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What Social Animals Owe to Each Other

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

About Flag-Burning

It is the right of everyone to express their opinion, choose a profession and practice it, to dispose of property, and even to abuse it; to come and go without permission, and without having to account for their motives or undertakings. [Emphasis added.]
 --Benjamin Constant

So shouldn't the first question be: whose flag is it?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The OSU Assailant's Inspiration

The opinion molders want you to believe that the OSU assailant was "inspired by ISIS." More likely he was inspired by US bombing of Muslims in seven countries. ISIS is just a banner; eliminate it and people upset by US murder-by-drone will find another. Remarkably, US foreign policy never comes up in cable-news discussions of the OSU assault.

A Review of America's Counter-Revolution

My thanks to Winton Bates of Australia for his review of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited.
Did the framers of the U.S. Constitution intend it to protect liberty? 
A week ago my answer would have been along the lines that while I could not claim any expertise in American history I had the impression that the natural right to liberty had been recognised in both the US Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution.... 
My view of the libertarian credentials of the framers of the US Constitution has been challenged over the past week by my reading of Sheldon Richman’s book....
Read it all here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Long, Long Way

It's a long way from "End the Fed!" to "Build the wall!"

Friday, November 18, 2016

TGIF: Libertarianism Without the Magic

 I had the pleasure of appearing before the Amherst Political Union (Amherst College) this week to discuss the election of Donald Trump as president and the future of liberty. What perhaps pleased me even more was meeting with a group of young libertarians eager to explore the nature and implications of natural-law free-market anarchism. The students were prepared with many questions about how various hypothetical situations would be addressed in a stateless society. In other words, the students really made me work for my honorarium. It was invigorating, not to mention encouraging.

Read the rest at The Libertarian Institute.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Interview on Anarchism

On my visit to Amherst College to speak at the Amherst Political Union, Tommy Raskin interviewed me about anarchism. Here’s the short video.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

See You at the Amherst Political Union?

I'll discuss the presidential election and the future of liberty at the Amherst Political Union, Amherst College in Massachusetts, on Tuesday night. The lecture will take place in Chapin Hall at 8 p.m. and is open to the public.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Armistice Day, 2016

Veterans Day used to be called Armistice Day, marking the end of the shooting in World War I. The armistice between the Allies and Germany was signed a little after 5 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918, but wasn't to take effect until 11:11 a.m. (Get it? The 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.) Meanwhile men continued to kill and die.

"Canadian Private George Lawrence Price is traditionally regarded as the last soldier killed in the Great War: he was shot by a German sniper at 10:57 and died at 10:58." --Wikipedia

(Originally posted on Nov. 11, 2013.)

TGIF: How the Ruling Class Created Trump

Mixed emotions over the election are entirely in order. I rejoice at the repudiation of the ruling elite while recoiling from horrific thing that has been embraced. Only about 57 percent of the 231,556,622 eligible voters cast ballots, but many of the stay-at-homes were also repudiating the ruling class. Donald Trump won a just over 60 million votes, somewhat fewer than Mitt Romney won, while Hillary Clinton won 60.4 million votes, far fewer than Barack Obama won four years ago. Hence while Trump won only about a quarter of eligible voters, he won enough actual voters in states that had twice supported Obama to win a majority of electoral votes. The lack of support for Clinton -- including the nonvoters who had previously voted for Obama -- constitutes a repudiation of the establishment.

Some degree of disbelief is also in order (will we be less interested to polls now?), but maybe we should have seen this coming. Trump's victory is an unintended bequest from the bipartisan political establishment that has ruled us all these years. For as long as anyone can remember, the four branches of government (I include the independent agencies, among them the Federal Reserve) have managed "the economy"; that is, in important ways they have set the terms of our peaceful productive transactions. ("The economy" is an abstraction that stands for people consensually producing and exchanging goods and services.) Predictably, because of that top-down management, we have reaped low growth, distorted growth, illusory and discoordinating booms, and brutal but corrective busts, followed by increasingly anemic recoveries due to the cumulative burdens of government in the form of privileges, regulations, mandates, and taxes. Adding to the hardship, especially in the most vulnerable communities, is the ruling elite's control of schools.

As a result, many people (particularly the majority without college education) have it tough and see no prospect of dramatic improvement for themselves or their children. Many have hardly recovered from the Great Recession, the product primarily of bipartisan government housing policy. (No, Wall Street couldn't have done it alone.)

For decades regular people have looked to the political class to save them because that's what they've been taught to do -- by the politicians, the schools, the media, by virtually all "experts" and "authorities." What they haven't realized is that they have looked for help from the very source of their woes: the state.

This suited the politicians of both major parties just fine. They made extravagant promises year after year, assuring the people that prosperity for all required just one more vote of confidence on election day. And for years people believed them and hoped they would finally deliver. But they did not, because they could not. Since government interference with our peaceful exchanges created the problems in the first place, no one should have thought that more or different interference would solve those problems. But to see this requires skill in the economic way of thinking, which most people lack when it comes to public policy. (They largely get it at the personal level.) It takes economic understanding to see what's behind our systemic economic difficulties and to spot the bogus solutions offered by politicians of all stripes.

After decades of broken promises and impotence, a sufficient number of people were bound to become fed up with the arrogant class of politicians, bureaucrats and experts who took their support for granted. Moreover, economic hardship in turn fanned the fear of foreigners, both as traders and immigrants, which the Republican Party in particular exploited; prosperous people tend to have little time or reason to look for scapegoats. So the establishment has given us both insecurity, despair, and xenophobic nationalism. Thank you very much.

The result is Donald Trump, who bashed the elites for their betrayal and/or incompetence. He deftly positioned himself as an outsider who would succor the disfranchised and forgotten, and redress imagined grievances at hands of the world. This, not racism or a backlash against political correctness, is primarily why he won. In fact, Trump was an insider who came from the demand side, rather than the supply side, of the establishment, a fact he acknowledges. His aggrieved-nation shtick, moreover, prevented him from seeing the destructive and economically draining U.S. empire for what it is. But Clinton's shameful career -- which epitomized the ruling elite -- prompted too many people to vote Trump or to stay home.

But what does Trump promise? His signature economic causes are trade and immigration restrictions. He says these would create, among other benefits, high-paying and secure jobs -- as though Americans are suffering from too many low-priced imports and too many immigrants. In fact, they are not. Wealth consists in increasingly easier access to goods and services, and access to goods and services is facilitated by free trade in the widest possible marketplace and the movement of enterprising individuals from low-productivity capital-poor areas to high-productivity capital-rich areas -- in other words, immigration to the United States. Low-skill manufacturing jobs will be done either by low-skilled people in developing countries or, barring that, by robots in the United States (and elsewhere). Trump will not be able to bring back the manufacturing jobs that many Americans held when every industrial nation but the United States was digging out of World War II's rubble. But it won't be because Americans don't make anything anymore. Today U.S. businesses make and export goods at historically high levels, but because productivity has grown so dramatically, they can do it with fewer people, just as agriculture does. (Why doesn't Trump promise to bring back "our" farm jobs? The number of manufacturing jobs has been falling for 40 years, since before NAFTA and the WTO.)

In other words, Trump's presentation and promises are out of sync with reality. He too will fail to deliver, although he has succeeded in feeding people's fear of foreigners, both traders and immigrants. Knowingly or not, Trump misleads people who are on hard times while ignoring what they need: the dynamic entrepreneurship and innovation that a freed economy (that is, freed people) would ignite.

Note that Trump promises to "fix," not free, the economy. His campaign showed no understanding whatever of the spontaneous, emergent nature of economic progress, the fruit of exchanges between free individuals. He merely promises economic management by smarter people -- himself foremost -- but economic management just the same. Thus at the deepest level, the self-styled establishment-slayer reveals himself as a man of the establishment. A true radical who understood what ails us would have promised at least to begin the process of ending subsidies and bailouts (privileges), regulations (including trade and immigration restrictions), spending (especially on the military), and taxes -- all restrictions on freedom -- in order to free people to engage in the exchanges that improve their lives.

Trump is just another flavor in the establishment's ice-cream parlor. (His tax-cut talk is undermined by his humongous military and infrastructure spending plans, and his knee-bend to deregulation sounds more like something fed by the teleprompter.) Trump sees himself as the next CEO of the U.S. economy, indeed, of the country; but governments don't face a market tests because, unlike consumers, taxpayers can't say, "No thank you. I'll take my business elsewhere." Without that feedback, government is simply a bumbling bureaucracy. Trump won't be able to change that.

So here we are, again on the verge of broken promises and, one hopes finally, thoroughgoing disillusionment. The question is whether disillusionment with Trump will translate to disillusionment with the state. That's where we libertarians come in.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

Hume on Knaves in Government

"Political writers have established it as a maxim, that, in contriving any system of government, and fixing the several checks and controuls of the constitution, every man ought to be supposed a knave, and to have no other end, in all his actions, than private interest. By this interest we must govern him, and, by means of it, make him, notwithstanding his insatiable avarice and ambition, co-operate to public good. Without this, say they, we shall in vain boast of the advantages of any constitution, and shall find, in the end, that we have no security for our liberties or possessions, except the good-will of our rulers; that is, we shall have no security at all."

Friday, November 04, 2016

TGIF: Back to Square One?

For those who value liberty and peace, this has been a distressing -- even disappointing -- election season. Neither major candidate gives a hoot about individual rights, and neither shows any sign of understanding the spontaneous cooperation and coordination that society inevitably exhibits when people are free to pursue their interests peaceably.

Of course, disappointment implies positive expectations, and some of us had a few reasons to think this year might have been different. First, the major-party nominations were secured by two of the least respected people in American public life. Neither gets high marks for integrity -- for good reason: both are chronic liars who make stuff up even when catching them at it is easy. I'll here ignore the question who is the bigger liar because I have better things to do.

Second, both are big-government people. They see no problem that coercion -- as opposed to freedom and its emergent social cooperation and coordination -- cannot solve. They are remarkably alike in believing government can fix all things, so long as we have the will and, naturally, the right leaders. Even when they seem to lean toward freedom, its more illusion than fact. One calls for freedom of choice in only one area of life -- reproduction -- and so would compel others to pay the bill. The other vaguely criticizes business regulation, but offers a bizarre proposal: for every regulation passed, two must be repealed. How can that be serious? Shouldn't regulations be judged on their own merits? If the two are worthy of repeal -- as no doubt they are -- why must that await the passage of a new one? If the one is worthy of passage -- as no doubt it wouldn't be -- why must that await the repeal of the others? That's a gimmick, not a commitment to freedom.

I think we can say that neither candidate regards freedom as important, and both must see it as an impediment to their aspirations. People can't be allowed to obstruct the candidates' efforts to make their -- the ambiguous pronoun is used advisedly --- lives better.

Third, for the first time maybe ever, the Republican pays not even lip service to free markets and limited government. True, past major candidates did not mean it, but still they felt they needed to talk that way. Ominously, the Republican has felt no such need.  This could have been significant because it meant that a Libertarian Party candidate would have had that lane all to himself or herself. Most Americans aren't interested in the fine points of political philosophy, so they have had trouble distinguishing libertarians and Republicans, mostly because of the apparent overlap in economic policy or at least in rhetoric. Libertarians are somewhat to blame for this, by the way. Yes, Americans see differences in foreign policy and civil liberties, but that hasn't stopped them from thinking that libertarians are essentially conservative Republicans who like to get high and who are dubious about war.

So this was the year to draw the line in a way that no one could miss. You might think  -- and some libertarians do think -- that on foreign policy the Republican has blurred the line, but let's be serious.

This, then, potentially had the makings of a historic -- even unique, once-in-a-lifetime -- campaign.

Alas it didn't work out that way. Why not?

Only part of the problem was Gary Johnson and Bill Weld. They miscalculated that they could make history by telling people they were nicer and more moderate than the two extremists in the major parties. Maybe a clearer libertarian message would not have resonated -- but this was the year to give it a try. They did not do it.

But as I say, it was not their fault alone. The system is rigged -- against any alternative to the Republican-Democratic oligopoly. This is too obvious to require elaboration. Early on, the cable news operations -- realizing this was an unusual year and not wanting to get caught with their pants down -- paid grudging attention to the Libertarian Party (less to the Green Party). But they seemed to be looking for the first opportunity to ignore it. When Johnson didn't make the cut for the first "nonpartisan" Democratic and Republican Party-sponsored debate, the meager coverage shrank dramatically. When Johnson committed his alleged gaffes (don't get me started on that nonsense), it was basically over. No third-party candidate has a chance in a national election if he or she is not covered seriously rather than as a mere curiosity. The media long ago decided that people aren't interested in, or shouldn't be distracted by, third parties, so that's that.

In other words, I don't think a hardcore Gary Johnson without Bill Weld would have done any better. This is not to forgive them for their shortcomings, but that's the fact, Jack.

So where does that leave those of us who want liberty, social cooperation, and peace? With some exceptions, pretty much back at square one.

The builders of the post-World War II libertarian movement hoped at least to teach a significant part of the American public that economic intervention was 1) a violation of liberty and 2) self-defeating. In essence they sought to instill respect for the price system, so they targeted the minimum wage, rent control, price controls generally, and trade restrictions. Did the lesson take? The major candidates are anti-trade and speak kindly of a higher minimum wage. As I've said before, you could take a clipboard out to any mall and ask people to sign petition to put a minimum-wage increase on the ballot -- and you will have enough signatures in short order. If price inflation were to rear its ugly head, I think we'd see broad support for price controls. Look at the reaction to price "gouging" whenever the weather gets severe and the backlash against Uber's surge-pricing.

I'm not saying we've seen no progress -- in important respects we have -- but I am skeptical that such progress that has occurred is attributable to any new understanding of either liberty or the market process. If I'm right, the perceived benefits of liberty in one area are not intuitively expected in others. Maybe some people think, purely as an empirical matter, that a particular government intervention is ineffective; it's always easy to say, "This case is different. Maybe it will work. We have to try." I see no sign that people get that market forces -- which emerge from our peaceful interaction --  are real and unrepealable. When politicians say, "There's nothing we [i.e., government] can't do if we have the will," most people believe them.

I've given credit to Ron Paul for spreading an understanding of the libertarian program -- that it is regularly mentioned in cable-news conversation is nothing to sneeze at. But where is that understanding in the presidential election? Why do throngs of people cheer at the promise of free stuff? Why don't they show an understanding that "incomes buy more under free trade." It's almost as though Ron Paul never made a splash. Few people seem disturbed by the major candidates' lack of interest in liberty and bottom-up social cooperation. They are content with two trickle-down programs. Think about that.

In foreign policy, progress is also hard to find. Weariness with never-ending war is not the same as opposition to war. The "Vietnam syndrome" was overcome. I have no doubt the current war-weariness, if it still exists, will be too. For the war party, drones are a godsend.

What I'm saying is that the libertarian movement has not succeeded in selling its product -- organizations that boast that they don't compromise do not better than any others. We need a new business plan.

TGIF (The Goal Is Freedom) appears on Fridays. Sheldon Richman, author of America's Counter-Revolution: The Constitution Revisited, keeps the blog Free Association and is executive editor of The Libertarian Institute. He is also a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society and a contributing editor at Antiwar.com. Become a Free Association patron today!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

The Party of Lincoln?

When Republicans who don't like Donald Trump want to show how much they don't like him, they say he is not worthy of the "party of Lincoln." But the party of Lincoln was the big-government party of protectionism, industrial policy, civil-liberties violations, and war. Lincoln was even ready to enforce slavery even though he knew it was wrong.

[Cross-posted at The Libertarian Institute.]

The Russians and the Election

According to the New York Times and CNN, the FBI has been looking for links between Donald Trump and the Russians. So far, these news outlets report, no links have been found. Sources also tell the NYT and CNN that Russia's alleged meddling in the election through email hacks has not be intended to help Trump win but only to sow, in CNN's Evan Perez's words, "confusion and chaos."

If that's so, the Russians are incompetent. How would disclosing emails from Clinton campaign chief John Podesta or the Democratic National Committee sow confusion or chaos? We're learning things about the inner workings of the campaign that we all ought to want to know, and so far not one of the emails has been shown to be phony. Considering that Podesta and the DNC have the original emails, it is hilarious that they refuse to confirm or deny the authenticity of the leak materials. I take that as confirmation.

By the way, we have been given no reason to believe the Russian government is the source of the emails that WikiLeaks has disclosed. Clinton may say, and the news media may parrot, that 17 U.S. intelligence agencies have confirmed that Russia and Putin were behind the hacks, but this is untrue -- those agencies have not done so. If you want to see why I say this, read Jeremy R. Hammond's "Is Russia Interfering in the US Election? Why You Can’t Believe the NYT."

It is hard to square two things: 1) that Putin is a crafty ambitious ruler bent on undermining American democracy and 2) that his cyber experts "broke into" the DNC and Clinton campaign and left their "fingerprints" and "calling cards" all over the place. What is more likely: that Putin is trying -- in an insanely obvious way -- to influence the election, or that someone is trying to make it look as though he is trying to influence the election?

As judges tell jurors, don't leave your common sense outside the deliberation room.

[Cross-posted at The Libertarian Institute.]