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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Gore in Gaza Again

Until the Israeli government decides to treat the Palestinians as human beings with rights, the violence we see happening in Gaza will continue to break out periodically. Should Palestinians indiscriminately shell southern Israel? No. Should the Israeli armed forces indiscriminately attack Gaza? No. The only way to break the cycle is for the Israeli government to change its attitude toward the Palestinians. They have been treated badly for more than a century. Those who acquiesced when the regime was imposed on them were treated like junior citizens. Those in the occupied territories have been treated like animals. Expecting peace under those circumstances is absurd.

Friday, December 26, 2008

More on the Madoff Case

The New York Times yesterday reported that stock-fraud prosecutions have gone down the last several years, implying that the Bush administration's lax attitude toward regulation of Wall Street let the Madoff scam go on for so long. Whether FBI and SEC fraud investigations are really down, I can't say, but let's accept that they are. This hardly makes the case for regulation. Why? Laws against fraud are not the same thing as regulation. Fraud is theft of property by deception. Thus a law against it is a law protecting property. In contrast, regulation is an imposition by government unrelated to any specific wrongdoing; it violates property. Repealing laws against fraud (or the refusal to investigate and prosecute it) is not deregulation. If it were, so would repeal of the law against armed robbery be deregulation. No one talks that way -- for a good reason. There is a big difference between regulation and prohibitions on depriving people of their property. Anti-market people like to conflate the two categories to score points for the regulatory state.

By the way, if the government were to vigorously investigate fraud, it might indict everyone who keeps Social Security going.

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Madoff Scandal Exposes Government Failure

The common reaction to the Bernard Madoff $50 billion financial scam was wholly expected. As Los Angeles Times columnist Tim Rutten wrote, “The lesson is one that becomes clearer with each excruciating turn of the Wall Street screw. The long, bipartisan experiment with financial deregulation has failed utterly. The argument that a return to rigorous oversight will somehow stifle Wall Street’s ‘creativity’ is no longer convincing. Whatever its theoretical costs, regulation is dramatically cheaper than intervention. And absolutist insistence on the superiority of ‘individual choice’ and ‘free markets’ now is exposed as so much vacant rhetoric. Any system that permits a scam artist like Madoff to deceive not just widows and orphans but also sophisticated investors, like Fairfield Greenwich Group’s Walter Noel and Hollywood’s Jeffrey Katzenberg, isn’t a market at all; it’s a shooting gallery.”

The last sentence is a tipoff that something is wrong with this outlook. Financial regulation is usually proposed to protect the unsophisticated. People knowledgeable about finance and securities presumably can take care of themselves. But what makes the Madoff scandal so noteworthy is that the most sophisticated types were taken in, even though several experts sounded alarms. Why?
The rest of my op-ed, "Madoff Scandal Exposes Government Failure," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Contradictions in Terms

Some of my favorites:
  • Paid vacation -- why would one person pay another person to be idle?
  • Free election -- how can it be free when voters are under the duress of taxation and other impositions?
  • Keynesian economics -- how can the rejection of economics be a form of economics?

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Heads They Win, Tails We Lost

Why is it that when the regulatory regime fails–see the Madoff fraud case–many people call for more regulation, but when markets (allegedly) fail, these same people don’t call for more markets but rather more regulation?

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.

Economic Stimulus Amounts to Central Planning

That there will be a huge “stimulus” package in the early days of the Obama administration is a certainty. Nearly everyone thinks the government must do something drastic to, using President-elect Obama’s word, “jolt” the economy into recovery. That something is deficit spending on “infrastructure.” But it’s not as simple as it sounds. A big debate is shaping up over whether the program should concentrate on big, transformative projects or boring bridge repairs and pothole filling.

Either way, it is taken for granted that deficit spending will stimulate a sustainable recovery. But it won’t. A real recovery requires real savings and investment to correct for years of government-induced waste. Government spending, however, displaces savings and investment. Whether the government borrows, taxes, or creates money through the Federal Reserve, real wealth will be commandeered by bureaucrats. Jobs thus created in the parasitic sector will mean fewer jobs created in the productive sector. That can hardly be a recipe for recovery.

Moreover, real danger lurks in the Obama administration’s plan to use the recession as a cover for “transforming” the economy, particularly with respect to energy.
The rest of my op-ed, "Economic Stimulus Amounts to Central Planning," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

And here are a few previous ones I neglected to blog:
"The Wizards of Washington"
"The Bailout State"

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Taxpayer Protection

In arranging the various multi-billion-dollar bailouts, members of Congress and the Bush administration incessantly promise "taxpayer protections." That's most considerate, except for one problem. What the taxpayers need protection from most are Congress and the Bush administration!

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Second Amendment Book Bomb

I heartily pass this long from the Second Amendment Book Bomb:
Monday, December 15, marks America’s Bill of Rights Day, the anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution. To commemorate this event, the Second Amendment Book Bomb website has been created, a unique and powerful way to communicate the importance of the Bill of Rights’ Second Amendment for the protection of liberty. With your help, we can launch constitutional rights to the top of national book bestseller lists, making a loud and clear statement that Second Amendment rights are inalienable!

The Second Amendment has already won a historic victory on June 26, 2008, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own and bear arms. However, the Heller ruling was immediately attacked and efforts continue on the national level and across the country to undermine gun rights. Therefore, to secure the Second Amendment now and for the future the American public must be made aware of the reasons why the Founders sought to protect this right.

And now we have the tool to do so. Fascinating, seminal, and inspiring, the new book, The Founders’ Second Amendment: Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Dr. Stephen P. Halbrook, is the perfect way both to educate ourselves and to reach friends and family who don’t yet understand Second Amendment rights. Our goal is to reach one million Americans with Dr. Halbrook’s book during the Holiday Season and throughout the New Year ahead. Will you help?

To achieve this goal the Second Amendment Book Bomb website has been established to create a phenomenon so great that even the mainstream media will have to take notice. Let’s spread The Founders’ Second Amendment so far and wide that Americans across the political spectrum, and all walks of life, will be discussing the Second Amendment in every possible venue.

With your help, we can make Dr. Halbrook’s book #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. To make this happen, please go to the website and pledge to buy at least one copy of the book before or on the December 15th Second Amendment Book Bomb date. Let’s make this the most amazing and explosive event ever on the right to bear arms, and declare in no uncertain terms that the Second Amendment will be around for a very long time to come.

With your pledge to buy the book, we can:

* Make The Founders’ Second Amendment #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.
* Make The Founders’ Second Amendment a #1 bestseller on Amazon.com.
* Make The Founders’ Second Amendment a #1 bestseller on BarnesandNoble.com.
* Make The Founders’ Second Amendment a #1 bestseller on BooksAMillion.com.

Please help now by making your pledge here.

Republican Betrayal on the Auto Bailout

The Senate Republicans who killed the auto bailout betrayed the free-market principles they claim to embrace. (I know what you're saying: Is this really news? No, it's not.)

Why betrayal? The Republicans did not say they opposed a bailout on principle under all circumstances, which is what free-market advocates would be expected to say. Rather they said they oppose the House version of the bailout. In its place they favor one in which the United Auto Workers makes bigger concessions.

The Wall Street Journal editorial page said:
Senate Republicans ... asked the auto workers to show they were serious about making Detroit competitive again. In exchange for a lifeline from Washington, [Sen. Bob] Corker wanted the union to set a "date certain" in 2009 for lowering the Detroit Three's hourly labor costs to the average of foreign-owned auto makers in the U.S....

The union's counteroffer was that it would bring down labor costs in 2011, when its current contracts run out.
What's wrong with the Republican demand? What's wrong is that government has no business trying to abolish the wage differential between domestic and foreign-owned companies, which by the way is smaller than usually reported. (For the lowdown on the wage differential see David Leonhardt's article.)

It should offend any market advocate to see the government meddling in business-labor relations like this. By all means (well, not all means), work to deregulate and desubsidize business and labor, but do not encourage the state to determine the details of companies' labor relations.

It is hypocritical for Republicans to claim to favor the free market and then to use a bailout as a crowbar to break the union. If you favor the free market, say you favor the free market and oppose all bailouts on principle. If you favor government's breaking unions, say that. But don't sully the free-market position, as the Senate Republicans have done, by conflating the two. Are we to think it would have been some kind of libertarian triumph had the Senate GOP alternative passed?

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.

Friday, December 12, 2008

So Much for Democracy

Nice to know that even though the auto-bailout bill died in the Senate, President Bush may bail the Big Three out anyway using the TARP money. Reportedly, the Fed itself could come to the rescue. Isn't democracy grand?

Robert Higgs Told Us So

According to Reuters:
The credit crunch is not nearly as severe as the U.S. authorities appear to believe and public data actually suggest world credit markets are functioning remarkably well, a report released on Thursday says.

As a result, governments are pumping masses of public money into the economy across the world because of the difficulties of a few big, vocal banks and industries such as car manufacturing, which would be in difficulty anyway, according to the report published by Celent, a financial services consultancy....

The report, much of which is based on U.S. Federal Reserve data, challenges a long list of assumptions one by one, arguing that there is indeed a financial crisis but that, on aggregate, the problems of a few are by no means those of the many when it comes to obtaining credit....

The picture appeared to be broadly similar in much of Europe and Japan, said the report, based on publicly available data on trends in bank lending to industry, households and among banks themselves in the so-called interbank markets. [Emphasis added.]

The taxpayers are on the hook for over $7 trillion in federal commitments that were supposedly critical to easing the credit crisis. We have been scammed.

Cross-posted at Anything Peaceful.

Hat tip: Steve Horwitz

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Governmental Logic

Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, had this to say in connection with the auto bailout:

We will not let the taxpayers spend their hard-earned money on ailing carmakers unless these companies are forced to reform their bad habits -- either inside or outside bankruptcy.

So the way McConnell sees it, we taxpayers want to spend our hard-earned money to save the Big Three, but he is going to stop us -- for our own good -- if the companies aren't compelled to reform themselves.

I guess that's Republican paternalism. As a libertarian, I object. If I want to spend my tax money on GM, Chrysler, and Ford, I'm going to do it whether some presumptuous senator from Kentucky wants me to or not. This is a free country!

Cross-posted at Anthing Peaceful.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Beth A. Hoffman, 1950-2008

I am saddened to announce that my longtime colleague and Freeman managing editor, Beth A. Hoffman, passed away Monday at the age of 58. Beth, who joined the FEE staff over 30 years ago, was beloved by the Foundation’s many friends and supporters. She worked tirelessly and ably in a variety of capacities, including the editing of books and other materials. But her great love was The Freeman, which she served as managing editor for many years. While her important work was behind the scenes, it was not unheralded. She was a true champion of liberty whose contributions were many and long-lasting.

We will miss her.

She is survived by her husband, Peter, and son, Ted.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Budget Deficits and Stimuli

It’s an article of faith that running budget deficits during the New Deal helped end the Great Depression. This myth has been demolished countless times, but it hasn’t penetrated to the pundits and pop economists who host cable news-talk shows. In fact, FDR did not run extraordinarily large budget deficits, and J.M. Keynes actually criticized FDR for this. For details see this New York Times article by Price V. Fishback of the University of Arizona and the National Bureau of Economic Research. Fishback writes, “Once we take into account the taxation during the 1930’s, we can see that the budget deficits of the 1930’s and one balanced budget were tiny relative to the size of the problem [reversing the fall in GNP since 1929]."

This point was also made by Jim Powell in FDR’s Folly: “Changes in federal budget deficits didn’t correspond with changes in gross domestic product, and in any case the federal budget deficit at its peak (1936) was only 4.4 percent of the gross domestic product, much too small for a likely cure.” (Emphasis added.)

Cross-posted at "Anything Peaceful."

Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's Official. I'm Tired of Barack Obama

I tried to hold out until after inauguration day. I really did. But I can't. He promises a "fresh" approach to our economic problems -- monster "stimulus"borrowing and deficit spending is fresh? -- without ideological (read: theoretical) preconceptions. But of course that is impossible. No one looks at economic or social phenomena without theoretical preconceptions. The only question is whether one's theoretical preconceptions are sound or unsound. It's been said we're all Keynesians now, and in one respect that includes me. Keynes said, "Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."

Mr. Obama, pay attention.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


The Big Three automakers got a cold reception in Congress this week when they asked for a bailout loan of $25 billion. But I wouldn’t count them out just yet. After appropriating over $700 billion to bail out the financial industry -- with nothing to show for it but an ominous precedent and a scary accretion of power in the U.S. Treasury -- members of Congress may be a little reluctant to hand out more money to demonstrably failing -- even de facto bankrupt -- companies. Yet I have a hunch Congress will get over its reluctance, maybe as early as next month. Things just seem to work that way in Washington. Remember the first bailout bill?
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Auto-Destruct," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Preventive Detention?

Update: My full op-ed on this subject is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

The New York Times reports:
[A]s Mr. Obama moves closer to assuming responsibility for Guantánamo, his pledge to close the detention center is bringing to the fore thorny questions under consideration by his advisers. They include where Guantánamo’s detainees could be held in this country, how many might be sent home and a matter that people with ties to the Obama transition team say is worrying them most: What if some detainees are acquitted or cannot be prosecuted at all?That concern is at the center of a debate among national security, human rights and legal experts that has intensified since the election. Even some liberals are arguing that to deal realistically with terrorism, the new administration should seek Congressional authority for preventive detention of terrorism suspects deemed too dangerous to release even if they cannot be successfully prosecuted. [Emphasis added.]
President-elect Obama, put a stop to this at once by categorically opposing preventive detention.

Hat tip: Jacob Hornberger, FFF

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What Does Obama See in Her?

I don't mean Hillary Clinton, though I could ask that too. I mean Madeleine Albright. She has spoken for Obama's campaign, and now she is one of his representatives at the G-20 meeting on how to fix the world financial markets. Shudder.

So what's wrong with Albright?

For those who have forgotten, Albright was Bill Clinton's UN ambassador and then secretary of state who in 1996 notoriously pronounced the deaths of half a million Iraqi children due to the U.S. post-Gulf War embargo "worth it." When Sarah Palin accused Barack Obama of "palling around with terrorists," she had the wrong person in mind.

Read my account of her attempt to clean up the record.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Bush Warns Against Dismantling Free Market

This is not from The Onion. It's from the Washington Post:
After presiding over some of the most dramatic market interventions in U.S. history over the past two months, President Bush came to Wall Street on Thursday to urge world leaders not to venture too far down a path of government interference in capitalist economies. ...

"History has shown that the greater threat to economic prosperity is not too little government involvement in the market, it is too much government involvement in the market," Bush said to resounding applause from the crowd of about 175. "Our aim should not be more government," he added later, "it should be smarter government."
Given all the intervention he's embraced, what would he consider too far?

George Bush, Big-Government Man

In an unscripted and candid moment, a top spokesman for President-elect Barack Obama let the cat out of the bag. On Meet the Press, interviewer Tom Brokaw asked transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett, “I wonder if, as a Democrat, which has always represented the party of big government, . . . there will be a kind of paradigm shift this time, that you’ll take the [Chicago mayor] Rich Daley model and shift more money and more responsibility to municipalities and the state government.”

To which Jarrett replied, “It’s ironic that you would say that it’s the Democrats that are responsible for big government because government has grown enormously over the last eight years.”

That was a significant concession from the Obama camp because the advocates of activist government like to portray the Bush years as “laissez-faire” and “do nothing.”
The rest of this week's op-ed, "George Bush, Big-Government Man," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Save Us from Government Spending

If you're a glutton for torment as I am, you watch cable-TV news shows most nights. These days the shows are feeding viewers a steady diet of 100-proof Keynesianism as the cure for our economic woes. Leading in this department is Chris Matthews of MSNBC's "Hardball." (I call it "Nerf Ball." Matthews's idea of a hardball question for a politician is, "Are you running for president?") Matthews declared last week, "We're all Keynesians now," and each night he pontificates on why the government must start to spend massive amounts of money, even though it doesn't have massive amounts of money. We'll worry about the consequences later. Why must it spend? Because we aren't doing it and that's putting the economy in recession. Someone has to spend, Matthews says, and the government is spender of last resort.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Save Us from Government Spending," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Freeman, November

The November Freeman is now online. The table of contents is here.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Anything Peaceful

FEE now has its own blog, Anything Peaceful. Check it out here.

What's So Funny, Chris?

Chris Matthews, host of "Hardball" on MSNBC (it really should be called Nerfball), tonight found the idea of an African-American libertarian laughable. Now why in the world would he want to insult African-Americans that way?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Left-Libertarianism Comes to Cato!

I urge everyone to read Roderick Long's blast at the corporate state at Cato Unbound:

Responses will be published over the next few days.

Well done, Roderick!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Did She Really Say That?

Obama transition co-chair Valerie Jarrett let this slip yesterday when talking to Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press:
It's ironic that you would say that it's the Democrats that are responsible for big government because government has grown enormously over the last eight years.
I thought the Obama position was that we've had eight years of laissez faire under George II.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Tacit Consent

On Friday I conducted a colloquium at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, with the title "If You Believe in Nonviolence, You Should Be an Anarchist." (I'll post the link when it's uploaded to YouTube.) During the Q&A I was challenged by two professors who invoked the social contract and tacit consent in an effort to refute my claim that the state is founded on (the threat of) violence against nonaggressors. They argued that since we all tacitly consent to the state, its use of force cannot be properly regarded as aggression. Rather, it is merely a sanction against those who have violated their agreement to obey the state. (I apologize if I have not precisely captured their objection. I believe this is the gist of their argument.)

For the first time in a while this got me thinking about the curious principle of tacit consent. Here are the thoughts I jotted down today. (I'll be returning to this subject, I'm sure.)
  • When did I or anyone consent?(One of my interlocutors seemed to think this was an invalid, even unfair question.)
  • If I have tacitly consented to be taxed, why haven't I also tacitly consented to all the purposes to which the state puts my money?
  • Why can't I withdraw my consent?
  • How do I withdraw my consent? Must I move out of the state's jurisdiction?
  • If that is the only way, doesn't that imply that the state owns the territory?
  • How did that come about? (I'm thinking of Monte Python and the Holy Grail now; script is here.)
  • Presumably the state has obligations under the social contract. But what if the state defaults on its obligations? Does that nullify the contract?
  • Who decides when and if that has occurred? Presumably, the state's own courts.
  • Why do the state's courts get to judge a claim that the state has defaulted on the contract? Why not a truly neutral arbiter?
  • Is my consent tacit, unconditional, and perpetual?
  • How can that be?

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Humility or Hubris?

Another presidential election has come and gone, only this time the results are astoundingly and, yes, satisfyingly historic. In light of our racial history and leaving aside political philosophy, I am overjoyed at what Barack Obama’s election means. I cannot put it better than Will Wilkinson did at The Fly Bottle, “It means something profound that a black man was elected to the most visible, high-status position our society offers. The mere fact that Obama won truly does make our society a better place.” I also share Wilkinson’s reservations. In a truly free society, the presidency would not be the most visible high-status position our society offers. That designation would be reserved for a variety of private-sector roles. Unfortunately, however, the presidency does have that status today, and Obama’s election must be appreciated from that perspective. Relatedly, I am uneasy about, though understanding of, the public displays that followed John McCain’s concession Tuesday night. Again, Wilkinson: “[F]rankly, I hope never to see again streets thronging with people chanting the victorious leader’s name.” Amen.

President-elect Obama’s many supporters and well-wishers have great confidence in his ability to solve the economic problems that vex American society. That ability is said to lie in his cool judgment, his good intentions, and his eloquence. Let us grant that he possesses all three. Valuable as they are, they will be useless if he attempts to solve our economic problems directly by an exercise of power. That’s because there is something he does not have -- something no man or woman can have: the power to repeal the laws of economics.

The rest of this week's TGIF, "Humility or Hubris?" is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Marshall Fritz, 1943-2008

I am saddened by the news that Marshall Fritz, my friend and constant source of inspiration, died yesterday at age 65 after a long struggle against cancer. Marshall was founder of both the Advocates for Self-Government and the Alliance for the Separation for School and State. It was in the latter context that he and I worked together. He founded the Alliance in 1994, just as my book Separating School and State was being published, though neither of us knew in advance what the other was up to. Marshall's conferences (SepCons) were important gatherings of the wide variety of advocates of educational freedom and opponents of government schooling. The Alliance continues to play a key role in promoting the liberation of families from the state.

Marshall was a great public speaker, whose eloquence flowed from his love of life and his love of liberty. Because of his enthusiasm about the future and his great humor, Marshall was unforgettable. He was as decent a human being as I've ever known. Through all his medical challenges he was unfailingly optimistic and inspirational.

I will miss him very much.

The Day After

"Government is not reason; it is not eloquence; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Depressing Day

Not only because one of those presumptuous scoundrels will fulfill his dream of being "commander in chief," but because the airwaves and cable channels are rife with media talking heads discharging their self-appointed duty of re-legitimizing the state. The last few days especially have been devoted less to partisanship than to praise of both "courageous" candidates for their service and dedication. In the end, for these windbag commentators what counts most is the process, i.e., the state's continued legitimacy. Nothing disturbs them more than discussion that undermines The Consensus. All underhanded campaigning can be forgiven in light of the larger mission, the collective choosing of a Leader, which can be used ultimately to absolve the state of its crimes. Nothing, therefore, is more sacred than the ritual of voting. Or so the media talkers would have us believe, as they rhapsodize about "caring" and "participation." In truth, getting out the vote is a way to get everyone's hands dirty enough that they can't regard the state as an external villain, an occupying power.

Anyone who points out that this process is based on fraud and coercion would be dismissed as a cynic or a nihilist. But no need to worry. No one who would point this out will be invited to comment in the first place. Can't have the purity of the moment sullied by the truth. The media are safe for Peggy Noonan, David Gergen, and the rest of the state's cheerleaders. No one will say what should already be obvious to any thinking person: the electoral process is a distraction, a massive effort in misdirection to keep our minds off what is really going on. The illusion of popular power hides the fact that real power is securely beyond the people's reach.

"If voting could change things, it would be against the law." No wiser words ever graced a wall.

Staying Home

That's what I'll be doing today.

Monday, November 03, 2008

American Conservative

My American Conservative article on the foolishness of the Wall Street bailout is here.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Choices, Choices

McCain says Obama wants to be redistributor in chief, while he wants to be commander in chief.

Oh my. Shall we not be spared?

Friday, October 31, 2008

The S-Word

So the S-word has surfaced in the presidential campaign. One candidate accuses the other candidate of being a socialist because he would raise taxes on the wealthy while "cutting taxes" for, among others, workers who pay no income taxes. The accused laughs it off, saying next he'll be called a communist for sharing his toys in kindergarten. (Of course, then he was sharing his own toys.) Meanwhile, the first candidate -- the one hurling around the "socialism" charge -- says if elected he'll buy up shaky mortgages and send checks to people who pay no income taxes so they can get medical insurance. I'm beginning to understand how Alice felt.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "The S-Word," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

What Greenspan Missed

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan made headlines around the world with this admission: “[T]hose of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity (myself especially) are in a state of shocked disbelief. Such counterparty surveillance is a central pillar of our financial markets’ state of balance. If it fails, as occurred this year, market stability is undermined.”

Greenspan made his confession before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform....

Now it will be said endlessly, “Even Alan Greenspan concedes that the free-market philosophy is flawed.” But not so fast.
The rest of this week's op-ed is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

What Does Supporting the Free Market Mean?

Dean Baker is far from a libertarian, but he often knows the score. Here's what he wrote in "Beat the Press" yesterday:

NYT readers no doubt asked this question when they saw that Charlie McCreevy, the European internal market commissioner, was identified as "a supporter of free-market economics." What does this mean? Did Mr. McCreevy oppose the bank bailouts? Is he opposed to copyright and patent protection? Or, did the NYT just mean to tell us that, like almost everyone else, he is not a supporter of Soviet-style central planning?

It would be useful if reporters could get beyond cliches and try to ensure that their characterizations of individuals actually provide information to readers.

Visit him regularly here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Nationalizing Banks, Impoverishing Society

My article on the Wall Street bailout in the American Conservative is now online. Read it here.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Government Is Already an Income-Transfer Machine

Isn’t it a little late for John McCain and the Republicans to start worrying about government redistribution of wealth? McCain claims to be alarmed by Barack Obama’s tax plan, which would tax upper-income people in order to provide tax cuts to lower- and middle-income people, many of whom don’t pay income taxes. McCain and running-mate Sarah Palin call this socialism.

But the criticism is odd considering all the redistribution McCain has proposed in his presidential campaign and has supported during his long career.
The rest of this week's op-ed, "Government Is Already an Income-Transfer Machine," is at The Future of Freedom website.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Who Needs Evidence?

Around the corner from FEE's offices, on Main Street in Irvington, N.Y., there's a life-size statue of Rip Van Winkle awakening from his 20-year slumber. After reading Jacob Weisberg's Newsweek and Slate columns this week, I feel as though I must have been asleep for an equally long time. According to Weisberg, editor in chief of Slate, the financial turmoil taking place worldwide is the fault of . . . libertarians. That must mean libertarians have been in a position to repeal generations of deep-seated government intervention in the financial and related industries, including the Federal Reserve system. That would have taken a long time, yet I don't recall reading that a libertarian revolution occurred in the United States. Surely it would have been in the newspapers. Hence, I must conclude that I, like old Rip, was slumbering all those years. I missed the revolution! It's the only possible explanation. Unless Weisberg is wrong.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Who Needs Evidence?" is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

What Hath Ayn Rand Wrought?

Alan Greenspan says he is shocked to have learned that his free-market philosophy has a flaw. Banks wouldn't protect their stockholders' interests in the absence of regulation. Really. Read his mea culpa here. And here is prescient Murray Rothbard on Greenspan.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

An Echo, Not a Choice

Republicans talk about the burdens of regulation, which leaves the impression that they are for free markets. But this is wrong. Free markets are free of more than regulation; they are also free of subsidies, privileges, and guarantees. Lightening up on regulation may please business, but if it is done while keeping the subsidies, privileges, and the guarantees in place, it is not a move toward the free market.
The rest of this week's op-ed, "An Echo, Not a Choice," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Into the Bog

It's still hard to tell if Joe the Plumber would pay more taxes under Obama or McCain. I've heard both sides argued. Whatever. It's a phony argument because McCain would just borrow whatever money he needs that can't be raised in taxes. Someone who frets about $18 billion a year in earmarks but relishes spending $11 billion a month in Iraq isn't going to be watching the taxpayers' interests very closely.

To me the real story about Joe the Plumber was Obama's reply to him that "spread[ing] the wealth around" would be good for the country. We haven't heard that phrase in a long time, and there's something refreshingly honest about it. If we look close, we'll see that McCain isn't against spreading the wealth. Look at his mortgage plan -- his proposal to keep home values artificially high by buying at face value all mortgages in which the amount owed exceeds the appraised value of the home. Nice deal for the banks. He would then reduce the amount of the loans and the interest rate. The taxpayers would pay the bills. Sounds like spreading the wealth to me.

To hell with all "legal" plunderers.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Capitalism or Freedom

"These measures are not intended to take over the free market, but to preserve it," George W. Bush said in Orwellian tones Tuesday as he announced the partial nationalization of nine major American banks.

He was partly right, though not in the way he meant his words. There is no free financial market to take over. But that means there is no free market to preserve either. The moves he announced, which include government part-ownership of smaller banks too, were just more, albeit big, steps along the corporatist route the country has been following for generations.

The rest of this week's TGIF, "Capitalism or Freedom," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Republican Albatross

At lunch I watched Jonathan Alter of Newsweek interviewed on MSNBC about his latest column in which he writes a near-obituary for the McCain campaign. He attributes the state of the campaign to McCain's failure to "break not just from Bush, but from the rotting corpse of his party." Instead, Alter says, he's fighting the last war, which won't work because, among other reasons, "the free-market party of Reagan is dead (thanks to the financial crisis)."

Free-market party? A free-market party would have abolished Fannie and Freddie. It would have renounced the "too big to fail" doctrine. It would have ended all business privileges, along with the regulations (which the GOP left untouched). It would have at least begun to cut spending and borrowing. It would have stopped the deep economic distortion wrought by the military-industrial complex and its war-based imperial foreign policy. Has there been even a tiny movement in these directions?

This is why radical free-market advocates must hope that a Republican never is elected president. The party is an albatross for any champion of individual liberty because no matter what it does to increase the size of the state, its occasional mild lip-service to freedom is all that counts for most people. Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton did some deregulating, but they are never called laissez-faire advocates.

The bigger the loss for McCain-Palin, the better.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Theory and Crisis

What might be even more distressing than the current buildup of the corporate state in response to the supposed economic crisis is the way some self-styled advocates of the free market are willing to cast aside the economic theory they claimed to embrace.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Theory and Crisis," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Barack Harold Obama

I don't think Republicans would be using Obama's middle name if it weren't Middle Eastern-sounding. Do you?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Sorry, Sorry Performance

John McCain couldn't even coherently explain his proposal for health insurance! I ran his "explanation" back on my DVR. It made no sense! "Do the math," he said. Based on what he said, you can't do the the math! Arrrrrgggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhh.

Good Maverick, Bad Maverick

Answer me this: why do those crowds at Sarah Palin rallies go nuts every time she invokes McCain's maverick record, when his quintessential maverick achievement is McCain-Feingold, which restricts free political speech?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Freeman, October

The Freeman, October 2008, is off the press and online at FEE's website. The cover article by David Henderson is titled, "Let's Not Be Energy Independent." Here's more:

"Politicians Eye the Oil Market," by Robert Murphy
"Making Social Security More Harmful," by J.R. Clark and Dwight R. Lee
"Language, Loyalty, and Liberty," by Becky Akers
"Commerce, Markets, and Peace: Richard Cobden's Enduring Lessons," by Edward P. Stringham
"Beyond Municipal Wireless," by Steven Titch
"The Subprime Crisis Shows That Government Intervenes Too Little in Financial Markets?" by Lawrence H. White
"The Holiday That Isn't," by Lawrence W. Reed
"Mendacity by Metaphor," by Thomas Szasz
"The Great Escape from the Great Depression," by Robert Higgs
"Legalize All Drugs," by John Stossel
"Worker Freedom in Peril," by Charles Baird

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Fannie's Folly

Today's New York Times has an informative article on how the government egged Fannie Mae on to buy ever more high-risk mortgages during the current decade. One weakness of the article, however, is its failure to stress the government's implicit guarantee to stand by behind the government-sponsored enterprise, a guarantee we now know was all too real. The article is here.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Frankly, He's a Criminal and Should be in Prison

If you want to see the criminality of the U.S. government in all its glory, observe that Rep. Barney Frank, one of the men responsible for the current economic debacle, will head the investigation into what caused that debacle.

About the bailout of Wall Street, Frank had the nerve to say, "We were the EMTs rushing to the rescue of an economy that suddenly found itself choking, but now we have to perform more serious reform."

A better analogy would be this: Frank & Co. were choking the American people and while doing so, they picked the people's pockets and handed their money to Wall Street.

When will guys like this finally go to prison?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, October 03, 2008

The Debate

Some cable commentators, Joe Scarborough, for one, think Sarah Palin deep down is a libertarian. It must be really deep down because there was no sign of it last night. Her explanation for the economic turmoil is "greed and corruption on Wall Street," which she promised McCain and she would clean up. You couldn't even tell from her remarks that Fannie and Freddie were creatures of the government. She pointed out that McCain favored tough regulation of them years ago.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

The Pretense of Regulatory Knowledge

Advocates of the free market are sometimes parodied for their seemingly all-purpose answer to any problem: Let the market handle it. What may sound like a simplistic answer, however, is actually the most complex prescription imaginable. In the modern world, the workings of any particular market are so complicated, they are beyond the grasp of mere mortals. Moment by moment, day by day, so many subtly interrelated decisions are made by so many people worldwide that no individual or group could possibly understand the big picture in any detailed way. So there is nothing simplistic about proposing the market as a solution to an economic problem. It’s short way of saying: let the multitude of knowledgeable people seeking profit, risking their own money, and responding to incentives find a solution based on persuasion not force. Translated that way, it sounds like a promising approach.

Ironically, those who don’t appreciate markets are in fact the ones who offer a simplistic, even empty alleged solution to economic problems: government regulation.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "The Pretense of Regulatory Knowledge," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Free Association.

Herbert Hoover, Wild-Eyed Activist

Here's my just-submitted letter to the editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:
In chiding the House for initially rejecting the Wall Street bailout plan, you wrote, "Monday’s performance in the House, or rather non-performance, would have made Herbert Hoover look like a wild-eyed activist." But considering that after the stock market crash in 1929, Hoover raised taxes; signed the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, which destroyed world trade; created the Reconstruction Finance Corp. to funnel taxpayer money to failing railroads and banks; and jawboned employers to keep wages up while the Federal Reserve shrunk the money supply by a third -- Hoover WAS a wild-eyed activist. And his activism helped turn a recession into the Great Depression.

Since your economics is no better than your history, I'd say the House was right the first time.

Luxury or Necessity?

Have you noticed how many pro-"free-market" politicians and pundits believe that theory is a luxury we cannot afford in this time of crisis? What they are probably too dense to realize is that their support for a bailout of Wall Street is also based on a theory. Only it's a bad one.

With allies like that, we hardly need adversaries.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Richman on Fascism

The revised Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, edited by David R. Henderson, is now online at the Liberty Fund's Library of of Economics and Liberty website. My contribution to the encyclopedia is the article on fascism. It's here.

Not bad timing, I'd say.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Summing Up

I highly recommend Chris Sciabarra's analysis of the economic turmoil here. If we don't grasp the deeper corporatist lesson of the current crisis, we will get nowhere.

I also highly recommend Steven Horwitz's "An Open Letter to My Friends on the Left."

Gag Me with a Spoon!

Lawrence Kudlow, a self-styled free-market, small-government man, said on MSNBC today that he had spoken to Alexander Hamilton, "the greatest treasury secretary in history," who told him the bailout of Wall Street was necessary to "save capitalism."

I'm not surprised that either Kudlow or Hamilton support the bailout. Being for capitalism obviously is not the same thing as being for the free market.

My latest op-ed on the issue is here.

Is This What It's All About?

Business reporter Ali Velshi of CNN was talking about the alleged credit drought last night when he stopped and said (roughly), "When I say 'dried up,' I don't mean there's no money. But you'd better have good collateral and good credit."

Oh, is that what's going on? That's why we're panicking and being plundered of $700 billion?

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


If you've ever needed direct evidence of the ruling class, with the mass media as junior partner in plunder, observe the reaction to the defeat of the bailout plan in Congress. The power elite has been dealt a shocking blow by the revolt we witnessed yesterday, and that shock is fully reflected by the pundits on the morning news shows. They cannot believe that the "responsible thing" was not done. The only dissenter I've seen in the last 36 hours is Lou Dobbs (bless his soul!).

Monday, September 29, 2008



Sun Reportedly Expected to Rise Tomorrow Anyway

In Lockstep

It's nice to see that both the maverick and change agent are in lockstep with the Wall Street bailout. Meet the new boss...

Bailout Lies

One of the lies involved in the Wall Street bailout -- and there are many, including the claim that the credit markets are frozen -- is that the taxpayers will recoup the losses and even turn a profit. The biggest lie there is not financial but political. Even if there are gains, they will not go to the taxpayers but rather to the government. For some strange reason, this distinction is lost on virtually everyone, especially the news media.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Moving Target

The people who refuse to believe that their beloved home-ownership promotion program is largely to blame for what's going on today can't quite make up their minds about what is to blame. They "know" it has something to do with not enough regulation. But what? First they argued that the Bush regime engaged in an orgy of deregulation. They had to drop that line, however, because the last act of significant banking deregulation was signed by Bill Clinton in 1999. So they changed to "someone was asleep at the switch." Vivid metaphor, but no one has come up with an actual instance of a regulator being asleep at whatever switch he allegedly was asleep at. So now there's a new argument, voiced by Hillary Clinton this morning: the Bush regime failed to anticipate the need for a new regulatory structure in the global economy. (I won't ask why her husband also failed in that regard.)

To quote John Stossel, "Give me a break!"

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Welfare State or Corporate State?

It's a grave mistake to portray the economic problems as consequences of the welfare state, as traditionally defined. Rather, this is a failure of the corporate state, or state capitalism. Not only is this the truth, it also knocks the state socialists off balance. Let the conservatives argue that the failing system was designed to help low-income people. We know better: it was designed to politically funnel money to bankers, home builders, and the real-estate profession. As usual, low-income people were mere pawns in a special-interest scheme to shift risk from big business to the taxpayers.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Who's for the Market?

Being for the free market means being for full market discipline -- nothing concentrates the mind like the threat of bankruptcy. Therefore, anyone who wants the government to weaken or remove market discipline favors something other than the free market -- the corporate state. This point must be at the root of any analysis of the financial turmoil.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

McCain Has No Clue

John McCain brags that a few years ago he supported reform of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, changes that allegedly would have averted the problems we now witnesses. That's balderdash. He did not support converting those government-sponsored enterprises into organizations without access to government favors or an implicit guarantee of bailout. Rather he merely supported new "independent" government oversight of those privileged corporations. Here's the Congressional Research Service summary of the Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Reform Act of 2005:
Amends the Federal Housing Enterprises Financial Safety and Soundness Act of 1992 to establish: (1) in lieu of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), an independent Federal Housing Enterprise Regulatory Agency which shall have authority over the Federal Home Loan Bank Finance Corporation, the Federal Home Loan Banks, the Federal National Mortgage Association (Fannie Mae), and the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (Freddie Mac); and (2) the Federal Housing Enterprise Board.
Sets forth operating, administrative, and regulatory provisions of the Agency, including provisions respecting: (1) assessment authority; (2) authority to limit nonmission-related assets; (3) minimum and critical capital levels; (4) risk-based capital test; (5) capital classifications and undercapitalized enterprises; (6) enforcement actions and penalties; (7) golden parachutes; and (8) reporting.
As though "independent" oversight could have avoided the problems better than HUD oversight. The issue hasn't been lack of oversight, but intervention designed to countervail the market process in order to promote home ownership among people who couldn't otherwise have afforded it. Not coincidentally, this brought great profits to the financial, homebuilding, and real-estate industries. Nothing short of blocking Fannie's and Freddie's path to the taxpayers' wallets could have turned things around.

Yeah, a real maverick.

Stupid, Venal Government

The financial turmoil is most immediately the result of falling housing prices. Prices are falling in part because they were pushed to artificially high levels through myriad government policies aimed at controlling land use and making it easier for people with little income and no creditworthiness to get mortgages. They had to come down sometime. So now the government is committing around a trillion dollars of the taxpayers' money to bail out the lenders and investors. How is this supposed to fix things? By stopping the fall in housing prices and getting them rising again -- artificially.

Is it stupidity or venality? It could be both, couldn't it?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Government Failure

Pundits and politicians are virtually unanimous in saying today's economic turmoil is the result of a laissez-faire policy in Washington and an orgy of greed and irresponsibility on Wall Street. Laissez faire in Washington? On what planet?
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Government Failure," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Constitution Day

"But whether 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." --Lysander Spooner, "The Constitution of No Authority"

Saturday, September 13, 2008

McCain for President

No, I'm not endorsing him! I'm predicting he will win. In elections I usually predict wrong. It's a hex. We're all doin' what we can.

We Will Be Fooled Again

It is appalling that Barack Obama apparently will go through this campaign without once tearing into George II's Unitary Executive Theory, under which a president may launch preventive wars unilaterally, eavesdrop and gather information on people without warrant, issue signing statements announcing he'll ignore parts of legislation he doesn't like, send detainees to foreign lands to be tortured, declare detainees "enemy combatants" and hold them in perpetuity, etc., etc., etc., -- all without check by another branch of the state. (John McCain seems to have no problem with this theory either.)

I wonder if Obama doesn't want the smorgasbord removed before he's gotten to the table. The Fuhrer Principle must be enticing to any presidential candidate.

Some peace candidate. "We won't be fooled again"? Sure we will.

Friday, September 12, 2008

The Scariest Thing I've Ever Seen

It's Sarah Palin's ABC interview here. It really is all about winning (power), isn't it?

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Update: This link now goes to the segment of the interview in which she discusses domestic policy. It originally went to the foreign-policy segment, which I cannot find now on the ABC site.

Bailing Out Statism

The key to understanding the saga of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac -- the newly nationalized twin government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) that dominate home financing -- is this: They were created -- intentionally -- to distort the housing and mortgage markets. That is, government planners were not content to let voluntary exchange and spontaneous market forces configure those industries unmolested. So -- holding the taxpayers hostage -- they intervened. Make no mistake: the collapse of Fannie and Freddie is government social engineering predictably gone bad.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Bailing Out Statism," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

McCain's Self-Righteous Fakery

If John McCain keeps up that self-righteous fakery about wanting to be our servant, we’re in for two rather tedious months until election day.

First of all, he also says he wants to be our leader. How can he be both our leader and our servant? We know what’s really going on here. The servant shtick is phony humility intended to soften us up. He has no intention of being our humble servant and every intention of being our know-it-all Great Leader, our commander in chief.

The rest of this week's op-ed, "McCain's Self-Righteous Fakery," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Politics Turns the World Upside Down

Didn't anti-PC conservatives once mock the sensitivity of women and people of color and ethnicity to allegedly harmless jokes? So why do they think it's good politics to feign offense at Obama's "lipstick" remark? A better question: why have the American people not barfed and sworn off Republicans and Democrats?

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Priorities -- Please!

It is curious that people who obsess over a $400 million "bridge to nowhere" favor spending $10 billion a month in Iraq -- indefinitely. That bridge probably wouldn't have killed anyone.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Corporate Socialism Lives!

I hope we'll no longer hear the Bush administration accused of favoring laissez faire. We didn't need the takeovers of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae to demonstrate the administration's devout corporatism (fascism, if we want to be blunt about it). These government-favored corporations -- which were never market institutions -- have been a disaster in many ways, and now they will cost the taxpayers $200 billion to $500 billion. Much of the mess we're in can be explained by decades of corporatist polices dressed up to look like promotions of the American Dream through home ownership. It's been a fraud top to bottom and requires nothing less that the complete removal of the state from the housing and financial industries (not to mention all others).

For anyone who needs reminding, the free market means private profits and losses.

Non Sequitur

Defenders of Sarah Palin say her maverick temperament is demonstrated by the fact that she beat an incumbent Republican in her bid to become governor of Alaska. Why isn't that just proof of her ambition for power?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Servant or Leader?

John McCain says he wants to be our servant. But he also says he is uniquely fit to lead. Which is it? We know very well which it is. Just ask who will be giving orders and who will be taking them.

Repression in St. Paul

Many bloggers have been keeping closer tabs than I on how the "authorities" treated protesters at the Republican National Convention. It appears the treatment was outrageously heavy-handed. Rad Geek's post on the subject is here. Follow the links!

Come and see the violence inherent in the system!

Don't Worry. She Supports Israel

Sarah Palin is in good hands. One of her first activities after John McCain picked her as his running mate was to begin tutoring under his neoconservative foreign-policy advisers, including Joe Lieberman. And one of her first activities in that mission was to be introduced to the chief Israel lobbying organization, AIPAC, so she could pledge her undying devotion to the state of Israel. This of course is mandatory for any "serious" national candidate. According to the Washington Post:
Lieberman, who was the 2000 Democratic vice presidential nominee but is now an independent, has helped introduce Palin to officials of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby. In a meeting Tuesday, the day before she delivered her prime-time address at the Republican National Convention here, Palin assured the group of her strong support for Israel, of her desire to see the United States move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and of her opposition to Iran's aspirations to become a nuclear power, according to sources familiar with the meeting.
Next time McCain sings "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," he'll have someone to sing harmony.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Some Maverick

John McCain and his supporters portray him as the quintessential maverick. What was his paradigmatic act of maverickism? It was McCain-Feingold, which enacted draconian restrictions on political speech before elections. At the time, the bill was harshly opposed -- even by many Republicans -- as an "incumbent-protection act." In the floor debate on the bill, supporters complained about negative advertising by interest groups, which usually target incumbents.

This is how a maverick behaves? Memories are short in politics.

Know Thyself

Some people think that John McCain and Sarah Palin are qualified to "lead" because they know who they are. That misses the point. The relevant point is that they don't know who I am. That's why they should leave me the hell alone.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Not Too Little, Too Much

After hearing Sarah Palin's convention speech, I've decided her problem is not too little government experience, but too much.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Do These People Even Listen to Themselves?

In his convention speech tonight, Mitt Romney warned that China was acting like "Adam Smith on steroids." Is that something to be concerned about? I thought Republicans like to pretend they favor free markets. Have they stopped doing that now?

Gives Me the Willies

Is anyone bothered by those "Service" and "Country First" signs at the Republican convention? Why am I thinking of Mussolini's words: "Everything for the State; nothing outside the State; nothing against the State"?

Monday, September 01, 2008


That the word "branding" is commonly used now in media discussions of political candidates and campaigns says it all. There was a time when such concepts were avoided in public discussion. The public wasn't supposed to think that candidates were being sold like laundry detergent. But no more. It's all a sales job. Openly. It's all B.S.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Palin

John McCain's selection of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate reinforces what I said in my op-ed "Well, That's Politics" (see below). She was picked because the campaign calculated that she would push certain buttons in coveted constituencies: suburban women, feminists, antiabortioners, evangelicals, the conservative Republican base, maverick independents, women with five kids, women with kids with Down syndrome, etc. (I know -- how can you please all these conflicting groups?) Secondary to the process is whether she is actually "qualified" to be president, which she could be called on to be as early as one moment after McCain takes the oath of office. (Or maybe earlier, I'm unsure what happens if the winner of a presidential election dies before he's inaugurated. Anyone know?) McCain may turn out to be a genius and win because of Palin. But I'm unconvinced. I think that when pushed, he will have hard time looking into the camera during a debate -- without that silly, smirky grin -- and assuring people she is qualified to succeed him. I don't think people will buy it. On the other hand, they will be able to see as Joe Biden as president. (Heaven forbid!)

Of course no one is qualified to be president. Those are probably the only true words Bill Clinton has spoken as a politician. But then, no one is actually running for president. McCain and Barack Obama are in fact running for emperor. That's not just a rhetorical flourish. If you look at America's foreign policy today and the array of powers that have accumulated in the "unitary" executive branch, the office looks more like the head of an empire than the modest executive described in the Federalist Papers. (Granted, those were propaganda sheets designed to assuage the fear of empire among Antifederalists.)

No one is much interested in musings such as these. We're ear-deep in the democracy game, an Orwellian exercise in which we vauntingly rhapsodize about freedom and self-government while banishing any thoughts that the whole thing is as rotten as month-old fish.

Well, That's Politics

So Barack Obama, the man who promises to reform Washington, has picked as his running mate someone who has been a fixture of the U.S. Senate nearly his entire adult life. Sen. Joseph Biden of course had no trouble accepting the honor. Insider, outsider — he’s whatever you’re looking for.

Well, that’s politics.

When Biden was running for president, he said of Obama, “Right now I don’t believe he is [ready to be president]. The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training.” Now he says Obama is “a wise leader. A leader — a leader who can deliver. A leader who can deliver the change we need.”

Well, that's politics.

The rest of my op-ed, "Well, That's Politics," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Bastiat Solution

The election season, which -- sigh -- is only just beginning, makes me want to reread Frederic Bastiat's The Law. It is the best antidote for the toxic demagoguery that issues forth from across the political spectrum. While the candidates are busy outcompeting one another in proposing new ways to spend our money (while promising to cut taxes), I take refuge in Bastiat's sound philosophy. Where is he when we need him?
The rest of this week's TGIF, "The Bastiat Solution," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What About the Ossetians?

If Russia exited Georgia — as it should — and the Bush administration dropped its wish to expand NATO to Russia’s border — as it should — there would still be an issue to be dealt with: the secessionist ambitions of the majority in South Ossetia — the Georgian military response to which was the immediate cause of the current war. They are the forgotten party in the current conflict. When President Bush says the “territorial integrity of Georgia” must be respected and GOP presidential candidate John McCain declares, “Today we’re all Georgians,” they are putting politics above justice.

One need not side with Russian Prime Minister Putin, a cynical opportunist if ever there was one, to understand that the Ossetians south of the Russian border are an aggrieved party. Defenders of liberty will sympathize with the Georgian victims of Russian brutality, but they should also champion the cause of the brutalized Ossetians, who (like the Abkhazians) demand independence from Georgia.

The rest of this week's op-ed, "What About the Ossetians?," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Lost in Transcription

Following rules, such as the rules of language, of the market, or of just conduct, is more about "knowing how" than "knowing that." This is a lesson taught by many important thinkers, among them, Gilbert Ryle, F.A. Hayek, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. On many matters, we know more than we can say. Yet we are tempted to identify knowing with saying. It's a temptation best resisted. This has implications for the struggle for the free society.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Lost in Transcription," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

No Clean Hands

Against their will, Georgian men in their 40s and 50s hauled debris Saturday from the streets of separatist South Ossetia's bombed-out capital.

In a sign that Georgians are being abused in the Russian-controlled province, a Russian officer and armed Ossetians escorted forced laborers through the city, the nucleus of fighting that has pit two former Soviet neighbors against each other and worried the world.

--Associated Press

Tamaz Barbikadze tip-toed out of South Ossetia's Interior Ministry Sunday flanked by three armed guards. A frail man of 69 years, he was given five minutes to describe to two reporters how he and more than 100 other civilians had been rounded up 10 days ago and thrown into prison. As he spoke, one of his Ossetian captors casually shifted his Kalashnikov from knee to knee.

Mr. Barbikadze's crime: He is Georgian. In South Ossetia, Georgians are regarded with visceral hatred after Georgian tanks rolled into this tiny pro-Russian separatist republic fewer than two weeks ago.

Mr. Barbikadze said that he and about 150 other ethnic Georgians had been locked up in the squat Interior Ministry building since Aug. 8, the day the tanks entered the city. Appearing terrified, he said he didn't understand why he had become a "hostage."

--Wall Street Journal ($)

As Russian troops pounded through Georgia last week, the Kremlin and its allies repeatedly pointed to one justification above all others: The Georgian military had destroyed the city of Tskhinvali.

Russian politicians and their partners in Tskhinvali, the capital of the breakaway region South Ossetia, said that when Georgian forces tried to seize control of the city and the surrounding area, the physical damage was comparable to Stalingrad and the killings similar to the Holocaust.

But a trip to the city on Sunday, without official escorts, revealed a very different picture. While it was clear there had been heavy fighting — missiles knocked holes in walls, and bombs tore away rooftops — almost all of the buildings seen in an afternoon driving around Tskhinvali were still standing.

Russian-backed leaders in South Ossetia have said that 2,100 people died in fighting in Tskhinvali and nearby villages. But a doctor at the city's main hospital, the only one open during the battles that began late on Aug. 7, said the facility recorded just 40 deaths.



Here in Tskhinvali [South Ossetia], there was no doubt that Georgia started the war with Russia and much bitterness about the rain of artillery and rockets that the government of President Mikheil Saakashvili used in its efforts to capture the city. The Georgian government said much of the destruction of Tskhinvali was caused by a Russian counteroffensive, but that argument carries no weight with residents here, some of them clearly traumatised.

People insist that a terrible barrage struck the city late on August 7th and continued into the morning - accounts supported by western monitors who were also forced into their cellars. Indeed, buildings used by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe were damaged, one severely. . . .

The scale of the destruction is undeniable; some streets summon iconic images of Stalingrad during the second World War or Grozny, the capital of Chechnya, which was levelled in two wars between Russian and Chechen separatists.

But the number of dead remains in dispute. Mikhail Minsayev, until yesterday the minister of interior in the separatist South Ossetian government, told reporters on Saturday that as many as 2,100 people had been killed.

When challenged on that figure by reporters, who cited statements by medical workers and human rights groups that there was no evidence of such a high death toll, he said people quickly buried the dead in their yards or took the bodies to North Ossetia in Russia for burial.

In conversations here, everyone interviewed said they had lost either no family members or one person. But those were interviews with people whose cellars had held. Many clearly had not.

--Irish Times

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Who the Hell Is That?

"These regions are a part of Georgia,” Bush said of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, "and the international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so. There's no room for debate on this matter."

What could be more arrogant? Who the hell is this "international community" and why should it have any say in who governs the Ossetians and Abkhazians?

When will people stop putting up with this crap from "their" misleaders and public self-servants?

(Worth reading: Michael Dobbs's "'We Are All Georgians'? Not So Fast.")

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Condemn All Governments

Just to make it clear, civilized people should condemn all governments involved in the Georgia-Russia-South Ossetia conflict, and that includes the U.S. government. Innocent people have been victimized by barbarism on all sides. Without these governments, the people themselves are likely to work things out peacefully to mutual advantage. The state apparatus permits decision-makers to socialize the costs of violence through taxation and conscription. So we get more of it.

My latest piece on the conflict is here.

Friday, August 15, 2008

This Is Priceless

One need not defend the Russian violence in Georgia to understand the situation. No government's hands are clean in this matter (or any other, actually). But isn't the American news media overlooking the Ossetians and what Georgian President Saakashvili's forces have done there? Aren't the Georgian and Ossetian people both victims of government atrocities?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Regarding Russia, Georgia, and the U.S.

The Russian invasion of Georgia (like the U.S. invasion of Iraq) is inexcusable. The intractable dispute between the government of Georgia and the Russian-backed separatists in South Ossetia in no way warranted Russia’s air and ground attacks against innocent Georgians. Once again, “mere” people suffer for what governments do.

That said, we would be telling only part of the story if we ignored the role played by the U.S. government and its neo-imperial foreign policy. The Bush administration’s loud sponsorship of Georgia (and other former Soviet republics and satellites) for membership in NATO, and its training and equipping of the Georgian military, could have no other effect than to provoke traditional Russian fears of encirclement by the West. As the old saying goes, just because someone is “paranoid” it doesn’t mean no one is after him. The Bush plan to bring NATO -- which was established as an anti-Soviet alliance after World War II -- to the Russian doorstep is reckless and provocative. It surely emboldened Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s recent military violence against the separatists in South Ossetia, which the Russians then exploited opportunistically and ruthlessly. (Brendan O'Neill's analsysis here is worth reading. Hat tip: Jacob Hornberger. Also see Juan Cole's take on the Bush-Putin Doctrine here.)

If it is from such recklessness, provocation, and opportunism that wars are born -- yet another demonstration that the Bush foreign policy is the biggest threat to peace in the world today.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Was the Constitution Really Meant to Constrain the Government?

My message is not one of despair. But we will not cause the freedom philosophy to prevail merely by invoking a political document written by men who thought the main problem with America was too little, not too much, government. Rather, we must cut to the chase and convince people directly that our concepts of freedom and justice best accord with logic -- and their own deepest moral sense.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Was the Constitution Really Meant to Constrain the Government?" is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Hubris in the First Degree

“[A]s president, I will commit two billion dollars each year on clean-coal research and development. We will build the demonstration plants, refine the techniques and equipment, and make clean coal a reality.”

That’s what John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, said back on June 18 in Springfield, Missouri. My first reaction was this: “That’s mighty generous of Sen. McCain. I didn’t know he had that kind of money.”

Then I remembered he doesn’t. But if he wins the election in November he’ll have something better: the American taxpayers.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Hubris in the First Degree," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

On Winning and Losing Wars

FEE's fantastic summer seminars and tight Freeman deadlines have kept me from the blog. The seminars have given me rare opportunities to spend time with such old and new friends as: Jeff Hummel, Steve Davies, David Hart, David Beito, Burt Folsom, Bryan Caplan, Ed Stringham, Ivan Pongracic, Paul Cwik, Tony Carilli, Bob Higgs, Ben Powell, Steve Horwitz and Roderick Long. (I hope I've forgotten no one.) I'll be back at FEE this coming week for Freedom University II. Then it's home for me for a while.

Meanwhile, here's my latest:
The campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has already gotten tedious. In a campaign appearance the other day, he said in his characteristically sanctimonious way, “I had the courage and the judgment to say I would rather lose a political campaign than lose a war. It seems to me that Obama would rather lose a war in order to win a political campaign.”

We ought to be jaded enough by politics to know that when a candidate says he’d rather lose the campaign than do X, Y, or Z, he’s being anything but courageous. Nothing is more calculated to help one win the White House than to say he’d “rather be right than president.” The last guy to say it and apparently mean it was Henry Clay in 1839.

The rest of my op-ed, "On Winning and Losing Wars," is at The Future of Freedom Foundation website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

What's Wrong with Selling Your Vote?

Poor Max Sanders. The 19-year-old University of Minnesota student faces five years in jail and a $10,000 fine; he is accused of putting his vote in the presidential election up for auction on eBay. He started the bidding at $10. The charge is bribery, treating, and soliciting.

I'm confused. Aren't all our votes for sale? Each candidate tries to bribe us with future benefits of all sorts. Basically, a campaign is an effort to buy votes wholesale.

The rest of my latest Future of Freedom Foundation op-ed, "What's Wrong with Selling Your Vote," is at Counterpunch.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Getting Rights Wrong

It's the Fourth of July, the day we ought to contemplate and rejoice in Jefferson's radical declaration of the "self-evident" truth that all individuals are equally endowed with "certain unalienable Rights, ... among these ... Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Alas, the day cannot be one of unmitigated joy since we have again been reminded that the purported protectors of our liberties have little understanding of those rights. We thus live under constant threat from the very people who claim to protect us.

As you might guess, I am referring to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Second Amendment case, District of Columbia v. Heller.
The rest of this week's TGIF, "Getting Rights Wrong," is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

From Rebels to Sheep

On this July 4th I observe with shame this news from my town, Conway, Arkansas, as reported in the Democrat Gazette this morning:
A con artist posing as an undercover drug cop struck twice in Conway within the past week, stealing hundreds of dollars from unsuspecting victims.

Conway Police Department Lt. Danny Moody said the man flashed a fake badge and told his victims to turn over their money. The cash was involved in a previous drug deal, he said, and may be contaminated with “drug residue.” The supposed cop said he needed to take the money so that a police drug dog could inspect it.

The victims handed over their money, Moody said, and the scam artist drove away.

Moody said the fake cop took
a “substantial” amount from five victims at the Economy Inn on Saturday and at America’s Best Value Inn and Suites on Monday. He would say only that it was more than $200. The victims were from South Carolina and Texas.

Moody said the department has a suspect. The department believes the man ran the same scam in Arkadelphia and Benton previously.
Need one comment?

Cross-posted at Liberty & Power.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Vince Miller, RIP

I was saddened by the news of Vince Miller's death. He was a gentleman and an untiring champion of individual freedom. I probably first met him in the early 1970s. In the many times I encountered him, he was never anything but decent and friendly. Fighting for liberty seems to be what he enjoyed most. I hadn't seen him in several years, but I will long have fond memories of Vince.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Political Correctness, Conservative-Style

Conservatives mock Political Correctness as an attempt to banish unapproved thoughts and utterances. Well, it seems conservatives have their own list of forbidden statements.

Looked what happened when Wesley Clark opined that McCain is not qualified to be president by virtue of the fact that he was shot down while riding in a bomber over North Vietnam. What should have been taken as something too obvious to require stating was instead treated as an accusation that McCain didn't "serve his country." (Actually he didn't. But he did serve the hack running the White House at the time.)

Poor Wesley Clark -- nother PC victim. Even Barack Obama had to distance himself from the comment. Many more things could be said about McCain, such as: There's nothing heroic about dropping bombs on the infrastructure of people that never lifted a finger against you. If he had not invaded North Vietnam, he would have skipped those unpleasant years in the Hanoi Hilton. But then, he wouldn't be running for president now, would he?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

History and Liberty at FEE

The Foundation for Economic Education just completed a fantastic week-long seminar on History and Liberty. Behold this lineup:
  • David Beito on the state against blacks and civil liberties during World War I
  • Stephen Davies on globalization and economic nationalism's path to World War I
  • Burton Folsom on the myth of the robber barons and the Great Depression
  • David Hart on pre-Marxist class theories and the private production of security in liberal thought
  • Robert Higgs on liberty versus power and the costs of war
  • Jeffrey Rogers Hummel on the American Revolution, Civil War, and economics of slavery
  • Me on the Articles of Confederation versus the Constitution
This is one for the record books!

Friday, June 20, 2008


I'm pleased to report that my Future of Freedom Foundation op-ed, "Habeas Corpus Saved -- Barely," is posted on Counterpunch.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The "Stable Bulwark of Our Liberties"

The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday struck a blow for the separation of powers and dealt the Bush administration a big setback by ruling that suspects held without charge at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, have the right to contest their imprisonment under the doctrine of habeas corpus.

Simply put, the Court held that the government may not keep anyone in custody indefinitely without having to justify its actions to a judge.

The rest of this week's TGIF, "The 'Stable Bulwark of Our Liberties,'" is at the Foundation for Economic Education website.

This is an extremely important decision, and the unprincipled right wing is apoplectic. Thank goodness some people in power have resisted George II's fear-mongering.

Update -- Food for thought from the great Glenn Greenwald:
Three of the five Justices in the majority -- John Paul Stevens (age 88), Ruth Bader Ginsburg (age 75) and David Souter (age 68) -- are widely expected by court observers to retire or otherwise leave the Court in the first term of the next President. By contrast, the four judges who dissented -- Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Sam Alito -- are expected to stay right where they are for many years to come.

John McCain has identified Roberts and Alito as ideal justices of the type he would nominate, while Barack Obama has identified Stephen Breyer, David Souter and Ginsberg (all in the majority today). It's not hyperbole to say that, from Supreme Court appointments alone, our core constitutional protections could easily depend upon the outcome of the 2008 election.