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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thank Goodness We Can Ignore the Wars

New York Times foreign-affairs columnist Thomas Friedman laments that most Americans are disengaged from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. During a recent radio appearance, Friedman cited comedian Bill Maher’s complaint that “the enemy” has had to fight only 140,000 Americans rather than all 300 million of us.

You hear this a lot. Commentators seem to long for World War II, when “the whole country was at war.” They criticize President Bush for letting most Americans shirk their responsibility. When he’s queried about what sacrifices he’s asked of the American people, Bush says they have forgone peace of mind and paid higher gasoline prices. Naturally, this does not satisfy his critics.

Let me suggest that Friedman and Maher couldn’t be more wrong. (Neither could Bush, of course.) It is a good thing that the current wars are not total wars and that most Americans are disengaged from the horrors inflicted by the U.S. government on Iraq and Afghanistan.
Read the rest of my op-ed, "Thank Goodness We Can Ignore the Wars," at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Jeffersonianism Interred

For historian Arthur A. Ekirch Jr., the decline of American liberalism tracked the rise of nationalism and the corporate state, the intimate alliance between business and government. He equates liberalism -- libertarianism -- with economic freedom and property rights for the common citizen, not just for an aristocracy. From the relative, though imperfect, laissez-faire periods of the Jefferson and Jackson presidencies, the United States moved almost unswervingly to become what Albert Jay Nock would call a "Merchant-state" in which the central government heavily intervened on behalf of particular business interests, hampering the independence and progress of upstart competitors as well as workers. For most people, this is what the word "capitalism" would come to denote.

The Civil War was the great impetus in this direction....
Read the rest of this week's TGIF column, "Jeffersonianism Interred," at the website of the Foundation for Economic Education.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

The Bag Made It!

My luggage arrived at Tbilisi International Airport this morning. To make sure I got it right away, I went to the airport to pick up myself. Thanks to Gia Jandieri for keeping on top of KLM for me and for driving me to the airport. Now for a shower and fresh clothes. Then back to the seminar.

This morning I lectured on the case for a free market in education. Two members of the Georgian Education Ministry attended, and we engaged in a lively discussion of the alleged need for state-controlled schooling. I regret to say that I didn't persuade them. But the seeds were certainly planted.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Richman in Tbilisi; Luggage Not

I arrived in Tbilisi, Georgia, on Wednesday, which is more than I can say for my luggage. Nevertheless, that is surely preferable to the other way around.

My lecture on market anarchism at the New Economic School in Tbilisi, Georgia, went very well. By that I mean I was happy with my presentation and I got several excellent questions from the 30-40 students.

We (FEE) begin a three-day student economics seminar today in Shindisi, outside Tbilisi. I'll lecture on private alternatives to the welfare state, free-market education, and the nature of taxation.

On Monday we head to Tsakhkadzor, Armenia, near the capital, Yerevan, to conduct another seminar.

It's cold and gray here. But I always enjoy coming to Georgia because the people are so warm. And it's great to see my liberal friends Paata Sheshelidze and Gia Jandieri of the New Economic School. That's Paata in the picture accepting the Atlas Foundation's 2006 Freda Utley Prize for Advancing Liberty. He and Gia, along with their colleagues, do an admirable job of promoting liberty in this formerly Soviet-held country.

Meanwhile, my luggage is on a world tour. I understand it was in Milan and Istanbul. Hopefully, Tbilisi is on the tour.

The Freeman, March 2007

Click for table of contents and selected articles.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Away, Away

I'm away for 12 days in Georgia (the country) and Armenia to lecture at FEE student seminars. I will also give a lecture Thursday night on market anarchism. I'll post reports and observations as time allow.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Spreading Peace and Freedom in the Arab World

This video has been making the rounds, but in case you've missed it, you'll want to see how U.S. troops are spreading peace, freedom, and goodwill in Iraq. Note the solemnity the troops show about their noble mission. At times like these that I think of the courageous words of Herbert Spencer that you'll find at the top right of this blog.

Hat tip: Brad Spangler and Information Clearing House.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Arthur Ekirch's The Decline of American Liberalism

I like revisiting classic, and unfortunately forgotten, works in the (classical) liberal, or libertarian, canon. This pays several dividends. For one, it brings great books to the attention of people who never knew they existed. Moreover, old books often contain insights and information you can find nowhere else. Murray Rothbard was fond of pointing out that, contrary to what people assume, knowledge does not advance inexorably "onward and upward." Important things can be omitted, overlooked, and forgotten. Consequently, later books on a subject can be less complete than earlier books. So it is wrong to think that the older books need not be consulted because subsequent work incorporates everything of value from the past.

I first became acquainted with the late Arthur A. Ekirch Jr.'s The Decline of American Liberalism in my college days. The book was first published in 1955, then reissued in 1967. It was a History Book Club selection and, I've been told, a contender for a national book award. Ekirch wrote nine other books, including Ideologies and Utopias: The Impact of the New Deal on American Thought (1971) and The Civilian and the Military (1972), especially relevant today....

Ekirch wrote for the intelligent nonspecialist, and his work sets the standard for accessible scholarship. The Decline of American Liberalism is a great place to start because it provides a readable look at the whole of American political-economic-intellectual history in under 400 pages. I highly recommend it.

Read the rest of this week's TGIF column, "Arthur Ekirch's The Decline of American Liberalism," at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Democracy in Action

The most interesting part of the U.S. attorneys controversy is that no one in Congress knew that the revised the USAPATRIOT Act changed how interim attorneys were to be selected, giving new power to the executive branch. No one. Not even Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who prides himself on his legal and constitutional expertise. What other laws have these clowns passed without realizing it?

The Anti-federalists wouldn't have been surprised.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


On the fourth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, George II pleaded for patience. Give the new offensive a chance to work, he said. But the debate over whether to give the "surge" a chance distracts from what really matters: the U.S. occupation per se. Opponents of the American empire refused to accept even one day of a U.S. presence in Iraq. The issue isn't whether Bush's plan can bring security to Baghdad. The issue is: what the hell are U.S. forces doing there in the first place? That Bush is even trying to bring stability to Baghdad is evidence of the government's imperial ambitions. It's none of the American people's business. The occupation must end now!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


A new Yahoo group for left libertarians has been set up because of discontent over the the group known as LeftLibertarian. You can view LeftLibertarian2 by clicking here. For details on why a new group is thought desirable, see Roderick Long's post "Long Live Secession" listed over there in the "Sheldon's Shared Items" box. Even more details can be found in the group posts. Also see this. In a nutshell, it has everything to do with J. Neil Schulman's authoritarian rule over the other list. Hey, he owns the list. So a big bunch of us walked.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Barack by Popular Demand?

When you look at the top presidential contenders -- Obama, Clinton, Edwards, McCain, Giuliani, Romney -- I have no doubt that in terms of the total package, Obama is preferable to the others. I'm sure I disagree with virtually everything in his platform -- except his opposition to the war and related state crimes -- nevertheless he beats those others hands down. He's for socialized medicine? Who on that list isn't?

Go, Barack!

P.S.: I haven't voted since 1980, when I voted Libertarian for president.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Spencer the Great on Patriotism

Herbert Spencer, the English libertarian, was a great thinker, but he must be the most maligned intellectual in history. This is from his essay "Patriotism" (1902):
Some years ago I gave my expression to my own feeling – anti-patriotic feeling, it will doubtless be called – in a somewhat startling way. It was at the time of the second Afghan war, when, in pursuance of what were thought to be “our interests,” we were invading Afghanistan. News had come that some of our troops were in danger. At the Athenæum Club a well-known military man – then a captain but now a general – drew my attention to a telegram containing this news, and read it to me in a manner implying the belief that I should share his anxiety. I astounded him by replying – “When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don’t care if they are shot themselves.”

I foresee the exclamation which will be called forth. Such a principle, it will be said, would make an army impossible and a government powerless. It would never do to have each soldier use his judgment about the purpose for which a battle is waged. Military organization would be paralyzed and our country would be a prey to the first invader.

Not so fast, is the reply. For one war an army would remain just as available as now – a war of national defence. In such a war every soldier would be conscious of the justice of his cause. He would not be engaged in dealing death among men about whose doings, good or ill, he knew nothing, but among men who were manifest transgressors against himself and his compatriots. Only aggressive war would be negatived, not defensive war....

But those whose cry is – “Our country, right or wrong!” and who would add to our eighty-odd possessions others to be similarly obtained, will contemplate with disgust such a restriction upon military action. To them no folly seems greater than that of practising on Monday the principles they profess on Sunday. [Emphasis added.]

Bush versus Chavez

George II may be a lame duck in the United States. But his political career apparently isn't over. He's seems to be running for president of South America against Hugo Chavez. Of course the two candidates are making the usual promises of largess to the voters. It's left-wing state socialism versus right-wing state capitalism.

"I've come to South America and Central America to advance a positive, constructive diplomacy that is being conducted by my [sic] government on behalf of the American people [!]," Bush said.

"I would call our diplomacy quiet and effective diplomacy -- diplomacy all aimed at helping people, aimed at elevating the human condition [sic], aimed at expressing the great compassion of the American people [!]."

May the best man win.

Update: See my "Bush and Chavez: A Marriage Made in Hell."

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Exporting the Welfare State

So George II is in Latin America bragging about how much "social justice money" the "generous" American taxpayers have provided countries in the region. Social justice money? "In other words, it's money for education and health," Bush said. Right, he's exporting the welfare state.

Then he announced an ethanol deal with Brazil, enlisting that country in his campaign to forcibly pick the next energy winner. But don't expect him to lift a finger to remove the stiff tariff on Brazilian ethanol. "It's not going to happen," Bush said.

Did someone actually think we would let our little brothers to the south compete freely with our corn producers, who are so vital to national security? Those Brazilians make ethanol from sugar. Hey, we also have a sugar industry to protect here. And don't forget Archer Daniels Midland.

Let's not take this generosity thing too far.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Free to Migrate

No matter what the advocates of free immigration say about the natural individual right to move without government permission, many people remain unconvinced because they expect theory and practice to diverge. Open borders may be good in the abstract, we're told, but the theory doesn't reflect what happens in the real world. To begin, we ought to be suspicious of any claim that a good theory and practice part ways....
The rest of this week's TGIF column, "Free to Migrate," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

If Bush Didn't Exist, Hugo Chavez Would Have to Invent Him

The New York Times reported yesterday that:
President Bush arrives here [Brazil] on Thursday with an energy partnership plan to create jobs and decrease poverty and inequality, a marked shift in Washington’s priorities for Latin America aimed at countering the challenge posed by President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.
The problem is that U.S. government involvement gives Chávez a reason for amassing more power. George II is playing right into his hands. But that doesn't mean the administration doesn't know what it's doing. It knows perfectly well. But an ascendant Chávez happens to give the U.S. government a pretext for further intervention. In other words, Bush and Chávez need each other. They are actually getting along very well.

A president who really wanted a proper relationship with the people of Latin America would call off the drug war -- the farmers there really love having their crops destroyed -- and then end all other forms of intervention in the region.