wage earners exists.

Friday, July 13, 2007


Theocracy: Yahweh or the highway.
Politician: Public Self-Servant.


I like Ron Paul and think he's done a great service by bringing his sensible views on the Iraq war and the 9/11 attacks to the public's attention. That is the most important thing that has happened in the presidential campaign so far, and it will be tough to beat. I've long known that Ron Paul takes an unlibertarian position on immigration. Still I am deeply disappointed to learn, from an article in the latest Liberty magazine, that he calls the illegal entry of Mexicans into the United States an "invasion." This description, given in a fundraising letter, is outrageous. These are human beings, with rights, seeking better lives in an environment more free than the one they are in. For the overwhelming majority of them, complying with U.S. law, an immoral law that violates all our rights, means never getting here--ever. They mean us no harm; on the contrary, they seek a place in the division of labor.

Therefore, they are not invaders and their entry in no way constitutes an invasion. This is belligerent Pat Buchanan-talk, and it is unworthy of Ron Paul. I hope he will rethink his position.

Class Struggle Rightly Conceived

Karl Marx is famous for drawing attention to the idea of class struggle. Yet remarkably in 1852, historian David Hart recounts, Marx wrote, "[A]s far as I am concerned, the credit for having discovered the existence and the conflict of classes in modern society does not belong to me. Bourgeois historians presented the historical development of this class struggle, and the economists showed its economic anatomy long before I did." By "bourgeois historians" and "economists" Marx meant laissez-faire liberals such as Charles Comte, Charles Dunoyer, and other early nineteenth-century French writers. In light of Marx's words, it's worth exploring "the historical development of this class struggle" as seen from the perspective of the classical liberals.
The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Class Struggle Rightly Conceived," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Logic Spoken Here

My conflict with the tax-denial movement has driven home the fact that some people don't know a rational argument when they encounter one and can't construct a counterargument in return. More than once I've been told that my insistence that there is an income tax on the books applicable to wage earners in the 50 states means either that:
  1. I am a statist, or
  2. I am willing to trust the government.
I don't feel any need to answer these charges. I'll stand on my body of work. All I want to do is point out the logical fallacies involved.

1. It is hard to see how one's own position on the state can be divined according to whether or not one thinks there is an income tax on the books. This is an empirical matter that is in principle subject to agreement regardless of one's political philosophy. The point is not whether the government can create an objective moral liability through the tax laws. I say it cannot. Rather the issue is simply this: has the state followed its own procedures and (in the narrow sense) legally imposed the tax? All this means is that the Congress passed some laws, the president signed them, the courts have upheld them, and the enforcement agencies are prepared to enforce them. There is no doubt that in that sense, the tax law exists. It seems patently obvious that one can acknowledge this and be a libertarian. To hold otherwise would be similar to arguing that a self-proclaimed anarchist who acknowledges the state's existence isn't really an anarchist. Being a libertarian or an anarchist lies in the "ought (not)" not in the "is (not)."

2. The second charge is similar to the first. Again, it's hard to see any basis for this argument. Concluding that an income tax exists (in the sense described above) requires no trust whatsoever in the state. The conclusion is based on nothing that cannot be confirmed for oneself. The statutes are available for anyone to read (Title 26--Internal Revenue Code). The court cases upholding both the statutes and the government's assertion of the blanket power to tax are also available. They are all in English (more or less). Any competent reader can learn the facts. He need not take anyone's word for it. Trust has nothing to do with it.

The tax-denial movement would do credit for itself by sticking to reason and logic and avoiding absurd accusations, emotional outbursts, and and pseudo-arguments.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Tax Tyranny

My complete take on Murphy v. IRS is this week's TGIF column, "Tax Tyranny." Read it and weep.

Taft, Kirk, Empire, and Peace

Excellent post by Gene Healy here on an older "conservatism's" attitude toward empire. A taste from Russell Kirk, 1967:
[Robert] Taft's prejudice in favor of peace was equaled in strength by his prejudice against empire.... he feared that America might make herself an imperial power with the best of intentions – and the worst of results. He foresaw the grim possibility of American garrisons in distant corners of the world, a vast permanent military establishment, an intolerant "democratism" imposed in the name of the American way of life, neglect of America's domestic concerns in the pursuit of transoceanic power, squandering of American resources upon amorphous international designs, the decay of liberty at home in proportion as America presumed to govern the world: that is, the "garrison state," a term he employed more than once.
Hat tip: Ralph Raico

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

No Taxation Without Representation in Court!

The July 4th holiday readily brings to mind the phrase “no taxation without representation.” A major reason for the Americans’ wish to be independent from the British empire was their belief that people should have a say in the tax policies imposed on them.

Well, we got representation — and a whole lot more taxes too. Is representation the taxpayers’ only recourse? Perhaps the courts could provide another form of recourse. If the government is supposed to be bound by the Constitution, then shouldn’t taxpayers be able to sue the government when their money is used improperly?

Alas, that’s not how the courts see it.

The rest of my op-ed, "No Taxation Without Representation in Court!" is at The Future of Freedom website.